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 Common Interests Chapter nine

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Keays

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Posts : 1431
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Common Interests Chapter nine   Sun Feb 02, 2014 7:56 pm

Common Interests


Allie rolled over onto her back.  She could tell by the light in the room that she had slept far later than was normal for her.  Where were the children?  Usually mornings were frantic, joyful affairs with wriggling children, yapping puppies, hissing kittens in a tangle of bedclothes.   Scott must’ve kept the children quiet to let her sleep.  They had stayed up very late last night talking.  Not fighting.  No, that wasn’t Scott’s way.  He seldom lost his temper although she’d known he was furious last night by his tight-lipped refusal to be drawn out until they’d reached the safety of the townhouse.
 
How had she lost her own temper so easily with Heyes?  Sitting up, she pulled the covers up against the chill of the morning and saw the cooling cup of tea on the bed table next to her.  It stabbed her like a spear through the heart.  She’d been awful yesterday and, yet somehow, Scott still loved her.
 
He always brought her tea in the morning.  It was one of his rituals.  She actually preferred coffee, but it was so dear of him. She had hesitated to set him straight early in their relationship and she had swiftly learned to look forward to that fragrant brew, and everything its presence meant, when she opened her eyes.  Tea told her that all was right with her world.  Sighing, she lifted the cup and saucer from the table and sipped.
 
If she were honest with herself, she had enjoyed the clash of wills with Heyes.  He brought out some of her worst attributes, but he never failed to make her feel intensely alive.  What a shock it had been to see him and it had obviously been a shock to him as well.  She’d given up all thoughts of ever seeing him again after the trial.  She was sure he would never forgive her desertion.  She hadn’t been able to forgive herself for leaving a friend suffering like that, but Scott had given her a choice and she’d made it.  Despite her fury with being forced into choosing, she’d known he really and truly was terrified that she’d pick Heyes. 
 
Scott had never really understood that he was the cornerstone of her life no matter how many times she tried to tell him.  He was the rock, the foundation, on which everything she loved was built.  When she started the Second Chance, she was still a flighty girl, heartbroken by loss.  She’d thrown herself into her work and had made her project the center of her universe, but the hollowness at her core was never filled by hard work or financial success.  She’d thought it was because she was still pining for Heyes and that had only made her work harder.  It wasn’t until she’d driven herself to a lengthy illness and had had to call on her gallant neighbor for help that she started to understand that she had been looking for something, someone far different from Heyes, her entire life. 
 
Scott had been wonderful.  He’d been pleased to help, but he never tried to take over as so many men would; as one man in particular would.  No, he’d stepped in and offered his quiet strength to her.  He spent long hours overseeing the work on the ranch and late evenings pouring over the accounts to make sure that every penny was accounted for.  Every night, he would come to her bedside and sit with her.  Showing her the books, discussing the work that had been done and the work that needed to be done.  Offering his humble suggestions for future projects and alternate solutions for the myriad problems that often arose from the running of such a large ranch.
 
She had quickly become dependent on his expertise and his gentle support.  It had taken her much longer to realize that this kind, soft-spoken man had captured her heart while she hadn’t been paying attention.  She couldn’t even really say exactly when she’d fallen for him, but she knew that when she offered him the partnership it was because she could no longer imagine a life that didn’t include him.
 
Her love for Heyes had been different.  She’d loved him, but she’d also loved the idea of him.  His was a wild, untamed personality always seizing life and thriving on its challenges.  He’d been like nobody she’d ever known, before or since, but once she’d fallen in love with Scott she’d finally understood.  She and Heyes would have driven each other crazy.  It was a competition between them.  It always had been.  First, they had competed for Jed and then they had competed for control of their feelings.  It had been wonderful and, for a girl who’d lived a cloistered life, incredibly exciting, but those sorts of mercurial emotions would have eventually led to less enjoyable and more frequent confrontations.  They’d been like the Bighorn rams that frequented Clear Creek Canyon west of Golden; always butting heads to prove one’s dominance over the other.
 
She had been desperately seeking love, looking for it everywhere.  Hell, she’d even thought she might find it with Bill Decker.  What a foolish slip of a child she’d been!  After Heyes had left her, she’d put that desire aside and began building her own life.  That’s when true love had found her.  It hadn’t come roaring in like a marauding mountain lion; it had crept in on quiet, soft kitten paws and seized her heart without her even knowing it. 
 
She was a different person now.  Well, almost different; Heyes had proven last night that there was plenty of the old Allie still rummaging around inside her.  Heyes was different, too.  Prison had definitely changed him, but Allie suspected Miranda had the most to do with the domestication of Hannibal Heyes. 
 
Miranda!  What must she think of her?  She couldn’t believe she’d spoken that way in front of her friend’s wife.  She’d assumed that Miranda had known all about her and Heyes.  When Randa stood up to leave the table, Allie had understood that she’d hurt her by her thoughtless words.  She had to apologize.  Throwing back the covers, she jumped out of bed and dressed quickly. 
 
Downstairs, she found Scott and the children playing with their new Tiddly-Winks game in the parlor.  Scott looked up at her in surprise as she burst into the room.  Libby was giggling and climbing on her father’s back as he lay on the oriental rug, but Carbon was intent on the competition.  Both children greeted her sweetly.
 
“Darling, what’s wrong?” Scott’s sandy hair was tousled and falling into his eyes.  She felt her heart lurch with her love of him.
 
“Scott, I must go apologize to Miranda.  I was horrid to her last night.  The poor woman must’ve gotten the entirely wrong impression!  I have to go set her straight,” babbled Allie.
 
“There’s no time.  Heyes sent a note around.  We’re leaving this afternoon, at two o’clock sharp.   Ruth has agreed to keep the children here while we’re gone.  She and Monty just left for the grocers to supply the house and get what we need for the trip.”  Scott stood and put his arms around her drawing her close.  He knew little ears were listening so he led her into the kitchen.
 
As the door shut behind them, Allie kissed him thoroughly.  This was what she loved about him most, his quiet command of any situation.  He was by no means a soft man, he was kind and thoughtful.  She’d hurt him last night, but somehow he’d been able to talk it through with her and not hold a grudge in the morning.   “Scott, please, I know this is a lot to ask, but can you pack my things?  You know what I’ll need.  Just put together what we normally take to hunting camp.  I have to apologize to Miranda.  I can’t let that lovely woman watch her husband ride off with me, thinking I have any intentions of stealing him.”
 
“Go ahead, sweetheart.  I knew you’d feel that way and I’m proud of you for thinking of her.  Just be sure you get back here in time to say good-bye to the kids.  I’ll get the rest ready for you.”
 
She kissed him again and bolted out the door.  Rather than taking time to hail a cab, Allie ran down the street, her skirts swirling about her.  Scott watched her through the front window and chuckled at the sight of her loping along the street like a wild horse.  God, he loved that woman!


“Miranda!  Miranda, please wait.”   Allie ran across the street at the sight of Heyes’ wife leaving the hotel.  She’d plan to catch her in a private place, but she couldn’t let her get away without giving her an apology.

 Miranda creased her brow and pulled up short as Allie stepped in front of her on the boardwalk, breathing hard, and placed a conciliatory hand on her arm.

 “Please wait,” Allie repeated.  “I was hoping I’d see you before we all parted company, but Heyes caught us by surprise with the early start.  I really want to apologize to you for my behavior last night.”

 Miranda softened her expression and smiled.  “No need to apologize,” she insisted.  “I was over-reacting.”

 “But still,” Allie continued, “if Heyes had never told you about me I can understand it coming as a shock.  Goodness knows how I would have handled it.”

 “Far better than I did, I'm sure.”

 Allie smiled.  “No, not with my temper; it would’ve been a disaster.  Please, join me for tea,” she offered.  “There’s a lovely little shop a few doors down and the men are all busy getting ready.  Scott is packing for me.”

Miranda was a little bit hesitant, not sure if she really wanted to get further involved with this woman.  After her difficult and rather extended dealings with Abigail she wasn't sure if she was up to being open and understanding with yet another of her husband's previous love interests.

Allie noticed her reluctance and pressed her point.  “I just want to explain and assure you that I have no designs on Heyes.  Goodness!  I'm happily married with two lovely children and I love my life.  Please, just join me for one, quick cup of tea.  I'm dying to hear how you and Heyes met, and Sally is such a darling....”

Before Miranda could protest further, the younger woman had encouraged her to step into a small tea house and had them seated at a lovely little table right by the front window.  Miranda actually smiled to herself over this very headstrong young lady.  No wonder she had taken both Jed and Hannibal by storm; neither of them would have stood a chance.

 “Good morning ladies,” said the waitress, “what may I get you?”

 Miranda sighed and gave up.  “I would like some tea.  Orange Pekoe if you have it.”

 “Yes.”

 “Perfect!” Allie agreed.  “I'll have that as well.”

“Very nice choice,” the waitress smiled, “our scones with jam are just fresh made and still warm.  Can I get you ladies two of those to have with your tea?”

“Yes, we’ll have two,” Allie commanded before Randa could decline.

Allie began speaking as the waitress moved away.  She wanted to start this conversation off on safe ground.  “Where is your lovely daughter this morning?”


“She is with her father and uncle right now.  Han is showing her how to pick a lock if I'm not mistaken.”

Allie's eyebrows went up and she burst out laughing.  “Really?  That scoundrel!  Both of them are complete reprobates!  They really bear watching when they get together.”

Randa gave a self-sacrificing sigh and nodded in agreement, but then she smiled and a sparkle sprang into her eyes. “They are entertaining!”

 
The waitress arrived back at their table with a tray laden with the tea and scones.  She set them all out with a friendly smile and then retreated again to give them their privacy.


Allie took a sip of her tea then set it down again.  “Careful.  It’s quite hot,” she stated as she licked her lips.  “Give it a moment to cool.  Anyway,” she began again, “I really feel badly about what happened last night.  I was very rude.  It wasn't until you got up to leave the table that I realized that I was very much a surprise to you.”

“Yes, you were, but it was silly of me to react so poorly,” Miranda insisted.  “I know Han has had other ladies in his life.  I don't know what came over me.  I'm not generally the jealous type at all.  Last night it just overwhelmed me and, you don't even know the half of it, we ended up having quite a row afterward.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Allie, genuinely distressed that she’d caused such a happy couple pain.


“I couldn't believe the things I was saying to him.  Even as the words came out of my mouth I was thinking what horrid things they were, but I just couldn't stop!  It was embarrassing.” Miranda shook her head at her behavior.  “I haven't met his other daughter yet, but I've seen pictures and heard enough about her to know that she's quite the firecracker.  Of course I'd met her mother, Abi, and she's no push over either so it stands to reason that their child would be....”  Miranda stopped talking as she noticed the wide-eyed stare that was coming at her from across the table.  “Oh dear, I've done it again.  I really must learn to keep my mouth shut...”

“You mean you're Heyes’ second wife?”  Allie asked rather incredulously.  “But he was in prison, when did he...?”

“Oh dear...”  Miranda said again and looked around for an escape route.  None was to be found.  “Look, just forget I said anything...”


Allie rocked with laughter in a very un-ladylike fashion.  “No, don’t apologize!  You’re making me feel so much better about my outburst last night.  We are more alike than either of us realized.”  Allie sobered,  “You've got my curiosity aroused now.  When could he possibly have had time to be married before?  It must’ve been brief.  Poor woman, she probably had no idea what she was getting into!”


“Anya was born while he was still with the Devil's Hole gang,”  Miranda explained quietly, “He and Abi didn't marry; she denied him all contact while he was in that life refusing to allow their daughter to be caught up in it.  They came close to marrying shortly after he was released from prison, but...oh dear, this is awkward.”


“So,” Allie sat back with a touch of fire in her eyes, “all this time I thought it was because he was an honorable man—that he had been respecting my 'virtue', yet apparently he'd already been taking other women to his bed and had even fathered a child! Apparently he didn't seem to think that I was important enough to him to even mention that minor occurrence!”


“No Allie, I'm sure there's more to it....”

“Oh this is ridiculous!”  Allie stated as she tore apart her scone.  “Why should I be angry over this?  Just because he can jump from one bed into another....”


She stopped short her ranting when she saw the twinkle in Miranda's eyes.  The two ladies sat and looked at each other for a few seconds and then both started to chuckle.  Before they knew it they were helplessly in the throes of an all-out laughing fit.  Other ladies in the tea house sent them rather indignant looks from over their own tea cups, but the two ladies in question didn't care and couldn't do anything about it anyways. 
 
