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 Simple Gifts Chapter seven

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Keays

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Posts : 1435
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Simple Gifts Chapter seven   Sat Dec 07, 2013 9:18 pm

Simple Gifts
 
Cage sat opposite the inspector, drumming his fingers on the heavy mahogany desk between them.  He watched the man idly brush one side of his moustaches with one hand while he digested the contents of the Pinkerton reports on Carson.  “How’s that Whiskey, Inspector.  Does that need freshened up?”

Inspector Blewett glanced down at his glass.  “I suppose it could do with a top up,” he dropped the manila folder on the desk and shook his head.  “He killed the prison doctor?  In God’s name, why?”

Cage nodded.  “He admitted it to my man before he tried to shoot him.  He didn’t say why, but the doctor testified against him at a hearing.  Carson said he suffocated him with a pillow,” Cage leaned forward.  “Now, that’s the interestin’ bit.  If he did suffocate him, there’ll be evidence – stuff that probably wasn’t looked for after a stabbin’ at a prison break.”

“Really?” Inspector Blewett smiled at the Kid as he poured a generous glug of amber fluid into his glass.  “Even after all this time?”

Cage nodded.  “We use science here, and there are new developments all the time.  Did you know that when somebody is suffocated there are little broken blood vessels?  The docs call them ‘Petechiae’ and they can be found a long time after death, dependin’ on how well the body is preserved.  We’d need to ask the family, but if Doc Morin was exhumed, we could prove it.”

 Inspector Blewitt frowned.  “The man who killed him’s already dead.  Is it worth putting the family through that when there’s no trial at the end of it?”

Cage shrugged.  “Probably not, but his nephew’s a deputy.  To some folks findin’ the truth means everythin’, to others, findin’ peace is enough.  We have to give them the choice, but we’ll abide by that.”

“Findin’ the truth meant a lot to my partner,” the Kid folded his arms.  “I was afraid it might have cost him his life.”

“Yeah, we all know how it feels to lose a man,” Inspector Blewitt sucked in a draught of the golden nectar and gazed pensively into the rich depths of the liquor, failing to notice the warning glower being sent from the Pinkerton to the ex-outlaw who had failed to comply with the warning to keep his mouth shut.  “The evidence all points to Carson having a violent, corrupt past, and Harris’ statement corroborates it,” the inspector continued, “but why shoot Mrs. Stewart?”

“I’ll be honest with you, we ain’t completely sure,” Cage replied, “but we do know this.”  He tossed another folder across the desk to the policeman.  “Abi... Mrs. Stewart, used to be an agent for us.”

Blewitt sucked in a breath.  “That little woman?  But she looks so respectable!”

Cage stood, both hands resting on the desktop by the finger tips as he leaned over and fixed the police inspector with angry, blue eyes.  “She is respectable, and this is a good time to tell you that I also married a female Pinkerton.”

Inspector Blewitt looked up at the simmering agent, while the Kid dropped a placating hand on Cage’s shoulder. 

“I’m sure the police inspector didn’t mean to cause offence...”  the Kid murmured.  “He just ain’t used to women workin’.”

Cage regained his composure glancing between the police officer and the Kid.  “Yeah, sure...”

“The women Alan Pinkerton employed were real clever, inspector.  Smarter than a lot of the men,” the Kid added quickly.  “They were also very good at gettin’ into areas men couldn’t, they got information nobody else could.”

“Gossip, you mean,” chortled Blewitt.  Sensitivity was clearly not his strong suit. 

“Focus, Cage,” hissed the Kid.

Cage smiled; a cold, harsh, snap like a shark detecting blood in the water.  “Yeah, gossip; but that’s useful to us too, you know.”

“Oh, it’s useful to us all, Mr. Atwater.” The policeman swigged back the last of his drink, still sublimely unaware of the annoyance he had caused to the huge man.  “It looks like there’s just one more thing to be covered off,” he clattered the empty glass back on the desk, eyeing Cage hopefully, “the question of the true identities of your undercover operatives.  You surely don’t expect me to believe they’re really called Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones, do you?  Those were the aliases used by Curry and Heyes.  Credit me with a little sense, will ya?”

“We rarely divulge the true identity of officers who work in secret unless there’s a court order.  It can compromise their missions.  As you can imagine, there's a whole lotta work yet to be done on this case, and it involves corrupt public officials,” Cage raised a hand to squelch the objection tumbling from Blewitt’s lips, “and we ain’t saying for a second that your department’s involved, OR corrupt.  That’s why I brought you here, to be straight with ya.  I could just have given you any names, you know, but you’ve got the kind of qualities I can work with; I knew that the minute I saw you.  You ain’t gonna push this, you hate a bent lawman as much as I do, and you ain’t gonna do anythin’ to mess up the ongoin’ investigation.  If we give you the names, they’ll be in the system.  Who knows who could see them?  Their families could be targeted next. ”

The Kid held the bottle over Blewitt’s glass again, arching his eyebrow in query.  “Are we celebratin’ concludin’ our business, or are we preparin’ the papers for the court action?  It ain’t like he’s still alive, and you know who we are?  You’re in the Pinkerton offices, and you’ve seen the files.”

Blewitt sat back drumming his fingers impatiently on the desk before he raised his head with a smile.  “I never could be bothered with paperwork...  I think we’re celebrating seeing a killer get what he deserved, without too much expense to the people of Topeka, huh?”

The glass was almost miraculously filled again.

Cage’s smile warmed.  “Mr. Jones, can you get us two more glasses?  They’re in the filin’ cabinet over there.”

The Kid nodded, pausing to whisper in Cage’s ear.  “Are you sure you ain’t Irish?  You could talk the teeth off a saw.  That was all too easy.”
   


The sharp rap at the door jolted Heyes and Abigail awake. They sat, blinking into the twilight at the ever darkening room. “How long have we been asleep?” Heyes asked, scratching at his head, carefully avoiding the stitches.

Abigail pushed back the blanket. “I’ve no idea. I remember feeling relaxed and warm in front of the fire, and your shoulder was just the right place for my head...”

There was another knock at the door. Abigail made to jump to her feet, but was stopped short by a spasm of pain. “Abi, are you alright?”

She gave a weak smile and stood, rather more gingerly than before. “I’m fine, just a bit over-ambitious.” She strode over to the front door, pausing only to glance in the hair mirror to check her post-nap hair. “Mr. Atwater, Inspector – so good to see you again – and Mr. Jones too.”

The police inspector fixed her with glassy eyes. “Miss Shtewart, I have come to take your shatement...” He gave a hiccup, listing heavily to the left until Cage caught him by the arm. “We’ve been shelebrating.”

Abigail glanced at Cage and the Kid in turn. “So I see. Anything in particular?”

“Thish cashe,” the inspector slurred, prodding at the air with an off-target forefinger. “All neatly tied up.”

Cage gave a wry smile. “We just need to get your statement signed for the inspector, Mrs. Stewart. I took the liberty of getting one typed up at the Pinkerton offices, based upon the statement you have already given. We can go over it, and get it signed, and then the local investigation will be over.”

Abigail stepped aside, holding the door open. “Please, do come in.”

The inspector was hustled indoors, with Cage and the Kid holding an armpit each, she stopped them at the door of the sitting room. He might be three sheets to the wind, but he may still be sober enough to notice irregularities.

“Let me go in and light the lamps, Mr. Smith is napping in there.” She smiled at the inspector. “Couldn’t let him go to a hotel, not with this injuries, and he’s been so brave.”

“I know you were a Pinkerington, Miss Shtewart,” he tried to tap the side of his nose - and missed. “That’ll be our lil sheecret.”

“Thanks,” Abigail frowned at his two supporters. “Just give me a minute.”

Abigail poured the inspector a cup of black coffee, and sat in the chair, giving Cage and the Kid a censorious glare. “So, you have my statement. Shall we go over it?”

Blewitt waved a hand airily in her direction. “Fssht! No need is there, Miss Shhh... Shht.. missus,” He gave a body wracking hic, making the coffee swirl and lap around the china cup. The Kid stepped in to save the rug by deftly removing it from his hand. The inspector leaned forward. “Sho! You were a Pinkerington? A woman?”

Abigail gave a wry smile. “A Pinkerington? Yes... I did work with them, before I had a family.”

Blewitt shook his head in confusion. “But you look normal. I’d have introduced you to my wife and everything. You don’t look like a... like a...”

Cage bristled, but Abigail remained sanguine. “Fallen woman?”

The drunken police officer gave another hiccough. “Yesh.”

“What makes you think that a woman has to be easy to be in employment?”

Heyes gave a light groan. Blewitt was rapidly getting out of his depth, and they needed him on their side, but some subjects were like a red rag to a bull as far as she was concerned.

“Shure... shome women need to work,” Blewitt was warming to his subject, his face reddening in the firelight. “The ones who’ve got no men to look after them. Now my wife, she’s a real lady. I always open the door for her.”

“How kind of you, I mastered that skill a few years ago. It was a relief, I can tell you.” Abigail smiled into Blewitt’s glazed eyes. “I want to assure you that I come from a respectable family, Inspector – and I am not in the habit of behaving indecorously.”

“Well, shure ma’am, not no more,” Blewitt shrugged, before launching into a leer. “But I bet, in your day...” he winked at the Kid, nudging at him. “You know what I’m shayin’ don’t ya? We all shee women on the shide. I bet law women ain’t no different?? Know what I mean??” The elbow jabbed the Kid again, who just dropped his head, before Blewitt grinned at Abigail, suddenly grasping the disapproval burning in her dark eyes. “Women!? They just don’t understand a double standard.”

Cage stood. “Why don’t I get you in a cab, and these signed statements around to the police station, huh? Then our business here is concluded. I bet that wife of yours is waiting to see you home. She’s probably got a nice dinner ready.”

“I don’t know about that,” muttered Blewitt. “It’s tripe and onions night, and she ain’t so keen on the drink. I met her at work, you know. Shomebody broke into the shop she worked in. Man, I really should’ve called for backup.”

“How did they get in?” asked Abigail.

“In the shop? Through the storeroom window. Why?”

Abigail shrugged. “Maybe it was your wife? Her difficulties with doors... maybe?”

Blewitt’s head wobbled. “Huh?”

Abigail stood. “I must just do something before you pop off, Inspector.”

Blewitt gave a bellowing laugh. “Pop off?” He nudged the Kid again. “Did you hear that? She said ‘Pop off.’ You English folks make me laugh with your quaint shayin’s!”

“I’m only sittin’ here,” murmured the Kid. “I heard.”

“English!?” Abigail propped her hands on her hips. “I’m not English.”

“Well, Shcottish. Shame fing, ain’t it?”

Heyes dropped his head into his hands. Abigail was touchy about her nationality.

“It is NOT the same thing! It’s like calling you Canadian.”

Blewitt raised his hands in appeasement “Now, shteady on... Ain’t no call for that kind of thing...”

Cage stood, ushering Blewitt to his feet. “Let’s get that Cab, huh?”

Abigail disappeared into the kitchen, leaving the Kid and Blewitt to sway their way to the doorway. It took about ten minutes of swaying and wobbling before Cage returned, gesturing towards the street with his head. “I got a Hansom, come on. Give me a hand.”

“Wait!” Abigail stood in the hallway, smiling serenely. She walked over to the drunken police officer and adjusted his scarf, her hands playing around his neck and smoothing it all the way down, before fastening up all the buttons on his greatcoat. “You’ve been so kind, Inspector. I can’t let you go without saying thank you.” She propped herself up on her tiptoes and dropped a light kiss on his cheek. “Now, off you go home,” she waved from the doorway as the men poured him into the cab. “Enjoy your tripe!”

She turned, finding herself bathed in Heyes’ cynical scrutiny. “What’ve you done?”

Her eyes widened innocently. “Done? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The Kid strode in, closing the door behind him. “Cage has gone to drop the completed file off at the police station. That should be the end of it here,” his eyes narrowed, picking up on the guarded looks. “What’s goin’ on?”

“She’s done something, to get back at Blewitt,” Heyes put his hands on his hips.

“Don’t be silly. What could I have done?” She walked back towards the kitchen, but Heyes darted out a hand, catching her by the wrist.

“Abigail, I know you! Come on. Tell me.” She pulled at her wrist, but stopped as they were both convulsed in pain. “You hurt as much as I do when you pull, so leave it out. What have you done?”

“Using my Sunday name isn’t going to get around me,” she snorted, “especially as I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“What’s in your hand?” Heyes demanded. She raised her free hand, opening it to show it was empty. Heyes reached out and turned it over. “Show me the back.” He sucked in a breath at the imprint of a kiss in lip rouge on her hand. “You’ve just set him up, haven’t you?”


“What ARE you talkin’ about, Heyes. What has she set him up for?”

“Tell him, Abi.” He shook his head, “you’d have been a great flimflammer – just the best.”

She stood, silently simmering in defiance.

The Kid threw up his hands in exasperation. “Abi, we can’t mess with the police. We need them to accept our version of events and move on, quickly.”

“He’s already accepted them, Jed. He’s signed the paperwork and Cage is filing it at the police station. Besides, he’ll be too busy tomorrow; he’ll have things to worry about besides a closed case.”

It was the Kid’s turn to be concerned. “Busy with what, Abi?”

“That lip rouge, on your hand,” Heyes sighed. “You pressed that on his collar when you were helping him with his scarf, didn’t you?”

“Me?” Abigail shrugged. “I must have got it off his collar.”

Heyes dragged a finger over her lips. “You only wear rouge when you’re adopting a role. You rouged your lips, pressed it on your hand, kissed him on the cheek and also pressed the one on your hand on his collar. He’s in big trouble when his wife sees all that!”

Abigail tipped her chin up defiantly. “Well, he was obnoxious. He accused me of being a loose woman in my own home; then he discussed cheating on his wife – to top it all off, he accused me of being English!”

“English?” the Kid chortled. “You sound as bad as Grandpa Curry.”

“Well, we had a potato famine in the Highlands too. We lost nearly two million people and they did nothing to help us either. Nobody talks about that, though, do they? I AM NOT English.”

The Kid folded his arms. “That was the 1840s, Abi. You weren’t even born then. I’ve seen you with English people. You don’t hate them.”

“Old countries have long memories, they’re fine as individuals, but as a nation!? They’re a parcel o’ rogues.”

“Is that what bothered you the most?” Kid’s disbelieving blue eyes glanced between Abi and Heyes, “That he called you English? He was close to gettin’ a crack on the jaw from me in there, but not for that. You’re unbelievable, Abi.”

Heyes grabbed his ribs. “Stop it, don’t make me laugh. You’re hurting my chest. You’re being ridiculous. You got on with that old English woman at The Hole like a house on fire. You protected the boy.”

“I don’t hate the people. I just don’t want to be one.”

The Kid shook his head. “Just like Grandpa Curry. Completely unreasonable.”

She gave a harrumph of indignation. “Ceart gu leòr.

“Yup, that sounds kinda like the snarls he used to give too,” chortled the Kid.

Abigail stalked through to the kitchen to start dinner. “I just said, you were right enough. Does it matter what tipped me over the edge? Blewitt insulted me, he deserved it all.”

“All?” Heyes asked.

She gave him a twinkle of mischief. “He’s going home with a kiss on his cheek, lip rouge on his collar, and a note from a lady in his pocket.” Her eyes widened innocently. “Hey, I haven’t set him up for anything he didn’t do. He admitted it. Anyway, that’s the least of his problems.”

Heyes groaned. “What else did you do, Abi?”

“Me? Nothing. It’s his wife who cooked tripe and onions. Just imagine that smell tomorrow morning, when he’s got a hangover, and an angry wife.”

“I didn’t think you could surprise me anymore, but remind me not to fall out with you. Abi. You’re as bad as Heyes.” The Kid rubbed his face. “And don’t think I missed the fact that you only admit somebody else is right in a language only you speak. Heyes has a similar trick – but he uses big words.”


 Harry paced back and forth in front of the secretary's desk becoming more and more agitated as time went by.  This was ridiculous!  Just how many times was he expected to be able to drop everything and go traipsing off to some 'foreign' country in order to follow up on leads!?  And in the middle of winter at that!!  Who did they think he was anyways?  Some simple errand boy!? 'Harry—go bring Abi back, will you?'  'Harry—buy better clothes; we're heading to Missouri!' 'Here Harry, take notes—there's a good man'.  And now?  'We have a lead Harry!  Head back to Missouri—NOW!'  Geesh! Those boys are lucky that George Bannerman had been willing to allow Harry yet another leave of absence!  Things must be slow at the agency.

 Then Harry's angry musings were interrupted by Thompson discreetly clearing his throat.

 “Warden Reece will see you now,”  Thompson announced as he stood up and went to open the office door for him.

 “Oh!”  Harry was suddenly all pleasant efficiency, though he briefly wondered how Thompson could have known that the warden was ready for him right then.  “Thank you my good man,”  he blustered.  “We have important business to discuss.  Yessir!”

 “Yes sir,”  Thompson mimicked him while hiding a bit of a smirk.  “If you'll just step in to the office.”

  Kenny came forward to shake Harry's hand while sending a quick nod to Thompson to close the door on his way out.  “Mr. Briscoe, nice to see you again.”

 “Warden,”  Harry returned the greeting. “What is it that the Bannerman Detective Agency can do for you today?”  

 “Have a seat, Mr. Briscoe,”  Kenny offered and then returned to sit down at his own place behind the desk.  “I realize that Heyes' telegram to you would have been brief.”

 “Sure was!”  Harry harrumphed.  “Head back to Missouri.  See Warden first.  Now!”  Kenny couldn't help but smile at the detective's indignant stance.  “What am I, his trained puppet?”  Harry continued to bluster.  “I'm a Bannerman Man! I can't just drop everything at the snap of his fingers!  'See Warden first'!  It's not like Wyoming is on the way to Missouri ya' know!  Now I gotta back track....”

 “Yes, Mr. Briscoe.”  Kenny effectively cut him off, but inwardly thinking that there was something that Harry Brisco and Hannibal Heyes had in common; they could both talk a blue streak if given free rein to do so.  “I understand the inconvenience. But this is important.”

 “I should certainly hope so.”  Harry puffed himself up with self-importance.  “Those boys know who to call when something really needs to get done! Yessir!”

