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 Setting it Up

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Keays

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

PostSubject: Setting it Up   Wed Nov 11, 2015 1:54 am

Brookswood
 
 
Jesse stirred quietly in his sleep. Dream state was leaving him, and he knew that he was slowly coming back into the world of the awake. He was ready for it. He was tired of laying around in bed all day, and only getting to sleep because David have him a sleeping draft. A man shouldn't need a sedative in order to sleep at night. A good day's work and a sound mind were all one needed, and Jesse was ready to get back to that routine.
 
That is, until he rose further up into consciousness, and his body felt like it was still attached to the mattress and was refusing to move. He sighed and felt a tingling of disappointment over the reality of his situation. He didn't like the idea of being an invalid, even if it was just temporary, but even in his foggy state of mind, he knew it was going to be some time before he would be mobile again.
 
He shifted a little bit, and felt the restriction of bandages making movement difficult and in some areas, impossible, so he gave up the effort. He lay still, allowing wakefulness to come, in its own time. He knew he was still feeling the effects of the pain killers and sedatives, but that didn't prevent him from feeling rather than hearing, the presence of someone beside him. Was it Belle? A quick sniff of the air informed him that it was not, plus his own senses were telling him that the presence was a small one, that took up little space in the dynamics of the room.
 
He moved his good arm just a touch, but couldn't detect anyone leaning on the bed, although he could still feel their eyes upon him. The gaze was intense, willing him to wake up and respond to its presence. He couldn't help himself. He was awake now anyway, so he slowly turned his head towards the pull and sleepily opened his eyes.
 
The sight that greeted him, made him smile. His honorary granddaughter was kneeling beside the bed, her face leaning close to his and her large brown eyes staring at him intently. As soon as she realized that her grandpa had awakened and was focused on her, her face split into a joyous grin, and her hands came up from where they had been resting on her knees, and she touched his arm.
 
“Hi Grandpa,” she whispered excitedly. “I didn't wake you, did I?”
 
“No, Sweetheart,” he lied convincingly. “you didn't.”
 
“How do you feel today?”
 
“I don't know yet,” he told her, then grimaced at the soreness in his throat.
 
“Oh.” Sally looked disappointed. “Will you know in time for the wedding?”
 
Jesse tried to clear his thoughts. “Wedding?”
 
“Yes!” Sally answered, surprised that her grandpa didn't remember. He knew everything. “Mr. Briscoe and Miss Baird are getting married.”
 
“That's right,” Jesse agreed, hoarsely, his throat feeling raw, and his mind foggy. “I had forgotten about that.”
 
“You can't forget about that!” Sally scolded him. “Miss Baird wants you to give her away.”
 
“Is that right?” Jesse asked, though knowing in himself, that wasn't about to happen. “What about her own father? Doesn't she want her father to have that privilege?”
 
“Oh no,” Sally shook her head, very serious now with her knowledge. “Miss Baird doesn't want anything more to do with him, or her brothers.”
 
Jesse frowned. He suspected that there was strife in the family—and that Baird wasn't above harsh discipline, but Isabelle had put up with this abusive treatment for years. What had happened to cause this rift so close to the wedding? It wasn't as though Baird disapproved of it, on the contrary, he'd been hoping to marry off his daughter for the last ten years, and he didn't seem to care much who it was that came courting.
 
Feeling slightly put out that her grandpa hadn't taken the bait and instantly askinf for more information, Sally took it upon herself to fill him in.
 
“Miss Baird and her papa had a fight in town a couple of days ago, and Miss Baird refused to go home with him,” Sally rattled on. “She has been staying at the hotel with Auntie Bridget, and all those other ladies.” she pouted, feeling left out. “They don't want me there. Only 'adult' ladies are allowed. Aunty Bridget says they have 'lady things' to discuss, and I'm too young.” Heavy sigh. “I guess they're planning the wedding. I don't see why I can't help with that. It's not fair.” Another heavy sigh. “Anyway, yesterday afternoon, Emmett Baird drove their buckboard in to town, and right there on Main Street, he dumped Miss Isabelle's chest onto the ground, along with a bunch of other things, and then he drove away and left everything right there for everyone to see.
 
“Miss Isabelle was really embarrassed, because the chest had broken open and many of her undergarments, and night dresses had fallen out.” Here Sally couldn't help but giggle, but she covered her mouth with her hand and quickly regained her composure. “Many of the older ladies, like Auntie Bridget and Auntie Beth helped her to collect her things, and even some of the men came to help carry the the chest over to the hotel.”
 
Sally's expression took on a look of sad confusion. “But then Miss Isabelle started crying when one of the loose boxes came open and everything inside it fell to the ground. I heard later from Auntie Bridget and Auntie Beth talking about it, that it was her mother's wedding dress. But the material had been burned and there wasn't much left of it but sooty material and some beads. It must have gotten burned in the fire. Perhaps Mr. Baird thought that Miss Isabelle might want to have the dress anyway? Maybe he was trying to say that he was sorry, maybe?”
 
Jesse's mouth tightened in anger as his granddaughter's innocent rendition carried through to its finale. That bastard, Baird! He'd burned his wife's wedding dress to prevent his daughter from wearing it at her own wedding. And not only to prevent her from wearing it, but to slap her in the face with it. What in the world had happened to set him off like that?
 
“Are you alright, Grandpa?” Sally asked, suddenly full of concern. She didn't see her grandfather angry very often, so when she did see it, it tended to frighten her. “Are you angry at me? What did I do?”
 
Jesse instantly relaxed, remembering that there was a young and very impressionable child in the room with him. He forced himself to smile and gave her a little hand a gentle squeeze.
 
“No, no, I'm alright,” he quietly assured her. “You haven't done anything wrong. Is your grandma here?”
 
Right in cue, a gentle knocking sounded on the bedroom door, and Belle pushed it open just enough to peek inside.
 
“I thought I heard your voice,” she said. “Sally didn't wake you, did she?”
 
“No,” Jesse assured her. “I was already waking up on my own.”
 
“Good,” Belle smiled. “She asked if she could come in and sit with you for a while, and she promised not to disturb you. I have noticed that Sally is good about keeping her promises, so I let her.”
 
Sally grinned at the compliment and confirmed what had already been established.
 
“I was very quiet,” she stated, with an air of importance. “I didn't even lean on the bed.”
 
“You were very good about that,” Jesse agreed. “You didn't make a sound.”
 
“Off you go now, Sally,” Belle told her. “Your supper is waiting for you.”
 
“Yes, Grandma,” she agreed, and on her way up to her feet, she gave her grandpa a quick kiss on the cheek. “Love you Grandpa. I'm so glad you're feeling better.” And with that, she skedaddled out of the room and headed to the kitchen table.
 
The two grandparents chuckled, and Belle closed the door, before pulling a chair over and sitting down next to her husband.
 
Jesse turned a serious eye to his wife. “What happened?” he asked. “Sally said that Isabelle and her father had a row.”
 
Belle sighed and rolled her eyes.
 
“I'll say,” she conceded. “It was quite a scene. It took Joe, Jed and Harry to get Mr. Baird to see reason and back down. Unfortunately, he doesn't take well to losing, and he's pretty much disowned poor Isabelle.”
 
“Oh, my goodness,” Jesse groaned. “What started it off?”
 
“I don't know,” Belle admitted. “Something about the wedding being called off. But it's not. Everything is going ahead. You should see our daughters getting in there and planning everything. They seem quite determined to see this wedding happen.” She stopped and chuckled. “Perhaps they just want to see Isabelle off and finally married. Whatever the case, nothing's going to stop it now.”
 
“Not even Baird burning his wife's wedding dress?”
 
Belle sobered at that reminder, but then she smiled sweetly and shook her head.
 
“No,” she said. “Not even that. The girls offered up my wedding dress for Isabelle to wear, and Sam even brought it into town. Everything will be fine.”
 
“You don't mind?” Jesse asked her. “I mean, that someone other than our daughters will be wearing your dress at their wedding?”
 
“No!” Belle insisted. “Of course not. A wedding dress is supposed to be passed around. And after what her father did to her, well, it's the least I can do. We're not giving it to her, after all. It will remain in our family so if our granddaughters want to wear it at their weddings, it'll be here for them. Although, I expect it will be quite out of date by the time those young ladies are ready to be brides. In the mean time, we'll make sure Isabelle has a wedding worthy of any young lady.”
 
“Well,” Jesse shifted to get more comfortable. “I hope she does better with Briscoe than she did with that father of hers. No woman deserves two tyrants in her life.”
 
“I think Harry is going to shape up to be a fine husband,” Belle assure him, with a smile. “He certainly came to her rescue, when she needed it the other day.”
 
“I hope so.”
 
“You're looking better today,” Belle noticed. “Are you hungry?”
 
“Not really,” he admitted. “I'm thirsty. I'd like to get up, but...”
 
Belle frowned and shook her head.
 
“No,” she stated quite frankly, as she turned to the night stand, and poured out a glass of water. “You can't even sit up yet, so don't even try.”
 
Jesse groaned. “I know. Maybe I'll just go back to sleep...”
 
“Let me try to get some water down your throat, at least,” Belle requested. “I'll hold your head up a little bit, and you can use a straw.”
 
Jesse nodded. He was thirsty, and his throat burned. Still, his eyes were growing heavy and the fogginess of his brain was closing in once again. He felt himself starting to drift off. His eyes came open again as Belle gently shook his good arm.
 
“Where are you going?” she asked gently as she sat down beside the bed agan. “I thought you were thirsty. David said we should try to get you to eat as well, if you were at all interested.”
 
“Is David here?” Jesse mumbled as Belle gently lifted his head from the pillow and offered him the straw. “If he's not here, I see no reason to have to listen to his hen pecking.”
 
Belle laughed. “No he's not here, but I still have to listen to his hen-pecking. He left me in charge of you, you know. I will not be found remiss.”
 
“Hmm,” was all Jesse got out as he took the straw between his lips and sucked in some of the precious liquid. He coughed and sputtered a little, but then the moisture eased his raw throat, and he was able to take in a few sips. “Where is he?” he asked as he settled back into the pillow. “Another patient...?”
 
“Don't you remember?” Belle said as she set the glass of water back on the night stand. “He and Steven had to make a run down to Yuma.”
 
“Oh yes,” Jesse nodded. “They've left already?”
 
“They left three days ago,” Belle informed him. “We're actually expecting them home the day after tomorrow.”
 
“Three days ago?” Jesse mumbled softly, though his astonishment came through loud and clear. “I couldn't have been sleeping that much, even with that sedative.”
 
“We really didn't need to give you a lot of sedative,” Belle teased him. “and you still slept that long. Your body needs it, and you are looking better today.”
 
“How long does he think I'll be laid up like this?” Jesse asked, as he lie, with eyes closed.
 
Belle was relieved that he wasn't looking at her, as she was sure her expression held the bad news.
 
“He didn't really say,” she told him, and hoped that would suffice. “You'll know when you're ready.”
 
Jesse nodded silently, as his head settled deeper into the pillow, and he drifted off to sleep.
 
Belle sighed, and gave her husband's shoulder a gentle squeeze as she stood up. So much for getting any broth into him.
 
Xxx
 
Later that evening, Jed was on his way from the saloon to Heyes' house, when his eyes beheld a curious sight. Wheat and Ames were at either end of a stretcher and carrying it down the middle of the street towards the train station. Leading the way was Mary Mullin, determinedly walking, with head held high, like a figurehead on a man-o-war battle ship. Everyone was stepping out of her way, giving room for the procession to pass by.
 
Beside the stretcher walked Louise Boulton, one hand resting gently upon the arm of the stretcher's passenger, and the other holding her hanky up to her face in an effort to hide the persistent tears. Following in the wake of this group, came Dale Boulton, carrying two bags of luggage, along with a brave face.
 
Jed feared the worst, that young Ben Boulton had perished from his injuries. He changed direction and hurried his step to intercept the procession. He took some relief from the fact that Ben's bandage-wrapped body was only covered to his shoulders, and that a supportive pillow had been placed under his head for comfort. Still, the young man was unconscious and looked pale and haggard underneath the burns on his face.
 
“Hey Wheat, where you goin'?” Jed called to get his friend's attention.
 
Wheat glanced his way, but didn't slow down.
 
“Ole Doc Mullin decided at the last minute ta' send Ben here to the hospital in Denver,” Wheat explained, a little peevishly. “Hell, I don't mind gettin' him and his loaded onto the train, but did it have ta' be right in the middle of our supper? We were hungry, weren't we Ames?”
 
“Yeah,” Ames agreed. “Actually, I'm still hungry. I bet Kyle's gonna eat all my share.”
 
“You got that right,” Wheat grumbled. “Even with his hands all bandaged up, that little runt can go through a steak like a dog at Christmas. Damn! If we don't hurry up, he'll probably eat mine too. Damn!”
 
This last expletive had been preceded by the train, loudly whistling its intent to depart the depot within short notice. Mary quickened the pace, and Wheat followed along, giving the stretcher a solid tug to encourage Ames to keep up.
 
“Hey!” Ames yelped as he was suddenly yanked forward and had to scramble to keep his feet. “Jeez, Wheat. Do ya' want me ta' drop this dang thing?”
 
“Aw, quit your gripin'!” Wheat hollered back at him. “The sooner we get there, the sooner we can get back to our steak suppers!”
 
“He must be doin' poorly, if Doc Mullin has decided ta' send 'im to Denver,” Jed commented.
 
“He didn't tell us,” Wheat responded. “You can ask his wife up there, but good luck gettin' her ta' slow down. That woman's on a mission.”
 
Jed nodded, then stepped out of line to allow the party to carry on without him. He contemplated his own supper that was probably waiting for him, but decided that his curiosity needed feeding more than his stomach at that moment. Changing direction, he headed over towards John's house in the hopes of getting more information out of that worthy gentleman. It would give him a chance to check up on Kenny as well.
 
It was a drained looking Doc Mullin who opened the door in response to Jed's knocking. Jed instantly felt fear tingle down his spine at the information the doctor might be giving him.
 
“Oh, Jed,” John greeted him with a tired smile. “Yes, come in.”
 
“Thanks, Doc.” Jed stepped over the threshold, taking off his hat as he came in. “How's he doin'?”
 
“Much better,” John told him. “Since his wife is in town, I expect I can let him leave here under her care, come morning.”
“Oh, you mean Kenny. Yeah that's good,” Jed responded after an instant of confusion. “But I was actually asking about Ben.”
 
John's shoulders slumped. and he shook his head.
 
“I don't know,” he admitted, sadly. “He's going to need a lot of care. More than I have the strength for now, and with David away, I felt it best to send him along to the hospital in Denver. I hope they can help him. Mary and Ben's mother are doing the journey with him, though Mary will return in a couple of days. I can only hope we don't have any more serious casualties before David gets back.”
 
“Yeah,” Jed mumbled, as he thought about the cost of a hospital and how that was going to affect the Boulton's ranch. He sure would hate to see them lose their place over this. “Ah, can I go back and see Kenny?”
 
“Sure,” John told him. “His wife left an hour ago, so I'm sure he could do with the company.”
 
Jed made his way down to the familiar room and knocked on the door.
 
“Hey Ken, you awake?”
 
“Oh thank goodness! Company!” came the irritated and husky voice from inside the room. “Yes, come in.”
 
Jed smiled as he pushed open the door and made his way over to the extra chair.
 
“I guess I don't need to ask how you're doin',” he observed. “Ready to leave, are you?”
 
Kenny rolled his eyes.
 
“Please,” he grumbled. “I've never envied my wife so much as when she left here earlier this evening. I'd even prefer going back to work, over lying in this bed for another day.”
 
“Doc said you can leave in the morning,” Jed assured him. “One more night won't kill ya.”
 
“Hmm.”
 
“If it makes ya' feel any better, Jesse's gonna be laid up a whole lot longer than a couple of days,” Jed pointed out. “He got broke up pretty bad. But, at least he's alive.”
 
Kenny sobered a bit with that information.
 
“Yes, you're right,” he admitted. “I shouldn't be complaining. Does David think he'll make a full recovery”?
 
Jed shrugged. “Maybe. We'll just have to wait and see.”
 
“Yeah.” Kenny was quiet for a second, then made an attempt to lighten the mood again. “How are the wedding plans going?”
 
“Oh ho!” Jed laughed. “I swear, every female in town is gettin' involved with that shindig. Givin' 'em somethin' else to focus on, I suppose.”
 
“And Harry? Any signs of cold feet?”
 
“Yeah, a bit,” Jed admitted. “He's gotten over it though. Extenuatin' circumstances helped him ta' see reason.”
 