They laughed until their sides hurt and their eyes watered, until finally, gasping for breath they were able to regain control and bring things back down to a dignified chuckle.  They squeezed each others hand across the table and sipped their tea until they could get their breath back. 


“You know what's really funny about all of this?” asked Allie after taking a deep breath and finally calming down.  “Heyes and I thought we loved each other, just as Jed and I had wondered if we loved each other, but none of us had any idea what love really meant.  We were all so young—me in years and them in, well, maturity. And especially if it is as you say; that Heyes was recovering from a painful break-up. Perhaps I reminded him of her to some degree.” She smiled sadly but then forced herself to cheer up and the smile became genuine. “They do say that women mature faster than men, don't they?”

 
“Yes, they do,” Miranda agreed, “Sometimes, I feel as though I’m raising two children.”

“I was so confused during that time,” Allie almost looked ashamed as her memories took her back to those events.  “I wanted so much to have someone who truly loved me...”
 
Miranda squeezed Allie's hand again, “I know.  Hannibal told me some of what you were going through back then.  It must have been very difficult for you.”


“Yes,” Allie nodded agreement.  “I was so young and so very stupid.  And both of them, oh, they were both so handsome and dashing...and dangerous!”  Both ladies started to chuckle again.  “Heyes took my breath away and then he was an outlaw to boot!  It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me—and I thought that was love.

“I suppose both of us were just in love with the idea of being in love.  It was painful when we broke up, very painful.  Oh, youthful angst! I was sure my heart was breaking and that I could never love another. But then I met Scott and he showed me that love isn’t painful nor did it need to be unsettling.  Thank goodness Heyes left me!  We’ve both found our true loves!  I'm glad he found you Miranda. The fact that he lets you call him 'Hannibal' speaks volumes!”

“That's the name he offered me when we first met,” Randa informed her with a quiet shrug.

“Really?” Allie laughed. “He must have known even then that you were someone special. He's so happy now.  I can see it—I can tell.”


Miranda smiled with quiet pleasure at the compliment and was profoundly surprised to realize she actually liked this impetuous woman.  “Thank you.”


“So!”  Allie perked up.  “Tell me—how did you meet?  Did he gallop into your life and sweep you off your feet with his charm and dashing good looks?”


“No!”  Miranda laughed and poured herself more tea.  “No.  It wasn't quite so romantic.  I was still recovering from the loss of my first husband and was visiting with my cousin and her family in Brookswood.  Jed had been living with the Jordans while trying to gain Hannibal's release from prison.  They finally got him paroled and, on their way back to the Jordan's ranch, they stopped at my cousin's home for the night.”  She sighed wistfully as her memory went back to that evening.  “My first introduction to Hannibal was anything but romantic—but it was sweet.  And I'm afraid he was neither handsome nor dashing at that time.  Prison had been very hard on him.  He was at least thirty pounds underweight and looking very gaunt and sallow.  He wasn't healthy, not by any means.  And he was bald!”

“BALD!” cried Allie loudly, drawing more stares to their table.  A couple of the more nervous ladies let out little squeaks of surprise at this sudden explosion.  Allie and Miranda smiled at each other and lowered their voices.


“Yes,” Miranda explained.  “Apparently in prison they keep the inmate's heads shaved.  I'd seen the photo's of him in the newspapers after his arrest, but they just didn't do justice. I had no idea what his hair would be like until it grew back. It really is quite beautiful.  Indeed, poor Hannibal reminded me of a starving scarecrow the first time I met him.  But there was something about his eyes, about his whole demeanour that touched me and I suppose now it's safe to say that I actually did fall in love with him on that very evening, on that very first meeting.”

Allie was smiling at her, a dreamy look passing over her countenance but then her eyes became sad and she looked down at her tea cup.  “I'll always regret not getting in touch with him during his trial and then later while he was in prison,” she admitted.  “But I'm afraid my husband was very angry that I hadn’t told him about—everything.  He’d known Heyes under another name, and I neglected to set him straight.  I didn’t want to stir up trouble, but as is usual with me, I stirred it up anyway.  He refused to allow me to see Heyes and that’s not at all like him.  I could have disobeyed him and gone to Cheyenne without his permission but I couldn’t hurt him like that.  I love him so much, but I was furious with him at the time.  It nearly ruined our marriage.”

Miranda reached out and squeezed her hand again.  Allie raised her saddened eyes and Randa smiled back at her.


“Don't regret your decision to stay away,”  she reasoned with her.  “You were right in putting your family first.”


“I should have at least written to him, let him know that I was thinking about him—that I hadn't forgotten about him...”


“No,” Miranda was adamant, “be thankful that you didn't get in touch with him during that time.”

“What do you mean?”  Allie asked almost feeling insulted.  “Why not?”


“Well, without going into too much detail; there were people who were trying to hurt both Han and Jed, and these people weren't above going after their friends and family in order to do it,”  Miranda explained.  “That's why Hannibal and Abi didn't marry.  Abi was too afraid for their daughter's life so she left, taking their daughter with her.  We don't really know for sure where they are.  It was all quite awful for them, Abi already knew what it meant to lose a child—she just wasn't willing to risk it again......”
 
“Oh dear,” Allie breathed, “that's awful.  I had no idea...”


“Yes,” Miranda agreed and a haunted look passed across her eyes.  “They even came after me when they realized that Han and I were more than just friends.  It was terrifying.”


“Oh dear....I can't even imagine. Funny that Heyes never mentioned her.  I guess that just goes to prove that we were virtual strangers to each other.”  It was Allie's turn to give Miranda's hand a gentle squeeze.  Admiration flooded her for this brave woman who’d stood by her man.  “All is well now, isn't it?  You all seem so happy.”


Miranda smiled.  “Yes,” she confirmed, “the people responsible were routed out and though one of them escaped, we doubt very much that she'll be back.”


“She?” Allie's brows went up in surprise.

“Yes,” Miranda confirmed, “a young and very pretty woman who showed up in our town and weaselled her way into our lives, into our hearts and trust.  She caused considerable damage before she was found out, but she managed to slip away....still; I doubt she will be back.  If you had contacted Han while he was in prison, then those people who meant him harm would have known about you and your children.  They would not have hesitated to....”


Allie shivered with fear at the very thought of anyone harming her children.  She checked the tea pot just to give her hands something to do to help ease the trembling.  “The tea has gotten cold.  Excuse me, miss!” she said, waving to the waitress, “Could we please have some more hot water?”

“Of course, ma'am,” was the reply from across the room.  “I'll be right there.”


Miranda smiled at her.  “So you see?  Your instincts were correct.  So have no regrets.  What a lovely surprise it was to realize that Han has had one of your stolen horses all this time!”


“Yes!”  Allie brightened up with the change of subject.  “The best one of that season too!  What a pretty filly she was—I can't wait to see her again.”
 
“Tell me about your ranch, it must be quite lovely.”
 
“It is, but it wasn’t always.  It belonged to a horrible man whom I nearly married,” said Allie, “I inherited it from him.”
 
“Was this Mr. Decker?  Hannibal told me about him.  How wonderful something good came out of such an unhappy time for you.”
 
“Yes, it is wonderful.  We run the ranch as a safe haven for girl’s who find themselves in trouble.  It’s a successful working ranch, but it’s also a school to teach these poor children skills they can use to change their lives.  We’ve all worked quite hard to make a go of it and are very proud of our graduates.”
 
“You have every reason to feel proud of your ranch and yourself,” said Miranda approvingly. 


The waitress came by with a new tea pot filled with fresh tea and hot water.


“Here you are, ladies,” she said as she replaced the cold pot.  “Would you care for another scone or two?”

“No, that's fine,” was the combined agreement.  “The tea is lovely,” added Allie.

“You know,” Miranda began after the waitress was gone, “Hannibal absolutely loves Karma.  It would be beyond cruel to take her from him now.”


Allie smiled.  “I know,” she admitted sheepishly, “that's why I threatened to do it.  I needed something to use as a leverage to allow me to come along; if my husband is going along on this party then so am I!  I learned a long time ago how dangerous it can be to ride with those two and Scott has no idea of what he might be facing.”  She chuckled, “Heyes and I are really far too much alike.  I’ll do damn near anything to get what I want and so will he.  I know he planned to leave this afternoon because he hoped I wouldn’t be ready in time.  I will be!”

Miranda laughed. “Yes, I can see why you two were drawn to one another—you're so much like Abi!  She and Hannibal were always at odds.”
 
“You know, Randa, I think we might just end up being good friends,” chuckled Allie.  “Wouldn’t that drive Heyes crazy?”

 
 
In the end, Jed had insisted that Beth stay in Denver with the support of her mother and sister.  He’d noticed how much she wanted her mother’s company during this special time of her life and he urged her to broach the subject with her sister.  Bridget had been delighted and had promptly sent Steven home with instructions for Sylvie to air out another guest room.  If he were honest with himself, it gave Jed almost as much comfort knowing that Beth wouldn’t be fretting for him.  He had to go with Heyes.  He couldn’t let his partner go into the Hole without him, but he also couldn’t leave his wife feeling alone and abandoned.  Jesse, Miranda and Sally would travel back to Brookswood together in their respective carriages and Heyes was pleased to have the companionship for his wife and daughter.
 
The Double J contingent was just gathering in the lobby for their final  farewells when a slightly worn and rumpled Joe Morin came in the front doors.
 
“Sorry I’m late.  I was…” he flushed, realizing he couldn’t say what he’d started to say in front of proper ladies.  “Er, I, um, was delayed unexpectedly,” he finished lamely.
 
The ladies all nodded their understanding and, when he wasn’t looking, sent sly glances to each other.
 
Beth slipped her arm through his and looked up at him, “Just make sure you are one hundred percent prepared when you ride into Devil’s Hole with my husband and Hannibal.”  then she smiled as she took in his various injuries. “Well, ninety-nine percent anyway.”
 
“I will, Beth.  I’ll keep an eye on both of them,” gulped Joe.
 
Jesse took Heyes aside briefly.  “Now I don’t want you worrying about straightening all this horse mixup out.  I won’t worry either.  We’ll get this all worked out after you get back safely.  Keep your mind on the task at hand and don’t take any unnecessary risks.  You hear?”
 
“Yes sir!” grinned Heyes.  Jesse was the only man in the world who could safely lecture Hannibal Heyes like that and he loved him for it. 
 
All too quickly, hugs and kisses were exchanged and the dear friends parted.  Jed and Heyes bid their wives a final farewell.   Beth, Belle, and Bridget were escorted to the waiting carriage that would transport them to the Granger house.  Jesse and Miranda were taking Sally to the newly opened Elitch Gardens as promised.  The little girl was nearly jumping for joy at the thoughts of seeing the wondrous animals and roaming the beautiful resort.  She gave her father a loving, though distracted, goodbye and hurried off down the sidewalk swinging by her arms between her mama and her beloved 'grandpa'.
 
Finally, it was just Heyes, Jed, and Joe. 
 
“Let’s go see how Allie, Scott, and Monty are doing getting ready,” said Heyes with a satisfied smile.  He knew that Allie would be wild-eyed at the short notice.  It served her right for blackmailing him.  What a shame it would be if they missed the two-fifteen train.
 
“What’s the rush, Heyes?” grumbled Joe.  “It’s not like we’re on a time schedule.”
 
Jed laughed.  “Oh, we are on a time schedule; Heyes’!”
 
The three men entered the cool shadows of the livery and saw Monty in the center aisle tacking up Allie’s paint horse, Patches.  He’d grown over the years into a handsome, heavily muscled gelding.
 
“Hey, Monty,” said Heyes, patting the coloured horse and looking him over.  He liked what he saw.  The youngster had become fit and sturdy.
 
“Hey, yourself!” growled Monty, pulling up the cinch then lifting Patches’ forelegs to smooth out any pinched flesh.  “Don’t think for one cotton-picking second I don’t know what you’re up to, son.  I’ve been chasing Ruthie all over this dang town trying to get our supplies quick because of you and I hate shopping!”
 
“Where’s Scott and Allie?” asked Heyes innocently.
 
“Scott’s in the back stall with Ruthie getting his horse ready and Allie had an errand to run.  She’ll be here on time,” grinned Monty, triumphant at subverting Heyes’ plan.
 
“I’m right here,” called Scott from the other end of the stable.
 
Heyes and Jed wandered down the aisle to greet him.  As the passed the next stall, a dark head poked out and nickered at them.  Absently, Jed patted the gelding and said, “Hey, Monty.  How’re you doin’?”
 
