Alias Smith and Jones Fun and Fanfiction
Alias Smith and Jones Fun and Fanfiction

A site for all kinds of fun for fans of Alias Smith and Jones
 
HomeHome  PortalPortal  CalendarCalendar  UsergroupsUsergroups  RegisterRegister  Log in  

Share | 
 

 Home To Roost Conclusion

View previous topic View next topic Go down 
AuthorMessage
Keays

avatar

Posts : 1427
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Home To Roost Conclusion   Sun Jan 12, 2014 7:00 pm

By mid-afternoon, chores for the day were finally completed and Heyes wasted no time saddling up Karma and heading into town.  He was relieved to get away from the ranch for a few hours, but anxious about what he was going to find at David's place.  Just the fact that Randa was ill caused his gut to tighten up in a knot—or had it been in a knot ever since the wee hours of that morning and just simply hadn't released yet?  So much was going on and there seemed to be more questions coming at them than answers.

What in the world was Bamforth up to?  And now he and Elsie Dagnabbit are actually working together?  He gave himself a mental reprimand; he had to stop calling her that now that he knew how to pronounce her name.  She had a beautiful name even if the woman herself was obviously of a somewhat dubious nature.  Let's face it, if she's working with Bamforth and she knew how to pick locks then there's a lot more going on behind that pretty face than just—well another pretty face.

 Heyes felt irritation add strength to the knot he already felt when he thought about Bamforth.  That had been embarrassing getting caught flat-footed like that.  Thank goodness he still carried lock picks with him or he and Jacobs would probably still be handcuffed to the bed—and then when they were finally found it would have made the front page in a matter of minutes!  Jed would never have let him live it down.  Yes—some things were best kept quiet.

Heyes pulled Karma up in front of the doctor's residence and with some trepidation mounted the steps, and knocked quietly at the door.  He didn't hear anything for a moment and was about to knock again, a little louder when he heard the handle move and the door opened a crack.

Heyes smiled quietly.  “Hello Amy,”  he greeted the rather pale looking woman.  “How are you?”

“Oh, Hannibal.” Amy smiled and opened the door wider, inviting him to step in.  “Sorry, I'm the only one here right now so I'm just feeling a little cautious, but do come in.”

Heyes took off his hat and stepped into the alcove.  “David and Tricia aren't here?”

“No.  Tricia has gone to do some shopping and has taken Nathan with her,”  Amy explained.  “David is still out checking up on all the people who got ill.”

“Oh, poor man,” Heyes commented with real feeling.  “Did he get any sleep last night?”

Amy shook her head as she limped back into the kitchen and offered Heyes a cup of the ever-present tea kettle.  “I only made enough for me, but the kettle’s still on the boil and I can throw in another spoonful of tea.”  She lifted the octagonal tea caddy decorated with little branches standing out against the pewter coloured metal.  “Darjeeling.  It came in this box, isn’t it lovely?  I’ve decided to give it to Tricia as a thank you gift.”

“I’m sure she’ll love it.”  Heyes nodded acceptance of the beverage as she prepared and poured them both a cup.  “A friend of mine, Silky by name, has a whole bunch of decorative doo dads like this.” He smiled as he admired the box. Seeing that kind of reminds me of him.”

Amy smiled in appreciation as she set the box aside. “I think David got a couple of hours after he came home from your place,”  she informed him as they both sat down.  “But he was up and gone again by ten this morning.”  She shrugged.  “I suppose it's like that sometimes when you're the town's doctor.  Tricia certainly seems to take it all in her stride.  I know he wants to go by the Double J. again before coming home just to check up on Beth.” She smiled again though she looked tired.  “He'll probably sleep for at least fourteen hours once he knows everyone is on the mend.”  Then she became serious again.  “How is Beth?”

Heyes sipped his tea and shrugged.  “Sleeping.  That's all I can really tell you.  David gave her a sedative and thinks that she'll be alright once she regains her strength.”

 Oh, good.” Amy breathed a sigh of relief, “such a shame; she and Jed were so happy, but I'm sure they'll be able to have others.”

Heyes just nodded.  Even he was getting a little tired of that platitude.  It was an empty reassurance at best; just something people said when they couldn't think of anything else to say.  Jed and Beth won't know if they can have more children until they actually have them, and having other children still won't take away the pain of losing this one.  Heyes know that better than most.  Still, he knew that Amy was just being sympathetic and supportive the only way she knew how and he tried to take the sentiment at face value.

“You still haven't answered my question,” Heyes pointed out and Amy raised an eyebrow at him.  “How are you?”

She smiled again.  “Oh, I'm fine,” she assured him.  “I'd be home now, but I offered to stay on a while longer to help with Miranda.  She really did get the worst of it.”

“Hmm,” Heyes nodded.  “Do you think David would mind if I went in to see her?”

“I don't think so,” Amy told him.  “Why should he mind?”

Heyes gave a sardonic little laugh.  “Just...take my word for it; he can get very protective sometimes.”

“Well, since he's not here right now I don't see any reason why you can't go in to visit with her,” Amy told him conspiratorially.  “I won't tell if you won't.”

“Okay,” Heyes agreed with a grin.  He took another sip of tea and pushed himself away from the table.  “I won't stay long.”

“That's fine, Hannibal,”  Amy assured him.  “Perhaps she'd like a cup of tea.  It does seem to help settle her.”

Heyes nodded and made his way over to the spare bedroom.  He knocked quietly on the door and then entered, closing it behind him.

He stopped for a moment, just on the other side and stood gazing down at the woman he had come to care so much about.  The second cot was still set up, supposedly for Amy to sleep on and Heyes quietly stepped over to it and sat down.  Miranda appeared to be asleep and he didn't want to disturb her so he contented himself with simply watching her and trying to assess her condition.

She appeared pale and hollow looking, as though she had suddenly lost 20 pounds, and there was a light glistening to her skin indicating a clamminess that Heyes knew was there without having to feel it.  David had obviously given her a sedative and something to help calm her stomach but she still looked very ill.

Once again Heyes was fighting that fear that he was going to lose someone whom he cared deeply about.  He remembered back to their earlier conversation while out on their picnic and he had commented that pretending to not love her was going to be the best con he ever pulled.  Now though, he'd have to say that it had turned out to be the worst, because he just couldn't pull it off.

He did love this woman.  Not the same way that he had loved Abi.  Miranda was a different kind of woman than Abi was so how could he love her the same way?  But love her he did, and now she was sick and he just didn't know if it was because of him or simply a very aggressive virus or bug that had hit the populace on July 4th and was simply affecting different people in different ways.

Now more than ever he wanted this vendetta to be sorted out and put to rest.  Otherwise he was going to go mad always wondering if some illness or accident was because of that, or simply the natural course of things.  He wanted to get on with his life as best he could under his current circumstances and he was tired of constantly having to look over his shoulder.

Maybe David had a point.  Perhaps none of this had anything to do with him and Jed.  Maybe the whole idea was just to get the suspicion out there so that the two ex-outlaws would do the job of ruining their own lives.  Maybe Jed and Beth were right; just grab the bull by the horns and go for it—vendetta be damned.  Stop trying to protect everyone, Hannibal!  He'd just finished telling Jed that he couldn't control everything; he couldn't keep Beth safe from life itself.

 Maybe Heyes needed to listen to his own advice.
 
Yeah, maybe.

He tensed slightly as he heard the front door open and then David's voice coming through from the kitchen. 
“I see Karma tethered outside.  Is Hannibal here?”

“Yes,” he heard Amy's voice answer.  “He wanted to see how Miranda is doing.  I didn't see the harm.”

Silence followed that statement, then a quiet knock on the bedroom door followed by the door opening and David himself putting in an appearance.  Heyes straightened up with a sigh, not sure what kind of a reception he was going to get, but David simply smiled at him and came into the room.

“Hello,” David greeted him quietly.  “She still sleeping?”

“Yeah.  I didn't want to wake her.”

David nodded and sitting down on the edge of the sick bed, he gently checked his patient's condition.  He cupped her face in his hands then touched her forehead and her throat then checked her pulse.  She moaned a little at the disturbance and shifted her position but she didn't wake up.  David smiled, but it was a tired and worried smile which gave Heyes no comfort.

“I thought you said she was getting better.”  Heyes tried to keep the accusation out of his tone.

“She was,”  David informed him, knowing that the edge he was hearing was just worry.  “But when I checked on her earlier this morning she had regressed again.  I don't know why.”

“Are there any others who are getting worse?”

“No.”  David shook his head.  “Even the more elderly victims are recovering and most are up and about.  I just don't understand why Randa isn't.”  He sighed and rubbed his tired eyes.  “I do have some samples that I can run tests on and I'll take a look at some case studies I have on hand.  I'll figure it out Hannibal, don't worry.”

“You're not going to figure anything out if you don't get some sleep,” Heyes commented.  “Why don't you...?”

“No,” David shook his head.  “Randa is getting worse; I don't have time to sleep.”

The two men sat quietly for a moment, Heyes watching David and David watching Miranda, neither of them really knowing where to go from here.

“How's Beth?”  Heyes finally asked.

David took in a deep breath and looked over at his worried friend.  “She's still sleeping, but appears to be doing better.  At least she hasn't started to bleed again.  That's a blessing.  There’s no sign of infection and that’s all that can hold her back now.”

“Yeah.”

David yawned and rubbed his eyes.

“Aw David, you should....”

“No,” David cut him off.  “I have too much to do.  You'd best go home for now, Hannibal.  You can come back tomorrow if you want.  Hopefully she'll be better.”

“Yeah, okay.”

Heyes stepped out to the kitchen as Amy was busy brewing more tea.  She glanced over at him and couldn't help but feel some sympathy at the worried expression on his face.

“Aw, Hannibal,” she said and came forward to give him a hug.  “She'll be alright.  You'll see.  David will fix this.”

Heyes sighed and sank into her embrace, taking comfort from the contact of a friend.  “I hope you're right,” he whispered in her ear.  He pushed himself away from her and gave her a kiss on the cheek.  “I better get home—evening chores and all that, you know.”  Amy nodded.  “I'll come back to check on her tomorrow.  Will you be here?”

“I intend to,” Amy assured him.  “For all the help that David and Trish—and Miranda have given me, I really want to help out now if I can.  Try not to worry, Hannibal, we'll get her through this.”

Heyes nodded and left the house.  He went down the steps and patted Karma on the neck.  She leaned into him and rubbed her head against his chest.

“You're a good girl, you know that?” Heyes murmured to her, and he cringed as she brought her head up and nuzzled him in the neck.  It tickled.  “Yeah, okay.  C'mon I need a drink.”

He untied the reins and led the mare down the street towards the main street of town.  A quick beer sounded really good about now.  Just as he was tying Karma up to the hitching rail outside the saloon, Heyes looked up at a familiar voice calling to him.

“Oh—sheriff,”  Heyes greeted him.  “What can I do for you today?”

“I was hoping I'd see you sometime today,”  Jacobs admitted.  “I need to talk to you about something.”

“Oh?  I was about to get a beer.  Join me?”

“No thanks, Heyes, not while I'm on the clock.”

“You ever not on the clock?”  Heyes asked with that impish smile that drove lawmen crazy.

“Oh, I know.”  Jacobs waved it away.  “This'll just take a minute anyways.”

“Oh.”  Heyes tried to look serious.  “Well what can I do for you, sheriff?”

“It's about the other night...”

“What other night?”  Heyes was in full swing.

“The other night,”  Jacobs reiterated, looking irritated.  “You know, when...”  He looked around him and Heyes couldn't help but grin at his obvious attempt at covertness, but he made sure his poker face was in place when Jacobs turned back to meet his eye.  “...when we were handcuffed to the bed.”

“Oh, that other night!”  Heyes exclaimed and Jacobs cringed.  “What about it, sheriff?”

 Jacobs gave up on the pretence and just let it out.  “I seem to recall you telling Bamforth that you were going to track him down—no matter what.”

“Oh, yes.”  Heyes shuffled uncomfortably.

“I certainly hope that you weren't serious about that, Heyes,”  the sheriff commented.  “You know darn well you're not at liberty to do something like that—right?”

Heyes gave his most charming smile, dimples working overtime.  “I'd be at liberty if you went with me, sheriff.”

Jacobs sent him an incredulous look.  “And just where would we begin?  I've been to the livery, the train depot and the stage depot—there's been no one fitting their descriptions—either a couple or a man with a teenage boy making an effort to leave town.”

“Then that would suggest that they're still in town, wouldn't it?”  Heyes asked, all serious now.

“I've checked the hotel,”  Jacobs continued, “They’ve gone.  No sign of either of the Bamforths.  I think that ‘mother’ of his and Elsie Dagnabbit could be the same person.  She seems to have a knack with disguises, that woman.”
 
“Daignault.  Elise Daignault.”

 “Whatever!” Jacobs’ frustration rattled in his words.  “It's as if they've just disappeared into thin air!”

Heyes sighed.  “Yeah, okay,” he was getting down to business now, joking aside.  “I'll go get my drink and see if I can hear anything.  It's amazing what people will discuss after a few beers.  If nothing comes up from that, I'll do some checking around town myself.”

“As long as you don't leave the county, Heyes,” Jacobs warned him.  “I don't want to wake up tomorrow to hear that you're high-tailed it out of sight and sound.”

 “No, I won't, sheriff,”  Heyes assured him, and then the impish smile put in an appearance again.  “I'll wake you up before I do that.”

 
 Jed tiptoed into the upstairs bedroom that he shared with his wife.  He had the lamp turned down to its lowest level so as not to disturb Beth but still give him enough light to be able to undress and get settled in for the night.
Beth had slept most of the day, had been willing to take some broth at noon, and then some stew with bread at dinner but other than that, had shown no interest in leaving her bed or do anything other than sleep.  David had not been concerned about this; it was what he had prescribed anyways.  Bed rest with food and water was the best thing for her—just give her time.

Jed pulled the blanket back and carefully crawled into bed and cuddled in beside his wife.  Beth was lying on her side with her back to him and he snuggled in and wrapped his arms around her.  He heard a quiet sob some from her and she rolled over to face him, enveloping herself in his arms.

“Hey, darlin',”  Jed whispered.  “Wasn't sure if you were awake or not.”

Beth clung to him, her sobs coming now in quick succession.  Jed felt his heart break all over again, hearing his wife in such distress.  He tightened his arms around her and pulled her in close.

“Shhh...” he tried to sooth her, gently stroking her hair.  “It's alright...”

“I'm sorry...”  she finally gasped.  “I'm so sorry...”

“Ah no, darlin'; you got nothin' to be sorry about.”

“But you wanted children so much,” she sobbed, “and I lost it.  I couldn't even hold onto our baby for three months, I can't give you children—you must hate me!”

“Ohh, sweetheart—no.”  Jed would have laughed if his heart wasn't still breaking.  “I love you.  This doesn't change anything.  Give it time.  When you're ready we'll try again.  I love you more than anything else—more than I ever would have thought possible.  That's not going to change.”

“But what if...what if I can't...?”

“Then we'll find an alternative,” Jed assured her.  “In the mean time, I don't want you worrying about it.  Your own folks went through this but then went on to have you and Bridget, and then J.J.. We've got time sweetheart.  We've got lots of time.”

“You're not going to leave me?”

“No, of course not!” Jed assured her and he kissed her on the forehead.  “I'm not gonna leave you.  I know when I've got it good.  Besides—your Pa would hunt me down with a shotgun if I walked out on ya' know.”  Jed grinned as he felt rather than heard Beth giggle.  “There ya' go,” he said.  “Remember what your Pa said at our wedding?”

“What?”

“That the future lies before us and we'll do fine as long as we face it together.”

 “Oh yeah.”

“Your Papa's a wise man.”

“Yeah.”

 
“Randa’s seeing David right now.  She’s a little better this morning but she had another bad night.  Amy’s asleep in Nathaniel’s room.  She sat up for a good part of the night with Randa.”  Heyes followed Tricia into the kitchen where she slumped into a seat.  “How’s Beth?”

“She’s stable.  She’s been sleeping a lot.”

Tricia nodded.  “That’ll be the drugs.  It’s for the best.  Lots of rest will build her strength back up.”

“Yes.  I have every faith in David.  If he says she’ll be alright, I believe him.  As long as she doesn’t get an infection she’ll be fine.  Only time will tell, but so far so good.”

Tricia’s eyes saddened.  “And Jed?”

“This was everything he ever wanted.  He’s working real hard as a way of keeping his mind off things but he’s completely broken-hearted”

Tricia dropped her head wearily into her hands.  “Yes, I know.”

“You do?” Heyes’ voice rose in surprise.

Tricia shook her head sadly.  “I’m a doctor’s wife.  Other people’s stories aren’t my secret to tell.”

“I guess it’s more common than you think.  Folks just don’t talk about it much.”  A frown crinkled Heyes’ brow as his eyes became more distant.  “You look beat.  Have you slept?”

“Not much.  I expect I’ll get some soon.  Nathan seems to have escaped this, thank heavens.  My mother’s taken him again.  The poor boy seems to be getting handed around the family at the moment.  Children need routine and structure, this isn’t good.”

“He’s with a grandmother who dotes on him.  He’ll be fine.”  Heyes tilted his head, examining her.  “When did you last eat?”

“Yesterday... last night.  Oh, I’m not sure.”

“Well, how about something?  Some eggs maybe?”

Tricia made to stand but was gently pushed back to a sitting position.  “Nope.  I’ll make them.  It’ll be something to do to help and I bet David’s hungry.”

A surprise flickered over Tricia’s face.  “You cook?”

“We looked after ourselves for a long time.  Of course I can cook.  Nothing fancy, but regular eating.”  He lifted an egg from the stand on the sideboard and placed it in the palm of his hand.  “How about scrambled eggs?”

Tricia sat back.  “Just when I thought you couldn’t surprise me anymore; a man who cooks.”

Heyes smiled playfully and stood the egg impossibly on its end.  “I’m good with eggs.”

Tricia’s mouth dropped open.  “So I see.  How do you do that?”

Heyes shook his head.  “Trade secret.  I’ll show you all when Randa can sit around the table with us.”

Tricia gave a sigh of satisfaction.  “Now that’s something to look forward to.”

“Yeah, I’ve learned the importance of that over the last few years.  Sometimes the smallest thing can be all that keeps you going,” he gulped, “and sometimes it’s the biggest things.  The trick is to realise which is which.” 
   
“That’s not always easy.”

Heyes shook his head.  “Until you face the prospect of losing them.  That has a way of focusing a man’s mind.”
   
Tricia nodded sagely before a smile twitched at her mouth.  “Talking of focusing the mind, are you going to do more tricks with those eggs?”

“Tricks?”

“Watching a man cook will be a big enough trick for me.   David practically has to ask me what he takes in his coffee.”

Heyes gathered the eggs into the mixing bowl from the sideboard.  “Yeah?  Well, we’ve not all had a lovely wife to come home to.  Some of us have had to make do.”

“Lovely wife?”  Tricia smiled, humbly.  “Oh, Hannibal.”

“You are a beautiful woman - right through to the bone.  David is a lucky man.”  Heyes raised his head to smile at the doctor walking into the kitchen.  “Talk of the devil.”

“Complimenting my wife,” David smiled.  “Should I be concerned, Hannibal?”

“You should be counting your lucky stars.  You’re punching well above your weight.  How’s Randa, David?”

“A little better.  She slept.  I want her to eat something, but she seems to respond better to fasting.”

“I’m making eggs, David.  How about some of those?”

“Yes, we could try.”  David sighed heavily.  “I found arsenic in the vomit from the tent at the fair, Hannibal.  The whole town was randomly poisoned.  I’ve taken my findings to the sheriff and he’s telegraphed the governor.”

“Arsenic?”

“Except for Randa.  I can’t find anything in her system, but she does seem to be responding to activated charcoal.”
 
“None?  But if everyone else...?”  Heyes shook his head.  “Activated charcoal?”

“It has a property called chemisorption.  It has an absorptive property for some compounds.  It removes things as they pass through the body.”

“But that would suggest there’s something to remove, if she’s getting better.” 

“Exactly.  As far as I can see she’s just ill.  I’ve done every test I know of.  I don’t know what else to try.  Tricia prepares all her food and drink.  I’m stumped.”

Heyes dragged out a seat, his fingers drumming on the table.

David shared a glance with his wife.  “Out with it, Hannibal.  I can see your mind’s buzzing.”

“David, would you be offended If I contacted a doctor who used to be a Pinkerton,” Heyes raised a hand to stifle the words on the doctor’s lips.  “I’m not saying for a moment that you’re not good at your job.  You’re the best I’ve ever met and I respect you immensely, it's just that she might have some expertise in an area you would never come across in the ordinary course of events.  A bit of a specialist, you might say.”

David’s wry smile widened.  “Hannibal, I never claim to know everything and you should beware of any doctor who does.  I wasn't about to bite your hand off for the offer of help.  ‘She,’ you say?”

Heyes nodded.  “Hester Bentham.  I don’t know if she’ll come.  I can only ask.”

“Is that the friend Mrs. Stewart talked about?”

“She did?” Heyes asked in surprise.

“Yes.”  David joined the company at the table.  “She did.  Ask her, Hannibal, or do you think I should?”

Heyes considered the question.  “What the hey!  Let’s both ask.  Make sure you pose her a tricky medical question, David.  She loves a challenge.”

 
Miranda felt the mattress judder and wobble as someone sat on it.  She forced open her heavy eyelids and whimpered a weary greeting at the smiling, dark eyes staring into hers.

“How you doing there, lazybones?  Still in bed?”

“Oh, I know.  I just can’t shake this off.”

“How about some eggs?  I made them myself.”

Miranda’s eyes widened.  “You did?”

“Why is everyone so surprised?  How do you think we survived all those years on the road?”

“Oh, I realise that.”  Miranda pushed herself to a sitting position.  “I meant Tricia let you cook in her kitchen.  Amy’s been complaining that she’s not allowed to do anything at all.  She’s not even allowed to make my tea anymore.”

“Maybe it was just the novelty value,” Heyes smiled, lifting the tray onto her lap.  “I was heavily supervised.  She looked at me like I was a dog walking on its hind legs.”

Miranda loaded a fork full of the pale-yellow eggs and savoured them appreciatively.  “I’m not hungry, you know.  I’m only eating these for you.”

“Good.  We need to get some nourishment into you.   You look far to thin already.”

“Thank you.  You look lovely yourself.”

The smile dropped from Heyes’ face, crowded out by worry.  “How are you really feeling, Randa?”

“Like I’ve been run over by a coach and four, but I’m a little better today.”

“Good.”  Heyes hesitated.  “Just make sure you only eat what David and Tricia gives you, huh?”

The fork stopped in mid air.  “What are you saying?  I’m being poisoned!?”

“No, David can’t find a thing, but you know how cautious I am after the threat to people close to me.”  Heyes clutched at her left hand.  “And you matter to me.  You’re one of the most important things in my life.  You do know that don’t you?”

Miranda dropped her eyes but he felt her fingers curl around his.  “I’ll be careful.”  She sighed and raised her deep-blue eyes to stare deeply into his.  “As long as you come and make me some more of your eggs?”

Heyes cheeks pitted with dimples.  “It’s a deal.”

“But no coffee, though.  I can’t believe Tricia thought that would tempt my appetite.”

Heyes folded his arms indignantly.  “What’s wrong with my coffee?”

Miranda gave a throaty chuckle.  “Nothing; unless you want to drink it.” 
    
 
 A middle-aged woman stepped down from the passenger car, carrying two carpet bags and an anticipating, searching expression.  She moved out of the way of the other disembarking travellers and setting her bags down on the boards, she surveyed the platform with large, hopeful eyes.

