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 Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals

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Which one of our wonderful writers wins your vote for the finals of Story Of The Year?
1. Two outlaws invade the unhappy life of a sad schoolteacher.
23%
 23% [ 5 ]
2. Vivian cannot be trusted, so is she behind the robbery? It too tempting to suspect her, or is it?
27%
 27% [ 6 ]
3. Has Harry found a clue in the mooncakes? Is 'Mooncake' even two words?
32%
 32% [ 7 ]
4. A 'past' member of the gang helps the boys out of a sticky situation. Will Mllt make it out alive? I very much doubt it...
18%
 18% [ 4 ]
Total Votes : 22
 

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PostSubject: Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals   Thu Dec 01, 2016 8:40 am

So we have narrowed The Story Of The Year down to the finalists and we have some Christmas Crackers for you to read and vote on.  


May - Matches   


Riders



March - Temptation 


Skykomish

October - Moon   moon


Javabee


December - Ice   cold


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PostSubject: May - Matches - Riders   Thu Dec 01, 2016 8:49 am

May - Matches - Riders


Sliding




The clock chimed the magic moment.




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




~~~oOo~~~




“Hey, is this the Markum place?”




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




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




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




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




“Old Widow Warner sent us here.”




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




“Don’t your folks worry about you?”




“Don’t have any.”




Silence descended.




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




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




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




“Where?”




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




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




“Maybe we’ll go, too,” Jed countered.




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




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




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




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




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




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




Jed and Han slowly followed.  




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




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




~~~oOo~~~




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




“Oh, I wish I could go.”




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




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




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




“Marry me!  We’re not old enough.”




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




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




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




~~~oOo~~~




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




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




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




“For me?”




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




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




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




She gasped.




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




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




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




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




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




“It was a good plan,” Heyes argued.  




“I got shot.”




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




“Hanna, Hanna Meechum.”




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




“That your bedroom in there?” Heyes asked. 




 She nodded.  




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




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




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




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




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




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




“When?”




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




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




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




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




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




Eyes wide, she nodded.




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




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




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




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




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




“What?”




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




“But why?”




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




~~~oOo~~~




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




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




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




“Never.”




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




“Most folks call me Kid.”




“Don’t you have a name?”




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




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




“So what would you normally be doin’?”




“My accounts or preparing lessons or reading.”




“Well I’m not stoppin’ you.”




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




“Heyes should be back soon.”




“Good.”




“You’ve changed, Suzie.”




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




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




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




“Yeah.”




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




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




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




“You must have some beaus.”




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




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




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




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




“So?”




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




“I suppose.”




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




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




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




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




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




Hands trembling, she opened the note.  




Suzie, 




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




Your friends, 




Han and Jed




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




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




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




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


Abilene, Kansas was founded in 1857 as a stagecoach stop called Mud Creek.  It was renamed Abilene in 1860.  In 1867 the Kansas Pacific Railway came through Abilene and it grew to become the final stop on the Chisolm Trail, becoming one of the wildest towns in the west.  Wild Bill Hickok became Abilene’s marshal in April 1871.  He didn’t last long.  Involved in a shoot-out in which he accidentally shot his friend and deputy, Mike Williams, Hickok lost his job in December 1871.
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PostSubject: March - Temptation - Skykomish   Thu Dec 01, 2016 8:50 am

March - Temptation - Skykomish






Temptation







     “Hotel first?”  The sideways slide of dark eyes took in the bustling resort of Calistoga Springs.  “Or drink first?”  


    “I'm thirsty.  Let's start with a beer.”  Curry swiped at the dust around his eyes.  “At the Lady Luck or the Silver Dollar?”


    Brown eyes twinkled above a wide smile.  “We could use a little luck.”


    “Or a little lady,” Kid replied with an answering grin.


                                               ________________________________




    A beer and a half later, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry leaned comfortably against the satiny bar at the Lady Luck observing the poker tables. 


    “Lots of money in these games,” Heyes whispered. 


    “Ain't that why we came?”


    “Yep.”


    “Are ya sure you can manage not to lose too much?”


    Brown eyes widened.  “These are wealthy amateurs, not professional gamblers.  I'll have trouble managing not to win too much.”


    “If ya say so.”
   
    “You gotta have a little faith.”


    Suddenly the Kid's blue eyes turned to ice.  His right hand crept toward his hip.  Heyes followed his partner's gaze, and a sly smile teased out a dimple.  He pushed away from the bar, slapped the dust from his trousers and tugged at the hem of his corduroy vest.


    “No, Heyes.  We're outta here.  That women ain't nothin' but trouble.”


    A petite vision in jade green velvet leaned against the upstairs railing.  Glistening mahogany curls fell in ringlets to grace one creamy, bared shoulder.  Sapphire eyes sparkled with delight when they spied the duo by the bar.  With a graceful nod she swept own the stairs toward Heyes and Curry.


    “We gotta go, Heyes.”


    “She's seen us”


    “I know.  We gotta get outta here.  Outta the whole town.  Maybe the state.”


    “But, she looks happy to see us.”


    “Yeah, like a cat's happy to see a mouse!”


    “Mr. Smith.  Mr. Jones,” she called in a throaty contralto.  “How nice to see you.”


    Heyes' grin stretched until it reached his eyes.  He kissed her lightly on the cheek.  “We're delighted to find you here, Miss—”   He stopped when she gently pressed two finger to his lips. 


    He raised his eyebrows.  “What do I call you?”


    “Trouble,” mumbled Curry.


