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PostSubject: Gifts   Thu Dec 01, 2016 8:27 am

Holly Time for a special Christmas story challenge and it's been chosen by Holly Silverkelpie, our old MAP, for us to play in our winter wonderland for the season.  Your challenge is to give us your best take, between 4,000 words and 150 words, on the promt;



Gifts


elf
They can be physical gifts, actual gifts, prowess or talents, the gift of a life lesson, or any other take your clever clogs can come up with for you.


Get writing
Writing


Don't forget to comment on November's stories before moving on.  Comments are the only thanks our writers get.     
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PostSubject: Re: Gifts   Thu Dec 01, 2016 8:31 pm

Well, it's my turn to post from an epic.  I co-wrote Ghosts with Keays and this bit from my contribution seems to fit the prompt too.  For those who haven't read it, Heyes is just out of prison and is meeting his daughter for the first time.  He has no money for gifts and she doesn't know who he is...   


He strode into the hallway, pulling off his hat and shaking the snow from the brim.  He propped a huge flat parcel against the wall.  “A surprise, Abi.  Simple gifts, you said.  That’s what I went for.”   

“It’s at nearly as tall as you are!  What is it?  A flattened box?”

“Yup.  The children always play with the box, you and Kid both said that, but this is a very special box.”

Abigail fingered the cardboard, confusion crowding her frown.  “You got Anya a box?”

He dropped a kiss on her cheek, leaving three more small parcels on the stairs.  “Not just any box, Abi.  An extra special box.  You’ll see.”  He sniffed the air, walking towards the kitchen.  “Cage?  You’re cooking?”

“Nope,” Cage gave a harrumph.  “I’m helpin’ Abi.  She ain’t just here to look after us, you know.  What’re you gonna do to help?”  

“Dunno,” he gave a light shrug.  Abigail’s heart did a flip of gratification at the lightness dancing in his eyes again.  “What d’ya need?”

She shrugged.  “Table setting?  Then get cleaned, it won’t be long.”

oooOOOooo               

Heyes punched at his pillow, sleep still evading him.  What time was it?  He turned on his back and stared up to the ceiling.  Somehow it seemed difficult to even close his eyes.  They remained resolutely open, lively and active; which seemed fair enough, as his mind was buzzing; full of musings and imaginings of tomorrow.  The irony of the situation hit him.  He was just like an excited child on Christmas Eve – because he was finally preparing to surprise a child for Christmas.

His brow furrowed, thinking of the big, flattened box in the hallway.  It had seemed such a good idea at the time, but now?  He wasn’t so sure.  It just seemed cheap and tacky, but didn’t children love that?  Well, he’d find that out soon enough.

What choice did he have?  He had next to no money, and it was important to him to him to buy gifts for Abi and Anya with money he’d earned honestly as a hand at the Double J. 

“Heyes,” the Kid’s voice drifted through the darkness.  “If you don’t stop huffin’ and puffin’ I’ll come over there and give you somethin’ to puff about.”

“Sorry, Kid.  I just can’t sleep.”

“Well, don’t sleep, but do it quietly,” the Kid’s voice softened.  “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m good, I’m just...”  Heyes sighed.  “I can’t stop thinking about tomorrow.”

There was a burning silence in the darkness, pregnant with unspoken thoughts, but Heyes could feel the Kid’s eyes on him.  “Yeah, Heyes.  It’s a big thing.  She’s a real sweet kid, and you’ll love her.”

“Kansas, huh?”

“Whad’ya mean, Heyes?”

“Families and Kansas.  It always seems to come back down to here, doesn’t it?”

“I hadn’t thought about it, but I guess it does.  Everythin’ comes back down to Kansas, and what happened here.”

“And now it comes back down to a new start.  Life goes in circles.”

“Well that’s good, ain’t it?”

“Yeah, I’m just thinking too much.  Anya living here’s nothing like our folks.  Go back to sleep, Kid,” Heyes dragged himself up, pulling on some pants.  “I’m going to make some tea.  It’s not fair to keep you up.”


oooOOOooo


“What you doing down here?” Heyes awoke with a start, seeing Abigail’s smiling face standing over him. 
“I couldn’t sleep.”

“So I saw.  That was the deepest ‘not sleeping’ I’ve seen in many a long year.  That’s quite the snoring problem, if you do it when you’re awake.”

“I don’t snore,” he protested.

“Of course you don’t.  When you sleep, it’s like the fairies themselves are singing a lullaby into the velvet ears of baby rabbits nestled on clouds...” she smiled, sitting beside him on the settee and handing him a cup of coffee.  “Are you alright?”

He smiled, rubbing the sleep from his face.  “Yeah, I’m good.  I guess I just got a bit – worked up.”

“Wondering if she’ll like you, and if she’ll hate your present?”
Heyes nodded.  “How did you know?”

She gave his leg a playful pat.  “Because that’s what anyone would think in your position, I’m not psychic!”  She stood, “go and get washed and dressed.  We’re leaving on the one o’clock train, and we need to get our disguises perfected.  I’m nipping out to the shop to get a turkey.”

“I thought we were going to Mayzee’s?”

“We are, Mr. Heyes, but I can’t bring a party this size, and turn up empty handed.  I’m taking a turkey and a couple of pies for dessert.”  She walked into the hallway, and stared at the enormous flattened box, still propped against the wall.  “What on earth have you got her?”

Heyes groaned.  “Don’t!  I’m nervous enough already.  I’m takin’ a risk, and I pray to God that it pays off.”

She grinned.  “Whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll be memorable.  Come on, let’s get weaving.  It’s Christmas Eve and there’s a lot to do.”



oooOOOooo

Dusk came early in December and darkness was crowding around the red brick building as the wagon drew up in front.  It stood starkly out against the snow in the twilight, the painted sign standing proudly above the white picket fence proclaiming the legend, “The Redmore School for Girls, Headmistress A.G Stamford.” 

Cage jumped down, reaching up to get his bags.  He gave Abigail a grin.  “Well, we’re here.” he nodded to Mayzee’s husband, driving the vehicle.  “They have no idea?”

“Nope, only Mayzee.  We thought it’d be fun to surprise them.

“I can’t wait to see Anya’s face!” Abigail giggled.

The Kid slid solemn blue eyes towards his cousin.  Heyes was unusually quiet and still.  Was this all going to be too much for him?

They trudged up the path, carting as much of their baggage as they could manage.  The flattened box was deemed too large and was to be left in the stable to be collected later.  They waited while Cage battered the elaborate owl door knocker against the strike plate.  It was opened by a blonde woman, whose blue eyes widened as she covered her mouth with both hands to suppress a squeak of excitement.  “Cage!?”  She reached out and draped her arms around his neck, dragging him down to her height for an enveloping hug. 

Lemme go, Mayzee, there’s folks standin’ in the cold.” Cage untangled himself from his sister’s grip.  “Is he awake?”

Mayzee twinkled at her brother.  “Jake’s two now, Cage.  He doesn’t sleep all the time.”  She gestured towards a door with her head.  “They’re all in there.  We also have a few girls who couldn’t go home for the holidays, so we try to make it fun for them too.  They’re playing games.”  She laid soft hands on Abigail’s arm.  “You must be Abi.  I’ve heard so much about you.”  She glanced at the ex-outlaws standing politely in her hall. 

“Ma’am,” the Kid touched the brim of his hat.

“A pleasure,” whispered Mayzee conspiratorially, her simmering blue eyes telling them that she knew a great deal more than she was saying, “well, let’s go and surprise them.”

Heyes felt his stomach turn over, his eyes drawn to the door a few feet away.  He felt the Kid touch him lightly in the small of his back.  “C’mon, time to meet the family.”

The group of children sat huddled over a bowl, threading popcorn into garlands.  Mayzee clapped her hands.  “Everyone, we have some surprise guests for Christmas.”

Heyes recognized her the moment she turned, her dark, feline eyes opening the moment they fell on her mother. 

“Mama!”  She leaped to her feet, darting across the room and hurtled herself into her mother like a human cannonball.
Heyes older sister had run exactly like that.  He’d heard that sound before and his brain suddenly thrust the memory to the forefront of his mind.  He’d forgotten it until the moment Anya brought it so vividly to life.  The syncopated rhythm of those heels clattering across the floor was clearly in her blood – there was nobody around for her to learn these things from. 

Abigail buckled and fell to the floor, her injured chest proving too much for the attack.  The child dropped to her knees beside her prone mother with large worried eyes.  “Mama, mama!  What’s wrong!?”

A concerned Heyes crouched down, but heaved a sigh of relief as Abigail pushed herself to a sitting position and clutched her daughter to her with a laugh.  “Tha ghu math!  Oh, you!  I swear you’ve gotten bigger, a leannan!  Come here to me.”  She sat on the floor, her daughter beside her and cradled her tightly, murmuring in her ear.  “I’m fine, my love.  You’re just such a cuairt-ghaoth!”

“I’m sorry, mama.  I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Don’t be daft, I’m fine.”

There was a squeal from across the room were J.J. and Beth had just entered the room with a fresh bowl of popcorn.  “JED!!”

The Kid strode towards them arms outstretched as the Jordans wrapped themselves about him, laughing and enfolding affectionately.  “Moma’s in the kitchen.”  J.J. took Jed’s hand and dragged him towards the doors at the far end of the room with Beth in tow.  Moma! Moma!  Guess who’s here?”   

Heyes looked down on his daughter, her glistening curls almost black against her creamy skin.  It took every ounce of his self-restraint not to reach out and clutch her to him.

Abigail darted a glance up at him.  “Anya, I want you to meet some special visitors.  Mr. Jones you have met before.  This is Mr. Smith.  He is a relative of your father’s.”

Rebecca turned her face up to her father for the first time.  Her face dimpled into a smile.  “You’re a relative of my father’s?  You knew him?”

“A cousin.”  Heyes examined her; every crease, movement and expression.  His heart had already skipped a beat when she had pounded across the room.  The tilt of the chin smiling up at him was his mother’s, as was the pert little nose and the glittering smile.  They were whispers of the past, transmitting ghosts down the line to the next generation.  “Oh, Anya!”  His eyes glistened.  “You look so like my mother, and my sister.  You’re just so beautiful.”

Her little dark eyebrows rose.  “Anya?  Mama says that only family get to call me that, but I suppose you are.  Strangers call me Rebecca.”

He dropped to one knee.  “Oh, yes, Anya.  I’m family.”  He stretched out a hand, which she took, giving it a jerky little handshake.

“I’m pleased to meet you... Mr. Smith.”

He shook his head.  “Sounds a little formal.  How about, ‘Uncle Han?’”

She glanced down at her mother, still sitting on the floor, getting a nod of approval from her mother.  “Uncle Han?” 

She turned, running over to J.J., yelling at the top of her voice.  “J.J.!  J.J., come and see.  I got an uncle for Christmas!”  She stopped, zigzagging over to Cage who was embracing a little blond boy.  “Uncle Cage, mama came.  I told you she’d come for Christmas, didn’t I?”

He ruffled her hair affectionately.  “Yeah, darlin’.  You did.”   

Abigail and Heyes looked at one another.  “I did tell you she was a whirlwind.”

Heyes nodded.  “She’s wonderful, Abi, but I’m beginning to feel sorry for my folks for having so many of us.  Can you imagine it?” 

Their eyes locked for a moment before Abigail shrugged.  “Is anyone going to help me up?”

oooOOOooo

Christmas morning dawned early.  Very early.  To be more accurate it started well before dawn.  Bleary eyed adults were reluctantly roused by the loudest ‘shsshing’ and giggling they’d heard in many a long year, as feet pattered excitedly down the stairs.  It seemed like every creaking floorboard or groaning joist had been specially selected to play its own part in the cacophony.  Heyes and Curry’s bloodshot eyes met before they grinned and sat up, pulling on clothes and making their way to the door.

There were other adults on the landing, tying off the sashes on their robes and shuffling their way fuzzily to the staircase.  The smiles quickly became infectious at the cries of delight cutting through the darkness:  “He’s been,” “Ssh!” and, “No, we can’t open them yet!”

Henry opened the door, muddling over to light the oil lamp up as the household filed in after him.  They stood, lined up to watch the children open their gifts.  This was their day, and everything was aimed at making it special for them. 
The children milled about under the tree looking at labels and shaking parcels under the instructions of Catherine, who as the oldest, had strictly ruled that nothing could be opened until everyone was here.  Cage entered the room, carrying little Jake over to the tree, pausing only to look at the enormous square object sitting in the corner of the room, covered by a sheet, noticeable now the room was lit.  He placed little Jake on the floor and put a parcel in front of him.  “Are we all here?” he asked, kneeling down beside his son. 

Henry’s hazel eyes did a quick inventory.  “Yup.”  He rubbed his hands gleefully.  “Well children?  What are we waiting for?  It’s time to open your presents.”

They didn’t have to be told twice.  The whooping tribe fell upon the gifts, Catherine making sure that they were opened by the correct recipient, and that gifts with adult names were appropriately distributed. 

Abigail sat in the melee with Rebecca, oohing and aahing at the toys and books as they were unwrapped.  The oldest girl approached Abigail.  “This one has your name on it, Mrs. Stewart.”   She handed Abigail a small box covered in paint-marbled paper. 

She looked at the label.  “’To Abigail, all my love, H.,’” she looked up at Heyes through her lashes.  “You can’t afford it.  You shouldn’t have.”

Heyes gave a self-depreciating shrug.  “Best look at it before you say that, it’s not much.”
She stood, undoing the paper, snapping open the little blue box, her lips twitching into her lopsided smile. 

“I’m sorry it’s so little,” Heyes stared down at his gift.  “I wanted to get you something better than this the first time I gave you anything...” he glanced over at Anya, “well, deliberately, that it is.”

She pulled it out dangling it by the chain in a spanned hand.  “A cat!  Oh, it’s so beautiful.  Look at the shape of its back and tail.  It’s just so elegant.”

“Small...” mumbled Heyes. 

“Perfect,” beamed Abigail.  “Is it Mouse?”

He shook his head.  “Nope.  It has a meaning, but not that,” Heyes dropped his voice.  “Do you remember when we met?”

She eyed him cautiously.  “I was unconscious,” a thought struck her.  “No, earlier than that - when I fell down the embankment?  Is this a joke about how sure-footed I am?  Couldn’t you find a goat?”
His face dimpled into a grin.  “No,” he whispered.  “When you broke into that orphanage, and I was already there?”