She was a pretty enough woman, in a mousy, middle-aged, maidenly sort of way and though she tended to run a little heavy around the hips she carried herself in a most confident and dignified manner.  She was not someone to whom you would be disrespectful, but at the same time she was not someone you would particularly notice either.
  
She continued to scrutinize the muddle of other passengers greeting and meeting up with various friends and family members.  Eventually her eyes lighted upon a rather tall, but very handsome man who also appeared to be searching the crowd.  Quite confident that this must be the person whom she was seeking, she pulled herself up to her most dignified stance and stepped forward with hand extended.

“Good afternoon,”  she greeted him as the man automatically took her hand in his.  “I'm Miss Helena Doolittle.  Am I correct in assuming that you are Mr. Robertson?”

“Oh!”  David looked a little abashed at the mistaken identity.  He had also made an assumption as to this woman's identity.  “No, I'm sorry Miss—Doolittle...?  No.  Ahh, you're looking for Floyd Robertson?”

“Oh dear, I'm so sorry.”  Miss Doolittle retracted her hand from his and didn't do a very good job of hiding her disappointment.  “Do you know him?  Is he here?”

David creased his brow.  “You are expecting him to be here to meet you but you don't know what he looks like?”

“That's correct,”  Miss Doolittle responded as though there was nothing at all out of the ordinary with that condition.  “You see, Mr. Robertson placed an advert in some of the papers back east, stating that he was seeking a nanny.  It seems the poor man was tragically widowed a few years back and is finding the running of his property and trying to raise two children all on his own a little more than he can handle.  I simply responded to his advert and he assured me that he would be here to meet me.”

“Oh.”  David nodded.  “That's odd; he never said anything...oh well.”  The doctor began to look around the busy platform, searching for the familiar countenance of the rancher.  Then he grinned and pointed just as Hannibal stepped out of the office, effectively blocking the view of Mr. Robertson.  “There he is.”

“Oh my.”  Miss Doolittle's features brightened up again as she spied yet another very handsome man walking towards them.  She extended her hand once again as the wonderfully dimpled smile came towards them.  “Mr. Robertson?”

Heyes took her hand and his smiled softened.  “Oh, no, ma'am.  Sorry.”

Miss Doolittle's smile again dropped in disappointment.  “Oh dear,” then added as a mumbled aside, “not as sorry as I am.”  She sighed and once again retracted her hand.  “Well where is Mr. Robertson?”

David put a hand on Heyes' shoulder and gave him a slight push to the side and then again, pointed down to the other end of the platform.  Floyd Robertson chose that moment to glance down their way and noticed the three people watching him.  He smiled nervously, gave a little wave of his hand and began the long journey towards them.

Miss Doolittle drooped a little.  “Oh.”  She couldn't help but show her disappointment—just a bit.  But like the trooper she was, she rallied, and pulling her shoulders up she smiled at the on-coming widower.  “I suppose he's a pleasant enough looking gentleman...”

“Oh yes!”  Heyes assured her most adamantly.  “Ole' Floyd's a real fine, upstanding....gentleman.  Why, you won't find a harder working rancher around these parts....and he sure does love those two youngsters of his....yes, sir.”

David was sending Heyes a rather sardonic look, hoping he would shut up before Floyd got close enough to over-hear this rather enthusiastic introduction.  Apparently Floyd picked up on some of it though, as he sent Heyes a hooded look before turning his attention to the matronly Miss Doolittle.  Heyes grinned impishly but did at least shut his mouth.

“Ahhmm, Miss Doolittle?”  Floyd extended his hand.

The lady accepted it.  “Yes.  You're Mr. Robertson?”

“Yes ma'am,” Floyd shuffled.  “Ahh, how was your trip?”

“Pleasant enough.”

“Hmm.”

A long moment of strained silence followed as the four people stood and looked at each other.  “Well, ah...”  Floyd spied the lady's luggage.  “Oh, here let me get your bags.”

“Oh, yes.  Thank you.”

Floyd stepped forward, picking up the two carpet bags then nodded farewells to the other two men.

“Heyes, Doc.”

Heyes and Doc nodded back as Floyd headed towards the steps leading down to street level.  Miss Doolittle followed along but had just enough time to send a quick look under her lashes towards the shorter of the two men.
“Heyes...?”  was barely more than a whisper on the breeze and then she was gone to start her new life as nanny to a widowed rancher's children.

Hannibal and David watched them go, feeling slightly bemused by the whole episode.

“Did Floyd say anything to you about...?”  Heyes asked.

“Nope,” David told him.

“Huh!”

“Yeah.”

As a pair they turned to continue with their own survey of the now dwindling passengers, awaiting the arrival of a very important lady from Heyes' past.

The middle-aged woman dismounted from the train, her piercing eyes emphasized by the twinkling crescents of light catching on her spectacles.  The tall figure wearing the black hat caught her attention and she raised a hand in welcome.

“What in earth is she wearing?” David exclaimed, examining the top hat, collar and tie, and man’s dress frock coat.

“Hester’s kinda unique - eccentric.  She marches to the beat of her own drum,” grinned Heyes.  “Maybe I should’ve warned you, but at least she’s wearing a skirt this time.”

“This time?  She dresses like a man?  She’ll get arrested.”

“Hester versus Carl Jacobs?” Heyes laughed.  “I’d pay good money to see that.”

“Hannibal, how wonderful to see you again.”  Hester cast a professional eye over the tall, lean frame before nodding approvingly and welcoming his embrace.  “I have to say I was very surprised to hear from you,” she nodded towards David and proffered a hand.  “Dr. Gibson, I presume.  Hester Bentham.  I do hope I can help with your little problem.”

“I certainly hope so.   All the victims have recovered except for my wife’s cousin.  Her condition fluctuates and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.  It’s been a week now and she’s gradually getting weaker and weaker.”

“And there was arsenic in the samples taken from the mass poisoning?”

“Yes, at fairly low levels...”  the two doctors strolled off in the direction of the hotel, already comparing notes.  “There was at least one other incident involving ginger cookies.  There have been a lot of strange things going on around here.”

“You did the Marsh Test?”

“First test I did.  Arsenic seemed to be the most obvious culprit.”

“Hester,” Heyes called to the retreating backs.  “are these your bags?”

“Oh, yes,” Hester nodded.  “My bags.  I’d forgotten about those.  Can you grab them Mr. Heyes?”

Heyes sighed heavily, pulling at the handle of a carpet bag.  “What’ve you got in here?  An anvil?”

“Books and learned articles.  The cornerstone to medical knowledge,” Hester retorted.

“No body parts?  I know dead weight when I feel it.” Heyes smiled awkwardly at the shocked-looking matron who stared at the bags before looking the ex-outlaw up and down.  “I’m joking, ma’am.  It’s heavy, that’s all.”  Heyes hauled one up under his arm before grabbing the handle of the other two.  “Yeah, you two leave me to carry everything,” he muttered, following in their wake.  “Don’t mind me.  I’m only the one who brought you here.”



Hester clasped the large, leather bound books to her bosom and walked along the sidewalk towards the Gibson place with Heyes.  She had checked in, unpacked and spent at least an hour going through the chain of events before David had departed for his afternoon surgery, leaving Hester to take a statement from Heyes and chart the movements of all the principal characters.  The hard facts now committed to paper, it was time to throw around vague ideas to see what came out of the mist.  “So, Hannibal.  How have you been?”

“Yeah, you know.  Ups and downs.”

“So I hear, and now all of this.”  Hester stopped,  facing the ex-outlaw leader with an intense scrutiny.  “What do you think is going on?”

“I think the poisonings were to punish the people of this town for being so kind to me.”

Hester nodded.  “And Mrs. Thornton?”

“Randa?  I’m worried sick about her.  I can’t believe this is simply a mysterious illness.  Abi always said she didn’t believe in coincidences.”

Hester’s scrutiny became more intense.  “She’s special to you?”

Heyes’ eyes darkened.  “We had an understanding before Abi came.”

“Hmm.  Didn’t it occur to you to contact the mother of your child when you were released?”

Heyes shifted distractedly.  “I was confused and too caught up in everything to think straight.  I know I should’ve.  I would have done... but events overtook me.”

“I’m not dictating anything, I merely ask.  I need to find out what is important to you, and therefore what, or who, might be targeted,” Hester replied, as neutrally as possible.  “So this woman is significant and she has a mysterious illness after you have been threatened with ‘accidents?’  Yes, there does seem to be too much synchronism for comfort, especially coupled with the other poor widow.  You do seem to have a type.”

Heyes gave a snort of irritation.  “How is she, Hester?”

“Who?”

“Abi,” Heyes tried not to snap.  “Who d’ya think?  The other widow!”

“I haven’t seen her since she went to California,” the shrewd eyes assessed the man before her.  “She hasn’t come back.”

“She hasn’t?” Heyes frowned.

“No.  I think she was afraid that if she went back to the school you might seek her out and try to break your parole.”

Heyes processed this information, determined not to share the possibility that she had almost been right.  “I’m not stupid.”

Hester laid a gentle hand on his arm.  “I never said you were, but I know you two.  It was a wild ride, but it was always going to end in heartbreak.  It’s best to face up to that and put it where it belongs while you still have enough good memories to treasure.”

“I guess.”

“Men!  I’m so glad I favour fruit of a different flavour.  Being a woman is a terribly difficult task since it consists principally in dealing with men.   I like to reduce the odds wherever possible and stick to womankind.”

A smile twitched at Heyes’ lips in spite of himself.  “Me too, I’ve got a real soft spot for womankind.  Really, Hester.  You did see her.  How was she?”

“You two were made for one another, but not in this life.  I fear you will get over all of this a whole lot faster than she will.”  Hester paused, looking pensively down the street.  “Men usually do, they simply have more options.”

“I don’t know about that,” murmured Heyes.  “Moving on is hard.  Sometimes saying goodbye is a painful way to tell someone you love them.”
 
“And every time you fall in love it will be because there is a part of their essence which is the same.  Love is never a waste, Mr. Heyes.  It teaches us about ourselves and our capacity for kindness.  It could have been a mistake to make a run for it.  A child as gregarious as Anya was bound to let something slip at some point and it would have resulted in tragedy.  That’s a whole lot of responsibility to put on an eleven year old girl.  How could she live with putting her father in jail for the rest of his life if something went wrong?  That’s a poisonous legacy.  You both did the right thing.”

Heyes sucked in a breath.  “How could you know I thought about that?”

“It’s obvious,” Hester’s matter-of-fact retort finally hammered home what a stupid notion it had been.  “And I imagine that is why Abigail has gone to ground.  I do hope she’s alright.  I don’t like to think of her out there all alone.  She gave up everything, you know.  Her family, her job - everything.  “Remember that, Mr. Heyes.  You have Brookswood and she has nothing, along with the responsibility of a daughter.  I worry terribly about them both.”   Hester shook herself back to the matter in hand.  “Anyway, back to you and this vendetta.  This new friend, the woman from the hat shop seems to have been targeted quite quickly?”

“She’s lucky to be alive,” Heyes nodded.  “First of all she was crushed and then she was possibly poisoned twice.”

“Hmm, why do you think she was targeted so robustly?”

“She was a widow and understood the feeling of loss.  She was someone to talk to and a good listener.”  Heyes shrugged.  “There was nothing between us but people seemed to think there was.  Her injuries were appalling.  The wall unit was tampered with, but it was so heavy it was a murderous act.  If there’d been a mother with a child in there…”  He rubbed his face with both hands.  “It doesn’t bear thinking about.”

“And now all this?”

“Can you help, Hester?”

The older woman nodded; her comical dress at odds with the searing intelligence beneath that jaunty top hat.  “I believe I can, Mr. Heyes.  I’m sorry.  I don’t mean to give you a hard time, but the world is very hard on women who bite their lip and get on with life.  The criers get so much more support and sympathy.”  She stopped, frowning as she fixed on a couple strolling along the sidewalk on the other side of the street.

Heyes followed her gaze to the dowdy woman in the green gingham dress escorted by a dungaree clad farmer sporting an impressive pair of grey mutton-chops.  “What’s wrong?  Do you know them?”

Hester pursed her lips.  “Know them?  How could I know them?”

“Don’t start getting all mysterious on me.  I asked you a straight question.  Should I follow them?”

“Mr. Heyes, I am here to assist in the search for a diagnosis and prognosis for Mrs. Thornton, not to chase around the streets like a whippet.  You appear to be part bloodhound, just make sure you stay within the parameters of your parole.”
 
 
 “So, Doctor Gibson, may I see the patient?”

“Certainly,” David opened the door to the spare room and walked over to the pale, dark-haired woman propped up by the cocoon of pillows.  “Randa, this is Doctor Bentham.  She specializes in gastric matters and may be able to help.”

“Gastric?  Poisoning, you mean?”  A pair of hollow, deep-blue eyes looked from one to the other.  “I’m not stupid, you know.  If you think I’m being poisoned why don’t I leave and come back when I’m better.”

Hester gave a wry smile.  “That’s certainly an answer.  I could take her home with me.”  She patted the patient’s hand.  “If you trust me.  The mayor is kindly picking up my hotel fee but I’m sure he’ll be glad if I go.”

“Hannibal called for you.  He told me all about you.  I trust you,” Randa shrugged.  “I can’t take much more of this.  I’ll go.”

“There is another option, if you are brave enough,” Hester mused.

“Brave?” David demanded.

“Yes, she neither eats nor drinks anything from the house and we maintain the pretence that she is continuing to do so.  I will bring her sustenance I have already tested.  I also test everything which has been served to her, secretly, in the hotel.”

“So you do think I’m being poisoned?  But how?”  Miranda blinked in disbelief.  “My cousin, Tricia prepares all my food and drink.  She’d never harm me.”

“The tea and coffee come from the same storage jars we use every day as a family, we share meals, and the water comes from the same pump.”  David added.  “I made sure that only Tricia prepared and served her food for some time now.  She still gets ill but I don’t know how, there’s no pattern to it.  You tested almost everything.  We all eat and drink the same.”

Hester’s keen eyes peered over her glasses.  “You think you do, but there will be a chink.  Think about it, doctor.  You believe you are eating and drinking the same, but the evidence suggests otherwise.  That is what we examine.  Empirical evidence is required at all times.”

“We can’t ask you to be staked out like a goat, Randa.  It’s too much,” David protested.

“Hannibal brought Doctor Bentham here because she has expertise in this area, David.  We must listen to her at the very least.”

“Dr. Bentham, my wife does all the cooking.  She serves all the food,” David folded his arms defensively.  “She and her cousin are like sisters.  She one of the finest human beings to walk God’s earth and I simply can’t stand around and have her accused of poisoning Randa.”

“The female of the species is generally deadlier than the male, but I don’t actually suspect your wife.  From the charts I have drawn up she could not have been involved in the collapsed unit in the hat shop, and I am working on the basis that the same person is behind all of this.  I know what the kitchen of a doctor’s house is like in these small towns.  People call in and chat while waiting.  You have seats in the hallway where somebody could easily pop in and contaminate something.  There are a million ways this could be done, and in order to catch who is doing this, we need to know how.” 
  
David relaxed only slightly.  “What do you suggest?”

“That Mrs. Thornton eats only what I provide.  I will call three times a day to ‘treat’ her.  Your wife cannot know anything about this so there is no change in routine and no alteration in how things are done.  I will provide receptacles for all food and drink, which I will test.”

“But I can’t find anything,” David protested.

“Most clever poisoners have now moved away from metals like arsenic and are using vegetable based potions for exactly that reason.  They are almost impossible to test for; especially in the living patient, but there are some very clever chemists who have been working in that field.  Have you ever read any papers by Jean Servais Stas?”

“I can’t say I have.”

“A Belgian.  Abigail translated them for me.  Wonderful works.  I will lend them to you.”  Hester stood and held Miranda’s eye open while she examined the pupil.  “Slightly dilated.  Well, Mrs. Thornton?  Are you up for this little deception?  You should rally fairly quickly when the contaminations stop.  You simply need to rest and look frail.  I will leave a ‘medicine chest’ which I shall lock.  You and I will have a key to remove food and place samples for testing.  Only you, me, and Doctor Gibson will know about it.”

“Are you sure this is necessary?” Randa demanded.

“I have been through your diet.  You share most, if not all, of your food with the family.  You drink water from the pump, and beverages like tea and coffee are from a communal pot from which almost everyone drinks.  I need to narrow this down.  It’ll be something tiny.  So insignificant nobody notices it, but if we don’t catch them, that tiny thing will kill you, Mrs. Thornton, unless we break that cycle.  You mark my words.”

“My,” Miranda gave a watery smile.  “That’s quite the bedside manner you have there.”

“I work mostly with prisoners and corpses, so I guess most of my patients have no choice,” Hester’s apple cheeked smile belied the steely determination in her eyes.  “But you do.  I can cure you, but only you can help me to catch them.  What do you say?”
 
“I say that Hannibal has the most interesting friends of anyone I ever met.”  Resolution flickered in Miranda’s eyes.  “I need to stay alive if I’m to meet more of them, don’t I?”

 
 The pair stopped, chatting at the corner, watched carefully by the dark brown eye which peered around the edge of the building.  The woman in the green gingham dress nodded and dropped a kiss on the man’s cheek.  They parted and she headed across the road and back into town, towards the watching ex-outlaw who darted into a nearby alley and flattened himself against a wall.
 
Which one to follow?  Visions of an outraged matron causing a commotion at being followed by an ex-criminal flashed through his mind and decided the matter for him.  Heyes allowed the woman to pass by on the other side and swung out onto the sidewalk.  It was way easier to explain shadowing the man.

The square-shouldered figure continued down the street, followed at a distance by Heyes.  The bright, caustic sunlight not only lit the way, it provided the protection of gloomy shadows for lurking as the man headed straight down Seward Street.  Was he headed for the hotel?  Maybe Alberto would be able to give the man’s name.

It didn’t take long for that notion to be quashed when the man walked straight passed the hotel continuing on towards the railway station.  Maybe they were strangers in town and were leaving soon?

Nope, the man’s long legs stepped down onto the dry earth of the road, the sun catching the black shiny shoes as he crossed and headed away from the station.  A spider crawled over Heyes’ brain.  What was that catching Hester’s attention?  The man wore the kind of polished leather shoes you would wear with a suit!  That was just plain wrong – most farmers wouldn’t even own shoes like that, and used polished boots for Sunday best which would double as work wear when they could no longer pass for best.  No wonder a trained detective like Hester homed in on something like that so quickly.  This man was no sodbuster - not in that footwear. 
 
Heyes hastened his step, darting down into the road and turning his head to watch the traffic.  It was then that the man spotted him.

The bewhiskered face turned and Heyes’ eyes widened.  There was no mistaking the familiar grey eyes looking into his.  The cry was almost involuntary in its surprise.  “Bamforth!”

The disguise suddenly looked artless and false in the bright sunshine – a dude in carefully-contrived, dog-eared clothing wearing the wrong shoes and stuck-on whiskers.  It was obvious who he was, especially when he took off at high speed at the mention of his name.  Heyes cursed under his breath and high-tailed it after him.  “Get the sheriff.  He’s been looking for this man!” he yelled.

Bamforth careened around the corner chased by the ex-outlaw leader whose blood pressure was rising by the minute.  This man had not only made a total fool out of him, he was probably responsible for Amy’s terrible injuries and Randa’s poisoning.  No way was that snake going to get away this time!  The sound of his own blood rushed through his ears as his heart pumped furiously.  Not this time.  Bamforth was not going to escape.

 
 “Sheriff!  Come quick, Heyes is chasin’ a man and he says you’ve been lookin’ for him,” panted Bart Zimmerman.  “Very near knocked me over when I was cleaning outside my shop.  Somebody called Bamforth?”

“Heyes!” Jacobs exclaimed.  “Damn it, I warned him about taking the law into his own hands.  Where is he?”

“Down near Schulmeyer’s stables,” the barber replied, pointing in the opposite direction, but Jacobs hadn’t hung around to correct him – he had taken off towards the stables at high speed, raising a hue and cry as he went.

It didn’t take long before Jacobs rounded the corner, panting heavily with exertion.  His brown eyes scanned the street, cursing silently at the relative peace before him.  Sure, there were appalled-looking, lemon-lipped matrons chattering together and casting offended gazes up the street. But it was the fluttering, irritated chicken strutting away from an upturned basket, fluffing scandalized feathers at the indignity of being tipped into the road which confirmed Heyes and his quarry had passed this way at high speed.  He strode over to the skinny lad zigzagging after the bird in a loping crouch.  “Where’d they go?”  
  
“Down the alley,” the youth pointed into the shadows.  “It’s madness.  Henrietta will be off her layin’ for weeks!”

Jacobs gave a snort of agreement before jogging into the gloom of the alleyway.

He heard them before he saw them, the shouts and clattering feet echoing and bouncing in the spaces between the buildings.  The reverberation confused the senses and confounded the perceptions in the maze of alleys.  Which way did they go?  Jacobs acted on pure instinct and ran forward, down the alleyway between Seward Street and Main Street.  The loud, metallic clatter confirmed he was going in the right direction – it sounded like somebody had run into some dustbins.  There was a meow followed by the furious hissing and spitting of a piqued feline, exasperated at the disturbance its fine-dining experience before a ball of ginger fur came barrelling towards him.  It hesitated at the unexpected sight of yet another human in its shadowy domain. With fur standing up on end and the erect tail bristling like a Christmas tree the tom deftly sidestepped the sheriff, being sure to maintain eye contact all the way.

“Stop, Bamforth!”

Jacobs heard the call and increased his pace.  “Heyes.  Stop this, I warned you!”

There was light at the end of the alley and the lawman headed straight for it, suddenly making out two figures silhouetted ahead of him.  “Damn it, Heyes.  You can’t afford another incident.  Stop!”
“Bamforth!” Heyes yelled.

There was a grinding of brakes and the screaming of horses before people started hollering and shouting warnings.

 The thunderous sound of a coach in full flow attempting to grind to a halt filled the air, the storm before the horror of the crash. “Oh, God, no!” Jacobs muttered hurrying towards the gathering crowd.  “What now?”

 
The green eyes swept around the general store.  “Can I help?”

Elise peered from under the brim of her dowdy, old-fashioned, poke bonnet.  “A pound of coffee, please.”

“Certainly, ma’am,” Frans Sorenson scooped the coffee into a bag and placed it on the scales.  “Anything else?”

Elise nodded, her plush complexion doused in wrinkling, graying makeup leaving her washed out, the packing around her waistline adding to the frumpy image.  “Yes, please.  I’m interested in your tinned food.   What is that one?”  She pointed at the shelf.

“We don’t get many ladies asking for that kind of thing in here,” Sorenson replied.

“My husband and some friends are going on a hunting trip,” lied Elise.  “You know what men are like camping.  If I left the supplies up to them they’d be living on bourbon and cigars!”

The grocer chortled.  “A hunting trip?  I can help with supplies for that.  I guess you’d need some bacon?”

“Bacon, oh, yes!  And eggs – for the first day anyway, and some bread, please.”

“Sure, if you think they can get them there in one piece.”

A group of ladies gathered together to admire the new cookie cutters.  “Oh, look!  This one’s a tree; that would make marvellous Christmas cookies. “

“Yes, and little stars, hearts and flowers.  These are so sweet!”

“A butterfly.  I must have this one.  You could decorate each of the wings with a different flavor.”

“Just think how pretty we could make a celebration look.  A bridal shower, a birthday, the birth of a new baby…”

The women shared a plaintive look.  “A new baby.  Poor Beth, she waited so long to get married and now this happens.  It’s so tragic.”

“Maybe we should all buy one each and have a little get-together and focus on the future.  I’m so sure she’ll be fine with her next pregnancy,”

Elise frowned.  “Beth?”

“Yes, Beth Jordan. Well, I suppose she's Beth Curry now.  She lost her baby.  Do you know her?”

