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 Heat Stroke

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Silverkelpie

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PostSubject: Heat Stroke   Thu Jun 30, 2016 10:24 am


Heat stroke


The wavering, shimmering heat cut across the quivering shades rising over the brow of the hill on the road into town.  The boy backhanded away his dripping sweat and blinked into the silvering haze, trying to decide how many there were.  Two?  Or one with his own mirage?  Was the stultifying heat playing games with his dehydrated mind?  No; there were two figures, elongated and flickering in the miasma, approaching in the slow sedate pace you’d expect in this climate. 


One of the stick figures raised an arm which appeared to break and blink in the iridescent coruscation.  Was he waving?  The boy narrowed his eyes under the shade of an already-calloused hand.  No, he had removed his black hat and seemed to be wiping his brow.  Was it them?  Had they come?  The lad dropped his rake and ran in the direction of the little wooden house at the end of the field.  “Ma!  Ma...they’ve come.  Just like pa said they would.  Everythin’ gonna be alright.”


oooOOOooo


The horsemen drew to a halt at the crossroads, the fair one frowning down at the boy dancing from foot to foot in excitement.  “It’s this way, mister.”


“To Comfort?”  The man in the black hat frowned.  “The sign said the town was straight on.”


“Yeah, but the farm’s down here and Ma’s expectin’ you.  She’s makin’ you dinner and said to bring you and show you the bunkhouse.”  The lad’s face spread into a freckled grin.  “We’re real glad to see you here at last.  We need the help.  Ma’s desperate.”


“Dinner?  Bunkhouse?”  the fair man turned a questioning gaze on his companion.  “Exactly how much have we got to buy dinner, Joshua?”


“Fifty six cents,” the dark man replied tersely.  He turned back to the child.  “We’re not the men you’re expecting.  We don’t know anything about any jobs.”


“Oh!”  The boy’s hazel eyes glittered with tears of disappointment.  “But pa promised he’ send someone to help us when he went to jail.  He promised, and pa ain’t never lied to me.  We can’t manage.”  His shoulders slumped.  “This’ll break Ma.  She can’t keep the place goin’ without no help.”


“Well, if your pa said he’d find someone, I’m sure he will,” Heyes shrugged.  “It just isn’t us.”


“Why can’t we go and see if we can help the lady until the real fellas turn up?  She’s clearly strugglin’ and we need jobs.”  The blue eyes narrowed and fixed on his partners.  “Fifty six cents, Joshua.  Why don’t we at least ask?”


The dark man paused, deep in thought.  “What’s your pa in jail for?”


“He hit Roseburn right in the face in front of the sheriff.  Roseburn dammed the river and starved us of water so he was desperate.  Please, mister.  Just come and see Ma.  She needs help.  Just come.  Huh, mister?”


The men exchanged a conversation in a glance.  “What’s your name?” asked the dark man.


“Jared.  What’s yours?”


“I’m Joshua Smith and this is Thaddeus Jones.”  He nodded off towards the farmhouse.  “Do you want join me up here?  We can ride double and get there quicker.”


oooOOOooo


The tiny woman appeared to have been carved from seasoned oak.  Her knotted face was as brown as a nut and years of hard labor had left the thin arms stiff and gnarled with tendrils of sinuous brawn even when at rest.  She was as hard as the life which fashioned her and the tanned face which merged into the very land she worked showed the self-same wrinkles and crevices.  She smiled, her dun eyes gleaming.  “Welcome.  I’m sure glad to see you.  Hank told us he’d get us some help, but it looks like he’s done us proud.  Jessica Martin’s the name.  I see you met Jared.”

The boy jumped down and scampered towards his mother.  They ain’t the men, Ma.  They said they might help until the other fellas arrive though.”
Jessica’s brows met in a frown.  “Not the men?”  Her eyes fixed on the tied down guns.  “Who are you and what do you want?”

“Thaddeus Jones and Joshua Smith.”  The Kid dismounted and led his horse over to the well.  “The boy put it as well as I could, ma’am.  He stopped us up on the road and asked us to help you out because you were desperate.  We find ourselves between jobs at the moment.  If you want help, we’re happy to fill in until your husband’s friends arrive.  If not, we’ll move right on into town.  Any chance of some water for the horses in any case?  It’s real hot out.”


“Help yourself.  It’s the only water we got because Roseburn can’t cut that off, but we can’t get it out to the fields.  It’s the only thing keepin’ body and soul together.  What line of work did you say you were in?”


“We didn’t, Mrs. Martin.”  Heyes responded.  “We usually work in security, but we’ll turn a hand to anything that pays, a long as it’s honest.  You need farm hands?”


“Yeah, Hank really didn’t send you, did he?  I need more than farmhands.  I need someone to negotiate with Roseburn.  That well doesn’t water the fields, and with no crops I’m gonna have to give in and accept his offer.”


“Offer?” Heyes interest was suddenly piqued.


“Yeah, he wants to buy this place out, and when Hank refused he dammed up the river to starve us out.”


“He did?” The Kid paused, ignoring the probing glare from his partner.  “He can’t take no for an answer, huh?”


“We’re not here to take sides in any dispute, ma’am,” Heyes cut in.


“Fifty six cents,” the Kid hissed.  “What’s that gonna buy?”


“...but if you want help around the farm for a few days, we’re your men,” Heyes smiled. 


“I can’t pay,” Jessica shrugged.  “It’ll be just bed and board.  Hank was getting’ old pals to help us out.  They owed him, he said.  He worked with them until we bought this place two years ago.”


“Well, bed and board sounds good enough for me, ma’am,” the Kid delivered his most gracious smile.  “We ain’t exactly flush at the moment.  We’d be grateful enough for that while we find somethin’ else, and that should give your husband’s friends time to get here.  We’re most grateful.”


oooOOOooo


“How many times have I told ya to git?” demanded the barman to the little man at the end of the bar.  “We don’t serve your type here.”


Two sets of eyes locked instantly on the slight, but upright figure in the ragged, brightly-colored shirt who stared at the barman with eyes as dark and hard as wet pebbles.  The lined, brown skin and the braids decorated by beaded bands marked him out as much as the high cheekbones and heavily accented speech.  “Ma said my money was good here.  Ma said I can buy whiskey.”


“Yeah?  Well Ma ain’t here.”  The barman leaned on the counter.  “I told you I ain’t servin’ you.  Now git!  I don’t serve your sort.”       


“I got money.”  The man insisted, banging coins on the bar top.  “I drank here.  I want whiskey.”


“I don’t sell no whiskey to injuns.”  The money was slid back to the ragged man.  “Want me to throw you out?”


Heyes rolled his eyes as the legs of the chair next to him scraped back on the wooden floorboards, but he stood to support his partner who strolled over to the bar with a deceptively casual air.


“I want to speak to Ma.  She said I could buy whiskey here,” the little man insisted in his clipped articulation.  “My money is as good as anyone else’s.”


“Yeah, where’d you get money?  Did you steal it?”