Monty, the human, looked at him as if he’d gone crazy.  “How the hell do you think I’m doing.  I’m pissed off and rushed.”
 
Heyes chuckled, “He wasn’t talking to you.  This here’s Monty, too.”   He reached out and pet the friendly little pacer.  “I didn’t name him, before you climb all over me; he belongs to the Double J.”
 
Monty wandered over and examined the horse and then smiled, “Mature and handsome, just like me.”
 
“And this good-looking fellow is Percy.  He’s Miranda’s baby,” said Heyes, indicating the gray horse in the next stall.  He’d proven himself to be nearly as fine a carriage horse as he is a mount.
 
 
 
Scott and Ruthie emerged from the back stall leading a beautiful blood bay stallion.  He glistened in the ray of light from the opened doors and proudly arched his neck and huffed as he passed a mare in heat.  Ruthie ran down the aisle ahead of him and flung herself into Jed’s opened arms.  “Jed, Heyes!  Oh, it’s so wonderful to see you boys.”  She kissed Jed’s cheek and turned, demanding a hug from Heyes.  “It’s been far too long.  I can’t tell you how delighted I was to hear that you’ve both been set free!”
 
Heyes and Jed exchanged glances over her head.  Prim, proper Ruth had always had a wild side to her, but now she appeared to have completely freed herself from the stifling manners she’d adhered to during Allie’s strict childhood.  Gently, Heyes tucked a loose tendril of hair behind her ear.  He noticed the fine silver strands shot through it.  She caught him out.
 
“Allie’s turned me into a grandmother and not a moment too soon,” she quipped.
 
Monty put his arm around her and pulled her into him, kissing her soundly.  “You’re not aging, you’re growing more beautiful by the minute.”
 
She pushed away from him and giggled.  “And your eyes are growing older by the second.  Lucky for me.”
 
“How’s Esther?  Please give her our best,” said Heyes.
 
“I will.  She was so upset when I called her this morning and told her she’d missed seeing you.  It’s her own stubborn fault.  She does the secretarial work for the ranch and you can barely pry her from her desk.  You’ll have to come for a visit soon.  She and Roy would love to see you again,” said Ruthie.
 
“Roy?” said Jed.
 
“Call?” said Heyes.
 
Ruthie looked from one to the other deciding who to answer first.  “Roy Haines.  He and Esther got married a few years ago.  Poor Roy he felt so guilty about killing Bill Decker that way.  He nearly quit his job, but Esther talked him out of it.   They got to be good friends and then, one day, they realized it was much more. 
 
“As for the call; we’re not in the wilds anymore.  Of course, we put service in as soon as it was available last year.  How else do you think we managed to beat your deadline, Heyes?” she finished sweetly, raising a delicate eyebrow.
 
Once more, Heyes was reminded of how fast life in the West was changing.  Rural service was new and very few farmers or ranchers were successful enough to be able to afford the costs of it.  Obviously, the Second Chance was doing far better than he’d realized. 
 
“Well, give Esther a big hug from both of us.  We’d love to come for a visit after the baby’s born,” said Jed.
 
“A baby?” boomed Monty as Ruthie clapped her hands happily.  “You didn’t say nothing about a baby last night.  Hell, I’m still getting used to the idea that any two women would consider either of you husband material.”
 
“Yep, Beth’s due in August.  It’ll be our first!” said Jed, proudly.
 
“Congratulations, son!”  Monty shook his hand enthusiastically.
 
“And I’ve heard all about your darling little girl.  I do hope you and your wife will come for a visit, too,” said Ruthie.
 
“I hope we can, too,” said Heyes thinking of how angry Miranda had been last night.  She seemed all right this morning, but her uncharacteristic outburst had thrown Heyes for a loop and he wasn’t promising anything he couldn’t deliver.  He quickly changed the subject.  “Well, we just came to see if we could lend you a hand getting ready.”
 
“Good,” said Scott.  He’d stood by silently watching his in-laws with the two ex-outlaws.  It was plain that there was a lot of affection flowing among the four and he felt a little as though he was on the outside looking in.  “You can help us by carrying the supplies.   I don’t want to load the horses up for the train ride.”
 
“Have they been on a train before?” asked Heyes casually, hoping against hope that the horses wouldn’t load onto the railcar.
 
“Of course, we break all our horses to train travel.  That’s how we ship the youngsters to their new home.  We have an old railcar on the ranch just so they can practice.”  Scott’s stallion nodded his head up and down as though confirming his person’s statement.
 
Heyes stepped over to the horse and whistled his approval.  “He’s good-looking.  Do you use him for stud?”
 
“We do, but he’s not our finest stallion so he has to go to work, too,” said Scott, patting the arched neck.
 
“Well, Ruthie-girl, I guess we’re ready to go.  Give me a kiss, darlin’, I’m gonna miss you,” said Monty.
 
“You better miss me and you better come back in one piece!” said Ruthie, complying with her husband’s request.  “I’m holding you three responsible if anything were to happen to him.  And watch each other’s backs—you’re all fathers now.  Don’t do anything stupid.”
 
 

 
As promised, the horses loaded quickly and easily onto the railcar.  Scott was just coming back down the ramp when he saw Allie running down the platform, heads turning to watch her mad dash and shaking in disapproval as she threw all decorum to the wind.  She panted to a stop at the foot of the ramp and bent over with her hands on her knees trying to catch her breath.  She had enjoyed her tea with Randa so much she’d lost track of time.  Stopping back at the townhouse, she’d called for a cab while she’d hurriedly pulled off her dress and changed into her split-leather riding skirt and buckskin jacket. 
 
Heyes tried hard to conceal his smile.  As much as he wanted to extract a mild revenge for her heavy-handed blackmail, he couldn’t help laughing at her antics.  She might be a mother now, but the girl was still present and accounted for.
 
“Darling, you got my things!  Thank you so much,” she said to Scott, standing on tiptoe to kiss his cheek.
 
The train whistle blew signaling the imminent departure and the six of them hurried to the passenger cars.
 
Once seated, Allie introduced herself politely to Joe, peppering him with questions about his friendship with the two infamous ex-outlaws.  Joe answered about half of them and then looked helplessly at Heyes. 
 
“Allie, give it a rest.  Can’t you see Joe’s a tad under the weather?” chuckled Heyes.
 
“I’m so sorry, Joe.  Sometimes, my curiosity gets the better of my manners.  Please forgive me.”  She put a friendly hand on his arm and instantly won his forgiveness.
 
“My apologies, ma’am.  I think I just need a little more shut-eye, please excuse me; I’m going to go find an empty bench to stretch out on,” said Joe, getting up and walking to the back of the car.
 
The train slowly began to pick up speed as it reached the outskirts of Denver and it wasn’t long before they were well on their way to Greeley.  Allie and Scott sat side by side facing Jed and Heyes.  Monty had taken a seat across the aisle from his step-daughter.  The four younger people eyed each other warily.  Allie knew Heyes was angry with her, but she couldn’t apologize.  If she did, she knew darn well, he’d leave her behind in Greeley.  She may not have seen them in ten years, but she knew how they operated.  She closed her eyes and leaned her head on Scott’s shoulder pretending to doze.  Scott broke the ice by asking after Karma.
 
“So your friend Jesse had the mare while you were incarcerated?” 
 
“Yes, I left her with him.  He got a couple of nice foals out of her, too.  That’s why we were tracing her lineage.  One of them, Ned, is a very fine stallion.  Jesse is standing him at stud for his maiden season this year and we're hopeful that he will breed true. Looking at the line from Fanny, to Karma and then to her foals, we're pretty sure he will.”
 
“Jesse could ask a whole lot more in stud fees if he could provide Karma’s background.  Ned’s sire was by Lock’s Rondo, the quarter horse sire.  It cost Jesse a small fortune to ship Karma to Texas to be bred to him, but it was worth every penny,” said Jed.  “The folks down there were real impressed with her and told him if he could trace her roots, they’d take her in as an approved quarter-horse mare.”
 
Heyes broke in, “The breed’s trying to move away from the racing thoroughbred-type stock and they’ve been cross-breeding with stock mares and mustangs in order to produce a cattle horse.”
 
Scott nodded, “I know.  Fannie’s an approved mare.  Jesse’s lucky he’s got someone willing to back her, you wouldn’t believe what we had to do to get Fannie approved.”
 
“She is?!  I guess it makes perfect sense, she’s just the type they’re breeding for,” said Heyes.
 
Scott glanced down at Allie and decided she really was asleep.  “Don’t worry, Heyes, I’ll see that Jesse gets what he needs.  Maybe we can work out something that will be mutually beneficial to both ranches.  It’d be nice to cross-breed our lines with some good stock.”
 
Jed and Heyes smiled at him.  “That’s real nice of you, Scott.  I’ll telegram Jesse from Greeley and give him the good news.”
 
“I can’t promise you anything about Karma, though.  Allie’s right.  She belongs to her and, well, you know what my wife’s like when she digs in her heels.”
 
“We know,” said Jed.  “I reckon she’ll come around if Heyes doesn’t keep pissing her off.”
 
“Hey!  She blackmailed me!”
 
Jed and Scott laughed at him, knowing that was a pretty big if.
 
 


Gus Orrison and young Ames kinda sorta partnered up because they just happened to be in the same situation at the same time. Neither one of them relished the idea of being alone whether out on the trail or within the sanctuary of a gang. Either way it was always preferable to know that someone you could trust had your back.

Ames was young but he was loyal and even though he would have much rather stayed with Kyle, Wheat had made it clear he wasn't welcome. It never even occurred to Ames that Kyle might turn his back on his own partner and join up with him and Orri; true partners just didn't do that to one another. Ames also knew that if Orri's buddy, Milt Price hadn't been caught by the law then those two would still be partnered up and Ames himself would have been at loose ends.

As it was though, Orrison was happy to take Ames under his wing and in return Ames tried to be good company. He knew that Orri still had a burr up his butt over what had happened to Price. The gang could have done something, made a charge and rescued his friend but Duncan only seemed to be concerned about his own wants. They'd had a profitable haul and the unexpected acquisition of a quality mare to boot. Even if it had been Ferguson who'd been left behind Orri doubted that Duncan's choices would have been any different.

Going back to Devil's Hole and trying to make amends with Tom Duncan was not on top of the list of things Orri wanted to do. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the money earned by the two outlaws had burned holes in their pockets. Between loving the ladies and playing bad poker they soon found themselves in an impecunious state once again and the sanctuary of Devil's Hole was back to looking good.

So it was with hopeful trepidation that they approached the lookout heading into Devil's Hole Basin and sent two shots into the air as the signal that they were friends and were requesting access. A rifle shot from the lookout acknowledged them and they cautiously continued on their way towards the entrance to the hideout. Within minutes they heard the horses galloping towards them and they pulled up to await their escort.

The black kid, Jones and the Mexican, Yamis soon put in an appearance and with rifles still out and ready, they pulled their excited horses to a halt to check out the newcomers.

Jones grinned as he recognized Ames. Being similar in ages the two of them had struck up a bit of a friendship and Jones for one had been sorry to see him go

“What you boys doin' back here?” Yamis asked in his heavily accented english. “Thought you struck out on yer own.”

“Yeah well, plans can change,” Orri grumbled. “We want back in if Duncan will have us.”

Yamis and Jones exchanged a look. Jones shrugged.

Yamis smiled a toothy grin, like a wolf eyeing the chicken coop. “Yeah, maybe,” he commented. “Come.”

He swung his horse around and with Jones bringing up the rear the four men galloped up towards the entrance to the hideout. Jones swung off the trail to head back up to the lookout while Yamis carried on to escort the other two up to the main hold. As the three men trotted in to the courtyard their attention was instantly drawn to the round corral where Tom Duncan was working that copper mare from the ground. He had put the saddle on her and was snapping his lariat towards her rump to keep her moving and by the lathered up looks of the mare, he'd been at this for some time.

He stopped though when he saw who their visitors were and turning his back on the mare, he reeled in his rope as he walked out of the corral and approached the men. Karma snorted with relief and quickly coming to a halt she turned her rump towards her antagonist and stood, shaking and breathless and wondering what was going to be coming at her next.

“So, you boys decided to come limping home did ya'?” Duncan snarked as he approached the horsemen.

Ames looked repentant but Orri became defensive and was already regretting coming back here.

“Won't stay if ya' don't want us,” he grumbled. “Didn't feel right about leavin' on bad terms is all. Up ta' you.”