“Yes,” Elise corrected herself.  “Well, no.  I met her at the Fourth of July celebrations at the bake sale stall.  She’s lovely.  I didn’t realize she was pregnant.”

“None of us did,” the older of the ladies replied.  “She was just married and it was very early days.  Sad, but we must pray for another.”

“Yes, indeed.”

“She lost it?” Elise mused pensively.

“Very sad.”  The youngest woman nodded.  “Her husband is heartbroken.  I’ve never seen a man so, well… empty.  It’s as though the baby was ripped from his soul as well as hers.  That child would have been so loved.”

“We have these tins of stew,” Frans Sorenson pushed the items in question under Elise’s nose.  “These are perfect for a hunting trip.  These, some beans and maybe the peas.  As near to a home cooked meal as a man can get outside of a wife’s ministrations.”

“Yes,” Elise nodded absently.  “Stew.”

“Can’t do better, ma’am.  Not unless they cook what they kill.”

“Kill…” Elise murmured.

Bart Zimmerman bustled into the shop bursting with news.  “There’s a chase on folks!  That Hannibal Heyes sent me to get the sheriff.”

“A chase?” demanded the older lady.

“Yeah,” Zimmerman confirmed.  “Somebody called Bamforth.”

“Never heard of him.  What is this Bamforth supposed to have done?”  The women nodded and shared a look of disapproval.  Chasing through the streets?  Whatever next?

“Was the sheriff looking for this man, or did that outlaw have a grudge?” the brunette demanded.

“What a waste.  Chasing a man?  Half the ladies in this town could only dream of being chased by Hannibal Heyes,” giggled the blonde.

Frans Sorenson turned the tin of stew impatiently in his hand.  “Ma’am?”  He looked around the shop.  “Where’d she go?”

The older lady looked around, her pinched nose in the air.  “I have no idea.  Did anyone see her leave?”

There was a general chorus of ‘no’s before the blonde spoke again.  “She just left like that?  In the middle of an order?  How rude.”



Jacobs gave a gasp of exasperation and glowered at the pair of men struggling in the middle of the road.  “Heyes!  Don’t you realize the chaos you’ve caused?”

The dark eyes scanned the immediate vicinity, suddenly shocked into taking stock of his surroundings.  The street was littered in bales of hay, strands drifting in the summer breeze across a scene of devastation.  A cart lay on its side, the distressed horse being assisted out of the traces by passers-by, but trying to struggle to its feet.  Heyes looked back down at the opponent caught beneath him, both men still breathing heavily from the chase.

The sheriff turned to the farmer sitting on the sidewalk holding his head in his hands.  “Are you alright, Ralph?”

“Yeah, Carl.  Just a bit shaken.”  Ralph cast worried eyes over to his horse.  “Mabel, get ‘er outta that.  Is she hurt?”

The mare was helped free by two men.  “Nah, Ralph.  No harm done.  She’s fine, ain’t ya, girl?”
  
“You’re under arrest, Heyes,” Jacobs barked.  “You were warned not to take the law into your own hands and you start a running battle through the streets.  I won’t have that in my town.”

“Running battle?”  Heyes frowned, sitting up on Bamforth’s chest.  “What running battle?  I saw a wanted man and gave chase as well as telling folks to get you.”  He leaned forward and dragged off one of the fake muttonchops, the skin stretching against the gum.  “That’s not against the law.  It’s my civic duty.”

“I told you not to go after Bamforth.”

“I was walking down the street and he turned and looked at me,” Heyes lied.  “We recognized one another instantly.  Was I supposed to let him get away?  Besides, you told me not to go after him outside of this county!”

“I won’t have armed men taking over the streets of Brookswood!”

“Armed?”  Heyes glanced down at his holster.  “I’m not armed.”  Bamforth groaned.  “He might be though; I haven’t had a chance to check.”  Heyes patted his captive down producing both a colt and a Derringer which he tossed at the lawman’s feet.  “I thought so.  I’d suggest you search him well though, he’s probably got a lock pick.”

“I’ll be searching you both before I lock you up.”

“On what charges?” Heyes demanded, indignantly.  “I’m unarmed and kept a wanted man in view while I sent people to come get you.”

Jacobs glowered at Heyes’ empty holster.  “What did you do with your gun?”

“I tossed it aside right at the beginning of the chase,” Heyes replied with a scowl.  “I didn’t want anyone to read too much into this.” Heyes sat back on his heels and scowled down at his captive.  “And it’s a good job I did too, considering what you’re accusing me of doing!”

“You’re brawling in the road.  You caused an accident.”

“No, I didn’t,” cried Heyes, pointing at Bamforth.  “He did.  He ran right out in the road without looking!  I dragged him out of the way or things’d be a whole lot worse.”

Carl Jacobs dragged off his hat distractedly.  “Don’t lie to me.”

“I did!”  Heyes appealed to the gathering crowd.  “Tell him, one of you.”

“That’s right enough, Carl,” the driver of the cart raised his rheumy eyes.  “The lanky one ran straight out in front of me.  Poor Mabel tried to stop in time but she pulled the wagon to the side and it turned over.”  Ralph looked over at Heyes and pointed with a gnarled finger.  “It was the way he told it.  That idiot would’ve been right under my wheels unless he’d been pulled away.  You shouldn’t be arrestin’ that fella, you should he shakin’ him by the hand.”
 
Jacobs’ suspicious dark eyes bored into Heyes who delivered his most glittering smile before grasping a handful of fabric in the centre of Bamforth’s chest and dragging him to his wobbly feet.  “Told ya, sheriff.  There’s no way I’m gonna do anything stupid and land back in jail.  Now, why don’t I help you search him before I go back and find my gun?”  Heyes’ dancing eyes turned malevolent as he levelled them on Bamforth.  “I’ll probably think of looking all kinds of places that’d never occur to a lawman.”
Back to top Go down
Keays

avatar

Posts : 1427
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Home To Roost   Sun Jan 12, 2014 7:21 pm

Joe Morin glanced over at the cell where Bamforth stood draped in a blanket to cover the droopy combination underwear borrowed from the box of charitable donations for vagrants.  The crotch swung somewhere about his knees and the sleeves had been folded back numerous times to free up his hands.  Bamforth hadn’t been quite sure what species his donated apparel had been designed to fit; maybe some kind of primate?  He sniffed.  Yup, that might explain the somewhat gamey smell of the garment.  He toyed with the idea of asking but decided there were some things it was better not to know.  His shoulders slumped in defeat and he slid down onto the bench.

Damn that Heyes!  He knew every trick in the book and then some.  Bamforth had been stripped naked and searched like he’d never been searched before.  Every stitch of clothing had been confiscated to prevent him from using anything secreted about his person.  There was no point in explaining that his wife was the lock-picker.  They’d never believe him.  So here he was in jail while Heyes got to walk away, scott free.

“I don’t like leaving you here alone, boss,” Joe murmured.  “He’s real tricky, if Heyes is to be believed.”

“Get some sleep.  I’ll take this shift because you were up real early this morning.  Be back at 2 am, ready to watch him until dawn.”

“If you’re sure…?” Joe muttered.

“I’m sure.  Get some sleep, Joe.”

“What am I going to do?” Bamforth demanded.  “Melt through the bars along with the stench?”

Both the sheriff and the deputy eyed the prisoner with the kind of dismissive coldness reserved for drunks and mother-beaters before turning back to their conversation.

“I could sleep here, there’s a bunk.”

Jacobs paused.  “I guess; if you’re alright with that.  The mayor’s trying to get him transferred to a jail where he can be held more securely for questioning.  He’s a tricky one with all those disguises and lock picks.”

“Sure.  I’ll get some blankets and a pillow.  We’ll put this man where he should be.”

 “Give me strength,” Bamforth lay down on the bunk and placed the pillow over his face, only to snatch it away coughing and spluttering.  “Dear God!  Haven’t you got a clean one?”

Jacobs returned to his report writing without as much as a glance at the prisoner.  “Order one on room service.”

 
Heyes sat back and smiled at Tricia, his belly full of roast chicken and mashed potatoes.  “That was a wonderful meal.”

“Well, I expect you worked up quite the appetite running about town like that,” Tricia laughed.  “Poor Carl, he must really have thought you were sliding back into your outlaw ways.”

“It was shades of what happened in Joplin, but I wasn’t going to lose it the way I did there.  It cost me too much and I learned a hard lesson.”

Amy examined Heyes with clear, blue eyes.  “I can’t imagine you as an outlaw.  If I’d met you then, I think I’d be a little afraid of you.”

Heyes frowned.  “I guess I never thought enough of how it would take ordinary people, but I did my best to make sure people knew they were safe.”

“As long as they did what you told them,” Amy pressed.

Heyes gave a heavy sigh.  “I’d lost my way.  Life was so hard I couldn’t see how far from normal I’d drifted.”

Amy was not to be so easily put off.  “Yet you found a woman who loved you.  Didn’t she point that out?”

Heyes’ eyes darkened.  “Frequently, but I wasn’t much for listening back then.”

Amy arched her brows.  “But she stuck around?”

“Yeah, well.  She wasn’t so great at listening either.  Neither of us could get off of being right all the time.  It took a long time before either of us realized that being smart and being right weren’t the same thing.  Nobody wins out of that kind of attitude.”

“She was clever?” Amy queried.

“She still is.  Trying to outwit her was a lot of fun,” Heyes sighed.  “But that’s all in the past.”

“And this female doctor is one of her friends?”  Amy looked over to the hallway where Hester had briefly appeared before disappearing into Randa’s room.  “She’s a bit of an odd, old bird.”

“I think they call it eccentric,” David smiled.  “She’s very knowledgeable about the gastric system.”

“Most unusual.  I’ve never met a female doctor,” Amy shrugged.  “But I’ve never met a woman who dresses in men’s clothes before either.”

“Hester doesn’t care what people think of her,” Heyes’ cheeks pitted with dimples.  “That can be very freeing.”

“I don’t think I could ever be like that,” mused Amy.  “She’s very brave.”

“She sure is,” Heyes nodded.  “She was arrested as a spy during the war.  I guess after that, wearing a top hat and frock coat is no big deal.”

Tricia’s jawed dropped open.  “Really!?  A spy?  My goodness, yes, I can see why she feels that she’s earned the right to dress as she pleases.  You do know the most fascinating people, Hannibal.”  She stood.  “Cherry pie anyone?”

Heyes shook his head.  “No thanks, I’ve had enough.”  He turned to smile at Hester who appeared in the doorway.  “We were just talking about you.  Were your ears burning?”

“Really?”  Hester put down her carpet bag and walked into the kitchen.  “I can only imagine.”  Her eyes glinted mischievously.  “Anything in particular or all of it?”

“I was telling them about your wartime experiences,” Heyes replied.

“The young can be so foolhardy, can’t they?”  Hester nodded.  “The world seems a different place now.  Less free and more driven by convention, but I guess they weren’t better times – they were just my times.  It is odd how one can think so fondly of such turbulent events, but I do.”  She beamed around the room.  “I was very conventional in those days.  Quite the straight-laced, little missy.”

“How straight-laced could you have been if you became a spy?” Amy asked, incredulously.

“I always had that wild side, bubbling under the surface,” Hester grinned.  I looked sweet and innocent enough to fool men,” she punctuated the flow with a shrug, “but we all know that’s not difficult, don’t we?  I had beautiful, blonde hair in those days.”  Hester looked straight at Amy, “like yours, but natural.”

Amy coloured up instantly.  “Mine is natural!”

“Really?” Hester titled her head.  “I thought I detected the touch of chamomile and lemon juice.  No matter.  Maybe I detect an unconventional spirit in there?  The kind of person who has the drive to survive a war too.”

“I’d like to think that peacetime is more conventional than wartime,” David chuckled.  He shot a look at Heyes before adding.  “On the whole.”

“Pie, Doctor?”  Tricia asked.  “We were just about to have dessert.”

“No, thank you.  I ate before I came but don’t let me stop you.  Doctor Gibson, may I have a word in private?”

“Of course.”  David stood.

“Can I go and see Randa?” Heyes asked.

“Of course, but don’t tire her,” Hester nodded.

Tricia looked around the quickly emptying kitchen.  “It’s a good job I’m not the touchy type or I’d think nobody wants my pie.”

             
“Come in,” Miranda called in response to the gentle tap at the door.  “Hannibal.  It’s lovely to see you.”

He walked over and dragged the chair to her bedside, turning it to sit with his head supported on the chair back while he examined her.  “You look a little better.”

“I feel it.  I’ve managed to get an undisturbed sleep.  That made a big difference, I can tell you.”

“So Hester has managed to help you?”

Miranda nodded.  “Yes, but I’m still tired.  A few more days and I should be on the road to recovery.”

Heyes’ eyes softened.  “Good.  Has she said what caused this yet?”

“She doesn’t know.  She’s taking regular samples to test at the hotel.”

“Can you keep your food down now?”

“Yes.”  Miranda reached out a hand.  “Thank you for bringing her here.  I know that must have been difficult because she’s so close to Abi.”

Heyes tilted the chair forward and grasped her fingers.  “Helping you will never be a difficult choice.  Besides, Abi would want to help you too.  She thinks a lot of you.”

“She does?”

“Yes, she does.  She has very good taste.”  Heyes toyed with her hand, “but nobody could think more of you than I do.”

“Hannibal, you need to know that Doctor Bentham offered to take me out of here to give me a break.  I almost went.”  Miranda watched the pain flicker in the brown eyes.  “I’m so tired of it all.  I don’t want to lose you, so I’m glad that she suggested this isolation.  Only the two doctors and Tricia are allowed to see me.”

“I’m honored, then?”

Miranda sighed deeply.  “Whatever is happening, we know it isn’t you, Hannibal.”

“I wish I had the confidence you did.  I can’t shake the feeling I’ve hurt you.”

“Well, you know I think the world of you, Hannibal.”

“Yeah, I kinda guessed that.  Especially when you came back to look in the hat shop window after you’d left the shop the first time you met Amy.  I’ve gotta admit, I was real flattered even if it was a bit pushy.”

Miranda frowned.  “Look in the window?  Me?”

“Yes, Amy saw you and mentioned it.”

“No.  That first day, when I met Amy, we left and came here.  I didn’t go back to the hat shop.”
 
“Are you sure?” Heyes shook his head in confusion.  “She definitely said you walked passed.”

“I’m sure.  Ask Tricia if you don’t believe me.” 

Heyes stood, dragging the chair away from the bed before leaning over and stroking her face.  “I love you, and I intend to do that for a long time to come, Randa, so you get yourself better, ya’hear?”  He leaned over and dropped a tender kiss on her lips.  “I’m going to let you sleep now.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yes, I am tired.  Another good sleep and I’ll rally even more.”

Heyes stood, a pang of regret searing through his heart.  “If this is anything to do with me…”  He paused.  “I’m so sorry, Randa.  I’ll make this up to you.”

“We don’t know that, Hannibal.  It affected so many people.  I’m just one more.”

Heyes bit back the thought that they’d recovered, but somebody had continually found a way to get to her.  Instead he murmured reassurance.  “Sure, maybe you just got it real bad.  Goodnight, Randa.”  He padded quietly over to the door and turned to look at her pale face against the pillow.  “Sleep well, sweetheart.”

 
 “How is she?” Tricia carried a tray of dishes over to the sink.

“Tired, but a little better I think.”

“Would you like a drink?” Amy asked.  “I was thinking of making some tea before I went home.”

“No thanks,” Heyes replied, pensively.

“Tea, Tricia?” Amy persisted, lifting the tea caddy.

“Not for me, thanks.  I could make some for Randa, though.  Let her have a drink before she settles down for the night.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea.  You make the tea, Tricia, and I’ll wash up while you serve it to her.”  Amy twisted the caddy in her hands waiting for an answer.

“You’ll wash up?  That’s a wonderful help,” beamed Tricia taking the tea caddy from Amy.

“Yeah.  You do that and I’ll walk you home, Amy,” Heyes murmured absently, shifting in his seat.  “Then I’d best get back.”

Tricia poured the boiling water over the tea leaves and left it to infuse.  “Yes, I suppose you should.  It’s starting to get dark.  You don’t want to be too late getting back.”

“Hmm,” Heyes smiled, slipping into his best poker face as a chill settled over his heart.  “Amy doesn’t want to walk home alone in the dark either.

“You are sweet, Hannibal.”

“Am I?  I thought you said you’d be afraid of me if I was still an outlaw.”

“But you’re not.  Are you?”

Heyes gave her his most glittering smile.  “Can you be sure, Amy?  I suppose it would depend on how far somebody pushed me.”  
   
Amy gave a tinkling laugh.  “Oh, Hannibal!  You just can’t do 'scary' anymore.”
  
Tricia poured out the tea and placed it on a tray to take it through to Miranda.  “I’ll just be a moment.”

Heyes stood watching Amy up to her elbows in suds at the sink and his eyes hardened.  “I’ll say goodnight to Randa.”

“Didn’t you already do that?” Amy asked.

“Yeah, but she’ll be asleep by the time I go.”  Heyes followed Tricia to the bedroom and where she placed the cup by Randa’s bed.  He watched her leave before he tiptoed over to the drowsy woman.  “Whatever you do, do not drink that tea,” he hissed in her ear.

Miranda stirred.  “What?”

“Do not drink that tea.  Don’t consume anything.  I’m going for help.”  His dark eyes pressed home the urgency of his message.  “If anyone comes in pretend to be asleep, and I mean anyone, got that?”

“Hannibal?”

“Promise me!” he hissed.  “I can’t be in two places at one time.  I think I know how this is being done.”

The questioning, deep-blue eyes stared into his.  “I promise.”

Heyes gave a nod of satisfaction.  “This’ll be over soon, Randa.  I give you my word.”



“Hands up, sheriff,” the female voice murmured in Carl Jacobs’ ear.  “Keep them where I can see them.”

He gave a puff of exasperation and complied, his heart sinking as he felt a hand tug away his gun.

Elise Daignault walked into his field of vision, holding a Schofield on him.  “This is a precaution, sheriff.  Please don’t do anything stupid.  I need you to listen to me and I thought this would be the best way to achieve that.”  Her green eyes darted over to the cell where Bamforth suddenly stood.  “Valentine?  What on earth are you wearing?  Have you no pride, man?”

“Elise, get me out of here!”

“Nuh, uh,” Joe Morin stepped out of the cell behind Bamforth, his gun drawn.  “Guess you didn’t notice me resting in here, ma’am.  Now, I’ve got a gun on your partner in crime.  You do anything to the sheriff and I’ll shoot your friend before I shoot you.  Drop it.”

“Partner in crime?” Elise shook her head.  “I told you we should have told the sheriff who we are, Valentine.”

“How could we?” Bamforth exclaimed.  “Her sister has all kinds of lawmen on retainer.”

“Drop the gun,” Joe persisted.

“If I do, will you listen to me?”

“From inside a cell, yeah,” Jacobs nodded.  He paused considering Elise’s earlier escape from these cells.  After we’ve searched you.  Properly this time.  You won’t make a fool of me twice.”

“Search her!” Valentine spluttered.  “That’s my wife you’re talking to.  If you lay a finger on her I’ll break your damned neck.”

“Language, Valentine,” scolded Elise.  “He does have a point; after all I did pick the lock.”  She smiled archly at the lawman.  “Besides, Sheriff Jacobs is a perfect gentleman.  I was quite taken with him during my time here.”

“Taken with him?”  Valentine propped his hands on his hips, the crotch of his combination underwear dangling comically around his knees.  “Is that some kind of French etiquette?  I am here you know.”

“Will you two pack it in?” barked Jacobs.  “Drop that gun, Miss....Missus.  What is your name anyway?”

“I was born Elise Marie Véronique Daignault.  I married him and became Elise Bamforth, and we are not criminals.  We are consulting detectives and I need you to listen to what I have to say.”

“Detectives?” Joe shrugged.  “But you’re a woman.”

Bamforth rolled his eyes.  “Well spotted, deputy.  You obviously have a talent for this.”

“We are keeping a woman under observation…”

“Stop right there, Elise!” Bamforth cried.  “We can’t trust them.”

“We have to, Valentine.  You know Abi asked me to keep an eye on the Jordans while I was out here.  Beth Jordan lost her baby!  Can you imagine the pain of that?  I have to tell them.”

Bamforth blanched, dropping his forehead against the bars.  “Lost it?  You don’t think…?”

“Yes, I do.  I won’t stand by and let her get away with this.”

“What are you two talking about?” Jacobs shook his head in frustration.

“Amy Oliphant.” Elise’s eyes flashed with determination.  “We have been paid by her late husband’s family to keep her under observation.  They are convinced that he was murdered, although no trace of a poison could be found, they have financed us to make sure she can never rest and enjoy her inheritance.”

“Huh?” Jacobs frowned.

“She’s a wealthy woman, yet she changed her name and opened a hat shop in the West?  Doesn’t that strike you as strange behaviour?”

“Maybe she wanted to get away from in-laws who are nuts enough to hound her for the rest of her life?” suggested Jacobs.

“I told you he’d be on her side,” muttered Bamforth.

“Sheriff Jacobs.  Amy Oliphant’s real name is plain, old Amy Brown.  Her mother was a convicted back-street abortionist who pushed her daughters to marry wealthy men.  Old Mrs. Brown was very skilled in using herbs to induce miscarriage in the early stages of pregnancy.  Doesn’t it strike you as a coincidence that Beth has lost her baby at the same time as a woman brought up around that is in the area?  Especially when there has been a non-specific threat to that family and she’s lied about her identity?”  Elise thrust her handgun towards Jacobs.  “Think, man!  The town has been poisoned and you have a suspected poisoner, brought up by an herbalist, in your midst.  Don’t you think that’s a good place to start?”

Jacobs stood slowly, his eyes reflecting the thoughts whirling in his mind.  “Can you prove any of this?”

“Of course we can!  Why do you think Cage Atwater backed us up?  I know him.  I used to be a Pinkerton until I married.  I did want to have some concrete evidence before I approached you, but I no longer have time.  I think she may be trying to hurt the Jordans and their friends.  Somebody is going to die.”

“A Pinkerton?  Which is why you know Mrs. Stewart,” Jacobs muttered.

“You know her too!?”  Elise walked over and placed her gun on the desk.  “So get over there and arrest Amy.  There will be poisons in that place of hers; I’ll stake my life on it.  That’s what we were looking for when we broke into her place.” 

“Did she poison you too?  What was all that about the ginger cookies?”

“I’m pregnant.  I had morning sickness.  Ginger is good for that.”

Jacobs scratched his head thoughtfully.  “That explains in here, but what about the hat shop, and all those women.”

“Has it occurred to you that it wasn’t the cookies, but the tea which was contaminated?” Elsie huffed, impatiently.  “I didn’t drink any.  I wouldn’t take anything prepared by that woman!  Especially not in my condition.”

“And that’s why you wouldn’t let the doctor examine you when you were dressed as his mother.  He’d have spotted you weren’t elderly and that you were pregnant.”  Jacobs rubbed his face as things fell into place at last.   “Joe, put your gun away.  I do believe that Mrs. Bamforth might be telling the truth.” 



 “Was that the front door closing?” Amy asked.

Tricia put down her tea towel, a frown creasing her brow.  “I certainly heard something.  Let me check.  It can’t be David and Doctor Bentham; they’ve gone over to the hotel.”

Amy dried her hands before stepping over to the range to hang the towel on the handle where it was kept, her heart skipping a beat.  The tea caddy; it was gone.

Tricia called from the hallway.  “Nobody here, I’ll just check on Randa.”

A few minutes later Tricia returned to the kitchen.  “I’ve no idea…”  She gazed around the empty room.  “Amy?”  The breeze from the open back door wafted through the room.  “Amy?”