 Kenny leaned back in his chair, his fingers steepled in front of him.  A smile played about his lips, but then he became all business again and sitting up he pulled a folder out of his desk drawer and set it on his desk top.  Harry eyed it suspiciously as Kenny flipped the folder open to reveal some paperwork and a photograph.

 “Did Heyes ever speak to you about the former warden of this prison, Mr. Briscoe?”  Kenny asked him. “A Mr. George Mitchell?”

 Harry sat back in his chair, a slightly suspicious expression crossing his face.  “Ahh, a Mr. Mitchell?” Harry was trying to rack his brains, not wanting to appear uninformed during this meeting, but he wasn't coming up with anything.  “Ah, no.  Can't say that he did.”

 Kenny nodded.  “Well, I can't say that that's surprising,”  he admitted, instantly relieving Harry's concern.  “I don't suppose Heyes would have talked about him much.  But now, it seems there may be a possibility that Mr. Mitchell is involved in our case to some degree.”

 Harry sat up straight again, suddenly very interested.  “Involved?  In what way?”

 “As you recall, Mr. Harris confided that Mr. Carson, who was a former guard here at the prison was the person who instigated the escape attempt and who was also behind the attempts on Miss Jordan's life.”

 “Yeah,”  Harry nodded.

 “Well, it seems that Heyes has had the opportunity recently to have a word with Mr. Carson,”  Kenny informed the detective.  “From what I understand they had a very interesting conversation.  Mr. Carson admitted to a number of the charges being levelled at him, but hinted that the trail did not end with him.  Unfortunately he did not tell Heyes who was behind all these incidences but we now have reasons to suspect that it was Mr. Mitchell.”

 “The warden was behind an escape from his own prison?”  Harry asked incredulously.

 “Apparently so,”  Kenny admitted a bit reluctantly.  “And, perhaps even in the death of Dr. Morin and in the attempted murder of myself and of Heyes by Hank Boeman.”  Kenny sighed, even he felt uncomfortable with the growing list of suspected crimes.  “And also with Carl Harris' attempts on Miss Jordan's life and Floyd Carson's more resent assault upon Mrs Stewart.”

 Harry sat up even straighter, his mouth dropping in astonishment.  “This Carson fella assaulted Abi!?”

 Kenny nodded.  

 “And he's still alive to talk about it!?”  Harry couldn't believe his ears.

 “Ah, actually no.”  Again, Kenny couldn't help the subtle smile.  “He and Heyes had a bit of an—altercation. Mr. Carson unfortunately did not survive the encounter.”

 Harry snorted.  “Yeah—I don't doubt it!”  Then he showed actual concern.  “Say, this isn't going to affect Heyes' parole is it?”

 Kenny shook his head.  “No.  The Pinkerton agent who is working with them has taken care of the incident.”

 “Oh, well....I certainly hope so.  You know those Pinkerton's....”

 “Apparently this one seems to know his job, Mr. Briscoe,”  Kenny humoured him.  “Everything along those lines has been taken care of.”

 “Good! That's good to hear,”  Harry conceded.  “So what do they need me down there for?  Why don't they just go and arrest this Mitchell fella and be done with it!?”

 “That's where you come in Mr. Briscoe.”

 “Oh.”

 “We don't know for sure that it is Mitchell,”  Kenny explained.  “but we do know that he went to stay with family in Missouri after he—retired.  Both Harris, as you know, and then Carson were apprehended in Kansas which is close enough to Missouri to suggest that they both could have had dealings in that state.  And now there has been other information surface which also suggests that Mr. Mitchell is indeed involved.  

 “Apparently some money was wired to Mr. Carson from the Union Pacific office in Jacksonville, Missouri and what we would like you to do, Mr. Briscoe, is to take this photograph of Mr. Mitchell to that office in Jacksonville and show it around.  If we can get an identification from the people there that this is indeed the person who wired the money to Mr. Carson then that would be enough for authorities to obtain a warrant and arrest Mr. Mitchell.”

 “So...that's all you want me to do?”  Harry asked, again suspicious.  “Just take that photograph to Missouri and get a positive I. D?”

 “Yes.”

 “Seems an awful lot of bother just for that,”  Harry complained.  “Why don't ya' just send the photograph to the sheriff's office down there and get them to do the identifying?”

 “Because we need one of our own men on the scene,”  Kenny placated the detective.  “Someone we know we can trust.  Someone who can make things happen as soon as we know for sure.”

 Harry puffed himself up again.  “Oh well, of course,”  he stated matter of factly.  “No one better than a Bannerman man to make sure things get done.”  Then he unpuffed himself and sent Kenny a conspiratory look.  “Ahhh...what things?”

 Kenny sighed but hid it well.  “A warrant, Mr. Briscoe,”  he told him.  “And if not that, then at least an address where he can be found?”

 “Oh, of course!”  Harry agreed.  “By all means!  I'll get the job done, by all means...yessir!  Nothing like a Bannerman man......”

 Kenny sighed again.


Abigail watched Doctor Miser disappear down the street from her sitting room window.  She turned, smiling at Heyes and the Kid.  “So, we’re allowed to go out, as long as we’re sensible, and don’t go ice-skating or stunt-riding.  How about it?”

“I ain’t goin’ skatin’, Abi,”  the Kid sat back in his chair.  “What did you have in mind?”

“It’s Christmas eve tomorrow,” Abigail sighed.  “I want to go to Kansas City.  I miss Anya, and I bet you two miss the Jordans.  How about it?”

Heyes sat upright, his eyes flaring with surprise.  “Go and see Anya?”

She nodded.  “It’s Christmas, and I want to spend it with my loved ones.  All of them – together.  I don’t care where it is.”

“Can we do that?  Isn’t it dangerous?” Heyes pressed.

“Carson is dead, if Mitchell is behind this, he’s probably taken to the hills.  Cage is going to see his son and his sister; we can easily disguise ourselves for the journey.”  She cast imploring eyes around the room.  “The risk is tiny for just one visit.  What d’you say?”

Heyes stood and laughed out loud. “What do I say!?”  He strode over to Abigail and clutched both cheeks in his hands, planting a big kiss on her lips.  “If I didn’t have chest burns I’d show you a lot more gratitude than that!”

She reached up and stroked his hair.  “And what about you, Jed?  Shall we prepare for a Christmas visit?”

He shook his head, still finding it hard to believe that he was going to see Beth again so soon.  “If we’re disguised, and we make sure we ain’t followed, I can’t see a problem.  I think the chase is goin’ in the other direction now.”

Abigail reached an arm around Heyes, pulling him to her.  “Then it’s agreed.  Let’s go shopping.  We can’t turn up empty handed, can we?”

“What about Cage?” Heyes asked, his brow furrowing, “Doesn’t he have a say in it?  His son and sister are there.”  He grinned as a thought struck him.  “Hey!  I’m supposed to stay with him, after all.”

“I’ve run it passed him, and he’s of the same opinion as the rest of us.”  Abigail shrugged.  “I just need to send a telegram to Mayzee.”

Heyes rubbed his hands together gleefully.  “Well?  What are we waiting for?”  His face fell as a thought hit him.  “What can I get Anya for Christmas?  I don’t have much money.”

The Kid stood.  “Heyes, don’t worry about that.  I guess between Abi and me, we can sort that.  Besides, don’t kids just play with the boxes?”

 
 
Heyes’ stomach was fluttering with nerves, overwhelmed by the prospect of presenting his daughter with his first gift.  What would he get her, what could he afford?  What if she hated it, and just tossed his present aside?  He looked into the joyfully garish toyshop window, and then looked back down at the money in his hands.  This was probably the single most important thing he would ever buy.  What was good enough?  The street was busy, jammed with shoppers and the proximity of so many bustling people jangled his nerves.  He started to breathe rapidly, his breath coming in great gasps of anxiety.  This was too much; too many people, lights, choices... this had to be perfect... his head started to whirl and his hands started to tingle.  The walls of the dark cell started to close in.
   
Abigail slipped a gloved hand around his arm.  “Something small will be absolutely fine, Mr. Heyes.  It’s the thought that counts.”

“Yeah,” he murmured, “the thought... but all I can think about is what I was doing this time last year.”  He shook his head in bemusement.  “I never thought for one second that one year later I’d be here, with you, buying a Christmas present for Anya...”  His voice gave a rasp of emotion, the memories suddenly engulfing him.  The light went out in his eyes, snuffed by suffocating horror.  He struggled to breathe.  “I thought I’d be dead,” he whispered.

Abigail hugged into his arm.  “Mr. Heyes, I know.  It floods back, and suddenly your mind is there again.  You can feel it, smell it, see it, and your body starts to react the way it did when you were facing those terrible times.  It shuts good things down, and opens up ugly sores.  Remember what I told you?”  She stepped in front of him, fixing him with an intense stare.  “Look at me, Mr. Heyes.”  She stared up at the unfocused darkness in his eyes, but they were vacant and lost.  She took both arms and gave him a shake.  “Mr. Heyes!”

The focus suddenly snapped into place, and he engaged with her, but they still swirled with shadows.  Abigail smiled.  “Mr. Heyes, this is normal.  I told you this would happen, didn’t I?  I said there’d be times when the past flooded back and swamped you, but they get less and less,” she pulled at his arm, dragging him back to reality.  “And it has gotten less frequent.  It’s better, and it will improve from here.  I know because I’ve been through it.  Trust me.  Just breathe calmly, and slowly...”

An involuntary smile twitched at his lips.  “Yeah, I guess.”

“Do you want to know what I think?” she linked an arm with him and urged him to walk with her.  “My suggestion that you meet Anya was an emotional jolt, and your mind has trained itself to associate those with the terrible things which were done to you.”

Heyes stopped and turned to her.  “That makes sense... kinda.”

“Well, even if I’m wrong, there’s no harm in helping you to see they can be wonderful too.”

“What do you suggest,” he nodded.  “I don’t think I can take much more ‘wonderful’ today.  I can hardly deal with the stuff I’ve got.”

She pursed her lips pensively.  “You’ve got an hour before Jed meets up with us again.  Why don’t we  sit down for some tea and have a chat about what you could get her?  A book would be good; a lovely keepsake with an inscription.”

“Yeah, I thought about that, but I would have to write it in an alias.  It wouldn’t even have my own name on in.”

She nodded.  “I see, well, let’s have a think and let this sink in a little bit at a time over a cup of tea.  Remember what I told you about baby steps?  This is huge for you, so let’s cut it down to bite-size pieces.  How much do you have, and what can you get for that amount?”  Abigail laid a gentle hand on his arm.  “Don’t build this up too much; it’s just a little gift.  Jed was right anyway, they always end up playing with the boxes.  When children look back at Christmas they remember the day, the joy, the people.  The simple gifts are the best ones, you know.”

Heyes nodded.  “I guess... I need to think of something simple.”

 
 
Heyes stared into the jeweller’s window.  It was tiny, inexpensive, and sleek.  It seemed so perfect in its simplicity, and he wondered if she’d understand the hidden meaning.  Well, there was only one way to find out.  He walked into the shop, his grating nerves jangling along with the brass bell attached to the door.  Would it be enough?

The shop assistant seemed to appear out of the gloom like an apparition, his gnarled hands meeting in front of him in a gesture of helpful supplication. “Can I help you, sir?”

Heyes nodded.  “Yes, please,” he pointed.  “In the window...” the clerk followed his pointing finger.  “Yes, that one.”

The little object was scooped up, and its neighbours quickly pushed in to fill the gap in the window display. 

“Would sir like this gift wrapped?”

“I’d like a chain too.”

The assistant’s bushy eyebrows crawled upwards.  “This is a charm, sir.  It’s meant to go on a bracelet.”

“I want a chain.  For the neck.”

“Is sir sure?  The lady may want to exchange it?”

Heyes’ lips firmed into a line.  “Sir is sure.  Show me your chains.”

 
 
Cage stared out of the window at the swirling white flakes fading the dark street to grey.  “Where is he, Abi?  You promised me he’d be accompanied at all times.  You’re back making dinner, Curry’s packin’, and I’m fit to be tied.  YOU PROMISED ME!  My name’s on the case.  What if he disappears?  What do I say?”

Abigail rolled her eyes.  “Look!  He’ll be here; he just wanted some privacy to buy a few Christmas gifts so they’d be a surprise.  He’s meeting his daughter tomorrow, for the first time since she was born.  There’s no way he’s going to throw his parole out of the window and miss that.”  She poked a knife into a pot, testing the potatoes.  She gave a nod of satisfaction and poured them into the colander in the sink.  “You’ve clearly got a lot of excess energy.  Put it to use and mash those for me.”

Cage frowned.  “I don’t cook unless there’s a campfire involved, Abi.”

She held his firm gaze with a wry smile.  “This isn’t cooking.  It’s smashing things, and I think that’ll be good for you.  Did you know that the word ‘smashing’ is one of the words taken from Gaelic?  It comes from, ‘s math sinn.’  The pronunciation is almost exactly the same, but it’s been anglicized.”

“So?” Cage growled.

“It translates to ‘that’s good,’” she walked over and thrust the potato masher into his hand.  “Get yourself over there, and have a smashing time – it’ll use up some of that heat.”  She touched him lightly on the arm.  “I’m not Emily, Cage.  I’m helping a houseful of men in an investigation.  If you think that also makes me your cook, you’re very much mistaken.  I’m not your wife.  I’m here as a detective.  Get mashing.”

“I'll help.  I set the table,” Cage retorted, defensively.

She nodded, “Yes, but if you want to eat here tonight, you need to do a bit more.  I have other things to do.”    
There was a knock at the door, catching a reluctant Cage in mid-mash.  His blue eyes darted up to Abigail in question.  “I’ll get it,” Abigail nodded.  “It’ll be him.  I’m sure of it.”

She pulled open the door, her plush mouth twitching into a smile.  “Mr. Heyes, we’ve been worried about you.  What on EARTH have you got there?”

He strode into the hallway, pulling off his hat and shaking the snow from the brim.  He propped a huge flat parcel against the wall.  “A surprise, Abi.  Simple gifts, you said.  That’s what I went for.” 
  
“It’s nearly as tall as you are!  What is it?  A flattened box?”

“Yup.  The children always play with the box, you and Kid both said that, but this is a very special box.”

Abigail fingered the cardboard, confusion crowding her frown.  “You got Anya a box?”

He dropped a kiss on her cheek, leaving three more small parcels on the stairs.  “Not just any box, Abi.  An extra special box.  You’ll see.”  He sniffed the air, walking towards the kitchen.  “Cage?  You’re cooking?”

“Nope,” Cage gave a harrumph.  “I’m helpin’ Abi.  She ain’t just here to look after us, you know.  What’re you gonna do to help?”  

“Dunno,” he gave a light shrug.  Abigail’s heart did a flip of gratification at the lightness dancing in his eyes again.  “What d’ya need?”

She shrugged.  “Table setting?  Then get cleaned, it won’t be long.”

 
                   
Heyes punched at his pillow, sleep still evading him.  What time was it?  Uually he could tell but not on this night.  He turned on his back and stared up to the ceiling.  Somehow it seemed difficult to even close his eyes.  They remained resolutely open, lively and active; which seemed fair enough, as his mind was buzzing; full of musings and imaginings of tomorrow.  The irony of the situation hit him.  He was just like an excited child on Christmas Eve – because he was finally preparing to surprise a child for Christmas.

His brow furrowed, thinking of the big, flattened box in the hallway.  It had seemed such a good idea at the time, but now?  He wasn’t so sure.  It just seemed cheap and tacky, but didn’t children love that?  Well, he’d find that out soon enough.

What choice did he have?  He had next to no money, and it was important to him to buy gifts for Abi and Anya with money he’d earned honestly as a hand at the Double J. 

“Heyes,” the Kid’s voice drifted through the darkness.  “If you don’t stop huffin’ and puffin’ I’ll come over there and give you somethin’ to puff about.”

“Sorry, Kid.  I just can’t sleep.”

“Well, don’t sleep, but do it quietly,” the Kid’s voice softened.  “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m good, I’m just...”  Heyes sighed.  “I can’t stop thinking about tomorrow.”

There was a burning silence in the darkness, pregnant with unspoken thoughts, but Heyes could feel the Kid’s eyes on him.  “Yeah, Heyes.  It’s a big thing.  She’s a real sweet kid, and you’ll love her.”

“Kansas, huh?”

“Whad’ya mean?”

“Families and Kansas.  It always seems to come back down to here, doesn’t it?”

“I hadn’t thought about it, but I guess it does.  Everythin’ comes back down to Kansas, and what happened here.”
“And now it comes back down to a new start.  Life goes in circles.”

“Well that’s good, ain’t it?”

“Yeah, I’m just thinking too much.  Anya living here’s nothing like our folks.  Go back to sleep, Kid.” Heyes dragged himself up, pulling on some pants.  “I’m going to make some tea.  It’s not fair to keep you up.”


 
 
 
“What you doing down here?”

Heyes awoke with a start, seeing Abigail’s smiling face standing over him.  “I couldn’t sleep.”

“So I saw.  That was the deepest ‘not sleeping’ I’ve seen in many a long year.  That’s quite the snoring problem, if you do it when you’re awake.”

“I don’t snore,” he protested.

“Of course you don’t.  When you sleep, it’s like the fairies themselves are singing a lullaby into the velvet ears of baby rabbits nestled on clouds...” she smiled, sitting beside him on the settee and handing him a cup of coffee.  “Are you alright?”

He smiled, rubbing the sleep from his face.  “Yeah, I’m good.  I guess I just got a bit – worked up.”

“Wondering if she’ll like you, and if she’ll hate your present?”

Heyes nodded.  “How did you know?”

She gave his leg a playful pat.  “Because that’s what anyone would think in your position, I’m not psychic!”  She stood, “go and get washed and dressed.  We’re leaving on the one o’clock train, and we need to get our disguises perfected.  I’m nipping out to the shop to get a turkey.”

“I thought we were going to Mayzee’s?”

“We are, Mr. Heyes, but I can’t bring a party this size, and turn up empty handed.  I’m taking a turkey and a couple of pies for dessert.”  She walked into the hallway, and stared at the enormous flattened box, still propped against the wall.  “What on earth have you got her?”

