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 The Devil's Due - Chapter 10

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Silverkelpie

Silverkelpie

Posts : 1446
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 58
Location : Over the rainbow

The Devil's Due - Chapter 10 Empty
PostSubject: The Devil's Due - Chapter 10   The Devil's Due - Chapter 10 EmptySat Aug 29, 2015 11:17 am

“Ain’t but a scratch, Wheat.  Quit yer bellyachin’.”  Kyle stood over his injured friend with a disgusted look on his face. 

“Scratch!  Damned near took my arm off,” complained the bigger outlaw.  He pulled at his upper arm trying to get a closer look at the gouge in his flesh.  It still burned from the scrubbing his partner had given it.  Wheat could swear that Kyle had been especially rough in his cleaning of the jagged wound.

“You’d best be grateful you don’t need stitches.   Heyes is sewin’ his geldin’ up right this minute and he’s in a mood over your screwup.  If’n you spent less time thinkin’ about how to make Heyes look bad and more time rememberin’ your job, you wouldn’t be hurtin’.”  A stream of tobacco juice kicked up a small puff of dust at Wheat’s feet.  Shaking his head, Kyle left his partner sitting on his saddle pad and wandered over and sat down with his other gang members clustered around the campfire. 

Lobo, Preacher, and Hank were already celebrating.  None of them cared a hoot about how Wheat was.  He’d nearly gotten them killed.  Wheat watched the bottle passing from hand to hand, but made no attempt to join them.   He knew better.

OOOOOOOOOO

“Heyes?”  Kid Curry could see the weak light of his partner’s miner’s lamp and pushed through the shrubby undergrowth in that direction.

“Over here,” said a deep baritone voice floating through the night.

Reaching the line of horses tethered to a highline, Curry leaned against a tree and watched as Heyes gently finished attending to his mount’s wounds.  “How is he?”

“All right, but he’ll scar,” was the terse reply.  Heyes stroked the glossy neck as his gelding chewed the oats in his feedbag.   “How ‘bout you?  Any cuts?”

“Naw.  You got the worst of it.”  The Kid could see several bloody welts across Heyes’ face.  “Let’s get you cleaned up.”  He pushed off the tree.

“Not yet.  There’s something I gotta do first.”  The dark-haired outlaw leader stomped towards the glow of the campfire.  Crashing out of the bushes, he glared at the slightly inebriated faces lit by the flames, but didn’t see the face he was seeking.  “Where’s Wheat?” he demanded.

“I’m here,” said Wheat.  Heyes strode over to stand in front of him.  Pushing off with his good hand, Wheat stood up and faced the wrath of the younger man.  “Go ahead, I know I messed up.” He visibly braced himself; preparing for a blow.

“I ain’t gonna hit you, Wheat, at least not physically.”  Heyes turned to the rest of the gang.  “Listen up all of you.  Things are gonna change around here starting now.”  He paused until he had all eyes upon him.  He knew the Kid was standing slightly behind him and to his right.  It felt strange but good to have him there.  “I’ve…we’ve got big plans for this gang.  No more penny-ante stuff.  We’re going big time and to do that, we need to know we can rely on you.  We’re not putting up with anymore half-hearted efforts from any of you.  From here on out, if you can’t or won’t learn your part, you’re out of here.”

“You’re kickin’ me out?” sputtered Wheat.  He involuntarily backed up a step as angry brown eyes bore into his own.

“If you mess up again, that’s the very least I’ll do,” threatened Heyes.   “I’m not putting up with your bullshit anymore, Wheat.  One more mistake because you didn’t bother to listen and you’re done.  Got it?”

Wheat slid a glance towards the Kid and received an icy blue glare.  “Yeah, I got it.”

Heyes smiled, but it was an evil grin.  “As for today, I’m giving your share of the cut to rest of the men.”  A cheer broke out amongst the other outlaws.

“What?!!  You can’t do that!” yelled Wheat, indignant and forgetting his fear.

“He can and he just did,” said Curry softly.  His hand rested on the butt of the big hogleg in his holster.  “What part of Heyes bein’ leader don’t you understand?  I’d be right glad to help educate you.”

Wheat knew he’d never go up against Kid Curry.  All the fight went out of him and left him feeling hollow and ashamed.

“You could’ve gotten any one of us killed today.  It ain’t gonna happen again.  If any one of you think you can rob a bank on your own, ride on out and give it a try.  We work together as a team and watch each other’s backs or we call it quits right now.  Who’s with me?” asked Heyes.

“I am,” said the Kid, loudly and firmly.

“Me, too,” said Preacher, lifting the bottle he held as a salute to his leader.  The rest of the men either yelled or murmured their agreement; even Wheat.

“Good.  When we get back to the Hole, we’re not gonna sit on our asses anymore.  We’re all gonna start working hard to be the best of the best.”  Heyes turned to Curry.  “Kid, would you be willing to give these yahoots some shooting tips?”

“I’d be happy to, startin’ with you,” agreed Curry.  “You nearly took my head off in that alley.”  Relieved chuckles accompanied his jesting remark and the atmosphere lightened considerably. 

Heyes laughed and slung an arm over his best friend’s shoulders.  “I’ve got to tell you, you’re gonna have your work cut out for you.  All right, let’s divvy up the loot and get to celebrating!  C’mon, Wheat, you might not get any cash but there’s plenty of booze to go around.”

OOOOOOOOOO

Charlotte stared out of the train window and wondered if she was doing the right thing.  The countryside flashed past her, like every opportunity to take charge of her own life; until now, and she wasn’t entirely sure that she was doing the right thing.  “It’ll be an adventure…we can do anything we want to do…if we stay at home we’ll just end up being at the beck and call of Angelique and her boring husband…we’ll be like servants…”  The words went on and on until it seemed like the only thing to do.  The cover story was all carefully arranged, amidst much giggling and gossiping, until they were seen off with great enthusiasm to Miss Porter’s School Of Art and Music for Young Ladies in San Francisco.  Nobody checked, nobody argued; in fact if she didn’t know better she’d have sworn that Angelique and James were pleased to see the back of her two spinster sisters; so pleased that they never even checked to find out if the place even existed.  Charlotte glanced up at her violin case in the luggage rack, rocking gently to the motion of the locomotion.  Would she even get the chance to play it?  A voice to her right cut into her ruminations. 

“I don’t know why you brought that thing,” Carlotta followed her sister’s gaze up to the instrument.  “It’s just something else to carry.” 

“We were supposed to be going to a conservatory of music.  It made sense to bring it.  I brought my sketch pad and charcoals too.”