 
All heads turned at the sound of the door of the sheriff’s office clattering open.  “I know how she did it!”  Heyes dropped the tea caddy on the desk, breathing heavily after running all the way here.  “It’s Amy, you have to arrest her.”  He glanced around the room, suddenly aware of the tension in the atmosphere.  “Elsie?  What are you doing here?”

“Exactly the same as you.”  Keen green eyes stared at the tea caddy.  “And stop calling me that!”

“She knows Mrs. Stewart, Heyes.  She used to be a Pinkerton,” Jacobs folded his arms.

Heyes’ jaw dropped open.  “Abi?  You know Abi?  Why didn’t you say?”

“You know her too?”  Elise frowned.  “She didn’t say, but she is rather private.  We keep in touch by letter, we’re not close friends.  She just asked me to keep an eye on the Jordans and their friends while I was in the area.  I put two and two together and thought it was because they were hanging about with ex-outlaws!”

“I was engaged to Abi once,” Heyes growled.  “I’m not a dangerous man.”

“How was I to know?” shrugged Elise.  “I obviously had only half a story.”

Jacobs grabbed his gun and returned it to his holster.  “And that’s a damn sight more than I had.  Why didn’t you come here earlier?”

“I told you that!” barked Bamforth.  “Because her rich sister has been known to bribe officials.  That’s how her late husband’s family thinks Amy got away with murder in the first place.”

Heyes felt the hairs prickle on the back of his neck.  Even as he asked the question he felt sure he knew the answer.  “Who’s her sister?”

“A woman called Joan Baines.  She married a railroad man and lives out by Murreyville in Wyoming.”

Both Jacobs and Heyes locked eyes and cursed under their breath.  “Why did you wait so long to tell us this?” Jacobs cried.  “Joan Baines and her husband were caught in a campaign to hurt anyone involved with Jed Curry or Hannibal Heyes.  There’s a trial coming up in Wyoming soon.”

“What are we waiting for?”  Heyes demanded.  “Let’s get over there.  Amy’s at the Gibson place.”

The office emptied as everyone ran for the door.  Everyone except Valentine Bamforth.  
             
“Hello!  Is anyone going to let me out?”  Bamforth sighed deeply and wandered back over to his lonely bunk where he sat looking down at his stained combination underwear.  “My mother warned me about marrying a Frenchwoman, but Elise is something else again.  Life with her is like willingly smoking an exploding cigar.”  He glanced down at the stained pillow with distaste before reaching through the bars and dragging the superior bedding from the bunk recently vacated by Joe Morin.  “I might as well get some sleep. There’s nothing else to do.”


 
Hester dropped down on Amy’s bed and scanned the assembled group through the graying fingers of dawn creeping through the window.  “We might as well face it.  She’s gotten away.”

“For the moment,” Jacobs grumbled.  “We’ll get her.”

“Well, Mr. Heyes, you brought that tea caddy?”  Hester stared at the box with enquiring eyes.  “So, how did you rumble her?”

“A couple of things; Amy had told me that the first time Randa saw me visit Amy she had walked passed the shop to check on me after she’d left.  I thought it was a bit pushy, but I only mentioned it last night.  Randa told me that she and Tricia hadn’t done that, but had returned to the Gibson place.”

“That’s it?” Joe Morin screwed up his face in curiosity.  “That’s nothing.”

“It’s not nothing,” Elise responded.  “It’s a very subtle dripping of poison.  A very female way to colour somebody’s view.”

Joe shook his head.  “Nah, I don’t get it.”

Heyes sighed.  “Elsie’s right.  It did colour my view of Randa.”

“Stop calling me that!”

“Sorry,” Heyes gave a sheepish smile.  “Force of habit.  Anyway, right after Randa told me the truth I walked into the kitchen and the way Amy handled the tea caddy caught my eye.  As soon as she heard Randa was the only one having tea she twisted it in her hands.  Now I wouldn’t normally be suspicious of that, but when I heard she’d lied I started to look at her in a different light.  An old friend used to be a flim flammer and used a box like that for a con called ‘The Bait and Switch.’  Basically, the mark would be presented with something they’d checked – probably a diamond or something like that.  It would be locked away safely while the money was counted, and then the box would be re-opened for the mark to walk away with their purchase.  The only problem is that the box has a secret compartment and once it’s re-opened a different drawer is presented.  It might look the same, but the mark has just walked away with a fake, while the real one is still in the box safely in the secret drawer.”

“Ingenious,” muttered Jacobs.  “So it looked like everyone was drinking tea from the same container, but when she knew Mrs. Thornton was the only one having tea she switched the drawers, so Mrs. Gibson innocently made the victim a drink from the poisoned tea.”

Heyes nodded.  “Precisely; and when others were drinking, the drawer containing normal tea was revealed.  When Hester examined all the food she could only see ordinary tea.”  Heyes removed the lid and held the tea caddy out for inspection.  “See, this is just tea,” Heyes twisted the hexagonal box in his hands.  The mechanism sprang into action and a spring loaded drawer slid away revealing a false bottom.  “See, another lot of tea, and I’ll stake my life on that being some kind of poison.  The walls of the pot are so thick in comparison to the centre.  That’s a clue to a hidden compartment.”  He put his finger in and moved the drawer slightly.  “It also folds like a concertina so it can fit into the side of the box.”

Elise shook her head in reluctant admiration.  “So very clever!  If only she had used that brain for good instead of murder.”

“Yes, indeed.”  Hester pulled out some of the dried leaves and rubbed them in her fingers.  “I’ll test these and find out what Mrs. Thornton has been given.”

“What about the miscarriage?” Elise asked Hester.

“I’ve already found arsenic in the kitchen, so I think we can explain the general poisoning, as well as Amy’s milder bouts.”  Hester pursed her lips.  “Probably to gain sympathy and throw suspicion elsewhere.”  Hester stood and strode over to the little kitchen.  “I also found this.  Tansy.”  Hester drew back the pot from Elise.  “No, dear, you mustn’t touch this.  It can be absorbed through the skin and you are pregnant.  It was often said that where Tansy grew in the garden the woman ruled the home and that is because those women controlled their own reproduction.  It has been used to induce miscarriage for centuries.”

“Is it poisonous?” Jacobs asked.

“No.  Not in itself, so Amy could share a pot of Tansy tea with Beth and the only effect it would induce in Amy was the commencement of her menstrual cycle and a few cramps.  Nobody’s going to be suspicious of a pot of tea shared with someone else.  The miscarriage would simply be put down as an unfortunate incident.”

“That’s a bit too much information for me,” Joe scowled.  “Some things shouldn’t be discussed in front of men.”

“You’d better get over that if you want to make a good lawman,” Hester scolded.  “Real life has to be faced.” 

“This’ll kill the Kid,” Heyes whispered.  “Never was a baby wanted more.”

Hester sighed.  “Yes, very sad.”

“But the accident?”  Jacobs scratched his head.  “She was terribly injured by that wall unit.”

“I’ve thought about that,” Heyes sighed.  “That very day I had confided in her that there was a threat of accidents to people close to me, and that was why Abi had taken our daughter away for safekeeping.  Amy could have been trying to make it look like she had been targeted, but bit off more than she could chew and had a really bad accident.  I told people to warn them but I think she used it.”

“In light of what happened later I think it’s the most obvious explanation,” Hester agreed.  “It also served to help her worm her way further into her victims’ lives.”

“You are the father of Abi’s daughter?” Elise demanded.

“Both of them,” Heyes nodded.

“Well, that wily, old…”  Elise turned sparkling eyes on Hester, “and you knew, I suppose?”

“Yes, indeed,” Hester glinted.  “They were a nightmare, always trying to best one another, but such heat!”  She arched her brows.  “Their surviving daughter is beautiful and the living embodiment of their spirit.” 
  
Heyes paused.  “Will Randa be alright, Hester?” 

“I need to find out what she has been given.  I’m guessing digitalis by the smell.  It always smells slightly bad.  Once I confirm that, I can treat her.”

“It was my fault.  I let her draw me in.”  Heyes dropped into a seat.  “Is this over?  At last?” 

“I hope so,” mused Hester.  “She reminded me a little of myself.  She would have been a wonderful agent.  She chose crime.  I did say she was one of life’s intelligent survivors.  After this, I’m guessing that she will be more interested in staying ahead of the law than in persecuting you.”

Elise nodded.  “By all accounts, Amy’s husband beat her.  I can guess that may have led to his death if she felt trapped.”

“Hmm.”  Hester pursed her lips.  “Silly man.  He clearly had no idea who he’d married.  So many husbands marry a vital, young thing and want to crush that.  Men, huh?”

“Yes…”  Elise’s enormous eyes widened ever further.  “Valentine!  He’s still in that cell.  I forgot all about him.”

The two lawmen shared a look and burst out laughing.  “We all did.  We’d best get back.  He’s not going to be best pleased, is he?”

Elise bit into her lip.  “Oh, dear.  He’ll be so angry with me!”

“Never mind, Elsie.  If he doesn’t appreciate what a stunning wife he has, we can soon focus his mind for him,” chortled Heyes.

“Stop calling me that!”

 
Heyes rode home by himself that afternoon.  He was in no hurry, in fact he was dreading the upcoming conversation with his partner.  He kept Karma to a sedate jog trot even though she was feeling frustrated with the enforced confinement; she wanted to run or at least a nice breezy hand gallop.  They were heading for home after all—home and dinner!  Why was her human holding her back?

  She trotted along with her head tucked and her ears back, occasionally giving a little buck and trying to break away into a lope, but the hand on the reins held her gently but firmly in the slower gait.  She tossed her head and snorted.  Why wasn't he listening to her?  Usually he picked up on her moods and besides that he liked a good gallop just as much as she did, so what was the problem?  HELLO!?

But Heyes wasn't listening to her.  His thoughts were far away.  How could he have been so blind, so stupid, so easily seduced by a pretty face?  He hadn't even been in love with  Amy, geesh if he had been that might have been an easy way to excuse his obtuseness.  But he didn't love her.  Yet, when he looked at her all he had seen was an incredibly beautiful woman who was both amazingly brave and seductively vulnerable all at the same time.

 Yeah right!  He snorted, giving Karma a split second of hope that something was going to happen.  No?  Oh well.  Vulnerable!  The woman had been a viper!  A lovely wolf in sheep's clothing and he'd fallen for it!  The fact that everyone else in town had also been duped into thinking she was a friend did not give him any comfort.  He should have known.  He should have been able to see past it, and because he didn't so many people got hurt.

 Now he had to go home and tell Jed and Beth that the loss of their child wasn't an accident.  Wasn't just one of those things that happens sometimes....no, he wasn't looking forward to getting home at all.  If he could have backed Karma up all the way into town in order to start the ride over again, he would have.  But what would be the point?  He'd have to do this sooner or later.  May as well get it done.

 Eventually, but still too soon for Heyes and finally for Karma, they were trotting down the lane between the line of pristine white fencing.  The horses out in the main grass paddock nickered and trotted over to the fence to greet their herd-mate.  Karma snorted at them and tossed her head; finally they had gotten home and she still had time to be turned out with her family and enjoy some grazing before dinner.

 Heyes didn't notice.  He turned her head towards the first barn and dismounted by the large doors.  Sam had already headed for home for the evening so Heyes led his mare into the structure and slipping the bridle off her head, pulled on the halter and proceeded to untack her.  He was going through the motions as though in a dream; they were second nature to him after all and his mind was far, far away.

 He heaved the saddle onto the rack and taking a burlap sack and a brush he set about giving his mare a rubbing down before turning her out in the pasture.  She was fed up with this.  She didn't need a rubbing down—good heavens!  The only sweat she had worked up was from her own stress at being held back and all she wanted now was to get out with her family.

 She snorted, tossed her head, stamped her foot.  Nothing.  Rub, rub, brush, brush.  She nudged him, took a nip at his shirt sleeve.  No reaction.  Finally she'd had it.  Her ears went back and flattened against her neck, her teeth bared and she swung her head around and bit him—hard—on the fleshy part of his upper arm.  Not enough to break the skin, but enough to give him a nasty bruise.

 “Hey!”  Heyes stepped back startled, and gave her a smack on the rump with the brush.  “What was that for?”

 Karma rolled her eyes, tossed her head and began to paw the floor boards with her front hoof.

 “What are you—coming into season again?”  Heyes grumbled.  “Geesh, Kid's right.  You can be a real bitch sometimes.”

 Karma snorted and stared defiantly back at him.

 “Alright, alright.”  Heyes snarked.  “Just for that, I'm done brushing you.  You can go to bed tonight with dried sweat all over your back—how do ya' like that?”

 Karma snorted again and went back to pawing the boards.  Heyes shook his head and pulling the lead shank free he led the mare outside and towards the pasture gate.

 “Whoa,” Heyes gave her a quick jerk on the halter.  “There's no call to be running me over!  What's gotten into you!?”

 Karma side-stepped and pranced at an angle all the way to the pasture gate, Heyes shaking his head and grumbling the whole distance.  It didn't occurred to him until later that his mare was simply picking up on his own mood and if he had just settled himself, then she probably would have done the same. As it was he opened the pasture gate, slipped the halter off her head and gave her a sharp slap on the bum as she charged past him out onto the grass.

 He closed and latched the gate but then turned and leaning his arms against the top rail, he stopped to watch his mare, wondering what had gotten into her.  Usually she would stop and give him a nuzzle goodbye before trotting off to graze, but not tonight.  Even without the slap, she was mad at him and in no mood to play nice.

 Daisy came over to greet her mother, but Karma laid her ears back and the golden filly wisely decided that now was not the time.  Karma dropped down to a walk and with head down and tail swishing she headed straight over to the favoured patch of dirt and began to paw it.  She stuck her nose into the dry dustiness, her upper lip making tracks as she walked around in a circle like a dog, trying to find the softest patch.  She snorted, pawed the ground one more time and then slowly her knees and hocks began to bend as she carefully lowered herself down.

 Her knees hit dirt first, then her shoulder and her barrel came down quickly followed by her haunches.  She stretched out her neck, contentedly rubbing the side of her face in the dirt before she rolled onto her side and she began rubbing in earnest.  She got that side of her body totally covered in dirt, sending clouds of dust billowing into the air, nearly obscuring her from sight.  She heaved and with legs kicking and pawing at the air she balanced herself on her back and rubbed some more.

 Snorting with pleasure she came back over onto her side, sat up for an instant, went down again and with more kicking and dust billowing she heaved herself over onto her other side.  With much rubbing and grunting and snorting and not to mention more dust in the air, she got her whole body covered in dirt until finally she was satisfied.  Front legs stretched out in front of her and with a huge push off her hind legs, she heaved herself up onto her feet again.

 She stood there with legs splayed and gave her body a vigorous shaking then snorted, swishing her tail as the dust settled down around her.  She sent her human a self-satisfied look as though to say; 'See?  I'm quite capable of getting the sweat off my own body—I don't need you.'  Then she tossed her head one more time and walked off to join her daughter over at that nice patch of grass.

 Heyes chuckled and shook his own head, only this time it was with humour rather than irritation.  It had taken some doing this time, but finally Karma had once again brought him up out of his foul musings.  The quieter mood didn't last long though;  he sighed and rested his chin on his arms that were still crossed along the top rail of the gate.  He still had that task ahead of him and he still didn't want to do it.  He probably would have stayed there all evening, leaning on the gate and watching the horses if it hadn't been for the beckoning from the front porch.

 "Hey Heyes!”  Kid called to him.  “About time you got back.  How's Randa doing?”

 Heyes pushed himself off the gate and smiled over at his partner.  Jed's smile disappeared and was replaced with a look of concern.  Dammit!  He never could fool his cousin—why did he even bother trying?

 “What's the matter?”  Jed asked him as Heyes approached the porch.  “Is Miranda worse?”

 “No, actually she's doing much better.”

 “Oh.”  Kid creased his brow.  “Well that's good isn't it?”

 “Yeah, that's good.”

 “Well what in tarnation's the matter then?”  Jed was getting worried.  “What's wrong?”

 Heyes let loose a sigh as he sat down on one of the porch chairs.  “Is Beth around?”

 “Yeah,”  Jed answered suspiciously as he too sat down.  “She's in doing what she can to help Belle get dinner.  She's still not real strong, but you know how she is; she still wants to help where she can.”

 “Yeah, that's good,”  Heyes commented.  “It's good she keeps busy.”

 “Heyes, will you just spit it out!”  Jed was getting frustrated.  “What's wrong?”

 “Well,”  Heyes began, not looking Jed in the eye.  “we've found out what was going on.  Someone was definitely poisoning Randa, and had deliberately poisoned all those other people as well, in order to cover it up.”

 “Really?”  Jed thought he should be relieved at this news, but Heyes' expression still suggested otherwise.  “Was it because of the vendetta?  Because of us?”

 Heyes bit his lower lip and then nodded.  “Yup.”

 “Oh, jeez!”  Jed sat back and ran a hand through his curls.  “Well, were you able to stop it?  Do you at least know who was doing it?”

 “Yup.”  Heyes nodded again.

 “Well that's great!”  Kid sat up again, smiling.  “So Jacobs arrested him?  He's in custody?”

 “Nope.”

 Jed's smile turned to a frown.  “Jeez Heyes—most of the time I can't get ya' ta' shuddup.  Now I'm needin' a pry bar just to get ya' to spit it out!  If ya' know who it is, then why isn't he in custody?”

 “For one thing, it wasn't a 'he' it was a 'she'.”

 “A she!?”

 “Yeah.”

 “Aw no, you're not gonna tell me it was Elise!”  Kid groaned.  “Not after the way she saved J.J. and all...”

 "No, it wasn't Elise.”

 “Bamforth's mother?”  Jed sounded incredulous with that suggestion.

 Heyes smiled a little sardonically.  “No, it wasn't Bamforth's mother.  Actually Mrs. Bamforth is ...well, Mrs. Bamforth.”

 Jed sat and stared at his cousin for a few seconds.  He hated it when Heyes started talking in circles like this.  For one thing it was a sure sign that Heyes didn't want to say what he was going to come out and say eventually anyways—so why couldn't he just hurry up and say it!?

 The curly haired one sighed and slumped back into his chair.  “Heyes why don't you just come out and say what you mean alright?  Dinner's almost ready and I would like to eat sometime tonight.”

 “Well, we were actually correct in our suspicions that Bamforth's mother was actually Elise in disguise.”  Heyes informed him.

 “Yeah, alright.”  Jed accepted that.  “so there wasn't a Mrs. Bamforth.”

 “No, actually there was—and still is,”  Heyes continued.  “Apparently Elise and Valentine Bamforth are husband and wife.”

 “What!?”  Kid was almost up in arms.  “She's married to that no good...”

 “Well actually, he's not no good,”  Heyes countered.  “Apparently Abi knows Elise and Abi sent her here to keep an eye on Beth, you know; covertly.”

 “Oh.  Yeah, okay.”

 “And Amy's in-laws sent Bamforth to keep an eye on Amy.”

 “Really?”  Jed was surprised.  “So they knew that Amy was going to be targeted too, even before that cabinet got pushed over onto her?”

 “No,”  Heyes continued.  “It was because they suspected Amy of poisoning her husband in order to get out of an abusive relationship.  They were certain that Amy had gotten away with murder and they sent Bamforth to watch her in order to prove it.  And they were right, because it turns out that Amy was the one who was poisoning Miranda.”

 Jed's jaw dropped.  “You're kidding?  But...how...?”

 “Those damn teas!”  Jed jumped with the vehemence in Heyes' voice.  “She poisoned the whole damn town Kid.  She's a cold-blooded, calculated murderer.  And I didn't even see it.  And because I didn't see it, she got away!”

 “I just don't get it,” Kid admitted.  “I mean, what about that cabinet falling on her?  I thought Jacobs was certain that was a deliberate act.”

 “Yeah, it was,”  Heyes agreed.  “but he figures now that Amy did it to herself to divert suspicion.”

 “Oh come on,” Jed was incredulous.  “That cabinet nearly killed her!  She wouldn't do...”

 Heyes held up his hand to stop the protests.  “No, no, now she didn't intend that to happen,” he explained.  “I don't think she realized how heavy that cabinet was.  She was willing to accept some bruises and maybe a broken wrist but...that must have given her quite a fright when she realized her misjudgement.”

 Kid just shook his head, all this feeling like it was just too much.  “But why Heyes?”  he asked.  “We didn't know her before she came to town, why would she be out to punish us?”

 “Her sister is Joan Bains.”

 Silence hit the front porch like a ton of alfalfa.

 “Aw jeez,”  Jed finally choked out.  “I just can't believe it.  That sweet, charming...and she's the one behind all those poisonings, and Miranda...?”

 Heyes nodded.  “There's more Kid.”

 Jed felt a chill go through him.  “What?”  he asked dangerously.

 “Amy learned from her mother how to mix different blends of teas and herbs in order to create different responses.  Some were healthy and healing, some were relaxing or stimulating...”

 “Yeah.”

 “Some were deadly.”

 “I think we've already determined that Heyes.  What are you getting at?”

 Heyes took a deep breath and forced himself to look his cousin in the eye.  “She also knew how to mix a blend that would cause a miscarriage during the early stages of a pregnancy.”

 Heyes saw the colour drain from Jed's face, then he saw it return as a deep red that rose up and took over his blue eyes, turning them to fire and rage.  Then he exploded.  He was on his feet in a flash, pushing the chair back until it crashed into the side of the house.  His fists clenched and his whole face contorted into a snarl as he left the porch in one step and headed for the barn.

 “Kid!”  Heyes called after him.  “Kid, wait...”

 Heyes came off the porch as well and ran after his partner.  He caught up to him half way to the barn and grabbed his shoulder.

 “Kid. wait...”

 Jed turned on him with a snarl and pushed his hand away then continued on to the barn.  Heyes took an involuntary step back when he was faced with the Kid's volatile anger.  Pain and rage filled his eyes and Heyes thought for an instant that the Kid was going to strike him.  It took him a moment to collect his bearings again and continue on after his cousin and into the barn.

 Heyes stepped inside the structure and could see Jed at the far end of the alcove, his hands clutching at his curls while he paced back and forth in an angry haze.

 “Kid...”  Heyes repeated quietly.  “I know you're angry.  I understand that...”

 “ANGRY!?”  Jed snarled at him.  “That WOMAN!  She murdered...our child!  And you let her get away!?”

 “Kid, please...”

 Jed turned and came at him, his eyes burning.  Heyes barely had time to take a step back before Jed  grabbed him by the shirt front and had him pushed up against the wall of the barn.

 “YOU LET HER GET AWAY!”

 “Kid, I'm sorry...”

 Jed started to shake him, repeatedly banging him into the wall and Heyes made no effort to stop him.

 “SHE MURDERED OUR CHILD!”  Jed yelled at him, but then his voice caught and he stopped shaking his cousin.  “She murdered our...child...”

 Jed clutched at Heyes' shirt even tighter but not in anger now, but in pure undiluted agony.  He fought hard against the tears but they came anyway and he buried his face in his cousin's shirt as the uncontrolled sobs racked his body.  Heyes felt his own throat burning as he blinked out his own tears.  He hugged his best friend close to him—held him tight and didn't let go.

 “I'm sorry Jed,”  he whispered.  “I'm so sorry...”

 
 Beth twisted her handkerchief in her hands, her cheeks alight with tears.  David had broken the rule of a lifetime and allowed her husband to be part of the consultation.  This was for both patients after all, and a unique situation.  Jed had said very little, simply leaning against the wall with his head down and his hand at his chin.  He played distractedly with his bottom lip as David pressed home his message, seeking confirmation of understanding.

 “I’m so sorry, Beth, but this was a one-off tragedy.  If you can take anything from this it should be that there was nothing wrong with you and there is every reason to think you will go on to have healthy, happy, bonny babies.”