The memory of his arms snaking around her in the dark flashed in her mind, along with the flutter of excitement she had felt in her belly.  He had caught her, whispering admonishments in her ear with an air of arousal.  It was the first time she had connected to him as a man, rather than a criminal, but she’d shaken him off and they’d never spoken of that moment.  Was he confirming that it had meant something to him too?  

“Yes...”  

“I knew you were special right then, Abi.”  He twinkled his old mischief at her.  “A cat burglar.  The first thing we ever found in common.”

She started to laugh, her eyes filling with the same devilment.  “Ooh, Mr. Heyes,” she turned holding up her hair.  “Put it on.”  

She turned looking down at it.  “It’s perfect!  I’ll never take it off.”  She looked shamefaced.  “Now I wish I’d gotten you something so much better.”

“But it’s tiny, Abi.”

She shook her head.  “The thought behind this is huge.  It’s truly precious,” she held out a parcel.  “For you.”
He pulled the box open with a smile.  “A shaving set?  Ivory handles, badger bristles, the best.”

“Yours is so...  well... old.  I wanted to give you something you’d use every day.”

He dropped a chaste kiss on her cheek, aware of the other people in the room.  “Mine is practically prison issue.  This is great, and I’ll think of you every time I use it.”  He looked down at it again, memories of last Christmas flooding forward again, realizing how far he’d come.  “Every time, Abi.”  

The general exchange of gifts continued, none of them upset that the notice had been too short for them to get gifts for the surprise visitors.  Being there was enough for anyone, and clearing up began until everyone started to look at the big shape in the corner, covered by the sheet. 

Heyes cleared his throat nervously.  “I got this for Anya, and I though J.J.’d enjoy it too.”  He smiled at the four girls sitting around the tree.  “And now there are more here, I guess, you’ll play with it too.”  He pulled off the sheet, revealing a huge box, with a red bow on the top, painted with doors and windows to look like the outside of a house.  It stood nearly six feet tall, a giant cardboard cube. 

Heyes pointed to the doors and windows.  We can cut those out so you can get inside and look out.”  He cleared his throat, the silence of the room making his mouth go dry.  This was a disaster.  But he had next to no money, and it had seemed such a good idea at the time.  “It’ll fold flat to take it home too.”   

Rebecca clapped her hands in delight.  “A house!  A giant doll’s house.  I love it.  Can we get a knife to make the door open?  Can we?  Can we now?”

Henry nodded.  “Of course, I’ll get one from the kitchen, shall I?”

“Wait!”  Heyes patted the box.  “You can’t stick a knife in it.  Not until you know what’s inside.”

“There’s something inside?” asked Abigail.

“There’s a lot inside,” grinned the Kid.

Heyes held out a hand to Rebecca.  “Come on, open it.  I’ll hold you up.”  He stretched out trembling hands and lifted his daughter, ignoring the pull of his healing burns.  “Lift the lid.”  She tugged at the cardboard lid, but it was too big for her little hands. 

The Kid stepped forward.  “Let me help.”  One yank and it was off.  He tipped it over allowing a myriad of colorful balloons to spill out, bouncing and dancing into the air.  There was a universal scream of delight from every child in the room as they ran forward with arms open, kicking, bounding, and chasing the billowing wave of psychedelic orbs. 
Rebecca looked up at her mother, her eyes glowing with excitement.  “Mama, I’ve never seen so many balloons.  This is magic!”

She ran off to join the fray as the adults watched the children; the youngest girl was pirouetting with one in each hand, the wave of balloons billowing around her ankles, little Jake sat with one between his legs, bouncing another from hand to hand with an air of complete wonderment, while Rebecca and J.J – true to form – were jousting and parrying with them in some kind of bizarre balloon fight.

“They completely cover the floor,” laughed Beth, “and this is a big room.  There must be hundreds of them!”
The Kid clasped her to him in a hug.  “It sure felt like it when we were blowing them up last night.  It took us hours.  I thought I was going to pass out!”

“However did you think of this, Joshua?” asked Belle.  “It’s wonderful.”

Heyes shrugged.  “I had no money, and Abi suggested that I think of simple things.  I had enough money to get plenty of balloons and some paint.  A man in a warehouse gave me the box.  I went for simple, but I thought big.”

Abigail smiled and slipped an arm though his.  “It truly is something these children will remember all their lives.  It’s like the circus has come to their own living room.”  She fingered the little silver cat at her neck.  “You really have such a fine mind, Mr. Heyes.”

“Well,” grinned Mayzee.  “This should keep them busy for the next couple of days.  Do you think we can calm them down enough to eat breakfast?”

“We’d best get dressed,” Belle nodded in agreement.  “We’ll certainly have peace to cook today.”

“Och,” Abigail laughed.  “It not even light yet.  Let’s cook breakfast as we are, and then get dressed.  Why all the formality?”  Everyone flinched at the first bang of the day.  “It’s Christmas!”

_________________
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb
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PostSubject: Gifts   Fri Dec 09, 2016 7:28 pm

So, here's another scene from TOF that again fits the prompt. I'll get around to writing something original in the new year, I promise.

The back ground here, is that Heyes is still in prison, shortly after attempting suicide. He's not a happy camper, but a letter from Abi gives him hope.




  Heyes read the letter over numerous times until he practically had it secured in his memory, just as he had done with her other letters.  Then he lay it onto his lap and picked up the photo of his daughter again.  He just couldn't get over her.  She was smiling at him as though she knew that he was gazing upon her and needed so much for her to love him—and to forgive him.  And he sat and he stared into her eyes for an eternity. 
 
  Kenny strolled by the cell just to do a quick check on the inmate but then stopped and stepped quietly inside the doorway to get a closer look at what Heyes was doing.  It didn't take him long to see what the inmate was looking at and he smiled and waited patiently for the man to acknowledge him.
 
  Heyes was vaguely aware of Kenny standing there but he was too absorbed into the photograph to pay him much mind.  He kept stroking the image with his thumb as though by doing so he was actually having some physical contact with the child herself, as though she would then know him and know who and what he was.  Suddenly he felt that rush again of paternal pride wash over him and this time he thought for sure that he was going to be sick.
 
  He managed to keep himself under control and he sighed deeply and though still staring at the photo he spoke quietly to the man standing before him.
 
  “Do you remember when we were out on our little hike and you asked me if I had any children?”
 
  Kenny nodded, feeling a slight thrill of hope sweep through him; Heyes was talking, calmly, reasonably—lovingly.  Maybe, maybe they'd finally broken through.
 
  “Yeah,” Kenny answered.  “Your response was rather non-committal.  I recall you saying something about the life of an outlaw not being conducive to raising a family.”
 
  Heyes smiled sadly and nodded.  Then, still not looking up at the guard he motioned for him to take the photo he held.  Kenny had of course already seen the picture when he had gone through Heyes' mail.  At that time, he couldn't help but notice the familial likeness between the child in the photograph and the inmate sitting before him, but he knew a genuine peace offering when he saw it.  The guard stepped forward and took the photo.
 
  “She's beautiful,” he stated, as though this were the first time he had viewed it.  “What's her name?”
 
  “Anya Rebecca,” Heyes answered him. 
 
  “Anya.  That's pretty.  It suits her.”
 
  Heyes nodded again. “It was my mother's name.”
 
  “And Rebecca?”
 
  Heyes didn't answer right away and a great sadness clouded over his dark eyes.  Kenny had a feeling that his caustic response to the guard's previous query into Heyes' family life was about to be expanded upon.  He was not mistaken.
 
  Heyes swallowed the knot in his throat.  That pain in his heart, that incredible ache of loss and loneliness just wouldn't go away, even after all these years.
 
  “Anya would have had an older sister,” Heyes finally forced out through his constricted throat.  “She died while still an infant—because of me.  A bullet meant for me, missed and hit her instead.”
 
  Kenny groaned.  He and Sarah had been so lucky compared to others in their place and time; they had never had to bear the loss of any of their children.  Kenny could not even imagine—didn't even want to try and imagine what that would like.  Heyes sat, staring into nothing with his hands clutching the pages of Abi's letter.
 
  “Her name had been Rebecca,” he finally continued, then sighed deeply.  “When our second daughter came along, well, Abi's younger sister, who had also died young, was named Rebecca, so Abi wanted to keep the name in the family.  So....”
 
  Kenny nodded and then returned the photo to Heyes' shackled hands.  “Do you see them often?  Does your daughter know you?”
 
  “No,” Heyes admitted, and the pain and regret in that one word hit Kenny like a sledgehammer.  “After what happened to Becky, Abi wouldn't let me stay and be a part of their lives.  I was so angry with her for denying me that contact—I hated her for years.  I refused to even mention her name.  But I gradually came to understand why.  Becky wasn't the first child that Abi had lost and she was terrified of losing a third, and she was right to be concerned.  I understand that now.”
 
  “Yeah,” Kenny agreed.  “but from what I've read in her letters to you, it seems that she still cares a great deal about you.  Why else would she give the child your mother's name?  She obviously wants to keep that connection.”
 
  Heyes looked back down at the photograph of his daughter again.  “Yeah, I suppose.”
 
  “It seems to me that you're holding in your hands a really good reason to carry on, Heyes,” Kenny pointed out. “You may not know your daughter now but you don't know what the future holds.  You get this part of your life behind you and you may come to discover that you have a valuable friend in her.”
 
  “That's kind of what Kid said,” Heyes recalled.  “that I don't have the right to deny Anya the opportunity of getting to know her father.”
 
  “He has a point,” Kenny agreed.  “You lost your parents at a young age, so you know what that's like.  Just think of all the things you could be denying both of you.”
 
  Heyes creased his brow and sent the guard a very sceptical look.  “Are you sure you haven't been comparing notes with my partner?”
 
  Kenny gave a quiet laugh.  “No, I haven't.  But obviously he's a very wise man.”  Then he turned serious again.  “I just know what it means to be a father.  Sons are an honour to have, but daughters—hmm, daughters are a gift.  And not one to be taken lightly. Don't you think she is worth hanging around for?”
 
  Again Heyes sat silently for a few moments, looking at the photograph and softly, lovingly caressing the image upon it.  “Yeah,” he finally admitted quietly.  “Yeah, I suppose she is.”
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InsideOutlaw

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PostSubject: Re: Gifts   Mon Dec 12, 2016 3:32 pm

A trickle of sweat traced its path down Hannibal Heyes’ spine.  A cool breeze rustling the leaves of the huge cottonwood tree towering over him chilled the moisture and triggered an involuntary shudder.  The man in front of him lifted his head from his task and gave him an ugly smile.




“Nervous, Heyes?  Don’t worry none, it’ll be over in no time.  ‘Course, it’ll seem like a lifetime to you.”  Cackling nastily, he resumed his task deftly wrapping the rope around itself creating a loop out of the sturdy cordage.   




Heyes’ eyes locked on the grimy hands as he experienced his own mortality with a morbid fascination.  He could hear the others as though they were under water or far, far away.  Wispy ghosts of words reached his ears, but dissipated without penetrating the ringing in his mind.  Every nerve in his body was alive, seizing his muscles in a futile attempt at flight, but he was caught; caught by his own arrogance.




“Now for me, it ain’t gonna last long enough, nosiree, but I’ll do my best to draw things out.  Give you a chance to dance for us.”  Glancing up at his prisoner, the gap-toothed man grinned again.  “You see, I figure I owe you big, Heyes.  If’n it weren’t for you and your pals, I’d still be workin’ for the railroad.  Me and Sally’d be hitched like we planned instead of her dumpin’ me for that rich lawyer’s boy.  Guess it shook her some when I lost the ranch, but what could I do?  You wiped me out takin’ my job and my money when you stole that big bank shipment.  Don’t have a pot to piss in now.  Chew on that for a while, why don’t you?  You don’t never think about the little folks, do you?  Nope, not a big, bad outlaw like you.  You just go on about your business, never giving no mind to who you hurt along the way.  Yep, the Devil’s Hole gang sure put a kibosh on my life, so I’m gonna return the favor.”  He paused hoping for a response, but cold eyes stared back.  




The man’s words shamed Heyes in a way he wouldn’t have thought possible, but there was nothing he could say that would change things and he’d be damned if he’d go out a coward begging for a mercy he hadn’t earned.  He and the Kid had always known what they were doing but neither one of them allowed themselves to think too hard on it.  They weren’t stupid or mean, just amoral.  Nobody ever gave them anything so they’d taken what they wanted and damned the wreckage they left behind.   A tiny, ironic smile curled one side of his mouth softening his hardened visage.  Well, he guessed he was being given what he deserved after all. 




“You think it’s funny, Heyes?  Let’s see how funny it is when you’re danglin’ in thin air,” growled his tormentor, looping the noose over his head and snugging the knot up tightly, pinching some of the fine hairs on the back of his neck.  His heart leapt into a headlong gallop as his chest muscles strained to hold it in place.  He could feel his bladder urgently filling as he willed his body under control.  “Yessirree, it was my lucky day when I spotted you comin’ outta that saloon like you owned the place.  That ten thousand dollar reward’s gonna go a long way to squarin’ us up and, best of all, you ain’t gonna be causing no more misery for no one.”




“Willard, shut the hell up and get a move on!  We ain’t got all day,” shouted an older, gray-haired man astride a tall horse and holding the reins to a strawberry roan.   Another mounted man waited nearby, his gun held casually in his hand as he rested his arm on his saddle horn.




“Keep your pants on!  I waited a long time for this day and I ain’t lettin’ no one hurry me up.”  Willard circled around Heyes, pausing to lean over his shoulder from behind and whispering in his ear, “My, my, my, the great Hannibal Heyes brought low.  You got anythin’ you wanna say before your purty face turns purple and your tongue don’t fit in your mouth no more?”




For once words failed Heyes, his infamous gift of gab missing in action.  Heyes stared resolutely at the hot, arid landscape before him.  The dry canyon dotted with sage and a few trees, here and there, like this one.  It hadn’t taken much for his captors to track him through the sandy soil.  He’d been uncharacteristically careless; his mind worrying over his partner’s delay in joining up with him in Trinidad until he’d decided to ride out and meet up with the Kid on the trail.   Despite all those rough years of outlawing, he still fussed like an old maid when his cousin was late.  Well, he was about to pay for his lack of attention.  




Folks were always going on about how smart he was, what a fine imagination he had.  No one but the Kid understood that his brain was a double-edged sword.  It swirled with words and ideas milling about like a terrible diarrhea of consciousness never giving him any peace.  Even now, at the penultimate moment, he couldn’t stop thinking of what was going to happen next.  Not the hanging, that he couldn’t, he wouldn’t think about, but later after it was done.  He pictured his body hanging from this old wizened tree, swaying gently in the strengthening breeze; bloated, his hat lost, his clothes filthy, unrecognizable from his capture.  Would the Kid know it was him as he rode by or would he avert his eyes from the poor devil who’d gotten hung like some bizarre ornament?   He hoped his partner rode by.




“Nothin’ to say, huh?”  Disappointed, Willard tossed the end of the rope up but it failed to span the branch, snagging on a twiggy limb.  Cursing, he yanked it roughly until it snapped free and slid to his feet.  He bent to gather it up and try again while his companions hooted their derision and waited impatiently.




Heyes closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing evenly, willing his body not to betray his fear.  He was truly grateful to be alone.  He wouldn’t wish this on any one.  Should he pray?  Could he pray?  He didn’t think so.  He and his ma’s good Lord had parted ways not long after her passing.  He doubted he was about to meet his maker.  More likely he’d be sent in a different direction. 




His shirt was soaked now and he felt insufferably hot.  Was it strange to think about discomfort at a time like this?  His eyes flew open and his hearing went from muffled to keen as Willard succeeded and the rope grew tight.  Turning his head, Heyes watched his former victim walk over to the roan.  His knees weakened as the man swung into his saddle.  Looking away, he clamped his jaws shut with a force that nearly shattered his teeth as the last thing he heard was laughter and a loud yell.  The noose yanked him into the air, pain screaming through his entire body as his feet spontaneously kicked out.  His head pounded and the blackness crept in from the edges against a rapid recitation of memories and thoughts, wonderful as well as horrific, until finally his mind was blissfully silent.




oooOOOooo




Pain.  




“Heyes?”




Light.




“Come on, Heyes, wake up.”




A gentle pat on his face.




“Dang it, open your damned eyes!”




His mind snapped alert.  The Kid.  How?  Heyes’ eyes opened slowly, the weight of his fear fighting him,  afraid of what he might see.  The grayness lifted, his focus sharpened, and the familiar face floated in front of him.  He tried to speak but only a dry squeak emerged.




“Don’t try to talk.  Just rest.”  Relieved, Curry sat back on his heels and wiped his forehead with his sleeve.  He was having a hard time accepting what had just happened.  He’d found Heyes’ horse a mile or so back and had assumed he’d find his partner on foot, bruised and angry, his ornery nag having finally succeeded in dumping him.  Instead, the sight that had greeted his eyes as he crested that rise would never be forgotten.  The three riders; the rope; Heyes suspended.  




Instinct had taken over.  He didn’t remember firing any shots, but the rope had been severed and his partner had plummeted to the ground as the smell of cordite drifted from his gun barrel.  The men had disappeared as though they’d never been.  The Kid was grateful for it.  He would’ve killed them stone cold dead if they hadn’t.  His stomach had roiled with a bitter acid as he’d dismounted near the body.  Sickened by his loss, he’d dropped to his knees and rolled Heyes over.  Only then did he realize his cousin was alive, a tiny wheeze of breath the only indication.  




He got to his feet and fetched his canteen from his saddle before walking back to Heyes.  He knelt again.  Pulling off his bandana, he wet the cotton cloth thoroughly and held the fabric to his partner’s lips.  “Here.”  Heyes sucked the material weakly wringing the moisture from it.  “Easy, that’s enough for now.”  Exhausted eyes closed and the shaggy head lolled back against his supporting arm.  A raw circle of flesh peeked from Heyes’ frayed collar.  He’d almost been too late.  Another minute and Heyes would’ve been dead.  Bile rose to his mouth but he choked it back down.  They had to get out of here.  That necktie party would be back as soon as they realized he was the only rescuer.  If they caught him, murder would be added to his crimes.  He pulled Heyes up with him as he rose, sliding him onto his shoulder.  It took a few minutes to wrestle him onto his horse.  Curry reached for the reins to mount up, but stopped when he saw Heyes’ hat lying in the dust half-hidden by a scrubby bush.  He held onto his unconscious friend and led the horses to the battered object.  Picking it up, he pulled off his own Stetson and slipped the stampede strings over his head before replacing his hat.   Climbing carefully up behind his saddle, the Kid wrapped his arms around the still form and urged his big bay on, leading Heyes’ gelding.




oooOOOooo




A snap of the fire roused Curry from a light doze and his eyes instantly went to Heyes lying quietly next to him on his saddle blanket.  The color had come back to his cheeks.  His breath was whistling noisily but steadily through his cracked lips.  Reaching out, the Kid laid a tentative hand on his chest feeling the strong beat of his heart.  It had taken him most of the day to be satisfied that he’d lost any pursuers and he’d been afraid it might’ve been too much for his partner.




Brown eyes looked up at him blankly.  The Kid could almost see the questions forming.  “We got lucky, Heyes.  Again.” 




“Thanks,” whispered the dark-haired ex-outlaw.  He was quiet for a few moments.  “What kept you?”




“Didn’t you get my telegram?”  Heyes barely managed to shake his head no.  “I had to detour to Taos to pick up some papers.  Lom’s orders.”




Heyes’ hand reached up to his burning neck feeling the balm the Kid had rubbed in.  




“It shouldn’t scar.”  It wasn’t the prominent welt worrying him; it was the unseen wounds that might prove troublesome.  Heyes fell asleep again, but he sat staring at the fire.  




Another close call.  They’d had too many already.  How long before the worst happened?  They were trying so hard to go straight, but all they were doing was risking what little security they had by drifting around the West without a gang at their backs.  It’s probably what the law was hoping for.  Hold that amnesty out like a carrot and let fate do the rest.  Well, he was done with it.  He’d talk to Heyes once he was feeling up to it.  It was time to call it quits.  The price was too high.  




Making his decision, he settled back against his saddle and let sleep claim him.  




oooOOOooo




It had been hours since they’d stopped briefly to relieve themselves and the Kid had been worrying the whole time.  Heyes had barely said a dozen words since he’d found him.  It wasn’t like Heyes to be silent.  He had a gift for talking himself into or out of just about anything and not talking at all was a very bad sign.  Curry knew he was hurting.  He’d seen how hard it’d been for his partner to mount up this morning and he’d watched him grow progressively weaker as the day wore on.  Normally, Heyes would’ve been complaining the entire ride about his back hurting, or his neck bothering him, or whatever else was eating at him.  But he hadn’t made a peep and the Kid was pretty sure what was eating at him, he could almost hear his brain working overtime.




Maybe he should bring up the amnesty, take Heyes’ mind and his own off what’d happened.  The amnesty had been his idea, he’d pushed for it and it had nearly cost him everything.  He was sure it would cheer Heyes up thinking of all those safes to be crackeded, trains to be robbed, figuring out how to do it all.  They’d go out together in a blaze of glory.  




Yes, usually he couldn’t get a word in edgewise, so maybe now was the time.  “Heyes, hold up.”  The chestnut gelding stopped sharply and Heyes slapped leather, gripping the horn with white knuckles.  “Let’s rest for a minute.”




“Can’t get down; won’t get back up.”  A fine bead of perspiration dampened Heyes’ forehead and his pale face was etched with pain.




“All right then.  Let’s give the horses a break.  We need to talk.”




“Talking’s kind of hard right now,” rasped Heyes.




“Fine.  I’ll talk, you listen.”  The Kid swung out of his saddle and stretched his back.  “Heyes, I’ve been thinkin’…”  His partner mustered up a smirk.  “Don’t say it.  I’m serious.  I’ve been thinkin’ about the amnesty.”




“Me too.”




“You have?” relieved, Curry smiled hopefully.  




“Yeah, I have.”  Shifting in the saddle, Heyes rubbed his back.  “You know, it was the last thought I had before…well, before you found me.”




“So you want to quit, too?”




Heyes stiffened.  “Quit?  We’ve come too far to quit.”




“What?”




“All I could think about was how ashamed I was I've wasted my life on anger and revenge.”  Taking in his partner’s astonished expression, he hurried on painfully croaking, “Don’t you get it?  What if I got to see my folks again?  What’ve I ever done to make them proud of me?  I was dying without getting a chance to set things straight.  I knew then I’d wanted the amnesty more than anything and I’d blown it.”




“I thought it’d almost killed you.”




Heyes frowned, considering his answer carefully.  “It almost did, but it also knocked some sense into me.”




“It did?”




“Kid, I’ve been thinking all day about the second chance I’ve been given.  It’s a gift I ain’t taking for granted.  We’re gonna get that amnesty or die trying.”




“All right, Heyes.  We’ll keep goin’ as long as you promise me one thing.”




“What’s that?”




“If we have to die, we do it together,” said the Kid solemnly.




“Agreed, partner.  Bad things happen when we separate, but you’ve gotta promise me something, too.”  Heyes grinned at his best friend, a twinkle returning to his strained eyes.  “Promise you aren’t gonna make me talk again for a while.”

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

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Posts : 1391
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 56
Location : Over the rainbow

PostSubject: Re: Gifts   Tue Dec 13, 2016 6:55 pm

This is mostly new material and is part of a larger story I'll be posting in my thread.  This section fits the prompt, so has gone in for the challenge as a stand alone.  The rest will be up in my thread soon.

Gifts   



Heyes scrutinized the newspaper with hungry eyes.  “This is bad, Kid.  Real bad.”

The fair head nodded in agreement.  “They killed someone and put our name all over it.  That’s a hangin’ offense right there.”  He kicked out at the chair leg.  “It’s the third robbery in the county where a gang claimed to be us.”


“Folks cooperate because they know they’ll be treated well by The Devil’s Hole Gang.  That won’t last either.  We’ve gotta get them, and fast.”


The Kid swung into the chair like it was a horse and leaned his chin on the back.  “No argument there, but how? “The descriptions could be anybody but my guess is that it’s an outfit from another territory.  No one seems to know them.  I’ve got nothin’.”


Earnest dark eyes flicked up to him.  “Any gossip.  information?  Someone must know somethin’ at the railroad, where else are they getting information about the payroll transport?”


“Let’s start with Pearl,” the Kid grinned.  “If anyone knows what’s going on around here it’s her.  We owe her a visit anyway.”


oooOOOooo


Pearl Du Bois’ sailed through the patrons of her sporting house like a galleon in full sail, her yellow hair a beacon of welcome and her well-upholstered frame a walking hug.  There were clearly some people she didn’t mind showing her softer side to.  “Hi’ya, boys,” she chortled, her jiggling bosom mirrored in the fat bulging over the back of her ruthlessly laced corseted bodice.  “Long time no see.”


“Good to see you.”  Heyes embraced her, his eyes twinkling as his dimpled smile spread over his face.  “We haven’t been in this neck of the woods for a good while, Pearl.  You got somewhere private we can talk?”


She flicked up a penciled eyebrow as she gestured with her head towards the backroom with a knowing look.  “Sure.  I’ve been half-expectin’ you.  You boys hungry?”


“Always Pearl.  You know that,” grinned the Kid.


She led the way, a cloud of perfume drifting behind her.  “You know, it’d be nice if you boys could just make a social call once in a while for old time’s sake.  I never see you unless you want somethin’.”  She pulled open the door, a smile of resignation etched through the heavy makeup.  “But I guess you always want somethin’.  You pitched up here as nippers wantin’ a roof over your head for the winter.  You’re like two baby birds with their mouths open every time the mama comes back to the nest.”

             
“You’re right, Pearl.  We’re real busy.  We should make some time to see you,” Heyes eyes glittered with innocent regret.  “We owe you.”


“Yeah, you owe me but somehow that turns into me givin’.  How does that work?”


A smiling Kid closed the door, holding the chocolate gaze of the dusky woman just outside until it slid to.  “You’re a natural mother, Pearl.  That’s how.”  He turned.  “You know that we’ve always got your back.  If you ever need us, we’ll be here for you.”


She slipped into a chair, her statuesque bosom thrust forward.  “Yeah, I do.  I guess you're here about the fake Devil's Hole Gang?  They were here, you know.  I chucked them out.  I’ll tell you what I can.”


Blue eyes glittered gratefully in her direction before the Kid took a seat.  “Thanks.”

 
Heyes’ long fingers slowly slid a wedge of notes over the polished surface of the table as he held her gaze.  “For your time, darlin’.  Think of it as a gift.”


Her plump little fingers reached out and grasped the notes.  “Payin’ this time?  You mean business.”


Heyes sat back and tilted his hat to the back of his head with his forefinger as she wedged the money in the depths of her smothering cleavage.  “We sure do.  Someone’ll swing for that death and I need to make sure it’s the right man.”


“They passed through.  They looked like trouble from the start, but flush with money. Too flush.  As soon as the law came askin’ about a gang who killed a guard I showed them the door.  I didn’t know who they were when I let them in, boys.  Honest I didn’t.”


“Got any names?” asked the Kid.


“There was a Will.  Will Patterson.  He was a Texas boy judgin’ from his accent.  He was the little one who took a fancy Monica and was quite talkative.  There was a Sam and a Frank too who seemed to be in charge.  They weren’t so friendly.  The new girl would have known more but she’s run off.  That same night,” her eyes brightened with her recollection.  “She asked quite a few questions about you two though, seemed quite fascinated by you.”  


“New girl?” Asked Heyes, his interest piqued.  “What exactly did she want to know?”


“Yeah, dark haired little thing.  Scottish or Irish, somethin’ like that.  She didn’t really fit in here.  I usually get the innocent ones to work as maids to see if they show any potential for movin’ on.  She was real popular, but she weren’t interested and ran off that night.  Some are easily shocked,” she let out a bellowing laugh as the men smiled in unison at her contagious mischief, “but maybe she wasn’t as innocent as I thought to run off with that lot.” 


Heyes sat back.  “What did she ask?”


“If we knew you, did you come around here very often, what you look like; anythin’ she could find out.  We told her nothin’.  I guess she had a thing for a bad boy ‘cos she seems to have run off with that other lot.”  She stretched into an unladylike, gaping yawn as she leant back in her seat.  “Sorry boys.  It’s been a long day.  The steaks are here for you.  I’ll get Monica to give the full rundown on their descriptions while you eat.”


Heyes flashed a look at the Kid.  “I don’t like this.  She’s been asking questions at the same time as another gang were pretending to be us and disappears with them.  She’s part of this.”

“I’d say so,” replied the Kid.  “I’ll ask a few questions, see what I can find out about her.  You can concentrate on how they know the best payroll to hit.”

oooOOOooo


“The fake Devils hole gang have struck in three locations now.” Heyes’ gloved hand indicated on the map to show the assembled gang the pattern.   “There. There and there.” 


He turned at Lobo’s voice.  “They ain’t bright.  You’re gonna get caught hittin’ the same line all the time.”


“Nope.  And that’s how we’re gonna catch them.  The next payroll comes through here Thursday.  We need to find out where they’re gonna strike.”


“Could be anywhere along the line,” muttered Wheat.


“Right.  So we need to narrow it down.  There’s gonna be areas where it isn’t feasible, like here, here, and here.  It’s too difficult to get away from there,” he pointed at a green area on the map.  He gestured towards two other points on the map.  “By my reckonin’ it’s gonna be here or here.”


“You got second sight now?  There are hundreds of places it could be.”


Heyes turned and glared at Wheat.  “I know that but he Kid’s onto somethin’.  We reckon that the girl from Pearl’s place knows somethin’ about this.  She arrived that week and left the same night as them.  She could be involved with one of them.  She was last seen headin’ off the same night and hasn’t been seen since.  We’ve got a direction of travel though, and her horse was found wandering in this area.  So if any of you meet a dark-haired Irish woman wearing glasses she’s probably one of them.  That also means we know where they are within about thirty miles.”


His dark eyes scanned the assembled outlaws.


“We’ve got three days till Thursday.  The robberies took place within twenty miles of each other.  The hideout’s gonna be a day’s ride from any of those so by my reckonin’ there’s about 900 square miles to be searched for the hideout, but it’s more likely to be smack bang on the middle of the three sites, into the area the girl was seen headin’ for.  We can ignore the areas where it’s just not accessible, that narrows it down by quite a bit.  I’ve done each group a map so you know your own patches.  We search in groups of two takin’ the most likely areas and we meet back here Wednesday night.”


“It’s hopeless.”


Heyes turned a simmering gaze on Wheat.


“Any time you want to leave this gang is fine by me.  We need to sort this or any one of us could be hanged as accessories to murder.  You help deal with this or you go.  It’s that simple.  There are men in this area looking for the Devil’s Hole Gang and they got as far as Bannen.  Someone’s feedin’ them information and we need to plug that leak.  They’re behind us and we’ll swing if we don’t sort this before they find us.”


Wheat shuffled in the dirt.  “I didn’t say I wouldn’t help.”


“Good.  The areas I want covered are here, here and here...”  Heyes flicked a glare at Wheat.  “You and Kyle take the east and I want you to look like your lives depend upon it.”  The dark eyes scanned the gang.  “You all need to, because they really, really do.”


oooOOOooo

Kid Curry crouched low behind the well with his gun drawn, silently gesturing with his free hand for Wheat and Kyle to keep down.  The door to the cabin opened and a tall, thin man with a shark fin nose strode out carrying a bucket.

“Looks like he’s headed towards the well,” Kyle hissed.  “The Kid’s there.”


“I can see that,” muttered Heyes.  “Get ready.  They’ll know we’re here as soon as the Kid strikes.”


“Are you sure this is the right gang,” hissed Wheat.  “They could be anyone.”


“How many gangs of men are there in these woods who hide at the sight of anyone coming near?” Heyes demanded.


“Well, there’s us...”


“Precisely.  We’re outlaws, you numbskull.  It’s what we do.”  Heyes rolled his eyes.  “Now keep your eyes on that cabin.  I’ll cover the Kid.”


The stranger grabbed the well rope and hooked on the bucket, completely oblivious to the gunman sneaking up behind him.  The sound of a metallic click behind his right ear made him let go and the receptacle cropped into the echoing depths, the handle whipping round and round until the bucket hit the water at the bottom.  “Not one word, friend.  Get those hands up.”


The man nodded, thrusting his arms in the air and staring silently ahead with his dun-colored eyes.


The Kid drew the man backwards, back towards his compatriots hidden in the bushes.  “This way.  Stay silent.”


“Are you the law?”

                 
“I told you to stay silent.”


The door to the cabin opened, “Hey, Sam!  Can you... ?”  The mustached man blinked in disbelief at his friend being held at gunpoint.  “Jees...” 


The door slammed and the cabin ran with urgent shouts and orders.  The Kid tightened his grasp on the thin man’s arm and dragged him over to the rest of the outlaws hiding in the bushes, using him as a human shield all the way.  He threw him to preacher and Hank as soon as he gained cover.  “Tie him up.  Gag him.”  He crouched down behind Heyes.  “What now?  We’ve been seen.”


“We play our hand, I guess,” Heyes replied.  “It’s all we’ve got left.”  He stood darting forward to the barn and peering around the edge.  “Hey, you!  You, in the house.  You’re surrounded.”


“You ain’t takin’ us alive.”


“Well that’s a pretty dumb move.”  Heyes rich baritone danced with mocking tones.  “You want to find out what you’re up against?  Let them have it, boys.”


The cabin suddenly faced a fusillade of shots, battering into the walls, windows and doors from every direction, splintering the wood and shattering the eardrums with a shower of explosive bursts.


“We still ain’t comin’ out without a fight.”


Heyes called out once more.  “We’re well armed and we’re ready to blast you out unless you lay down your arms and come out peacefully.  It’s your call.”


“Blast us?  What kind of posse are you?  We ain’t comin out.  We’re just gonna be hanged anyway,” the voice echoed from the cabin.


“That’s where you’re wrong,” yelled Heyes.  “We’re not the law.  We’re The Devil’s Hole Gang and we’re as mad as hell about you using our name to kill a man.  Are you going to face us like men or do we have to drive you out of there?”


“Ha!  And just how do you propose to do that?” a mocking voice demanded.


“What are we famous for?” Heyes responded.


“Stealin’.”  The voice took on a mocking tone.  “Oh, and not shootin’ folks.”


Heyes glinted an amused look at his team over by the bushes.  “Yeah, and when we can’t break in, how do we get at the money?”


The voice from the building was getting impatient.  “I dunno!  What kinda dumb quiz is this?”


“We blow the thing open,” Kyle positively squeaked with delight. 


“That’s our explosives man,” chortled Heyes.  “He really enjoys his work.”  His cheeks dimpled into a smile.  “So much so, that he’s set some dynamite under you.  I’ve got to warn you that he never bothers with any of that twenty percent dynamite.  Oh, no.  He only uses the most powerful sixty percent nitro sticks.  That stuff really gives the best blast, and he’s put some under each corner of that place you’re sitting in right now.”


He paused, letting this information sink in.  “You know exactly what that does, but just to drive your position home we put some under the outhouse as a demonstration.  You might want to watch out of the back window.  Let ‘er go, Kyle!”


“Sure thing, Heyes.”


There was a long pause before the lighted fuse could be seen fizzing its way towards the little wooden building.  The light disappeared under the wooden slats and there was an almighty crashing blast.  The planks shattered and flew skywards revealing the centre of the shed as nothing more than a tower of hungry fire.  The shards and splinters scattered all around causing the outlaws to duck and avoid the smoldering fragments showering down on them.  Wheat sniffed and crinkled his nose in disgust at the matter plopping around their hiding place.  “Couldn’t ya have picked a barn, Heyes?  It’s a sh*t storm.  A real one.”


“You hear that?” Heyes called.  “I’ll give you to the count of twenty, and then you’re going to be what’s splattered around this place.  One!”


“You don’t mean it.  You’re bluffin’.”

 
“Two!”  Heyes jaw tightened.  “I don’t take kindly to the likes of you using our name and reputation.  You’re not dealing with amateurs here.”  He paused.  “Three.”


“The Devil’s Hole Gang never shot anyone,” the voice sounded suddenly less confident.  “This ain’t your style.”


“We don’t shoot the public,” Heyes growled, “but we’ll sure as hell deal with anyone else who gets in our way.  They never say we never shot anyone in a robbery.  Nobody says we never killed anyone.  Four!”


“What do you want?”


“Five!”  Heyes glanced over at the Kid, both silently acknowledging that the bargaining had begun.  “If we’re getting the blame for all those jobs, we want the money.  All of it.  Then we want you out of our territory and a promise that we never see you within a hundred mile of Wyoming ever again.  Six!”


“All of it?”


“Seven!  Yes, all of it.  You should’ve thought about that before you bandied our name about.  It’s our reputation. So it’s our money.  Eight.”


“You’ll blow up the money too.”


“Nine.  Yeah, well, I thought about that and I’m prepared to take the chance.  Are you?  Ten!  That’s halfway through.”


The voice from the cabin started to ring with panic.  “What’ll you do to us?”


“Eleven.  We’re not unreasonable men, unless you’re unreasonable to us.  We want the money and we want you out of the area.  Twelve.”  


“So you’ll let us go?”


“Thirteen!  Some say that’s unlucky,” Heyes smirked, “but it’s getting nearer to a number way more unlucky for you.  Fourteen.”


“We want your word you won’t kill us.”


“Fifteen.  My word?  Sure.  I’m not interested in killing you.”


“You promise?”


“Sixteen.”  Heyes shrugged.  “I promise I won’t kill you if you come out, but I can’t hold to what’ll happen if you don’t.  Seventeen.”


“I need your word that you won’t kill us,” the man was almost screaming now.


“Eighteen.  And you have my word.  None of the Devil’s Hole Gang will kill you.”


“Promise.  I want you to swear!”   There were some shouts from within the cabin, signaling spiraling panic in the other gang.


“Nineteen!  Yeah.  I swear.  Hannibal Heyes gives his solemn word that none of the Devil’s Hole Gang will hurt you.  One more and then the cabin gets blasted to kingdom come.”


“Fine.  We’re throwing out our guns.” The door opened a crack and a hand tossed out a pile of weapons, one after the other.  “We’re comin’ out.  Don’t shoot.”  The burly man appeared first hands straight up to the heavens.


“We want you all out here,” barked the Kid.  “We were told there were eight of you.  We got one, you’re out here.  We want the other six with their hands in the air, and do it fast.” 


The men shuffled out, one by one, the smallest smiling nervously at the end of the line.  Heyes tentatively broke cover, holding his Schofield on them all the while.  “Hank, Preacher.  Check the cabin.  Make sure there’s nobody else there.  Wheat and Kyle.  Tie them up.”


“All clear in here, Heyes.”  Preacher’s sharp nose appeared around the door.  “We found this.”  Hank dragged out a strongbox.  It’s full of cash.”


“Is that all of it?” Heyes demanded. 


“Nope...” the burly man began.


“Where is it!?”  Heyes yelled straight in his face, the anger surprising even catching seasoned gang members by surprise.  “Talk.”


 “We spent it.” Frank dropped his head.  “We went to a whore house.  We spent the rest on whiskey and supplies.”


Heyes nodded, holding the man’s gaze prisoner all the while.  “Which one of you did it?”


“Did what?” the smallest prisoner squeaked. 


Onlookers could have sworn Heyes’ whole face darkened.  “Who killed the guard?”


“Frank.  Frank did it. Yeah ,Frank,” three voices spoke in unison.


Heyes followed the hunted eyes of the men to the large man right in front of him.  “Well, I guess you’re Frank, huh?  That’s a real loyal gang you got there.”  He stared at the prisoner, his hands tied behind his back, the disgust rising in the outlaw leader’s craw.  “I should drop you where you stand, you piece of dirt, but I made a promise and I’m a man of my word.”  His fist shot out, catching the murderer right in the solar plexus.  The man doubled over and collapsed gasping on the ground.


“Here!  That ain’t fair, punching a man when he can’t hit back,” yelled the little man at the end. 


Heyes flicked a dismissive glance at him.  “Yeah, kinda like shooting an unarmed man in the chest, but maybe not quite as low, huh?  I ain’t no choirboy.”  He signaled to the Kid.  “Get them on the wagon, hands and feet tied.  I want this garbage out of my sight.”   


The Devil’s Hole Gang made short work of securing the men in the flat bed of wagon as the Kid approached his cousin.  “Are you alright, Heyes?”


Heyes pulled off his hat and ran his hand through his hair.  “Sure, yeah.  We got them.  Why do you ask?”


The blue eyes burned into him, full of knowing calm.  “You said ‘ain’t’.  You only talk like you did when you were a nipper when you’ve really lost it.”


“Do I?”  He pulled himself back up, his smile suddenly full of a lightness the Kid wasn’t buying.  “Then it’s a good job I worked it off, ain’t it?  I even promised I wouldn’t kill them.”  He paused.  “But I never promised any of them the law wouldn’t.”    


oooOOOooo


The sheriff of Bannen paused at the door of his office, suddenly alert to the change of routine signaling something wrong.  The door was locked and there was no smell of coffee.  It was never locked and the night turn always had the pot brewing for those starting in the morning.  There was someone in the office all day and all night, and the night deputy should be there bright and alert to handover whatever had happened during the night; when he wasn’t, something was very wrong.  He pulled out his key and entered the building, calling out as he went.  “Dave?  Where the devil are you?  If you’ve been sleeping again I’ll....”  He was cut short by the sight of the deputy bound and gagged in his chair and the cells full of men similarly restrained.  “What in the name of...?”


H e pulled the gag from the deputy’s mouth, watching him work his jaw free from the constriction. 


“What’s been going on here?”


“They said they were Devil’s Hole Gang, Sheriff.  They brought in the men they say killed the guard in that train robbery.  They were real mad about another gang claiming to be them, so they went right out and brought them in for us.”


“They did? The sheriff turned his keys in the handcuffs, allowing the man to rub his wrists.  “And this metal box.  What’s in here?”  He flipped it open, his eyes widening at the stack of banknotes inside.  “Cash?”


“The one who said he was Hannibal Heyes said it was almost everything they took.  The gang had already spent some when they caught up with them.  He says the rest of the gang are cowards will give evidence against the one who fired the shot.  The big one with the mustache.”