“The sketch pad’s fine,” Carlotta retorted.  “Anyway, it’s not as big.  When are we going to use that banjo?”

“It’s a violin and well you know it.  Where are we going?” Charlotte asked.  “Where are these outlaws anyway?”

“Wyoming, according to the newspapers.”

“All change at Summit.  Change at Summit, next stop… ,” the conductor strode down the aisle bellowing at nobody in particular.

“The next stop.”  Charlotte clutched at her sister’s arm.  “I’m scared.  What if they’re all shooting and spitting.  This is the real Wild West.”  Carlotta’s nervous gulp and widening eyes were not lost on the youngest of the pair.  “Maybe we could go home?  We could tell them that we didn’t like it.  They won’t care.”

Carlotta pulled herself up and steeled her shoulders.  “No.  Not yet.  We have to give it a try.  We’ve done the hard bit.  Getting ourselves here is surely the worst part.”

Charlotte watched the cluster of wooden buildings come into view.  “I wish I could be so sure.”

“We’ll find a respectable hotel.  We’re only going to stay overnight.”

“Do they have hotels?” Charlotte queried.

The conductor paused and smiled at the young women, obviously catching the conversation.  “’Course they got hotels, Miss.  Folks gotta sleep somewhere.  Turn right when you get outta the station,” he made to walk on, but turned again.  “Stay in after dark.  It can get a bit lively with all them miners kickin’ back.  Durin’ the day you’ll be just fine.”

The two girls turn wide blue eyes of apprehension on one another. 

“Well, we wanted an adventure,” whispered Charlotte.  “Are we ready for this?”

Her sister watched the platform come into view.  “Maybe, but this is just the first leg.  Are we ready for Sweatless?”

“Where?”

“Sweatless.  It’s the biggest place I could find near where these outlaws live.”

Charlottes’ pretty little nose crinkled.  “What a disgusting name.  Are we really heading to a place with a name like that?”

“Yes.”  Carlotta blinked at the sight of the unshaven faces with uneven features waiting for them in Summit and gulped heavily once again.  “Indeed, we are.” 

oooOOOooo

Sweatless was named because of the prevailing dry, warm winds caressing the timber buildings which clustered along the side of the Manegite River.   It was a remote and wild place, nestled in the valley beneath the Laramie Mountains at the point where five smaller streams met and surged into one.  Manegite came from the Shoshone word for five, reflecting the confluence and topography of a place barely changed by the meager human habitations.  It was a haven for the fur trappers, homesteaders, and outlaws who came here to trade and to kick back before disappearing once again into the wilderness to ply whatever trade kept body and soul cobbled tentatively together.  There was no railway here and it felt as though they’d been on a coach for weeks.   Two pairs of wide blue eyes gazed cautiously around before the sisters subconsciously reached for one another’s hands at the same time.  They were in the middle of proverbial nowhere.  The main road stretched ahead of the coach while a small, rutted track cut its way east through a scraggly forest of pines.

“You ladies headed for the hotel?”  The stagecoach driver tossed their bags in the dust in front of them.  “She’s thataways,” he said, gesturing towards the track. “Town t’ain’t more’n a mile.  The stage can’t make it down that road; not since the last big storm washed it out real good.”

“Don’t throw that!”  Charlotte reached up for her precious violin.  “It’s fragile.”

“This here?  Are you here to work in the saloon?  I hear they’re hirin.’”

Charlotte glowered at the driver.  “I most certainly am not.  I would never set foot in such a place.”

“No?”  He grinned, revealing a smile like a broken accordion.  “T’ain’t much more ‘round these parts for women to do ‘cept marry.  I’m bettin’ we’ll see ya in there eventually.”

“Over my dead body!” Carlotta retorted.

“Yeah,” the driver nodded.  “We seen that too.  Pride ain’t no use to ya in the church yard.  But I’ll tell ya, lady, there ain’t no point in givin’ to the worms what you’re too proud to give to a man.”  He leaped down from the vehicle.

“What about us?” Carlotta demanded.  “We need to get to the hotel.”

He indicated down the road with his head.  “And I told ya it’s about a mile that way.”

“So how do we get there?  Are there any Hansom cabs?”

The man let out a bellow of laughter.  “Cabs?  You’re in Sweatless, not San Francisco.  Folks here either have someone to meet ‘em, or they make their own arrangements.”

“So what do we do?” Charlotte wailed.

“Shank’s mare,” he looked at the blank faces and pointed down to his scruffy boots.  “Walk.  T’ain’t far.” 

“You said it was a mile,” Carlotta interjected, pointing to the large trunks.  “A mile…with our bags.”

“Yup.  Like I said.  T’aint far, and lookin’ at them big clouds comin’ in over the mountains I’d git.  There’s a storm comin’ in.”  He climbed back up onto his seat and un-wrapped the reins from the brake.  Releasing it, he chirruped to his team and the stagecoach departed in a cloud of dust.

The two women shared a look of helpless angst before piling one trunk on top of the other and grabbing a handle each to bear the burden between them.  Their other hands held their carpet bags and reticules, while Charlotte strapped the violin to her back.  The little caravan set off in the direction of the hotel, stopping every few yards to set down the heavy trunks.  An ominous rumble of thunder grumbled over the craggy peaks dominating the town.  When they had arrived, the jagged mountains sheared through the softness of the clear blue sky, but now the charcoal clouds crowded down the slopes towards them.  An enormous raindrop dolloped on the top of Carlotta’s head and ran down the back of her neck.  She grabbed the hat, which had been dangling by the bonnet strings around her shoulders, and jammed it on her head, spearing it with a hatpin to hold it in place.  “Urgh!  That was huge.  It’s starting.  Come on.  We’d better run.”

“Run?”  Charlotte snorted.  “How can we run?  I’ve got a trunk, a carpet bag, and a violin.”

“I told you not to bring that thing with you!  You never listen.”

“Just because you’re older than me, don’t start telling me what to do, Carlotta!  I won’t stand for it.”

The rain started with a vengeance, pattering into the thirsty dust around them and converting it into a clinging, gloopy mire. 

“Oh, come on!” Carlotta snipped.  “If you want an argument, you can have one, but we can save it for the hotel room.  It’s pouring…”

They scuttled rather than ran, reverting to dragging each trunk behind them which dug great furrows into the dirt in their wake.  The dankness soaked into their hats, making the brims drop into a floppy mess around their faces.  Bit by bit the wilderness was stripping away the gilded veneer of affectation and privilege.  The older girl turned to her sister.  “Do you know what we’ve got to get, Charlotte?”

“What?” her sister demanded. 