Duncan snorted. “Yeah.” He looked at Ames who was having a hard time meeting his eye. “What about you Mr. Ames? You think after runnin' out on me like that I should let ya' come back here?”

Ames shifted uncomfortably in his saddle and sent an uneasy look over to his partner.

“Don't look at him!” Duncan yelled. “I'm askin' you!”

“Wul,” Ames shrugged. “I don't mind ridin' with ya'. I just didn't hanker goin' up against Hannibal Heyes is all. He was real good ta' me in prison.....”

Duncan chewed his lip and nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah okay,” he finally said. “See, now that I can understand. Loyalty to someone who done ya' a good turn. I can understand that.”

Ames smiled, instantly relieved.

“But now if you wanna run with my gang then you gotta be loyal to me, understand?” Duncan continued. “I don't care what your past alliances were. I tell ya' ta' to do somethin' I expect ya' ta' do it. Understand?”

Ames nodded adamantly “Oh yessir. Yer the boss.”

“Good.” Duncan turned his cold gaze to the older man. “What about you Orrison? You still holdin' a grudge over Price?”

“I'd be lyin' if I said I didn't,” Orri admitted. He glanced over at the mare in the corral and spit his disgust. “I figure a man is worth more 'en a horse. But if I'm back in the gang I'll be loyal to ya' on the job. But I'm my own man and I won't stick my neck out for ya' if I figure it ain't worth the risk.”

Duncan's response was instant and deadly. The gun was in his hand and the shot fired before anyone could react. Orrison's horse reared as the rider's hand jerked on the animal's mouth from the reaction of the bullet smashing through his brain. Orri's head barely moved but the red circle that appeared in the middle of his forehead and the surprised look to his eye told the story plainly enough.

Everything began to happen in slow motion to Ames. He looked over to his partner in stunned shock as the man slowly fell from the saddle. Ames' own horse snorted in fear and tried to lunge away and for an instant Ames fought the animal, still trying to grasp what had just happened. He heard Duncan laughing like a hollow ghost on a broken music box and then the slow, repeated shots from his gun as he fired it in the air. Ames looked around him in a daze, his horse plunging wildly in an attempt to get away. Orrison finally hitting the ground, sending up a small puffing of dust while that horse reared again, then pivoted and in a slow exaggerated dream scape, plunged away from his fallen rider and powered up into a gallop heading back the way they'd come.

Ames was aware of other horses in the distance reacting to the drama and the wide eyed looks of surprise from the numerous men who were close in and witnessing the assault. The young man's horse reared again, fighting against the hold on it's mouth and wanting to join up with his buddy who was on the run. Ames finally released his hold and the horse took advantage. He was in a gallop within seconds and they were charging across the courtyard towards the exit with only the rump of Orri's horse showing them the way to go.

Time and sound suddenly jumped back into normal focus and Ames began to kick his horse to encourage it to run faster. The fear and the adrenaline was contagious and the young man just went with the decision the horses had made and once committed he gave it all he had. He could hear men yelling and more gunshots going off and he prayed that he wouldn't feel the kick of a hit as he leaned low over his horse's neck and kept his eye on the galloping rump in front of him.

Duncan continued to laugh and repeatedly shot his revolver in the air to hurry the young man along.

“Let 'em go!” he shouted at Yamis who was about to charge after the fleeing man. “I got no use for a coward but I'm feelin' generous today. At least he knows what loyalty means. Let 'em go hide in a cave somewhere till he grows up!”

Yamis pulled up his horse and nodded.

“Get up to the fork,” Duncan ordered the Mexican. “let Jones know not to shoot that pup outa the saddle.”

“Si!” came the instant response and Yamis again booted his stressed out horse into a gallop and headed off on his errand.

Fergie came down the steps from the leader's cabin and walked over to join the others as they looked down at the dead man who had once ridden with them. Fergie's mouth was set in a hard line as he watched his 'boss' turn and walk into the barn. Apparently the gang leader was quite content to let his men deal with the useless carrion that littered the yard. The men stood around looking at each other with a certain uneasiness. Then they looked to Fergie and loyalties began to shift.


Ames was still in shock over what had just happened. Fear was the only thing keeping him running since nobody from the Hole was actually chasing him. The thought that he might get stopped by Jones at the lookout didn't even occur to him; he just ran as fast as his horse could go.

By the time the two animals began to slow down themselves out of sheer exhaustion, Ames was fighting tears. He gasped for breath through his angst as he finally pulled his horse around and made a desperate search of his surrounding area. Even with no signs of anyone coming after him, he was in a panic and not thinking or caring what direction he went in as long as it was away from the Hole. He pushed the tired animals into a fast trot and kept on going.


Last edited by Keays on Sun Feb 02, 2014 8:26 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Keays

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Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Common Interests   Sun Feb 02, 2014 7:57 pm

Wheat and Kyle were both looking clean and pink and relaxed after their holiday in the Saratoga hot springs. They had their horses tied up outside the mercantile and were busy stuffing supplies into their saddle bags when they heard someone calling Kyle's name. Both men looked around for who might actually know them in this town and then could hardly miss him when he darn near ran Wheat over in his hurry to get to them.

“Damn boy!” Wheat complained as he grabbed the reins of the lead horse and pushed him away. “Whatcha in such a hurry for! Damn near run me over!”

“Kyle!” Ames practically yelled at his friend. “Thank goodness! I donno what to do!”

“Wull what's the matter?” Kyle asked the shaking lad. “Geesh Ames, you don't look so good. Whatcha been doin'?”

Wheat found himself trying to hold onto both Ames' horses while that young man jumped from the saddle and practically fell to his knees he was so scared. Kyle came out from between their two horses and grabbing his friend, helped him to his feet. Ames grabbed onto his shirt and wouldn't let go. He was shaking like a new born lamb and his dust filled, red rimmed eyes showed white with fear. Even Wheat couldn't help but take pity on him.

“What the hell's the matter with ya' boy?” the craggy old outlaw asked him. “And where's yer buddy?”

Ames continued to latch on to Kyle and looked his friend in the eye as though he couldn't even see Wheat.

“I donno what to do...” Ames whispered. “I donno where ta' go...”

“Wull that's alright,” Kyle assured him with a concerned look to his own partner. “You's okay now. Why don't cha tell us what happened?”

“Kyle...I...I don't know what to do.”

“Well by the state of you and yer horses I'd say the first thing ya' need ta' do is get somethin' ta' eat,” Wheat observed. “and a bath.”

Ames turned haunted eyes to the older man, almost looking surprised to see him there. “Eat?” he repeated. “I donno. I ain't got no money.”

“Don't worry about that,” Wheat assured him. “When was the last time ya' got some grub in yer gullet?”

Ames' eyes clouded over. “Ahh...I donno. Yesterday? The day before? I donno....”

“Jesus,” Wheat mumbled as he and Kyle exchanged worried looks. “Kyle, get him over to the cafe fer somethin' ta' eat. I'll get these horses settled in at the livery. Looks like we're gonna be in town a little longer.”

Kyle grinned and nodded. “Yeah. C'mon Ames. Ya' hungry?”

“I donno....”

Ames looked fearfully around him as Kyle started to steer him in the direction of the cafe. Wheat gathered up the reins of the four horses and started to lead them towards the livery, shaking his head and mumbling as he went.

Forty minutes later Ames was getting himself around a plateful of steak and eggs and biscuits and fried potatoes while Kyle and Wheat sipped coffee and watched the young man in amazement.

“For someone who weren't sure if he was hungry you're doin' a might fine job of cleanin' the plate,” Wheat observed dryly. “You about ready to tell us what's goin' on?”

Ames finished off the last bit of potatoes and chased it down with a few gulps of water before coming up for air and nodding. He wiped a dirty sleeve across his mouth and sat there, panting for another minute. He was still shaking but now that he had a full stomach again he was starting to calm down.

The waitress, who at first showed some distress over serving the travel stained young man, now felt nothing but sympathy for his plight. She showed up at the table with a cup of coffee for him and pie all around.

“Here ya' go,” she smiled at the lad. “You get yourself a round that apple pie. You'll soon feel better.”

Ames smiled up at her. “Yes ma'am,” he agreed. And was indeed feeling a whole lot better. She had such pretty blue eyes.

“You fella's want more coffee?” she asked the other two.

“Yeah, sure,” Wheat agreed. “Looks like we could be here for a while.”

She poured the refills, gave an extra big smile to Ames and then left the men to their desserts.

“So, you ready to tell us what this is all about now?” Wheat asked him again. “Last we saw 'a you, you was with Orrison and goin' in the opposite direction.”

Ames took a gulp of coffee and nodded. “Yeah,” he concurred. “but we ran outa money and no prospects presented themselves so we decided to head back up to Devil's Hole ta' see if Duncan would let us back in.”

At the mention of the outlaw hideout both Wheat and Kyle tightened up and quickly looked around to make sure nobody over-heard.

“Shush...” Wheat whispered to him and motioned to him to be quiet. “Don't nobody around here need know where you're from.”

“Oh yeah, sorry.” Ames looked a little sheepish and took another gulp of coffee. His hands were still shaking a little bit. “So we went back up ta'....you know, and it looked like Duncan was gonna let us back into the gang. Then I guess Orri said somethin' that he didn't like and....” Ames paled and looked like he might be sick. “Dammit....I still can't believe it.”

“What'd he do?” Kyle asked.

Ames turned haunted eyes to his friend and took a deep breath to try and settle his nerves. “Duncan shot him. Right then and there. No warnin'...nothin'. Just shot 'em right outa the saddle.”

“Geesh,” Wheat blew out as he sat back with the news. “that bastard. I told ya' not to go back up there. Didn't I tell ya'? What the hell ya' go back up there for?”

“Like I said,” Ames whined in his own defence. “we had no money left and no place else ta' go...”

“Damn!” Wheat cursed, then sent the young man a serious look. “But he let you go?”

“Yeah,” Ames agreed. “I still can't believe my luck. I thought for sure I was a goner. I ain't stopped ridin' since I left the basin.”

“Boy, you been ridin' for two days,” Wheat pointed out. “you shoulda got here in half that time.”

Ames looked sheepish again. “I weren't thinkin'. I was probably ridin' in circles.”

“Yeah, but yer okay now,” Kyle assured him. “You can ride with us. Can't he Wheat? He can ride with us.”

Wheat sent his partner a scowl but when he met Ames' eye and saw the hopeful, almost pleading look coming back at him, he caved in.

“Dammit!” he cursed and Kyle grinned, knowing they'd won him over. “Fine! But you better look out fer him Kyle! You explain it to him, what we're doin' here. If he don't wanna be a part of it, then he can just ride on out. But if he lets anybody know what's goin' down....”

“I won't!” Ames spoke up even though he had no idea what was going on. “I ain't goin' back to the Hole and I sure ain't no friend 'a Tom Duncan's neither. Whatever you fella's got goin'--I'm in!”

“You don't even know what it is yet!” Wheat snarked. “You might change yer mind once you know.” Ames just looked hopeful and eager to please. “Aww shoot!” Wheat griped as he pushed himself away from the table. “I better go send a telegram ta' you know who. Get him a room and a bath over at the hotel Kyle. Let 'em get cleaned up and have some sleep then we'll fill 'em in. May as well get us a room again too, goddammit.” He stopped and looked down at Ames, shaking his head. “You may come to regret runnin' inta' us again.” Then he stomped off towards the saloon to get himself a shot of whiskey before sending Lom a telegram.

Kyle and Ames grinned and giggled together like a pair of schoolboys. The waitress came over again, all full of smiles herself and gave them more pie and coffee.

The next day found three men riding across country towards the hills surrounding Devil's Hole. Wheat and Kyle had a fairly good idea of where they were going but Ames was in a constant state of confusion.

“Where are we?” he asked as he looked around at the unfamiliar landscape. “And what are we doin'?”

“Well you done slept half the day and the whole night away in town,” Wheat reminded him. “and besides, I didn't want to go discussin' our plans in town like that. You never know who might be listenin'.”

“Yeah.” That made sense to the young outlaw.

“Okay, so here's the deal,” Wheat told him. “me and Kyle's workin' for the law now, you know; just keepin' an eye on things in places where the law can't usually get.”

Ames brightened up and he grinned. “Really?” he said. “Ya' mean like spies?”

“Well, I suppose,” Wheat started to puff up a bit at the sound of that. “I guess we could be spies, eh Kyle?”

“Yeah!” Kyle grinned and chewed on his craw.

“So now, basically we're workin' for Heyes and the Kid,” Wheat continued to explain. “but we're also kinda workin' for that sheriff down in Porterville, you know; Lom Travers.”