    She lowered her eyebrows in a reprimand for the blond, before smiling wickedly at his partner.  “Temptation,” she suggested  with a laugh. 


     Curry rolled his eyes


    “It's Vivian Mason, now,” she whispered.  “It's good to see you, Joshua.  And you too, Mr. Jones.  May I buy you a drink?”


    “The lady shouldn't buy,” objected Heyes.


    “But I own this establishment, and I also have a business deal for you.” She laid a  hand on his sleeve. Heyes tucked her hand in the crook of his arm.  Shaking his head, Curry followed them to a table in the back.  At Vivian's gesture, a barmaid hurried over with a bottle and three glasses.


    “To old friends,” she murmured with a raised glass. 


    “Friends,”scoffed Curry.  His eyes darted about the gambling hall.  “Nice place.  Mind if I ask where ya got the money to buy it?”


    With only a frown for Curry, she switched her attention to Heyes. 


    He clinked glasses with her.  “You know, Thaddeus.  Things could of gone worse.”


    “Yes,” purred Vivian, “you could of ended up behind bars.  I took your money, but left you your freedom.  If I had turned you in, I wouldn't need your help now.”


    “Are you threatenin' us?” 


    “No.” She lowered her voice to a bare breath. “Mr. Curry, I am trying to offer you—well, your partner—a business proposition.”


    Curry snorted.  “Yeah, you've propositioned him before.”


    “Vivian, you have to admit, the last time we saw you was expensive,” Heyes added.


    “Let's say that I would like to make that up to you.”  She placed her hand on his, toying with his fingers.


    His mouth returned her smile, but failed to grace his eyes.  “How are you going to do that?”


    “The Silver Dollar Saloon hosts a high stakes poker game every Saturday night.  They invite wealthy men visiting the spas here and some local business men.  No professional gamblers, but they do have some good players.  Mitch Clancy, owner of the Silver Dollar, is the host and usually the best card player.  You could beat him in your sleep, Joshua, and I can get you invited.”


    “We don't have the money for a high stakes buy in.”


    “I 'll stake you for the game.  No risk for you at all.”


    Curry glared and the woman.  “Why would you do that?”


    “Because they won't let women play, and I don't like Mitch Clancy.”


    Heyes sipped his whiskey and exchanged a glance with his partner.  “You're a practical woman, Vivian.  You won't risk,” he paused, “How much is the buy in?”


    “Ten thousand.”


    He whistled at the amount.  “As I was saying, you won't risk that kind of money just because this Clancy is someone you don't like.  What's the real reason?”


    She paused and straightened her skirts.  “I owe him money.  And I don't like being in his debt.  He's not a nice man, Joshua.”


    “How much do you owe him?”


    “Ten thousand.  He loaned it to me when I bought this place, but he's holding it over me.  Pressuring me to pay him back.”


    “Why not just give him the ten thousand instead of staking me for the game?”


    “Because I need that money to make payroll next week and meet other expenses.”


    “You're willing to risk money you need to operate this place to stake me in a poker game? Sounds kinda risky.”


    “I've watched you play poker, Joshua.  I'm not risking much.”


    “What split did you have in mind?”


    Curry raised his eyebrows and frowned.  “You aren't considerin' this, are ya?”


    “Doesn't hurt to listen, Thaddeus.” Heyes returned his attention to the lady.  “The split?”


    “Bring me back twenty thousand dollars and anything above that is yours.”


    “Leaving that game with more than twenty thousand is going to be hard.  How 'bout we split anything over ten thousand?  Sixty/forty?”


    “Why don't you keep anything over twenty thousand, and I refrain from introducing you both to to the sheriff.”


    Heyes and Curry followed her gaze.  A tall man with broad shoulders stood near the main entrance to the Lady Luck.  A shiny tin star was pinned to his vest.  He tipped his hat to Vivian.  She raised her hand in a small wave.


    “You are threatening us,” Curry accused.


    “I prefer to think of it as gentle persuasion.  Besides the stake money is mine.  What do you have to lose?”


    “Twenty years,” Curry muttered.  


    Brown eyes met blue in a quick discussion.  Curry shrugged. 


    “I guess we have a deal, Vivian,” Heyes said.  “What do I do to get invited to this game?”


    “Do you have some nicer clothes with you?”


    “We've got our good suits.”


    “Not the same brown and gray things you wore in Denver?”  She sounded dismayed.


    “What's the matter with our suits?” Heyes challenge.


    “Oh, where would I start?”  She pushed her chair away from the table.  “Never mind.  Do you have a hotel room?”


    Heyes shook his head. 


    “Good.  Finish your whiskey while I speak to the front desk clerk.  Once I go back upstairs, ask for the best available room.”


    “Vivian, we may mot be able to afford your best room.”


    “Don't worry,” she replied quietly, “it will be on the house.  I need Clancy to think you are wealthy.  So wear your, um, best clothes, and order an expensive dinner.  I suspect you have had practice playing the big spender.  Mr. Jones will pose as your security.  Flash some money around and play poker.  I suspect that is what you were planning to do anyway.  I will take care of securing you an invitation to Clancy's game on Saturday.”


_____________________________________


   
    Saturday night the backroom at the Silver Dollar was lit by a large chandelier made of elk antlers and fat candles.  The leather chairs around the felt covered poker table were deep and comfortable.  Cigar smoke hung in a low cloud that dispersed the candle light in thick streams.  The clack of chips, the clink of glasses, and the murmur from the gambling hall outside the thick double doors were the only sounds.  Squatting in the center of the table was a pile of chips totaling just over fifteen thousand dollars.