The young woman just sat there; too wrung out to emote and too tired to respond.

Hester removed her glasses and polished them on a scarlet handkerchief with a flourish, but kept her eyes fixed on the patient at all times.

“Beth?” David reached out a hand and grasped hers.  “What are you thinking?  Tell me?”

Beth took a great gulp of despair.  “How?”

Hester pursed her lips.  “How?  What do you mean, my darling?  Tell me so we can help you,” she murmured.

Jed raised his eyes to stare at Hester.  In all these years he’d never seen the softer, maternal side to this warrior of a woman and it caught him pleasantly by surprise.

“How?”  Beth shook her head hopelessly.

“You carry on.  You live, love and laugh.  You immerse yourself in everything that woman tried to take from you,” Hester paused, “but first you grieve.  You cry, scream, rage; anything you need to do to work through this.  You have a loving husband and wonderful family to support you.  They will see you through.”

“I can’t think about another baby.”  Beth darted a glance at her husband.  “I...”

The Kid pushed himself off the wall and strode over to his wife.  “Ya don’t have to, darlin’.”  He dropped a soft arm around her shoulder.  “Ya don’t have to think about anythin’.  Just let it be and life has a way of knittin’ things back up again.”

Beth’s only reply was a rasping sob.  The Kid cast impotent eyes at the doctors.  Losing a baby was one thing, but having that child ripped from your life because somebody hates your husband was another thing entirely.  He was eaten up by guilt and rage, debilitated by his inability to do anything to help his love.

“I have met a woman in your situation before,” Hester ventured.  “Well, not exactly the same situation.  Her husband had a lover who was not happy when his wife became pregnant and decided to dispose of the threat.  That poor woman was bereft and then she found she was unable to trust her husband anymore.”

“Is that supposed to help?” Jed snapped.

“Actually, yes.”  Hester returned to her businesslike manner.  “Beth has so much more.  There is a firm base on which to build.”

“My baby was murdered.  How does anyone move on from that?”

“How indeed?”  Hester’s keen eyes burned into the young woman.  “If only you knew somebody who’d been through that too?”

“Abi?”

“I suppose you could write to her, but I was actually thinking of Hannibal.  He has made his fair share of mistakes, but I’m sure he loves you enough to help and guide you around those pitfalls.”  Hester smiled softly.  “Doesn’t that mean that little Becky’s murder was not completely in vain, if some good can come of it?  Make no mistake, my dear; this was a vile destructive act, but after time in loving, giving hands you can use this to help people.  Eventually; but not yet.  Right now, you need love - so much love, it will neutralize the evil.”

Beth’s shoulders drooped.  “How could she be so cruel?”

“Yes.”  Hester sat back, her bust bolstering the extravagantly embroidered waistcoat she wore over her collar and tie.  “That is beyond me too.  I have seen a lot of cruelty, but this is a new twist.”

“People survive cruelty,” David murmured.  “Look at your husband, you’ll get over this.  The human mind has a great capacity to recover.”

“I don’t want to get over it!” Beth cried.  “That will mean forgetting my baby.”

“We’ll never forget, Beth.  She’ll always be the first,” Jed crouched down taking his wife’s hand.  “She’ll always be our baby.”

“She?” Beth sniffed.

“I think of her as a girl,” Jed shrugged.  “Lookin’ just like her ma.”

“A girl?”

“Yeah.”

Beth raised haunted eyes.  “We don’t even have a grave.”

Hester sat back nodding.  “When Becky was killed we planted a tree.  They gave us permission to plant it on the spot where she was murdered, so we chose one.  It’s growing tall and proud.  It will be the biggest tree in the park.  I like to think of something living there; probably for hundreds of years after the rest of us are gone.  The name of Rebecca Heyes will certainly be remembered.  We put a plaque on it as a permanent memorial.”

“A tree?”

Hester smiled.  “Not just any tree.  A sequoia.  A giant redwood.  I think they thought we’d choose something decorative and feminine like cherry blossom.  We went to see it on the tenth anniversary of her death.  It was almost thirty feet tall and the trunk was about twenty inches thick.  We cried, we laughed and we remembered; it was so wonderful to think of that shaft of life reaching to the heavens and knowing it would be there as a scream against the darkness until time immemorial.  A hundred years from now it will be nearly seventy feet tall.”  Hester’s eyes misted over.  “Not that I’ll ever see it, but Becky’s nieces and nephews might.  I like that idea.”

“A tree,” Beth whispered.

Jed’s eyes gleamed.  “You like that, darlin’?  We can plant one.  The biggest in the county if you want.”

“Big?”  Beth shook her head firmly.  “No.  Something else.  Something that bears fruit.”

David shot Hester a wry smile.  “There’s a peach tree called ‘Reliance.’  It does well in a climate like this.  I was thinking of getting one for our garden.”

“A peach tree?”  Beth’s brow wrinkled.  “Yes, I like that.”  She nodded.  “Reliance... that is a good name.”

“Let people be kind to you,” David smiled at the young couple.  “Some of the things they’ll say will make you want to laugh out loud, but they’ll mean well.  They’ll wrap themselves around you like a blanket and before you know it, the pain will lessen.”

“I guess,” Beth murmured.  “Life goes on.”

“Yes,” David smiled, gently.  “I can promise you that time is a healer, Beth.  The one thing I’ve learned about life is that it never lets up.”  They all paused to listen to the child battering up and down the hallway, making clopping noises and ‘peyungs’ as he pretended to fire his wooden gun at imaginary baddies.  “Never,” he murmured, “and that’s both your objective and your hope.”
Back to top Go down
Keays

avatar

Posts : 1427
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Home To Roost   Sun Jan 12, 2014 7:45 pm

“Mama....”

 Belle put her darning down and sent loving eyes up to her daughter.  “Hello, Sweetheart.  Are you alright?”

 Beth's face instantly contorted as she fought tears. “No!”

 Belle's heart broke as she opened up her arms, encouraging her daughter to come to her.  “Ohh, baby...come...”

 Beth fell apart as the tears came forth and she fell to her knees in front of where her mother was sitting and collapsed into her embrace.

 “Oh Mama..what's wrong with me!?”

 Belle hugged her close and rocked her as she would a child.  “Wrong with you?”  She asked with a hint of incredulity.  “Why would there be anything wrong with you?”

 “I just...”  Beth sobbed, finding it hard to explain.  “I love Jed so much.”

 “Of course you do,”  her mother agreed.  “What's wrong with that?”

 Beth sniffed.  “I want to give him what he expects...I want to be a good wife.  But ever since....I just can't.  He's being so patient but it's not right.  I love him so much, why don't I want him?  What's wrong with me?”

 Belle smiled sadly, continuing to rock her.  “Aww, sweetheart.  There's nothing wrong with you,”  the mother assured the daughter.  “It's heartbreaking to loose a child, even when it's that early in the pregnancy.  And you and Thaddeus wanted this child so much.”

 Beth nodded agreement through her tears.

 Belle's features hardened just a touch as she thought of how they had all been so cruelly fooled.  “Then to find out that it was a deliberate act and by someone whom you thought of as a friend.  I can't imagine that Beth, except to know that you must be feeling a great deal of anger now as well as hurt.  You need to get through that, both of you do.  Give yourselves time sweetheart.  You both love each other, that much is obvious.  Give it time and marital relations will come back when you're both ready.”

 “I just don't know how to get through this Mama.”  Beth sobbed.  “Hester suggested that we plant a tree in memory of our daughter and I do want to do that.  A peach tree in the front yard of our new home.”

 “Daughter?”  Belle asked.

 Beth sniffed again.  “Yes.  Jed said he felt this child was a girl.”  She started to sob again.  “A little girl...!”

 “Aww, sweetheart.”  Belle hugged her close and stroked her long blond hair.  “I know.  I think Hester is right; that's a good idea.”

 “But we can't do that until the house is built and I just don't know what to do!”  Beth admitted.  “I'm so angry, and I know Jed is too.  I just don't see how to get passed this.  How do I stop being so angry? I feel like I'm letting my husband down, that I should be helping him to heal, that I should be loving him and doing what I can to give him a child.  He wants children so much!”

 “But so do you,”  Belle pointed out.  “Thaddeus isn't expecting anything from you so soon, is he?”

 “No,” Beth admitted.  “He's hasn't tried anything.  He's being very patient and supportive.”

 “Well that's good,”  Belle assured her.  “You both need time to heal after this.”

 “But what if he doesn't want me anymore?”  Beth sounded almost panicked.  “What if he's angry because I can't try for another...”

 “Oh Beth.”  Belle was gently incredulous.  “He's angry, yes.  Just as you're angry.  But you can't think that he's angry at you.  He loves you.  You both just need time.”

 “I just don't know how,”  Beth insisted.  “Hester suggested I talk to Hannibal about it, since he's been through this.  It was so sad finding out about his daughter but I had no idea how painful it is!  I had no idea.  No wonder Abi killed her daughter's murderer!”  Beth became very angry now, her fists clenching at her mother's shirts.  “If I could find Amy, I'd make her pay for what she did...!”

 “Shhhh.”  Belle tried to calm her.  “That's not the way.  Getting revenge won't change anything.  I can understand you feeling that way, but the law is on to her now.  She'll be caught sooner or later.  You need to focus on getting better.  Why don't you talk to Joshua?  You trust him don't you?”

 “Yes.  Of course.”

 “Well.”  Belle nodded wisely.  “You talk to him.  Hester is right; he's already been through all of this.  Let him help you find your way.”


 
Heyes trotted Karma over to the first barn at the end of a long, hot, tiring day.  Jesse had sent him off to check fences and watering holes so he had put in quite a few miles since sun-up and mended a number of fences as well.  At least the watering holes were still holding some moisture for the thirsty herds and it wouldn't be too much longer now before the autumn rains began to replenish them again.

 Both horse and human gave a sigh of relief at pulling up outside the barn.  They were so dusty that there was hardly any distinguishing between the two of them until Heyes swung a leg over and stiffly dismounted.  Karma bowed her head and snorted and Heyes gave her a pat on the neck.

 “Back to working for a living, ain't we?”  he commented to her.

 Karma lowered her head and gave her body a thorough shaking, causing the stirrups to flap noisily and dust to fly in all directions.  Heyes waved a hand in front of his face, coughing with the irritation in his throat when he inadvertently breathed  in the gritty air.

 “Thanks a lot,” he mumbled as he lead her into the barn.

 Karma snorted again and willingly followed him.

 The barn felt cool and refreshing compared to the outside temperatures and the deeper shadows gave some relief from the hot summer glare.  It smelled of hay and dust and horses, even though Karma was the only horse in there at the moment.

 He pulled her up to the hitching ring, replaced the bridle with the halter on her head and then pulled the saddle off.  Her back where the saddle and blanket had lain was dark and wet with sweat where as the rest of her body, though hot was so covered in trail dust that she appeared to be a dun rather than a liver chestnut.  Heyes figured he didn't look much better.

 He took off his hat and slapped it against his legs, sending more dust bellowing into the musty air.  He hung the hat off a hook then undid the thong and the belt buckle of his holster and hung it from a convenient hook as well. Next he undid the leather thongs on the leggings of his chaps and quickly unbuckled the suede riding apparel and hung them over his saddle. His pants were clinging to his legs with the sweat and he sure would be happy to get these boots off too.

 Oh well, first things first.  He snatched up a bucket and stepping out into the heat again he walked over to the well and drew up enough water to fill the bucket and then headed back into the barn.  A quick search found a sponge, and not caring how dirty it was, he plunged the sponge into the water and brought the dripping handful up onto the top of his head and squeezed.  He closed his eyes and gasped with relief as the cool liquid cascaded down his face and neck.  Dunking the sponge again he squeezed more water against the back of his neck and over his shoulders.  The water ran down, leaving little rivers of moisture in the caked dust on his skin.  His shirt, where is wasn't stuck to his body with sweat, now stuck to it with cool water.

 Karma looked over at him expectantly and Heyes smiled at her.

 “Yeah, alright,”  he assured her.  “your turn.”

 Plunging the sponge into the water again, he began the job of washing down his horse, beginning by giving her the same treatment he had just given himself.  He squeezed the sponge on top of her head so that the water ran down her long face and dripped over her eye brows and down off her nose.  He did that a couple of times until she was thoroughly soaked and she snorted and shook her head to send water droplets flying in every direction.  Heyes smiled and commenced to get his mare thoroughly soaked from pole to croup and from withers to hooves.   By the time he was finished there was no water left in the bucket and both mare and man were dripping.

 He patted her neck, the slap sounding loud and sloppy against the wet hide.  “There you go.  Feel better?"

 A loud, sudden clattering broke the silence and Heyes and Karma both jumped out of their wet skins.  Heyes spun around, reaching for his holster, his schofield jumping into his hand has he peered into the dark murkiness of the inner barn.

 “Who's there?”  Heyes demanded.  “Come out where I can see you!”

 A small, quiet, almost frightened voice responded.  “Joshua...?”

 Heyes sighed and relaxed.  Karma blew indignantly.  A slight feminine form stepped out from the shadows and just stood there, looking embarrassed.

 Heyes slipped his schofield back into it's holster.  “Beth.”  It was a breath of relief.  “Darlin' you shouldn't do that, especially these days when we're still all on edge.”

 “I'm sorry.”

  Her voice was so quiet and so filled with sorrow that Heyes instantly felt contrite at the gentle  reprimand.

 “That's alright,”  he said soothingly, as though to a spooked young horse.  “What are you doing out here?”

 “I was waiting for you,”  Beth admitted.

 “Oh.”  Heyes felt a little confused.  “Well, Jed should be back soon.  Wouldn't you rather talk to him?”

 “No...!”

 Her voice broke with anguish and Heyes quickly covered the distance between them and took her into his arms.  He held her firmly, but gently, trying to sooth her as her tears came forth and she cried into his shoulder, despite the dampness of his clothing.  He sighed deeply, now realizing in a flash what this was all about and how odd it was that both stricken parents-to-be had ended up with him in this barn, crying on his shoulder.

 He continued to hold her close, stroking her hair until her sobs gradually began to quieten down and her trembling to ease.  He kissed her on her forehead and gently steered her over to a convenient hay bale.

 “C'mon, sit down,” he told her.

 “I'm sorry.”

 “It's alright,” he assured her and kept an arm around her shoulders as they sat together on the bale.  He gave her a slight squeeze.  “Now, what's all this about that you want to talk to me and not to your husband?”

 Beth sniffed and ran her hands over her eyes and nose.  Heyes thought to give her his bandana, but then realized that it was so covered in sweat and dust that it would hardly be the gentlemanly thing to do.  So he sat and he waited.

 “I just don't know what do to,”  Beth finally whispered.  “I've never felt anything like this before and I don't know how to deal with it.  Hester suggested I talk to you because you've been through this and Jed didn't seem to mind if I did, so...is that alright?”

 Heyes throat had tightened up on him, memories once again flooding his mind's eye.  Memories of screaming and a pram dripping with red, the tiny blood splattered body of his infant daughter, stilled forever in death.  Heyes swallowed down the memories and nodded.

 “Yes Beth,”  he choked out.  “It's alright.”

  “Will I ever get over it?”  she asked, almost pleading.  “Will the pain and the anger ever go away?”

 Heyes' shoulders slumped and he shook his head.  “No,” he told her.  “You just learn how to live with it.  You learn how to store it away in a little corner of your heart so that it no longer over-whelms your every waking moment—your every dream.  You learn how to cope.”

 “I don't think I'm strong enough!” Beth almost wailed it out.

 “Yes you are, Beth!”  Heyes insisted.  “You're one of the strongest people I know.  You and Jed both.  You'll get through this—it's just going to take some time.”

 “That's what everybody says!”  Beth was angry now.  “Time.  I can't remember what it's like to not be hurting!”  She punched the hay bale and stood up, pacing back and forth in front of him, wringing her hands.  “How is time going to make any difference?  I trusted her.  I thought she was a friend.  Now all I can think about is ripping her heart out.  I want her dead for what she took from us!”

 Heyes gazed up at her, his eyes glistening with painful comprehension.  “I know,”  he whispered and took hold of her hand.  “But it won't help.”

 Beth looked down at him, tears running down her cheeks.  “She deserves no less.”

 “I know,”  he repeated.  “But believe me;  Abi...killing our daughter's murderer did not lessen the anguish of losing her.  When Amy is captured and brought to justice it may help you and Jed to find some closure.  But the pain you're feeling at this loss and at the deliberate betrayal of someone you thought you could trust will not diminish because of it.  Only time and friends and family will gradually do that.”

 “How did you do it?”  she asked him.  “You were alone.”

 A sad smile flitted across Heyes' features.  “No I wasn't alone.  I had Kid with me. I had a home as such—and family too.  Not the same kind of loving family you have here mind you...”  Beth allowed a ghost of a wet smile to touch her lips until sadness took them over again.  “They weren't much for talking though.  In fact on the most part they stayed away from me during that time.  I suppose they were afraid I would take my rage out on them—and they were probably right.  Kid was the only one who wasn't afraid of me and he stayed pretty close.”

 “That's sad though,”  Beth commented.  “Was there no one you could talk to?”

 Heyes gave a big sigh, his thoughts going back in time.  “Preacher,”  he finally answered her.  “I'd have to get drunk enough, but when I did I was able to talk to Preacher about it.”

 “There was a preacher in your gang?”  Beth sounded incredulous.

 “Well—sort of.”  Heyes smiled again as he recalled his old friend.  “I think he actually was a preacher at one time but, he took to the drink and couldn't stop.  Then, I suppose the things he ended up doing in order to survive made him drink even more.  But he still had that way about him.  You felt safe with him, that you could tell him your deepest secrets and all would be forgiven.  Sometimes I think the only one he couldn't bring comfort to was himself.”

 Beth sat back down again, still holding her friend's hand.  “That's sad,”  she said.  “Where is he now?''

 “Oh, he's dead now,”  Heyes informed her.  “The life of an outlaw...”

 “I'm sorry,”  She told him and she leaned into him, hugging his arm.  “I'm so glad you and Jed were able to get out of that life.”

 “Yes.”  Heyes nodded and smiled over at her.  “You feel better now?”

 “A little bit,” she nodded.  “I'm scared though.  I'm scared about what this is going to do to us.”

 “You don't need to be afraid of that,”  Heyes assured her.  “If you stick together, you'll see it through and your bond will be that much stronger because of it."

 “We're going to plant a tree in our child's memory,”  Beth announced out of the blue.  “Hester suggested that too.  She said that Abi did that for Rebecca and that it helped.”

 “Yes,”  Heyes nodded.  “That's a good idea. Sounds like Hester's been full of good ideas.  Hardly surprising I suppose.  When are you going to do it?”

 “Well, we want to plant it at our own place, but the house isn't finished yet,”  Beth explained.  “I feel so strongly about doing this, but we have to wait.”

 “Why?”  Heyes shrugged.  “You have the property and you have the foundation structure laid out.  Why do you have to wait?”

 “Oh,”  Beth brightened up.  “You're right.  But it's so late in the season.  We should probably wait until next spring.”

 “Oh I don't know,”  Heyes countered her.  “There's still time.  Why not try?  It probably won't do much until next spring, but by then  you'll be living in your new home and you'll have a young sapling coming to join you..  I think that would be a real nice way for you and Jed to celebrate your new home and to perhaps find some closure in all this as well.”

 Beth smiled and nodded.  “Yes.  I think we will.”

 Karma's head went up and she snorted as she looked out to the entrance of the barn.

 “Sounds like someone's coming,”  Heyes announced.

 Karma nickered and was instantly answered by Gov as Jed led him into the barn and tied him up beside the mare.  He ducked under the horses' heads and smiled at the couple sitting on the bale of hay.

 “You realize that's my wife you've got your arm around,”  he cautioned his cousin.

 “I thought we were partners,”  Heyes protested.

 “Ha!”

 Beth smiled and was on her feet and into her husband's arms in an instant.

 “Oh you two!”  she said.  “Always teasing one another.”

 “I wasn't teasing,” Heyes insisted.

 Jed sent him the look and then smiled down at his wife.  “Hey, darlin',” he greeted her, brushing a strand of hair back from her face.  “How ya' feelin' today?”

 “Better, I think,”  she told him.  “Hannibal suggested that we plant our tree now and not wait until the house is finished.  I think I would like to do that.”

 Jed kissed her, and holding her in an embrace he smiled over at his cousin.  “Yeah.  I think that's a good idea.”


  
 “The mail’s here,” Belle called, examining the tube covered in brown paper.  “I think that newspaper you get is here, Hannibal, and a letter too.  Oh, and this looks like Bridget’s handwriting!”

The family gathered around, ready to hear news from the Grangers, gathering cookies and cups of coffee before settling down to listen.  Jesse hooked on his spectacles and sat at the head of the table, ready to regale the family with the contents.

'My love to all, but especially my own darlings, Beth and Jed.  How are you since my last letter?  It has now been a month since I last wrote to you.  I do hope that you are beginning to feel stronger and fit enough for a visit.  I think a change of scenery may be just the thing to invigorate you, but I would love to get the chance to coddle you.'
Jesse paused to glance over at his daughter.  “You should think about that.  It might take you out of yourself.”

Heyes stood, somehow feeling that he was intruding on a close family moment.

Jed fixed Heyes with curious blue eyes.  “You’re leaving?”

Heyes nodded.  “I’ve got mail of my own,” he smiled, warmly.  “Besides, you’ll read it out again after dinner.  You always do.”

Beth nodded.  “He’s right.  We always treat letters as a real occasion, but he does have his own.  Go and read it, Hannibal,” her face broke into a smile.  “Who knows?  Maybe we’ll have two letters to listen to after dinner?”

Heyes glanced down at the familiar handwriting on the envelope and tried not to betray his emotions.  “Yeah, who knows?”

He strolled over to the sitting room and settled on his favourite chair with a sigh, picking idly at the brown paper wrapped around the newspaper and he stared off into space.  Abi’s handwriting.  What did she want?  The sweep of a furry body brushed against his boot.  Heyes glanced down; catching sight of the tip of an erect tail disappearing between his legs before blinking green eyes scanned his lap for a nestling spot.  “You want to come up?”

“Gnurrr!”

“Come on, then,” Heyes patted his knee.  The cat leaped up, pushing a sleek head into his palm and rolling it from side to side almost as an instruction on what was required.  He chuckled lightly and scratched behind a pert ear and continued down to the jaw line.  “How’s that?”

Apparently it measured up to requirements and Mouse circled until she huddled on his lap, toying with the torn edge of the paper.  “You want I should open it?”  Two paws came together grasping at the flap.  “Fine.”

Heyes slid the newspaper from the protective sleeve and Mouse visibly slumped.  Humans always seemed to prefer these large, paper things to cats, no matter how much extra interest they tried to generate by trying to lie on it or jiggling it up and down.  Experience told Mouse that standing up and trying to obstruct Heyes’ view didn’t work either, so she settled down and thrust her head between his folded legs and stared dejectedly at the floor.

It was the Murreyville Mercury, the newspaper from Joan Baines home town.  Heyes had taken a leaf from Abi’s book.  She had had the newspapers from Brookswood sent to her so she could find out what was going on around Heyes and the Kid, so it seemed a good way to keep tabs on Joan Baines.  The front page made his eyes widen in surprise.
 
