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 'The Fire' Chapter four of Wedded Bliss.

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Keays

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

PostSubject: 'The Fire' Chapter four of Wedded Bliss.   Tue Mar 10, 2015 3:15 pm

The Fire
 
Most of the town's folk were crammed into the schoolhouse while others lined up along the porch around the doorway, or gathered in groups around each of the windows. The mayor and Carl Jacobs were standing over by the teacher's desk and giving out information.
 
From what I understand there is no immediate danger to the town,” Mayor Kincade was saying. “but left unchecked it’s going to eat up a lot of our timber and grazing lands. We must protect the town at all costs so our first line of defense will need to be out on the range. Hopefully we can save the ranches and farms as well.”
 
There were a few grumbles from people who lived out on those ranches. The cattle and lumber industries were what made this town possible and the mayor's words made them feel that yet again, the business and financial needs of those living in town were being given priority.
 
Eric,” Sheriff Jacobs quickly took over the floor to avert an uprising. “We're going to need all your horses and whatever work wagons and carriages you have.”
 
I knew it!” Eric complained from the back of the room. “Everyone always seems ta' think that my horses can be used and abused whenever needs be! I don't want none a' my horse gettin' burned ta' death!”
 
I don't want anyone gettin' burned to death!” Jacobs snapped back, not being in the mood on this morning to put up with the liveryman's protectiveness. “We need as many horses and working wagons as we can get! Every able bodied fella will get hold of as many axes, saws, picks and shovels as you can find and meet back here in half an hour. Now you folks who are visitin' our town, well you're not obligated to help out here but we sure could use you. You want to be part of the work crews then just be here in half an hour and we'll make sure you get outfitted.
Doc, I'm thinking you should just stay in town. Anybody gets injured out there, we'll get them transported to you. Speakin' a' which, is Trevors out there somewhere?”
 
Right here!” came Lom's deep voice from the back of the schoolhouse.
 
Ah good,” Jacobs looked relieved. “The more lawmen I can keep here in town the better. You and Joe will stay here. Things could get crazy and I'll be needin' ya.”
 
Lom nodded his agreement to that plan and Martha smiled with relief.
 
I don't mind being out on the line, Carl,” David protested once he had the chance. “I might be of more use out there and John is quite capable of handling any injuries that get sent back here.”
 
Jacob sighed. “I know that but I would prefer that both of you stay in town. You can equip the wagons with medical supplies and there will be some fellas out there who know a bit about doctorin'. At least enough to get 'em into town.” He paused, scanning the crowd in front of him. “You out there John?”
 
A hand went up near the center of the group.
 
Right here Carl,” the older medical man responded. “Me and Mary are glad to help out, of course. I ain't no young buck anymore anyways so I'm quite happy to stay put.”
 
All the more reason why I should go out,” David persisted. “We could get some serious injuries that need to be seen to right away...”
 
But we don't need anything happening to our doctor,” Jacobs cut him off. “I want you staying in town. Dammit! Where's Heyes when we could actually use him? He's not a real doctor, but what he learned in that prison would be of real assistance.
Anyway, you folks who have homes in town here, I'm hoping you'll take in some of the ranching families, they'll be needing places to stay.”
 
I'm not sure how many we can take in,” Tricia responded. “If things get bad we might need our house for the injured.”
 
That's fine Tricia,” Jacobs assured her. “That kinda goes without saying.”
 
I'm sure Heyes wouldn't mind us openin' up their place,” Jed offered. “Just 'cause he ain't here don't mean he wouldn't help out.”
 
I know Jed,” Jacobs answered. “I meant nothing by it. Just thinking out loud.”
 
We have plenty of room at our place,” came Millicent's voice from out on the porch.
 
And ours!”
 
Us too!”
 
More offers came in as more of the town's women would not be outdone by their neighbours.
 
There's also the hat shop with the living quarters in back,” Beth pointed out. “It wouldn't take long to open it up and get it freshened out!”
 
Good,” Jacobs nodded. “I'm going to be sending telegrams to our neighbouring towns further down the line and request that they send people here to help out. It would be to their advantage. If Brookswood goes, their towns will be the next up in smoke. But that brings up the issue of feeding all these folks. Things are going to get busy once fellas start coming back from the front line, so in the mean time if the ladies still in town can start putting food parcels together. Maybe even some box lunches that can be taken out to the men fighting the fire. Get these things together now while we have time.”
 
The church will of course be opened up for whoever needs a place,” Reverend Sikes offered. “And we've got food already in preparation due to the wedding.”
 
And that's what it's for!” Harry's voice sounded from one of the open windows. “It's my weddin' day!”
 
Not today Briscoe,” Jacobs told him. “Weddin's postponed until this emergency has been dealt with. Sorry.”
 
No!” came a shrieking wail from another window. “Do you know how long I've waited for my wedding day!? You can't postpone it, you just can't!”
 
Just about everyone in attendance rolled their eyes.
 
It can't be helped, Miss Isabelle,” Jacobs told her. “Your man ain't goin' nowhere's. You'll still get your weddin'. But right now.....”
 
No! That's just not fair!”
 
Stop your carryin' on, ya' silly little twerp.” came another voice from the same general direction. “If'n your man tries to use this as an excuse ta' not carry through with it, you know dang well yer brothers'll skin 'em alive!”
 
But Papa....!”
 
Enough! Now get on home with ya'! Yer embarrassin' us....”
 
Despite the gravity of the situation, chuckles rippled through the schoolhouse as the sounds of the arguing duo faded into the distance. Ole' man Baird was a fine one to accuse someone else of being an embarrassment to the family. That grouch never lifted a hand to help out in emergencies and his two sons were just as useless.
 
Harry was being uncharacteristically quiet.
 
Thank you Reverend Sikes,” Jacobs got the meeting on track again. “So long as we all pull together and help out wherever we see it needed, we will get through this. Okay, you all know what to do. Dammit Eric, what are you doin' still standin' around! Go get your teams hitched up. That goes for any other buckboards and wagons in town. Get them hitched up people. Let's go!”
 
Everyone scattered to tend to their own preparations.
 
Wagons from outlying ranches were beginning to arrive in town, and Jed recognized Daisy right off as the filly trotted past him and was being directed over to the nearest empty hitching rail. Right behind her came Monty pulling his own open surrey with family intact. Behind them came the Jefferies with Maribelle at the lines.
 
All three conveyances were filled to bursting with family members, precious belongings that had been grabbed at the last minute along with small dogs, cats and even a caged bird that were not going to be left behind to face the oncoming destruction alone.


Beth!” Jed called as he broke into a run, dodging around other townsfolk as they also made haste to get preparations under way.
 
Beth looked up just as she was pulling Daisy to a halt, and she smiled with relief and delight as she met her husband's eyes.
 
Jed!” she responded as she practically jumped from the carriage and into her husband's arms.
 
Thank goodness you got here safe,” he said as he hugged her to him, then looked around at the rest of the arrivals. “All of you!” he added with a grin. “Even the dogs.”
 
Peanut and Pebbles had started barking as soon as they had entered the outskirts of town and were not about to let up now. Especially since they had competition from the town's dogs in adding to the mayhem. Each pack insisted that they were the ones in charge and the vociferous barking only increased with each new arrival.


Beth turned back to her carriage to get T.J.'s bassinet while Jed moved to help Belle down from her perch.
 
Belle,” he greeted her. “Is Jesse not coming in?”
 
No,” Belle answered with concern obvious in her voice. “I know we have Sam and Ben there not to mention the other hands who are out on the range, but this is still such a worry. We must get more help out there.”
 
We are Belle,” Jed assured her. “Everybody's gettin' ready. We'll have teams out there buildin' a fire break before ya' know it.”
 
Fanny's out there!” Sally was still crying, tears running streaks down her face. “She's too old to outrun a fire!”
 
She won't need ta' outrun it Darlin',” Jed tried to reassure her. “We're gonna do everything we can ta' keep our horses safe, alright?”
 
Sally nodded but sniffed all the same. She didn't like leaving her horse out at the ranch. She should have come into town with them where she would be safe.
 
Where are we needed?” the ever sensible Belle asked.


Let's get you folks settled in over at Heyes' place first,” Jed suggested. “It'll be a bit cramped, but it'll do. We can put Daisy and Monty and the Jefferies' horse out in the pasture that Heyes bought last month, but we might have to offer them and the carriages to move people and supplies up to the fire break.”
 
Beth caught her breath as she tried to sooth a crying T.J. “Oh no,” she stressed. “Do you really think they're going to need our horses? Daisy is so young, She's already had the scare of her life with this, I'd hate to have to send her back out there.”
 
I know,” Jed commiserated. “Hopefully they won't be needed. There's enough workin' horses here and out on the ranches to do the job but we need to make the offer just in case.”
 
I understand,” Belle agreed, cutting off her daughter's protests. “Whatever is needed.”
 
I can go fight the fire,” J.J. offered as he patted the two little dogs. “I'm big enough.”
 
No you're not, young man!” Belle was quick to dissuade him. “You will be staying right here in town with us.”
 
Awww!”
 
I think I've got just the job for you J.J.,” Jed offered as he ruffled the boys blond hair. “How about you and Todd and some of the other boys in town build a firebreak around our house?”
 
Yeah!” J.J. jumped down from the carriage, the two little dogs in close pursuit. “I'm gonna go find Nathan! We'll build our own firebreak! C'mon Todd!”
 
Wait up!” Todd yelled as he hit the ground running.
 
Don't get underfoot!” Maribelle called after them but the boys were long gone and probably didn't hear her. “Oh dear. I hope they don't get themselves into trouble.”
 
Boys will be boys,” Merle commented from her seat in the carriage. She saw no good reason to get out until they reached their final destination. “I'm sure they know this town backwards and forwards. They'll be fine.”
 