    “I'm going to call, Mr. Clancy.”  Heyes broke the silence and added another a stack of chips.


    Clancy smiled and fanned out a flush, queen high.  He reached for the pile.


    “Not so fast,” cautioned Heyes laying down a full house.  “I believe these are mine,” he beamed as he raked in the pile of chips. 


    Curry scanned the other players from his seat against the wall, wishing he had his colt at his side instead of the “pea shooter” tucked into his coat pocket.  No one seemed upset though.  Even Clancy acknowledged Heyes' win with a gracious nod. 


    “Good hand, Mr. Smith.”  Clancy pushed his chair away from the table.  “I think that I need some more chips.  And it's time to send for sandwiches.  Deal me out for a hand or two, gentlemen.”


    Their host strolled to a low table in the corner.  A man with a tied down six-shooter stood next to the table.   Clancy handed him a pile of crisp bills.  “More chips, Silas.”  Silas counted the bills and then placed them neatly into a strong box.  After a tallying a pile of chips, he handed the stack of colored disks to Mr. Clancy.  “Silas, please go to the kitchen and bring back a tray of sandwiches for my guests?”


    “Of course, Mr. Clancy.”  He left  through a side door that opened onto a quiet hallway. 


    After his man had left, Clancy replaced a bar on the inside of the side door and returned to the table.  He watched the poker hand in progress and lit a cigar. 


    A few minutes later, Clancy rose to answer a soft knock.  “The sandwiches, my friends,” he announced, lifting the bar that secured the door. 
   
    The door flew open hitting the wall with a thud.  A dark clad arm shot forward and clamped around Clancy's shoulder.  A shiny colt jabbed into his neck.  The man holding Clancy was masked with a handkerchief, and his hair was hidden beneath his hat.  Three other masked men sprang into the room holding steady six guns on the men at the table.  A fourth man pointed a revolver directly at Kid Curry. 


    “Freeze, Mister.  Take your hand away from your coat. Real slow like.”  Curry did as instructed.  The masked man opened Curry's jacket with the barrel of his revolver.  He removed the Derringer from the inside pocket with his other hand and shoved the small pistol into his belt. 


    “Now everybody jest keep yer hands where we can see 'em,” instructed the man holding Clancy.  He cocked his head at one of his henchmen.  “Get the money.  The rest of you.  Tie 'em up.” 


    One man scooped up the strong box open on the table.   The others quickly lashed the poker players to the chairs.   Within minutes the leader was backing out into the hall, dragging a wide eyed Mitch Clancy with him. 


___________________________________
   


    The Sheriff, a man named Ferguson, stuck his pencil behind his ear and walked over to Heyes.  All of the poker players were gathered in the back room of the Silver Dollar.  Mitch Clancy was still missing.


    “Name?”


    “Smith.  Joshua Smith.”


    “How much did ya lose, Mr. Smith?”


    “Twenty-seven thousand four hundred sixty-three dollars, Sheriff.”


    “Kinda precise, ain't ya.  You a Banker?”


    “I've dabbled in banking.” 


    The Kid stared at him.


    “I'm rather particular when I'm winning at poker and someone steals everything,” Heyes explained.
   
    “Have you had your poker winnings stolen before, Mr. Smith?”


    “It's happened.”


    “Hmmpf.  Where're you staying?”


    “The Lady Luck.”


    “Did you see anything that will help identify the thieves?”


    “No.  I had my back to the door.” 


    “You can go, but don't leave town.”


    “Am I a suspect?”


    “Everyone is suspect 'til we find Mitch Clancy.  Just don't leave town.”


    Curry started to follow Heyes toward the door, but was stopped by Sheriff Ferguson. 


    “Where d'ya think yer goin'?”


    “He's my security man and traveling companion,” Heyes answered.


    “Don't he talk?”


    “Of course, he talks.”


    “Then let him,”snarled the lawman.


    “What's your name, security man and traveling guy?”


    “Thaddeus Jones.”


    “How long have you worked for Smith?”


    Curry's eyes found Heyes.


    “About three years.”


    “Before that?”


    “I did security for a rancher down in Texas.”


    “This rancher gotta name?”


    “Big Mac McCreedy.”


    “Did you get a look at the bandits?”


    “They were all masked and had their hats pulled low.  Nothing to notice.  Real professionals.”


    “Thanks for the information, Mr. Jones.  You stay in town with your boss.”


    “By the way, sheriff.  How much did they get away with?”


    “Over eighty thousand dollars.”


    “That's a lot of money.”


    “Yep.”


____________________________________


      “Where's Miss Mason,” Heyes demanded when he and the Kid entered the Luck Lady.


    “In her office,” the bartender answered.


    Heyes beat Curry up the stairs.  After a quick knock, he pushed through the door with his partner on his heels.


    “What happened?” Vivian asked. 


    “You set us up,” Heyes accused.  He treated Vivian to an outlaw leader glare. 


    “I did no such thing.  Why would you think that I had something to do with the robbery?”


    “Because now you have over eighty thousand dollars instead of only twenty thousand.”


    “I am not a thief.   You and Mr. Kid Curry have the skills to do this.  I should be blaming you two.”


    “But we didn't do it.”


    “Neither did I.”


    The threesome stared at each other. 


    Curry broke the silence.  “She didn't do it, Heyes.” 


    “When did you join her side?”


    “There were four of' 'em, and they knew what they were doin'.”


