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 The Blues

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Keays

Keays

Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 62
Location : Camano Island Washington

The Blues Empty
PostSubject: The Blues   The Blues EmptyMon Apr 04, 2016 7:32 pm

Brookswood
 
“He really shouldn’t be moved yet,” David insisted.  “It’s one thing padding him up in a wheelchair, but putting him in a wagon and jolting him all the way out to the Double J is not a good idea.”


“Oh dear,” Belle sighed with frustration.  “I know you’re right, David, but we should be getting home.  If we take it very slowly…”



Belle stopped trying to bargain when David shook his head.  “No,” the doctor stated.  “He needs to stay still for a least another week.  Longer, if I have my way.”


“Another week!” came the response from the bedroom.  “I can’t lie around here for another week!”


David stepped into the room to deal with the snarking patient.  “I’m sorry, Jesse,” he said.  “I thought you were asleep.  “You know yourself that you’re not ready to travel.  If you don’t give yourself the time you need to heal, you’ll pay for it later.”


“I’ll take the chance,” Jesse stubbornly countered.  “I’ve had broken bones before and managed fine at home.”


“Not like this,” David pointed out.  “And you were younger then.”


“David…”


“Jesse.  You’re not leaving yet and that’s final.”


That said, David turned and left the room before any further argument could be made.


“He’s in a foul mood today,” Jesse grumbled, then he sighed, repentantly.  “I suppose I can’t hold that against him, though.”


Belle smiled and came to sit down on the bed beside her husband.  She gave his hand a consolatory pat.
“You know he’s right,” she told him quietly.

 
Jesse sighed.  “Oh, I know.  But we’re all spread a little thin here, and I don’t like leaving the ranch for so long.  Sam’s gone on that posse, and Jed’s helping Joe, so that just leaves Deke and a couple of other hands to keep an eye on everyone’s places.  It’s a lot to ask.”


“Well, I think Jed is going out to check up on things today,” Belle commented.  “I might just hitch up Monty and go check up on the house as well.  I know Beth wants to get home herself, and make sure everything is in order after that fire.”


“Is that wise?” Jesse asked.  “That leaves just Joe here to cover things.  Personally though, I doubt that those Bairds are going to come back into town; they’re running scared right now.”


“They might come back for Courtney,” Belle speculated, though she sounded dubious.


Jesse snorted then rubbed his left side as the broken ribs protested.


“I don’t think Baird cares enough about either of his daughters to take a chance like that,” he said.  “Those fellas are long gone.”  He frowned as another thought struck him.  “Speaking of his daughters, has anyone thought to inform Isabelle of these events?”


Belle sighed, and looked a little concerned.


“I don’t think anyone has had the heart, or the courage, to interrupt her honeymoon,” she commented.  “I suppose Courtney might have sent them a telegram, but even she may not know exactly where they are.  And considering that she wasn’t even at the wedding, I don’t think the sisters are close.”


Jesse would have snorted again, but he was capable of learning from past mistakes.  “You have a good point there.  But didn’t Jed say something about them going to Buffalo first and then on to New York City?  Perhaps Joe should at least try to track them down.”


“I’ll mention it to Thaddeus,” Belle assured him.  “If he thinks Joe needs to be prodded in that direction, I’m sure he’d be the best one to do it.”


Jesse nodded then sighed again despite the restrictions on his ribcage.


“Well, if you’re heading out to the ranch today, I’m going to need something to do.  Is there at least a good book around here?”


“Oh, I’m sure there is,” Belle surmised.  “I’ll go and find you one.  And stop your fretting.  Besides, I think after what has happened, David needs someone here to look after.  You’ll be helping him just as much as you’re helping yourself.”


“Yes,” Jesse nodded agreement and then bit into his lower lip as sorrow rose up and clouded his eyes.  “Damn,” he breathed.  “I still can’t quite believe it.  Why did I do it?  Why did I push Carl to go out there?”


Belle leaned forward, squeezing his good arm with both of her hands.  “Jesse, you can’t blame yourself for this.  It was Carl’s job to deal with them.  Nobody expected things to go the way they did.”


Jesse sat quietly and shook his head, a faraway look in his eyes.  “He should have gone with backup, or not at all.  We all know what the Bairds are like; mean tempered and unpredictable.  He shouldn’t have gone out there alone.”


“Jesse…”


“Why was it so important, Belle?  Most of us knew how ole’ man Baird treated his daughters, especially Isabelle, yet we did nothing about it.  But as soon as it was my daughter, all of a sudden we’re up in arms.  Now Carl has paid the price for my arrogance.  I still can’t believe it.  Carl was a fixture in this town.  I haven’t been out of this house, and certainly not over to the sheriff’s office, and yet, I can feel the emptiness, like a huge open crater sitting right here.”  And he placed his hand over his heart.  “I don’t know,” he continued, his voice tightening with emotion.  “how I’m going to ever forgive myself.”


Belle felt tears threatening as she lay her head against her husband’s chest.  “Please don’t do this,” she whispered.  “It wasn’t your fault.  Nobody’s blaming you.”


“No?” Jesse asked.  “Why hasn’t Bridget been over to see me?  They’re still in town, aren’t they?  And if they aren’t, why didn’t she come to say good-bye?”


“They’re still in town,” Belle admitted.  “And you’re right; Bridget is upset over this, as are we all.  But I’m sure she doesn’t blame you.”


Jesse sighed and squeezing his wife’s hand, he looked away and stared at the wall, his throat burning with the bitter emotion.


“I’ll talk to her,” Belle offered.  “I’ll have her come over.  You’ll see; she doesn’t blame you.”


Jesse nodded, but said nothing.


“In the meantime,” Belle continued.  “David needs something else to focus on.  You know how hard he takes it, when he loses a patient.  And now, with it being a friend as well, it must be ten times worse.  Don’t give him a hard time, Jesse.  Give him something to do, something that makes him feel worthy again.”


“He still has patients over at the hotel, and down at John’s place,” Jesse pointed out.  “He has plenty to do.”


“I know,” Belle conceded. “But most of them aren’t his friends.  You are.  Believe me, it’ll make a difference.”


 “Alright.”


Belle straightened up and gave her husband a kiss on his cheek.  “I’ll see if I can find you a good book,” she told him.  “Then I’d better get ready, if I want to get out to the ranch and back again, today.”


“Why don’t you take Sally with you?” Jesse suggested.  “I’m sure she’d love an excuse to get out for a ride.”


“Sally is in school today, along with all the other children,” Belle reminded him.


“Oh, of course,” Jesse responded.  “Yes, I did forget.  With so much going on, I’m surprised they are holding classes this week.”


“Well, I think it was agreed, that the sooner the children got back into a normal routine, the better,” Belle explained.  “Many of the older children are too busy, helping get their places cleaned up, but the younger ones need to have something constructive to do.  It’ll keep them out of mischief.”


Jesse smiled.  “We can only hope.”


Xxx


Sally had accompanied her friends to school that morning, just as she did on all the other mornings since she had been living in Brookswood.  None of them had picked up on the scared dog out at the Baird’s ranch, indeed, all they seemed to be able to talk about was the terrible events of the previous day and the ultimate outcome.  School was just an excuse to gather and spread more information and speculation about what would happen once the Bairds were brought to justice.  And of course, they would be, Todd insisted, since his father was part of the posse that had gone after them.


Sally hung back and didn’t contribute to this conversation.  She was waiting for the precise moment to make her break.  She had to time this just right too, or Todd, or J.J. would insist on coming with her, and she couldn’t have that.  Finally, she deemed that it was now or never, and took the plunge.


“Oh no!” she announced frantically.  “I’ve forgotten my chalk board at home.  I’ll have to run back and get it.”


“You didn’t forget it,” Carol insisted.  “I saw you with it, before we left the house.”


“But I don’t have it!” Sally repeated, and opened up her hands to prove the point.  “I won’t be long.  I’ll just run back home and get it.”


“But you’ll be late for class,” Todd told her.  “You’ll end up getting detention.”


“Better that, than a rap across my knuckles for forgetting my board.”


Nodded agreements made the circuit.



“I should go back with you,” J.J. commented, reluctantly.  “Mama still doesn’t like any of us to be out on our own, just in case those Bairds come back.”


“Oh don’t be silly!”  Sally countered.  “Then you would be late for class too.  I won’t be but a minute!”


And then she turned around and started running back the way they had just come.  The group of children stood and watched her running away, still not so sure that it was a good idea.  Before any of them could make up their minds however, Sally was around the corner and out of sight, and the decision was made for them.


“Well, I guess it’s on her,” J.J. stated.  “C’mon, or we’ll all be late.”


Xxx


Sally kept on running until she was around the corner.  She ducked into a shop alcove and waited, just to be sure that none of her friends had followed her.  She knew she was being disobedient and would probably get into real trouble when she did get home, but she couldn’t ignore the summons for help that was coming from the blue tic dog.  She had made her choice, and making sure that her lunch was still tucked nicely away inside her coat, she dashed out onto the boardwalk again, and headed towards the pasture where her father kept their horses.


Fanny spotted the child before any of the other horses did, and envisioning an apple with legs coming towards her, she nickered in anticipation and began walking towards the gate.  Sally ran into the large covered lean-to where all the feed and tack was stored, and grabbing a halter and shank, she quickly went to the gate to secure her mare.


Fanny was quite cooperative, other than constantly nuzzling and bumping the child with her nose, while Sally pulled the halter over the mare’s head and led her out of the pasture and into the shed.  Once there, Sally dug into her pocket and pulled out the desired apple just as the soft copper nose moved in and snatched it out of her hands.  With a loud crunch the mare bit into the fruit, allowing half of it to fall to the ground as she busied herself munching down her mouthful.  That done, her head dropped and her sensitive muzzle soon found the rest of the juicy treat, and with slobber flowing, she quickly polished it off.


In the meantime, Sally had retrieved her bridle from the peg and was trying to sort out which way was up as she returned to the mare.  She thought briefly on trying to get a saddle on Fanny as well, but since she had never done that by herself before, she decided to forget about it.  Getting the bridle on was going to be a challenge enough.


Taking hold of the shank of the bit in one hand, she pulled Fanny’s head towards her with her other, and raised the bit up to where it pressed against the mare’s teeth.  Fanny raised her head higher to look around, and was soon well out of the child’s reach.  Sally sighed with frustration. Then, spying the stacks of hay, she led the mare over to them and positioned her in front of an opened bale that was on ground level.  Fanny’s ears pricked and she instantly lowered her head, and set to munching.


Once again, Sally maneuvered the bit so that it lined up with Fanny’s munching mouth, and she was able to get the metal bar in between the chewing teeth.  Now came the next obstacle.  Holding the bit in place with her right hand, Sally grabbed the leather headstall and began to pull and tug it over the horse’s ears.  She managed to get it over one ear, but then Fanny raised her head and with a snort, gave it a shake, causing the headstall to come loose and fall down in front of her long face.


Again Sally felt the frustration, but a least the bit was still in place and as soon as Fanny brought her head back down to eat hay, the child went after the challenge again.  This time, she was a little faster, and getting the headstall over one ear, she deftly pushed it over the second ear before the mare could pull away.  But Fanny had no intentions of pulling away at this point.  She continued to chew on the hay as Sally fastened the throat latch and then pulled Fanny’s forelock out from under the leather, just as her papa had showed her how to do.



There.  That was done.  She unclipped the lead shank and tossed in upon the hay bale, and turned again to face the mare. Now for the next step; getting on.  She gathered up a rope for the dog, hitched up her skirt and coat, and contemplated her dilemma. Fanny stood quietly as the child attempted numerous different procedures to get herself onto the mare’s back.  Backing Fanny up, so that she stood parallel to the stack of hay bales, proved to be the most effective, and Sally soon found herself astride the mare.  Throughout the course of this awkward procedure, Fanny had behaved herself admirably and was quite pleased to continue munching hay while waiting for the child to get organized.


Sally rode out of town then, without the knowledge or permission of the adults who were responsible for her, and went to the aide of the scared ranch dog, who had been abandoned.


Xxx


Lom and Wheat had dismounted and were searching the road for tracks left from the four animals.  It hadn’t taken the posse long to get out past the Baird’s ranch road, and for quite a number of miles, the tracks made by the galloping horses and one mule had been as plain to see as a lantern on a clear night.  But then the tracks had stopped.  Somewhere along the route, the Bairds had turned off the road and headed cross-country, probably hoping that their trail would be lost.


The posse had quickly returned to the last visible hoof mark, and here is where they stopped, as those who knew what to look for examined the ground for any signs of a new direction.  Both men paced the road, heads bent and eyes on the soft dirt.  Occasionally, one of them would stop and squat, and with gentle fingers, shift some of the pebbles in hopes of seeing a definite outline of a track.


“Here,” Lom finally announced.  “They turned off the road here and headed up the hill, towards those trees.”


Wheat came over and surveyed the signs that Lom had pointed out.  Then both men stood straight and scanned the hillside that was shrouded in trees and rockery.


“Yep,” Wheat agreed.  “About time, too.  I would’a gotten off’a this road miles back.  Amateurs.”


“Uh huh,” Lom commented as he re-mounted.  “They’re runnin’ scared now.  No tellin’ what they might do, so be careful.  One at a time, going up here; don’t bunch up.  If they’re waitin’ in ambush, we don’t want ta’ give ‘em an easy target.”


Some anxious looks passed between the other posse members.  Volunteering to track down Sheriff Jacob’s assailants had been easy, when they were all standing around in town.  But now, with the grey skies closing in and a definite dampness in the air, going after three desperate men through the back country took some of the heroics out of the endeavor.
Still, they were all honest men and brave enough in their own right, so with Sam giving a good example by quickly falling into step behind the sheriff and the ex-outlaw, the posse turned off the road and headed up into the hills.