Well,” said Belle. “let's get everybody settled in. Has anyone had any breakfast yet?”
 
I expect most people in town had something to eat before the alarm was sounded,” said Jed. “Maybe once you're settled you should all get something. Jacobs wants us all back here in...ooops, fifteen minutes now. I better get crackin'!”
 
Yes alright,” Belle agreed. “Then I expect we ladies will call our own town meeting. I'm sure there is going to be plenty for us to do.”
 
Jed smiled at Belle's usual common sense taking over. “You got that right,” he called over his shoulder as he ran on ahead towards Heyes' residence. I gotta get movin'!”
 
xxx
 
Twenty minutes later the schoolhouse was once again the center of activity as everyone congregated back there again.
 
Kenny,” Jed greeted his friend. “I bet you didn't expect to be pulling fire brigade duty when ya' come here for a weddin'.”
 
Kenny shrugged and smiled. “Life is full of surprises. I know I'm not a young buck anymore but I can hold up my end.”
 
I'll do what I can too,” Steven stated. “I never was a rancher; more for books than shovels but if Jesse's out there doing it then I suppose I can too.”
 
Good,” Jed agreed. “What are you lookin' so sullen about Harry? Still mad that yer weddin's been postponed.”
 
Well wouldn't you be?” Harry griped. “I was suppose to be havin' a good time tonight. Instead I'm gonna be out there in them hills, tryin' not ta' get burnt alive. Besides,” he added with a snark, “my good buddies Larry and Barry have up and disappeared. Looks like they was just here for the party and didn't want to stick around fer the nuptials.”
 
It's more likely they didn't want to stick around for the fire,” Steven commented. “I guess they figure they're safe enough in Denver.”
 
Look who's coming to join the party,” Kenny pointed to three fellas making their way towards them.
 
Wheat, Kyle,” Jed grinned at his friends but only gave Ames a quick nod of acknowledgment. He still wasn't sure if he'd forgiven the youngster for the last fire they had attended. Then he frowned as another thought occurred to him. “I don't think it's a good idea for you to be goin' out there Wheat.”
 
What do ya' mean?” Wheat blustered. “We come for a shindig and a shindig is what we're gonna get. No little ole' forest fire is gonna get in the way of some good eatin'.”
 
Yeah,” Kyle grinned. “'Sides, Isabelle's sister is gonna be there—ah—at the weddin' I mean, not the fire. You know....”
 
Uh huh.”
 
Jed and Steven nodded their understanding. Kenny was more focused on Kyle's young companion
 
I would suggest you try not to look quite so excited, Mr. Ames,” the prison warden cautioned the ex-convict. “Those of us who know you may start to worry.”
 
Oh!” Ames looked contrite, then embarrassed. “No, I just...I mean...no sir! I'm not excited sir. Just eager to get out there and...well help, you know. Ahh.....”
 
The other men present watched Ames struggling with his personal demons. Kenny and Jed both wondered if it was a good idea to allow Mr. Ames anywhere near the flames but Kyle was grinning his support.
 
He's doin' good!” Murtry insisted. “Ain't even thought about startin' a fire since that last time. Have ya' Ames?”
 
Ames dropped his eyes, not looking at anyone. “No,” he answered quietly.
 
See!” Kyle grinned some more, chewing on his tobacco.
 
Kenny and Jed exchanged a look.
 
He'll be fine,” Wheat insisted. “Fer one thing, he knows I'll kill 'em if I catch 'em doin' anything stupid. Don't ya' Ames.”
 
Yessir. Nothin' stupid.”
 
I still don't think it's a good idea for you to be goin' out there Wheat,” Jed reiterated. “I know you quit smokin' 'cause 'a how it made you cough. What do ya' think a whole forest of cigars is gonna feel like?”
 
Aw shoot, Kid,” Wheat spit on the ground. “Yur turnin' into a real mother hen. I can look after myself.”
 
Uh huh. David!” Jed called his friend over.
 
David waved and trotted up to the group but his smile faded as his eyes fell upon Wheat Carlson. Wheat snarled.
 
Oh Mr. Carlson,” he ventured cautiously. “You weren't planning on going out there, were you?”
 
Oh now Doc, don't you start in on me!” Wheat complained. “I sure ain't gonna sit around here with the women and children. Yer lettin' that little firebug go and somebody's gotta keep an eye on him.”
 
I'll watch out fer 'em Wheat,” Kyle offered with a grin. “I sure wouldn't want you gettin' sick agin like ya' did over in Kansas. And you was coughin' somethin' awful after we done burnt down Devil's Hole”
 
Wheat sent Kyle a look that would hardened tobacco but Kyle simply grinned bigger and spit.
 
Your friend is right,” David reiterated. “Smoke inhalation is what usually kills people during a fire, not the flames. Even fellows who are healthy are going to be finding it difficult. I'm afraid I can't give you leave to go.”
 
Well you just try and stop me Doc...”
 
I'll have Sheriff Jacobs lock you up if you insist.”
 
Jed smiled. David won't take lip from anybody, not even a crusty old ex-outlaw like Wheat Carlson.
 
What!?” Wheat's voiced did its usual rise in tone. “You mean you'd actually have me thrown in jail fer just tryin' ta' help out...!”
 
Carl!”
 
Sheriff Jacobs turned his horse towards the beckoning and trotted over.
 
What's up Doc?”
 
Oh fer Christ's sake!” Wheat complained. “Fine! Don't feel right though, just sittin' here doin' nothin' while everyone else is out there keepin' busy.”
 
I wouldn't worry about that Mr. Carlson,” David assured him. “I have a feeling it's going to get busy here over the next 24 hours. There'll be plenty for you to do.”
 
Jacobs sat back in his saddle and rested his hands on the horn.
 
Everything alright here?” he asked with a hint of frustration. “I got enough to do without having to deal with other people's arguments.”
 
We're good here Carl,” David assured him. “Mr. Carlson simply needed some persuasion to stay in town, considering his health issues.”
 
Jacobs hesitated then sent Wheat a look that made the crusty ex-outlaw nervous.
 
You're staying in town Mr. Carlson?”
 
Wheat grumbled. “Appears so.”
 
Good,” Jacobs stated. “I'll need as much help as I can get keeping this town running smooth. You go track down Joe. Tell him I sent ya' over there and he'll swear ya' in as a temporary deputy.”
 
WHAT!?” cough, cough. “You expect me ta'...!”


Yes!” Jacobs told him pointedly. “I do!”
 
The sheriff then turned his horse and trotted away, thereby ending any argument.
 
Well, I'm glad that's settled Wheat,” Jed grinned and gave the old outlaw a slap on the shoulder.
 
Yeah yeah,” Wheat griped as he turned and walked away. “I should'a taken that Morrison out when I had the chance.” He turned and shouted back at the group of men. “Life just ain't been the same since I run inta' that bastard!”
 
What's his problem?” asked Clancy Gilmore, the owner of the mercantile and he approached the group with a sack full of work gloves. “Ain't there enough problems without startin' up new ones?”
 
Aw, he's jest complainin' 'cause he can't go fight the fire,” Kyle smirked. “Gotta stay in town nursemaidin' the we'men.” He and Ames snorkeled and elbowed each other over their little joke.
 
What a shame,” Clancy grumbled under his breath and then set about handing out the gloves.
Here ya' go fellas,” he said as he gave them all a pair. “Courtesy of the merc. Got supplies already in the wagons for those who ain't got their own. Just appreciate ya' return 'em to me when we're all done here.”
 
Yeah sure, Clance,” Jed agreed. “Don't know what kinda' shape they'll be in but we'll try and return 'em.”
 
Donations are also acceptable.” He moved on to continue his distribution.
 
Okay let's get going!” came from Sheriff Jacobs as he rode his horse through the groups of men hovering around the wagons. “Climb aboard everybody, we got us a fire to put out!”
 
An enthusiastic cheer when up amongst the crowd and everybody started piling into whichever wagon was closest to them.
 
Xxx
 
The numerous buckboards and freight wagons headed out of town in various directions but all towards the long line of the fire. Bear Creek ran across the path of the approaching inferno and though it was deep and wide in places, there were other areas of it where a fire could jump it easily enough. The plan was to get to that creek and make a fire break wide enough so that the two barriers combined would stop the blaze in its tracks. Homes on the fire side of the creek were already considered lost so focus had to be kept on saving as much of the valuable timber and grasslands as they could.
 
Xxx
 
 
As soon as his family was well on it's way, Jesse quickly harnessed up his two draft horses to the buckboard. He loaded the vehicle with as many digging and chopping utensils as he could find and even thought to bring along some blankets and buckets to gather water from the stream. He would head towards the line cabins first and collect as many of his employees as he could but he hoped most of them were already on their way to the danger zone. He would need every hand he had in his employ if they wanted to save the Double J and the smaller surrounding properties and he was not about to let his neighbours down.
 
He had one more thing to do before he left his property though. He decided he didn't want to chance leaving the horses trapped in the pasture. Panicking, they could very well break their way out through the fence but he didn't want to take the chance of injury on any of them. He made sure his team was well secured and headed to the pasture.
 
He opened the gate and sent Ellie in to herd the horses out. She barked excitedly, happy to be given a job she knew how to do. With hardly a signal from her boss, she bounded through the open gate and ran full speed towards the small band of horses packed up against the far fence line.


They saw her coming and though normally they tended to ignore the young dog when she was playing, this time they knew she was serious. With necks arched and nostrils blowing, they danced away from her and tried to avoid letting her get behind them. But Ellie was getting very good at her job and she avoided the hooves and slipped in behind to start nipping at them and driving them forward.
 
The horses didn't want to go. The dog was pressuring them to move towards the oncoming fire. The blaze was still a long way off but the animals knew what it was and where it was and the horses at least, wanted nothing to do with it. They tried to dash away from the pesky dog but Ellie was too quick for them. Barking with authority, she dashed back and forth, nipping at heels and skipping away from kicks, until she had the band moving in the right direction.
 