    “By the time she split the money with them, she wouldn't gain anything over the deal with us.”


    “Yep.  And she's too smart to have that many people in on the job for no gain.”


    “Well thank you for admitting that I have intelligence.”


    Curry pinned her with his eyes.  “I didn't mean it as a compliment.  It's just a fact.”


    Heyes stalked over to the window and poured himself a drink from a bottle set out on a table.  He sipped the whiskey while studying the street below.  “Who did it then?  Was it just a robbery?  Clancy had tight security, until he opened the side door.”  He sank onto a settee, his eyes  flicking back and forth between his two companions. 


    Vivian sank down next to him.  “Clancy opened the door for the robbers?”


    “He thought it was his man Silas with the sandwiches.”


    “He sent Silas out of the room?”  She ran a finger up and down Heyes' arm.  “It was Mitch Clancy.  He doesn't use Silas as a waiter.  That man is his top security thug.”


    Heyes clasped her hand to stop its wandering, but he didn't let go of it.  “Why would Clancy rob his own game.”


    “Eighty thousand dollars.”


    “But he would have to pay off the outlaws.  It's not worth it.”
   
    “Unless they already work for him,” Curry added.


    “But why?  He's a wealthy man.  Vivian even owes him money.”
   
    “Yeah, and he's been pressuring her to pay up.”


    Vivian bit the inside of her lip.  “He's also been trying to sell off some mining assets.  Maybe things are not as rosy as Mr. Clancy wants everyone to think.”


    A knock on the door stopped the conversation. 


    “Who is it?”


    “Sheriff Ferguson, ma'am.”


    Heyes stood up and darted a glance at Curry.  The Kid's eyes were scanning the room for another exit. 


    “Relax,” mouthed Vivian. 


    With a deep sigh, Heyes sank down onto the settee.  Vivian opened the door for the sheriff.  Ferguson tipped his hat to Miss mason, but frowned at the two men.


    “Clancy said you boys would be here.”  The sheriff drew his gun.  


    Heyes stood up slowly.  Curry stood with his hands in view.


    “What's going on, Sheriff?” asked Vivian, affecting slight tremor in her voice.


    “Mitch Clancy's back.”


    “Is he all right,” asked Curry.


    “A little bruised, but he'll mend.  He's accusin' you of settin' up the robbery, Ms. Mason.  He says that you are in this with those two fellas over there.   Claims his men saw them arrive, and that you greeted them like old friends.”


    “Why would I rob anyone?”


    “Because you owe Clancy money and can't pay.  He was real clear about that.  He even offered to produce the paper work.”


    “I admit I owe him money, but that doesn't mean I robbed his poker game.  Mr. Smith lost money too.  Would I rob my own fiend?”


    “I don't like this, Miss Mason, but I have to consider Clancy's accusations.  How well do you know Mr. Smith?”


    “Not well.  We met once in Denver.  I let Clancy know that he was a good poker player interested in a high stake game.  That's all.”


    “Miss Mason is telling the truth,” added the Kid.


    “She sure is, Sheriff.  She and I met once in Denver.”


    “I'll need names of people who can vouch for you, Mr. Smith.”


    “Sheriff Lom Trevers in Porterville, Wyoming and Clementine Hale in Denver,” offered Heyes. 
    “Write 'em down.”


    Heyes wrote the names and handed the paper to the sheriff. 


    “Miss Mason, you need to stay in town as well.  It'd be best if ya kept to the Lady Luck until this is all sorted.”  He left with his deputy trailing behind.


    Heyes sank back onto the settee with an explosive sigh once the door was shut.


    “Vivian, do you have a back door and some horses we can use?” asked the Kid.


    “You're not leaving me alone in this mess.  Besides if you disappear what is the sheriff going to think.”


    “She's right, Kid.  He'll think we pulled the job.  How long do you think it will take him to compare our descriptions with our wanted posters and come up with Heyes and Curry?”


    “About as long is it will take Miss Vivian Mason to walk to his office and tell him who we are.”


    “I wouldn't do that.”


    “You've already threatened it,” Heyes reminded her.


    “I have day dreamed about you in hand cuffs, Joshua, but I don't want you behind bars.”  She sat next to Heyes ad took his hand in both of hers.  “Running is a bad idea.   We need to prove that Clancy stole the money.”


    “How?”


    She gazed through lowered lashes and chuckled.  “I recorded the serial numbers from the bills I gave you for the poker stake.”


    “You recorded the serial numbers?”


    “I was nervous.   L gave ten thousand dollars of my money to you.  But now it's working to our advantage.  If you can recover it, I can prove that it's the stolen poker money.”


    “You want us to find it?”


    “I don't know how to break into a building and open a safe, but I am sure that you two can manage it.”


    “Why don't we just tell the sheriff and have him search Clancy's place?” asked the Kid.


    “The sheriff isn't going to search Mitch Clancy's saloon or home without evidence.”


    “How do we explain showing up with money from Clancy's safe, Heyes?”


    “I'm working on it.”  He poured another whiskey.  “Vivian, did you record the serial numbers on all the bills?  The hundreds and the twenties?”


    “Yes.  Does I matter?”


    “It might.”  A smile worked its way from dimple to dimple.


    Curry grinned.  “Ya gotta plan.”


    “I think so.  Vivian, I need a hundred dollar bill.”


    “I think I've trusted you with enough money, Joshua.”


    “If you want the rest of it back, I need the hundred dollar bill.”


__________________________________




    Heyes and Curry walked into the Silver Dollar and took places at the bar. 