Xxx


Jed walked along the boardwalk with an aching in his heart that only grew stronger with each step he took.  He had hoped that talking to David would help to ease both of their mournings, but it only seemed to make things worse.  It was still too new, too raw, too unbelievable to be able to simply talk it out.  Now Jed was placed into a position where he had to make his own difficult decision; would he tell Heyes and Miranda about the tragic event here at home?  He wrestled with this dilemma all the way along his walk towards the telegraph office.


Stepping into the office, he suddenly realized how chilly it had been outside.  His thoughts had been so encompassing that he hadn’t noticed the dampness in the air, or the dark, overcast skies.  He noticed them now though, and a fleeting thought of concern came into his thoughts about the posse that had left town earlier that morning.  The man hunt could be over before it barely got started, if the rains began in earnest.  It’s no fun being out on a trek when the weather turned cold and wet.  He knew this from personal experience, and he and Heyes had always tried hard to avoid such an event.  Still, things had not always been under their control and he had often marveled, albeit begrudgingly, at the tenacity of some posses who had refused to give up their quarries despite inclement weather. 



“Howdy there, Jed,” Clayt greeted his customer, though his tone was somber.  “Sending a telegram?”


Jed brought himself back to the present.  “Yeah.”


“There’s been a lot of that today,” Clayt informed him.  “Joe was in here for almost an hour, sending out messages to our neighboring towns.  Poor lad could hardly write them out, he was that distraught.  Sad day for everyone.”


“Yeah,” Jed repeated, and then made up his mind.  It wasn’t going to be a sad day for everyone, not if he had anything to do with it.  News like this could wait until Heyes and Miranda were back home. 



“Okay,” Clayt responded as he picked up his pencil and flattened out a piece of paper.  “What do ya’ want to say?”


“Ah, it’s goin’ to Red Rock Texas,” Jed informed him.  “Pat McCreedy.  Tell HH to contact me. ASAP. Curry.”


Clayt cocked an eyebrow at him and then nodded as he wrote down the cryptic message.  “Ya gonna tell him about this in a telegram?”


“No Clayt, I ain’t,” Jed snarked, feeling irritated at the insinuation.  “I gotta talk to him about somethin’ else.  Is that okay with you?”


Clayt cringed at the onslaught.  “Sorry,” he apologized.  “You’re right. None a’ my business.”


Jed slumped.  “No, I’m sorry,” he said.  “It’s just a bad mornin’, I guess.  For everyone.”


“Yeah, ya’ got that right.  Okay, I’ll get this sent off right away.  I’ll add it to your tab.”


Jed nodded and left the office.  He stopped right outside and took a deep breath.  He felt lost and undecided about what to do next.  Then he remembered what his plans had been for the day and decided that the best thing for him to do would be to carry on with that.  The ranch did need to be checked up on, and so did his place, not to mention Sam’s.  Beth and Belle had thought to join him on the ride out there, but now with the weather threatening unpleasantness, he wondered if it was a good idea. 



Perhaps the ladies should stay in town another day or two.  Goodness knows, Jesse wasn’t ready for a trip like that.  Jed recalled making that same trip into town while he was still recovering from the bullet wound.  David had him pumped full of morphine, but it had still been an uncomfortable journey, and even though the end of it was a jail cell, he’d been relieved when they’d finally pulled up in front of the Sheriff’s office.  It was not a trip to be taken lightly by an injured man, and Jesse was pretty beaten up.


Xxx


Red Rock. Texas


Hannibal loosened the collar on his shirt and removed the bandana to wipe the sweat from his forehead.  Miranda smiled at him, knowingly.


“I told you, you would be too hot in that get up,” she teased.  “Why don’t you change into your cottons before we get to Red Rock?”


“I’ll be fine,” the male stubbornly insisted.  “It’s just stuffy in here.  Once we get off this train and into the fresh air, it’ll be more comfortable.  “
Yes, dear.”


Throughout the next forty minutes, Heyes was finding the scenery becoming more and more familiar, as the train chugged its way towards Red Rock and then into the township itself.  He smiled as he spied the saloon where he and the Kid had first encountered Big Mac.  The establishment was one block up and a few buildings over from the train tracks, but whoever planned its construction had known what he was about.  There was a clear view of the saloon billboard for all prospective customers arriving in town on the in-coming train.


“What are you smiling about?”  Miranda asked him.  “What’s going on in that devious mind of yours?”


“Devious?” Hannibal asked her, feigning insult.  “I’m not always plotting and scheming, you know.”


“No?” she responded, innocently.  “Then you must be remembering something.”


Hannibal’s smile deepened.  “Yes, alright.  You’ve got me there.  I was just remembering our fortuitous first meeting with Big Mac McCreedy.  As much as we tried to stay away from that man, the more ways he found to lure us back in.  Money, mostly.  Mac dangled that Ace under our noses every chance he got and it always seemed to work, too.”


“You were that desperate for funds?”


“Yes!  Being an outlaw was a lot easier, and more financially rewarding, than going straight,” Hannibal told her.  “I still don’t really know what kept us at it.  Stubbornness, I guess.  But Mac, he liked having Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry under his thumb, or thinking that he did.  Try as he might to get out of paying us for a job, we usually found a way to convince him otherwise.”


“Usually?”


“Hmm.  That first encounter with him did not end in our favor.  Of course, it didn’t end in Mac’s favor either.  Nope.  Armendarez won that round.  Actually, Armendarez pretty much won every round.  But at least me and the Kid would get paid.”


“I find your range of friends very interesting,” Randa admitted. “From outlaws and conmen to a Catholic nun, ex-outlaws turned lawmen, government officials and wealthy ranchers.  They say that you can often judge a man’s character by the company he keeps, but you don’t seem to fit in anywhere.”


“I’m very complex,” her husband informed her with a cheeky grin.  “I like to keep the outside world guessing.”


“Yes,” Miranda agreed as her gaze turned to view out the window.  “You certainly manage to do that.”


Heyes frowned at what he imagined was a disapproving tone, but before he could enquire, the train’s whistle sounded loudly as the engine entered the depot area, and the whole conveyance slowly came to a halt.


The voice of the porter making his way through the passenger cars as he announced their destination, was coming closer and closer to their cabin.  Heyes let the matter drop and stood up to get their items organized to disembark.



“Oh, finally,” Miranda said with a sigh, her travel weariness showing in her eyes.  “I’m so looking forward to spending a few days in a room that isn’t on the move.”


“Me too,” he agreed.  “Mrs. McCreedy is a fine hostess.  If Mac hasn’t dreamed up some scheme for me to help him out with, we should have a relaxing stay.”


Xxx


Brookswood, Colorado


Jed slipped the halter over Gov’s head and began to lead him out of the pasture when it suddenly struck him that something was amiss.  He frowned as he pulled his gelding out through the gate and then swung the contraption closed.  He latched the bolt as he took a quick look around at the small herd of family horses as they casually grazed or dozed within their comfortable surroundings.


Jed couldn’t see it at first, but his instincts were telling him that something was wrong.  With nothing else to go on, he began to count the horses inside the paddock, and his heart skipped a beat when he realized that they were one short.  He did a second scan of who was there and compared it with his list of who should be there and then bit his lower lip in consternation.


After leading Gov into the lean-to, the first thing Jed saw was Fanny’s lead shank unceremoniously dumped on top of the hay bale.  He cursed under his breath as he quickly got his gelding tacked up. Walking back out to the paddock gate, he studied the wet dirt around that area and soon found what he’d been looking for; a small, child size foot print accompanied by the round, platter shaped hoof mark that he knew belonged to Fanny.  With another quiet curse, he mounted, and turning the horse’s head back into the main part of town, he pushed the gelding into a lope and made a bee-line towards Heyes’ place.



It only took him a few minutes to make the trip, and coming to a quick stop at the porch, he swung down, tired Gov to the railing and came up the steps, three at a time.


“Beth!” he called as he pushed through the front door and came into the kitchen.  “Beth!  Are you here?”


“Yes!” came the slightly irritated response from the main bedroom.  This was soon followed by the woman herself, with T.J. accompanying her.  “Why all the fuss?  I’m almost ready to go and so is Mama.  All we have to do is get Monty hitched up and we’ll be ready.”


“Change of plans,” Jed informed her, as he busied himself grabbing some basic supplies from the kitchen cupboards. “Fanny’s missing from the paddock.  I think Sally has gone off somewhere.”


Beth’s brows went up.  “What?  But she’s in school.  Mama saw her off, herself.”


“That may be, but she ain’t in school now,” Jed countered as he grabbed his saddlebags from the closet in the mud room and took his rifle down from the hooks above the coat rack.  “There’s a clear set of tracks leadin’ out’a town.  She’s got a good head start on me, but if I move quickly, I should catch up with her before she gets much further.”


“But where would she be going?” Beth asked, more to herself than to anyone else.  T.J. answered her, but was completely misunderstood.  Beth bobbed him on her hip to settle him.


“I have no idea,” Jed admitted as he packed supplies into his bags.  “I could be gone a couple ‘a hours or a couple ‘a days.  She might just be playin’ hooky and already be on her way home.  I donno.  But now is not the time for any of the young’uns to be out by themselves.”


“Yes, alright,” Beth agreed as she wrapped herself in her warm shawl.  “I’ll go and tell Mama, and then we’ll check the school and see if she showed up at all today.  Maybe the other children will have some ideas.”


“Yeah,” Jed approved as they both headed out the front door.  “And you better let Joe know about this.  For one thing, he’ll need to know that he’s got the town on his own for now.  Hopefully I won’t be gone long.”


“Do you really think the Bairds would try anything like this?” Beth asked, her face and her tone betraying her worry.


“I donno darlin’,” Jed admitted, and he paused long enough to give his wife and his son reassuring kisses.   I hope not.  It’d be real stupid.  But let’s face it; none of that family can be credited with havin’ much brains.”


“Oh dear…”


Jed got his gear secured to the saddle and mounted up.  Gov pranced in his anxiety to get going.  He knew something was up, and he didn’t see the point of wasting time.


Jed reached down and cupped his wife’s face in his hand.  “Try not to worry, darlin’,” he said, though without much conviction.  “Hopefully it’s nothin’, and she’ll be comin’ home to a hide tannin’ for scarin’ everybody with her shenanigans.”



“Yes…”


Jed gave Gov the signal, and the horse pivoted on his hind quarters and was away at a gallop, heading back out of town.


Beth stood for a moment, biting her lower lip in worry as she watched him leave.  Thaddeus gurgled and laughed as he attempted to wave goodbye to his departing father.


Xxx


Sally kept her mare at a steady jog all the way out of town and onto the cross-country road that led past many of the trailheads leading to the ranches that scattered their way among the countryside.  She was pretty sure that she knew which one of those branches would lead her to the Baird’s property, and trusting her instincts, she pushed Fanny onwards, taking them further and further away from the outskirts of town.


As things turned out, she need not have worried about missing the turn-off as the entrance to the property had a large overhead sign across the access road that quite clearly stated the name of the owners.  Sally smiled as she pulled up and then gave her mare a pat on the neck, as though Fanny had had something to do with their good fortune.  Sally turned the mare’s head and giving her a nudge, they trotted down the dirt road towards the run-down house and dull looking barn.


The place seemed unusually quiet, even to the child’s expectations of what an empty ranch yard should sound like.  There weren’t even any chickens in the yard, or even in the coop for that matter.  She had certainly expected to see chickens and a cat or two.  And no barking dog?  Where was the dog?  A twinge of fear clutched at her heart as the thought struck her that perhaps the dog had already run off, or maybe someone had come and stolen it.  The fact that this was her intention never even played in to her brand of logic.


She brought the mare up to the doors of the barn and then slid awkwardly to the ground.  She felt uneasy about this place.  It was so quiet; not even barn swallows were sounding off the alarm, and every barn had barn swallows.  She looked around at her surroundings and then gazed into the dusty mustiness of the old barn itself.


“Hello!” she called and frowned at how small and nervous her voice sounded.  She tried again with a little more gusto.  “Hello!  Dog, are you in here?”


She listened intently, but there was no response.  She whistled, just like her papa had showed her how to do.  Nothing.  She gathered up her courage and started to walk into the barn, but Fanny had planted her feet and didn’t seem all too keen on following her young mistress.


“Come on,” Sally encouraged the mare as she tugged on the reins.  “It’s alright.  I don’t think there’s anybody here anyways.  Come on.”  She clucked and tugged some more, and Fanny finally decided that it would be alright.  She lowered her head and followed the child into the dimly lit interior.


The barn smelled old and mildewy; nothing like the clean freshness of her grandpa’s barns.  She loved going into those barns, with the sweet fragrance of hay and straw filling her senses.  The swallows were happy in those barns, and they kept up a continuous song throughout the day that boosted the spirits and made one want to whistle along with their gaiety.


But that was not the case with this barn.  This barn was filled with bad feelings.  She knew it wasn’t haunted because she could tell when a place was haunted and there were no restless ghosts lingering here.  But that didn’t make the barn itself any more welcoming and it was only her conviction that the dog was here and needed help, that kept her inside the structure.


She whistled again and tried to peer into the darker shadows of the corners to see if she could make out any shapes in there.


“Humph,” she huffed.  Obviously if the dog was in here, he wasn’t about to come out from hiding.


She led Fanny over a hitching ring and tied her there, then she unbuttoned her coat and pulled out the meat sandwich that had been made for her lunch.  Seeing it now, and smelling the tasty roasted beef, she realized that she was getting hungry and took a big bite out of it for herself.  Munching contentedly, she made her way deeper into the barn and began to look for the dog in ernest.


“Here dog!” she mumbled over her mouthful.  “I’ve got a really good sandwich for you.  Come and get it, or I’ll eat it all myself.  Come on, dog, come on, boy.”


Nothing. Finally giving up on her efforts, she plunked down on a bench and contemplated taking another bite for herself.  She was undecided for less than a second and was soon munching on her second mouthful.  It was then, when she wasn’t looking for him, that she saw him.  At first, it was just a hint of a shape in the shadows, then she caught the bright glint of hopeful eyes and a pink tongue darting out to stem the flow of drool.  Somebody was hungry.