“I earned it fair and square.  I showed strangers around.  They’re doing some kind of survey for the government.”     


The barman snarled and reached under the bar to grab something as yet unseen as the Kid’s voice drifted over to the arguing pair.  “Is there really any need for that, friend?” 


There was a frigid quality to the voice which gave the server pause.   He hesitated under the glacial gaze his hand still under the counter.  “What’s it to you?”


Heyes stepped forward and dropped some coins which rolled and rang on the polished wood.  “A bottle of tongue oil and three glasses.”  He smiled broadly.  “Please”


The man’s eyes narrowed, looking between the two ex-outlaws.  “Is that extra glass for him?  I told you.  I ain’t sellin’ to him.”


“You’re not selling to him.  You’re selling to me.  What I choose to do with it after that is none of your business.  The man seems pretty sure that the owner lets him buy here, so it seems to be just you who has a problem with it.”  


The native nodded.  “I drink here.  He’s too scared to do this when his Ma is here.”


The barman glanced back over at the steely glint in the blue eyes before reluctantly standing up straight and reaching for a bottle.  “Make sure he don’t cause no trouble.”    


The Kid gestured with his head towards the table.  “Come on.  You’ll be fine with us


oooOOOooo


“Okomi,” the man held out a callused hand.  “Okomi Sweezy.  Thank you.”  The black eyes glittered with mistrust.  “But why?”


The Kid kicked out a chair.  “Let’s just say we know what it’s like to be unpopular.  Sit down and have a drink.”


Okomi nodded and dipped into the seat.  “You’re strangers in town.”


“Yup,” the fair man replied, apparently refusing to answer the implied question.  “You’re not.  Judgin’ by the way they treated you, I’d rather be a stranger.”


“I’m Hinono'eiteen.  You call that Arapaho.  Okomi means ‘coyote.’”


“Coyote?” laughed Heyes.  “You sound like our kinda fella.  Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones.”


“You speak real good English,” grinned the Kid.


“Yeah.  The missionaries beat it into us when we were kids.  Ma said it’d help me to make a living.  She didn’t know the half of it.” the jaw tightened, “but at least us dark ones got to stay with our families.”  He supped deeply at his drink.  “Are you surveying too?”


Heyes’ poured the drinks.  “Surveying for what?”


“Dunno.  They’re just doing some kind of map for the government,” Okomi replied.  “They wanted someone who knew all about the land here. “


“Local men?” asked the Kid.


“Nope.”  Okomi paused.  “Why?”


“We just finished a job,” Heyes cut in.  “It only lasted a couple of days before the fellas we were fillin’ in for turned up.  We managed to get a couple of days pay but that’s about it.  Are they hiring?”


“Dunno.  They moved on out of the area.  Headed west.  Good job too.”  Okomi poured himself a huge drink and slammed it back. “This heat’s gonna break soon.  This place’ll be a mud bath.  Take my advice and move on.  Workin’ here’ll be horrible.  I’m goin’ back to the reservation.”


“It’s going to rain?  How do you know?” Heyes frowned. 


“Rain?  It’s gonna do more than rain.  I know this land.  I know everything about it.  I know how the insects swoop, the birds fly, the locusts sing, and the breeze changes; and every whisper tells me a story.  Trust me.  You did me a favor.  I’ll do you one.  Move south if you want to do any ranching work.”


The partners exchanged a glance.  “Good to know,” murmured the Kid.  “Thanks.” 


“You two have been great.  I gotta go.  I don’t want to cause trouble for you.”  Okomi stood.  “Head south.  This place is about to be one huge puddle.”      


oooOOOooo


The Kid lifted the glass to his lips, the blue eyes fixed on the man in the brown hat staring at them from the end of the bar.  The man pulled himself upright and strode over to the table.  “You two strangers in town?”


“I’m guessin’ you already know that, friend.”


A frown flickered over the man’s face.  “You working out at the Martin place?  She’s sure doin’ well if she can afford four men to work on a place like that.”


“Nope, we heard she was lookin’ for help, but the two men her husband arranged showed up and took them right out from under us.  They’re friends of her husband apparently.  I guess us needing wages can’t compete with pals helping out for nothing,” Heyes replied.  “Seemed decent enough fellas, bought us a drink and gave us some money for starting to clear the place up for her.”  His eyes darkened, “seeing as we can’t afford to buy one for ourselves.”


The man arched a brow.  “You lookin’ for work?  I know a place that’s hirin.’  It strikes me that he’d be interested in a couple of men like you.”


“Yeah?”  Heyes eyes danced.  “We’d be grateful.  It looks like we’re sleepin’ rough tonight.  Where can we find him?”


“His name’s Roseburn and his land is right next to the Martin place.”  He nodded towards the door.  “Although you might not like to work there if you’ve made friends with the Martins.   I saw the two men working for her come into town with you.  That little one sure seemed real familiar with you.”


“Those fellas?”  The Kid grinned.  “Never saw them before in my life.  I think they only brought us into town for a drink to make sure we were off the property.  When can we meet this Roseburn?”


“How about tonight?”  The man extended a hand.  “The name’s Smart.  Bob Smart.  I’m Roseburn’s charge hand.  If you fancy coming out to the ranch I think I can promise you a bed for tonight in the bunk house for your trouble.”


The Kid rammed back his drink, his chair scraping the wooden floorboards as he stood.  “What are we waitin’ for?  Right now we’re facin’ a choice between a bed or a meal.  Sounds like we can have both.”


oooOOOooo


Roseburn swiveled around in his leather chair to greet the new comers.  His grey eyes narrowed at the smiles which belied the tied down guns and the confident stance of the two men across the desk.  “Smart says you worked for Martin?” 


“Nope,” Heyes replied.  “We tried to work for Mrs. Martin, but her husband had already sent a couple of his friends to look after her.  We were out of luck and headed to town.”


“We figured we’d just keep on passin’ through,” added the Kid, “until we met your man here.”


Roseburn swiped the crumbling cigar ash from his extravagant waistcoat.  “You two don’t look like the average drifters.”


“We’re not.  We’re on our way to a job in Porterville, but we need to pay our way.”  Heyes eyes gleamed with mischief.  “You don’t look like your average rancher.”

Roseburn’s chin raised in challenge.  “I’m not.  I’m running for mayor and certain to win.  This town’s really going places.  You might want to stick around and be part of that.”

“Yeah, it’s a bit off the beaten track for us,” The Kid replied.  “We’re on our way to a job but it doesn’t start for a couple of months so we’re kind of strapped for cash until then.  Do you need some short term labor?”


“It won’t be a backwater for long.  This time next year the place’ll be twice this size.”


Heyes’ brow creased in curiosity.   “Yeah?  Something big happening?”


“Nothing I can talk about, but you might want to stick around if you want a place with a future. There’ll be money to be made, that’s for sure.”


“Sir, all we really want to know is if you can offer us work right now.”  Heyes’ cheeks dimpled.  “It’s great that you are so enthusiastic about your home town and all, but we’re kinda tired of sleeping rough and eating what we can catch.”