“Oh yeah,” Ames nodded. “I heard tell that he used to run with Devil's Hole himself years ago. Twern't sure if'n I believed it though.”

“Well believe it,” Wheat snapped, “'cause he did. So now we got this plan to take down Duncan and his crew 'a misfits. That's what me and Kyle was doin' up there in the first place; Keepin' an eye on things and lookin' for any weaknesses and stuff. Then dammit! Heyes and Kid were on that train we robbed and Duncan got suspicious of us not turnin' them in—well, you know.”

Ames nodded.

“So we got out while we could, after you and Orri warned us of his mood and all,” Wheat continued. “So now Lom just wants us to camp out by the back entrance to The Hole and make sure that way is still open for us.”

“What back entrance?” Ames asked. “There ain't no back entrance.”

Wheat and Kyle exchanged looks and both men snickered.

“There sure as hell is, ain't there Kyle?”

“Yeah.”

“And we're bankin' on the fact that nobody up at The Hole now knows about it,” Wheat explained. “We just gotta hold tight and wait until the rest of our party gets up here and we're gonna clean out that gang of squatters once and fer all.” Here Wheat pulled up his horse and turned him to block Ames' animal and stopped it in it's tracks. Wheat gave the youngster a hard look and Ames squirmed a bit under the scrutiny. “Now I just done told you our plans cause you said you wanted in no matter what. But you got yer'self a saddle bag full of rations now so if you don't want to be in on this I'll give ya' some money and you can just turn around and head out. Away from The Hole.”

Ames looked from Wheat over to Kyle and then back to Wheat again.

“Oh no, I wanna stay with you fellas,” he insisted. “Like I said; I don't owe Tom Duncan nothin'.”

“And what about after that?” Wheat pushed. “You gonna go right back to outlawin' again?”

“Wul, I ain't got nothin' else,” Ames pointed out a little defensively.

“Well now that depends on you,” Wheat told him. “Lom, he said that if you pay back your share of the money from the train robbery then the law will call it a clean slate. You already done your time in prison so you pay that money back then you ain't wanted for anything. Unless a' course, you done other thievin' since you got out. Is that train robbery the only thievin' you done since you were released from prison?”

“Well no,” Ames shifted uneasily in his saddle. “I mean a fellas gotta eat....”

Wheat sighed and looked irritated. “Now I'm gonna ask ya' one more time, and I wanna hear a different answer. Is that train robbery the only thievin' you done since you were released from prison?”

Ames sent Wheat a blank look and then glanced over to Kyle. Kyle gave him a toothy grin and nodded his head. Understanding slowly seeped into Ames' eyes and he started nodding too.

“Yeah,” he answered. “I ain't done any thievin' other than the train robbery.”

“Good,” Wheat stated and turned his horse back to lead the way again. “Then you ain't wanted no more and you can start workin' for us.”

“But how am I gonna pay back my share of the...”

“Don't worry about it,” Wheat told him. “That's just a technicality. You kept goin' on about how you would love to work for Hannibal Heyes. Well, you should be careful what ya' wish for, cause now ya' are.”


That night our three ex-outlaws had struck camp and had got a small fire going for coffee and an 'on the trail' special of beans with bacon and coffee. Come high summer many of the streams that ran through and out of the Devil's Hole Basin would be dried up, but this time of year they'd been able to find a nice spot with running water to set up a cozy camp. They weren't too concerned about giving their position away to the enemy because they knew that Duncan wasn't even aware of the back entrance and wouldn't have any men looking this way.

They hadn't found the back route into the Hole yet, but tomorrow was another day and Wheat was sure he could find it. He knew it would be covered by debris left over from Morrison's attack but he had a good enough idea of where that trail started out that he figured he should be able to find it.

He was trying not to get pissed off at Morrison all over again. A lot of his anger towards that gentleman had more to do with his own feelings of guilt and remorse rather than actual animosity towards the marshal himself. There was certainly no love lost between the two of them, but Wheat found it hard to admit that a lot of what had happened that day had been his own danged fault.

He'd been running the Hole for a number of years by that time and nobody ever gave a thought to the back entrance. It was suppose to have been blown to bits; totally impassable in the winter and barely such in the summer. Nobody was suppose to even know about it outside the gang and when Heyes and the Kid had taken off outa there on their quest for amnesty the access had been blown sky-high. Nobody should have been able to get through it.

Wheat had become complacent over the years. Looking back at it now he kicked himself for not keeping a guard on that section of the Hole, but it had seemed redundant at the time.  That area had slid so many times over the years.  The soil Heyes' blast had loosened continually sloughed off until it was totally blocked, so why bother? Now he sat and nursed his coffee and stared into the flames of the fire and cursed Morrison for actually finding out about that entrance and finding a way to utilize it.

When Wheat finally come up out of his musings and took a look around him, he found Kyle leaning back against his saddle with his nose in the reader that Martha Trevors had given to him. Wheat snorted to himself then quietly shrugged his shoulders. Heck, if Kyle wanted to learn how to read at this stage of his life, then all the power to him. And Wheat had to admit that his little partner was actually doing pretty good with it.

He reached forward to pour himself another cup of coffee and noticed Ames sitting across from him, staring into the fire. This in itself was nothing to cause alarm, heck, Wheat had just been doing that himself. But the look on that lad's face is what sent a shiver down Wheat's spine. He wasn't just looking at the fire, he almost appeared to be mesmerized by it.

Ames' mouth was open and his expression was one of pure adulation and even as Wheat watched, he couldn't believe what he was seeing. Ames sat up straighter and with his eyes glazed over as though in some kind of trance, he began to move his hand over towards the flames. He moved his hand closer and closer, his expression one of pure unadulterated love until his fingers were surrounded by the flames themselves and must surely be burning.

Ames gave no indication that he was feeling any pain and Wheat continued to stare at him, hardly believing what he was seeing. Then all of a sudden, Wheat came to himself and sitting up straighter, he threw the remnants of his coffee cup into Ames' face. Ames jumped, started out of his trance and sent a startled then almost accusatory look to his benefactor. Wheat's brown eyes bore into him.

“What the hell ya doin'?” Wheat asked him, his tone a bit higher than unusual. “Jeez boy—didn't you feel them flames?”

Ames looked confused and a little scared. “What?”

Kyle sat up from his reading and started to pay attention to the conversation.

“You done put yer hand right into that fire,” Wheat told him. “What the hell were you doin'?”

Ames looked at his guilty hand and stared at it in some confusion as the reddened skin slowly blistered. “Oh. I didn't feel nothin'.” he looked over to Kyle and then smiled at Wheat. “It's nothin' though. I do that sometimes. Don't worry about it. I just like fire.”

“Yeah, well don't we all,” Wheat countered. “when it comes to keepin' warm and cookin' supper. But...”

Ames looked back into the flames and his eyes glazed over slightly as a smile played about his lips.

“Yeah, but can't ya' see how beautiful it is?” he asked quietly. “the way the flames just lick out and disappear instantly—like into thin air. Then they flick up again and disappear again, it's like a cycle. The flames come back into the earth and come up through the wood and into the heart of the fire. That's where all the heat is, that's where the life of it is. Right there in the heart. Then the flames flicker, reaching to the sky before they disappear and circle around, back into the earth. It's beautiful.”  He smiled over at Wheat, then across at Kyle. “don't you think so?”

The two partners exchanged concerned glances. Then Wheat shrugged. “Yeah, sure Ames. Whatever ya' say.”

Ames nodded. “Well, I'm gonna go to bed now. Goodnight.”

“Yeah, goodnight.”

The next morning while Ames was tending to his toiletry, Wheat pulled Kyle aside.

“What the hell was that all about last night?” he asked his partner. “That boy got a death wish or somethin'?”

Kyle shrugged. “I donno Wheat.” he admitted. “He never showed nothin' like that in prison. Though come ta' think of it; he never was given a candle for readin'.” he shrugged. “But I just figured he couldn't read, so why bother? Still, he sure do like watchin' me with the explosives.”

Wheat creased his brow, trying to work out what all this might mean. “What was he in prison for? I just assumed it was for thieven', like the rest a' us. But now....”

Kyle shrugged again. “I donno. And it seemed kinda rude to ask.”

“Hmm,” Wheat understood that sentiment. “What'd Heyes think of 'em?”

“Wul...” Kyle had to think about that. “Heyes took 'em under his wing sorta, you know. But he never got all that close to 'em.”

Wheat looked suspicious. “Yeah.”

“But, Heyes is like that,” Kyle felt the need to defend his young friend. “Ya' know he don't make friends too easy.”

“Yeah!” Wheat snorted. “Boy do I know that!” he sighed and looked thoughtful. “Still, the sooner I can ask Heyes about him, the better I'll like it. There's somethin' not quite right about that boy.”




The two-hour train ride was over before they knew it and they were left standing near the train depot with Monty, Allie, and Scott holding the horses, their gear and supplies slung across their saddles.
 
“The livery’s just a few blocks away.  We’ve still got to get our supplies together.  We’ll meet you back here in, say, ninety minutes?” said Heyes, snapping shut his silver pocket watch.
 
“No, we’re coming with you,” said Allie firmly.
 
“Honey, there’s no reason for us to go traipsing around town.  Let’s settle the horses and get a bite to eat,” said Scott, reasonably.
 
“No.  I’m not letting them out of my sight.  They’ll sneak out on us while we’re not looking,” said Allie.
 
“Don’t you think you’re being a little unfair?” asked Scott, frowning at her.
 
Monty chuckled, “No, son, she’s right.  Let’s go.”
 
Joe laughed out loud.  He liked seeing these two reprobates bested once in a while. 
 
Heyes and Jed rolled their eyes at each other.   They had long since resigned themselves to Allie’s company.  She hadn’t been wrong when she had said that she could help and they both knew it.  She had long ago proven that she had a cool head under fire and she could ride and shoot better than many of the outlaws they’d ridden with in the past.  Without another word, the two partners turned and started off for the general store with their three friends trailing silently behind them.
 
They were soon in the saddle and well out of town.  Heyes set a fast pace to start, but the Second Chance horses had no problem matching his gelding stride for stride.  Joe and Jed knew he was deliberately pushing Allie to see how fit she was and they each wondered separately how long it would be before Heyes let up in his tormenting of her. Joe for one was getting some perverse pleasure out of it. He liked Mrs. Medgar well enough but seeing some one else besides him getting a taste of Heyes' resentment was just a tad bit redeeming.
 
Allie and Scott were more than capable of keeping up with the rest of them.  They spent long hours in the saddle for both work and play.  Having two ranches to oversee, and the responsibility for so many lives, required them to keep an eye on every facet of their operation.  For fun, they often escaped into the wilderness west of the ranches for a little time alone to hunt and fish.  Allie was not a conventional woman although she could pass for one.  Her passion was the outdoors and, specifically, the outdoors shared with her husband and best friend, Scott.
 
Heyes soon realized that he was out-mounted.  His new claybank gelding was a nice horse, but nowhere near the caliber of the Second Chance and Double J stock and not nearly as fit.  It wasn’t long before he was trailing the pack, his horse having worked up a heavy lather.
 
Jed took pity on him and reined up Gov to wait for his partner.  Joe was leading and he slowed down, settling the horses into a comfortable jog.  There was no reason to push the animals; they were on no time schedule. 
 
“Let’s set up camp for the night.  It’ll be dark in an hour or so and I’m feeling kind of tired,” said Jed.
 
Heyes knew his partner was giving him an out and he gratefully took it.  “Sounds good; we’ll get a good night’s sleep and an early start tomorrow.”
 
Jed nodded and galloped up to Joe to let him know they would be stopping for the night.
 
It didn’t take long to set up a comfortable camp with six pairs of hands helping and they were soon seated by a roaring fire with a small roast skewered on a spit over the flames.  They’d have fresh meat tonight, but that would change tomorrow night.  A small pot of canned beans rested on the coals.
 
Monty pulled out a silver flask, passed it around, and Heyes remembered the first time Allie had tasted alcohol.  They’d been in the high country near Leadville on their way to South Park.  Her eyes had watered and she’d coughed slightly, but had determinedly swallowed the fiery liquid.  He grinned now as she drew a slug from the flask with no ill-effects and noticed that Scott seemed completely comfortable with his whiskey-drinking wife. 
 
“What’s so funny?” snapped Allie, passing the flask to her husband.
 
“Nothing; I was just remembering the first time you drank rotgut,” said Heyes.  “You looked like you were going to choke.”
 