“Hello there,” Sally greeted him quietly.  “Would you like some of this?”


She quietly slid herself off the bench and settled onto her knees in the straw.  She tore off a piece of the sandwich and held it out towards the dog, hoping that the animal would come forward.  Unfortunately, he did the opposite and with an anxious whine, the canine turned and retreated back into the musky shadows.


“No.  Don’t go away,” Sally called after him.  “It’s alright.  Come and eat.”


Whether the dog understood English or not is uncertain, but within a moment, Sally saw the bright eyes and the glistening nose come into view again.


“Come on,” she encouraged him.  “Don’t be scared.  Here.”  And she gently tossed the morsel of beef and bread to where it landed right in front of the hungry gaze.


The eyes darted to the meat, then back to the child, then down at the meat, then back to the child.  Then the decision was made.  The dog slinked out from its hiding place and gobbled down the food.


“Good dog,” Sally praised him.  “Here, you want some more?”


Eager eyes looked up and followed the projectory of the offering as it left the child’s hand and soared through the air, to plop down into the straw right at the dog’s feet.  He pounced on it as though it were a live mouse, and instantly gulped it down.


“If you want some more,” Sally informed him. “you’ll have to come and get it.”


There was no hesitation this time.  Slinking in a submissive manner, but with tail wagging and teeth bared in a joyful smile, the blue tic dog trotted over and accepted the offering.


“Good boy,” she praised him again, as she patted him and scratched his ears.


The dog smiled up at her, and with his body convulsing in uncharacteristic puppy wiggles, he licked her face and her hands in enthusiastic gratitude.  Sally giggled and reciprocated with more scratches and an impromptu belly rub.


“Come on,” she said as she clambered to her feet.  “Let’s get you out of here and back home to a real supper.”


She frowned slightly as she uncoiled the rope from around her shoulders and dropped the loop over the dog’s head.  Now that her mission had been accomplished, the reality of what her welcome home was likely to be, had come back to haunt her.  She was going to be in big trouble.  Not only had she skipped school, but she had gone off alone, without permission and had likely caused her family no end of worry.


The dog looked up at her, concerned over the sudden change of mood.  Seeing his consternation, Sally pushed the negative thoughts away and smiled down at him.


“Never mind,” she assured him. “One thing at a time.  Come on, let’s go.”


She walked over to Fanny and untied the reins in preparation of leaving that dreary barn, when all three of them froze and came to attention.  Two horses with riders came trotting into the yard, and carrying on past the barn doors, they stopped by the front of the house. Sally didn’t know what to do.  She really wasn’t supposed to be here, and she recognized the woman on one of the horses as Isabelle’s sister, Courtney.  Sally never liked that woman and had always done her best to stay away from her, and since Courtney spent much of her time visiting with her mother’s sister on the other side of the county, this wasn’t generally hard to do.  But now, it could prove to be a challenge.


Sally glanced down at the dog and noticed that instead of being happy to see one of his humans returning home, his whole body had stiffened and his hackles rose.  A quiet, menacing growl left his throat.


“Quiet,” Sally whispered.  “We don’t want them to hear us.”


The dog glanced up at her and responded with a brief wag of its tail, then its stance returned to guarded, and the hackles never relaxed.
From where they stood, Sally could hear the creaking of leather and the jangling of bits as the man and the woman dismounted.  The child could hear them talking, but try as she might, she could not make out their words.  Courtney sounded anxious and maybe a little irritated, and the man was obviously trying to reassure her.


Sally’s curiosity soon over-came her fear, and quietly stepping forward, she stealthily made her way to the entrance of the barn.  The dog came with her, stiff-legged and silent while Fanny wisely chose to stay where she was to watch the proceedings from the dimness of the barn’s interior.  She hadn’t lived to be an old brood mare without having learned a thing or two about caution.


Still staying hidden behind the door, Sally strained her ears to try and pick up what was being said out in the yard.


“Wait here,” Courtney’s clipped tones weren’t hard to pick up, now that Sally was closer.  “I have the money in the house.  I’ll be right back.”


“You better be,” the man’s deeper voice responded.  “It’s already noon and it’s gonna take all afternoon for me to get to where I’m goin’.”


“I know where Deke’s Canyon is, and you can get there in two hours if you don’t drag your butt,” Courtney snarked back.  “Just wait here.”


“My, what language for a young lady,” the man admonished her.  “What would your Pa think?”


“It’s my Pa that taught me!” came the response, though the voice had faded, suggesting that the speaker had gone indoors.


For a few moments all was quiet except for the occasional stamping of a hoof, or snort from one of the horses.  Fanny’s ears pricked at the sound, but she stayed quiet.


Light footfalls on wood suggested that Courtney had returned, and the conversation picked up again.


“Here,” she said.  “Five hundred dollars, and I want you to sign this.”


“Sign that?” Came the protest.  “What for?”


“I’m handing over all the money I got in this world,” Courtney pointed out.  “If you think you’re just going to ride out of here, Luke Shuster, without signing that you received it, you have another thing coming.”


“I told ya’ I was gonna deliver this money to your Pa, and I meant it,” Luke reminded her.  “What’s the matter, don’t you trust me?”


“I don’t trust anybody,” Courtney told him.
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Keays

Keays

Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 62
Location : Camano Island Washington

The Blues Empty
PostSubject: Re: The Blues   The Blues EmptyMon Apr 04, 2016 7:48 pm

“Look, you’re not even gonna pay me for the job until you get word from your Pa that you got the money!” Luke complained.  “Ain’t that good enough for you?”


“Five hundred dollars is a far sight more than fifty,” Courtney pointed out.  “I want something in writing.”


“Or what?” Luke questioned her.  “You gonna go to that deputy and complain that I ain’t holdin’ up my end of our little deal?”

Luke laughed, obviously aware that he had her over a barrel.  “I ain’t puttin’ my name on anything.  Your Pa trusts me, now either you do as well, or this deal is off.”


“Ohhh!  Fine!” Courtney sounded frustrated and angry, and Sally could clearly envision her stamping her foot in the moist dirt.  “Have it your way!  But if my Pa never gets this money…”


“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”


The sounds of movement in the yard suggested that the meeting was over.  One of the horses spooked and then snorted with concern, and Fanny lifted her head and sent out an answering whinny.



All three humans snapped their attention towards the direction of the unexpected sound.


“What was that?” Courtney asked in her alarm.


“Who’s in there!” Luke challenged the interloper.  “Come on out’a there, or I’ll come in shooting!”


The dog’s hackles rose even more and this time, his growl was full throated and menacing.  The pitch of it rose with the animal’s alarm as the man ignored the threat and strode quickly over to the hiding place.  Sally gasped and tried to back away, but Luke was there in an instant and grabbed her by the arm before she could will her feet to run.


The dog snarled furiously and grabbed at the man’s ankles, but Luke swung a kick at the dog that missed, but still sent the animal scurrying out of the way.  He gathered his wits and came at the man again, all prepared to protect his new friend, but a command stopped him in his tracks.


“Blu!” Courtney yelled.  “Stop it!  What do you think you’re doing? Lie down and be quiet.  Behave yourself.”


Blu cringed and sank to the ground, a guilty and worried expression taking over his face.  He had no love for this human, but she was part of his pack and he had to listen to her.


Luke ignored the dog as he pulled Sally out from the protection of the barn.


“Who are you?” he demanded to know.  “What do you think you were doing in there?”


“Nothing!” Sally insisted as she fought frightened tears.  “I just came out to feed the dog.”


“Why?” Courtney asked her.  “He’s not your dog.”


“He was calling to me,” Sally insisted.  “He was hungry.”


“If that’s all you were doing, why didn’t you come out when we arrived?” Courtney continued.  “Why did you hide in there?”


“I don’t know,” Sally whimpered.  “I was scared.”


“Scared, huh?” Luke repeated with a menacing tone.  “Eavesdropping, more like it.  How much did you over-hear?”


“Nothing,” the child insisted.  “I couldn’t hear anything.”


Luke roughly shook her.  “Don’t give me that!  What did you over-hear?”


“Nothing!” she repeated, and then broke down into real tears.


Blu’s hackles rose again, and he growled.


“Blu!” Courtney yelled at him.  “Quiet!”


Blu cringed and nervously licked his lips, but he never took his piercing gaze off of the man before him.


“Oh, Christ!  This is all I need!” Luke complained.  “It’s gonna take long enough for me to get to Deke’s canyon, without this crap going on.  Your Pa is only gonna wait for me for so long, ya’ know!”


Courtney sighed and gave Luke a disdainful look. “I tell you, I grew up in a household full of dull-headed men, and I have yet to meet any man who has proven to be any different.”


“What do ya’ mean?”


“Dammit, Luke!  You just went ahead and told her everything she needs to know,” Courtney pointed out.  “So even if she hadn’t heard what we had been talking about, you remedied that real quick.”


“Ah, crap!”


The two adults stared down at the child, wondering what on earth they were going to do with her.  Sally gazed back at them, tears rolling down her cheeks, as she wondered the same thing.


“What are we gonna do with her?” Luke continued.  “We can’t just let her go.”


“I won’t tell anybody, honest,” Sally promised.


Neither adult paid her any mind.


“No, we can’t,” Courtney agreed with Luke’s statement.


“We could tie her up, and leave her in the barn.”


“Oh right!” Courtney snarked at him.  “How’s that going to look?  Them finding her tied up out here on my place?  No.  You’re going to have to take her with you.”


“What?!  I’m not taking some snot nosed little kid with me,” Luke protested.  “What am I supposed to do with her?”


“How should I know?  But it was your big mouth that got us into this, so you can deal with it,” Courtney informed him.  “Maybe you can hand her over to my Pa.  If they get cornered, they could use her as a bargaining tool.”


“What makes you think that anybody is gonna care about her?”


“Her parents are going to, aren’t they?” Courtney reasoned.  “For all we know, maybe her Pa’s in that posse they sent out.  You don’t think that would be a good bargaining chip to have?”


“Yeah, I suppose.  But who is she?”


Courtney shrugged.  “How should I know?  What’s your name, kid?”


“Sally,” answered a tiny voice.  She wasn’t sure if she should be giving out this information.


“Sally what?” Courtney asked, already feeling exasperated with this little person.


“Sally Heyes.”


The silence was so heavy birds could have fallen from the sky.


“Heyes?” Courtney finally asked.


Sally nodded.


“Oh no,” Luke shook his head.  “No, no, no.  There is no way I want an angry Hannibal Heyes on my trail.  That man is devious.  I’d be looking over my shoulder until the day I die.  Forget it.”


“Fine,” Courtney told him.  “Then kill her, and we’ll dump the body down the well.”


“What!?  Are you mad?  I’m not killin’ some little kid, especially Heyes’ kid.”


“Well what alternatives do we have?”  Courtney asked him.  “Which would you prefer; kill her or take her with you?”


“You could let me go home,” Sally suggested hopefully.  “I won’t tell anyone.  I promise.”


Again, the child’s plea was ignored.


“Fxxk!” Luke cursed as he paced back and forth, hands on hips, and chewed his lip in consternation.  “Alright, fine!  I’ll take her with me.  Maybe your Pa will need some leverage after all.  Where’s her damn horse?”


In answer to his own question, he strode into the barn and soon returned with Fanny in tow.


“Where’s your damn saddle?” he asked her.  “I can hardly tie ya’ to the saddle horn, if ya’ don’t have a saddle.”


“I don’t know how to put one on,” Sally explained.  “They’re too heavy for me.”


“Oh for Christ’s sake!”


“Stop your damn cursing!”  Courtney told him.  “It’s unbecoming.  Check in the barn.  There’s a room in the back for saddles and what-not.  I’m sure you’ll find one in there.”


Luke turned the mare around and headed back into the barn.

 
Sally stood stock still, fighting tears and wondering how she was going to get out of this mess.  Her papa was going to be so mad at her.  She thought about running away from these people, but the knowledge that one of them would probably shoot her if she did, rooted her feet to the spot.  Besides, her legs were so wobbly with fear, they probably wouldn’t work properly anyway.


“Are you going to take your dog with you when you leave?” she finally asked, just to have something to say.


“What?” Courtney stared at her and then glanced over at the dog as though it was the first time she had seen it.  “No, I’m not taking the dog with me.  It’s a ranch dog, it would be a nuisance to have in town.”


“What are you going to do with him?”


“I’ll tie him to the porch,” Courtney answered, looking pleased with herself for coming up with a solution.


“You can’t do that!”  Sally protested, her concern for the animal over-ruling her fear for herself.  “You can’t just tie him up and leave him.  What if coyotes come, or a cougar?  He’d be defenseless.”


“He can get under the porch.  He’ll be fine.”


“But you can’t leave him here alone!  He’s got nobody to look after him!”


“Look!  I’ll come out once a day and feed him, alright?  That is if I remember.”


“But…”


“Forget about the dog!”  Courtney ordered her, and then walking over to the animal, she picked up the length of rope and headed back towards the porch.  “Come on, Blu.  You’ll be fine, right here.”


Blu reluctantly got to his feet and slinked after his mistress.  He didn’t know what was going on, but he was back to being scared again.  He had a feeling that his troubles weren’t over yet.


Luke came back out of the barn, leading Fanny.  He had found an old dusty saddle in the back room, and throwing an old holey blanket onto the mare’s back, had flung the saddle up on top of it, and cinched it tight. Fanny didn’t like it right from the start.  It pinched in all the wrong places and the girth was so stiff, if was chaffing her belly just in the short walk from the barn into the sunlight.


“C’mon you,” Luke said as he grabbed Sally under her arms and hoisted her off her feet.  “Up you go.”


“No!” Sally protested.  “I don’t want to go with you!  No!  My papa will be mad at you.”


“Yeah, well he’s gonna have to find me first,” Luke told her.  “Now stop your bellyachin’.  Ya gotta admit that this is better than the alternative.”


Taking some baling twine he’d found in the barn, Luke quickly bound the little hands together and then tied them securely to the saddle horn.


“There,” he said.  “Now be quiet, or I’ll stuff a gag in your mouth as well.  You don’t want that do you?”


Sally silently looked down at him, tears once again streaking her cheeks.  She shook her head; no she didn’t want that.


“Good.  It seems we’ve come to an agreement.  If all goes well, I’ll be rid of you in a couple of hours.”


Picking up the mare’s reins, Luke walked over to his own horse and inadvertently got within range of the tired up dog.  Blu, not liking how his little friend was being treated, lunged out at the man, snarling and raging, as he grabbed an ankle.


“Owe!” Luke complained as the dog tore into him.  “Get this damn dog off’a me!”


“Blu!  Blu, stop it!”  Courtney ordered, but this time, the dog ignored her.


Blu had a good hold on that ankle and he wasn’t about to let it go.  He dug in deep and began shaking his head and snarling as though he had a rat between his jaws.  Luke swatted at him with his hat, until he lost his balance and went down with a splat onto the wet ground.  Blu took advantage, and letting go his grip just for an instance, he lunged again and felt his teeth sink into the soft flesh of an unprotected calf.


Luke yowled and began punching at the dog as the three horses nervously danced away from the onslaught.  Courtney ran in to assist by grabbing at the dog and trying to pull him off the man, but Blu would not let go, and he refused to listen to his mistress’ commands.  He snarled and snapped and drew blood, and he no longer cared about the consequences.


The three horses were in an uproar.  Two of them were tethered and could do nothing more than jump around and bang into each other, causing them to become even more distressed.  They pulled back against their restraints, and bucked and kicked and carried on, but to no avail; they could not break free.


Fanny, on the other hand, was loose.  At the first sign of trouble, she pivoted and powered up to a full gallop within seconds.  She knew where home was and decided for herself, that it was time they were going back there.


“Stop that horse!” Luke yelled in between the snarlings.  “Stop her!”


Courtney looked up just in time to see the copper mare pivot and make a run for it.  She let go of the dog and dashed after the horse, yelling and swinging her arms to try and stop her.


“Whoa!” she yelled, as though that would do any good.  “No!  Stop!”


She made a grab for the flying reins and actually managed to get hold of one, but the momentum of the mare wasn’t to be stopped that easily.  Courtney found herself being yanked off her feet, and the last thing she saw before landing face first in the mud, was a pair of frightened brown eyes, and a little girl’s long red hair flying out behind her as the pair made their escape.


Luke cursed some more, and still kicking and striking at the dog, he finally managed to drag himself out of the animal’s reach.  His lower left trouser leg was ripped to shreds and blood oozed out from the numerous bite wounds that had punctured into the flesh.


“You goddam, fxxking mongrel!” he shouted, and without hesitating, he pulled his colt .45 and took his shot.


Blu yelped, but more in fear than pain.  He felt the bullet burn into the scruff of his neck, but the projectile carried on through and ended up burying itself in one of the porch steps.  It had also severed the rope that had been encircling Blu’s neck, and the dog, realizing it was free, snarled and made another lunge for this man who deserved no mercy.


“Blu!” Sally called, as her mare sped her further and further away from the scene.  “Blu!  Come on boy!”


Blu’s ears pricked and the light of hope took over from the darkness in his eyes.  Luke was still trying to get to his feet as well as get another shot off, but he wasn’t fast enough.  Blu lunged and landed squarely on Luke’s chest, knocking him flat and sending the six-gun flying.  Digging in his hind claws, the dog used the human as a launching pad, and leaping over the man’s head, he ran after his new friend, barking joyfully and ignoring the curses coming from his previous mistress.


Courtney came back to Luke to try and help him to his feet, but he was in a furious rage.  He scrambled upright on his own, and pushed her away from him.  He nearly fell again as he tried to put weight on his injured limb, but he was able to grab the post by the porch and stay on his feet.  He was cursing a blue streak as blood pooled around his boot.


“What are we going to do!?”  Courtney wailed.  “She’ll raise the alarm!  You have to get after her!”


“Forget it!”  Luke yelled at her.  “I’m out’a here!”


“But what about the money to my pa!”


“Here!”  Luke dug into his inside pocket and brought out the brown paper packet.  “You take it!”


“I can’t ride up there on my own!  You have to take it!”


“Forget it lady!  I don’t care what your pa figures I owe him, but I’m goin’!”


And to prove he meant it, he stumbled over to his jittery horse and attempted to untie the reins.  Unfortunately, the horse had pulled back so strongly against the tethering, that the knot was seized shut and wasn’t about to be undone.


Luke was almost pulling his hair out in his pain and frustration.  He worked and worked at that knot, but to no avail.  His horse, already wound up and fit to burst, could sense the anger in the human and thus became even more fidgety.  He fretted and jerked against the rein, making the whole situation worse and causing Luke to exude even more cursing.


He frantically looked around him, hoping to find some solution to this problem, and much to his surprise, he actually did.  Snatching up the piece of rope that had secured the dog, he took out his knife and cut a length of it off of the whole.  He then cut the offending rein off the bridle and tied the makeshift one onto the bit in its place.


The horse, realizing it was free, danced backwards and tried to spin away from the angry human.  But Luke had been expecting that and made sure he had a good hold on the animal before cutting it free of the hitching rail.  The horse circled around him, head high and eyes rolling white with fear, keeping himself as far away from this human as the length of rein would let him.


“Whoa!” Luke yelled at the horse and hopped after it, trying to get a hold of the saddle horn.  “Stand still, ya mangy creature!”


He reeled the horse in, like a fish on a line, until his hand was right up beside the shank of the bit.  He turned the horse’s head in, towards him, but the animal kept on circling in its efforts to avoid this person who had a hold of him.  Luke cursed again as the two of them kept hopping around in circles until finally, Luke was able to grab hold of the cheek strap of the bridle with his left hand, and then the saddle horn with his right.  He somehow managed to get a foot in the stirrup, and pulling the horse’s head all the way around to its withers, Luke hauled himself up into the saddle.


But the horse continued to circle and fight against the hold on its head.  Luke was so unbalanced in the saddle that he forgot to let go of the bridle, and pulling the horse off balance as well, the two of them toppled over in a tangle of kicking legs and loud curses.


The horse snorted with indignation, but finally finding its head free, it quickly righted itself and getting the hind legs underneath him, he heaved himself back onto his feet.  Unfortunately for the equine, Luke continued to hold on to the saddle horn and was able to hang on and come back up with the horse.  The animal stood there for a moment, legs splayed, and mane tussled, wondering what was going to happen next.


Luke gathered up the reins and turning the horse’s head towards the back acreage, he began to boot the animal to get it to move forward.  The horse was so disoriented, that he reared instead, but Luke held on and finally convinced the horse to move forward.  They trotted through the yard and were heading around the side of the house with Courtney running after him and yelling.


“You can’t just ride off!” she screamed.  “I hired you to do a job!”


“Yeah, a job that you haven’t paid me for yet,” Luke reminded her.  “Good luck with it.  Bye!”


Luke gave the horse another boot with his heels and an awkward lope was achieved as the pair headed up into the hills.


Courtney stamped her foot in frustration.  She turned to look at her horse who was still standing tied to the hitching rail and was now cautiously gazing back at her.  This had been a crazy morning and the one remaining horse wasn’t sure what to expect.  She stood with head up and nostrils flaring as the crazy woman hurried towards her.  She snorted and thought about ducking away, but realized that she was still tied and couldn’t go anywhere.


At this point, Courtney at least showed more common sense than her hired hand had done.  She slowed to a walk and spoke quietly to the mare.  She approached the quivering animal and gently stroked her neck, until the mare blew out a snort of relief and calmed down.


Courtney, taking the example from Luke, gathered up the last length of rope from the ground and tied the end of it to the shank of the bit.  Looking around, she spied the wood axe over by the chopping block and quickly retrieved it.  It was heavier than she imagined, but she was determined not to be left behind, and, much to the mare’s consternation, she hefted the chopper and brought the blade down to embed itself into the wood of the hitching rail.


The mare pulled back and what little bit of leather that hadn’t be caught by the blade, broke under the pressure and the mare was free.  Courtney dropped the axe and grabbed the reins all in one swift motion. Being an accomplished horsewoman, she lightly stepped into the saddle, and turning the mare in the same direction that Luke had taken, the pair took off at a gallop towards the back country.


Xxx


Jed hurried Gov along the main road as quickly as he could under the circumstances.  He wanted to catch up with Sally, but he didn’t want to take the chance of missing any tell-tail signs of her turning off the roadway.  He didn’t think it likely that she would ride off into the hills, but then again, is wasn’t like her to skip school and ride off on her own without permission, either.  He had no idea what she was up to, so he didn’t want to simply assume that she would do the predictable.  She might not be Heyes’ daughter by blood, but she was a quick study.


As much as it begrudged him to stop every time they came to a section in the road where a rider could turn off, Jed would pull up and dismount to study the ground.  Every time, he’d still find Fanny’s platter shaped hoof print heading along the main road and keeping to what looked like a steady trot.  Sally was going somewhere with a purpose, but Jed couldn’t imagine what it could be.
He had Gov going forward at a ground covering lope, when the sound of a gunshot froze his blood.  Instinctive reaction caused him to jerked his horse to a halt and pull his own revolver all within the same fluid, split second motion.  He looked towards the sound of the shot and a dread settled over him as he realized that it had seemed to come from the Baird’s property.


Had the Bairds actually returned?  Had Sally gone there for some reason, and was now mixed up in the goings-on of that strange and now dangerous family?  He gave Gov his head and with barely a touch from his rider’s heel, the young gelding dug in and took off at a gallop.


They were still a fair distance from the Baird’s property when Jed spotted a horse and rider coming towards them.  Jed squinted, keeping his eyes glued to the pair until, with a sense of relief, he recognized Fanny and assumed that the small figure upon her back must be Sally.  But then concern invaded his thoughts again, as he realized the mare was galloping hard and fast towards him.  Too hard and fast for Sally to be in control of her.


He pulled Gov up to wait for the run-away to get closer to them.  As they did get closer, he could see the terror in the eyes of both the horse and the girl, and he knew that he had to stop them before either of them got injured.  He positioned Gov across the road and tried to block the mare from carrying on, but it looked like Fanny was in such a blind rush, that she was going run right through them in her effort to get away from whatever had caused the panic.


“Whoa, Fanny! Whoa!” Jed called out as he waved his arms in the air.  “Sally!  Pull her head around!”


He saw the mare’s focus turn from blind panic to recognition of movement and a familiar voice, but she still wasn’t prepared to stop.  Why was Sally not doing anything?  Was she that panicked by being on a run-away?  There wasn’t time to question the situation.  Jed pushed Gov out into the path of the mare, and even though Fanny, in recognition of a familiar voice and a herd-mate, was already putting the brakes on, the two horses collided.


Fortunately, Gov was a solid gelding, and much younger and stronger than the geriatric brood mare, so he kept his feet and successfully blocked the mare from carrying on.  Jed reached out and grabbed the reins and between him and his stalwart gelding, they were able to pull Fanny into a circle and get her stopped.


“Sally!” Jed called to the child.  “Are you alright?  What’s happened?”


“No, no!”  Sally cried.  “Don’t let them take me!”


“Nobody’s gonna take ya’, Darlin’,” Jed assured her, but then he noticed her small hands tied to the saddle horn.  “What the hell?  Whoa, whoa, Fanny.  Settle down.  Sally, what happened?”


“They were going to take me!” Sally cried.  “I just went out there to feed the dog, and they were going to take me!!”


“Shh, shh, Darlin’,” Jed tried to reassure her.  “You’re safe now, Sweetheart.  And I see you got yourself a friend there.”


“Yeah,” Sally agreed through her sobs.  “This is Blu.  He helped me get away.”


“Get away from who?” Jed asked, as he pulled out his knife and cut the binding twine that bound her hands to the saddle horn.  “Who did this to you?”


“It was Miss Baird, and…and…some man!”  Sally cried.  “He was going to take me!”


“Take you where?”


But Sally started crying again, and she, Fanny, and Blu kept looking anxiously over their shoulders as though in expectation of some demon whisking down upon them from the distant horizon.  Jed followed their anxious gazes and was feeling torn over what his next move should be.  Obviously, Courtney Baird and some unknown man had been up to something, and Sally had inadvertently stumbled into the path of a nefarious plan.


 Jed’s anger seethed, and the first thing he wanted to do was to ride on to the Baird’s ranch and track down those responsible to treating Sally this way.  But the child beside him was terrified, and he knew that he could not leave her to carry on home by herself.  This was a fine pickle, but he had no choice.


“C’mon, Darlin’,” he said, as he lifted Sally from Fanny’s back, and set her on his lap, behind the pommel.  “I’ll get you home.”


“Grandma’s gonna be mad at me,” Sally sniffled between her sobs.  “I ran off without permission.”


“Yeah, ya’ did,” Jed agreed.  “You got a lot of people worried about ya.”


“I know,” Sally admitted.  “But Blu was calling me.  He needed help.”


Jed made no response as he gathered up Fanny’s reins and settled both horses into a lope towards home.  The dog in question followed along with the group as though that were his rightful place, and somehow, Jed felt that it was beyond him to deny it.


Xxx


“Oh, thank God!”  Belle praised, as she ran down the steps and carried on towards the small party.  “Thaddeus, you found her!  Thank goodness!”


“Yes, ma’am,” Jed agreed as he signaled Gov to stop.  “And she’s got quite a story to tell, too.”


“Grandma!  Grandma, you won’t believe what happened!”  Sally insisted as Jed picked up under the arms and assisted her back down to the ground.  “I was nearly kidnapped!”


“What?”  Belle’s eyes widened with the fear of that occurrence, and sent a demanding look to Jed for more information.


“Yeah, it seems so,” Jed concurred. “But I don’t have time to fill ya’ in.  I’ll leave that to Sally.  I gotta go find Joe.  Tell Beth that I’ll be back as soon as I can.”


Sally was tugging on Belle’s shirt sleeve and jumping up and down in her anticipation of telling her story.  The terror of her recent predicament was gone now that she was safe within the bosom of her family, and she was bubbling over with enthusiasm to let everyone know how brave she had been.


“Oh, my goodness,” Belle mumbled as the child began pulling her towards the steps.  “You better have a good explanation for causing us all so much worry.  You are this close to being grounded, young lady.”


“Yes, but not after I tell you what happened,” Sally insisted.  “And Blu saved me.”


“Where in the world did that dog come from?” Belle exclaimed as she noticed the hound trotting up the steps of the house.  “No, no!  No dogs in the house!”


“Sally!” Jed called as he was heading away.  “Take care of your horse!”


Sally stopped in her tracks and looked back at poor Fanny, who had been left standing in the middle of the street with no one paying her any mind.


“Oh!”  Sally broke away from her grandma, and running back to her horse, she led the mare over to the hitching rail and tired her there.  Giving the animal a pat on the neck, she turned and ran back up the stairs, where Belle was busy trying to get the dog out of the front alcove.


Xxx


Jed carried on and headed straight for the sheriff’s office.  He wasn’t sure if Joe would be there, but that seemed like the best place to start.  He pulled up at the railing, jumped down and hurried into the office, inadvertently slamming the front door open in his haste.


Joe and two young fellas who were deputy trainees, were standing around the desk, looking over a map when all three of them jumped at the sudden entrance.


“Joe!” Jed began, “I got a lead, but we gotta move fast.  C’mon, get your stuff together.”


“A lead?” Joe asked.  “For what?  I mean, from where?”


“From Sally,” Jed explained.  “I found her out by the Baird’s place.  Apparently Courtney and some hired hand were talking about getting money to her pa.  Sally says they’re meeting him at Deke’s Canyon.  If we hurry, we just might catch ‘em.”


“Just hold on a second,” Joe protested.  “Deke’s Canyon?”


“Yeah.  C’mon, let’s go!”


“Dammit!” Joe cursed.  “I can’t leave the town unprotected after all this, and all the decent men went off with Sheriff Trevors…”


“We can look after the town,” Levi assured his superior.  “Wes and me have been practicin’ long enough.  We can do it for real.  Can’t we Wes?”


Wes’ big blue eyes widened in surprise at being volunteered for active duty, but once he got over the shock, his head bobbed up and down in conformation.  “Yeah, we can look after the town.  No problem.”


Joe hesitated.  He wanted nothing more than to get a chance at bringing in the men who had killed his boss and friend, but he didn’t like the idea of leaving two greenhorns behind on their own.  What if the Bairds came back here?”


“If Courtney has made plans to meet up with her pa, I don’t think it’s too likely they would return to town,” Jed pointed out.  “C’mon, let’s go.  We’re wastin’ time.”



Joe still hesitated, biting his lower lip with indecision.


“We can handle things here, Deputy Morin,” Levi repeated.  “Go get that bastard.”


“Yeah,” Wes chipped in.


“Joe!” Jed was already heading back out the door.  “C’mon!”


Joe made up his mind.  “Okay fellas.  I’ll count on you to keep the town safe.”


“Yeah, yeah,” said Levi.  “Get goin’.”


Joe joined Jed on the boardwalk, and they made their plans.


“I’ll go back to Heyes’ place to get more supplies,” Jed told him.  “This might take longer than I thought.  You go and get your gear ready, and I’ll meet you there.”


“Okay.”


“Be quick!”


“I will!” Joe snarked.  “I want to get those fellas too, ya’ know.”


“Yeah, yeah, okay,” Jed responded.  “Sorry.  My tempter’s a little short these days.”


Joe gave a wave in acceptance as he took off down the boardwalk to get his supplies and his mare ready for travel.


Jed mounted up and headed off back to Heyes’ house.  Passing by David’s place along the way, he cursed when he saw Fanny still standing unattended at the hitching rail.


“Sally!” he yelled.  “Sally, get out here!”


Within seconds, Sally appeared on the front porch, with Blu right beside her.


“Yes, Uncle Jed?”


“What did I tell you?” he asked her, as he pointed at the mare.  “Tend to your horse.  I know you’ve had a difficult morning, but you can’t leave your horse standing there with no food or water.”


“But Grandma has grounded me for running off without permission,” Sally pouted.


“And rightly so,” Jed agreed.  “But I’m sure your grandma will agree that your horse comes first.”


“He’s quite right, missy,” Belle’s voice sounded from inside the house.  “You tend to your horse first, then get yourself right back here again, straight away.”


“Yes, Grandma,” Sally agreed, and came down the steps to do her duty.


Jed nodded approval and again picked up the lope to continue on to his destination.


Xxx


“I don’t know, Darlin’,” Jed said, as he scurried around the kitchen and alcove, collecting up his gloves, bed roll and rain slicker, along with a few more supplies that might be needed for an extended trip into the back country.  “But we gotta move fast, if’n we want’a catch them fellas.  If you hear from Lom, or anyone in the posse, tell them Deke’s Canyon.  Those local boys with ‘im ought ‘a know where it is.”


“I know where that is,” Beth told him.  “It just a couple of hours out of town.  Did you know that it was named after our Deke, our own head wrangler?”


“That’s nice,” Jed mumbled distractedly, as he stuffed more items into his saddle bags.  That done, he turned and gave Beth a kiss on her cheek.  “I’ll get back and soon as I can.”


“And be…”


“Yeah.  I’ll be careful.”


They both hurried outside and Jed strapped the extra items onto his saddle.  He was just tying it all down when Joe loped up on Black Betty.  Both horses were wide eyed and strung tight, picking up on their human’s moods.  They danced and mouthed their bits with impatience, wanting to be off and going on this new adventure.


Unlike Luke, Jed stepped gracefully aboard his pivoting horse, and with one more wave farewell to his wife, the two men galloped out of town, heading back to the Baird’s ranch, and their jump off point.


Xxx


Red Rock, Texas


Stepping off the train in Red Rock was almost like stepping out of the oven and onto the grill.  The heat hit them like waves on a hot ocean and Miranda felt for sure that she was going to swoon again.  She held onto her husband’s arm and took deep steady breaths to clear her head and to stay on her feet.  She felt disgust with herself for being so weak and ‘feminine’ when she had always seen herself and being strong and self-reliant.


Hannibal held her steady as he led them off the platform and into the relative coolness of the station house.  Apparently his wife was not the only one suffering from the heat wave, as there were many ladies who were already seated on the numerous benches and waving their fans or handkerchiefs in front of their faces and necks.  Hannibal escorted Miranda over to a section of bench that was a little less crowded than the others and assisted his wife to sit down.


“Is that better?” he asked her.


“Yes,” she assured him as she took out her own fan and quickly put it to use.  “Much better, thank you.”


“Okay.  Wait here.  I’ll go tend to our luggage and arrange a ride for us out to Mac’s place.”


Miranda sent him a clammy smile and nodded acquiescence.



Heyes squeezed her hand as he tried to mask his worry for her, then with a flash of his dimples, he walked out to attend to his errands.


“What a handsome husband you have,” stated an older lady who was sitting beside Miranda.  “And so attentive to you.  You’re very fortunate.”


Miranda glanced over at her, pleased at meeting up with a woman who was just as outspoken as she was.  “Oh yes,” she answered in an effort to socialize despite her buzzing head.  “He is very handsome.  And he does try to be a good man.”


Her neighbor cocked an eyebrow.  “Try?” she asked.  “I’ve seen many men try, but most of them simply don’t have the knack.  Your man seems genuinely kind, and believe me, I’ve been around the block enough times to know the difference.”


Miranda smiled, feeling more comfortable, even though she was still very hot.  “Yes, well.  He does try,” she repeated.  “We are newly married, and lately he’s…oh, no, it doesn’t matter.”


“He’s what?” the woman asked.


“Really,” Miranda reiterated.  “It’s not important.”


She smiled.  “Too protective, sometimes?” she asked sweetly.


Miranda sent her a sharp look, but then smiled at the soft grey eyes twinkling back at her.  “Well, yes,” she admitted.  “Far too protective, sometimes.  I’m seeing a new side to him that I suppose was always there, but…” She stopped and laughed.  “My name’s Miranda,” she offered and extended a warm hand.  “If we’re going to be talking intimacies, we should at least know one another’s names.”


“Quite right,” the lady agreed.  “I’m Gertrude, but Gertie is so much more fun.”


“Nice to meet you, Gertie,” Miranda told her as they gently shook hands. “My husband really is a good man, but something happened recently that caused me some concern. It’s just…he can be very masterful sometimes.”


“Well, that’s men for you,” came back the wise reply.  “Still, I can see that you are worried.  Perhaps you should do a check list.”


“A check list?” Randa asked.  “What do you mean?”


“Well, does he hit you?”


“No. Never.”


“Does he yell at you and put you down?”


“No.  He’s very kind, actually.”


“Is he lazy?”


“Ha!” Randa laughed at that one.  “Hardly!”


“Does he drink?”


“Not to excess.”


“Does he fight and gamble?”


Miranda’s smile faded.  “Yes.  I mean, I always knew he was a gambler.  I knew that before I married him.  He loves the game and is very good, but he knows when to stop.  He never gambles with money that we need for other things.  He’s very careful that way.”


“Then that’s not a problem?”


“No, not at all.”


“So,” Gertie concluded.  “He is overly protective, and he fights.  He has a violent tempter?”


“No, no!” Miranda was quick to correct that assumption.  “Oh, I don’t know what I mean. He got into a fight with a man who was being rude to me, that’s all.  But it frightened me.  I didn’t think he was going to stop.”


“Don’t you worry too much about your husband,” Gertie told her.  “The first few years of marriage are full of new discoveries.  The most a new wife can hope for is that most of them will be happy ones.  Believe me, there are many young brides who find themselves attached to a husband who ends up being nothing like the charming beau who came courting them.”


“Yes, of course,” Miranda agreed, though she still felt uneasy.  “You’re right.  He is a fine man, and I’m lucky to have him.  Are you married, Gertie?”


“I was,” Gertie answered.  “For thirty-two years.  But he passed a few months back, so now I’m coming to live here with my daughter and her husband.”


“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Randa told her.  “My first husband also passed.  I know how lost that can leave you feeling.”


“Oh my,” Gertie responded.  “You’re so young to be a widow.  But obviously you were fortunate to find love again.”


“Yes,” Randa agreed.  “And you’re right; he is a good man.  It’s just taking some adjustment.”


“Of course it is,” Gertie concurred.  “It’ll be fine, you’ll see.  And now I see, he is coming back.”


Randa followed her gaze, and sure enough, she spied her husband coming back towards them, a triumphant smile upon his face.


“Everything’s organized,” he announced.  “Mac sent us a carriage, and the driver is getting our luggage aboard.  Are you ready?”


“Yes,” Miranda agreed.  “I’m feeling much better.  Gertie, I’d like you to meet my husband, Han.  Han, this is Gertie.  We’ve been having a lovely conversation while you were away.”


“Oh,” Heyes grinned, and removing his hat, he took the lady’s hand in greeting.  “Ma’am.  A pleasure to meet you.  Do you live in Red Rock?”


“I do now,” Gertie informed him.  “Perhaps we’ll meet again.”


“Yes.”


“Oh, and here’s my son-in-law,” Gertie announced.  “Well, have a lovely stay with your friends.  Goodbye for now.”


“Yes, goodbye Gertie,” Miranda responded as the older lady got to her feet and promptly departed.  Miranda laughed as she stood up.  “My, what a whirlwind.  She ended that conversation just as she began it.  No inhibitions there.”


“She seems lovely.”  Heyes commented as they walked towards the exit.


“Funny, that was her opinion of you, as well.”


Xxx


The ride out to the ranch did a lot to refresh Miranda’s spirits.  The carriage was open to allow a breeze to waft through, but there was also a cover over the seated area to protect the passengers from the onslaught of the mid-day sun.  The matched pair of finely bred greys trotted briskly along the hard dirt road, and the couple settled back in the comfortable cushions to relax and enjoy the trip after the exhausting and stuffy train travel.


As they approached the ranch proper, Miranda could not help but be impressed.  Though not as green as the Double J, the McCreedy spread was even more imposing in its grandeur and expression of wealth than the subtler and homey Colorado spread.  Of the two, Miranda felt more comfortable at the Jordan’s ranch, but she still could not help but admire the beauty and expanse of this all-encompassing landscape.


The horses’ foot falls changed from the dull thumping of hitting dirt, to the loud, crisp clopping of iron shoes trotting along the rock inlaid courtyard.  The house they approached was more reminiscent of a large, elegant hotel, than it was of a single residence, and Heyes enjoyed watching his wife take in the grandeur of the stone, red brick and hard wood abode as seeing it for the first time.



The driver pulled up right in front of the large wooden door, and the doorman stepped forward to take the horses’ heads.  Another servant opened the small half door on the carriage and offered a hand to the lady as she stood up and stepped out.


“Thank you,” Miranda smiled as she disembarked, but then her attention was again taken over by the impressive structure before her.  It seemed as though she could not look at it long enough to take it all in.



“Please come this way,” the servant offered, as he opened the front door and ushered them into the front hall.  “I will make sure that your luggage is brought up to your rooms.  If you’ll just have a seat, Mrs. McCreedy will be here shortly."


“Thank you,” Heyes told him, with a knowing grin. 



Mac was definitely showing off for Miranda’s sake.  Not once did he and the Kid ever get a welcome like this. More often than not, whenever they arrived, they were escorted by men armed with rifles and threatening stares, not smiles and servitude.


Miranda continued to gaze around at her new surroundings.  The front hall, just as the rest of this impressive ranch house, was filled with exquisite artwork and fine expensive carpeting.  There was a distinct South American feel to the numerous sculptures and finely crafted furniture that adorned the spacious room, something that had not been present the last time Heyes and the Kid had come to visit.


Hannibal and Miranda both sat down in one of the plush arm chairs, and she sent a cheeky smile to her husband.


“I know you said he was rich, but…”


Heyes grinned.  “Mac has taken some extra steps to impress you.  But he does know how to live well.”


Miranda laughed.  She was about to comment further, but they were interrupted by the arrival of the lady of the house.
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Keays

Keays

Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 62
Location : Camano Island Washington

The Blues Empty
PostSubject: Re: The Blues   The Blues EmptyMon Apr 04, 2016 8:04 pm

Heyes was instantly on his feet again, and he extended a friendly hand to the woman.


“Senora McCreedy,” he greeted her. “How are you?”


“I am well, Senor Smith,” she answered with her heavily accented English.  “I trust that you found the drive out here a pleasant one.”


“Indeed, Senora,” Heyes assured her, then he turned and offered his hand to Miranda.  She accepted it and came to her feet.  “I would like to introduce you to my wife, Miranda.”


“How do you do, Senora Smith,” Carlotta greeted her politely.  “It is a pleasure to finally meet you.”


“You as well,” Miranda reciprocated.  “But please, call me Miranda.”


“Of course,” she agreed.  “I am Carlotta.  Welcome to my home.”


Miranda smiled at their hostess and felt an instant liking for her.  She was, of course, an older lady, with her once black hair now streaked in grey, and a figure more plump than trim.  But her dark Mexican features held onto the classical beauty that had been her trademark in a younger day, and she still carried herself with the dignity and self-confidence of someone who was used to being in charge.


“Please,” Carlotta continued.  “Come out to the courtyard.  Would you like some refreshments?”


“Some water would be lovely,” Miranda told her as they followed their hostess out of the receiving room.


“Is that all?” Carlotta asked. 



“Yes,” Miranda insisted.  “The train ride was very hot and stuffy.  I can think of nothing better than a class of cool water, right now.”


Carlotta smiled.  “Of course.”


They continued to follow their hostess down a stone laid hallway that exuded a fresh airiness that belied the true temperatures of the day.  At the end of the passage, they walked through a set of glass double doors that presented them to an open air courtyard that was bordered by green ferns and flowering cacti. In the far corner of the yard, there stood a large stone carved fountain of an angel pouring water from an urn into the hands of children who were kneeled at her feet.  The water continued to pour through their little hands and cascade down into a stone pool and from there, was pumped back up to fall once again from the urn and into the outreached hands.


The coolness of the stone flooring, along with the colorful plants and ferns, and the gentle splashing of the water, made this courtyard very comfortable and inviting for guests coming to visit.  Again, Heyes was not surprised by the fact that he and the Kid had never been invited out here before.  This was for special guests.



Carlotta motioned them to sit in any of the numerous chairs and benches.  A young Mexican woman quickly made an appearance and Carlotta spoke briefly to her in Spanish.  The servant nodded her understanding and instantly departed. 



The hostess returned to her company and sat down to join them.


“The refreshments will be here shortly,” she informed her guests.  “There is also a light lunch being prepared.  “My husband is finishing up some business, but he will join us soon.  I hope you do not mind being entertained by his wife in the meantime.”


Heyes grinned.  “Not at all.  It’s an improvement, to say the least.”


Carlotta smiled wisely.  She was well aware of Senor Smith’s charms.


Twenty minutes later, Miranda was feeling much better.  She had removed her sandals and was sitting stretched out on a lounger with a tall glass of lemon water by her side.  She lay her head back and sighed with contentment, totally unaware that she was showing off a scandalous portion of ankle and calf in her pursuit of comfort.


Heyes smiled mischievously at his wife’s lack of decorum, while Carlotta exuded indulgent and understanding of the younger woman’s condition.


Then the quiet peace of the courtyard was obliterated as a voice that Heyes was so very familiar with boomed out across the open space like thunder rolling in from the mountain tops.  Heyes came to his feet as Miranda, suddenly aware of her indiscretions, stretched down her skirt, and stood up to meet their host.  Carlotta came to her feet in a more stately fashion as the large goateed rancher made his presence known and lumbered his way over to their guests.


“Smith!” he bellowed as he stuck out his paw for shaking.  “Glad you could make it.  Sorry about that; a little bit of business to finish up.” He smiled as he caught sight of the lady standing beside her husband.  “Well, now.  How do you do, ma’am.  I hope my wife has entertained you in my absence.”


“Yes,” Miranda assured him, and her eyes sparkled with amusement at this large, lumbering man who could pull off chivalrous behavior as convincingly as any gentleman at court.  “Your wife has been very attentive.”


“Good!”  He leaned forward and attempted to whisper in Miranda’s ear, though his whisper was just as loud as any man’s speaking voice.  “I got myself a good one, don’t you think?”


Miranda laughed while Carlotta gave her husband a gentle slap on his arm.


“Stop it,” she told him.  “That is no way to talk to a fine lady in our home.  Show her some respect.”


“Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am,” Mac apologized to Miranda, though his smile was anything but apologetic. “My wife often lets me know when I’m being rude.  Can’t imagine how I ever got along without her.”


“That’s quite alright,” Miranda assured him.  “I’ve been known to succumb to the similar indulgences, myself.”


Mac sent her a twinkle.  He liked here already.


“Ah, Mac,” Heyes interrupted.  “Before things get too far ahead, I’d like to introduce my wife, Miranda.”


“Of course,” Mac responded, all serious now.  “It’s a pleasure to meet the woman who was man enough to put a brand on this maverick.”


“And just as pleasurable to meet the man who corralled them in the first place,” Randa countered.


Mac bellowed out a laugh and gave Heyes a slap on the back that jarred his long gone baby teeth.


“You found a lady with some sass!” he noticed.  “No surprise there.  Juanita!”  The young Mexican servant put in an appearance.  “Bring me a glass of red wine.”


“Si, Senor,” she agreed, then sent a questioning look to her mistress.  “El vino rojo?”


“Si,” Carlotta assured her, then she turned to their guests.  “Would you like something more to drink now?  A sherry, or a class of wine, perhaps?”


“I’ll have a red wine,” Heyes accepted.  “Thank you.”


“And Senora?”


“Yes, I think I will now.  A crisp white would be very refreshing right now.”


Carlotta nodded and turned back to the servant.  “Los dos vinos tintos y dos de la manzana vino mi hermano que nos envían. Asegúrese de que el vino de manzana frío.  Y traer alguna fruta recién cortada. Será un tiempo aún antes de que se sirve la cena.”


Juanita nodded her understanding and left to fulfill the order.


“You must forgive me,” Mac grumbled.  “I never did learn how to speak Mexican.  It can be quite a fiasco when my brother-in-law comes to visit.”


“Why don’t you learn it?” Miranda asked him as they took to their seats again.  “It’s a wonderful language; almost musical.”


“Too lazy!” Mac admitted.  “Besides, I got my wife to translate, and she’s the one who deals with the servants anyway.  This arrangement works fine.”


“Yes, I’m sure it does,” Miranda agreed, and she and Carlotta shared a smile.  Being the only one who could communicate with the servants gave Carlotta a lot of power within her household and she was quite happy to keep it that way.


“I understand you have a daughter at home,” Carlotta began in way of conversation.  “You must be looking forward to getting back to her after this long away.”


Miranda beamed with pleasure at the mention of Sally.  “Yes, I can’t wait to see her again.  She is so much fun.”


“How old is she?”


“She’s nine,” Miranda informed her.  “We adopted her as soon as we married.”


“Indeed?” Carlotta asked.  “That would be quite an adjustment.  Getting to know a new husband is challenging enough.”


“Yes,” Miranda agreed.  “But we managed.  And now we have another one on the way.”


“Yes, I know.”


Mac harrumphed at the delicate turn the discussion had taken and was relieved when the servant arrived with the tray of drinks and fruit.


“Oh my, how lovely!” Miranda exclaimed as she eyed the fresh fruit.  “Look Hannibal, some oranges and grapefruit.  How kind.”


“Enjoy,” Carlotta told them.  “I know how dry and thirsty train travel can make you.  Dinner will be a few hours yet, so please help yourselves.”


“Thank you,” Heyes responded.  “I think I will.”  And picking out a juicy section of orange, he sat back to enjoy it.


“So, Joshua…” Heyes’ brow arched at the use of his familiar alias.  “…you been keeping your hand in at the poker table?”


Heyes bit into his orange while he scrutinized Big Mac.  “I play a little bit.  Mostly the small local game in town.”  Then added a slightly defensive “Why?”


“Oh, just wondering.  I still run our little weekly poker game here on Friday nights.  I thought you might like to join in.  One of our regulars can’t make it this week, so there is plenty of room for you to participate.”


“Uh huh,” Heyes sounded skeptical.  “Is this the one with the twenty-thousand-dollar buy in?”


“Oh, don’t let a little thing like that stop you.”


“A little thing like that?” Heyes protested.  “C’mon Mac, you know darn well I don’t have twenty thousand dollars.”
“Hannibal, I could…”


Heyes put a hand on his wife’s arm to stop her offer.


“And even if I did, I wouldn’t be risking it on a poker game,” he concluded.  “Especially one of your games.  You forget Mac, I know how you play poker.”


“Oh come on!” Mac protested.  “It’s not going to be like that.  Just a good honest game between friends.”


Heyes snorted.  “Even if I could trust you on that, which I don’t, it’s still the same problem.  I don’t have the money for the buy in.  Not for poker.  We have more important things on the horizon.”


“Yes, I heard about your detective agency,” Mac commented dryly.  “How’s that going for you?”


“Not bad,” Heyes told him.  “It’s still getting started though, but we’ve had some steady work from it.”


“Uh huh,” Mac continued as he looked at Heyes from under his brows.  “Still, not the same excitement and payout that you get from a high stakes poker game though, is it?”


“Mac.  I’m not spending…”


“I’ll loan you the money.”


“Loan it to me!?” Heyes was flabbergasted, then almost angry at the insinuation.  “You’re offering to loan me twenty thousand dollars to sit in on your poker game, and you expect me to lap it up and say ‘Gee thanks, Uncle Mac, that’s real generous of you.’?  There’s a catch in there somewhere.  I know it, and you know it.  So come on, out with it.”


“Nope,” Mac shook his head quite solemnly.  “No catch.”


“No catch!?” Heyes asked incredulously.  “You’re probably going to rig the game to make sure I lose it, and then I’ll be in your debt even more than I am already!”


“In my debt?” Mac asked, truly confused.  “How is that?”


Heyes settled down from his anger and almost looked guilty.  “I know how much you did for me and the Kid,” he mumbled, and he felt his wife’s hand upon us arm.  “We both owe you a lot.  Look, why don’t you just tell me what it is you want instead of trying to trick me into it?  You don’t always have to be scheming.”



“Alright,” Mac agreed.  “I suppose I just want to show off a little bit.  Can’t blame me for that, can you?”


“Show off?”


“Sure!  Having Hannibal Heyes sitting in on my poker game would be a fine feather in my cap,” Mac explained.  “Can’t blame me for wanting to take advantage of an opportunity to put my neighbors in awe, can you?”


Heyes sighed.  He didn’t believe Mac’s excuse for one minute.  “Well it still doesn’t matter,” he continued.  “I don’t have the buy in and I won’t take it on a loan.  If I lost it, there is no way I could pay it back.”


“You won’t lose,” Mac informed him.


“Oh, you know that for a fact, do you?”  Heyes demanded.  “Sorry Mac, I’m not taking the bait.  I don’t know what you’re up to, but there is no way I’m getting myself into debt to you.  Especially after everything else that’s happened.”


“Forget about everything else!” Mac insisted.  “I don’t like injustice any more than the next man, and what the Territory of Wyoming did to you was a disgrace.  I wasn’t going to just sit back and watch them do the same thing to the Kid.  No sir!  These big high and mighty lawyers think they run the damn country!  Well they aren’t the ones who built it, but they sure as hell, pardon ladies, will be the ones to bring it down, if people don’t take a stand against them.  So that’s what I did.  You and the Kid don’t owe me anything.”


Heyes sat silently with lips pursed.  Miranda instantly recognized it as his stubborn look, and apparently, so did Mac.


“Alright, I tell you what,” Mac offered.  “I won’t make it a loan.  It’s a bet.”


“A bet?” Heyes couldn’t believe his ears.  This discussion was taking on surreal qualities. “On what?”


“That you won’t lose,” Mac told him.  “I’d say that’s a pretty fair bet: that Hannibal Heyes will come out the winner at just about any poker game he sits in on.”


Heyes sent a look to Miranda, who responded with a smile and a rising of her own eyebrows.  This was getting interesting.
Mac smiled.  He knew had gotten Heyes’ attention with that one.  “So, what do you say?” he asked.  “I’m willing to lay down a twenty-thousand-dollar bet that you will win.  Then you can pay me back and keep whatever else you bring in.  I won’t even charge you interest. And everything above board.  I swear, I won’t do a thing to rig it.”


“And if I lose?”


Mac shrugged.  “Same as any other bet.  If you lose, I lose.  You won’t owe me a thing.”


Heyes still hesitated.  “I donno.  This sounds too much like one of your schemes.”


“Get me a bible and I’ll swear on it!” Mac insisted.  “And you know I’m serious!”


Heyes met Mac’s eyes, and he knew that if there was anything that the big rancher did not take frivolously, it was his faith.  He then looked again to his wife.


“It might be fun,” she told him.  “I know you’ve been itching to get into a more challenging game than the ones they have back home.  These seems like the perfect opportunity.”


“Would you mind?” he asked her.  “Knowing these games, we could be at it all night.”