“I need a couple of men to watch a dam I had built.”  The grey eyes scrutinized both men.  “Day and night.  I got a feeling that Martin hired those two men to knock it down.”


Heyes shifted his weight from one leg to the other.  “Why did you built a dam?”


“That’s none of your business,” barked Roseburn.  “All I need is for you to guard it to make sure it stays where it is.  Is that gonna be a problem?  If it is I ain’t got work for you here.”


“No problem at all,” the Kid replied, fixing Roseburn with a steely gaze.  “Nobody is goin’ to move that dam.  Not while we’re watching it.  I’ll make sure of it.”


oooOOOooo


A massive explosion rent the air, showering rocks and stones down on the men taking shelter beside the dam.  The Kid raised his head above their hiding place and nodded towards the cloud of dust scurrying towards them.  “That didn’t take long.  It’s only the third blast.”


They watched the cloud grow bigger until the three men at its core came into view.  Heyes and Curry emerged from their concealment and sat on a nearby rock waiting for their new employer to make his feelings about the incendiary improvements to the landscape clear.  It didn’t take long for Roseburn to pull his horse to a halt in front of them.  “What the hell is going on here?”


Heyes pulled off his hat to wipe his brow and peered at his employer through eyes slanted against the intense sun.  “It’s the men over at the Martin place.  They’re dynamiting.”


“Right next to my land?  What are they up to?”


“Who knows?” shrugged the fair-headed ex-outlaw.  “You paid us to make sure they don’t knock down your dam.”  He cast out a hand over to the devastation on the other side of the blockage.  “Well they ain’t.  If anthin’ they made it a whole lot stronger.  They added most of the hillside to it.”


“We made sure your dam wasn’t damaged at all, Mr. Roseburn,” Heyes twinkled a gleaming smile at his employer.  “They were warned to be real careful and they were.”


The Kid cast a gloved hand out towards the now-distant figures on the Martin land.  “They’re now blastin’ out near the house.  I thought the little fella was pretty skilled with explosives, missin’ your dam so close and all, but I’m not so sure now.”


Roseburn leaped down from his mount and strode over to the border of his land.  The other side of the dam was a scene of complete devastation, with most of the nearby incline now tumbled across the dried up riverbed.  “Why didn’t you come and get me?” 


“We were gonna, until we saw the dust you raised,” the Kid replied.  “It was obvious you were already on your way.”


Smart stumbled across the stones and rumble thrown across the border into Roseburn’s land.  “Why would they add to the dam?  This makes no sense.” 


“Yeah, they’ve move over to blast near the well.  We spoke to them.  They said they heard tell of some old spring somewhere and they’re blockin’ the river to guide the spring along the original riverbed.”  The tousled head shook.  “A fool’s errand if you ask me.   They’re blastin’ the Martin place to bits.  I feel kinda sorry for that poor woman. But it ain’t my business.”


Everyone flinched as another detonation rent the bright summer sky, but this one was further off in the distance, so nobody sought cover.  They merely gazed off at the cloud of debris blossoming against the bright blue sky with frowns of curiosity.  “And she’s paying these men to blow up her entire spread?” Martin shook his head.  “That’s just plain loco.  What’s she looking for?”


“No idea,” Heyes shrugged.  “So what do you want us to do now, Mr. Roseburn?  You paid us to guard the dam and it’s going nowhere, not with half the hillside brought down on the other side of it.”


Their employer paused and glanced at his charge hand.  “Head back to the bunkhouse.  Martin will find something for you to do.”

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


Last edited by Silverkelpie on Wed Oct 26, 2016 9:10 am; edited 1 time in total
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Silverkelpie

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PostSubject: Heat Stroke Part II   Sun Jul 31, 2016 8:20 pm


“You want me to deliver, what to where?  The schoolhouse?” The Kid propped his hands on his hips.  “Why do they want a case of brandy?”


“That ain’t none of your business,” a secretive smile played over Martin’s lips, “but the school teacher can’t be seen buying hooch, and the boss is none too keen on visitin’ places where the strongest thing being served is tea.   The teacher’s name is Mamie Kelly.  She’ll know what’s in the box.”


The blue eyes twinkled with mischief.  “Visitin’?  The teacher?  Need help with his readin’, does he?”


“Don’t get me started on what he needs help with.”  Martin shook his head ruefully.  “Mrs. Roseburn calls the shots around here.  It’s her money that runs the place.  If she finds out about this it’ll mean my job.  I’ll get the blame because he’s got me sorting things out for him.”


“She’s rich is she?”


“Rich?  Her folks own half the county.”  Martin loaded a jingling box on the wagon.  “They own the spread next to here, and it makes this place look like a homestead in comparison.”


“A man’s gotta be real dumb to play around on his wife right under her nose,” the Kid replied climbing up on the vehicle.  “Especially a rich one with powerful folks.”


“Yeah, there’s a crowd who all cover for each other.  You know how it goes.  They claim there’s a poker game.”  Martin paused.  “Are you married?”


“Nope,” the fair man gathered the reins in his hands.  “Never stood still long enough to get caught.  I intend to keep it that way too,” he snapped the leather straps to urge the horses into motion. “For a long, long time.  See you in a bit.”


oooOOOooo


She moved with a quiet grace, her serenity standing out like the eye of the storm in the midst of the hollering, scampering children in the schoolyard.  The ex-gunman smiled to himself as the children streamed passed the wagon, hooting with joy at their release from a day’s incarceration, letting them pass before stepping down from the wagon, jerking back suddenly to avoid the little boy who suddenly ran off in a tangent.  “Hey there, little man.  Where’re you goin’ in such a rush?”


A pair of puppy-dog eyes blinked from the face of an urchin.  “Sorry, mister.”  The lad’s face split into a freckled grin before he ran off after his accomplices.  The Kid was still smiling as he turned to face the teacher.  “Miss Kelly?”


Her hazel eyes widened in surprise.  “Yes.  How can I help you?”


“Mr. Martin sent me.  From Roseburn’s place?  I’ve got a delivery for you.”


“Oh.”  He could have sworn that her face clouded with disappointment.  “Please, follow me.”


He heaved the crate from the bed of the wagon and strolled behind her, taking time to fully appreciate the allure of her sway and the glimpse of her slim ankles as she grasped her skirts to bustle up the porch steps.  She held open the door and pointed over to the table.  “Just put it there, please.”  He nodded and did as he was bid, tipping the brow of his hat as he turned to leave.  “Oh, wait.”


“Ma’am?”


“I have some empty…,” she blushed.  “Mr. Martin asked me to make sure that I returned any rubbish to him.” 


He contained any reaction, guessing that signs of expensive brandy bottles in the schoolteacher’s garbage would be certain to get tongues wagging.  “Sure.  Where is it?”


She pulled back the curtain masking off the bottom of a dresser.  “In here.”


He reached down, the contents making incriminating chinks and clinks as he raised it.  Mamie blushed an even deeper puce.  “You must think I’m terrible.”


