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 Zero

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PostSubject: Zero   Sun Jan 01, 2017 10:44 am

Time for your first challenge of 2017!  Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to give us your take on the prompt in between 150 and 4,000 words.  Your January prompt is


Zero
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That could be an amount of cash or anything else, zeroing on on something, a temperature, where someone's life is at, or any other take your clever minds can come up with.  Happy writing and an even happier New Year.    
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PostSubject: Re: Zero   Fri Jan 06, 2017 4:44 pm

An oldie - but it does have the word 'zero' in it... 

The Curate’s EggA British expression derived from a famous Victorian cartoon in ‘Punch’ magazine, meaning something which has a mix of good and bad qualities.



The Kid flicked a greasy lump from his arm.  “Heyes, everyone’s lookin’ at us,” he muttered under his breath.  “We’re covered in corned beef.”

“Stop complaining.  You got us roped into the stupidest plan in the world.  Blowing up the building wasn’t going to harm a photograph in a safe.  Why didn’t you just get me to open it?”

“I didn’t have time.  When Clara blurted out that Clarence was bein’ blackmailed by ‘Seth the Butcher,’ and he’d gone to sort it out once and for all.  I just reacted.  How was I to know that she meant a real butcher, and that it wasn’t a nickname?”

Heyes took off his hat, shaking gobs of fat from the crown.  “You’re fooling nobody.  It’s Clara you’re interested in protecting.”

“Clarence’s a man of the cloth now, and he’s made good under a false name.  His past is bein’ held against him, so he thought he’d use his old skills and blow the evidence to smithereens,” the Kid paused, “besides, it ain’t fair on Clara to be forced into marryin’ someone she doesn’t want, just to save her brother from jail.” 

“Yeah?  Well, it’s a good job he went straight because he’s useless as an explosives man.  The butcher’s shop is a burning wreck and Seth still has the photograph,” Heyes dusted more chunks from his shoulders “and if we hadn’t jumped into those storage barrels out the back we’d all be in jail.  Dear God; it wasn’t bad enough that there was meat flying everywhere, we had to sit in it too.”

“My first thought was to save Clarence.

“Kid, the whole problem here is that you didn’t think; not with your head anyway.”  He indicated across the road with his head and shooed away the delighted looking dog slobbering at his boots.  “Let’s go for a drink.  I need to work out how to sort this mess once and for all.”


oooOOOooo


“Mr.  Roebuck?  Seth Roebuck?”  The butcher smiled at the dark eyed man in the brown suit.  Heyes continued.  “I’m an assessor for the Pearl Mutual Insurance Company.  I believe you made a claim?”

“I sure did.  You got here real quick.”

Heyes smiled casually, trying to disguise the urgency to complete his mission before the real insurance agent turned up and thanking his lucky stars that Roebuck had been boasting of his coming windfall in the saloon.  “I was in the area.  Now, why don’t you tell me what happened?  This place sure is a mess.”

Seth bristled indignantly, shifting his braces over his expansive belly, the light catching his bald pate.  “My business was blown up.  This is my home and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with it.  There’s just the lack of a woman’s touch, that’s all.”

Heyes arched his eyebrows.  “The house or the owner?”

Seth wobbled his jowls indignantly, increasing his resemblance to a constipated bulldog.  “Men outnumber women ten to one about here.  It ain’t so easy to find a wife.”

Heyes nodded.  “Sorry.  I guess being a married man; I take things like that for granted.”
“Well, I hope to be part of that club soon.  There’s a real sweet, little girl in town I’ve been wooin’.  I can’t wait for the day I carry Clara over the threshold.”

Heyes slipped into his best poker face to avoid giving an indication of his views on Roebuck’s ‘wooing’ techniques.  “So you’re sure she’ll say ‘yes,’ then?” he queried.

Roebuck nodded.  “She’s been real skittish, but I think I’ve managed to break down her resistance at last.”  He mopped his constantly clammy forehead with a grimy handkerchief.  “This time next week I’ll make an honest woman of her.” 

“I’m sure that this time next week she’ll be a very happy woman.”  Heyes smiled.  “I hope she’s not after the insurance payout.  You want to be careful; you don’t want a wife who only wants you for your money.”