“This ain’t rotgut.  It’s my fine Kentucky Bourbon,” growled Monty. 
 
“Still, don’t see many women swiggin’ from a flask.  Least ways, not where us menfolk can see them,” chuckled Jed.
 
Allie had the grace to blush, but Scott came to her rescue.
 
“Quit teasing her.  You boys ought to know, Allie’s not like other women.  She’s one of a kind.  My kind,” said Scott, pulling her tightly against him and kissing her hair.  She melted against him gratefully.
 
It was strange for her to be sitting around a campfire with these men she so loved.  Jed and Heyes still tugged at her heart, but only as dear old friends.  And Monty had become the father she’d never really had.  She loved him dearly.  She glanced up at Scott who was poking the meat to see if it was done and wondered how he felt being surrounded by her past.  He’d once been so angry over learning who Cole James really was, but now he seemed relaxed and unthreatened by Heyes’ and Jed’s presence. 
 
Joe broke her reverie by asking Heyes a question.  “What’re we going to do if Lom Trevors can’t raise a posse?”
 
Heyes had stopped at the telegraph office and found a telegram waiting for him from Lom.  Their friend hadn’t given up on raising help for them, but it was proving hard.  None of his usual volunteers had wanted to tackle Devil’s Hole.  Heyes sure hoped that Wheat and Kyle were still inside the Hole.  They were going to need their help to take Tom Duncan down.
 
“If that happens, we’ll have to think of something else.  We might get into the Hole the back way but, once we’re in there, we’ll need the manpower to back us up,” said Heyes. 
 
“What about blowing the entrance and trapping them in there?” said Monty.
 
Allie pulled out her hunting knife and starting slicing meat off the roast and filling the plates sitting next to her.  She passed each filled plate to Scott, who added a dollop of beans and handed them around.
 
Jed took his eagerly and began eating lustfully.   Some things never changed.
 
“Can’t be done,” said Heyes flatly, taking his dinner plate.  “There’s a lookout point.  Duncan’s men would see us coming a mile away.  They’d pick us off, one by one, before we’d get anywhere near enough to do much damage.”
 
“So what is your plan?” asked Scott, scooping up a spoonful of beans. 
 
Heyes smiled and looked around at his friends before announcing, “Haven’t got one yet.”
 
No one said much after that.

Once the meal had been finished and appreciated, everyone settled down to after dinner coffee and casual conversation.

“How are you feeling now, Joe?” Allie asked the youngest member of their party. “You look like you've been through the wars.”

Joe smiled sleepily, “Oh no, ma'am. I'm fine,” he assured her. “I think my finger is darn near healed. I kinda doubt it was broke in the first place.”

Heyes snorted. “Don't fool yourself,” he advised. “It feels alright now because you're keeping it taped up. Unwrap that tape so it's not supported anymore and you'll be singing a different tune.”

Joe shrugged. “Yeah, okay. So I'll just keep it wrapped. It's fine.”

“And what about that hole in your arm?” Jed asked him. “You're still movin' it pretty stiff.”

“What is this?” Joe felt ganged up on. “You've had no complaints so far. I'm holdin' up my end!”

“Nobody's saying you're not,” Heyes assured him. “It's just that we're getting closer to a showdown now and we don't want to see you getting in over your head.”

“Well now's a fine time to bring it up!” Joe snarked. “If you didn't want me to come with you, why didn't you so in Denver? I could'a headed back to Brookswood from there.” then mumbled as an aside, “wouldn't 'a liked it much though.”

“Oh Heyes, stop picking on him!” Allie reprimanded him, then put a gentle hand on Joe's good arm. “Don't listen to him Joe; he's just being his old snarky, belligerent, self-righteous, arrogant....”

“Hey!” Heyes snarked, belligerently. “Now who's ganging up on who? I'm just concerned about him.”

“I'm fine Heyes,” Joe insisted. “Sheriff Jacobs sent me on this job and as far as I'm concerned he's the only one who can call me off it.”

“Yeah, but does he know...”

“Yes!” Joe insisted. “I got in touch with him from Denver.” He sent Heyes a pointed look. “He is well aware of everything.”

Heyes pursed his lips and stared across the fire at the deputy, wondering what he meant by that remark.

“Ya' want some more a' that bourbon in you're coffee, Heyes?” Monty asked him with a chuckle in his voice. “You're lookin' a tad peeked.”

Heyes dark eyes shifted over to Monty's and he smiled a full dimpled array. “Sure! Why not?”

Jed started to laugh as Monty slumped good-heartedly and shook his head. “Yeah, that's what I get for offering!”

Monty got up and digging his flask from his saddlebag, began making the rounds of the campfire and topped up everyone's coffee with a little bit of heat. Heyes dropped his smile and looked over at Allie, sudden concern taking over his expression.

“I'm going to make a suggestion Allie,” he began with a quick look to Scott. “I know you're not going to like it, but I think you should seriously consider what I have to say.”

Allie was instantly defensive. “I am not staying behind!” she insisted. “I knew it! I knew that even after agreeing to me coming that you'd try and find some way to leave me behind!”

“No, that's not it,” Heyes countered her accusation. “I've given up on that one. If your own husband won't stop you....”

“Scott knows better than to try!” Allie threw back at him. “mainly because he loves me for who I am and we aren't constantly battling with one another!”

“And that's a good thing!” Heyes quickly agreed. “I don't want to be constantly battling with you either. So will you just please be quiet and let me say my piece?”

Allie huffed and crossed her arms but her stance softened a little when she felt her husband's hand gentling caressing her back. In that one gesture he was both encouraging her to relax and reinforcing his love and support of her.

“Alright,” she agreed. “say what's on your mind. I'm not saying I'll go along with it, but I'm listening.”

“Good,” Heyes nodded. “I just think you should leave Patches in Porterville. Get yourself another horse for the ride up to Devil's Hole.”

Allie was instantly defensive again. “Why!? Patches is in excellent shape. He ran that lanky red dun of yours into the ground today. If any of the horses should be left behind it's him!”

“Hey!” Now Heyes was feeling defensive. “Clay's a good horse, he's just not used to this. Give him a couple of days and he'll find his footing. Besides, this isn't about Patches not being up to it. He's developed into a fine horse but he's the wrong colour.”

The light dawned in Allie's eyes and she pursed her lips at him. “I'd forgotten all about that,” she admitted. “You never did like pinto's did you? You've always held that against him...”

“It's not that I don't like pinto's,” Heyes defended himself. “It's just that he stands out. We're going to want to stay hidden as much as possible and a loud coloured pinto like Patches is going to catch the eye of anyone out there, even if they're not actually looking for us. And if we do get into a running gun battle you can bet that Patches or even you will be the first ones taken out because you'll be the easiest ones to see!”

“But....”

“Ohh,” Scott squeezed his wife's hand. “I think he has a good point dear. One of the things I like about you riding Patches when we're out hunting is that I can easily spot you if you're in the bushes.”

Allie looked from Heyes to her husband, a part of her feeling betrayed but another part having to admit that they had a point.

“Why do ya' think me and Heyes always rode non-discript horses while we were still wanted?” Jed asked her. “Well, not that Karma is non-discript, but at least she don't have great patches of white on her. That gelding of yours will stand out from five miles away.”

“That's a good point, Allie,” Monty contributed his opinion. “Maybe it would be a good idea to leave Patches behind in Porterville and we can rent ya' a nice little chestnut or something.”

“But I'm so used to riding Patches,” Allie wasn't quite ready to give up the fight.

“Yeah,” Heyes nodded thoughtfully. “but how would you feel if his colouring got him killed out there simply because you insisted on taking him?”

Silence settled in around the campfire as that horrid thought settled into Allie's mind.

“I think it's time for some more bourbon,” Monty announced as he got to his feet and started making the rounds again.


Last edited by Keays on Sun Feb 02, 2014 8:29 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Keays

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Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Common Interests   Sun Feb 02, 2014 8:02 pm

Deputy Wilkins walked through the door to the Porterville Sheriff’s Office and closed it noisily behind him.  He bustled over to Lom’s desk holding out a small piece of paper.  Lom looked up from his paperwork and eyed the note. He was pretty sure it was Heyes’ reply and he hadn’t been looking forward to getting it.

Wilkins shook the paper as though to entice him like a trout to a fly. “Gotta telegram for you, Boss.”

“So I see,” said Lom slowly.  He put his pen back in the inkwell and took the offending paper.  Sitting back, he read it and sighed.

“Bad news?”

Lom looked at his big deputy; he’d forgotten Wilkins was there.  “Not really.  Heyes left Greeley this afternoon.    He’s got five guns with him.  They’ll be here day after tomorrow.”

“Six guns?  What’s that make now?”

Lom frowned, “Nine, with you, me, and Feeley. Then there's Wheat and Kyle so that's eleven. That young fella that's joined up with them now; he's kind of a loose cannon. He and Heyes know one another from prison so I'll have a word with Heyes about him when they get here.” 

He’d beaten the bushes all around town trying to scare up some other competent men to help him clean out Devil’s Hole once and for all.  There were lots of local men available who were competent enough with guns, just not any crazy enough to join them. Except Feeley, and Feeley was arrogant enough to think he could take on the new Devil’s Hole gang all by himself.

 Lom wouldn’t normally take him along, but he had no choice.  He’d spoken to every man he knew and trusted not to let word out about what they were planning; no one else had agreed to join up and Lom was getting tired of being laughed at when he asked.  He’d been reduced to looking elsewhere and he hated the idea of tricking a stranger into going into the Hole, but he couldn’t risk telling his plans to anyone he didn’t know.

“Boss, now I ain’t saying that you aren’t as good a hand with a rifle as any I seen, but don’t that seem somewhat under-manned for a posse going into the Hole?”

Dropping his head in his hands, Lom groaned.  “The damn governor has no idea what he’s asking and he isn’t offering any help.”  Angered, he swept the paperwork off his desk, and stood up feeling the need to pace, but containing it.

Wilkins was shocked by the outburst.  Lom Trevors was as even-tempered a man as he’d ever known.  “Don’t worry, Sheriff.  We’ll find some more help.”

Lom snorted.  “Yeah?  Where?”  Now he did start pacing back and forth.  “I’d like to tell the governor a thing or two.  Five years those two spent getting run down and shot at by every posse and bounty hunter the West could raise and, by some miracle, they survived.  Kid was nearly killed in an ambush, but he survived.  Heyes spent five years in the Wyoming Territorial Prison and, by some miracle, he survived that, too, despite Wyoming changing governors like we do underwear.  Now, they’re finally free and the goddamned son of a bitch insists on sending them into Devil’s Hole.  There’s no way inhell, they’re gonna survive that!”

“What about us?  Do you think we will?” asked Wilkins anxiously, suddenly wishing he hadn’t agreed to go.

Lom stopped pacing and stared at his deputy.  They’d been together a long time and, while Wilkins came off as a bit goofy to some folks, Lom knew he could be counted on in a fight.  Now he’d spooked even Wilkins.  All the fight went out of him and he softened his voice, “Harker, we’ll be fine. You know I don’t take chances with my men.  If Heyes can’t come up with a good plan that we can all survive, I’ll pull the plug on the whole thing whether the governor likes it or not.”

Reassured, Wilkins nodded, “All right, then.  Guess I’ll call it a night. See you in the morning, Sheriff.”

Lom bent over to pick up his paperwork and cussed when the breeze from the door opening and closing behind his deputy sent it scurrying about the room again.  He slapped the paperwork onto the desk and put on his hat.  Glancing at the cells, he noted that the two drunks he’d locked up were snoring heavily and likely to continue to do so until morning.  Martha wouldn’t be waiting dinner on him tonight.  He’d already told her that the boys were on their way and she knew he was fretting about disappointing them.  She’d encouraged him to keep scouring the town for help.  Opening the door again, he stepped out into the coolness of the evening and followed the sound of tinny piano-playing.

He wasn’t worried about stopping his men from getting killed, it was the Kid and Heyes he was worried about.  He’d known those two a very long time and, no matter how settled Heyes had become since his marriage, he wasn’t a man to be crossed and Duncan had crossed him up bad.

Pushing through the batwing doors, Lom was pleased to see that the saloon was crowded.  A herd had come into the stockyards late last night and the drovers were blowing off steam and celebrating tonight.  He knew most cowboys couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn, but he hoped there might be one or two who could in this crowd.  Now all he had to do was to convince them that facing a gang of outlaws was a good way to supplement their income.  He walked to the bar and Fitz, the bartender, slid a mug towards him.  Lom had been in every night for the past five days; regular as clockwork.