                                   Mysterious Death of Local woman


'The body of a 38 year old local woman has been found in her bed by her husband, Jackson Baines, 64, at their home in the Langley area of Murreyville.  Mrs. Baines had been hale and hearty until her untimely demise and had been last seen doing some shopping by a Mr. Swartz, a local merchant at around 11.30.  Mr. Swartz said, “Mrs. Baines had been a good customer and will be sorely missed by the trading community.  She bought two large wieners and a cabbage for that evening’s meal.  Even though her recent legal troubles have left her living in much reduced circumstances she regularly purchased goods locally.”
Mrs. Baines had recently been charged with conspiracy to murder, along with her husband and two others.  The trial was due to take place in three weeks time, all legal arguments and appeals having been exhausted.  Doctor Alfred Clarke was reported as saying, “A 38 year old woman was found in her bed by her husband when returned home from work.  We are unable to state what caused the patient’s demise or why she returned to bed after her shopping trip.  Servants no longer live in the house as the Baines could no longer afford to retain them, so we have no witnesses to her last moments.  Mrs. Baines had been in good spirits, vowing to fight the charges.  We can only suppose her heart gave out with the pressure.  It is well known that women are unable to cope with stress for long periods of time and it may be that the weaker, feminine heart gave out under the strain.  An autopsy has been performed and no drugs or obvious cause of death can be established.  This has been recorded as a case of cardiac marasmus.”
Mr. and Mrs. Baines had no children.  She leaves her husband and a sister, neither of whom have been available for comment.'  
 
Heyes sat back with a frown.  Joan Baines dead? What did this mean?  Did Abi no longer need to hide?  If so, was she coming here?  The long fingers played idly around the velvet ears as he mulled over the possibilities.  Damn it!  Why was his life always so difficult?  He tapped the letter against his fingers before sighing deeply and dragging back the flap of the envelope.  Out tumbled a newspaper cutting and a photograph.

The card was a picture of his Anya, less formal than the last one and looking slightly older.  Her white dress was bound at the waist by a sash and its length had dropped to mid-calf, as was fitting for a pre-pubescent girl; hemlines descended towards the ankle as girls got older.  It was a bright, happy portrait in which Anya didn’t exactly smile; sure, her lips curled up in a natural repose under the long exposure, but it was the impish, dancing eyes which stared confidently into the lens that lightened the whole mood.  She leaned proudly on a Grecian-style pillar as though surveying her estate and an unbidden smile twitched at his lips.  He turned it over, biting his lip at the precise, childishly careful writing.  'To my Uncle Han.  Lots of love from your little Anya.'


Heyes leaned back and rested his head on the back of the chair.  The title of ‘uncle’ was a double edged sword; it held him at arm’s length at the same time as allowing him into the periphery of the family, but it denied his access to the very bosom.  Ah, well, it’s more than he had this time last year.  He pulled himself back and unfolded the letter. 


'San Francisco 27th, September 1891


A charaid Mr. Heyes,


Please find enclosed a picture of our beautiful daughter.  She is wearing her new summer dress and I think she looks lovely in it.  Don’t you agree?  Her face became quite unfashionably brown after all that time in the California sun.  She simply would not keep a hat on her head.  It was always being caught on trees or being trampled in some escapade.  I would get so exasperated and then I would remember the state that old hat of yours and I’d smile.  Jed told me it got so bad you had to get a new one just before you went for amnesty.  Not the best disguise given that it was still decked out in those silver conchos because you always used the same hatband, but at least it wasn’t as ratty as the old one.  How long did it stay neat, I wonder?  She certainly is her father’s daughter.  
They were such good times and have left me with wonderful memories.  I see her in you all the time and I would be lying if I said that didn’t hurt.     
I have also enclosed a newspaper cutting from the Murreyville Mercury.  As you can see, Joan Baines is now dead.  I wanted you to know that I believe that you can now get on with your life without looking over your shoulder all the time.  The main danger is now gone and her sister is on the run.  I am doing what I can to track her down but she does seem to be putting her own neck before any vendetta, in any case I cannot see her turning up in Brookswood again.  From what I have managed to discover, Joan Baines was the main instigator of the threat to you and your loved ones.  Her sister was happy to go along with that for a price, after all, she had lost her mother too, but she seems to be an expert at self-preservation and puts herself first.  I suppose Joan was more loving in her own twisted way.  I have no doubt Amy will worm her way into some poor man’s affections in order to find a protector.  I have considered the possibility of Amy also acting through others, but as she saw her sister brought down by that course of action I believe the risk is minimal.
I need you to understand that this next part is very difficult for me to write.  I am going away.  I cannot tell you where I am going but you will never see me again.  I understand that things have moved on in my absence and I am going to do everything I can to give both you and Anya a normal life.  At the moment there is a gaping chasm ahead of me, but I will strike out and build a new life for myself and Anya.  What other option is there?  Life goes on, even if it feels like wading through treacle at times.
I have been agonising about where to go and what to do, but one thing is clear; your future lies in Brookswood and that will be more secure without your past distracting from your life with Randa.
I will keep my promise and tell Anya all about you when she is old enough to understand.
All this has taught us something important.  We both know what a gift we had, so next time around we will fight to hold onto it, but you have already found that out.  Hold onto her, a'ghaol.  I have done what I could to help but now it’s up to you, and you alone.  We have a saying, “Bàthaidh toll beag long mhòr.”  It means a little hole will sink a big ship.  Do not allow the slightest crack to come between you and your future.  This is your best chance, seize it with both hands and do not let it slip away.
Le gràdh mhoir, le beannachdan agus a h-uile là sona dhuibh 's gun la idir dona dhuibh.
That means with much love, with blessings and may all your days be happy ones.  You know the words are closer to my heart in my own language.  There will always be a special place for you there.  
 
Abigail.'


 
 Heyes sat alone in the bar and sipped at his whiskey.  He held the envelope in both hands and a sense of dread swirled in his guts.  Why was he so worried?  He and Abigail were friends now and the last missive had contained a joyful little photograph... and a goodbye; a firm, unyielding farewell.  A letter from Abigail always had a purpose and that was what he found perturbing.  What did she want?  There was something she wasn’t telling him.

Heyes swirled amber liquid in the shot glass.  What was he missing?  He had re-read the letter time and time again.  He drank deeply of the scintillating liquid, his eyes echoing the darkness outside.  Tonight the Jordans would be enjoying the Saturday night meal before a day of rest and they would then gather to hear Bridget’s letter again before examining every detail.  Of course Beth would take up the invitation to visit her sister; and well she should.  Life, love and laughter was the cure to what ailed her.  For Heyes it was the opposite; he needed to be left alone, retreating to process the unexpected wave of information.

He pulled out the newspaper cutting and re-read it, his mouth firming at the stupidity of it all; the pain and anguish, not to mention the waste of all that life.  Nobody was safe, especially when people like Harris were unleashed on a world full of innocent women and children.

It was difficult to feel sorry for the death of this twisted, damaged woman, but at least she managed to die peacefully in her bed of natural causes.  It seemed a fitting closure to the vendetta; there can be no revenge against slipping quietly away.

Heyes tossed back his drink and stood, the chair legs scraping against the floorboards.  He was fairly sure why Abigail was going away; neither of them could take another parting and Amy was still out there, after all.  It was a poisonous legacy to leave a child, a choice between a vendetta or a life on the run.  Abi was right.  There was also no way to lie to a child as bright as his daughter now she was nearly in her teens; if he was around she would notice the chemistry, the emotional shorthand and the bond between him and her mother, forcing Abigail to break the news before the child was emotionally able to handle the truth of her parentage.
  
He stuffed the envelope into his pocket and tossed some coins on the table before heading for the door.  “Goodnight, Bill.”

“Goodnight, Heyes.  You headin’ home now?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“There’s probably going to be a game later.”

Heyes shrugged untidily.  “I’m not in the mood.”

He strode through the bat wing doors into the refreshing cool of the evening.  The clean air washed into his lungs, flushing out the smoke-filled fug from the bar and replacing it with clear, fresh breaths.  He looked up at the acres of stars pricking though the darkness and sighed for the thousandth time.  In a hundred years from now all this would still be here and he’d not even be a memory.  Life was too short for all this strife.  It was time to put all this behind him and live an honest decent life.

He strolled over to Karma and patted her neck before reaching over towards the hitching rail.  Then it hit him.  Joan Baines’ death.  Abigail had promised that woman she’d kill her if she ever found out that the vendetta was continuing.  She warned her and Abigail usually meant what she said.  He stepped back in surprise.  He’d been so caught up in being told that Abigail was taking Anya away that he’d completely overlooked the obvious and if anyone knew how to murder someone without leaving a trace it was an ex-Pinkerton.  Was that why she’d arranged for paternal custody in case anything ever happened to her?  Was it in case she got caught?

So that was it... or was it?  Was it simply a tragic incident or had Joan Baines’ brand of evil been stifled.  Was Abigail leaving the country to evade possible charges?  No, he shook his head.  Abi could kill but she was smart enough to make sure nobody could trace it back to her if she did it... if.  Who knew those two letters could make such an enormous word?

 
The doors to the bar clattered open again and the barman raised his head, his eyebrows arching in surprise.  “Heyes?  I thought you’d gone for the night?”

“So did I,” came the terse reply.  “I changed my mind.  I need a drink.”

“Well, that’s what we provide here,” the barman grinned.  “That and great conversation.  Ed and Kurt are arguin’.  You’re a genius so maybe you can settle it?  If toast always lands butter side down and a cat always lands on its feet, what would happen if ya put butter on a cat’s back?  How would it land?”  Bill looked into the dismissive, dark eyes and shrugged.  “Nah, I guess it’s not worth tryin’.  It’s a waste of butter.”

“Leave the bottle,” Heyes growled.

“Are you alright?” Bill asked, recognizing shades of the angry man who had surfaced before.

“I just got news that someone died,” Heyes muttered.  “I was going to go home, but I stabled Karma instead.  I’ll take a hotel room.”

“Aw, gee. That’s real sad,” nodded Bill, sympathetically.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Heyes muttered under his breath as he wandered over to the table in the corner.  “It all depends on whether their killer will ever be caught.”

 
The silver fingers of dawn crept under the curtains of the hotel room, casting light on the bleary, bloodshot eyes of the sleepless man staring at the ceiling.  Heyes shifted and crossed his legs at the ankle and sighed heavily.  Abigail MacKinnon alias Stewart – and that was her real name too.  She had told him that Scottish women never lose their maiden names; legally they are only ever an alias.  If their names were read out in a Scottish court they would be identified by their maiden names followed by the married names labelled as an alias in order of respective marriages.

 What a country that must be, where that is allowed to happen, no wonder the women were so peculiarly pertinacious.  The whole family had aliases of their own; mother, father and daughter; so there was a unique family connection.  There was another link too; Abigail was a plotter just like him.  He could never know if she’d given him paternal rights all those months ago in case she’d been caught in the act, or whether it was just normal parental planning, but one thing was for sure; Abigail didn’t leave loose ends.
  
Did Abigail kill Joan Baines or had she died of natural causes?  More to the point why did the question bother him so much?  Heyes had quickly dismissed the reasoning that the murder of a woman was disconcerting.  He was an egalitarian in so many ways, treating women who challenged him with the same intrigued playfulness as he did any man who did the same, but he stayed within boundaries set for him at an early age.  Surely it was right that a murderous woman be dealt with by another woman, especially if it was to prevent more deaths? 
 
This whole thing had been a vortex of vengeance right from his early childhood and the raid on their place, culminating in the loss of Jed and Beth’s baby.  So many ruined lives, shattered dreams and lost loves.  Heyes sighed heavily.  He did love Abigail, but she was right for the man he had been, not the man he had become.  He was tired of fighting, scheming and running.  A life of settled domesticity beckoned and that now seemed like an island of peace and bliss amongst the debris of a life seized at gunpoint or won by stealth.

He sat up and dangled his legs over the side before reaching for the chamber pot.  A new day beckoned and he’d paid for this room until noon.  He should try to get some sleep and then go and see Randa.  She was his future, but he couldn’t tell her that in a cloud of last night’s whiskey and nightmares.

He should sleep, then wash, shave and eat so Randa saw the civilized man he had become.  A smile played around his lips.  He could dream of all those wild times and in that land of illusion he could be that outlaw again.  Abigail could be there, but maybe, if he dreamed the right dreams, she would end up having a happy, peaceful life too.

 
              
It was early Sunday morning but even so, all the basic chores were done around the barn yard.  Sam was up at the line cabin with Deke preparing to round up and then break out the two year old colts.  They would be heading off to auction come Fall so it was going to be a very busy and boisterous two weeks for the wranglers to get the half-wild youngsters ready.
 
 After that it would be time for the round up of the cattle, another two weeks of hard, dirty work.  Not only did the new calves have to be temporarily separated from their mothers in order to be branded, but the yearling bulls also had to be castrated.  Then the two year old steers would be segregated and herded off in a group to the rail heads in order to be transported to market.  The days of the long drawn out trail drives were coming to an end but somehow the work didn't seem to get much easier.

 Jesse always hired extra hands during this time and never expected Heyes or Jed to become too involved with the rounding up or the breaking out.  That was a job for young men and the two ex-outlaws were not exactly spring chickens anymore.  Jesse also knew in his heart that neither his new son-in-law or his cousin were natural-born ranchers.  Jed had filled in that job when he had to, as a way to earn his keep and still be able to focus on his main goal—getting his partner out of prison.  And Hannibal?  Well Hannibal was happier sitting around a poker table than a branding fire so Jesse saw no point in pushing it.

 It was still a busy time of year though and pretty soon even their Sundays were going to be busy getting the ranch ready to support itself through another winter.  Everyone in the Jordan household was determined to make the most of the beautiful day that had been given to them and everyone, including Jesse were dressed in their 'going to town' duds.

 Heyes was still in his room while Jesse and Jed were outside getting particular horses either tacked up or harnessed up in anticipation of the trip to town.  Hannibal could hear them talking out in the yard but he was distracted, his mind on something else.  He stood quietly in front of his dresser for a few moments before pulling the top drawer open and slipping his hand underneath the clothing that was there.  He carefully pulled out a photograph and again stood still as stone and quietly gazed upon the image.

 Finally a soft smile played up the corners of his mouth and he brought the photo up to his lips and he gently kissed the facsimile of the woman's face.

 “Goodbye Abi,”  he whispered softly to the picture.  “I know you want me to get on with my life and I suppose it's time I did that.  I won't tell you to look after our daughter because I know you already are.  It's what you've always done—far more than I have.  But one thing I do ask is that you don't let her forget me.  I know you promised to tell her as soon as she was old enough, but I'm so afraid that life will move on and things will change and that maybe you'll think it's easier if she doesn't know. But I'm begging you now Abi; please don't just let this go—don't let her forget me.
 “I'll always love you, you know that.  But finally, I think I can honestly say to you that I hope you can find love again as I have done.  I'd hate to think of you spending your life alone.  Oh, I know you have Anya but that's not the same thing as finding someone to have and to hold.  I want you to find love again Abi, I really do.  You're a beautiful woman and you deserve it.”

 Knock, knock, knock!

 “C'mon. Heyes!”  Jed's voice echoed from the other side of the door.  “Everybody's ready to go!”

 “Yeah, be there in a minute.”

 He heard Jed walk away and he smiled down at the photograph as he gently brushed his thumb across the image in a loving caress.

 “Goodbye Abi.  Until we meet again.... somewhere.”

 He tucked the photo back into the drawer where it nestled in amongst his other keepsakes.  The picture of Anya that Abi had sent him in prison—the one that had saved his life.  It was there along with the other letters that Abi had sent him while he was incarcerated.  Added to those was the letter from his daughter and the post card describing in youthful delight all the wonders that she was seeing.  And then that other letter from Abi telling him not to get in touch.  Telling him to let them go and get on with his life; the one that broke his heart every time he saw it yet could not bring himself to burn it or tear it up.

 Now he was glad that he hadn't done any of those things because bit by bit, the pain it caused him was beginning to lessen.  More and more it was becoming simply a valued keepsake, something that was of her that she had given to him and he would cherish it.  He slipped the photo back into the drawer and slid it shut.

 He sighed deeply and smiled a big dimpled grin.  Those people would always be apart of who he was and they would stay with him for the rest of his life but he was ready now, ready to move on.  He gave another sigh and picking up his hat from the bed he strode out of the room and carried on out to the yard to meet up with the family that was waiting for him.



Belle and Beth were sitting in the surrey and J.J got to sit up front with his Papa, who was holding the lines.  This was a treat that made going to Sunday services almost worthwhile. Jed was mounted up on Gov and holding onto Karma while they all waited patiently for Heyes to get a move on.

 “About time,” Jed griped as he handed his cousin the reins to his horse.  “What were ya' doin' in there?”

 Heyes grinned as he mounted up.  “Just saying 'goodbye' to some ghosts.”

 “Oh yeah?”

 “Hmm.  I think it's about time to start doing that.”

 Jed smiled as the family headed out.  “Yeah.  It is.  You sure you don't want to come to services with us this morning?  Might do ya' some good.”

 Heyes smiled over at his cousin.  “No, not this time. Kid.  Nothing against Reverend Sykes but after listening to Dr. Slosson's sermons I'm afraid Mr. Sykes tends to put me to sleep.”

 Jed laughed.  “Yeah, you're right!  I don't mind goin' though.  Beth likes me to come with them when I'm not too busy with work and all...”  he shrugged.  “...so, why not?”

 “Yeah, that's good, Kid,”  Heyes assured him.  “But I'll come another time.  I have something else I want to do today.  Don't you worry about leaving me on my own.  Although, if all goes well, perhaps I'll meet you over at the cafe for lunch, after services.”

 “Yeah.”  Jed nodded, then pushed Gov up beside the surrey.  “Is that alright with you folks?  We meet up with Heyes for lunch after services?”

Beth smiled.  “Of course!  I thought we were planning on that anyways.”

 “Oh.”  Heyes grinned.  “I guess that's settled then.”

 “But what are you up to this morning, Joshua?”  Belle asked him.  “Is it really so important that you'll miss services?”

 Heyes' grin broadened even more.  “Yeah,” he emphasized.  “I do believe it is.”

 “You're not going to play poker are you?”  Belle's tone became stern.

 “No ma'am,”  Heyes assured her.  “I'm not going to play poker—although there is a pretty good game going on Sunday mornings...”

 “Heyes!”

 “Aw, Kid, I'm just teasing!”  Heyes confessed.  “I won't play poker on the sabbath now.  I know there are certain ladies present who would not appreciate it.”

 
 The group were soon pulling up to the hitching rails around the church yard and Jesse manoeuvred Monty over into a spot that seemed to be just waiting for them.  Jed came in beside the rig, dismounted and began to tie off the two horses while J.J. hopped down to play in the dirt and Jesse helped his wife to step down from the vehicle.  Jed then came around to assist Beth who had quite intentionally waited for her husband to come and do just that.

Heyes was pleased to see that the newlyweds were recovering from their earlier ordeal.  Beth still looked a little pale and sad sometimes, but she was rallying and her happy laughter was being heard more and more often now as the pain from their loss was slowly dissipating.  Jed still tended to get angry sometimes at the deliberate maliciousness of that act and Heyes suspected that was one of the reasons he felt the need to attend services again.  That was fine.  Sometimes a little helping hand was all you needed to get through a tough time.

 Heyes smiled down at the group as they got organized.  “I'll see you folks later,”  he told them as he tipped his hat and turning Karma's head towards the livery, he pushed her into a lope and departed.

 “I wonder what he's up to,”  Belle commented as she watched him ride away.  “He's being awfully secretive.”

 “That's pretty normal for Heyes,”  Jed assured them as he took Beth's arm and headed her towards the church steps.  “I wouldn't worry about him.”

 “He'll probably tell us all about it over lunch,”  Jesse predicted.  “He does appear to be a man on a mission.”

 “Hello everyone!”  Tricia's voice caught their attention.

 J.J. instantly perked up.  “Can me and Nathan go play?”

 “Now J.J., you know it's time for services,”  his mother reminded him.  “You two can play later.”

 “Aww...”

 Jed grinned at the young man's disappointment, remembering his own reluctance as a youngster to having to spend a warm summer morning inside a boring church rather than being outside getting up to antics with his older cousin.

 Jesse smiled as well, but stepped in to play his part.  “Mind your manners young man,”  he told his son.  “A couple of hours of church service isn't going to hurt you.”

 “Yes Papa,”  came the reluctant acceptance while he and Nathan exchanged disappointed glances.

 “Oh, hello.  Tricia, David.”  Belle finally got the chance to return their friends' greeting.  “Weren't sure if you were going to make it today.”

 “Everything seems to have quieted down after the big mystery got settled,”  David commented.  “I can't remember a week that's been slower than this one.”

 “Well that's good!”  Belle pointed out.  “Nobody's sick.”

 “Yes.  That's what has me worried,”  David admitted.  “The calm before the storm.”

 Tricia laughed and patted her husband's arm.  “Why can't you see it as the calm after the storm?”  she asked him.  “At least now you've had a chance to catch up on your sleep!”

 “That is a plus,”  David agreed with a smile.

 “Where's Miranda?”  Beth asked.  “She usually comes to services.”

 Tricia and David smiled at each other and Tricia shrugged.

 “Apparently she has other plans for this morning,”  she explained with a twinkle in her eye.  “Said she would probably meet us all later for lunch.”

 This comment was met with raised eyebrows and then as a group they all looked in the direction that Heyes had disappeared in, riding towards the livery stable.
Back to top Go down
Keays

avatar

Posts : 1427
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Home To Roost   Sun Jan 12, 2014 8:13 pm

Half an hour later Heyes trotted along the dusty street with Percy in tow.  The gray gelding was feeling good and eager for a ride and Heyes smiled as he trotted smartly along beside the big mare.  Within a few moments they were pulling up in front of Miranda's front steps and Miranda herself was sitting on the porch, looking very much ready for a morning ride.

 "It's about time you got here,”  she reprimanded her escort.  “I've been waiting here for at least five minutes.  That's not a good start you know—keeping a lady waiting!”

 "Ho ho!”  Heyes laughed as he swung down to the ground.  “I'm right on time.  It's not my fault you decided to be early.”

 Randa smiled as she came down the steps.  Heyes' expression softened as he looked into her dark eyes and he brushed a strand of hair back from her brow.

 “Are you sure you're up to this?”  he asked her.  “You've only just come back home again.”

 “Oh, Hannibal!”  Randa chided him.  “The last little while I was just pretending to be sick, you know that!  I'm about ready to burst from being cooped up for so long.  Besides, we're only going to be gone for a couple of hours.  I told Tricia I would meet them for lunch later.”

 “Hmm, yes.”  Heyes nodded.  “I pretty much said the same thing.”

 “Then we're agreed,”  Randa told him.  “C'mon, we're wasting daylight!”

 “Yes, ma'am.”

 Heyes came up beside Percy and gave Randa a quick leg up into the saddle.  He then returned to his own mare and the laughing couple headed out of town at a lope.

 
 “This sure is a nice spot,”  Miranda commented as she leaned back against Heyes' chest.

Heyes smiled.  “It certainly is.”

 Miranda chuckled.  “You letch!”  she accused him.  “I was meaning this lovely tree and the meadow!”

 “So was I!” Heyes lied.  “What were you thinking I meant?”

 Miranda chuckled again as she snuggled in even more.  Heyes sighed contentedly and brought both his arms around her in a hug.  He kissed her on the back of the head.

 "I love you, you know,” he whispered to her.

 “I know,” she assured him.  “I love you too.”

 “That scared me, more than I want to admit,” he continued.  “And then, Amy...of all people.  She's the last person I would have suspected.  Well—she was the last person!  I just don't get it.  She seemed so...well, so nice!  Jeez, you'd think by now I'd be used to people not being who they claim to be.  I've done it myself.  But Amy?  It's just...”
He trailed off, shaking his head.  He still couldn't quite believe that he had been so duped.

 “I know,”  Randa agreed.  “I thought she was a friend too.  We all did.  Why would we suspect her when she appeared to be just as much a victim as anybody else?  I can't help but wonder though...”