“Oh?” Kenny asked. “Her father threaten to beat him up?”
 
“Nope. He started beatin' up Isabelle.”
 
Kenny bolted upright in the bed.
 
“What!?”
 
“Yep,” Jed confirmed. “right out there in front of the mercantile. Took me, Harry and Joe to break it up and make that old coot see reason. Even then, Isabelle ain't welcome home again, and she's stayin' at the hotel with Bridget. Gotta say though, Harry really came through. I don't think he's gonna walk out on her now.”
 
“Better not,” Kenny stated. “The laws have got to change concerning violence within families. I've got fellas in Laramie, doing time for things that don't even come close to what a husband and a father can get away with. It's not right.”
 
“Yeah,” Jed contemplated his own situation. “I remember, me and Heyes took a job a while back. A rancher's wife had run off, and he hired us to find her and to bring her back, if'n she was willin'. It paid good money if we found her, but even better if we got her to go back to him. Ole' Heyes really had to use his silver tongue to convince her, but he finally did. Thing is, she left him in the first place 'cause he was a mean drunk. Beat her black and blue every time he got to drinkin', until she couldn't stand it anymore.
“At the time, we saw nothin' wrong with pressuring her to go back to that situation. Her husband said that it was just over a disagreement, and she'd run off, half cocked. He figured she was just too proud to come back without an invite. He seemed an amiable enough fella, and he was payin' good money, so we agreed.
“Turns out, maybe she had good reason to leave. I've thought back on that time occasionally, knowin' what we know now, and always felt bad about it. I never could abide a man treatin' a woman bad, but there we were, willin' to ignore her situation, just 'couse we needed the money. I guess we convinced ourselves that it wasn't that bad. But it was. A husband ought not to treat his wife that way. It just ain't right.”
 
“No, it's not,” Kenny agreed. “What happened to her? Do you know?”
 
“It kind'a worked out for her in the end,” Jed told him. “Her husband's lawyer up and murdered 'im. So she ended up a wealthy widow.”
 
“Ah. How fitting.”
 
“Yeah,” Jed shrugged. “The thing is, her husband was a decent man when he wasn't drinkin'. Downright likeable. Seems kind of a shame to me.”
 
“I see it over and over again, Jed,” Kenny told him. “Fellas get drunk and beat their wives. She either doesn't have the resources to leave, or she does leave, but keeps going back because, like you said, he's a decent man when not drinking. Unfortunately the situation never gets better. Often, the beatings progress up to murder, and it's only then that something might get done about it. I'd say that your widow lady was extremely fortunate.”
 
“Well, since you put it that way...”
 
“I'd say that Isabelle's father has done her a favour,” Kenny continued. “She has no obligation to him now, and maybe, with Harry, she'll be able to make a life for herself. I can only hope that neither of her brothers marry. There's two disasters waiting to happen.”
 
“From what I can tell, there ain't an eligible lady in the county who'll give them two the time of day.”
 
“Good!”
 
A discreet knocking on the door caught their attention, and John poked his head in.
 
“Sorry,” he said. “Best call it a night, fellas. The patient needs his rest.”
 
Kenny groaned.
 
“All I've been doing is resting,” he complained. “I'm hardly an invalid.”
 
“You're not the warden here,” John persisted. “My patient, my rules. Call it a night.”
 
“It's alright, Kenny,” Jed assured him, as he chuckled. “Beth's waitin' on me anyway. I'll see ya' tomorrow.”
 
“Fine,” Kenny groused. “Abandon me to this control freak. I feel like I'm an inmate at my own prison.”
 
That caused Jed to laugh out loud.
 
“Not even close, so quit your whinin'!” Jed told him. “Besides, you think John here is a control freak, just spend a week under David's care.”
 
Kenny actually laughed himself then, even though his sore throat protested.
 
“Yeah, alright,” he conceded. “I get your point. Good night.”
 
“'Night.”
 
Xxx
 
The following morning, Isabelle was standing up on a chair in the hotel room, while Beth and Bridget were hovering around her and making adjustments to the wedding dress.
 
“My, my,” Bridget complained through a mouth full of pins. “I hope this is going to work. You're quite a bit slimmer and taller than either of us. We can bring the waist and the bust line in, but how do we make it longer?”
 
“And remember what Mama said,” Beth pointed out. “No permanent alterations.”
 
Isabelle stamped her foot.
 
“That is so ridiculous!” she complained. “How are we going to make it fit me, without alterations?”
 
The two sisters glanced at each other, and rolled their eyes.
 
“Don't worry, Isabelle,” Bridget consoled her, trying to remember her own wedding jitters and to not take the snarkiness personally. “We'll make it work, one way or the other. Perhaps we can get some lace from the mercantile, and use that to extend the hem. What a shame you don't still have the dress and hat shop...”
 
Her comment trailed off as she met her sister's painful look.
 
“Well, never mind,” Bridget tried to cover her mistake. “We'll make it work. We don't want your wedding dress to look exactly like ours did, anyway.”
 
Isabelle suddenly sucked in her breath, and a hand darted up to her mouth.
 
“Oh no!” she wailed. “Hadn't thought of that!”
 
“What?” asked Beth, trying to hide her sigh of exasperation. “What's wrong now?”
 
“It's bad luck for the groom to see the dress before the wedding!” Isabelle wailed, as tears threatened. “And Harry has already seen this dress! Oh no! What am I going to do?”
 
“We're going to be changing it!” Bridget reminded her. “We have to anyway, to make it fit you. We'll put lace along the hem, and around the cuffs. We can add ribbons to the collar. We'll make this dress original to you, Isabelle. Harry won't be able to tell.”
 
“Are you sure?” Isabelle asked, hopefully. “He is a detective, you know. He's trained to be able to spot details like this. Are you sure, he won't notice?”
 
The two sisters exchanged smiles as they continued to work on the dress.
 
“We're sure,” they both answered in unison.
 
“Besides,” Beth added, “I think it's more the bride in the dress, he's not suppose to see before the wedding. Not the dress itself. You'll be fine.”
 
Isabelle sighed deeply, her worries upon that matter having been put to rest. Now it was time to address another of her imagined fears.
 
“Are you sure you don't mind Gladys being my matron of honour?” she asked Bridget. “After everything you have done for me; letting me wear your mother's wedding dress, helping to get everything organized, and... standing up for me the other day. It doesn't seem right for you not to have that role. But Gladys would have been heartbroken if I hadn't asked her. She's been such a good friend for so long. She's always been there for me.”
 
“Yes, I know,” Bridget commented, not being able to hide the slight edge to her tone. “Gladys has always been there to back you up in all your...endeavors.”
 
“Yes.”
 
“Don't worry about it,” Bridget assured her. “I don't mind at all, sitting this one out.”
 
“There we are,” Beth announced, though she had been happy to stay out of the current conversation. “That's the last pin in. What do you think?”
 
All three ladies turned to look in the mirror on top of the dresser. Isabelle smiled, as her eyes took in her tall, slim figure, and thought how much nicer she looked in this dress than the two Jordan girls
at their weddings. What a shame Mrs. Jordan wasn't going to let her keep it.
 
Then her eyes drifted down to her ankles, and she frowned.
 
“It's still too short,” she grumbled.
 
“We haven't got the lace yet,” Bridget reminded her. “That will be the next step.”
 
A knock on the door caught their attentions.
 
“Who is it?” Isabelle asked.
 
“It's Gladys and Eugenie.”
 
“Oh!” Isabelle was practically jumping up and down. “Come in, come in!”
 
The door opened, and the two young ladies bounced into the room. They were both flushed with excitement—and impatient to show off the items they had just purchased at the mercantile.
 
“Look at what we found!” Gladys exclaimed. “These will be perfect for your dress!”
 
Isabelle was off the chair in an instant, and all the ladies gathered around the bed where Gladys had laid the box and was in the process of untying it.
 
“Let me see!” Isabelle pleaded, all eager to view the spoils. “What did you get for me?”
 
“They're perfect,” Eugenie repeated. “I couldn't believe our luck.”
 
The box was opened and Isabelle had her hands in there first—and began to pull out various small bags, and a long strip of peach colored material. Opening up one of the bags, a whole slew of peach colored buttons splattered out onto the bed. Her brows went up in surprise.
 
“Peach?” she asked. “But the pearls are so lovely...”
 
“Pearls are blasé!” Eugenie insisted. “Besides, you want to make the dress yours, even if it is just for the day.”
 
“And doesn't Harry always call you 'Peaches'?” Gladys reminded her. “We saw these and thought; how perfect! We'll get rid of all the pearl buttons and yellow lace, and replace them with these! That will really make this dress stand out!”
 
“Oh, you're so right!” Isabelle agreed, and her eyes lit up with appreciation. “He does call me 'Peaches'! How wonderful!”
 
“Wait a minute!” Bridget intervened. “We're not going to totally destroy our mother's wedding dress. We don't mind adding some extras to it, extras that can be removed later. But to start removing bits and pieces...”
 
“Oh don't be such a prude, Bridget,” Eugenie snarked. “We'll put everything back to the way it was after the wedding.”
 
Bridget and Beth exchanged worried looks. This situation was getting out of hand, and both girls were beginning to regret their generosity.
 
“Do you have any idea how many pearls and buttons there are on this dress?” Beth asked the group.
 
The five ladies all exchanged glances.
 
Isabelle shrugged. “With all of us working on it, I'm sure it won't take long to replace them. And I'll help you put the pearls back on afterwards. That way I can keep the buttons and the lace as my own keepsake.”
 
“Well, we best get started then,” Bridget relented. “But don't you dare lose any of those pearl buttons!”
 
“Oh, don't worry!” Gladys assured her. “We'll treasure them as though they are actually worth something.”
 
Again, the Jordan sisters exchanged looks and made a silent pact to keep a close eye on those pearls. Gladys knew darn well that those buttons were precious, both emotionally and financially, and they didn't put it past either of Isabelle's friends to help themselves to as many as they could spirit away.
 
“Did you see any wider peach lace at the mercantile?” Beth asked the two women. “We need something to add to the hem, to make it longer. Since we are apparently going with peach, then we better get something before it sells out.”
 
“Oh yes!” Gladys agreed. “There was something there that will do. Remember that bolt of lace over by the threads?”
 
“You're right!” Eugenie concurred. “Let's go get it!”
 
“It won't take both of you to get it!” Beth said as the two instigators made a dash for the door. “One of you can stay and help...”
 
“We won't be long,” Eugenie assured them. “I'm sure you can manage without us for a few more minutes.”
 
“Get some more sewing supplies while you're at it,” Bridget called after the retreating friends. “If we're all going to be sewing on buttons, we're going to need them.”
 
The door slammed shut on her last words, but she hoped she got the message across.
 
“Well, come on,” Beth said with a sigh. “We might as well get that dress off you, and we can get started removing buttons and lace. We'll have to be careful with the lace though. We don't want any of it tearing.”
 
Isabelle stood still, looking at Bridget, with a frown upon her brow.
 
“What?” Bridget asked her.
 
“You really do have a bruise on your face,” Isabelle informed her. “We'll have to cover it with make-up or something. Can't have you looking like that at my wedding.”
 
“You should talk,” Bridget responded. “You have bruises and a split lip. Good luck covering those with make-up.”
 
Isabelle brought a hand up to her own swollen and tender lip. In the excitement of getting her dress organized, she had forgotten all about those minor detail.
 
Xxx
 
The trip back from Yuma to Brookswood was uneventful to say the least. Steven spent much of the time reading through the manuscripts that David had brought down with him, while David was reading a worn out, tattered looking journal concerning Chinese herbal medicine. A colleague who lived in San Francisco had found it in a run down book store in China Town and had sent it to David, knowing how much he enjoyed unorthodox treatments.
 
When neither were occupied with reading, or passing the time in conversation, they were sleeping. Both men had been through quite a week, and now that the pressure was off, exhaustion took over and the idleness of train travel was put to healing use.
Steven stretched and yawned as he realized that he had again fallen asleep while reading. He shifted around in his seat, and straightened himself up to get comfortable, when he noticed his travelling mate staring wistfully out the window.
 
“What are you think about?” Steven asked.
 
David jerked his eyes over to Steven, surprised that he had been caught daydreaming.
 
“Oh.” The doctor considered his options. 'Nothing' didn't seem appropriate. “Ah, well. Just how much I enjoy this countryside, and how much I'd miss it, if I ever left.”
 
“Oh?” Steven woke up even more, suddenly interested. “Do you have plans to leave?”
 
David shrugged. “My bother has been pestering me to return to Philadelphia.”
 
“You mean, permanently?”
 
David nodded.
 
“Oh. Well...” Steven seemed at a loss for words. “Are you considering it?”
 
David shrugged again.
 
“I don't know,” he answered. “There's an excellent position opening up at the research hospital there, and of course, my family feel that it would be a great fit for me. They never could understand why I left the city to come West.”
 
“Well,” Steven ventured. “I can see their point.”
 
“I know,” David agreed. “So can I.”
 
“Even Sheriff Nugent commented on why an educated man like yourself would be stuck out here, practising medicine in the middle of nowhere.”
 
“I know,” David agreed again. “It would be a wonderful opportunity.”
 
“But...?”
 
“I still feel the same way about it, as I did when I first left to come out here.”
 
“And how's that?”
 
“The West really needs good doctors,” David explained. “I've done far more good here than I ever could have in Philadelphia. Educated doctors are a dime a dozen back there.”
 
“Yes,” Steven concurred. “But a research position? That's right up your alley.”
 
“I can still do research where I am.”
 
Steven actually snorted.
 
“Sorry,” he apologized. “I just know how long it takes for you to get any new information. You're always sending back East, or to Europe for manuscripts and even books. You'd have so much more information available to you in one of the larger metropolises. Look how long it took to get any information about epilepsy, or, way back, when Jed was going through his problems. You had to send back East for any information.”
 
“Yes,” David nodded. “But if I'd been back East, then who would have been here to help Jed, or Hannibal for that matter? It might have taken a while for me to get the information I needed for them, but at least I was willing to look for it. I don't want to blow my own horn, but I highly doubt that either one of them would still be with us, if I hadn't been here to help them.”
 
“Yes, you have a point,” Steven admitted. “John Mullin is capable enough for the usual things, but...”
 
“Yes.”
 
“How does Trish feel about it?”
 
“I haven't asked her yet.”
 
“Oh?” Steven's brows went up. “Why not?”
 
“Because I think she would agree to go only because it would be good for me,” David explained. “It would also provide opportunities for Nathan to get a solid education. She'd feel obligated. But I know Tricia wouldn't want to leave her family, or her home. She was born, and grew up in Arapaho County. I don't think she would like the city.”
 
“Tricia never struck me as someone who would agree to something that she was uncomfortable with,” Steven commented. “Besides, at the rate Denver is growing, by the time Nathan is ready for collage, those options might be available right here. We already have a good hospital, and things are only getting better. On top of that, if Nathan decided to go to school back East, he could go on his own, and stay with family there. He'd have the best of both worlds.”
 
“Yes, that's a good point,” David agreed. “I really don't have anything back East to pull me there. My older brother is the only family I have stayed in touch with. I'm afraid my parents never quite forgave me for turning my back on all the things they wanted to shove down my throat.”
 
Steven chuckled. “I can relate to that!”
 
“Besides,” David continued as he returned to staring out the window, “I like the West. The family and friends that matter to me, are here. I am my own boss, and I have a good practice, with the freedom to do all the research I want. So, it takes a little longer to get some of the information I need. So what? At least I send for it, and then it's here, for the next generation of doctors!”
 
“Yes. You could start up your own medical school.”
 
David rolled his eyes.
 
“I don't think I'm quite ready for that,” he countered, then turned serious again. “Still, I wouldn't mind helping to set one up, when the time is right.”
 
Steven smiled as he saw David arrive at his own answer.
 
“No,” the doctor concluded. “I think I'll stay right where I am. This is home.”
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Keays

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

PostSubject: Re: Setting it Up   Wed Nov 11, 2015 1:56 am

Xxx
 
Harry sat in the pew, wearing the longest face Jed had ever seen. Combine that expression with the black eye from the stag party, and the cuts and bruises from the fire, he was a sorry sight indeed.
 
“Harry!” Jed cajoled him. “What's the matter? Everything's goin' along just fine.”
 
“This is a disaster,” Harry grumbled. “The chapel still looks like a war zone. All the food for our reception got eaten. They even cut up our cake and gave it away! How can I marry my Peaches amongst all this shambles?”
 
“In case ya' ain't noticed,” Jed pointed out. “We all look like we've been through a war zone. And if you try to postpone the weddin' again, I don't think Isabelle would ever forgive ya'.”
 
“But she deserves the best,” Harry insisted. “Maybe I'll take her to Denver, and we can get married in the chapel there...”
 
“Don't you dare!” Jed responded. “After all the work we're doin' ta' get this weddin' pulled together, don't you dare just pack up and go elsewhere! You even think about doin' that, and I'll tie ya' up and haul ya' over here at gunpoint for the ceremony!”
 
If it had been possible for Harry to look even more miserable, he would have done it.
 
“Okay, Kid,” he whimpered pathetically. “No need fer violence. I just want the best for my Peaches, that's all.”
 
“C'mon, Harry,” Jed said as he hauled the detective up by the arm. “I'll buy ya' a beer. David and Steven will be back tomorrow, and then we can get this silly...ah, this celebration under way.”
 
“Yeah, okay.”
 
Xxx
 
Heyes and Cedric sat stoically, arms folded across their chests, while each attempted to avoid the other's glare. Lois, who was apparently oblivious to the tension inside the coach, was chatting happily with Miranda, describing in great detail all the glorious things she and her husband had experienced during their two week honeymoon. Miranda did her best to maintain interest, but she was more than slightly aware of the tension in the coach, and her attention was divided.
 
“What a lovely little down Santa Marta is!” Lois was declaring. “I'm so pleased that you and Han were finally able to get down here. I take it everything has been cleared up.”
 
“Yes,” Miranda assured her. “Just as I had said, it was all a misunderstanding...” Cedric snorted. “...and we were able to carry on with our journey.”
 
“How wonderful,” Lois responded. “But what a shame we never saw you in town. Where were you staying?”
 
Casa Junto al Mar,” Miranda told her. “It was a lovely hotel. All we had to do was step off our veranda, and we were on the beach. We did spend most mornings, sitting out there with our coffee, and enjoying the ocean.”
 
“Oh,” Lois glanced at her husband. “Yes, we had considered that one, but Cedric felt it was too native. We wanted something that catered more to American flavour. We found a lovely hacienda up on the hill, away from the town. It is where the more, well, proper guests stayed during their visits. We really didn't have to interact with the locals at all, if we didn't want to. Of course, we had to when we went on any tours or excursions, but we were sure to keep it to a minimal. I would have thought that where you were staying, you would have been surrounded by Mexicans. Where in the world did you eat?”
 
“The restaurant right at the hotel,” Miranda told her. “It was perfect, and very well managed. They offered many American dishes, but we found the local flavours enticing, and quite enjoyable. Well, except for breakfast. We tended to stick to eggs and sausages for breakfast. But dinner was open for experimenting, and oh! some of those meals were absolutely delicious!”
 
“We find the local food far too spicy for us,” Lois countered. “How could you stand it?”
 
“You don't have to get them spicy hot,” Miranda assured her. “I'm sure they toned down the heat, knowing that many tourists aren't accustomed to it.”
 
“Did you even try the local foods?” Heyes finally snuck in.
 
“No,” Cedric answered bluntly. “Why bother trying something, when you already know you won't like it?”
 
“Why bother visiting another country, when you already distain the inhabitants?” Heyes asked.
 
“We don't distain them” Lois defended their views. “as long as they understand their position. It's when they get above their station, that I feel uncomfortable. Cedric had to put more than one of the servants in their place.”
 
“And yet, it is their country,” Heyes pointed out. “We are visitors here.”
 
“They don't seem to mind taking our money,” Cedric countered. “They should be prepared to give service in return.”
 
“We found the service excellent where we were staying,” Miranda put in. “Even down at the bay, along the wharf, everyone was very polite.”
 
“Down on the wharf?” Lois' eyes bulged. “You actually went down...there?”
 
“We kind of had to, if we were going to catch the boat to take us on a tour of the bay,” Heyes snarked. “It's not like they carry the boat to the door of your hotel room.”
 
“You went on a tour of the bay?” Lois asked. “Oh...well.”
 
“You should have done that, while you were in town, Lois,” Miranda told her. “It was marvellous! Such beautiful colors, and the fish, and the coral. Absolutely beautiful. You'll never see anything like it in the States.”
 
“Cedric felt that it wasn't proper for a lady to go down to the wharf,” Lois explained, with a disappointed glance at her husband. “All those people down there, wearing those brightly colored costumes. Hardly fitting for a proper American lady...oh, but, not that the outfit doesn't look wonderful on you, Miranda.”
 
A strained silence settled over the coach as Lois bit into her lower lip, trying to think of a way to cover up her blunder. Nothing was coming to mind.”
 
“Well,” Miranda covered it for her. “What did you and Cedric do, while you were in town?”
 
“Oh!” Lois brightened up at the offered escape. “We spent much of our time driving around the countryside. We hired a coach and driver who knew where all the more exquisite homes and haciendas were located. We couldn't believe how lovely they are, and so cheap. There was one place in particular, where the lady of the house is an American, and she always accepts visiting tourists from her homeland to stop in for lunch. So generous of her. What a shame you never got to meet her.”
 
“Hmm,” Heyes grumbled. “That sounds like Meg.”
 
“No, no,” Lois corrected him. “Her name was Margaret. Margaret Carruthers, isn't that right Cedric?”
 
“Yes,” Cedric confirmed. “You must be mistaking her for one of your lower class acquaintances, Mr. Heyes.”
 
Heyes smiled dangerously.
 
“Same woman, Mr. Soames,” he answered, dryly. “Her legal name may be Margaret, but to her friends, she is Meg. I have known her for a number of years.”
 
“I see,” Cedric responded, his lips tightening in irritation.
 
“Oh, but we did meet the alcalde!” Lois put in, still trying to save face. “He met us at the hotel, when the coach dropped us off. Very charming man.”
 
“Of course he would want to introduce himself to any Americans who come into his town,” Cedric commented. “He knows we have money.”
 
“I am sure that Senor Cordoba has no interest in your money,” Heyes told him, wondering if Cedric could become any more condescending. “He has plenty of money of his own.”
 
“I heard he has a wonderful villa, just up the hill from town,” Lois stated. “Though we never did get to see it.”
 
“Yes,” Cedric agreed. “We were led to believe that the alcalde hosts a dinner every week for visitors to this town. We never received an invitation to such a dinner; so obviously, just another lie to make themselves appear important.”
 
“Oh? How odd,” Heyes smiled again. “There was such a dinner at the alcalde's home, just the other evening. Miranda and I had a very pleasant evening there. And it is a very impressive villa. Well worth seeing, if you have the chance.”
 
“Some beautiful artwork,” Miranda put in. “And the tapestries! Not to mention the carpets! It almost felt like blasphemy to walk upon them.”
 
“Oh,” Lois looked disappointed. “I'm sorry we missed that. We were in town for two weeks, I can't imagine why...”
 
“Yes, well...” Heyes nodded. “Perhaps next time.”
 
 
By late afternoon, when the coach finally reached its destination, all four occupants were ready to disembark. They stepped out onto the boardwalk and waited patiently for their luggage to be unloaded so that both couples could retire to their own respite.
 
“Will we be seeing you on the northbound train, in the morning?” Lois asked politely.
 
“No,” Heyes assured her. “We'll be catching the train going East.”
 
“Thank goodness,” Cedric grumbled under his breath, as he turned to follow the porter into the hotel entrance.
 
“Oh, well,” Lois smiled. “Goodbye then.”
 
“Goodbye, Lois,” Miranda returned. “You take care of yourself.”
 
Lois nodded, though she didn't quite understand the reason for Miranda's concern.
 
“Yes, I will,” she assured the older woman. “Goodbye, Han.”
 
“Goodbye,” Heyes answered as he mustered up a smile for her, at least. “Safe journey home.”
 
“Yes. You as well.”
 
Hannibal and Miranda both let loose a sigh of relief as the couple disappeared into the lobby of the hotel.
 
“Let's have a seat, and wait out here for a few minutes,” Heyes suggested. “Give them a chance to get to their room, before we go in.”
 
“Lovely idea,” Miranda agreed. “It's the perfect evening for it, too. Quiet.”
 
Xxx
 
“You do realize that Hannibal Heyes is back in town, don't you?”
 
“Is he?” Nugent answered, with an air of disinterested innocence. “Hardly surprising, considering this is the only town the Santa Marta coach comes to.”
 
“He could have shown some decency by taking another route!” Shandal continued. “The audacity of the man is ludicrous. Hasn't this town been put at enough risk? I insist that you arrest him, and force him to leave this town, and never come back!”
 
Nugent sighed and pushed himself away from his desk.
 
“There's no need,” the sheriff informed the doctor, as he stood up and went to the stove to replenish his coffee cup. “Heyes and his wife will be on the Eastbound train tomorrow. I don't see how he can leave any earlier than that.”
 
“He could leave tonight!” Shandal insisted.
 
Nugent returned to his desk and sat back down.
 
“There's no coaches or trains leaving tonight,” he pointed out. “Even if I ordered him out of town, he could hardly rent riding horses, considering his wife's condition, and a surrey wouldn't be much better.”
 
“We'll just see about that!” Shandal protested. “As the doctor in this town, it is my professional duty to make sure our citizens are safe from illness. If you're not going to do it, then I'll just have to go and have a word with Mr. Heyes, myself.”
 
“You best leave that man alone, Doc,” Nugent suggested, as the doctor headed for the door. “I think he's about had his fill of you. Why don't you go on home... ?”
 
Nugent stopped talking and simply shook his head, as Shandal's willowy, crooked form disappeared from the office and supposedly made a bee line towards the hotel.
 
Xxx
 
“Oh dear,” Miranda mumbled, as she spied the apparition swooping towards them.
 
“Hmm? What?” Heyes lifted his hat from his eyes, as he pushed himself back up from his snooze on the bench.
 
Miranda gave a discreet nod in the desired direction.
 
“Oh damn,” Heyes grumbled. “Time to go inside, I think.”
 
“Yes,” his wife agreed. “Let's.”
 
They stood up together, and with Heyes offering his wife an arm, they strode purposefully into the lobby of the hotel.
 
Xxx
 
Nugent sat and drummed his fingers upon the top of his desk. His eyes narrowed, and his jaw tightened, as he accepted the inevitability of what he needed to do. Pushing himself away from his desk again, he strode purposefully from the office, and followed in Shandal's footsteps.
 
The tall weedy man wasn't hard to spot as he made his way towards the hotel, and the sheriff quickened his pace so as to catch up with him before he started yet another incident that couldn't be easily resolved.
 
“Doc!” Nugent called out. “Doc! Hold up there!”
 
Shandal stopped just shy of the hotel entrance, and he turned an irritated look to the lawman.
 
“I just saw them step in to the lobby,” Shandal complained. “What is it that you want?”
 
“I want you to leave those folks alone,” Nugent told him. “They haven't done anything to bother you, and they'll be on their way tomorrow. Just let it go, Shandal.”
 
“I simply want to have a word with him...”
 
“No, you don't,” Nugent stated bluntly. “You want to harass him. And to be quite honest, I've had enough of this. Now all this was dealt with last week, and as far as I'm concerned, it's settled. You start stirring the pot again, and I swear, I will lock you up for being a public nuisance.”
 
Shandal tried to stand up to his full height, but his crooked back wouldn't let him. So instead, his eyes bulged, and his mouth fell open like a fish in shallow water.
 
“You can't be serious!” the doctor finally gasped out. “I'm an up-standing citizen of this town—and this county! You wouldn't dare!”
 
“Try me, Doc,” Nugent warned him, and standing up to his full height, he glared up into the doctor's eyes and got his message across. “I find out that you've gone anywhere near the Heyes' during their short stay in this town, and you will find yourself on the inside of my jail cell. You got that?”
 
“Well, I...”
 
“Just go on home, Doc,” Nugent continued. “Your wife probably has your supper of beef heart and cabbage all prepared and waiting for you.”
 
“How do you know, she cooks beef heart and cabbage on Saturdays?”
 
“Because it's what she cooks every Saturday!” Nugent snapped back at him. “Just like she cooks chicken and dumplings every Monday, and beef stew on Tuesday, and fried chicken on Wednesday...”
 
Nugent's voice trailed off as he headed back towards his office, but then he made a sudden change of direction and disappeared into the cafe. All that talk of food had reminded him that it was supper time, and he was hungry.
 
Shandal stood, flabbergasted, for a moment, not having realized that his culinary routine was so obvious to the other residents of the town. Coming back to the present, he self-consciously glanced around him, then made a concerted dash down the street, towards home.
 
Xxx
 
Hannibal and Miranda moved quickly to the front desk to check in, and Miranda spied their bags discreetly tucked out of the way, to await their arrival. She smiled politely at the familiar clerk behind the counter, and he quickly smiled back.
 
Heyes had sent a cautionary glance over his shoulder to see if they were being followed, and turned forward again, just in time to see the clerk blushing slightly, and grinning at his wife. He snapped a quick look over at Miranda, but she seemed nonplussed at the attention. Heyes felt confused. What was going on here?
 
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Heyes,” the clerk greeted the lady. “Nice to see you back in our hotel again.”
 
“Thank you,” Miranda responded appropriately. “It's nice to be back.”
 
The clerk's smile grew.
 
“Yes ma'am,” he answered. “You seemed most comfortable in the room you had before. It is available now, if you would like that one again.”
 
“Yes, thank you. That would be very nice.”
 
“Ah, excuse me,” Heyes interjected, and leaned forward to get the clerk's attention. “The lady is here with her husband. In fact, I'm standing right beside her.”
 
“Oh!” The clerk flustered, his blush deepening. “Yes of course! I'm sorry. I meant no disrespect, ah...Mr. Heyes...”
 
The clerk stammered to a halt, and stood staring at the ex-outlaw, and biting into his lower lip in anticipation of a deadly blow reigning down upon him.
 
“We'd like to get a room,” Heyes reminded him, and smiled winningly.
 
“Oh! Yes, of course.” The clerk came to himself again, and quickly pivoted the book around in front of the two guests. “Just, if you would, sign in. Please.”
 
Heyes nodded, and taking the inked up pen, he casually scripted in his and Miranda's names.
 
The clerk smiled, still a little nervously, but managed to do his job in any case.
 
“Here are your keys,” he offered. “I'll get the busboy to bring your bags up.”
 
“Thank you,” Heyes responded as he took the keys.
 
Miranda smiled at the young man and caused him to go weak in the knees.
 
“Yes, thank you,” she added. “Have a lovely evening.”
 
“Oh, yes ma'am. Thank you. Ah, you as well.”
 
The couple turned to head up the stairs just as Cedric and Lois were heading down. Lois smiled over at them, but Cedric did a good job of pretending that he didn't see them. The Heyes' stopped in their tracks and allowed the other couple full access to the lobby and consequence entrance to the restaurant.
 
“How about we have supper in the cafe this evening?” Heyes asked hopefully.
 
“Yes,” his wife agreed. “I think that would be a lovely idea.”
 
Once the coast was clear, they continued on their way towards the stairs, with Heyes sending one more speculative glance towards the front doors. He fleetingly wondered why Dr. Shandal had not followed them into the hotel, but he was quite relieved and accepted the small gift of peace, at face value. Hopefully that was the last they would ever see of the 'good doctor'.
 
Xxx
 
Half an hour later, the Heyes', now refreshed from their journey, settled down at a table by the front window of the cafe. Miranda had to smile at her husband's preference of sitting in a strategic position where he could keep his eye on the front door, and on the passers-by along the boardwalk outside. She felt there was no need for this continued caution, but she accepted the fact that some habits were not to be broken.
 
As Heyes did his quick reckoning of the outside surroundings, Miranda glanced around the cafe in search of their waitress. She lit upon a familiar face and instantly perked up and waved.
 
“Louise!” she called. “Hello!”
 
Louise glanced over as she was collecting up menus, and a look of sheer panic crossed over her features. Heyes turned away from the window and looked toward the waitress who would be serving them this evening. Their eyes locked, and for an instant, time stood still. Then both moved at exactly the same time, as Louise tried to make a bolt for the kitchen, and Heyes jumped up to grab her arm and prevent her escape.
 
“No, Louise,” Heyes assured her. “It's alright. Don't go.”
 
“It's not alright,” Louise whispered back at him. “I can't be seen with you.”
 
“You're our waitress,” Heyes pointed out as he gently persuaded her over to their table. “You're serving us, that's all.”
 
Louise came with him and absently put their menus down on the table.
 
“No, Mr. Heyes,” she continued as she glanced nervously around her. “I'm married now, to a man who knows nothing of my connection to you. If he sees me with you...”
 
“If he sees you with us, it's only because you're doing your job,” Heyes pointed out. “Relax. I won't give you away.”
 
“I gave your lawyer a letter to give to you and Jed, once you got back home,” Louise told him. “I guess I felt that I needed to explain why I ignored the troubles you went through, and why I simply could not acknowledge you. Not five years ago, and not last week, when you were in town.”
 
“I understand you keeping your distance while I was in prison,” Heyes assured her. “As things turned out, you were right to do so. As for now, just relax and treat us like any of your other customers. It'll be fine.”
 
“Do you expect your husband here soon?” Miranda asked, confused with the situation, but concerned over Louise's distress.
 
“He meets me here at the end of my shift, and we have supper together,” Louise told them. “He's not here now, but he will be soon.”
 
“There's no reason for him to know about us,” Heyes assured her. “We're just here for supper. That's all.”
 
Louise took a deep, relaxing breath and smiled.
 
“Yes, of course,” she said. “Silly of me. I over-reacted. I just wasn't expecting to see you.”
 
“Likewise,” Heyes agreed. “I take it you've already met my wife, Miranda.”
 
“Yes,” Louise told him, and allowed a genuine smile of greeting shine through. “Lovely to see you again, Miranda. I did get your message.”
 
“I was sorry to not be able to say thank you in person. And to say goodbye,” Miranda admitted. “But now it seems we have the opportunity again.”
 
“Louise! What are ya' doin'?” came a yell from the kitchen. “Ya' got customers waitin' on ya'!”
 
Louise jumped. “Oh dear!” she muttered. “Yes, I'm coming.”
 
“Just relax,” Heyes told her again. “Bring us some coffee when you have a minute, and don't worry.”
 
“Yes, alright.”
 
“Actually, tea for me,” Miranda put in. “Something soothing, if you have it.”
 
Louise looked at her and smiled.
 
“Yes. I know just the one,” and moved away to continue her duties.
 
Miranda sent her husband a raised eye brow.
 
“So,” she teased. “Another of your ladies who calls you 'Mr. Heyes'? You must have been a tyrant.”
 
Heyes sighed and sent her a look. This needling was inevitable.
 
“She wasn't one of my ladies,” he needlessly assured his wife. “She did me and Jed a favour back when we were still wanted. A friend of ours murdered her fiance, and she agreed to stay behind and testify on our friend's behalf.”
 
Now Miranda's brow went up for real in surprise.
 
“Really?” she asked. “I would have thought Louise would have wanted to see that man convicted, if he murdered her fiance.”
 
“Our friend was a woman, named Jenny,” Heyes continued to explain. “And Louise's fiance had convince Jenny's son Billy and his friend, Caleb, to pretend to be us. But he was really using them to cover his own robbery of the bank where he worked, and have the blame put on me and the Kid. Once the job was done, he lured them out to a secluded place, and murdered them.”
 
“Oh no,” Miranda whispered, and her hand instinctively cradled her own developing tummy. “That's awful. Did you know them?”
 
“Yep,” Heyes answered with a hint of sadness in his eyes. “Billy anyway. Didn't know Caleb. We didn't even know they were involved until we got to town and ran in to Jenny. She knew something had happened to her son, and she was right. Once we convinced Louise of the truth about her fiance, she agreed to help us.”
 
“Did she help?” Miranda asked. “Was your friend cleared?”
 
“Yes,” Heyes nodded. “but she died shortly afterwards. Losing her son that way, and then committing murder, even if it was justified, well, it was too much for her to live with. I can understand that. Abi came close to ending her own life, after we lost Rebecca. It was only discovering that she was pregnant with Anya, that gave her the courage to hang on. That little girl saved both our lives.”
 
“It's hard to imagine Abi giving up like that,” Miranda admitted. “She comes across as having such a strong character.”
 
“She does,” Heyes insisted. “So did Jenny. She was always a strong woman, but she and Billy were close and I guess she decided that life wasn't worth it after that.” A haunted look crossed over his features, and he sighed quietly. “I know what that feels like; to lose all hope and light for the future.” He glanced up, and seeing the concerned look in his wife's eyes, he smiled and reached across, he took her hand in his, and squeezed it reassuringly. “It's a terrible thing to lose a child,” he continued. “It leaves an empty pain in your heart that never goes away. I hope to all the powers that be, that you will never have to experience that.”
 
Again, Miranda protectively held her womb as a fearful dread settled over her heart.
 
“Yes,” she agreed. “I can't even imagine.”
 
Louise returned to the subdued table and set the beverages down.
 
“I take he has just told you of our history,” she conjectured.
 
“Yes,” Miranda admitted. “What a terrible thing.”
 
“Yes, it was,” Louise agreed. “But it's all in the past now. I did a much better job of choosing my current husband. For one thing, he wasn't already married.”
 
“Oh!” Miranda hadn't been told that part. “Oh dear.”
 
“We all make mistakes,” Heyes put in. “No one knows that better than me. I'm glad to hear that everything has worked out for you.” Louise smiled, and nodded. “I must admit,” Heyes continued, “that I'm actually glad we ran in to you here. We never got the chance to thank you for sticking around and helping Jenny out.”
 
“It was the least I could do,” Louise conceded. “I'm sorry it wasn't enough.”
 
“You made a difference though,” Heyes told her. “Don't ever doubt that.”
 
Louise smiled and perked up a little bit.
 
“Yes. Now, can I take your orders?”
 
Xxx
 
After supper, the gloaming was just beginning to settle in, as the couple made their way, arm in arm, back to the hotel. The saloon across the street was in full swing for the evening's entertainment, and Heyes couldn't stop his gaze from flicking over in that direction. He ignored the pull to the poker table though, and carried on back to the hotel with his wife.
 
However, once up to their room, Miranda turned a smile to her husband and caressed his arm.
 
“I saw you looking at the saloon,” she told him. “Why don't you go on over and have a drink or two. Play some poker.”
 
“No.” Heyes shook his head adamantly. “That would hardly be fitting on our honeymoon. Besides, I enjoy spending the evenings with you.”
 
“Well, to be honest,” Miranda explained. “I'm feeling tired tonight, and a little unsettled. Junior has decided to act up even with the tea. Maybe he liked the Mexican fare, and doesn't want western food anymore.”
 
“Oh dear,” Heyes commented. “We may have created a monster.”
 
“Hmm,” Randa agreed. “So, I think I'll have the restaurant send up some mild tea, with honey, if I can get it, and I'll settle in for the night.”
 
“But still, leaving you alone...”
 
“Oh, Hannibal,” she teased. “don't be silly. I'm a big girl. Maybe I'll take this opportunity to read one of those dime novels you bought. Give me the chance to get to know the 'real you'.”
 
“Ha! Fat chance of that, not by reading those things.”
 
“Still, it'll be a nice way for me to relax,” Miranda insisted. “You go on. Go play some poker. Just make sure you don't win too much. We don't need more animosity in this town.”
 
Heyes chuckled. “Alright,” he agreed. “but only if you're sure.”
 
“Of couse, I'm sure,” she reiterated. “Now go on with you.”
 
Heyes took her into a gentle hug and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
 
“Thank you,” he said. “I love you.”
 
“Love you too. And I love hearing you say it.”
 
They each tightened their embrace of the other, and settled there for a moment, drinking in the essence of their shared intimacy.
 
“I'll ask them to send up some tea for you on my way out,” Heyes whispered, and gave her a breath of a kiss that sent a tingle down her spine.
 
“That would be nice, thank you,” Miranda murmured close to his ear.
 
He smiled and gave her a full kiss upon her lips before pulling away from her and giving her an arm's length look of appreciation.
 
“Okay,” he said, taking a deep breath. “I won't be long. A couple of hours, at most.”
 
“That's fine,” she agreed. “Although, I might just be asleep by the time you get back.”
 
Xxx
 
Heyes left the hotel looking confident, but still cautiously checking his surroundings for any sign of approaching hostiles. The last thing he wanted was a run in with either Cedric or Shandal. A little part of him knew he was taking a chance by heading over to the saloon, but Miranda had read him right again. As much as he enjoyed her company, he needed some time for himself; have a beer or two, and play some poker with the guys. And if he was reading Miranda right, and he was sure that he was, she was also feeling the need for some quiet time by herself.
 
So, he stepped outside, feeling both apprehensive and excited about an evening on his own, at the local drinking establishment.
 
The walk over to the saloon proved to be uneventful, but coming up to the batwing doors, he quickly had to back step to avoid being bowled over by the local law enforcement.
 
“Oh! Sheriff Nugent,” Heyes greeted him with a relieved smile, and thought fleetingly about how much more relaxed he was around lawmen these days. “Final check for the evening?”
 
“Mr. Heyes,” Nugent returned the greeting. “No, not quite. I'm heading back to the office now after my supper break, and then I'll likely do the rounds again later this evening. Did you and your wife enjoy Santa Marta?”
 
“Yes,” Heyes informed him. “Very much so. It was a shame to have to leave.”
 
“Mmm hmm. Your wife not with you this evening?”
 
“No,” Heyes answered, wondering where this was going. “She isn't feeling well and wanted to spend a quiet evening with herself. So, I thought I would come over here a play a hand or two of poker.”
 
“You have your medication on you?”
 
“My what?” Heyes pulled an innocent.
 
Nugent smiled knowingly and shook his head.
 
“Alright, Mr. Heyes,” he said. “You have a pleasant evening. There is a pretty good poker game going on in there at the moment. I'm sure they'll make room for you.”
 
“Oh!” Heyes showed his enthusiasm. “Great, thank you.”
 
Heyes was about to walk past the sheriff, but that man put a hand on his arm, stopping him.
 
“Ah, Mr. Heyes,” he began. “Be nice. These fellas work hard for their money. It's just a small town poker game. I'd hate to see them all get cleaned out.”
 
“I know, Sheriff,” Heyes assured him. “I'm just here to relax, myself. I'll make sure everyone goes home with money in their pockets.”
 
“I'd appreciate that. Goodnight.”
 
“Goodnight, Sheriff.”
 
The two men parted company and Heyes walked into the saloon, absentmindedly completing his usual survey of the quietly buzzing activity surrounding him. He smiled to himself when he spied two poker games in process, and noted that one of them had an opening just waiting for him.
 
The first thing on his agenda, however, was to order himself a beer. This necessity was so ingrained that the procedure was accomplished smoothly, with both the patron and the barman fulfilling their tasks without thought or concern.
 
Heyes took his beer and casually sauntered over to the selected game, then hung back until the play was completed. He took a healthy mouthful of beer and watched the players make their stands and place their bets. Again, he smiled. No professionals here.
 
The play finished, and Heyes stepped forward.
 
“Excuse me,” he put in as the current winner was collecting his chips. “I see you have room for one more. May I join you?”
 
“Sure,” came the response from dealer. “But I warn you, we don't go for big stakes here. It's just a fun, local game.”
 
“Oh, those are my favourite kind,” Heyes assured the group as he pulled out the chair and sat down.
 
“Good,” the dealer answered. “I'm Ted, this here is Ross, and Bill and Mike. The young fella there is Jackson, and the two on either side of you are Mitch and Rydal.”
 
“Howdy.”
 
“Howdy.”
 
“Evening,” Heyes greeted the group as the hired help came over to exchange Heyes' legal tender for chips. “I'm Han.”
 
Ted watched Heyes peel off some bills and thought he'd better reiterate. “Twenty-five cents is the buy in,” he informed the newcomer. “Like I said, small stakes.”
 
“Ah!” Heyes smiled as he returned some of his bills to his inner pocket, and handed over a sufficient amount to get a decent start on the evening.
 
“Okay!” Ted announced as he scuffled the deck. “Let's play some poker!”
 
Xxx
 
As usual, when Heyes gets into a good poker game, whether it's just for fun, or there's a $20,000 pot on the line, he loses track of time. An hour went by like five minutes, and he barely noticed when some of the players began to disperse for the evening. He remembered his 'good evenings' etc., but other than that, he was too focused on how to not win too much, to really be paying attention.
 
Heyes did pay more attention to newcomers to the table though, making sure he made eye contact and extending the expected greetings. All were local fellas, just looking for a distraction from their busy days, and Heyes was content, allowing himself to relax and enjoy this 'boy's night out'.
 
Then, when it came his time to deal, another individual made his presence known. Heyes felt a twinge of disappointment at the sound of the all too familiar voice.
 
“Mind if I join in?”
 
“Course not, young fella,” Ted greeted him. “Pull up a chair. Casual game here though, just for fun.”
 
“That's fine.”
 
Ted again made the rounds of introductions, and when he got to Han, Heyes looked up and met the newcomer's hostile gaze.
 
“Friendly game, huh?” he asked. “With him playing?”
 
“Good evening to you too, Cedric,” Heyes greeted him. “Didn't think you played poker.”
 
Quiet murmuring made its way around the table. Cedric heavily sat down in one of the chairs, making it obvious that he'd already had a little too much to drink. Heyes breathed an inward sigh, feeling that this game was already over.
 
“What's that supposed to mean.” Ted asked the newcomer. “Han has been playing here with us all evening. There's been no problems.”
 
“Yeah, he introduced himself as 'Han' to me and my wife as well,” Cedric continued. “But his full name is Hannibal Heyes, and for those of you who don't get out much, he's well known as a card sharp—among other things.”
 
A heavy silence settled over the game as the other players took in this new information.
 
“I am a semi-professional poker player, Cedric,” Heyes clarified. “There's a bit of a difference between that and a 'card sharp'.”
 
“I don't care what you call yourself, we all know what you are,” Cedric snapped back. “He's probably setting you all up, so he can wipe you out at the end, and walk away with all your money.”
 
The other players took a look around at the amount of winnings in front of Heyes as compared to what everyone else had in their own piles. It all looked comparable to them. Might even be that Heyes' stack was a tad bit smaller than some.
 
Then, in unison, as everyone was coming to the same conclusion around the same time, all eyes took in the meagre but typical pot in the center of the table. Glances were passed around between the local boys, and a couple of them even began to chuckle.
 
“Well he sure ain't set his sights too high,” Rydal stated. “if his plan is to win big off'a this game!”
 
Everyone laughed, except for Heyes and Cedric.
 
“C'mon young fella,” Ted placated. “Relax. This has been a good, friendly game all evening. We don't want any trouble here.”
 
“If you don't want trouble,” Cedric suggested. “Then ask him to leave. Otherwise you're gonna be getting more than you bargained for.”
 
“He's been playin' good honest poker,” Mike put in. “No reason to ask him to leave. Besides, kind of an honour, playin' a game with Hannibal Heyes himself. Ahh, I mean, that is, if this fella here is telling the truth. Are you Hannibal Heyes?”
 
Heyes smiled deprecatingly. “Yes, gentlemen. I'm afraid I am.”
 
“No need to apologize,” Ted assured him. “Like Mike says, it's an honour..”
 
Cedric snorted, but Heyes' smile grew and he relaxed a little.
 
“Thank you,” he said. “And I assure you, I'm not interested in wiping you all out. I was just looking for a nice, relaxing poker game.”
 
“Well, you certainly came to the right place for that,” Ten agreed. “C'mon, let's play poker!”
 
Heyes nodded, then glanced at Cedric, while he commenced shuffling the deck.
 
“You in or out, Cedric?” he asked.
 
“I'm in,” Cedric stated as he motioned to one of the gals to bring him some chips. “If for no other reason than to keep an eye on you. Make sure you don't try to pull anything.”
 
Heyes' smile grew even more as he started dealing out the cards.
 
“I assure you, you can relax,” he told the younger man. “If I were going to 'pull anything', you wouldn't notice it anyway.”
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Keays

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

PostSubject: Re: Setting it Up   Wed Nov 11, 2015 1:57 am

The game continued on, though Heyes had to admit to himself that the fun had been smothered out of the evening by the arrival of the thorn in his side. Not wanting to leave for the evening just yet, he decided to get up to some of his old tricks. He had been focusing on not winning too much, but once Cedric had joined the group, his play had taken on a slightly different challenge. He continued to win small amounts here and there, but he also thought it might be a fitting diversion to ensure that Cedric lost on a regular basis.
 
Unfortunately for Heyes' sense of fun, nothing he could do was changing the way the cards were falling. His efforts were all for nought, as Cedric's poker playing skills were so bad that he was doing a fine job of losing every hand he played all on his own. Finally, after five hands had been played, Cedric lost his temper and slammed his hand onto the table, causing a number of community chips to rattle and scattered across the playing field.
 
Most of the players jumped at the sudden attack, and glared at Cedric for being a spoil sport. Heyes sat quietly, but sent him a bemused smile.
 
“Something wrong, Cedric?”
 
“I'll say something's wrong!” Cedric snapped and pointed an accusing finger at his antagonist. “I don't know how you're doing it, but you're deliberately stacking the cards against me.”
 
“I assure you Cedric, I'm not doing anything,” Heyes smooth talked. “You don't need me to help you lose—you're doing just fine all on your own.”
 
“You lying, thieving bastard!” Cedric growled, and came to his feet, making a lounge for Heyes from across the table.
 
Chairs scrapped the floor as they scattered in all directions. The other players at the table jumped in to assist and Ted and Mike soon had frustrated Cedric in an arm lock.
 
“C'mon, settle down!” Ted told him. “Nobody's cheatin' here son. You just don't know how to play poker.”
 
“There's nothing wrong with my poker playing!” Cedric insisted as he struggled against the strong arms holding him back. “He's stacking the deck against me!”
 
“Did anybody here notice any cheating?” Ted asked around.
 
“Nope,” Rydal answered.
 
“Me neither,” Mike agreed.
 
“Oh come on!” Cedric continued to rant. “He as much as admitted that he could cheat me without anyone noticing! If that ain't an admittance of intent...”
 
“Seems to me, he'd be pretty stupid to come right out and say that, if he was plannin' on cheatin' ya',” Mike pointed out. “One of the many things I've heard about Hannibal Heyes is that he ain't no fool.”
 
“No, he isn't a fool,” Cedric sneered as he glared daggers at Heyes, who was standing quietly to see which way this was going to go. “but he sure is playing you lot for ones. Dumber than a stock yard full of beeves, the whole bunch of you. He knew darn well that if he said he was going to cheat, then nobody would believe that he actually would, so nobody would be looking for it! What better time to strike than right after lulling you all into a false sense of security? Yeah, he's dumb like a fox, this one is. The rest of you are just plain dumb.”
 
The silence throughout the establishment was replaced with a low grumbling, as many of the men grew tired of this Northern city slicker coming into their saloon and insulting everybody. Tensions started to rise and everyone's focus was on the disrupted poker table.
 
Heyes smiled, though no humour reached his eyes. The townsfolk weren't the only ones getting tired of this little upstart.
 
“Maybe you should go on back to your hotel room, Cedric,” he quietly suggested. “It's getting late anyway.”
 
“I'm not going anywhere until I get back the money I lost here,” Cedric insisted. “I want every red penny you stole.”
 
Heyes' dimples broke through.
 
“Every red penny?” he tried to clarify. “Well let's see, I guess I started thievin' when I was around fifteen, or no, there were those cookies I stole when I was twelve. Ah but then, your demand suggested you only want the money, so cookies wouldn't count. So..yes, that would make me around fifteen. It was ten cents, I think. It was so long ago, it's hard to remember...since then, of course, the amounts have gotten larger. I'd probably have to take some time to calculate the amount, give or take a few thousand. Can I get back to you on that?”
 
The grumbling changed to chuckling as the tension eased. Soon, everyone was having a good laugh over it, that is except Cedric, whose mood was only getting darker.
 
“He's got you all suckered in,” Cedric sneered. “Yeah, the old con man up to his same tricks. Silver tongue, that's what they say, isn't it? Five years in prison didn't seem to teach you a thing.”
 
Heyes' jaw tightened, and he felt his right fist clench despite his efforts to not rise to the bait. Fortunately Ted stepped in again.
 
“Hey, no need for that,” he told Cedric. “He done his time. Leave the man alone.”
 
Cedric looked around him, and found himself to be outnumbered. He shook his head in bewilderment that these people were actually siding with a convicted con man and thief. Even the sheriff of this backward town was apparently oblivious to the threat. Why, he'd even had Heyes in his jail cell, yet still wound up opening the door, and the border, and setting him free. The Southwest really was backward in their thinking.
 
As things appeared to be calming down again, many of the other patrons returned to their own conversations and beer. Casual chatter took over again and Heyes relaxed. The other fellas as his table turned back to their own chips and began to gather them up.
 
“I think I'm going to call it a night,” Mike announced. “Early morning tomorrow.”
 
“Yeah,” Rydal agreed. “That's enough excitement for one night.”
 
“Okay fellas,” Ted responded. “Good game. See ya all next time around.”
 
“Sorry to cause a problem,” Heyes told them all. “but you're right. Time to settle up. I should get back to my wife anyway.”
 
Cedric didn't seem to know when to keep his mouth shut, and he snorted with distain.
 
“Wife,” he sneered. “I sure do find it interesting that you claim to be on your honeymoon, yet your wife is already in the family way. I think we know what kind of woman...”
 
Even though Cedric was looking right at Heyes, he still failed to see the punch coming. Heyes didn't so much explode as he did pop. His right arm streaked out like a blue blur, and the clenched fist bopped Cedric right between the eyes. The surprised look that flashed out from either side of the knuckles only lasted a heartbeat, and then the eyes rolled back and he flopped down into one of the chairs behind him. He struggled to stay in it, and he made a frantic grab for the arm, but his weight capsized it, and the whole parcel clattered to the floor.
 
A number of appreciative whistles, mingled with laughter took over as Ted and Mike each grabbed an arm and hauled an extremely dazed Cedric back up and into another chair.
 
“Wooeee!” Rydal laughed. “That was some punch. He's gonna have a hard time explainin' that one to the missus.”
 
Ted was laughing along with everyone else, and he clapped Cedric a couple of times on the shoulder, all in good sport.
 
“You ain't too bright there, are ya' lad?” he cajoled. “You're gonna have one hum dinger of a headache come morning. Yessiree.”
 
“Not to mention, a black eye or two,” Rydal added his opinion.
 
Some of the other patrons came over to shake Heyes' hand or to give him a friendly slap on the shoulder.
 
“That was one way ta' shut 'im up!”
 
“Fastest punch I ever seen. Glad I weren't on the recievin' end of it.”
 
“Thanks for some fine entertainment. And here I thought it was gonna be a quiet night.”
 
“Good thing Nugent's gone home to bed by now. That Charlie's about as alert as a sow bear in winter.”
 
“Oh, the sheriff.” Heyes instantly perked up and concern crossed his features. “I'd forgotten about him.”
 
“Aw, don't worry about it,” Ted assured him. “If this little weasel tries to cause trouble, we'll vouch for ya'. We all saw what happened, didn't be boys!”
 
A resounding 'YEAH!' took over the room, and Ted gave Heyes another slap on the shoulder.
 
“C'mon,” he said. “The game's over with, but let's say we all have one more beer before we call it a night? The women folk are probably all asleep by now anyway!”
 
“Yeah, sure. Why not?” Rydal agreed.
 
Heyes grinned and nodded.
 
“Okay,” he agreed. “That's a fine idea.”
 
They all settled in around the table again and beers were ordered lickidy split. Everyone was in a jovial mood, and Heyes joined right in with the laughter and the jokes. One beer turned into two, and nobody noticed as Cedric slowly slid down off his chair and wilted onto the floor.
 
Xxx
 
Cedric stood in the sheriff's office, his eyes like black daggers squinting against the thumping behind his nose. He had adopted an aggressive stance with hands on hips and lips tight with frustration. Nugent sat back in his chair, looking bored.
 
“You meant to tell me you're not even going to do anything about it?”
 
“That's right,” Nugent confirmed as he stifled a yawn. “I've heard all about what happened, and you're the one who started the trouble in the first place. Everything was fine until you showed up and started throwing around accusations. If I was going to arrest anyone, it'd be you.”
 
Cedric puffed up and flustered. “Me!?” he exclaimed, then cringed as the throbbing increased. “I'm a respectable citizen and that man's a known criminal!”
 
“Ex-criminal.”
 
“Card sharp!”
 
“Professional gambler.”
 
“Con artist!”
 
“Astute business man.”
 
“I don't believe this!” Cedric continued, all in an uproar and ignoring the thumping in his head. He wondered briefly if his nose had started to bleed again. “That man's a common thief!”
 
“Mr. Soames,” Nugent placated this irritant as best he could. “Mr. Heyes has paid his debt. The governor of Wyoming himself, gave him an unconditional pardon. He's just as much a free man as you are. And from what I can see, he's doing his best to make good on it. Leave the man alone.”
 
Cedric harrumphed. “The day a man like that can just walk in to a respectable establishment without anyone...”
 
“It's a saloon!” Nugent pointed out. “Not the private club for the Cattleman's Association! What did you expect?”
 
“Well, a bit of decorum at least!”
 
Nugent sighed. This was going nowhere.
 
“Listen,” he finally said. “obviously you know who he is, right?”
 
“Of course! That's the whole point!”
 
Nugent waved a hand to cut off the extended protest, and continued with his observation. “So you know who he is. Therefore, it stands to reason that you know what he has done, and, more to the point, what he is still capable of doing. For God's sake man! He was successful enough at what he did to be at the top of Wyoming's most wanted list for ten years running. He ruled over a gang of men who did not respect the law and, by definition, weren't too willing to submit to any form of authority. Yet he ran it smoothly. He turned it from a bunch of penny anti miscreants to an organized, well running machine.
 
“To control brutal men, you have to be brutal yourself. It doesn't matter how smart you are, or how easily you can open a safe, sooner or later, men like that are going to challenge you for leadership. You either pound them back into submission or you'll be ground into the dirt yourself. Do you see where I'm going with this?”
 
“You're supporting exactly what I have been saying all along!” Cedric insisted, his frustration growing. “He's a dangerous man! So why..?”
 
Nugent shook his head again, indicating that Cedric was continuing to miss the point. “What I'm saying is, you know what kind of a man he is, or at least what he used to be.”
 
“Yes!”
 
“And yet, you insisted on taking a stick and poking it at the lion!” Nugent emphasized. “Dammit! He wasn't even a caged lion! And you insulted his wife!? What the hell did you expect would happen?”
 
Cedric stood stock still, blinking with his own surprise. He moved his mouth a couple of times in an attempt to offer a protest, but nothing came out.
 
“Go on, get out of here,” Nugent continued. “or you're going to miss your damn train!”
 
Xxx
 
“Hannibal, will you stop staring out that window?” Miranda pleaded as she got their belongings organized for the continuation of their journey. “Nobody's coming for you.”
 
“The first thing Cedric did this morning was run to the sheriff's office,” Heyes pointed out. “If that little weasel causes me more trouble in this town, I'll wring his scrawny little neck.”
 
“Well, perhaps if you hadn't punched him in the face last night, you wouldn't have to worry about it now.”
 
Heyes sighed. “He was being insufferable. Then he insulted you.”
 
“I'm a big girl,” Miranda reminded him. “I think I can handle some fool making insinuations.”
 
“That's not the point.”
 
Miranda came over and snuggled in beside her husband.
 
“I know,” she said, as he smiled and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “the point is, you are supposed to be staying out of trouble. You simply can't go around punching people just because they insult you. Or me, for that matter.”
 
“Yeah,” Heyes grudgingly agreed. “I suppose you have a point.”
 
She rested her head against his chest as they both peered out the second storey window and surveyed the busy street below them. People were leaving the hotel and making their way across the traffic, towards the station in anticipation of catching the northbound train.
 
“Oh look,” Miranda pointed. “There go Cedric and Lois. My, but he does seem to be in a hurry to get out of town.”
 
“Hmm. Perhaps his meeting with Nugent didn't go so well, after all.”
 
“See?” Miranda teased. “You get all worked up over nothing.”
 
Then she frowned as she watched Lois struggle with her bag, lose control of it, and drop it in the middle of the street. Even up in their room, the couple could hear Cedric yelling at her as he came back, grabbed her arm, and began to drag her towards the boardwalk. Lois protested as she snatched up her fallen bag, and scrambled to keep up with her husband.
 
A low growl rumbled in Heyes' chest as Cedric and then Lois disappeared into the depot.
 
“Still sorry I punched him?” he asked his wife.
 
“I didn't say I was sorry that you did it,” Miranda clarified. “Simply that you really shouldn't.. Still, poor Lois. She really is a sweet little thing, but she's going to have to start standing up for herself with poor choice of a husband.”
 
“She'll work it out,” Heyes prophisized. “She's timid now, but I have a feeling ole' Cedric's going to push his advantage too far, and then he'll have real trouble on his hands.”
 
“I hope so!” Miranda responded. “Nobody would deserve it more.”
 
Heyes' shoulders slumped, and Miranda's focus was diverted.
 
“What?” she asked.
 
Heyes pointed down the street. “Here comes Nugent.”
 
“Oh.” Miranda had spotted him as well. She marvelled at how the lawman always looked so pristine in this hot climate. Always wearing the string tie and waist-coat, no matter what the temperature, and always looking comfortable while doing it. “I'm sure he's just doing his morning rounds,” she continued. “He'll walk on by.”
 
The couple stood quietly, watching the sheriff's progress along the boardwalk. He got to the entrance of the hotel, and sure enough, he made a quick turn and disappeared through the front door.
 
Both of them groaned.
 
“Might as well get unpacked,” Heyes grumbled. “Doesn't look like we're going anywhere for a while.”
 
 
It seemed to take an eternity for the anticipated knock to sound on the door to their room, but when it did come, neither of them wanted to answer it. Finally Miranda gave in to the pressure, and taking hold of the door knob, she took a breath to prepare herself, and then opened the door.
 
“‘Morning ma’am,” Nugent tipped his hat.
 
“Oh, good morning Sheriff,” she responded appropriately. “How nice to see you again.”
 
“Hmm. Is your husband in?”
 
Heyes stepped into view and took over the conversation.
 
“Good morning,” he greeted the lawman with as much joviality as he could muster. “Come in. We’re just getting ready to catch the Eastbound train. We don’t want to miss it.”
 
“You still have a few hours before it pulls in,” Nugent commented. “I just need a few moments
of your time.”
 
Hannibal and Miranda exchanged a quick glance. This was sounding promising. A few moments was a far cry better than a few days.
 
“Certainly,” Heyes agreed. “What’s on your mind?”
 
“I think you know what’s on my mind, Mr. Heyes,” Nugent told him. “It seems you got yourself
involved in a little altercation last night.”
 
“Well, yes. I suppose I did.” Heyes agreed. “But it really wasn’t my fault.”
 
“Trouble just seems to follow you, doesn’t it?”
 
Heyes smiled, but it was sadness that took over his eyes, not mirth.
 
“It does seem to,” he admitted. “I’m sorry, Sheriff. I did try to let it go, but then he…”
 
Nugent raised a hand to stop him. “I know,” he assured him. “Mr. Soames was asking for it. Fortunately for you, there were a number of witnesses to the incident. Actually, there were quite a number of witnesses, and most of them came forward before Mr. Soames even had the opportunity to lodge his complaint. Dammit, sometimes a man can’t even have breakfast before his job takes over the day. It’s one thing to not get to my eggs before they’re cold, but to not even get a mouthful of hot coffee, well, that puts me in a very foul mood. I’m afraid by the time Mr. Soames got to me, he was already bogged down in mud.”
 
“Oh.”
 
“I just need to get your take on things, Mr. Heyes, that’s all,” Nugent assured him. “I encouraged Mr. Soames to let the whole thing slide, that he should just see as one of those little life lessons, and leave it at that. He wisely accepted my point of view.”
 
“That was big of him,” Heyes commented dryly.
 
“Not really,” Nugent grumbled. “Still, if you can just give me a short version of the way you saw
it, then we can all get on with out day.”
 
“Yes sir,” Heyes agreed, feeling very much relieved by this time. “Ah, let’s see. Miranda wasn’t feeling well last night and wanted some quiet time, to rest. I went over to the saloon for a drink, and to play some poker, just for fun, of course.”
 
“Yes, of course.”
 
“It was a good game,” Heyes continued. “The local fellas were friendly and the stakes were low, so no pressure. It was relaxing. Then, unfortunately, Mr. Soames showed up and started to harass me.”
 
“Any particular reason why he would do that?” Nugent asked.
 
“We all came down on the train together,” Heyes explained. “When your deputy interrupted our supper to bring me over to your office, Mr. Soames became suspicious of my identity, and got himself on a roll from there. We were able to avoid them while in Santa Marta, but unfortunately, we ended up on the coach coming back here. For some reason, he seems to think that I’d fair game, and wasn’t about to let up.”
 
“So, you never met him before coming down here on the train?” Nugent asked. “There was no reason for him to feel a grudge against you?”
 
“Not that I know of, Sheriff,” Heyes admitted. “Other than that I apparently didn’t spend enough time in prison to suit him, and he was going to make sure everyone knew it.”
 
“Yeah, okay. So, he joined the poker game and began to heckle you. Then what happened?”
 
“Well, the usual thing when a bad player continues to lose,” Heyes continued. “He began accusing me of cheating, and well, he was actually right about that.”
 
Nugent’s brows went up. “What?”
 
Heyes gave a winning smile. “Well you see, I had to, Sheriff. If I had been playing honest poker, I’d a wiped those local fellas out within the first hour. I wanted to play poker. If I had to cheat to make sure I didn’t win too much, well, I rightly didn’t see the harm in it.”
 
Nugent chuckled. “Yeah alright. Don’t quite know what the penalty would be for cheating in order to lose, so I guess we’ll just let that one go. So you were cheating with Soames as well?”
 
Heyes’ expression turned painful. “Aww, Sheriff, he was so bad at poker, it didn’t matter how hard I tried to lose to him, I couldn’t make it happen. But that still didn’t stop him from accusing me of it. But still, I was gonna let it go. I didn’t want to make for any more trouble here, but then he began insulting my wife…”
 
“Yes.” Nugent’s tone darkened, and he glanced over at Miranda. “There was certainly no call to be doing that, ma’am. I’m sorry it happened in my town.”
 
“Thank you, Sheriff,” Miranda told him. “I’m afraid it's a common hazard, being married to Hannibal. Some people refuse to let go of his past. Simply being his wife, puts me in the position of a person of low character. It’s happened more than once, and not just from men. I’m afraid women can be rather catty when it comes to things like that as well. I chose to believe that they are simply jealous.”
 
Nugent smiled. “I’m sure you have a valid point there, ma’am. Okay. This sounds pretty much like what the witnesses had to say. Thank you, Mr. Heyes. Enjoy the rest of your honeymoon.”
 
“Oh!” Heyes actually sounds surprised, then he smiled and the two men shook hands. “Thank you, Sheriff. We'll be on our way shortly. That is, as long as Dr. Shandal doesn't put in an appearance.”
 
“He tried!” Nugent informed them. “I headed him off though, and convinced him to let matters lie.”
 
Hannibal and Miranda locked gazes and both grinned.
 
“Ohhh,” was the combined response.
 
“We had wondered what happened to him,” Miranda admitted. “We spied him coming towards us yesterday, and we quickly ducked into the hotel. We were pleasantly surprised when he didn't follow us.”
 
“I take it that was you?” Heyes enquired.
 
“Yes,” Nugent acknowledged. “I don't think you'll be having any more problems from him.”
 
“Thank you, Sheriff,” Heyes said emphatically. “Now, as long as we don't run in to the Soames again, we should be alright.”
 
“Good luck to you,” Nugent bid them, and once again, tipped his hat to Miranda. “Ma'am.”
 
“Sheriff,” she responded with a bright smile. “Again, thank you so much.”
 
“My pleasure, ma'am.”
 
And with that, the lawman made his departure.
 
Heyes breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, that went better than I thought.”
 
“Well, since you generally tend to think the worst...”
 
“No, I don't,” the husband protested. “I'm just always prepared for the worst.”
 
Miranda smiled at his logic.
 
“Yes dear,” she placated as she took his arm. “Come on. I'm hungry. We have time for a nice leisurely lunch before our train leaves town.”
 
Xxx
 
It was an anxious group that awaited the train to arrive at the Brookswood station. Tricia was using it to get a break away from nursing duties, even if just for a few minutes. Beth and Bridget had had about enough of Isabelle and her friends for one day, and packing up the buttons, pearls and lace that had been all removed from the wedding dress, they had made a hasty exit with the excuse of meeting the train. Jed wanted first hand news of his cousin's situation and wasn't going to let this opportunity pass him by.
 
Not many people were on the platform awaiting the train, so by the time the locomotive had passed the depot, and was coming to a halt and releasing steam, the greeting party had a clear path to the two passenger cars. Even before the doors had opened, Beth and Bridget were rubber necking the two cars in search of familiar faces.
 
“There they are!” Bridget announced and pointed to the second car.
 
It didn't take more encouragement than that, and the group was rushing towards the opening door. The two gentlemen in question were accosted before they had barely set foot upon the platform, and the questions and comments came at them like a Gatling gun.
 
“Thank goodness you're back!” Bridget declared, as she came in for a hug.
 
Steven smiled. “Well, this is a fine greeting. It's nice to be back.”
 
Tricia smiled up at her tall, handsome husband. “We've been counting the hours until this train would be due. I think we both would have had a nervous breakdown, if it had been running late.”
 
Bridget's eyes widen with agreement, and she nodded. “That's for sure! It's wonderful to have you back.”
 
“Nice to know you missed us,” Steven said. “The welcome home makes the trip away almost worth it.”
 
“We certainly did miss you,” Bridget emphasized. “You wouldn't believe what has been going on in town since you left. The Baird family has broken up and taken sides, Harry had a brief case of cold feet, and Isabelle is about driving me crazy with all this wedding stuff. Thank goodness you're back, so now we can get on it all, and get Harry and Isabelle out of town, and out of my hair!”
 
“Oh, yes please!” Beth added her opinion. “You wouldn't believe what her and her friends are trying to do to Mama's wedding dress! Actually, I'm not so sure it was a good idea to leave them in possession of it. Perhaps I should go back... .”
 
“We have all the pearls, Beth,” Bridget pointed out. “What more harm can they do?”
 
“Yes, I know.” Beth didn't sound convinced. “Still, you know what Isabelle gets like when she's got Eugenie and Gladys egging her on.”
 
“You left your mama's wedding dress alone with those three?” Jed asked, incredulously.
 
Now both Beth and Bridget were worried.
 
“Oh dear,” Bridget commented and bit into her lower lip. “Perhaps you should... .”
 
“Yes,” Beth agreed. “I'm going back. Oh! But I want to know how Hannibal is. Is he alright?”
 
“Yes!” David assured her. “He's fine. Go on and do what you need to do.”
 
“I'll fill ya' in, Darlin',” Jed assured her.
 
Beth was torn for an instant, but then decided that she couldn't leave the wedding dress alone, in the hands of those three conspirators.
 
“Yes, alright. I'll see you later.”
 
She reached up and gave her husband a kiss, and then scurried off, back towards the hotel.
 
“Good heavens,” David commented. “Is the whole town going mad?”
 
“It's been crazy,” Jed admitted. “But not so much that I haven't been thinkin' about Heyes. What was it all about?”
 
“I'll say it's been crazy,” Tricia cut in on Jed's enquiry. “You would think that with the state Jesse's in, that he would be quiet. It's a relief when he's asleep, but once he's awake we all know about it. Belle says he's not usually like that when he's laid up, and he normally is a quiet natured man, but not this time. Maybe it's because he's not in his own home, but he has been driving me nuts for the last two days. Even Belle has been having a hard time keeping him still. Thank goodness you're back! You're going to send them home soon, aren't you? I swear, much longer with that man complaining, and I'm going to give him something to complain about!”
 
“How's Heyes doin'?” Jed asked again, once Tricia had stopped for air.
 
The two men exchanged glances, as their respective woman began hauling on them to get moving towards their residences, permanent and otherwise. This wasn't quite the welcome home they had expected.
 
“Hey!” Jed called after them as he hurried to catch up. “C'mon, give me somethin'!”
 
“He's fine,” Steven reiterated David's original assurence. “There was some issue over his lack of paperwork, but we got it sorted out. I expect he and Miranda are in Santa Marta by now.”
 
“You sure?” Jed asked. “Why did he need you there, David?”
 
David sighed, and turned to the anxious friend.
 
“Listen,” he said. “I'm tired, and I'm sure Steven is as well. Why don't you give us some time to clean up, and we can all meet at the hotel for dinner. We'll fill you in on all the details then.”
 
“Oh,” Jed responded. “Yeah, I suppose. It's just that I've already been waitin' for ages to find out what it was all about.”
 
“Then a few more hours won't kill you,” David pointed out. “As Steven said, he's fine. That should put your mind at ease for now.”
 
“Yeah, okay. I suppose you're right,” Jed agreed.
 
“Besides,” Steven collaborated. “I expect Sheriff Jacobs will want to know about it all as well. I don't know about you, David, but I sure don't want to have to repeat myself.” David gave an emphatic nod. “So Jed, why don't you let Jacobs know that we all plan to meet for dinner. That way, if he wants to know what happened, then we only have to explain it once.”
 
Jed still didn't seem too happy about the arrangement. He wanted to know now. But one glance at David and Steven, told him that it wasn't going to happen. And, he had to concede, they both did look travel weary. It made sense. Why repeat the same information over and over again, when they could all simply meet up at an appropriate time, and everyone get all the information at once.
 
“Alright,” Jed agreed again, only this time, he meant it. “I'll tell Jacobs. Harry will probably want to know as well. I doubt Belle will join us, she won't leave Jesse's side these days. So, around six, for dinner?”
 
“Sounds good,” David agreed, and he and Tricia hastily continued on their way.
 
“Works for us,” Steven agreed, and he and Bridget quickly followed the previous couple.
 
Quite suddenly, Jed found himself standing all by himself on the platform. He stopped there for a moment, looked around to find that everyone had left, then shook his head at his own stupidity. He left the depot, and headed towards the sheriff's office to deliver the message. Maybe Harry needed some company as well, if his fiance was busy with her wedding arrangements. Oh, that sure spoke loud and clear at how bored Jed was, if he was actually thinking of seeking out the detective's company. Wonders never ceased.
 
Having left the train depot, the two couples parted and carried on to their respective destinations.
Bridget was smiling brightly, her left arm intertwined with her husband’s right one, as she practically skipped along beside him. Steven himself wasn’t feeling quite so elated.
 
“What do you mean, Isabelle is staying in our room?” he asked in a tone that suggested disbelief.
 
“It just for one more night,” Bridget assured him. “Her father wouldn't let her come home, and she needed a place to stay.”
 
“But our room?” came the protest. “I was anticipating a private evening with my wife. Why can’t she go and stay with Mrs. Reece? She’s still on her own, isn’t she?”
 
“No, sorry Dear,” Bridget informed him. “Mr. Reece was released from bondage this morning, and is back at the hotel again.”
 
Steven sighed in disappointment.
 
“Maybe you can stay over at David’s, or perhaps at Hannibal’s house,” Bridget suggested. “It’s just for one more night. With you and David home now, the wedding can go ahead as planned for tomorrow, and things can start getting back to normal.”
 
Steven grumbled under his breath. He wasn’t happy about this arrangement at all.
 
“What about her friends?” he asked. “Can't either of them put her up for tonight?”
 
“Neither of them offered,” Bridget grumbled. “Perhaps their husband's aren't as understanding as you are.”
 
“Good try, Bridget,” Steven commented dryly. “Surely there's room at Hannibal's place?”
 
“With all the children running around there?” Bridget was incredulous. “I'm not sure who would murder whom first.”
 
“It'd be good exposure for her,” Steven suggested. “A good taste of married life, before getting married.”
 
Come on,” Bridget encouraged him. “Please be understanding. If you had seen the way her father treated her, right out here in the middle of the street, you would have taken pity on her too.”
 
“What exactly did happen with that?” Steven asked, as he eyed his wife’s face. “Don’t think I didn’t notice that bruising on your cheek. I’m afraid that using makeup to try and cover up signs of an injury are too common a practice for a lawyer not to notice.”
 
“Oh.” Bridget sounded disappointed. “I suppose I should have known you’d see right through that.”
 
“Mm hmm. So, what happened?”
 
Bridget sighed dramatically. She really was hoping to put off going into this.
 
“Well,” she began. “When Mr. Baird started hitting Isabelle right there in the front of the mercantile, I tried to help her, and kind of got in the way.”
 
Steven stopped in his tracks, his jaw tightening in an ominous manner. “Do you mean to tell me that Baird hit you?”
 
“Well, he got caught up in the moment,” Bridget protested. “I really shouldn’t have…”
 
“God Damn that bastard!” Steven cursed. “Who the hell does he think he is! He’s got no idea how much trouble is headed his way! Does your father know about this?”
 
“No!” Bridget told him. “And I don’t want him to, at least not yet. Not until he’s on his feet. He needs to rest, and once he finds out about this, he won’t rest.”
 
“No fooling!” Steven agreed. “That bastard!”
 
“Please,” Bridget continued, feeling a little unnerved by her husband's course language. “Let’s get the wedding done with first, okay? Let Isabelle have her day, then we can worry about her father. Besides, I don’t think she’s laid charges against him, so there may not be anything you can do about it anyway.”
 
“Believe me, Bridget,” her husband assured her. “once your father hears about this, something will get done about it. And it's not just Isabelle who can lay charges you know. That man struck you as well.”
 
“I know,” Bridget conceded. “I just don't want to ruin Isabelle's wedding for her. Let's discuss it later.”
 
The couple began walking towards the hotel again, when Beth came running out of the entrance, looking all flustered and pale around the gills.
 
“Beth!” Bridget called to her. “What's the matter?”
 
“They're gone!” Beth wailed. “I went up to your room, and they're all gone. And they took the dress with them!”
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Keays

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

PostSubject: Re: Setting it Up   Wed Nov 11, 2015 1:58 am

Oh no!” Bridget exclaimed. “What are they up to now!”
 
Then another unexpected sight stopped them just as the two ladies hurried along, towards the boardwalk.
 
Isabelle, along with Gladys and Eugenie were gaily making an exit from the hotel lobby and very nearly bumped in to the two ladies as they converged on the entrance at the same time. Steven had wisely stood back to let this little drama play out without his involvement.
The three ladies were giggling and carrying on no end, even though the numerous boxes and feathers and lace and material gathered in their arms were doing a wonderful job of hiding them from casual eyes.
 
“Oh!” Bridget exclaimed. “Good heavens! Where are you all off to?”
 
“There you are, Beth!” Isabelle exclaimed. “You silly thing. We tried to get your attention but you're such a scatter brain! Didn't you hear us calling you?”
 
“What do you mean?” Beth asked her. “I looked all over the lobby. You weren't there!”
 
“Of course we were,” Eugenie insisted. “You simply didn't see us.”
 
Beth pursed her lips. She knew darn well, they hadn't been in the lobby. She strongly suspected they had intentionally avoided her, and were now putting on the innocent act to it cover up since they'd had the misfortune of running into the older sister instead.
 
“But where are you going?” Bridget asked again. “You all said that it was best for Isabelle to stay at the hotel.”
 
“Don't be so silly, Bridget!” Isabelle told her. “How could I possibly continue to stay in your hotel room with your husband coming back?”
 
“We could have made other arrangements,” Bridget assured her. “Steven was goin to stay over at Hannibal's place. It was only for one more night.”
 
The three ladies broke up into hysterical laughter. Bridget and Steven exchanged looks, and pedestrians found another way around the hotel entrance.
 
“Isabelle will spend the night at my place!” Gladys announced smugly. “How silly of you to think otherwise. What better place for the bride-to-be on the eve of her wedding day, than with her friends?”
 
“We've got everything we need, right here,” Eugenie added. “I can do her hair, and Gladys will do her makeup. We'll have our own little hen party! Oh, you can come over in the morning if you want to, Bridget. I'm sure you'll be able to help us with the dress.”
 
“Yes, do come over in the morning, Bridget,” Isabelle agreed. “And of course Beth, you can come along too, if you'd like. Bye!”
 
And with that, the three ladies, layered and top heavy with wedding apparel, bounced along their way, heading towards Gladys' home.
 
Bridget stood speechless, hardly believing what she had just witnessed. When she finally did find her voice, her lips tightened, and she stamped her foot with indignation.
 
“Well, I never!” she exclaimed. “After everything I've been doing for her, and this is the thanks I get! We're even letting her wear our wedding dress!”
 
Xxx
 
“I will be gratefully happy to get home,” David admitted. “I am so tired.”
 
“I'm not surprised,” Tricia told him. “Your telegram suggested that everything got worked out though. Are Hannibal and Miranda on their way again?”
 
“They better be!” David exclaimed. “He gets himself into any more trouble and he can find his own way out of it.”
 
“I'm sure they'll be fine,” Tricia said. “Miranda will look after him.”
 
“Anything new come up while I was away?”
 
“Hmm, well...”
 
David sighed, almost not wanting to hear about it, but needing to, none the less.
 
“What?” he asked.
 
“Jed and Sam found Ben,” Tricia informed him. “They took him to John's place, but he was so badly burned that John sent him on to the hospital in Denver.”
 
