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PostSubject: Moon   Thu Oct 01, 2015 10:06 am

Time for you to accept your next challenge, but don't forget to finish up your comments for September before you post.  Comments are the only thanks our writers get, so it means a lot to them.  


Your challenge for October is chosen by Hunkeydorey and it's a goody.  Your challenge topic is 


Moon moon




That can be a name, a place, a colour, a stone, a phase, moonshine, moonshadow, moonlight, moonbeams, moon river or anything else loosley pertaining to the topic your imaginative minds can conjour up.  


Start writing!      

Writing   


Last edited by Admin on Tue Oct 20, 2015 5:50 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Moon   Fri Oct 02, 2015 3:58 pm

No bunnies twitching, but thought I'd start the month off with an oldie that fits the challenge.

Watching Midnight


Heyes looked at his watch – 10:51 – and sighed. He shivered and wrapped the blanket closely, trying to gain some warmth.  His cup of coffee was cold, beginning to frost over.    There was no moon tonight, and the brittle stars made sharp incisions in the sky, piercing the darkness, but shedding no light on the landscape.  He looked down but could spy no movement, no sign of life.  He looked at his watch again – 10:52.


He heard a slight noise behind him.  He glanced back, but nothing was there.  Must have been the Kid shifting in his sleep back deep in the cave where they could have a fire without it showing.  The fire was too far back to bring any warmth where he was though.  He looked back down.  Was there movement?  Was the posse still out there?  He saw no sign but couldn’t relax.   How often had they done this – taken turns keeping watch while the other slept, avoiding posses?  It was supposed to be better now.  They had gone straight, had kept their word, nearly three years.  Yet they were still dodging posses, still wanted, only now they didn’t have the gang to back them, didn’t have the Hole to call home.  Lord, how bad was that?  Calling that God-forsaken piece of real estate home? He looked at his watch – 10:59.


He took a sip of the icy coffee and grimaced.  He liked his coffee strong, and, though others might grumble, he thought he made a fine cup, but he had to admit when it was cold it was awful.  You could probably use it to clean guns.  This time he definitely heard the Kid grunting and moving.  Get your sleep, Kid; it’s been a hard few days.


They had been several hours out of Porterville, after one of their regular visits to see if there was word.  No word, just another Governor making promises he had no intention of keeping.  Lom had given them his usual pep talk and sent them on their way.  It was just their poor luck that as they passed by Harrow’s Glen someone recognized them and sent a posse after them.  It had taken nearly three days of hard riding, four changes of horses, to outrun them.  He thought they had finally gotten safe but wasn’t sure.  Good thing he and the Kid knew this part of Wyoming as well as they did.  They had taken refuge in this cave that they had used frequently with the gang.  It was about a fifteen hour ride from here to the Hole, but you could go through the cave and come out on the other side of the ridge and no posse would be the wiser.  The cave was well hidden too and on rocky terrain so they didn’t leave any tracks getting to it either.


He looked down, still clear.  Maybe they had finally gotten a break and lost the posse.  Maybe.  He looked at his watch – 11:04.  He looked up.  The stars mocked him -- clear and beautiful, and cruel.  It was clear like this that night, he remembered.  After they’d found them and buried them, they had hidden down by the banks of the stream, up in a tree.  He remembered holding the Kid, who was shivering as if he’d never be warm again, even though it was August and the sweat was pouring from the two of them.  He had looked up then and these same stars had laughed at him, taunting him, telling him, “You two shouldn’t be there.  Why weren’t you with them?”  He looked at his watch – 11:06.


He stood up and stretched his legs, then rewrapped the blanket and sat back down.  He listened for the Kid and heard soft snuffles behind him.  He drew a deep breath and remembered.  Remembered the years on their own, the struggles to survive.  They had tried hard, back-breaking work, but somehow it never suited them.   Then the gangs.  Boy had that suited them.  That, they excelled at.  So why did they quit?  What was he thinking?  Oh, he knew the Kid raised it first.  But really, he could have talked the Kid out of it if he’d wanted to.  Why hadn’t he?  What had he been thinking?  These last three years had been impossible.  Something had to give.


He reached into his pocket to pull out the watch again.  “Don’t Heyes.”  The Kid spoke quietly behind him.


“You’re supposed to be sleeping.  What are you doing up?”


“I can’t sleep.  You’re thinkin’ too loud.”


“That’s ridiculous.  Thinking don’t make a sound.”


“Heyes, I’ve known you my whole life.  I know when you’re thinkin’ too hard.  Trust me on this, you’re thinkin’ too loud.  It’s keepin’ me awake.”  The Kid reached over, took Heyes’ cup and tossed out the cold coffee, then poured in some warm from the pot he was holding.  He handed it back to Heyes, who swallowed it and sighed, before putting the cup back down.


“I’m sorry, Kid.  Guess I dragged you into yet another one of my schemes.  Maybe this amnesty is wrong.  The Governor’s never going to give it to us.  Found himself a great way to make us stop and not cost him anything.   Bet the railroads and bankers love him.”


“It was my idea, Heyes, remember?  I convinced you to try for it.  And you never dragged me into anything.  I’ve got a mind of my own, you know.  I liked the easy money and the excitement of the jobs, just as much as you did.”


“Kid, I wanted you by my side.  You gotta know that I can talk you into anything if I really want to.”


“Ya think that, do you?”


“Well, yeah.”


“I’ve got news for you.  You have never talked me into anythin’ I didn’t already want to do.  We split up because of that.  Remember?  You manipulate folks, Heyes; you’re good at it.  It’s saved our skins I can’t count how many times.  But you have never been able to manipulate me.  I know you.  I know all your tricks.  I can read you better’n you read yourself.  Your ma once told me that you liked me because I was the only one you couldn’t trick.  I go where I go because I want to be there.  I have no regrets about this life we’ve lived; don’t you go feelin’ bad about me.  I am alive because I know that you have my back; and I have yours.”


They both sat quietly, gazing up at the velvet sky, immersed in the silence.


A train whistle sounded far off.  Heyes looked at his watch again – 11:32.


Heyes thought back to that first train they hopped.  Two young boys running from the Home and the life they had been handed.  What had happened to all their dreams?  They were going to be rich.  Well they’d had plenty of money, but it all seemed to pass right through their hands.  Maybe there was one more big score out there.  Maybe.


“Why are we doing this, Kid?  Why did we decide to go straight?  Why did you want the amnesty?”


“It wasn’t the same anymore.  You n’ me both, we had fun, liked the challenge.  But it wasn’t as much fun anymore.  We grew up.  We couldn’t ignore what we were doin’; couldn’t say it was just the railroads and the banks’ faults anymore.  That they were askin’ for it.  Wheat was gettin’ restless; the posses were gettin’ bigger; the sheriff’s gettin’ smarter.  With the spread of the telegraph, it was only a matter of time -- either someone would get shot, or we’d get caught, or both.”


“Yeah.”  Heyes sighed.  “Bank and train robbing is a young man’s game.  Not many live to be as old as we have.  I guess you’re right.  Have you thought about what we’ll do when we get the amnesty, or what we’ll do if we don’t get it?”


“No, Heyes, I’ll leave the thinkin’ to you.  I just take it one day at a time.  As tirin’ and frustratin’ as our current situation is, I still like it better; like us better too.”


As they looked out at the silent landscape their attention was caught by a flash in the sky.   They looked up and saw first one, then two, then a cascade of shooting stars lighting the sky and the surrounding countryside.  They watched in awe until it ended.


Heyes looked at his watch again.  It was midnight.  They sat together, each caught up in his own thoughts.  


Finally, the Kid turned to Heyes.  “Go get some sleep.  It’s my turn to keep watch.  I’ll be here at your back, so sleep, Heyes.”


“Kid.”


“Just get some sleep.  I’ll wake you in four hours.  Then you can watch till daylight – but I’ll make the coffee then.”


Heyes laughed.  “Alright.  Wake me in four hours.  Then I’ll figure out where we go next.”
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PostSubject: Re: Moon   Tue Oct 06, 2015 2:20 pm

“All right.  Is everybody clear on their jobs?” asked Kid Curry.  Nobody answered, but six pairs of eyes around the table in the hideout’s cookhouse peered at him blankly.  Hannibal Heyes stood in the corner with his arms crossed and his head bowed in exasperation.   This could take all night.  “Wheat, what are you gonna do when we get to Apple Valley tomorrow night?” 


“I’m gonna take my horse to the livery and have the blacksmith fix the shoe I’m gonna loosen.”


“And what else?”


Wheat looked confused for a second, but said, “Uh, I’m gonna keep an eye on the bank ‘cross the street and signal you when it closes up for the night and the light's out.”


“How’re you gonna do that, Wheat?” asked Curry.


“I’ll light me a cigarette and you’ll be watchin’ for the spark.”


“Good.  Preacher what’s your job?”  


“I’m gonna set up a soapbox and preach to the good folks of Apple Valley while you and Heyes rob ‘em blind,” grinned the tall, thin outlaw.  “And, I’m gonna be ready to set up coverin’ fire if something goes wrong when you hightail it with the cash.”  


When Curry’s eyes turned to him, Lobo smiled wolfishly.  “I’m gonna snuff the streetlight in front the bank and then I’ll make sure the horses are in place for the getaway.  If the safe is blown,  I’ll bring ‘em up the alley right quick.”


“Hank, do you know what to do?”


“Yessir.  I’m watchin’ the back of the bank and keepin’ out of sight unless I hear all hell break loose.  Then I’ll provide cover.”


“Kyle?”


“Huh?”


“What’s your job, Kyle?” growled Heyes from the corner.  




“Oh.  I’m carryin’ the dynamite till we get there and helpin’ with the getaway.”


“Where are you going to be, Kyle?” questioned the Kid.


“I’m gonna be in the audience while Preacher’s talkin’.”


Heyes pushed off the back wall and strode to the center of the room.  “Everybody will wait outside of town until the sun goes down.  Then make your way into position.  Remember, Lobo, the sheriff goes home at dark for his supper so the light needs to be taken out after he’s walked past the bank.”


“But, if there’s no light, how’re you gonna see what’s in that big, beautiful safe?” protested Hank.


“Hank,” sighed the Kid, “we’ve already gone over this.  There ain’t any shades on the windows.  If the light is on, the whole world will be able to see that me and Heyes are robbin’ the bank.”


“It’ll be a full moon tonight.  There’ll be plenty of light to work by.  We won’t start on the safe until it’s up.  That gives us all about twenty minutes to get into place.”  Heyes opened the door to leave.  “Remember, no shooting unless we have to blow the safe and, if you have to shoot, be damned sure you don’t hit anyone, just throw a scare into ‘em.  Get some sleep.  We’re heading out at dawn.  C’mon, Kid.”


The two leaders walked in silence to their cabin.  Once inside, with the door closed, the Kid turned to Heyes.  “You really think this is gonna work?”


“No reason it won’t.  The boys know where they’re supposed to be and they understand the plan.  It’s simple enough a five-year old could execute it.”


“Yeah?  Well, last I looked, we didn’t have a five-year old, Heyes.”




OOOOOOOOOO




“There’s Wheat’s signal.  Bank’s closed and the light's out,” said Curry from his vantage point in the forest on the outskirts of Apple Valley.  Heyes was sitting behind him greasing the bar spreaders one last time to be sure they wouldn’t squeak.  It settled his nerves to keep his hands busy before a job.


The two outlaw leaders stealthily made their way to the bank.  The moon had not yet risen over the mountains and it was still pitch black as they eased down the back alley.  They saw Hank, with a whiskey bottle in his fist, leaning against a wall.  He nodded as they passed, but cringed slightly as Heyes stopped in front of him, sniffing for fumes.  Fierce dark eyes warned him not to make his act a reality.  


Wheat stood by the light hanging inside the livery.   The blacksmith had his horse’s hoof in his hand and was nailing a shoe in place while the big outlaw leaned against the door frame staring out into the street, bored to tears.  He could hear Preacher exhorting the pious folks and Kyle.  He had to assume Lobo had the horses under control and Hank was in place.  So far, so good, he thought. 


Curry waited pensively as Heyes spread the iron bars covering the window and slipped inside the building.  Quietly, he followed Heyes through the small opening.  The moon was casting a light shadow through the front windows and he could just make out the safe behind the tellers’ cages.   Heyes nodded to him to go stand by the big plate-glass window facing the main street.  He could see that the avenue was nearly deserted; Preacher had rounded up most of the people out and about.  Wheat was clearly visible at the livery and gave the Kid a small shake of his head warning his boss he was too easily seen.  Curry drew back into the shadows.  


Heyes had his ear to the safe and was intensely focused on the tumblers.  Hopefully, he’d be done before Preacher ran out of good words.  An important part of his plan was to keep the area in front of the bank as cleared as possible.  He didn’t want to have anyone raise an alarm and trigger a shootout.  A muffled click signaled the first tumbler had fallen into position.  


Time stretched into eternity as the Kid waited for the safe to open.  He heard a soft chuckle from Heyes.  Two down, one to go.  Pulling his partner’s dented silver watch from his vest pocket; he strained his eyes to read the dial.  Sixteen minutes since they started, fourteen minutes left before they summoned Kyle to blow it open.   Tucking the instrument away, he looked out the window again and it slowly dawned on him that there seemed to be less light than there’d been the last time he’d looked at the watch.  It was too dark outside!  He tried to see Heyes at the safe and realized his partner had disappeared into the gloom.  With a muffled curse, he ran to the back door and carefully unbolted it.  As he swung it open, he saw Hank across the alley staring at him quizzically.  The Kid shook his head and gave him a thumb’s up to let him know things were going as planned even as he feared they weren’t.  Curry stepped into the alley and looked up at the stars.  Above the hills hung the full moon; only it wasn’t full, it was barely there at all.  A tiny sliver of light glowed around the edges of the blood red orb.  The muscles in his stomach seized up and he went back inside as quietly as he could.  “Heyes!” he hissed through his teeth.


“Done!” crowed Heyes.  He sat back on his heels and looked up at his best friend.  “It’s all there.  Eight thousand big ones.”  With a crazy laugh, he began stuffing the cash into a coin sack, missing the frown carved into the Kid’s face.  


“Heyes!”


“What?”  


“We’ve got a problem.”


“We do?  What’s going on?”  Heyes finished shoveling in the cash and tied off the sack before looking up at the Kid again.


“Oh, nothin’ much.  Just the biggest eclipsed moon I’ve ever seen,” answered Curry with dripping sarcasm.  


Heyes gaped up at him stupidly.  “Moon?”


“Yes, Heyes, it’s a damned eclipse.”


“#$%&*!”  Heyes tossed the sack to his partner and rushed to the front window.  As he watched, doors opened up and down the street and folks gathered in the thoroughfare to stare up at the unusual sight.  “There’re people everywhere!”


The Kid went to the back of the building and barely cracked open the door.  Hank was still there but he was no longer alone.  Curry could see two men wearing aprons and more people standing in the alley staring up at the unusual sight.  Murmurs of amazement drifted to his ears.  Softly, he shut the door and returned to Heyes.  “We’re trapped.  We couldn’t even shoot our way out of this if we wanted to!”


Heyes looked frantically around him.  There was no other way out except the front or back door.  He’d thoroughly cased this job.  The apartment overhead was occupied by an elderly couple who went to bed early every night.  Even if he had the tools to go through the ceiling, he couldn’t do it quietly enough not to wake them.  As their situation sunk in, his shoulders drooped.  “This is it, Kid.  We always knew sooner or later our luck would run out.”


“I guess it has.”  


Both men’s legs went shaky at the same time and they leaned back against the wall and slid down to a sitting position, shoulder to shoulder.


“I just hope those knuckleheads don’t shoot the town up trying to get us out of here,” moaned Heyes.


“So we wait?”


“It’s all we can do.  Hopefully, the boys will be just as confused as we are and we can wait here until the eclipse is over.  Maybe we can sneak out then without anyone seeing us.  If not, we’re dead meat.”  Silence fell over them like a shroud.  They could hear the babble of the crowds and vaguely make out Preacher’s voice.  It was faint but growing stronger.  Their ersatz holy man was coming nearer.  Heyes stood up and went to the window.  “Kid, come here.”


Curry peered over his partner’s shoulder out into the street.  He saw a huge crowd coming towards the bank led by the black-dressed, austere Preacher.  Kyle was alongside him.  “What the hell?  They’re bringin’ ‘em right to us!”


“No, listen!” whispered Heyes.


As the crowd neared, the two outlaw leaders began to pick up a few words here and there and the nature of the Preacher’s message became clear.   “Sinners, repent!  Judgment day is upon us!  Feel the Lord’s fury, see his might!  The faithful must gather for the rapture!”  


Shouts of ‘amen’ and ‘praise the Lord’ filled the trapped outlaws’ ears.  People flowed onto the sidewalks; many of them weeping in wonderment and pressed tightly up against the window, but all eyes were on the man calling them on.


“We must show our obedience to our heavenly Father.  To the mount!  The faithful must gather on the mount!”  More people appeared and joined the crowd.  Lanterns bobbed and floated within the human tide.  Across the street, Wheat stood opened-mouth watching the spectacle.  Kyle slipped out of the flow and joined his stunned partner as the blacksmith melted into the stream of bodies.  In a matter of minutes, the majority of the population had disappeared up the street and out of sight.  Only the glow of lights showed their progress up the mountain.


“I’ll be damned,” said Curry.


“You already are,” said Heyes as he went to the back door and eased it open.  He found Lobo and Hank waiting with their horses.  “C’mon, Lobo’s here.”  


The outlaws mounted and quietly rode out of town in the opposite direction of the procession.  A few stragglers and observers watched them ride by without interest, having already been shocked by what they were witnessing. 


Wheat and Kyle joined their friends at the edge of the forest.  “What about Preacher?” asked the big, burly outlaw.


“Kid and me will wait for him,” said Heyes, handing the sack of money to Wheat.  “Take the gang back to the Hole.  Lobo, I’ll take Preacher’s horse.”