Once they started to move the horses picked up speed and in no time flat, they covered the distance from the far fence to the gate and then they were through it. They tried to head for the barn which had always been a place of safety before, but again that pesky dog circled around and wouldn't let them get near it.
 
Jesse closed the pasture gate and waved Ellie around to push the horses past the house and up the hill towards the lands which should remain safe from the fire. It didn't take much for Ellie to get the band together and moving in the appropriate direction. Once the horses realized that they were being allowed to run away from the smell of the smoke they didn't need any more encouraging. With ole' Buck taking the lead since he knew the way, the band headed for the hills and would join up with the range herd and hopefully stay safe with them.
 
Once the horses were well on their way, Jesse whistled and called Ellie back to him. She came at a wild gallop, with tongue lolling out and a huge smile on her face. She skidded to a halt at Jesse's feet and jumped around him in overjoyed ecstasy but was careful not to lay paws upon him. Even in her excitement she knew that was a no no. Jesse praised her and motioned her up onto the buckboard. He didn't know what use she would be fighting a forest fire but he sure as shootin' wasn't going to leave her here. The barn cats and chickens would have to fend for themselves, even if Jesse could find them.
 
Half an hour with the team at a hand gallop found the buckboard rattling and jolting its way through the Curry homestead. Jesse didn't stop but pushed the horses onwards and shortly after that he spotted two riders galloping towards him. As they got closer he recognized Sam and Deke and felt a strong sense of relief wash over him. He knew these two at least would be on the ball.
 
Everybody pulled their horses to a halt and took a precious moment to confer.
 
Mr. Jordan!” Deke greeted him as he pulled his horse around. “Glad we run inta' ya'!”
 
Where is everyone?” Jesse asked his trusted hand. “Have you seen them?”
 
Yessir,” Deke assured him. “We run inta' Taggart and Levi and told 'em ta' collect up as many of the other hands as they could and head over ta' Bear Creek. I figure if'n we all meet up there we can make plans.”
 
Jesse nodded and was just about to comment when they heard shots being fired from behind them. They all turned to see what was going on and spotted another horseman galloping towards them from the direction of town. A minute later a lather covered Berry slid to a halt and danced around the buckboard still under the control of his adrenaline rush.
 
Ben!” Jesse greeted him. “Didn't you get into town?”
 
Yessir, I did,” Ben assured him. “Sheriff Jacobs sent me right back out again. They got a game plan and they want to make sure everyone knows what's goin' on. They's plannin' on buildin' a fire break along Bear Creek. If we can get a whole line a' fellas workin' the stretch we just might stop this thing in its tracks.”
 
That's where we're headed,” Jesse assured him. “Hopefully most of my men will meet us there by Hollow Tree Mesa.”
 
Ben nodded and started to turn away.
 
Shouldn't you be staying with us Ben?” Jesse suggested. “You don't want to be caught out here alone.”
 
No sir,” Ben told him. “I still need to run by a couple a' more spreads. There's still plenty a' fellas who didn't get into town. I gotta let 'em know what we're doin'!”
 
Okay Ben,” Jesse accepted that. “Good luck—and be careful! And look after my horse!”
 
Ben tipped his hat and turning Berry around, headed off at right angles to spread the word at the other ranches.
 
Okay boys, we know where we need to be,” Jesse commented. “Get going and get the men organized. I'll get there as quickly as I can.”
 
Yessir, Mr. Jordan,” Deke nodded and turned his horse away.
 
Do you know anything about my family Mr. Jordan?” Sam asked before he followed Deke. “Did they get into town alright?”
 
I don't know for sure Sam,” Jesse admitted. “But Belle and Beth would have gone right by your place. Chances are they're all together.”
 
Sam nodded and allowed his mare to turn and gallop off after Deke. Jesse slapped the horses with the lines and they started up again, quickly escalating into the ground-covering lope. He kept them at this gait for five miles until they were forced to slow down due to the changing landscape. The flat dry grasslands gradually morphed into the more heavily wooded slopes and Jesse got busy navigating the team through the increasingly dense stands of timber.
 
There was a road as such that allowed logging equipment to get in and out of the region and of course, the wagons hauling lumber needed reasonably maintained roads to keep production up. But even at that these roads had to be traversed with care. Fallen logs, pit holes and scattered rocks could all cause serious damage to a wagon wheel and that was the last thing they needed now.
 
The horses themselves knew this road well enough and despite the increasing acrid smell of smoke on the breeze, they pulled true and stayed on course. All Jesse had to do was keep an eye on the road ahead. Ellie helped to keep them going with a constant cacophony of barking.
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Keays

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PostSubject: Re: 'The Fire' Chapter four of Wedded Bliss.   Tue Mar 10, 2015 3:16 pm

Jesse pulled the blowing team to a halt along the bank of Bear Creek. Most of his men were already there and anxiously watching the approaching smoke cloud. Flames were not in sight yet and with any luck the wind would stay relatively calm and not encourage the fire to move towards them any faster than it already was.
 
Eager faces turned at the sound of the buckboard arriving and before Jesse could step down, men were surrounding the vehicle and attempting to grab axes and shovels and picks. Ellie wasn't pleased about this attack at all and with loud barking and bared teeth, she ran back and forth the length of the wagon bed, snarling at anyone who got too close.
 
Ellie! Stand down!” Jesse ordered her as he jumped into the back to control the dog. “You're a good girl but just relax.”
 
Ellie wagged her tail and came to stand by her boss as Sam climbed into the wagon bed to help out.
 
Good girl,” he praised the dog and gave her a quick pat on the head.
 
Ellie got the message and was willing to stand by and watch as Jesse and Sam handed out the equipment to the men surrounding the wagon. She kept a close eye on things though just to make sure nobody was taking advantage or trying to steal anything.
 
Once everyone was equipped with something, both men jumped down from the buckboard and Jesse called them all to order.
 
Okay fellas,” Jesse began. “Now most of you have fought fires before so I don't need to go into too much detail here. You other fellas who haven't, see to it that you team up with someone who is experienced. Deke, I'll leave it to you to get teams organized.”
 
Sure enough Boss,” Deke agreed.
 
We're on the far edge of this fire,” Jesse continued. “so we only need to work for about a mile to the west. But we'll have to clear a firebreak about ten feet wide all the way along the bank here. Fortunately the creek itself is a natural deterrent, but it's not going to be wide enough on this stretch so we're just going to have to help it along.
Clear all the brush and vegetation away for ten feet. That includes the trees and for goodness sakes don't let them fall across the creek. Make sure they fall inland. Any trees that fall across the creek, you're going to have to take the time to cut up or drag back onto this side. We don't want to give the fire any kind of a bridge across.
Everybody understand what we're trying to do here?”
 
Yessir, Mr. Jordan.” came the answers back.
 
Yessir.”
 
Yep, we know.”
 
Okay,” Jesse nodded. “I want ten men working west and the rest of you working east. I'm going to ride east along the bank until I meet up with the rest of the crews. I'll get back here as soon as I know what everyone else has planned. And for God's sake, if the fire gets too close then get out of here. I know we all have property and livestock and jobs to save, but none of that is worth a man's life. Understood?”
 
Yessir.”
 
Understood.”
 
Good. Deke, you're in charge,” Jesse told him. “And Sam, you back him up. Pay attention to what the fire is doing and don't let yourselves get trapped here. Same goes for the smoke. If it gets really bad then move out. That smoke will kill you faster than the flames.”
 
Don't you worry about that Mr. Jordan,” Deke assured him. “I've fought enough of these burners ta' know when ta' git out.”
 
We'll get it done, Mr. Jordan,” Sam assured him.
 
Alright, get to work.”
 
You heard the boss!” Deke shouted. “Let's git goin'!”
 
The men collected up their various tools and followed Deke to get their orders.
 
Sam,” Jesse stopped the young man.
 
Yessir.”
 
I'll need to borrow your horse,” he said. “I'll leave the buckboard here for you fellas to use when it's time to leave . That way you can pack the tools out with you as well as any injuries.”
 
Oh yessir,” Sam agreed. “We'll be mindful of it. I'll go get Ginger. She's a good mare—well you know that. I'll get her for you. She'll look after you fine.”
 
Thank you.”
 
Sam went off to gather up his horse while Jesse collected his rifle and some canteens of water from the driver's seat of the buckboard. By the time he was organized, Sam was trotting back to him with the mare in tow and handed over the reins.
 
Jesse swung aboard.
 
I'll take care of her Sam,” Jesse assured him. “You'll get her back.”
 
I know that.”
 
Jesse sent him a quick smile and turning the mare away from them, pushed her up into a gallop along the sandier stretch of the creek bank. Sam grabbed his pickaxe and trotted over to where Deke was handing out orders and getting the work teams organized.
 
Ellie stood in the buckboard watching all the commotion and wondering what her job was suppose to be in all this. Then when her boss galloped off without a word to her and Sam also took his leave, she began to whine in some consternation. She stood for a moment with her front paws up on the siding of the buckboard and watched her boss disappear along the creek bank and she began to bark. She looked around to see if anyone was paying any attention and whined again as she realized she was all on her own.
 
She hadn't been invited to join her boss as he rode away, but he hadn't actually ordered her to stay with the buckboard either. There was nothing of value left in the buckboard for her to guard and though one could argue that it was the buckboard itself she should be guarding, she had not been specifically told to do so.
 
One more whine, a lick of the lips and her decision was made. With a final bark, she jumped out of the buckboard and galloped after her boss. It wasn't until Jesse had to slow the mare down to get across more rugged terrain that he noticed he had company and by that time it was too late to send her back.
 
What are you doing here?” he asked her. “You were suppose to stay with the buckboard.”
 