“Ohh,” David groaned. “Dammit. I should have been here.” He stopped and looked back in the direction of John's house. “Dammit,” he repeated.
 
“You can't be everywhere at once,” Tricia reasoned. “You didn't know they were going to find Ben. But you did know that Hannibal needed your help. You made the right decision.”
 
“Yes, I know. You're right,” David agreed. “But I wish I had known. We came right through Denver on our way back here. I could have stopped in to see how he was.”
 
“You're not the only doctor in the West, David,” Tricia reminded him. “I'm sure he's being well looked after. His mother is there with him as well, so he's not all alone. Besides, you have patients here who need you. Jesse's the worst off, but there are still some of the fellas, who have been able to go home, who still need some attention.”
 
“John can see to them,” David commented absently, his mind still on Ben. “And doing a fine job. But Ben—if I had been here, I might have been able to help him. A trip to Denver would not have been easy for him...if I'd just stayed...”
 
“Are you saying that Hannibal didn't need your help after all?” Tricia asked him. “That you wasted your time, going to Yuma.”
 
“No,” David admitted. “Hannibal was in a plight for sure. The sheriff there had detained him, because he didn't have his papers with him, and word hadn't reached the boarder towns concerning his pardon. He had another seizure...”
 
“Oh no.”
 
“Yes. And the doctor there still holds to the belief that epilepsy is a dangerous disease that can be spread from person to person, and that if Hannibal wasn't already criminally insane, then he would be soon. He was trying to have our friend committed. You can imagine how Hannibal felt about that.”
 
“Yes!” Tricia was adamant. “He must have been walking a trench in his cell floor.”
 
“Yes.”
 
“So there, you see?” Tricia pointed out. “You made the right choice in going to Yuma. You don't even know if you could have helped Ben here. But you did help Hannibal. So stop second guessing yourself—again!”
 
“Yes, alright,” David conceded, know when he was beat. “So how is Jesse doing? Complaining aside.”
 
“About as to be expected,” Tricia informed him. “He does sleep most of the time, and Belle has taken over most of his care, so he really hasn't been an imposition. I was just teasing you. I just think he would rather be at home.”
 
“I'm sure,” David agreed dryly. “I'll check in on him as soon as we get home. I'll also get in touch with the hospital later,and find out how Ben is doing. Anything else?”
 
“Just that old man Baird had a domestic dispute with Isabelle out in front of the mercantile the other day.” Tricia informed him. “Pretty much disowned her, and threw her out of the house. Hit her a couple of times too. It took Joe, with some help from Jed and Harry to break it up.”
 
“Oh dear,” David groaned. “I was afraid it was going to come to that eventually. I've had more than one 'friendly' conversation with Baird about the way he treats his daughter, but well, you know how far those got me.”
 
“Yes,” Tricia commented. “I recall you coming home, looking a little bruised yourself, on one of those occasions. I must admit, after that, I was hoping you'd stay away from the man.”
 
“I know,” David concurred. “but I had to try. Same with Carl. We both tried to talk reason to that old coot, but he was having none of it. So, he's finally gone and run her off, has he? Hopefully she'll find a better life with Harry. And that sure is saying a lot about what her life has been like, up till now.”
 
“Yes,” Tricia agreed. “Though I must admit, I'd feel a lot more sympathetic to her situation, if she wasn't such a snitty little thing. Nothing seems good enough for her. I sure hope Harry knows what he's getting into.”
 
“I'm pleased to announce that that is Harry's problem,” David said. “I'm too tired to worry about it.”
 
As they approached the entrance to their home, the front door banged open and Nathan came bounding out and down the stairs.
 
“Papa!” came the excited greeting as the boy jumped into his father's arms.
 
All the tiredness from David's eyes lifted at the sight of the boy running towards him. He dropped the one bag of luggage, and scooped the child up to give him a big bear hug.
 
“Here's the man of the house!” David greeted him. “Have you been a good boy while I've been away?”
 
“Yes, Papa!” Nathan assured his pa. “I made sure to always stay out from under mama's feet.”
 
“You did?” David asked him.
 
“Yes!”
 
“And I'm sure you had a good time doing it, too.”
 
“Yes!”
 
“Good boy.”
 
“But do I really have to wear that silly suit again tomorrow?”
 
“Yes you do,” David informed him. “You know we always dress nicely for church and for weddings.”
 
“Aww,” the child whined. “I don't want to.”
 
“Oh Nathan,” Tricia reprimanded him. “Your papa is tired. Leave him be. Besides, we've already been over this. It'll just be for a couple of hours.”
 
“But...”
 
“Listen to your mama,” David told him. “You might be the man of the house while I'm away, but your mama is still the boss.”
 
“Yes, Papa.”
 
David set the boy back down onto his feet, and gave him a pat to send him back up the steps. Picking up his baggage, David smiled at his wife, and they came up onto the porch together. The enticing aroma of a meal in preparation really made David feel like he was coming home, and suddenly he was quite hungry.
 
Merle was sitting at the kitchen table, doing some darning, while Belle was just in the process of spooning out some chicken soup from the large pot on the stove. Both ladies smiled up at the doctor's return.
 
“Hello, David,” Merle greeted him. “Impeccable timing. Just in time for lunch.”
 
“Yes,” David agreed. “That was well planned, wasn't it? How is our patient doing?”
 
“He's resting,” Belle told him. “I think he would be more comfortable in his own bed though.”
 
“I'm sure he would,” David agreed. “but we can't move him, not yet. “Let's give him another week, and if he feels up to the ride out to the ranch, I might consider it. His injuries were substantial, you know that. Moving him too soon would only make things worse.”
 
“I know,” Belle assured him. “I just feel we're in your way here. Beth and I can take care of him at home, just as well as we can here.”
 
David shook his head. “I want to be able to keep an eye on him for a little while longer,” he told her. “The trip to Yuma couldn't be helped, and I knew that Tricia was here to take care of things. But moving him out to the ranch, where there was no medical supervision would not be a good idea at this time.”
 
“Oh David!” Belle admonished him. “You make it sound like I've never had to take care of an invalid before. I'm sure Beth and I could handle it, and you could still come by every other day to check up on us.”
 
“I'm not saying you couldn't handle it, Belle,” David clarified. “I know you are quite capable. My only real opposition to it, is that I don't want to move him yet. You and J.J. are welcome to stay here until he's doing better. In fact, I insist.”
 
Belle gave it up. She knew David well enough to know that he wasn't going to budge on this.
 
“Alright, David,” she agreed. “And I suppose the children are all having a good time, playing together. J.J. does get awfully lonely out at the ranch, with no other children around to play with. He and Todd and Nathan don't usually show up back here until it's supper time.”
 
David smiled, certain that Belle was not overly exaggerating.
 
“And what a lovely break that is,” Merle commented. “Nothing more frustrating than to have a bunch of children under foot while you're trying to get things done. Though I notice Sally tends to stay close to her grandpa. What a darling child she is; so sweet natured.”
 
“Yes,” Belle agreed, and smiled fondly. “And she does love her grandpa.”
 
“Well,” Tricia put in. “I think she loves her grandma too. And speaking of children, I do believe I hear our daughter wanting some attention. Excuse me for a moment.”
 
Tricia headed towards the back bedroom, picking up David's one bag of luggage as she went.
 
“Sit down and have some lunch,” Merle told David. “You must be tired after that boring train ride.”
 
“Yes,” David agreed, wistfully. “But, I want to check up on my patient first.”
 
“He's resting,” Merle assured him. “Surely he can wait until you've had something to eat.”
 
“I'll just be a moment,” David told her, and left the kitchen for the spare bedroom.
 
Merle and Belle exchanged knowing glances. David always did put his patients first.
 
David moved moved quietly into the bedroom and gently closed the door behind him. Pulling up the chair so that it was next to the bed, he sat down and gave his patient a through visual scrutiny. Jesse stirred, knowing that someone was in the room with him, and he tried to force his eyes open. David put a hand on his arm to assist him in coming to wakefulness.
 
“Jesse,” David greeted him quietly.
 
Jesse did open his eyes then, and swallowed painfully. His throat was still so sore.
 
“David,” he responded in a hoarse whisper. “Belle said you wouldn't be back for a couple of days yet.”
 
“I expect that was a couple of days ago,” David informed him. “You want some water?”
 
Jesse nodded, and David assisted him with a drink. That done, Jesse settled back again, and the doctor took a close look at his patient.
 
“You are looking a little better than the last time I saw you,” David surmised. “Not quite as shocky. Have you been eating anything?”
 
Jesse groaned. “Belle has forced some broth down my throat. But it hurts to swallow.”
 
“I'm sure it does,” David agreed. “That should ease up soon. Everyone in town has a sore throat these days.”
 
Jesse raised a brow, and almost chuckled but it turned in to a grimace instead.
 
David moved in a little closer and put his knowledgeable fingers to work.
 
“Well, you don't feel feverish,” he noted. “That's a good sign. Let me just pull away the bed sheet here, so I can see your hand. Hmm, color's good. It's a bit swollen, but that's not surprising.” He stood up and gently pulled the sheet away from the left foot as well, and checked it for color and temperature. “Well, that's quite swollen also.” Then David took his thumb nail and pressed it into the skin in the sensitive arch of the foot. Jesse tensed and tried to send David a nasty look. It wasn't very effective, but David got the message. He smiled. “Did that hurt?”
 
“Yes, it did,” Jesse answered, pointedly.
 
“Good,” David replied, irritatingly.
 
Jesse groaned. “David, sometimes...”
 
“Yes, I know.” David covered the foot back up again, and returned to the chair. “Trich tells me that you've been a bit of a tyrant when you're awake. Personally I don't see how you could have the strength, but Tricia doesn't usually exaggerate.”
 
Jesse almost smiled. “I think she exaggerates.”
 
“I know you're not used to being laid up like this,” David told him. “But you really do need to take the time to heal. I told Belle that we could try and get you back home again, once you're feeling a bit better, but in the mean time, you're welcome to stay here. In fact, I...”
 
“Insist,” Jesse weakly finished the statement for him.
 
David smiled. “Yes.”
 
“How long?”
 
“At least another week or two.”
 
Jesse groaned.
 
“And even after that, you're going to be laid up for a while,” David continued. “These are not minor injuries, Jesse. And I'm sorry, but you're not a young man anymore. It's going to take quite a while for you to recover from this. And only time will tell how much you'll recover.”
 
“What do you mean?” Jesse asked him.
 
“Well,” David explained. “You still have good feeling in your foot, so it's not paralysed, but how much mobility you'll get back remains to be seen. I'll help you, of course, and hopefully we'll get you up and walking again. I doubt you'll ever ride again, though.”
 
Jesse groaned again. “What good is a rancher who can't ride?”
 
“Just as good a rancher who can ride,” David insisted. “You already delegate most of that work to your hired hands anyway, and focus more on the running of the business through the paperwork. It'll take some adjustment, I know. But you're lucky to be alive, Jesse. Try to focus on that.”
 
“I know,” Jesse agreed. “When that horse came down on top of me, I thought for sure I was dead. It's a miracle Jed and Sam found me at all.”
 
“Thanks to Allie.”
 
“Yes. Thanks to Allie.”
 
“So,” David concluded. “You take it easy. Give yourself time to heal. If you agree to take it slow and actually listen to what I tell you to do, you just might come out of this in once piece. Alright?”
 
Jesse tried a smile. “Alright, boss.”
 
“Good!” David said, and he stood up. “Now I'm hungry, and tired, so I will leave you. I expect Belle will be in momentarily with some broth. Please try to swallow some of it.”
 
Jesse sighed as deeply as he could, with his broken ribs all taped up the way they were. He nodded, but closed his eyes and began to drift off to sleep again.
 
Xxx
 
It was quite a group of friends who met up at the restaurant for dinner that evening. Many of the attendees had both personal and professional interests in what was going on with Mr. Heyes, and everyone was eager for news. On top of that, it was a good excuse for everybody to get together for dinner before the festivities of the next day took over the limelight.
 
Although, by the way Harry was moaning and groaning about the state of affairs for his wedding day, one might think that the whole affair might be called off after all.
 
“Have you seen the state of the church?” he complained to the group. “How can we have a weddin' in there, when it still smells like wood smoke?”
 
“Have it outside,” Jed suggested, reasonably. “I expect it's gonna be a fine day.”
 
“The wood smoke is even worse out 'a doors!” Harry expostulated. “It just don't seem right. I promised my Peaches a church weddin'. It's only fit and proper.”
 
“Steven and I were married outside,” Bridget pointed out. “So were Beth and Jed. What's wrong with it?”
 
“Oh. Well...” Harry was instantly tongue tied, now that he'd been called on his opinion. “Nothin', I guess. It just weren't what we were plannin', that's all.”
 
“Considering the circumstances, you might just have to take what you can get,” David pointed out. “This town has been through a hard time. Having an outdoor wedding might be just what it needs.”
 
“Yes!” Isabelle suddenly joined the conversation. “Our wedding will be something special! Far more meaningful than any of the other weddings of late. It'll bring something fun and positive to everyone in town, if they can be part of our wedding.”
 
“Well yes, you have a point there,” Harry agreed, and puffed himself up with importance. “Why, it could be the turning point for a lot of folks in this town. What an excellent idea.”
 
“The reception can be in the town square,” Tricia suggested. “Many of us are already planning on bringing sandwiches and salads, so you don't have to worry about that. Personally, I think it's going to be a fun day for everyone.”
 
“Max Robertson says that his step-ma wants to contribute too,” Joe informed them. “Apparently ole' Floyd lost a couple of his pigs to the smoke, and he's already got them butchered and roasting in a pit. It should make for a fine wedding dinner.”
 
“Helena is such a lovely lady,” Joe's girlfriend, Pansy spoke up. “It took a lot of courage to leave behind everything she knew back East, to come out here just on the information of an advert in the papers. Then, marrying Mr. Robertson! My, what a brave woman!”
 
This statement elicited laughter from around the table.
 
“That's for sure!” Bridget agreed. “Those two children of his were running wild after their ma died. But Helena did wonders, getting those two back into shape.”
 
“She did a lot for Floyd as well,” David pointed out. “It was hard on him, losing his wife like that. Helena was a blessing, that's for sure.”
 
“Didn't Carl hire their son Max to be a junior deputy?” Jed asked.
 
“Yes!” Joe brightened up as he confirmed this. “The boy's working out quite well too.”
 
“Better watch out Joe,” David teased him. “The lad will be taking over your job, if you're not careful.”
 
“That would be alright,” Joe said. “I'm still thinking about going back East to take some courses in law enforcement.. I'd feel a lot better about it, if the sheriff had a new lad on the up swing.”
 
Pansy became quiet, and tired to hide her disappointment at Joe's announcement. Beth noted the change, and gave her hand a gentle squeeze under the table. The two ladies smiled at each other.
 
“That would be a wise choice,” Kenny assured the young deputy. “From what I have seen, and heard, you're a fine lawman. There are plenty of opportunities out there for a young man of your calibre.”
 
“Oh Kenny,” Sarah teased him. “Are you trying to recruit him already? Don't you have enough guards out at the prison, already?”
 
Kenny laughed, then swallowed, as his throat still protested the action.
 
“I was thinking more along the lines of a warden,” he informed them. “Of course, putting in a few years as a guard would be good experience. By that time, the new prison in Rawlins will be in full swing. I doubt I'll be transferring over to it.”
 
“No?” Jed asked him. “You thinkin' about handin' in the bully club?”
 
Kenny sent him a look.
 
“Not just yet, Jed,” he assured him. “I still have sons in college. Besides, Laramie won't be ready to shut its doors quite yet. When it is, then I'll decide what we want to do.”
 
“It'll be nice, not to have to worry about you,” Sarah admitted. “The job has been good for us, but there's been a price to pay.”
 
“I know,” Kenny agreed.
 
“Is there any job that doesn't have its own inherent dangers?” Steven asked. “I've seen a lot of strange things in my profession. Doesn't seem to matter what a person does, there is always risk involved.”
 
“Yes, but some involve more risk than others,” Beth interjected. “I'm sure that being a private detective is far more risky than being the owner of the dry goods store.”
 
“You do have a point, “ Steven agreed. “I'm just saying, that life is a risk. The best you can do, is find something that you're good at, or if you're lucky, have a passion for, and go after it. I couldn't imagine not being a lawyer, nor David being anything other than a doctor.”
 
“Or Harry anything other than a detective,” Isabelle added as she gave her fiancee's arm a hug. “You'd be miserable doing anything else, wouldn't you, dear?”
 