OOOOOOOOOO






Concealed in the dark woods along the trail to the summit, Heyes and the Kid followed and listened to Preacher whipping his flock into a frenzy of emotions under the darkened moon.  He yelled and harangued and chided them for nearly two hours, leading his people further and further from town, stumbling in the dark night, towards the top of the mountain.  His voice was hoarse and his hair dripped with sweat but he never let their attention wander.  Like a pied piper of the faithful, he led them on.  As the thin man reached a clearing, a sliver of light appeared on the edge of the moon.  Women screamed and clutched their children pointing at the sky.  Men fell to their knees and sobbed.  Preacher bellowed “Hallelujah!  The good Lord has saved us.  We are saved!”  He stopped and faced his parade.  Walking back and forth in front of them and spreading his arms wide, he bellowed, “Prostrate yourselves, close your eyes, and pray for your salvation!”  Like one organism, the people of Apple Valley fell face down on the ground and prayed their hearts out, yelling out their words of worship.  Preacher smiled delightedly and, as he reached the edge of the crowd closest to the trees, dropped his arms and disappeared into the forest.


Heyes and the Kid caught up to him when he was halfway down the mountain.  He heard the horses crashing through the underbrush and waited for his leaders to appear.  The men mounted quickly and picked their way down the rest of the slope in the brightening moonlight.


“Preacher!”  Heyes couldn’t help laughing.  “You were amazing!”


“Thanks, Heyes,” croaked Preacher.


“Tell you what, I’m buying you a whole barrel of whiskey to wet your whistle,” said the Kid.  


Preacher grinned.  “I’ll be holdin’ you to that promise, Kid.”


“I thought we were done for,” Heyes shook his head ruefully.  “You really ought to go back to the church.  The way you worked that crowd, I almost wanted to join up with you.”


“I guess you ain’t the only one with a silver tongue, Heyes,” chuckled Curry.  “How the heck did you manage to sermonize those folks for almost two whole hours?  I’da run outta words in two minutes!”


“Well, you know what they say,” Preacher paused, “the Lord works in mysterious ways.”

_________________
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“The purpose of life isn’t to arrive at death in perfect condition but to slide into it sideways with your hair mussed, your clothes disheveled, a martini in one hand and chocolate in the other, shouting ‘Whooeee, what a ride!’”--Hunter S. Thompson


Last edited by InsideOutlaw on Thu Oct 08, 2015 11:58 am; edited 2 times in total
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Remuda

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PostSubject: Re: Moon   Wed Oct 07, 2015 2:08 am

Dusted off two successive pieces of Hopping Trains and combined them for posting here. Hoping to finish the story soon, when I'll post it in its entirety.
A Midnight's Beckoning

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
 
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.

Uphill, by Christina Rosetti (1861)


He became aware slowly.

Shaking his head, Han opened his eyes, blinked.  Blackness enveloped him, extended beyond.  Midnight?

The depths of darkness drowned him in a muddle.  Then, focus brought clarity.  A half-moon lent enough ambient light to drown out the nearest stars.  Those on the fringes of consciousness were visible – constellations to the naked eye, figments to the imperceptible.

A whistle, in the distance. The wind?

First one thought, then two, seeped back to memory.

Running?  Still a jumble.

Yes, running.  Extending an arm.  Missing?

Wait.  More ...

Grabbing hold, of something:  A ladder.  A car ... Yes!  A train – a freight car.

Another whistle, chugging, yonder; not getting closer, moving away.

Someone?  Where ...?

"Jed!"

No one answered.

Again, "Jed?!"

By his lonesome, or so it seemed.  But, where was he?

Han peered around.  His vision now accustomed to the dark, the half-glow of the moon did little to illuminate his surroundings.

He stretched.  "Argh!"

Pricks pierced his threadbare shirt, cloth catching, shredding.  He reached out; stung fingers.  He grabbed again. "Owww!"

Underneath him, as far as he could reach – thorns.  He lay on something prickly, almost like the stacks of hay in the loft back in the barn back home.  How he had loved to put down the fork and laze around in the haystacks.  But this was neither warm, nor sweet smelling.

He moved some more, getting stabbed at every turn.  It hurt.  It dawned on him:  finality; he was indeed alone.

Tears.  It was okay because no one could see.

Covering his face with his hands, he held his breath and rolled.  Sharp pricks pinched his core, stung his bare hands and forearms.

Finally, he fell.  Hitting hard, he lay still for several minutes, tried to regulate his breathing.

Eventually, he looked up.  The half-moon, no longer directly overhead, had gained a short distance in its western advance.  Time would not wait for it, nor for him.

He extended his limbs once more.  The aches from a myriad of small injuries took his breath away, then subsided to a dullness.  He rose carefully to his knees, had to close his eyes against the exquisite throb in his head.  Through the acute clutter of the situation, he sought focus, gained it.

He did not think he had lost consciousness – not for more than a minute, anyway.  Dazed, definitely, but memories jogged him – running for the train with Jed, grabbing hold of the rail on the freight car, struggling to hold on, the turn ...

He had lost his balance and fallen at the bend in the tracks; that had to be it.  He had been thrown, at a great velocity, if not a far distance.  How was he still here?  Cheated the great sleep a second time?  He was not a cat.

He reached out.  Stung his hand, as expected.

Ah ... nettles!  A bed of nettles by the tracks had broken his fall.  He smiled, knowingly – wryly.  Life was not easy, so no bed of roses this.  Instead, a fitting cluster of stinging nettles.

It made sense now.  He wiped his eyes with his shirt sleeve.  Had to think like a man.  Had had to think like a man for two for too long now.  But, he just wanted his Ma.

He rose to his feet.  A glint off something in front of him a few yards – the rails.  The train was winding its way down the tracks to Missouri, with Jed.  Surely another would be by tomorrow?  There had to be.

Circling, he saw nothing but more dark, in all directions but up – and that was not an option.  He was a clever and somewhat sensible sort, or so his Ma and Pa had told him; even his schoolmaster had said so.  What had he done when lost that one time?  Stayed in place and waited.  Another train would turn up, and so would Jed.  Of that, he was hopeful.

Flush with that faith, however tenuous it seemed, he sat down.  The stars and a wandering half-moon would keep him company – as would anyone else who might watch.

~~oo00oo~~

Han rubbed his eyes. Must have dozed off.

Looked up.  The half-moon, having won its race to the west, had set.  Clusters of stars brilliantly bright against a now black sky sparkled like jewels he could only imagine, the stuff of buried treasure or raiment of kings of far-off lands; not something he would ever lay eyes on.

The same stars had set the course for explorers and pirates alike – those who ventured forth proving the world round, conquering new lands, discovering treasures untold, pillaging, plundering; taking to sea in swift brigantines, massive galleons; trolling oceans, coasts, rivers, inlets.

Adventure stories a boy could glory in, the stuff of whimsy, coursing swift currents on a raft, risking life and limb, perilously hurtling off the bank of Crogan’s creek for wealth unimagined, riches aplenty, chancing all he held dear for a stab at Fortune’s fate – until Ma rang the dinner bell, far enough away but close enough to be heard.

Home.

And what of Jed?  He would find him.  He would.

Ah, that dream Jed started having – the bad one.  He would get lost, panicked, not knowing which way to go, what direction to turn.  Wandering aimlessly, frightened, until some with torches would show him the way.  Jed never could tell him who they were, just beings shadowed behind the glowing sticks they carried, all pitch and resin, ready for hours of searching – leading a boy back home, or attempting to ... Maybe they watched them now.

Han had told the younger boy he would hold the torch now, he would guide them.  To where, he admitted to himself, he knew not.

Waiting out the night, Han wished he might have such a dream.  Perhaps he might find a clue to Jed’s whereabouts, as a ship searching in the night, sextant guided, as Castor and Pollux bound for Aurora’s lair – dawn.

Grandpa Curry had said the stars held other secrets.  But what secrets he never said – just winked.  “Laddie, when ye’re a wee bit older, ye’ll understand.”

Why did adults talk in enigmatic riddles?  Ma and Pa for certain had no problem talking plainly when there were chores to do.  Boys of a certain age were old enough, almost, to do a man’s work, but too young to be taken into that confidence adults shared.

“Yeah,” he said aloud with a smile, “when I’m a wee bit older …”

He had grown a lot since that day.  Physically, a bit.  Knowingly – heaps.  But, they were alone.  The guidance, gone.  Understanding, he would have to figure out – himself.  And he would travel the same path with Jed, leading the best he could; albeit, destinations unknown, as now.

The first inkling of pre-dawn light inched over the horizon to the east.  That was the way the train had gone – traveling furiously into the blackness, the head lamps of the locomotive directing it into the mysterious dark as it hurtled forward, always ahead, heralding its arrival down the line.

Surely, those torch-like stars, and whoever might watch, would lead him into the dawn of a new day – and, to Jed.

For, now, wherever they both were, was Home.

_________________
Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. ~ Wyatt Earp
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Stepha3nie

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PostSubject: Re: Moon   Sun Oct 18, 2015 8:10 pm

Here's a short contribution from me. It's not a story I chose to write, but a story that forced me to write it.


“So long, boys.  Guess it’ll take a while getting’ used ta not seein’ you around.  Not that we did see much of ya’ since ya’ started all this nonsense.  Unless you needed our help, of course.”


The burly man snorted through his bristling mustache.  Brown eyes blinked rapidly, even though nobody could see it with the moon hidden behind the clouds.  He had left his companions a small distance back to say his goodbyes.


“And just look who it was had to come save your bacon agin, huh?  Not that there was much left worth savin’.  But anyway.”


He squirmed, a little embarrassed.


“Well, we got it for ya’, your blasted amnesty.  Amnesty.  Huh.  Was it really worth it?”


A glare pierced the darkness stretching across the plain.  A chin jutted out defiantly.


“And don’t go thinkin’ we did it all just for you!  Understand?  We just so happened to have decided ta do somethin’ about that blasted, reward-snatchin’, lyin’ guv’nor.  And his friend the warden.  See, the prison’s been a thorn in our side a good while already, you know.  What with first Big Jim, and then later some others and – er hhmph.  So, when I said to the boys, I got me a plan – they were all ready ta go.  And turns out, it was a smart plan.  We pulled it off, just like that.  Made a nice haul too.  You should’a stayed with us.”


After having blustered himself up, the big man seemed to deflate on those last words and shook his head.


“I really didn’t believe ya’ when ya’ first told me, in that Porterville bank.  Kept wonderin’ what angle you were workin’.  But after that shit you pulled with the hangin’ – man, you gave us a fright there.  And they didn’t even have the Kid.  Nobody in the business would come up with something this stupid tryin’ ta work a job.  Not even you!  Well, after that, I started ta think that maybe there really wasn’t an angle.”


“Then the business with the cattle baron’s poker game.  You cheated me outta lot a’ money there.  But at least I ended up getting yours.  Ha.  Not many people ‘round can say they robbed you blind.  And got away with it.  Had you even come and hand the money over.”


A smirk quickly crossed the rough features.


“Yup, really got one over on you that time.  And you never even tried ta get even.  Guess that really did it.”


The man was still for some time, his eyes no longer looking ahead, but instead seeing pictures of days past.  When they had been younger.  When they had all still been together.  The posturing and nagging, the bickering, the jibes, the cursing and fights, the incredible things they had pulled off.  Together.  Good times.


A sudden gust of wind brought him back to the present, blowing the images away like autumn leaves.  He shook his head and blinked his eyes a few times.  But this time, the blinking didn’t help to hold back what was glistening in them.  He took a deep steadying breath.


“Well, I guess it’s all over now.  Reckon we owed it to ya’.  You can rest easy now, boys.”


Two fingers to the brim of his hat gave a farewell salute.  One last look towards the distant lights that marked the location of the Wyoming State Penitentiary near Laramie and he turned his horse back to his waiting companions.  Together, they disappeared into the night.



More gusts of wind swept over the plain.  They would wipe out the hoof prints of the riders by morning.  Some bit of paper was driven along on their trail, snatched up somewhere in town.  The wind broke apart the clouds hiding the moon.  In its light, the headline of the fluttering newspaper proclaimed “Governor accused over unjust imprisonment. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry given amnesty ” before the paper continued on its tumbling way.  But nobody was there to read.

_________________
"I can resist everything - except temptation"  Oscar Wilde
For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
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Hunkeydorey

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PostSubject: Re: Moon   Mon Oct 19, 2015 2:44 pm

Real life, work and teenagers have kept me busy for a while now.   I thought I'd post this old one just to let you know that I'm still around and still interested.  It's just that life takes over sometimes.  It loosely fits the prompt because it has moonlight in it.  


“Get after them!  They just robbed the bank!”


The sheriff gave the portly bank manager a look of derision.  “Well, duh!  I’d never have thought of that.  It’s a real good job you’re here to keep me right, ain’t it?”

All eyes glanced anxiously down the street at the two youths; one blond the other dark, galloping furiously down the main street, raising a cloud of cocking dust.  


“What are you waitin’ for?  They’re skedaddlin’, and your standin’ around like an old maid at a weddin’.”


“I got it in hand.  I saw them two greenhorns hanging around the bank for the last week.  The fair haired one kept playin’ with that gun of his.  Now, either they’d developed a keen interest in fiduciary matters...,” He grinned.  “I read that in a book.  It’s a good word ain’t it?  I like sayin’ it -   fiduciary...  That new library sure is great.”


“They’re gettin’ away!”


“As I was sayin’ – either they’d developed a keen interest in fiduciary matters, or they were plannin’ on robbin’ it.”  The lawman hooked his thumbs in his waistcoat, a broad smile spreading over his face.  “There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” his eyes clouded over.  “Not that I ever did skin a cat – seems kinda cruel to me.  It ain’t like we eat them or anythin’, but I read that in parts of China...”


The banker started to go purple in the face.  “What in the name of all that’s holy are you witterin’ on about man!  This ain’t the time for one of your shaggy dog stories.  They’re gettin’ away.”


“It wasn’t quite time.  I guess it is now.”  The sheriff gave a curt nod before placing stubby fingers into the corners of his mouth, letting loose an ear-splitting, ringing whistle.  The signal was picked up by a couple of young men on the sidewalk on either side of the main street, who hoisted the rope, strung between, them as high as they could, before wrapping it around the posts and hanging on to the ends for all they were worth.


The horsemen careened into it, their chests slamming against the rope as though it was an iron bar, before thwacking backwards onto the earth, where outraged citizens swarmed over them and dragged them to their feet. 


The sheriff gave a cackle.  “I read about that in the new library too.  There’s a village in England where a ghost from their civil war still rides in the moonlight.  He was killed by a rope strung across the road.”


“You could have killed them?” demanded a woman.  “They can’t be more than sixteen.”


“Nah, I paid two lads to hoist it.  From the sidewalk they’d be lucky to get it higher than the horses’ heads.  You can learn a lot from books.  I’m real glad we got that new library.”


ooo000ooo
The two youths cleared away the rope from the street, the fair haired one giving a surreptitious smile to his dark haired companion.  “How’d you know, Heyes?  That could have been us.  We talked about holdin’ up that bank.”


The dark lad took off his hat and ran his fingers through his hair.  “I know, but we’d never done it like them.  I wanted I’d do some research, so I went to the library.”


“You and your damned books.”


“But I met the sheriff.  He wondered if I had a friend and if we wanted to make a few bucks because he’d figured out that a pair were casing the bank.  They were real amateurish about it –practically had their noses pressed up against the windows.  There was really only one way they could leave town from the bank because of the river, so he’d figured out a plan.”


Kid gave a low whistle.  “But why us?”


“He was real clear about that – he said that any young man who spent his evenings hanging about in the library must be a fine, upstanding individual.  He trusted me.”


“Upstandin’?  You were in there researchin’ the best ways to rob the bank!”


Heyes’ face dimpled into a smile.  “I was actually studying Roman defensive strategies.”


“That ain’t what helped here.  Don’t try to make yourself out to be some kind of genius, Heyes.  This was nothin’ but blind luck.  That could’ve been us.”


Heyes gave a light chuckle.  “Yeah but luck comes from piecing together everything you know.  I remembered your great pearl of wisdom too, and I think that’s the best defensive strategy there is.”


“What ‘pearl of wisdom?’”


“Do you remember what you said when we were at school and Miss Thompson asked you about George Washington?”
Kid groaned.  “School?  You know I don’t remember school...  In  fact, I work hard to forget most of it.” 


“She asked why his father didn’t punish him when he admitted to chopping down his father’s cherry tree – and you replied, ‘Because George still had the axe in his hand...?’  It took her nearly ten minutes to get control of the class again.  It sure stuck in my mind, Kid.  The best defence of all is to make sure you’re always the one holding the axe.”    
    
 
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Silverkelpie

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PostSubject: Re: Moon   Tue Oct 20, 2015 4:03 pm

By Moonlight


The smoke from the engine drifted aimlessly in night air and strung itself through a lacework of wispy clouds as the train rattled off through the October night.  The countryside was lit by the lambent silver moon hanging in black velvet sky pricked by twinkling points of light.  The fair-haired man shifted on the seat and stretched a leg out into the aisle.  The hat over his face wasn’t doing it.  It might be midnight, but sleep simply wasn’t coming despite the soporific lightness of the clicketty-clack from the rocking railway car.  He pushed the hat back with a long forefinger and blinked in the darkness of the railway car.  His partner was sitting fixated on something in the aisle; sitting upright and tense in the seat opposite.

“Are you alright?” the Kid whispered.

“Yeah,” came the muted reply.  “Just thinking, is all.”

“Thinkin’?”  The gunman frowned.  “A body can do too much of that, especially your body.”

The shadows flooded in to fill the dimples framing the wry smile.  “Yeah, I guess I just had trouble sleeping.”

“What were you thinkin’ about?”

“Me?  Life, youth, Valparaiso...”

A fair brow arched.  “You don’t talk of Valparaiso much.  Not since you shook me awake that night and told me we had to get outta there.  A whole lotta water has passed under the bridge since then, huh?”

Heyes nodded.  “It sure has.  It keeps flowing too.  Sometimes it’s white water, other times its deep and silent as the grave.”

The Kid felt a shudder run down his spine.  “A grave?  Someone just walked over mine.”

The dark eyes became intense.  “What made you say that?”

“It’s just a sayin’,” he stared at his cousin, drinking in the stiff shoulders and grim set of the jaw.  “What’s got into you?  I catch you starin’ into the dark like a lone wolf.  What did you see?”

“Nothing.  Not one thing?” came the stark reply.

“Just your mood.  You get like this sometimes.  What’s up?”

Heyes sighed deeply.  “Like I said, just thinking.”