“Is that right?”  The sheriff lifted the note pinned to the top of the cashbox and smiled over at the men in the cells as he read it aloud.  “A gift from Hannibal Heyes and The Devil’s Hole Gang.”


“Do you think it was really them?” asked the deputy, pushing himself to his feet.

“Well, we knew the men who help up those three trains didn’t act like the Devil’s Hole Gang.  They don’t fit the descriptions neither.  I wouldn’t blame Hannibal Heyes if he did bring them in.  So the rest’ll turn on the killer you say?”


“That’s what he said.”


“Did you get a good look at them, Dave?”


“No, sheriff.  They wore kerchiefs and got the jump on me real fast.”


The lawman nodded slowly, turning over a stack of notes in his hand.  “Yeah.  Maybe we won’t tell the town that bit when we break this news, but you did a good night’s work, son.  Real good.”


“I did?” gulped the young man.


“Sure you did.  Now let’s sit down over some coffee and decide what we’re gonna say happened here last night.”                                  

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

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Posts : 176
Join date : 2015-11-29
Age : 57
Location : Norfolk, England

PostSubject: Re: Gifts   Thu Dec 15, 2016 3:02 pm

This is just a seasonal bit of silliness. Please suspend belief!

Gifts

“Well that’s Wyoming finished,” Al Ron, the Chief Elf said, handing a clipboard to his boss. Santa Claus sat in a big, comfy chair in the middle of the … cave? Workshop? Factory? Hide-out? No, Grotto. All around scurrying elves carried brightly wrapped parcels. They deposited them in one of the many sacks that stood round the perimeter of the … er grotto.


“All stowed away safely?” Santa asked, glancing at the list.


“Yes boss. Periwinkle is just putting the last of the Wyoming sacks on the sleigh now.”


“Good.” Santa scrawled a signature on the bottom of the clipboard and then held it back to Al Ron. “We’re a little behind this year. Now where’s next? Montana?”


“Wait!” As they looked up the newest and youngest Elf puffed up. He waved a clipboard. “Wait! We haven’t finished Wyoming yet!”


“What’s this, Legolost?” Santa asked. Legolost came to a halt by his side, gasping for breath.


The youngest elf, whose name sounded like the unfortunate incident the year all the small, brightly coloured building bricks went astray, bent over to catch his breath. He hadn’t forgiven his parents for saddling him with that moniker.


Straightening up, he held out a clipboard with a wavering hand.


“It’s … the Wyoming Maybe list, sir!”


“Wyoming Maybe list?” Santa frowned, looking at what was in front of him.


“Yessir!”


Legolost ignored the dark glowers Al Ron was giving him. Packing the sleigh was behind schedule and they simply couldn’t afford to be late. He had been hoping they could make up the time with the Montana list. This interruption was holding them up.


“Explain, young Elf,” Santa growled.


“You asked me to draw up a list of Wyoming people who maybe deserved presents, sir. So I did.”


“When did I ask you this?”


Legolost put his fingers on his lips as he thought. “Um … July.”


Santa rubbed his beard. “And it’s taken you this long?” He smiled, not unkindly, at the red-faced young Elf.


“Well I had to do research sir. Took a while.”


“Legolost what have you done?” Al Ron asked, slowly. He glanced at Santa. He was pretty sure he wasn’t going to like the answer.


Legolost gulped. “I went out into the big wide world sir.” Astonished looks from Santa and Al Ron.

“I … went undercover,” he added, quietly.


“Undercover?” Santa exploded. “WITH THOSE EARS?”


Legolost blushed. He was cursed with having the longest and pointest ears of all Santa’s working elves.


“I wore a woolly hat, sir. Y’know like Spock in Star Trek.”


Double huhs?


“Never mind,” Santa muttered and looked at the clipboard. He read it with a sigh. “The Devil’s Hole Gang! They don’t deserve presents!”


“You might not think so … at first glance but … once you get to know them …”


“GET TO KNOW THEM! When did you get to know them?”


Legolost gulped and he looked down at his feet, the toe of his soft boot making a circle on the floor. “Well I … sorta … joined the Gang.”


“JOINED THE GANG!”


Santa was sitting on the edge of his chair now, hands gripping the arms. Al Ron took a step back. If he wasn’t mistaken Santa was going to blow!


“Just … just for a little while. I … I didn’t go on any jobs sir!” Legolost looked wide-eyed at his bosses.


Santa growled and settled back in his chair. Al Ron and Legolost both took deep breaths. Crisis averted. Santa looked at the list again.


Legolost, feeling braver, stood next to Santa.


“I’ve written down each name, a list of their bad things and next to it a list of their good things. Then at the bottom there’s my recommendation and my suggestion for an appropriate gift.”


Legolost stood back, smiling smugly. (Remind you of anyone?)


Al Ron shook his head, puffed and walked away. Santa was on his own with this one. Santa gave the retreating back a flicker of irritation and looked back at Smug Elf.


“Let’s have a look shall we?” Santa looked back at the list. “Hank Williams? Isn’t he a singer? I’m pretty sure I’ve got one of his albums around here somewhere.”


“No sir. I mean yes sir but he’s not that one. This one is a distant relative. I think.”


“Josiah Wedgewood?” Santa’s eyes were out on stalks. “The pottery manufacturer?”


“No sir just a coincidence. This one the Gang call Preacher. He dresses all in black and quotes from the bible a lot. I think he was formerly a man of the cloth sir.”


“Demarcus Loboda.”


“Lobo. Guess it’s easier to say.” Legolost shrugged.


“Tate Markham.”


“He’s fairly new,” Legolost qualified. “Only been on a couple of jobs. As lookout.”


“Henry Maxwell Jenkins.” Santa looked up frowning. “I’ve heard of him.”


“Yes sir. Meets a sticky end in about three year’s time. He deserves a good Christmas. Hasn’t got many left.”


Santa looked doubtful and returned to the list.


“Wheat Carlson. Hmmm. The verdict is still out on him, Legolost.”


“But look sir.” Legolost tapped the list furiously. “See right here. He brings to justice the man who masqueraded as Hannibal Heyes. As a result, that innocent fella who told everybody he was Kid Curry was off the hook for murder.”


Santa nodded but still looked doubtful.


“Kyle Murtry.” Santa smiled and nodded. “Yes he’s a good man. Misguided but a good man nonetheless.”


Santa turned the page. “Ah now we’re getting to it. Kid Curry. Now really Legolost he’s …”


“Yes I know sir,” Legolost sighed. “He’s the one the little old lady from Boston gives the notice of amnesty to. He’s the one who persuades Hannibal Heyes they should try for amnesty. If it wasn’t for him …,” he added, excitedly.


“Okay, okay Legolost I see where you’re coming from.”


Legolost stopped hopping from foot to foot and smiled.


“But now this next one. Hannibal Heyes. Now you can’t tell me that he deserves a present from Santa Claus. Why he’s … .” Santa looked at the young elf at his side critically. “Reminds me a bit of you actually,” he mused.


“But sir he pulled off the miracle at Santa Marta. If it wasn’t for him, Kid Curry would get shot for a murder he didn’t commit. Now sir you can’t tell me you condone an innocent man going to his death. If so, I’m not sure I wanna work for you anymore.” Legolost drew himself up.


“Alright! Legolost you’ve made your point. They all deserve presents.” Legolost beamed. “This is good work, but I’m afraid I can’t deliver presents to Devil’s Hole.”


Legolost looked crestfallen. “Is it … do you … Santa they’re not bad men. Really I’ve got to know ‘em all real well. They’ve just had some bad luck in life that’s all.”


“Legolost,” Santa smiled. “It’s not that. You’ve convinced me. I can see you did thorough research and I agree with you about presents. It’s just that I can’t deliver them. This is an outlaw Gang. They have men on watch all the time. I doubt if they’ll have a tree and I’ll never get down one of the those pot-belly stove chimneys. It just won’t work, Legolost.”


“Well,” Legolost rubbed his chin thoughtfully. (Hmm? Can’t think who it is he reminds me of.)

“The tree won’t be a problem, Santa.”


“How can you be so sure?” Santa growled suspiciously.


Legolost flushed. “I did a deal with … .” He licked his lips nervously. “Tinkerbell. She gave me a handful of … fairy dust and I …” Legolost was back to drawing circles on the floor with his toe.

“Sprinkled some on Kid Curry when he wasn’t looking. Planting the seed so to speak about the tree.”


“Legolost! What were you told in basic training? I will NOT have my elves associating with that … hussy!”


Santa was on his feet now. All scurrying stopped and all elf eyes turned to stare. Santa never got out of his chair until the sleigh was fully loaded. This was unprecedented. Something momentous was about to happen.


“But I didn’t associate, Santa. Honest,” Legolost cried. “She was going to sprinkle some on him anyway.” He gulped. “She put an ad in Magic Monthly. She needed a carrier. For the fairy dust and the sprinkling. I volunteered.”


Santa loomed close to Legolost. “I’m sure she didn’t want him sprinkled with fairy dust just so he would put up a tree.” Santa was menacing and the young elf gulped and took a step back.


“No sir. She wanted to use the fairy dust for something altogether undesirable and unwholesome. I can’t say anymore ‘cos we’re PG but I think you get my meaning. I saved Kid Curry from that sir! That’s gotta be good hasn’t it?” (Does fairy dust cling to silver tongues?)


Santa growled and settled back into his chair. His eyes flicked around the … grotto. “What are you all standing about for? You’ve got work to do!”


Scurrying began again in earnest. Santa turned back to Legolost. “Okay, let’s assume they’ll be a tree,” he sighed, rubbing his eyes wearily. He was getting too old for this. “I can see you’ve got this all planned out Legolost. So what about the guards? And the pot-belly stove?” He jiggled his corpulent stomach. “This is the kicker.”
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hannibal Heyes was in the leader’s cabin, washing up after lunch, when he heard a strange sound. He pushed back the kitchen curtain and peered out into the winter wonderland that was the yard of Devil’s Hole. He wiped a circle clear in the steamed up window and looked again. Across the yard, several gang members appeared on the porch of the bunkhouse. They had also heard the strange noise.


Heyes grabbed his blue/grey jacket and hat and went outside.


“What’s going on? What’s that noise?” he demanded as he walked across the yard – well waded across the yard. The snow was several feet deep in places – even over his boots at one point. He wasn’t happy about that. His toes even less so.


“Sounds like someone choppin’ down a tree,” Wheat said, trying not to laugh at his struggling boss.


Heyes stomped onto the bunkhouse porch with a huge effort.


“Who is it? We’ve got enough wood to keep the fires of Hell alight for years!” Heyes stood hands on hips.


“Dunno.” Wheat turned and looked back at the assembly behind him, mentally ticking off names as he glanced round. “Er Kyle is missing. And …” He turned back to Heyes. “The Kid.”
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The Kid struggled through the door of the bunkhouse with a large fir tree. Kyle brought up the rear.


“Sheesh! Kid, you coulda got one without snow on it!” Heyes cried, jumping back as the branches pinged off the doorway and showered him with the white stuff. Cold white stuff. “Awh!” Some went down his back and he wriggled furiously.


“But Heyes it so purty!” Kyle grinned.


Heyes closed his eyes and shook his head.


“C’mon fellas help stand it up,” the Kid said.


Ten minutes of puffing, sweating, and cursing later, the Devil’s Hole bunkhouse was the proud owner of a Christmas tree. Er probably more correctly, a Christmas tree was the proud owner of a bunkhouse.


“It’s a bit big, Kid,” Lobo said, scratching his head.


“Yeah, I shoulda chopped it higher up,” the Kid admitted.


“Several feet higher up!” Heyes said, hands on hips. He gazed with incredulity at the huge tree, wedged between the ceiling and the floor, the top bent over. It’s lower branches seem to consume all the available floor space. “Alright, now it’s here, what do we do with it?”


“Decorate it,” grinned Kyle. “Don’t ya know nothin’ ‘bout Christmas, Heyes?”


Heyes gave him a look. “With what?” he asked patiently.


“Well …”


“Er …”


“Ah …”


“Um …”


“Baubles!” Wheat cleared his throat in embarrassment when all eyes turned on him. “That’s what ya do. Ya hang baubles on the branches.”


“Baubles,” Heyes repeated, glaring at the big man. “And where do we get … baubles?” he asked through gritted teeth.


Heyes watched as Wheat did some thinking on that question. Behind him, the Kid rummaged around for a bag.


“Will these do?” he asked, tipping the bag’s contents onto the floor. All leaned in to see what he’d spilled.


“Where did you get those?” Heyes squeaked, several octaves higher than his normal baritone.


“Remember, Leggy? He left ‘em behind,” the Kid grinned. “Jus’ the trick huh?” he said, holding up a bauble.


Heyes groaned, waved a hand in disgust and stalked out.


“Where are you going? Ain’t ya gonna help?” the Kid, demanded.


“NO! I’ve got washing up to finish!” With that, the door slammed on the blue/grey coated man.

The Kid shrugged as he turned to the others who were eagerly picking decorations from the pile on the floor.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It was early on Christmas Eve morning when Heyes stepped into the bunkhouse. All it’s regular occupants were still abed, making the usual sounds sleeping outlaws make – snoring, moaning, muttering, scratching and … (you get the picture).  Heyes shook his head and crossed to the unused fireplace. The pot-belly stove that warmed the building was on a different wall.


Heyes glanced at the tree, now resplendent with baubles, tinsel, odd socks and a colourful scarf he remember Kyle wearing. On the top perched an angel. She looked a bit worse for wear judging by the angle she listed. Heyes tilted his head at the same angle. She did look happy though. He looked further round the bunkhouse. Between the beams hung paper chains and … . What was that? He peered closer at the sprig of green foliage with white berries. Mistletoe! He puffed. He would definitely have to keep his wits about him tomorrow. Be alert for anyone puckering in his direction. He rolled his eyes and shook his head.


Turning back to the fireplace, he rested one hand on the mantelpiece and ducked his head up the chimney. Yep, just as he thought, blocked. He nodded tight-lipped. Then grinning mischievously, he looked round. They were all asleep. Now wouldn’t it be nice if they woke to a freshly swept chimney? One in which they could have a roaring fire on Christmas Day. Of course, they would be very grateful if he did that for them. Sort of a Christmas present. Licking his lips and chuckling gently he left.


Back a short time later with chimney sweeping rods and brush. He knew when he bought them for his pinchbeck experiment they would come in handy. Pushing back his hat, he settled on his heels in front of the fireplace as he assembled the rods. With a further grin, he pushed the brush up and then pushed harder with a grunt. Behind him, there were sounds of stirring. With a final push he was through, gave the rods a tug and … WHOMP!


“Ah!” (You might have already spotted the flaw in Heyes’ plan.)


“Heyes? Is that you Heyes?” Kyle rubbed his eyes, sleepily.


“Yeah, it’s me.” Heyes said, keeping his back to the bunks.


“What ya doing, Heyes?” Lobo asked.


“Er well I er … .” He pursed his lips, grimaced when they tasted of soot, and nodded. He puffed.

“Sweeping the chimney,” he muttered. He swivelled round, bracing himself for the laugher. And he wasn’t disappointed. The bunkhouse howled.


A few moments later, he was wading back to the leader’s cabin through a fresh snowfall. The Kid stood on the porch and saw him coming. He grinned and folded his arms as the creature from the black lagoon came towards him. It gave him a look.


“Not a word, Kid. Not one word!”


As the door slammed, the Kid doubled up with laughter.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
‘Twas the night before Christmas etc., etc. It was snowing heavily. Hannibal Heyes pushed back his hat and looked at the men who were just about to go on guard.


“Fellas I don’t think anyone will be fool enough to come a-raiding on a night like this. I think we’ll be safe enough without a guard tonight. Get yourselves back in the bunkhouse.”


The Kid slapped Heyes on the shoulder as the Hank and Tate walked away gratefully.


“Heyes, so you do have a heart?”


“Yeah, Kid. Just don’t spread it around, huh?”
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It was a scruffy little man in an unsavoury looking union suit who make the discovery. He intended to start the coffee but on the way, he almost tripped over something underneath the tree. He blinked.


There were several presents under the tree. They hadn’t been there last night. He was sure of it. He sorted through them, wondering first who had put them there, then who they were from and lastly was there one for him.


He went back to the one he had first discovered. He gave it a feel. He had no idea, wrapped as it was in bright festive paper. A nametag hung off one end. He didn’t read too good but sounding out the letters and moving his lips he made out – Wheat. A Christmas present for Wheat.


Kyle smiled. His partner would like that. He trotted over to Wheat’s bunk and gave his arm a prod.


Wheat growled and shook him off, turning over.


“Wheat.”


“Go ‘way.”


“But Wheat, look!”


Wheat growled. Last night had been a late one. A considerable amount of alcohol had been consumed, a lot by him. He was feeling just a mite fragile this morning. Kyle prodding and telling him to look when his eyes had no intention of opening was uncalled for.


“Kyle! So help me I’m gonna shoot ya!”


“Wheat ya got a Christmas present. We’s all got Christmas presents.”


One of Wheat’s eyes made a valiant effort, flicking open to stare unblinking at Kyle. Something waved in front of him, which he couldn’t focus on. He grabbed the waving arm, held it steady and then snatched the waved thing. He turned it over and inspected it.


“Hmmm.” He read the nametag. Yep it said Wheat Carlson on it. He looked at Kyle’s grinning face. “Kyle ya shouldn’t of.”


“I didn’t. We’s all got one. Even Heyes and the Kid I reckon.”


By now, the conversation had roused the rest of the bunkhouse. Tate dropped out of the top bunk with a thud and rubbing his eyes, stumbled to the tree. Henry was behind him.


“Hey! I got a Christmas present,” Henry said in delight.


“Me too,” said Tate.


Wheat decided leadership was called for now.


“Hold up boys we dunno where these came from.”


“Do it matter?” Lobo asked, rummaging under the tree.


“Yeah, it matters. We all ought to be here when we opens ‘em. Kyle get dressed. Go get Heyes and the Kid. Rest of ya, get some clothes on and leave them presents alone for now.”


“Think I can guess what mine is,” said Hank, eyeing the tell-tale wrapped present leaning against the tree.


“No guessing,” Wheat roared and then wished he hadn’t. “Get dressed. Preacher?”


A snore answered him. Wheat chortled. Not much woke Preacher. Not even the possibility of a present.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Kyle entered the leader’s cabin none too quietly. He was excited. Before he had left, he had found the one with his name on it. He was anxious to open it.


“Kyle!” Heyes growled as Kyle burst into his room.


“Presents, Heyes. We alls got presents!” The ever-present tobacco chewed furiously behind the big grin.


Heyes lay back on his elbows and blinked awake.


“Presents?”


“Yeah under the tree. One for each of us I reckon. C’mon Heyes. Wheat says we can’t open ‘em ‘till you and the Kid get there.”


Heyes raised his eyebrows. This just might be worth crawling out of a nice warm bed for and he threw back the covers.


“Go wake … him up.” He waved a dismissive hand. “Gently!” he added. Too late. Kyle had gone.

Heyes struggled into his pants, to the irate sounds coming from the Kid’s room. He winced at the
“I’ll shoot ya Kyle when I get hold of ya” noises. Heyes grinned as Kyle made a bolt for the outside door.


Heyes and the Kid met in the main room.


“It true?” a bleary-eyed Kid asked.


Heyes shrugged. “Dunno. Let’s go find out.”


When the two leaders got there, the bunkhouse was a more wholesome place than earlier. The outlaws were dressed for one. All except Preacher who still snored, blissfully unaware.


“What’s this ‘bout presents?” Heyes asked, stripping off his gloves to receive a coffee.


“Look under the tree!” Kyle was bouncing excitedly.


Heyes looked with pursed lips and nodded. “Yep they sure do look like presents to me.” He did a double take when he caught the Kid looking at him with a smirk. “Don’t look at me!”


“Reckon you oughta be Santa Claus, Heyes,” Lobo grinned and received the look.


“Yeah c’mon Heyes. You’s our leader. You oughta give out the presents. Staff morale an’ all that,” said Wheat.


He received the look as well.


“C’mon Heyes,” the chorus went up.


Heyes rolled his eyes and shuddered. He bowed to popular consent and picked up the most obvious. He read the tag.


“Hank.”


Hank grinned. He didn’t really need to tear off the paper. It was obviously a guitar. However, his eyes were out on stalks when he saw it.


“Woo eee!” He gave it a strum. “Needs tuning,” he declared as Heyes reached for the next present.


“Preacher.”


Heyes looked across at the slumbering one and handed it to Wheat.


“Give that to him when he wakes up will you?”


Next.


“Henry.”


It was a small parcel but Henry didn’t seem to mind.


“Hey, I always wanted one of these. It’s got my initials on an’ everything.” He grinned. “It fits!”


Henry proudly showed off the Mexican inspired gold ring, in the shape of a snake.


There were oos and arrs from the festive folk.


“Wheat.”


Wheat took a moment then chortled.


“What ya got Wheat?” Kyle was impatient to know.


Wheat turned the small box round so all could see the lettering. It read Acme Moustache Pampering Kit.


As the laughing died away, Heyes picked up the next.


“Kyle.”


Kyle tore off the paper and frowned. He held up something elliptically shaped, lavender coloured, and waxy. There was a hole at one end with a soft rope threaded through it.


“What’s this?”


“SOAP!” they all yelled.


“An’ here’s the instructions,” Wheat hooted, handing Kyle a piece of paper.


Good egg that he was, Kyle grinned and sniffed. “I’m sure gonna smell nice.”


Heyes rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I think that was the idea,” he muttered.


Next.


“Kid.”


Heyes handed over a largish box.


The Kid gave it a suspicious shake, before ripping off the paper.


“Oh!” he sounded surprised.


Heyes leaned over to see and frowned.


“A gun polishing machine? Does one of them even exist?” (I don’t know either.)


“Does now,” the Kid said.


Heyes turned to pick up the last present under the tree, checked the nametag said Heyes and grinned. He could tell it was a book without opening it.


“One Hundred Greatest Train Robberies,” he read. “Boys … I bet there’s loads of ideas in here!”

He was excited.


Groans went up all around.


And that just leaves Preacher. When he finally awoke, he unwrapped a Wedgewood porcelain figure of Mary.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Christmas Night saw a lethargic Heyes and Kid, settled in front of the fire in the leader’s cabin, feet sharing a pouffe.


“Heyes, just between us two. Did you get the presents?”


Heyes shook his head. “Nope. Did you?”


The Kid shook his head.


“Well whoever did, it topped off a nice day. Whoever the Outlaw Appreciation Society is … .”  He held out his glass aloft. The Kid followed suit.


“Merry Christmas!” they chorused.

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PostSubject: Re: Gifts   Sun Dec 18, 2016 3:11 pm

Just some Christmas fluff.....


The Letters #2


December, 1860

Dear Mr. Claus,

Hi. We need to talk. Now, I've been real...okay, mostly... good all...for part...of the year, so I deserve a lot of good gifts under the tree Christmas morning. 'Good gifts', meaning toys, candy, money, and other things someone of my age enjoys. As I recall, last year, I suggested that you check your toy to clothes ratio and apparently you didn't because I STILL got more clothes than other stuff. You REALLY need to keep check of that this year or kids may start doubting if you truly know if they're good year round or not. You don't need that kind of controversy. Think of what it would do to your public image.

One other thing before I tell you the reasons behind some of my actions this past year. As you know, my stocking is where you leave the candy and fruit you bring. The candy was fine last year, (really good...bring lots more), but I have to question the fruit. Seems you just went into Ma's kitchen and got some apples to give me. I know because when I saw the fruit basket at breakfast, I noticed something was wrong with it. Then I figured it out. Two apples were missing and nobody in the family ate an apple Christmas Eve night. Besides, I had noticed a small bruise on one of the apples a couple of days earlier and that same apple came out of my stocking. You know, a thing like that could make one question you. Are you running out of money to buy and make stuff for us children? Or is Ma the one stuffing the stockings? You need to get your gang working on the problem before it gets out of hand. By the way, I marked all the fruit in the kitchen a certain way this year so I'll know if it happens again.

Now, about these alleged incidents that happened this past year. I can explain.

First, I'd like to address the outhouse scandal at school. Yes, I will admit that I found a way to lock the outhouse door and was charging admission for kids to use it. (That little, insignificant scheme was working fine until the teacher had some bad beans at lunch and had an...accident...because she couldn't get in). BUT, I had a REALLY good reason for doing such a thing. You see, Ma's birthday was coming up and there was this hand bag she looked at everytime we went into town. I was just trying to raise the money to get it for her. You can't blame a boy for wanting to make his Ma happy now, can you?

Okay, on to the science 'experiment'. For science class, each one of us had to come up with a small experiment to try. Just so happened, pepper was one of the first things that went through my mind. So, that is the reason I threw pepper in the teacher's face the next day. I wanted to see if she would sneeze. The other three people I did it to sneezed also. I was just doing my best to get an 'A' for science and prove my experiment. Pepper, does indeed, makes somebody sneeze almost every time. Except for Pa, it just made him mad.

Now, I did try to be nice and bring some flowers to the teacher one day. And can you believe it?! There was some poison oak mixed in with them flowers. I can't say that I don't know what poison oak looks like, or, that I do know what it looks like, because one of those statements would be lying and lying, as we all know is wrong, so I ain't going to do that. That's all I have to say on the subject.

I will admit that I used some glue I found to glue one of my cousin's mouths shut. But he just WOULD NOT hush and listen to me. He just went on and on until I couldn't take it anymore. I knew the best place to go fishing. That spot he wanted to go to was growed up with all kinds of weeds at the edge of the pond and had lily pads in the water. You can't fish good in a bunch of weeds, especially with lily pads around. My cousin knows that now. And I know how long it takes to get glue off of somebody's mouth 'cause Pa made me watch before he whooped me good. So, see. I already paid the penalty for that incident. Therefore, it should not be used against me while making your nice/naughty list.

That about covers everything I think. If you find yourself running low on toys and the other good stuff, be sure to come to Kansas first. We must've been last last year. So, it would just be fair for us to go first this year and get most of the good stuff.

And don't worry. I ain't mad at you over the fruit incident. I'll still leave you a cookie and some milk under the tree. I would leave more than one cookie, but, I ate most of them. Don't tell Ma. Somehow, she got the idea that they fell out of the cookie jar onto the floor, got dirty, and had to be thrown away.

I'll make a deal with you. You bring me lots of good stuff, (remember, that DOES NOT include clothes), and when I get older and get my own horse and stuff, I'll ride to your house and bring you something nice every year.

So, goodbye for now. Have a safe trip and like I said last year, you might want to take a map in case you get lost. It has to be confusing going all over the world in one night.

Sincerely,
Your innocent on all counts, well-behaved friend,
Hannibal Heyes

ooooooooasjoooooooo

Dear Mister Santa Claus,

Howdy. This is Jed. How are you? I am fine. As you know, I turned 7 this year. I think it's about time I got my own shootin' iron. A man just can't hunt good with a slingshot. You shoot a deer with a rock, he's just gonna laugh at you. I'd like to have one of them shiny Colts I seen some people wearin'. And some new toys and some candy would be good too.

My cousin, Han, told me I should tell you about a couple of things that happened so you'll know I care about bein' truthful and put me on the good list. But, he also told me that 'cause of a mandment #5 or somethin' wrote down somewhere, I don't have to tell on myself. So, I'll just say that I can't say how Ma's undergarments got into my sister's show and tell box. And he said to tell you that the teacher made me write a sorry note to a boy 'cause my ink bottle just plumb up and spillt over his head after he said somethin' unnice to a girl. So, here's what I wrote:

Dear Henry,
Teacher made me write you this letter to say sorry. All I'm sayin' sorry for is NOT bein' sorry. I tried ta feel sorry, but I just don't.

And that's about all I have ta say. Oh, and Han wants me to let you know he helped me write this here letter so's it sounds good and so's you'll know how nice he is to his cousin. I didn't want ta write that, but Han has a way of makin' a body want to do somethin' even when he don't.

And now, THAT'S all I got ta say.

Your friend,
Jed Curry





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Cal

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PostSubject: Re: Gifts   Tue Dec 20, 2016 9:18 am

first post on this site....hope this works.....fingers crossed...

Gifts Under the Tree

She sat with her back to the tree.  She allowed herself a small tight smile.  She’d beaten him to it.  She was late herself, seemed he was later.  He did have the limp and the stick.  That didn’t help him get around too quick, she supposed.  She’d forgive him.  Who was she kidding, she’d forgive him anything. 

She sighed out her anxiety.  So much humanity in one place was unnerving.  How did this many people even exist, let alone descend on this city square on a cold December evening.  All around her people hustled.  They hustled so much, their bustle could barely keep up.  They had broad optimistic smiles on their faces, and looked like they were rushing to launch themselves into the next century, like they couldn’t wait for this one to be over.  She wanted to hang on to every second given to her.  Savour every passing heartbeat. 

She’d never been so happy.

Behind her, the tree was lit and dressed with every bright confection that could be crammed onto its branches.  It soared into the indigo sky, topped by a beatific angel.  The angel smiled at the crowds below. It glowed a little brighter at the sight of a tall, limping Adonis, apologising his way through the crowd, with a touch to his hat for every passing lady.

She looked at the boxes of delight piled at her feet.  Her feet.  She wriggled her toes in the tight shoes, and dreamed of stretching them into warm earth.  Bliss.  Would he understand the gift?  It had been expensive and probably had cost them the price of a meal or two.  He valued food.  Would he think her foolish? She glanced into the bag and the gift smiled back at her.  

No, he’d see it.

The crowd parted just a little, and he got a glance of her.  His heart leapt and tears sprang to his eyes.  He blinked hard and smiled, touching his hat as he ‘Merry Christmas-ed’ the nearest passing family.  His hurt and his emotions were too close to the surface still.  If he took his eye off them for a second, they would flood forward and drown him.  

He swallowed them down.
 
He filled his heart with the sight of her.  He felt guilty to be this happy, but joy too, was welling deep within him.  The combination of secret grief and present joy, was a cocktail for confusion.  He let himself only exist in the moment.  The turn of the century, the beginning of a new era, the cusp of a great future, these things were nothing to him.  She was everything now.

She looked up and there he was.

“You’re late.” 

He stood in front of her and smiled, drinking her in.

“What?”

A small adorable crease appeared above her nose.

“Oh …just lookin’.  Don’t get to see an angel …under the tree too often …I can look, can’t I?”

He folded himself onto the bench at her side and looked back at the crowds.  Neither of them were crowd people, but there was a reassuring anonymity in crowds for him.  The mass of humanity lent him cover, space and time to heal up, his body at least, but what did she get from this sea of humanity he’d dragged her to.  This must be overwhelming for her, frightening.  He wrapped a protective arm over her shoulder.

“You find everything you wanted?” he asked.

She nodded.

“You were late.”

“Well I had a little shopping to do myself” he smiled.  “What‘d you get?”

She reached into the nearest package, brought out his gift and placed it in his hands.

“Ohhh…” he chuckled, returning the ursine smile. 

He let his hands explore the long articulated limbs of the bear, fingers running through its silky, dark fur.  He held the smiling glass eyed face close to his own, and said hello, letting his thumb and trigger finger play with the silver stud button in the bears ear.  

He laughed again.

“You don’t think it’s stupid, do you? I mean I could take it back….”

“No … its perfect. It's perfect... Just like you...”

They sat together in quiet thought, her head resting on his shoulder, the bear cradled in his arms.

The bear. 

The bear had a story all of its own.

---oooOOOooo---

He’d crawled into that cabin, leaking blood fast, despite the cold.  He didn’t remember much about that black day.  The ambush. Heyes. The bullets.  The blood.  The pain. The flight.  All one terrible tangle of heart stopping emotion. No clarity. No true memories, just images and smells, screaming and gun fire, horses galloping, first two, then one, then…. No… he couldn’t face that yet.

Then he’d crawled to the cabin.  

When had she found him? Was she there at the beginning?  Or was it really at the end? 

She was there when that melt bear came calling, looking for food, needing to feed her young.  She was there.  She was waving a fiery torch at the window.  She was Smoking the door to fright the bear.  She was stood with his rifle at her shoulder, defying the terrible howling and the scraping of claws at the oak planking.  

She’d laid that mess of wilderness, in a twist of twigs on his chest, and started that chant of life and hope, that had filled her with the courage to face down that grisly.

She was there.  Like some miracle sent from heaven.  

When the raging had stopped and the snow had fallen so deep, she’d stayed, and they’d found some consolation in each other’s arms. 

Death and life.  

The raw stuff that you only see at the edges.  

They’d seen that together and here they were on Christmas eve…

---oooOOOooo---

He reached into his jacket pocket and took out a small tooled leather box, coloured in light blue.  He opened it and showed her the chip of ancient crystal, cut and shaped to a multi-faceted gemstone, supported on a band of gold, sat on a deep blue velvet cushion.

“A gift?”

“Yeah …It means I never want to let you go …It means you’re gonna have to get used to having me around…”

She looked at the gift, and back to the bear.  She wasn’t entirely sure, but guessed that he’d spent quite a bit more than she had.  He couldn’t complain if they didn’t have enough to buy food for a while.  She smiled up at him.

“I like it.”

“Good …I’m glad… And … I like …erm …her” he said, trying to poke the bear back down into one of the bags.

She laughed, pulling the bear back into his arms.  

“I knew you’d understand” she smiled into his slightly embarrassed face. “After all, your son will be named for the bear …that was there at his beginning.”

She smiled enigmatically, her dark eyes twinkling above her dimpled cheeks, as she watched the penny fall in the blue sapphires she come to call home.

“You mean you’re…?”

He looked at her belly and opened those azure pools in wonder.

“You’re…?”

“Yes. It is a wonderful gift we have been given this Christmas, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is… It is…”

He pulled her into his arms, squashing the bear between their bellies.

“It’s the best gift I ever had…” he squeaked at the top of her head, tears flowing unchecked down his cheeks.

---oooOOOooo----

“Awww … I knew you’d like it” beamed Heyes.  “And, you’re welcome partner…”

“Huh??????” 

Kid stared at his partner sat on the other end of the bench.  Heyes was in his trail gear, but the shabby be-concho-ed hat, the blue grey winter coat, the tan pants, the heeled riding boots, even the spurs… all had a white glow about them, and there was no tied down gun. 

Heyes sat cross-legged, looking at Kid from behind the girl, beaming with angelic smugness. 

“You liked my first Heaven-side Hannibal Heyes plan then, did you? I always knew you had faith in me Kid … You didn’t think the bear was too much?  I had to get you two together somehow …and quickly …if little Hannibal…ooops....”

Heyes held a gloved hand to his lips with glee.

“The bear? That was you???”

Kids face contorted into a mass of confusion.

“You really like it, don't you?” questioned the girl.

“Erm …. yes, yes …of course I do….” reassured Kid, cuddling the girl to his chest. “Little Hannibal????” he whispered to his beaming partner over her head.

“Mmmmm?” she sighed, breathing in her man and cuddling in.

“Erm … Kid. You may want to keep it down a bit.” 

Heyes pointed to the crowd around them.  He raised his eyebrows and pursed up his lips.

“Oh …They can’t see me …” 

Heyes waved in the face of a passing lady, that had stopped to share a disapproving look for the lovers on the bench under the Christmas tree.

“Can't see … or hear me… CAN YOU!” laughed Heyes, shouting at the lady. 

The lady jumped a little as if she'd been goosed. Heyes smiled in wonder and shrugged at Kid.

“Well ...None of them has up to now. Only you Kid …only you…”

He folded his arms and nodded his head towards Kid’s fiancée.  Kid had gone slightly rigid.

“You may want to give her a bit more air Kid.  Pregnant ladies need to breath…”

---oooOOOooo---

.......I really liked Randal and Hopkirk(deceased) when I was younger....I think Heyes would make a fantastic ghostly partner for a soon to be married Kid.
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PostSubject: Re: Gifts   Tue Dec 27, 2016 4:22 pm

Discounts of the Season

Curry walked in with a load of firewood.  As he was stoking the fire, Heyes slammed through the door and collapsed in a chair by the fire.  Eyebrows raised, Curry turned to look at his partner, who had slumped into an armchair and was uncharacteristically quiet.

“Did you get everythin’ we need in town, Heyes?”

“HEYES!”

“Huh?  What?”

“I asked did you get everythin’?”

"Yeah.”  Heyes did not look up from his contemplation of his boot-encased feet that he had pointed towards the flames.

Curry stared at him, frowning.  Heyes did not notice.  Rolling his eyes and shaking his head, Curry headed out to unload the wagon and stable the draft horse.

As he re-entered the room, a cold waft of wind ruffled the pages of the newspapers piled on a side-table.  Curry stomped his boots and brushed snowflakes off his shoulders, before shrugging off his coat and hanging it on the coatrack by the door.

“Looks like you got back just in time.”

No answer.

“Heyes!  It’s snowin’ can’t hardly see your tracks anymore.”

“That’s nice, Kid.”

“Guess we’re safe for a while.”  Curry walked to the back of the room and opened a cabinet.  He glanced at his partner and poured them each a good shot of brandy.  “Yup, I call this a Christmas miracle.”  He placed a glass by Heyes’ elbow, settled into the other armchair and concentrated on lighting his cigar.

Once it was lit, he leaned back and propped his feet on the fender of the fireplace.  “Yeah, here we have this cushy job for the winter caretakin’ this cabin.  It’s close enough to town that we can go in and get a drink or play some poker or whatever, when we want, and the town don’t seem to care who we are.  I tell you, Heyes, after the last few years of runnin’ from the law, this is real cozy.”

“Cozy, huh, that’s what you think?”

“Yeah.  Cozy.  What’s eatin’ you?  Someone recognize you or somethin’ when you were in town?”

Heyes glared at him.  “Did I say we had to leave?”

“Okay, so that’s not it.  What’s the problem?”

“No problem.”

Curry shook his head and relapsed into silence, sipping his brandy and blowing smoke rings.  Heyes resumed his silent contemplation of his feet, leaving his brandy and cigar untouched.

Curry was right, the three-room cabin was cozy and well appointed, but Heyes was having none of it.  Curry stirred the stew simmering over the fire.  Finally…

“Heyes, quit broodin’ and just tell me what it is,” the exasperated gunman exclaimed.  “Look around you.  We’re warm, we have money and food and a place to winter.  No one’s chasin’ us.  After the last few years what more could you want?”

“Nothing, I guess.”  Heyes stood and shrugged.  He grabbed bowls and dished out the stew but merely pushed his portion around the bowl rather than eating it.

“Try again, Heyes.  Somethin’s botherin’ you.  You ain’t been this quiet since that time you had a catarrh that turned into laryngitis.”  He smiled.  “Funniest thing I ever saw, you tryin’ to yell at Wheat and all that came out was a pitiful squeak.  Scared the gang so much to see you so het up with no words that they behaved themselves for a week.”

The corner of Heyes’ mouth twitched up and a shadow of his dimple appeared briefly, before disappearing into the miasma of gloom radiating from its owner.  “Yeah.  Those were the days weren’t they?  There we were the two most famous outlaws in the west.  People feared us.”  He shook his head and walked over to stare at the fire, the picture of despair.

Curry snorted.  “Those were the days for sure.  Wine, women, money.”  

Heyes nodded without turning around.  “Of course, there were also all the possees, people takin’ shots at us, always havin’ to watch our backs.  Couldn’t trust the gang – after all, who trusts a bunch of crooks?  Too little sleep, long weary days hidin’ out, flat broke and always havin’ to make sure no one challenged you or me.”

By the end of this speech, Heyes had turned to stare at Curry.  “You were unhappy?  I thought you liked the life.”

“I did, Heyes, but it got old.  We got older, and we weren’t likely to get much older in that life.  Remember that ‘Dead or Alive’ part of our wanted posters?”  He shot a keen glance at Heyes.  “Now what happened in town, today?”

“You really want to know?”

“I been tryin’ to pry it out of you for hours.  Of course I want to know.”

Heyes walked over to his jacket and pulled some folded papers out of its pocket.  “Here, a present.”

Bemused, Curry unfolded the papers laying them side by side before glancing back at his partner.  “It’s our wanted posters.  I’ve seen them before.”

“Not these you haven’t.”

Curry frowned and studied the poster.  There they were:  ‘Wanted Dead or Alive…’  He pursed his lips as he read.  “They still got your scar on the wrong side, and I still say I’m taller’n you.”  Suddenly he stopped and his eyes widened.  “Hoowee, is this a joke?”

“No, Kid, no joke.  They’ve lowered the rewards.  We’re has-beens.  Washed up.  We’ve been discounted.”

Kid laughed, then sobered looking incredulously at Heyes.  “This is what’s put you in this mood?”

“I’m not in a mood.”

“Trust me, you’re in a mood.  If you’re not and you’re just pullin’ my leg, I might have to shoot you.  This is great news, Heyes.”

“How do you figure?  Don’t you get it, Kid?  It means it’s over, we’re done.  In a few more years they’ll forget we ever existed.”

“Yeah, Heyes, we’re done, and it’s wonderful.  Fewer possees chasin’ us.  Why in a few years maybe there won’t be any rewards, and we can settle down somewhere.”

Heyes’ eyes widened and a broad smile brightened his face.  “Of course.  There’s others that are giving the banks and railroads headaches now.  We’ll be able to go where we want, do what we want.”  He shot a look at Curry, and his dimples emerged.  “Why maybe you really could marry the mayor’s daughter.”  He laughed as Curry glared at him.

Heyes began to pace flinging his arms about as his imagination soared.  “We just need to build a stake this winter, Kid.  Then what do you want to do?  We could buy a gambling hall.  Or maybe a place in San Francisco even.”  He grinned, his enthusiasm growing. “Write our memoirs, under a suitable alias of course.  Who needs that miserable old so-and-so of a Governor to keep his promise after all?”

He walked to the sideboard and poured two generous brandies and handed a glass to Curry.  “To our future.”

“Our future.”

The two knocked back the drinks in a single gulp.  

Heyes stopped and looked at his friend.  “Thanks.  I don’t know how you do it, but you can always talk me out of what you call moods.”

Curry smiled back.  “It’s a gift.”  He handed his partner a cigar and, this time, Heyes lit it.
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PostSubject: Re: Gifts   Wed Dec 28, 2016 10:32 pm

Auld Lang Syne


Hannibal Heyes sat under a shady oak in the stillness of an afternoon.  Here it was hardly half past three, and the sun had trailed westward enough to be only two hours shy of setting.  These early winter evenings came too fast.  At least they had ridden hard enough to reach warmer climes before snow set in – their Christmas gift to themselves, they had reasoned – lest they be left snowbound without a roof over their heads and no game for forage.  Their meager funds could go toward a small stake for Heyes to find a decent poker table somewhere, but in the meantime the trail would suffice.