Carlotta stared intently ahead.  “A plan.  We need more than the notion that two girls can find these men on their own and then alert the authorities.  It’s a wilderness.  We’ve got no back up, and we’ve thought no further than finding out what they look like.  This journey has been horrible but, if we can do this, we can do anything.”  She looked around at the fortress of unfamiliar mountains underscoring their remoteness.  “We can do this, Charlotte.  I’m not going to make the same mistake as Papa.  He was looking back.  I’m looking forward.”

oooOOOooo  

A pair of shrewd grey eyes watched the bedraggled figures fighting with their baggage and the door handle without getting up.  The brims of the sodden hats on the new arrivals had drooped over their eyes making the maneuver even trickier, and the battering rain continued its metamorphosis from huge raindrops into hailstones.  The door eventually burst open and the flustered females scattered into the room, along with driving hail.  Mrs. McGinty pursed her lips and scowled at the mucky water dripping from the long skirts and filthy trunks.  “You’re messin’ up my clean floor!”

Charlotte raised a face plastered with wet hair and sniffed a nose turning a delicate shade of red.  “How else are we supposed to get in?”

“I don’t take workin’ girls.  This is a respectable place.”

“Then you’re in luck.  We’ve never worked a day in our lives,” Carlotta snapped, dropping her bag on the floor.  She tugged at her hat before realizing that the hatpin had held it in place against the howling wind.  It came away with great tendrils of unruly hair and a pained yelp.

“You got a chaperone?” demanded Mrs. McGinty.  “I don’t see no husbands.”

“Husbands?  No, we’re not married.” Charlotte responded.

“No.  I don’t take no single women.  They’re trouble,” she nodded over towards the violin case, “there ain’t no way you ain’t on the stage, not with her carryin’ that there ukulele.”

“It’s a violin!” Charlotte insisted.  “It’s a classical instrument.  I’m not some kind of…street performer.”

“I told you not to bring that thing,” groaned Carlotta.  “It’s been nothing but a millstone around our necks.”

“We told them we were going to study art and music in a conservatory!  How could I not take my instrument?”

Mrs. McGinty lifted a clay pipe and sat back on her chair to watch the sisterly meltdown. 

“That was just a story.  We were never going to study anything,” Carlotta blinked back tears of frustration and exhaustion.  “We just told them that so they’d let us go.”  She slumped down on a couch with her disarranged wet hair dangling around her shoulders.  Her little red nose twitched as she sniffed back emotion.  She shivered in her mud-splattered, soaked clothes and dropped her head in hopelessness.  “We’ll have to find somewhere else.”

“There’s a saloon over on Dubois Street.  They take in theatricals and…,” the older woman looked both girls up and down, “types…”      

“What are we going to do?” wailed Charlotte.

“How should I know?” her sister flashed back.  “I’ve had to do everything.  I planned the journey, found the hotels, and bought all the tickets.  All you did was trot along behind me complaining about everything, dragging that fiddle along for the ride.  It’d have been better bringing a puppy.  At least that would have watched the baggage without wandering off.”

“I was hungry…”

“You’re always hungry,” Carlotta dropped her head into her hands.  “It’s always about your, isn’t it?  We could have lost everything.”

“Well, we didn’t,” Charlotte stamped her foot.  “I was only buying a potato from the man with the oven on the platform.  I could see the trunks the whole time.  I didn’t see you complain when you ate the one I bought for you.”

“This isn’t going to work.  We’re going to have to swallow our pride and go home.”  Carlotta’s bottom lip started to tremble.  “We were stupid to think we could try to achieve this on our own.”

“Achieve what?”  Mrs. McGinty was now leaning over the desk.  Charlotte was suddenly struck mute while Carlotta dug through her reticule for a handkerchief.  “I asked you a question.  You can answer me or get flung out in the storm again.”

“Pictures,” blurted Charlotte.  “We’ve come to get pictures.”

“Pictures?  What of?”
 
“My father died and left us a trust fund, but we have to share the family home with my older, married sister who is about to give birth to the most special human being ever born,” sniffed Carlotta, “and we’ll be expected to run around after it, and her, because we’re single.  We just wanted an adventure.  We wanted to draw pictures of the West from a woman’s perspective.   Hundreds of men have done it, but no women.”  Her voice started to spiral in cadence as her emotions took over.  “You know, a school, women’s work, the church…we told a harmless lie about going to a school while we took the only chance we had to do something we wanted to do with our lives.  It was stupid…just stupid…now we’re cold and wet and freezing and I’m so, so tired.  We’ve been travelling for ages and I’ve hardly slept…”  Her voice trailed off as it got so high only dogs could hear it, “…”  The rosebud mouth continued to move but no sound came out, but the tears began to stream profusely instead.

“Carlotta!  You never cry.  Not even when you broke your arm.”  Charlotte stared at her capable older sister in shock.  “Oh, what can I do?”

“Trust fund, huh?” Mrs. McGinty grinned.  “Yeah, that adds up.  Those trunks are expensive.  They ain’t no cheap canvas.  “Are you girls hungry?”

Charlotte nodded but looked back at her sister in concern. 

“Beauregard!  Beauregard.  Where are you, man?”  The hotel owner stood and stared up at the staircase.

“You bellowed, my sweet?”  A slight man with Southern accent and a pencil thin moustache peered over the banisters.

The matron tossed out a hand towards the trunks.  “Get number nine ready, will ya?  We got guests.  Arrange for those bags to be taken up and get a hot bath in the room.  They got a trust fund.  Give ‘em the best we got.”

“They have?  Well ain’t they the lucky girls.”  Beauregard started down the stairs.  “A fire in the room?”

“Of course,” Mrs. McGinty replied.  “They’re used to the best.  Give it to ‘em, and an extra bucket of fuel.”  She turned back to the sobbing females.  “Come to the kitchen with me, dearies.  I’ll get you dried out then we’ll get you somethin’ to eat.  There ain’t nothin’ to worry about.  Auntie Mary’s got ya now.  What did you say your name was again?”

oooOOOooo

“Don’t watch my hand, watch my eyes!” snapped Kid Curry as he faced down his cousin across the dusty meadow in Devil’s Hole that they’d designated for target shooting.  It was late in the day and the sunlight was turning golden on the dried grasses.  Curry was getting tired.  He’d spent a long day working with the other gang members.  Now it was Heyes’ turn.  He’d sent the men off to the other end of the Hole so that there would be no witnesses to their leader’s performance. 

The Kid had to admit that Heyes had done far better than he’d expected.  Somewhere in the last five years, his childhood friend had learned to handle a gun, but when he’d suggested they fake a gunfight, Heyes had balked.