“Is it because it was a night like this when we left Valparaiso?”

“Maybe.”

The Kid leaned back on his seat.  “That was real dumb of us to leave in October.  We should’ve waited until spring when we would’ve stood a much better chance.”

“No, we shouldn’t.”  The sharpness of Heyes’ words caught his cousin by surprise.  “We had to go.  We had to go right then.”

The Kid leaned forward, keeping his voice low.  “Why?”

“We just did.  It’s a long story and I’m tired.”

He stared into the intense brown eyes.  “No, you ain’t and neither am I.  I’ve asked you this question for years.  We just up and lit outta there in the dead of night and you never told me why.  I was too young to question it.  The subject came up again, so how about you tell me now?  We got time on this journey; far too much of it for my taste. ”

Disquiet played in the dark eyes.  “I suppose.  Do you remember Charlie moon?”

“That weird, sickly, pale kid?  Yeah.  I remember.  He died, didn’t he...?”


oooOOOooo



Valparaiso twenty years earlier...


“Heyes!”  The shrill voice of the matron echoed around the stone walls of the institution.  “You were warned.  Sit up straight and eat your breakfast.”

The boy dragged up a weary head and blinked heavy eyes.  “I’m not hungry, Miss.”

The bow of the linen cap tied under the woman’s chin waggled as she spoke.  “Not hungry!  There are children starving in the streets and you refuse good healthy food?  This is unacceptable.  Report to Mr. Wayne immediately.”
The dark eyes widened in angst at the required extra exertion.  “Now, Miss?”

The hard lips pursed in a scowl which would brook no opposition.  “Now.”

The little boy propped his hands on the table to drag a leaden leg over the bench but he lacked the energy for even this small operation.  His foot caught and he tumbled face-first onto the stone floor.  The other inmates looked on in silence, too afraid to speak and risk punishment from the authoritarian regime, but one wily boy took the chance and swapped his empty plate for Heyes’ uneaten portions.  No point in letting it go to waste, was there?   

“Get up,” she bellowed.

“Miss, I don’t think he can...,” came a little voice.

“What do you mean?”  She strode between the rows of uniformed boys sitting in place at the long trestle tables.  “Get up.”  She prodded at the boy with her toe.  “Heyes, get up.”

“I think he’s sick, Miss,” ventured a larger boy.

“I suspect you may be right,” she stepped back and called to a couple of trustees.  “Schwartz and Cramond, get this boy to the infirmary.”  She held her hand up to the blond-haired boy who started to stand.  “No, Curry.  You may not go with him.  You are not ill.  Stop crying!  Stop that right now...”

oooOOOooo

The hazy mess gradually morphed into a face framed with grey mutton-chops.  The man looked over a pair of round spectacles and gave a grim smile.  “Welcome back, young man.  You’re finally awake.”  The picture became clearer.  The walls were painted in two shades of carbolic green, with an imaginary dado line being the demarcation point between the two.  Unoccupied brass beds lined the walls and bible quotes were etched on the walls at each end of the room.  “You’re in the infirmary.  I’m Doctor Green.  You’ve had a fever for a day or so.  It seems to have broken, but an ague like that leaves you weak.  You’re to stay in here for the next week at least.”  He cast his hand around the ward.  “You and Moon are the only ones here, so you’ll have some company.”  He scribbled something on the notes he carried on a clipboard.  “Moon is new here.  He lost his parents too.  You two have something in common.”

“My parents ain’t dead, Dr. Green,” murmured the boy in the next bed. 
Hannibal turned his head and gaped at the ivory-colored boy.  He’d never seem anyone like him, he looked like he’d been frosted.  The doctor cut in abruptly.  “They are, Charlie.  They’re gone.  You need to accept that.”  He turned back to the dark-haired patient.  “He’s an albino, Hannibal.  They got no color anywhere.  Even us white folks got some color.  He’s got none.  That’s why his hair and skin are so white, and his eyes are that color.  He was born that way.  Be nice to him, huh?  Lots of them here bully him, but he can’t help the way he was born.”

Hannibal stared wordlessly at boy who sat up in his bed, as pale as his linen shirt.  The eyes were unearthly; an unblinking violet gaze.  The thin boy smiled.  “Hi, I’m Charlie.  What’s your name?”

He opened his mouth to reply, but no more than a croak came out. 

“He’s too sick to talk, Charlie.  Let him sleep,” Doctor Green clipped the chart on the end of the bed.  “The nurse will be in to check you in the night.  I’ll see you in the morning.  Glad to see you with us again, Hannibal.  Get some more sleep.”

oooOOOooo              

He had fallen back into a deep insensibility, with the help of the draught given to him by the night nurse, and he wasn’t quite sure what had wakened him, but he opened his eyes to find a figure at the window dragging on the stiff metal latches.  Charlie Moon turned, fixing him with his hauntingly beautiful eyes.  “Ssshhh!  Go back to sleep.  I’m goin’ to see my folks.”

Hannibal still couldn’t be sure if he’d answered him.  All he knew was that he was soon seized by slumber and was insensible once again.  By the next morning he had been convinced it was all a dream.

oooOOOooo

The next morning dawned bright and cheerful, with buoyant birds swooping and lunging at the buzzing insects fussing around the flowers and trees.  Charlie slunk into the shadows, avoiding the sunbeams.  His alabaster skin burnt easily and he couldn’t take the risk.  Hannibal had done the opposite, seeking out the life-affirming energy.  He was still very weak, but he felt very much better than he had in some time.  He was allowed to sit up, covered by a blanket, and had even been permitted the luxury of a book.  The Home for Waywards was a tough regime and work filled every waking moment, so he was determined to savor the respite, and was in no hurry to get back to the mindless tasks of rope-making and agricultural work which were intended to ward evil influences away from idle hands. 

“Have you had the fever too, Charlie?” Hannibal asked.

The boy shook his head.  “The doc says I need to be kept separate.  Between you and me I think he’s studyin’ me.  I don’t think he’s seen the likes of me afore.”  He grinned.  “Suits me.  I seen what you lot have to do every day.  I get to sleep.”

“Sleep?  Sure a nap here and there, but don’t you get bored?” 

“Bored?  Na.  I gotta catch up on my sleep anyways.  I’m busy at night.”

Hannibal frowned.  “Busy doin’ what?”

“I goes and sees my folks.  The doc says they’re dead and gone, but he don’t know the half of it.”

“No?”  Hannibal curiosity was aroused.  “They’re hidin’?”

“Hidin’ in plain sight,” Charlie laughed uproariously at his own joke.  “Men like the doc think they knows it all, but my ma says she’s forgotten more than he’ll ever know.  She’s real clever my ma.”

“Why ain’t you with your folks if they’re still alive, Charlie?”

“Ma says the medical folks want to study us.  She’s in hidin’.”

Hannibal’s brows furrowed.  “She’s like you?  Why ain’t you hidin’ with them?”

“I will be, but Ma says I gotta do somethin’ first.  Once the Doc has had a look at me he’ll get bored and leave us alone.”

“That makes no sense, Charlie.  She should just tell him to git.”

Charlie shook his white head, the hair like strands of flax.  “You’re normal.  You don’t know how it is.  I’ve just got to wait a day or so and then we’re going away.  Ma’s found a place for us, where our type can be happy.  I won’t be here much longer.”  The boy paused, wondering if he had said too much.  “Ya ain’t gonna tell on me are ya?”

Hannibal shook his head.  “Go where you like.  It makes no difference to me.  I don’t get why they think your folks are dead though.”

“Ma let them think that.  She hid.  If’n they hadn’t they’d have never give up.  It ain’t no fun bein’ different.  Folks want ta hurt ya.”

“We ain’t different and they hurt us,” Hannibal replied.  “My folks were killed; all of ‘em.  Even the baby.”  His bottom lip started to tremble; he was surprised that he still held so much pain close.  “They’s gone forever and I don’t even know why.  Seems to me that some folks just hurt because they can.”

The violet eyes widened.  “That’s real sad.  Ya can come with us if’n ya want.  Ma likes normals.  She says we need normal blood to keep the family strong.  I gotta find a normal gal and bring her along, she says.”

“There ain’t no girls here,” Heyes backhanded away the tears stinging at his eyes.  “This is a boy’s place.”

“Yeah, but I got someone I can bring.  That’s why Ma’s happy for me to stay here for now.  In any case I sleeps most of the day.”

“Your Ma sounds weird,” snorted Hannibal.

The little white knuckles tightened and the violet eyes flashed with sudden fire.  “Don’t you dare say that about her.  You ain’t even met her.  Ya know nuthin’ about my ma!  I’ll kill ya!”
        
“How are you doing today?”  The doctor strode into the small ward.  “Charlie, you know what I’ve told about getting angry.  What was it?”

Sullen white brows formed a shelf above the fulgent eyes.  “Count to twenty.”

Doctor Green placed his hands on his hips.  “Did you do it?”

“Not yet.”

“Then start.  There’s no point in doing it afterwards, is there?  Nurse Broadmere, can you take Charlie out to calm down?”  The doctor watched a fair-haired, young woman usher the pale boy into the corridor before he turned to his other patient.  “Don’t provoke him, Hannibal.  He has a short temper and can turn quickly.  He has a sickness in his head.  That’s why he’s here.  Just keep to yourself and read until you are fit enough to go back to the dormitory.”

“I can see why he gets angry if he lost his folks,” Hannibal frowned, “but he says they’re alive.”

The medical man shook his head.  “They’re in the graveyard in town.  They’re gone; dead and buried.  I examined them myself.  Poor Charlie just has a hard time accepting that.  I’m hoping that I can sort him out with a bit of time and care.”  He paused, his eyes narrowing.  “You get angry too?”

The boy nodded, his lashes forming perfect crescents against his skin as he lowered his eyes.  “Sometimes.  It don’t do no good though.  Ya gotta think first and feel later.  Eventually you realize you ain’t got time to feel.”

“You’re twelve?”  The doctor nodded, knowingly.  “Some men could never learn that if they lived to be a hundred.  You’ll go far if you straighten up and live a good life.”

“I never did nothin’ wrong, sir.  They put me here ‘cos there was nowhere else.”

“And you were doing so well.  You can’t solve a problem if you don’t admit it exists, Hannibal.  I have to go.”  Doctor Green stood, shakin his head.  “Remember to keep Charlie calm.  Humor him if you have to.  There’s a nurse here twenty four hours a day if you need help.”

“But...”

“No ‘buts’,” the doctor cut him off as he left the ward.  “I hate excuses.  You’re in a home for waywards.  You’re mind is a garden.  It will become overgrown with weeds unless you cultivate it.  Go out and be the best at something.”

oooOOOooo

A chill wind gusted through the open window and prickled at the slumbering child’s neck, but it was the sound of the sash window being slid further open which brought him back to the here and now.  He turned and snuggled into the blankets, but the dropping temperature nipped at his face and nose until a heavy eye reluctantly opened.  The room was drenched in moonbeams, illuminating the fluttering curtains and the sheets dragged back on the empty bed next to him.

He sat up.  Should he close the window?  That would prevent Charlie from getting back in.  The boy’s words floated through his mind.  “I goes and sees my folks... he don’t know the half of it.”

What did he mean by that?  Curiosity had nibbled at him since those words had been spoken.  It was no use.  He was feeling much better and he had to know what was goin on.  He pulled back the blankets and opened the locker beside his bed where his clothes were kept and pulled on the institution overalls and jacket over his nightshirt.  The boots were slightly too large, but he jammed them on anyway and made for the window.

Charlie didn’t appear to feel the cold, despite being so sensitive to the sun.  He was visible in the moonlight, the lustrous beams which picked up the white shirt also silvered the snowy hair.  He merely looked unusual during the day, but he commanded the night.  He strode through the landscape unafraid and assured until he reached the large wooden gates.  At that point he slunk into the shadows, disappearing completely as the luster seemed to drop from him at will. 

The gates weren’t locked, this was a home, not a prison, and they proved no barrier to a determined boy.  He slunk through and was quickly out on the open road, headed for the town.

Hannibal followed at a distance.  The Home for Waywards lay on the edge of town, with the church lying in the dip between.  The boys were marched to it every Sunday, so he was completely familiar with the spired timber building.  The tracking continued with the darkness enveloping the young inmate but strangely emphasizing the stark paleness of his mark.  Young Hannibal’s heart sunk as he watched Charlie enter the churchyard.  This was not a place a boy preferred to hang about after dark, but he swallowed down the apprehension forming in his gullet and pressed on.  The white figure seemed to float in the distance until it came to a stop by a grave marked only by a wooden stake.  Charlie sat and started to talk.  From his vantage point behind a gravestone Hannibal couldn’t hear the words, only the music of the conversation drifting in the night air, carried by the breeze. 
         
Hannibal froze.  Were his eyes playing tricks on him or was there movement in the darkness?  He stared harder, but the more he looked, the less sure he became.   The shadows seemed to morph and meld before his very eyes; distorting and mutating with a swirling eddy, until the very blackness itself seemed to churn and roll around the albino boy, who appeared to be radiant and shining in the midst of a maelstrom of night.  Hannibal blinked and rubbed his eyes.  Were the shadows moving, or was the night playing tricks with eyes which stared too intently? 

The hairs on the back of his neck started to prickle.  It took a few moments for him to realize why, but then his senses caught up with his instincts and he heard it.  Along with Charlie’s descant tones, there was a definite lower rumble.  No, there was a bass resonating with a slightly higher contralto, or was there?  Was Charlie talking to someone, to others?  The white figure lay down on the earth, but the sounds continued, or did they?  They seemed to exist at the very edge of perception, just like the undulating, curling gloom.  

Hannibal’s heart leaped into his mouth at the hand dropping onto his shoulder.  “There you are.  I know you came this way.”  It was Nurse Broadmere, and she was furious, but Charlie’s words suddenly came unbidden to his mind, ‘I gotta find a normal gal and bring her along...’ 

Had Charlie wanted to be followed?  Even worse, had he wanted the nurse to come here in the dead of night for god only knew what purpose?  Panic gripped him.   
“We gotta run!” Hannibal yelled, seizing her hand and tugging her back in the direction of Valpairso.  “Come on.” 

He ran as fast as his legs could carry him along the path, but the woman held back, moving no more than a few steps before stopping.  Hannibal turned to face her, but the swarming whorl of drab mist behind her caused him to let out an involuntary wail.  It was moving.  It was headed straight for them.  “We’ve gotta get back, Miss.  We just gotta...”

He grabbed her hand as tightly as he could and dragged her, stumbling through the night, back towards the home.   The blood pumped loudly in his ears and all he could hear was his heart beating furiously over the metallic scrunch of the tackets on the sole of his boots hitting the an occasional stone as he ran.  Every time he looked back his fear spiraled at the teeming darkness behind them, an empty, hungry, venal blackness flowing towards them in a malignant murmuration of obscurity.  “We’ve got to run!” howled Hannibal.  “You can’t be out here.”

“Hannibal, stop!  Where’s Charlie?” the Nurse demanded.  She turned and looked behind before giving a little cry.  The mounting panic became contagious and he felt her hand tighten round his.  It wasn’t long before her pace gathered and she overtook the panting boy, dragging him along in his out-sized boots against the wind.    

They reached the gate, which Hannibal flung open, his heart beating  fit to burst.  He yanked her through, and slammed it behind them.  “Help!  Help us,” he shouted at the top of his voice.  Lights appeared at the windows of the stark building.  His breath came in great gasps of panic as he sank to his knees.  They were safe, or rather the nurse was safe.  He was convinced the poisonous wave was directed against her.  The shadows retreated against the warm glow of the lanterns and the calls of the men coming to investigate.  They had made it back to Valparaiso.

oooOOOooo

The twitching of a pert nose and the scrunching of the eyelids heralded Hannibal coming to.  “He’s waking up,” a male voice murmured.  “That was quite the fright you gave us all.  It was touch and go for a while there.  I think you’re past the worst of the fever.  How are you?  Can you talk?”  He watched the mouth futilely open and close.  “No?  Just relax.  Nurse Hodge will look after you.”

The boy’s dark eyes scanned the ward, but found all the beds empty and made up with military precision.   “Charl...”  The voice croaked off to nothing. 

Doctor Green shook his head.  “He’s gone, Hannibal.  Don’t worry about him.  Just concentrate on getting well.  You’ve been a very sick boy, but you’re going to be just fine...”

OooOOOooo


Twenty years later

Heyes looked down at his feet.  “It took about a month before they let me go back to work.  The doc was a good man and protected sick boys as much as he could.  I spent the time reading and studying things I’d never have had the chance to learn.  I never saw Charlie again.”

“He died, didn’t he?” the Kid replied.
“I only found out later he was found on his family’s grave.  He slit his wrists and bled to death,” a grim-faced Heyes leaned back in his chair.  “I don’t know if that’s how my fevered brain interpreted what I half-saw in the dark, or if I was even there at all.  Maybe I heard the staff talking about it when I was delirious?  I was too far gone to make sense of it.  I guess poor Charlie never got over losing his folks.  I think he was right about Doc Green studying him.  Maybe he should’ve been in an asylum instead of a home?  We’ll never know now.”

The fair head nodded slowly, watching his cousin intently.  “And dark nights make you think of that time.  Why have you never told me this before?”

The intense, dark eyes fixed on the gunman.  “I never saw Nurse Broadmere again.  She left too.  No notice, she left the very same night.  That made me think it was odd.”  He paused, glancing out the window uncertainly.  “When I was released from the infirmary I went back to the dormitory after a day of picking oakum,” he gave a snort of derision.  “That was considered light duty for the weak.  I crawled into my own bed and felt something under my pillow.  It was a note.  As soon as I read that I knew I had to get out of there and that you had to do the same.  That’s why we left.  I couldn’t stay there a moment longer.  I still don’t know if it was a sick joke by the other boys, or if it was meant for someone else, but every now and again it comes flooding back to me and I feel like that little boy again.  Occasionally the shadows seem to live and move, just like they did that night, and I can’t settle.”

The fair brows met in curiosity.  “Huh?  A note?”

He nodded.  “It simply said, ‘I know you were there.’”