Roebuck gave an unsavoury smile.  “Oh, I’m not worried.  Clara ain’t the type to marry for money.  She’s as pure as they come.  Her brother’s a Catholic Priest, you know, I met her as part of the congregation.  The money’s just a little sweetener for her.  She’s suddenly got a whole lot keener.  I’ve won her over at last.”

“Good for you,” twinkled Heyes.   “Now, can you find your original insurance schedule?”

“It’s in the safe down at the shop.  It’ll be fine.  The safe’ll withstand anything other than a direct blast.   Come on.”

Heyes looked shocked.  “Walk about smoking remains in my suit?  It’ll get ruined.  Can I wait here?  I have some paperwork I can get on with while you find it.”

“But you’ll need to see the shop anyway, won’t you?” 

“Not until I’m sure you’re covered, I won’t.”  Heyes shifted a stack of dirty dishes aside and sat at the table.  “I’ve been caught like that before.  I once ruined a pair of five dollar shoes wading through a flooded basement only to find the policy had expired.  Go get it.  I’ll be waiting.” 


oooOOOooo


The Kid looked down at the photograph of the two men posing stiffly beside an attractive, young brunette on a chaise longue.  “So that was Harvey Metcalf.  I never did meet him, but I did see the lawmen posin’ with his body in the newspaper.”

Clara blinked huge, china blue eyes at him.  “I never stopped worrying about Clarence.  I was so happy when he came home and we were able to start again.  I thought we had put it all behind us until Seth came along.  He’s Harv’s cousin, and had a copy of the only picture of the infamous Metcalf and Muphy.”

“He’s very religious.  He turns up at almost every mass,” added Clarence.

The Kid tossed the picture into the fire, watching the flames grab the curling edges, before consuming it in a hungry orgy of incandescence.  “Well, it’s gone now and hopefully there are no more copies,” he grinned across at Clarence’s worried face.  “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw your face on top of a dog collar.  Father Clarence O’Rourke.  That’s a far cry from the Sticky Murphy who laid low at Devil’s Hole.”

Clarence shrugged.  “I was young, stupid and greedy.  Seeing what happened to Harv made me see sense.  I thank my lucky stars I bumped into you two.  I was at my wits end worrying about Clara.”

“Well, Heyes got the picture for you.  Now we need to make sure that the butcher’s in no position to start tellin’ the law what your real name is.  You don’t need anyone diggin’ into your past.”

“But how?  All he’s got to do is speak up.  If they start investigating Clarence, he’s finished,” wailed Clara.  “I really think we should just run away.”

“Well, that’s still an option, but Heyes has a plan.  Let’s try that first.  You don’t want to spend your whole life running, do you?”


oooOOOooo


The Kid stood with his arms folded alongside Clarence, forming a burly wall of muscle behind the petite blonde woman knocking tentatively on the butcher’s door.  His initial delight at seeing the woman he coveted faded at the sight of her steely-eyed henchmen.  Seth shuffled uncomfortably before he pulled the door open.  “Clara?” his voice rang with uncertainty.  “It’s great to see you.”
“Is it?” she barked.  “Can we come in?  We need to get this over with.”


Seth’s bloodshot eyes darted over to the Kid.  “Who’s he?”

“An old friend.  You want to talk about a wedding?  Let us in?”

Seth narrowed his eyes and stepped back to allow the little deputation to enter.  Clara pursed her lips, glancing around at the dereliction and neglect.  The burly man scuttled over to the range, rapidly folding away the wooden clothes horse festooned with grey long johns and a butcher’s apron covered in bloodstains.  He hurriedly whipped a shirt from an armchair before slapping its lumps into submission, raising billowing clouds of chocking dust.  “Please, take seat.”

Clara crinkled her nose in disdain.  “I’d rather stand, thank you.”

“As you please, Miss Murphy.”

“I keep telling you!  My name is O’Rourke, not Murphy.”

Seth shook his head.  “Nope.  Harv sent that picture home to his ma and I kept it when she died,” he darted a look at Clarence.  “It says who they are on the back, in Harv’s own hand.  You can’t argue with that.  It’s the same writin’ as he wrote to his ma in.  That’s the same as Harv tesifyin’ from the grave.”

“You see we have a problem,” Clarence cut in.  “My sister and I moved around a lot.  My pa was a journeyman labourer.  We spent our lives moving from town to town.  There isn’t really anyone who can testify that I’m not Sticky Murphy, but then I suppose there’s nobody who can testify that I am either.”

“Except for my picture,” Seth sneered.  “Well, Clara?  What’s it to be?  Marriage or jail for your brother?”

The Kid reached into his jacket and pulled out a photograph.  He stared down at the little sepia group with a smile.  “I got a copy of that picture.  Harv’s wife was a beauty, wasn’t she?  I read in the paper that she died in childbirth.  Sad, real sad.”

“You knew Harv?” demanded Seth.

The Kid gave the man his most cherubic look.  “Never saw him in my life, except in the papers.  This is the O’Rourke’s’ version of the picture.”

Seth puffed out his chest triumphantly.  “Well, that proves it.  Why would they have copy of that picture if they weren’t involved?”
“I was a young curate when Mrs. Metcalf needed comfort in her dying days.  She wanted me to see her son.  It was important to her that someone somewhere saw him as a man and not just as some kind of desperado.”

Seth snorted.  “Yeah?   Well, why’re you in it then?”

Clarence stretched out an arm and took the likeness from the Kid.  “Me?  I think you’re mistaken.  I’m not in this picture.  See for yourself.”

The little group watched the jowls start to tremble before Seth’s face turned puce.  “No!  This just ain’t possible.”

Clarence flicked a look at the Kid.  “I told you.  I’m not Sticky Murphy.  That picture proves that I’m not.”

Seth turned the picture to the room, jabbing a sausage-like finger at the portrait.  “That’s me.  How’d you get me in it?  I wasn’t there.”

The Kid did his best to look confused.  “How could anyone put somebody in a photograph who wasn’t there?  Do you know, Clarence?”
“Beats me.”  I study the bible.  How would I know anything about all this modern stuff.  I look deep inside for the truth.” 

Clara stamped her foot.  “Seth, this stops now.  Blackmail is no way to find a wife.  I’m not marrying you, so go away and leave us in peace.”

“We’ll soon see about that.  I had my safe brought up from the shop today.  I got my own copy.”

He rushed out if the room, only to reappear looking even more harassed, clutching a postcard size image.  “This just ain’t possible. How?  I never posed for a picture with Harv in my life.”

The Kid shifted his weight onto one leg.  “The camera never lies, Mr. Roebuck.  That’s your face in both copies and that was locked in your safe.  You said it yourself, the writing on the back is as good as Harv testifyin’ from the grave.  The way I see it, it takes a real lowlife to try to force a woman to marry him.  You put that with the photographic evidence, I reckon the law won’t have a problem believin’ you’re an outlaw on the run.”  His face dropped into a cold smile.  “But if they ain’t gonna deal with you, I will.  I don’t hold with your marriage plans.  This stops...  Right now.”

“Who are you?” Seth tried to bluster through his nerves to present a front of confidence.

“That ain’t as important as who the law thinks you might be, Mr. Murphy.”

“My name is Roebuck.”

“That picture says different,” the Kid tilted his head and gave the man a hard stare, “and the law’ll have that ten minutes after your next marriage ‘proposal’ to Miss O’Rourke.  I’m keepin’ a copy to make sure of that.”


oooOOOooo


“Do you think we’ll hear from him again?” Clara’s sleek, blonde hair caught the sunlight. 

Her brother handed her a cup of tea and patted her shoulder affectionately.  “I’ll ask the bishop for a transfer.  I’m so sorry to put you in that situation, Clara.  We’ll move on.  I don’t know what we’d have done without you two.”

Heyes shrugged, a smile twitching at his cheeks.  “I enjoyed it.  I’ve never studied photography before.  It was fascinating.  Who knew you could take part of an image and superimpose it on another?  You do it by fading out the exposure and the second scene is faded in by increasing the exposure from zero.  It's basically a photograph of a photograph with bits added on top.   Apparently it’s one of the flim flams fake psychics use to make ghost pictures.”

“But what if that’s not enough?  What if he comes back?  Clarence’s past won’t withstand too much scrutiny, despite what we told Seth.” 

Heyes gave Clara a mysterious smile.  “Well, I think I can help you there,” he reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a photograph.  He folded his arms with a satisfied glint and watched the collection of curious faces pouring over the picture of a line of young priests.   “Look on the far right, then turn it over and read the name.”

Clarence pointed at the young man at the end of the line.  He had a shock of black hair, a round face and fat cheeks which had yet to drop into jowls.  He turned it reading out the copperplate inscription on the back.  “Class of ’69 leave the seminary,” his finger traced along the line of names, stopping to punctuate one with a jab.  “Father Seth Metcalf!?” 