Ellie laughed up at him then carried on navigating the terrain.
 
Jesse smiled and shook his head. Maybe she would be safer sticking close to him after all. He kept the horse moving forward at a lively trot trying to cover the rough ground quickly, but not risk the mare's legs. He would give anything to have Berry under him at this point but everyone seemed to be riding whatever horse was available and Sam's quick little sorrel mare was just as good as any other.
 
They were making good time but in circumstances like these everything seemed to take too long and Jesse felt anxious about getting over the trail and meeting up with the other crews from town. He repeatedly glanced to his right, towards the mountain ridges that hid the spreading fire. It was as though his eyes were being drawn towards the one thing he didn't want to see and also knowing that it could not be avoided.
 
The fire was still some distance off and only the smoke billowing along the horizon betrayed the fact that devastation laying beneath it was inexorably creeping closer with every minute that passed. Then a soft breeze ruffled the mare's mane and Jesse's nose tingled with the scent of burning wood. Ginger snorted and tossed her head, she could smell it too and knew exactly what it predicted. She mouthed her bit and scooted a little, trying to bolt for cover even though there was no real cover to be had.
 
Whoa, easy girl,” Jesse soothed her and gave her a pat on the neck.
 
She snorted again but steadied her gait and the trio carried on until a bend in the creek revealed more wagons up ahead.
 
Ellie broke into a gallop and barking a joyous greeting, she ran up to Jed just as everyone was climbing out of the wagons and getting organized.
 
Hey Ellie!” Jed was taken by surprised. “What are you doin' here?”
 
Hey Jed.”
 
Jed looked up and smiled at his father-in-law.
 
Jesse! We was hopin' ya' got the message.”
 
Yes,” Jesse confirmed as he stepped down from the saddle. “Ben met up with us. I have a crew of my men working about two miles to the west. I rode this way to see if you fellas were here yet and to make sure our lines meet up.”
 
Howdy Jesse,” Jacobs greeted the rancher. “Good thing ya' did. We have to keep track of where everybody is.”
 
Carl!” Jesse returned the greeting. “I didn't expect to see you out here. Shouldn't you be staying in town?”
 
Oh, don't worry,” Jacobs assured him. “I'll be heading back there real soon. Buildin' a fire break is a young man's job. Speakin' of which—what the hell are you doin' out here?”
 
Jesse smiled. “Looking after my interests Carl,” he admitted. “I have too much invested in this land to just sit back and watch it go up in smoke.”
 
You have a good point,” Jacobs conceded. “but my place is back in town. I'll just get these fellas organized and then be headin' back. You be careful out here Jesse, you hear?”
 
Jesse smiled again. “Yessir Sheriff.”
 
Jacobs snorted and went about organizing his men.
 
He might have a point,” Jed commented to the older man. “You ain't a young'un anymore.”
 
I'm fine Jed,” Jesse assured him. “Somebody's gotta be out here keeping you hotheads from getting burned alive.”
 
Uh huh.”
 
Hey Kid,” Harry got his friend's attention. “I ain't so young anymore either—I've been thinkin' that I just might head back into town with that sheriff. You know, just to help out with the plannin' and keepin' the ladies calm. You know how the ladies can get in a crisis....”
 
Jed looked over at the scrawny man who was toting a pickaxe that weighted about the same as he did.
 
But Harry!” Jed countered him. “I thought you'd be all gun ho ta' be out here, doin' a man's job. What better way ta' impress yer young bride-ta-be than to be savin' the town from a forest fire?”
 
I'd be impressin' her more by showin' up at my weddin'!” Harry complained. “Why, we were supposed ta' be gettin' married right on this very hour!”
 
I don't think the fire cares about that Harry,” Jed pointed out. “If not ta' impress Isabelle, then what about her father and brothers?”
 
What about 'em?”
 
Well ya' don't see them out here do ya'?”
 
That's 'cause they're smarter than the rest of us!” Harry groused.
 
Or just plain cowardly,” Jed countered again. “Think how much you'd be impressin' her paw bein' out here, fightin' this fire and helpin' ta' save their ranch while those no good, two-bit, useless son's 'a his are cowerin' under their beds like school boys.”
 
Harry stopped and thought about that.
 
You just might have a point there Kid.”
 
Yeah.”
 
I could be a hero.”
 
Isabelle won't mind her weddin' bein' delayed so much if'n her man comes back to town as a genuine hero.”
 
Harry puffed up and smiled. “Yeah!”
 
He took a deep breath and heaved the pickaxe up onto his shoulder. He instantly lost control of it and it swung around, causing both Jed and Jesse to duck out from under the deadly weapon. Then with a loud thump, the pick came down and impaled itself into the dirt. Harry began to pull and tug on the tool in a futile effort to dislodge it.
 
You think you're gonna be able to handle that, Harry?” Jed asked him.
 
Sure Kid!” Harry insisted as he continued to haul on the handle. “Just let me get it out....of the...ground....”
 
Jacobs showed up then, carrying a shovel. He snatched the handle of the pick out from Harry's grasp and tossed the shovel to him.
 
Here!” Jacobs told him. “Before ya' go killin' somebody.”
 
Oh, ah thank you Sheriff.”
 
Uh huh.” Jacobs gave the pickaxe a quick tug and pulled it free of the earth. Swinging it up onto his shoulder he sent the two other men a frustrated glance and headed back towards the work crew. The pickaxe was quickly handed over to a well developed rancher's son.
 
Harry tested the weight of the shovel and smiled his approval.
 
This will do quite nicely,” he stated. “Yes siree. Just right.” And he walked off to join up with the crew.
 
Jesse and Jed exchanged looks.
 
Maybe he would be better off in town,” Jesse commented.
 
Yeah, but just think how impressed Isabelle will be if he sticks this out?” Jed answered. “Not to mention his future father-in-law. I'll keep an eye on 'im.”
 
Okay....”
 
xxx
 
Evening and darkening skies found the crews still hard at work clearing the break. The air was becoming more difficult to breathe and the sound of men coughing was becoming a norm as everyone labored on. The coming of darkness also brought with it an ominous warning. A bright red glow could be seen highlighting the ridges of the local mountains. There was no denying that the fire was getting closer and everyone pushed harder through their weariness in order to get the fire break done in time. They should manage it—as long as the wind didn't pick up....


xxx



Eli was doing a good job of arranging the increased luggage onto the spare seat inside the clarence while his two passengers said their 'goodbyes' inside the alcove of the mansion.
 
Thank you Silky,” Heyes said and meant it as he shook the old man's hand. “We'll keep in touch.”
 
Ya better!” Silky threw back at him. “I wanna meet yer young'uns—and the Kid's too, so I expect ta' see ya' back here lickety-split.”


Heyes grinned. “Yes we will.”
 
Thank you Silky, for everything,” Miranda said as she leaned in to give the old geezer a kiss on the cheek.
 
Oh well, hee hee hee,” Silky gushed, almost blushing with pleasure. “Well now that's just fine. Real pleasure ta' meet ya'. You take good care a' yer wife here Hannibal. No holdin' back or playin' seconds.”
 
No that won't happen,” Heyes assured him. “I know when I've got it good.”
 
Well it's about time!” Silky just couldn't resist getting in the last word. “Off ya' go or you'll be missin' yer train.”
 
Heyes helped Miranda step up into the conveyance and with one final nod to their host, stepped in himself and settled into the plush seats. The door closed and Eli clucked the team of grays into a trot that would take them back to the starting point of their San Francisco visit.


Once inside their private suite on board the train to Yuma, the couple settled into the arm chairs by the window to watch as they slowly pulled out of the station. They both smiled and waved at pedestrians even though they didn't know any of them and then heaved big sighs of relaxation as the train picked up speed and clattered its way through the outskirts of the big city.
 
So,” Heyes smiled at his wife. “Did you enjoy San Francisco? I mean, my San Francisco.”
 
Miranda looked at him coyly. “Yes Hannibal I did,” she assured him. “I wasn't sure about Silky at first, but he truly is a fine man and he does care about you a great deal.”
 
Yes I know,” he admitted. “We talked while you were out shopping. He said some things that surprised me but—they were good things. We're fine.”
 
I'm glad,” Miranda told him. “I would hate to think that there was a rift between you—there is so much history there. I'm glad you've worked it out.”
 
A discreet knock on the door interrupted their talk.
 
Yes?”
 
George opened the door and politely poked his head inside.
 
Would sir and madam enjoy coffee and pastries?” he asked. “Lunch will not be served for another couple of hours.”
 
Oh.” Hannibal glanced over to his wife. They had just finished a rather large breakfast of fried herring with eggs, bacon and tomatoes so did they really need anything more? Miranda smiled wickedly at him. They were on their honeymoon; what did 'need' have to do with anything? “Yes,” he answered politely. “Coffee and pastries would be very nice. Thank you.”
 
xxx
 
The couple took a light lunch in their suite and then were content to sit back and enjoy the scenery slide by outside their window. The city of San Francisco had long ago faded away into the distance and once they were past San Jose, the desert, rolling hills and distant ranges of the Santa Lucas Mountains took over viewing pleasure. The small towns of Salinas and San Lucas cropped up and drifted by as the afternoon clattered on.
 
By the time the train came chugging through Obispo it was well past midnight and Hannibal and Miranda were thinking that they really should head for bed. George had been by much earlier and pulled the bed down in anticipation of passengers retiring for the night so they were already seated on top of the blankets, as there was nowhere else to sit. There really was no excuse to stay up longer but the night scene out their window was hard to turn off.
 
Finally Miranda pulled down the window blind and the couple undressed and got themselves settled under the sheets where they relaxed in each other's arms. They lay together like that for a few moments, feeling the rhythm of the train keeping time with the subtle clackety-clack of the wheels turning beneath them.
 
Are you tired?” Hannibal asked quietly.
 