“You ain’t gonna shoot me with your eyes,” responded Heyes with a bemused smile.

“We’re not jokin’ around here, Heyes.”

“We just spent hours shooting tin cans.  I’m getting a blister on my trigger finger.”

“Better a blister than a hole through you.”

“C’mon, I shoot good enough and I have no intentions of getting in gunfights.”  Heyes started to turn away but the dust at his feet erupted with the force of a bullet ploughing into the soil.   “Hey!!”  He spun around and glared at his friend.  “What the hell’d you do that for?!”

“That was to remind you that you ain’t always gonna be in control of the situation.”  Curry holstered his gun with a flourish.  “Now come back here and face me.  We’re gonna try this again.”

“No.  We’re not.”  Like a recalcitrant child, Heyes crossed his arms and refused to move.

“You wanna run a band of outlaws?  You’d better be damn sure you’re faster than all of them.”

“I’m fast enough.”
 
“No.  You ain’t.”

“Do I have to be faster than you, Kid?” asked Heyes, pointedly.

“Maybe--definitely, if you keep pissin’ me off.”  The Kid tried to remain scowling, but a small grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. 

Capitulating, Heyes walked back towards him and stopped twenty yards away.  Squaring his hips, he dropped his hands at his side and shook them until they were loose.  “You do know if I get fast enough to please you, you’ll be out of a job.”

“I’ll take my chances.”  Curry stood completely still, not a muscle moved in his body.  His concentration on his opponent was total.

Looking into those impassive blue eyes caused a shiver to run down Heyes’ spine.  As he thought about going for his gun, Curry’s gun leapt up and the sound of the hammer striking the empty chamber resounded in the quiet field.

“Dammit!”  Heyes shoved his gun back in his holster.

“Again.”

“What’s the point?  You’re the gunfighter, not me.”

“The point is I’d like you to live long enough for us to get to know each other again.  Is that too much to ask for?”  Curry squared up again and dropped his hands.  “Not to mention it’s my job to see that you do.”

“That’s right; it’s your job to do the shooting, not mine.”

“Well, if your job is doin’ the thinkin’, I’d say you ain’t doin’ so good.”

“Haha, very funny.”

“You know I ain’t always gonna be able to back you up.  You need to learn how to defend yourself.” 

“I can defend myself!  I’ve done just fine the last few years.”

“So you sayin’ you don’t need me?”  The Kid kept the frown in place although he really wanted to smile.  His silver-tongued friend had just talked himself into a corner and the look on Heyes’ face said that he knew it.

“No!  That’s not what I’m saying!”  Heyes ran his hands through his hair—a sure sign he was rattled.  “Look, your job is to handle the gunplay; my job is to make sure you don’t have to.”

“I appreciate that, Heyes, but what’s gonna make my job easier is for me to know that you ain’t gonna get yourself riddled with bullet holes the minute I turn my back on you.”

Heyes sighed.  “You know I liked you better when you did everything I told you to.  What happened to you?”

“I grew up and realized you were full of bullshit.  Now, get ready to draw.”

oooOOOooo

Carlotta sat on the double bed and brushed out her long, wet hair.  Family hierarchy triumphed as usual and the elder sister bathed first, leaving Charlotte to take soapy-seconds.  She lay back in the tin hip bath, with her long legs dangling over the edge to let her feet soak in the warmth of the fire.

“I don’t think Mrs. McGinty likes us much,” Charlotte mused.

“I don’t think she likes anyone much.  At least she let us in.  I was beginning to get very worried for a bit there.”  Carlotta ran the brush through her wavy blonde hair from root to tip, “ninety eight, ninety nine, a hundred.  There.  That’s my hair done.  Do you want me to brush yours for you when you’re done?”

“Yes.  I love it when you brush my hair.  Can I ask you something?” the younger girl turned her head to look her sister in the eye.  “When we were downstairs; what you said.  Do you really thing I’m useless?”

Carlotta’s blue eyes melted.  “Oh, my sweetheart, no, I don’t.  I was just frustrated.  It was my idea for us to come after these men and I felt terrible when we seemed to be stuck out in the middle of nowhere without any hope.  I was just lashing out and I wasn’t being fair.  You’re not useless, in fact of you hadn’t gone to get those potatoes we wouldn’t have had anything to eat.  I’m sorry.”

“You sure?”

“I’m sure and very sorry.  I’m just so tired, but now I’ve bathed and eaten I feel so much more human.  It was just sister stuff.  I suppose you lash out at people because you know they’ll forgive you.”  She glanced around the sparse room.  “It’s not too bad.  It’s…functional.  We’re safe and warm and we’ll sleep in a real bed tonight.  I think the worst is over.”

Charlotte dropped her soap with a plop.  “The worst?  All we’ve done is travel.  We’ve now got to find these men and draw a picture of them.  Where do we even start?”

“I don’t know.  I suppose we just get out there and draw pictures.  We get people to talk to us casually.  It shouldn’t be too unusual for strangers to the area to want to know about the Wild West and outlaws and such.”

“I suppose so, but is it safe?” mused the younger girl.

“I very much doubt it,” Carlotta held up a towel for her sister.  “I chose Sweatless because it’s the only town of any size for miles around.  They might be criminals but they still have to get supplies somewhere.  They’re not going to stop off from a bank robbery to do a bit of shopping.  Sooner or later someone who knows them will pass through here.”

“And we’ll be waiting to do what exactly?”

“We’re trying to meet one.  We want to be able to draw these men and learn their movements, but getting near them is the first step.”  Carlotta bit into her lip.  “We need to learn how to shoot.  I’ll try to find someone who can help with that tomorrow, now come here and let me brush your hair for you.  It’s time for bed.”

oooOOOooo

The red rock cliffs of the Hole stood out brilliantly in the first light of day.  Heyes and the Kid were on the porch of the leader’s cabin with their tin coffee mugs steaming in the cool morning air as they watched their men straggle out of the bunkhouse and shuffle their way towards them.  Today was the day they would start their new careers.  Heyes had a plan.

“Coffee’s on.  Help yourself to a mug and a biscuit.  We’ve got a new job to pull,” said Heyes, gesturing to the pot and the plate of warm biscuits balanced on the narrow railing next to him.   He heard Wheat grumble something as he walked by.  “What was that, Wheat?”

The big man stopped and had the grace to look slightly sheepish.  “I said:  what’s the hurry?”  Seeing the hardness in Heyes’ eyes, he hurried on, “I mean we haven’t even had a chance to hoo-rah the last job.”

“You’ll get your chance, Wheat.  You and Kyle are heading into Sweatless to pick up a few items for me.  I’ll give you a few nights to kick up your heels but I want you back here by Friday, ready to work.”  Heyes turned to the others and pulled out several pieces of paper from his shirt pocket.  “Same for the rest of you.  This job’s bigger and more complicated than anything we’ve done before.  It’s going to take time and a lot of equipment we don’t have so you’re all going to have a chance to do a little hurrahing along with some shopping.”  A collective cheer rose as he paused.  “Preacher, you, Hank and Lobo will head into Medicine Bow.”  Heyes held out a scrap of paper to the austere man.   “Lom, I want you to take Ike and Clint into Saratoga.  Here’s your list.”

“How come you’re sending us all over the map?” complained Hank.

“’Cause he doesn’t want anyone gettin’ wise to what we’re plannin’,” explained the Kid.  “By themselves, those lists are full of common everyday things a miner or a farmer might need.  Put ‘em together and someone might get a little nervous about what we’re up to.”

“What are we up to, Heyes?” asked Kyle.

“I’ll tell you once you’re all back here with the gear.  Without it, we won’t have a chance of pulling this one off.”  Heyes grabbed the last biscuit and stepped off the porch and walked away.

oooOOOooo

“Heyes is still pissed at me.   That’s why we got stuck with Sweatless,” said Wheat as he rode alongside his smaller friend.

“Sweatless ain’t so bad.”

“It sure ain’t Medicine Bow with all them saloons and poker-starved cowboys with cash in their pockets.”

“Medicine Bow’s windy, Wheat.  You knows how I hate the wind.  Can’t think or hear nothin’ when it blows.”

“You ever notice how Heyes favors Lom?  Giving him Saratoga with all those hot springs.  Lucky bastard.”

Kyle chewed his plug of tobacco thoughtfully, a small trickle of blackened juice dribbling down his scruffy chin.  “That was lucky.  I surely do like to soak.  You think if you stop baitin’ Heyes so much, he’ll send us next time?”

Wheat was silent until they neared their destination early that afternoon.   He felt the sweat soaking his canvas shirt begin to dry in the arid breeze and his bad mood improved as the town became visible over the next rise.  It was the last stop for westbound travelers before Laramie as well as a resupply point for the miners who prospected these mountains.  While smaller than both Medicine Bow and Saratoga, the town boasted a couple of saloons and, mercifully, no lawmen.

“You know, maybe this ain’t so bad,” began Wheat.  “Preacher and the boys still got a whole day’s ride to go and we’re almost there.  What do you say we find us a room and get us a couple of baths?  All that talk of Saratoga made me want to soak a bit before we go findin’ us some gals to party with.  I’m figurin’ fun first, work second.”

Kyle smiled, “I can’t go sparkin’ on an empty stomach neither.  Let’s get us some big, juicy steaks.”

“Now you’re talkin’.” 

Riding down the main street, the two men noticed small changes since their last visit.  A saloon that had been a canvas tent was now a sturdy wooden structure.  Tinny piano music spilled out of the double doors in an attempt to lure drinking men out of the hot sun.  The general store had expanded into the adjacent building and two men were carrying a large crate out the front door to their waiting buckboard.  A few languid shoppers strolled along the wooden sidewalk in the shade of a newly-painted hotel.

Kyle turned to his partner.  “Hey, let’s get us a room at the hotel.  It looks real nice.”

“Looks kind of pricey, don’t it?”

“So?  I got a wad of cash burnin’ a hole in my pocket and Heyes says there’s more comin’.  If’n I only have a few days to spend it, I’d best hurry.”  Kyle pulled up in front of the building and swung out of his saddle.  He tied his horse to the hitching rail while Wheat dismounted and stretched his stiffened joints.  Together they walked through the opened, double doors.

oooOOOooo

Mrs. McGinty’s nose twitched before wrinkling in disgust.  “You’d better not have tracked that in here.”

Kyle looked confused and glanced over at Wheat who was a few steps in front.  “Tracked?  No, m’am.  We’s together.  He just walks faster’n me.”

“I don’t mean that.  I mean the smell.”

“Oh, that.”  Kyle sniffed.  “That ain’t him.  That’s horse shi…”

“I know what it is.  I hope he hasn’t tread all over my floor with that stuck to his boots.  This ain’t a barn.”  The woman folded her arms and presented a battlement of a bosom.  “A gentleman would have scraped them before he came in.”

Kyle rearranged his loose lips into a winsome smile.  “Yeah.”  He nudged his partner in admonishment.  “If yoos a gentleman, you leave the horse hooey outside.”  He cast admiring eyes at the chest nestling in the formidable forearms before casting an appraising look over the woman.  Her ample frame was well-upholstered in all the right places and pleasantly wobbly in all the best ones.  This was his kind of woman; even though gravity was starting to drag down what had been pleasing enough features, the grey eyes held the promise of flickering fire.  He liked a woman with spirit, and he adored them old enough to be slightly desperate, too.  He turned back to his partner.  “Go on.  Git that scraped on the step.  She don’t want it in her ee-stablishment.”  He raised his hat with a flourish.  “There ya go, ma’am.  Anythin’ to oblige a young lady.”

“Young lady?”  The grey eyes narrowed as Mrs McGinty sucked on her pipe.  “Think you’re a funny man?  Ain’t nobody told ya that it’s a good idea to keep your mouth shut when you’re in deep water?”

Kyle’s eyes widened.  “Lady I said, and lady I meant, ma’am.  I was brung up to be respectful to womenfolk, and by a lady with your kinda spirit, if’n ya don’t mind me mentionin’ it.”

“You’re friend there is pushin’ it comin’ in here covered in that stuff.  That’s a good way to make an enemy of me and I own the only hotel in Sweatless.”

“Aw, he ain’t got no enemies.  He ain’t the type,” Kyle grinned.  “The only folks who don’t like him are his friends.  You own the hotel?  You ain’t got a husband?”

“I’m a widow, these last two years.  The late Mr. McGinty was taken by the black vomit and left me the place.”

Kyle clasped his hat over his heart.  “I’m real sorry, ma’am.  I always think it must be real hard for a woman on her own.”  His eyes twinkled with concern.  “No wonder you got rules.  Me and my friend we’re real fond of rules.  We can relax and stop all that pesky thinkin’.  This seems like my kinda place.”

She released a puff of smoke, filling the air with a deep-brown aromatic fustiness which cloyed at the back of the nose until it invaded the taste buds.  “Anyone’s free to have an opinion, if’n they don’t mind me havin’ one right back,” she glanced up at Wheat who clumped gingerly back into the building.  “I hope you’re clean.”