“I’m sure I’ll manage,” Miranda laughed.  “It’ll give me and Carlotta a chance to get better acquainted.”


Heyes glanced at Carlotta and then back at his wife again.


Mac sensed victory.  “What do you say?  Is it a deal?”


Heyes sighed, the lure of a big stakes game reeling him in.  “I’m wondering if I’m going to regret this,” he grumbled.  “But alright, we have a deal.”


“Fine!” Mac accepted and raised his wine glass for a toast.  “To a good, honest game.  And may the best man win.”


Xxx


“I can hear you thinking,” Miranda commented softly as the couple snuggled together in their comfortable, non-moving bed.
Heyes smiled into the darkness and then sighed.


Miranda waited, but there was no explanation coming her way.  “What’s troubling you?” she finally asked him.


Heyes shifted as he often did when trying to decide how to begin a dialogue.  “Mac’s up to something,” he ventured.  “I just know it.”


“Why would he be?” Miranda asked.  “You’re not here to do a job for him.  He knows we’re on our honeymoon.  And besides that, you’re not wanted anymore, so why would he feel that he had to trick you?”


“Because that’s Big Mac,” Heyes stated.  “He’s always up to something.  And I do owe him, big time.  Believe me, that’s not a comfortable position to be in.”


“Well then, like you said earlier, why wouldn’t he just come out and ask you, if he wanted you to do something for him?”


“Because Mac likes to play games.  He was always trying to get one up on us.  Always.  But I can’t figure out what it is.  He swore on the bible that he wasn’t going to rig the game, so what is he up to?”


“If you don’t trust his motives, then why did you agree?”  Miranda asked him.  “You could have just said no.”


“Saying no to Mac isn’t as easy as it sounds,” Heyes informed her.  “He won’t let up on a thing.  Besides…” and Miranda could feel him smile.  “…being able to play in a big stakes game is awfully tempting.  It’s been a while.”


“Oh yes?” Miranda chuckled.  “I thought that might have something to do with it.”


“Yeah.  But what is he up to?”


“Does it matter?” Miranda asked.  “You have nothing to lose, and it’ll give you a chance to stretch your wings a little bit.  I know you’ve been denying yourself that pleasure because of the money.  Especially with another little one on the way.”


“Yeah,” Heyes agreed.  “I’m hardly going to risk money in a high stakes game, when we have something far more important on the line.  If our agency was up and running full steam, it might be different, but right now, we have other considerations.”


“Then I see this as a great opportunity,” Miranda pointed out.  “Mr. McCreedy is willing to give you the money for the buy in and then take what comes.  Why don’t you sit back and enjoy it?  You might actually have some fun.”


Heyes softly chuckled.  “Yes, you’re right.  Old habits die hard.  I am kind of looking forward to it.”


“There’s a surprise,” Randa teased him.  “Just relax.”


“I know,” Heyes agreed.  “I should.  My mind won’t shut off though, again.  I’m going to be awake half the night, thinking about this.  I just know it.” Then he jumped and caught his breath when he felt Miranda’s warm hand seek him out and give him a gentle massage.  His heart rate instantly escalated.  “I thought you weren’t feeling well.”


“It comes and goes,” she whispered as she maneuvered herself astride him and leaned forward to give him a kiss.  “I’ll help you to relax and get that restless mind of yours to shut off and go to sleep.”


Xxx


The following morning dawned sunny and bright, just as all the other mornings had done of late.  Heyes decided that another warm day would justify wearing his cottons while he was at the ranch, and since they had no real plans of going into town, he looked forward to a restful and quiet day.  Randa switched from her first light weight attire, to her second one, in order to have the first laundered.  She again patted herself on the back for being wise enough to purchase more than one set of the lovely Mexican printed skirts and white blouse when she had the chance.  They were so comfortable for her these days, that she loathed to return to the more binding western dresses that would be expected of her, once they returned home.


Coming down stairs, Juanita directed them out to the courtyard again, where their host and hostess were already seated and enjoying their morning cup of coffee.   Heyes and Miranda joined them, and Juanita poured them both a coffee from the carafe and then discreetly left to attend to breakfast.  Both of them were feeling refreshed and light-hearted.


Carlotta smiled as she noted Heyes’ attire, but Mac sent him a frown.


“That’s not how you intend to dress for the game tonight, is it?” he asked with a disapproving note.  “If it is, I can call the tailor out and get you a decent suit.”


“Don’t bother, Mac,” Heyes assured him as he added some cream to his coffee.  “I have suitable attire, but these cloths are nice and comfortable for now.”


“Hmm.”


“Did you sleep well?” Carlotta asked them.


Heyes’ grin spread across to both dimples.  “Very well, thank you.”


“Yes,” Miranda concurred with a twinkle.  “It was so nice to not be jostled around like beans in a cup.  I think I’ve had my fill of train travel for a while, although, unfortunately we’ll have to suffer through another week of it to get home.”


“Train travel can be very tiring,” Carlotta agreed.  “You are welcome to stay here until you are well rested, and feel up to it again.”


“Thank you,” Heyes told her.  “I’m afraid that we can’t extend longer than the week we had planned on.  Snows can come early in the high country, and we should get home before the end of the month.”


“Yes, of course,” Carlotta acknowledged.  “But in the meantime, you can relax, and soak up our sun.”


Fresh fruit was again brought to the table, soon followed by a basket of boiled eggs and then slabs of thickly sliced back bacon for those with a heartier appetite for the morning meal.  Another basket filled with various types of warm baked bread and freshly churned butter also joined the ensemble.

 
It was more food than Miranda knew she could do justice too, but Big Mac made up for the other lighter appetites at the table and the meal was given due respect.


As they were finishing up, the doorman made a discreet entrance and handed his boss a telegram that was laid out upon a silver tray.  Mac snatched up and gave it a quick scan.


“Hmm, addressed to me, but it’s more for you,” he announced and placed it back on the tray.


The doorman then moved over to Heyes and presented the same slip of paper. 



“Oh, thank you,” Heyes told him, as he accepted the slip of paper and unfolder it.  “Oh.  It’s from the Kid.  He wants me to get in touch as soon as we arrive here.”


“Oh.” Miranda was instantly concerned.  “Does he say why?  Has something else happened?  Is Sally alright?”


“He doesn’t say,” Heyes informed her.  “Just to get in touch.  I wouldn’t worry about it.  If it was something important, he would have been more explicit.”


“Will there be a reply, sir?”


“Oh, yes,” Heyes told him.  “Umm, just tell Mr. Jones that we have arrived.  You’ll have to wait a moment while I go upstairs and get you some change…”


“No,” Mac interjected.  “Here!”  The doorman returned to his boss and Mac dropped some coins onto the silver platter.  “There.  Go get it done.”


“Yessir.”


Heyes grinned over at the large man.  “Getting generous in your old age, Mac?”


“Harrumph, I’m already betting twenty thousand dollars on you!  What’s another bit of change?”


Xxx


Hannibal and Miranda spent the morning outdoors, walking around the property and admiring the landscape.  It was still a desert ranch, but Carlotta’s knowing hand was very obvious in her choices of shrubbery, statuettes and shaded walkways.  Mac’s property had definitely improved since a woman had come to live there.


“Are you happy?” Heyes asked as the couple strolled, hand in hand, through one of the cool walkways.


“Yes,” Randa responded.  “This is such a lovely place.  It would be hard to feel anxious here.”


“A woman’s touch does make a difference,” Heyes observed.  “Coming here wasn’t always so relaxing for me and the Kid.”


“Slightly different circumstances, I expect.”


“Yes!  So, what do you think of the McCreedys?”


Miranda laughed.  “He is a bear of a man, isn’t he?”


“Yes,” Heyes concurred.  “And he’s used to getting his own way.”


“Well, his wife seems to have things well in hand.” Randa pointed out.  “She doesn’t strike me as someone who is willing to put up with nonsense—or bullying.  I quite like her.”


Heyes chuckled.


“What?” Miranda asked him, and gave his arm a gentle shake. “What’s so funny?”


“Oh, just thinking back,” her husband told her.  “I had no idea what I was taking on, playing match-maker for those two.  It really is a miracle that it worked out at all.”


“What?” asked Miranda, incredulously.  “Hannibal Heyes doubting one of his own plans?”


“Not at the time,” Heyes insisted with a grin.  “I was just cocky enough to insist that it was going to work.  But in hindsight?  Yeah; I was playing with fire.  Mac doesn’t take kindly to being manipulated, even though he does it to others all the time.”


“Just like you don’t like being conned?” Miranda asked coyly.


Heyes frowned.  “Hmm.  I guess you have a point there.  Oh, what’s this?”


Coming out at the end of the walkway, the couple found themselves down by the stables.  Across the courtyard, a young dappled grey stallion was being worked in the corral, and Heyes was instantly attracted to the young horse’s conformation and style.
Miranda smiled knowingly, as she felt her husband’s grip on her hand tighten and lead her uncompromisingly over to the fenced area.


The horse was not particularly tall in stature, but his solid and majestic presence more than made up for it.  His thick mane and tail flowed out behind him as he circled the corral in a slow, high stepping canter.  The rider sat the horse effortlessly and barely had to touch the reins or put leg to barrel in order to get instant response from the horse he was riding.


After twenty minutes of training, the young man brought the horse down to a cooling walk.  He had not been oblivious to the admiring audience, and now he smiled a greeting and, dismounting, he walked the stallion over to where they stood.


“Good morning,” he greeted them.  “You seem to have a good eye for horses.”


“Kind of hard to miss the quality of this one,” Heyes responded.  “He’s a beauty, that’s for sure.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horse that moves like that.  What’s his breeding?”


“He is a Spanish horse,” the rider informed them.  “An Andalusian.”


“I’ve never heard of them.”


“They’re well established in South America,” the man said.  “And highly prized.  Senor Armendariz sent this one up for his sister.  I believe she intends to stand him at stud.”


“Really?” Heyes stated, and a twinkle took over his eyes.  “What are they like, temperament wise?”


“They can be pretty hot,” came the response.  “But very intelligent and willing.  They need an experienced rider, but a gentle hand.  They’re not as fast as a thoroughbred because of their high carriage, but they’re a comfortable ride and can go all day.  They don’t mind the heat either; they were bred for it.”


“Yeah.”  Heyes looked deeply into the dark brown equine eye and saw the intelligence there, along with a gentle heart that was touched with fire.


“I better get this fellow untacked and washed off,” the rider said.  “You’re welcome to come back later, if you’d like a closer look.”


“I just might do that,” Heyes told him.  “Thank you.”


“What are you thinking?” asked Miranda as she watched her husband watch the stallion being led away.


Heyes’ dimples danced with quiet excitement.  “Can you imagine the foal Karma would have with that fellow?  Wow.”


“I thought you didn’t want to breed her.”


“Well, no, I don’t.  Not yet.  But he’s still a colt.  I have time.”


“Carlotta may want to keep his line pure,” Miranda pointed out, playing Devil’s advocate.  “She may not accept breeding to an outside mare.”


“It won’t hurt to ask,” Heyes countered as they began to walk back towards the ranch house.  “The worse she can say is no.”


Xxx


“I would need to think about that, Senor Smith,” Carlotta told him over their lunch.  “Alejandro is of the Carthusian strain and can show his lineage all the way back to Esclavo, who was the breed’s foundation sire.  I had not intended to cross him with Western horses.”


“Well, perhaps when you see Karma,” Heyes suggested.  “She’s not your typical Western horse.  She has already been approved as a foundation mare and has produced two impressive off-spring.  One of which is going to be Mr. Jordan’s foundation sire for his breeding program.”


“I am sure that she is of fine quality,” Carlotta appeased him.  “But for Western horses.  She is not of Spanish lineage.  I doubt very much…”


“Oh, what harm would it do?” Mac interjected over a mouthful of steak.  “It’s not like it would ruin him for breeding to Spanish horses afterwards.”


“I do not see you cross breeding your bulls,” Carlotta pointed out to her husband.  “You are very particular which cows are permitted access to your Texas Longhorns.”


“That’s different,” Mac insisted.  “The Longhorns are dying out.  You have to keep the line pure to keep them strong.”


“I do not see…”


“Ahh, I see I have caused some friction here,” Heyes commented.  “All I ask is that you be willing to think about it.  Deal?”


Carlotta smiled at the charming and hopeful look that came to her, along with the request.  “Alright, Senor Smith.  I will, at least, consider it.”


“Thank you.” Heyes accepted that, his smile growing.  “If you don’t mind, I’d like to go back to the stables and have another look at him.  For no other reason than to appreciate a fine horse.”


Carlotta sent her guest a knowing look.  He was a charmer for sure, and knew how to say all the right things.  She still wasn’t sure if her short courtship with Mr. McCreedy had been a long time brewing from afar, or a match completely set up by this man’s manipulations.  She was no fool, but since all had worked out well for everyone concerned, she had decided not to press the issue.


She smiled, and nodded.  “Of course, Senor Smith.  You are welcome to look.”


“I don’t think I will,” Miranda stated.  “I’m afraid the afternoon heat is not setting well with me.  The coolness of the indoors suites me better.  I may even take a nap.”


“Of course,” Carlotta assured her.  “If you are not born to this climate, it can be difficult.  Especially for someone in your situation.  With company coming this evening, I have things to attend to, but you are welcome to feel at home here.”


“Thank you.”


“What things to attend to?” Mac asked.  “It’s just the usual poker game crowd.  It’s not like you have to organize a big formal dinner.”


Carlotta arched an eyebrow at her husband.  “Far more goes on behind the scenes than you know.  Do not worry yourself with it.”


“Humph,” Mac grunted.  “Well, I’ll leave that to your capable hands, my dear.  It would seem that we all have our own agenda for the rest of the day.”


“Yes.”