 “What?”  Heyes encouraged her
.
 “Was she always...twisted...like that, or was it the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband that made her that way?”

 Heyes pursed his lips and sat quietly as he contemplated that question. He remembered back to his time in prison and how he had allowed himself to degrade down to the lowest form of humanity that had been present there.  He didn't like going back to that place, to either the structure itself or to the person he had become in order to survive there.

 How was that any different to what Amy had gone through?  She had been in a prison of sorts as well; a prison where she'd been the only inmate and her husband being the only guard.  What had she done that was so much worse that what Heyes himself had been willing to do to escape those bonds?

 He had done things that he realized now he shouldn't have done.  Going after Carson and then Mitchell the way he had.  That'd been out of revenge, not justice, he knew that.  He knew it at the time and he didn't care.  He was determined to get them and he did and that was all that mattered to him until he realized how close he had come to sending himself back to prison.  That was the shock he'd needed to wake him up, to bring himself back up to the level of a civilized human being.

 Amy never received that reality check.  Or maybe she'd had that tendency in her all along and it took an abusive husband to bring it all up to the surface.  Once there, it took control and ran amok. The biggest difference Heyes could see between himself and Amy was that he only sought revenge against those who had inflicted unwarranted abuses onto him and then those close to him.  Whereas Amy had gone after innocents.  Average, everyday people who's only sins were to fall in love with a pair of ex-outlaws, and that is what made her crimes so chilling.  Cold, calculated—premeditated.

 Both of them had killed, but Amy had it in her blood and she felt no remorse for it.  That, Heyes realized was what made the difference between himself and her.  He was not a killer, but she was; a killer dressed up in a beautiful, likable package and that sent a chill through him as nothing else could have done.

 “You've gone awfully quiet,” Miranda roused him from his musings.

 “Oh, sorry.” he apologized.  “Just thinking.”

 “Yes, I could tell.”

 Heyes smiled and sighed.  “You could, could you?”

 “Yes.  Jed's right; you don't think quietly,” she told him.  “You go quiet, but the wheels are grinding.”

 “Ohh.”  Heyes gave her a gentle squeeze.  “Do you know what I'm thinking now?”

 Miranda smiled.  She could feel his heart beat quickening through his chest and felt her own pulse responding in kind.
 “I think you're thinking of getting up to no good,”  she teased him.

 “Me!?”  Heyes was oozing indignant self-righteousness.  “I would never do...oh well, I suppose I can't really lay claim to that, can I?”

 “No.”

 Heyes sighed again.  “I've been thinking.”

 “Really!” came Randa's mock incredulity.

 “Yes, really!”  Heyes insisted.  “I've been thinking...”  he repeated.  “...that it's time...I did things...well, the right way...for a change.”

 “Oh yes?”  Randa leaned back against him even more, her lungs suddenly devoid of air.

 “Well, yes.  I've been thinking...”  Randa waited.  “...it's time to put the past to rest.”

 “Hum hmm.”

 “I love you—very much,” Heyes continued.  “And then when I thought that I might lose you after finally coming to realize just what a true friend you really are, well I just couldn't...what I mean to say is, well—I want to marry you and I suppose I was just hoping that maybe you might want to marry me too.”

 Miranda smiled to herself, but kept her tone neutral.  “Oh...is that it?”

 “What!?”  Heyes was almost indignant.  “Well I...”

 Miranda giggled like a playful girl and rolling over onto her knees, she faced her man and putting her arms around his neck she looked straight into his dark brown eyes.

 “Yes, of course I'll marry you,” she answered him.  “After all I've gone through simply for falling in love with you?  I completely expected to get a ring out of this!”

 Heyes grinned and then laughed out loud as he pulled her into an embrace.  He took her face in both his hands and still laughing, he kissed her and she leaned in to return it whole heartedly.

 “Oh!”  he exclaimed, coming up for air.  “Speaking of a ring.”

 He reached over to his saddle bag and digging into one of the pockets he pulled out a bundled up handkerchief.  He smiled again, and unwrapping the material he uncovered a dainty little gold ring that  was adorned with one diamond held in a raised setting of latticed gold with intricate designs trailing away on either side, making their way around the band.  On closer inspection there were also two other smaller diamonds set right into the band on either side of the larger center piece.

 Miranda caught her breath as Heyes took her left hand and slipped the ring onto her finger..  She gazed at it, momentarily speechless.  This condition did not last long however.

 “And they tell me men are no good at picking out a ring,” she stated.  “How in the world did you afford it!?  Oh dear!  I suppose it was rude of me to ask that.”

 Heyes grinned again; Randa's blatant openness was one of the many things he had come to love about her.

 “That's alright,”  he assured her.  “I've been saving my winnings from the weekly poker games.  I had a feeling I might be needing some funds sooner or later.”

 Miranda laughed.  “Gambling money!”

 “Better get used to it sweetheart,” Heyes warned her cheekily.  “It's what I am.”

 Miranda took her eyes off the ring and smiled into his eyes again.  “Don't I know it,”  she said and they came together into another kiss.

 Heyes held her close, and supporting her head as they continued to kiss, he shifted around and gently settled her down on her back in the soft summer grass.  And they continued to kiss.

 
 The newly betrothed couple stepped into the cafe arm in arm.  They stopped for a moment and surveyed  the numerous occupied tables in the establishment before Heyes' eyes settled on the large group in the center.  This particular table was always reserved for the larger parties coming in for lunch and it was not unusual for the Jordan/Gibson group to take possession of it on Sunday afternoons.

 The couple headed over that way and nodding a greeting at everyone there,  Heyes pulled out one of the two empty chairs for Miranda to settle into before taking a seat himself.  Everyone seemed to be smiling at them.

 “So...”  Belle started the conversation.  “did you two have a pleasant morning?”

 Miranda beamed.  “Yes.”

 Suddenly a high pitched yelp came from Beth and all eyes were instantly turned to  her.  Jed's heart rate jumped to twice it's normal, thinking that his wife was having some kind of relapse but as soon as he saw the look on her face he relaxed.  Her eyes were wide and sparkling with delight and then she laughed and pointed.

 “Miranda!  You're wearing a ring!”

 Instantly everyone's attention was focused back onto Randa and she actually blushed though she smiled with pleasure.

 “Joshua!” Belle accosted him.  “You finally asked her!”

 “Well, it had to be the right timing and everything,” Heyes explained.  “One can't just rush into these things you know.  It takes planning and a well thought out strategy...”

 “Yes, I could tell,” Randa teased him.  “After you stopped stammering.”

 “Oh, now come on...”

 The table erupted in laughter then Tricia stood up and came around to where her cousin was sitting and gave her a huge hug.  Tricia more than anyone else knew how difficult this past year had been on Miranda, waiting for Hannibal to finally make up his mind.

 “Congratulations, love,” Tricia told her.  “I'm so happy for you.”

 "Thank you.”  Randa's smile wouldn't quit and she gave her cousin's arm an affectionate squeeze.

 “Yes.  Congratulations,”  Belle seconded.  “Looks like we have another wedding to plan!”

 “Oh I can hardly wait!”  Beth exclaimed, all excited for more nuptials.  “I must let Bridget know—and Clementine!”

 Both Heyes and Jed rolled their eyes at the mention of Clem's name, but of course, she seemed to have weaselled her way into this family as well, so she would have to be informed.

 “Do you have a date in mind?” asked the forever sensible Belle.

 “Oh,” Heyes looked over at his fiance.  “We haven't really....”

 Belle smiled.  “No, of course you haven't.  It's too soon.  You have plenty of time.”

 “Congratulations, Hannibal.”  David raised his coffee cup to them.  “Looks like you're going to be a part of our family now.  Miranda, I'm happy for you.  You deserve a good man in your life again and now that I've gotten to know these two reprobates I think I can honestly say you've made a good choice.”

 Miranda smiled shyly.  “Thank you, David.”

 “Yeah,” said Heyes dubiously.  “Thanks.”

 “No getting out of stretches now, Han!”

 Heyes groaned.  “Well, I suppose she's worth it.”

 “Ohh!  Thank you,” Miranda threw back at him.

 Heyes sent her his most impish smile and he was instantly forgiven.  His gaze then drifted over to land on his cousin who was being uncharacteristically quiet during this happy occasion.  But the look that Jed sent back to him instantly put Heyes' concerns to rest.  Jed was smiling at him; a quiet, honest, open smile.  A smile that spoke of love and hope and relief!  Relief that his older cousin had finally laid his troubled past to rest and was willing to pick up the threads of a happy life and move forward with it.

 The two friends locked eyes and a world of understanding passed between them. The other occupants of the table fell silent, respectfully giving the partners their moment of communication.  Then Jesse waved over the waitress and broke the spell.

 “I understand it is Sunday,” he announced.  “but this calls for a celebration.  Two bottles of wine if you will, and the best lunch the house has to offer.”


 
 Heyes rode up the long low hill, heading away from town feeling strangely anxious about his upcoming engagement.  Why would he feel so nervous about this?  It wasn't as though this were a complete stranger—this was a friend; someone with whom he'd spent many a long hour, shooting the breeze and gossiping about mutual acquaintances over a pot of tea.  Why would he feel so nervous about coming up to do just that same thing again?

 Heyes took a deep, cleansing breath as he allowed Karma to pick her speed and her footing up the lane towards their destination.  It was a sunny bright day, but the wind was chilly, especially up on the high knoll like this, with no cover from the elements.  Still, it was pleasant enough and Heyes had his coat on and buttoned up so he'd be warm enough for an extended visit and then of course, the gift he had brought for them to share could not help but warm him from the inside out.

 So they continued on up the lane until they came abreast of the white picket fence and Karma stopped on her own accord, wisely realizing that she at least could not go any further.  She tossed her head and played impatiently with her bit while Heyes dismounted and gave her an affectionate pat on the neck.  He moved back to the saddle bag and unbuckling the strap he dug into the bag and pulled out the new bottle of whiskey he had just bought down at the saloon.  It wasn't top shelf, but it was still good quality and besides, it was the best that Heyes could afford on his honest earnings.  His friend would understand.

 He placed the bottle down on the ground, resting it safely against the gate post and making sure that it was out of the way of his mare's hooves—just in case.  He returned to his saddle bag and digging into it once again he withdrew his hand holding two shot glasses between his fingers.  These he also placed on the ground beside the bottle, making sure they were out of harm's way.

 Karma was tossing her head, becoming even more impatient with this seemingly pointless ritual.  They'd had a deal after all and she was ready to hold up her end of it.  Heyes chuckled at her antics and gave her neck a scratching along the crest, under the mane—a favourite spot of hers.  She however was not to be placated so easily.  She knew what she wanted, and her human had promised her.

 “Alright,” he finally obliged her.  “A deal's a deal after all.”

 He stepped back to the saddle again and hooking the stirrup up onto the saddle horn he unbuckled the back cinch and then undid the girth and the breast strap.  Then in one quick smooth motion he pulled the saddle and the blanket off the mare's back and set the whole contraption down on it's face and leaning against the picket fence.  He turned back to the mare and unbuckling the throat latch of the bridle, he gently pulled the headstall over her ears and allowed the bit to drop out of her already opened mouth.

 “There ya' go,” he said to her with another pat on the neck.  “Graze away to your heart's content.  Just don't go wandering off okay?  By the time I'm finished here I don't expect to be able to make it back home all on my own.  I'll be needing you to get me there.”

 Karma snorted and then with another toss of her dark red mane she danced around her human and  trotted off to that lovely patch of left over summer grass she'd been eyeing.  As soon as she got there, her head dropped to ground level and she began to graze in earnest and without too much concern over what her human was planning on doing for the next few hours.

 Heyes stood and quietly watched her for a few moments, thinking that his mare was getting way too spoiled; she spent half her life out on grass for goodness sakes!  He shook his head and with a soft smile he turned and picked up the liquor bottle and the two glasses and then pushed open the gate to the little cemetery.  He stepped through, closing the gate behind him and was again surprised at the knot of apprehension that instantly invaded his gut.  This was silly, he told himself; just what exactly did he expect was going to happen here?  Still, he felt the presence of sacred ground under his feet and he took a moment to survey the small enclosed area where the human history of the town lay buried and honoured.  Without thinking, he took his hat off and held it to his chest as he slowly started to walk in amongst the wooden crosses and small headstones of the dearly departed.

 He took a few moments to read some of the inscriptions and though most of them didn't mean anything to him, he did recognize some of the surnames that were present.  Names engraved in stone of relatives who had gone before, laying claim to a long lineage of families and homesteaders who had built up this town and the land surrounding it.  He continued to slowly walk on until he stopped in his tracks at the sight of two tiny little markers that were tucked in a corner and that did mean something to him.  The family name on both markers was the same; JEFFERIES and then the given names; Mary on one marker, and Joseph on the other.  Biblical names given to infants who never saw the light of day and were therefore never christened.  And then the inscription, the same on both; Never knowing life but forever in our hearts.  And then the year; 1887 on the one marker and 1888 on the other.

 Heyes almost felt sick with shame at the sight of those tiny little markers standing vigil over the tiny little graves.  He squatted down in front of them and ran his hand along the inscriptions.  He remembered his callous remarks when he'd heard that Sam and Maribelle had lost their baby.  He had been so angry back then, so ready to blame somebody—anybody else for his predicament, even an innocent still-born infant whose loss would have surely broken it's parents hearts.  And then to have it happen a second time...

 Heyes had already made his peace with Sam, but now he made his peace with Sam's children.  He apologized to them for being such a vindictive, self-righteous bastard and that he had really never meant any harm.  Perhaps...he asked them...if they happened to meet up with Jenny and Becky would they mind passing on his love to them?  Because, of course all children must be in the same wonderful place; there was no doubt in Heyes' mind that they were.

 Finally he stood up and carried on walking down between the individual markers and family plots that made up the extent of the town's cemetery.  Heyes was surprised at how many of the markers indicated young children and others, like the Jefferies; giving only the year and no date of birth or death and it broke Heyes' heart to know that those ones never took a breath of life.  When young Becky had died he had felt so violated, so angry that the fates had done that to him.  Oh, how selfish he had been.  How shallow!

 He was only one of many.  And this was a small town cemetery.  What of New York or Philadelphia?  How many children and infants would those cemeteries show?  Heyes was hardly the only person on the planet to lose a child—good heavens!  Abi had lost two!  And even that was not a rarity.

 Heyes' heart ached; he missed them both so much.  But at least he knew that Anya was alive and well and though Abi's letter had been awfully final, perhaps one day, it was still possible that they would come to know one another as father and daughter.  Maybe, one day.  But at least he knew she was alive and for now, that would have to be enough.

 He carried on walking, not intending to look at any more headstones until one that seemed to contain more information on it than the others couldn't help but catch his attention.  He stopped in front of it and felt a deep sadness and regret once again.  Not because he had known this family personally, but because he remember how this loss had so dramatically affected David, how hard it had been on him.  And it also brought back the pain that Heyes himself had been experiencing with the loss of his 'first patient' there at the prison infirmary.

 The family name was engraved across the top of the headstone in capital letters; ROBERTSON.  Then beneath that was the name; Wendy Elizabeth.  February 9th 1855 – October 15th 1886 and then below that another name; Caleb Floyd.  October 15th 1886.  Then the inscription; Beloved wife and mother. Cherished son.  Rest with the angles.


 Heyes stood quietly in front of this marker for some time, the inscribed words on stone again bringing home to him the fragility of life and how selfish he had been.  Selfish to not only believe that he was the only one to suffer losses of this kind, but also in thinking that he had the right to callously take his own life.  He went back in his mind to that time and felt ashamed of himself for the fear and pain he had caused his friends, that he had caused Jed.  Jed of all people!  No wonder his cousin had been so angry with him later on; he'd had every right to be.

 But at the time it had seemed that he was doing Jed a favour; getting out of his way so that he could get married and move on.  And also, in a twisted kind of way it had seemed to Heyes that ending his life was the only way he had available to him to keep on living.  The only way he had to escape the reality of the prison and pass over into a beautiful place full of peace and contentment and where he could be with his friend.

 Now he just shook his head and realized how far gone his mind had been.  It's not that he no longer believed that there was something else awaiting him, only that his attempt to get there in that fashion would not have given it to him.  That wasn't the way.

 Heyes sighed and moved on again, this time adamant that he refrain from looking to read any more inscriptions but search instead for the one that he had intentionally come to visit.  It didn't take him long; Joe had said that it was in the back row, down in the left hand corner and so Heyes gradually had made his way down in that direction.  Then he saw it; a simple but pleasing headstone with a basic inscription, like the man himself.  WALTER 'DOC' MORIN  April 4th 1821-June 14th, 1888.  Best damned doctor that never went to school.


 Heyes smiled.  Yeah; that's Doc alright.  Heyes ran a caressing hand along the headstone and  looking around he settled himself down on the grass facing the marker and put the bottle and glasses down on the ground in front of him.

 “Howdy Doc,”  he greeted his friend and then he swallowed suddenly, as his throat tightened up on him and he thought for one terrifying moment that he was going to start crying.  But he knew Doc wouldn't appreciate that, would probably start swearing at him and call him a bloody fool and get a fxxxing grip why don't ya'!?  Yeah.  Heyes forced a smile, listening to the Doc's words echoing through his mind.  Yeah, get a grip.

 “Well, here I am, Doc,”  Heyes continued when he could.  “I finally made it.  You haven't been around to visit for a while so I figure you're content with the way things turned out.”  Heyes stopped here and took a deep breath, almost losing control again.  He tightened his lips and looked away for a moment, gazing over at his mare but not really seeing her.  “I sure do miss ya', Doc.”  He gave a little cough and then turned his attention back to the headstone.  “Anyway, I know you're not really here anymore but you said you'd come back to say 'goodbye' as long as I brought along a bottle of whiskey for us to share, so, I did.  I know it's not top shelf, but I didn't think you'd mind too much.  It's still pretty good.”

 He opened the bottle and poured out an equal amount into each glass and picking them both up he raised one in a toast and then tapped it against the other one.

 “Here's to ya', Doc,”  he said, and then poured the one glass over the grave and downed the other in one quick gulp.  He smacked his lips and then shrugged.  “Yeah, not bad.  Another?  Sure, why not.”

 And so it began, and continued well into the afternoon.

 “That was quite a tangled web we had to unravel wasn't it,”  Heyes commented between toasts.  “I'm glad we found out for sure who killed you—and yes, I know you knew all along!   But nobody was believing me, Doc.  We had to have more to go on than just your say so.  I know you would know better than anyone else, but nobody was going to take the word of a ghost—you're not even suppose to exist.  We had to get some real evidence and thankfully good ole' Carson  'that fxxxing prxxk'  Yes yes, I know!  But thankfully he was just arrogant enough to admit to it!  Then everyone else was willing to take my word on that." 

 “Because I'm still alive, Doc, that's why! Like I told ya'; nobody was willing to take the word of a ghost.  Here, have another shot of whiskey; you need to calm yourself.  I thought you had gotten passed all this stuff.  Didn't you say you were ready to move on now?  Can't move on if you're still holding onto anger like that.  No I'm not trying to tell you what you can and cannot do!  I know it's your death and you can do whatever you like with it!  Geesh!  Still a crotchety old man, aren't ya'?  Here, have another drink."

 “That's not bad stuff is it?  Goes down real smooth.”  Heyes poured them both another and then sat silently for a moment, his mind going back a short distance in time and his eyes turning to sadness.  “Did you see her Doc?  No, what am I saying?  Of course you did.  Beautiful, isn't she? So much energy!  I wonder how my parents handled the lot of us—ha.  How Abi handles just one of her!  She's doing a good job though, isn't she.  Abi's a wonderful mother.  Don't know what kind of father I would be; nobody's giving me the chance."

 “No, I'm not feeling sorry for myself, just stating a fact!  I'm forty years old and have nothing to show for it.  It's time I got on with the important things in life.  What was that?  Life begins at fifty?  I sure hope I don't have to wait until I'm fifty before things start to turn around for me!  Yes, I know Doc; age is just a number.  Easy for you to say, what do you have to worry about?  My baby cousin has scooted passed me.  Those five years of being locked up really put a dent in my plans.  What do ya' mean; What Plans!?  I donno!  Just—plans!  You know.”

 Silence again for a moment while they shared another drink.  “Do babies grow up where you are, or do they stay as they were when they died?  I wonder what Rebecca would have looked like now.”  He smiled with reminiscence.  “Probably much like her sister.  That would make sense, wouldn't it?  Still it would be nice to know.”

 He sighed again and stared at nothing.  “So...it's over.  She and Anya are well and truly gone this time  It's over.  I can't blame her; things got pretty hairy there at the end.  Dangerous, yeah.  I don't blame her for wanting to keep Anya away from all that.  I mean, we did agree, didn't we?  It's not like she just pushed me away again, grabbed Anya and disappeared.  We agreed this time that it would be for the best.  And, as usual she did turn out to be right; it really would not have been safe to bring Anya back here.


 “Even now with that Baines woman dead and her sister disappeared to parts unknown it's too late.  We've both moved on and I suppose as others have pointed out; perhaps we've outgrown each other.  Moved down different paths, need different things from a partner now.”  His look became haunted as other memories invaded his thoughts.  “I wonder if I'll ever see Anya again.”

 He sighed sadly, the haunted look remaining for an instant longer.  He straightened up and smiled brightly, a mischievous sparkle lighting his dark eyes.  “Miranda is a real spark though isn't she!  I...I think...you know; I think we can make a go of it.  I felt kind of guilty at first.  You know—how could I be in love with Randa when I was still missing Abi so much?  Or maybe Hester is right; maybe men do get over a broken heart faster than a woman does.  I donno.  I'm never going to forget Abi, that's for sure.  But still, I really do want to settle down now and make something real, something I can be proud of.  I have the beginnings of that with Randa.”  He smiled whimsically.  “She bright and witty, and she keeps me on my toes—really catches me flat-footed sometimes.  But I don't feel like we're always having to compete, you know?  I feel relaxed with her.”

 He paused for a moment, a slightly worried expression creasing his brow.  “I hope that doesn't mean I'm going to get bored with her...”  He smiled again as a  love-light glinted in his dark eyes.  “No.  No, I won't get bored with her.  Never..."

 “Yes, Doc, I know!  She's a very pretty, intelligent and wealthy woman and I'd be a damned fool if I didn't snatch her up right away before someone else moves in and takes her away from me.  Well, if somebody else can turn her head that easily then maybe I'd be better off if she did leave.  Oh will you stop calling me a damned fool!?  I'm not going to back out of anything.  Marriage is a big step you know.  Neither one of us wants to rush into this—geesh, don't ya' think I've had enough heartache in my life already?  Not to mention what Miranda has been through with losing her first husband and then—well, all this stuff...with Amy.” 

 Heyes sighed and his mind's eye turned back in time—to a time he didn't like to go but he was pulled there unbidden and he became reflective.

 “I remember, during my trial,” he began quietly.  “the prosecuting attorney, Mr. DeFord.  I remember feeling so angry at him, so resentful that he would insinuate that I was a sociopath. I just...I thought it was laughable.  I thought, 'who's he trying to fool here?'.  People would know, people would be able to tell if there was something wrong with me like that.
 “But now, I just don't know anymore.  I thought I knew Amy.  Hell—I thought I could read people, that I could know what they were just by talking to them, by spending time with them.  But Amy.  I never saw that coming Doc.  I thought she was a friend—we all did.  Poor Beth.  I don't know if finding out that the loss of their first child was a deliberate act of treachery helped them or not.  On one hand they feel a lot more confident about succeeding next time, but on the other....it was so hurtful to know that it was planned.  And by someone we had all come to trust—to think of as one of our own.
 “I suppose what I'm trying to say is; Amy kind of knocked the stuffing out of me.  I mean, if I could be so easily fooled into thinking that someone that twisted was actually a good and kind person, then how could I be sure that Miranda is who I think she is?  I was so afraid of getting hurt yet again that I almost walked away from a wonderful woman.  I love Miranda.”  Then fear clouded his eyes again and he bit absently on his lower lip.  “But what if I'm wrong?"