“Clean as a whistle, ma’am.  Sorry about that.”  Wheat approached the desk.  “Ya got some rooms free?”

“How many nights?”

“Two, maybe three?” Wheat volunteered.  “We gotta be back Friday night.”

“Yeah, I can do that,” she rammed the pipe back between her teeth to free up her hands to flip open the register.  “Make your mark.”

“Mark, ma’am?  We can write.”  Wheat puffed out his chest proudly.  “We wouldn’t have got where we are without havin’ brains.  The name’s Whit Carltree and this here fella is Mr. Lyle Murson.”

“And where did these brains get ya?”

“We’re prospectors, ma’am,” Wheat scratched his signature, “but we gotta get some supplies.”

“Prospectors, huh?  I thought you said you had brains?” she snickered.

Wheat ignored her.  “Maybe we’ll relax some before we head back with supplies.  This place seems real comfortable.”
   
“Yeah, real comfortable.”  Kyle watched the ample posterior wiggle over to the board to fetch a key.  “Maybe I’ll see you around, Mrs. McGinty?  Runnin’ a business can be real lonely work for a single lady.”

“She doesn’t get time to be lonely,” snorted the terse Southern voice behind them.  They turned to see a wiry man sporting a thin moustache.  “I make sure she’s got back up.”

“This is Beauregard Le Grande.  He helps me with most everythin’ I might need,” Mrs. McGinty smiled for the first time, and the years seemed to drop from her heavy features giving the men a glimpse of the real woman underneath the shield.  “He’s real dependable, but I can look after myself.  My first husband saw to that.”

“Yes, and I’m always there or thereabouts to support her,” Beauregard put his hands on his hips, his long forefingers pointing towards the holster he wore.  “A lady alone in a place like this needs a good man to support her.”

“Good to know,” Wheat mumbled.  He grabbed up the room key and tossed his saddle bag over his shoulder.  “Com’on, ‘Lyle’.  Let’s unpack and check out the saloon.”

“First husband?” Kyle queried.

“Yeah, his name was Kurt Otto Ottovordemgentschenfelde.”  Mrs. McGinty smiled mistily before adding the redundant explanation.  “He was German.  He died of the quintan ague.  He was my first love and a real handsome boy.  He had skin like a baby’s butt in winter.  I’ve had a weakness for a fair-headed fella ever since, may God rest his soul.”

“I’ve always been real delicate, ma’am.  I guess it comes of havin’ fair skin.  I was so pale folks used to ask me if I was ill when I was a stripplin’,” smarmed Kyle.  “We’s Irish.”  He smirked over at the dark–haired Beauregard.  “We’s all real pale, less’n we’s not.”
     
 “Come on,” growled Wheat.  Kyle followed, smiling back at the widow.  He waved a clumsy farewell with his hat, positively fluttering with excitement.  Wheat waited until they turned the corner and were walking down the hallway.  “What are you doin’ wastin’ your time with that old woman?  We’re goin’ to the saloon later and there’ll be plenty of girls there.  Some of ‘em might even be born this century.”

“You ain’t thinkin’, Wheat.  There ain’t many women in these parts.  There’s a shortage, and there sure ain’t many who got their own business.  A lazy man has to think about his career.  This outlawin’ ain’t gonna last forever.”

“You want to marry her?” Wheat was incredulous.  “You only just met her.”

“I didn’t say I want to marry her, I said I had to think about the future.  Sheesh, I ain’t stupid.  Marryin’ is a last resort.  I ain’t dumb.”

”Ain’t ya?  There’s prime steak on offer and you’re sniffin’ around the gristle.”

The injury glistened in Kyle’s eyes.  “She ain’t gristle.  She’s just a bit more experienced, is all.  I like a mature woman, they’re more grateful and desperate.   Besides, she reminds me of my ma.”

“Your ma was the most ornery woman I ever met.  She’d fight a rattler and git in the first bite.”

“Yeah,” Kyle nodded, wistfully.  “She was feisty.  I like a woman with spirit.”

“Well, she surely had that.  She sunk enough spirits to float a barge.”  Wheat inserted the key into the lock.  “If you gotta go sparkin’ can’t ya keep it to the cat house?  She runs the only hotel in town.  You can bet if she bans us from the place ‘cos you piss her off, it’ll be the only place Heyes’ll send us for the next year.  Just calm it down, will ya?”

“Can I help it she’s my type?”

“Your taste in women is the like your potatoes.  Cold, hard, and will choke ya if you ain’t careful.”  Wheat help open the door to the hotel room.  “Git in here.” 
                
oooOOOooo

_________________
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb


Last edited by Silverkelpie on Sat Aug 29, 2015 4:23 pm; edited 3 times in total
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Silverkelpie

Silverkelpie

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The Devil's Due - Chapter 10 Empty
PostSubject: Re: The Devil's Due - Chapter 10   The Devil's Due - Chapter 10 EmptySat Aug 29, 2015 11:27 am

“Will you quit makin’ moon eyes at that widow lady?!” Wheat hissed across the white linen tablecloth at his small partner.  His eyes cut sideways to the two young girls sitting at the next table.

Kyle shoveled another forkful of food into his mouth.  Muffled, he said, “Why?  I like her.”

“You think burnin’ a hole in her back with your starin’ is gonna make her like you?”  A tiny giggle erupted from one of the girls and Wheat lowered his voice.  “You’d best stick with a gal willin’ to take your money.”

“I’m pretty sure Miz McGinty’s willin’ to take it.” 

Carlotta leaned over to Charlotte and whispered quietly.  “What about these two?  They’re wearing guns and they look like they know how to use them.”

“I don’t know…they look kind of rough.  I don’t think Papa would approve.”

“Fortunately, we don’t need his approval anymore.”

“But what will Mrs. McGinty say?  She almost refused to take us because she thought we were…you know.”

Carlotta chuckled, “I don’t think she’s going to say anything now that she knows we are paying customers.  It doesn’t appear she gets many of those.”

The lady in question emerged from the kitchen carrying two plates.  She stopped and dropped them off at the girls’ table before turning to the two scruffy men.  “You all done with your meals or you gonna lick the plates, too?”  With a harrumph, she gathered up the dishware.  “You be wantin’ dessert?  I got a fresh-baked apple pie coolin’ on the sill.”

“Yes, Ma’am.  I’d like some pie,” said Kyle, sweetly.

Mrs. McGinty looked over her shoulder towards her only other guests.  “What about you two?  You ain’t eaten enough to keep a pair of baby birds alive.”