“I ain’t much of a thinker, ma’am, or so my partner always tells me.  I’m more of a doer.”


“I don’t drink heavily.  I really don’t,” she sniffed.  “It’s for entertaining guests and members of the school committee.  I don’t even like the stuff, but Mr. Roseburn insists I entertain.  It comes with the position.”


“Well, we’ve all got to do things we don’t like sometimes,” he replied as reassuringly as he could as he quietly appraised her.  Whatever she was getting out of this relationship with Roseburn it wasn’t money.  The small cabin was pristine but poorly-furnished and her neatly pressed clothes were obviously home made, but she was pretty enough to make anything she wore seem like the height of elegance, especially with her caramel-colored curls piled high on her head.  He pushed for more information.  “Have you been here long?”


“About a year.  The Roseburns know my family.  When my father died Mr. Roseburn suggested this post to help out my mother.”  She paused with downcast eyes.  “It’s been a lonely year.  All I do is teach, clean the schoolhouse, and go to church.  I only see people when I go to choir practice.”  She paused.  “You’re new here?”

            
”Passin’ through,” he shrugged.  “I guess we’ll pass through everywhere until we have a reason to stay put.  In the meantime we keep lookin.’”


“We?”


He nodded.  “Me and my partner.  We’ve worked together since we were nippers.  With his book smarts and my practical turn we can find somethin’ that pays most places we go.  Two heads are better’n one.”


“And what are you looking for, Mr….?”


“Jones.  Thaddeus Jones.”  He shifted his weight from one leg to the other as he considered the question.  “I guess I’m looking for pretty much the same as everyone else.  It’s just that some of us don’t have it leap into our hands.”


“We certainly don’t,” she agreed.  “And do you think this town will offer any of that, Mr. Jones?”


He watched her eyes gleam with desperation.  “Who knows?  What do you think, Miss Kelly?  What does a town like Comfort have to offer folks like us?”


She paused, her pout slanting off to the side as she thought.  “It’s a growing town.”


The Kid raised his brows in surprise.  “It is?  It seems like a one horse town to me.”


“It is, but it’s going to grow soon.”


“How do you know that?” 


She tensed, sensing she had said too much.  “Roseburn says so.  He has some kind of deal coming.”  She nodded over to the box he held.  “You’d better go.  It won’t do my reputation any good to have young handsome men loitering in my home.”


“You think I’m handsome, Miss Kelly?” grinned the Kid.  He watched her pale face color from the neck up once more, amused at how readily she blushed.  “I’m flattered that a lady as pretty as you could waste more’n on glance at me, let alone pay me such a pretty compliment.  Are you walkin’ out with anyone?  Could I take you to dinner, or maybe a picnic somewhere?”


“No,” she blurted, before she realized the vehemence.  “I…I can’t.  I’m not allowed until I’ve been here two years, and even then I need permission.” 


“That’s a cryin’ shame, Miss Kelly,” he touched the brow of his hat.  “Maybe rules like that will keep a man movin’ on?  Goodbye.  Maybe we’ll meet somewhere else?”


She pouted as her downcast eyes underscored a deep malaise.  “Very possibly, Mr. Jones.  Very possibly.”


oooOOOooo


The small man squinted through the darkness.  “They’re comin’.”


“How’d you know?” muttered the baritone voice beside him.


“I pissed them.”


Heavy brows met in bewilderment.  “Huh?”


The small one craned into the night.  “I went, ‘pssst’.” 


The crunch of booted feet on the arid soil confirmed the little fella’s suspicions.  People were approaching.  A chocolate-brown voice drifted through the night air.  “Kyle?  Where are you?”


The little man stood.  “Over here, Heyes.  We’s behind this big rock.”


Two figures moved towards the boundary between the Martin and Roseburn places.  “So, what’ve you found out?”             


“Not much,” Wheat replied.  “They all know we work here so folks ain’t talkin’.”


Heyes sighed deeply.  “Yes, we had the same problem for a bit there.  So you haven’t heard anything at all?”


“Well, I heard the man who runs the telegraph office call me a sneaky, low-down, no-good saddle tramp,” Kyle asserted.  “If I hadn’t been hidin’ under the window I’d have swung for him.  This ain’t a friendly town.”


The light of the moon caught the grins of the other men as they sought out convenient rocks to perch on for their surreptitious meeting.  Wheat pulled off his hat, the oppressive heat making his hair matte and cling to his sweaty forehead.  “So what’ve you found out?”   


“Roseburn has political ambitions and is determined to make this town grow,” the Kid fanned himself with his own hat. 


“There’s been surveying work done in the area and Roseburn is determined that the town is going to grow,” Heyes nodded.  “The West is full of towns competing to survive, and it can get real cut-throat.  People sink their whole lives into a place, only for it to turn into a ghost town where you can’t sell up and your life’s work is worth no more than a hill of beans.  Roseburn isn’t going to let that happen, no matter what it takes.”


“Even if it means starvin’ out Hank’s wife and kid out of house and home,” mused the Kid.  “We had no idea who they were until you two turned up.  We’re always happy to help the families of ex- gang members.  Mrs. Martin and her son sure have it tough.”


“Yeah, it’s either railway or mining,” Heyes agreed.  “I don’t know which yet, so I’ve gotta get into his office to see what he’s up to.  One thing’s for sure, we’ve confused him by taking away control of the dam.  That bought us time.”


“We managed to get some water flowin’ by blastin’ around the well,” Kyle spat out a tobacco-stained wad.  “There’s a spring that’s flowin’ real good now.  Too late for this year’s crops, but enough to water a vegetable garden.  They might survive with a little help.”


“Just like Hank and his wife,” the Kid retorted bitterly.  “He wanted to go straight and start a family.  Is that really too much to ask?”


“No,” Heyes stood.  “It’s not.  And if this town’s growing, Hank and his folks are gonna get a piece of it.  I’ll make sure of it.”    


oooOOOooo


The man in the stiff white collar paused to gaze around the station until he caught the eye of the dimpled cowboy at the end of the platform.  The brown eyes drifted down to the stranger’s eclectic collection of bags sitting around his feet.  Heyes strode towards him.  “Mr. Pettifogger?”


“Pettigrew,” he glared.  “The name’s Pettigrew.”


“Sorry,” the outlaw grinned.  “Mr. Roseburn sent me to collect you.  He’s waiting for you at the hotel.  Let me grab those bags for you.”  He reached down and grabbed a carpet bag before sweeping up a long, thin canvas bag.  The dark brows gathered at the metallic rattle from the bag as he shook it from side to side.  “Metal bars?  Some kind of tools?”


“That’s delicate scientific equipment.  Stop shaking it.”


Heyes thrust the equipment under his arm and picked up the remaining suitcase.  “Right this way, Mr. Pettifogger.”


“Pettigrew!”


“Oh, right.”  Heyes led him out to a wagon and swung the baggage in the back. 


“Careful with that.  It’s fragile.”


Heyes laid the slender bag in the bed of the wagon delicately.  “Sure.  What is it?”