 “What do you mean I'm over-reacting?  Yes, I know Miranda has always been honest with me—even when I thought she wasn't. I felt bad about that.  Here I was quite willing to accept Amy's word that Randa had been 'checking up' on me and it never even occurred to me to ask her about that; I simply assumed that Amy was telling the truth."

  “Okay, I suppose that does show that Randa has always been true.  I do love her, Doc, I just want to be sure that's all.  Of course I did ask her to marry me and I meant it!  I still mean it, yeah.  I love her very much.  I think I'm just running scared, that's all.  Stepping off into rechartered territory!”

 Heavy sigh. Covering his mouth as a whiskey sodden burp made itself to the surface. “Oops, pardon....nothin in life is sure, yeah I know...so what if I'm contradicting myself!  I know I said I wanted to get on with my life—yes, I know.  I love Randa, I really do and I think she loves me too—well, I mean; she says she does, so....and she said 'yes!' didn't she?  I suppose I'm just feeling a little un-nerved by all that's gone on here..What do you think?"

 “Well there's no need to get angry.  I know you've already told me what you think.  I'm just, well I'm just asking you again, that's all.  I wouldn't feel right talking to anybody else about it.  It's just, you know; before the wedding jitters I suppose.  But I don't mind talking to you about it because I feel very confident that you won't tell anybody else."

  "Yeah that's suppose to be a joke!  Geez, Doc, what happened to you sense of humour?  Oh right—you never did have a sense of humour so why start now?"

 “Yes I know.  Yeah, it is time I settled down.  If I want to start a family then I better get on with it.  Yes I know. No, I doubt I'll ever find another place like this—you're right about that.  There's good people here...”  Big cheeky grin.  “...I even like the sheriff!  See, Doc?  That's why I talk to you about this stuff; you always have a way of putting it into perspective.  I sure miss ya', Doc.  Damn that Carson!  I could just kill him for taking you away from us...oh yeah right; I did kill him.  Yeah, well...”

 Heyes became quiet for a moment, his mood becoming sad.  Then he forced a smile and picked himself up again.

 “Did you see Jed and Beth's wedding?  Of course you did,” Heyes' face broke out into another huge grin.  “Beth was radian.!  Gotta say that Kid was too, but I'd never say it to his face though—he'd probably end up shooting me.  But still; it was great to see them both so happy.  It was a long time coming and now I guess I am glad that they waited for me.  It was real nice to be there and to stand beside him as he got married.  It was real nice.  Hopefully he'll do the same for me and Randa.  Well of course he will—why wouldn't he?  I think he's about as excited as anyone that I've finally asked Randa to marry me.
 “I'm glad I was able to give him something to be happy about and to look forward to again.  It sure is a shame, what happened.  They were both so excited...yeah I know, they'll probably have others.  Oh!  No probably about it huh?  You already know this for sure do you?  Oh.  You do.  Well, okay I can pass that along to them....not sure if they'll believe me or not.  Even Kid used to look at me kinda funny when I'd tell him that I'd been talking to you.  Like he thinks my brain got addled in prison or something and I haven't quite recovered yet.  Still, he'll be pleased to know—he sure does want to have young'uns."

 “Oh!  You want to make a toast?  Yeah, alright.”  Heyes poured out two more glass fulls for them to share.  “Now you want to make two toasts?  Well, we have enough whiskey Doc, so go ahead.  To Jed and Beth, okay... If they'd just relax and start going at it like rabbits again, like they did on their honeymoon, Beth will be in the family way before they know it!?  Well what kind of a toast is that!?  What do ya' mean; what's wrong with it?  Well, I donno...it's kinda rude.  You know.  Not very respectful.  Yeah, yeah alright.  I know that's just the way you are—boy do I know that's the way you are.  No!  Nothing, I didn't mean anything by that.  Here!”  Heyes quickly tapped the two glasses together in the toast in order to calm his friend down.  “Here's to Jed and Beth and their speedy...ah....well...to Jed and Beth!” 

 He poured the Doc's drink over the grave and quickly downed his own.  The glasses were instantly filled again and then Heyes waited expectantly.  “Okay Doc, what was your second toast? Oh,”  Heyes became solemn.  “Well that's real nice of ya', Doc.  Thank you.  Yes, I think Miranda and I will be really happy together too.  But that means a lot coming from you, because I know you don't mince words and you say what you mean.  Thank you.”  He tapped the glasses again and the liquid was disposed of in the usual manner.

 Heyes sat quietly again for a moment, contemplating life—and death.  “Ya' know Doc, the best thing about spending some time with you on the 'other side' is that I really don't fear death now.  I mean, don't get me wrong; I'm not going to be chasing after it anymore—no.  No.  I'm not in a hurry anymore.  I figure I've got a lot of life left to live and I'm not in any hurry to cut it short. But I'm not afraid of it, not like I used to be.  I know now that nothing bad is going to happen, and that's a comfort, ya' know?”

 He continued to contemplate, his brow creased in concentration as he remembered a passed moment in time.

 “There was a book of poetry that I found in the prison library,”  he commented softly.  “It was one of those books that had different poems in it, you know; written by different authors.  There was this one called 'Life' and damned if I can remember the name of the fella who wrote it but one of the lines in it really stayed with me.  He said  'Death is not the end of all.  Yet just the close of a glorious fall'.*  I didn't really understand what he was getting at then but I think I do now.
 “I think he was just saying that death isn't something we need to fear; that it's just the next step in an on-going process.
 “Funny thing about that though, is that knowing that there is no punishment awaiting me on the 'other side' doesn't make me feel as though I have license now to just do whatever I feel like.  It's kind of the opposite.  I feel like it's more my responsibility now to live a good life, an honourable life.  Like the choice is being placed into my own hands as to what kind of life I'm going to lead; what kind of a legacy I'm going to leave behind.  And I want it to be a good one, Doc, like you.
 “I still don't really understand where you are, or even what you are.  Was my time with you simply a product of my delusional mind, or was it a true glimpse into the afterlife?  Were you  really fighting to get a message through to me or was all that just my brain trying to deal with all those horrors I'd been through?
 “Those nightmares were terrifying, Doc!  If you were deliberately sending those to me I oughta smash this bottle over your headstone.  Ahh, but then that would be a waste of some pretty good whiskey.  Now, you don't need to be getting all riled up on me—and I'm not being an ass!  Well, okay maybe I am a little bit, but c'mon, Doc!  Those nightmares were awful.  It's a terrible thing when a grown man is afraid to go to sleep."

 “I would have listened to you otherwise. Sure I would have.  STOP SWEARING AT ME!  Oh, now look.  You made me scare my horse.  It's alright Karma—I wasn't yelling at you!  Now look what you've done—my own horse thinks I'm crazy; sitting here and yelling at nobody.”  Heyes gave a frustrated sigh.  “No, I'm not saying that you're nobody, Doc.  It's just that nobody can see you.  Hell, I can't even see you.  So who the hell am I talking to anyways?
 “NO!  Doc, don't leave.  Not yet.  I didn't mean nothing.  C'mon, we still have half a bottle here to finish up.  C'mon, have another drink with me.  What were we talking about?  Oh yeah—the afterlife; legitimate or farce?  I still don't know for sure.  But then, there is Carson.  He admitted to killing you exactly the way you told me he did and there's no way I could have known that myself.  So....Am I ever gonna see ya' again Doc?  You know; over there?  Are you going to wait for me?"

 “Of course I want to see ya' again!  That's why I'm asking!  Yeah, I remember you saying that; that I could see whoever I wanted to see once I get there.  But you also said that you folks don't hang around forever—that you move on.  I mean, I intend to live for quite a while yet; I've got my whole life ahead of me.  So everybody might be gone by the time.....Oh there you go swearing at me again.  I'm not stupid!  What kinda talk is that?  Geesh!"

 “Well it's kinda hard to not think in a straight line, Doc.  Life as we know it goes in a straight line.  I don't understand what you mean by time folding over on itself.  What the hell is that suppose to mean?  I swear Doc—you call me stupid one more time and I'm gonna get up and leave and take the rest of the whiskey with me.  Well now calling me obtuse is just the same thing as calling me stupid."

 “Yeah, well...you want another drink or don't ya'?  Yeah, okay.  Here.  So basically you're saying that no matter how long I live for, the folks who have gone on ahead of me will still be there to see me when I do come—as long as I want to see them.  Okay.  I can live with that.  NO!  I'm not trying to be smart—it's just an expression.  Geesh you're getting touchy in your old age.  Maybe you shoulda died younger Doc, so you wouldn't have been stuck with such a snarky temperament for all eternity."

 “What a surprise!  You've had a snarky temperament all your life!  So do you intend on having a snarky temperament for the rest of your...hmm...existence?  Or do you think you might lighten up a little bit?  What do ya' mean; what for?  If we all have to spend eternity with you don't you think it would be more pleasant if you would just try not to be such a grouchy old man?  In your next life—oh well, okay.
 “Gee, I guess it's starting to get kinda dark here; I should probably be heading home while we can still see the road.  Hmm, one more drink each and that should about finish this bottle off.  Here ya' go Doc; here's to ya'.  You were a good friend during a terrible time in my life and I'm never gonna forget ya'.  Don't know if I'll name my first born son after ya' though—hmm, Walter Heyes.  Well, that's not too bad I suppose, or how about Doc Heyes!!  Yeah!  I like that!  Oh now you're swearing at me again—maybe I'll just call him Morin Heyes—oh no!  That's too close to moron.  Poor kid would get teased endlessly.
 “Anyway, at least I'm doing things in the right order this time eh, Doc?  Get married first and then start having children.  I think Miranda would make a great mother, don't you?  I know she's kinda dubious about it, but once the young'uns started coming along I think she'd do just fine.  Yeah I think she would. And little Sally certainly made a point of getting to know Miranda so I doubt there would be any problem with adopting her once...you know, we're married.  I would have brought Sally home ages ago if circumstances had been different.  So, maybe if Randa is agreeable....OH.  I shouldn't bother saying 'if'?  You're that certain are you?  Oh well, okay Doc.
 “Well, I guess I should get going.  It's been real nice sitting here and sharing a bottle with you.  Maybe we can do it again sometime.  Would that be okay?  Can I come back and see you again?  Doc—are you still here?”  Silence.  Deep sigh.  “That's typical—as soon as the whiskey's gone you disappear. OH!  Well I thought you were gone!  You were, but you couldn't leave a comment like that go unchallenged.  Right."

 “Oh—you're gonna miss me too?  That's nice, Doc.  Yeah, I will take care of myself now.  You don't need to worry about me, I'm not gonna do anything stupid.  So you're going?  Will you be back Doc?  Will I ever see ya' again in this life?  Time for me to move on—yeah, I suppose.  Thanks Doc—thanks for everything...”

 Heyes sat in the grass as the gloaming gathered around him and he knew he was alone.  He took one last look at the headstone, reading the inscription again and thought back upon the life of a man who was not afraid to buck convention.  Not afraid to bitch and grouse and swear his way through his world and yet still manage to leave behind in his wake so many good deeds and loving friends.

 Heyes knew that if he could give back to this world half of what the Doc had given, he'd be a better man.  Doc had raised the pole high but Heyes was always up for a challenge.  He looked around him through the gathering dusk, feeling the breeze ruffle his hair and watching it play with the mane flipping on Karma's neck.  Yes, life was a challenge—but it was a noble one and he was ready for it.

 Hannibal Heyes stood up and turned his eyes to the heavens and he smiled.  He might be an ex-outlaw, and an ex-convict but he had been through hell and high water and he had come out the other end of it, wet and chilled to the bone, but still fighting!  He had his friends and his family all around him and love and compassion had replaced anger and resentment in his heart.

 He was new and he was special and he was ready to start again so fall in line or get out of the way, because this time around, it was going to be glorious!
 
 
THE END
 
 

  • 'Life' by Peter Ellstrom Deuel. 



When I see those pine trees oh so high
Stretching up to reach the sky
I no longer wonder at that mystery:
God's creation of you and me.
Life and death, so often feared
Is by nature so beautifully cleared.
When one observes the leaves in fall
Where is no solemn deathly pall
But a brightness and color that means but one thing
That life is restored the following spring.
Death is not the end of all
Yet just the close of a glorious fall
To be followed as soon as one's faith has been sought
By the eternal spring for which us God has wrought.



                                                            1956
Back to top Go down
Stepha3nie

avatar

Posts : 4973
Join date : 2014-07-12
Age : 48
Location : Scotland

PostSubject: Re: Home To Roost Conclusion   Tue Aug 05, 2014 5:01 pm

I had such a good comment. Spent ages on it. Then I sent it - and was not logged in. So it's gone now. Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggghhh!

_________________
"I can resist everything - except temptation"  Oscar Wilde
For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
Back to top Go down
Stepha3nie

avatar

Posts : 4973
Join date : 2014-07-12
Age : 48
Location : Scotland

PostSubject: Re: Home To Roost Conclusion   Tue Aug 05, 2014 6:07 pm

A fantastic ending for a great story. You tied up all the loose threads (as far as I can remember), but left a few situations unsolved. I guess for the next story. What a clever way to ensure your readers will stay glued to their screens (well, this reader will). ;-)
Again the chapter had much to offer: excitement and drama, some comedy, mysteries solved, more grief and heartbreak, some healing (body and soul), big step(s) forward for Heyes, conclusion.
Heyes demonstrates he has learned from his mistakes and works with law enforcement, and he does some nice detecting. He also has some more growing to do in order to support Kid and Beth in a slight reversal of roles. The scene after Heyes has to tell his cousin that Amy caused the miscarriage is very powerful. A furious Kid is frightening, but Heyes stays, helps him drain the anger and then supports him in his grief. This is the loving, caring Heyes we saw so often in ASJ.
In your stories Heyes often feels left behind, because Kid has moved on. Due to tragic events it's now Kid's and Beth's turn to follow Heyes' guidance. It looked to me like some form of equality has been re-established. Even though they had silent communication in the story before, the one taking place after Randa's and Heyes' betrothal, seems different. I take it to mean that they're on an equal footing again.
Thank you for bringing Hester back. She is such an interesting character and we got a few more glimpses of the woman she was based on. For that I can easily suppress my nasty side which whispers "deus ex machina". With her unique skill set she was ideally suited to implement the necessary steps to safe Randa and identify the poisons. She was also the ideal person to advise and help Beth - an authority figure, whom she respects and a friend who is not too close.
I can't help feeling a little bit smug - I deduced correctly who the murderer was, even guessed her true identity and my musings about the Bamforths (poor Valentine!) were not far off. Thanks for putting enough clues in the story to allow your reader this little triumph.
What is it about letters from Abi? They are always so hauntingly beautiful that I cry every time I read one - and I just can't stop myself from reading them again and again. This one hit me more than any before. Abi says a final goodbye after killing Joan (there is no doubt in my mind, that she killed her). This means the driving force of the vendetta, the source for the danger is gone now. If only they had decided to give it one more year they might now have had a real chance to live as a family. But because they decided differently when they parted, it is now too late. I find it tragic, even as I am happy for Miranda and Heyes.
I loved how the last scene tied back to the beginning of the story. In a way coming full circle, but also a demonstration of all the changes (in Heyes).
In the beginning, Doc had to seek Heyes, the dreams were nightmares, now Heyes is ready to seek out Doc in real life. In the beginning Doc was very much there, now he doesn't even have dialogue (though we can guess his words from Heyes reactions). I think it's a clever way to show how both have moved on, Doc in the afterlife, Heyes in real life. Doc's purpose is fulfilled, Heyes is healed and does not need Doc's advice, cajoling, prodding or even forcing to do things any more. I loved your last line, a truly glorious ending.
And I got a kick out of your little time traveling. What an idea, to have Hannibal Heyes reciting parts of a Peter Deuel poem to a ghost... One of my favourite poems of Pete, by the way.
Thinking of poems - I wonder what your Heyes would have made of Oscar Wilde's "The Ballad of Reading Goal". Of course he will have to wait another 6 years in your timeline until it is published.

_________________
"I can resist everything - except temptation"  Oscar Wilde
For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
Back to top Go down
Keays

avatar

Posts : 1427
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Re: Home To Roost Conclusion   Tue Aug 05, 2014 7:14 pm

I'm so glad you enjoyed 'Ghosts'. It was a real pleasure to write and though it was a little awkward at first Sarah and I soon found our rhythm and hopefully made our two writing styles come together fairly seamlessly.

Yes, you guessed early on who the culprit was and even had a good idea about the Bamforth's. Very good detecting on your part! We had many of our readers (including me!) going in circles by this time. It was quite a tangled web.

Heyes and Jed are both growing and moving on in their lives and yet, as I mentioned before, not moving away from each other. If anything now their bond is even stronger, both having gone through difficult times and devastating heart-break.

That's my favorite poem of Peter's as well. The fact that he was only sixteen when he wrote it is both amazing and disturbing. For someone at that age to even be thinking about the concept of life and death suggests an amazingly perceptive and creative mind. On the other hand, for him to be thinking about this and writing about it also gives us a sad indication of where his thoughts were already going.

Oh well. Being such an astute reader, you have probably already realized that much of my characterization of Heyes includes examining some of Peter's issues within the framework of the fictional ex-outlaw whom we all love so much. Hopefully I have been successful at this without being overly obvious.

More to come in 'The Lineage' along those lines. I hope you enjoy this story I wrote along with InsideOutlaw. Actually, her main character, Allie, also has her own story line. Once you're caught up with Helen West's writing and if you want to read Allie's stories first to give you some background on 'The Lineage', I'm sure InOut will be happy to point you in the right direction. It's a good thing you like reading.
Back to top Go down
Silverkelpie

avatar

Posts : 1346
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 56
Location : Over the rainbow

PostSubject: Re: Home To Roost Conclusion   Tue Aug 05, 2014 7:16 pm

Stepha3nie - Thanks so much for taking the time to make all you thoughtful and insightful observations on our story. It is very much appreciated and helps me to see where I need to be a bit sneakier in my plotting.  Suspect You did extremely well is spotting who was who throughout. Did you spot the how? Thanks for the comment about Abi's letters too, as you probably guessed they were written by me.

No, Hester wasn't a deus ex machine. She is a long established character from the Abi series and reflects the different areas of expertise the real people employed by the Pinkerton agency had and the way they worked.

Now, can I suggest that you have another glimpse into the future with, "The Hat Trick" http://aliassmithandjones.canadian-forum.com/t16-the-hat-trick

It's not very long but many people think it rounds some things up nicely

_________________
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb
Back to top Go down
Stepha3nie

avatar

Posts : 4973
Join date : 2014-07-12
Age : 48
Location : Scotland

PostSubject: Re: Home To Roost Conclusion   Wed Aug 06, 2014 7:41 pm

Keays: I think you made a really good job of making your writing styles come together.
I don't think writing about the concept of life and death is an early indicator for thinking of suicide. I don't know what inspired him to write this poem - could it have been a topic at school? A book? Death of a relative or relative of a friend? Teenagers can feel things very deeply. I remember being a regular member of a meditation circle with friends at my school and we came up with some really deep stuff.

I don't think you were overly obvious in meshing Pete's issues and Heyes. I generally found your development of Heyes character believable and understandable in the context of your story. I mentioned in my comments when I struggled a little bit - and it was usually explained/solved a bit later on.
Especially your treatment of depression was very good. You showed different things it can do to a person and also how it can affect their friends/family.

Thank you for the tip with the Allie stories. Have to admit I already sneaked a look at the first chapter of The Lineage (meaning I could not stop reading until the end of chapter 1).


Silverkelpie: It was clear from the beginning that there was something "off" about the mother. She was obviously someone in disguise. From there it was relatively easy to link her to Elise. Valentine and his mother looked suspicious, Amy looked nice. So it just had to be the other way around. (As a teenager I read a lot of Edgar Wallace - the scruffy mystery characters are always the good guys in disguise, especially when they have grey eyes). From there I looked a little closer to what Amy was saying and there were some nasty and suspicious things hidden in all the sweetness. The severity of her injuries threw me off a little, but I thought that maybe the Bamforths had been hired to stop her.

I was also pretty sure that if Amy is the bad guy, she would use poisoned tea. Tea was mentioned by her/around her just too often. But I never figured out how exactly she managed it. The ginger cookies had me fooled for a little bit. Again I was thinking they might have been used to stop Amy. But once the mass poisoning started, it was clear to me it had to be Amy so the cookies were in the clear.
The trick with the hidden compartment was really good. I would never have guessed. Have you actually seen something like this?

And I know that Hester is an established character, I kept telling that to my nasty side. It then insisted that she swept in at the end and solved the case, stealing the laurels from our heroes. At which point my reasonable self countered that it made sense to call her in because of her double expertise (detective and doctor with experience in poisonings). David still is a superb doctor and calling in a specialist doesn't take away from his character, it adds that he is wise enough to realise when to ask an expert in a certain field. Also, Heyes figures out not only who, but how by himself, so no laurels taken away in any way.
And as I already mentioned, she was ideal as someone from whom Beth would actually take advice in her grief.

Thank you for the link to "The Hat Trick". I enjoyed it very much!

_________________
"I can resist everything - except temptation"  Oscar Wilde
For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
Back to top Go down
Silverkelpie

avatar

Posts : 1346
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 56
Location : Over the rainbow

PostSubject: Re: Home To Roost Conclusion   Wed Aug 06, 2014 7:59 pm

Great insights, Stepha3nie. All taken fully on board and wonderfully helpful. In answer to your question; yes, I have seen something like the tea caddy. I'm ex-law enforcement and you'd be amazed at the ingenious hiding places, but I actually found this in researching hidden compartments, of which the Victorians had a great fondness.

I do hope you'll have a go at writing mysteries. I think you'd be fantastic at it!

_________________
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb
Back to top Go down
Stepha3nie

avatar

Posts : 4973
Join date : 2014-07-12
Age : 48
Location : Scotland

PostSubject: Re: Home To Roost Conclusion   Wed Aug 06, 2014 8:31 pm

LOL, the last time I was asked to write a mystery was at school. I think it was the worst story of the entire class (of about 30). I just could not come up with a plot that made any kind of sense. I think it was my worst assignment ever! I really did not well in languages (including German) at school. And I hated writing free essays (book or poetry analysis was ok). In art classes it was the same: I did my best work when I could copy something or had a strict framework to work with. Ask me to use my own imagination and I was lost. But at least I loved arts.

_________________
"I can resist everything - except temptation"  Oscar Wilde
For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
Back to top Go down
Keays

avatar

Posts : 1427
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Re: Home To Roost Conclusion   Thu Aug 07, 2014 12:19 am

Hi Stephan3ie; I suppose I find Peter's poem a little chilling because he first contemplated suicide at 16 and he was 16 when he wrote this poem. Seems obvious to me that the two are connected.
Back to top Go down
Sponsored content




PostSubject: Re: Home To Roost Conclusion   

Back to top Go down
 
Home To Roost Conclusion
View previous topic View next topic Back to top 
Page 1 of 1
 Similar topics
-
» "GOING HOME"
» Hockey puck home plate delete
» There's No Place Like Home
» Saying Hi...and dont try this at home!!!
» Home made power supply

Permissions in this forum:You cannot reply to topics in this forum
Alias Smith and Jones Fun and Fanfiction  :: Writer's Area - Please email Admin to get your own thread for your stories. Use a new thread for each story. Please comment after the story. :: Stories by Keays :: Stories by Keays and Sarah Whyment-
Jump to: