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 Ice

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PostSubject: Ice   Tue Dec 01, 2015 9:22 am

So, it's that time when you give us all your best take on the challenge for December.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, it to give us your shiniest, winteriest, funniest, glitteriest, saddest, and twistiest take on the prompt:


Ice   freezing cold


That can be ice, snow, diamonds, anything on the rocks, 'putting something on ice', an icy stare, chillin', slang for money given as a bribe, 'cut no ice', 'tip of the iceberg', 'on thin ice', 'ice queen', icing on cake, or ice and fire - or anything else your imaginative minds can conjour up.


Get writing
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Don't forget to finish up commenting on November's stories before you start writing.  Late babies need as much love as early ones.  
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PostSubject: Re: Ice   Mon Dec 07, 2015 4:50 pm

Han Christian Who?


Curry rode into the empty compound, his frosty breath forming clouds in the frigid air.  He turned his head as raucous laughter came from the distant pond.  A puzzled frown on his face, he led his horse and the pack mules into the barn, stopping to drop the elk carcasses by the storage hut.  With the animals tended, he strode towards the sounds.


At the pond, he found Heyes supervising total chaos.  Shouts, curses, and laughter greeted him.  Lobo and Hognose Swinburne were hanging on to each other looking petrified as Hognose wobbled and slid backwards on the slick ice.  As the Kid watched, the pair slid into Dutchy who flailed his arms in a vain attempt to stay upright.  Failing he crashed to the surface pulling the other two on top of him.


“Heyes, this has to be the most dang fool, dumbest idea you’ve ever had,” Wheat grumped as he struggled upright.


“Nonsense,” Heyes called.  “You can do this, men; it’s easy.”


The Kid viewed the spectacle before him.  “Heyes, what on earth?  You all been dippin’ into some ‘shine or someone slip jimson weed in the coffee or somethin’?”


Heyes wheeled around, grinning broadly.  “Isn’t this amazing.  My best plan ever, and that’s saying something.”


As he spoke, Lobo stumbled again and grabbed Hank for support, who in turn slid into Wheat, knocking him off his feet.  The cursing grew louder.  “Amazin’s one word for it.”  Curry shook his head.  “At least you had sense enough to disarm ‘em first.  Otherwise they’d probably shoot themselves in the foot,” he paused, “or maybe just settle for shootin’ you.”


Heyes laughed out loud.


Kyle swooshed up spraying them with icy shards.  “Heyes, this is the most fun we’ve had in years!”  He looked at the partners.  “Ain’t you gonna have fun, too?”  He sped off, looking more graceful than he ever had on land.


Heyes and Curry looked at each other, Heyes’s dimples deepening, Curry’s mouth set in a firm line and his head slowly shaking from side to side.  


Heyes reached over and pulled two pairs of skates from behind a tree.  “Come on, Kid.”  He held them up.


“Nope.”


“What?  Kid Curry scared of a little ice?”


Curry’s eyes narrowed.   “I don’t see you out there.”  He winced as several of the men crashed again to the hard surface and lay there cursing.


“I’m just waiting for you.  Come on it’ll be like when we were kids – remember?  I’ll race you.  I beat you then, and I’ll beat you now.”  Heyes sat and began pulling on skates.


Curry snorted, “You were bigger’n me then.  You won’t win now.”  He untied his gun, hanging the belt on a tree branch before slowly sitting and strapping on the skates.  Heyes stepped onto the ice, waiting impatiently.  The two started slowly but soon were gliding smoothly around and among the struggling outlaws, laughing and placing bets on who would win a race.


~~~oOo~~~


Heyes poured a splash of coffee into two mugs before filling them with whiskey.  “Here, this’ll warm us up some.”


Curry stopped holding his hands before the fire and reached for a mug.  As he took a gulp of the beverage his eyes shot up.  “That’d warm a polar bear.”


Chuckling, Heyes settled in a chair.  “So no problem getting supplies?”


“No, even shot us a couple of elk.  We can last the winter now.”  He took another gulp of his coffee.  “Not that I want to be set here for the winter,” he muttered.


“Did you …”


“Yeah, I got you a flyer.  It’s exactly what you thought it’d be.”


Heyes grabbed the paper eagerly.  He unfolded it and read aloud:


“Odense, Wyoming
5th Annual Hans Christian Andersen Festival
Readings of his beloved tales
Puppet Shows
Ice Skating
Prizes and Fun for all ages
To be followed by
FIREWORKS at midnight
St Olaf’s will be holding a dawn service to conclude the event.”


Smiling, he looked at his partner.  “And it’s the day I said it was.  You know I really do think this will work.  One of my best plans ever.”


Curry did not smile back.  “It won’t work if the boys have to skate.  They can’t do it, Heyes.  Well except for Kyle.”  He chuckled.  “Figures Kyle’s the only one of the bunch that can skate.  He can barely stay up on his feet when he’s standin’ still, and as for how many times he’s fallen off his horse … but skates, no problem.”  He shook his head in wonder and drank more of the doctored coffee.


“I’ll figure something out.  I want that bank.”


“Sure you will, Heyes, sure you will.”


~~~oOo~~~


One week later, a sledge drawn by six large draft horses rolled into Odense and found a place among the riverside vendors.  There it blended with sellers of soup, stew, and lutefisk.  Other vendors offered hats, scarves, and skate sharpening.  Laughter and chatter rose from the throngs milling about, starting fires, setting up tents.  Wheat and the Kid stepped down from the driver’s bench.  Wheat gestured for the men pouring out of the back to unload the barrels.  No one noticed Heyes and Hank riding in.  Heyes joined Curry and watched as the men built a fire and hung a cauldron over it, pouring the contents of one of the barrels into the cauldron.  Soon steam carrying the scent of warm, mulled cider wafted from their midst.


Heyes nodded and set up the sign – “Hot cider, 2¢”  Lobo, casting a quick look as Heyes walked away, added a brief attachment.  “Home brew cider, 5¢.”  He helped himself to a mug, pulling out a bottle and adding some whiskey to its steaming contents.


By 11 p.m. the town had emptied and stragglers were hastening to the river for the final events and the fireworks.  With a quiet word from the Kid, Wheat joined the partners and the three melted away from the crowds heading towards the river.  Unnoticed, they entered the town.  Wheat nudged Heyes sharply with his elbow and jerked his head towards where Hank waited in the shadows.


“Horses ready?”


“Yeah, in the barn.”


“Good.”


“Now what?”


“Now, we take our places and wait.”


“Ya know, Heyes, no reason for us to hang around here freezing,” Wheat sputtered.  “We could be down there, getting ourselves some of that soup I saw and staying warm by the fire.  Why if I planned this…”


“Wheat, if you planned this you would have ridden in and gotten everyone shot right off, or at best set a trail out of town in the snow that a blind posse could follow.”  Heyes dismissed him.


Wheat opened his mouth to reply but after one glance at the Kid, closed his mouth and subsided, muttering to himself.


Wheat and the Kid took turns with the bar spreader while Heyes and Hank kept watch.  Once the window was open, Heyes then the Kid climbed in.


Hank handed them his bundle before taking one end of the alley as Wheat watched from the other end.


Curry checked that all the shades in the bank were drawn tight before lighting a candle.  “Now what, Heyes?”


“Now I see if I can open the safe.  Doubt it.  But if I can’t then we set the dynamite.”


The two went about their business.  Sighing, Heyes admitted defeat and reached for the bundle.  He set the dynamite then pulled out his watch.  “Now we wait.”


Curry nodded and settled himself, his hat over his eyes and his hand resting on the grip of his pistol.


Down at the lake, the excitement was building.  Children ran through the crowds screaming in delight.  Men competed in a series of skating races.  Other children sat entranced by the puppet shows repeating some of their favorite tales by the master Danish storyteller.  The vendors selling stew, soup, and hot cider did a brisk business.  Lobo was kept busy enhancing the brew for thirsty men.


Finally, the puppet theater closed, the races ended, and the crowd waited in anticipation.  At the stroke of midnight a grand fireworks display roared out.  In the shouts of appreciation from the crowd and the fury of the explosions, a muffled blast went unnoticed.


All too soon the display ended.  Parents gathered protesting children, sparking couples parted, and the crowd began to melt away.  Wheat and Hank rode out of town.


Lobo and the others quickly packed the remaining supplies.  As he loaded the barrels back into the sledge, Curry sank an oilskin wrapped parcel into a half-full barrel.  Heyes walked over to Curry and handed him a pair of skates in exchange for a package of bills that he tucked inside his Coat.  Curry tucked a similar packet inside his own coat.


The partners joined Kyle who was standing, laughing on the frozen river, surrounded by town’s men.  The two hurriedly donned their skates and glided to the edge of the crowd signaling to him.


“Yup, well I bin skating since I was a little nipper.  Ain’t done it for a while though.  Come back to me, real natural like.”  Kyle broke off as he saw Heyes glaring at him.


“Guess I gotta go.  Been real nice meeting you all.”  He said good-bye to his admirers and slid smoothly towards the pair.


“Been having fun?” Heyes asked acidly.


“Sure have.  Why look!”  Kyle opened his jacket to display a medal proclaiming him to be a champion skater.  “I won me five dollars in them races.  We should do this again.”


Curry rolled his eyes.  “That’s nice, Kyle, but we need to get out of here before that church service starts.”


“Oh yeah.  Sorry.  I forgot.”


“Just remember the way home.  Let’s go.”  As the sledge driven by Lobo headed back whence it came, the three headed down the river skating around a bend and disappearing into waning the night.


~~~oOo~~~ 


Two weeks later Hognose and Lobo rode into the Hole, carrying supplies and a newspaper reporting on the mysterious events in Odense.  


“Odense in the Wyoming Territory is well known for its annual Hans Cristian Andersen festival – celebrating the famed Danish storyteller born in Odense, Denmark.  This year’s festival was marred, however, when ruthless outlaws used the festival as a cover for their nefarious activities.  The safe at the Odense bank was blown over the weekend.  Sheriff Petersen speculates that it happened during the fireworks display, which may have hidden the sound.  The theft was not discovered until the bank was opened Monday morning.  While inquiries were pursued there had been too many strangers in town to identify any suspects.  Petersen explained that with all the horse and wagon tracks from the event, there was no trail to follow.  He said, ‘They were real clever those thieves, but we may never know who they were.’”


Heyes put down the paper, having read the story aloud to the Kid.  He smiled, “I didn’t think we’d have the funds and would have to winter here, but now we could leave as soon as the next thaw.  So what do you think, San Francisco or somewhere south?”


“Somewhere south, Heyes, I’ve seen enough ice for the year.”


Author’s note:  Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark in April 1805 and died in August 1875.  Apparently, his first collection of stories published originally in English, “A Christmas Greeting to My English Friends,” was published in December 1847.
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PostSubject: Re: Ice   Sun Dec 13, 2015 10:57 pm

This is a heavily edited oldie.

Snowflakes

“Jed, you out here?!”

Hannibal Heyes gazed in all directions across the glistening landscape for some sign of his younger cousin.  It was not like Jed to miss lunch, or any meal for that matter, before or since becoming settled in this new place.  With snow falling, the older boy tried not to worry. 

“Jed!”

Still, no reply.  Han frowned.  He walked from one side of the grounds to the other, ears attuned for the bell.  The crunch underfoot of occasional ice pellets drowned out the already muffled sounds of other boys at play on the other side of the grey building.  The home school encouraged exercise in all weather, better to build strong, uncomplaining young men; thus, the long recess after lunch.

The carriage house once more came into view.  This time it caught Han’s attention.  Why had it not occurred to him sooner?  Jed had stolen away to that secret place several times these last few months:  a private refuge in an unfamiliar, crowded place.  Approaching the building, Han peered around one corner.  There, he glimpsed the familiar mop of golden curls.  Sneaking up on the little alcove set in the stone foundation near the back door, large enough only for a child about Jed’s size, Han stopped a little distance away, mesmerized.  There was Jed, on his knees in the niche with face extended skyward, catching snowflakes on his tongue, his blue eyes wide with wonderment.

The fat snowflakes fell straight in the stillness of the noontime.  Crawling out of the recess, Jed stood.  Reaching out a hand, he watched a large flake fall on his mitten and examined it.  Repeating the action, he soon had both mittened hands in front of him.

Quite taken with his cousin’s simple joys but not wanting to disturb the child-like reverie, Han reached out his own hand.  Indeed, the snowflakes drifted to rest, their singular shapes observable only a moment before melting into wet.  How beautiful, but sad in a way.  Who had told him beauty was fleeting?  But then there was another, prettier than the last.  It was easy to lose oneself thus, in the quiet and solitude of snow.  Icicles had yet to form, but probably would by morning – more wonders to behold, at least until the boys broke them off.

Entranced as he was, Han barely heard the bell.  Lessons would resume in five minutes.

Han strode the short distance to his cousin’s side.  “What’re ya doing, Jed?”

The younger boy’s face lit up.  “Hi, Han!  Just catchin’ snowflakes.”

The older boy smiled.  “That’s fun.  But you missed lunch.”

“I wanted to taste snowflakes here to see if they tasted the same as back home.”

Han’s grin faded for a moment, but he could not resist Jed’s curiosity.  “Did they?”

“Uh huh.  They’re all cold.”

“Just cold?” The twinkle returned to the brown eyes.

“Yeah, just cold. Thought they’d taste different.”

“Like what?”

“Not sure, just different,” Jed said.

Han understood they had both lose some innocence, so inwardly reveled they had perhaps found it again.  “I’m glad you’re having a good time with the snow, Jed, but lessons are starting.”

“Aw, do we have to go back so soon?”

“’Fraid so.  We can come back out after school.”

“But it’s gettin’ dark so early now, there won’t be much light left,” Jed moaned.

“Tell ya what … We’ll come out later and play like we used to – maybe even a snowball fight.”

“That sounds like fun, Han. You promise?”

“I promise.”  Then, motioning slightly with his head in the direction of the school, Han said, “Come on, we have to get back.”

The pair turned and started the trek.

“Han?”

“Yeah?”

“Do ya think there’ll be enough snow to build a snowman?”

Han gazed fondly at the younger boy, almost a head shorter than himself. “I don’t know.  But this is the right kind of snow for it, all wet and all, so maybe.” 

“Like the kind we used to build?”

“How do ya mean?”

“Oh, this high, and this wide.” Jed stopped in his tracks, his arms gesturing above his head and stretching their full reach to either side.

Han shared the younger boy’s mirth. “I don’t remember them being that big, but …”  He blanked.

“But what, Han?”

“Huh? Oh … um …”  Han grabbed Jed urgently by the arm.  “We gotta hurry or we’re gonna be late.”

~~oo00oo~~

“Heyes?”

No response.

“Heyes?”

Brown eyes slowly moved from their gaze off in the distance to meet the blues peering across the camp fire. “Hmm?”

“You okay? You're a little too quiet for comfort.”

Hannibal Heyes shifted from his lounging position to reach for the coffee pot. “Yeah.”  He shivered.  “Sure is cold in here.”

“Yup, but coffee’s hot.  Just made a fresh pot.”

Heyes stretched.  “Did ya?”

Jed “Kid” Curry smirked.  “You were right here.”

“Must’ve been thinkin’ …”

“Or daydreamin’.”

Heyes’ tone was pensive. “Yeah, I guess you could call it that.” He filled his cup and Kid’s before lounging against the saddle backed up to the cave wall.

“Like my ma used to say, 'A penny for your thoughts.'”

Heyes glanced at the blond man. “Price hasn’t gone up since we were kids, has it?”

“No, some things stay the same.” Kid paused.  “Sure you’re okay?”

The dark-haired man glanced at the cave entrance before turning back to his partner.  “Uh huh.  Just thinking about that first winter at the home – that first snowfall.”

The flickering shadows of the camp fire on the cave walls caught Curry’s attention, transporting him to the past, before returning to the present.  He grinned. “Oh yeah.  We built a snowman.”

Heyes reminisced.  “Yup.  It wasn't as big as the ones with our folks but was fun, even if there wasn’t a carrot for a nose or hat, scarf, or mittens for him.”

“I forgot about that. It’s nice bein’ reminded.”

“Yeah, it is.”

Both men quieted into companionable silence.  Thoughts wandered to a simpler time past.  Life had gotten complicated.

Finally, a gust of wind reached into the cave, almost extinguishing the fire.  Both men shivered.

Curry smirked.  “Let’s get movin’ south soon as this storm lets up, or when travelin’s good.”

Heyes’ eyes twinkled.  “Now, that’s a good deal.  Sounds like the wind’s died down.”

The pair rose and strolled to the opening to behold a breathtaking landscape shrouded in white. A few green fir branches peaked out beneath the snow weighing them down, the entire scene glistening in the illumination of the brightening day. The wind now but a whisper, the few flurries fell straight.

Kid reached out a gloved hand.  He grinned, the blue eyes wide.  "Heyes, I don’t like cold weather but never get tired of lookin’ at snowflakes.”

Heyes sighed contentedly.  “I know, Kid. I know.”



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PostSubject: Re: Ice   Thu Dec 17, 2015 10:27 am

Do I get extra marks for getting, "Let it Go," in there?  Many thanks to Silverkelpie who taught me a new word, "cicatricial".


Ice



She stepped down from the train and into her new life.  Laramie was covered in a beautifying blanket of snow and ice, concealing the flaws and imperfections.  Her disguise had been the exact opposite; gone were the mask of cosmetics and vanity, she now showed her real face, flaws and all.  It was a mark of her real age and a cicatricial testament to the pain she buried in her need to survive in a hard world.  Nobody knew her here; and even better than that, nobody knew her struggles and compromises.  All she had to do was get on the next train taking her to her new life in Denver.  The place was big enough for a woman to lose herself in a crowd and reinvent her past, especially if she looked different.  She left Elk Lake as a superannuated ex-saloon girl with delusions of grandeur, but she would arrive in Denver a respectable widow, living off her ‘inheritance’ by taking in boarders.  All she had to do was find the right property.  She would be there in time for Christmas, the first celebration in decades where she would sedately dine in a decorous hotel instead of hooting and hollering in a bar.

 

 

She had enough money.  Her years of hard work had paid well, and she had lived frugally to ensure that she could save as much as possible.  A saloon girl’s working life was short, lasting only as long as her looks, so it paid to have an eye on the future; but it also paid about three times as much as the average man’s wage.  A few extra years could be gained by the careful application of powder, paint, and wigs, but the onset of deep-seated flushes, sudden flashes of heat, along with a change in her skin tone told her that her time had come.  The change of life meant that it was time to step back and allow the younger women to take over.  She was getting too old, but the whisper of winter didn’t mean the end; it promised the life she had always dreamed of.

 

 

Her new position didn’t make her unhappy, far from it.  She had been born in the 30’s and the 50’s had been her heyday.  Hers was an age of grace and manners, faith, reverence, and romance; before the Victorian love of science and entrepreneurialism upset the social apple-cart.  There had rules for everything and everyone knew their place, even if they weren’t happy with it, but now people could move up the social ladder by dint of money, but they brought a vulgar excess and coarseness along with them.  Grand balls were at their zenith when she was a maiden, and were held everywhere, even in town halls and church associations.  She had spent her younger years dancing the Mazurka, the exhilarating Polka, and the licentious Waltz; skipping and flouncing in the arms of her beloved Bertie since she had met him at a Christmas Cotillion.  They were young and life promised so much.  Together they could do anything.    

 

 

She smiled at the memories as she climbed onto her connecting train and nestled into a window seat.  Bertie had been a master carpenter in Chicago, but once they married they were tempted west by the promise of land and riches.  They found neither, but were supremely happy.  All the excitement and energy soon went into a life of hard work and family.  They were comfortable and were still young enough to plan the house they would build for themselves and little Victoria. 

 

 

That was a golden period, full of excitement and dreams.  Every morning brought the joy of more time with their beautiful daughter, and she rewarded them with smiles glowing with sheer love.  Those were the best days.  The days before Bertie fell ill.

 

 

He had been bitten by some small animal when he was working the land, and he rapidly developed aching, fever, and fatigue.  They’d all thought it had been the grippe, but when the swellings began she had called a doctor.  He took one look and had insisted on complete isolation, both for the patient and another for mother and child. 

 

 

Who knew that there was still Bubonic Plague?  She had read about it in history books.  Apparently it was carried by squirrels and prairie dogs, and was very contagious.  By the time the widow and child were released from quarantine, Bertie was already dead and buried. 

 

 

That had been the hardest Christmas ever.  Work had been hard to come by; people had strange beliefs about catching disease and bad luck, so it was better to sell up their little plot and move on, but to where?  She couldn’t afford to go back East, and there was nothing left there in any case.  No, it was the next town or nothing.

 

 

She soon found that scrubbing floors and doing laundry might be more respectable than work as a saloon girl, but with a growing child to dress and feed she couldn’t afford such scruples.  She wasn’t the best-looking woman in the world, but she was pretty enough; and in any case, men were more attracted in the long-term to a quit wit and a genuine interest in their stories. 

 

 

She smiled discretely to herself and looked around at her fellow passengers.  Yes, men were simple creatures; feed, water, and listen to them and they thought you were the best woman they had ever met.  This worked in her favor when time took its toll, when her looks were replaced by a painted on smile and a powdered on sympathy.  She was good with people, so the money kept rolling in.

 

 

Sure there had been compromises.  Little Victoria had to go and live with her childless aunt.  A girl brought up by a saloon girl would be forever tainted by the disgrace of her mother’s profession, and the unsocial hours were not good for a growing girl in any case.  She sighed when she remembered how many people seemed to think that a saloon girl was the same as a prostitute.  They were not.  They were distinctly different and never slept with the customers.  Their role was simply to sell as much alcohol as possible by keeping the men in that establishment and prompting them to become as well-oiled as required to make them part with as much of their hard-earned cash as possible.  She knew she was worse in the eyes of the sisterhood than a drudge, but she was better than a whore.  The distinction was subtle, but it was there.  She never reached rock bottom, but she had been able to see it clearly from her precarious shelf. 

 

 

Sure she’d had men slip a hand where it shouldn’t go, and listened while they used language they never use in front of their wives, sisters, or even a shop girl, but she stopped it dead as soon as they went too far.  Bertie was the only man for her.  He’d live in her heart until her last breath escaped to meet him in the stars.

 

 

The sound of a man clearing his throat shook her out of her reverie.  “Don’t I know you?”

 

 

She blinked up at the quizzical bear of a man who stared right into her soul. 

 

 

“No.  I don’t think so.”     

 

 

He pulled at his trousers of his black suit to prevent them bagging at the knees as he took the seat opposite, swaying drunkenly as he moved.  “Maybe I know your daughter?  You seem real familiar.”

 

 

She shook her head.  “No, I’m sorry.  We’ve never met.”

 

 

His eyes gleamed and he leaned forward.  “It is!  It’s you.  It’s Michigan Mary.  I’d know that voice anywhere.”  His eyes scrunched as he examined her.  “Man, you look rough.  Have you been ill or somethin’?”

 

 

She gulped hard.  “No, you’re mistaken.  I’ve never heard of her in my life.”

 

 

“Ha, don’t give me that.  You’re her.  You work at the Golden Horseshoe and you’re the sauciest gal there.  I’d know you anywhere.  Ain’t we got drunk together more’n a dozen times?”

 

 

“No,” she replied firmly.  At least this time she was able to tell the truth.  He might have paid for whiskey while she kept him company but her glass contained no more than cold tea or colored water.

 

 

He scowled, the tightness in his face straightening his mustache into a thin line.  “Here now, I don’t like bein’ lied to.  You’re a saloon gal back at Yellow Bend and I’d know you anywhere.”

 

 

She stiffened.  His voice was rising and people were starting to look; people who were also heading to Denver, people who might end up being her new neighbors or clients.  “You are mistaken.  I am a widow and a respectable lady.  Please leave me alone.”

 

 

“I’d know you anywhere.  Don’t be so uppity.  You weren’t sitting like you had a broom handle up your butt the last time I saw you.  What’s with the high necks and low hems?  You look much better with your hair down.”  He reached over and prodded her shoulder with a stubby finger.  “Come on.  Tell us a joke.  Ain’t nobody tells a dirty joke like Michigan Mary.”

 

 

“Please, you’re mistaken…”

 

 

He leaned forward, the smell of stale whiskey drifting over her like a malignant, but all too familiar, cloud.  “Stop lyin’.  You’re a saloon gal and I ain’t buyin’ your airs and graces.”  His irritation grew and he grabbed at her dark grey skirt.  “What’s the likes of you doin’ wearin’ stuff like that?  Who are you tryin’ to fool?”

 

 

She shook head hopelessly.  Why were people just staring at her and not trying to help?  Was it so obvious that she was cheap?  Was her dream of a new future simply nonsense?  In that moment she felt her whole future slipping away.  “Leave me alone…”  

 

 

“You heard the lady,” a rich, baritone voice came from behind her.  “You don’t know her.”

 

 

She caught her breath and turned.  A tall dark man stood in the aisle, staring at the intruder.  His frigid smile dimpled his cheeks, but the intensity of his stare held a naked challenge.   He spoke again.  “I don’t see you moving.”

 

 

“Why should I?  Just ‘cause you come along with your nose in the air, you think I’m gonna jump?”

 

 

The smile widened.  “Sir, you are annoying this lady.  She made it clear you’re mistaken, so I suggest you leave it at that and look somewhere else for your entertainment.”

 

 

“Or?”  The man stood, towering over the younger man.  “Just what are ya gonna do about it?”

 

 

“Me?”  The young man’s voice remained even and calm.  “I’m just going to ask you again, and if that doesn’t work I’ll call the conductor to get the staff to move you.  The lady doesn’t want your company.  My advice would be to let it go.”

 

 

“She ain’t no more’n a cheap whore.”  The stranger pointed to the woman who now clutched a handkerchief to her mouth in distress.  Who knew that trying to improve her lot would bring such distain?  Maybe she was mad for even trying?

 

 

“That lady is my aunt, and if you say that again I’ll make sure you regret it,” another voice suddenly joined the conversation.  A tall fair man with deep-blue eyes had joined the group in the aisle from the other direction. 

 

 

The older man gave a snort of derision.  “Your aunt.  It don’t say much for your ma.”

 

 

The blond man’s eyes hardened, crystallizing into a threatening ice storm, but his voice remained calm.  “It’s a brave man who insults any woman in front of me, but the man who disrespects my ma is as dumb as they come.  Get off the train.”

 

 

“Huh?” snickered the large man.  “Who’s gonna make me?”

 

 

The woman stood.  “I’ll leave.  I don’t want all this fuss.”

 

 

The dark man’s eyes warmed.  “No need, ma’am.  This’ll be over in a minute.  The man who’s bothering you is about to leave.”  He urged her back into her seat with a gentle hand on her shoulder.  “It’s best you leave this to us.”

 

 

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere,” the drunk’s hand went inside his breast pocket, but he was cut off by the colt which leaped into the fair man’s hand as though by magic.  The stranger’s mouth dropped open and he raised his arms.  “Whoa.  I ain’t takin’ you on.  I was only jokin’ with her.”

 

 

“I told you to get off this train,” the fair man uttered softly.  “If you’re smart you’ll do it before it starts movin’.  One thing’s for sure, you’re leavin’ real soon.”

 

 

“Yessir.”  The drunk stumbled passed the dark-haired man and made for the door.  “I didn’t mean no harm.”

 

 

“What’s goin’ on here?” the conductor strode down the aisle as the gun was hurriedly put back in its holster.  “Did I see a gun?”

 

 

“Gun?”  The dimples reappeared.  “No gun here.  My friend here was just having a short word with a man who was bothering this lady.  He decided to get a later train,”

 

 

The conductor arched a wry brow.  “Yeah, well you two had better make sure you behave now he’s gone.”  He turned to the woman.  “Are you alright, ma’am?”

 

 

“Quite well, thank you,” she nodded.  “These gentlemen have been very helpful.”

 

 

The slim man threw his baggage on the overhead rack.  “No need to worry about us.”  He scowled at the surrounding people, acting hard at minding their own business but failing miserably.  “Maybe it might have been over sooner if more men had stood up to him.”

 

 

The fair man lifted the bags at his feet and put them beside the others in the rack.  “I know it can be a problem for a woman travelling alone, ma’am.  If you don’t mind, my partner and I will take these seats through to Denver.”

 

 

“Not in the least,” she smiled.  “I’ll be glad of the company.”

 

 

“I’m Joshua Smith and my partner here is Thaddeus Jones,” the dark man slipped in beside the gunman.  “And your name?”

 

 

“Mrs. Crystal, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

 

 

The train started to chug slowly out of the station, leaving her old life behind and into the world of quiet domesticity she had dreamed of for so long.  She smiled at her new traveling companions.  Maybe there was hope for the future after all?  These men had never been in her saloon.  She had a wonderful memory and would certainly have remembered them in any case.  These men were once seen, never forgotten.  They obviously just defended a middle-aged woman being bothered by a drunk, so her new disguise was good enough after all.

 

She was ready to bet they would have treated her pretty decently even if she was still dressed in feathers and frills.  They did when they held up the train she was on when she came back from taking Victoria to her aunt’s house.  Maybe she should spend the journey giving them some advice about changing their appearance?  Maybe not.  If she didn’t like people reminding her of her sordid past, maybe they wouldn’t either?      

 

 

          
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RosieAnnieUSA

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PostSubject: Re: Ice   Thu Dec 17, 2015 10:43 am

“Getting mighty cold out there, Sheriff.”

 

Lom Trevors watched his deputy scratch ice off the frosted window.

 

“Don’t bother none with that, Harker. It’s gonna ice up soon as you turn your back.”

 

“Yeah, guess so. Worth doing, though, if we’re gonna keep an eye on this here town without going outside.”

 

Trevors only grunted in response. Harker looked surprised.

 

“You ain’t still plannin’ to go out there, are you, Sheriff? It’s gotta be twenty below.”

 

“Got to do the normal rounds, Christmas Eve or no.” He pushed himself up from his desk with both hands. Truth be told, he didn’t want to go out, but there was no help for it. As the duly-elected sheriff of Porterville, Wyoming, he would do his job, no matter how cold, snowy or icy it was. It didn’t mean he had to like it.

 

“Why don’t you let me go, Sheriff. I can do it.” Trevors’ blue eyes shifted to the cane Harker leaned on.

 

“I can do at least some of it,” Harker protested. “This leg ain’t so bad. Doc told me so.”

 

“Doc told you it’d take eight weeks for that broken bone to heal. You really want to go out there and break it again on some ice patch?”

 

“No, reckon not.” Trevors put on his heavy coat and thick gloves. He jammed the tall Stetson firmly on his head and pulled the stampede string tight under his chin. He’d look a right fool if he had to run down the streets chasing his own hat.

 

“You be careful out there. That storm’s pickin’ up somethin’ fierce.”

 

“Don’t I know it. Hold down the fort till I get back.”

 

“Will do.” Harker settled himself in the chair behind the desk, resting his cane against the wall. Trevors took one last look around the cozy interior before he went out. A gust of wind blew snow and ice particles in his face.

 

“Christ Almighty!” Harker had to put one hand over his face to hide his smile. Trevors took a deep breath and went out, pulling the door closed behind him.

 

He stood for a moment on the wooden sidewalk which was covered with the accumulating snow. Everything in town looked peaceful. No lights were on at the bank. Icicles hung from the cap of the Union soldier statue that stood eternal guard in the town square. The temptation to turn around and go back in was strong, but Trevors ignored it. He jammed his gloved hands into his coat pockets and started walking. As he passed each business, he tested the doors to make sure they were all locked, and peered into the windows, checking for movement. Most crooks would stay in on a bad night like this. Most. He smiled to himself, thinking of certain thieves he knew. They were smarter than the average criminal. They’d do their thieving on a night like this, when folks were home with their families, and even dutiful lawmen would rather stay inside. The thought stiffened his resolve. No rest for the wicked, or for the good.

 

There were some signs of life. He saw light and activity in the rooms above the stores, where the owners and their families lived. People moving about cast shadows on curtains, and sounds of laughter penetrated the whistling wind. At the Presbyterian church, each window glowed with light, and the steps were swept clean. No doubt a crowd would come for midnight mass to celebrate Christmas.

 

It took almost an hour to complete his inspection. Only a few people passed him on the street during that time. They nodded and tipped their hats, wishing him a Merry Christmas and receiving the same greeting in return.

 

Walking by a narrow alley near the jail, he thought he saw something move. Probably an animal, but he stopped to look more closely. He couldn’t see much, but after a long moment, he heard a deep cough. He pulled his gun and cautiously entered the dark alley.

 

“This is Sheriff Lom Trevors. Whoever’s back there, speak up and show yourself!”

 

“Aw, Sheriff, ain’t no need to pull that hogleg.”

 

Trevors put his gun back into its holster. “Horace, is that you? What’re you doing out on a night like tonight?”

 

Slowly, a shape roused itself into a sitting position.

 

“I ain’t feelin’ too good, and that’s a fact.”

 

Trevors moved closer to the man who sat on the ground with his arms around his knees. Even in this wind, the smell of sour whiskey was noticeable.

 

“Did Ella kick you out again, Horace?”

 

“I didn’t do nothin’! She just don’t appreciate what a man’s gotta do to keep warm.”

 

“Drinkin’ a pint or two of whiskey ain’t gonna keep you warm. It’s gonna get you kicked out because you got drunk again. How many times has it been this month?” Trevors grabbed the unresisting man’s arm and pulled him up, letting him slump against a wall.

 

“I didn’t do nothin’ wrong! Women just don’t unnerstand that a man’s got needs!”

 

“Come on with me, Horace. You can dry out in a cell tonight instead of freezin’ to death out here. Maybe Ella’s gonna let you come back home tomorrow, after you sober up. It is Christmas, after all.”

 

Horace wrenched his arm free. “Maybe I should freeze to death out here. That’d teach her a lesson.”

 

“Yeah, that’d teach her real good. Let’s go.” When Horace showed no sign of moving, Trevors’ voice hardened.

 

“I said, let’s go. Now.”

 

“Alright, alright.” He took a tentative step and almost fell face forward, only stopping when Trevors caught him and pulled him back up again.

 

“Hang on to my arm, and we’ll get you back to a nice cot in my jail.” Slowly, arm in arm, the two men took cautious steps on the slippery sidewalk.

 

“People in this town are mean and cold, Sheriff. Don’t matter if it’s Christmas or not. They wouldn’t care none if I did freeze to death out in the alley.”

 

“Uh huh. Keep walkin’. We’re almost there.”

 

Horace stopped suddenly and stood up almost straight. “Present company expected, ‘course. You’re my friend, Lom, ain’t you? My one and only true friend.”

 

“Only when you get drunk and Ella throws you out. Since that’s every week, I probably am your best friend.”

 

“That’s ‘xactly what I mean. Oopsy daisy!”

 

“Hang on, we’re there.” Trevors couldn’t open the door to the jail while supporting Horace, so he kicked the door hard instead.

 

“Open up, Harker, it’s me. And I brung a guest.”

 

When Harker answered the door, the two men staggered over the threshold. Trevors guided Horace towards an open jail cell, letting him slide out of his arms and onto a bunk. Harker stood outside the cell, leaning on his cane and watching.

 

“Ain’t this the third time this week we’ve had this particular guest? Most company’d know they was wearing out their welcome by now.”

 

Trevors was trying to pull off Horace’s boots when the reclining man sat opened his eyes.

 

“SOME people are true friends, Mr. High-Falutin’ Deppity! And some’re . . . well, they’s somethin’ else, that’s all I kin say.”

 

“Some of us are gonna be watching over you while Sheriff Trevors here goes home for Christmas Eve, so maybe you better think about who you’re talkin’ to.”

 

Horace tipped his head back so he could look up at Harker looming over him.

 

“You’re right. Present company dissected.”

 

“Accepted, you mean.”

 

“Yeah, sure. Ain’t that what I said?”

 

“That’s enough,” Trevors told them. “It’s Christmas. Time to get along with your fellow man.”

 

Horace focused bleary eyes on Harker. “I don’t mean nothin’ by it, Deppity.”

 

“Well,” Harker said, mollified, “I guess that’s alright then.”

 

“It better be. Let’s leave our guest in peace. Horace, you gonna be alright?”

 

“I’m fine and dandy right now, yessir.” He lay back on the pillow and crossed his arms over his chest. Almost instantly, deep throaty snores echoed through the room.

 

“I guess you are,” Trevors agreed. He stood up and rolled his shoulders, trying to work out the stiffness as he and Harker headed back to the office area. “Harker, you sure you’re alright staying here tonight? Ain’t your family in town?”

 

“Sure are, but no, I don’t mind none. When my two girls get together with their mother, they spend hours talkin’ about nothin’. All these years livin’ with women, and I still don’t understand how they do that. I always fall asleep listenin’ to that, so I might as well sleep here where they won’t get mad at me.”

 

“Good. Should be pretty quiet here anyway. Most everyone’s in for the night, except for midnight mass.”

 

“True enough. I don’t expect too many more strays like Horace here, since everyone else has got family. You gotta feel for the folks who’re all by themselves this time of year.” At Trevors’ sharp look, Harker blushed.

 

“Present company excepted, ‘course.” Trevors only stared. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean nothin’. You know you’re always welcome at my house. You’re like family to me and Mattie, you know that.”

 

Trevors forced a small smile. He was ashamed of himself. Harker was a kind man. It wasn’t right to make him feel bad.

 

“I know, and I appreciate that.” He put a companionable hand on his deputy’s shoulder and squeezed. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

 

Outside, the cold wind and blowing snow slapped his face. It wasn’t a long walk to his small house at the edge of town, but tonight, it seemed like miles. No one waited for him there. There was no woman to greet him with a kiss, no child to hang from his arm and sing out “Hi Daddy!” Just an icy house, with no fire in the fireplace, no love, and no warmth. A wave of strong emotion almost overcame him. He had to stop for a moment and pull himself together. Memories flooded up, and he couldn’t shut them down. The long siege at Petersburg, and finally going home, thin and hungry, to find that home was gone. The Shenandoah Valley had been burned, the crops plundered, the buildings destroyed, and the shocked survivors had little to help them survive that first winter after the war. There was no place for him there anymore. When spring came, he packed his few possessions and headed for the wide open west, where a man could make something of himself.

 

And he had made something of himself. After a few wrong turns, he’d become Sheriff, a respected member of this community. He figured he’d done something right, but still . . . ice had frozen his heart, somehow, and he was going to a lonely, silent house for Christmas. This was a night of togetherness and family for other people, but not for him. His decisions had brought him to this cold place, and now, as he saw crowds arriving for the Midnight Mass, he questioned everything he had ever done.

 

But. There was always a “but.” This was the life he’d chosen, and he had to live it. He took a moment to blow his nose, hard, and then, stuffing the bandanna back into his pocket, he set off again.

 

When he arrived at his house and saw it, dark and silent, he paused to look at it carefully. It wasn’t so bad, he told himself. At least he had a house. Better than all those nights he’d slept outside, wondering where his next meal would come from, jealous of everyone who had homes to go to and families waiting for them. He had a place. He tried to look at the building with appreciation. As he did, something seemed off. Did he see a curtain move? He reached for his pistol, a comforting weight at his waist. He watched silently, trying to decide if he’d really seen something or not. Maybe his imagination was getting the best of him. He was still working out his options when the front door opened to reveal Caroline Porter standing in the doorway, wrapped in a thick shawl and with an exasperated look on her face. Bright light and warmth spilled out around her, casting a light that made the snow glisten and sparkle.

 

“It’s about time you got here! I was beginning to think you got waylaid and decided to run off to somewhere warm! Close your mouth, you’re going to swallow snow and start choking.” There were very few times in Lom’s life when he’d been too stunned to do anything but stand stock-still with his mouth hanging open, but this was one of them. He was frozen onto his spot as much as the iron Union soldier in the square.

 

Caroline clucked her tongue. “Lom, honestly, what am I going to do with you? Don’t stand there like a cigar store Indian. Come into your own home. We’ve spent hours getting it ready for you.”

 

Trevors was still tongue-tied, but he managed to spit out one word. “We?”

 

“Yes, we. Your friends and I. Thaddeus and Joshua – I mean, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones.”

 

Trevors watched in amazement as Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry appeared in the doorway, crowding around Caroline. “Merry Christmas, Lom! You didn’t think we’d let you be all by your lonesome on Christmas, did you?” Heyes said.

 

“If’n you don’t come in right now, we’re gonna leave you out there in the ice and cold,” Curry complained. “All the heat’s escapin’.” Trevors managed to snap his mouth closed and stumble indoors.

 

Standing just inside, melting snow dripped off his hat and coat and onto the floor. Light filled the room. Heavy logs in the fireplace crackled in the fire, emitting a sweet aroma. Must be chestnuts, he thought. He hadn’t had chestnuts on the fire but once since the War.

 

Boughs of evergreen sprawled on the fireplace mantel, tied together with red velvet bows. More evergreen hung over the windows. Now he could smell that sweet green scent. The small table by the stove was decorated with a fine woven tablecloth, and china place settings were prepared. Candles glimmered brightly in an elaborate centerpiece strewn with holly.

 

“I guess we surprised you, didn’t we?” Curry asked.

 

“Yeah,” Trevors said, slowly turning side to side to take in the incredible sights. “I guess you did.”

 

“You’re making a puddle on the floor,” Caroline said. “Hang up your wet things before you make a mess.” He obeyed without answering, and his guests’ smiles grew wider.

 

“Smart man,” Heyes observed. “Always do what a lady tells you.”

 

“Where did all this come from?” Trevors asked.

 

“It was all your friends’ idea. They didn’t want you to be alone for Christmas, and frankly, neither did I. We knew you’d be at work until late, and Joshua here had a key to your door” – at this, Trevors looked sharply at Heyes, knowing full well how they’d gained entry to his home, and Heyes only shrugged – “so we had time to set up. Dinner’s been ready. I don’t know what you’ve been doing, but you’re very late.”

 

“I’ve been working, Caroline! That’s what I’ve been doin’!”

 

“Not on Christmas!”

 

“Of course on Christmas! Crooks don’t take a holiday!”

 

Heyes looked offended. “That ain’t necessarily true, Lom. Even crooks like to have a day off sometime. Don’t they, Thaddeus?”

 

“How would I know?”

 

“How indeed.”

 

“Stop it, you two,” Caroline said, encircling her arms in theirs. “You haven’t said if you like your Christmas decorations, Lom.” A shadow of doubt crossed her face. “You do like them, don’t you?”

 

An unaccustomed smile slowly spread under Lom’s mustache. “I do, Caroline. I do. Thank you.” He bent down and, taking her face in his hands, kissed her lightly on the forehead. “This might be my best Christmas ever. Thank you.”

 

“And thank you too, boys,” he said, straightening up. “This sure is a surprise.”

 

“You can just shake my hand,” Curry said.

 

“You work real hard takin’ care of other people,” Heyes explained, glancing sidewise at the blushing Caroline. “We thought it was high time someone took care of you.”

 

“Well.” Trevors cleared his throat loudly. “Well. That’s real fine.”

 

“That’s right,” Caroline said quickly, disentangling herself from the arms that were holding her a little too close. “Time for me to go.”

 

“Go!” Trevors protested. “You’re leaving?” The note of hurt disbelief in his voice stopped her in her tracks.

 

“My parents will never forgive me if I miss church tonight,” she explained. “But don’t worry! You can’t get rid of me that easy. You’ll see me tomorrow.”

 

Curry put on his sheepskin coat and hat while she wrapped herself in a heavy woolen cloak. “I’ll be back after I walk her to the church. While I’m gone, maybe you can start carving the ham that’s in the oven. Trudging through snow always gives me a big appetite.”

 

“Breathing gives you a big appetite,” Heyes commented. Curry only glared briefly at his partner as he and Caroline went outside.

 

“I hope you don’t mind that I picked your lock to get in, Lom. It was in a good cause.”

 

Trevors looked again at the decorations and the lights. He drew in a deep breath, savoring the mingled smells of evergreen, chestnut, and food. The icy loneliness that had filled him earlier had melted away, replaced by the warm glow of friendship.

 

“I don’t mind at all, Heyes. Truly. Just don’t make it a habit.”

 

“Jed and me, we don’t have family either, Lom. What we’ve learned over the years is, your friends are your true family. We wanted you to know that we think of you as our friend.”

 

“I know. And you’re right. Friends are true family. Always.”
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MoulinP

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PostSubject: Re: Ice   Sun Dec 20, 2015 11:41 am

Okay first challenge story.
Not seasonal or festive - not strictly Heyes and Curry - at least not our boys.
Will probably provoke more questions than answers ....




I.C.E

Harry Heyes was rocking back and forth in his chair. He was listening to his partner, Christopher Curry, bringing him up to date on the details of the case they were working on.


“The company involved is called the De Vega Land Development Company and it has a motto. Inv…”


Harry stopped rocking. “Say that again,” he frowned.


“It has a motto.”


“No. No the name of the company.”


“The De Vega Land Development Company.” Christopher waited and rolled his eyes. Harry was frowning hard and chewing his thumbnail. “That mean anything to you?” he asked casually, filling the silence and looking at Harry expectantly.


Harry growled and got up. “Back in ten,” he said, over his shoulder as he disappeared.


Christopher widened his eyes. “Ooh Kay!” He sighed and spun his wheelchair round. “I’ll make some coffee then. While I’m waiting,” he said to himself and headed for the kitchen.







Harry Heyes, the eldest son of Hannibal Heyes, had joined the Bannerman Detective Agency after leaving school. He had learnt quickly and had rapidly become one of their best detectives. However, best detective or not, that didn’t count for anything when he was caught having an affair with George Bannerman Junior’s wife. He was fired immediately.


He kicked his heels at home for two months. Then one morning, Heyes fed up with his idle son, stormed into his bedroom one lunchtime. He slapped a newspaper on Harry’s chest, as he lay in bed, still asleep.


“Get a job! That job!” Heyes stabbed his finger, none too gently at a small paragraph and stomped out.


What Harry read when he had collected himself, interested him. The Federal government was setting up a new law enforcement agency, called the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Harry applied and readily accepted.


As the years went on Harry rose up through the ranks of the fledgling organisation. He still enjoyed his job but the higher he rose, the further away he was getting from what really interested him – solving crimes. He missed the thrill of the chase, the danger, the puzzling it all out, the satisfaction of making the arrest. Then there was the paperwork! The endless paperwork! More and more.


No, no more. Harry quit.


With his background, he had no problem in obtaining a private investigators license. The fieldwork he could manage but he needed help to do the background work and run the office. He found his ideal partner. His second cousin.


Christopher Curry had been well on his way to becoming a Doctor of History when he had gone out one night with his elder brother. On the way home, they were involved in an automobile accident. Joshua Curry had escaped with minor injuries; Christopher had not been so lucky. It took hours to free him from the wreckage. His legs were a mess. His parents had to make the agonising decision whether to agree to amputation or not. They decided not.


Although this meant his recovery was slower, in Christopher’s view that had been a good decision. He would rather have his legs even if they didn’t work too well than not at all. He could barely walk more than a few steps with crutches and he was in constant pain, made bearable by daily medication. The accident had been three years ago now and he had accepted that the rest of his life would be lived from a wheelchair. He was just about as good as he was going to get.


Despite the daily medication, his mind was clear. When Harry had approached him, he was eager to help. He had been looking for something to do. Going back to University to finish his doctorate did not appeal. This he knew he could do. He had been a good researcher before and this wasn’t so very different.


So, Heyes and Curry Investigations was born. Over the few months they had been in operation, they had proved themselves a formidable team. They had cracked several complex and, from their point of view, lucrative cases. Currently they had three cases underway, including the one they had been discussing.






Christopher was sipping his coffee when Harry came back, clutching a book.


“Where did you go?” he asked, as Harry retook his seat.


“Home. There’s a connection to our Pa’s Chris, and I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I think the answer just might be in here,” he said, thumbing through the book.


“What’s that?”


“One of Pappy’s books. I thought I’d heard of the De Vega Land Development Company before and Pappy mentions it in here.” Harry read for a moment. “Here we go. I’ll read it to you.

“Diamond Jim found an empty office and put up the name of the company on the door. He laid out the office so nothing would appear amiss. When we had suckered Wingate Fischer into our rouse, he and I paid a visit to the De Vega Land Development Company. Jim was good. He gave me a real hard time. But Fischer was convinced and that was what mattered.”


He set the book aside and clasped his hands in front of him on the desk. “I doubt if Wingate Fischer was his real name. Pappy quite often changed names to something that sounded a lot like it. ‘Xpect we could find out what it was if we need to. Pappy helpfully wrote the real names in the margin of the manuscripts. They’ll be at Green Lawns*.”


Harry frowned suddenly. “Did you make me a coffee?” He eyed Christopher’s still steaming mug.


“No.” Christopher shook his head and put his hands protectively round his mug.


Harry grunted, disgruntled.


“So? What are you saying?” Christopher frowned, bringing his partner’s attention back to the case.


“I’m saying that the De Vega Land Development Company isn’t a real company.” Harry nodded as Christopher took that in. Then Harry put his head on one side. “Is the Kid still at Pine Lake*?”


“Yes. He’s not going back to Boston until tomorrow. Why?”


Harry got up grinning. “I think we need to go speak to your old Pa.”







The Kid turned as Christopher wheeled himself into the Kid’s study.


“Hey Chris.” He frowned. “Wasn’t expecting you back until this evening. Everything alright?”


The Kid returned the book he had been looking at to the shelf. He was in his mid-sixties now, grey haired and face lined. The same blue eyes, as always, sparkled mischievously.


“Yes, fine, Father. Harry wants to talk to you that’s all.”


Harry had followed him in and he shook hands with his father’s old partner.


“Harry good to see you boy. Sit down. What can I do for you?”


The Kid waited patiently, while Harry considered what to say. So like his father in that respect. No rushing these Heyes boys.


“Does the De Vega Land Development Company mean anything to you?” he asked, finally.


The Kid widened his eyes. He sat back and laughed humourlessly. “Now there’s a name I ain’t heard in many a long year!”


“What can you tell me about it?”


“Not much,” the Kid shrugged “But Heyes must of written about it?” he frowned.


“Yeah he did. Hard to Go Straight Volume Two.” Harry held up the book with a grin.


“Sounds about right.” The Kid held his hand out for the book. He looked at the page bookmarked.

“Ah, Clementine!” he sighed. “I wonder what happened to you?” he mused.


“You didn’t keep in touch?” Harry asked.


The Kid shook his head. “Nope. I don’t think she forgave your Pappy and me for getting married. Neither of us to her!” He rolled his eyes and smiled, handing back the book. “Why are you asking about the De Vega Land Development Company? It’s just a name as far as I remember. Invented by Diamond Jim Guffy.”


“Oh! That makes sense now.” Christopher patted his pockets until he found his notepad. He flicked through a few pages until he found the one he wanted. “I thought I was missing something but hearing you saying that Father, I don’t think I am. It’s fully registered as a legitimate company. Even has a motto. Investment, Commercialisation, and Exploration. It files its annual accounts. It pays its taxes. It has ten employees on the payroll. Head Office in San Francisco …” Christopher pursed his lips, shaking his head. “Nothing amiss. Except …. I couldn’t find any evidence that it’s ever developed any land!”


Harry grinned broadly and patted the arm of Christopher’s chair enthusiastically. “Just enough information to satisfy a casual check. That’s it, Chris, old boy. Our client … is the mark!”


Christopher glanced at the Kid and then back at Harry. “So what do we do? He’s our client.”


Harry pursed his lips, sniffed a deep breath, smacked his lips and lifted his eyes to the ceiling.

The Kid put his head down, smiling. Harry may look more like his mother but some mannerisms he had definitely inherited from his father. That being one of them.


“Uncle Kid,” Harry started, grinning Heyes’ most disarming grin. The Kid smiled amused. He had been on the receiving end of that before and he knew what was coming. “I don’t suppose … you know … who might be … using the De Vega Land Development Company these days do you? By any chance? At all?” He stroked his chin, thoughtfully.


The Kid laughed falsely. “Harry my boy what on earth makes you think I would know?” The Kid looked at him innocently. “I’m a respectable business man these days.”


Harry narrowed his eyes and chewed his lip. “Okay. I’ll rephrase. If … you were to just happen … to know … who was behind the De Vega Land Development Company these days … would you tell me? As a … favour … to the son … of your old partner? Say?” He smiled pleasantly and looked hopeful.


“I don’t know.” Harry didn’t look convinced. “Really I don’t know!” The Kid pointed a finger at Christopher. “When you tell your mother ‘bout this make sure you tell her. I don’t know!” he said, sharply. “Don’t want her thinking I’ve backslid after all these years,” he grumbled.


Christopher grinned.


Then the Kid sighed and clasped his hands on the desk in front of him. “Look, Diamond Jim had a big network. I don’t know any names and if I did, I don’t remember ‘em. Any one of his former colleagues could be using the name. If you wanna know more, you’ll have to run ‘em down yourself. I can’t even put you in touch with any of ‘em. I’m sorry boys.”


Harry looked at Christopher and nodded. “Okay. Thanks Uncle Kid.” He got up.


Harry stopped and turned back. “Oh! Pappy talks about a Wingate Fischer in here.” He patted the book. “Can you remember his real name?”


The Kid puffed. “You’re asking me about summit that happened …thirty-five years ago!”


“I know. Just a thought.” Harry turned to go. Christopher wheeled out after him.


The Kid settled back in his chair. “Wingate Fischer, Wingate Fischer, Win … Win… Oh!” He laughed. “I’ve got it!” he called.