Heyes groaned.  “Don’t!  I’m nervous enough already.  I’m takin’ a risk, and I pray to God that it pays off.”

She grinned.  “Whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll be memorable.  Come on, let’s get weaving.  It’s Christmas Eve and there’s a lot to do.”



 
  The train ride back through Colorado and then into Kansas was anything but thrilling.  Harry sat and read the newspapers most of the time even though every little small town paper seemed to carry the same type of small town story.  There was always the fight in the saloon over the poker game, the sheriff tracking down a wayward husband—or family pet.  Who was seeing whom behind so and so's back, etc.  All small towns seemed to be the same.  

 Even when Harry did take a distracted glance out the window at the sliding by landscape he tended to echo Wheat and Kyle's unsavoury opinion of this part of the countryside.  They'd all spent plenty enough time in it too when they had been on the hunt here earlier in the year. Harry snorted in disgust! And Heyes and Kid spent their childhoods in this bleak land?  No wonder they became outlaws!

 Then finally!!  After two different train connections, innumerable delays due to broken rails, livestock on the tracks, rock slides, mud slides, snow slides or just simply setting out on a siding waiting for a west bound train to go by so they could carry on, they arrived at their destination.  Harry really was beginning to hate train travel by the time the engine finally puffed its weary way into Jacksonville, Missouri.  He needed a drink.

 Harry bundled himself together, stretched out his aching muscles and tried to brush the wrinkles out of his suit, all the while grabbing his small satchel of baggage, his coat and his hat and joining in amongst the throng trying to disembark.  Once he stepped out onto the platform he was glad for his coat and setting down his satchel he quickly bundled himself up in the warm apparel.  He straightened himself out, put on his self-important air and then did a quick scrutiny of the town.  Hmm, didn't look too much different from all the other towns he'd been through.

 Hunger was nagging at him and since he didn't see the Western Union Office anywhere in close proximity he decided to get a hotel room and then go grab a bite to eat before heading off in search of the local money wiring service.  As usual, he didn't have far to go for the hotel since any hotel owner with a lick of business sense would know that the best place for a lodging establishment would be right next to the train station!  And the best place for a cafe would be right next to the hotel, and the best place for a saloon....well, you get the picture.

 Harry got the picture too and he stood for a moment on the station platform and looked from one establishment to the other, debating which one to patronize first.  Fortunately common sense won out and the disgruntled Bannerman man headed for the hotel.  Unfortunately by the time he had made up his mind, he found himself in quite a cue to get a room.  It seems that numerous travellers had decided to end their journey in Jacksonville—though Harry couldn't fathom why—and all of them had hurried to the hotel to make sure they got the room of their choice.  Harry would have to settle for whatever was left.

 As it happened, a single room with a single bed and no real view to speak of—what was there to look at anyways—seemed to be all that was left and that just suited Harry fine.

 “Would you like a bath sent up?”  asked the clerk, trying to solicit more business.  “Or perhaps—laundering?”

 “No, no I'll be fine,”  Harry declined.  “A shave and a wash cloth is all I'll be needing.”

 “Hmm, and how long will you be staying?”

 “When is the next west bound train?”

 “Tuesday evening, 7:00 p.m.”

 “Then I'll be staying until Tuesday evening, 6:30 p.m.”  Harry grumbled.  Then he brightened up and tried to become all business like in his crumpled suit.  “Where will I find the Western Union offices?”

 “They're over on Colter Street,”  the clerk informed him.  “That's two blocks down and one over.  They'll be open all day...”  Then his nose rose into the air just a bit.  “...and they're willing to do business with just about anyone.”

 “Hmm, yes!  Very good,”  Harry smiled and nodded, missing the insult altogether.  “I'll just get settled into my room and then go have a word with them—we have business to discuss!”

 “Um hmm.”

 Ninety minutes later found Harry cleaned up, well fed and introducing himself to the clerk behind the counter at the Western Union Office.

 “Good morning, Mr....?”

 “Rosenberg, sir.”  

 “Rosenberg, eh?”  Harry repeated, giving the man what was meant to be an intimidating glare.  The clerk passively gazed back at him.  “I've got some questions for you Rosenberg.”

 “Yessir, how can I be of help?”

 “How observant are you Rosenberg?”  Harry demanded with an authoritarian air.  “Do you think you can recognize a man who may have been in here a week or so ago?”

 “I'm not sure,”  Rosenberg admitted.  “What was the gentleman's name?”

 “That's what I need you to tell me!”  Harry was mildly incredulous.  “It wouldn't help too much if I told you his name now would it!?”

 Rosenberg shrugged, not quite sure where this was going.  “Well, can you describe him?  Was he wearing anything that might stand out?”

 “I don't need to describe him!”  Harry blustered.  “I have a photograph of him right here!  How in the world do you expect to be able to tell me who he is if you can't see a picture of him!?”

 “Oh.  Well I....”

 “That's alright.”  Harry calmed down and became consoling.  “You can't be expected to understand all this law enforcement stuff.  Just relax, there's nothing for you to be concerned about.  I just need you to answer some questions that's all.”

 “Yessir.”

 Harry reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the photograph of Mitchell and showed it to the clerk.  Mr. Rosenberg took the photo and with furrowed brows, scrutinized it with some intensity.

 “So,”  Harry asked impatiently.  “you do recognize him?”

 “Well, yes I think so,”  Rosenberg surmised.  “It's not a very good photograph but I believe that is a friend of Ed's.”

 “Ed's?”  Harry asked.

 “Ah, yeah.”  Rosenberg scratched his head. “Ed Stanton.  He works at the newspaper office here in town.  He and his wife have a place just on the outskirts.”

 “Well, did he come in here in the last ten days or so and send a wire to anyone?”

 Rosenberg shrugged.  “I donno.  A name would help.”

 “Mitchell,”  Harry finally informed him.  “George Mitchell.”

 “Mitchell huh?”  Rosenberg repeated.  “I can take a look at our records to see if he sent a wire recently, but without some kind of official permission, I can't really tell you....”

 “Official Permission!?”  Harry bellowed and pulling out his wallet, flipped it open to show his credentials.  “I'm from the Bannerman Detective Agency!  This Mitchell is a suspect in an ongoing case that runs from here all the way up into Wyoming!  I've been sent here to investigate this 'Mr. Mitchell', and I don't need some young, up-start of a bank clerk....”

 “It's actually a financial service....”

 “I don't care what it is!?”  Harry blustered back, then he leaned forward across the counter and squinted at the clerk.  “Now do you really mean to tell me that you intend to hinder the official investigation into....”

 “No, no!  Ah, Mr.....”  Rosenberg squinted back at the credentials Harry was still holding up.  “Mr. Briscoe....no, I don't wish to hinder the investigation sir, it's just that I'd feel a lot better if you could go talk to the Police Inspector first and have him tell me that it's okay to give you this information.  I don't want to lose my job Mr. Briscoe.”

 “Oh.”  Harry backed off.  “Oh, yeah of course.”  Then he puffed himself up again.  “You just carry on there Mr. Rosenberg while I go speak with the Inspector.  Wouldn't want you doing anything that might cause you to lose your job!”

  “Yessir.”

 “You just see if you can find his transaction in your records and I'll be back!”

 “Yessir.”
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Keays

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Posts : 1435
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Simple Gifts   Sat Dec 07, 2013 9:21 pm

Two hours later a rather flustered but successful Bannerman man came trudging back into the Western Union office with a police corporal purposefully leading the way.

 “Afternoon Bob,”  the lawman greeted the clerk.

 Rosenberg smiled and sighed in minor relief.  “Hey there Corporal Reddikopp,  good to see you.  I wasn't sure if it was alright to just hand over information like this to just anybody.”

 Harry snorted in the background and was about to protest the insult but the corporal held up his hand to silence him and Harry settled for grumbling instead.

 “You were wise to check it out first Bob,”  the corporal assured him.  “You never know who might come traipsing in here and asking for confidential information and it wouldn't do at all to just hand it out to anybody off the street.”

 “Anybody off the street!!?”  Harry was indignant.  “I'll have you know that I came all the way from Wyoming to get this information!  This is an official police investigation...!”

 “Yes, yes, I know.”  Reddikopp appeased the detective with an indication of redundancy.  “It's alright Bob, you can give him any information you've been able to dig up.  Mr. Briscoe's references all check out.  He's legit.”
 Another snort from Harry.  Bob smiled.

 “Okay, thank you Corporal Reddikopp.”  He nodded with relief.  “And I did actually find out a thing or two from our records.”

 “You did!?”  Harry came forward then, totally ignoring the police officer.  “What did you find?”

 “I'll leave you two gentlemen to it,”  Reddikopp wisely announced.  “You know where to find me if you need anything else.”

 “Yes Corporal Reddikopp, that will be fine!”  Harry briskly dismissed him.  “I may need a warrant from your office if everything goes the way I'm hoping!”

 “One thing at a time, Mr. Briscoe,”  the corporal advised him.  “I don't believe Mr. Mitchell is still in town anyways.  But you're welcome to go have a word with his nephew if you wish.”

 “His nephew?”

 “Yes,”  Reddikopp confirmed.  “Ed Stanton.  He works down at the newspaper office...”

 “Oh yes, yes!” Harry dismissed the information as redundant.  “I already know about him.  Thank you anyway corporal.  You did a fine job here!”

 Reddikopp and Rosenberg exchanged cocked eyebrows.

 “Hmm hum,”  the corporal commented.  “Fine Mr. Briscoe—you'll know where I'll be.”

 “Yes, yes!”  Then he turned to the clerk again.  “So, what do you have for me young man?”

 “Well, let's see here....”  Rosenberg pulled out his ledger and flipped to some of the relevant pages.  “Ahmm, we have a number of entries here.  Mostly just small amounts to various people but there are two different individuals who stand out more than the others.  Ahh, a 'Mitch' Harris received some money from Mr. Mitchell last year, but the more recent one was to Floyd Carson....”

 “YES!”  Harry was exuberant.

 Rosenberg jumped and then looked at the Bannerman man a little dubiously.  “I take it that is the name you were looking for?”

 “It certainly is young man!”  Harry informed him, though his reaction could hardly have denied it. “Ah, was there a note or anything that went along with it?”

 “Yes.”  Rosenberg scanned down the page with his finger and then stopped at the appropriate inscription.  “Here it is.  It said; ‘Wired money.  H idiot.  Birds flown J.J.  Do this quick.' and then it's signed, 'M'.”  Rosenberg shrugged.  “It was sent by Mr. Mitchell so I assume that's what the 'M' stands for.”

 “Yes...well probably.”  Harry frowned, looking serious.  “Still, in police work you don't want to assume anything!  But that's alright, there's no reason for you to know that.  Still, best to be sure. I'm going to need a copy of that telegram along with the date that it was sent.”

 “Oh, ah yeah.  I suppose that's okay,”  Rosenberg complied.  He was looking forward to getting this man out of his office.  “Just give me a moment and I'll write out the details for you.”

 “Fine, fine,”  Harry encouraged him.  “So this Mr. Stanton works right here in town does he?”

 “Yeah,”  Rosenberg confirmed.  “Right over at the newspaper office.”

 “And where might that be?”

 “Well you probably walked right passed it on your way here,”  Rosenberg snipped, getting a little tired of this 'gentleman' and all his questions.  “It's right up there on Main Street in between the café and the shoemaker's.”

 “Oh right!  Of course.  I certainly recall seeing that office there now that you mention it!”  Harry lied.  “Good man.”

 “Mmm hmm,” was the only response.  The clerk then handed Harry the copy of the telegram along with all the other relevant information and was very happy to see the back of that gentleman walking out of his office.

 Harry trudged his way back up towards the main part of town, pulling his coat more snugly about himself and being thankful that at least the boardwalks were cleared of snow and ice.  This really was a miserable time of year down in these areas; so damp and uninviting.  He really would be happy to finish up his business here and be able to head back to the clean crispness of Colorado!

 Still, when there was a job to be done, Harry Briscoe was hardly going to be the man to back down just because of a little cold dampness!  No sir!  The boys were counting on him to get this information and even better; to get the man himself!  Yes, Harry smiled to himself and nodded.  We'll get him!   Nothing Harry despised more than a law man or government official who went bad!  No sir!

 Harry headed over towards the café and then did a quick survey of the surrounding area. Sure enough, the newspaper office was right there where Rosenberg had said it would be.  Harry must have been really preoccupied to have not noticed that building hiding in plain sight. He harrumphed to himself and then kicking off what bits of snow that had collected on his shoes, he entered the building.

 The first thing he noticed was the overwhelming smell of ink and paper and then the clatter of one of the presses in the back chugging out the sheets for the late edition of the day.  He stopped at the desk and took a look around until he finally spotted yet another relatively young man down there in the back, working the press.  The noise from the machinery had prevented the sole occupant from hearing the detective's entrance and Harry had to shout to make himself heard over the racket.

 “HELLO!”  he called down there.  “MR. STANTON!?”

 No reaction.

 “HELLO!!!”

 The gentleman in the back jumped slightly and then glanced around.  He spotted Mr. Briscoe, nodded and sent him a quick wave of acknowledgement.  He then turned back to the press and finishing up what he was working on he then came up front to see what his visitor might be wanting.  Perhaps there was a late breaking story that needed to be included in this edition—one never knew!

 Harry looked the man up and down.  It's odd, he thought that you could almost always tell a man's profession by the clothes that he wore.  This particular young man indeed had 'newspaper' written all over him.  From his black slacks and white shirt to the black bands around his lower arms to protect his sleeves from ink, this man reeked of the printing industry.

 “Yes sir, what can I do for you?”

 “Are you Ed Stanton?”

 The young man's shoulders slumped; obviously not a late breaking story. “Yes.  And you are?”

 “Harry Briscoe, Bannerman Detective Agency,”  Harry announced, holding up his credentials for the young man to see.  “I need to ask you some questions.”

 Ed Stanton sighed with weary frustration.  “Haven't you people asked enough questions?  Just how many times are you going to be sending someone around here?  I already told that other man everything that I know.”

 Harry stood up straighter, a piercing glint coming into his eye as he glared into the young man.  “Other man?”  he asked.  “What other man was this?”

 “The other 'law man' who came asking about our uncle!”  Stanton informed Harry as though it should be obvious.  “And I'll tell you the same thing I told him; Uncle George came to stay with us for awhile after he retired.  He needed some time to sort out what he wanted to do now that he wasn't working any more.  I suppose he figured it out, because about a week ago he suddenly announced that he was going to be moving on.  Didn't know exactly where he was going, just that he had the travelling bug and off he went.”

 “Hmm,  So he's not living with you any more?”

 “Isn't that what I just said?”

 “Yes, yes!  No need to get uppity!”  Harry warned him.  “So he's moved on and you have no idea where he went?”

 “That's right!”  Stanton was getting fed up with all this.  “What in the world is this all about any ways?  Can't a man do what he wants in this country without having every sort of law man coming around and asking stupid questions!?”

 Harry puffed up again, spewing indignation.  “These are hardly stupid questions Mr. Stanton!  And a man is certainly free to go where he wants and do what he wants—so long as it's legal.”

 Stanton's dark eyes darkened even more and he snarled.  “What's that supposed to mean?”

 “Just what I said,”  Harry informed him.  “Mr. Mitchell is wanted for questioning in a number of unfortunate incidences and I strongly suggest that if you know anything about where he might be, that you tell me—right now!”

 “I already told ya'--just like I told the other fella!  I don't know where he went!”

 “What about your wife?”  Harry asked.  “Perhaps she would have a better idea.  Now if I could just...”

 “NO!”  Stanton snapped at him.  “You're not talking to her!  That other bastard upset her so badly that she took to her bed and only recently has she felt well enough to get back to her normal routine.  You're not gonna be upsetting her again!”

 “I have no intentions of upsetting her...”

 “Damn right you ain't!”  Stanton cut him off.  “Cause you're not going near her!  And if I hear that you went to see her behind my back....”

 “No no no, Mr. Stanton,”  Harry assured him.  “Don't you worry about that.  I don't want to upset the young lady.  But this other man who was asking after your uncle; what did he want?”

 “Same thing as you,”  Stanton informed him.  “Wanted to know where he went.  Said he had a pre-arranged meeting with him and that it was important that they get in touch...all a bunch of nonsense too!  I doubt that he even was a law man!  Just some ex-con coming down here trying to cause trouble for my uncle!”

 “Well, what did he look like?”  Harry asked, all curious now.  If somebody else was after Mitchell, law man or not, this was something the boys would need to know about.

 Stanton hesitated a moment, thinking about his answer.  “Well, he was a big fella.  Not fat but solid, you know.  Actually not really tall either—tall enough but not huge.  Just big in presence—takes up a lot of space.”

 Harry nodded, trying to look like he might know what he didn't know.  “Anything else?”

 “He was older,”  Stanton continued.  “Light brown hair, short and starting to go gray.  I think he was starting to go bald.  Hard to tell though since he had his hat on most of the time.”

 “Hmm,”  Harry nodded again.  “Any beard or moustache?”

 “Nope.  Clean shaven.”

 “Did he give his name?”

 “I don't remember!”  Stanton was beginning to lose patience.  “Jamieson or Patterson or something like that!  All I know is that he pissed me off and I sure don't appreciate the way he spoke to my wife either!  So if you two are working together....”

 “No, no we're not,”  Harry assured him.  He thought about the names that Stanton had just given him and he felt a certain frustration that the man couldn't think of the correct one.  Something was nagging at Harry that this could be relevant.  “Are you sure you can't come up with the name?”  he nudged at the young man.  “This could be very important.”

 He thought about it a little longer, his eyes distant and his expression intense as he tried to dig the name out from the pits of his memory.  Then the light came on in Mr. Stanton's eyes.  “Morrison! Yeah!  That was it.  Tom Morrison!  What a bastard!  I swear if I ever see him again...!”

 “No no!”  Harry tried to calm him down and at the same time thinking that the name should mean something to him.  It was vaguely familiar.  “That man was not working for us!  Rest assured we will track him down and find out what his interest is in this case.  Don't you worry about that.”