“That ain’t none of your business,” Pettigrew climbed up beside him.  “How far is it?


“Just a couple of streets.  Are you here for long?”


“About a week.  Is there much to do here?”


Heyes shrugged.  “The saloon on Main Street has a pretty good poker game and there’s music in the one near the hotel.  Is that your kind of thing?”


Pettigrew nodded.  “Could be.  How’s the hotel?”


“Grand, real grand.  They’ve got baths and a restaurant where they give you more than one set of cutlery,” Heyes shook his head innocently.  “Too rich for the like of me.  You’ll love it.  What line of business are you in?” 


The man’s brows narrowed suspiciously.  “Why?”


“Your bags.  We don’t get many scientists around here.”  Heyes paused, “except maybe for old Mac in the hills.  He brews up the best hooch for miles.  He uses tubes and the like.  Is that what you do?”


“No, it isn’t,” growled the visitor. 


“Well, here we are.  I told you it wasn’t far.”  Heyes leaped down and grabbed at the luggage once more.  He paused and smiled at his passenger before gingerly lifting the long sack and placing it under his arm.  “You go on in and I’ll bring these.”


“Pettigrew!” boomed Roseburn.  “I’ve already got you a room.  All you’ve got to do is sign the register and I’ll get them to take your bags up to your room.”  He patted the man on the back as he scratched out a signature.  “Hungry?  I bet you’d like a drink too.”


The hotel clerk turned the ledger around and squinted at the scribble.  “Pettigrowl?  Is that German?”


“Pettigrew,” the baritone voice drifted from behind.  The group turned to the smiling man bearing the visitor’s bags.  “His name’s Pettigrew.  Do you want me to take them up to your room for you, sir?”


Roseburn took the proffered key and slipped it into the hand still bearing the handles of the leather suitcase.   “Yeah, drop them off for him and then bring the key down to the bar.”


The smile widened and it was a very satisfied Hannibal Heyes who was uncharacteristically delighted to carry the bags up to room twenty three.  It took no more than a few moments to unlock the door and place them on the bed, but he made sure he returned to the door and locked it before he untied the knots holding the flaps on the long thin canvas bag.  The dimples deepened and the dark eyes widened as he gazed down on the long legged contraption.  “So, that’s what it’s all about?” he murmured under his breath.


oooOOOooo


The keys rattled on the table as they were deposited in front of the ex-outlaw leader’s current employer and his mysterious visitor.  “There you go.  I left them on the bed for you.  Do you want me to hang around and take you back to the ranch?” asked Heyes.


Roseburn shook his head.  “Nah.  Tell my wife I’ve decided to stay in town.  I’ll be back in the morning.”


Pettigrew frowned.  “I agreed to a meeting.  I didn’t say I’d make a night of it.  I’ve had a log journey.”


“I didn’t mean you, Pettigrew,” Roseburn smiled.  “I have another meeting after you.  I’m all about getting things done you know.  Maybe my man here could bring you out to my place tomorrow when he brings me back, say around eight?”


The man paused to consider.  “Eight sounds about right.  Yes.  That would be acceptable.”

     
Roseburn gave a curt nod to Heyes.  “Fine.  I’ll see you then.  Tell my wife and pick me up here at eight.  I’ll take breakfast here.”


oooOOOooo


Piercing blue eyes turned to Heyes through the gathering dusk.  “Overnight?  My guess is he’s seeing that pretty little teacher.”


“Yeah, mine too.  At least we now know what’s going on for sure.  I got a good look in Pettigrew’s bags.  It’s the railroad alright.  That was a theodolite.  If it was mining they wouldn’t need one of those.  They’re looking at where to lay the line.”


“You’re sure?”  The Kid watched his partner nod.  “Then I guess Roseburn wanted to buy up Hanks place cheap to make a killin’.”


“Yup, mine too.  So now we know what are we going to do about it?”


“I guess we wait for our plan to take its course, but it’s takin’ longer than we thought.”


“I know.  That’s why I thought we should help things along a little.”  Heyes arched a brow.  “It strikes me that nothing distracts a man from business more than an angry wife who holds all the purse strings?”


“Ha!” laughed the Kid.  “You ain’t gonna tell her are you?”


“Nothing so crude.  I thought maybe that half the town could.”


The gunman’s brow wrinkled.  “And how are you thinkin’ of pullin’ that off?”


“It’s been real hot and dry recently.  Has it occurred to you that things go on fire in this weather?”  The dimples deepened.  “Nothing gets the townsfolk gathering like a public building on fire.  Something like a school.”


“You aren’t serious.  Someone could get hurt.”


“It’s night time.  Nobody’ll be inside, and the teacher lives in a separate cabin.”


“But still, a school?  That ain’t exactly our style.”


Heyes shrugged.  “The railroad will help the town to take off.  They’ll be able to afford another; a larger better one.  Think of the bigger picture.  Hank’s got a wife and kid and Roseburn it trying to ride them out of town hungry.”


“I guess…”


“Fine.  I’ll go and see Smart.  I think it’s best we get permission to head to town for a drink.  That way it’ll be legitimate when we turn up in the crowd.  We can make sure everyone in the bar comes with us.”


“I don’t like this, Joshua.  It’s playin’ with fire.  Literally.”


“What could go wrong?  It’s an empty building. I want Roseburn’s plans to go up in smoke.”  Heyes eyes glittered with the kind of certainty he used when he needed to convince others.  “Literally.”  


OooOOOooo


Beads of moisture glinted on the faces of the men sitting in the restaurant; their small talk punctuated long moments of silence.  The evening was heavy, close, and unbearably humid as the clouds had gathered throughout the afternoon, accompanied by grumbles of thunder coming increasingly closer.  The blue eyes glanced around to make sure nobody was observing them before speaking sotto voce.  “How long will that fuse take?”


“Thirty seconds a foot.  It’s then set up to ignite damp paper and wool.  It should take a bit before it takes hold enough to be seen.  Maybe twenty minutes or so.”


“I still feel bad about burning the school house.”


Heyes grinned.  “You hated school.”


“Yeah, but maybe if I’d paid more attention I’d have made somethin’ more of myself.”


The dark brows arched in amusement.  “I paid attention.”


“See what I mean?  At least you were in charge.”


“Yeah, with your help.  I needed you to back me up.  We’re a team.”


“I suppose…” the Kid looked up at the approaching waitress. 


“Good evening, gents.  What can I get you?”


“Steak for me,” the Kid paused for Heyes.


“Two steaks…,” Heyes was cut off by a huge thunderclap followed by a flash of lightning.  “Wow, that one was close.”


The waitress shuddered.  “It sure was.  I hate this weather but I guess this heat’ll break with a storm.  I might get some sleep tonight.”


“That sure was near.  I hope nothing got struck by that lightning.”  Heyes eyes gleamed with opportunism.  “Something might catch fire.”


“Sheesh, I hope not,” the waitress exclaimed.  “Two steaks it is.  Comin’ right up.”