“Evenin’, Lom.  Any luck yet?” asked Fitz, wiping the wooden counter top with a grimy, gray rag.

“Not yet.  Any likely candidates in this group?”

Fitz nodded towards a table in the back.  “Maybe those four back there. They all came in together earlier in the evening.  I don’t think they’re with the rest of these yahoots.”

“Thanks, Fitz,” said Lom, picking up his beer.  “Do me a favor and send a round to that table.”

“Will do.”

Lom wove his way through the drunken cowboys, keeping his eyes on the men gathered around the corner table.  They looked hard, even the two younger ones and he saw that they wore their guns tied down.  He sure hoped he wasn’t going to be trying to enlist any of Duncan’s own men.  Damn, he hated this.  Usually, he filled his posses with men he knew and trusted.  He wouldn’t have that luxury with this group.  Willing was the key word here.

The four men saw him coming, but their expressions didn’t change.  They studiously avoided looking at him almost as though they hoped he’d pass them by.   Not much chance of that happening unless he walked out the back door. From his right, he saw Fitz coming around the hook of the bar with a tray laden with four beers.  The barkeeper put one in front of each man, said a few words, nodded in his direction, and hurried back to his other customers. The seated men now turned to look at him boldly.

“Hello, mind if I join you?” asked Lom, politely.

“Suit yourself,” said the grizzled, gray-haired man with the aura of a leader.  He kicked out the last empty chair.

Lom sat down and nodded at him, “Thanks.  I’m hoping you all might be interested in a little proposition I have for you.”

One of the men, spewed some of the beer he was sipping, while the other two laughed nastily.  The gray haired man locked eyes with him and Lom felt a frisson of fear at the cold, assessing look.

“Let’s hear it, Sheriff.”

“The name’s Lom.  Lom Trevors,” said Lom, keeping his nerves to himself.  He needed rough, hard men and it was plain he was looking at four of them.  “I’m looking for some capable men to help me with a little problem.”

“You can call me Gus.  That’s Blake and the fella other there is Wes and right beside him is Lee,” said the grizzled man, nodding in lieu of a formal introduction.  “We’re capable. What kind of problem do you have, Lom?”

“I need men willing to take some risks.  I’m raising a posse and I’m willing to pay ten dollars a day to every man who rides with me,” said Lom, drinking again, but watching the reactions.  He saw interest spring to each man’s face.  Good, they were hungry, now all he had to do was see if they were willing.

“Now that is interesting, Lom,” said the cagey Gus.  “Didn’t hear nothin’ about no robberies.”

“We’ve been having trouble with some no-account, two-bit thieves.  Not much of a reward on them, that’s why we’re paying.  Mostly, they’ve been harassing the stage, but it’s gotten to be a real problem for Porterville.  You in?” lied Lom, smoothly.

“Might be,” grunted Gus.  “Why don’t you give us a minute to talk it over, Lom?”

Somehow the man managed to emphasize his name like he was poking fun at Lom without being openly disrespectful.  Trevors questioned the wisdom of taking these men on.  Maybe he should withdraw the offer, but, damn it, he had to fill that posse or Heyes would tear off for Devil’s Hole on his own.  Nodding, he stood up and took his beer back over to the bar.  Ten minutes later, Gus sidled up next to him.

“Make it fifteen a day and we’ll do it.”

Lom looked at him blandly.  “Meet me at the sheriff’s office, day after tomorrow.”

“See you then, Lom,” snickered Gus.


Two days later it was a weary group who rode into Porterville and pulled rein outside the sheriff's office.  Lom heard the horses and the unmistakable sounds of people dismounted and speaking quietly together.  He stood up from the never-ending paperwork and took a quick glance out the window.  A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth but then he stood back with a sigh at the thought of the conversation to come.

He stepped out onto the boardwalk just as everyone was tying off their horses and preparing to come in and inform Lom of their arrival.

  “Howdy boys,”  Lom greeted them.

  Both Heyes and Kid grinned at their friend and pulling off gloves, they shook his hand in friendly greeting.

  “Hey Lom.”

  “How ya' doin' Lom.

  “Fine, fine,”  Lom lied.  “How was your trip?”

  “Oh, you know,”  said Heyes as he stretched out his back.  “Crappy food and hard beds.  Sure am ready for a real bed and something good to eat.”

  “Hey!”  Allie spoke up with a grin.  “Speak for your own meals, ours were tasty!  You two just have to think beyond canned beans.”

Lom glanced over at Allie and smiled.  Heyes suddenly remembered his manners.

  “Oh, ah Lom; this here is Monty Northrup and that's Scott Medgar and his wife Allie.  This here is Sheriff Lom Trevors.”  Heyes introduced them. “Allie here owns the ranch where Karma was bred.”

  “Really?”  Lom's brows went up.

  “Yes,” Allie concurred, “and I intend to see to it personally we rescue her from those lowlifes who have her now."

  Lom's brows went up even higher.  “Really?”  And he sent Heyes a dubious look.

  Heyes smiled innocently but made no comment.

  “Well,”  Lom shook hands all around.  “Good ta' see ya' here Monty, Scott and....Mrs. Medgar.”

  “Please, call me Allie,”  Allie insisted as she graciously took Lom's hand.  “If we're all going on this little expedition together we may as well be on a first-name basis.”

  “Uh huh,”  Lom sounded even more dubious.  He caught sight of Joe standing quietly in the background.  “You think you're up to this trip, Deputy? You're lookin' in worse shape than ya' were last time I saw ya'”

  Joe smiled.  “I'm fine Sheriff.  Nothing too close to the heart.  Besides I don't want to miss out on this now, not with all I've put into it.”

  “Uh huh,”  Lom commented again.  “Well, why don't you folks get yourselves settled in over at the hotel.  Just let the manager know who ya' are and the town will pick up the tab.”

  “Thank you, Sheriff,”  Monty smiled at the thought of a cold beer.  “It'll be nice to get some of this trail dust outa my throat.”

  “Yeah, sure would,”  Heyes agreed.  “We'll see ya' later Lom...”

  “Not you two,”  Lom cut in, motioning to Heyes and the Kid.  “I wanna have a word with you two, right now.  In my office.”

  Lom turned and disappeared into his office.  Heyes swallowed and frowned. Kid didn't look too pleased either.

  “Everything alright?”  asked Scott.

  “Oh sure,”  Heyes insisted though his worried look bespoke otherwise. “I'm sure he just wants to bring us up to date on the plans and....”

  “Yeah, I'm sure that's all it is,”  Jed agreed with a smile.  “If you folks could get the horses settled an' all.  We'll meet ya' over at the hotel.”

  Monty was grinning, recognizing a smoke screen when he saw one.  Heyes and Jed exchanged a quick look and followed Lom into the office.

  “I wonder what that's all about?”  Allie shook her head and smiled. “Well, come along—I could do with a bath myself.”  And taking up Patches' and Clay's reins she started off towards the livery that they had passed on the way into town.

  Scott watched her go and then turned to Monty.  "Sometimes she surprises even me.  Could she really not know Trevor's shocked that she plans to ride along?"

"She don't want to know, son,"  Monty have him a friendly slap on the back. “Well, c'mon,”  he said, “you heard her.  She's taking a bath, we may as well get settled in.”

  “Yup, I guess so,”  Scott picked up Gov's and his stallion's reins and followed in his wife's wake.

 Monty chuckled and getting hold of Fannie's and Betty's bridles, he naturally followed suit.

  Joe stood for a moment, totally forgotten by all concerned.  He wasn't quite sure which party he was expected to go with and since no one had indicated, he decided to go where it would be most entertaining.  Giving the departing horse butts one more glance he stepped up onto the boardwalk and discreetly entered the sheriff's office.

  “What do you mean; she's goin' with us?”  Lom's incredulous voice was the first thing Joe heard.

  “Well now, Lom,”  Heyes tried to placate his friend,  “as she says; she has an invested interest in Karma and she wouldn't take no for an answer.”

  “Her husband looks like a very capable man,”  Lom pointed out.  “If you explain to him how
dangerous this job is going to be I'm sure he won't let her go.”

  Heyes and Jed smiled at each other.  Jed started to chuckle.

  “What!”  Lom demanded, looking from one to the other.  “You can't be serious about letting that woman go along!”

  “Well, it ain't really a matter of us lettin' her, Lom,”  Kid explained. “Allie's kinda got a mind of her—and it's a pretty strong mind at that.”

  “And besides, Lom,”  Heyes began before Lom could protest further,  “she's an excellent horsewoman and a better shot than most outlaws I've ridden with.”

  “That's true,”  Kid collaborated.

  “No, no.”  Lom shook his head.  “There's more to this than you're sayin'. There's no way you two would be lettin' a woman ride up to Devil's Hole like this unless she had somethin' on ya'.  What could she have on you two that would....”  his expression fell as a thought occurred to him.  “Oh no, don't tell me she's another ex-girlfriend.”

  Heyes and Jed both suddenly looked very guilty.  Joe smiled quietly in the background.

  “Oh no,”  Lom groaned as he sat down at his desk.  “Okay, which one of ya'?”

  They both raised eyebrows at him.

  “Which one of ya' was involved with her?”  Lom clarified impatiently.

  “Oh.  Well....”  Heyes shuffled his feet.

  “Ah....”  Kid fingered his hat.

  “They both were,”  Joe offered from the back.  “Although not at the same time.  Oh, but then maybe at the same time for a while.  From what I understand there was a bit of an overlap....”

  Both cousins turned and sent daggers in Joe's direction.  Joe grinned; he was enjoying getting a little bit back at Heyes for all the initial misery the ex-outlaw had sent his way.

  “Both of ya'!?”  Lom couldn't believe his ears.

  Both men started to justify their positions to the point where neither of them could be understood.  Lom held up his hand to silence them.

  “Never mind!”  He stopped them.  “At least she showed a certain amount of common sense in her choice of a husband.  But that still don't explain why he—and you—are letting her come on this.”

  “Ah well...”  Heyes shuffled his feet some more and he couldn't quite look Lom in the eye.  “Well, like I said; she owns the ranch where Karma was bred.”

  “Yeah.”

  “Well, apparently somebody up and rustled that whole herd of yearlings, so legally Karma still belongs to Allie.”

  Lom crossed his arms and sat back in his chair to await the rest of the story.  Heyes sighed and gave in.

  “She said that she wouldn't let me have Karma back if I didn't let her come along.”

  “That's it!?”  Lom asked incredulously.

  “Well, yeah....”

  “You're willing to risk that woman's life over a horse!?”

  “Oh now, I wouldn't put it like that...”  Heyes complained.

  “Well how would you put it?”

  “You don't know what's she like Lom!”  Heyes protested further.  “I mean; ask Kid!  He knew her longer than I did.”  He sent a beseeching look over to his cousin nodding at him to  contribute something.

  “Ahh, well yeah.  That's true Lom,”  Kid smiled.  “You know the type of woman Heyes goes for; headstrong and forceful—always wantin' their own way.”

  “Hey!”  Heyes felt betrayed.  “You were sweet on her before I was.”

  “Well why do ya' think I backed off and let you have her?”

  “Let me have her?”  Heyes protested.  “I won her over fair and square...”

  “Oh, I donno Heyes.”  Kid continued.  “she was pretty sweet on me but when I saw how smitten you were with her, well, I thought I'd do the brotherly thing and give you free rein.”

  Heyes snorted.  “Since when have you...”

  “HEY!”  Lom broke up the pointless debate.

  Both partners jumped and looked over to the lawman.  Joe stifled a laugh with his good hand.  Lom sighed and shook his head in defeat.

  “I suppose if her own husband can't stop her from goin' on this thing,” he grumbled, “and if she's anything like you then even me ordering her not to come wouldn't stop her.”

  Heyes grinned.  “Now you're thinkin'.”

  “Hmm,”  Lom still didn't look pleased.  “Remind me to thank Miranda next time I see her.”

  Heyes creased his brow, not getting what that was suppose to mean.  Jed smiled, understanding completely.

  “So,”  Heyes cleared his throat.  “are Wheat and Kyle still up in the Hole?”

  “No,”  Lom regretfully informed them.

  “Oh,”  Kid sounded disappointed.  “What happened?”

  “You two is what happened,”  Lom informed them.  “Duncan realized that they knew you fellas at the train wreak and didn't say anything.  Things got kinda hot for them so they got out while they could.”