Heyes thought this spot might make a good campsite but was not of a mind right now to stop.  He would rather get more daylight behind them, but Kid had yawned all day in the saddle after a restless night.  Last night was quiet – too quiet for Curry to lull himself to sleep.  Where were the sounds of the night, the light din that accompanied them on the trail?  It seemed to have vanished.  Indeed, there was something disquieting to his partner about this whole trip, something he could not describe.  But Heyes felt it, too. 

So here they were, still in the high country but far enough south to face only a cool night, still waiting on the governor, still optimistic.  Their worries trended these days toward providing basic necessities, creature comforts of a higher order being redefined on a regular basis.  The occasional visit to Silky or Soapy brought them the high life for a few days, a break from hard ground, foraged game, and occasional bad water.  They might have longed for a regular roof over their heads and the comforts of the leader’s cabin, but they had made a decision.

Heyes leaned back, taking those few extra minutes before he would start gathering dry brush for a fire.  He would tend it before heating water to stew whatever Kid brought back, untack the horses, go about his usual camp-keeping routine.  Perhaps he would busy himself making biscuits for dinner.  Maybe the dying greens around camp might still provide extra nourishment for the broth.  Maybe … maybe … It was all so uncertain.

Christmas had come and gone further north.  Flurries had started, but they were on the downside of the mountain and quickly outrode them.  That was almost a week ago.  Heyes thought back, counting on his fingers for concentration.  Okay, Christmas, then the rainy day, then riding in mud before reaching drier ground, then the next boring day with nothing memorable to recall, and the next day when Kid found a couple of fat birds, and yesterday … Or did a couple of them blend?  It was difficult to recollect exactly without a calendar.  One day ran into another.  After a while, there was nothing, or very little, to distinguish them.  In any case, he reckoned it was New Year’s Eve or the day before, but definitely not yet the new year.

He started at a crunch – a squirrel.  He smirked at it.  Before he went hunting, Kid had remarked he noticed a lot of game while riding, so Heyes would leave that to his partner.  This creature would live to see another day.  Heyes had enough to do.  He reached for a few twigs and the squirrel rushed away, like so many memories of yore.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot …

They had left all they knew last year and many times before that, and hit an endless trail.  Now, strangers became often reluctant acquaintances, but most were kind.

And never brought to mind …

Faces grew dimmer as days, months, and years rushed by, whether recent or from much longer ago.  He could recall his parents but the colors were sepia, faded, and it took an effort or occasion to bring them to mind.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, in days of auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne my dear, for auld lang syne.

Heyes rose, grabbing the saddle bags from his grazing bay.  Rummaging, he produced a half flask of whiskey.  No, it was nowhere near the finest Scotch they enjoyed in grander surroundings but would do, like most everything these days.  Hearing a shot nearby, he poured an ounce or so each in metal cups – stand-ins for fancy glassware.

Louder crunches of dry brush underfoot heralded the return of his partner, grinning and holding up a fat bird.  With some greens for the broth Heyes had spied, their stomachs would be well sated tonight.

We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Heyes held out a cup to his partner.  He hoped for the best, but they would toast to the immediate.  “Happy new year, Kid.  To survival!”

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PostSubject: Re: Gifts   Fri Dec 30, 2016 3:07 pm

“It’s right up there, gentlemen.” Heyes and Curry turned simultaneously, looking at the gently sloping hill with a large cottonwood at the crest.

Curry shielded his eyes with one hand, squinting in the intense afternoon sunlight.

“By the tree?” he asked.

“Directly under it.”

“Thank you, Reverend Corkill,” Heyes said. “If we have any trouble finding it, can we ask you for help?”

“Of course, of course,” the reverend assured him. “But the marker you ordered has been placed, so you shouldn’t have any problem.”

“Already?” Heyes asked, surprised. “That was fast work.”

“Absolutely. Mr. Morgan, who owns the funeral home, is very efficient.”

“That’s good news.” Heyes adjusted the saddlebag he carried on his shoulder. It didn’t help; he was still hot and uncomfortable. “I guess that’s all we need. We’ll stop by the rectory when we’re leaving.”

“Very considerate of you,” Corkill said. “In fact, you and Mr. Jones have been very proper and polite, which I certainly appreciate. That’s not always common in these situations.”

Curry’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, in these situations?”

Corkill wilted a little under the intense gaze. “I meant no disrespect, Mr. Jones. Only that, considering the circumstances of the deceased’s passing, mourners are usually few and far between. It’s especially uncommon for anyone paying for burial in sanctified ground, as well as $100 for such a fine marker.”

“Our friend didn’t have a good death, but that don’t mean he had a bad life. Even the worst bad man has got some good in him. A man in your position ought to know that.”

“Again, Mr. Smith, I meant no disrespect. And yes, I have seen many a bad man with some good in him. But you must understand, sir, that when someone is hung for his crimes, the good is not immediately obvious.”

Heyes and Curry exchanged a quick glance. Curry’s voice was tight and even.

“I seen plenty of men who were called good, who had a lot of bad in ‘em. It was just a matter of luck that the law never caught up with them.”

Corkill nodded. “That is also true. I am not one to judge. I leave that in God’s capable hands.” Heyes saw Curry’s mouth open to reply and interrupted.

“Well, this is one interesting conversation, ain’t it, Thaddeus?” Heyes smiled and slapped Curry’s shoulder a little too hard, ignoring Curry’s annoyed expression. “Maybe we can talk more later, after we get out of this hot sun.” He reached over to shake hands with Corkill.

“Thanks again for arranging everything, Reverend. We don’t want to keep you out here any longer. You must be awful hot.”
“Indeed it is. Good day, gentlemen. And please, stop by for some lemonade at the rectory on your way out. I’m sure you’ll need to wet your whistle after your melancholy errand.”

“We’ll be sure to do that,” Heyes said, nodding enthusiastically. Curry dredged up a friendly smile and waved half-heartedly as Corkill took his leave.

“Will you calm down!” Heyes hissed. “We don’t need to do anything to make sure that preacher remembers us real clear!”

“He’s already gonna remember us because of all the money we just laid out.”

“He’ll remember the money more’n he’ll remember us, so long as you don’t get all hotheaded with him.”

“I didn’t do nothin,” Curry protested. “I was just sayin’!”

“Save your sayin’ for someone else! It’s too hot to get into an argument.”

“Then why’re you tryin’ to start one?”

“I ain’t! I just . . . “ Heyes looked again at the cottonwood, shimmering in the heat, and sighed.

Curry followed Heyes’ gaze, and his shoulders sank, almost as if he’d been deflated. “I know. I never thought he’d end up like this.”

“Me neither. I thought he’d outlive us all.”

“Yeah. . . Might as well go up. You ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Me neither.”

The walk up the hill only took a few minutes. Neither man spoke, and both kept their eyes on the ground, making sure not to step on any grave. As they approached the shade cast by the tree’s broad branches, a gentle breeze came up, rustling the dry leaves.

The gravesites here were more modest, marked only by simple stones laid flat in the ground.

“Didn’t think there’d be so many here.”

“Wichita’s a rough town, Kid. Not as bad as when we first came through, but there’s still plenty men dying with their boots on.”

“I can’t believe how green we were then.”

“We were, weren’t we? It’s a miracle we’re not lying here ourselves.” Heyes shook his head, as if to clear it. “Where is it? It shouldn’t be hard to find, since it’s new.”

“Maybe it’s on the other side.”

At the top of the rise, they saw, just below the crest, a solitary grave. The earth on top was still piled higher than the surrounding ground, as if it hadn’t had time to settle yet They approached it slowly and stood, side by side, staring down at the carved stone. Heyes got down on one knee, laying the saddlebag on the ground and gently brushing away some fallen leaves from the stone. Curry crouched down next to him. He took off his hat and ran one hand through the matted blonde curls.

“It looks real good, Heyes. That mason did a fine job.”

Heyes read the inscription out loud as he traced the letters with one finger.

“Willis McDonough. June, 1848 – August 1884. PREACHER – in capital letters, just like we asked for --‘I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” John 11:25.’ Yeah, Kid. It’s good. Worth every penny.”

“You got the gifts?”

“Of course I do.” He reached into the saddle bag and took out a bottle of whiskey, a small Bible, and a bullet. He placed the Bible and the bullet carefully on the gravestone.

“That’s for you, Preacher. We’re too late to get any better gifts for you.”

“Except one,” Curry said.

“That’s right.” Heyes opened the whiskey bottle and took a long drink. He gave the bottle to Curry, watching as he also took a long drink. Curry poured whiskey over the grave, emptying the bottle.

“Our last drink together, Preacher.” He put the stopper in the bottle and set it down on the marker.

“Why did he join up with Branson’s gang, Kid? He used to stay away from the roughnecks. Remember how he told us to get out of the business, because there were some real bad men out there and not to get mixed up with them?”

“I remember. We took his advice, but he didn’t.”


Heyes sat down on the cool grass, and Curry settled down next to him.
“What if we’d stayed in the business, instead of going for amnesty and going straight? Preacher would still be alive. Oh, he’d still be thieving, just like us, but he wouldn’t be a hired gun. He wouldn’t be involved with stone-cold killers like the Bransons.”

“You don’t know that, Heyes. The way things were going, it might’ve been us in this here burying yard, along with Preacher and some of the other boys. Getting out of the outlaw business was the best thing to do. It’s not our fault that he ended up here.”

Heyes sighed deeply. “I guess not. I just wish there was something we could’ve done to prevent this.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we could’ve broke him out of jail. We are pretty good at getting out of jail, after all.”

“You’re kidding yourself. When customers get shot during a bank job gone wrong and members of the posse get killed, the jail’s guarded tighter than the Denver mint. Once Preacher got caught, he was done for.”

Heyes didn’t reply. He just looked at the gravestone.

“Come on, Heyes. You know that. You and me, we aren’t responsible for Preacher’s choices, just like he wasn’t responsible for ours. Every man’s got to make his own decisions, and then he’s got to own them. Sometimes you the chance to make things right, like you and me, but that’s only because we decided to change who we were. He didn’t. That’s how he ended up here, and we haven’t. At least, not yet.”

“You really been thinking about this, haven’t you?”

Curry shrugged. “Same as you, I bet. We were headed for a cemetery, buried under a tree like this one, for some stupid thing we did. Or prison, which is pretty much the same thing. Until the amnesty comes through, it could still happen, because of everything we did in the past. But we stopped. He didn’t. We did bad things, all of us, but he went on to do worse things. He killed people for money. That ain’t the Preacher we knew. He changed, too. At least, I think we changed for the better. Maybe we’ll end up better, too.”

“I guess that’s something to hope for. Meantime, I’m ready to get out of here.”

“Me too, Heyes.” Both men pushed themselves to their feet, Heyes picking up the now-empty saddlebag.

“So long, Preacher,” Curry said. “I hope you like the gifts we brought you.” Both men tipped their hats to their friend, resting under the shade, alone on his side of the hill.

“Nice view at least. Hope you enjoy it, Preacher.”

They turned from the grave, walking silently together down the gentle slope towards the fenced-in graveyard that sat next to the church and rectory. They paused at the rectory door.

“You thirsty, Kid?”

“Yeah. But not for lemonade.”

Heyes put a companionable hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“For once, I’m in total agreement. The saloon it is.”

“A saloon, sure. But not in this town. If we get on our horses now, how far away do you think we can get before nightfall?”

“Won’t know until we do it. So let’s go.”

Side by side, they walked away from the cemetery. They didn’t look back.
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PostSubject: Re: Gifts   Sun Jan 01, 2017 8:45 am

I'm late!  I wrote this and then went out to celebrate New Year.  No need to poll it.

I was in a bookshop the other week
I was trying to shake off a fit of pique
In the periodical section I spied
an interesting home-made presents guide.
I’m not tight-fisted but where’s the sense
in spending lots if you can make for pence.


It’s not like he ever appreciates me,
He didn’t even propose on one knee.
I searched through the pages, with fevered haste,
for presents to make from old scraps and paste.
There was nothing right for the cowboy in there
Especially one who doesn’t play fair.


His roving eye lights up at her name,
He sees our engagement as just a game.
From the shop window I see him spooning with her
And the look in her eye clearly says, “Come hither,”
My heart breaks in two and the tears start to run
And I know in my heart our engagement is done.


A need to be private makes me suddenly turn,
I blink away tears as my eyes start to burn
And I run to leave, but run into a stranger
Whose dimples flash with just a dash of danger.
His words were honeyed, his care sublime,  
Then I knew that cheating on me was a crime.


It didn’t deserve this, it wasn’t my fault
And I knew it was time to rub in some salt
He frowned as he listened to my tale of woe,
He told me that cheating was such a low blow 
And he told me to hold myself higher than him.
Even if I felt I was out on a limb


I walked to the door, my heart smashed to pieces
Unable to deny my fiancés caprices.
I walked up to them and expressed my dismay;
At their lack of morals and their need to stray
I heard a sound behind and turned to find the drifter,
The change in my fiancé couldn’t have been swifter


“Why is this guy and how do you know him?”
His tone told me that it was time to show him.
“Just an old friend,” I reply with disdain.
“More than a friend,” the stranger adds to his pain.
“I want her to leave you,” he kisses my hand. 
My fiancé’s pain looks like it’s planned. 


I stick my nose in the air, all proud and haughty,
“I don’t need a man who’s gonna be naughty.
All I want is true love and respect
And all you do is hurt and neglect.
She can have you, our engagement is over.
I won’t have a man who is always a rover.”


I turn to the woman to make sure she knows
That knowing this man really blows.
“If he’ll do it with you, he’ll do it to you,
The man has morals like a corkscrew.
But that should suit you fine and dandy.
You let anyone in town get all handy.”


I walk away on the stranger’s arm,
Hearing them fight has worked like a charm
I enjoy the brown eyes and I’m sorely tempted
To have some fun, should it be attempted.
My fiancé’s gift is to tell him what I think of him.
My gift to me is a man far above him.

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Gifts
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