Heyes and Curry junior returned. “Winford Fletcher!” The Kid grinned broadly; pleased he could remember the name. “How could I forget? We ran into him again a few months later.” He shook his head. “Thought we’d really lost the amnesty that time. We nearly HAD to go to South America!”


“Well you didn’t. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” Christopher grinned.


“No. As usual Heyes came up with a plan.” The Kid grunted, smiling at the memory. “It’ll be in there,” he said, pointing at the book in Harry’s hand.


Harry smiled and saluted the Kid with the book. “Thanks Uncle Kid.”


“I must read those books of your father’s,” Christopher muttered as he wheeled himself out again. Harry right behind him.


They had barely reached the hall when they heard chuckling and they looked back again.


The Kid was stroking his chin, thoughtfully. “Investment, Commercialisation and Exploration, huh? I. C. E.” he said, spelling out the acronym. He grinned at the junior Heyes and Curry. “In this case I think it stands for I Can’t ‘Elp!”


“Yes Father,” Christopher smiled indulgingly and looked up at Harry who was chuckling too.


“Good luck boys and keep in touch. If there’s anything else I can do …?”

Outside Christopher looked at Harry. “So what do we do now?”


“Well I get a list of Diamond Jim’s known associates from my contact in ‘Frisco PD and you find out what happened to them.” Christopher rolled his eyes at the division of labour Harry was describing.


“Then we’ll talk to our client and see if any names ring a bell. And then … I’ll go a visiting to find out why they are setting our client up.” He paused.


“The Kid might be able to open a few doors in that respect. If he’s willing. If not, I’m sure I can get round it,” Harry grinned and then chuckled gently. “Either way I think I.C.E stands for I Can ‘Elp!”


Christopher wheeled away, shaking his head. “Dunno who’s worse!”





Green Lawns – the last house Heyes lived in and where his widow and their twins still lived.
Pine Lake – the western home of the Curry family where Christopher had insisted on coming to recover. Their main home was in Boston.
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PostSubject: Ice   Tue Dec 22, 2015 6:18 pm

Ice
 
The two horses struggled, front hooves coming up and out of the snow drifts, only to plunge back down again, the sharp edges of their shoes breaking through layers of ice that had formed upon the surface.  They were sweating; their thick winter coats being too heavy for such labour, despite the freezing temperatures of a Wyoming December day.  The falling snow flakes stuck heavily to their matted hair and gave them the appearance of strange, other worldly apparitions arising from the snowy depths, only to break through the surface and then disappear back into the white ocean yet again.


The two men astride the grunting beasts were in no better shape.  They both sat, hunched over their saddle horns, their own thick winter coats just as matted and snow caked as their horses were.  Thick, woolen scarves were wrapped around their lower faces, and up and over their hats in an effort to keep warm.  They hung on, giving their horses the freedom to plough their way through the hard surfaced drifts, and only offering encouragement when one or the other animal sank to its knees, or got hung up on the icy layers.  They had to trust their horses.  The snow was falling so heavily that neither man could make out any landmarks, or even be able to tell where the land ended and the sky began.  They had to trust their horses.


Then the second horse, a black, stumbled against the surface, his hooves refusing to break through.  The animal’s knees buckled and he lost his balance.  He rolled onto his side, despite his struggles to remain upright, and the layer of ice gave way beneath the animal’s full weight.  He grunted as he rolled over further and then he and his rider disappeared beneath the snow.


The lead rider pulled up and turned his head to look back.  His chestnut gelding stalled where he was, his belly resting upon the surface, while his tired legs surrendered his weight, and he hung there, as though in a sling.  He rested his nose against the icy surface, and panted heavily with his exertions, vapour puffing from his struggling nostrils, and steam rising from his trembling body.


“Kid!”  The voice sounded distant and weak, a combination of exhaustion, cold and the mollifying effect of heavily falling snow on the atmosphere.  The plea was repeated.  “Kid!”


A horse squealing in frustration sounded from beneath the white ocean.  Four black legs flailed and kicked, sending snow flying into the air, as the downed horse fought to gain its feet once again.  The legs continued to kick, digging furrows into the snow, until finally they disappeared and there was a heartbeat of silence. The next thing to put in an appearance was the snowed covered black head, ears pinned back and eyes rolling white with determination.


The mound of snow heaved as the horse’s powerful hind legs found their footing, and forced the body, with the man still hanging onto it, up and out of the drift, to where it could rest, like the other, on the belly-high surface of the ice layered blanket.  He snorted and shook his head, trying to dislodge the snow from his cold ears.


“Kid, you alright?”  came the concerned, yet relieved enquiry.


The Kid’s right hand came up in an exhausted wave.  “Yeah.”


“C’mon!”  Heyes yelled back at him.  “Just a little further, and we’ll be out of these drifts.  It’ll be easier going!”


The Kid simply nodded.


Heyes woke his horse up, giving him a couple of solid boots and a flick of the reins.  The chestnut grunted in irritation, not wanting to pick up and leave his supported rest, but the human on his back was adamant.  He groaned, but he did pick up his head and begin the struggle again.  The black behind them needed no encouragement from his rider, and followed his herd-mate to wherever that horse led them.


 
The snow drifts ended even faster than they had begun.  The chestnut plunged through one more time, and then his front feet only sank down 18 inches, and the snow became lighter and softer, and easier to walk through.


Heyes pulled up again, and turned to watch his partner get through the last of the deep snow, and then they both stood for a moment to let the horses catch their breath.  The snow continued to fall and the cold was bone-chilling, but they would be able to make faster time now, as long as they didn’t fall into anymore of the deeper drifts.


“Do ya’ think they’re still after us?”  Kid whispered through his scarf, as he tried to tighten his collar up around his throat.  All he succeeded in doing, was to dislodge the packed snow that lie upon his shoulders and cause some of it to drop down his neck.  He shivered.


“Yeah,” Heyes breathed.  “I think they are.”


“Jeez,” Kid cursed.  “Why would they be comin’ after us on a day like this?  Ain’t they got warm hearths, and home cooked suppers ta’ occupy ‘em on this, of all days?”


“Twenty thousand dollars, is why, Kid.  You know that.”


“So much for the spirit of givin’.”


“They got the spirit of giving,” Heyes pointed out.  “I’m sure that thinking about all the things they can give their families with our reward money, is the very thing that’s keeping them on our trail, on this ‘of all days’.”


The Kid sent his partner a hard look, and somewhere, from deep down in his outlaw heart, Heyes found the energy to grin back at him.  He reached over and gave his cousin a slap on his back, sending more snow cascading down, off the heavy coat, only to be replaced within minutes by a fresh layer.


“Come on, Kid,” Heyes encouraged him.  “Let’s get moving, or we’re going to get frozen to this spot.”


“Yeah,” Kid agreed.  “Don’t want to go makin’ it any easier for them fellas.”


“Nope.  We sure don’t.”


They both nudged their horses and the tired animals sighed heavily, but forced their feet to start moving again, despite their own desires to simply lie down and go to sleep.


 
The going did become much easier, and the horses were soon trotting through the lighter snow, getting their blood pumping again and putting more distance between themselves and the persistent posse.


Kid, being the optimist, hoped that the group of men who were on their trail, would have become discouraged by the deep drifts, and given up the chase in order to return to their homes before nightfall set in.  Heyes, being the pessimist, or, as he liked to say; the realist, couldn’t quite bring himself to believe in that hope.  He and the Kid had already ploughed a nice passageway through those drifts, so all that posse had to do, was follow in their footsteps and they’d be having a much easier time of it than their quarry had had.


No, Heyes knew they were still being followed, and since he didn’t know the lay of the land here, even if he could see it, he had no idea where to go to get away from them.  They might already be out-flanked, for all he knew.  He couldn’t tell if there were any hills, or rock outcroppings where a posse could hole up in, just waiting for them to come stumbling by.  He could only hope that the lawmen were being hindered by the lack of visibility just as much as he and the Kid were.
Then Heyes was abruptly startled out of his musings, when his gelding slipped on ice, lost his footing, and crashed down to his knees.  The animal grunted in his own surprise, but was quickly back up on his feet, and blowing with indignation.


“You okay, Heyes?”


“Yeah.”


The two men sat their horses, and looked out at the flat expanse before them.



“What is it?”  Kid asked.


“It’s ice.”


“I know that!”  Jed snarked.  “But why?”


Heyes looked around at the landscape surrounding them.  The snow had lightened up a little bit, and they could actually see across the ice sheet to where the land picked up again with the normal irregularity.


“I think it’s a river,” Heyes announced.  “Frozen over.”


“Oh.”  Kid didn’t sound too enthusiastic.  “We ain’t gonna cross it, are we?”


“I don’t know,” Heyes admitted.  “It might be solid enough to hold us.”


“Yeah, well it’s the ‘might’ that I don’t like,” the Kid pointed out.  “Cause if it ain’t, we won’t know until we’re right in the middle of it.”


“Yeah, I know,” Heyes agreed.  He sighed as he thought about their options.  “I suppose we could continue on along the bank until we find someplace safer to cross.  At least it’s something we can see, and follow.”


“Except it would also make it easier for them other fellas ta’ follow us,” Kid pointed out.


“I know it,” Heyes agreed.  “but it’s wide open out there.  We’d be sitting ducks if they’re waiting for us.”


“And if we follow the river bank, we’re practically invitin’ ‘em ta run us down.”


“I know that, too.”


They sat silently for a moment, pondering their situation.


“Toss a coin?”  Heyes finally suggested.


“I don’t know about you, Heyes,” Kid pointed out.  “But my hands are too dang cold to be able to catch a damn coin.  Let’s just do this.”


“You sure?”


“Yeah.”


“Okay,” Heyes accepted that decision.  “But I suggest we dismount and lead the horses across.  You know, spread the weight out a bit.  Less chance of us going through.”


Kid sighed, but nodded.  “Yeah.”


Slowly and stiffly, the two men swung their legs over the cantels, and carefully eased themselves down to the snowy bank.  They both took a moment, carefully stamping their feet to get the circulation going in them, but they weren’t having much luck.  Accepting the fact that their feet were going to remain cold and numb, they finally took up the reins of their horses, and with silent prayers to the patron saint of reformed outlaws, they began the slow and treacherous journey across the ice.


Pushing their feet through the snow, rather than stepping, put less pressure on the ice and it seemed to both men that the footing beneath them was solid enough.  Even at that, they were anxious and careful.  Ice that could hold two men might not be able to hold two horses, and the horses seemed to be well aware of that fact.  Their eyes rolled white, and with each careful step they blew nervous vapour from their lungs that often escaped into the cold air as a quiet, praying snort.  All four looked to the far bank as a taunting gift of salvation.


The Kid wiped snow flakes from his lashes in an effort to clear his vision.  He kept his eyes on Heyes’ form, hoping that his cousin was able to feel where the ice was the thickest.  He also watched intently for the one thing that he dreaded the most; that the ice would break beneath the weight, and the last thing he would see of his cousin would be he and his horse plunging into the icy waters.  Kid also knew that he and his horse would be right behind them if that ice gave way; following his cousin as always, into the paralyzing grip of a watery death.  His throat tightened up with fear as he waited for that loud crack that would precede the end of all things, and he stared hard at the far bank, praying that no dreadful sounds would come to his ears.


Then the ominous crack did sound; loud and sudden, it seemed to boom across the ice sheet, and both the men and the horses jumped and froze in their tracks.  Nothing happened.  There was no breaking up of the ice, no shift in the footing, no abrupt plunge into the dark waters.  Silence settled over the snowscape, and Heyes turned cautiously to look back at his cousin. 



“You alright?”


“Yeah,” Curry assured him.  “Nothin’ happened.”


“What was that?”


"I don't know..."



Another sharp crack boomed from the distant bank behind them.  This time, chunks of ice and snow jumped into the air right in front of Heyes’ horse. That animal snorted in surprise and began to pull back, fearful of what it could not see.


“Dammit!”  Heyes cursed as he fought to control his horse.  “It’s the posse; they’re shootin’ at us!”


Another shot split the air, and more ice and snow danced into the air in front of the Kid.


“They’re shootin’ at the ice!”  Kid yelled.  “They’re tryin’ ta break the ice beneath us!  C’mon Heyes, move!”


Another shot hit the ice and Heyes’ horse reared up, fighting against the frozen hands that held him.  Kid didn’t know where he found the strength, but he hurried forward, and using his long reins, he repeatedly slapped Heyes’ chestnut horse on the rump until the animal gave up the fight and lunged forward.


The pressure proved to be too much for the ice, and a chestnut leg broke through it and dropped down into the dark waters.  The shock of that cold water did more than any whipping could have done, to encourage that horse to move forward.  He pulled his hind leg out of the river and allowed his human to hurry him along, towards the safety of the far bank.


Kid felt the solidity of the ice beneath his feet begin to shift, but neither he nor his horse waited around to see what was going to happen.  They moved, and moved fast, hurrying now as more rifle shots cracked out through the snowy air and ice shards were bouncing all around them as their pursuers attempted to bring down their game.


The heavy snow that continued to fall, must have been in the outlaws’ favour, as any shots that might have been intended to hit them or their horses, failed to find their mark.  But those bullets could kill them in another way just as sure as hitting them.  Every time a piece of lead hit the ice, small hairline fractures radiated out from the point of impact, and the solidity of their bridge was compromised.  The ice hadn’t broken up underneath them yet, but both men and horses knew that speed was of essence now and they had to make landfall, or be swept away by the current, and drown beneath the solid winter coffin.


Finally, Jed saw Heyes make it to the bank, and he and his horse scrambled up the snow covered incline to relative safety.  Heyes pulled his horse around and watched anxiously as his cousin fought against the elements to get to that same spot himself.


More shots rang out, and Heyes was forced to duck in behind snow covered branches of a tree, in hopes of finding some cover there.  More bullets hit the trunk of that tree, and zinged through the leafy foliage, sending snow cascading down on top of both Heyes and his horse.  The chestnut once again pulled back, being completely out of patience for this situation, and Heyes had to turn back and focus on that animal, long enough to get him back under control.  Above all else, they couldn’t afford to lose their horses.


Turning back towards the river, the Kid was still struggling to get to the bank.  More shots were coming, and all of them were focused on the ice surrounding the blond outlaw.  A loud crack that hadn’t come from a rifle, boomed out across the frozen sheet and the ice began to shift.


Hannibal and Jed locked eyes as both of them knew what was about to happen.  Jed felt the ice beneath his feet crack apart and the dark river water began to seep into his boots and surround his already wet and freezing feet.