“You're right about that, my sweet!” Harry agreed. “Why, I was born to be a detective. Couldn't imagine doing anything else.”
 
“And what about you, Jed?” Joe asked his friend. “You've done a number of different things in your life. Which one feels like the right one for you?”
 
“Ahh jeez,” Jed groaned as he looked around at all the eyes staring at him. “Heyes and I just kind'a fell in ta' whatever came our way. I gotta admit though, those years of runnin' Devil's Hole felt real good. Heyes and me had the bull by the horns livin' up there. It was a good life.”
 
“It couldn't have been that good,” Kenny pointed out. “You and Heyes decided to leave that sanctuary for a better life. You wouldn't have done that, if you had been content where you were.”
 
“Yeah, but we didn't know how hard it was going to be, Kenny,” Jed pointed out. “I doubt we would have even started on that little venture if'n we'd had any kind of a clue.”
 
“And where would that have got you?” Kenny pushed the point.
 
“Probably dead by now,” Jed answered point blank, and then he smiled, his blue eyes sparkling. “So I'm guessin' we made the right choice after all.”
 
Appreciative laughter went around the table again.
 
“That still doesn't answer my question, though,” Joe reminded him. “What do you think you would like to do now?”
 
“Well, it ain't ranchin', that's for sure!” Jed answered him, with a laugh.
 
“Aww!” Beth teased him. “But you've been doing such a fine job, helping to run the Double J, and now you even have shares in that whole new business venture.”
 
“And that's fine, as long as the real ranchers do all that work,” Jed told her. “I'm sorry, Darlin', but I weren't cut out to be a rancher! Heyes and me will tend to the securities, and whatever parolees Kenny deems fit to send our way. So, I guess that's it Joe. I think me and Heyes have found our nitch, ain't that right, Kenny?”
 
Kenny smiled and nodded.
 
“Yes,” he agreed. “I think you'll both do well, helping those young fellas coming out of prison and needing a helping hand. That's why I suggested it. And you've both already proven that you know enough about security and detective work to run your own business. You and Heyes are going to do alright for yourselves.”
 
“Yes,” Beth agreed. “I think so too.”
 
“Yeah, well,” Jed surmised. “It'll be interesting.”
 
“I'll be around to help you boys get started too,” Harry reminded them. “With me there, you fellas will have no problems at all getting established.”
 
“Uh huh,” Jed nodded, then continued. “Ah, speakin' of Heyes, wasn't this whole dinner idea so's you could fill us in on what he's doin'?”
 
David and Steven exchanged a glance across the table, as each waited for the other to go first.
 
“Well...” David began, then hesitated.
 
“What?” Jed was instantly apprehensive. “What's wrong?”
 
“Nothing is wrong, Jed,” Steven assured him. “I'm sure that he and Miranda are in Santa Marta by now.”
 
“Well that's good, ain't it?” Jed asked. “Everything's been cleared up.”
 
“Yes,” Steven agreed. “On the most part.”
 
Now Jed was really getting frustrated.
 
“What do you mean; on the most part!?”
 
Steven and David shared another glance, then Steven shrugged and gave it up.
 
“Well, I might as well start from the beginning,” he conjectured. “It's all rather ridiculous, actually.”
 
“Uh huh,” Jed said, pointedly, as he awaited an explanation.
 
“Alright,” Steven began. “The first mistake Hannibal made was to leave on this journey without his pardon papers. It's been too recent, and the sheriff in Yuma hadn't been given notice of the changed situation. The last instructions he had received was to detain Heyes if he arrived in town and tried to leave the country.”
 
“His second mistake,” David contributed. “was to not take his serum with him.”
 
“What serum?” Harry asked.
 
“Ah, Heyes as a minor medical condition,” Jed reluctantly explained. “He's suppose ta' keep his medication with him all the time.”
 
“What medical condition?” Harry continued to push.
 
“It don't matter, Harry,” Jed pushed back. “It's just a precaution anyways.”
 
“But a good precaution, none the less,” David interjected. “As we suspected, he did indeed have another seizure.”
 
“Yes,” Steven concurred. “The sheriff wasn't quite sure what to make of that, but he did handle it well.”
 
“The sheriff?” asked Jed. “What did he have to do with it?”
 
“What kind of a seizure?” Harry asked.
 
“I can see, we are already getting ahead of ourselves here,” Steven observed. “Again, I will start at the beginning. Hannibal and Miranda arrived in town, and, I'm sure, minding their own business...” snort from Jed. “...but unfortunately, someone recognized him and reported his presence in town to the sheriff. The sheriff had no choice but to detain him...” A groan from Jed, this time. “...and start to send out telegrams to anyone who might be able to vouch for Hannibal's legal situation.”
 
“In the mean time,” David filled in. “Miranda had noticed that her husband had failed to bring his medication with him, and she made a visit to the local doctor, a Mr. Shandal. Unfortunately, Dr. Shandal is a little bit behind the times.”
 
“That's an understatement,” Steven commented.
 
“Yes,” David agreed. “Miranda's visit to the doctor sparked his interest, and he paid a visit to Hannibal over at the jailhouse. Unfortunately, Hannibal made slip of the fact that he did indeed suffer from seizures. Dr. Shandal was smart enough to conclude that Hannibal suffered from epilepsy, but not smart enough to have grown beyond the belief that the illness is contagious, and ultimately drives the victim criminally insane. He was on a campaign to have Hannibal committed to an insane asylum, and I believe it was only the common sense and tenacity for Sheriff Nugent that prevented that doctor from getting his way.”
 
“Heyes has epilepsy?” Harry asked.
 
“What's that?” Isabelle chimed in.
 
“Oh brother!” Jed groaned. “But he's okay now, right? The sheriff released him, and he's on his way?”
 
“Yes,” Steven assured him. “Between the two of us, David and I buried his protests in paperwork. The man had no clue, and had certainly not done his research. And, as David has already stated, Sheriff Nugent was very supportive of our cause. He witnessed the seizure, and yet, he was still willing to support the notion that Hannibal was not insane. They had a chance to get to know one another while Hannibal was a guest of his jail.”
 
“Well, wasn't that convenient,” Jed groused. “If the sheriff hadn't detained him in the first place...”
 
“That wasn't his fault, Jed,” Steven pointed out. “The state of Wyoming had not gotten the news of the pardon to the smaller towns yet. He was simply acting on the information he had. When you look at it from that perspective, Sheriff Nugent was more than accommodating.”
 
“He's right,” Kenny agreed. “If both the doctor and the sheriff had signed the papers to have Heyes committed, then we would have had a fight on our hands to get him out. It could have taken years, and in the mean time, Heyes would have been in an asylum. Prison would have seemed like a piece of cake compared to one of those places.”
 
“Yeah, I know,” Jed commented. “We might have lost him altogether, if he'd ended up in there.”
 
“So, you should be thanking Sheriff Nugent, Jed,” Steven pointed out. “He really did save the day.”
 
“Yeah, okay,” Jed agreed. “I just still have a hard time thinkin' of a lawman bein' on our side.”
 
“Hey!” Joe spoke up. “I take exception to that!”
 
Jed grinned. “Yeah, yeah,” he agreed. “Present company exempted.”
 
“And Sheriff Jacobs,” Joe pointed out.
 
“Yeah, okay. And Sheriff Jacobs.”
 
“Not to mention your friend, Sheriff Trevors,” Joe continued. “Isn't he still in town, being all supportive of the crisis, and helping out wherever he can, and being really supportive of you and Heyes with your amnesty...”
 
“Yeah!” Jed griped. “Okay.”
 
“When have I ever let you boys down?” Harry demanded to know. “Why, I've been there for both of you, through thick and thin. If Heyes were here, I'm sure he'd agree with me. Where would he be, if I hadn't a stood up for him at that hearing? I've put my life and my reputation on the line more than once for you boys...”
 
“Yeah, Harry! Alright!”
 
“And what about me?” Kenny asked. “Haven't I been supportive of you two...?”
 
Jed sighed in defeat. “Yeah, alright. How about if I buy a round of after dinner drinks? Will that appease my blunder?”
 
“That would be a good start,” Kenny agreed.
 
“I'll accept that,” Joe seconded. “I'll even have two, out of respect for Sheriff Jacobs, who isn't here tonight, and had sent me to represent him.”
 
“If you're his representative, then you only get one drink,” Steven pointed out. “You can't be here as yourself, and as a representative of someone else, at the same time.”
 
“Sure I can,” Joe countered. “I would have been here on my own anyway, so when Sheriff Jacobs asked me to come to get the information for him, I figured that was separate from my wanting to know for personal reasons. Therefore I'm here as myself, and as a representative of the law in this town.”
 
“Can't argue with that,” Jed commented. “Joe gets two drinks.”
 
“Sounds fair,” David agreed.
 
“So what's still going on with Heyes?” Jed brought the subject back to the main point. “You guys seemed kind'a dubious about things bein' cleared up down there.”
 
“Unfortunately, though Dr. Shandal is behind the times,” David explained. “he still has friends who agree with him.”
 
“He lost his bid in Yuma,” Steven continued. “But it was hardly in a court of law. If he chooses to take this to the next level, we could be in for a real fight.”
 
“Ohhh...” Jed groaned.
 
“Oh no,” Bridget stated. “You mean he might have to go to trial all over again?”
 
“That isn't fair!” Beth complained. “He's free; the governor granted him a full pardon!”
 
“I'm glad I had enough sense to not marry an ex-convict,” Isabelle sniped. “Poor Miranda is going to have to deal with one crisis after another, with that man. I'm so happy that my Harry has always been on the right side of the law.”
 
Jed couldn't help the snort that escaped his nasal passages.
 
“Harry!?” he exclaimed. “Always on the right side of the law? Gee Harry, haven't ya' told your wife to be about the dark side of your business?”
 
“Oh now, Kid,” Harry squirmed. “No need to go into that. It's all water under the bridge now.” He smiled and gave his fiance a little pat on her thigh. “One little slip up, and some people will never let you forget.”
 
“One little slip up?” Isabelle asked, suddenly feeling left out of the loop. “What happened?”
 
“It's nothing, Peaches,” Harry insisted. “Just the boys pulling a prank.” And he sent Jed a subtle, but pleading look to drop the topic.
 
Jed grinned, but decided it would be best to not spill the apple cart this close to the wedding. Plenty of time after the wedding night, for Harry to come clean.
 
“Yeah, Harry's right,” Jed concurred. “It was just some fun, Isabelle. Nothin' fer you ta' worry about.”
 
“Of course,” Isabelle stated, all smug again. “My Harry would never do anything underhanded.”
 
“Ah, back to Hannibal's situation,” Steven reiterated. “It's not likely that Dr. Shandal is going to take things further. For one thing, it would cost him a lot of money. I know what a lawyer would charge to take on a case like that, and from what I saw of Dr. Shandal, he doesn't have the means.”
 
“And besides,” David added. “With family and friends here, who can vouch for him, I doubt a judge would try to have him committed. Without legal backing, Shandal would need a close family relative to support his actions, and I think we all know that none of Hannibal's family would back that move.”
 
“You got that right,” Jed concurred.
 
“Yes,” David continued. “And I'm family as well, through marriage, and I certainly wouldn't support it. So, I think he's safe enough.”
 
“Yeah, okay,” Jed accepted that, and relaxed his concerns.
 
“Now, about my wedding!” Isabelle took the opportunity to change the subject. “You are all coming aren't you? The ceremony is at 11:00 at the church, or outside the church. Whatever. As long as it happens. Me and Gladys and Eugenie are going to be up half the night getting the dress ready...Oh dear!” her hands came up to her mouth and she stared at her fiancee as though he were the sceptre himself. “I shouldn't have said that,” she wailed. “You're not suppose to know anything about the dress!”
 
Harry looked perplexed. “What about it?” he asked. “Weren't you going to wear the Jordan's weddin' dress?”
 
Isabelle gasped, truly horror stricken now. “You weren't suppose to know that! Oh no! It's all ruined now!”
 
“Oh Isabelle,” Bridget snarked, getting tired of this woman's tantrums. “It's not all ruined. The dress will still be unique for your wedding.”
 
Harry still looked out of his depth. “What's the matter, Peaches?” he asked her. “How could I not know about you using the Jordan's dress? Your own dress got burned to bits. You had to get a dress from somewhere. I am a detective you know. It wasn't hard to figure out.”
 
“Yeah, especially since most of the town knew that Sam was bringing the dress in from the ranch,” Jed pointed out. “It's hardly a secret.”
 
“That settles it!” Isabelle stated. “I can't wear that dress now!”
 
“What!?” both Beth and Bridget were up in arms.
 
“After all the work we've done on it, to make it fit you?” Bridget accused. “You're not backing out on it now!”
 
“We've changed everything on it to suit you, Isabelle,” Beth pointed out. “And everyone went to a lot of trouble to make sure you had this dress for your wedding. Don't you dare say now that you're not going to wear it!”
 
Pansy sat quietly beside her boyfriend, her previous hurt feelings of being left out of the wedding preparations, suddenly dissipating. She never had been all that fond of Isabelle anyway. She was mean.
 
As for Isabelle, she was back-stepping now that she realized that her tantrum wasn't going to get her anywhere. The knowledge that there really wasn't any alternative available also helped for her to see reason.
 
“Oh yes,” she stated. “If it's so important to you, that I wear your mother's dress at my wedding, well, I certainly wouldn't want to disappoint you. Of course I'll wear it. My mother's would have been nicer, but we've all had to make sacrifices this past week, so of course, it's the least I can do.”
 
The Jordan sisters weren't sure if they should be angry or relieved at Isabelle's statement, but at least, things did seem to be settled.
 
“I'm glad that's settled,” Jed mumbled.
 
“Good!” Isabelle stated. “Now, while you gentlemen have your round of after dinner drinks, I'm going to head back to Gladys' place for our own little party. Oh, and you ladies are certainly welcome to join me.”
 
“I don't know,” Beth said. “I should get home to T.J.”
 
“And I haven't seen my husband in days,” Bridget put in. “I was hoping...”
 
“Oh don't be so silly!” Isabelle countered. “Your husband is going to be drinking with his friends, either here, or over at the saloon, for the next couple of hours. I know what men are like on the eve of a wedding. They have to show Harry a good time. And as for your baby, Beth, he's probably sound asleep in his grandma's arms. So come on; let's have a ladies evening in. It'll be fun!”
 
Beth and Bridget exchanged glances. Neither were eager to go, but both wanted to check up on the status of the dress. Isabelle noted their hesitation, and came at them again.
 
“You join us as well, Pansy,” she forced herself to offer, then sent a wicked smile in Joe's direction. “Who knows, maybe you're going to be the next one planning a wedding.”
 
Pansy blushed, and sent a sidelong glance towards her beau. They'd never discussed getting married, and with Joe talking about going back East for school, it seemed an unlikely event. Still, she did have her hopes.
 
“Mrs. Reece, and Tricia,” Isabelle expanded her invitations. “You're welcome to come along as well. The more the merrier.”
 
“Thank you,” Sarah responded, “but this is for you young ladies. I'm about done in, and I'm planning a nice quiet evening, up in our room.”
 
“I won't be going to any saloon tonight,” Kenny predicted. “As much as I would like to be recovered from our adventures, my body is not accommodating me on that. A couple of drinks here, and I'll be calling it a night.”
 
“Yes,” Tricia seconded. “I need to get back home. We still have a patient in the house. But you ladies go. Have some fun.”
 
“We won't be out too late,” Steven said. “I'm tired, and I'm sure David is as well.”
 
“Oh yes,” David agreed. “And let's face it, we have a busy day tomorrow. I hear that there's going to be a wedding in town!”
 
Everyone at the table broke up laughing, and the mood shifted to a more festive spirit.
 
“Alright,” Beth agreed, once the laughter had settled. “It'll be fun.”
 
“Yes,” Bridget supported her. “You too, Pansy. Let's make it a fun night. We don't have to stay late.”
 
“Yes, alright,” Pansy accepted. “I would like that.”
 
“There, it's settled,” Jed announced, with some relief. “We won't keep Harry out too late.”
 
Chairs scrapped across the floor, as the ladies stood up to depart, and the gentlemen stood up to say their good-nights to them. There was a minor exodus, filled with excited laughing, and high speed chatter, and the men all sighed with relief as they re-seated themselves around the table.
 
“Wow, Harry,” Kenny commented. “You're going to have fun with that one.”
 
“Yes indeed,” Harry agreed. “Looking forward to it!  Yes indeed!”
 
 
To Be Continued.
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