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

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PostSubject: Re: Moon   Sun Oct 25, 2015 1:56 pm

I found the time to cobble together a short story after all.  Rolling Eyes  


Moonflowers

“I won’t tell you again, Jed Curry.  Those are not your apples,” Mrs. Moon held the wriggling boy’s ear between her forefinger and thumb.  “You’ve been warned, now I’m telling your mother.”

She knocked briskly at the door.  “Mrs. Curry.  He’s been at it again.  I swear to you this boy needs to be in a reformatory.  He’s been at my apples again.”

“Oh, I am sorry,” apologetic blue eyes drifted over to her son.  “I’ll ensure that he is punished as soon as his father gets home.  I don’t know where gets it from.”

“Don’t you?” the woman sniffed.  “He’s no better than that father of his.  I’ve never seen him in church, and he is quick with a smart comment.  The last time I asked him if he thought it was disrespectful to go without a collar and tie on the Lord’s Day he gave me quite the mouthful.  I remember the days when men were respectful to a lady.”

“I’m sure he was just angry, Mrs. Moon.  He works very hard and Sunday is the only day he has to relax.”

“With tobacco and liquor?  I swear the man was intoxicated.  As I walked away I clearly heard him shout out, ‘Look out, boys.  It’s a grizzly.’”  Mrs. Moon tipped her nose in the air.  “He quite ruined that fur coat for me.  I haven’t worn it since.”

Mrs. Curry silently blinked away the amusement and composed herself before replying.  “I’m sure that Joseph didn’t mean you.  Nobody could mistake you for a bear, not ever.  You’re more like a cat.”

“What do you mean by that?”

The Irishwoman grinned.  “Figure it out for yourself.  Thanks for bringing my son home.  I’d deal with him now.”

Jed wriggled free from Mrs. Moon’s grasp and “I didn’t do nuthin’, Ma.  It was just the windfall.  The birds and worms got more than me.”  

Mrs. Curry rolled her eyes.  “Windfall?  Is this true?”
    
“So what?  It’s still theft.”  The matron pursed her lips.  “You’re not going to punish him?”

The Irishwoman folder her arms, her shoulders rising.  “Mrs. Moon.  Let’s get one thing straight.  When I say that I’m going to punish Jed, I mean it.  If you think I’m gonna give him a whoopin’ in front of you to satisfy some kind of perverted grudge you’ve got another thing comin’.”

The ice in the mother’s glare gave the busybody pause.  “I’m not asking you to do anything other than give me assurances.  I don’t want him getting off scott free.”

“Mrs. Moon.  My family is my business.  If you care to see my temper first-hand you are welcome to stick around,” Mrs. Curry gave a wry smile, “but I’m bettin’ you ain’t gonna like what happens if you do.”

The woman turned away from the door unable to hold the harsh glower of the angry mother.  “I must get going.  It’s clear to me that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree in this family.  That’s all I’ll say on the matter.”  She stomped off down the path, turning to deliver a parting shot and making a lie of her last statement.  “He’s going to be no better than his father, I can tell.  It’s because of rough men like him I daren’t come out of my door after dark!”  

“Yeah, well we just need a way to keep you in durin’ the day too!  I wouldn’t worry about the rough men.  They sure ain’t interested in you.  Not in the least,” barked Mrs. Curry.  She pointed at her son.  “You.  Get in here and stop laughing.  This isn’t funny.”

“I promise it were only windfall, Ma.  It was just gonna rot.”

She looked deeply into her son’s eyes.  “Yes.  I believe you.  I can always tell when you’re lying.  You have to understand that she is just plain mean.  She wouldn’t give anythin’ to the kids.  She’d rather see it wither on the ground than see a child have it.”

“I promise it was, Ma.  We was only eatin’ the good bits.”

“Dear Lord,” she rolled her eyes.  “Here we go again.  You’ll have the runs something terrible.  What have I told you about eatin’ stuff off the ground?”  Her eyes narrowed suspiciously.  “Where was Hannibal during all this?  He’s always around where there’s mischief to be had.”

“He ran,” pouted the boy, his tousled curls catching the light.  “He’s bigger’n me.”

“Yes...” mused his mother.  “That’s what you should have done.  Just because someone shouts at you with authority doesn’t mean they’re right.  What would have become of us in the old country if we’d stopped at every English voice?  I taught you better than that, Jed.  Sometimes it’s not about who’s right on paper, it’s more about who is right in the eyes of God.  As long as you were takin’ no more than the worms or the squirrels I can’t worry about it.”  Her eyes gleamed with serious intent, “but if you were takin’ them from the trees, that’s a whole other matter.”

“Worms and squirrels, definitely worms and squirrels, Ma,” squeaked the lad, desperate to avoid the sharper edge of his mother’s tongue.

“Fine.  I’ll go and see Hannibal and his mother.  I can’t see why you should be the only one to be punished.”

oooOOOooo

“Ma’am.”  Mrs. Moon looked down at little Hannibal Heyes and Jedidiah Curry standing on her doorstep, clutching their squashed hats to their chests in respect.  Jed nudged his cousin urging him to continue with his rehearsed speech.  “Our folks are very sorry about what we did and we’ve been sent to do some chores for you.  Ma says we’ve to tidy up your yard, sweep up all the leaves and make the place real tidy to say sorry.”

Her eyebrows shot up in surprise.  “Mrs. Curry knows about this?”

Jed nodded solemnly.   “It was her idea, Ma’am.  She said we caused mischief in your garden, so we need to put it right by goin’ back to the scene of the crime.  We’s here to do right and clean up all windfall, and we promise to give every single one to you.  We’ll sweep up the leaves too.”

Mrs. Smart tilted her nose a little higher.  “Mrs. Curry surprises me.  I suppose there can be some nobility in a woman of her class after all.”  She nodded, curtly.  “You may go ahead, and I hope this is a lesson to you all.”

“Yes’m,” the darker boy grinned.  “That’s what Mrs. Curry said.  ‘Everyone needs a lesson in manners and humility.’  Them were her very words.”    

“I believe my conversation with her had the effect I desired.  Tell her I said thank you.”

“We’ll tell her everything you said, Ma’am,” replied Hannibal.  “Every single word.”

oooOOOooo

The light was dimming and the rising moon was sailing towards the clouds by the time Mary Curry arrived in the family wagon to pick the boys up.  Her clear blue eyes scanned the trees, the carefully piled leaves, and the sack of windfall fruit propped up against the wall of Mrs. Smart’s little timber home.  She gave a nod of satisfaction.  “Looks good,” she announced.  “Did you tell her that I told you what to do?”

The boys nodded in unison.

“Great.  And did you do everything I told you to do?”

More nodding.

“Exactly as I told you to do it?”

“Yes, Ma.”  Jed grin grew wider.  “We did.  We planted them.  Hannibal made sure it was spelled right.”

Mrs. Curry started to chuckle, the mirth rolling around her petite frame, filling her pretty face with devilment.  “Good.  Maybe she’ll think twice before she insults this family again when the words ‘selfish witch’ come up, written in spring flowers.  I wonder how long it’ll take before anyone even tells her.”

“Won’t she see them for herself, Auntie Mary?” asked little Hannibal.

“She says she doesn’t go out after dark,” Mary Curry shrugged.  “You planted moonflowers, so they blossom in the moonbeams.  There won’t be much to see during the day.  She’ll only know if she has any friends.”  She watched the boys climb in the vehicle before giving the reins a shake to bid the horse into motion.  “I hope it’s there good and long before she finds out.  That’ll teach her to argue with an Irish woman.  Nobody blackens the name of my husband and child and walks away.  Nobody!”
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Keays

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PostSubject: Re: Moon   Sun Oct 25, 2015 8:41 pm

Evening settled in upon Santa Marta, so Hannibal and Miranda sat outside on their veranda, enjoying an after dinner drink while watching the sun go down.


“Why did the waiter ask if you wanted a worm in your bottle of tequila?” Miranda asked, as they sat together, holding hands.


Heyes smiled.


“It's tradition,” he informed her. “In the tavernas in town, they wouldn't even ask. To serve tequila, without a live worm in the bottle, would be an insult.”


“Argh!” Miranda grimaced. “I suppose it's a matter of male pride as to who gets to swallow the thing?”


“Of course.”


Miranda rolled her eyes. Men were such strange creatures.


“Well,” Miranda settled into her chair with a contented smile and took a sip of her white wine. “Junior and I are quite happy to do without the worm.”


Heyes squeezed her hand.


“Me too.”


They sat that way for some time, looking out over the ocean, and watching the changing colors gradually take it over. Miranda had never felt so contented. The sun sank, its bright reflection leaking out over the waves as the sky went from bright blues, to oranges and reds and then to purples. They didn't even notice the higher sky darkening as evening overtook the seascape, and before long, stars started to twinkle and the ocean air took on a slight chill.


“It's so beautiful,” Miranda murmured. “So peaceful on the surface. Who would think there was so much drama going on under the waves? What an incredible experience that was. William never wanted to do things like that.” She squeezed Hannibal's hand, and gave it a gentle shake until he glanced over at her. “Thank you.”


“You're welcome,” he returned. “And I thank you as well.”


“For what?” she asked.


“Oh...well, let's see...for taking the hand of a man who was a broken wretch, who was lost and beyond hope. And for smiling at him. For loving me, and yet still being willing to be my friend. For backing off and giving me room to find myself. For accepting me. For marrying me. For tolerating my previous lovers. For accepting my children, Sally and Anya. For accepting my seed, and nurturing our child. Thank you for being my wife.”


Miranda's throat tightened on her, and for a few moments, she couldn't answer. She turned away and watched the bright stars twinkle and become brighter as the night sky darkened. Tears formed in her eye, which she tried to hide, because she never did go for that mushy, sentimental nonsense. She sniffed, and Hannibal smiled over at her through the darkness, and it was his turn to squeeze her hand.


“I love you,” he said.


Miranda nodded and took a deep breath to get control of her emotions.


“I love you too,” she told him. “You're the best thing that ever happened to me. And look; as a monument to our happiness, here comes the moon.”


They both looked out to the hidden horizon, and sure enough, a bright full moon was on the rise, taking its turn to spread its luminous reflection upon the gentle waves. The sound of those waves, gently washing up upon the soft sand, combined with the ambiance of the ocean air, added to this surreal evening of Hannibal and Miranda Heyes, sitting on a beach in Santa Marta, Mexico, having a drink.
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HelenWest

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PostSubject: Re: Moon   Tue Oct 27, 2015 11:59 pm

This scene was originally written in slightly different form for my story Two Sheepskins and a Star, but I could never quite resolve it or fit it into the overall narrative until this lovely challenge prompt came along.
 
When Mrs. Elizabeth Heyes got home from her job as a tutor at the Leutze Clinic for Aspasia Patients, she wasn’t surprised to see her husband bent over his little roll top desk. He was scribbling long mathematical equations on a pad of paper.


“Oh, Heyes,” said Beth in dismay. “Did you get any rest today at all? You’ve been on the road so much interviewing, I know you’re exhausted. Did you come straight from bookkeeping all day at the Levy factory and start right back to work on job applications and trigonometry?”

Heyes got stiffly to his feet and kissed his wife. He tried to smile, but his worry carried through. “Yeah, but I was just writing out an idea. A good one with explosives, I think. I hope. So how was your day?”

Beth lovingly brushed a lock of hair back from her husband’s brown eyes. “It was ordinary, until now. I brought us a deli dinner. Then we’re both going to wash up and dress up.” She announced. “We’re going out.”

Heyes asked, mystified, “Out? Where?”

“Out to the theater.” Beth was already digging through her jewelry box in search of something suitable for the occasion. She found a silver and carnelian Indian necklace and put it aside.

“The theatre?!” exclaimed the impoverished former outlaw. “I’d love it, but you know perfectly well we can’t afford to go to a play.”

Beth calmly insisted. “And I say you need to get out and have some fun or you’re going to blow to bits from the pressure of all these interviews with colleges.”

Heyes paced up and down in agitation. “You have a point, and I’m sure you could use a break yourself. But darling, we have no money. Less than none – we’re in debt up past our eyebrows. I don’t have to recite to you the list of loans folks have given me for medicine after I got shot, room and board, and every other kind of expense from when I was getting my math degrees. Thank goodness I had scholarships, but you know as well as I do that living in New York City costs serious money, even down here in the slums. I can’t get a full time job no matter what I do. Amnesty or no amnesty, people don’t trust Hannibal Heyes and that’s all there is to it.”

Beth stood toe to toe with her formidable spouse and proclaimed. “Well, I say we’re going out. And what I say goes, Mr. Heyes. Who makes the most money in this household, anyhow?”

Heyes sighed and sank onto the bed. “You do. So spend it as you will. You will, no matter what I say, so why should I complain? I assume you believe that I will enjoy this evening.”

Beth, who had taken off her work dress, leaned down to kiss her husband. “You will. Assuredly you will, lover mine.” Heyes got up and began to prepare for an evening out.

“What’s the play?” Heyes spoke over his shoulder as he began searching for a suitable tie to wear.

Beth shouted back down the hall as she headed toward the kitchen. “I’m keeping that a secret. But I solemnly promise, or smilingly anyhow, that you will walk out of that theater feeling considerably cheered. You may even find the strength to go on with this hard fight for our future. So that’s worth any money to me.”

Heyes, who was hungry, followed her toward the food she had brought. “That, my dear, is quite the promise. I will hold you to it. So let’s eat and get washed up. I want to find out what you’ve got planned, since we can afford to go out only once in a blue moon.” Heyes began to feel eager in spite of his monetary worries.

When the two Heyes were fed, dressed, and ready, they went down the steps of their brownstone apartment. The sun was setting as Beth hailed a cab for them. Heyes listened to the address of the theater, which was a well known one, but it told him nothing about what they were to see. When the pair arrived and Heyes helped his wife down from the cab, he saw a line extending out the theater door. He also saw the named emblazoned on the marquee over the entrance – Mark Twain.

Heyes hugged his wife joyfully. “Mark Twain! Oh, Beth, I’ve always wanted to hear Samuel Clements speak. But how can we possibly afford it?”

Beth squeezed her husband’s hand and whispered. “We don’t have to pay – one of my former students is the stage manager. He got us free tickets. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. No one but us may know it, but there will be two famous liars in that theater tonight.”

Heyes pretended to frown at his wife, but he didn’t really take that as an insult. They picked up two tickets from the will call window. Beth was not surprised that her former criminal husband was actually glad to sit near the back of the theater where few people would see them and a quick exit was possible, just in case. She understood that such feelings were still instinctive for a man who had been wanted dead or alive for twenty years and had had amnesty for only three months.

Heyes and Beth spent much of the night in uproarious laughter, along with the rest of the audience. Mark Twain came on stage in his famous white suit. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he began in his creaky voice, “I want to thank you for attending the services tonight.” This parallel to church services fetched a timid laugh. “I nearly missed them myself. I came by railroad. It was one of those trains that gets tired every seven minutes and has to stop and rest for three quarters of an hour. One of the passengers advised the conductor to take the cow catcher off the front end and put it on the rear, because, at the rate we were going, we were not going to catch any cows, but there there wasn't anything to prevent them from climbing aboard at the rear.” Heyes was among those howling with laughter at that – he had way too much experience of slow trains, including when fleeing for his life.

Mark Twain continued exercising his dry wit in delivering often cynical ideas that had his public in stitches. Slavery, religion, race, war, politics, violence – everything was fair game to Samuel Clemens. The cheeky author looked just like his pictures, with a thick mane of curly brown hair and bushy eyebrows that he used to hilarious effect in setting off his punchlines. Twain smoked a cigar the whole evening. In fact, after intermission, the famed author announced his return to the stage with a puff of smoke that preceded him and fetched as much laughter and applause as any story he told.

When the last of many curtain calls was over, Beth got up happily, arm in arm with her husband. Heyes stood and hesitated a minute. Then he turned to his wife. “I hope you don’t mind, honey, but I really do want to try to speak to the man. I have something to thank him for – and not just for making me feel so much better this evening.”

Beth went with Heyes to stand in the long line of public waiting backstage to shake the hand of Samuel Clemens. She noticed that her husband dithered for long enough that he wound up at the back of the line and he even let the second to last visitors get yards away before he approached the famed raconteur. Beth assumed that this was on purpose; her notorious spouse wanted privacy for this conversation.

Mr. Clements was tired and out of sorts by the time the last two people got to him. He was still smoking his cigar. He stood to greet his public but leaned wearily on a chair. “Well, what have you come to complain about?” he snapped, tapping his ash into a brass tray on the chair’s seat that was already brimming with ashes. His sharp country-accented voice was creakier than ever.

Heyes was not put off in the least. He spoke seriously. “Mr. Clemens, I came to thank you for something special you did for me years ago.”

“Oh? Did my inspiring novels save you from a misspent youth, or what?” Clemens’ mockingly cliched words were drenched in sarcasm. He closed his eyes and leaned on the chair back, making it very clear that he wanted his last fans to leave quickly so he could rest.

“No sir, I’m afraid no one quite managed that. But you saved a man’s life,” stated Heyes.

This seemed to chirk up the great writer some. He smelled a story.  “I did? And how, pray tell, did I accomplish that?”

Heyes casually told his story, leaning against the back wall of the theater as he spoke. “Chapter 31 of Life on the Mississippi. The story about the thumb prints. I drew upon that to make a murderer think I had finger print evidence on him. This got him him to expose his crime to a sheriff. Unfortunately, he wound up being shot to death before he could come to trial, but it did allow an innocent man to be let off being tried for the murder.”

Now this stranger had Samuel Clemens’ undivided attention. “Huh? I’ve heard that story before. Or read it.” Mark Twain's waved his cigar to emphasize his point. “And you had better be careful of how you lie to me or steal from the man you stole that story from. He’s a formidable fellow, by all accounts. I read that story, in the newspaper coverage of the murder trial of Hannibal Heyes. Heyes told that story himself as testimony. He got let out of prison and is a free man, living here in this very city from what I understand. No, I don’t advise you to trifle with me or to steal from Hannibal Heyes.”

Heyes laughed hard and unashamedly at that.

Clemens snapped at him. “What’s so funny, Mister? Are you lacking in respect for the very dangerous Hannibal Heyes? He’s a liar to beat me, by all accounts. But he can also handle a gun quite well, as was proven clearly at his trial.”