“Perhaps a small slice for me and some coffee, please,” said Carlotta.  “Sister dear?”

“I’ll have coffee, thank you.”

“Mrs. McGinty, will you please introduce us to your other guests?  It’s silly for the four of us to sit in this big, empty room and pretend we don’t see each other.”

Half-irked by the reference to her unfilled hotel, Mrs. McGinty narrowed her eyes and scrutinized the two women.  What the hell were they up to?  She couldn’t get a handle on them despite having been paid handsomely from their bulging reticules.  Finally, she snorted.  Didn’t make no difference to her long as they paid.  “All right, then.  This here’s Mr. Lyle Murson and the big fellow is Mr. Whit Carltree.  Murton, Carltree, this here’s Miss Carlotta Durbin and her sister, Charlotte,” she said, using the surname the girls had signed into her register.  It belonged to a distant cousin of theirs in New York.

“Ladies,” said the two outlaws with broad smiles.  Wheat stood up and bowed slightly.  “We’d be honored if you joined us for dessert.”

“Thank you.”  Carlotta stood up, and urged her sister to her feet.  Gliding across to the next table, both girls slid gracefully into the empty chairs and smiled at the two men shyly.  “Normally, we wouldn’t be so forward but, you see, we are newly arrived in the West and find ourselves unequipped, shall we say, for the lifestyle.”

Kyle nodded his understanding.  “The West can be real rough on ladies.”

“Where you gals come from?” asked Wheat.

“Denver,” blurted out Charlotte.

“My sister means that we’ve just recently arrived in Wyoming on the Denver train.  We are from New York State,” said Carlotta with a meaningful glare at her younger sister.

Kyle whistled.  “That’s a long ways from home.  What brings you to these parts?”

“I am an artist, sir, and the West is extremely inspiring.  It is my hope to capture its beauty and scale with my humble drawings.”  Carlotta smiled winsomely.  “Sadly, I had no real understanding of the wildness of this land and its, ahem, inhabitants.  Now my sister and I find ourselves intimidated by our lack of skills.”

“Skills?”  Wheat looked skeptical.  They seemed like ladies, but he knew from broad experience that ‘ladies’ could be a relative term.  “What exactly are you gettin’ at?”

Blushing, Carlotta realized that she was losing control of the conversation.  “Please don’t misunderstand me.  We merely wish to ask you for your help.”

“What kind of help?  We’ve already got jobs, we can’t be nursemaidin’ no tourists,” said Wheat flatly.

“Please.  My sister is trying to ask you to teach us to shoot,” Charlotte swiftly interjected.  “We wouldn’t dream of burdening you with our troubles.  Only we’ve come so far and we…we…can’t just turn around and go home.”  Tears started to spill from her lovely eyes and she held up a lacey handkerchief to daub at them.  “We don’t feel safe here.  Knowing that we could defend ourselves would make all the difference in the world.”

“Well, I…”  Kyle shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  He never could stand to see a woman cry. 

“We can pay you handsomely,” offered Carlotta. 

“I guess we could give you a lesson or two.  We ain’t gotta be back until Friday, right Wh…Whit?” prompted Kyle.

“You do know how to shoot a gun, don’t you?” asked Charlotte, sweetly.  “Oh dear, if I’ve overstepped…”

His ego pricked, Wheat blustered.  “’Course I know how to shoot.  Me and Lyle here learned to shoot before we could walk.  Why, I bet I could outshoot Kid Curry if’n I put my mind to it.”

“Kid Curry?” asked Carlotta, breathlessly.  She hadn’t expected to hear that name uttered by these men.  “Isn’t he a gunslinger?”

“Folks say he’s the fastest draw in the West.”  Kyle smiled.  “Don’t worry, ma’am, I reckon we can teach you the basics.  Can’t we, Wheat?”

“Do you know him?” asked Charlotte.

“Who?”  Kyle was getting confused.

“No, we don’t know him.  He’s an outlaw.  Do we look like outlaws to you?” growled Wheat.

“Oh, I’ve offended you.  I’m so terribly sorry, Mr. Carltree.”  Charlotte began to cry again.

“Please, Miss Charlotte, don’t cry.  We’d be happy to help you.”  Kyle patted her hand gently.  “Why don’t we meet you down in the lobby after lunch tomorrow?  We can take you outside of town and do a little target practice.”

“Oh, that would be wonderful.  Thank you, Mr. Murson!” gushed Carlotta.

Mrs. McGinty turned from the crack in the kitchen door she’d been spying through and whispered to Beauregard who was washing dishes.  “Those girls ain’t got a lick of sense if they think those two cowhands are respectable.  I ain’t lettin’ our meal tickets ride off with them.”  With that, she pushed the door open and strode into the dining room.  Four pairs of eyes swung in her direction, surprised by her abrupt entrance.  “I couldn’t help overhearin’ your plans and I’m not about to let you two lambs go off with these wolves.  I’ll be your chaperone.”

“Wolves?” said Wheat.

Delighted, Carlotta clapped her hands and agreed immediately.  She had no desire to be alone with these men.  “That would be wonderful!   I was so hoping you’d agree to come along, too, Mrs. McGinty.”

“Yes, ma’am.  We’d be right pleased to have the privilege of your company,” said Kyle smiling up at her.  “Can I hope yoo’s just a mite jealous about me bein’ alone with the Durbin girls?”      

He was so earnest that she felt her anger melting away and she smiled back at him, happy to get her way without a fight.  “Good, then it’s settled.”

oooOOOooo

“I don’t know how I let you talk me into these things,” said Wheat as he pulled out his gun and checked the chambers. 

“It’s gonna be fun.  It ain’t every day we get three pretty ladies to ourselves.”

“They ain’t exactly the kind of ladies I was lookin’ forward to spendin’ my time with.”

 Kyle walked over to where the women waited.

After making sure the horses were securely tied before the shooting started, Wheat picked up the heavy picnic basket Mrs. McGinty had provided and a sack of empty tin cans they had found digging through the hotel’s trash this morning.  He walked back to the others, mumbling, “Kyle’s been livin’ in the Hole a might too long if he thinks that old cow’s pretty.”

Finding a downed tree at the other end of the clearing, Kyle quickly lined up tin cans on top of it and joined his partner and the two young ladies a dozen feet away.  Mrs. McGinty had settled herself on an old stump in the shade, out of range, but within earshot.  She took her role as chaperone seriously.  After all, these rich city gals might be the answer to her prayers.