 “Yeah, well you better find him,” Stanton grumbled. “What's this country coming to when a man like that can go around sayin' he's a law man!?  Even had a badge too; US Marshal!  Can you believe that!?   Uncle George would have known all the marshals up that way!  If he had an appointment with one of them he would have stuck around for it, don't ya' think?”  Then his eyes took on a crafty look.  “Come to think of it; if Uncle George knew that a Bannerman Detective was coming to see him, he would have stayed around for that too!  Let me see that badge again!  You're probably not even a detective are you!?  What's going on here!?  Are you a pair of ex-cons trying to get even with our Uncle George just cause he ran that god forsaken prison!?  Is that what you're after!?  You and your buddy trying to exact some sick revenge or something....!?”

 “No, no!  I assure, nothing like that at all.  I am a Bannerman detective!”  Harry tried to placate the man, having sensed a shift in the atmosphere.  “Just want to ask him some questions is all...”

 “I think you'd better leave Mr. Briscoe,”  Stanton advised him quietly.  “before I do something I might regret.”

 “Yes, yes of course Mr. Stanton,”  Harry blustered as he made his way to the door.  “And thank you for your time.  Greetings to your wife....”

 “GET OUT!”





The train journey seemed interminable, chugging through the Kansas countryside, although it was actually a couple of hours. Heyes’ impatience was getting the better of him; the false beard used to age him was itching, his mind still focused nervously on the huge flattened box in the baggage car, and the Kid seemed to be more interested in the new magazine he had picked up. It was called the National Geographic and featured pictures of fascinating animals from all over the world. At least Heyes thought they must be riveting – he hadn’t poked his nose out of it for over an hour. Even those stupid fake glasses didn’t seem to get in his way.

Heyes stared out of the window, faintly seeing his own reflection in the glass—grey and hirsute. Looking at a different visage made him realize just how thin he had become. Maybe it was the badly-fitting suit, but the face staring back at him was that of a wizened old man. He finally resolved to put some weight on, and Christmas was surely a good time to start. He dropped his head against the window, allowing the throbbing vibrations to lull him to sleep. He started to dream...

The pounding pulse of the train’s movement seemed to insinuate itself into his mind. He was on a train, his head thrust out of the window. Anya was on the platform, dressed in the same dark dress with the lace collar she had been wearing in the photograph. She was running towards him. The train started to move, pushing him further and further away from the scurrying figure. He shouted her name, but it became lost in the rumbling wheels and the screaming of the whistle. The platform seemed to be endless, and the child kept up her pace, but she wasn’t fast enough to keep up with a train. He watched the retreating figure, exploding with frustration. He yelled out her name at the top of his voice.   “Anya!!”

He was jarred back to reality by the hand tugging on his knee. “Joshua!” He blinked up at the disguised Kid, sighing at the normality around him. Or at least, it was nearly normal. “Straighten your wig, and that damned beard’s slippin’. Sort them out,” the Kid hissed. “You can pull that lot off on the way to the school once we’re off the train.”

Dusk came early in December and darkness was crowding around the red brick building as the wagon drew up in front. It stood starkly out against the snow in the twilight, the painted sign standing proudly above the white picket fence proclaiming the legend, “The Redmore School for Girls, Headmistress A.G Stamford.

Cage jumped down, reaching up to get his bags. He gave Abigail a grin. “Well, we’re here.” he nodded to Mayzee’s husband, driving the vehicle. “They have no idea?”

“Nope, only Mayzee. We thought it’d be fun to surprise them.

“I can’t wait to see Anya's face!” Abigail giggled.

The Kid slid solemn blue eyes towards his cousin. Heyes was unusually quiet and still. Was this all going to be too much for him?

They trudged up the path, carting as much of their baggage as they could manage. The flattened box was deemed too large and was to be left in the stable to be collected later. They waited while Cage battered the elaborate owl door knocker against the strike plate. It was opened by a blonde woman whose blue eyes widened as she covered her mouth with both hands to suppress a squeak of excitement. “Cage!?” She reached out and draped her arms around his neck, dragging him down to her height for an enveloping hug.

“Lemme go, Mayzee, there’s other folks standin’ in the cold.” Cage untangled himself from his sister’s grip. “Is he awake?”

Mayzee twinkled at her brother. “Jake’s two now, Cage. He doesn’t sleep all the time.” She gestured towards a door with her head. “They’re all in there. We also have a few girls who couldn’t go home for the holidays, so we try to make it fun for them too. They’re playing games.” She laid soft hands on Abigail’s arm. “You must be Abi. I’ve heard so much about you.” She glanced at the ex-outlaws standing politely in her hall.

“Ma’am,” the Kid touched the brim of his hat.

“A pleasure,” whispered Mayzee conspiratorially, her simmering blue eyes telling them that she knew a great deal more than she was saying, “well, let’s go and surprise them.”

Heyes felt his stomach turn over, his eyes drawn to the door a few feet away. He felt the Kid touch him lightly in the small of his back. “C’mon, time to meet the family.”

The group of children sat huddled over a bowl, threading popcorn into garlands. Mayzee clapped her hands. “Everyone, we have some surprise guests for Christmas.”

Heyes recognized her the moment she turned, her dark, feline eyes opening the moment they fell on her mother.

“Mama!” She leaped to her feet, darting across the room and hurtled herself into her mother like a human cannonball.

Abigail buckled, her injured chest proving too much for the attack. The child dropped to her knees beside her prone mother with large worried eyes. “Mama, mama! What’s wrong!?”

Heyes crouched down, fixing Abigail with worried eyes, but heaved a sigh of relief as she pushed herself to a sitting position and clutched her daughter to her with a laugh. “Tha ghu math! Oh, you! I swear you’ve gotten bigger, a leannan! Come here to me.” She sat on the floor, her daughter beside her and cradled her tightly, murmuring in her ear. “I’m fine, my love. You’re just such a coire!

“I’m sorry, mama. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Don’t be daft, I’m fine.”

There was a squeal from across the room were J.J. and Beth had just entered the room with a fresh bowl of popcorn. “JED!!”

The Kid strode towards them arms outstretched as the Jordans wrapped themselves about him, laughing and enfolding affectionately. “Momma’s in the kitchen.” J.J. took Jed’s hand and dragged him towards the doors at the far end of the room with Beth in tow. Momma! Momma! Guess who’s here?”

Heyes looked down on his daughter, her glistening curls almost black against her creamy skin. It took every ounce of his self-restraint not to reach out and clutch her to him.

Abigail darted a glance up at him. “Becky, I want you to meet a special visitor. Mr. Jones you have met before. This is Mr. Smith. He is a relative of your father’s.”

Becky turned her face up to her father for the first time. Her face dimpled into a smile. “You’re a relative of my father’s? You knew him?”

“A cousin.” Heyes examined her; every crease, movement and expression. His heart had already skipped a beat when she had pounded across the room. His older sister had run like that, and he’d forgotten that until the moment she brought it so vividly to life. The syncopated rhythm of those heels clattering across the floor was clearly in her blood – there was nobody around for her to learn these things from. The tilt of the chin smiling up at him was his mother’s, as was the pert little nose and the glittering smile. They were whispers of the past, transmitting ghosts down the line to the next generation. “Oh, Anya!” His eyes glistened. “You look so like my mother, and my sister. You’re just so beautiful.”

Her little dark eyebrows rose. “Anya? Mama says that only family get to call me that, but I suppose you are.”
He dropped to one knee. “Oh, yes, Anya. I’m family.” He stretched out a hand, which she took, giving it a jerky little handshake.

“I’m pleased to meet you... Mr. Smith.”

He shook his head. “Sounds a little formal. How about, ‘Uncle Han?’”

She glanced down at her mother, still sitting on the floor, getting a nod of approval from her. “Uncle Han?” She turned running over to J.J., yelling at the top of her voice. “J.J.! J.J., come and see. I got an uncle for Christmas!” She stopped, zigzagging over to Cage who was embracing a little blond boy. “Uncle Cage, mama came. I told you she’d come for Christmas, didn’t I?”

He ruffled her hair affectionately. “Yeah, darlin’. You did.”

Abigail and Heyes looked at one another. “I did tell you she was a whirlwind.”

Heyes nodded. “She’s wonderful, Abi, but I’m beginning to feel sorry for my folks for having so many of us.”

“Me too!” Abigail nodded. “Is anyone going to help me up?”




Belle shook her head in disbelief. “Jed?” She hugged him close. “Is it over?” she whispered. Is that why you’re here?”

He gave an apologetic sigh. “Sorry, no.” He pulled back to look into her eyes. “It’s something to do with the warden at the prison, but he’s on the run. It’s not safe to go home until we find him. I’m sorry.”

She gave him a smile. “I’m so glad you’re here. I didn’t want to think of you spending Christmas on the trail. How did you find out who was behind it?”

“That’s a long story, and none too Christmassy.” He glanced around the kitchen, rubbing his hands in glee. “So, lots of cookin’ goin’ on, huh?”

She flicked him away from the cakes with a dishcloth. “Did Mayzee know you were coming?”

“Sure did.”

“Hmm, so that’s why she made so many pies extra for tonight. That accounts for you – but did she know about anyone else?” Beth and J.J. stood giggling together in the corner.

“Very funny, I need to unpack. I’ll go and see where Mayzee’s plannin’ on putting us?”

“She has the women in one dormitory, and the men in another. He’ll be able to help. We had only been told about her brother, Cage, but I’m sure she’s made arrangements for you two. Go and see Henry.”

“Sure will,” he caught Beth up and dropped a kiss on her cheek. “I’m real pleased to see you, darlin’. I’ll be right back,” his eyes glittered dangerously at Belle before he grinned. “You can’t guard those cakes forever.”

“Joshua’s here too?” Belle’s shook her head. “Where is he?”

The Kid gestured to the sitting room with his head. “Meeting Anya.”

She put a hand to her chest. “For the first time?”

The Kid nodded. “Since she was born. He was there for that.”

She walked over to the door. “I must see him.”





 Belle quietly opened the door leading into the living room where her dear friend was experiencing the moment of a lifetime.  Her hand came up to her mouth in an unconscious effort to stifle the sob of joy which had valiantly tried to bust forth.  Joshua looked so radiant—scared to death, but radiant none the less.

 Sweet Becky was smiling at him, speaking to him in her confident and unabashed role as leader of the household.  It was electric when their eyes met, as though she had known him all her life and he just couldn't take her in quickly enough.

 Belle could feel her heart pounding against her chest with the raw emotion of the encounter.  Was she the only one who could feel it?  Oh, the similarities between them now that they were face to face—two peas in a pod!  No one could be mistaken of their heritage—no one but Anya herself that is.  She was still too young to be able to connect how similar this man was to her own reflection.  That wouldn't mean anything to her now, not yet.  She gazed upon him with fresh eyes and though, as is often the case, she felt an instant connection to him—an instant liking, she was willing to accept that he was simply a new uncle.

 Hannibal on the other hand, was in love.





Heyes sat and looked around at a perfect Christmas Eve scene, part of him still wondering how he got here. Abigail sat in a rocking chair brushing Anya’s hair as she sat on the ground in front of her, dressed in her nightclothes. The brush ran smoothly through her silky curls from root to end, time and time again, Anya leaning back against her mother’s legs, a look of sublime peace and happiness on her face.

The Christmas tree was festooned in popcorn garlands, along with an array of lovingly crafted decorations, and bellies were filled to contentment; even the snow obligingly glittered with diamonds of frost as the adults sipped at glasses of porter in the cozy living room. The four boarders were also in their nightclothes, playing a board game, and Cage’s infant son, was asleep in his arms. He was reluctant to put him to bed just yet, because it had been so long since he’d last seen him, and Mayzee had been tolerant; more tolerant than either Heyes or Curry expected in a headmistress.

The youngest of the girls left at school for Christmas crawled tentatively over to Abigail. “Please Mrs. Stewart, could you brush my hair next?”

Belle’s eyes filled with compassion, seeing the need for some gentle human contact in the child. “Bring me your brush, Lisa. I’ll brush your hair for you.”

The girl’s little face lit up. “You will!”

Mayzee looked at Beth and Hester. “I’m sure if the rest of you get your brushes, Beth and Doctor Bentham will also help me, and while we’re getting your hair all ready for bed, Henry will read ‘The Night Before Christmas’ for you. Would you like that?”

“Go get them, girls,” Hester urged. “You have to have perfect hair for tomorrow, don’t you? A hundred strokes to make it shine.”

There was a chorus of excitement from the children who scampered off as bid. “Where are their parents?” Beth asked.

Mayzee sat back in her chair. “In one case they are both dead and she is an inconvenience to her relatives, for the rest – they have a step-parent for whom they are a reminder of a previous relationship.” She shrugged. “I try to make sure they feel at home here. They never leave.”

“Poor girls,” Beth mused. “Mother, Doctor Bentham, and myself have knitted them all scarves and mittens.”

Mayzee’s eyes lit up. “You have? Oh, how lovely. I have books for them and a little frippery each,” she smiled. “They are girls, and these things give such pleasure. I do so worry about Catherine, though. She’ll be fourteen next year, and her step-father has said he’ll stop paying then. She’s so bright.”

“You won’t turn her out, will you?” the Kid asked.

“Mayzee shook her head. “Of course not, but she’s so clever, and needs more than I can teach her. With the right education, she could do anything,” Mayzee smiled at Hester. “Even as much as you have achieved.”

“Really?” Hester looked over her little spectacles. “I must look at her reports. I work with groups who support women’s rights. I can try to find a sponsor for her studies.”

“You could?”

“I can’t promise anything,” Hester shrugged,” but at the very least I can find her a training position as a young nurse. She could have a worse start than that.”

Mayzee nodded. “Doctor, I often have to struggle to fund education for girls, because they are seen as less important. I do believe that you and I need to talk.”

“Not tonight,” Henry sat down in his favourite armchair and opened his book. “The girls are coming, and I have a poem to read.”

Heyes glanced over at the Kid. “I have something to get ready for tomorrow. Do you mind giving me a hand?”

“That thing you brought?” the Kid asked, meaningfully.

Heyes nodded. “Yup.”

The pair headed out of the room, dodging the whirlwind of girls tumbling into the room. “Girls!” scolded Mayzee. “Mind our guests. We’ve already had one knocked down!”





Christmas morning dawned early. Very early. To be more accurate it started well before dawn. Bleary eyed adults were reluctantly roused by the loudest ‘shsshing’ and giggling they’d heard in many a long year, as feet pattered their excited way down the stairs. It seemed like every creaking floorboard or groaning joist had been specially selected to play its own part in the cacophony. Heyes and Curry’s bloodshot eyes met before they grinned and sat up, pulling on clothes and making their way to the door.

There were other adults on the landing, tying off the sashes on their robes and shuffling their way fuzzily to the staircase. The smiles quickly became infectious at the cries of delight cutting through the darkness: “He’s been,” and, “No, we can’t open them yet!”

Henry opened the door, muddling over to light the oil lamp up as the household filed in after him. They stood, lined up to watch the children open their gifts. This was their day, and everything was aimed at making it special for them. The children milled about under the tree looking at labels and shaking parcels under the instructions of Catherine, who as the oldest, had strictly ruled that nothing could be opened until everyone was here. Cage entered the room, carrying little Jake over to the tree, pausing only to look at the enormous square object sitting in the corner of the room, covered by a sheet, noticeable now the room was lit. He placed little Jake on the floor and put a parcel in front of him.

“Are we all here?” he asked, kneeling down beside his son.

Henry’s hazel eyes did a quick inventory. “Yup.” He rubbed his hands gleefully. “Well children? What are we waiting for? It time to open your presents.”

They didn’t have to be told twice. The whooping tribe fell upon the gifts, Catherine making sure that they were opened by the correct recipient, and that gifts with adult names were appropriately distributed.

Abigail sat in the melee with Anya, oohing and aahing at the toys and books as they were unwrapped. The oldest girl approached Abigail. “This one has your name on it, Mrs. Stewart.” She handed Abigail a small box covered in paint-marbled paper.

She looked at the label. “’To Abigail, all my love,’H.’” She looked up at Heyes through her lashes. “You can’t afford it. You shouldn’t have.”

Heyes gave a self-depreciating shrug. “Best look at it before you say that, it’s not much.”

She stood, undoing the paper, snapping open the little blue box, her lips twitching into her lopsided smile.

“I’m sorry it’s so little,” Heyes stared down at his gift. “I wanted to get you something better than that the first time I gave you anything...” he glanced over at Anya, “well, deliberately, that it is.”

She pulled it out dangling it by the chain. “A cat! Oh, it’s so beautiful. Look at the shape of its back and tail. It’s just so elegant.”

“Small...” mumbled Heyes.

“Perfect,” beamed Abigail. “Is it Mouse?”

He shook his head. “Nope. It has a meaning, but not that,” Heyes dropped his voice. “Do you remember when we met?”

She eyed him cautiously. “I was unconscious,” a thought struck her. “No, earlier than that - when I fell down the embankment? Is this a joke about how sure-footed I am? Couldn’t you find a goat?”

His face dimpled into a grin. “No,” he whispered. “When you broke into that orphanage, and I was already there?”

The memory of his arms snaking around her in the dark flashed in her mind, along with the flutter of excitement she had felt in her belly. He had caught her in the dark, whispering admonishments in her ear with an air of arousal. It was the first time she had connected to him as a man, rather than a criminal, but she’d shaken him off and they’d never spoken of that moment.

“Yes...”

“I knew you were special right then, Abi.” He twinkled his old mischief at her. “A cat burglar. The first thing we ever found in common.”

She started to laugh, her eyes filling with the same devilment. “Ooh, Joshua,” she turned holding up her hair. “Put it on.”

She turned looking down at it. “It’s perfect! I’ll never take it off.” She looked shamefaced. “Now I wish I’d gotten you something so much better.”

“But it’s tiny,Abi.”

She shook her head. “The thought behind this is huge. It’s truly precious,” she held out a parcel. “For you.”

He pulled the box open with a smile. “A shaving set? Ivory handles, badger bristles, the best.”

“Yours is so... well... old. I wanted to give you something you’d use every day.”

He dropped a chaste kiss on her cheek, aware of the other people in the room. “Mine is practically prison issue. This is great, and I’ll think of you every time I use it.” He looked down at it again, memories of last Christmas flooding forward again, realizing how far he’d come. “Every time, Abi.”

The general exchange of gifts continued, none of them upset that the notice had been too short for them to get gifts for the surprise visitors. Being there was enough for anyone, and clearing up began until everyone started to look at the big shape in the corner, covered by the sheet.

Heyes cleared his throat nervously. “I got this for Anya, and I though J.J.’d enjoy it too.” He smiled at the four girls sitting around the tree. “And now there are more here, I guess, you’ll play with it too.” He pulled off the sheet, revealing a huge box, with a red bow on the top, painted with doors and windows to look like the outside of a house.

It stood nearly six feet tall, a giant cardboard cube. Heyes pointed to the doors and windows. "We can cut those out so you can get inside and look out.” He cleared his throat, the silence of the room making his mouth go dry. This was a disaster. But he had next to no money, and it had seemed such a good idea at the time. “It’ll fold flat to take it home too.”

Anya clapped her hands in delight. “A house! A giant doll’s house. I love it. Can we get a knife to make the door? Can we? Can we now?”

Henry nodded. “Of course, I’ll get one from the kitchen, shall I?”

“Wait!” Heyes patted the box. “You can’t stick a knife in it. Not until you know what’s inside.”

“There’s something inside?” asked Abigail.

“There’s a lot inside,” grinned the Kid.

Heyes held out a hand to Anya. “Come on, open it. I’ll hold you up.” He stretched out trembling hands and lifted his daughter. “Lift the lid.”

Anya tugged at the cardboard lid, but it was too big for her little hands.

The Kid stepped forward. “Let me help.” One yank and it was off, and he tipped it over allowing a myriad of colourful balloons to spill out, bouncing and dancing into the air. There was a universal scream from every child in the room as they ran forward with arms open, kicking, bounding and chasing the billowing wave of psychedelic orbs.

Anya looked up at her mother, her eyes glowing with excitement. “Mama, I’ve never seen so many balloons. This is magic!”

She ran off to join the fray as the adults watched the children; the youngest girl was pirouetting with one in each hand, the wave of balloons billowing around her ankles, little Jake sat with one between his legs, bouncing another from hand to hand with an air of complete wonderment, and Anya and J.J – true to form – were jousting and parrying with them in some kind of bizarre balloon fight.

“They completely cover the floor,” laughed Beth, “and this is a big room. There must be hundreds of them!”

The Kid clasped her to him in a hug. “It sure felt like it when we were blowing them up last night. It took us hours. I thought I was going to pass out!”

“However did you think of this, Joshua?” asked Belle. “It’s wonderful.”

Heyes shrugged. “I had no money, and Abi suggested that I think of simple things. I had enough money to get plenty of balloons and the man in the toyshop let me have the box and use his back shop as long as I paid for the paint. I went for simple....”  Then he grinned, displaying playful dimples.  “...but I thought big.”

Abigail smiled and slipped an arm though his. “It truly is something these children will remember all their lives. It’s like the circus has come to their own living room.” She fingered the little silver cat at her neck. “You really have such a fine mind, Joshua.”

“Well,” grinned Mayzee. “This should keep them busy for the next couple of days. Do you think we can calm them down enough to eat breakfast?”

“We’d best get dressed,” Belle nodded in agreement. “We’ll certainly have peace to cook today.”

“Och,” Abigail laughed. “It's not even light yet. Let’s cook breakfast as we are, and then get dressed. Why all the formality. It’s Christmas!”





 Jesse walked back in from the barn, knocking the snow off his boots before stepping into the relative warmth of the living area of their home.  Their home.  Hmm.  That almost seemed like a joke now and the silent empty rooms laughed back at him, making the house more like simply a shelter from the winter cold than the loving home it had been.

 It was Christmas Day and yes, Jesse was feeling a little down about his current situation.  Everyone was gone now.  It had been bad enough when it was just his wife and children who'd had to disappear into hiding but at least then he had alternations and different combinations of Han, Jed, Harry and Abigail.  Han and Jed at least were family and Jesse had felt comfortable with them keeping him company and Abi was fun to have around.  The fact that she had added the essential 'woman's touch' to the farm house had made her all the more welcome here.  Harry was a little irritating at times, but acceptable, and the boys, though they chided him often enough seemed to enjoy his company and they all got along pretty well.

 But now, even that company was being denied Jesse.  Indeed, once Abi had realized the danger that she had inadvertently sent the Jordan family into it was all the fellas could do to contain her.  She was all set to throw caution to the wind and run into town that very moment despite the hour of the evening and the condition of the roads.  Han and Jed both had to use all their persuasive powers to get her to see reason and to wait until the following morning.  No trains would be heading east until then anyways.

 Jed had agreed to do the treacherous ride into Brookswood that night in order to send an urgent telegram and Abi had set about composing one that was short, precise and informative to let the people know at her end that their cover might be blown!  She'd written it out with Heyes' help and then handed it over to Jed with kisses and hugs and near to panic entreaties that he hurry up but be careful, all packaged up in a mother's worry for the safety of her child!

 It had been a difficult night to say the least and the following morning had been one of frantic preparations before the troop finally headed out the door and into town.  Since then the house had been still and quiet—and empty.  Jesse and the cat.  Jesse pulled off his boots and coat and made his way into the warmth of the kitchen to put on yet another pot of coffee in preparation of a mid-day meal.  Mouse was right under foot, determined not to be left out.

 That cat had it so good; sleeping anywhere she seemed to please and always finding the warmest spot to curl up in and snooze until someone arrived to give her some attention.  Life was good being a house cat and she did her utmost to show her appreciation by purring and rubbing and drooling over any of her known humans who sat down and happened to leave their lap open for occupation.  Jesse surprised even himself in how easily he accepted this little feline into their home and their hearts.  Cats were supposed to be out in the barn, performing a service, but somehow or other, L' Mouse had elevated herself to house status and there she stayed.

 Jesse smiled and reached down to stroke the soft fur and give the tail a gentle tug as they both stood in the kitchen and contemplated lunch.  Ohh, beef stew again.  Even Jesse was getting tired of beef stew and all of the handy meals that Belle and then Abigail had prepared before hand had long since been consumed.  Jesse sighed.

 Christmas day and all he had to eat was beef stew and all he had for company was the cat.  He'd even given Sam the say off (of course) to spend the holiday with his own family and so things were looking pretty bleak indeed.

 He had just finished putting the coffee on when he heard Ellie barking up a storm outside and his heart froze somewhere between dread of bad news and hope of some company.  He sidestepped the disappointed cat and returned to the front door to take a look at what the canine alarm system had deemed important enough to leave her warm bed of hay inside the barn.  The two smaller dogs had decided that nothing was important enough for that.

 Jesse pulled on his boots again, opened the door and stepped out onto the porch and then his face broke into a huge smile.  A buckboard was pulling into the yard, so filled to the brim with Christmas company that he couldn't even tell who all was on board.  As soon as the visitors had spotted the man of the house a huge chorus went up and even the horses tossed their heads and pranced a little on the snowy track.

 “Papa!  Merry Christmas!”

 “Hey Jesse!  Happy holidays!”

 “Afternoon Mr. Jordan!”

 Jesse reached back inside to grab his coat and then came down the steps to ground level and walked over to meet the group half way.

 “Oh my goodness!”  He greeted the assembly as he reached up and took hold of the off horse's bridle.”  What are you all doing here?  You must be freezing!”

 “We've had this planned for a while now Mr. Jordan.”  Sam informed him as he set the brake.  “Just in case no one was back in time for the holidays.”

 Everyone piled out of the back of the buckboard, bringing their blankets and pillows along with them and gathering around the patriarch of the Jordan family.  Even Ellie was getting in to the thick of it and was running around barking with delight, her tail whipping back and forth and whacking into anybody who happened to get in the way.

 “Hello Papa.”  Bridget came up to her father and gave him a kiss on the cheek.  “You couldn't possibly think that we would leave you alone on Christmas Day!”

 “Well, I....”

 “Jesse, Merry Christmas.”

 “Steven, good to see you.  My, but Rosie is growing like a weed.”

 The infant was all bundled up in her winter snuggies but she was old enough now to take in her surroundings and was spending all of her time surveying her new environment.  Saying 'hello' to her grandpa was not high on her list of things to do.  But still, Steven passed his daughter over to him and she settled in his arms and stared up at him as though he were the strangest thing she had ever seen.

 “Hello sweetheart.”  Jesse greeted his granddaughter.  “You're living up to your name today—just look at those rosie cheeks!”

 “Hello Jesse, Merry Christmas.”  Came another greeting.

 “David!”  Jesse shook hands with the doctor.  “And Trisha, of course!”  A kiss on the cheek.  “And Miranda, c'mon you too!  All the ladies get a kiss.  Maribelle—you too!  Clementine!  Haven't seen you in a while!”

 “Oh well, you know me!  So much to do all the time!

 “Well, come here, let me give you a kiss too.”

 “Oh, Mr. Jordan!”  Clem teased.  “If you weren't a married man....!”

 “Mmm hmmm.”  Everyone was used to Clem by this time.  “And young Miss Carol. C'mon, your turn for a kiss.”

 Carol blushed sweetly but came for her kiss and hug as well.

 “And Merle!  How are you this Christmas Day?”  Jesse asked Sam's mother as he gave her a kiss on the cheek too.

 “Oh can't complain!”  She told him.  “I'm just glad we didn't get hit with a huge snow storm like we have on other years!”

 “Yes, the weather is certainly cooperating this year.”  Jesse agreed and then smiled as Todd and Nathan got in line to get their handshakes.

 “My my, what a gathering!”  Jesse was stunned at all this attention.  “Well, c'mon, let's get you all into the house.  You must be freezing!  I've only got stew for dinner though, I'm afraid.”

 “Oh no you don't!”  Bridget corrected him.  “We all brought food with us to make up a grand feast!  Trisha and Miranda even roasted a turkey so all we have to do now is heat it up and cook the vegetables and the sweet potatoes.  Maribelle brought a wonderful dessert and I believe Steven and Sam both brought some wine!  We're not going to go hungry tonight!”

 Everyone grabbed baskets full of goodies and gifts and headed towards the house while Sam led the team over towards the barn.  He would unharness them and put them out in the field with the others for the rest of the day and then they could all come in to a nice cozy barn for their own dinner.  Everyone would be staying put tonight so even the bunk house might be in for a good fire and clearing out!

 Once Sam got into the house himself, the cat and the women had all disappeared into the kitchen and there could be heard the joyous sounds of chatting and laughter as they set about getting the evening meal prepared.  Jesse was pouring out four glasses of brandy over at the dining room table so Sam pulled off his winter gear and joined the other gentlemen for some Christmas cheer.

 When everyone had a glass, Jesse raised his in a toast.  “To family and friends.”  He said.  “I was all prepared to spend a rather lonely Christmas here this year, so this was indeed a pleasant surprise.”

 “To family and friends.”  Was echoed around the table and everyone tapped glasses and then sat down to gossip.

 Jesse took Rosie off of her father's hands and settled in at the head of the table to chat with company and to enjoy his granddaughter as well.  He did not get the chance to see her very often and now especially with the new threat that had been hovering over them, he was seeing his daughter and her family even less.  He briefly thought of the the risk they were taking being here now, but decided that the action had apparently moved east and that the Double J, for now at least, would be a safe enough haven for them all to enjoy some time together.

 Presents had been brought from the various households in order to make this a very special Christmas for Jesse and they all gathered together in the sitting room to share in the traditional gift opening.  Though the children had all had most of their gifts earlier in the day the opportunity to open a few more was quickly seized upon and excitement reigned supreme in the Jordan household.  Even Mouse got into the act, attacking ribbon and batting the bows across the sitting room floor.

 As the excitement of more present began to wind down, Bridget approached her father with a smile on her face and a small flat parcel in her hands.

 “This is for you, Papa.”  She told him as she extended the gift to his lap.  “From me and Steven.”
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Keays

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Posts : 1435
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Simple Gifts   Sat Dec 07, 2013 9:46 pm

Jesse smiled and accepted it.  “Thank you Sweetheart.”  He told her.  “But just having you all here has been enough of a present for me.”

 “Oh, I know!”  Bridget chided him as she sat on the floor, cuddling up to his knees, just as she used to do as a small child.  “But this is special—from both of us.”

 Jesse nodded and then unwrapped the colourful paper.  He gazed upon a beautifully framed photograph of the young Granger family.  He smiled, truly feeling honoured to be given such a lovely keepsake and knowing that Belle would appreciate it as well.  He stroked his daughter's soft blonde hair and gave her a kiss on the forehead.

 “Thank you Sweetheart.”  He murmured.  “It's lovely.  Thank you Steven.”

 “You're welcome Papa.”

 “You're welcome Jesse.”  Steven responded.  “We'll try and keep them coming regularly.  Photo's that is!  Not necessarily grandchildren. Well—maybe grandchildren too, but well—you know what I mean!”

 Everyone got a chuckle out of that and David gave Steven a slap on the back.  “Well said, young man!  Well said!”

 “Yeah, yeah....”

 Dinner was an unqualified success, but compared to yet another meal of beef stew it would have been pretty hard to destroy turkey with all the fixxin's!   Jesse was feeling about as content as a man could with his wife and two youngest children absent from the meal, but he was appreciating what he had right here in front of him and he made do.

 He found himself watching Randa throughout supper just to see how she was holding up.  Of course he was well aware of her recent disappointment and Christmas especially can be hard when one is already feeling blue.  But he was pleased to observe that she was rising to the occasion and was happy and animated throughout the meal.  A small hint of regret would wash over her features when she thought no one was paying attention, but she would quickly cover it over with laughter and she succeeded in having a lovely evening.

 The house took on a life of its own that Christmas Day.  Everyone was in good spirits, with the conversation lively and the children boisterous!  And Jesse was loving every minute of it.  For all the times that he wished for some peace and quiet when the whole family was at home and the two girls were yelling up and down the staircase at each other and the baby had been screaming and Jesse and Belle had been at their wits end trying to restore peace in the valley!  He now was finding that the peace and quiet he had on occasion craved was not all it was cracked up to be.  Yes, the household was alive again and the only way Jesse could have been happier would have been for the rest of his family to be present as well.

 Later that evening, as things were quieting down and Steven was cuddling his daughter to sleep in his arms, Jesse went to his eldest offspring and wrapped his arms around her.  He gave her a kiss on her forehead.

 “Thank you.”  He said to her.

 “We all had a hand it it.”  She told him as she snuggled into his embrace.

 “I know.”  He conceded.  “But I also know who was behind it in the first place.”

 She smiled.  “Yes, well I just couldn't see you out here all alone on Christmas Day.  It didn't take very much to get everyone on board either.”

 “I've missed you Bridget.”  Her father informed her.  “I know it's the natural course of things for the children to grow up and move on, but it's still hard on the parents!”

 “Oh c'mon!”  She teased him with a gentle slap on his chest.  “I can understand a mother feeling that way, but you too?”

 “Fathers too.”  Jesse admitted with a smile.  “And now of course, once this current saga is settled, well then Beth will be getting married and moving on.  This house is going to get awfully quiet, even with JJ running around!”

 Bridget became serious then.  “Any word from them?”  She asked.  “I've been so worried myself.  Who in the world would want to harm any of us?”

 Jesse shrugged.  “I don't know Sweetheart.”  He admitted.  “And you know they can't contact us.  That might give their location away and I don't know where they are anyways.  Still, if anyone can get to the bottom of this Mrs. Stewart and our boys will be able to do it.”

 “Yes!”  Bridget wholeheartedly agreed.  “They do make quite the team don't they?  Still, I had hoped they'd be home for Christmas.”  But then she brightened up even more.  “Better days are coming, Papa!  Let's hope that Easter has the family all back together again!”

 Just then Steven interrupted them holding a sleeping Rosa in his arms.

 “Do you have the bassinet ready for her?”  He asked his wife.  “I do believe she is down for the night.”

“Oh, yes.  I put it in my old bedroom.”  Then she sent an enquiring glance to her father.  “I'd assumed that's where we would be spending the night?”

 Jesse shrugged.  “Why not?”  He agreed.  “I will leave that sorting out up to you folks.”

 Bridget smiled and then the two young parents traded off.  “Let me take her.” Bridget offered.  “I'll put her to bed.”

 Soon all the children had been put to bed in various bedrooms about the house and after the exhausting day they'd all had it wasn't long before the lot of them were sound asleep.  The adults took that opportunity to settle in around the dinning table with various drinks and some second helpings of dessert—for those who could handle it.

 “So there's been no word?”  Steven asked.

 “Not since they arrived in Topeka.”  Jesse informed him.  “Sheriff Jacobs got the telegram from the Pinkerton man that Han did indeed make contact.  But that was some time ago now and I haven't heard anything more since.”

 “No news is good news.”  David put in.  “It's an oldie, but it's true.  If anything bad had happened you would have heard about it.”

 “Oh I know.”  Jesse agreed.  “Still, it's a husband's and a father's prerogative to worry.  I'm just holding up my end.”

 The three other men at the table all nodded and smiled knowingly.

 “Yup.”

 “That's for sure.”

 “You got that right.”

Abigail tied off the blue ribbon on Rebecca’s hair and gave her a little pat on the bottom. “Mach a seo! Go and play, you look lovely now, my love. Let Mama get ready too.”

Rebecca gave a whoop and scampered out of the room.

Belle sat brushing her hair on the bed next to the washstand. “I think she goes everywhere at a gallop,” she smiled.

Abigail walked over to the washstand and poured water into the bowl, removing her dressing gown. “Yes, she’s a force of nature. I suspect her father was similar at that age.”

“And I think you were too,” Belle added.

Abigail nodded. “Yes, my mother used to despair. I was always climbing trees, and playing boys’ games.” She laid her robe on the chair beside the washstand.

“Oh!” Beth stood stock-still, silenced by shock.

Abigail looked around, mystified. “What? What’s wrong?”

Beth pointed. “Your chest.”

Abigail looked down at the mass of yellowing, blackish-green bruising creeping over the top of her camisole. “Ah! It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” She turned back to the washstand, but Belle was on her feet, turning Abigail to examine the injury.

“How on EARTH did this happen?”

“I was hit on the chest.” Abigail pulled back. “I’m fine, honestly.”

Belle was not so easily deterred. “Hit? What with, a house!?”

Abigail reached for her robe again. “Please, I hate fuss, I’m fine.”

“Abi, that’s a terrible injury. Is your rib broken?”

“No, Belle. The doctor says I’ve bruised the cartilage between the ribs. He said I was fine to travel.”

“What could do that sort of damage? A sledge hammer?”

Abigail shrugged self-consciously. “A sledgehammer? Goodness me, no!”

“Why won’t you tell us?” Beth demanded.

“It sounds worse than it was, I don’t want to frighten you.”

Belle shook her head. “Our imagination is probably worse than anything you can tell us. What happened, Abi?”

Abigail gave a big sigh. “I was shot...” she raised her hands in appeasement. “I was wearing a bullet-proof vest, so it’s not as dramatic as it sounds.”

“Oh, my!” Belle hugged her daughter to her. “What if they’d aiming for your head? You shouldn’t be doing this, Abi.”

Abigail turned back to the washstand unwilling to admit that she’d played the scene out in her mind a million times, the gun aimed in SO many places, until she had shut that part of her mind down, refusing to dwell on the matter anymore. She tried to make light of it. “Och, I’ve already been shot in the head, Belle. That’s the hardest part of me. You couldn’t mark it with an axe, ask Mr. Heyes.”

Belle’s voice softened. “You have a daughter, Abigail.”

“I know, Belle, and that’s why I was shot. He came looking for Anya when he couldn’t find Beth, but we were expecting him. I drew him there; which is why I was wearing protective clothing. We can’t give up now, Belle, not when we’re nearly finished.”

“Was it the man who came for me?” Beth’s voice wavered with vulnerability.

Abigail’s dark eyes dropped. “No, he’s in jail, and the other is dead, Beth. We just have one more to find, and then you’ll be safe.” She picked up the soap and began to work it into her washcloth. “It’s Christmas, let’s not talk about such things. It’s been such a lovely day so far. Wasn’t he clever with his balloons? Jed and I wanted to give him money to get whatever he wanted, but he felt the need to get her something with his own money; money he’d earned.”

Beth bit into her lip. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be daft - you’ve nothing to be sorry for.”

“I have,” Beth walked over and sat on her mother’s bed. “I thought badly of you, but here you are; risking your life for me.”

Abigail turned, smiling gently at the girl. “You thought I’d hurt Mr. Heyes, and you were right. I did.” She arched her eyebrows, “There are normally at least two sides of every story, but there are three to this one. You couldn’t love him more than me, but my daughter’s safety had to come first; before my happiness, or his. This whole investigation is a good illustration of why I told him to go. When you’re a mother you’ll understand, Beth. When you truly love, getting what you want means a whole lot less than giving what you have.” She returned to her ablutions. “Now, let me get on, please. There’s a whole lot of cooking to be done. It’s Christmas day.”

Belle stood, embracing Abigail gently around the shoulders. “You are only going to be allowed to do the sitting down jobs. You need to rest after an injury like that, isn’t that right, Beth.”

Beth smiled. “Yes, mama. It’ll be our side of the deal. It’s only fair.”




  Jed stood leaning against the door jamb with a slightly whimsical smile on his face.  He was watching his cousin and was so intent on his observations that he had allowed his own mask to drop and the love that he felt for the other man shone through for all to see.  That is if anyone had by chance been looking at him.  

 Fortunately at that time all the children were busy playing with their new toys—the balloons and the cardboard play house being a universal favourite!  How did Heyes do that anyways?  He always seemed to know what was going to please, even for a group of children.  Of course he had shown that tendency at the orphanage, so.....  Anyway, the children were busy playing, Cage was taking some quiet time himself to work on something—his next book maybe.  And the ladies were gathered in the kitchen and visiting while preparations for the evening meal were getting under way.

 Heyes was sitting on the sofa, totally and completely lost in his own world.  He was drinking in his daughter; every move, every sound, every nuance flowed into his mind and was lodged in there for save keeping.  His expression was one of joyous wonder, his dark eyes flicking here and there, following her every energetic move as she naturally but subtly held control over the rambunctious group.

 Jed smiled.  No point in trying to pull Heyes into any kind of a conversation now; he was just too immersed in a new reality that he just couldn't quite believe.  Jed pushed himself off the door jam and made his way into the kitchen and instantly, Beth's eyes were upon him.  He smiled at her; she was so beautiful, her brown eyes sparkling with delight and her cheeks flushed with the laughter that was being shared with this new group of friends.

 Jed came over to her and slipping his arm around her waist he gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek and then whispered in her ear.

 “Let's go for a walk.”

 She smiled up at him and nodded.  Then she touched her mother's arm to get her attention.

 “Momma, Jed and I are just going to go for a walk, alright?”

 “Oh.”  Belle looked concerned but could certainly understand the young people wanting some time alone together.  “Abi, do you think it's safe for them to go for a walk?”

 “Yes, I think so.”  Abi smiled.  “Nobody knows we're here.  Just don't stray too far and don't get lost!”

 “We'll be fine.”  Jed assured them.  “I'll look after her Belle, don't worry.  And we won't go far—it's too cold to stay out for long anyways.  I just need some fresh air.”

 All the ladies smiled, knowing that fresh air was probably the last thing on his mind.

 It was cold outside, but the couple had bundled themselves up warmly and for the time being, didn't seem to mind the chill in the air.  They walked along the quiet street, arm in arm and enjoying the feeling of their closeness and the crispness in the air and the snow underfoot.  There was absolutely nobody else on the street and it felt good to get away from the hustle and bustle of the crowded household.

 “It's good to see you again Beth.”  Jed quietly commented, his breath showing in the cold air.  “I missed you—I was worried about you.”

 “Ohh, yes.”  Beth agreed wholeheartedly.  “I've never felt this way before; it felt as though half of my soul was missing because you weren't with me.  I'm so glad you showed up for Christmas Day!”

 Jed laughed.  “Yup!  Couldn't have asked for better presents either; spending the day with you and watching Heyes finally meeting his daughter!  Couldn't ask for more.”

 Beth laughed then.  “Wasn't it wonderful!?”  She agreed.  “He looked like a little boy himself, gazing at her as though she were the most precious thing—and I suppose to him, she is.  I knew who she was as soon as I met her, but seeing them together, it's amazing the similarities!”  Then her smile dropped and a gentle sadness came into her expression.  “It's just such a shame that he can't tell her who he is.  I still don't really understand why not.  If he and Abi are back together, wouldn't that be such a wonderful Christmas present for her; to know that he is her father?”

 “I know.”  Jed agreed.  “But I can understand why Abi wants to wait.  Things are looking good now, but...”  Jed shrugged.  “....all in good time I suppose.  We'll see.”

 “I do miss Papa.”  Beth admitted.  “I was hoping all this would be cleared up by now and we would be home again for Christmas.  I'm so worried that Papa will be spending this day all by himself.”

 Jed laughed and patted her gloved hand.  “I don't think you need to worry about that.”  He assured her.  “I have a feeling that Bridget isn't going to allow that to happen!”

 Beth smiled.  “You're probably right!  He's probably got a whole house full of guests!  I suppose I just wish I was there with him as well.”  Then she became a little melancholy and squeezed Jed's arm.  “I believe this is the first Christmas I have spent away from home.  It seems—strange, that's all.”

 “I know darlin'.”  Jed assured her.  “I suppose it's all a part of growing up and moving on.  But still, there really is nothing like home and family at Christmas time.  I remember....”

 “What?”  Beth asked when Jed hesitated.

  He smiled at her.  “When Heyes and I were at your place, just before...you know....”  Beth nodded.  “We were talking about how nice it would be to spend Christmas with a family again.  And then, all that...stuff happened.”

 “Yes.”  Beth whispered,  her hand squeezing his even tighter.  “You had a very hard time that Christmas didn't you.”

 Jed gave a slightly sardonic laugh.  “That's a kind way of putting it!  But yeah...I felt so guilty.  There I was, getting ready to spend Christmas with my family, surrounded by my friends—all my friends but one.  Heyes was stuck in that prison for what was likely to be the rest of his life.  I just couldn't deal with that.”  Then he stopped walking and turned Beth to him.  “I'm sorry Beth.  I know I hurt you back then.  I didn't mean to, I just didn't know how to deal with all that....”

 Beth smiled and caressed his cheek.  “I know.  It was difficult for all of us.”  She smiled.  “But look at Hannibal now!  Did you see the way he looked at her; like he just couldn't believe it!”

 Jed grinned.  “Yeah!  I think this Christmas is going to make up for all those other ones!”  He sighed.  “I sure hope he and Abi and pull it together this time.  That would really make it complete.”

 “We could have a double wedding!”  Beth exclaimed as they turned and started to make their way back to the townhouse.  “With JJ and Anya as the ring bearer and flower girl!”

 “Ho ho!”  Jed laughed.  “You already have this all planned out don't you?”

 “Of course!”  Beth admitted with a smile.  “It would be most fitting; the two of you getting married on the same day!  Unfortunately Hannibal already has a jump on starting a family though.”

 “Oh ho!  Don't you worry about that Beth, darlin'!”  Jed told her as he stopped her in her tracks again and brought her into a hug.  “I can be a real quick study when it comes to that side of the family business.”

 “I already know that....”

 Then he leaned down and kissed her on the lips, gently at first and then stronger and more passionately as the fire was lit.  Beth returned the kiss with pleasure, opening her mouth and taking him in as a reminder of what would come later.  Jed felt everything exploding and he told himself that he had to back off!  They were in the middle of the street, for goodness sake—and it was Christmas Day!

 It took a lot for him to hold back; the memory of her beautiful body laying naked in the long grass, filling up his senses, taking hold of his reserve.  He kissed her again and then did the impossible; he pulled back, taking in deep breaths of air and holding her to him in a passionate hug.

 “Aww Beth, I love you so much.”  He whispered in her ear, then he groaned and pulled away from her completely.  “C'mon.  We best be getting back.”

 Beth smiled, and taking his arm, she cuddled up against him as they continued on their way.


  Cage pulled the huge red bow off his son’s head for the umpteenth time that day. “Jake, I told you. Only girls wear those.”

Mayzee gave a tinkling laugh, arranging the cutlery on the long table. “Leave him alone, he likes it.”

“It’s a bow! It’s off that damn box-house thing. Boys don’t wear them.”

“Language! And you did,” grinned Mayzee. “It never did you any harm.”

“I never! Not in all my born days,” Cage blustered.

“Grace and I used to have a lot of fun with you when you were tiny. We used to dress you up and do your hair... Your hair gets curly when it’s long, just like Jake's, and all those ringlets used to look so sweet covered in pink ribbons,” she looked wistfully up at her enormous, younger brother. “Nobody’d even know you were a boy.”

“Ma wouldn’t let you!”

“She did. She helped. You were beautiful.”

“Well, you ain’t doin’ that to my boy,” growled Cage.

“Save that glare for your criminals, Cage. It doesn’t work on me. Jake thinks it’s a Christmas hat, he’s too little to care about it being a bow.”

“You want a hat, son?” he strode out into the hallway and lifted his own hat down from the peg. “Here, try pa’s hat.”

“Big hat,” Jake announced, scuttling off, kicking balloons and struggling to see beneath the blinding brim.

“Can you ask the children where they’ve put their table centre?” Mayzee stepped back to assess the Christmas table. “It’s almost time to eat, and we need to get that on there. Can you light the candles too?”

There was a loud rap at the door, causing Mayzee and her brother to lock eyes. “Are you expectin’ anyone?” Cage asked.

“Nobody. I wonder who that could be at this time on a Christmas evening?” Mayzee started towards it, but Cage blocked her way. “Where’s Curry?”

Cage’s serious face was making his sister worry. “In the kitchen, why?”

“Get him,” Cage walked into the hallway, drawing his gun from his holster, “and keep the kids away from the door.”
The door was knocked again.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, Mayzee, get him.”

The Kid appeared in the hallway, as the door was thumped again, this time with more impatience. “Back me up, will ya, Curry.”

The Kid nodded, moving to the coat tree by the door and slipping his gun from the holster that hung there.  He waited, and staring at the door with serious blue eyes, took up a position.

“Who is it?” Cage demanded, standing off to the side.

“It’s Harry; will you open this damn door!? I’m freezing my ass off out here.”

“Harry?” The Kid stared at Cage in surprise. “Were you expectin’ him?”

Cage shook his head. “Nope, were you?”

“No.”

“For cryin’ out loud! It’s below freezing out here, and I’ve had to walk four miles from the station. Open the f****ing door.”

The men holstered their guns and grinned, Cage opening the door to let a shivering, pinch-faced Harry shuffle into the warmth. “What are you doin’ here?” Cage demanded.

Harry walked stiffly into the hall, ice crusted onto his coat. “You asked for information, I got it.”

“I never asked you to bring it here,” Cage shook his head in bemusement. “It’s Christmas. I’m with my family.”

“A Bannerman man never rests,” Harry replied through chattering teeth.

“Smells like he doesn’t wash much either,” chuckled the Kid. “How did you get here? By skunk?”

“Livestock wagon,” Harry scowled, “it was all that was coming through here. They made a special stop for me.”
The Kid nodded, opening the door to the sitting room. “Yeah, I’ve often felt it was worth goin’ to extra trouble to get rid of ya too, Harry.” He called into the room. “Relax, Mayzee. It’s a friend.”

“A friend,” she opened the door, her face falling in shock at the bedraggled, beggarly figure trembling in her hallway. “Oh, my!”

“Mayzee, this is Harry Briscoe. He’s a Bannerman detective.”

“A detective,” she asked, incredulously. “Really?”

“Ma’am, I don’t always dress like this. I’ve been working.”

“Oh,” she glanced at her brother, “are you just passing?”

Harry’s shoulders slumped even further. “Ma’am, I thought your brother needed me to bring this information urgently. “I even travelled with cattle to get this here to him as fast as I could.”

Mayzee gave a crisp nod. “Well then, you must stay. I can’t turn you out after going to all that trouble. We haven’t had Christmas dinner yet. I’ll set another place. It’ll keep until you’ve washed and changed.”
“Food?” Harry’s face brightened. “If it’s ready, I could eat right now.”

Mayzee drew herself up to her full height, suddenly becoming the headmistress she was in her professional life. “Your stomach may stand that smell over a meal, Mr. Brisco, but mine will not. You will accompany Cage upstairs and he will show you where the men are sleeping. You will wash – PROPERLY - and change your clothes before you will sit at my table. Mr. Curry will bring you up some hot water.” She turned to Cage. “J.J. is sleeping in that dormitory. Can he be trusted with a little boy, or should he move in with the women?”

“He’ll be fine, Mayzee.” Cage grinned. “I’ll watch him.”

“Fine, I shall see you when you’re ready, Mr. Briscoe.” She turned at the sitting room door. “Don’t be long, we have hungry children in here.”

Harry turned puce. “Does she know who Heyes and Curry are?” he whispered.

Cage nodded, a smile playing over his lips. “Yup.”

“And she trusts them over me! This is an outrage! I’m an officer of the law.”

The Kid folded his arms. “Harry, the only difference between you and me is that you were lucky enough to have someone around to stop you goin’ through with your first job, and talk enough sense into you to keep you straight. I’d say she’s a real smart lady.” He opened the door, catching Cage suddenly looking at Harry with fresh eyes. “I’ll go get that water.”

Harry’s hair was still wet when he appeared downstairs in crisp clothes and a fresh attitude. He had clearly decided to go on a charm offensive. He rubbed his hands together chucking the girls under the chin, complementing them on their dresses and bows. “Ah! You must be J.J.? I met your pa.”

“You did, mister?”

Harry nodded. “Sure did, a real fine man. I can see you take after him.” He moved along fixing on the child across the table. “And who’s this fine, little lady. Don’t you just look so pretty with your blonde curls? What’s your name?”

“Jake,” muttered Cage, snatching the bow from his son’s head yet again.

“I have set a place for you here,” Mayzee pulled out a chair beside Heyes. “I thought you could sit between Mrs. Jordan and our other guest. I’m sure she would be pleased to hear news of her husband on this special day.”

“Thank you, ma’am. Most kind.” He sat, grinning at Heyes, his pointed nose bobbing hungrily over the dishes of vegetables and potatoes cooked three different ways. “Heyes, good to see you. I heard what happened...”

Heyes kicked him under the table. “Do NOT call me that here,” he hissed. “In fact try not to use any name.”

“But why?”

“Just do it, Harry,” one look into his unfaltering eyes told Harry Heyes’ urgent whisper meant business. “Not everyone here knows who I am. Just do it.” Heyes smiled charmingly at the little dark-haired opposite him. “Have you had a good day, Anya?”

Her dark eyes glowed with the buzz of still unspent energy. “Oh, Uncle Han, it’s just been the best day ever, with mama, and you, the balloons and so many children to play with... it’s been marvellous!”

The Kid glanced over at Heyes, basking in the warmth in his smile, and the gleam in his eyes. There was a new light there; one he’d never seen before in a man who was always in a hurry for the next challenge. There was the stillness of the afterglow of attainment.

“Anya, that’s a pretty name,” Harry ventured.

The child’s chin set in determination. “Thank you, But you have to call me Becky.”

Harry frowned. “Why?”

“Because that’s my name.”

“But he just called you Anya.”

“Yes, but my name’s Becky. You can’t call me Anya.”

Abigail approached the table, pulling out a seat beside the child. “It’s a pet name, Harry. You don’t know her well enough to use it, that’s all.”

Heyes, nudged Harry urging him to stand as the women approached the table, followed by Henry and the Kid bearing a turkey each, which they placed at either end of the long table. “Manners, Harry. Stand for the ladies. They have done all the cooking, after all.”

“Harry? Am I using that name? Nobody else seems to be who they’re supposed to be; not even the kids,” he muttered, pushing back his chair.

Henry raised his glass. “Merry Christmas, everyone! Please drink to welcome the season before we say grace. They all drank deeply of their wine or cordial, dropping their heads while Henry led them through a festive prayer. “Amen,” Henry smiled, picking up the carving knife. “Right who wants a leg? We’ve got four of them this year. The journey begins, through Turkey, into Greece until I hit China!”