“KID!  RUN!”


“HEYES!”


 To be continued.


*This challange grew into too long a story for the challenge, so I had to cut it in half.  Go to my story thread to read part two.
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PostSubject: Re: Ice   Thu Dec 24, 2015 10:08 am

Just before I start cooking, I've put in an oldie just for the sake of playing and because it's seasonal.  Merry Christmas, everyone.

A Midnight Clear

Moonbeams cut through the inky darkness with a shimmering, silver sheen of unearthly light which sparkled on the light dusting of fresh snow.  The rays illuminated a scene of glittering beauty; nature dressed in her icy mantle of crystal lace, preserved in chilled air that cut through the sinuses and hit bare skin like the bade of a knife.  Two horsemen rode quietly, side by side, the hooves crunching through the frozen crust of frost.

Night was a good time to investigate possible targets, and in the cold there was even less chance of a loitering witness noticing shadows slipping up to the back door, examining the security and assessing how close the building was to the sheriff’s office.  It was now time to head back to the simple, broken-down shack they were using as a hideout.  Devil’s Hole was too far to reach tonight.  

The Kid’s blue eyes caught movement on the road ahead of them.  “Heyes.  Did you see that?”

Dark eyes peered into the night.  “I saw something move.  An animal, maybe?”

The Kid shook his head, his condensing breath hanging in the air like a dragon’s.  “It looked like a child.”

“Out here?  Are you kidding me?  It’s twelve miles to town,” he frowned and fixed the Kid with an inquisitive look.  
“Maybe we missed a homestead.  We‘d better check that out before we bring the rest of the gang here for the actual job.  We can’t use this for a robbery if there are folks about.  If they see things going on at an abandoned shack they’ll start asking questions.  They might guess that we’ve left fresh horses to outrun a posse.”

The Kid nodded, kicking his heels into action, heading towards the little figure.  “We’ll do it tomorrow, when it’s light, but a child that young shouldn’t be out here alone.  This ain’t good.”

oooOOOooo

The animal came to a halt beside a tiny boy, who was trudging resolutely towards town.  His pinched face was white with cold and his little nose glowed red against his pallor.  A pair of dark eyes swivelled up to the Kid, the flashing whites an indication of his fear of the large man who was bearing down on him.  He gave a little gasp, before he took off, scampering into the scrubby undergrowth.  

The Kid leaped from his horse, catching up in just a couple of strides, capturing the lad around the waist.  “Whoa there!  Where d’you think you’re headed?”

The child squirmed and kicked as the Kid held him out at arm’s length to avoid the jiggling feet.  “Lemme go.  I didn’t do nuthin’.”

“Hey....  Nobody’s accusin’ you of anythin’.  I’m worried about you.  What are you doin’ out here on your own?  Where’s your folks?”

“Ain’t got no folks,” snapped the child.

The Kid dropped the boy to his feet and led him firmly back to the horses, holding onto a hand as cold as a lump of ice.  

“Gimme a blanket, Heyes.  He’s freezin’.  What’s your name, son?”

The little chin tilted in challenge.  “Not tellin’.  What’s your’s?”

The Kid smiled.  “My name is Jedidiah but folks call me ‘Kid.’  Where are your folks?”

“My folks are dead,” the child sniffed.

The partners exchanged a look.  “Where’ve you come from?”

“The Home,” his little lip wobbled before his eyes widened.  “I ain’t goin’ back.  I hate it there, they say mean things.  Please, Mister, just let me be?  I want to find my brother.”

“The Home?” asked Heyes, gently.  “Which Home?”

The boy’s body stiffened, before he started to wriggle inside the enveloping blanket.  “I ain’t tellin’.  Lemme go, please, Mister?  I want my big brother.”

The child’s huge, racking sobs ate into the Kid’s heart.  “I know, son.  We’ll help you.  How old are you?”

The boy looked up at him with great, glittering, globes of anxiety.  “I’m nearly six.”

Heyes gave the Kid a wry smile.  “How nearly?  When’s your birthday?”

“March,” he sniffed.

“It’s December.  That’s quite a while to go.”  

The little chin set in challenge.  “I’m more than five and a half.  That makes me nearly six.”

Heyes nodded solemnly.  “I guess it does, son.  I bet you’re cold and hungry.  How about we get you warm and give you some food?  You can tell us where we can find your brother.  How does that sound?”

The little face lit up with hope, his nose glistening with mucus.  “You’ll help me?  You won’t take me to the Home?”

They exchanged a glance laden with reservations before Heyes answered.  “It’s too cold for you to be wanderin’ around in the dark, and it’s past midnight.  Let’s see what we can do, huh?”

oooOOOooo

The child lay by the fire, swaddled in blankets.   His long, dark lashes stood out in perfect crescents against his skin as he slept soundly.  He had consumed a vast quantity of beans before his head started to droop, but he would pull it up sharply, dragging his rolling eyes open with a start, determined to reject sleep.  Eventually, his eyes flickered shut and the men were free to talk at last.

“What are we gonna do, Heyes?”

“We don’t have any choice, Kid.  We have to take him in to town tomorrow.”

The Kid shook his head ruefully.  “They’ll send him back to the ‘Home,’ wherever that is,” blue eyes gleamed determinedly across the fire.  “Have you forgotten what that’s like?”

Heyes sucked in a breath.  “Nope.  But what else can we do?  He won’t tell us anything except that his folks are dead and his brother’s name is Aaron.  He won’t even give us the surname in case we can find the Home from that.”

“He thinks that his brother was adopted by folks called Roberts.”

“There must be thousands of those.  He doesn’t even know what town they live in.  They could even be out of state,” Heyes ran a hand distractedly through his hair.  “He would have been dead in a few hours if we hadn’t found him.  A little kid can’t wander about in this weather.”

The Kid glanced over at the sleeping child.  “That could have been us.  Remember when I ran off because they split us up?”

Heyes gave a little laugh.  “You only got to the end of the next field, and it was July.”

“Yeah, well.  I realised that you were still there.  I was comin’ back anyway.  You had my knife.”

“I guess you planned it about as well as the boy has.  He can’t have walked very far.  He’s got to have been out for about two or three hours at the most.”

The Kid nodded.  “He must have walked what.... three miles maybe?” he rubbed his face with both hands.  “My God.  He could have frozen to death.  No one else would have found him until it was too late.  He’s only five.”

“Five and three quarters, Kid.”

The Kid dropped his head and released a rasping breath.  “Yeah.  We’ve gotta make sure that he makes it to six, Heyes.  He’ll only do it again.  Him and his brother sure didn’t seem to fit in at that home.  A little kid shouldn’t know names like the one he told us.”

oooOOOooo

Heyes stirred on his bedroll, a dark eye flickering open.  They had pushed their bedrolls together placing the child in the middle for warmth, but he was awake and inching his way out of the bedding.

Heyes stretched out an arm and grabbed the little hand.  “Going somewhere?”

Big, round eyes turned to him full of desperation as the little body jiggled frantically.  “Please, Mister.  I gotta go out.”

Heyes smiled in understanding.  “Ah, right.  Wait and I’ll come with you.”

The lad stood, dancing from one leg to the other with a pained look on his face.  “Ooh, no.  I can’t wait.”

His little fingers grappled with the primitive latch on the shack door before he ran haphazardly out into the snow.

“Wait for me,” yelled Heyes.  “I want to make sure that you’re alright.”

The boy had already disappeared behind some bushes and was starting to pull down his breeches.  

“Where are you...?  Ah!” Heyes voice trailed off in surprise.  He had found the child; but he had also found out a little bit more.

oooOOOooo

“A girl?” the Kid’s eyebrows arched in surprise.  

“Yup.”

“But his hair’s short.”

Heyes tilted his head and smiled.  “There’s more to it than that, Kid.  When I’ve got more time I’ll take you through it.”

“Why didn’t he,” he bit back his words.  “Why didn’t ‘she’ tell us?”

“I’m guessing that she wasn’t telling us anything.  She just wants her big brother.”

The Kid gave a groan.  “Oh, Heyes.  This makes it even worse.  Girls don’t tend to get adopted.  They want boys who can work.  Nobody’ll want her until she can cook and clean.  That’ll be why they took her brother and not her.”

“I know, Kid.”

“What are we gonna do?  You know what happens to a lot of those girls?  How they end up?”

Heyes nodded resolutely.  “We’re not taking her back to that.  I’ve got an idea.  Who do you know who only ever wanted to get married and have a family, just like everyone else?”

The Kid shook his head before realisation dawned and a smile spread over his face.  “She wouldn’t.”

“She would.  Especially when I tell her husband how happy it would make her.  He dotes on her.”  

They turned to look at the tiny figure, dragging back the cuffs on the long sleeves that continually dropped about her little plump fingers as she tried to chew at her toast.  The Kid strode over and crouched in front of her.  

“Darlin’, I need you to tell me your name.  I’ll try to find your brother for you, but I need your name and his.”

Her little face simmered with suspicion.  

“I think I’ll call you Bert,” Heyes threw the Kid a wink.

The child’s face crinkled in protest.  “No, don’t like it.”

“What do you want me to call you?”

She pursed her lips before she fixed him big, button eyes.  “Ruth.”

A big smile spread over the Kid’s face.  “That’s a beautiful name, and it suits you,” he flicked a glance at Heyes.  “Much better than ‘Bert’, huh, Ruth?  Now, if I’m to find Aaron for you I need to know your second name.  Can you tell me that?”

oooOOOooo
       
The silent figure slipped a knife under the catch of the sash window, releasing it, before sliding the window open and draping a tentative leg over the sill.  Waiting and listening before he decided that the coast was clear, he dragged the other leg over and dropped into the room.

Another shadow followed him, the silhouette betraying the bulky collar of a sheepskin jacket.

A harsh whisper drifted over to Heyes.  “Is that it?  One little catch on the window because it’s an orphanage?  Not even any locks?  It sure shows that folks value money a lot more than they value children.”

“Yeah.  I doubt if anyone even looked for us when we ran off.”

A chuckle rolled around in the darkness.  “Well, we’re sure making up for that now, eh?”

“Close those curtains and get that lamp lit,” Heyes smiled and shook his head as the drawer to the filing cabinet rolled open.  “Not even locked.  Easy.  Just too easy.”

“Well, let’s hope that we got the right place.  Ruth could only tell us that it was called, ‘The Furry House.’”

“It’s the only orphanage in the area and it’s called ‘The Patricia MacFury Memorial Home.’  It’s got to be the place, unless she took up with a family of friendly bears.”

The Kid smiled as he turned up the lamp and a bubble of golden light filled the room.  “Friendly bears?  We agreed that we weren’t takin’ her to Devils’ Hole.”  

Heyes’ fingers trailed through the ledger.  “First, second, twelfth...  Here we go.  The Sixteenth of December.  Aaron Hupfeld aged twelve, adopted by Mr. and Mrs. David Roberts of Knowes Farm,” he turned to the Kid, lamplight glittering in his eyes.  “It’s no more than a few miles from here.”

oooOOOooo

“Aaron?  Aaron Hupfeld?”

The slim youth swung his pitchfork at the stiff, frozen earth, before he turned intelligent, dark eyes to the man in the black hat.  

“I’m told that my name is Aaron Roberts now,” the rhythm and tone of his speech marked out a Germanic accent.  

Heyes arched his eyebrows.  “Do you want to change your name, Aaron?”

The youth glanced towards the house like a hunted animal.  “I need to do whatever I can to get some money behind me.  I have a sister I need to look after.  You can call me what you want if it gets me where I need to be.”

Heyes and Curry smiled, this was exactly what they wanted to hear.  “Is your sister’s name Ruth?”

The lad fixed them with a stare.  “How do you know my Ruth?” he demanded.

The Kid’s eyes flicked over to the house.  A burly man was striding angrily towards them.  “Your sister ran away from the Home.  We found her on the road at midnight, lookin’ for you.  If we hadn’t, she wouldn’t have lasted the night.”

“Ruth?  How is she?  What have you done with her?”

Heyes was quick to reassure the lad.  “She’s fine.  She’s with a couple we know.  They’re delighted to have her.  They want to know if you want to join them?”

“She has a place?  They want me?  But nobody wanted us.  We don’t fit in anywhere here.”

“They sure do, Son.  We can get there by nightfall,” Heyes nodded.  “Get your things.”

A red-faced, bull of a man bellowed from a few yards away.  “The hell he is.  We took him.  We paid twenty dollars for him.”

“Mr. Roberts?” Heyes tipped his hat in welcome.  “Aaron’s coming with us.  He and his sister want to be together and we have a place for them.”

“He ain’t goin’ anywhere.  I got him cheap ‘cos nobody wanted to take on his kind.”

The Kid pulled out his gun, chilling blue eyes fixed upon the farmer.  “His kind?  The last I heard, slavery was illegal.  You adopted him, you didn’t buy him.  Aaron, go get your things.”

The man hesitated, as Aaron ran towards the bunkhouse, returning with a sad, little bundle wrapped in a paisley print shawl.  

“You’re sure?” the boy asked.

The Kid nodded towards the farmer.  “Tell the boy he’s free to go, Mister Roberts.”

Roberts stood rooted to the spot, shifting from foot to foot, before the words eventually tripped from his nervous lips.  “You can go...”

oooOOOooo


The snow had started to fall more heavily by the time they reached the Weiss place; large, delicate, feathery flakes sitting on their hats and shoulders as they strode up the steps and hammered on the front door.  There were sounds of excitement and whoops of delight as the door was dragged open and an excited female clasped large hard-working hands to her chest and shook her curled hair.

“You made it, and on Christmas Eve too.  Oh my, is this Aaron?  Aren’t you the handsome one?”

Poor Aaron looked dumbfounded as he was dragged from the porch and hugged, before the woman screeched at the top of her voice.  “Immanuel, get Ruth.”

A grizzled white head appeared around the door.  “She’s asleep.  It’s midnight.”

“Get her, Manny.  Aaron’s here,” Dorothy sighed.  “This will be the best Christmas ever.  We have a real family.  I never thought I’d live to see the day.  Manny, are you still standing there?  Oh, I’ll get her, myself.”

Aaron looked around in shock as an elderly man gave him a grizzled smile.  “Sir?  My name is Aaron.”

The man gave a chuckle.  “You’ve met Dotty, then?  She’s a force of nature isn’t she?  She loves your sister.  I do hope that you’ll be very happy here.”

“Sir.  Did the lady say, ‘Christmas?’  We can’t ...  You may not have guessed,” the youth paused unsure how to proceed.  

“You probably won’t want us to stay when you know, but I have to be honest.  It’s why we were hard to place...”

“You’re Jewish?  I guessed from the names,” the old man face broke into a myriad of wrinkles, contorting against his wide grin.  “So am I.  If you want to keep Shabbat, my eldest daughter always says Kiddush for us.  Dotty is my second wife and we have no children of our own.  This is her holiday and we have it for her,” he walked forward looking into the young man’s eyes.  “We keep Hanukkah and Christmas.  I do hope that you’ll stay?  My whole family love Ruth and it’d break their hearts to lose her.”

Ruth hurtled herself at Aaron’s legs like a whirlwind as Kyle’s sister sidled up to Heyes and Curry, the Murtry family resemblance still uncomfortably apposite despite her flowery frock.  “You’ll stay, won’t you?  For Christmas?  It’s past midnight, so it’s Christmas day already and the snow’s really coming down.  You have brought us the best present anyone could have.  Manny’s family are all grown and have homes of their own.”

The partners exchanged a glance.  

“It would be cruel on the horses to go now, Heyes,” reasoned the Kid.

Heyes nodded.  “It sure would.  We should go and get them bedded down for the night.  They’re standing out there in the snow.”

oooOOOooo

The Kid dragged the saddle from his horse and dusted off the snow.  “Heyes.  Do you remember that story, that one with all the Christmas Ghosts?”

“A Christmas Carol?”

“That’s the one.  Ruth was like our ‘Christmas Past,’ wasn’t she?”