Miranda sighed dramatically. “No not really,” she admitted. “I doubt very much that I will be able to sleep.”
 
No me neither,” her husband agreed.
 
Rolling over onto his side, Heyes raised the blind on their large picture window. They both re-arranged themselves so they could lay on their stomachs with chins resting on hands and pillows tucked under their arms for support and once again stared out at the amazing star-studded nightscape.
 
Wow that's amazing,” he muttered in total awe of the immense view. “I've seen it so many times; me and Kid sleeping out under the stars but I never seem to get enough of it. It's different here too. Don't ask me why or in what way, it just is.”
 
It seems to go on forever,” she agreed. “It's hard to imagine that. It must end somewhere.”
 
Hmm,” was Hannibal's lazy response. “From what I've read about it, astronomers think that it does go on forever.”
 
How is that possible?” Miranda asked him skeptically. “It can't just go on forever.”
 
He shrugged. “I donno. And if it does end then what's after that?”
 
Isn't that where God is suppose to be?”
 
I donno,” Hannibal said again. “Some say it is and on a night like this I could believe it.”
 
Miranda cuddled in closer. “I like to think that William is up there, watching over me.”
 
Hmm.”
 
And your friend, Doctor Morin?”
 
Hannibal smiled softly. “Yeah I hope so.”
 
You still miss him?”
 
Oh yes,” Hannibal was adamant about that. “I didn't know him for very long, but he sure had an influence over me. I don't think I'll ever stop missing him. I know I'll never forget him.”
 
Then I hope he is out there watching over you,” Miranda whispered. “We all need a guardian angel.”
 
Hannibal rolled onto his side and smiled at his wife.
 
I don't think Doc would appreciate being referred to as an angel.”
 
Miranda giggled. “Well perhaps an angel with a tarnished halo.”
 
Yeah.”
 
They settled back onto their pillows again and went back to watching the stars glittering up the night sky. They were quiet for some minutes, allowing the regular motion of the train to lull them into their own thoughts and musings. Heyes was just about to nod off to sleep in that position when Randa quietly brought up another topic.
 
Have you thought about it?” she asked. “A name I mean; for the baby.”
 
Hmm, oh ahh—yeah,” he mumbled. “Haven't decided on anything yet. Kind of thought it was a bit soon. Thought I might like to meet the young'un first before slapping a name onto him. What about you?”
 
She nodded. “Hmm, if it's a girl I would like to name her after my mother. A boy? I don't know. Maybe I'll leave that to you.”
 
Maybe we should let Sally decide.”
 
Miranda giggled into the pillow.
 
I don't think I want to take that chance,” she replied. “She might come up with 'Cookie' or 'Apple Pie'!”
 
It was Hannibal's turn to chuckle then.
 
She just might at that,” he agreed. “I suppose its best if we take on the responsibility of picking the name.”
 
Yes.” She returned to gazing out at the night sky. “We can call her 'Starlight'.”


Heyes turned to look at his wife to see if she were actually serious or not. The bright sparkle in her eye gave him his answer.
 
Oh you,” he snickered as he pulled down the window blind and pulled his wife into a loving kiss.
 
Feeling tired now, they settled back under the sheets and snuggled into each other's arms. Within minutes they both fell asleep gently rocking with the rhythmic motion of the train making its way through the diamond night.
 
 
Not surprisingly they woke late the following morning. George had been discreet and had not bothered the honeymooners with any talk of breakfast or coffee. Mr. Heyes was paying him well to pay attention to their particular needs during their ride down to Yuma and the porter wasn't about to irritate the golden goose.
 
Hannibal stretched and yawned mightily. He was so comfortable, he just didn't feel inclined to get up yet. This was an unusual but pleasant state for him to be in. Too often once he was awake his over-active mind would kick into full gallop and he'd be up and pacing with his morning cup of coffee. And often, before dawn. But this morning he felt comfortable and relaxed. He sighed deeply and looked over to his wife.
 
Miranda still appeared to be asleep so he turned over and pulled up the window blind to see what kind of a day they had. He instantly closed his eyes tight against the light and pulled back. Miranda stirred and grumbled.
 
Oh why did you have to do that?” she complained without opening her eyes. “It's still early.”
 
Hannibal blinked a few times and looked out into the bright summer day. The sun in the east was half way up the sky and the brilliant blue of the sky highlighted the range of the Santa Ynez Mountains. It was a beautiful day, but it certainly was not early.
 
It must be 10:00 at least,” he commented. “Past time we got up.”
 
Miranda's eyes flew open and raising herself on an elbow she looked out upon the day.
 
Oh my! Did we really sleep that late?”
 
Appears so.”
 
Miranda threw the bed clothes aside, revealing her glorious nakedness and ignoring her husband's eyes upon her, she scrambled off the bed and made her way into their private water closet.
 
Hey!” Hannibal complained. “Why do you get to go first?”
 
Because I got out of bed faster!” she stated with a cheeky grin and disappeared inside the convenience.
 
Hannibal nodded as he accepted that bit of logic and hauled himself out of bed to get dressed.
 
Twenty minutes later George tapped on the door to their suite and Miranda opened it to find the porter standing there looking expectant.
 
Good morning Missus,” he greeted her. “If you folks would care for some coffee and pastries you can find them being served in the observation car.”
 
Hannibal smiled. George was very discreetly letting them know that he needed them out of the suite so he could get about his duties.
 
That would be wonderful,” Hannibal agreed.
 
Oh yes! Coffee!”
 
Yes Missus,” George encouraged their exodus. “We're along the coast line now too. Perfect view of the ocean from the west side of the car.”
 
Thank you,” Hannibal said and handed George a small gratuity as Miranda grabbed her husband by the arm and pulled him out the door.
 
Turning left they made their way down towards the engine until they came to a car that was laid out differently from the others. In a way it was similar to coach seating, but there were padded seats rather than wooden benches. There were also small tables situated in between facing seats so the 'higher class' passengers could enjoy a beverage or light snack while watching the scenery roll by.
 
The car was comfortable and airy with the large windows being opened just enough to allow the soft ocean breeze to waft through the car, keeping it fresh and cool. Upon first entering the car both Hannibal and Miranda stopped to take in the view coming to them from the west. The ocean was so close to the tracks at this particular spot that they could hear the waves rolling in upon the land. Accentuating this idyllic experience was the shrill calling of the sea birds that floated and circled above the waters in the hopes of finding something to eat.
 
Ah!” Hannibal took his wife's elbow and led her to a set of seats that had just opened up on the right side of the car. “Let's grab them before someone else does.”
 
Oh yes!”
 
The couple moved in and got settled with Hannibal allowing his wife to have the window seat. Her eyes were sparkling and her smile voluptuous as she sat mesmerized by the oceanic display.
 
Oh look!” she exclaimed as she pointed out the window. “Look at those birds!”
 
Hannibal almost did a double take.
 
I've never seen a bird like that,” he admitted. “Not even in San Francisco. What are they?”
 
Miranda shrugged. “I've never seen them before either. What odd looking creatures.”
 
A porter was quick to descend upon them and overheard their conversation.
 
They are pelicans Ma'am,” he informed them.
 
Oh.” Miranda exchanged a comical look with her husband.
 
Hannibal shrugged. “Pelicans.”
 
Would you care for coffee and pastries?” The porter got on with his job. “or perhaps something stronger?”
 
No, coffee please,” Hannibal informed him. “This is breakfast for us.”
 
Of course,” the porter replied diplomatically, then scuttled to the side as another couple hurried to take over the seats opposite the Heyes'. “Oh! Well, may I get something for you as well? Coffee or something stronger?”
 
Yes sorry,” the young man made a flippant apology for their briskness. “Coffee I think,” he said “This is breakfast for us.”
 
The Porter tweaked an eyebrow. “Yes of course.” He wrote down the orders and discreetly made his exit.
 
The two couples were suddenly face to face and a slight awkwardness ensued.
 
Good morning,” Hannibal flashed his dimples and both young people were instantly drawn to it and returned equally energetic smiles. “It seems we were fortunate to get the last seats available.”


Yes,” the man agreed. “We should have come down here sooner but we were...ah...”
 
This is our honeymoon!” the young woman spontaneously announced as she wrapped her arm around her husband's and gave him an enthusiastic squeeze.
 
Both Hannibal and Miranda smiled and nodded affirmation.
 
Dearest, you shouldn't be blurting that out to complete strangers,” the husband reprimanded. “Whatever will they think of us?”
 
The woman's sparkling smile drooped a little and Miranda was quick to come to her defense.
 
Oh that's alright,” she assured. “I'm doing that all the time—just ask my husband! And by the way,” and she leaned over conspiratorially, “this is our honeymoon too.”
 
The young woman's eyes lit up again and she practically clapped her hands.
 
Really!?” she exclaimed. “That's marvelous! We're on our way to Santa Marta! I can hardly wait, it's going to be so romantic! I've never been this far south before and nobody I know has ever been to Mexico. Imagine my surprise when Cedric presented me with this wonderful trip—as if getting married wasn't enough of a joy but then he brings me on such an exotic vacation as this!”
 
Lois, please...” Cedric was obviously feeling embarrassed by his young wife's exuberance.
 
Hannibal took the initiative and set about introducing themselves.
 
I'm Han,” he offered in an effort to give an honest name but not reveal too much. “This is my wife Miranda.”
 
Oh yes of course,” Cedric leaned forward and offered his hand. “I'm Cedric Soames and this is my wife Lois. Very pleased to meet you.”
 
The porter arrived then and interrupted the greetings by setting down a tray laden with coffee, cream, sugar and a plate piled with enticing pastries.
 
Sirs and Madams, enjoy,” he told them. “If I can get you anything more, please let me know.”
 
Of course,” Hannibal agreed. “This will be fine for now, thank you.”
 
The porter gave a nod and retreated.
 
Where are you people heading?” Cedric asked as they all settled in with coffee. “I understand there are some lovely vineyards along the route. Or are you more of a beer man?”
 
For some reason Hannibal was beginning to feel irritated by this young man. He couldn't put his finger on it but the young man's mild snobbery was starting to annoy.
 
I enjoy a fine glass of wine,” he responded politely. “but we are also going to Santa Marta which has its own fine vineyards as I recall. I have a friend there with whom we will be visiting.”
 
You are friends with a Mexican?” Cedric practically sniffed.
 
Indeed,” Heyes acknowledged. “The Alcalde in that town is a very good friend.”
 
Alcalde?” Cedric asked. “I'm afraid I'm not familiar with that term. Is it like a waiter or a horse groom?”
 
Heyes smiled indulgently. “No. 'Alcalde' is the title given to the mayor and in Senor Cordoba's case; Chief of Police as well.”
 
Oh my!” Lois exclaimed. “A man of some standing! And he is your friend. How lovely! Perhaps you can introduce us, he sounds like such an interesting person. Wouldn't that be lovely, Cedric?  To meet the mayor of the town?”
 
Hmm,” Cedric was not impressed. “I'm sure we'll meet many colorful people while we're there.”
 
Oh yes! I certainly hope so!”
 
Hannibal was becoming more and more irritated by these people while Miranda was once again fighting an attack of laughter. She took a sip of coffee to give her time to compose herself and was soon able to present a suitable smile to their companions.
 
I'm sure you will have a lovely time there,” Miranda predicted. “Though my husband has been there a couple of times now, this will be my first trip and I am so looking forward to it.”
 
Likewise!” Lois agreed. “Perhaps we can do some sightseeing together. Wouldn't that be fun?”
 
I'm sure they have their own agenda Lois,” her husband commented. “What have I told you about being so forward?”
 
Oh yes,” Lois retreated, her sparkle diminishing. “I'm sorry Cedric. I keep forgetting.”
 
We don't mind...” Miranda started but was instantly cut off.
 
I think it's time we returned to our suite anyways,” Cedric announced and stood up to offer a hand to his wife. “Come along.”
 
Oh,” Lois was obviously disappointed but she dutifully took her husband's hand and rose to her feet.
 
Hannibal and Miranda rose as well and bid them good afternoon. Heyes then took the seat that Lois had vacated in the hopes of discouraging any more encounters with other passengers. The car was beginning to thin out anyway and travelers returned to their private quarters for lunch so Heyes didn't feel too guilty about taking up the space. They both sat back down with heavy sighs.
 
Poor dear,” Miranda finally commented. “I fear she is in for a rather subdued life.”
 
Well, she married him,” her husband responded cryptically.
 
Miranda sent him an indulgent smile.
 
Yes,” she agreed. “I doubt it was for love though, or if it was, it's a love that she'll quickly outgrow. Oh well, perhaps she'll be fortunate and have a second chance.”
 
Hannibal chuckled. “Are you wishing ill fortune upon her husband?”
 
Of course not!” Miranda denied with mock indignation. “Simply good fortune to her!”
 
Oh I see.”
 
xxx
 
The train had rolled on through San Buenaventura and was once again heading East, away from the coast line and towards Los Angeles before the Heyeses decided it was time to return to their own abode. Even with the coming of evening, the change in temperature as the train pulled away from the ocean and out into the desert was a dramatic increase and the couple looked forward to getting stripped down to bare necessities and relaxing in private.
 
It was later in the evening when the train pulled into Los Angeles. There would be at least a two hour layover in this town as this was where the Transcontinental Railroad split. The train that the Heyeses were already on would be heading in a southeasterly direction towards Yuma while another train awaiting their arrival would continue on along the coast to San Diego.
 
Most of the passengers who were not transferring to the other train preferred to simply stay on board and relax rather than walk around the streets of a strange city after dark. If he had been on his own or with the Kid, Heyes probably would have enjoyed disembarking and taking time to sample the local nightlife, but not with his wife. All the proper shops were closed anyway which left only the saloons and dance halls open for business and it would be totally inappropriate for a married couple to enter either.
 
They sat comfortably in their roomette, keeping the window and the blind partially open to allow the warm breeze to alleviate the stuffiness but still award them some privacy from the activity out on the platform. Sipping their evening tea they spent their time eavesdropping on the outside conversations and finding humor in just about everything that went on beyond the comfort of their nest.
 
The two hours spent in this fashion went by quickly and with the train sounding its whistle they were soon once again on the move. Everything quieted down as new passengers got settled in their appropriate places and before too much longer, a discreet knock on their door informed them that the porter was ready to turn down their bed.


Last edited by Keays on Tue Mar 10, 2015 4:44 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Keays

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PostSubject: Re: 'The Fire' Chapter four of Wedded Bliss.   Tue Mar 10, 2015 3:17 pm

The following morning the Heyeses awoke at a more reasonable hour and again took coffee down in the observation car while their porter prepared their room for the day. The change in the temperature as they got further away from the ocean was very noticeable now while they chugged through the San Bernardino Valley. Though not as spectacular as the rugged coastline and rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean, the landscape here offered its own kind of beauty.
 
Streams coming down from the San Bernardino Mountains were often plentiful enough to support waterways and cause lakes to form and survive even during the hottest months of the summer. Orange groves were in abundance along with avocado orchards and the never ending grape vineyards. It was like an oasis in the middle of the desert and despite the hot dry breeze coming in through the windows, the Heyeses hoped the train would stop long enough for them to disembark and sample some of the wares.


It did stop briefly in Redland to pick up a passenger but was quick to get on the roll again and it was with some disappointment that the honeymooners watched that town slide away from them just as so many others had done. Just as they had given up hope of having a chance for a stretch of the legs, George came by to announce that they would be stopping for two hours in Indio to take on passengers and water and to replenish food supplies. Those who wished to walk around the town could do so as long as they were back on board fifteen minutes before departure time.


It was late afternoon by the time Miranda and Hannibal stepped off the train and took in deep, replenishing breaths of fresh air. It was still very warm, but the breeze helped to cool things off a tad, and it felt so refreshing to get away from the stuffiness of their roomette.
 
Oh my, what a lovely little town,” Miranda exclaimed as they walked arm in arm along the boardwalk. “It feels so good just to get off that train for a while and see some sights.”
 
Yes,” Hannibal agreed wholeheartedly. “but be thankful it's cooling off towards evening, and it's late in the summer. This area can get incredibly hot in August.”
 
It's just perfect now,” Randa observed. “Oh look! There's an open market. Let's see what we can find.”
 
And with that she took her husband's hand and hurried him along towards colorful displays of fresh produce and flowers. Heyes laughed at her enthusiasm and picked up the pace in order to keep in step. Soon they were in the midst of the many stalls with the merchants all waving and calling them over to entice them with their wares. English and Spanish vied with one another as the dominant language and further down the line a heavy sprinkling of Chinese added to the flavor.
 
Look at all this fruit!” Randa gushed. “I wished I'd brought a basket with me, I want to buy so much.”
 
It's a good thing we didn't,” Hannibal was being forever practical. “It won't last so there's no point in buying more than we can eat tonight and perhaps tomorrow. Hopefully by tomorrow evening we'll be in Yuma.”
 
It was as if Miranda barely heard him. With an exclamation of delight she ran forward to pick up the large round fruit which had caught her eye.
 
Look at these oranges!” she said, “I can't remember the last time I had a fresh orange.”
 
Si Senora,” the vender pushed his wares. “Buy some! Very fresh—sweet and juicy. I pick out some of the best ones for you.”
 
Oh yes please!” Randa was nearly jumping up and down in her excitement. “Four would do nicely.”
 
Four?” Heyes asked, his brow going up.
 
We'll eat them Hannibal,” his wife assured him with a pat on the arm. “Just wait until you taste these.”
 
Here you are, Senora,” the vender held up two oranges in each hand. “four of my very best oranges. You will like them.”
 
Oh, but how shall I carry them?” Randa lamented. “I told you I should have brought a basket with me.”
 
I can sell you a basket Senora,” the vender was most helpful to offer. “Ten cents.”
 
Ten cents for a basket?” Heyes was astonished. “Seems a bit much.”
 
No, no Senor,” the vender insisted. “My esposa  makes them all by hand. Much work. Takes lots of time.”
 
Your wife makes these? They're beautiful,” Randa admired the weaving of the baskets on display. “The colors are lovely, just like the desert.” She smiled over at her husband and Heyes gave in. “I'll take this one,” she announced as she picked up the one of her choice. “How much for the oranges?”
 
One cent apiece.”
 
Alright,” Miranda opened her change purse and began to count out the coins.
 
What are you doing?” Heyes asked her as he reached into the inside breast pocket of his light shirt. “I'll pay for it. Fourteen cents then. Here you go.”
 
The vender gladly accepted the payment and went back to his sales pitch. Heyes took the basket in one arm and offered his other to his wife.
 
You didn't have to pay for them,” she said as they continued to walk. “It was my idea.”
 
I know,” Hannibal assured her. “I tell you what; you can pay for the next one.” Then he frowned as his eyes lighted on an item of produce that he had never seen before. He picked up one of the dark green, almost pear-shaped morsels and frowned. “What is this?”


Miranda couldn't help giggling at his consternation. The skin of it was hard and bumpy and Heyes couldn't fathom how one was suppose to eat it.
 
That's an avocado,” Miranda informed him. “We've been passing groves of them for two days now. They're very good, especially in salads. But you can eat them as they are or with a little bit of lemon juice and pepper.”
 
How?” he asked as he gave the item a thorough inspection.
 
Generally you cut them in quarters,” she explained. “There's a big seed inside so you have to pull the meat of it off that and then peel the skin off. I'm surprised you don't know about these. If you and Jed have been down this way before you should have come across them. They grow all over California and even into Mexico. They also make a very nice sauce called guacamole that people use for...”
 