Clarence sucked in a breath of surprise and stared back at the young face smiling out at him.  “It’s him.  It is!  He’s a priest pretending to be a butcher?”

“It would seem so,” grinned Heyes, “and he’s using a false name, and lying about his past.  My guess is that he did something pretty bad.  You don’t usually keep a photograph in a safe unless you either want to protect it or hide it.”

“So, he’s not going to want folks diggin’ into his past either?” queried the Kid.  “You didn’t change this one too, did you, Heyes?”

Heyes shook his head.  “Nope.  I swear I didn’t.  He’s got a past, we just don’t know what it is.”

Clarence ran his hand distractedly through his straight, blond hair.  “A priest.  What are the chances of that?”

“You did tell us that he was a regular attender at mass,” replied Heyes

“His real name is Metcalf?  Do you think he stole like Harv?” demanded Clara.

“Who knows?  Whatever it was, he’s none too keen on anybody finding out, so it’s a good back up to my doctored picture.”

“I’ll write to a friend to see what he can find out,” mused Clarence.  “You can’t trust anybody these days, can you?  The parish priest is an ex-bank robber and the butcher is a clergyman gone wrong.  We’re all as bad as each other.”

“Are we?” asked Heyes.  “What’s all that about the celebrating in heaven when a sinner repents?”

“D’you think there’s as big party downstairs when a churchman goes bad?” chuckled the Kid.

“It all goes to show that there’s good and bad in us all, I guess,” murmured Clarence thoughtfully.  “At least I’ve got a theme for my sermon on Sunday.”

“Sorry we’ll miss that.”  The Kid grinned.  “We’ll be gone by then, but I don’t want to go to heaven with all those good folks anyway.  I want to stay with Heyes.”

_________________
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb
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PostSubject: Re: Zero   Sat Jan 07, 2017 12:04 pm

I seem to be writing an epic although I'm not sure where it's going yet. This story follows on from the October Challenge - Broken, which saw Wheat turning up at Heyes' house after the DHG had broken up. Wheat thinks he has zero chance of being considered for amnesty and Heyes tries to talk him round.
With apologies to the horsey folk amongst us if what happens at the end isn't plausible!





Lom looked up as Heyes walked into his office. Then he frowned when he recognised the man with him. He immediately pulled his gun.


“What’s this?” Lom asked, looking at Heyes for an explanation why he was in the company of Wheat Carlson, wanted outlaw.


“Lom, just listen for a moment will you? Wheat’s got something to say.” Heyes looked at Wheat, who was eyeing the gun in the sheriff’s hand nervously. “Lom, will you put that thing away!” You won’t need it.”


Lom wasn’t so sure. He looked back and forth between the two men. Heyes gestured irritably at him to holster the gun. Against his better judgement Lom did.


“What’s this about?” he asked, sitting down. “An’ it better be good!”


Heyes nudged Wheat and they took the chairs in front of the desk. Wheat lounged untidily in his, right hand staying close to his right thigh and the big weapon holstered there.


“Have you heard ‘bout what happened to the Devil’s Hole Gang? Over at Atkins?”
Lom sniffed, and then sighed. “I heard they robbed the Post Office there. What’s that got to do with why HE’S’s here?” He tossed his head in Wheat’s direction. “Come to tell me it wasn’t you Wheat?”


Wheat shook his head. “Naw! It were us, Trevors.” He did a double take at the look Heyes gave him. “Er … I mean … Sheriff Trevors,” he sniffed and smoothed his moustache nervously.


Lom gave him a doubtful look but decided to let it go. He turned to Heyes instead and raised an eyebrow.


“Something happened, Lom. After the job … to Kyle. There was an accident.” Heyes paused, glanced at Wheat and then looked back at Lom. “He’s dead, Lom.”


Lom shifted in his chair. He remembered Kyle Murtry from his own days in Devil’s Hole. He hadn’t ridden with the Gang for long but in the short time he had, he had grown to like the small scruffy man. He looked at Wheat, who had his head down.


“What happened?” Lom asked, softly. He could see what losing Kyle was having on Wheat. He had never seen him so quiet. It may also account for why he looked so on edge … so fragile. If that was a word that could be used to describe Wheat. Being willingly in a sheriff’s office might also account for it.