    “A bottle of your best Cognac,” ordered Heyes.  “I heard that Mr. Clancy made it back.  Is he here?”


    “I'm here, Mr. Smith.” Clancy joined them.  His face was bruised and he favored his right leg as he walked.


    “I'm glad you're safe, Mr. Clancy.  Has your game been robbed before?”


    “No, this is the first time.”


    “I guess that I was just unlucky for me then.”


    The bartender returned with the bottle and two glasses.  Heyes handed him the hundred dollar bill.  “May I take it, Mr. Clancy.”


    Clancy reached for the bill and examined it carefully.  “It looks fine.  Go ahead and give Mr. Smith his change.”


    The bartender returned with the change and poured two glasses.


    “Care to join us, Mr. Clancy,” Heyes asked. 


    “Thank you, but I still have work to finish before I can go home.  Enjoy your cognac.”


    Heyes rotated the bowl of the snifter before tasting the amber fluid.  “Let's finish these and move on,” he whispered.  “We've got work to finish too.”


___________________________________


      Mitch Clancy's dark house hunkered amid a clump of trees, a looming shadow in the moonless night. 


    “What makes you think he stashed the money here, Heyes?”


    “It wasn't found on him when he turned up in town.”


    “Let's get this done.”


    They crept onto the porch.  Heyes inserted a knife between the window panes and teased open the lock.  He stepped into the room, and Curry slipped in after him.  It didn't take long to find Clancy's study.  Heyes picked the locks on the roll-top desk and searched it for any sign of the stolen poker money.


    Curry searched the rest of the room. 


    “I can't find anythin', Heyes.  Any luck with the desk?”


    “Nothing.  I guess it's not in this room.”


    “We can't search the whole house.”


    “We can't afford not to.  Do you want that sheriff checking us out?.”


    They prowled back to the door.  Curry looked over the room one more time.  “Wait a minute.”  He glided to the back wall and lifted a cloth that was draped over a round table.  “Heyes.  I found it,” he hissed.


    His partner had an ear pressed to the safe in a heartbeat.  Within minutes a soft click told Curry that Heyes had succeeded.  Pulling a candle out of his pocket, Heyes sheltered a match as he lit it.  By the flickering light, he rifled through the safe.


    “Look at these, Kid.  Clancy has some major debts.  He's been speculating and doing a poor job of it.  He needs cash.”


    “Where's the money?”
   
    Soon Heyes lifted a familiar strong box from the safe.  He pulled a paper from his pocket and squinted carefully at the bills inside the box, comparing the numbers on the twenty dollar notes with those on the paper. 


    “Got one,” he announced triumphantly, pocketing the money.    He quickly replaced the contents and closed the safe.  “Let's go.”


___________________________________
   
    Heyes and Curry were sitting on a porch outside of the Lucky Lady the next morning when the sheriff escorted  Mitch Clancy to the jail in hand cuffs. 


    “Lock him up.  I'll be along shortly,” Sheriff Ferguson instructed his deputy.


    “Mr. Smith,” he began,“it sure was lucky how you got that stolen twenty dollar bill as change when you bought the brandy last night.  Sure was handy that Ms. Mason had the serial numbers all recorded.  You might almost think that she was plannin' somethin'.”


    “What would Miss Mason have to gain by Mitch Clancy going to jail?”


    “Less competition?”


    “Still doubting me, Sheriff?”   The lady in question joined them on the porch. 


    “Not really.  It just seems peculiar.”  He tipped his hat.  “Good day to you ma'am.”


    Heyes looked her directly in the eyes.  “He's got a point you know.  This has worked out well for you.”


    “We work well together.  Maybe I should hire you to manage my gambling hall.”


    “Vivian, are you trying to tempt me,” teased Heyes. 


    “Is it working?”


    “Oh you're tempting, but working for you would cost more than we could ever afford.”
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PostSubject: October - Javabee - Moon   Thu Dec 01, 2016 8:51 am

October - Javabee - Moon


The Mooncake Caper


“Dammit all to hell, how do those devils do it!” Mr. Hodges, the president of the Clear Mountain Mining Company, was at his wits end. He slammed his fist on his large desk, sloshing his cup of coffee, and muddying a stack of neatly arranged paperwork.


“Li Ming!” The large man’s jowls undulated like receding waters, as his young Chinese assistant glided effortlessly into the room. He sat back in his oversized leather chair, impatiently watching her fuss over his mess, until the rich mahogany desk was once again immaculate.


“More coffee, Mr. Hodges, sir?” Preoccupied, the man shook his head at the lovely young lady. Although dressed impeccably in western clothing, Li Ming still held to many of the traditional customs of her homeland. Careful to avoid eye contact in fear of showing disrespect, she bowed deeply, and discreetly retired to the reception area just outside his office.


“I assure you, sir, every precaution was taken. We have no idea how Heyes and Curry knew the payroll was on last Friday’s train.” Hodge’s office manager, Mr. Trottier, was equally frustrated. Over half of their miners were Chinese, the rest were white. Between the language barrier and the whites demanding more pay than their Chinese counterparts, it had taken some time to diffuse the ensuing unrest. As if that wasn’t enough, now they couldn’t get their hands on their payroll, at least not consistently. The Devil’s Hole Gang had seen to that.


“The situation is intolerable, Trottier. Our shareholders are impatient, powerful men with great expectations. We need to get to the bottom of this immediately.”