Mayzee rolled her eyes. “He’s made that joke every Christmas for the last fifteen years.”

Henry chuckled. “And I hope to make it for the next fifty Christmases, my love. Maybe next year you’ll all say it with me? Cheesy family jokes are a great tradition.”

“I won’t be here next year,” Catherine murmured quietly.

The Stamfords exchanged a conversation in a glance before Mayzee clutched her hand. “You’ve been with me since you were seven, Catherine. You will only leave here if, and when, you want to. You’re family.”


  So the conversation flowed.  Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely but especially Han, Jed and Harry who were still floating ten feet above the table, none of them quite believing that they were actually sitting down to a family Christmas dinner.   Heyes couldn't take his eyes off his daughter, Jed couldn't take his eyes of his love and Harry couldn't take his eyes of the food.

 But as the tummies got filled and the thirsts got slaked and everyone settled down to nibble on seconds or thirds and conversation took over from eating, even Harry couldn't help but notice the extra attention that 'Uncle Han' was lavishing upon the pretty little dark haired girl.  He started to pay more attention.

 As he took more note of the child he could certainly see the familial resemblance there and yet he knew darn well that Heyes and Abi were anything but siblings.  He'd be a monkey's uncle if Heyes' relationship to this child was anything less than paternal!

 Hmm, Heyes a father.  Now that's a scenario Harry had never considered before.  Obviously the child didn't realize the relationship and just as obviously, the parents wanted it to stay that way.  Why?  That was anyone's guess.  He turned his focus onto his friend and noted the animation in his attitude, the sparkle in his eyes and the never ending smile that held his dimples in place like a captivated audience at the symphony.

 Then Heyes turned and Harry found those intense dark eyes meeting his and Harry cocked an eyebrow and sent a quick look to Becky and then back to his friend.  Heyes' smile widened as he realized that even Harry had put two and two together.  Some secrets just couldn't be kept in the dark forever, especially when the two main players were presented to the gathering side by side for all to see the obvious!

 Then Heyes was back into his conversation with Abi and Anya so Harry turned his attention to his other friend at the table.  Jed was just as enthralled with his dinner companion as Heyes was with his.  Beth could hardly eat her supper due to the distractions of her lover sitting right next to her.  They giggled and joked and whispered private little nuances to one another while at the same time trying to stay connected to the conversation going around the table.  

  Jed's happiness in this current time and place could not have been more apparent and Harry felt a slight twinge of jealousy at the change of circumstances.  Of the three of them he had always considered himself to be the stable one; the one who had a career and a life full to the brim with obligation and duty!  Who had time for a family?

 Heyes and the Kid were outlaws—drifters.  Even if they received their amnesty (which Harry had tended to doubt) they would still just be drifters, with no real goals in life.  Harry's imagination just couldn't make that jump to even consider the possibility that either one of them would find a niche in their new lives and actually make something of themselves.

 Now here they all sat and Harry felt like the odd man out.  Both his friends had not only found their way out from under the weight of their past mistakes but had actually found soul mates; life partners (other than each other) to share their futures with.  Good heavens!  Heyes even had himself a ten year old daughter on the side lines that no one had even known about!  Well, some had known about her, but it certainly hadn't been common knowledge.  Harry certainly hadn't known!

 Yes, Harry suddenly felt like maybe there was something vital missing in his own life.  Maybe he should start to pay a little bit more attention to the fairer sex.  Maybe it was time he settled down....
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Keays

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Posts : 1435
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Simple Gifts   Sat Dec 07, 2013 9:58 pm

Belle was in her element!  Other than the fact that she missed her husband terribly she was enjoying herself immensely.  JJ and Anya had hit it off and become fast friends in the way that only children seem to be able to.  Beth was in love with the man of her dreams, and better yet; the man of her dreams was finally and about time in love with her too.  Things like that bring joy to a mother's heart and seeing her daughter laughing and flirting with her man made Belle smile and remember her own courtship with Jesse and the pleasures it had brought to both of them.

 And of course, there was Joshua!  How wonderful to see him so happy! After all the pain and sorrow and hopelessness in the life he had endured and now he could be sitting here, brimming over with life's joys!  It just made this Christmas very special.  She loved Joshua very much, and Thaddeus too—she knew that.  Two such different and sometimes, frustrating personalities who had shown up out of the blue, covered in sweat and dust and amiable solicitations, asking for a ride.  And here they were, so much now a part of their family, a part of their lives that nothing; not time, or distance or space could ever change that.

 Finally the dinner slowly wound itself down and everyone started making stretching and groaning moves as a prelude to rising from the table and retiring to the study or the family room.  The ladies all rose up and began to clear the table of the dessert detritus and the men did their little bit by collecting up their own dishes and handing them over to the women to take out to the kitchen and deal with in there.

 Feeling that they had done their bit, the men headed towards the study to smoke a cigar or two and indulge in some after dinner brandy.  It was at this point, as the group dispersed that Heyes and the Kid found themselves face to face and they both smiled.  This was it.  Though it hadn't exactly been the Christmas they had imagined, it was their first Christmas with family in almost thirty years.

 They looked at each other for a moment and as usual; a whole conversation passed between them.   Jed laughed and Heyes' grin grew to beyond what his face could comfortably hold.

 “Aww Heyes!”  Jed greeted him.  “Merry Christmas.”

 And the two friends came in to a 'man hug' and slapped each other on the back.

 “Yeah, you too Kid.”  Heyes returned.  “Merry Christmas.”

 Then they both noticed Harry looking a little out of place.  They converged upon him with smiles and back slapping and holiday solicitations.

 “Hey Harry!”  Kid greeted him.  “Merry Christmas!”

 “OH!  Yeah, you too Kid.”  Harry returned the greeting, though a little hesitant, not quite sure how to behave in these family situations.  “Ah, Merry Christmas.”

 “Harry.”  Heyes gave him a pat on the back.  “Glad you got to join us.  A little unexpected, but nice to have you here.”

 Harry smiled, honestly touched by Heyes' comment.   “Oh yeah.”  He mumbled.  “Well, nice to be here Heyes.  But I do have some information....”

 “Yeah, yeah I know.”  Heyes interrupted him.  “But let's just leave that until the children have gone to bed alright?  In the mean time; it's Christmas and I don't want to talk business on Christmas.”

 “Oh.”  Harry sounded a little put out, thinking that his news was actually important.  “Well, alright if that's what you want.  It is something you need to....”

 “Hold it Harry.”  Heyes interrupted him again.  “It can wait until later.”

 “Well, okay.”


 The men all retired to drink brandy and smoke some nice cigars and indulge in idle conversation while the women were busy cleaning up the dishes.  In the next room the children could be heard happily playing with their new toys—again!  But now there were sounds of squabbling coming into it which tended to indicate that the younger crowd were actually getting tired and might be ready for bed.

 Once the dishes were squared away and the ladies could finally settle in with their own respite; namely a cup of soothing hot tea, the children were starting to wind down.  Some were even starting to pay some attention to the story books that had been given to them from hopeful parents and guardians and weren't too interested in playing in the cardboard box anymore.

 It was during this time that Abi made a quiet appearance in the study, holding a tea cup and presenting a smile.  She looked over at her beloved.

 “It'll be time for the children to head for bed soon.”  She announced.  “And Anya has requested that her 'Uncle Han' come and read the bedtime story for tonight.”

 All eyes turned to Heyes and he sat, momentarily stunned and not quite knowing what to do.

 “Go on 'Han'.”  Jed prodded him with a smile.  “Time to take on the responsibilities.”

 “Oh!  Ahh....”  Big smile.  “Yeah.”

 Heyes put his drink down and stood up and then, feeling like he was walking in the clouds he followed Abi into the next room.


Heyes looked down at his daughter, her dark pigtails standing out against the snow-white pillows. “So, what do you want me to read?”

Rebecca picked up the book from her nightstand. “This one. Mama got me it for Christmas.”

Heyes took the blue book stamped with black and gilt writing. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” he paused. “Aren’t you a bit young for this? Don’t you want a fairy story?”

“She’s very bright for her age,” Abigail walked over tucked her daughter in, dropping a kiss on her forehead, “aren’t you, a gràidh? She’s been wanting this book for ages.” She trailed an unseen sensual finger down Heyes’ back, charging his nervous system with hunger. She glanced over at the other girls in the small dormitory. “You don’t mind, Uncle Han reading a story do you?” The chorus of approval sealed Heyes’ fate as resident storyteller. “It looks like you’re busy for the next little bit.” She turned at the door. “Just one chapter, now! I want to see you all asleep when the grown-ups come to bed.”

“...and when she saw the state his clothes were in her resolution to turn his Saturday holiday into captivity at hard labor became adamantine in its firmness.” Heyes’ smile dimpled below warm, twinkling eyes as he snapped the book shut. “One chapter, that’s it for tonight.”

“Aww! Can’t we have more? Please, Uncle Han?”

Abigail walked in, the glint in her eye quashing objections. “One chapter, I said. Now, settle down and get to sleep.”

She tucked in each girl in turn, dropping a kiss on their cheeks. “Snuggle up, and have lovely dreams of today and tomorrow.”

“But mama, Uncle Han does all the voices!” Rebecca flicked pleading eyes at her newly found relative. “Mama can’t do accents. She's Scottish.”

Heyes cast amused eyes at Abigail. “Can’t she? Well, I’ll have to give her some lessons.”

“Goodnight, girls. Merry Christmas.” Abigail extinguished the lamp with a single puff, throwing the room into darkness. Heyes felt her hand slip into his, pulling him to his feet and leading him from the room.

He tugged on her hand at the top of the stairs. “Wait,” he whispered. “We haven’t had a moment alone all day.” He slipped a hand around her waist. “I haven’t had the time to wish you merry Christmas.”

He felt her arms circle his neck, the warmth of her breath stimulating his flesh. “It’s been a wonderful day, a gràidh.” Her fingers twirled the hair at the back of his head. “A day I never thought I’d see... us all together like this.”

He cupped her chin, dropping light kisses on her earlobes, continuing across her jaw line to her lips. “But we did. Thanks, Abi. I can’t tell you how much this means to me.” He pulled her into a probing kiss. “They say you never know what we’ve got until we lose it. I guess I lost it all – so I sure know what means the most.” He felt her eyelashes brush over his cheek in a butterfly kiss as they embraced, “but we’re here, we’re together, and we’re happy,” he murmured.

“We are, aren’t we? It been a wonderful day, and your presents are so ingenious. I love my kitten, and until now I didn’t know you’d felt anything at that moment too.”

“Felt?” Heyes gave a wicked chuckle. “Mostly, I saw through that tough lady front, and found a real woman at last. But not just any woman - one who could break into places? I held on to that memory for a long time, Abi – until we made better ones.”

“You’re incorrigible. Come here to me,” she pulled him down into another embrace, kissing him with growing passion. She pulled back. “We can’t.” Abigail laid a soft hand on his chest. “Neither of us are in any fit state to do anything about it.”

“I don’t remember being happier than this, Abi, even the last week; staying at your house, relaxing. I’d have been driven mad with boredom before, but I actually enjoyed it. You know that feeling; when you’ve had a long climb, and enjoy the view from the top?”

“I can’t take credit for that, Mr. Heyes, surely prison taught you patience?”

“Prison taught me what I wanted.” He paused, dropping his forehead to hers, “and what I didn’t. I had been focusing on big things, when life’s really made up of all the little things. I was stupid.”

“Well you weren’t today. You did everything just right. The look on those children’s faces when all those balloons poured out was unforgettable.”

His voice tightened, sounding more pensive. “Yeah, Abi. Children...” He felt her stiffen. “I assume we’ll get some time alone sometime, so... David talked to me about that. Do you want more children?”

“Well, yes... in time. Not now, not until we know this’ll work.”

He smiled, pulling her into a hug before the raw, burning pain made him draw back. “Then we need to be a bit more careful, Abi; until it’s time. We seem to be able to make babies a bit too easily. It’d be nice to do it right next time, with all the paperwork in order. Third time lucky?”

She chuckled through the darkness. “OH, that silver tongue of yours! Is that a proposal? It’s a good job for you I can read between the lines – and agree with you,” he felt her finger trail lazily down his cheek. “Don’t worry about it, I live with a doctor and I’ve learned a whole lot more than I knew the last time we met. Just you leave that to me, huh?” She walked towards the staircase, leading him by the hand, the sound of a piano drifting up from the sitting room. “They’re singing, come on. It time for the adults to kick back and enjoy the night. Let’s go down.”

They cracked open the door of the sitting room and crept in. Mayzee was sitting at the piano, leading the room in carols. Belle walked over, handing a glass of wine to each of them. “The girls are down for the night?”

Abigail nodded. “I can’t promise they’re asleep, I’ve no doubt they’re up there giggling, talking, dreaming of things to come, and just being girls, really; another wonderful memory for them.” She smiled, her eyes softening. “Like sisters...”

Belle’s instincts picked up on the hint of angst in the voice of a woman who had lost her family. She linked arms with her, patting her hand. “Come and sing, Abi. Sing Christmas songs with us.”

The Kid wandered over at the end of a rousing chorus of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and slapped Heyes on the back. “Where’ve you been? You were readin’ a story to Anya. You’ve been ages.”

Heyes grinned. “I had a moment with Abi too.”

“Ah!” the Kid’s eyes glittered with amused significance. “Yeah? You’d best be careful, look how easy you two become three.”

“Funnily enough, we talked about that, and making the next one official.” Heyes frowned, dropping his voice. “You know those things they make – for protection. They make them for women too you know.”

The Kid mused for a moment. “Well I don’t know about you, Heyes. I only ever used them for women.” He slapped Heyes on the back. “Official sounds real good. C’mon. ‘Silent night.’ You like that one. Even the gang liked that one, Kyle used to take the high part, if we got him drunk enough. It’s Christmas. Come and sing.”


 “MORRISON!?”  Came the unified response from the two ex-outlaws.

 “That's what the man said.”  Harry emphasized.  “Tom Morrison, US Marshal.”

 Heyes and Kid  exchanged incredulous glances.

 “Why would he be meeting up with George Mitchell?”  Jed asked.  “What do they have in common?”

 “Me.”  Was Heyes' sardonic response.

 “Yeah, I know Heyes.”  Jed agreed.  “But why would he be after you now?  I can't even figure out why Mitchell would be after you, but Morrison?  He should be done with all this.”

 Heyes shrugged.  “I donno.”  He admitted with a sigh.  “Maybe he's pissed that after all the hard work he put in to catch us, I only ended up serving five years.”

 “That don't make no sense Heyes.”  Kid was adamant.  “I got off altogether, so why wouldn't he be after me?”

 “Maybe he is after you.”  Cage commented.  “It was your fiance who was threatened.”

 “Yeah, but then why would Mitchell be after me?”  Jed questioned.  “If Morrison and Mitchell are in this together what could be so important to carry on like this?  I mean Heyes did his time and received a parole, I went through my trial and received a legal amnesty!  What could be so important that both of them would still be after us!?”

 “Maybe they're not in this together.”  Cage suggested.  “Maybe Morrison is after you because you got off scott free after all the work he put in to arresting you.  And Mitchell is after Heyes because of, what?...the hearing?  Or, your suspicions about the death of Dr. Morin...?  Maybe he blames you for being dismissed from his job.”

 “But Harry has the proof that Mitchell paid Carson to arrange for Harris to go after Beth.”  Heyes pointed out.  “Which would suggest that Mitchell has something against Jed.  But what?  And what the hell does Morrison have to do with any of this!?”  Heyes sighed and ran his hands through his hair, flinching as he yet again hit the stitches—thank goodness those were coming out soon!  “This just doesn't make any sense!”

 “No it doesn't”  Cage admitted.  “We need to find Mitchell.”  Then he turned to Harry.  “There was no indication which way he went?”

 “No.”  Harry admitted.  “And I checked too.  Nobody knows which way he went and no one has heard from him since he left.”

 Silence surrounded the room.  

 “Well...”  Cage surmised.  “Perhaps we should start looking for this Morrison fella.  I take it from the conversation here that you think it is possible that he might be holding a grudge?”  Then he paused, a speculative look crossing his features.  “Didn't I hear he was badly injured during one of his campaigns?  That was one of your men wasn't it?  Could he be holding a grudge against that?”

  “Yeah, I suppose.”  Heyes contemplated.  “Wheat shot him up pretty good.  I'm actually surprised to hear that he's on the hunt again.  Figured he was going to be retired for good.”

 “So...there's history there then.”

 “Ohh yeah.”  Jed agreed.

 “Do you know his home town?”  Cage pushed further.  “Do you know people who know him?  Anyone who might have information as to where he might be or what cases he might be working on right now.”

 “Well, there is Rick.”  Jed surmised.  “He lives in the same county as Morrison.  He might know.”

 “Yeah.”  Heyes thought about it.  “And Mike.  Last I heard, Mike was still actually working for him “

 “It's a place to start.”  Cage emphasized.  “It's all we've got.”  Then he sighed and looked pointedly at his two companions.  “There is another possibility you know.”

 “What's that?”  Heyes asked with a hint of suspicion.

 “Morrison is a US Marshal.”  Cage stated bluntly.  “Is he honourable?  Dedicated to his job?”

 Heyes and Kid exchanged looks, both of them grumbled, hating to have to admit it.

 “Yeah.”  Kid mumbled.  “A little too dedicated if you ask me.”

 Cage sent a questioning glance over to Heyes.  Heyes' shoulders slumped, but he nodded.

 “Well then.”  The Pinkerton man continued.  “Perhaps he's not after either one of you—perhaps he's on the trail of Mitchell.”

 “Yeah.”  Heyes let that idea sink in.  “But what would he have to go on?  We only just found the connection between Carson and Mitchell, and if it wasn't for the telegram in Carson's pocket...”

 “I know.”  Cage agreed.  “But something might have shown up at their end—we don't know.  Unfortunately the numerous different law enforcement agencies don't always share information.”

 Harry snorted and all eyes turned to him.

 “Oh!”  Harry was slightly embarrassed.  “No, just recognizing the understatement of that observation!  Still!  Can't be letting all our secrets out of the bag now can we?”