“All right then, ladies, listen up.  A gun ain’t no toy and the first thing you gotta learn is to respect your weapon.  I’m carryin’ a Smith and Wesson Model 3 .44, one of the finest firearms made today,” said Wheat, proudly puffing out his chest as he pulled out his gun.  “Why, the Imperial Russian Army just ordered 41,000 of these little darlins’.”

Carlotta leaned in for a closer look while Charlotte asked, “What does forty-four stand for?”

Wheat smiled, pleased to be the center of attention.  “It’s the caliber, miss.”

“Caliber?” asked Carlotta.

“That’s the size of the round.”

“Round?” this time it was Charlotte.  “Is that a bullet?”

“Not really.  A bullet’s just part of a round or cartridge.   The point is, a round has to match up with the gun’s bore or you’re gonna have problems.  This gun takes .44 caliber cartridges.”  He pulled a single cartridge from his gunbelt and held it up.

“It’s so small,” breathed Charlotte.  “I thought it would be bigger.”

Kyle snickered.  “That’s what all the ladies say.”

Wheat frowned at his partner and said defensively, “It’s big enough for John Wesley Hardin.”

“Who’s he?” Carlotta reached out, taking the round.  She weighed it in her hand and closed her fist around it.  It felt good.  Powerful.

“He’s one of the meanest hombres the West has spawned.  A real stone cold killer,” said Wheat with admiration.

“Rumor has it, he just killed Charlie Couger for snorin’ too loud,” added Kyle.

Charlotte’s eyes widened dramatically and she shot a frightened look at her sister.  If men killed each other for snoring, this was no place for them.  But Carlotta simply giggled and handed the ammunition back to Wheat.  “Daddy used to snore terribly loudly.  Thank goodness, Mama didn’t own a gun.” She smiled up at the big, mustached man and asked, “Can I go first?”

“Sure you can, but you ain’t shootin’ this gun,” said Wheat, holstering his .44.  “The kick would kill you.”

“Kick?”

Wheat sighed.  He was getting tired of all the questions.  “The recoil, ma’am.  Guns buck when you shoot ‘em.  A gun like this is too big for a little lady like you.” He reached into his jacket and withdrew a derringer.  “We’ll start small and see how you do.”

Carlotta was disappointed.  The gun looked ridiculously small.  “How can I defend myself with that?” she snapped.

“Real easy I’d say.  This here might be a .22 but it’s deadly at close range.”

“What if I want to shoot someone further away?”

Wheat looked at her suspiciously.  “You’re a bloodthirsty little gal, ain’t you?  You didn’t ask me to teach you how to kill someone.  ‘Sides, if a fella’s further away he ain’t gonna be much threat, now is he?”

Caught out, Carlotte reddened.  “Well, yes, I suppose you have a point.  But what if we need to hunt game or fend off marauding Indians.”

“Ain’t many marauding Indians ‘round these parts, Miz Carlotta.  Most of ‘em is on the reservations,” said Kyle.

“Yes, well, we wish to learn to defend ourselves against all eventualities.  Since we are purchasing your expertise, I propose we start small and work our way up to the larger weapons.”

“I ain’t giving you a bigger gun until you can prove you can handle this one,” said Wheat gruffly.  He wasn’t letting a slip of a gal tell him what to do.

“Fine,” said Carlotta as she stepped up and snatched the tiny gun from Wheat’s hand.  “Show me what to do.”

A half an hour later, Charlotte had proven a good student and hit more cans than she missed, but Carlotta was still shooting wildly and the trees at the edge of the clearing bore visible scars inflicted by her inaccurate aim.  Wheat’s patience was wearing thin as was hers.  “You ain’t listenin’!  It ain’t just about yankin’ the trigger, take your time and set up your shot,” he bellowed.

“I’m trying!” cried Carlotta, frustrated and upset that her shy, younger sister had bested her. 

Kyle had retreated next to Mrs. McGinty in hopes of striking up a conversation.  Unfortunately, the lady was channeling all her attention on her two charges and had remained almost monosyllabic while answering his questions.  Finally, tired of his prattling and annoyed by his company, she stood up walked to where Wheat, Charlotte, and Carlotta faced the targets.   “You ain’t teachin’ her right.”

Angry at her criticism, Wheat challenged, “If you know so much, then you do it!”

Mrs. McGinty sweetly smiled at him.  Men.  They were all the same.  She reached into the folds of her voluminous skirt and withdrew a massive pistol, holding it pointed barrel-up at the sky.  She ignored Wheat’s stunned stare and turned towards the targets.  Lowering her hand slowly and pulling the trigger, all the tin cans flew off the log in quick succession.  She raised her weapon as deliberately as she’d lowered it and turned to a stunned audience.  “I know a thing or two, Mr. Carltree.”

“Where’d you learn to shoot like that?” demanded Wheat.

“My late husband, Kurt, taught me.”  

“Mrs. McGinty, that was wonderful,” said Charlotte. 

Carlotta frowned at the weapon she held.  The small derringer no longer interested her.  “What am I doing wrong?  I’ve done everything Mr. Carltree showed me.”

“It’s what he’s not showing you that matters.”

“Hold on a second…” blustered Wheat, reddening.

“Hold your hands up like this, Carlotta,” said Mrs. McGinty, extending her two hands as far as she could and forming a triangle between them.  “Yes, that’s good.  Now draw your hands to your face slowly.”  They all watched as the young girl did as she was told.  Her hands stopped centered over her left eye. 

“Just as I thought,” said Mrs. McGinty.

“What?” Wheat was puzzled.  Kyle was grinning.  He thought he might be falling in love.

“Carlotta, you might be right-handed but your left eye is stronger.  It don’t happen to most folks.  You been aiming by closin’ your left eye.  Try closin’ the right one.”

Carlotta lifted the derringer mimicking Mrs. Ginty’s actions and took careful aim with her right eye closed.  She carefully lined up her sights and slowly squeezed the trigger, exhaling at the same time.  She squealed with delight when she was rewarded with a solid hit.  “It worked!”

“Keep goin’,” commanded Mrs. McGinty.  Charlotte cheered her sister on and, soon, Carlotta was shooting as well, if not better, than she had.  Finally, the older woman called a halt to the shooting and thoroughly instructed the two girls how to clean and store their weapon.  Kyle and Wheat watched from a distance. 

“They’re doing real good now, ain’t they, Wheat?”

“I guess so,” begrudgingly conceded the bigger man.

“A couple more lessons from Miz McGinty and those gals are gonna be real good.  Good enough I feel a mite sorry for any man they draw down on.  She sure is something, ain’t she, Wheat?”

“Yeah, she’s something, but I ain’t sure yet it’s something good.”

_________________
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb
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The Devil's Due - Chapter 10
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