Oh! Guacamole,” Heyes was enlightened. “Yeah sure. Kid and I have had that plenty of times. Big Mac's wife makes guacamole that puts the taverna stuff to shame. Maybe she'll make some for us when we're there. Hmm,” he gave the avocado a more respectful look. “I always thought it was just called 'guacamole'.”
 
Well it is,” Miranda smiled at him. “but it's made from avocados.”
 
Heyes gave her a look. “Hmm. Fine. Alright. Two avocados.”
 
Yes sir,” the young man behind the tables was quick to respond. “These two will do...”
 
Oh no!” Miranda cut him off. “Those aren't ripe yet. Let me see...this one and...this one.” She smiled at the vender as she placed her choices into their basket. “Do you have any lemons?”
 
Yes ma'am. They are around the other side.”
 
Miranda walked around the stall with both men following her until they came upon a slat covered in the small yellow fruit. She smiled and carefully picked out two ripe lemons which she then added to the rapidly filling basket.
 
How much?” she asked the vender as she opened up her change purse.
 
Oh ah,” the young man glanced uneasily at the gentleman and seemed unsure about accepting payment from the lady when she was obviously being escorted. Heyes simply smiled at him so the lad returned his attention to the lady. “Two cents each for the avocados and two lemons for a penny.”
 
Fine,” Miranda smiled and she handed over the payment.
 
Pleased with her purchases, she took her husband's arm and the couple walked off.
 
Are you happy now?” Hannibal asked her.
 
Yes!”
 
Are we done shopping?”
 
Yes. I believe so.”
 
Good! Now all we have to do is eat them.”
 
The couple casually carried on their way back towards the train depot. They weren't in any hurry yet, but they knew the train would be ready to leave soon and they didn't want to be caught flat footed. They laughed and chatted casually with one another until Hannibal suddenly took his wife's elbow and steered her into the nearest door.
 
What?” she asked. “What's the matter.”
 
It's that couple from the train,” Hannibal informed her. “The Soameses.”
 
Oh!” Miranda was suddenly alarmed.
 
They stepped deeper into the store in the hopes they would not be noticed and to their great relief, they were not.
 
Oh dear,” Miranda commented. “This is so silly. She is such a dear, but that husband of hers. I dread taking the stage with them down to Santa Marta.”
 
Yeah,” Heyes grumbled. “Not sure how we'll get out of that one.”
 
Oh look!” Miranda exclaimed as she held up a paperback book. “'Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry and the Shootout at Castle Rock'.”
 
What!?”
 
Hannibal glanced at the book his wife was holding, then he took a quick reconnaissance of the store they were in. It wasn't really much different from any other mercantile store he'd been in, but as luck would have it, their flight from the Soameses had put them right in line with a shelf full of dime novels. Heyes took the book from his wife's hands and flipped it over.
 
'Will Heyes and Curry meet their maker at Castle Rock?'', Heyes read. “The sheriff's posse has them trapped and it doesn't look good'. Oh brother.”
 
Miranda giggled. “What? I hear it's very exciting reading.”
 
Hmm.” Heyes looked around at the books in the adjoining bin and picked up another one. “'The End of the Hole'.,” he read again, and again, flipped the book over. “'Is this the end of Devil's Hole? Our hero...' Our hero!?” Heyes repeated with disgust, then he sighed and carried on reading. “'Our hero Sheriff Morrison has sworn to rid the territory of those cowardly outlaws. But will it cost him his life?'
 
Miranda patted his arm in mock sympathy as her husband glanced around at the other books on the shelf and then came back to the bin in front of him. He noticed a sign tacked to the post that indicated the bin of books beneath it. 'Dime novels' was printed on the sign, but this advertisement had been crossed off and a new title was added. 'Discount bin, five cents'.
 
Discount bin?” Heyes felt insulted.
 
May I be of service?” came the polite inquiry from behind them.
 
The couple turned to see the small, partially bald clerk smiling his servitude as he glanced towards the book bin.
 
Looking for some reading material?” he asked hopefully.
 
These books,” Heyes asked. “they're on discount?”
 
The clerk looked at the book Heyes was holding up and he smiled ignominiously.
 
Ah yes,” he declared. “I'm afraid Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry are old news now. Stories of the Devil's Hole Gang just don't sell anymore.” he stepped forward and pulled another book from the shelf, “Now, these might be of more interest. The Dalton Gang, Black Jack Christian, Soapy Smith. These are what's selling now. I fear I'll be using the Devil's Hole novels as fuel for the fire before too much longer. Would you care to purchase one of these? The Dalton Gang series is doing very well.”
 
No I don't want to purchase one of those!” Heyes snarked. “I'll buy whatever you have on Heyes and Curry and the Devil's Hole!”
 
The clerks eyes lit up in surprise.
 
Oh!” he exclaimed. “Well of course! I believe I have ten left of those, ah let me see. Ten at five cents a copy ah...”
 
Fifty cents!” Heyes informed him.
 
Yes quite right.” The clerk gathered together his collection of discount books wishing he had left them at the regular price. How was he to know that a sucker was going to walk into his store? “Would you like a bag sir?”
 
No,” Heyes informed him as he handed over the payment. “We'll just put them in our basket.”
 
Yes of course.”
 
The couple walked back out onto the boardwalk with their basket full of treasures and Miranda could not hold her laughter back any longer.
 
What?” Heyes asked her.
 
You were like a little school boy in there,” she teased him. “Are you actually going to read those?”
 
No,” Heyes answered sheepishly.
 
Miranda laughed even louder.
 
You quibble over ten cents for a hand made basket, but you spend fifty cents on a pile of books you'll probably never read!”
 
I'm saving them for our children,” Heyes quickly covered.
 
Really!” Miranda sounded skeptical. “Just to be sure they get the facts?”
 
Yeah!”
 
Miranda's laughter was drowned out by the three loud whistles indicating the train was due to pull out soon.
 
Xxx
 
 
Yuma, Arizona was stifling hot. Disembarking from the train was like stepping out of the oven and into the furnace. Miranda was finding that her layers of appropriate clothing, even though the required 'summer weight' were proving to be most uncomfortable and she wanted nothing more than to get to the hotel room and into a nice refreshing bath. Hannibal could not have agreed more.
 
He made arrangements for their luggage to be transported to the Yuma Hotel which was conveniently close to the train depot and then got in line to make arrangements for seats on the coach leaving for Santa Marta the next day. The only couple ahead of them were the Soameses and though Heyes inwardly groan, he did his best to put on a happy countenance.
 
Oh hello!” Lois greeted them, looking bright and fresh despite the heat. “I thought we'd lost you. You seemed to vanish off the train altogether.”
 
Oh no, we were there,” Miranda assured her. “we must have just kept missing one another.”
 
Yes of course,” Lois agreed. “Well we won't be missing one another on the coach will we? It would seem we are the only ones going down to Santa Marta.”
 
Yes it would seem so,” Miranda agreed. “I'm sure we'll have plenty of opportunity to get better acquainted on the journey.”
 
I'm sure we...”
 
Come along Lois!” her husband interrupted. “I'm sure they have better things to do than to listen to you prattle on.”
 
Oh yes, coming Cedric!”
 
Miranda shook her head as the young couple moved away and Hannibal stepped up to the counter.
 
Yessir?” asked the clerk.
 
Two tickets for the stage to Santa Marta,” Heyes informed him.
 
Of course sir. Your names please.”
 
Hannibal felt the usual quiet knot in his gut whenever he was asked that question and again he gave the closest thing he could to the truth without actually lying.
 
Han and Miranda Heyes.”
 
The clerk nodded and wrote the names down.


Home town?” he asked.


Why would you need to know that?” Heyes asked, feeling oddly threatened.


We have found from past experience that its best to have some form of contact information on citizens travelling into Mexico,” the clerk explained patiently. “Just in case.”


In case of what?”


Injury, death—disappearance.”


Oh.” That did actually make sense. “Brookswood, Colorado.”


The clerk jotted down the name.
 
That will be two fifty apiece.”
 
Hannibal smiled with mild relief and handed over the payment.
 
Very good sir,” the clerk informed him. “Stage will leave at ten o'clock tomorrow morning. Have a pleasant trip.”
 
Thank you.”
 
Heyes turned back to his wife and she took his arm and gave it a gentle pat.
 
That wasn't so hard now was it?” she asked him.
 
No,” Heyes admitted. “I guess not.”
 
xxx
 
An hour later the Heyeses were comfortably settled into their hotel room and the ordered bath had quickly been brought up for their convenience. Truth was, the hotel was well aware of the state of passengers coming in on the train and they were well prepared in advance to have baths ready for the hot and weary travellers.
 
It hardly took any time at all for Hannibal and Miranda to peel off their sweaty clothing and submerge themselves into the refreshing liquid. Miranda smiled and sighed contentedly as she leaned back against her husband and he wrapped his arms around her. They lay together like that for some time, enjoying the cool water and the feel of their bodies pressing against one another.
 
Eventually Hannibal picked up the bar of soap on the stand beside the tub and slowly began to rub it along Miranda's arms. Then he rubbed the bar briskly between his hands to work up a lather and caressed his hands over her breasts then down her torso and around her tummy. He soaped up his hands again and tried to reach her legs but he couldn't quite make it so he returned to the areas that he could reach.
 
Miranda preened with a pampering. It felt so nice to feel his masculine hands washing away all the sweat and grime left behind from hours of train travel. She smiled and purred as she settled back against his chest and his soapy hands embraced her and settled back onto her tummy. She sighed contentedly and brought her own hands up to caress his.
 
Have I told you recently, how much I love you?” she asked him.
 
Yes,” he whispered in her ear. “but I don't mind you telling me again.”
 