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

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PostSubject: Re: Heat Stroke   Wed Oct 26, 2016 9:12 am

A smile of satisfaction spread across Kid Curry’s face as he picked up his knife and fork to cut unto the huge lump of meat on his plate.  The fork punctured the flesh and the juices ran out to meet the baked potato.  He kept his eyes down, ignoring the intensity of the brown eyes burning into the top of his head, all the while perfectly aware that the pungent smell of smoldering wood drifted through the air.  “Stop lookin’ at me, Joshua.  I’m finishin’ my dinner.”

“You can smell it too?”

“Yup, and like any law abibin’ citizen I’m gonna sit here and finish this before I go anywhere.”  He flashed a warning at his partner.  “It’s nothin’ to do with us, remember?”

“What’s nothing to do with you,” the waitress appeared to fill their glasses with water.

“The smell,” Heyes glowered across the table at his loose-lipped cousin.  “Something’s burning.”

“Yes,” she sniffed the air.  “There is.  What do you think that is?”

“I don’t know and I don’t want to know,” the Kid shook his head.  “This one here is always playin’ the hero, rushin’ off at the first sign of trouble.  It could be someone burnin’ rubbish for all we know.  I’m finishin’ my steak.”

The waitress smiled warmly at Heyes.  “Well, ain’t you just as sweet as pie, lookin’ after folks like that?”

The Kid rolled his eyes. 

“Thank you, ma’am.”  Heyes delivered his most charming smile.  “I try to help others where I can.”

The Kid enjoyed the sway as she walked away.  “Tell me, Joshua.  If we’re all here to help others then how come none of them ever help us?”

“Maybe they reckon we’ve been pretty good at helping ourselves?” Heyes grinned.

The bell above the door tinkled open and a mustachioed man rushed in.  “The school house is on fire.  We need as many folks as we can find to fight it.  We need a human chain from the well.”

“I knew it,” the Kid threw down his napkin as his chair scraped back.  He reached out and grabbed the meat off his plate.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m gonna eat this on the way, Joshua.  I’m hungry.  Are you leaving yours?”

Heyes was already on his feet throwing down notes in payment.  “Of course I am.”

“Fine,” the Kid stretched over and grabbed his.  “Waste not, want not.”

“Are you going to fight a fire with that all over your hands?”

The Kid swallowed back a mouthful as they strode down the street.  “Sure I am.  The way I figure it, there’ll be water everywhere.  That’ll clean them up.”  He frowned at the disapproving stare.  “What?  I’m hungry.”    

oooOOOooo

A huge clap of thunder rang out, almost instantly followed by a flash which lit up the night sky and illuminated a scene of chaos.  People were running back and forth with buckets of water from the well, but it was the school teacher who caught Heyes’ attention.  Her blouse, loose and untucked from her skirt might be seen as a sign of her physical exertions to the casual observer, but none of the other women seemed to have that problem.  He smiled secretly to himself and grabbed a bucket of water running over to toss it on the fire before disappearing into the darkness. 

The Kid ensured he was more visible.  Running to the head of the line to speed up the chain of people passing buckets, but he kept his partner in view.  Well, maybe not so much in clear sight, perhaps more an observation of his general vicinity.  He had run up and thrown his bucket of water on the flames eating into the wooden walls of the building.  Instead of running back to the well he went off at a tangent until he vanished into the smoke and shadows.  The melee continued, facilitating the ex-outlaw leader’s ability to fade into the background, ghosting around the back of the teacher’s cabin. 

Heyes peered in the window, but the gingham curtains remained frustratingly closed, blocking his view.  If Roseburn was in there, he was sitting quietly.  He certainly wasn’t outside helping.  The next part of Heyes’ plan was now ready to be put into play, and the storm was a perfect cover.  Always the opportunist, Heyes pulled out the roll of fabric from his pocket and tossed it onto the roof, leaving a long tail trailing down.  All he had to do was wait for the right moment, and with the thunder crashing around them as it was, it wasn’t going to be long before the time was right to set light to it.

The next lightning flash was just the cover he needed, and he flashed up the match and watched the hungry flames dance their way to the cloth.  It took no more than a few minutes for it to take hold, which gave him the chance he was looking for.  He ran back to the well and grabbed the first man he could find, stifling his delight at the dog collar highlighted by the light of the flames.  Heyes yelled and pointed, but his words were lost in the next clap of thunder.

“What?” demanded the confused clergyman.

“There are flames on the roof of the teacher’s cabin,” Heyes yelled.  “It’s either more lightning or embers drifting across to it.”

“Darnation, so there is,” the minister turned and yelled to a couple of men.  “Go and get that before it takes hold.”

“I’m sure someone’s in there.  I saw a movement through the curtains.”

“Well, what are you waitin’ for?” The clergyman demanded.  “Go tell ‘em to get out.”

“Me?”  Heyes looked horrified.  “What if it’s a woman?  What if she’s not properly dressed?”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” murmured the pastor.  “What’s wrong with young men today?”

“You do it,” Heyes pushed.  “You’re above any criticism.  I’ll get back to fighting the fire.”  He grabbed another full bucket and fled back towards the conflagration.

The priest strode over to the cabin shaking his head and pulled open the door, watched every step of the way by both Heyes and Curry.  “It’s a single room,” smirked the Kid.  “Roseburn’s got nowhere to hide.”

“Let’s hope he’s actually in there, huh?”

They didn’t have long to wait.  It was a disheveled and shamefaced Roseburn who was dragged from the cabin by the local pastor, fully-lit by the light of the burning schoolhouse.  It was time for the mischief-makers to maximize on their win.  Both men started nudging and pointing, indicating the humiliated ranch owner to anyone who they could reach.

“Is that Henry Roseburn?” asked the young woman passing the buckets.

“Yeah, hidin‘ inside the teacher’s cabin,” Heyes nodded.  “He was doing up his shirt when I saw him come out.  No wonder he didn’t want to come out.”

“Scandalous,” the woman pulled away the bucket she was holding from the approaching schoolteacher.  “And him a married man.  It’s disgusting.”

“It is,” Heyes agreed, devilment dancing in his eyes.  “I hope nobody tells his wife.”

There was another great peal of thunder, roaring right overhead this time.  The great globes of water dropped around them, slowly at first in a pitter-patter of a heavy shower, quickly developing into the complete deluge of a soaking spate of a cloudburst.

“Well, this’ll help put the fire out,” the Kid looked up, the water guttering from the brim of his hat and pouring down his back. 

“Yup,” Heyes agreed.  “Okomi was right when he said that there were rains coming when we met him in the bar.  It sure looks like it’s going to be the mud bath he predicted.”

“So?” the Kid grinned.  “Shall we leave them to it and go for a drink?”