Heyes gave a least chuckle and said, smilingly, “I have to thank you, Mr. Clemens, on several counts. I haven’t heard such complements since my trial. I assure you, I’m not dangerous any longer. Or not to honest men, anyhow. And I use my lies more judiciously than I used to.”

Clemens’ eyes widened. “What? You are Hannibal Heyes?”

“I am, sir.” Heyes bowed theatrically. “And this good lady is my wife, Elizabeth Warren Heyes. And if you think I’m lying to you right now, I might point out the scar from where a bounty hunter shot me in the head, and the scar from where the guards at the Wyoming State Penitentiary beat me for speaking to my own partner, among other imagined infractions.”

Clemens studied the marks Heyes had pointed out and exclaimed, “Merciful Heavens! You are Hannibal Heyes! Why, sir, it is my delight to meet up with you at last. And you, Mrs. Heyes. I’ve been a fan of yours husband’s for many years. No liar of such distinction escapes my admiration. I hope that doesn’t offend you, Madam. To me, it’s a high complement. Allow me to shake your hand, Mr. Heyes!” The great author had a firm, enthusiastic handshake.

Beth laughed happily. “Don’t worry, Mr. Clemens. I’m well acquainted with your writing” her eyebrows rose suggestively, “– and even better acquainted with my husband’s silver tongue.”

Clemens chuckled gleefully at the implications of that statement. One furry eyebrow rose. “Ah, a witty lady. A fitting match for such a brilliant man.”

Heyes grinned. “Thank you, sir! I’m a long-time enthusiast of yours, as my telling that story at my trial must have made clear to you.”

Beth pulled up a chair and sat down. Her experience of her husband’s silver tongue told her that it was about to employed at considerable length.

The author fixed his celebrated fan with a challenging gaze and pointed at him with his half consumed cigar.  “So tell me, what’s your favorite story of mine?”

Heyes scratched the back of his head theatrically. “Gosh, that’s a hard one. I’ve got so many favorites. I really did enjoy Life on the Mississippi, beyond saving a man’s life with it. But I was very impressed by one of your most recent ones – Connecticut Yankee. It’s damned brilliant, if you ask me. Hard, but brilliant.”

“Why thank you. Hard – well it had to be steel-hard to strike the necessary sparks.” Clemens paused to see if Heyes enjoyed the well-crafted turn of phrase, which he did.


The author nodded. “That’s very satisfying to hear, especially from you. So let me ask you something else, Mr. Heyes. Do you think you’ll ever write up your remarkable life story? From orphan to outlaw to professor, we shall hope. It would make quite the tale, I feel certain.”

Heyes paused, leaning against Clemens’ chair companionably. “I despise what’s been written about me, by and large. I used to want no word on the subject ever to appear. But, actually, now that I have the education to be able to make a creditable job of it, I might do it. I wish it would make a faster job than it will – I could use the money right now. Nobody seems to want to hire me for more than minor book keeping, and I’ve been trying to hire on to teach college mathematics. I’m fully qualified.”

Clemens studied the man before him with a critical eye. “I don’t doubt it. But, would you ever consider allowing someone else to write your story? Like, for instance, myself? I would pay you for the privilege, if we could split the proceeds.”

The famed former outlaw shifted his feet uncomfortably. “That is a very tempting offer, Mr. Clemens . . .”

Clemens broke in, “Please, call me Sam.”

“Ah, trying to charm me into it. Never try to con a professional con man, Mr. Clemens.” Heyes winked wickedly at the great author. “No, despite my need for money, you can’t talk me into it. For one thing, it’s far more of a tragedy than a comedy. And, truly, no one else could narrate my story.”

“I am insulted, sir!” cried Clemens. “As if I could write nothing but comic fluff! I can narrate action to beat any man in print!”

“I know that, Mr. Clemens, and I admire your gifts in that area,” responded Heyes nervously, “but truly, there are, um, many things I prefer to keep private. I trust no biographer but myself.”

“Ah,” said Mark Twain, turning out a fresh phrase ripe for quotation, “Every man is a moon and has a side which he turns toward nobody; you have to slip round behind if you want to see it. Are you so afraid I’d get behind you?”

Heyes twisted his hands in his pocket and carefully redirected the conversation away from the traumatic violence of his past.  “I can’t possibly imagine that you would have the time to get all the facts from me – it would take years. You’d wind up making things up and changing them to suit your own preferences. That’s only natural for so creative an author of fiction, but I just couldn’t put up with it. I was particular as a thief, you know. Now I’m a mathematician. I’m even more particular than I was before. I have to have things exactly correct. That’s why my plans worked out as well as they did – I made sure to get things right. I know what I’ll write won’t be anything like as good as what you would write. And it won’t sell anything like as well, either. But I just have to tell it myself.”

Clemens sighed. “Oh, well, I had to try. I don’t blame you for turning me down. You are exactly correct at every point. But I had to try. Think what a pair our names would have made on the cover!” Clemens stopped and coughed for a while, putting down his cigar. “Anyhow, it’s been a privilege to meet you, Mr. Heyes. But I’m beat and I’ll bet you are, too.”

Heyes gave the celebrated author a wry smile. “I am. I am tired about to death from being told ‘no’ over and over again by every place I apply to. I’m sorry to have to repeat that hard word to you. But I will tell you one thing that may cheer you. Take one wild guess at where I was born.”

Mark Twain looked questioningly at the famous thief. “Hm, well, could that possibly be the origin of your name? Could you have been born in Hannibal, Missouri?”

Heyes laughed. “On a farm outside of it. But yes, we have the same home town, Mr. Clemens.”

Twain grinned under his bushy brown mustache. “What do you know about that? That’s quite something. But honestly, do call me Sam. I would esteem it an honor if I could say I was on a first name basis with Hannibal Heyes himself.”

Joshua nodded. “Well, alright, Sam. But please don’t return the favor. Despite the distinguished coincidence of sharing a birth place with my favorite author, I really can’t stand being called by my first name. Nobody does it except my old boss. I let him do it by preference over his having me killed, which he could easily have had done. And he paid for a good chunk of my college education, so I owe him too much in the financial way ever to correct him. My friends call me Heyes, or Joshua, which is the middle name I took recently. It was the first name of my alias.”

Clemens took another puff on his cigar. “Hm. Heyes. Do you happen to still have family in Hannibal? I seem to recall a hardware store by that name.”

Heyes tensed visibly, which Clemens observed, tensing in his turn. He wasn’t happy to have upset the famous outlaw. “I, um, yes, I do. But if you return to Hannibal, Missouri, please don’t mention me to that side of my family. They have good reason to curse my name. I wish it were not so, but it is.”

Even at the fag end of a long, exhausting day, Clemens could not resist asking, “Will you tell me the story?”

Heyes shook his head sadly and said softly, “No, Sam, I won’t. I had to tell it in court once and that’s more than enough. It isn’t funny at all. Or, well, there would possibly be someone who found it amusing, once. But not me. I still carry the scar, in more ways than one.”

“I apologize for having reminded you of so painful an episode, Heyes. I hope we meet again.” Clemens dug into his breast pocket. “Here’s my card. Come by and see me if you ever make it to Hartford, Connecticut. If I’m not out on the road doing this infernal speaking, that is.” He wiped his brow with a large handkerchief.

Heyes grinned and gave the card a warm look before he tucked it away in his own breast pocket. “Thank you for the invitation, Sam. I honestly don’t know where Beth and I will be living, so I can’t give you a future address. But here’s my current card. And if you ever want to find me, contact Charlie Homer, the chair of the mathematics department at Columbia University. He was my advisor and, for a wonder, we remain close friends. Or, of course, the sheriff of Louisville, Colorado could always point me out.”

Mark Twain asked, “Why’s that? What’s the sheriff to you, now that you don’t have to go in fear of the law?”

The former gang leader smiled fondly. “He’s my cousin, and also my partner – Jedediah Curry. He’d be right tickled to meet you, as I am.”

“By golly, I’d enjoy that introduction myself!” Said Clemens. “And to see him shoot would be a treat.”

“Yes, he’s quite a sight. Many times as I’ve seen that draw, I can’t explain how he does it. Well, good-night, sir.” Heyes gave his favorite author a bow.

“Good-night to you and to your lovely bride, Heyes.” Clemens put down his cigar and shook the hand of the former safe-cracker for a second time.

As Beth and Heyes walked down the lamp-lit city sidewalk from the theater, unable to find a cab so late, Mrs. Heyes gazed speculatively at her husband. “So, do you have more darkness yet, hidden on that side you refuse to show, oh mysterious moon?”

Heyes put his arm around his wife’s shoulders and walked on in silence, staring determinedly ahead so Beth saw only his profile.

Historical note – Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, did nearly countless public talks over many years, all over America. He did, indeed, perform in New York City in 1891, but it was in April rather than in August as I have him doing here. He moved his family to Germany for a while after that, so I have fudged the facts there twice. The quote about the moon he published twice in slightly different versions, both times later than this story is set. A slightly shorter version of the lines was in Pudd’nHead Wilson published in 1894. The full version given here was in “The Refuge of the Derelicts” published in 1905. But who is to say that the great metaphor did not to occur to its author a few years before he rendered it in print? My thanks go to Hal Holbrook for his legendary performances in Mark Twain Tonight which I have seen in real life and in recordings. I turned to him for inspiration on Mark Twain’s style of performance. The story told on stage came from a recorded performance and thus is presumably precisely from Clemens himself as he would actually have rendered it.

Apologies for my initial spelling error, kindly corrected by a gentle reader.


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PostSubject: Re: Moon   Sat Oct 31, 2015 3:02 pm

This was written as the second chapter in the Fort Benton story.  I hope it works well enough as a stand alone for the challenge. 


Revelations by Moonlight

Brown eyes peered from out of the darkness.  Perched on a bench, crouching in the shadows, Hannibal Heyes watched the bat-wing doors of the Silver Slipper Saloon and Dance Hall.  Sam Ackerly had gone inside over three hours ago.  Heyes was tired of waiting.  With a heavy sigh, he pressed both hands in the small of his back and stretched. 

The outline of a man blotted out the gaslight glow escaping from the saloon doors.  The shadow paused on the boardwalk, and the flash of a struck match was followed by the flare of a puffed cigar.  The man stepped off the boardwalk, and the bobbing tip of the cigar moved into the street.   Flimsy clouds fluttered in a stray breeze, while the top sliver of a rising moon crowned the distant hills, casting a flickering path across the placid flow of the Missouri river.  The shadow in the street turned his face to the rising moon.   In the lunar light Heyes recognized Sam Ackerly. 

“Showtime,” Heyes breathed as he stood.  His throat worked in dry swallows.  Wiping both hands on his thighs left two damp smudges.  Chin held high, he stepped purposefully into the street. 

“Sam Ackerly,” he challenged in a calm voice. 

The shadow stopped and turned toward Heyes. 

“Ackerly, I'm placing you under citizen's arrest.  Drop your weapon and move along quietly with me to the sheriff's office, and we won't have any trouble.”

“Ya got the wrong man, Mister.  The name's Johnson.”  His voice was flat and sounded bored.  He puffed on his cigar again.  “I'll be headin' back to my hotel now.”  The gunslinger turned his back on the dark-haired challenger.

A small crowd gathered at the bat-wing doors.

“Your name's Ackerly, and you're wanted in Texas.  You're here to scare folks into giving up their farms and homes.  Now drop the gun, and we won't have any problems.”

Ackerly pivoted on his heel. He squared off directly across from Heyes.  His hand crept toward his thigh. 
Heyes swallowed.  His eyes slid sideways toward the river.  A smile teased at his mouth at the glint of reflected moonlight.    

“Mister, ya made a mistake,” warned the gunnie.  “You can apologize, and we can forget about this.”  His voice dropped and grew chill.  “Or we can settle it right here in the street.  But I ain't goin' to no sheriff's office with ya.”

The bystanders scurried back into the lights of the saloon.

“We're going to see the sheriff.”  Before Heyes finished his sentence, two shots cracked through the darkness. 

Heyes' Schofield barely cleared its holster.  Ackerly staggered in the street, cradling his gun hand.  Blood flowed freely between his clenched fingers and pooled in the dirt.   Heyes cocked his pistol and aimed at the gunslinger.  Another slim, dark-haired figure slipped around the corner of a building behind the injured man.  He rammed the butt of a shotgun into the gunslinger's head, connecting directly behind his ear.  Ackerly crumpled to the ground.  Heyes kicked the man's pistol toward the boardwalk.  Jake Harrison Heyes retrieved the Colt and knelt next to his brother.  Heyes was checking the injured man's breathing. 

“He's out cold,” Heyes called over his shoulder toward the river.  “But I think you broke his arm.”

Reflected moonlight glinted on a gun barrel in the darkness.  A man stepped forward, and the shadows resolved into the tall form of Kid Curry.  The blond ex-outlaw inspected the unconscious gunslinger before twirling his Colt back into its holster.  Heyes stood.  He and his brother moved closer to Curry.  Heyes kept his gun pointed at the unconscious man 

“Thanks, Kid,” he whispered. 

“No problem, Heyes.  He didn't hit ya?”

“No.  Worked just like we hoped.  Ackerly's the only one bleeding.”

“That was some fancy shooting.”  Jake shook his head.  “I guess you really earned that reputation.”

“Shhh,” cautioned the Kid. 

“Your buddy the sheriff or one of his deputies will be here soon,” explained Heyes. 

As if his words had summoned them, both Sheriff Watley and a deputy  came running around the corner, guns drawn.  Watley skidded to a stop when he saw Jones, Smith, and Harrison standing in the street around the unconscious Ackerly.  “What's goin' on?”

“I recognized the gunslinger,” announced Heyes with a grin.    “He's Sam Ackerly.  Wanted in Texas and Colorado.  So we did a citizen's arrest for you.  He wasn't too cooperative though, so you might want the doctor to come down to the jail and check him out.”

“I'll fetch Doc Finner, Sheriff,” offered Jake. 

Watley nodded. 

“I'll go with him.  Meet ya back at the hotel, Joshua?”

“Sounds good, Thaddeus.  I'll help the sheriff and then meet you in our room.”

_______________________________________

Curry holstered his Colt as his partner and Jake slipped inside the hotel room.  Heyes stalked straight to the dresser and yanked open the top drawer.  He pulled out the whiskey bottle and three glasses.  After pouring himself a stiff drink, he offered one to each of the other men by gesturing with the bottle.  Amber liquid sloshed into glasses.  Heyes sprawled in a chair and toed off his boots. 

“Kid, I don't know how you do that.  I was scared stiff.  If you hadn't been hidden in the shadows, I'd be a dead man.”  Heyes drained his glass and poured himself another. 

“I told ya he was good.  But I wouldn't let him shoot ya.”  Curry took a sip.  “How is he?  Is the arm broke?”

Heyes grimaced.  “The doctor patched him up.  He'll live, but . . .   well,  it's a bad break, Kid.  He's not going to be fast drawing anymore.”

“Damn.  I didn't mean to hurt him that bad, but the angle was off.  I'm used to facin' a man directly.  Shootin' from the side was tricky.”

“Does it matter?”  Jake looked confused.  “Ackerly would have killed you or Han.  He's in jail now and won't be fast drawing on anyone else again.  Isn't that a good thing?”

Heyes offered his brother a dimpled grin.  “Maybe, Jake.  But after years on Ackerly's side of the law, it's hard for us to see it that way.  It could have been Kid or me lying in the dust, just as easy as it was Ackerly.”

Jake took a sip of his whiskey and studied his boots.  “Jed, do you hire out your gun?”

Kid Curry looked hurt.  “Do you think I'd do that?”

“I'm asking.”

“No.   At least not in a whole lotta years.  And when I did hire out my gun, it was never to kill.”

“Then I don't see how you and Han can be put in the same category as Sam Ackerly.”

“Thanks for seeing it that way, Jake.”  This time Heyes' smile didn't reach his eyes.  “But the law's not as discriminating as you are.”

Curry looked a question at his partner.  “Your plan worked so far, Heyes, but how do we keep Ackerly from identifying me to the Sheriff?”

Heyes sighed. 

“It's gonna look real suspicious if I stay outta the sheriff's office.”

“I know, Kid.  I know.”

“So what are we gonna do?”

“I'm working on it!  Just stay away from Ackerly and the sheriff until I figure something out.”

“Just stay away?  That's your plan!”

“It's all I got right now.”

“It ain't much of a plan.”

“I know.  Ya got a better one?”

“No.”    Curry smirked at Harrison.  “Your friend Matt Watley is one sharp and suspicious sheriff.  Not our favorite kinda lawman.”

“Matt is quick witted, and he's already suspicious of you two.  Sorry about that.”

“I've been meaning to ask you about that.  Why did you tell the sheriff I'm your brother, Jake?”

“I had planned to keep that bit of information to myself, but I was arrested in Helena two years ago.  The sheriff there thought I was you.  He was real happy and gloating about how he was going to spend that $10,000  bounty.  Matt had to come vouch for me. “

“Oh.”  Heyes studied his boots.    “Sorry about that.”

Jake shrugged.  “On the train trip back home, Matt had lots of questions.  I thought that I owed him an explanation.  That's when he learned that my real name is Heyes, and that you are my brother.”

The silence stretched long enough to become uncomfortable.  Heyes studied his drink while his brother studied Heyes.

“I need to get home.  Sarah will be worried.”  Jake drained his glass and set it on the dresser.  “Remember dinner is at 6:00 o'clock tomorrow.  You're both expected.”

“We'll be there,” promised the Kid.

“Jake.  How old are your children?”

“Jimmy is eleven.  Rachel is nine, and Zeke is six.  I'm glad you're going to meet them.”

“So am I, but it might be best if they don't know who we are.”

“I agree, Han.  And please don't be hurt, but they don't know about you.  I mean,  they've heard about Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, of course, but they don't know that Hannibal Heyes is my brother.  In fact, they don't know I have a brother at all.”

Heyes offered a crooked smile.  “I understand.  And it's best we keep things quiet until the Kid and I get our amnesty or your children are older.”

“Sarah knows, though.  And she knows who's coming to dinner.”

“Is that a good idea?”asked Curry.

“I'm not lying to my wife.  Not telling her that you're Heyes and Curry would be a big lie.  I won't do that.”

“How does she feel about us coming to her home?” Heyes asked.

Jake grimaced.  “She's worried, Han.  Her pa was a church pastor.  Her home was strict, and you two don't exactly fit her view of what's proper.  She's worried about what kind of influence you two will be on the children.” 