Xxx


Miranda stood on the small patio that was adjacent to the upstairs bedroom she had been sharing with her husband.  She had lain down as planned, and had actually fallen asleep for a couple of hours.  This pregnancy was certainly causing some changes in her stamina, and certainly in her ability to handle the heat.  That, if for no other reason, was why she would be happy to head for home after they had had a chance to rest up.  She was enjoying her stay so far, but the idea of cooler temperatures back in Colorado was feeling more and more agreeable as time wore on.


Her musings were ended abruptly when she spotted the man whom she knew to be her husband, but, for an instant, had not recognize him as such.  He was coming towards the house on his way from the stables and appeared to be deep in thought.  Wearing the same light and baggy cottons he had adorned that morning, he could easily have passed for one of the McCreedy hired hands.  Then, when the hot breeze that picked up the dust from his footsteps and sent it into gentle spirals did the same thing to his long dark hair, she felt a shiver of sexual excitement wash over her.


His hair had grown long during their travels, and his bangs, when not held in place by his hat, like now, often flopped forward and over his eyes.  The soft wind had picked them up and ruffled them down across his face and in an unconscious but familiar motion, he gave his head a slight flip and brushed the hair out of his eyes with one quick fluid motion of his hand.  It didn’t help much though, as the offending locks simply feel forward again, making him look like an unkempt stable boy in need of a haircut.
Then a loud noise from the direction of the stables shattered the illusion.  Her husband instantly tensed, his right hand dropping down to his hip in anticipation of grasping a gun that was not there.  It was over in an instant as Heyes realized that the noise was nothing to concern him, and he was back to being just anybody.  Just a man walking through the courtyard.


Miranda sighed.  So many different aspects to this person whom she had married.  He was a good man; she knew he was, and he was trying so hard to be a good husband and a good father, but the outlaw was still just below the surface.  He was so kind and gentle towards her and Sally, but the raw aggression he could show to others, still frightened her.  Could she live with that aspect of him?  Would it be fair to expect something different?  She’d known who it was she was marrying.  Had she really fooled herself into believing that there wasn’t that side to him?


Her hand went down to caress her slowly expanding belly.  She loved that she carried their child inside of her, but what about when the child was born?  Granted, he was a wonderful father to Sally.  It was a challenge sometimes, for both of them, having to deal with a precocious young girl, but they all seemed to be managing alright.  But a baby.  The thought terrified even her.  Would the West’s most successful outlaw, gifted conman and extremely talented gambler be able to keep his cool with a new born?  Would she?


Then again, her musings were abruptly ended when she noticed his eyes upon her.  Somehow, he had known she was up there, and his gaze had risen to make contact.  He smiled, all of his boyish, dimpled charm striking her like a bullet from a gun.  Her heart ached with her love for him and with her one hand still caressing her precious cargo, she smiled and waved acknowledgment.


Brushing his long bangs away from his eyes again, he waved back.  Then his attention was diverted as Mr. McCreedy, like a bull in his own china shop, approached him and engaged him in conversation.


“Smith,” he began.  “You done lookin’ at that damn horse?”


“Yes.”


“Good!  Come in to my study.  I want to have a word.”


Even Miranda could see the slight frown on her husband’s face as McCreedy walked on past him, not even waiting for acknowledgment of the request.  Heyes hesitated for a moment and sighed, then with another glance up to his wife, he nodded and waved a quick goodbye.


Xxx


“What is it, Mac?” Heyes asked as he walked into the coolness of the familiar study.


McCreedy was busy pouring out two glasses of sherry, then as Heyes entered the room he put down the decanter and quietly closed the door.  Heyes frowned.


“What’s with all the secrecy?” he asked.


“Nothin’,” Mac assured him.  “Just—men talk.  Here, have a drink.  Sit down.”


Heyes accepted the drink, but didn’t sit down.  Even now, he had a problem with being ordered around.  “What’s up, Mac?”


“Nothing.  Come on, relax.  You’re not hidin’ from anyone anymore.  Sit down.” And Mac concluded this request by taking a seat himself.


Heyes accepted the invitation then, and sat down opposite him.  He took a sip of the sherry and was impressed.  Big Mac certainly did know about quality.


“So,” Mac began.  “How is life treating you?”


“Better than it was,” Heyes admitted.  “It’s good.  I’m happy.”


“You found yourself a fine wife, that’s for sure,” Mac observed.  “Still, no itchy feet?  No missing the fast life?”  Heyes frowned again, wondering where this was going.  “You two boys had life by the short hairs,” Mac continued.  “Livin’ high, livin’ fast.  All the money and women you could possibly want.  I gotta admit, I wondered why you threw it all away on that silly amnesty bid.”


“Silly?” Heyes asked him.  “We got it, didn’t we?”


“Yeah, but at what cost?” Mac continued.  “You went from livin’ high on the hog, to an impecunious state that even a church mouse would have scurried away from.  Every time I spoke with you boys, you were broke.  And I can’t see you doing much better now.”


“You’re wrong, Mac,” Heyes insisted.  “Things are much better now.  And we’re not broke.  Our business is doing well.  Just because I didn’t have twenty thousand dollars to buy into your poker game, doesn’t mean I’m ‘impecunious’.”


“Your wife’s money.”


“No!  It is not Miranda’s money!” Heyes felt his hackles rise.  “The Kid and I are doing better than you seem to think, Mac.  Besides that, we don’t have that bounty hanging over our heads anymore.  That’s worth the price right there.  What’s this all about, Mac?”


“I’ve got a job to offer ya’,” Mac admitted.  “You and the Kid, if you want to let him in on it.  Ten thousand a year.”


“Each?”


“No, not each.  You do it yourself, or you bring the Kid in with ya’.  Pays the same; ten thousand.  That’s the offer.”


“Doing what?”


“Same thing you’re doing now; security, private detecting.  Only with a steady pay check,” Mac told him.  “With one child at home and another on the way, that should appeal to you.  The Kid, too.”


Heyes took another sip of sherry and considered it.  “I donno, Mac.  I’ve always been my own boss, you know that.  Working for somebody else, full time.  Doing the same job day in and day out.  Might as well be back in prison. Tell you what; if you wanted to hire us to do a job for you now and then, we could do that.  Just like we used to.  The only difference is; it would be legitimate now.  It’d be us, not Smith and Jones.”


“Yeah, but not very steady,” Mac complained.  “And what if I needed you right away?  It would take you a week to get here from Colorado. No, no.  I’d want you boys right here, where I could find ya’, when I needed ya’.”


“Where we would constantly be at your beck and call?” Heyes questioned and then laughed. “I might have been born at night, but not last night. I don’t think so, Mac.”


“Why don’t you talk it over with Jones first,” Mac suggested.  “He might have a different idea.”


“Then he would be welcome to come down here and do it,” Heyes countered.  “You said yourself, it really only requires one of us.”


“But the one I want, is you.” Mac told him.  “Oh, the Kid’s alright, and if all I needed was a fast gun, he’d be the man.  But I need someone with some brains, and that’s you.”


“The Kid is plenty smart, Mac,” Heyes told him.  “I’m sure he could handle anything you needed handling.”


“Hmm,” Mac grumbled.  “There’s smart and then there’s genius.  What’s the point of having money, if you can’t get the best?”


“Money doesn’t buy everything.”


“Wanna bet?  It helped to buy your freedom, and the Kid’s life.”


Heyes frowned. He’d never heard that version before, but it wouldn’t surprise him.  He swirled the dark amber liquid around in the glass and felt himself mesmerized by its fiery ambiance, but the desire to drink it had left his pallet.


“So you are calling in the chips on that one,” he observed.  “The Kid and I both owe you our lives, and you’re going to demand payment in full.  Is that it?”


Mac narrowed his eyes.  “Something like that.”


Heyes’ jaw tightened. Standing up, he set the glass of sherry down on the table and prepared to leave.


“Maybe we better forget about this poker game tonight,” he said.  “I think it’s best that Miranda and I leave first thing in the morning, and I’ll need my rest.”


“Oh, don’t be so melodramatic,” Mac insisted.  “Sit down, sit down.  You can’t blame a fellow for tryin’, can you?  That’s what I like about you, Smith; you’re fearless.  There aren’t too many men who would dare say no to me.”  He chuckled.  “Sit down.  Here, drink your sherry. Relax.  You called my bluff, yessir, you sure did.  You’re a real poker player, that’s for sure.  That’s what I like about ya’.”


Heyes accepted his drink and sat back down again, but he was anything but relaxed.


“Mac, why don’t you just tell me what it is you want?” he suggested.  “It might make things move a lot easier tonight.”


“I want you to come work for me full-time.”


“No,” Heyes answered flatly.  “I like where I’m living.  It’s a good town, with good people.  It’s home.”


Mac snorted.  “Home!  Home is where you hang your hat.  Since when have you bothered about home?”


“Well, that’s just it, Mac,” Heyes pointed out.  “When we were runnin’ from the law, we couldn’t settle anywhere.  It got to the point where I didn’t think I could.  Now, yeah.  I’ve got a place to call home, and it does matter.  I’ve got it good there, and so does the Kid.  I kind of doubt that he would want to leave it either.”


“Fine, fine, have it your way,” Mac retreated, throwing up his hands in defeat.  “But don’t say I didn’t offer ya’ something worthwhile.”


“I won’t, Mac,” Heyes insisted.  “Honestly; I’m happy where I am.”


“Oh, by the way,” Mac cautioned.  “We have some new players in the game tonight.  Fellas you haven’t met yet.  I’d appreciate it if you don’t let on who you are.  They might feel a little intimidated, having Hannibal Heyes sitting in on our game.  You understand?”


“You bringing me in as a ringer?” Heyes asked him.


“No,” Mac denied flatly.  “I just want everyone to feel relaxed and have a good time.  I haven’t spread the word around about who you really are, and I’d like to keep it that way.  At least until after the game.  Then you can have some fun with it, if you like.  Peterson knows, but he’s agreed to stay quiet about it.”


Heyes smirked, not seeing how Peterson could stay quiet about anything.


“He sure got quite a hoot out of it, when I told him, though!” Mac snorted.  “Thought it was a great joke, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, nervous as newlyweds, coming into our bank and asking for a loan!  I don’t think I’ve ever heard him laugh that loud in my life.”


Heyes couldn’t help a grin.  The irony of that situation was not lost on him.


A gentle knock came to the study door, and Mac’s booming voice almost set the decanter to rattling.  “What is it!?”


The door opened cautiously and Juanita peaked in.  “Fifteen minutes until dinner, sir,” she informed her boss.  “Mrs. McCreedy ask me inform you.”


“Oh.  Fine.  Yes, we’ll be right there.”  The door closed and Mac rolled his eyes.  “Can’t get any privacy anymore!  Damn women all over the household.  Can’t imagine why I ever got married!”


Heyes sent him a sly smile.  “C’mon Mac, you’ve never been happier and you know it.”


Mac shot him a glance, then bellowed out a laugh.  “Dammit, you’re right about that!  You found me a good wife, Smith!” He raised his glass in a toast.  “Here’s to married life!”


Heyes raised his glass as well.  “To married life.”


Xxx


After dinner, Heyes was upstairs in their room, with Miranda helping him dress for the big game.  It’s not that he really needed her help, but a smart man knows when to accept his wife’s assistance whether he needs it or not.  Besides, he enjoyed being on the receiving end of the special attention she would always give to the details.


“Are you sure you don’t want to wear your suit?” Miranda asked.  “Isn’t formal attire expected at these high stake games?"


“It depends,” Heyes answered, as he fiddled with his string tie.  “It’s kind of hot this evening for a formal suit, and I want to be able to focus on the game, not on how tight my collar is.”


“Good point,” she conceded.  “And I must admit, you look debonair in just about anything you chose to wear, so I’m sure this will do.  My, but the girl certainly got a lovely shine on those black leather boots.  Very classy.”


Heyes smiled as he turned away from the mirror and donned his light corduroy jacket over top his white shirt.  Everything had been freshly laundered and ironed that afternoon and Heyes did manage to look the part of a gentleman gambler visiting acquaintances for a friendly game.  Still, Miranda frowned.


“What?” her husband asked, looking down at his boots and black trousers and wondering what she was seeing that was amiss.


“Your hair,” she sighed.  “You really are in need of a cut.”


“Oh.” Heyes ran his hands through his long locks and pushed the bangs off his forehead.  “Better?”


“For now.  But will they stay there?”


“Probably not,” he surmised.  “But I don’t want to grease it down.  They’ll just have to take the outlaw look for now.”


“Well, you look very handsome, in any case.”


“Yes?”


“Yes.”


From downstairs, they could hear Mac’s big bellowing voice welcoming guests into the front foyer, and then other, softer voices responding in answer.


Heyes took in a deep breath to steady his nerves and his thoughts.  “Well, sounds like it’s time to get down there.”


“Yes.  Are you nervous?”


“A little,” he admitted.  “It’s been a while.”


“You’ll do fine,” she assured him.  “Knowing you, you’ll be right in there once you get your feet wet.  I strongly suspect that you’re going to have fun.”


“I hope so.  I sure wish I knew what Mac was planning, though.”


“You still think he has something up his sleeve?”


“Oh yes.”


“You don’t put much stock in his word, do you?”


Heyes snorted.  “Let’s just say, I’ll be paying close attention to who’s in the game and what’s going on behind the scenes.”


“You mean, just like at any other poker game?”


“Yes.”


“You’ll be right in your element.”


Heyes chuckled.  “Yes.”  Then he sobered and took his wife into his arms.  “Are you sure you’re alright with this?  I am kind of abandoning you on our honeymoon.”


“Oh, don’t be silly,” Miranda teased him.  “It’s just for one evening.  Besides, Carlotta and I will be spending the evening out in the courtyard, comparing notes.”


“Really?”  Heyes asked, one brow arching.  “Perhaps I should call this whole thing off.”


Miranda smirked and gave him a slap on the chest.  “Go play your game.  And have fun.”


Heyes leaned in and gave her a kiss on the cheek.  “Yes dear.”


 
To Be Continued.
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