“I think we’ve earned it,” Heyes agreed.  “We might as well before we have a long wet ride back to the ranch.  Now the rain’s here it’s time to put the next stage of the plan into action.”

oooOOOooo

The brown eyes stared out of the bunkhouse window at the quaggy, boggy mess.  It had been raining for two solid days now, and it seemed to be coming down in rods rather than drops.  Everything seemed soggy; even the air was moist, dank, and claggy in the exhausting, steaming summer heat.  The dust had mixed with the swirling rainwater in a thick paste which stuck to boots with a sucking determination.  In short, it was horrible out there; but Hannibal Heyes was watching the main house, especially now the door had opened and the local priest stumbled out of the front door as though ejected by force. 
He was quickly followed by a shocked-looking Mrs. Roseburn, who reached out to catch the clergyman who almost tripped over a porch chair.  She steadied him before yelling back into the darkness of the doorway and making the sign of the cross.  The angry husband followed them out, remonstrating theatrically and making the sign of the very cross, much to the silent amusement of the ex-outlaw leader.  It was clear Heyes’ plan was coming together.  The accusations of an affair with the schoolteacher had been openly made and Roseburn was suitably distracted from his current ambitions to look too closely at the detail.   A door opened behind him.  

“Hey, Smith.”  The call came from the foreman, Smart.  “Father Quigley wants his horse bringing round to the house.  It’s the roan in the end stall.”

Heyes turned.  “Sure.  I’ll get right on it.”

“Is your pal back from the dam yet?”

“I haven’t seen him.  Why?”

Smart scratched at his stubble.  “I sent him out to break that thing down hours ago.  The damn rain’s flooding us out and it’s got nowhere to go but back.  I sent him and two other fellas.”

“You want me to go and see if they’re alright?  That water’s sure building up.  It’s getting too near the feedlock.”

“Yeah, but get that holy man outta here first.  I swear Roseburn’s gonna kill him.  Darn fool turned up to counsel him on the evils of fornication.  If he keeps this up he’ll be meetin’ his boss sooner rather than later.”

OooOOOooo

Heyes’ horse thudded to a stop in the teeming rain near the group of men facing off near the wall holding back the great wall of water lurching and swelling against the constraining levee spilling over the side and drowning the surrounding fields and paddocks in an enveloping  confluence of river and floodwater.  He drank in the Kid’s stiff stance and dismounted, tying off the reins to nearby log, noting the fourth horse tethered nearby.  Three man and four horses.  His dark eyes darted around, but he could see neither hide not hair of the missing rider.  “Smart sent me to find out what’s taking you so long.”

The eldest of the other two cowhands gathered up a ball of sputum from somewhere deep inside his chest and gobbed it at the ground, where it slid provocatively close to the Kid’s foot in a slimy, greasy mess.  “This ‘un.”  He gestured to the gunman.  “He won’t let us go and break down the dam.”

“He threatened us,” the younger one objected.  “He fired a shot right by my foot.  I ain’t paid enough for these kinds of shenanigans.”

“He did, huh?”  Heyes eyes glinted with arcane humor only the Kid could read.  “Why’d he do that?”

“The dam.  We was sent to break it down and he won’t let us.”

“Thaddeus?” A dimple appeared in the left cheek.  “Want to tell me what’s gone on here?”

“They want to go onto the Martin’s land and blow up their dam.”  He shook his head, holding the men’s eyes all the while.  “And I ain’t gonna allow that.  They only get to work on Roseburn’s dam.”

“Yeah, but if we break Roseburn’s dam it won’t make no difference.  The Martins already made a bigger one in front of it so the water ain’t gonna go anywhere.”  He pointed at the rapids ripping down the slope, tearing up stones and sweeping away any shrubs in its way with angry white frills of spray.  “Look!  It’s runnin’ straight down into the meadow and runnin’ back to the house.”

“Yeah, well it would,” Heyes reasoned.  “Roseburn had us dig that out so it would irrigate the fields and water his place.  It was bound to get bigger if there was a flood.”

“But he don’t want gallons of the stuff in the meadow.  We’ve had three months of rain fall in just a day.” 

“Roseburn should have thought it through,” the Kid retorted.  “There’s a woman and child in the Martin house and it could be flooded if you blow up their dam.  It ain’t happenin’ on my watch.”

“He means it,” Heyes replied.  “He’s got a real soft spot for women and kids.  A real stickler.  He could have been preacher if it wasn’t for all the whiskey, women, and gambling.” 

“Well they ain’t payin’ our wages,” snapped the younger man.

 They all turned to look at the stranger cresting the top of the hill behind them, the jagged legs of his theodolite making the shadow look like an enormous spider.  “Who’s that?”

 “Some fella called Pettigrew.  Says he’s doin’ a survey or some sort.  He says Roseburn knows about it,” the older cowhand replied.

“He does,” Heyes agreed.  “I picked him up at the station for the boss.”

Pettigrew squelched his way across the waterlogged mud towards them.  “That’s me done for the day.  I can’t wait for a hot bath and a warm drink.”

“That’s it?  You just wander about looking through that box on legs and call it a day’s work?” barked the oldest man.

Pettigrew’s eyes widened.  “You stand there jawing and think you have the right to criticize me?   I don’t have time to chat to my pals.  I’ve got a report to write.”

The young man pointed at the Kid.  “We ain’t chattin’.  We’re arguin’.  We were sent to blow up this dam and this here fella won’t let us.”

“Blow it up?”  Pettigrew frowned.  “But there’s another huge one behind it.”

“We know,” snarled the older man.  “We want to break that down too.”

“That one?  It’d take you a week to blast through that.  Whoever did it knew how to handle explosives.  He carefully took down the whole hill and changed the topography completely.”

“Changed the what?” the cowhand demanded.

“The lay of the land, the physical features, the shape of the countryside,” smiled Pettigrew, warming to his subject.  “I know about this stuff.  It’s what I do.”  He pointed over at the second dam.  “That took down the top of the hill and laid it out beside it.  It effectively flattened the land but changed the route of the river.  I spoke to a little guy over there and he said that Roseburn dammed the river so they had to find another water supply.  After a bit they uncovered the spring that fed into the well, and used that instead.  I don’t suppose they knew what they were doing but it meant that the river would feed into the meadow from now on.”

“Yeah, and it backs right up to the house,” agreed the little ranch hand.  It’s flooding out the place.”

The Kid cast a knowing look over at his partner.  “It’s almost like somebody planned it.”

“But they couldn’t,” Heyes grinned.  “It’s not like anyone could know it was going to rain this hard.”

“And if someone was used to planning stuff usin’ the lay of the land and explosives they’d be doin’ better jobs than we are,” muttered the Kid bitterly.  “They sure wouldn’t be casual cowhands on a two-bit farm like the Martin place.  They wouldn’t be standin’ here in the pouring rain either.”

“He’s right,” Heyes agreed.  “That’d take someone expert at reading maps, knowing how and where to block the way with explosives, and the foresight to see how people would react to that.  That’s a real smart fella.”

“Or a swollen-headed blowhard,” muttered the Kid before turning back to the surveyor.  “So, we’ve got a week’s worth of explosions to clear the Martin’s dam?”