Blue eyes met brown under furrowed foreheads. 

“Are ya sure ya want us to come?” 

“Yes, Jed.  I'm very sure.  Just hang your guns on the rack when you come into the house.  No guns and be polite.  You both have great manners.”

“Yes, both Ma and Mrs. Curry made sure that we knew how to behave.  I guess those early lessons stick with you.”

Jake Harrison walked to the door and paused with his hand on the knob.  “See you both tomorrow.”

             _______________________________________

The Harrison home was on the second floor above their hardware store.  The entrance to the residence was on a side street and opened into a small room on the ground floor.   Jake answered the door.  After the gun belts of both ex-outlaws hung on a hook in the entryway, the men climbed the stairs to the living quarters.

Sarah Harrison was tall for a woman.  Light brown hair, highlighted with gold streaks, framed a heart shaped face with even features.  She waited for the three men in the  parlor at the top of the stairs.  Her arms crossed her chest, and her mouth formed a firm line.
 
“Welcome to our home, Mr. Heyes.  Mr. Curry.”

Heyes raised an eyebrow as his eyes darted about the room.  The Kid also inspected their surroundings.

“The children are in their room for the moment.  I asked Jake to let us have a few minutes to speak frankly with one another before the children join us.”  She wiped her hands on her apron and licked her lips.  “I am an honest woman, and I want you to know that I am not entirely comfortable with you two being here.”

Blue eyes met brown in a question.  Heyes shrugged, then met the eyes of his sister-in-law. 

“I understand that, and if you want us to go, we'll leave.  No questions and no offense.”

“No, Mr. Heyes.  You are my husband's brother, and he has asked you here.”  Her steely gray eyes flicked quickly to Curry and then back to her brother-in-law.  “Both of you.”  She cleared her throat.   “He trusts you and has asked me to extend the same courtesy.  I'm trying.”

“Sarah!” scolded Harrison.  “There's no danger here.  I told you, they quit stealing.  They're working for Colonel Harper.  If we avoid losing this house and the store, it will be because of them.”

Heyes smiled ruefully and looked down.  “Thanks, Jake, but your wife has reasons to worry.  We are still wanted, and friends have been arrested for helping us before.  We aren't safe to know.”

“And you've been smart to keep the fact that you and Heyes are kin quiet.  There are bounty hunters who would use you to get to Heyes and me.” 

Brown eyes squinted above a frown.  “Yeah.  Some folks will do most anything for $20,000.”

Jake chuckled.  “You would know all about that, huh Han?”

Curry snorted, but Heyes just watched Mrs. Harrison scowl.  “Yes, we've been greedy and done things we shouldn't, but we don't want to bring harm to any of you.  If you'll just give us a little forgiveness and a little trust, I would appreciate it.  It's been a whole lot of years since I've had any family.  I'd be grateful for the chance to get to know you and your children, and to spend time with Jake.”

Sarah's face softened.  “Truce, Mr. Heyes?”

“Truce, Mrs. Harrison.  But, please call me Joshua.”

“Joshua?”

“I'm going by Joshua Smith, and my friend is Thaddeus Jones.  They're the names the sheriff knows us by.”

“Matt bought that?  Doesn't seem like him,” she wondered.

“It helps that Colonel Harper called us by those names.  May I call you Sarah?”

“The children might wonder at the sudden familiarity.  Why don't we stick to Mr. Smith and Mrs. Harrison for this visit.”

“Whatever you think best.”

“I'll go put the dinner on the table and send the children out to meet you. “

“Whatever you've got cookin', ma'am, it sure smells good.” added Curry with a warm grin.

Sarah Harrison offered him a genuine smile.  “Fried chicken, Mr. Jones.  I hope you enjoy it.”

“Fried chicken is one of my favorites.”

“I'm glad.  The children will be right out.”

____________________________________________________


“Ma, may we be excused?”  asked nine-year-old Rachel. 

The dishes were mostly empty and conversation was sporadic and strained.

“You need to clear, and your brothers are to help with the dishes.”

“But Ma, Mr. Jones promised to play marbles with us,” complained the youngest Harrison, seven-year-old Zeke.

“I'll help with the dishes,” offered Heyes.  “If it's all right with you, Mrs. Harrison.  Then the children can play with Mr. Jones.”

Sarah chewed her lower lip and studied the hopeful faces of the youngsters.

“I'll be real gentle with 'em, ma'am,” added Curry.

“All right,” she relented, “but thank Mr. Smith for stepping in to help.”

A chorus of 'thank yous' faded into the other room. 

“That was kind of you, Mr. Smith.”

“I don't mind, Mrs. Harrison.  You've been gracious in opening your home to my partner and me.  I want to show my gratitude.”

“Well, you can start by clearing the table.”

_________________________________________________

 Sarah and Heyes joined the others in the parlor carrying a tray of coffee, cups, cream, and sugar.   Thaddeus Jones sat cross-legged on the floor playing marbles with Zeke and Rachel.  Heyes watched his partner, and felt a twinge of envy.  Hannibal Heyes had not been around children since he had been one himself.   Curry enjoyed an easy, casual rapport with them, but Heyes didn't know what to say. 

Jimmy, Jake's eldest,was peering out the window at the night sky.  Without a word he slipped through the french doors to a porch built over the boardwalk.  Heyes set his coffee on the table and followed the boy outside.

Jimmy leaned his forearms on the porch rail and gazed across the Missouri River into the night sky.  The moon was still hidden behind the hills, allowing the stars to shine brightly in the black velvet of the night.   Heyes crossed the porch and leaned his hip against the rail,  watching the boy. 

Jimmy pointed at the sky.  “The Big Dipper is right there, Mr. Smith.  Do you see it?”

“I sure do.  Do you know how to find the Little Dipper and the North Star?”

“Of course.  Those two stars form a line.  They point right to the North Star.  It's at the end of the Dipper's handle.  See?”

“Uh-huh.  What about Cassiopeia?” 

“Sure.  That one's easy.  Right there.  The big 'W' in the sky.”  He traced the celestial 'W' with a pointed finger. 

Heyes nodded.  “I like that one.”

The boy's brown eyes slid sideways and his mouth turned up in a familiar sly smile.  “Can you find Cetus, Mr. Smith?”

“That one's a bit harder,” Heyes replied, studying the sky.  He grinned.  “There!”  He pointed out a set of stars near the horizon.

“That's real good, sir.  Do you like lookin' at the stars?” 

“My pa taught me when I was a boy.  We spent time watching the sky together.”

“Just like my pa taught me,” beamed the boy.  “His pa taught him too.  Before he died.  I'm named after my pa's father."

Heyes coughed to cover his reaction.  "I know," he choked out gruffly.

The boy's brown eyes snapped wide in surprise.  "How'd you know that?"

Heyes smiled smoothly to cover his error before he lied.  "Your pa told me."

They studied the stars in companionable silence. 

“Where's your pa, Mr. Smith?”

“He died too, Jimmy.”

“I'm sorry.”

“It's all right.  It was a long time ago.”

“What happened?”

“War.  People going crazy.  It was a bad time.”

“My pa's father died in a raid in Kansas.  It was during the war too.  I never got to meet him.”

“I'm sorry about that, Jimmy.”  

The boy looked at the stars.

“Moon's coming,” announced Heyes.  “See that glow on the top of the hills? It'll rise over them real soon.”

“The moon will make the stars disappear.”

“They don't really disappear, ya know.  The light of the moon just makes it harder to see the dimmer stars.  The same thing happens in big cities.  You can't see nearly as many stars in San Francisco because of all the gas lights.”

“You've been to San Francisco?”

“Yep.  It's a pretty city.”

“But with less stars?”

“You see less of them, but they're still up there.”

The moon crested the distant hills in a large, orange crescent.  The dark-haired man and the dark-haired boy watched as it clawed its way over the hills and marched slowly into the night sky.

“It sure looks big tonight.”

“It does.” 

“Pa says that you and Mr. Jones are helping the sheriff. He says that you had a real smart plan to get rid of that gunslinger that came to town.  Wish I was old enough to help.  Pa's taught me how to hunt with a rifle, but he doesn't want me involved in the troubles in town.”  Jimmy turned shining brown eyes to the man he knew as Mr. Smith and tried a charming smile.    “Do you think I'm old enough to help?  I could learn to use a six-gun.”

An owl hooted in the distance. 

“How old are you, Jimmy?'

“Almost twelve, sir.”

“When's your birthday?”

“Next month.”

“Born in November, huh?”

“Yep.” 

“You've got good parents and a nice family, Jimmy.  Be grateful for them.   Me and Mr. Jones, we learned some things too early.  Like how to use a six-shooter.  Good things don't come that way.”

“But you're doing good work.  Pa says so.”

“That real nice of him, but it took us a while to learn how to do things right.  Do you understand?”

“Not really, sir.”

Heyes chuckled and tousled the boy's straight brown hair.  “You will someday.  'Til then, trust your ma and pa.  They're doing things right for you.”

Heyes turned toward the house and saw Sarah Harrison leaning against the door frame listening to their conversation.  She wore a relaxed smile. 

“I've got some apple pie if you two are interested.”

“Apple pie!” shouted the boy running into the house.

“Sounds wonderful, ma'am,” agreed Heyes.

“Thank you, Mr. Smith.”

“For what?”

“For being the man my husband hoped you were.”

“My past hasn't changed, Sarah.”

“I know.  But I think there might be hope for your future.”

Heyes laughed.  “Time will tell.  Now how about that pie.”

_________________
When you put your hand in a flowing stream, you touch the last that has gone before and the first of what is still to come.
- Leonardo DaVinci


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PostSubject: Re: Moon   Sat Oct 31, 2015 5:00 pm

Elspeth Honoria Cadwalader Braun – Elli to her parents when they were alive, Miss Braun to the general population, and Miz B to her long-time employees – sat ramrod straight in her father’s old desk chair.  Although her dark hair showed signs of gray in its tight bun, her face remained unlined but for the furrows by the sides of her generous mouth.  She put aside the water-color sketch she’d been examining – “Queen of the May” it was labeled and showed five young women in white with the wide skirts of a by-gone era, the one in the middle crowned with a ring of pansies and other spring flowers, her lap filled with more flowers while her attendants each clasped small nosegays.  As her eyes turned from the sketch, the softness in them disappeared.  She paused and drew a deep breath as her features hardened into firm lines.  “Enter,” she called in response to the knock that had recalled her to the present.


Henry Jamison mopped his brow, ran a hand over his head smoothing the remaining strands of hair, and tugged at the stiff collar to his best dress shirt before opening the door and pausing on the threshold.  “Miss Braun, you wished to see me?”


“Yes.  Did you bring the records as I instructed?”


“Of course,” he replied, hesitated, straightened his shoulders, and walked forward to place the account ledgers on the desk before her.  He remained standing in front of the desk, lips pursed, his resentment at having to be servile to a mere woman barely contained.


Elspeth glanced dismissively at the man standing before her and turned her attention to the books.  “Sit down, Mr. Jamison.”


“Yes, ma’am.  Thank you ma’am.”  He sat and tried to contain his impatience.


Elspeth examined the books, scrutinizing each entry closely.  The room was silent except for the occasional sound of a page being turned, the buzz of a fly that had snuck in, and the loud ticking of the clock on the mantel over the empty fireplace.


Jamison squirmed in the chair placed squarely in front of the desk.  He swiped at the fly that flew around his head and tried to ignore the trickle of sweat making its way down his back even as he shivered in the chill emanating from the woman before him.  Elspeth ignored him as she examined the account entries.  She looked at one page, turned back to examine the previous page, and resumed her slow progress through the pages, occasionally turning back before proceeding to the next page.


Finally, Elspeth closed the accounts, clasped her hands, placing them on the books before her, and considered Jamison.  His eyes darted towards her unswerving gaze before hastening away to roam the bookcases behind her, the corners of the room, back to her, and finally to his hands clasped tightly in his lap.


“As I suspected.”


“Ma’am?”  Jamison’s head snapped up.


“Try not to be more of a fool than absolutely necessary, Mr. Jamison.  I have overlooked your incompetent and dilatory approach to the position I offered you out of affection for your sister, my dear friend Lily.”


Jamison flushed and clamped his lips tightly, looking down to conceal his wrath at being spoken to thus by this, this uncouth bumpkin.


“But no longer can I ignore the irregularities.  As I suspected, there are at least ten thousand dollars missing.”


“Are you calling me a thief?”


“Not yet.  At the moment I am calling you a fool.  The auditors will be here in three weeks.  At that time you shall account for all the bank’s funds or I shall have you arrested.  Did you really think I would not notice your embezzlement?”  She paused a moment, drew breath, and announced one word – “dismissed.”


Jamison’s face first paled then flushed.  He rose to his feet and took a step toward the desk, his fists clenched.  


Elspeth stayed where she was, eyebrows raised.  “You dare?”


With a muttered oath, Jamison dropped his hand and turned away as the door opened.  Elspeth’s houseman stood there, his features blank.  “Ma’am, shall I escort Mr. Jamison out?”


Jamison turned and stalked out of the door, brushing past the man.


Elspeth allowed herself a satisfied smile.  “No, thank you, Higgins.  I believe that will be unnecessary.”


Higgins’ somber face lightened briefly.  “Yes, Miz B.”  He turned and closed the door quietly as he left.  Elspeth let out a deep sigh, looked once more at the watercolor she had placed on her desk before the interview, then turned and placed it back on the shelf behind her.


~~~oOo~~~


Elspeth turned from her contemplation of the fields through her study window as she heard the door open behind her.


Higgins coughed.  “Sorry, Miz B., but those men you were expecting are here.”


She compared the watch pinned to her dress to the clock on the mantel and said, “Show them in, please.”


“Yes, Miz B.  In here, please.”  Higgins opened the door wider and stepped aside to allow Heyes and Curry to enter.  They were neatly dressed, although ready for work.  They entered and stood hats in hand.


Elspeth examined them.  “You are late,” she announced.  “I said to be here at ten in the morning and here it is nearly noon.”


The partners glanced at each other.  “Well, ma’am.”  Heyes began.  “It’s a little hard to predict exactly when we’ll arrive when we’ve ridden a long way at your request.”


“And we thought you’d appreciate us cleanin’ up some first,” Curry contributed.


“Hrmmph.  What I appreciate is punctuality.”  Elspeth moved behind the desk and sat, waving her hand briefly at the pair.  “What is done is done.  Be seated.”


“Yes, ma’am.”


Curry pulled a second chair up to the desk and the two seated themselves, settling comfortably into the chairs.  “How can we help you?”


“Which of you is Jones, and which is Smith?”


Heyes smiled his most dimpled smile.  “I’m Joshua Smith, ma’am, and this is my partner, Thaddeus Jones.  Now, Big Mac said you had a job for us?”


Elspeth leaned towards the smiling men before her.  Shaking herself mentally, she straightened her shoulders, pressed her back against the hard upright of her seat, and resumed business.  “Yes, Mr. McCreedy said you two could handle this job for me.  But I must say, you are not what I expected from trail hands.  I am not certain that you will do.”


“It’s not our favorite occupation,” Heyes chuckled.  “But for Big Mac we’ll make an exception.”


“Yeah, as long as it don’t involve that da… that bust of Caesar,” Curry commented.


At that Elspeth chuckled and relaxed.  “So I see you are aware of Mr. McCreedy’s odd obsession.”


“Yes, ma’am.  We’ve dealt with it before.”


“And won’t again,” the Kid announced firmly, then smiled at her.  “Ma’am.”


Elspeth examined the two more favorably.  She smiled.  “Call me, Miz B., most of my employees do.  I assure you, this job does not involve that bust.  It is quite a simple task.  I have two-hundred cows that I need trailed to Mr. McCreedy’s ranch to breed with those Brahma bulls he owns.  Then you will return them.  One week for breeding, mind you.  No longer.  At least three mountings per cow.  If his bulls cannot perform as promised, I expect him to inseminate my girls artificially.  I will not pay for shoddy work.”


Heyes and Curry glanced at each other with eyebrows raised.


“Come, come, gentlemen, do not tell me that you do not know what artificial insemination is.”


“Oh, we’re aware of the practice, ma’am – Miz B.”


“Yeah, just not real comfortable with the thought,” Curry muttered under his breath.  


Heyes ignored him.  “Surely you have enough hands here to take your cows.  Why do you need us?”


“Yes, normally this would not have been necessary.  However, my foreman is too old for the trail; Hank broke his leg bronco busting two weeks ago, and Eb was snake bit.  They are the only men I would trust with my money.   My other hands are too inexperienced and too young.  Mr. McCreedy suggested you two and assured me you would protect the fees as if they were your own.  He speaks very highly of you two.”  


The two glanced sideways at each other and smiled.


Elspeth’s eyes narrowed and she examined the two closely.  “Very well.  Nonetheless, while you will take Mr. McCreedy’s fee with you, you will receive your pay once you return.  Now, Higgins will direct you to my foreman.  He can tell you what you need to know.”


They two stood.  Heyes smiled once more.  “We’d prefer to be paid up front; you never know what could happen, after all.”


Elspeth looked at him coldly.  “I am sure you would, Mr. Smith.  Nevertheless, you will be paid upon completion of the job, not one moment before.”


Heyes' smile disappeared.  He frowned at her.  Turning he consulted silently with Curry, before shrugging and turning back to Elspeth.  “Very well.”  His eyes hardened.  “But be warned, we do not take well to being cheated out of pay.”


Elspeth examined the two men staring implacably at her.  “Neither do I, gentlemen.  Neither do I.”  She raised her voice.  “Higgins!”  As Higgins entered the room, “Introduce these men to Rance.”  She turned back to them.  “My foreman,” she explained briefly.  She turned her back to the three men.


Heyes and Curry took one last look at her and walked out the door that was being held open by Higgins.


~~~oOo~~~


Higgins led them to the porch of the bunkhouse where a tall, lanky man sat with one leg bound between two boards and a set of crude crutches leaning against the wall behind him.  At their approach he put down the lariat he was braiding and nodded.  


“Is Rance around?”


“In his office.”  The man jerked his chin, turned and spit a stream of chaw into the pot by his side.


Higgins nodded and held the door for Heyes and Curry to enter.  As they stopped inside to adjust to the dim light, Heyes turned to their guide.  