I love the feel of you pressing against me,” Miranda breathed. “You feel so good.”
 
Hannibal brought his right arm up and encircled her waist, pulling her even closer into him but his left hand stayed on her tummy and he gently caressed the growing contours of her pregnancy. He nuzzled into her neck and his breath in her ear made her giggle. He smiled and kissed her.
 
You're bigger,” he stated. “Your belly is rounding out more and more, every day.”
 
You certainly know how to flatter a lady,” Randa teased him. “We all want to hear how much fatter we're getting with each passing moment.”
 
Hannibal smiled, continuing to caress her with his soapy hands.
 
Not fatter,” he insisted. “Better, sexier. I love how you feel. I love how our baby is growing. I can see it, I can feel it. You're beautiful.”
 
Miranda preened some more. She settled in further against his chest, listening to his heart beating and she felt loved and contented.
 
They soaked together for some time. Eyes closed and their breathing settling into a rhythmic pattern that wasn't quite sleeping, but wasn't fully awake either. They were relaxed and basking in the simple pleasure of holding one another. Until Hannibal's stomach growled.
 
Miranda giggled.
 
Ready for dinner?” she asked quietly.
 
Hmm. I can wait.” His stomach growled again. “Honestly, I'm quite content right here.”
 
Silence settled in upon them and they nestled in together a few more minutes. Then it was Miranda's turn to announce hunger pangs.
 
Oh dear,” she grumbled. “I wasn't hungry at all until you brought it up.”
 
I didn't bring it up,” Hannibal insisted. “It's my stomach that's complaining and I'm choosing to ignore it.”
 
Well,” Miranda began to stir and placing her hands strategically on the bottom of the tub, she lifted herself up and out of the water. “I'm afraid I can't ignore it any longer. I'm hungry.”
 
Spoilsport,” Heyes mumbled, then smiled at the sight of Miranda's dripping wet posterior staring him in the face.
 
She grabbed one of the towels and wrapping it around herself, she daintily stepped out of the tub.
 
What are you smiling at?” she asked him.
 
Nothing.”
 
Uh huh,” she grinned and threw the second towel at him.
 
He snatched it out of mid-air and proceeded to exit the tub and dry himself off.
 
 
Half an hour later, a well scrubbed and refreshed looking couple made their way into the hotel restaurant. They stopped at the entrance, looking around for an empty table but not finding any. It seemed that everyone from the train head beaten them to the punch when it came suppertime.


Oh dear,” Randa commented. “There's Lois waving at us.”
 
Hmm,” Hannibal grumbled. “I really don't want to sit with them.”
 
I don't see any way out of it,” Randa observed. “She is inviting us and there is nowhere else to sit. It would be rude to refuse.”
 
Well...”
 
Randa smiled and waved back. Taking the lead she ushered herself and her husband over to the young couple's table. Heyes put on his most engaging smile.
 
Good evening,” he greeted them as they approached the table. “Seems we're a little late getting down here for supper.”


Cedric stood up and offered his hand.
 
Indeed,” he agreed as they shook. “Please join us. Hopefully Lois won't embarrass herself this time.”
 
Your lovely wife has yet to embarrass herself,” Miranda countered and she smiled down at the young woman across from her. “In fact, I recognize in her a kindred spirit.”
 
Lois beamed with pleasure as the others settled in around the table.
 
Is that a fact?” Cedric responded, then he winked across at Heyes. “You must have your hands full.”
 
Hannibal smiled over at his wife.
 
Not at all,” he said. “I love her exuberance.”
 
Miranda smiled coyishly back at him and they squeezed hands under the table.
 
Well,” Cedric coughed into his hand. “You must give me some tips on how to manage it.”
 
Heyes' smile slipped for an instant but whatever retort he was going to send the young man, was cut off by the arrival of the waiter with the menus.
 
Good evening,” he greeted his guests. “Would anyone care for drinks while you browse the menu?”
 
I'll have a red wine,” Hannibal informed him and then cocked a brow at his wife. “White for you?”
 
Yes,” Randa agreed. “A very light white if you have it.”
 
Yes ma'am.” He glanced over to the second couple.
 
Oh dear,” Lois was almost blushing with embarrassment. “I've never had wine before. May I try some Cedric?”
 
Cedric gave a long suffering sigh. “If you wish Lois, so long as it doesn't make you even sillier.”
 
Oh.”
 
Miranda reached across the table and took her hand.
 
Try the light white,” she suggested. “It's not as heavy as the red and one glass is not likely to cause any ill effects. I'm only going to have one. We'll have them together.”
 
Lois smiled and giggled with the excitement of this new adventure.
 
Yes I will!” she declared and looked to the waiter. “One glass of white wine please.”
 
Of course ma'am. And for you sir?”
 
I'll have a whiskey,” Cedric announced.
 
The drinks soon arrived and dinner was ordered.
 
Lois took her first sip of wine and her brows went up in surprise.
 
My,” she said. “I'm not sure what to think of that. It's almost like juice but with more zing to it.”
 
Yes dear,” Cedric commented. “That's why it's alcohol.”
 
Yes of course. I just meant...”
 
So how did you and your husband meet?” Miranda asked, hoping to change the subject.
 
Oh!” Lois smiled. “Our parents are in business together in Washington. It's a whole new frontier up there and full of business opportunities. Our families have the biggest lumber mill west of California.”
 
Oh,” Heyes nodded. “I had a friend who used to work the lumber camps up that way. Before your time though, during the Civil War.”


Really?” Lois exclaimed. “Well, he must have been somewhat older that you. Were you even alive during the Civil War?”
 
Heyes smiled. “Yes but I was just a child. And you're right; he was much older than me.”
 
So your families knew one another then?” Randa continued. “Were you childhood sweethearts?”
 
Cedric snorted and Lois laughed out loud.
 
Oh no!” she exclaimed. “I was actually born in New York and my family didn't move west until I was an older child. When I first met Cedric, he was such a mean little boy! I wanted nothing to do with him.” She smiled fondly over at her husband. “But fortunately our parents knew better. They knew it would be a good match and they arranged the whole thing.”


 Heyes glanced at Cedric and took note of the hard look and tight lip that suggested that the marriage had certainly not been one of his choosing. Lois seemed oblivious to it and chatted on about what a fine match they now made.
 
Finally Lois came up for breath just in time for their meals to arrive. Cedric ordered himself another whiskey.
 
How about you and Han?” Lois asked after her first bite. “You seem awfully old to be on your honeymoon—ouch! Cedric!”
 
You're being rude again.”
 
Oh.”
 
No, that's alright,” Miranda insisted as she tried to hide her scathing look to the young man. “Actually this is my second marriage. My first husband passed away some years ago. But I was very fortunate to have found love again.”
 
Fortunate for both of us,” Hannibal agreed.
 
Yes it was,” Miranda conceded and gave her husband's hand a squeeze. “Just goes to show; you never know.”
 
Hmm,” Hannibal nodded emphatically as he took his dug into his steak. “I certainly wasn't expecting that.” 
 
How romantic!” Lois exclaimed. “You just bumped into each other and fell in love! How wonderful is that!”
 
Hannibal and Miranda exchanged a quick look, neither one of them wanting to go into the details of their rocky romance. Then Heyes frowned slightly as he became aware of an individual entering the restaurant and pausing to look around at the many guests. This in itself should not have set off alarms but the man's attire did not fit the occasion and there was something about his presence that caused the hair on Heyes' neck to prickle.


Their eyes met from across the room and the man turned to walk towards them. Heyes felt his heart skip a beat when he noticed the badge pinned to the approaching vest and he found himself fighting the impulse to get up and run.


He had to stop thinking this way. He was a free man now and hadn't done anything to warrant serious attention from the law. Perhaps it wasn't just him the lawman was approaching. Perhaps it was the whole table. After all they were the only Americans to be heading south into Mexico and it may be standard policy to do a check up.


Unfortunately the lawman did not s top at the table, he stopped directly beside Heyes and the ex-outlaw felt the prickle on his neck travel down the length of his spine. His three companions finally became aware of their visitor and were all looking up at him with slightly concerned expressions. Heyes glanced up and his eyes again lit upon a badge. He directed his glance higher and found himself looking into a pair of dark brown eyes that were looking down into his.
 
Mr. Heyes?”
 
Yes.” A shiver joined the prickling. He felt Miranda's hand tighten on his.
 
Sheriff wants to see ya', over at his office.”
 
Right now?” Heyes asked trying to bide for time. Of course the sheriff wanted to see him right now. “We're just finishing up supper.”
 
Hmm mmm,” the deputy nodded. “Right now. Shouldn't take too long.”
 
Oh well...”
 
Hannibal...” Miranda's whisper was filled with concern.
 
Heyes smiled at her and patted her hand.
 
It'll be alright,” he assured her. “I'm sure it's nothing serious. I'll be right back.”
 
I'll come with you.”
 
No ma'am.” The deputy nipped it in the bud. “Sheriff wants to see 'em alone.”
 
But...”
 
It'll be alright,” Hannibal assured her again. “Just wait here. I won't be long.”
 
He pushed his chair out and smiling over at their dinner companions tried to ignore their shocked expressions staring back at him.
 
Sorry folks,” he said to them. “I'll get back as quickly as I can. What's a fine dinner without a good cup of coffee at the end of it?”
 
He sent one more reassuring look to his wife and then turned to follow the deputy out of the restaurant.
 
Oh dear,” Miranda whispered to herself. She turned back to meet the inquiring gazes from her two companions. “I'm sure it's nothing,” she insisted as she put on a brave smile. “He'll rejoin us soon.”
 
 

To Be Continued.

Historical note; Avocados weren't actually grown commercially in California until the early 1900's.  Using a little bit of creative license here.
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'The Fire' Chapter four of Wedded Bliss.
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