“I guess so, Kid.  And Aaron was like our ‘Christmas Present,’ just doing whatever he had to, to get by.  Although, I think it’s gone a lot further than just getting by.”

“So?  I wonder what our ‘Christmas Future’ would be.”

Dark eyes stared off into the middle distance.  “Maybe this is it?  A late family?”

“Who knows, Heyes?  There’s always hope, eh?”
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InsideOutlaw

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PostSubject: Re: Ice   Sun Dec 27, 2015 12:45 pm

“Tell me again why we’re stumblin’ around Wyoming at ten below and not down south somewhere warm snuggled up to a coupla senoritas?” grumbled Kid Curry as his horse picked its way across an iced-over stream, crunching through in places, its hooves and legs coated in pearls of ice.  The trees nearby were also sporting a fine rime and glistened in the early morning light.  A slight breeze caused the needles to crack and pop and the four mounted outlaws to shiver in their heavy winter coats.  




“’Cause Soapy asked us to stay and pull this job; we owe him,” answered Hannibal Heyes firmly.




“I’m with the Kid.  It’s too damned cold.  I don’t remember it being this cold other times we’ve overwintered.”  Wheat Carlson’s breaths were visible as he spoke.  His hands, encased in thick buffalo hide gloves, were stiff and achy.  He couldn’t feel the tip of his nose anymore.




Kyle leaned over and spit out a stream of chaw splashing his mare’s shoulder.  The spent juice froze immediately in the long fur.  “It wouldn’t be so dang cold if it were snowin’.  My pappy always said snow was Mother Nature’s blanket.”




“Your pappy was right, but if we had snow on the ground, we’d have to worry about covering our tracks.  The ground’s so hard even the horses aren’t leaving prints,” observed Heyes.




“Maybe so, but it’s still too damn cold,” said Wheat.
                           


The Kid’s horse clambered up the bank and stopped suddenly as his rider tugged on his reins.  The other horses were forced to stand in the middle of the frozen watercourse and curses erupted in the crystalline air.   “Hold up a minute.  I see something.”  Curry rode upstream as his friends finished their crossing and stood waiting for him.  They saw him dismount and lean over the edge of the bank.  “Over here!” he yelled.




Standing, he waited for the others to reach him and then pointed solemnly to a frozen corpse half-submerged in the thin ice at the edge of the water.   “Poor devil didn’t have a chance.  Looks like he got thrown in the wrong place.”




Heyes got off his horse and walked to the bank.  He knelt next the body.  Using his leather-gloved fist, he punched a series of holes around the dead man.  He struggled with the gruesome form until he could turn it over.  “Kid, it’s Milt Forbisher.”




“Milt?  What’s he doin’ here?” asked a stunned Curry.  His eyes shifted to the corpse of their former gang member.  The man had died with a terrified grimace on his face.  His arms raised and frozen in mid-crawl with his hands curved into claws, almost as though he’d been trying to fight off his inevitable demise.




Heyes smiled grimly, “Nothing.  He’s doing nothing ever again.  Wheat, Kyle, help us pull him out.”




“Why?” asked Wheat.




Heyes glared up at him and snarled, “That could’ve easily been any one of us.  Would you want to be left out here for the animals to devil come spring?”




“I reckon he deserves better,” said Kyle, jumping off his mare and coming over to help.




“For Pete’s sake, what are we gonna do with him?” challenged Wheat.




 “We’ll take him with us,” said Heyes simply.




“To the robbery?  That don’t make sense.”




“We’ll leave him somewhere in town where he’ll be found.  At least, that way, someone’ll give him a proper burial,” explained the dark-haired leader.





The Kid wasn’t feeling patient, “Get off your damned horse and lend us a hand!”  Wheat grudgingly dismounted from his warm saddle.  Twenty minutes later, the stiff corpse was balanced across the back of Heyes’ saddle and clumsily tied down with latigo and lariats.




oooOOOooo




“All right, you know what to do?” queried Curry.  The four men were across the street from their target, hiding in the shadows of the alley, having waited for the sun to go down to cover their activities.  It was a week shy of a full moon and there would be just enough light to allow them to escape after the job.  “Soapy had said that the shipment would be delivered this morning so it should be an easy in and out.”




“What do we do with Milt?” asked Kyle.  All eyes turned to the board-like figure leaning up against a door jamb.




“Leave ‘im here.  Someone’ll find him and figure he froze here,” said the Kid.




“Don’t seem right.  Milt was a friend,” protested Kyle.




“What?  You want him to help?” smirked Wheat.  




“There’s nothing more we can do.  Now, get in your positions.  We should be out in less than forty-five minutes if it all goes well.”  Heyes hefted the sack at his feet.  Through the heavy burlap, he could feel the cold steel of the bar spreader it contained.  “Wheat, once you see us leave by the side door fetch the horses.  We’ll meet up with you behind the mercantile.  Kyle, don’t do anything unless you see trouble; then kick up a fuss.”  Having delivered his orders, he stepped out into the cold, clear moonlight of the deserted street.  The temperatures had steadily dropped all afternoon and it was too cold for man or beast to be roaming about.  But not four determined outlaws.  Kyle and Wheat watched as the Kid and Heyes made their way towards the jewelry exchange.  After a few minutes of tinkering with the front door lock and risking exposure, their bosses disappeared inside.




Wheat held his gloves hands tucked under his armpits to keep them warm.  He’d lived in Wyoming a long time, but he’d never seen a winter like this one.  Maybe it was time to move south and take up with another gang; a gang that stuck to the south. He could feel his legs stiffening up from the cold and started to pace back and forth behind Kyle who’d tucked himself behind a couple of barrels.  “Damn Heyes.  We could freeze to death out here waitin’ on him and the Kid.”  Realizing he might've insulted their present company, he glanced at Milt and mumbled a hasty apology. Milt had obviously not taken offense. 




“Here they come,” whispered Kyle.  “Whoo-we, they weren’t gone more’n a minute or two!”  He stood from his crouch as Wheat hurried down the alley and disappeared.  Heyes locked the door to the jewelry exchange as the Kid stepped off the sidewalk, a rough burlap sack clutched in his left hand.  




“Hey!  Stop!  Thieves!  They’s robbin’ the exchange.”  Loud yelling cut through the cold air and echoed up and down the main street.  The Kid’s head swiveled towards the alarmist and he saw men spilling out of the saloon, guns drawn.  In a split second, he knew it was over.  They were caught.  He might shoot his way out, but not without casualties and prison was preferable to a rope.  He raised his hands in surrender and glanced over his shoulder at Heyes who’d already sized up the situation and lifted his hands, dismay etched on his face.  It was just their luck some drunken cowpoke had decided to pee off the sidewalk rather than walk the frigid thirty yards to the nearest outhouse.  




The crowd came running down the street towards them, but suddenly slowed, staring beyond the two outlaws.  Turning his head, the Kid saw Kyle emerge from the alley, clutching Milt, a gun held to the corpse’s head.  “Hold it right thar or he gits it,” hollered the little outlaw with all the threat he could muster.




The small crowd skidded to a stop.  “He’s got a hostage.  Hold your fire!” yelled someone.  “Don’t shoot!” called another.




Kyle dragged Milt with him; his stiffened feet bouncing across the hardened wagon ruts that carved the street.  “Back off or I’ll shoot!”  The crowd was still some distance away, but they could easily make out the grim visage of fear that froze Milt’s features.  The poor man was stiff with terror.  The men’s gun hands dropped, their hands dangled by their sides.  It wasn’t worth a life to stop a robbery.




Heyes and the Kid sprang into action having heard Wheat pounding up the street towards them, the horses’ hooves clattering over the frozen ground.  Running to meet their mounts, they jumped into their saddles crossing to Kyle and his hostage.  Milt was dragged up into Wheat’s arms—Wheat being the strongest of the four--and he kicked one foot from his stirrups, slipping Milt’s rigid limb in its place and keeping his left arm encircling the dead man, he spurred his horse.  Kyle gripped his saddle horn and screamed at his mare to run, swinging aboard as she reached a full gallop surrounded by her comrades.  




The stunned witnesses stood mutely in the cold night watching as the outlaws rode off into the darkness, their hostage still frozen with shock.   “Get the sheriff!” cried one.  “No point,” said another, “an Apache couldn’t track across this ground.”  “He’s a goner,” was heard before the crowd fell silent.




Into the stillness of the night, one voice spoke.  “Was it just me or was there somethin’ odd about that guy?”




oooOOOooo




On a warm, sunny spring day, the gang gathered in the grassy meadow of the Hole.  Milt’s coffin was fetched from the ice house where it had resided during the remainder of the winter.  As it arrived, Heyes stepped forward and nodded to Lobo and Hank who lowered the pine box into the ground with Kyle and Wheat’s help.  Standing around a deep trench, the rough men clutched their hats solemnly, their heads bowed in prayer as Preacher read verses from the tattered Bible he always carried next to his heart.  “…ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Amen.”


The men picked up shovels and began filling in the grave.  Once the mound was packed down, the other outlaws dispersed leaving Heyes and the Kid contemplating the freshly disturbed earth.  Heyes slipped his black hat back onto his head.  “You know, Kid.  Milt was a nasty drunk and a cruel-hearted man, but when I cut him loose, I never wanted him to end up like this.”




Curry thought for a moment and then smiled mischievously, “Nothin’ you coulda done, Heyes.  You know as well as I do, we didn’t cut no ice with him.”




Heyes grinned back at his partner, “Yeah, he was always skating on thin ice.  You remember when I kicked him out?  He said it’d be a cold day in hell before he ever forgave us.  Not till hell froze over.”




Chuckling, Curry threw his arm over his partner as the two men left the grave to bake in the noonday sun.  “Guess he thawed out some, huh?” 

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


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Stormr

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PostSubject: Re: Ice   Tue Dec 29, 2015 9:12 pm

Okay - well it only took me three months but I finally finished the challenge.  If you read you will see prompts from Oct (moon), Nov. (back), and Dec. (ice).  Still working on the title!



The wind howled through the canyon - winter was coming early.  The men in the bunkhouse knew the signs; they could feel it in their bones. They did the last supply run at the beginning of the week and they were ready to hunker down for the season.  Once the weather turned, they would be stuck, unable to get out of the small pass into the Hole.

A group of men sat around the table in the middle of the room.

"Call," bellowed the mustached outlaw as he glared at the rest of the men playing poker.

"Fold," "Fold," "Fold," "Fold," the others at the table quickly put their cards face down on the table.

"Ha! I win again," boasted the man as he puffed out his chest.

"Well..." the outlaw with the big wad of chew in his cheek began.

"Well, what?" barked Wheat as he pushed his chair back and stood up. 

The smaller man became smaller as he diverted his eyes and looked anywhere except for the man standing three 
feet in front of him.

"Kyle...."

"Wheat," brown teeth smiled.

"Kyle...."

His head drooped as he kicked at the floor.  "Well, Wheat.  It ain’t so much you winnin' as you scarin' the rest of the gang to fold."

"Pfft," Wheat hiked up his pants with his thumbs.  "I still call that winnin’!"

The door burst open with a blast of cold air followed by two men, collars up on their coats with their hats pulled down as far as they could go. 

"Close the door!" the group of outlaws cried out almost in unison as the warmth of the bunkhouse was sucked out into the cold.  

Without a sound, the pair walked to the wood stove and held their hands out in an attempt to warm them.

"Men," the blond haired man said; he gave a light shrug when brown eyes rolled at him.

"Heyes...Kid," the men greeted their leaders.

Seeing Kyle and Wheat in close proximity of each other, the outlaw leader tipped back his black hat and inquired, "What's going on?”

“Nuthin’,” Wheat shifted uncomfortably.

“Kyle?” the brown haired leader inquired.

“Well….” his pitch went up as he scuffed his feet.

Intense brown eyes stared at the man.

“Aw, Heyes,” Kyle whined.  

“Wheat?” Kid turned his attention to the other man standing.

“Just beatin’ the men at poker and they ain’t too happy ‘bout it.  That’s all,” he replied.

“That true, Kyle?”  Heyes kept his eyes on his loyal gang member.

“Well...not ‘zactly.”

Wheat glared at Kyle.

“Ya kinda scarin’ us, Wheat.  That ain’t no way to win.”

“Pfft, winnin’s winnin’ in my book,” he puffed his chest.

“Not when you’re taking it out on the men, it’s not,” Heyes stated.  He looked around the table, “How much did Wheat take from you, Lobo?”

“Jes ‘bout everythin’.”

Heyes shook his head, “Give it back, Wheat.”

“But…” the man started before closing his mouth as ice blue eyes glared at him.

“Tonight was just for fun.  Everyone take back what you started with,” Kid announced. “Be happy that’s all you have to do, Wheat.”  

Wheat looked at the leaders and shrugged.  “Not like we’re gonna be goin’ anywhere soon.”

“Think you’re right about that, Wheat,” Heyes started...Wheat smirked...Heyes and Kid rolled their eyes. “Winds 
coming in hard, flurries are starting; probably have some ice in the morning.  The real storm should be here in a day or two and by the chill in the air, think the pass will be sealed.  So maybe you shouldn’t steal the gang’s money on the first night, Wheat.”

The man gave a nonchalant shrug as he avoided his leader's eyes. “Maybe.”

“Well,” Kid clapped his hands together.  “Now that that’s settled, how about a shot of whiskey to warm the bones.”  He walked over to the cupboard to grab a bottle.

“Yea,” “Sounds good,” “Alright,” “Now we’re talkin’,” the men all called out. 

Kid opened the door and grabbed a bottle.  Turning back towards the men he asked, “Where’s the rest?”

“The rest of what?” Kyle asked.

“The whiskey,” the blond leader responded.  Using his thumb to point over his shoulder, he stated, “There’re only a
couple of bottles left.”

“That’s it,” the man with the lop-sided grin answered.

“What?”  

“That’s all we got.”

“You boys just came back from a supply run.  Did you forget it?”  Heyes asked.

“No.”  

“Did you drink it all?”

“No.”

“Then where is it?” the leader inquired.

“We didn’t buy any,” he announced as a proud smile of brown teeth with chew were displayed on his face.

“Come again?” Heyes questioned.

“That’s right!  We didn’t buy none, we’s gonna make it.” 

Heyes looked at Kid, and Kid looked at Heyes.

“You’re gonna what?”  Kid’s crestfallen face displayed heartache all over it.  

“We’s gonna make it!”

“Ha,” Heyes gave a half hearted chuckle. “Why?” his voice almost sounded pleading.

“‘Cause it’s cheaper.”  Kyle nodded.  “Wheat figured it out.”

“Wheat?”  An icy blue stare turned on the man.

His mustache twitched as he shuffled uncomfortably.

“Care to explain?” intense brown eyes settled on the man.

“You know what a pain it is to carry all them bottles back,” Wheat stammered as all eyes were on him.  “Half the time the horse stumbles or somethin’ and we lose bottles.”  He took a breath as he was getting on a roll.  “Well, if we make it ourselves, we don’t lose any.  All the supplies is in bags, not glass bottles.”

“Have you ever made whiskey, Wheat?”  Heyes inquired.

“Moonshine,” Kyle corrected.  Eyes turned towards him.  “We’s makin’ moonshine.”

Heyes turned his attention back to Wheat.  “Have you ever made moonshine?” 

“No.”

“No?” Kid questioned.

“No...but Kyle has.”

Heyes opened his mouth to say something and then closed it.  He looked at his partner, thought a second and then
said, “Kyle has.”

“Yep,”  “That’s right,”  “Ah-ha,” the men all chimed in.

Slightly sticking his tongue out to touch his top lip, he put his hands on his hips.  He looked at Kid again and smiled.  
“Kyle…” the blond leader started.

“Yeah, Kid,” big eyes looked back.  

“You’ve made moonshine?”

