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 Story Of The Year 2016 May -August

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Which one of our wonderful writers wins your vote to go through for the finals of Story Of The Year?
1. Two outlaws invade the unhappy life of a sad schoolteacher.
41%
 41% [ 7 ]
2. A sombre Heyes finally tells his daughter what really happened that fatefull day.
35%
 35% [ 6 ]
3. Heyes and the Kid become men of morels. What are they going to come back with?
6%
 6% [ 1 ]
4. Heyes is the angry father who ends up in jail. Will his willful daughter really allow him to face charges?
18%
 18% [ 3 ]
Total Votes : 17
 

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PostSubject: Story Of The Year 2016 May -August   Tue Nov 01, 2016 11:45 am

It's time to vote on the next heat of The Story Of The Year and this time we cover May through to August.  Which one of these stories was your favourite?  And which one do you want to go through to the finals?


Time to Vote       

The stories are posted below to jog your memories.




May - Matches   Night


Riders


June - Heat  sun 1


Skykomish


July - The Hypocrisy Of Victorian Morals  affraid


Remuda


August - Bars  Drink


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PostSubject: May - Matches - Riders   Tue Nov 01, 2016 11:48 am

May - Matches - Riders

This comes in at just under 4,000 words, if you don't count the author's notes at the end.  There is a slightly more fleshed out version I'll post above.

Sliding




The clock chimed the magic moment.




“All right, children.  Gather your things and exit in an orderly fashion.”




“Yes, Miss Meechum,” the students chorused.  Chaos erupted as the children exploded from their chairs, flinging their slates, rulers, and sundry into their book bags.




There were no stragglers on this dreary Monday.  Susquehanna Meechum shut the door and surveyed the room.  Studying the disarray of her rows of desks, she moved among them straightening them as she walked to the front of the room.  Satisfied, Susquehanna pinned her hair back into its neat bun and unlocked the door in the back that lead to the two rooms allotted for the teacher’s quarters.




Entering her quarters, she began her evening routine.  Walking slowly to the peg where her apron hung, she tied it about her dress, gathered the bucket, and exited to feed her chickens and see them safely into their coop for the night.  Upon her return, she stoked her stove and set about making a simple supper.    




Supper done, she looked out the window towards the town.  Whatever was happening in the town was not for her.  There would be a barn dance Saturday.  She was expected to help with the refreshments, but that was all.  To dance or flirt with the men would not be permitted.  She had been warned of the deportment expected of the teacher.  There had been the time she had been caught smiling and laughing with one of the ranch hands.  The school board had felt it necessary to warn her that such loose behavior would not be tolerated.  But that was years ago.  She smiled grimly to herself.  No one had even tempted her to engage in such unbecoming behavior in years.  At twenty-five she was an old maid and likely to remain so.  If only…




She wandered the room restlessly before resuming her routine.  Susquehanna pulled out her accounts.  She reviewed the school accounts.  After careful scrutiny, satisfied that they would balance, she turned to her own accounts, which showed a miserable savings of nineteen dollars and thirty-seven cents.  Susquehanna returned the books to their shelf and reviewed her lessons for the next day.  That task completed, she stood unmoving, looking around her sparsely furnished space. 




With a sigh, Susquehanna hesitated, considering her limited options.  Finally, she drew the curtain over the lone window, slipped off her dress and corset, and wrapped herself in her faded dressing gown.  She walked to her hiding place and withdrew a slim, leather bound book – her journal.  She held it remembering that halcyon summer, before the restrictions and, yes, the boredom of her life had caged her. 




~~~oOo~~~




“Hey, is this the Markum place?”




The young girl dropped the hoe she was wielding and swung around to face the road.  “Why?” she asked the two boys standing there.  They were ragged and barefoot, holding a basket between them.




“Cuz that’s where we’re looking for,” the younger, blond boy answered impatiently.  




“Sorry,” his older companion said, “Jed here sometimes forgets his manners.  Anyway we sure hope this is the Markum place ‘cuz this basket is getting real heavy.”




She smiled, “I’m Suzie Markum.  Not sure why anyone would want to come here though.”




“Old Widow Warner sent us here.”




Now it was her turn to ask, “Why? Why would she send you?”




The two set the basket on the road.  “We work for her.  I’m Han and he’s Jed.  Anyway, she sent us with this basket of plums and stuff and told us to bring back a couple of laying hens.”




Jed spoke, “How come you’re working this garden all by yourself?”




Suzie sighed.  “Because Mama and the baby died and Papa and the boys are out hunting for a few days, so I have to tend the garden, and the chickens, and the milk cow, and the house, and, and …” She stopped and gulped before glaring at them defiantly.




Jed nodded.  “At least you still have your Pa.”




“He’s a mean old cuss and the boys are no better,” she stopped, looking frightened.  “Never tell anyone I said that or I’ll get a beating for sure,” she begged.




Han grinned.  “We never tell adults anything if we can help it.  Find we’re better off if they don’t know any more about what we do than absolutely necessary.”  He reached into the basket.  “Here have a plum.  They’re real good.”




“Oh, I shouldn’t; I need to can them for the winter.  My Pa would be real mad.”




“How’s he gonna know if any are gone if you don’t tell him?”  Han asked.




She looked struck by this thought then grabbed the plum and devoured it.  “You two can come up to the house and get some water if you want.  Then we can get you those hens.”




For ten days the three ran wild while the weeds grew in the garden and the house fell dusty.  They roamed the countryside, building dams in the streams, skipping stones in the shallows, and forgetting their cares.    




The friends lay head to head watching the grasshoppers and sucking on grass they had plucked.  “How come you’re working for Mrs. Warner?” Suzie asked.




“We’re on our way south.  Gonna be cowboys and own a ranch someday,” Jed boasted.




“Don’t your folks worry about you?”




“Don’t have any.”




Silence descended.




“This is better,” Han declared.  “We can go where we want and do what we want.  We’re gonna be rich and famous someday, just you watch.”




She sat up.  “Oh, I’m sure you will.”  Then she sighed and looked into the distance.  “I wish I could travel.  Ma used to read me stories about all these different places and we’d make up tales about what we’d do if went there.”  She stood up, brushing the dust off her dress, and squinted at the sun.  “Time to get home; the cow needs milking.”




“You always have chores.  I hate chores,” Jed said.  “Han and me’ll walk you home, and then maybe we’ll go somewhere.”




“Where?”




“Don’t know, just different than here.”




“Well, someday I’m going to go to Paris.  That’s all the way across the ocean in France.  I may never come back.”




“Maybe we’ll go, too,” Jed countered.




Han rolled his eyes.  “Not yet, we don’t have enough money yet.  I got a plan for the other boys in town.  When I win that, maybe then we’ll get going.”




Suzie’s eyes grew wide.  “You’re gambling?” she whispered, impressed.




Han threw out his chest.  “Sure, got to get ahead somehow.”




Jed supported his friend.  “Yeah, Han has lots of good ideas.  Those boys better watch themselves at that barn raisin’ next Saturday.”  




The three strolled companionably down the road towards Suzie’s home.




As they drew in sight, Suzie let out a gasp.  “Oh, no. Pa and the boys are home!”  She began to run.




Jed and Han slowly followed.  




At the fence surrounding her house a man stood scowling.   “Git yourself in here, girl!  Ain’t I taught you better?”  He grabbed Suzie by her braid and hauled her into the yard.  “You two.  I see you sniffing around my girl again; I’ll give you a load of buckshot in your britches.  You ain’t pulling her into the gutter with you.”  He strode toward them and lifted the shotgun that had been resting by his side. “Git!”




The boys needed no further warning; they ran without a backward glance.




~~~oOo~~~




The bruise on Suzie’s face had faded to a pattern of green and yellow by the barn raising, and her back no longer ached from the beating her father had given her.  She stayed with the women, setting out the supper to be served to the men when the barn was completed.  She felt her father watching her, and she worried.  She’d seen him talking to Mrs. Warner earlier in the day.




Jed and Han had stayed away, although she was conscious that they were sneaking glances towards her.  Once when she looked up Jed smiled at her.  Another time Han winked and walked by whistling a tune she had taught them.




After the supper Suzie was startled as she carried a load of dishes when a voice spoke out of the shadows.  “Psst, Suzie, it’s Han and Jed.”




She stopped and looked around.  No one was paying any attention.  “I can’t be seen with you.  My Pa will kill you 
if he catches you talking to me.”




“We came to say good-bye,” Han explained.  “Jed and me are leaving.”




Aghast, she turned towards them, forgetting to be wary of being seen, her eyes brimming with tears.  “You’re leaving me?”




Jed shuffled his feet.  “Yeah, old lady Warner got mad at us, and, and…  Anyway we’re goin’ to Abilene.”




“Oh, I wish I could go.”




Han and Jed looked at each other.  Han spoke slowly, “Why don’t you?  You could dress as a boy.”




“But, what if someone found out I was a girl?”




“Well,” Han hesitated before taking a deep breath.  “If that happened, why I guess I’d just have to marry you.”




“Marry me!  We’re not old enough.”




“Well, I ain’t aiming to do it, only if we get caught.”




Suzie took a step towards them then stopped.  She hesitated.  “I wish, I wish…”




At that moment her father called her name.  “I’m coming, Pa.”  She turned to the boys.  “I just can’t.  Write me, won’t you?”




~~~oOo~~~




Susquehanna had never heard from them again, although lately she had begun to hear about them.  Everyone in Wyoming territory had heard of the Devil’s Hole Gang.  Returning from her daydreams, she put away the journal and turned toward her bedroom.




A knock sounded on the door.  She hesitated before drawing her dressing gown tightly about her and hurrying to the door.  “Who is it?  What do you want?”




“Ma’am, we’re real sorry to trouble you, but we have an urgent message.”




“For me?”




“Yes, ma’am.  I need you to open the door.”




Taking a deep breath and clutching the edge of her dressing gown with one hand, she reached out with the other to open the door.




As she unlocked it, it burst inward, revealing two men with guns pointed at her.




She gasped.




“No need to be afraid, ma’am.  We won’t hurt you if you just do as you’re told.  My partner here needs a place to rest up, and we need to get this bullet out.”  The speaker smiled at her, his dimples showing but his dark eyes hard.  




His companion entered behind him, hobbling, with one pant leg soaked in blood. “Ma’am, if you could just seat yourself over there and be quiet, I’d much appreciate it.  We won’t be hurtin’ you unless you try to yell or run or somethin’.  Then we’d have to tie you up and gag you.”  




“I’m sure that won’t be necessary, Kid,” Heyes commented.  “This lady looks real smart.”  He grinned, “After all, she’s a teacher, isn’t she?”




Susquehanna studied each of the men before her but saw no trace of recognition in their looks, just grim determination hiding behind their smiles.  “I won’t try anything.”  She sat where she had been instructed.  “How did you get hurt?”




Curry looked sourly at his partner.  “Let’s just say we were somewhere we shouldn’t have been.”




“It was a good plan,” Heyes argued.  




“I got shot.”




“Ma’am, I need,” Heyes paused.  “I can’t keep calling you ma’am.  I’m Hannibal Heyes and he’s Kid Curry, and we’re sorry to be bothering you this way.  Now what is your name?”




“Hanna, Hanna Meechum.”




The Kid lowered himself into a chair with a grimace.  “Pleased to meet you, Hanna.”




“That your bedroom in there?” Heyes asked. 




 She nodded.  




“Kid, you gotta lie down, and I gotta get that bullet out of you.”  He looked at Susquehanna.  “Hanna, you don’t faint at the sight of blood, do you?”




“I’m a teacher.  It takes a lot more than a little blood to make me faint.”




“I bet.  I remember some of the things we put our teachers through.”




The next hour left everyone’s nerves frayed as Heyes dug the bullet out and bandaged Curry’s leg.  When it was over, the Kid leaned back against the headboard, pale and breathing shallowly.  “You ain’t never gonna be a doctor, Heyes.”




Heyes glared at the Kid.  “This is all Wheat’s fault.  Hanford,” he exclaimed bitterly.




“I told you, you were makin’ a mistake.”




“When?”




“When you listened to one of Wheat’s ideas.”




Heyes chuckled.  “Yeah.  I have to get going.  I’ll be back when the coast is clear.”




Susquehanna had remained silent throughout the extraction of the bullet, mopping up the blood and helping to 
bandage the leg but not offering any comment.  Now she turned to Heyes.  “What do you mean you’ll be back?  He can’t stay here.”




Curry’s hand clasped his gun, lifting it off the bed and pointing it at her.  “I can’t ride, and there’s folks lookin’ for us.  I’m not goin’ anywhere so you’re just goin’ to have to be a good girl and keep quiet.  Don’t worry, no one will know, unless you tell them, and that would be a bad idea.”




Heyes stared at her until she blanched.  “I’ll be back when the coast is clear.  You just go about your normal business and don’t tell anyone he’s here.  If anything happens to the Kid – anyone finds out he’s here – I will make sure you regret it.  Are we clear?”




Eyes wide, she nodded.




“Good.”  Heyes clapped his hat on his head.  “Try not to cause too much trouble, Kid, until I get back.”  He turned and left, pausing on the other side of the door until he heard Susquehanna lock it again.




Susquehanna stood hesitantly in the doorway of her bedroom, looking at the Kid.  Her eyes wandered around the room.  As she made a move, the Kid’s eyes opened and his gun again materialized in his hand.  “Heyes warned you not to try anythin’.”




“I’m just trying to figure out where I’m going to sleep.  You’ve taken my only bed.”




He smiled at her.  “You’re goin’ to sleep right here next to me.”  As she started to protest, he stopped her.  “I don’t force myself on women, never have, never will.  Now get over here, you can sleep in what you have on or you can change, but you aren’t leavin’ my sight.”




They stared at each other until she dropped her eyes.  After she had reluctantly climbed onto the bed, he spoke again.  “Turn this way and give me your hands.”




“What?”




“I’m tyin’ them for the night then I’ll tether you to my wrist.”




“But why?”




“Because I need to sleep.  I can’t be sittin’ up watchin’ you all night, and I need to be sure you don’t try anythin’ while I sleep.  Now, give me your hands!”




~~~oOo~~~




In the morning, he untied her and turned his head while she dressed.




“What am I supposed to do about school today?  They’ll check on me if I don’t teach.”




He looked steadily at her, considering.  “The children don’t come in here, do they?”




“Never.”




“Then, you give your word that you won’t give me away and you can go ahead and teach like normal.  Just remember what Heyes said about regrettin’ it if anyone finds out I’m here.”




“I remember.  I won’t give you away.  You have my word.”




The day passed slowly.  Susquehanna was all too aware that Jed, no Kid Curry, sat in her rooms, prepared to hurt her and who knew who else if she slipped up and let anyone know he was there.  She also realized that she’d be ruined if the town found out he’d spent the night there, even if she was his prisoner.  




Curry’s leg hurt, but he forced himself to walk, knowing that he had to be able to get away if necessary.  




Finally, the long day ended; the children left; Susquehanna straightened the classroom and slowly entered her residence.  She stopped in the doorway as the Kid turned his gun on her, lowering it only when he saw she was alone.




She had had enough.  “Put that silly thing down!  I told you I wouldn’t give you away, and I won’t.  Now I have to go see to my chickens, unless you plan to shoot them.”




Curry’s eyes narrowed then he laughed and holstered his gun.  “Might be tempted to wring one’s neck, I’m starvin’.  Go see to your hens, Hanna.  Maybe we both need to relax some.  This is gonna be a tough few days for both of us.”




She responded with a slight smile.  “And I need to call you something.”




“Most folks call me Kid.”




“Don’t you have a name?”




“I do, but I don’t use it anymore.  Kid’ll do. Go feed your chicks then make us some dinner, why don’t you?”




Supper over and the few dishes washed, the two sat looking at each other.




“So what would you normally be doin’?”




“My accounts or preparing lessons or reading.”




“Well I’m not stoppin’ you.”




Susquehanna glared at him then walked over to her shelf, picked up a book, and began reading, her back turned towards the Kid.




He watched her, a wry smile on his face.  “Why don’t you read that out loud, Hanna?  Who knows I might learn somethin’.  At least it would pass the time.”




She glared at him.  “It doesn’t seem to me as if you are interested in learning anything.”




He laughed.  “Heyes’d probably agree with you.  Read it out loud anyway.”  As she glared at him, he smiled and added, “Please.”




“Fine.”  She turned around and began again, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …”




She read until her voice became hoarse.  “I have to stop.”




Curry looked at her.  “That was real good.”




“It was my mother’s favorite book.  We used to talk about going to Paris someday.”  Susquehanna stopped and stood abruptly.  “I need some sleep before I teach tomorrow.”




Curry looked at her curiously and nodded.  This time, once they had lain down, Curry didn’t bother to tie her wrists.




They settled into a routine that varied little from that first day.  During the day, Susquehanna taught her classes and Curry wandered the residence strengthening his leg with each day and trying to contain his boredom.  In the evenings Susquehanna read while Curry either sat and listened or did small repairs about her place.  They talked little, neither wishing to discuss their lives or their pasts.  Sometimes Susquehanna would look up and catch Curry studying her with a question in his eyes, but he did not ask.




Friday evening Susquehanna read, “… it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known,” and closed the book.  She sat for a moment looking at her lap then rose and set the precious book back on its shelf.  When she turned, Curry glanced at her then looked away and stood up, walking with little difficulty.  




“Heyes should be back soon.”




“Good.”




“You’ve changed, Suzie.”




Startled, she stared at him.  “When did you realize who I was?”




“Figured it out today.  Your name wasn’t Meechum.  You married?”




“No.  When they hired me they misspelled my name.  I just never bothered to correct them.  Somehow it didn’t seem important.  I was making a new start, getting out of Kansas, and I figured a new name went with the change.  That’s why I use Hanna now instead of Suzie.”  She looked him over and sighed.  “Guess we’ve both changed and both have new names.”




“Yeah.”




“Do you like it?  Outlawing, I mean.  You two always said you were going to be rich and famous someday, and I guess you’ve succeeded.”




“I guess.  The famous part at least.  Haven’t managed the rich part yet.  Money just seems to slip through our hands.  How about you?  Ever make it to Paris?”




She sighed again.  “Wyoming’s as far as I’ve managed.  With what I make I’ll never get there, and I’ll probably starve when I’m too old to teach.”




“You must have some beaus.”




“That’s frowned on.  They’re probably afraid I’ll get married and they’ll have to find another teacher.”  She smiled at him.  “You, you have adventures …”




He snorted and pointed at his leg in its bloodstained pants.  “I could do with less adventure.”




“You have no idea how I long to be free, to have an adventure.”




“I guess you’re havin’ one now.  Not many school teachers’ve been held captive in their own home for a week.”
She laughed before sobering.  “Tomorrow’s Saturday.”




“So?”




“So I need to go to the barn dance – to help with the refreshments,” she explained bitterly.




“A dance sounds like fun.  What’s wrong with you doin’ that?  I don’t figure you’ll tell anyone I’m here.”




“Dancing would be fun, but I’m not allowed.  It’s not ‘seemly’ for the teacher to dance.”




“That’s dumb.  You should go teach somewhere else where they ain’t so strict.”




“It’s not that easy to find another job, and if they knew I was looking, they’d fire me.”  She looked at him, her eyes wide.  “Take me with you when you leave.  I hate teaching.  I want adventure.  I want to do something.  Anything other than this.”




Eyebrows raised the Kid spoke slowly.  “I can’t do that, Suzie.  It wouldn’t be right.  Our life isn’t for a woman like you.  You wouldn’t want to be the women we know.”




“Maybe, maybe I could cook for the gang.”




“No!”  Seeing her stricken look, he temporized.  “Women ain’t allowed in the Hole.  It’d cause too much trouble among the men.  We’ll talk to Heyes when he gets here.  He can figure out something for you.”




Seeing his set expression she said no more about it then or the following day until she readied to leave for the dance.  “Will Heyes get here soon?”




“I suppose.”




“And you promise, when he gets here you’ll talk to him about me coming along?  Promise me.”




He looked away, hesitated, and answered slowly.  “I promise I’ll talk to him about you.”




~~~oOo~~~
Susquehanna made her way home quickly from the dance but paused on her doorstep.  Something felt wrong.  She looked around and saw darkness.  No light glowed from the lamp within.  She shook her head, of course it wouldn’t, that might alert someone that she wasn’t alone here anymore.




She entered quietly and listened but heard nothing.  In trepidation she hurried to light the lamp.  “Kid?” she called softly.  No answer.




Looking around, she spotted a lump on her table.  As she moved closer, she saw it was a note resting on a small leather pouch.




Hands trembling, she opened the note.  




Suzie, 




What a surprise seeing you after all these years.  Thank you for looking after Jed.  We hope this will repay your kindness.  




Your friends, 




Han and Jed




She crumpled the note before dropping it back on the table.  Picking up the pouch she threw it against the wall, where it broke open spewing silver and gold coins.  Ignoring them she sank down, rested her head on her arms, and sobbed.




Eventually she stopped, wiped her eyes, and stood. Walking rapidly to her hiding place she extracted the journal and walked to her stove.  There, she opened the journal and, grabbing her lamp, poured oil over the exposed pages.  Finally, she snatched up the crumpled note and, setting a match to it, thrust it onto the journal.  She watched as flames shot up.  When the fire had consumed the journal, she swept up the ashes and threw them out her door.




Done, she shut the door and looked around.  Spotting the spilled coins, she gathered them and placed the refilled pouch in her hiding spot.  She blew out the lamp and walked in the darkness to her bedroom.




Author’s notes:  Charles Dicken’s “A Tale of Two Cities,” was first published in 1859.


Abilene, Kansas was founded in 1857 as a stagecoach stop called Mud Creek.  It was renamed Abilene in 1860.  In 1867 the Kansas Pacific Railway came through Abilene and it grew to become the final stop on the Chisolm Trail, becoming one of the wildest towns in the west.  Wild Bill Hickok became Abilene’s marshal in April 1871.  He didn’t last long.  Involved in a shoot-out in which he accidentally shot his friend and deputy, Mike Williams, Hickok lost his job in December 1871.
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PostSubject: June - Heat - Skykomish   Tue Nov 01, 2016 11:51 am

June - Heat - Skykomish








In the Heat of the Moment




1902   






Most folks say that I have my mother’s eyes and hair, but the shape of my face and the dimples are all Pa.  As for how my mind works, that comes from both of them. 




I wanted something from Pa that day.  I had just turned sixteen, and he promised to answer my questions about his past when I was sixteen.  He avoided my questions for a long time.  I knew all the tall tales that he and Uncle Jed told to entertain us when we were children, but now I wanted the stories my father wouldn’t tell.  He promised me, and I decided that today he was going to pay up.




“Papa,” I crooned at my sweetest.   “I made you some fresh lemonade.”  He was sitting in the shade on the porch, feet propped on the railing.  Late on a Sunday afternoon in June, it was unseasonably hot and humid.  The bees were buzzing around Momma’s wisteria hanging heavy on the vine.




Pa offered a sideways glare, softened with just a hint of a smile.  “What do you want, Amanda?”




“Can’t a girl offer her father a refreshing drink without wanting something?”




“Not in this family.”




We both laughed.  His boots plopped onto the porch.  Leaning forward he took the lemonade.  I sat in Mama’s rocking chair and meticulously arranged my skirts while he sipped his drink.
 


“Warm out here,” I remarked, just to fill the time.  I know how to get things from my father.  I think every daughter does.  With Hannibal Heyes that meant knowing when to stall. 




When I looked up, his warm brown eyes were boring holes in my skull. 




“Isn’t it sweet enough?” I asked, gesturing at the lemonade.


Pa grinned.  I love my father’s smile.  When he’s truly amused or pleased, his smile can light a cold December night.  It warms me to my toes.  Mama says that it’s a more powerful weapon than the famous silver tongue. 




“Out with it, Amanda.  What do you want?”




“I want to know what happened the day you and Uncle Jed lost your parents.”




“You’ve heard your Uncle Jed tell about that. “




“I don’t want Uncle Jed’s story.  I want yours.”




I know it’s not possible, but I swear that the bees stopped buzzing and the temperature dropped twenty degrees.  His eyes turned that cold that fast.  I figured I was looking at the leader of the Devil’s Hole gang, not my Pa.


“No.”


I paused.  His reaction made me wonder if I really wanted to know.  I refused to drop my eyes.  After seconds that stretched like hours, the ice melted from his eyes.  I saw him swallow.




“You don’t really want to know, Amanda.  I never even told your Uncle Jed that whole story.  Some things are better left alone and never discussed”




I knew what was bothering him then.  Some instinct born of living with him every day and being raised by him gave it away.  I did want to know, and now I knew how to persuade him to tell me.  “I’ll still love you.  No matter what happened or what you did, I‘ll still love and respect you.  I trust you, Papa.”




He dropped his head into his hands and combed his fingers through his hair.  Glints of silver caressed his temples.  He raised his head and met my eyes.  Turning away, he stared at the distant mountains.   Dark clouds crowded the horizon like a cluster of old women in mourning.  A stray breeze ruffled his hair and my skirts. A storm was coming this way.  Maybe the heat would break after it passed. 




“Are you sure?” he whispered.   “It isn’t a pleasant memory.”




“I’m sure.”




He settled back in his rocker and watched the distance with unseeing eyes.




“It was nearly September in 1863,” he began in a low growl.    “It was a fierce summer, and August was the worst.  The corn stalks in the fields was green and drooping, nodding their heads in the heat.  Harvest wasn’t far off.  The farm seemed to waver in the swelter.  The humidity was so bad that nothing would evaporate.  Sweat coated you like oil, and the air felt like a fetid breath from an old man.




“I was cleaning out the barn.  Well, mostly I was stirring the straw around and feeling sorry for myself.  It was too dang hot to be doing anything.  The smell in the barn was sharp and ripe in that weather.   I was twelve years old, and dead certain that my parents treated me like a slave.




I decided to sneak off to the swimming hole, just for a bit to cool off.  I convinced myself that I would take a quick swim and then come back to finish my chores.  Of course, I spent more time at the creek than planned.  I don’t know how long I was there.  I dozed off under the willow tree with my feet and legs dangling in the water.




I woke up to the thunder of hooves and the hollers of a bunch of men splashing through the creek on horseback.  Lucky for me, they were down the hill aways, and I was hidden in the shade by the branches of the weeping willow.  There was nothing out our way but the Curry farm and our own spread.  I had no idea where those men could be headed, but I knew that they had to pass our place on their way to the creek.  I hopped off the willow root.




I started for home at a brisk walk, but as I rounded the hill, I saw smoke.  That’s when I started to run.  Our barn was blazing.  At first I was puzzled by the silence.  Surely the horses should be screaming. That’s when the smell hit me.  Burning flesh.  I slowed down and almost threw up.




I started to run again.  The slap of my bare feet on the hard-packed earth echoed ominously.  My foot steps and the crackling of the fire were the only sounds.




As I neared the barn, a wall of heat barred my path.   I veered right toward the house.   The carnage outside our home brought me skidding to a halt.  I rested my hands on my knees and gulped air.  A rivulet of blood carved a trail through the dust, creeping toward my bare feet.   I looked up.  My family were strewn about the courtyard like bleeding and broken dolls.”




Papa stopped talking.  His hands were shaking.  I clasped his fingers.  His grip hurt as it convulsed around my knuckles.  He loosened his hold and turned his head to meet my eyes.




“I won’t describe the details of the bodies, Amanda.  There’s no point in telling you about it, and I don’t want to relive it.”




“I understand.  Just tell me what happened next.”




“I checked to see if anyone was alive.  I grew numb as I found each of the bodies.  Rebecca was the worst.  She had just turned sixteen.”




He smiled at me, but it was the one that doesn’t touch his eyes.




“Just your age.  We called her Becca.”  He choked on a strangled sob.




Drawing a deep breath, he continued.   “They were all dead.  Once I was sure, my thoughts leapt to the Currys.  As I left our place I grabbed an ax, just in case.  There was blood smeared on the handle.  At the corner of the blade was a gobbet of something covered with dirt and blood.  Hair was crushed into the mess.  I dropped the ax.  Looking around, I saw no other weapon handy.   I checked the house, but it seemed that the raiders had taken my Pa’s firearms.  I went back to the ax.  Using a rag from the kitchen I cleaned the handle.  I wiped the blade in the weeds.  Dried to brown in the heat, the grass crunched and crackled against the edge.  I shouldered the ax and started to leave.  Before I made the gate, I lost my lunch in the bushes.  It was a long run to the Curry farm house.




“My breathing was coming in gulps and heaves by the time I reached the Curry place.  I started to shout for Jed and his parents, but was stopped by the sight of Mary Elizabeth, Jed’s older sister.  It looked like they caught her running away from the house.


“There was no fire here.  The silence lay over the farm in a thick blanket.  The air was hot and heavy like the gasping of an angry god.  I crept toward the house.  The shattered body of Jed’s pa sprawled at an angle down the front porch steps.  Slinking near the walls, I rounded a corner at the back of the house.  At first all I could see was the ripped and bloodied calico of Mrs. Curry’s dress.  Even in such a state, her face looked peaceful.  I closed her eyes, and that’s when I saw Jed.  He was curled up in a ball behind a bush.  He looked in one piece.  I scurried around the bush and turned him over.  He was warm.  A large goose egg and a purple bruise stained his right temple.  I laid my ear on his chest above where I thought his heart should be.  It took a minute, but I heard a steady beat. Next I felt him exhale on my cheek.  He was out cold.  But he was alive.”






Papa bolted from his chair and began to pace.  I went inside and grabbed a glass and some whiskey.  He poured a drink and downed it.  He poured a second, and then propped one hip on the railing.  He set down his drink and met my eyes.  I searched for a smile to offer him, but I couldn’t find one.  He picked up the threads of his story and forged on.




“I left Jed hidden behind the bush and went into the house.  I was looking for some water and bandages.  As I was searching the house, the sound of someone singing drifted in from the distance.  It was a soldier’s marching song, and it was getting louder.  I grabbed my ax and hid behind the tool shed.  I could see where Jed was hidden and the approach to the house.


“The intruder came into view.  It was a crazy union deserter who had been holed up in a cave in the hills.  Pa and Mr. Curry had warned Jed and me to stay clear of the soldier and his cave.   He seemed pleased by the carnage.  By the looks of the bulging blanket at his back, he had been looting what was left of our farms.  In his right fist he held a long hunting knife, covered in blood.  Had he been with the raiders?  Or was he just adding his bit to the slaughtered?  I still don’t know.




“It was looking like the soldier was going to move along when he caught sight of Jed’s ma.  He hooted and hollered and made gestures I won’t describe to my daughter.  I knew that he was a crazy coot, but until that moment I didn’t know that he was so full of bitter hate and anger.  Despite the heat, I felt cold slither down my spine as he scuttled over to Mrs. Curry’s body.


“What would he do if he saw Jed?   His back was turned.  I couldn’t see.  What was he doing?  Then he raised that gory knife high above his head.  I didn’t plan; I acted.  The next thing I remember is the spray of blood and seeing red.  The soldier dropped.  Large gashes split the flesh of his back.  My ax dripped blood.   I threw up on his legs.  Didn’t know I had anything left to bring up.




“I flung the ax at the tool shed, and dragged his body away from Jed.  I ran to the water pump and scrubbed at the blood.  When my skin was clean and nothing else would come out of my shirt and pants, I put the wet clothes back on a trudged to the house.  My feelings had gone silent.  I was numb and bone weary, but I still needed to tend to Jed.


“I brought him some water, and bathed his face with a wet cloth.  I tried to clean his goose egg and get him to drink.  Despite my nursing, Jed came to.  We both cried a bit and were thinking what to do when Jed’s baby sister tip toed onto the back porch.  Jed grabbed her before she could see their ma’s body.  He held that little girl tight.  Turns out she hid in a pile of dirty laundry through the whole raid.   She was only three.  Brave little thing.




“I moved all of us toward the water pump.  Jed cleaned up a bit.  We tried to help Emily Ann, but she was only three and wanted to do it herself.  Mostly she streaked her face with mud.  It made Jed and I laugh.  After that we started walking toward town and met the wagon coming to check out the smoke.  You know the rest.”








He lifted his whiskey glass to me and drained it.  I ran to the porch rail and hugged him.  


“Uncle Jed never found out?”


“No.  The town’s folk cleaned up the bodies.  They never asked about the soldier.   I never said anything.  Never wanted to face it.”




 My father turned toward the hills with an arm around my shoulders.  We watched the clouds swirl and churn in the fading light.  The silence stretched between us and the coming night.  We were awfully quiet for a pair from the Heyes family.  A flash of lightning split the gloom, and the plop and splatter of large raindrops served as warning.  Then the heavens opened and the wind howled as the deluge began.  We watched the rain and the lightening from the porch while the wind blew away the heat.
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PostSubject: July - The Hypocrisy Of Victorian Morals - Remuda   Tue Nov 01, 2016 11:53 am

July - The Hypocrisy Of Victorian Morals - Remuda


By Appointment to Her Majesty


“Heyes, it’s amazin’ these suits don’t wrinkle so much when we’re on the trail.”

Hannibal Heyes raised a brow.  “Yeah, you’d think we had magic saddlebags or something.”  He smiled.  “What’s amazing is the prices here in the big city for a room, bath, and the livery.  Barely had any left over for the pressing.  If Soapy can’t help us out …”

“Well, he’s never left us high and dry.”  Jed “Kid” Curry fidgeted.  “This suit is itchy.  Could probably use a new one.”

“Not with seventy two cents between us.”

Both men glanced at each other in shared realization before taking in their surroundings.  The stark contrast between their meager accommodations at a local boardinghouse and the drawing room of their friend’s San Francisco mansion was palpable:  One could aspire to something grand, but that took sums to accomplish, and first they needed a job.

Their gaze landed on a cigar box, the mahogany carved in a decorative pattern.  At another time they might have helped themselves to a stogie, knowing their friend and mentor would not mind; but now, knowing beggars could not be choosers, propriety seemed the best route.  If Soapy had summoned them, perhaps they would, but they had gotten in touch with him.

“Boys, boys, so good to see you.”  Soapy, a man of slight stature, greeted them warmly.  “It has been a long time.”

Their reverie broken, the partners stood straight.  Both extended their hands.

“It has,” Heyes replied.  “We don’t get this way very often.”

They shook hands all around, and Soapy bade them sit.  A houseboy appeared and offered cigars from the chest.  When Soapy waved a no, the partners did as well.  

“Boys, it’s not like you to refuse a cigar.  Please, help yourselves.  I’m just over a touch of indigestion, so none for me, but no need for you to do without.”  Soapy motioned for them to partake, and they did.  “And, Laszlo, I will join my friends in a sip of brandy, please.”  The three exchanged pleasantries while the houseboy served and left the room.

Relaxed in his chair, Soapy crossed a leg and set his snifter aside.  “So you boys are in need of a job, is that correct?”  Before they could answer, he continued, “These are desperate times.  I’m glad I’m retired, except to repay favors when necessary, of course.”

Heyes paused.  “These are hard times.  We haven’t had any luck getting work for two months.  We were hoping you’d know of something.”  He looked at his partner.  “Kid can always shoot something, but he’s getting tired of rabbit and low on ammunition.”  Curry rolled his eyes.

“You boys will never go hungry when I’m around.  You will join me for supper this evening.  In the meantime, I’ve been asking around since I got your wire, and you’re in luck.  A restauranteur friend of mine needs specialized hunters.  The work’s not too hard and pays well, things I know you boys prefer.”  He smiled and withdrew a piece of paper from his vest pocket.  “Here’s his name and address.  He’s expecting you this afternoon.”

--000—

Alighting from the cab Laszlo had hailed for them, the partners stood in front of a grand entrance arrayed in classic but stylish architectural accoutrement.  The large window to the left of the entrance bore two lines painted in gold lettering – Estelle’s, Frisco’s Fabulous Food Emporium.  

As they approached, the doorman stopped them.  “Sorry, gents, we’re closed until dinnertime.”

Kid Curry narrowed an eye.  “Closed?  What kind of restaurant closes in the middle of the day?”

Heyes quipped, “The fancy kind, Thaddeus.”  Addressing the doorman, he wore his best smile.  “Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones to see Mr. Applegate, at the behest of Mr. Soapy Saunders.  I believe he’s expecting us.”  Heyes handed him Soapy’s calling card.

“Ah, now why didn’t you say so sooner?  Of course, of course.  Anything for Mr. Soapy.  Wait here.”  He entered the restaurant, returning before Kid could complain again about the itchy suit.  Holding the door open, he waved them in.  “Mr. Applegate will have the pleasure of your company.”

Squinting as they entered, they marveled at the grandiosity of the establishment – leather-banqueted booths situated beneath individual chandeliers, all already set for dinner with starched white linens and the finest china and silver plate polished to a gleaming shine.  Kid Curry whistled in amazement, and Heyes imagined a great gambling hall in the middle of it all.  

A well-dressed man approached.  “Gentlemen, gentlemen, I’m Ambrose Applegate.  Soapy speaks highly of you.  Please have a seat.”  They shook hands and slid into the booth he indicated.  “I will cut right to the chase.  I’m in need of specialized hunters, and Soapy said you two fit the bill.”

“Well, yes, we have been employed as hunters,” Heyes answered.  “Large cats mostly.”

Curry chimed in, “That’s right.  I imagine you need lots of fresh game for this place.”

Applegate grinned.  “Oh no, no, no, not that kind of hunting.  No guns necessary.”

The partners glanced at each other in confusion.  

“You see, I’m in need of morel hunters.”

“You mean, ethical?” Heyes asked.

“We do have scruples, Mr. Applegate.  We don’t go shootin’ somethin’ just for fun.  I mean, we hunt to eat.”  Curry paused.  “But wait, did I hear you right – no guns needed?”

“You heard right indeed, Mr. Jones.  I need morels, the bigger and more abundant the better.  You need baskets only, for gathering, and maybe a knife for the tough ones.”

“A knife?  I don’t see how it’s more moral to slit their throats than to just shoot ‘em.  Makes ‘em hard to catch.”  Kid shook his head as he explained.  “And a basket’s not a good trap; you need good, spring-loaded ones.”

Heyes’ face scrunched.  “Mr. Applegate, my partner knows what he’s talking about.  But what type of game do you mean, exactly?  I don’t think you mentioned that.”

Applegate’s hands gestured to make his point.  “Morels, Mr. Smith.  As I said, I’m in need of morel hunters.”

“Morals?” Heyes and Curry asked in unison.  Kid continued, “Mr. Applegate, like I said, we got scruples …”

The restauranteur laughed.  “Oh no, not scruples … Morels …”

“Uh, scruples, morals … they’re the same thing.”  Curry’s voice rose slightly.  He paused and glanced at his partner.  Heyes put a calming hand on his shoulder.  

“Mr. Applegate, if I understand you right, you’re looking for moral hunters?” Heyes asked.

“Not moral.  Morels.”

“Morals,” Heyes repeated.

“Yes, morels.”

Heyes opened his mouth but nothing came out.

“Fungi.”

“Fungi?”  Heyes sighed.

“That’s correct.”

Both partners shrugged and shook their heads.  Heyes spoke.  “Soapy did say you needed specialized hunters.  I’m sorry, but we’re not that specialized.”

“Have you ever picked berries, gentlemen?” Applegate asked.

Curry answered, “Sure, as kids, for ma’s pies, but …”

“Well, that’s all there is to it.  A basket and a knife for the tough ones.”

“You want us to berry pick?  A kid could do that.”  Kid paused.  “You don’t need us.”

“Oh, but I do.  This is most definitely not a job for children, Mr. Jones.  Around here, morels are found far in the woods and can be difficult to find.  We need to keep up our standards and serve only the best.”  Applegate paled and pursed his lips.  “And the truth be told, gentlemen, I need a steady supply and will pay top dollar for them.  They’re a cash crop and a delicacy …”

Heyes sighed.  “That’s all well and good, Mr. Applegate, but we can’t hunt what we don’t know.  I’m sorry.”  With that, the partners started to slide out of the booth.

“Wait!”  Applegate rose.  “Give me just a minute.”  He hurried to the back and returned with pencil and paper, drawing quickly.  “There – a morel.”

Curry observed, “A tree?  We have to climb a tree to find this critter?

“No, no.”  Applegate drew again as he explained, “It’s a fungi, a morel.  Sometimes wrongly pronounced ‘mor-relle.’  Um … a mushroom!”

“That’s a funny lookin’ mushroom,” Curry noted.

Understanding hit Heyes.  “Wait, you want us to hunt … mushrooms?”  

“Yes.  Mushrooms.”  Applegate sighed in glee.  “But not just any mushroom.  Only morels.”

Curry paraphrased.  “A morel is a mushroom?”

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” Kid asked.

“I did.  But now that we understand each other, that’s neither here nor there.  Truth be told, an upstart restaurant has opened, and the owner is doing quite a business selling morels by Appointment to the Queen.  And our business is suffering as a result.  Sour grapes and all that, you know.”

Heyes’ eyes narrowed.  “By Appointment to the Queen?  I presume you mean Queen Victoria?”

“Indeed, Mr. Smith.”

“But how?”  Heyes scratched his head.  “Whether they came around the Horn or across the Atlantic and by train cross-country, they’d be rotten by the time they got here.”

“They’re dried in England before shipping.  As long as they didn’t get wet, they’d be fine.”

Curry made a face.  “They’d taste like leather.”

“Oh no, Mr. Jones.  On the contrary, drying retains their delicate flavor and meaty texture.  They are actually quite delicious.  And the cachet of being by Appointment to the Queen just adds to their appeal.  The only way I can compete with that is to find the best around here.”

Heyes added, “And that’s where we come in.”

Applegate smiled.  “Yes, gentlemen.  That is where you come in.”
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PostSubject: August - Bars - MoulinP    Tue Nov 01, 2016 11:56 am

August - Bars - MoulinP 






Bars


The prisoner, surrounded by members of the newly formed Cheyenne City police department, entered slowly and hesitantly. The custody sergeant opened a cell door. With obvious reluctance, he gestured for the prisoner to enter.



The prisoner hesitated, swallowed hard, nodded and walked in slowly. The door clanged shut behind him and he visibly jumped, looking round. He sighed. Dropping his hat on the bunk, he ran a hand nervously through his straight brown hair, lightened with age and flecked with grey.



Conscious that eyes were watching him, he half turned his head so he could watch them back, through the corner of his eye. Perhaps ashamed that they had been staring, everyone moved at once. A few drifted away. Others found an excuse to stay and struck up low conversations, unwilling to leave the presence of the curiosity in the cell. It was not often they had such an infamous prisoner in their jail. Or a notable and respectable citizen. Certainly never, one who was the same person.



One man approached the cell. The most senior man present, the Captain. Gripping the bars tightly, he looked at the man inside the cell.



“I’m sorry I had to do this. Had to arrest you. No choice.” He sounded apologetic.



The prisoner nodded in acknowledgement. He sat down heavily on the bunk, facing away from his audience. He leant forward and dropped his head into his hands. He let out a deep sigh.



How had it come to this? He shook his head. He didn’t remember what had sparked it off. All he could see was a blur. Just hazy images of the Senator on the floor, Susan’s horrified face, blood. Then the Kid pressing a handkerchief to his knuckles.



He looked at these now. The grazes that still stung. The bruises that were beginning to colour. He flexed his fingers and winced at the discomfort. His shoulder ached too. He had probably strained it. He circled his shoulder, fingers prodding the socket to try to isolate where it hurt exactly.



He shook his head again, in disgust. He couldn’t believe it. What had he been thinking? How could he have done it? It was the most important evening of Susan’s life. His eyes watered. The one time his wayward daughter had done something he could be proud of and he … HE … had ruined it for her. He buried his face in his hands.



It just didn’t bear thinking about. Knowing how stubborn Susan was she probably would never speak to him again. He grunted humourlessly. He knew where she got THAT from. Oh she might come round if he was apologetic enough, ate enough humble pie for long enough. He sighed. He wasn’t looking forward to seeing her again anytime soon. And he certainly didn’t want to see her in his present circumstances.



Oh and then there was Mary. He groaned and rubbed his eyes. He had let her down too. He had promised her years ago, before they were married, THAT man had gone. And it wasn’t just Mary, the boys were there too. His whole family. He groaned again. It just got worse. The Kid and his family, civilised easterners, not used to the Wild West as they thought of it. Tonight’s events had done nothing to dispel that. Friends, clients, colleagues, the great and the good of Cheyenne society. Even Wheat turned up! 



All witnesses to his shame. The punch he didn’t know he had. The punch fuelled by … what had fuelled it? He sighed. Sadly, he knew the answer. The dislike of a man he had crossed swords with politically on more than one occasion. And blind rage. Cold, calculating, uncontrollable blind rage.



He shuddered at the thought. The black temper he called Hannibal Heyes. The one he had used to keep the Gang in order. The one he thought he had under control but obviously not.



He raised his head and looked at the bars surrounding him. A slight smile crossed his face. It was ironic. The last time he had sat in a jail cell must be over twenty-five years ago. Back then he was either waiting for his partner to spring him or busy thinking up a plan to escape. But this time nobody was coming to rescue him. This time there would be no escape, except after due process. This time there would be a trial and a sentence for Hannibal Heyes. This time, the first and only time he hoped, Hannibal Heyes would, convicted, have a criminal record.



With a sigh, he stretched out on the bunk and stared at the ceiling. He would await his fate. Nothing he could do now. What would be will be.



------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Then ‘cos I know you’ll be wondering what he’s done.




Earlier in the evening at the soiree for the opening of a new art gallery.



“Wasn’t aware that you were interested in art, Joshua?” Senator Charles Grainger, asked seeing Heyes studying a painting.



Heyes straightened up slowly but didn’t turn to look at the man who stood beside him.



“I’m not particularly but I came to support my daughter,” he said, politely but through gritted teeth.



“Of course. It’s a wonderful thing she’s doing. By opening this art gallery, she’s bringing a touch of sorely needed culture to Cheyenne. And about time too. This is a state capitol, not a frontier town.”



Heyes nodded and false smiled at him.



“But she’s a talented artist in her own right of course. I haven’t looked at all the paintings here but I recognise her hand in a few,” Grainger went on.



“Yes,” Heyes forced out in agreement. “I understand you’ve already bought some of her work.” 



“Yes. I always like to encourage talent when I see it. And I see it clearly in Susan.” 



Heyes hesitated, licking his lips. “Is that because you like her work? Or because you wanted to seduce her?”
Heyes growled in a low voice.



Grainger laughed but not loudly enough to attract attention. “Straight to the point as ever, Joshua.” He said starting to walk away. He stopped. “Oh and just for the record. SHE seduced me. Took me completely by surprise. Didn’t see it coming at all.” He smiled, ruefully. “And I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying it.”



He swept away, leaving Heyes silently seething. The twitching muscle in his cheek the only sign of his mood.



Mary walked over and took Heyes’ arm.



“Don’t let him upset you, Josh. This evening is about Susan remember?” she hissed in his ear.



“Yeah,” he growled.



Mary patted his arm. “Another twenty minutes and we can reasonably leave. Come and talk to Harry. You haven’t said a word to him all evening.”



Heyes allowed Mary to pull him away to join the group that included their sons, Harry and Billy.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------




Susan was having a great evening. Anybody who was anybody in Cheyenne was here, she had sold paintings already, the wine was flowing and there wasn’t much left of the buffet. Laughing and flirting, she had charmed everyone. She had been on her feet all evening and a sudden lull in her hospitality allowed her to reflect on how much her feet now hurt.



“You’re glowing tonight,” Charles Grainger, purred in her ear behind her, his hands creeping around her waist.



Susan smiled and she hunched her shoulders as he kissed her neck.



“That’s because it’s been a good evening. I think it’s going very well. Don’t you think?”



“Yes. It is. And what happens afterwards, Susan?” he asked, pointedly, his chin resting on her shoulder.



“Oh,” she sighed. “Retire to bed exhausted, I expect.”



“With anybody in particular?”



She laughed. “Naughty man!” She looked at him over her shoulder. “If you must know I have a houseful. Two school friends of mine from Europe are visiting. And my parents and brothers are staying over. I really don’t think you will want to be in such close proximity to my father all night.”



“Perhaps you’re right,” he conceded. “Joshua and me have a hard enough time being civil to each other in public as it is. I’d hate to put too much strain on the old boy.”



Susan laughed. “Thanks for being so understanding, Mr Grainger. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.”



Grainger smiled. “So if tonight’s out, can I see you tomorrow?” His hands tightened round her waist and he nosed her neck.



“Tomorrow will be wonderful, Mr Grainger.”



He kissed her cheek. “I can hardly wait,” he whispered in her ear and gave her a squeeze that made her gasp.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Across the room, the sound of a wine glass, slamming down, interrupted conversations of those who heard it. Guests turned to look as Heyes crossed the room, his face hard and purposeful.



“Kid!” Mary gasped a hand over her mouth. She looked fearful.



“I see it, Mary.”



The Kid followed Heyes across the room. He wasn’t in time. Like the rest of the room, he could only watch as


Heyes tapped Grainger on the shoulder.



The Kid knew what was coming.



“Heyes! No!” 



But Heyes was lost. As Grainger turned, Heyes punched him square on the nose. The shock and the force knocked Grainger to the floor. There were gasps and confusion all around.



“Leave. My. Daughter. ALONE!” 



Heyes stood over the fallen man, clenching and unclenching his fingers. He was shaking and breathing in short, jerky breaths. “I will NOT tell you again!”



“Pappy!” Susan cried.



Heyes glanced at her and she gasped at how hard he looked. Not her mild mannered father at all. This was the face of Hannibal Heyes, notorious outlaw leader, at his most menacing.



Yet seeing her anguish seemed to bring him back to himself. He frowned, looking dazed.



“I’m sorry,” he murmured. He looked round further when he felt a hand on his arm and saw the Kid.



“Heyes?”



Heyes nodded. He allowed the Kid to take him by the arm and lead him outside.



Susan watched them go, tears running down her cheeks. Mary went to her and held her arm. To comfort her daughter? Or to stop herself shaking? 



“Susan?”



Susan composed herself. “I’m okay, Mama.” She smiled weakly at her guests.



“Please, carry on. There’s lots more wine and still some food. Please. Enjoy yourself.” 



Susan crouched down with Grainger. He was holding a handkerchief to his nose, which was bleeding profusely.



“Charles are you alright?”



“Do I look alright?” he demanded, muffled by the handkerchief. “I think my nose is busted!”



Susan winced. “I’m sure he didn’t hit you that hard,” she said, trying to make light of the situation but failing miserably. Everybody had heard the sound.



Grainger growled. “He shouldn’t have hit me at all. The man is a menace. A … a loose cannon. I’ll have him arrested. Ah!” He grimaced in pain, and then looked round at the crowd still watching. “Somebody help me up!” he barked.


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Outside, the Kid sat a visibly shaking Heyes on a bench.



“Wanna tell me what all that was about?” he asked, softly, still holding Heyes’ arm to steady him.



Heyes shook his head and looked down. Then he lurched to one side and wretched.



“Oh, Heyes,” the Kid, sighed, rubbing his partner’s back.



When Heyes had finished he sat up straight and groaned.



“Oh, boy! Did I just do what I think I just did?”



The Kid knew he didn’t mean the mess on the ground.



“Yeah, you did.”



Heyes groaned again and shut his eyes. “I lost it Kid,” he breathed. “I haven’t done that in years.”



“Yeah. I recognised it. Guess you don’t remember, huh?”



Heyes put a hand to his forehead and shook his head. “Nope.”



“Ah! Well look here what ya done. Reckon ya’ll remember these for a while.”



Heyes looked down. He suddenly felt incredibly tired. He watched, almost with disinterest as the Kid took out a handkerchief and pressed it over the knuckles of his right hand. He winced.



“Ooh, yeah!”


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Two days later, finds Heyes stretched out on the chaise lounge in his study at home. One hand behind his head, he is catching up with the newspaper reports of his arrest. He sighed. Most of the headlines are in a similar vein.



Mayor of Porterville hits Senator



Senator and Mayor: Tensions finally boil over 



Hannibal Heyes arrested at last



Art Gallery opening marred by unprovoked brawl

He tossed them all aside in disgust and then noticed Mary standing in the doorway.



“Come to gloat?” 



“No. I’ve just come to see how you’re feeling,” she said, gently coming into the study. She went to sit down on the end of the chaise lounge and he moved his legs so she could. “You look tired.” She put out a hand and touched his cheek.



“Yeah well ya don’t get much sleep in jail,” he sighed, turning his head away from her, almost wincing at her touch.



“No I don’t suppose you do,” she agreed. She was hesitant. She wanted to be here to comfort him. She also knew right now that he would prefer she didn’t. But there were things to say. She took a deep breath. Better get on with it.



“Josh, it wasn’t your fault …”



“Yeah it was.” He cut her off, sharply. He felt for her hand and squeezed it. “Yes it was, Mary,” he said, more gently. He looked at the ceiling. “I should have been able to control it but I couldn’t … . I’m sorry. I jus’ … couldn’t.” He looked at her sadly. “It was … seeing him touch her like that. In public. It was so … familiar. So …”
He looked lost for words. “So … intimate.”



“They are lovers, Josh,” Mary said, quietly.



Heyes looked away. “I know! But she’s still my daughter an’ … he … had … no right to … manhandle … her … in that way … in front of … in front of everybody!” He was clearly upset and could hardly get his words out. He put a hand to his forehead and squeezed his eyes shut.



“You were only doing what any father would in that situation.”



“Ha! Then it’s a good thing that not every father has a daughter as fast and loose as our Susan, ay Mary?” he snapped. “Jails’d be burstin’ at the seams!”



They sat in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.



Mary shrugged. “Susan’s Susan, Josh. When was the last time she listened to anything that we said?”



“Are you saying this is all our fault? My fault?” he snapped. He looked away. “That I can’t control my daughter.”



This was an old conversation. There was no answer and Mary patted his arm in sympathy.



“She’s getting her life together now she has Alfie …”



“Who I’m still not convinced isn’t hers!”



“He’s not. There wouldn’t have been time. He’s too old.”



Heyes grunted and folded his arms. He knew perfectly well that the boy he called his grandson wasn’t Susan’s natural child. Alfie was the street urchin Susan had plucked from the Campo in Sienna, adopted and brought home, despite being unmarried.



“I think,” Mary pressed on. “Susan and John Henderson will make the art gallery a success. She has a good eye and they’re going to do mail order. You’ll see.”



"Broom cupboard man,” Heyes muttered.



Mary smiled. “You really must try and remember his name, darling.”



“I found them in a broom cupboard about to …” Heyes rolled his eyes and shuddered. He shook his head.



“She’s promiscuous Mary but it doesn’t excuse what I did,” he said, quietly. He looked at her sheepishly. “I owe you an apology. I promised you he would never come back. I’m sorry.”



Mary put her head on one side and looked at him, fondly. “That wasn’t a promise you could keep. Oh, I know you meant it but he was part of your life for so long. It’s not surprising he reappears from time to time.” She smiled and touched his cheek. “And it’s not very often is it?”



Heyes growled. He took a deep breath. “Apart from that one time when he appeared to you, I’ve kept him at bay but Susan has a habit of awakening him. It’s …” He hesitated and licked his lips. “It’s frightening me Mary.”



“I know.” She hesitated. “Is that why you ask to be arrested as Hannibal Heyes?”



“Yeah I guess. That’s who done it.” Heyes shook his head. “Not Joshua. I dunno, Mary. Maybe I thought … .”
He looked round, seeking inspiration from the ceiling, the walls, anything. He forced out a deep breath. “Maybe I thought by being charged as Heyes I could … keep Joshua outta it.” He shook his head. “I … dunno.”



“Not entirely.”



“No.”



“What’s going to happen now?”



Heyes sighed. “Well they’ll be a trial. I will have to go to court. He’s probably gonna get his lawyers to throw the book at me.” He looked at her sharply. “You know he had ‘em oppose my bail?”



“No!” Mary was shocked.



“Oh yes! That’s why it was so high! Apparently you can’t go round breaking senators’ noses even if they are … seeing more of your daughter than they should be.” He finished with a rueful smile. 



Mary smiled too. She was glad his mood was lightening.



Heyes hesitated. “How was she?”



“Her father’s daughter.”



“What’s that mean?” he frowned.



“Pacing about, hands on hips, muttering to herself, calling you names, some I’ve never even heard of!”



Heyes grunted. “She probably learnt them in Europe.”



“She’s calmed down a little now but it’ll be a while before she can forgive you. But she will. Our daughter doesn’t bear grudges you know that.”



“Ha! Grudges are for people with bad stomachs … .” He shook his head.



Mary hesitated and was serious. “Josh, what do you think will happen? Will you … you won’t have to … go to prison?”



Heyes shrugged. “I dunno Mary. It’s possible. He’s a Senator. That’s like …” He shook his head again. “He’s a powerful man, Mary.”



“And so are you. You’re Mayor of Porterville and have been for years. Folks know about Susan’s reputation. They won’t be surprised. And Charles Grainger is not well liked here you know that.”



Heyes growled. “Don’t say his name, Mary! I can’t bear it!”



-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


A few weeks later. A long distance telephone call between Porterville and Boston.



“Well Kid, I’m still a free man. Just.”



“Heyes,” the Kid laughed, in delight. “That’s real good news.”



“Yeah. It didn’t look good at one point. His lawyers wanted a custodial sentence. Luckily, the judge though otherwise. Said in view of the length of my public service, my standing in the community etc, etc. it would serve no good to put me behind bars. So he gave me a two hundred dollar fine and a year’s suspended sentence.”



“But as Hannibal Heyes? Not as Joshua Smith?”



“Yeah. Good job the Governor’s condition on the amnesty was only for five years!” Heyes puffed. 



The Kid hesitated. “How has the Town Council taken it?”



Heyes growled. “Better’n I had hoped. I had my resignation letter all written out but they won’t hear of it. Said as it wasn’t Joshua Smith who was on trial, they could live with it.”



“That was good of ‘em.”



“They like the way the town’s run. The thought of breaking in a new Mayor …” he said, dryly.



The Kid chuckled. “That was real clever of you Heyes. Being tried and convicted as Hannibal Heyes. Can’t hurt in other ways either.”



“Huh?”



“Publicity! For ya books! I bet they get reprinted. Think of the royalties!”



Heyes groaned. “Oh. I’m not so sure Kid. That wasn’t the reason an’ you know that.”



“Maybe But didn’t someone say once: any publicity is good publicity?”



“Not exactly. Think the quote was: there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”



“Exactly!”



“Kid, if you weren’t so far away, I’d punch you!”



“Careful Heyes you might get a reputation. An’ if I recall, you once said: what’s the good of having a reputation if ya don’t live up to it.”



“Oh shut up! I’m hanging up now!” Heyes said, irritably.



There was chuckling from both ends of the line.
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PostSubject: Re: Story Of The Year 2016 May -August   Thu Dec 01, 2016 7:30 am

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