“Agreed, sir. Knowing the urgency of the situation, I enlisted the services of a detective some time ago. You will be pleased to learn he’s concluded his investigation and, with your permission, has agreed to share the results with us today. He’s waiting outside.”


“Good man, Trottier. Li Ming, send him in!”


The lissome assistant opened the door, and ushered in their guest. A slight man confidently strutted into the office, sporting a dark mustache and a citified suit. A five o'clock shadow graced his narrow face, even though it was only midday. In his hands was a box, which he unobtrusively set aside on a nearby table.


“Mr. Hodges, I would like to introduce Mr. Harry Briscoe of the Bannerman Detective Agency. He comes highly recommended, sir.”


Hodges stood and extended his hand to the detective, who shook it eagerly. “Welcome Detective Briscoe, I hope you will be able to shed some light on our predicament.”


“Harry Briscoe, at your service.” He tipped his hat to the men. “ I’m a Bannerman man, sir. Rest assured, we always get our man.”


“I see, please take a seat. Maybe now we will get somewhere. Li Ming, take Mr. Briscoe’s hat and serve the brandy. Mr. Briscoe, one finger, or two?”


The exotic assistant bowed and politely took the detective’s hat, placing it gently on a rack. Li Ming prepared the two businessmen their drinks at the nearby bar, extravagantly laden with beautiful crystal and expensive brandy. Still careful to avoid eye contact, she raised a finely sculpted brow of inquiry at the newcomer.


“None for me, my dear. I never imbibe while on a case.” He turned to Mr. Hodges, tapping his temple in explanation. “To keep my mental faculties sharp, I strictly abstain from liquor until I’ve apprehended the perpetrators. It’s the Bannerman way.”


“Impressive, Mr. Briscoe. Cheers.” The other men downed their drinks. “Now let’s get down to business. What have you got for us?”


The detective glanced at the woman. “No offense to the lady, but I would prefer to confer in private, gentlemen.”


Hodges looked at his assistant. “Her? She’s a pretty little thing. Her father is Mr. Ming, the head foreman of the Chinese miners. The Ming family is unquestioningly loyal, and you may speak freely.”


Seemingly unaware she was the topic of conversation, Li Ming gracefully carried on with her duties. She drew back the velvet draperies, allowing lambent light to pour into the room. The light glimmered through the prisms of the opulent chandeliers, creating flickers of gold that danced fluidly across the surface of the richly papered walls.


“Just the same, I must insist we speak alone. What I am about to divulge is of a highly sensitive nature. We are about to discuss the activities of hardened criminals, sir, and I don’t want to alarm the young lady.”


“As you wish.” Hodges shrugged and turned towards the girl. “Li Ming, you may retire to your station.” The young lady with almond eyes and jet black hair, respectfully bowed once again and left the room.


The detective cleared his throat. “I am pleased to announce I’ve completed my investigation, gentlemen. I would like to verify a few facts, and then I will be delighted to share my findings.”


“Carry on, Mr. Briscoe, you have the floor.” The detective stood, puffed out his chest, and strode across the room, like a rooster in a barnyard.


“According to my sources, gentlemen, the Union Pacific makes a run between Laramie and your mine on a daily basis, correct?”


Hodges frowned and looked at his office manager quizzically. “Yes, that’s common knowledge. We transfer our coal and receive necessary supplies each day.”


“Just as I thought!” The detective paced the other direction. “And even though you vary the day of the payroll delivery each month, the bandits still ascertain the date like clockwork. Is that an accurate assessment?”


“Of course, but...”


“I thought so.” Pleased with himself, Briscoe paced the opposite direction. ”In addition, your mine is the largest in the region, resulting in an extremely lucrative payroll, am I right?”


“Yes, yes, but…”


Satisfied, Briscoe turned to face them. “There’s no buts about it, gentlemen. This kind of illegal activity could only be carried out by the criminal mastermind, Hannibal Heyes and the notorious gunman, Kid Curry. Find these men, and you will find your payroll.”


The two businessmen looked at each other in confusion.


“Uh, Mr. Briscoe, we already know it’s Heyes and Curry. They told us themselves at the time of the robberies.” Mr.Trottier was clearly perplexed with Briscoe’s line of questioning.


“They did?” Mr. Briscoe coughed, returning to his chair. “Of course they did, that’s their trademark, gentlemen, to declare themselves at the time of the robbery. I’m glad we all agree.”


Mr. Trottier rose and glanced at his boss with embarrassment. “Mr. Briscoe, surely you have something else for us? We didn’t hire you to identify the thieves, but to find out how to stop them.”


“I’m just getting started, gentlemen. Rest assured my keen powers of deduction have already determined the answer to that very question.”


“Well, spit it out, man!” Never known for his patience, Mr. Hodges also rose, exasperated. This time he frowned so severely, his bushy brows connected in the center, creating the illusion of a furry centipede.


Briscoe seemed oblivious to Hodge’s growing irascibility. ”May I?”  The detective brashly nodded toward a richly carved wooden box on the man’s desk.


Receiving a furtive nod of permission from his boss, Trottier opened the lid to the ornate cigar case.  Briscoe selected a cigar, inhaled it’s tantalizing aroma, and ghosted two more into his pocket before Trottier had a chance to snap the lid shut.


“Only the best, I see. Good man.” Time seemed to tick by slowly as the men restively watched him bite off the tip of the premium cigar, strike a match, and light it with excruciating care.


The bulging veins in Hodge's neck didn’t go unnoticed by his office manager. Trottier quickly interjected, “Mr Hodges is a very busy man, could you please continue your...”