  “Oh,”  Heyes mumbled.  “well that does kind of change things.”

  “Yeah, it does,”  Lom agreed.  “but I have them camped out by the back entrance just to keep an eye on things, so they're still in the picture.”

  Oh,”  Heyes nodded.  “Yeah, that's good.”

  “Ah, listen,”  Lom began, not sure how this was going to go over.  “I got a telegram from Wheat the other day.  It seems a young acquaintance of yours has switched alliance.  Apparently he witnessed Tom Duncan murder one of the other gang members and was pretty sure he was gonna be next.  He high-tailed it outa there and is now willing to back us up.  Apparently he and Kyle are friends?”

  “An acquaintance of mine?”  Heyes asked.

  Lom nodded.  “Young fella, name of Ames.  Don't know his first.”

  “Oh.”  Heyes swallowed nervously.  “Hmm.”

  “You know him, I take it?”

  “Oh yeah,”  Heyes nodded.  “Yeah.  He was in prison same time as me and Kyle.  He kinda buddied up to Kyle and I guess I did look out for him in there.  He was pretty young.”

  “Do you know what he was in for?”  Lom asked.  “I was going to ask Warden Reece, but I figured you fellas would be in town sooner than I could get an answer from him.  If you don't know I can still find out from him.”

  “Oh no, I know,”  Heyes assured him.

  “And?”

  “Apparently he torched a schoolhouse,”  Heyes informed them.  “while the schoolmarm was still inside.”

  Kid gave a quiet whistle while Lom sat speechless for a moment.

  “You mean to tell me that boy was in prison for murder?”  Lom was incredulous.

  “No no!”  Heyes was quick to deny that.  “No, some of the other students got her out.  It was never ascertained if Ames knew she was inside or not, so he was just in for arson.”

  “Oh, is that all?”  Lom asked sarcastically.  “And now since he's done his time I told Wheat that if Ames agreed to pay back his share from the train robbery then we'd consider him clear.  Would you trust him?”

  “Well,”  Heyes sighed.  “he never gave any trouble in prison.  And let's face it, Kyle's a bit of a pyromaniac himself.  He could have some valuable insights about Duncan and the gang and the way the Hole's laid out now.”  he shrugged.  “I'd let him help out until he proves otherwise.  I'm sure Wheat and Kyle will be keeping an eye on him.”

  “Yeah well, since he's already there and knows what we're up to I suppose that's the best course,”  Lom agreed.  “Not too sure I like it though.”

  “How many men we got for this?”  Kid asked.

  “So far?”  Lom told him.  “Fourteen men—and one lady.”

  Heyes and Kid exchanged glances.  Joe wasn't sure if that was enough people or not.

  “Well, do we know 'em?”  Kid asked hopefully.

  “You know Harker,”  Lom answered.  “and Feeley, who does some deputy work for me once in a while, he's gonna come.  The other four are new and you'll be meeting them this afternoon.”

  “Sounds like a real nice little party,”  Heyes sniped.



Jed, Heyes and Joe headed over towards the saloon with Lom promising to join them shortly as soon as he got the most pressing of the paper work out of the way. The three men were tired from their ride and were looking forward to a couple of cool beers before grabbing some lunch at the local cafe. Besides, it was only proper to wait until the lady of the group had bathed and freshened up before settling in to the mid-day meal. Chances are they would be discussing the issues at hand and Allie was a part of that after all.

“You were real helpful in there, Joe,” Heyes complained as they made their way towards the drinking establishment.

“What?” Joe asked innocently. He was learning a lot from being in Heyes' company. “I was just helping out. You two seemed a little tongue-tied.”

Heyes chuckled and gave Joe a friendly push through the batwing doors and into the saloon. Right away the three men spotted Scott and Monty over at the bar, making short work of their first glasses of beer. The group joined up and Heyes held up three fingers to the bartender. Fitz nodded and three more beers put in an appearance.

Scott grinned as they settled in at the bar. “Your sheriff friend likes to keep you two on a short leash, doesn't he?”

Heyes and Jed both felt slight irritation at the comment, but knew that Scott was just giving them a playful needling.

“Ole' Lom just likes to keep track 'a what's goin' on,” Jed told him. “He'll be fine.”

“I take it Allie kinda took him by surprise,” Monty commented.

“Yeah,” Heyes agreed. “but like Jed says; he's fine with it now. Don't worry about it.”

“There's a table opening up,” Joe observed. “C'mon, let's sit.”

Everybody seemed agreeable to that idea and picking up their beers they all followed Joe over to the empty table. They sat down with contented sighs and stretched out aching backs and cramped up legs. Then both Heyes and Jed froze as their eyes focused on the table next to theirs. There were four men at that table, and the two facing the ex-outlaws had also froze in mid-sentence and the four sets of eyes locked onto each other.

The men at each table who'd had their backs to the opposing sides turned around in their chairs to see who their companions were staring at. Scott, Monty and Joe did not recognize the four men, but it became apparent that at least two of the four men recognized Heyes and Jed.

In an instant the beers were forgotten and chairs were scraped back and kicked outa the way as the four acquaintances all drew their guns and had them pointed across the two tables at each other. The two younger miscreants, though looking confused over the altercation, quickly drew their own guns in solidarity of their friends. Joe was on his feet with his own gun drawn to stand in defense of his side while Scott and Monty both dove out of no man's land so as not to get caught in a cross-fire. Just as quickly they had their guns drawn and were standing beside their friends in a solid show of support.

The piano music stopped playing as more chairs were scraped across the floorboards and concerned voices filled in the silence as patrons and employees both scrambled out of the way.

“What's goin on here!” Joe yelled at the four strangers. “What are you doing pulling guns in here? Stand down!”

Gus sneered at him. “Stay outa this ya' young pup! This ain't got nothin' ta' do with you!”

“See this badge here?” Joe pointed out. “I'm a deputy sheriff and this has everything to do with me! I'm telling you again; stand down or there's going to be trouble!”

“Why don't you tell them two ta' stand down,” Gus countered. “They're the ones with a bounty on their heads.”

Joe glanced over at Heyes and Kid and his stance relaxed just a little; finally he was getting an inkling of what this was all about.

“If you know who these two are, then you also know that that bounty has already been paid out and they are not wanted anymore,” Joe reminded them. “So again, stand down. Holster those guns so we can all relax.”

Nobody was making any move to follow Joe's suggestion.

“Heyes, Jed, holster your guns,” Joe told them.

Neither Heyes nor Jed took their eyes off their adversaries.

Heyes shook his head. “Not till they do.”

“Looks like we got ourselves a little stand off here,” Monty quietly commented as he kept his eyes on the scruffy looking strangers. “but it would appear to me that you fella's have made a mistake.”

“No mistake,” Gus sneered again. “We know who they are, and they know we know who they are.”

“Nobody's denying that,” Scott said. “We know who they are too. But like the deputy says; they aren't wanted anymore so you are not within your rights to pull guns on them.”

“What's goin' on in here, fellas?” came Lom's voice from over by the entrance.

The whole saloon seemed to breathe a sigh of relief at the sight and sound of their own trusted lawman. Even the men involved in the main event noticeably relaxed though nobody's guns wavered from their targets. Lom moved carefully across the room and put himself in between the two tables.

“I suggest you all do what the deputy says,” Lom commented. “After all we're gonna be workin' together and this is no way to begin an alliance.”

Shocked silence was met with this remark, everybody wondering if they had heard that right. Nine astonished looks zeroed in on the lawman.

“What?” Kid was the first to get the word out.

“You didn't say nothin' about workin' with Heyes and Curry!” Gus spit. “Those two have done nothin' but cause us grief!”

“Well if you'd 'a left us alone,” Heyes snapped back. “you wouldn't have ended up in the river!”

“Left ya' alone!?” Gus threw back. “You're gonna rob and steal yer way across Wyoming and Colorado and you expect honest hard workin' folk ta' leave ya' alone!?”

Both Heyes and Kid snorted at that.

“Honest hard workin' folk?” Kid laughed. “You and your boys broke more laws tryin' ta' catch us than we ever did!”

“To catch a skunk sometimes ya' gotta get into the muck with 'em!” was the angry come-back.

“Well you could hardly expect us to just lay down and die for ya'!” Heyes yelled back. “You owe me a horse!”

“And you owe me a gun and a real fine holster!” Blake countered with a spit to the side.

“Well if ya' hadn't been about to shoot my partner in the back you'd still have yer 'fine holster'!” Kid snapped back. “Only a true idiot would spend more money on his holster than he does on his firearm!”

“That was a real fine gun!” Blake argued. “and you done blew it apart!”

Kid snorted in disgust. “I did you a favour!”

“And what about that $500 you took right outa my saddlebag!?” Gus accused them.

“Well if you're gonna leave stuff just hanging around where anybody....”

“Hangin' around!?” Gus cut Heyes off. “You had to sneak right into our camp to get at it!”

“It's not my fault none of you could stay awake...!”

“ALRIGHT!”

The snarking instantly stopped and everyone looked at Lom.

“Will everyone please, just put the guns away,” the sheriff strongly suggested. “Heyes, Kid. C'mon.”

The two ex-outlaws exchanged a quick glance then looked back over at their adversaries. Gus looked around at his men and everybody forced themselves to relent. Guns were uncocked and cautiously slipped back into holsters.

“Fine,” Lom said. “Now why don't we all just sit down and talk this over. We're all gonna have to come to some kind of an agreement if we're gonna be working together.”

There still wasn't too much rejoicing over the sounds of that but everybody did sit back down again and though they were all grumbling, they did it into their beers rather than at each other.

Slowly the saloon settled back into it's normal routine and the piano music started up once again. Fitz came around with a large round tray with enough beers for everyone and soon the tensions started to ease.

“Well now that we all seem to know one another,” Lom commented. “Perhaps we can get down to discussing a plan.”


To Be Continued
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Silverkelpie

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PostSubject: Re: Common Interests Chapter nine   Sat Feb 08, 2014 3:28 pm

A fantastic chapter, ladies!  It was full of wonderful scenes like Allie and Miranda's chat, Wheat and Kyle with a shocked Ames and Lom when he had to hire more men for the posse. 

You really make the supporting characters leap into life and become threads of their own which weave together so beautifully.  Loved Lom asking which one of them was Allie's ex-lover and didn't see the shooting coming, so the shock factor was certainly there.  You have assembled all the players and they are almost in place for the big climax.  I can't wait to see how the shifting loyalties and simmering tensions play out. 

You really have the psychological profile of the arsonist down too, although you may not have studied that.  It often surfaces in males of below average intelligence around adolescence and they love to watch the fire take hold too.  Experienced law enforcement can often spot them at the scene just by looking at them.  I did, more than  once.   I'm sure that profiling in Ames is all foreshadowing!

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PostSubject: Re: Common Interests Chapter nine   Mon Aug 11, 2014 12:57 pm

Another great chapter. Things are heating up nicely.
I am glad to see that my misgivings about Scott and Allie were unnecessary and it was good to see Allie seeking out Miranda.  I enjoyed Miranda unknowingly turning the tables by talking about Anya and Abi. I agree with SK, their chat was a great scene and promises fun to come should the ladies decide to make Heyes' life miserable in the future.
The new group dynamic is fun to watch, especially Heyes and Allie clashing and vying for dominance. You write it so well, I don't even mind that Heyes does not get away with his usual tricks. Scott is growing more confident, even starts to tease the boys a little. What a change to watch Joe now compared to when he first rode out with the boys - now he's accepted as an equal, sitting back to enjoy the fireworks. The scene with Lom and the boys in his office and Joe being "helpful" was priceless. 
I knew it was dangerous that Lom got desperate enough to hire the four strangers. Will they be able to get over their animosity and history with Heyes and Kid? It makes for an uneasy alliance and a tense atmosphere. They are still not enough to storm Devil's Hole and now they can't even fully trust their allies. They'll need an ingenious Heyes plan for sure. I am curious what you will deliver (and I am pretty sure I will like it).
Duncan really goes too far now by shooting Orrie for being open and honest and chasing Ames off. Good luck for Ames to run into Wheat and Kyle again. I loved how you showed Wheat being a softie at heart, taking care of Ames, trying to help him to get on the right side of the law, while still pretending to be a hardened, gruff outlaw. Ames does have a true chance now. I hope he will be able to use it, but I am doubtful. The scene with him getting drawn into the fire was a little scary. We get to see the arsonist and I fear Ames might not be able to overcome his urges. It could be dangerous when going against Devil's Hole.
Gotta get on with the next chapter.

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For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
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