“Yes, siree!  Well, I helped my uncle make it but I done all the work.  He said it was too hard on the back liftin’ all them bags.  So that was my job.”  He smiled proudly.

“Hard on the back...you lifted bags,” Heyes quietly chuckled.  “And how long does this process take?”  He tried to 
sound calm. 

“Well,” he stammered a little. “Couple weeks.  It’s already been perk-U-L-A-tin’ and we’s settin’ to deee-still tomorrow or day after.”

“Perk you what-ing?”  A confused Kid inquired. 
 
“Perk-U-L-A-tin’...you knows...gettin’ all bubbly.”

“All bubbly?” Heyes asked.

“Yup.  Whens the bubbles stop its time to deee-still it.”  

“Deee-still,” Kid repeated.

“Yup. We heat it up and put it in bottles,” Kyle puffed his chest a little.

“Then we drink it,” Lobo stated.  

“Then we drink it,” Heyes deadpanned.  

“From your lips to ours,” Kid chuckled.  “Let’s drink to that!”


***

Heyes walked out on the porch of the leader’s cabin.  “What cha looking at?” he asked Kid.

“The gang runnin’ around,” he pointed.

“Ah.”

“Guess they’re gettin’ ready to dee-still.”  

Heyes rolled his eyes.  “We still have our case of whiskey in the cabin, right?”

“Yep.  Only part of the first bottle gone.”

“Good, ‘cause it’s gonna be a long winter and just ‘cause the men won’t have whiskey doesn’t mean we have to suffer too.”  

Kid chuckled and they both got lost in watching the hustle and bustle over by the supply shack.  After a few minutes they turned and went back into their cabin.

***

“You sure you know what you’re doin’, Kyle?”  Wheat asked as he watched Kyle checking the still, jiggling tubes and hooking things to other things. He assumed that was what was happening, never having made moonshine, he didn’t know anything about the process, if it was being done correctly or not.  

“Yep, we’s makin’ sunshine,” he chuckled.

"What the heck are you talkin' about, Kyle?"

"Well," he spit, “Moonshine got its name ‘cause ya have to make it at night."

"Yeah.  They used the moon?”

"The light from the moon - so they could see without bein’ seen."

“Huh?”

"If the moon was bright, they didn't have to use a lantern so it was easy to hide. That's why it's moonshine - by the light of the moon."

“Okay…”  Wheat dragged out. 

“Well, see, we’s makin' sunshine, ‘cause we don't need to use the moon - we can use the sun.”  

Wheat shook his head as he looked at the man standing in front of him with the smile on his face. Knowing that there was just no way he was going to win the argument, he nodded, turned and walked away mumbling to himself.

“Wheat,” Kyle called out.  “It’s time.”

“Time?”

“Light the fire,” he almost giggled in anticipation.

“Light the fire?” Wheat anxiously repeated.  

Kyle nodded.

Wheat sighed, leaned over, struck a match and lit the fire.  “We’re makin’ moonshine, Kyle!”

“Sunshine,” Kyle chuckled.  

Wheat rolled his eyes.  “How long?”

“A bit.  It’s gotta boil ‘fore it starts comin’ out.”

They stood watching the still for a few minutes and then Wheat stated, “Well this is fun but I’m hungry.  Gonna head to the bunkhouse for lunch if we have to wait.”

“Sounds like a plan, Wheat,” Kyle beamed.

***

The leaders walked out onto their porch, looked around the compound and then at each other.  “Awful quiet,” Heyes stated.

“Yep,” Kid replied.

“It’s not good when it's too quiet.”

“Nope.”

Heyes raised an eyebrow at his partner.

“Just agreein’ with you.”

“Yeah, but a little too easy.”

“You yell at me when I don’t agree with ya, and now you’re yellin’ at me ‘cause I am agreein’ with ya.”

“I’m not yelling!” Heyes forcefully stated and then shrugged.  “Just concerned that you agreed so quickly.  Was hoping it was just my cynical side.”

“Well, you’re right on that one, Heyes,” Kid stated.  “You are cynical, but there’s usually somethin’ more when it's this quiet and everyone’s here.”

Heyes sighed, “Now I’m worried.”  He stepped off the porch and started a brisk walk across the compound with Kid a half step behind.

The bunkhouse door opened and the gang started to pour out.  

Heyes and Kid stopped and waited for the men to meet them.  “Where you headed?” Heyes asked.

“To the supply shack,” Wheat announced.

“Why?” The brown haired leader asked suspiciously.

“To check the still,” Kyle chuckled.

“Yep,” “Ah-ha,” “That’s right,” the rest of the gang laughed.

“The still?”  Heyes’ eyes bugged out a little.

“Yeah,” Wheat got serious and puffed his chest.

“The still is in the supply shack?” Heyes anxiously asked. 

“Yep,” Kyle replied.

“Inside?” panic swept over Heyes’ face as he started to walk towards the shack with the gang following.

“Yeah, it’s too darn cold to be outside and anyway it looks like it's gonna rain or snow and we don’t want ice forming on it,” Wheat said sounding annoyed.

“Inside! Did you light the fire?”  Heyes stopped and looked at the men.

“Yeah, we’re gonna go check on it now,” Wheat started to sound angry.

Heyes ran his hand over his face as he looked at the shack.  

“What’s the matter?” Kid asked.

Hearing a big pop sound from the dilapidated building, everything seemed to slow down as the men turned to look at the shack.  

Heyes yelled, “Geeeeettttt doooooowwwwwn.”  Just then, light flashed in the window followed by an earth shaking 
boom!  The explosion shot out the walls, the roof flying and pieces of still everywhere.

Blasted to the ground, the gang covered their heads, trying to protect themselves as wood and metal debris from the still and shack dropped from the sky.  

After a few moments, Heyes lifted his head and looked around, surveying the damage.

“I guess that was the problem,” Kid deadpanned as he sat up.

“You can’t make moonshine inside.  The fumes can build up and…”

“Blow up,” Kid finished the sentence.  

“Kyle, I thought you knew what you were doing,” Heyes stated.

“Twernt my ideeeea to put it inside,” he responded.

“Wheat…”

“How the heck am I supposed to know the still ain’t supposed to be inside?”  Wheat answered the question before it was asked.  

“I told ya,” Kyle stated.  “Said my uncle said it had to be outside.  You said that’s only ‘cause he don’t know any better and it was too cold. And you weren’t gonna sit and make it and freeze ‘cause it was covered in ice.”

Heyes sighed as he stood up.  Curiously he examined the damage. “Wheat.”

“What?” he responded as he shook his head and smacked his ears.

“Where are the supplies?”

“Huh?”

“Where are the supplies?” the leader with the brown hair asked again.  “I see the shack...spread out everywhere and I’m assuming, the still is the metal pieces.  Where’re all the supplies you guys bought.”

“Oh, we had to move them,” Kyle answered.  “Not enough room in the supply shack for the supplies and the still.”

“Where are they?”  Kid asked.

“In the bunkhouse,” Lobo stated.

Heyes gave a questioning look.

“We moved them there this mornin’,” Lobo explained.  

“Well that’s where they’re gonna have to stay until you build a new supply shack,” Heyes stated.  He looked around
again, then shook his head.  “Better get a move on cleaning this up.  Clouds are rolling in and it will probably start 
snowing soon.” He nodded at Kid and they turned to walk back to the cabin.

“Where ya goin’?”  Wheat called out.

“To our cabin,” Heyes replied.  “We didn’t blow it up, we aren’t cleaning it up.”  He looked at the man, “Get it done.”  
Turning back towards the cabin, he began walking again.  

“I need a drink,” Kid stated.

Heyes chuckled and smacked his partner's back, "Sounds like a plan, Kid.  Sounds like a plan!"
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Remuda

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Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 42

PostSubject: Re: Ice   Fri Jan 01, 2016 3:17 am

The Icy Burg


“I tell ya, boys, that last job really made me wonder if being a Bannerman man is all it’s cracked up to be,” Harry Briscoe noted as he walked, flanked on either side by Hannibal Heyes and Jed “Kid” Curry. “That widow woman almost had me on a wild goose chase!”

“Come on, Harry, it turned out okay and you solved the case. Being a Bannerman is all you ever wanted to be, and you’re pretty good at it.” Heyes winked at his partner. “Like when we were in our heyday, some jobs were easier than others.”

Harry stopped in his tracks. “But, but … Well, I could never …”

Kid grinned. “Well, of course you could never …”

Heyes put a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Nope, never.”

Harry started walking again. “Well, as long as you boys know that I could never do that! My reputation, well, it would … be ruined!” His hands moved as he spoke. “I just could never …,” the detective spluttered.

Heyes glanced at Curry, “So you say, Harry. But there was that time you had us wondering …”

“Pardon me.”

Her plea unheard, a young woman collided with Harry. Packages tumbled to the boardwalk in front of the trio. The woman stumbled. Momentarily startled, the three recovered quickly. Harry caught the young woman on her upper arms, steadying her.

“Get your hands off me!”

“Miss, we … I …” Harry blustered.

“Stop manhandling me this second!”

“Well, um …”

“Ma’am, my friend here was only trying to help,” Heyes noted, straightening from picking up the strewn packages.

“That’s right, ma’am,” Kid agreed.

“Then tell him to get his hands off of me this instant!” The young woman shook her arms rapidly. Harry hung on. “Sheriff!”

Curry pulled the befuddled detective clear of the woman. “No need for the law, ma’am.” He shared a concerned glance with Heyes.

In a huff, the woman smoothed her dress, paying particular attention to where Harry had touched her sleeves. “Well, I never! Why don’t you watch where you’re going?!” She grabbed her packages from a surprised Heyes, which motion made him backpedal into Harry and Kid, throwing them off balance for a second.

“Looks like no one is safe walking the street with the likes of you three around – even yourselves!”

By now, a substantial crowd of onlookers had gathered. They parted to let a man with a badge through. “Okay, what’s going on here?”

An older woman wrinkled her face in disgust. “I saw the whole thing, Sheriff. These three … ruffians! ... knocked Miss Barlow off her feet.” She pointed at Harry. “And that one attacked her!”

“Is that right?” The lawman asked.

Heyes and Curry shared a look of relief; they did not know him.

“Sheriff, that’s not quite right,” Heyes explained.

“No?”

“Well, no. I mean, we were just walking, and my friend here,“ Heyes indicated Harry, “well, he apparently wasn’t looking where he was going, and …”

“It was an accident, Sheriff,” Kid said.

“But he grabbed her!” the bystander charged.

The lawman stood observing, poker-faced, arms akimbo.

“I … I …,” Harry blumbered.

Heyes explained, “He was trying to keep her from falling.”

The older woman stepped forward, raising a parasol. “Is that what you call it?”

A distinguished-looking man of portly girth grabbed the umbrella. “Now, now, Gertrude, no need for a weapon.”

“Harold, you saw it just like I did!”

The gentleman turned to the lawman. “Sheriff, I do believe what these men are saying is true – that it was an accident. A careless incident, perhaps, but an accident nonetheless.” He glanced toward Heyes, Curry, and Briscoe. “I’m sure these three men meant no harm.”

“Thanks, Harold, that’s what I presumed.” The sheriff turned to the crowd. “Nothing to see here, folks. Everyone go about their business.” He eyed Harry in his rumpled black suit and the partners in their dusty clothes. “Okay, you three come with me.”

“But, but …”

Heyes glanced at Harry, then gave the Sheriff a two-dimpled smile. “What my friend is trying to say, Sheriff, is that this was indeed an accident, as you yourself agreed, and …”

The lawman interrupted, “Let’s go.”

The partners shared a smirk and led a confused Harry down the street, the sheriff following. The half-block walk to the lawman’s office seemed endless.

“As I was explaining, Sheriff,” Heyes continued, “is that …”

“Save it for inside.” The finality of the lawman’s voice silenced the silver tongue.

Another few steps and they reached their destination. Once inside, the lawman closed the door and unholstered his sidearm in one smooth motion. A deputy stood, rifle in hand.

“All right, you three – undo those gun belts nice and easy.”

The trio complied, setting them on the desk. Grabbing a set of keys on a ring, the sheriff and deputy nodded to them to step inside a cell.

Heyes remarked, “Sheriff, you said yourself this was an accident.”

Closing and locking the jail door, the deputy glanced at the sheriff, who spoke. “Maybe so, but there might be more to this than meets the eye.”

“But that’s all there is to it – a simple accident.” The dark-haired partner stood with his hands raised in pleading.

The sheriff stood better than an arm’s length away from the cell. “I make it a point to know who’s in my town.” He pointed to Harry. “You I’ve seen around, in the company of the Widow Hansbrough. She said you were a detective she hired to help her with a theft of jewelry on her last trip to San Francisco, and the Bannerman agency corroborated by telegram.” He shifted his finger to the partners. “But you two, never seen you before. From the dust I’d say you’re just in from the trail. Who are you and what’s your business here.”

Heyes glanced at Curry, who shrugged. “I’m Joshua Smith and my friend here is Thaddeus Jones. And yes, we did just ride in. Been on the trail a long time, as you can tell. We stabled our horses and checked in at the hotel, and were on our way to the bath house when we ran into our friend here.”

The lawman raised an eyebrow. “Smith and Jones? That the best you can do?”

Heyes’ face grew in exaggerated surprise. “Best we can do? Sheriff, that’s our names, Smith and Jones. Lots of people in the world named Smith and Jones. We can’t help what our families’ names were.”

Strangely quiet to this point, Harry mustered the courage to speak. “That’s right, they’re Smith and Jones, all right. Known them a good long time, and I can vouch for them.” Heyes shot him a look, and he quieted down.

“And just a coincidence that you ran into your friends here, Smith and Jones?” the lawman asked.

“Yep, that’s right, Sheriff, just a coincidence.” Heyes acknowledged.

The lawman nodded at Harry. “Can’t he speak for himself?”

Briscoe’s eyes met Heyes’. “Of course I can, Sheriff. It was … um … yes, like my friend here said, it was … um … just a coincidence.”

The lawman rolled his eyes and next looked at Curry, who stood in a far corner of the cell. “You got anything to say?”

Kid shook his head. “Nope, ‘cept they’re tellin’ the truth.”

“That’s right. We have nothing to hide.” Heyes sighed.

The lawman appeared deep in thought. Finally, he spoke. “We’ve had reports the Devil’s Hole Gang might be working these parts, and we need to be careful. They don’t usually stray outside Wyoming, but might be looking for new targets to hit. They’re a wild bunch, so we gotta be careful.”

Heyes feigned surprise. “They are a rough bunch! Not anyone we’d want to come up against.” He glanced at Curry, who nodded. Indicating Harry, he continued, “And our friend here has tangled with them; even killed a couple once, I think.” Harry nodded, as if on cue. “So we understand your concern, Sheriff. You can’t be too careful.”

The lawman leaned against the wall. “You run on at the mouth a lot like I’ve heard Hannibal Heyes does.”

Heyes gasped. “I do?!” He turned to his cellmates. “Have either of you heard that?” Curry and Harry shook their heads. Heyes talked faster. “Now, Sheriff, I do tend to get talkative when I’m nervous. I’ve never been in jail before. And what happened out there really was just an accident, and …”

“Okay, enough!” The lawman threw up his hands. “Is there anyone besides your Bannerman friend here who can vouch for you two?”

Curry spoke up. “Yup. Sheriff Lom Trevors in Porterville, Wyoming.”

“A sheriff, huh?”

“Yup.”

“How do you know him?”

Kid continued, “We’re friends a long time.”

“Anyone else?”

Heyes thought a moment. “Nope. We move around a lot.”

The lawman turned to his deputy. “Johnny, wire this Sheriff Trevors. Ask him if he knows a Smith and Jones.”

~~oo00oo~~

A day later, the three former cellmates walked out of the sheriff’s office.

Heyes spoke. “Nice way to welcome strangers. That was cold.”

“Like ice,” Curry remarked.

Harry shivered. “Cold, real cold.”

Kid slapped at his clothes, sending dust flying. “Not sure it’s worth a bath now. Just get all dirty again.”

Heyes waved a hand in front of his face. “Remind me not to ride behind you.”

Curry laughed. “Same here. We got enough dust between us to hide a cattle stampede!”

Harry coughed, then choked out, “Present company excepted. You boys have a nice ride. I’ll take the train.”

Heyes slapped the detective on the back. “Now, Harry, you heard the sheriff. You have to leave town with us, dust and all.”

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