“Yes, of course, but first may I suggest you sit down, gentlemen. I'm afraid my findings might shock you.”


Eyes locked on Briscoe, the two men simultaneously sit down.


Briscoe took a long draw on his cigar. “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, Hodges, but there’s an informant in your company.”


“Preposterous!” Hodges was aghast. “Only our most trusted people know about the details concerning incoming payroll. We have already thoroughly investigated this possibility. It's someone on the outside, like that shady telegraph operator. Tell him, Trottier.”


Mr.Trottier cleared his throat. “Mr. Briscoe, the first few times the Devil’s Hole Gang robbed the payroll, it was due to a leak at the telegraph office. A tall, thin man in the habit of quoting Bible passages worked there long enough to intercept our messages, foiling two of the payroll deliveries. He inconveniently disappeared just as we were about to apprehend him.”


Briscoe shook his head, chuckling. “Only a trained detective such as myself would know the telegraph operator had nothing to do with the Devil’s Hole Gang, Trottier. Hannibal Heyes would never use a plan as simple minded as planting an informant in a telegraph office. No, siree, he’s much too devious for that.”  


“But the Marshall assured us…”


“Sir, I don’t think you appreciate who you’re up against. You are in a battle of wits, gentlemen, with a criminal genius. Why, Hannibal Heyes could convince your very own sweet mother into giving him the information he wants, and gladly. No, the informant is from within your own company.”


Briscoe abruptly stood, strode to the door and threw it wide open. Startled, Li Ming gasped in alarm. He glanced, left and then right, as if expecting to see an eavesdropper listening in on their conversation.


He looked at the woman reassuringly. “Never fear, little lady. Harry Briscoe is here.” She nodded and smiled demurely. He stepped back into the room and shut the door.


“All clear,” said Briscoe, ”for now. But the culprit could be anywhere, just waiting to put Heye’s clever plan into action.”


“Alright, Mr. Briscoe. Please enlighten us as to what kind of plan would be clever enough for the likes of Hannibal Heyes.” Trottier was still hoping the detective would produce something worthwhile.


“Very well. You see, just yesterday I spotted two unsavory looking characters lurking about town. I quickly deduced they were outlaws from the Devil’s Hole Gang, and were likely acting outside the law."


“Outside the law?” Hodges glanced at Trottier incredulously. “Isn’t that why we call them 'outlaws'?”


“That’s quite astute of you, Hodges.” Briscoe gestured with his cigar at the man in salute. “Quite astute.” Hodge's temper was now on simmer; beads of perspiration began to appear on his forehead.


“How can you be sure they were from the Devil’s Hole Gang?” Trottier inquired, trying to move Briscoe’s narrative along a more productive path.


Briscoe tapped his head. “My highly trained mental powers, gentlemen. I have committed to memory all the current wanted posters of the infamous gang. Only the likenesses of Heyes and Curry seem to be missing. I’d recognize Murtry and Carlson anywhere.”


”Why didn’t you pick them up, man? We could have questioned them!” Hodges was stunned at the man’s incompetence.


Briscoe puffed on the expensive cigar, chuckling. “I can see you don’t understand the first tenents of detective work, gentlemen. If the suspects were in jail, I couldn’t tail them to discover what they were up to.”


“Well, did you?”


“Did I what?”


“Discover what they were up to!” By this time, Hodges was besides himself.


“Indeed I did.” Briscoe reached into his pocket and retrieved a notepad covered with meticulous scribbling. “According to my observations, the suspects, Murtry and Carlson, visited the Ming Chinese Laundry, dropping off a bundle of clothing. They then visited the Ming Chinese Bakery, directly across the street, and left only minutes later with a suspicious box. Still incognito, I followed them to the saloon. There I managed to cleverly retrieve said box, while they were distracted by some young, buxom saloon girls.”


“Yes, yes, and then you arrested them, I presume?” Hodges was hopeful.


“Er, no sir. That was never the plan. I completed my mission when I absconded with the evidence.”


“We could have had the box AND the outlaws, Briscoe. What were you thinking?”


“Uh, well, you see, I wanted to leave them on their own so they could be tailed again in the future if need be.”


Hodge’s could no longer contain himself; his temper rose to a rolling boil. ”We may never see them again, you bumbling fool!”


Trottier stepped in, putting a hand on his boss’s shoulder to calm him. “Hold on, sir. Let’s at least find out what he’s brought us.” He looked at the detective pleadingly. “Please, Mr. Briscoe, show us what’s in the box.”



“With pleasure, gentlemen.” Briscoe picked up the box and set it on Hodge’s desk with pride. “Two words, Hodges: Moon Cake. Allow me.” Briscoe lifted the lid of the box with a flair. All three men leaned in to closely view the contents.


Hodges angrily locked eyes with the detective. “If this is your idea of a joke, Briscoe…”


“No joke, sir. This delicacy is a very serious clue to the crime. Take a closer look, and tell me what you see.”


The two businessmen leaned in again, this time hoping to view something meaningful in the box.


“I see four small cakes, Briscoe, and there had better be more to this or I’ll have your hide.” Hodges glared at him menacingly.


“There most certainly is, sir. You have failed to notice the most important feature of the mooncakes, the Chinese lettering.”


“They look like illegible hieroglyphics to me, what of it?”


Still puffing on his cigar, Briscoe continued his explanation. “These hieroglyphics, as you call them, will likely tell us the exact date of the next payroll delivery. I have reason to believe someone from your company has ordered the information baked into the top of these cakes. Heyes gets his hands on the cakes, and voila, he knows the date. All we need is a translator to confirm my expert opinion.”