“Let me guess, that was Hank.”


Higgins smiled broadly.  “Yes, he of the broken leg.”  He led them to the small office off to the side and knocked on the open door.  “Smith and Jones are here, Rance.”  He smiled again at the men and left.


The room’s occupant dropped his boots from the desk to the floor with a loud clunk as he pushed up the hat covering his face.  He stared at the two men before him and frowned at Higgins’ retreating back.  Shaking his head, he rose from his chair and came to meet the partners.  He was a short man, his head barely reaching their shoulders.  His lack of stature was compensated by a luxuriant handlebar mustache whose waxed ends stretched almost as broad as his shoulders.  He was wiry, with legs bowed from long days in the saddle, eyes set deep in a mess of wrinkles from too many years squinting into the sun, and skin the color of a fine cordovan saddle and just as leathery.


“Joshua Smith.  Nice to meet you, Mr. Rance,” said Heyes extending his hand.


Curry, noting Heyes’ slight wince as Rance pulverized his hand in a hearty handshake, contented himself with touching the brim of his hat.  “Thaddeus Jones.  Pleasure.”


“Pleasure’s all mine, all mine.”  He squinted at them.  “Actually, the name’s Vitak Rancic, but everyone just calls me Rance.”  He gestured them into the main room.  “Come on and set a spell and let’s get to know one another some.”  He accompanied this with a sharp glance at the two.


Heyes and Curry followed him in and settled at the long table in the center of the room.  They nodded when Rance held up a pot of coffee keeping warm on the stove.  Rance busied himself with the three cups then sat across from them.


“Miz B tells me Big Mac suggested you two.  Know him well?”


“Well enough,” Curry said smiling.


“Yeah – rumor has it one of you is his nephew.”


“That’d be me.”


Heyes rolled his eyes.


Rance straightened up and pinned them with a steady eye.  “Well make sure you all don’t favor him and try and cheat Miz B.  That’d make you real unpopular around here.  Everyone in this part of Texas knows Big Mac is clutch-fisted.”


Heyes nodded.  “He’s tighter than the bark on a tree alright, but we don’t allow that when we do jobs for him.”


“See that you don’t.”


~~~oOo~~~


Heyes ran his hand down the flank of the nearest horse tied to the rail.  “She’s a beauty alright.”


“Yeah, Miz B. insists on the best.  These’ll be your back-ups.  They’re well trained.”  Rance ran an eye over the stock he was offering and turned to examine the partner’s horses, currently resting in the paddock on the shady side of the barn.  He turned back to the horses before them.  “Now Polka there, she’s real good at cutting the beeve you want from the herd, but she don’t care for being ridden for long stretches.  Blaze over there can go for hours, but she’s nervous in the middle of a herd.”


“Thanks for the insights.  That’s a big help.”  Heyes stepped back from the rail and turned towards the Kid, who was examining the wagon and talking with Garvey, the man Rance had introduced them to and who would be traveling with them as cook.  “Thaddeus, you about done there?”


Curry broke off his conversation, smiled at Garvey, and shook his hand.  He turned to Heyes and Rance.  “Yeah.  We’re good.  Need a few things before we start though.”


Rance nodded.  “Thought you might.  Figured we’d make a list and head into town.  We can pick up what’s needed, get Big Mac’s money, and maybe wet our whistles a bit before heading back out here.  I figure on taking Hank, too – the Doc needs to look at his leg.”


~~~oOo~~~


Helping Hank down from the wagon was a collective effort.  Rance tied the mules to the rail.  Hank lowered himself from the wagon and steadied himself with a hand on Curry’s shoulder.  Heyes reached into the back of the wagon and extracted Hank’s crutches.  While Hank balanced on one leg and caught his breath, Heyes moved around Curry, holding out the crutches.  In the process, Heyes knocked into a passerby.  


Jamison came to an abrupt stop as his stovepipe cascaded from his head onto the dusty sidewalk.  His chest swelled, the buttons on his brocade vest straining.  “Fool!” He spat.  “Don’t you know to get out of the way of your betters?”  He snatched his hat from Curry’s hand, tugged at his vest, and strode past them, sending Hank off balance once again.


Rance hurried to help Hank.  He took the crutches from Heyes, who was still holding them out absently, a frown on his face as he watched the portly man stride away from them and into the nearby bank.


“And just who was that charmer?” Heyes asked.


“Henry Winthrop Jamison the third, just our luck,” Rance answered, a sour look on his face.


“Yeah,” Hank commented.  “From some fancy Eastern family.  Thinks he’s too good for the likes of this town.”


“Owns the bank, does he?” Heyes asked.


“Joshua.”  Curry’s eyes telegraphed a warning only his friend could read.  Heyes smiled blandly at him and turned his attention back to the others.


“No.  Miz B owns the bank.  He works for her.  Miz. B was friends with his sister.  Man hates working for a woman, we hear.”  Hank chuckled.  “I think he just hates working.”


“Enough gossiping like schoolgirls,” Rance chided.  “We got things to do.  Hank, go see the Doc.  Thaddeus, you got the shopping list?”  Upon Curry’s nod, Rance gestured to Heyes.  “Good.  Put it on the ranch account.  Come on, Joshua, we’ll get McCreedy’s money.  Maybe we’ll be lucky and not run into Jamison again.”


Hank slowly made his way down the sidewalk, stopping to turn back to the others.  “Meet you at  Bar None for a drink before heading back.”  Rance nodded and strode towards the bank, Heyes walking with him.  Curry shrugged, pulled out the list, and entered the mercantile.


~~~oOo~~~


Heyes stretched wearily and nodded to Garvey as he took the plate held out to him.  He walked over and placed it next to Curry, who was lying with his hat over his face.  “Thaddeus, dinner.  Never knew you to miss dinner.”


“Johnny cakes and tinned tomatoes ain’t dinner.”  Nevertheless, he reached out, removed the hat from his face, and sat up.  He glanced over at 
Garvey.  “What no steak tonight?”


“Not my fault the wagon overturned crossing the river and we lost most of the food.”  Garvey glared at him.  “Tell you what, on the way back you do the cooking.  I’ll take the easy job and herd the dang brutes.”


Curry chuckled.


“Well, we’ll be at Mac’s tomorrow.”  With a grimace, Heyes began to shovel in the dismal repast.  “Suppose it could be worse, it could be raining.”


The night darkened as a cloud covered the moon.  “Now you’ve jinxed it.”  Curry finished his meal and stood with a groan.  “I’ll take first watch tonight.”  He strode off to mount up and circle the cattle.


~~~oOo~~~


The sun low in the sky sent deep shadows over the quiet yard.  A gentle breeze cooled the air.  The partners stretched their legs on the porch rail.  Heyes removed the cigar from his mouth and sipped the brandy in his glass.  “This is the life, isn’t it?”  His genial smile took in his partner and their surroundings.  “Someday this will be us.”


“Someday.  For now, it’s enough that I’m not on the back of a horse.”


“Yeah.  One more day before we get back on the trail.”


“Big Mac is givin’ us a ham for the journey.  So no more tinned tomatoes.”  Curry chuckled.  “Good bettin’ on your part.”


“I knew he wouldn’t want to part with any extra cash and at least this means we eat better.”


The two leaned back in their chairs companionably.


“Boys!”  Big Mac stomped onto the porch, his fist clutching a paper.


Heyes feet came off the rail with a clunk.  “What’s wrong, Big Mac?”


Curry smirked.  “Find out you need to help those bulls along…”  He trailed off and looked from Big Mac to his partner and back.


“You’re going to want to hear this.”  Holding the paper, Big Mac began reading its contents aloud:  “Brownsville Bank Robbed.  Brownsville is in an uproar, following last night’s diabolical attack on the bank.  Sheriff Thomas has called in a posse to find the tracks of the evildoers, vowing to bring the miscreants to justice.  ‘It’s that Devil’s Hole Gang, for sure,’ he stated.  ‘Who else can open a Hamilton 400 by manipulating the dial??’”


Heyes groaned and ran his hands through his hair.  “It just never ends, does it, Kid?”


“You can’t open one of those safes.  You need nitro.”  


“You’re missing the point here.”


“I got the point.  Heyes and Curry at it again.  How much did we get this time?”


“Twenty, maybe thirty-thousand dollars in cash and securities,” Big Mac answered.  “Now, boys don’t worry.  I know you didn’t do it.  Why you’ve been sitting right here, eating my food for days.”


“And just how is that supposed to help us?”  Heyes glared.


“Why I just need to tell…”


“What, tell them your nephew isn’t your nephew and is really Kid Curry and you’ve been lying all this time?”


“Yeah; and oh by the way here they are.  Even if they didn’t rob the bank this time, the town can get its money back with the rewards for those two.”


Big Mac swelled, started to speak, and deflated.  “See your point, boys.”  He stared out across his land.  “So what are you going to do?”


The partners looked at each other.  “Not much we can do, Mac,” Heyes replied.  “We’ll trail the cows back and try to clear our names.”


“Again,” Curry muttered.  


Heyes sighed.  “Maybe we can clear our names before the news reaches Wyoming.”


Curry lifted his glass and drained it.  “We don’t have that type of luck.”
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Javabee

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Posts : 797
Join date : 2013-09-08
Age : 61
Location : Seattle

PostSubject: Re: Moon   Sun Nov 01, 2015 1:40 am

The Mooncake Caper


“Dammit all to hell, how do those devils do it!” Mr. Hodges, the president of the Clear Mountain Mining Company, was at his wits end. He slammed his fist on his large desk, sloshing his cup of coffee, and muddying a stack of neatly arranged paperwork.


“Li Ming!” The large man’s jowls undulated like receding waters, as his young Chinese assistant glided effortlessly into the room. He sat back in his oversized leather chair, impatiently watching her fuss over his mess, until the rich mahogany desk was once again immaculate.


“More coffee, Mr. Hodges, sir?” Preoccupied, the man shook his head at the lovely young lady. Although dressed impeccably in western clothing, Li Ming still held to many of the traditional customs of her homeland. Careful to avoid eye contact in fear of showing disrespect, she bowed deeply, and discreetly retired to the reception area just outside his office.


“I assure you, sir, every precaution was taken. We have no idea how Heyes and Curry knew the payroll was on last Friday’s train.” Hodge’s office manager, Mr. Trottier, was equally frustrated. Over half of their miners were Chinese, the rest were white. Between the language barrier and the whites demanding more pay than their Chinese counterparts, it had taken some time to diffuse the ensuing unrest. As if that wasn’t enough, now they couldn’t get their hands on their payroll, at least not consistently. The Devil’s Hole Gang had seen to that.


“The situation is intolerable, Trottier. Our shareholders are impatient, powerful men with great expectations. We need to get to the bottom of this immediately.”


“Agreed, sir. Knowing the urgency of the situation, I enlisted the services of a detective some time ago. You will be pleased to learn he’s concluded his investigation and, with your permission, has agreed to share the results with us today. He’s waiting outside.”


“Good man, Trottier. Li Ming, send him in!”


The lissome assistant opened the door, and ushered in their guest. A slight man confidently strutted into the office, sporting a dark mustache and a citified suit. A five o'clock shadow graced his narrow face, even though it was only midday. In his hands was a box, which he unobtrusively set aside on a nearby table.


“Mr. Hodges, I would like to introduce Mr. Harry Briscoe of the Bannerman Detective Agency. He comes highly recommended, sir.”


Hodges stood and extended his hand to the detective, who shook it eagerly. “Welcome Detective Briscoe, I hope you will be able to shed some light on our predicament.”


“Harry Briscoe, at your service.” He tipped his hat to the men. “ I’m a Bannerman man, sir. Rest assured, we always get our man.”


“I see, please take a seat. Maybe now we will get somewhere. Li Ming, take Mr. Briscoe’s hat and serve the brandy. Mr. Briscoe, one finger, or two?”


The exotic assistant bowed and politely took the detective’s hat, placing it gently on a rack. Li Ming prepared the two businessmen their drinks at the nearby bar, extravagantly laden with beautiful crystal and expensive brandy. Still careful to avoid eye contact, she raised a finely sculpted brow of inquiry at the newcomer.


“None for me, my dear. I never imbibe while on a case.” He turned to Mr. Hodges, tapping his temple in explanation. “To keep my mental faculties sharp, I strictly abstain from liquor until I’ve apprehended the perpetrators. It’s the Bannerman way.”


“Impressive, Mr. Briscoe. Cheers.” The other men downed their drinks. “Now let’s get down to business. What have you got for us?”


The detective glanced at the woman. “No offense to the lady, but I would prefer to confer in private, gentlemen.”


Hodges looked at his assistant. “Her? She’s a pretty little thing. Her father is Mr. Ming, the head foreman of the Chinese miners. The Ming family is unquestioningly loyal, and you may speak freely.”


Seemingly unaware she was the topic of conversation, Li Ming gracefully carried on with her duties. She drew back the velvet draperies, allowing lambent light to pour into the room. The light glimmered through the prisms of the opulent chandeliers, creating flickers of gold that danced fluidly across the surface of the richly papered walls.


“Just the same, I must insist we speak alone. What I am about to divulge is of a highly sensitive nature. We are about to discuss the activities of hardened criminals, sir, and I don’t want to alarm the young lady.”


“As you wish.” Hodges shrugged and turned towards the girl. “Li Ming, you may retire to your station.” The young lady with almond eyes and jet black hair, respectfully bowed once again and left the room.


The detective cleared his throat. “I am pleased to announce I’ve completed my investigation, gentlemen. I would like to verify a few facts, and then I will be delighted to share my findings.”


“Carry on, Mr. Briscoe, you have the floor.” The detective stood, puffed out his chest, and strode across the room, like a rooster in a barnyard.


“According to my sources, gentlemen, the Union Pacific makes a run between Laramie and your mine on a daily basis, correct?”


Hodges frowned and looked at his office manager quizzically. “Yes, that’s common knowledge. We transfer our coal and receive necessary supplies each day.”


“Just as I thought!” The detective paced the other direction. “And even though you vary the day of the payroll delivery each month, the bandits still ascertain the date like clockwork. Is that an accurate assessment?”


“Of course, but...”


“I thought so.” Pleased with himself, Briscoe paced the opposite direction. ”In addition, your mine is the largest in the region, resulting in an extremely lucrative payroll, am I right?”


“Yes, yes, but…”


Satisfied, Briscoe turned to face them. “There’s no buts about it, gentlemen. This kind of illegal activity could only be carried out by the criminal mastermind, Hannibal Heyes and the notorious gunman, Kid Curry. Find these men, and you will find your payroll.”


The two businessmen looked at each other in confusion.


“Uh, Mr. Briscoe, we already know it’s Heyes and Curry. They told us themselves at the time of the robberies.” Mr.Trottier was clearly perplexed with Briscoe’s line of questioning.


“They did?” Mr. Briscoe coughed, returning to his chair. “Of course they did, that’s their trademark, gentlemen, to declare themselves at the time of the robbery. I’m glad we all agree.”


Mr. Trottier rose and glanced at his boss with embarrassment. “Mr. Briscoe, surely you have something else for us? We didn’t hire you to identify the thieves, but to find out how to stop them.”


“I’m just getting started, gentlemen. Rest assured my keen powers of deduction have already determined the answer to that very question.”


“Well, spit it out, man!” Never known for his patience, Mr. Hodges also rose, exasperated. This time he frowned so severely, his bushy brows connected in the center, creating the illusion of a furry centipede.


Briscoe seemed oblivious to Hodge’s growing irascibility. ”May I?”  The detective brashly nodded toward a richly carved wooden box on the man’s desk.


Receiving a furtive nod of permission from his boss, Trottier opened the lid to the ornate cigar case.  Briscoe selected a cigar, inhaled it’s tantalizing aroma, and ghosted two more into his pocket before Trottier had a chance to snap the lid shut.


“Only the best, I see. Good man.” Time seemed to tick by slowly as the men restively watched him bite off the tip of the premium cigar, strike a match, and light it with excruciating care.


The bulging veins in Hodge's neck didn’t go unnoticed by his office manager. Trottier quickly interjected, “Mr Hodges is a very busy man, could you please continue your...”


“Yes, of course, but first may I suggest you sit down, gentlemen. I'm afraid my findings might shock you.”


Eyes locked on Briscoe, the two men simultaneously sit down.


Briscoe took a long draw on his cigar. “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, Hodges, but there’s an informant in your company.”


“Preposterous!” Hodges was aghast. “Only our most trusted people know about the details concerning incoming payroll. We have already thoroughly investigated this possibility. It's someone on the outside, like that shady telegraph operator. Tell him, Trottier.”


Mr.Trottier cleared his throat. “Mr. Briscoe, the first few times the Devil’s Hole Gang robbed the payroll, it was due to a leak at the telegraph office. A tall, thin man in the habit of quoting Bible passages worked there long enough to intercept our messages, foiling two of the payroll deliveries. He inconveniently disappeared just as we were about to apprehend him.”


Briscoe shook his head, chuckling. “Only a trained detective such as myself would know the telegraph operator had nothing to do with the Devil’s Hole Gang, Trottier. Hannibal Heyes would never use a plan as simple minded as planting an informant in a telegraph office. No, siree, he’s much too devious for that.”  


“But the Marshall assured us…”


“Sir, I don’t think you appreciate who you’re up against. You are in a battle of wits, gentlemen, with a criminal genius. Why, Hannibal Heyes could convince your very own sweet mother into giving him the information he wants, and gladly. No, the informant is from within your own company.”


Briscoe abruptly stood, strode to the door and threw it wide open. Startled, Li Ming gasped in alarm. He glanced, left and then right, as if expecting to see an eavesdropper listening in on their conversation.


He looked at the woman reassuringly. “Never fear, little lady. Harry Briscoe is here.” She nodded and smiled demurely. He stepped back into the room and shut the door.


“All clear,” said Briscoe, ”for now. But the culprit could be anywhere, just waiting to put Heye’s clever plan into action.”


“Alright, Mr. Briscoe. Please enlighten us as to what kind of plan would be clever enough for the likes of Hannibal Heyes.” Trottier was still hoping the detective would produce something worthwhile.


“Very well. You see, just yesterday I spotted two unsavory looking characters lurking about town. I quickly deduced they were outlaws from the Devil’s Hole Gang, and were likely acting outside the law."