The air of celebration continued, turning the period between Christmas and New Year's into a season, rather than a day. The time filled itself easily in walks, children’s laughter, and good company; the urgency finally gone now that Mitchell was on the run and the Pinkerton Agency was looking into his whereabouts.

Heyes’ storytelling was a firm favourite with the children; reading them more of Tom Sawyer’s deeds each afternoon, and really putting on a fine show. Abigail had watched both partners closely, observing them in a normal domestic setting for the first time. Heyes treated children the same way he did people of any age, stepping back to assess them before making moves to connect; unlike Jed who got right in there, suddenly tactile and happy to be the clown. Their interactions highlighted the differences between the two men. The Kid had a playful, puppyish side to him, and Abigail couldn’t help but wonder if this is the man he would have been if he’d had a normally family life and structure.  Meanwhile Heyes’ behaviour was still measured and careful, testing the waters before opening up.

Heyes snapped his book shut, smiling at the assembled children. “That’s it. Two chapters to go,” he raised his hand to quash the chorus of objections coming from the children sitting around his feet. “If I do any more I won’t have anything to read tonight, will I?”

His gaze drifted over to Abigail, holding it for a moment before he smiled warmly and stood. “Go and play children, Uncle Han needs a coffee.”

He sauntered casually over to the kitchen where Abigail was already pouring out a cup, before holding out the pot to offer a top up to Harry.

“No thanks, Abi. I’ve had enough.” He sat back, twiddling thoughtfully with his moustache. He glanced round the kitchen. No children, none of the new company around either; only Belle and Abi. Finally! There was freedom to talk. “It’s New Year's tonight. Do we have any plans after that? Am I needed anymore?”

Abigail and Heyes exchanged a glance. “Well, Cage has got local agents looking around for any information they can get on Mitchell.” Abigail shrugged. “I suppose I need to get out there too, to see what the women know. Men never think to question them properly, but they generally know what’s going on. If I adopt a role I might get them to open up to me.”

Belle cast a concerned glance over at the table, but continued to peel the potatoes in silence.

Heyes sighed deeply and sipped his coffee. “I guess this visit is coming to an end. It’s been great.”

Abigail nodded. “It has been a wonderful oasis of peace. It’s given us time to heal up too. It’s been two weeks now, and I’m a lot better.”

“You’re not well yet, Abi.” Belle spoke up at last. “Joshua is doing well, but you still have some problems when you move.”

“I’m fine, Belle.”

Belle shook her head. “That doesn’t work on me, Abi. I’ve seen how you turn over in bed. You need to take more time.”

Abigail nodded. “I will, all I’m suggesting is living quietly and gaining the confidence of some local women.” She gave a light smile. “I’ll be good.”

“Have you told Becky?”

Abigail‘s shoulders sagged. “No – and I’m not looking forward to it. She won’t want me to leave.”

“Then don’t go, Abi.” Belle wiped her hands on her apron and came over to sit beside Abigail. “Stay. Becky needs her mother around, she’s missed you.”

Abigail closed her eyes and bit into her lip. “I need her too, but I can do things none of the men can. We have to finish this, Belle.” Abigail clutched at her hand looking deeply into Belles’ eyes. “Please, just one more push and then we’ll all be safe. Look after her for me.”

Belle clasped Abigail’s hand tightly. “You know I will.”

Abigail stood. “Tea... I need a cup of tea. How about you, Belle?”

“That’d be nice, Abigail.”

Abigail pumped the water into the teakettle. “So you spoke to Mitchell’s nephew? How about the nephew’s wife?”

“Nope.” Harry shook his head. “He wouldn’t let me see her.”

“I see,” Abigail put the kettle on the stove and turned back to the company with a pensive smile, “then she’s the first person I have to get to know. Did you find out anything else?”

Harry rocked back on his chair. “He comes from farming folks and grew up in that area. From what I can find, he’s lived a respectable life, mixing with local worthies; he courted and married the sheriff’s daughter. His local school turned out quite a few successful folks – two of the girls became schoolteachers, two mayors went there, and then there was Judge Parsons. There was no sign he was a wrong ’un, none at all.”

Heyes’ head jerked out of pensiveness. “Parsons? Henry Parsons?”

“Yeah,” Harry nodded. “The one at your trial.”

Abigail’s jaw dropped open at about the same time as Heyes before they gave a cry in unison. “Harry!”
“How long have you known this?” Abigail demanded.

Harry turned bemused eyes on the group. “About two weeks, why?”

“And you didn’t think to tell us? This is important!” Abigail bustled towards the door, “Cage! Come here, you have to hear this.”

A pale Heyes sat in silence, his hands forming into fists. Belle walked over and put a protective arm around his shoulders. “Joshua, are you alright?”

“Yeah,” he muttered, aimlessly. “Judge Parsons?”

Cage appeared at the kitchen door. “What!? What is it?”

Abigail grabbed his hand. “Mitchell the warden, he went to school with the Judge at Mr. Heyes trial.”

“How do you know?” Cage demanded.

“Harry found it out... about two weeks ago.”

Cage glowered at Harry shifting in his seat. “Why the...” Cage paused, glancing at his respectable sister and moderating his tone. “Why didn’t you tell us this?”

“I didn’t think it was important,” Harry murmured, uneasily.

“You didn’t? Even I think he gave Heyes an unfair sentence – and you’re supposed to be his friend!” spluttered Cage incredulously. “Come with me. We’re gonna go over every detail and see what else you’ve ignored.”

Abigail bustled over to Heyes, her brow creasing in concern. “Mr. Heyes, what’s wrong?”

He raised lost eyes up to meet hers. “The Judge and Mitchell? They knew each other?”

“It would appear so.” Abigail held his hand. “It may not mean anything, we’ll check it out.”

“Did they get together to kill me, and hurt anyone I care for? Why would they hate me so much?”

Abigail rubbed his arm. “Mr. Heyes, I don’t know. It might just be a coincidence. Let’s wait and see, huh? Bite size pieces, the more you know, the more you can deal with things; but let’s just take it one step at a time.”

 Heyes sat silently, feeling the oppressiveness of his previous life settling down upon him again.  This was too much!  Had there really been a conspiracy of such depth and hostility all aimed at hurting him and the ones he loved?  And for what?!  What had he done to cause such hatred to be lashed out against him?

 Abi nestled in closer and hugged his arm while Belle continued to stand behind him, her arms draped protectively around his shoulders.  She held him in a light embrace so as not to aggravate his burns and yet still transmit what support she could to her friend.  Heyes gave an appreciative sigh and taking the hands of both ladies he brought them up to his lips and kissed them.

 “I'm alright.”  He assured them.  

 He felt Belle lean down and give him a kiss on the top of his head and he smiled quietly.

 “You are looking better.”  Belle told him.  “Especially since the remnants of your last battle are beginning to fade away.  But how are you feeling Joshua—really?  Are you still having those nightmares?”

 “No!”  Heyes assured her.  “No, those have stopped.  I still get bad dreams, but nothing like the night horrors  I was getting.  They've disappeared just like Doc said they would.”

 Abi and Belle exchanged worried glances.

 “Are you still talking to dead people a gràidh?”  Abi asked him softly.

 Heyes smiled and gave both their hands a gentle squeeze.  “No.”  He assured them.  “Putting Doc's murderer to rest seems to have put Doc to rest as well.  He hasn't been around to visit....”

 “That's a good thing.”  Abi assured him.  “You don't want to be tying him to this earth.  It's time he moved on.”

 “Yeah.”  Heyes mumbled.  “I'll miss him.”


Abigail sat beside her daughter, her stomach sinking at the conversation she was about to have. “Anya, mama’s going to have to go tomorrow.” Her heart became leaden at the huge, dark eyes staring questioningly into hers and at the angst in Rebecca’s voice.

“Why, mama? Can’t we just go home?”

Abigail stretched an arm around the girl, pulling her to her in a warm hug. “What did Uncle Cage tell you about coming here?”

“He said he was looking after me for you.”

Abigail nodded. “And he has, a’gràidh. You are safe and that is the most important thing in the world to me. Why do you think you had to leave the house?”

The child’s eyes glittered with suspicion. “Uncle Cage had his gun out, and Aunt Hester was hiding us.” Rebecca tilted her chin. “I didn’t cry, mama. I kept quiet and did what I was told.”

“I know you did, Anya.” Abigail dropped a kiss on top of her head. “You’re a very brave girl, and I’m so proud of you.” Abigail paused. “Somebody tried to hurt Beth, so we brought her to our home to hide her from them. We think they found out where she was hiding, so Uncle Cage brought you all here to keep you all safe. I want you all to stay here until Uncle Cage can catch them.”

Rebecca sat processing this information for a moment. “But why do you have to go, mama?”

Abigail sighed. “I can help to find the bad man. You know women like to talk, don’t you?”

Rebecca nodded. “Especially Mrs. Adler.”

“Well, mama is going to be around women who knew the bad man, to see if they’ll say something to help us find out where he’s hiding. They won’t tell the police, but we think they might let something slip to another woman. They won’t think I’m working with the law and might just say anything that comes into their heads – without thinking too hard about what they’ve said.”

“Like Mrs. Adler does?”

Abigail chuckled lightly. “Exactly like Mrs. Adler does. You do want mama to help keep Beth safe, don’t you?”
“Yes, mama, but why does he want to hurt her?”

“We’re not sure, we need to find that out too, Anya. We think the man might not like some of her friends.”
“Mama, is it dangerous? You won’t get hurt, will you?”

“Oh, my wee girl, no I won’t. I’ll probably be bored stiff, listening to lots of people like Mrs. Adler and I’ll missing you dreadfully – but I won’t get hurt.”

“How long will you be gone?”

“I’ll be back as soon as I can, Anya. It all depends how long it’ll take for me to find anything out.”

Anya nodded, toying aimlessly with the puzzle book in her hand, her bottom lip trembling. “I’ll miss you. I don’t want you to go, Mama.”

Abigail dropped her head, drinking in a great breath of her daughter’s scent. “And I don’t want to go either, but grownups sometimes have to do things they don’t want to. You do like it here, don’t you, because if you don’t, I can find somewhere else?”

“Oh, I like it fine, mama. I have children to play with, and Mrs. Stamford has so many good books.”

“As long as you like it here,” Abigail stood, placing a hand on each of her daughter’s shoulders. “When I get back we’ll go on a special trip. We’ll go to San Francisco and see all the sights, and you can see the sea lions in the bay. We’ll go to a beach resort and you can paddle in the sea, and play on the sand. Would you like that?”

Rebecca’s eyes sparkled. “Ooh, mama! I’ve never seen the sea, I’ve only read about it. Have you?

Abigail smiled. “I was born on a little Island, a'ghaol. It was surrounded by the sea, but it wasn’t warm very often where I come from. Where we’re going it will be sunny, and warm,” she drew Rebecca into a hug, “and SO much fun.”

“I’d love that, Mama.”

Abigail nodded. “And you shall have a special new outfit. You have been very patient and brave while we help the Jordans, so you deserve a treat. Just promise me one thing?”

“What, mama?”

“Don’t let J.J. know about any of this. He’s younger than you and might be frightened. If you do need to talk to anyone about any of this Mrs. Jordan will be there for you.”

Rebecca nodded. “I’ll look after J.J. - and Mama?”

“Yes?”

Tha gràdh mòr agam ort.”

Abigail smiled. “Aw, and I love you too, Anya. With all my heart.”


Heyes grasped Abigail’s hand as she left the room. “Should you have told her all that? You’ll frighten her.”

“You were listening, Mr. Heyes?”

“Yeah, I was. She’s only ten, Abi.”

“And she’s as smart as a whip. If I don’t tell her anything at all, her mind will run away with itself, and she come up with something far worse.”

“Are you sure?”

Abigail smiled patiently at him. “I know my daughter, Mr. Heyes. She needs some information to process or she’ll over think it.”

Heyes arched an eyebrow. “I guess. I wonder where she gets that from?”

“I wonder?” Abigail replied, archly.

“So – we’re moving out in the morning?”

Abigail nodded. “Yes, we have to get on, as lovely as this has been. The new year starts with work.”

The assembled company gathered in the hallway bundled up against the cold. The Kid gathered Beth up in a long, lingering embrace while Belle and Abigail shared a look of amusement at J.J.’s face screwed up in objection. “That’s just soppy!” he declared, folding his arms. “When I’m big, you won’t catch me kissing girls.”

Rebecca nodded in agreement. “When I’m big I won’t kiss boys either.”

Heyes grinned and crouched down to give her a hug. “What!? No goodbye to Uncle Han?”

“Oh, yes. I’ve got to say goodbye to Uncle Han,” she stretched her arms around his neck and planted a smacker of a kiss on his cheek. “What?” Rebecca pouted indignantly at J.J. “I said I wouldn’t do it when I was big. I’m still only ten.”

“You’re bigger than me,” J.J. objected.

“Everybody’s bigger than you,” Rebecca retorted. “That doesn’t count.”

Heyes pulled out a book and handed it to Rebecca. “I want to give you this before I go. Uncle Jed gave it to me for Christmas, but I’ve read it now and I thought you’d like it, now we’ve finished Tom Sawyer.”

Rebecca read falteringly from the cover. “The Adventures of Hunkl... berry Fin.

Abigail smiled and pointed along the gilded letters. “Huckleberry. The word is ‘Huckleberry,’ and this is a wonderful book. I think you’ll enjoy this a lot. Say thank you to Uncle Han.”

“Thank you, Uncle Han,” Rebecca dutifully totted out.

“You’re welcome,” Heyes replied, glancing at Abigail who opened the book to read the flyleaf. She arched a brow and closed the book again, bending to hug her daughter.

“Oh, you! Bliadhna Mhath Ùr, A'ghaol. I’ll be back as soon as I possibly can. You be good for Mrs. Jordan and Mrs. Stamford.”

“I will, mama, and Happy New Year to you too.”

The party exchanged the last embraces and climbed into the wagon behind Henry Stamford. It jerked into action hands waving frantically to their loved ones. “Well you found a way, Mr. Heyes,” murmured Abigail.

“Found a way to what?” Heyes asked.

“To give her a book with your name in it. You don’t think I missed that, do you?”

The Kid turned to stare at his cousin. “Heyes, you didn’t. You promised.”

“Don’t worry, Jed. He signed the book from Uncle Han. He also wrote that it was based in a town in Missouri called ‘Hannibal,’ and he underlined the word, ‘Hannibal.’” Abigail watched the partners’ exchange a conversation in a glance with a chuckle. “Clever, Mr. Heyes, very clever. I will point that out to her when she’s old enough to know the truth. I see that brain of yours is kicking back into action again.”


To Be Continued
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Stepha3nie

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PostSubject: Re: Simple Gifts Chapter seven   Thu Jul 31, 2014 5:33 am

What a mostly lovely chapter with the two Christmas parties, but most of all Heyes finally meeting his daughter and being able to spend time with her. And after all these horrible years the Kid's wish from the beginning of TOF has been granted: a family Christmas for both of the boys. What a contrast to Heyes Christmases in prison! Thank you for all this wonderful, soppy gooeyness. Nice nod to the series with the Huckleberry Finn book.
How come I get the feeling that the happy family life will not last for Heyes? See what you have done with the two series? I am damaged, I see doom behind every happy scene... Better hurry off and find me a "Doc" to talk to...
Ha, Beth finally seems to grow up a little. It's high time, girl, you want to get married after all. :-)
Thank you for having Harry discover something useful - even though he does not realise (in typical Harry manner) that he has other important information. It's still nice to see him included. And he is just such a character.
The mystery plot is sure thickening. Mitchel, Morrison and horrible judge Parsons all connected? That is a scary thought, but it would explain a lot.

Loved the sentence(s): "Old countries have long memories, they’re fine as individuals, but as a nation!? They’re a parcel o’ rogues". That's it in a nutshell. How could the inspector class Abi as English? He sure deserved everything that was coming to him! ;-)
Isn't it funny that in so many of today's countries people feel the need to define their identity not so much by their nation, but by their home region? Up to wanting and occasionally succeeding in splitting off. And all the while politicians seem to be set on creating even lager entities...

And last but not least I have a historical question: I did not think cardboard boxes were all that common in the Old West (as means for packing Christmas presents). Did you do some research on this?
I read somewhere that pre-cut boxes (that's what Heyes bought - isn't it?) were first invented in 1890 in Brooklyn. So the timing seems slightly off.
I also found out that 2005 a cardboard box was added to the National Toy Hall of Fame, and a "logcabin" cardboard box was later added. Did your idea come from this?

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PostSubject: Re: Simple Gifts Chapter seven   Thu Jul 31, 2014 6:01 am

Hi Stepha3nie, when you get to know me better you will know I'm a research fiend.  I even research what kind of ink and stationary my characters would use.  Cardboard was invented in 1817 and a patent issued to Albert Jones in New York in 1856 for corrugated cardboard.  The machine which produced large quantities of corrugated board was patented in 1874.  This was not cardboard as we know it today, but it could be card stock, fibreboard or paper board.  This was not a prefabricated box, but a flattened fibreboard box.  These were re-used - hence Heyes having to purchase the item as it had a value in being able to be used again.  Think lightweight tea chest and you'll know what I mean.  That's why it took two men to rebuild it and the Kid helped him.  I didn't want to bore the reader with extraneous details but I'm always happy to share it with people

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PostSubject: Re: Simple Gifts Chapter seven   Thu Jul 31, 2014 6:05 am

Oh, and the idea simply came out of the fact that my little brother and sister used to always play with the boxes and that Heyes had practically no money, so what could he get? I also researched balloons too, and these were available.

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PostSubject: Re: Simple Gifts Chapter seven   Thu Jul 31, 2014 7:11 am

I like to do some research too, but I am not always successful. Still struggling against modern technology and search engines.
I guess it comes from my ethnology background. I got very interested in Native American material culture and museum collections. Most research would be done in the library or in museum storage.
If you want to know if the Apache in "6SAAS" looked authentic - I am your girl. BTW - the answer is NO!!!  "High Chapparal" on the other hand had very good Apache, but I guess for ASJ the wardrobe and props budget was not quite up to scratch.

When I saw the first balloons in the series I looked into balloons and was surprised. So no questions there. :-)
And the idea with the box is ingenious. And sit fits Heyes.

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