The men leaned in one last time. Each of the four cakes, about four inches in diameter, were cut into four precise slices, ready for consumption. Chinese figures were indeed baked into the top of each cake, and delicately browned to perfection.


“Li Ming!” Hodges bellowed. The pretty Chinese assistant came floating in, with a bow.


“Take a look at these cakes and tell me what they say.”


The young woman peeked into the box, studied it seriously for a few seconds, and began her interpretation.  “Best wishes for happy family, and long life, sir.” She smiled serenely, as her dark eyes sparkled knowingly.


“Are you completely sure that is all, Li Ming?”


“Yes, sir. Mooncakes very special, give to friends and family. Ancient Chinese tradition, sir. Will that be all?”


“Yes, you may get back to work, Li Ming.” Seeing the mood of her boss, the young woman made a quick exit.


Hodges slowly turned to Briscoe, exercising as much self control as he could muster. His face was beet red, indicating that steam would soon escape through his ears.


With an ashen face, Trottier looked with regret at his boss, appalled that he had been responsible for the fiasco. “My sincere apologies for wasting your time, sir. He came highly recommended.”


“Get this man out of here, he’s a buffoon, a blundering idiot!” For the second time that day, Hodge’s fist pounded his desk, scattering the paperwork Li Ming had carefully arranged.


“Now hold on, Hodges, I’m a Bannerman man!” The citified detective grabbed his hat off the hook and backed away from the incensed man.


“Get out, you fool!”, Hodges bellowed. Trottier restrained his outraged boss, fearful for the safety of the retreating detective.


“But we always get our man!”


“I said OUT!”


Li Ming struggled to keep amusement from showing on her face. Stifling a giggle, she began sweeping the remains of the mooncake that had crumbled across her otherwise tidy reception area. The funny little man called Briscoe had been mercilessly pelted with them, as he made his hasty and undignified escape.




xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Mooncake is a Chinese pastry, traditionally exchanged during the Mid-Autumn Festival, now commonly known as the Mooncake Festival. The festival is held during the 8th lunar month of the Chinese year on the night of the full moon, between early September to early October of the Gregorian calendar. Mooncake is covered with Chinese writing, bestowing blessings of long life and unity. It is made of a tender crust filled with lotus-seed paste and an egg yolk in the center, representing the moon. It is thought to be the precursor of the modern fortune cookie, and contrary to what poor Harry Briscoe claims, is only one word, not two.
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PostSubject: December - InsideOutlaw - Ice    Thu Dec 01, 2016 8:53 am

December - InsideOutlaw - Ice 



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








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








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








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








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








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




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








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








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








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








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








“Why?” asked Wheat.








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








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








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








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








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








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










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








oooOOOooo








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








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








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








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








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








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








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








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








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








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








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








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








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








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








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








oooOOOooo








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




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








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








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








Chuckling, Curry threw his arm over his partner as the two men left the grave to bake in the noonday sun.  “Guess he thawed out some, huh?” 
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PostSubject: Re: Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals   Sun Jan 01, 2017 11:01 am

The votes are all in and counted and we have a winner amongst the winners.  


Congratulations Javabee
Yay Yay Yay


and a special shout out to Skykomomish who came snapping at her heels.  
Congrats 3


Danke Thank you to all the writers for playing with us in 2016. Kiss thanks
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PostSubject: Re: Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals   Sun Jan 01, 2017 11:50 am

Congratulations, Javabee.  Fantastic story among so many tough challengers. 
Congrats1 Congrats1 Congrats1

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PostSubject: Re: Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals   Sun Jan 01, 2017 12:25 pm

Congratulations, Javabee
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PostSubject: Re: Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals   Sun Jan 01, 2017 1:10 pm

Congratulations, Javabee.  Great story, and thanks to all the other writers for a great year.  applause

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PostSubject: Re: Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals   Sun Jan 01, 2017 2:09 pm

Congratulations Javabee! cheers Loved it!

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PostSubject: Re: Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals   Sun Jan 01, 2017 2:23 pm

Congratulations, Javabee,  Great story.
Congrats 2
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PostSubject: Re: Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals   Mon Jan 02, 2017 5:08 am

Ccongratulations, Javabee
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PostSubject: Re: Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals   Mon Jan 02, 2017 6:07 am

Congratulations, Javabee.  Great story. Congrats 4
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PostSubject: Re: Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals   Mon Jan 02, 2017 12:30 pm

Hurray, Javabee! I loved that story.

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PostSubject: Re: Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals   Mon Jan 02, 2017 1:04 pm

applause Congratulations, Javabee! applause
And well done to all of you fabulous writers. Great stories, all of them.

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PostSubject: Re: Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals   Tue Jan 03, 2017 2:11 pm

Hello Gang,
Having never written anything before joining this site, this is a great surprise and encouragement to me. What a wonderful, talented, and supportive group to be a part of. Thanks, everyone!
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PostSubject: Re: Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals   Tue Jan 03, 2017 4:10 pm

cheers Banana cheers Banana CONGRATULATIONS JAVABEE!! Banana cheers Banana cheers


AWESOME STORY!
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PostSubject: Re: Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals   Tue Jan 03, 2017 8:07 pm

Congratulations, Javabee

It is a great story.
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PostSubject: Re: Story Of The Year 2016 - Finals   Wed Jan 04, 2017 10:24 am

Great story, Javabee.  Well deserving of the win.  Congratulations!
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