“At least,” he nodded.  “It’s easier to move that amount of earth down than aside.  Gravity helps, plus that’s wet now.  Sodden with water.  Mud moves in a different way to dry soil.  If it becomes wet enough it becomes a suspension and reduces the friction between the gains.  Quite often, all you’ll do is move it around.  It’s all academic anyway.  The decision’s been made.  We don’t want a flood plain.”

“Decision?” asked Heyes.

“Flood plain?” asked the Kid.
       
Pettigrew’s lips pursed.  “I’m not at liberty to say.”

“You’re surveying for the new railroad, aren’t you?” Heyes sparkled with innocence.  “This place is a flood plain?  You can’t build a railroad there can you?”

“I can’t say,” Pettigrew replied.

“You can’t?”  Heyes’ cheeks dimpled.   “But you don’t want a flood plain?  I think we know that if it wasn’t a railroad you’d say.  It’s got to be something heavy if damp soil won’t support it.”

“I can’t discuss it.”  Pettigrew bent over and started folding impossibly long legs from his contraption into the bag. 

“No need to, sir,” the Kid gestured with his head towards the Martin place.  “I’m goin’ over to make sure that lady is alright.  Tell the boys over at Roseburn’s place that there are three men watchin’ to make sure nobody tries anything and that one of them is me.  I won’t tolerate folks movin’ in on a woman alone.  Got that?” 

“Like I said earlier,” grumbled the younger man.  “I ain’t paid enough for this.  I could care less about about piles of mud.  I ain’t getting’ fired for some woman I don’t even know.”

“That’s a good philosophy,” the Kid replied turning and arctic stare on his old workmates.  “She ain’t worth dyin’ for either.  Keep off her land.”

oooOOOooo    

“What do you mean you’re not buying this place?” Roseburn’s eyes bulged in anger.  “My wife’s family gave her this land when we married.  It has to go or they’re in control forever.”

“So?” Pettigrew shrugged.  “She’s allowed to own land, although God alone knows why.  They haven’t got the strength to work it, but they can own it.  My wife has a dinner service and a set of silver spoons.  I think that’s more than enough, but the law says they can own stuff and that’s no business of mine.”

“If the land is sold it’ll be money in the bank and that’s a whole lot easier to control that land with the family all overlooking it.  I want rid.”

“Then you’d better find a buyer,” Pettigrew retorted.  “The railroad doesn’t want land that floods.  We can bypass the place, but this place is no use to us.  Nobody wants tracks to sink and buckle.” 

“This place needs to go.  I’m no rancher.  I’ve been forced into this by my wife’s family,” Roseburn’s eyes lit up with conspiratorial glee.  “How about I make it worth your while?”

The surveyor shook his head.  “Unless you’re prepared to set me and my family up for the rest of our lives it’s not worth it.  The railroad is a good career with a pension.  I’m not going to jeopardize that for a few dollars.  They’d see this place as a flood risk as soon as they started building and I’d be out on my ear.”  Pettigrew dropped his report on the table.  “As mayor you are entitled to have this.  You’re not entitled to special treatment.  Good day to you, sir.”

He turned on his heel and strode out the door leaving a fuming Roseburn rooted impotently to the spot.

oooOOOooo 

Mrs. Martin poured the coffee into the tin mugs as four ex-members of the Devil’s Hole Gang sat around her kitchen table.  “I reckon Hank’ll be real pleased when he gets home.”

“How long before he gets out of prison?” asked Heyes.

“About a week, maybe a couple of days added on for travellin’, but all this is better than I thought it could be.”  She reached over to top up Wheat’s cup, the weathered, muscled arm as brown as the wood of the furniture.  “I don’t know how you came up with all this, I really don’t.  How did you know the railroad wanted to buy the land?”

“Heyes is a real good planner, Mrs. Martin.  He knows stuff,” Kyle chortled.

“He guesses stuff,” Wheat corrected.  “But I’ve got to hand him this one.  He not only punished Roseburn for bullyin’ you, ma’am, he made sure your land got a good enough price to let you move on.”

“Well, I don’t want to stay beside him, that’s for sure,” she nodded.  “It’s a real good offer too.  More than we paid for it.  I’d never have got that for a dried-out farm from anywhere else.  We’ve had no water since spring.  I thought we were gonna starve.”  She smiled appreciatively at Heyes and Curry.  “When you two turned up I thought I you was trouble and that Roseburn had gotten tired of waitin’.”

“It was a happy accident, ma’am,” the Kid replied.  “We never even knew Hank had a wife, let alone that you lived here.”  He glanced over at Kyle and Wheat.  “I was real surprised to find this pair ridin’ in.  Once we knew everythin’ there was no question of us doin’ what it took.  Workin’ for Roseburn was the easiest way to find out more about him.”   

Wheat swung back in his chair.  “It was obvious to all of us that Roseburn wanted your land for either minin’ or the railroad.”

“Yes,” Heyes agreed.  “Especially when we met a native guide who’d been helpin’ surveyors.  It didn’t take much to put two and two together.  It was best for you to move.  It ain’t a good idea to stay put with a neighbor dispute. Life’s too short.  Get the best price you can and start again.  Either way a flood was going to make your land look more attractive to a prospective buyer than his.  It seemed the most peaceable way to get this sorted.”

“But to flood it?”  The woman’s bun sat like a ball of steel wool on her shaking head.  “You can’t plan a flood.”

Heyes’ grin widened.  “You can when you’ve been warned about it.  The Arapaho have lived around here forever and can read this land like the back of their hands.  When the fella in the bar said that the rains were coming it seemed a good idea to use it to our advantage.  He wasn’t going to be wrong about something that kept his folks alive for centuries.  It’s not so different to looking at a map to find the best way to block a track for a train robbery, and Kyle here is darned good at blasting the countryside to pieces.” 

“Aw, thanks.  I really enjoyed it.  I ain’t blowed up that much stuff in years.  Takin’ down that hill was so much fun I kept waitin’ for Heyes to tell me I was doin’ it wrong.”  The explosives man puffed out his chest in pride, grabbing at the backhanded compliment.  “I ain’t blown up that much stuff since the war.  By the time I was done Roseburn’s dam looked like a picket fence.  That river was never goin’ anywhere but down onto the paddocks after that.”

“You did a great job, Kyle.  You never did better work,” Heyes’ face dimpled.  “You leveled that slope and changed the land into something higher than Roseburn’s flood plain.  You got Mrs. Martin a way better price than anything Roseburn would have paid.”

“I can’t thank you enough,” Mrs. Martin replied.  “I’d have sold cheap.  I was getting’ real desperate.  This way we have a good price from the railroad and we can move on.  Have a fresh start.”

“You’re welcome, Mrs. Martin,” Wheat asserted.  “No matter what, we look after our own in the Devil’s Hole Gang.”

“That’s right,” the Kid’s blue eyes glittered earnestly.  “I’ve questioned a lot about the folks in the Devil’s Hole Gang; their honesty, their guts,  and their work-ethic.  Even their hygiene; but I’ve never questioned their loyalty.  We’ll stay until Hank gets back to make sure you’re safe and then we’ll be in our way.”

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