“Outside the law?” Hodges glanced at Trottier incredulously. “Isn’t that why we call them 'outlaws'?”


“That’s quite astute of you, Hodges.” Briscoe gestured with his cigar at the man in salute. “Quite astute.” Hodge's temper was now on simmer; beads of perspiration began to appear on his forehead.


“How can you be sure they were from the Devil’s Hole Gang?” Trottier inquired, trying to move Briscoe’s narrative along a more productive path.


Briscoe tapped his head. “My highly trained mental powers, gentlemen. I have committed to memory all the current wanted posters of the infamous gang. Only the likenesses of Heyes and Curry seem to be missing. I’d recognize Murtry and Carlson anywhere.”


”Why didn’t you pick them up, man? We could have questioned them!” Hodges was stunned at the man’s incompetence.


Briscoe puffed on the expensive cigar, chuckling. “I can see you don’t understand the first tenents of detective work, gentlemen. If the suspects were in jail, I couldn’t tail them to discover what they were up to.”


“Well, did you?”


“Did I what?”


“Discover what they were up to!” By this time, Hodges was besides himself.


“Indeed I did.” Briscoe reached into his pocket and retrieved a notepad covered with meticulous scribbling. “According to my observations, the suspects, Murtry and Carlson, visited the Ming Chinese Laundry, dropping off a bundle of clothing. They then visited the Ming Chinese Bakery, directly across the street, and left only minutes later with a suspicious box. Still incognito, I followed them to the saloon. There I managed to cleverly retrieve said box, while they were distracted by some young, buxom saloon girls.”


“Yes, yes, and then you arrested them, I presume?” Hodges was hopeful.


“Er, no sir. That was never the plan. I completed my mission when I absconded with the evidence.”


“We could have had the box AND the outlaws, Briscoe. What were you thinking?”


“Uh, well, you see, I wanted to leave them on their own so they could be tailed again in the future if need be.”


Hodge’s could no longer contain himself; his temper rose to a rolling boil. ”We may never see them again, you bumbling fool!”


Trottier stepped in, putting a hand on his boss’s shoulder to calm him. “Hold on, sir. Let’s at least find out what he’s brought us.” He looked at the detective pleadingly. “Please, Mr. Briscoe, show us what’s in the box.”



“With pleasure, gentlemen.” Briscoe picked up the box and set it on Hodge’s desk with pride. “Two words, Hodges: Moon Cake. Allow me.” Briscoe lifted the lid of the box with a flair. All three men leaned in to closely view the contents.


Hodges angrily locked eyes with the detective. “If this is your idea of a joke, Briscoe…”


“No joke, sir. This delicacy is a very serious clue to the crime. Take a closer look, and tell me what you see.”


The two businessmen leaned in again, this time hoping to view something meaningful in the box.


“I see four small cakes, Briscoe, and there had better be more to this or I’ll have your hide.” Hodges glared at him menacingly.


“There most certainly is, sir. You have failed to notice the most important feature of the mooncakes, the Chinese lettering.”


“They look like illegible hieroglyphics to me, what of it?”


Still puffing on his cigar, Briscoe continued his explanation. “These hieroglyphics, as you call them, will likely tell us the exact date of the next payroll delivery. I have reason to believe someone from your company has ordered the information baked into the top of these cakes. Heyes gets his hands on the cakes, and voila, he knows the date. All we need is a translator to confirm my expert opinion.”


The men leaned in one last time. Each of the four cakes, about four inches in diameter, were cut into four precise slices, ready for consumption. Chinese figures were indeed baked into the top of each cake, and delicately browned to perfection.


“Li Ming!” Hodges bellowed. The pretty Chinese assistant came floating in, with a bow.


“Take a look at these cakes and tell me what they say.”


The young woman peeked into the box, studied it seriously for a few seconds, and began her interpretation.  “Best wishes for happy family, and long life, sir.” She smiled serenely, as her dark eyes sparkled knowingly.


“Are you completely sure that is all, Li Ming?”


“Yes, sir. Mooncakes very special, give to friends and family. Ancient Chinese tradition, sir. Will that be all?”


“Yes, you may get back to work, Li Ming.” Seeing the mood of her boss, the young woman made a quick exit.


Hodges slowly turned to Briscoe, exercising as much self control as he could muster. His face was beet red, indicating that steam would soon escape through his ears.


With an ashen face, Trottier looked with regret at his boss, appalled that he had been responsible for the fiasco. “My sincere apologies for wasting your time, sir. He came highly recommended.”


“Get this man out of here, he’s a buffoon, a blundering idiot!” For the second time that day, Hodge’s fist pounded his desk, scattering the paperwork Li Ming had carefully arranged.


“Now hold on, Hodges, I’m a Bannerman man!” The citified detective grabbed his hat off the hook and backed away from the incensed man.


“Get out, you fool!”, Hodges bellowed. Trottier restrained his outraged boss, fearful for the safety of the retreating detective.


“But we always get our man!”


“I said OUT!”


Li Ming struggled to keep amusement from showing on her face. Stifling a giggle, she began sweeping the remains of the mooncake that had crumbled across her otherwise tidy reception area. The funny little man called Briscoe had been mercilessly pelted with them, as he made his hasty and undignified escape.




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Mooncake is a Chinese pastry, traditionally exchanged during the Mid-Autumn Festival, now commonly known as the Mooncake Festival. The festival is held during the 8th lunar month of the Chinese year on the night of the full moon, between early September to early October of the Gregorian calendar. Mooncake is covered with Chinese writing, bestowing blessings of long life and unity. It is made of a tender crust filled with lotus-seed paste and an egg yolk in the center, representing the moon. It is thought to be the precursor of the modern fortune cookie, and contrary to what poor Harry Briscoe claims, is only one word, not two.

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Last edited by Javabee on Fri Nov 06, 2015 9:37 pm; edited 14 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Moon   Sun Nov 01, 2015 2:34 am

Hunter’s Moon

 

“Time to head south!” Hannibal Heyes shouted as he pulled his jacket collar tight around his neck.  “It’s just gonna get colder!”

 

“That’s the best plan you’ve had in a month of Sundays!”  Kid Curry yelled back.

 

Trying to be heard above a stiff wind whistling through the canyon was bad enough.  Add to it the rushes of crisp leaves crescendoing overhead and crackling underfoot and the groan of branches trying to hang on, they beheld a symphonious cacophony of autumnal vexation. 

 

The partners closed ranks but still had to talk well above comfort level.

 

“Hear that?!” Heyes asked.

 

“Yeah!  Gotta be stoppin’ soon, but we’ll never get any sleep with this racket!” Curry yawned.  He observed his surroundings.  “Really pretty, though!”

 

“Yeah!  You won’t find anything this colorful in the desert!  But, it’ll be warmer, and that’s all I care about right now!”  Heyes tightened the stampede strings on his hat as a particularly strong gust ripped through.

 

“Have to get out of this wind!” Kid noted.  “Hope there’s a cave or somethin’ the other side of this canyon!”

 

Heyes nodded.  “Gotta be somewhere sheltered!”

 

Keeping their heads low against the gusts, the partners kept moving, their mounts stepping carefully over past rock slides and other debris of a canyon floor.  Coming upon a rushing stream, Heyes pointed at it.  Curry tracked his cousin’s hand as it gestured for them to follow it and nodded his understanding:  They would trail the creek hoping to find a suitable place to camp.

 

~~oo00oo~~

 

The afternoon passed.  They followed the stream to its source, a spring fed by underground aquifers a little higher in the hills.  Adjacent to it the partners found a site ready-made for camping:  a clearing in a large wood sheltered on three sides by boulders, large enough for two men, horses, and gear to spread out just enough; best to keep the wind at bay.    

 

“So here we are with a good place to bed down, and the wind’s died down a bit.  Grandma Curry would say Providence has provided well,” Heyes smiled. 

 

“Amen, partner.”  Kid grinned.

 

The dark-haired cousin dismounted.  “Enough with the sermons.  Let’s set up camp.”

 

With several hours of daylight left, the pair set about their well-practiced routine:  unsaddling horses, unpacking gear, gathering wood and kindling, starting a fire, tending to the animals. 

 

Heyes dipped a cupped hand into the spring and drank.  “Ah, nice and cold.”  He smiled approval, then shivered.  “Just right for coffee.”

 

“Even your coffee’d taste good right now.  Warm us up, at least!”  Kid smirked.  His stomach growled.  “What’s for dinner?”

 

“Same as last night – beans, biscuits, and whatever you find.  You expected something different?”  Heyes put the coffee pot on the fire.

 

“Nah, just checkin’.”  Kid Curry unholstered his Colt, checking the chamber.  “Maybe there’s somethin’ else around here.  Gettin’ tired of rabbit.”

 

“Just don’t be gone too long.  Something else would be good, but rabbit’s fine.  I’ll buy ya a nice steak dinner when we get to Carsontown.”

 

“You’re on.”  Kid winked, starting downstream. 

 

~~oo00oo~~

 

As the horses had earlier, Kid Curry stepped carefully, lest a wayward tread alert and scare away game.  Detritus of rock slides of recent or more ancient derivation covered the canyon floor, even damming a sliver of the stream on one side for a hundred yards or so.  Daylight hurried on, but a full moon would cast enough illumination to almost check the need for a fire – for light anyway – especially with an overcast sky reflecting even more of the moonlight back.  Hunter’s Moon, his Pa had called it, the first full moon after the Harvest.  And though the earlier gusts had calmed some, the Indians were right:  It was indeed the big wind moon.

 

Curry stopped.  Listening, he turned his head.  Birds of a feather flocked together and flew away in tandem before he could aim.  Anyway, they were tired, and plucking feathers was too much work. 

 

Kid trod on.  The murmur of the stream echoed off canyon walls, yet his ears tuned to finer sounds.  He stopped again, looking down.  Fish!  A nice change, but too small.  Scaling the numbers needed to satisfy a pair of healthy male appetites would take too long, and they both craved shut-eye.

 

Ambling around a bend, Kid heard a chirp.  His eyes wandered up a tree.  There, a grey bushy tail swayed.  He smiled.  They both liked squirrel stew.

 

~~oo00oo~~

 

Heyes steadied the grate over the fire before dumping a handful of beans into a pot of boiling water.  Then, grabbing a pan, he measured just enough flour and water, stirred, and set it on the grate.

 

He sat back on his heels in satisfaction.  While no slouch, he conceded he was not the hunter his partner was, and even if he suffered slings and arrows for his coffee, his beans and biscuits stood second to none.  Curry could whip up a meal in a pinch – indeed, that skill was needed on the trail – but Heyes had taken his turn at bunkhouse cook back at Devil’s Hole more than once. 

 

Reverie overtook him.  Maybe he could open an eating establishment after amnesty, but not just any two-bit café in the almost nameless towns through which they passed.  No, a fancy restaurant like the ones Soapy frequented in San Francisco.  Now, there was good eatin’s, as Kid would say.  Heyes liked the finer things in life and felt comfortable amongst that class of people.  He could get accustomed to that lifestyle, catering to the moneyed set, but he really knew nothing about being a restauranteur.  Perhaps he should stick to being a customer.  Then, he could move on if he wanted.  The peripatetic life was the one he knew and felt comfortable in.  It would take a while to get used to being in one place too long.  And it could get too hot in the kitchen, in more ways than one.  Maybe something more outdoors, where the cramped-in closeness of always being inside would not hem him in.  But, a nice gambling hall somewhere perhaps; someplace classy.  After all, a good poker game always beckoned him …

 

Bang!

 

Heyes looked in the direction of the shot.  Daydreaming would wait.  Back in the present, he smiled and spoke out loud.  “No time wasted.  We’ll eat early and get a good sleep tonight.”  He grabbed his saddle bag.  “Time to get that spit ready.”

 

Bang!

 

The dark-haired partner smirked.  “No need to be greedy, Kid.”

 

~~oo00oo~~

 

Heyes selected several small but sturdy branches and soaked them well, fashioning a spit to fit over the fire.  With the last he whittled points at either end with his knife, settling it on the spit to let wood smoke season it before meat was added.  Task done, he stirred the beans and removed the pan with biscuits from the grate, setting them aside to cool. 

 

Standing, he surveyed the direction Curry had gone – west, into a spectacular sunset.  Heyes gazed as the last rays filtered pink and purple on the cloud-filled horizon.  The moon had just risen, Nature swapping daylight for moon glow.  Perhaps Curry watched as well.  It was a gorgeous sight and might explain his delay in returning now so long after the last shot.

 

“I think he’s over here!”

 

“No, I heard rocks falling over there!”

 

Heyes looked around.  The voices were faint but loud enough to make out what they were saying, or shouting.  They were hard to pinpoint, reverberating off canyon walls like so many beats of a drum – first in front, then to the rear; each more faint than the first.  A posse?  Nothing had raised an alarm they were being followed.

 

Lest he command the attention of whoever was out there, he dared not call to his partner.  But, if he heard them, surely Kid had, as well.

 

Heyes calmly wiped the knife on a rag and replaced it in his boot.  Removing his sidearm, he checked the chamber and re-holstered it.

 

“No, over here!”

 

“Meet me the other side of the camel boulder!”

 

The calls lessened, dying away now. 

 

Grabbing a canteen, Heyes extinguished the fire.  The sudden lack of warmth gave way to a chill.  He shivered.  Whether from the cold air or jitters, he knew not.  He wrapped his jacket more tightly around him. 

 

Heyes closed his eyes, stood stock-still, listening.  The calling had ceased.  Forcing the sounds of nature out of his mind, he concentrated.  What was that?  Breathing?  Kid?

 

He opened his eyes – nothing in sight.  But, there was that breathing again.  Where was it coming from? 

 

Wait.  It was his.  Damn!

 

Heyes removed the Schofield from his gun belt.  Holding it at the ready, he moved in a crouch, starting down the path his partner had gone almost an hour before.

 

He moved amongst the trees alongside the stream, keeping as well out of sight as possible.  Night’s usual opacity would not offer its cover this evening:  Moonlight bathed the few open areas in radiance, luminescence sparkling off flows like so many jewels, but also casting shadows of an eternal gloaming.  Looking up, he saw but few stars, dulled against a twilight sky.

 

The stream widened rapidly.  By now a good ten feet across, driftwood trapped behind river rocks snagged branches, damming up one side.  Bats swooped; Heyes swatted them away.  Their occasional chitter added another layer to the echoes of the canyon.  He closed his eyes and listened, trying to distinguish the finer sounds from the wider racket.  A crack!  Kid?  He turned.  No; only a stick he crunched underfoot.  He stilled himself.  The shouting from the men might have ceased, but it was impossible to know where they were.  He dared not step out from the shadows, nor summon Kid.

 

A sudden burst of light from a shooting star flared above tree-line, radiating daylight ground-ward.  Ahead, Heyes beheld something not fitted to the scene – something in the water, close to shore.  Another pulsing burst illuminated further.  He squinted.  Posse or whomever they were be damned, he splashed into the stream, impossibly staying upright even as his boots slipped and slid.  He reached his partner. 

 

“Kid?”

 

Heyes kneeled beside the downed Curry, rolling him from his side onto his back.  Another streak of light revealed a bloody crease on one temple.  “Damn,” Heyes murmured under his breath.  Dipping his hand into the water, he carefully washed the wound. 

 

Yet one more shooting star showed Kid’s eyes twitch, then open.  The blond man moaned.  “Hey-Hey-Heyes?”  His voice shivered with the cold.

 

“I’m here, Kid.”

 

“Where …?”

 

Heyes breathed through his mouth.  “Never mind.  Let’s get you outta here.”  He looked around.  A series of shooting stars pulsed above the timber.  He murmured half out loud, “Not sure where these shooting stars came from or why they’re so low, but they’re a blessing and a curse all in one right now.”

 

“Huh …?”  A groggy Curry slurred, “Wha, what happened?” 

 

“Shhh,” Heyes soothed.  Surveying the scene once more, he leaned in closer to his partner.  “Kid, ya gotta be still.  Can ya do that?”

 

“What?”

 

“You gotta be still.”  In the flashing light, he gave his cousin the once over.  “Looks like you’re in one piece otherwise.  Can you stand?”

 

“I … I don’t know.”

 

“We gotta get outta here.  Let’s try.”  Rising, Heyes attempted to pull Curry up with him. 

 

“Argh!”

 

Heyes lowered Kid.  “Let’s at least get you out of this water.”  Positioning himself at his cousin’s head, he grabbed Kid under the shoulders, dragging him onto the bank.  Pausing, he hefted the blond man into the safety of the first row of foliage.

 

The bursts of illumination continued inside tree-line, Heyes’ heart beating to the flashes.  The exertion took its toll for a minute.  Calmer, he examined the wound again.  Thankful it was not as deep as he had first believed, Heyes nodded in relief.  Calmer now, he shivered.  The night air was cold, and they were both soaked.

 

“Hey, did you hear that?!”  The voice echoed in the canyon, faint but distinct.

 

Heyes’ breath rapid, he snapped around.

 

“Huh?  What?”  The injured man reacted.

 

“Shhh.”  Heyes placed his hand over Kid’s mouth.  “Shhh.”  Curry struggled.  In a low voice, the elder cousin spoke.  “Kid, ya gotta be still.”

 

Another voice echoed a little louder.  “It came from over there!  In the trees!”

 

Heyes locked eyes with the shivering, panicked, wounded Curry.  He willed his own famous patience to speak silently through them, brown to blue.  Without blinking, he moved his hands to the blond man’s shoulder and upper arm, rubbing lightly with his thumbs.  They stayed thus for a long minute, until Kid gulped.  Nodding understanding, his breathing more regular, Curry reached up to grab Heyes’ shoulder, squeezing it.

 

Heyes squeezed back, nodding toward the campsite.  His brow furrowed in question.

 

Kid replied with an imperceptible nod.

 

Heyes gestured helping Curry to walk.

 

The blond man sat up slowly.  The motion caused him to pull his knees to his chest, resting his forehead on kneecaps and hands.  He shivered uncontrollably.  Heyes’ hand on his shoulder gradually stilled him, though the dark-haired man fought against his own chill.  With help, Curry rose to his feet, allowing Heyes to take most of his weight.  They staggered one step, crunching a branch underfoot.

 

“There!  It was just over there!”

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Moon
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