Heyes glanced at Wheat and saw that man wasn’t going to speak. So it was Heyes who told Lom what had happened to Kyle and the rest of the Gang. When Heyes had finished, Lom leant back in his chair.


“So, the Devil’s Hole Gang is no more. Is that it? So come to turn yourself in, Wheat?” He may have said it tongue in cheek. Only Heyes saw the faintly amused look on his face.


Wheat’s head went up in horror. “Sheesh! The hell I am.”


“Then …”


“Amnesty, Lom,” Heyes interrupted. “Wheat wants to know if the Governor would give him amnesty.”


Lom laughed. “You’re kidding me! Wheat, you’re a career criminal!” Privately he thought there was zero chance but he kept that thought to himself.


Wheat leapt to his feet and turned to Heyes. “See I told ya this was a waste a time! I’m outta here!”


“Now Wheat, just hold on.” Heyes and Lom were on their feet as well. Heyes put a restraining hand on Wheat’s shoulder. “Just have a little patience. There’s a bit more talking to do. C’mon sit down.” He patted his shoulder reassuringly.


With a glance at Lom, Wheat, persuaded by Heyes, sat down again. Heyes sat beside him again and they both looked at Lom, who was slower to retake his seat.


“I’ve got an awful feeling I’m not gonna like this,” He growled as he did so.


Heyes grinned, both dimples showing. “Lom, you did it afore. Me an’ the Kid were much bigger crooks than Wheat here. This’ll be a piece of cake.”


Lom looked doubtful. “You want ME to go talk to the Governor?”


Heyes shrugged. “Can’t think of anyone better,” Heyes said, triumphantly. “What d’you think?”


“I think I’d have more luck persuading the sun to shine at night!”


“Now Lom, you can’t go with an attitude like that. You’ll have to be more positive,” Heyes chided, with a grin.


Lom growled.


“The way I see it Lom, the Devil’s Hole Gang has been a thorn in the side of the authorities for years.” Heyes gave a lopsided smirk. “’Course not as much as they used to be but an irritation all the same.”


“Hey!” Wheat protested.


Heyes winced and nodded at him. “You kinda are, Wheat. All those little jobs all over the place.”


Wheat grumbled and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Finally, he nodded in acquiescence.


“If you explain what’s happened to the rest of the Gang, Lom, I’m sure the Governor will consider Wheat for amnesty. Especially if ... .” Heyes licked his lips. “You tell him that Wheat has a law-abiding job all lined up.”


“I do?” Wheat looked at Heyes with a frown.


Heyes nodded. “Possibly.” He didn’t want to be drawn on the details right now. He hadn’t fully made up his mind yet. “That’s gotta be a good thing. Right?” He looked at Lom eagerly, wide-eyed.


Lom looked doubtful. He flicked his eyes back and forth between the two men.


“Amos Barber is only an Acting Governor, Heyes. I dunno how much authority he thinks he has. Granting amnesty is discretionary and he’s new in office. I think the chances of him doing anything controversial like this is zero. ”


“Won’t know until you ask,” Heyes said, hopefully. “No harm in asking is there?” Then seeing Lom was still wavering. “Are you gonna make me beg?” he snapped.


“Not you, no,” Lom growled, not looking at Heyes. He was looking hard at Wheat instead. “I think I wanna hear Wheat ask,” he said, ominously quietly.


Heyes swallowed and looked at Wheat. This just may be a step too far. He knew how proud a man Wheat was.


Wheat shifted in his chair. “Well I … .” He cleared his throat. “Reckon … I’d be obliged sheriff if ya would … y’know see ya way clear to … having a word with this Governor. On … on my behalf like. Ya’ll be doin’ me a favour an’ I’d owe ya. If there’s anythin’ I can do for ya in the future you jus’ let me know.” Wheat couldn’t manage to look Lom in the eye while he spoke but he did for a second when he’d finished.


Lom sighed and looked back at Heyes. “You reckon he’s gotta a job? Working for you?”


Heyes licked his lips, aware that Wheat was looking at him intently. “Possibly,” he started, slowly.

“If … the Governor will give him amnesty. Or at least gives him the same deal me and the Kid had.”


Lom rubbed his cheek as he considered.


“Ya’d do it?” he snapped at Wheat. “Work for Heyes? Keep ya nose clean? Don’t drop HIM in a mess of trouble?” He pointed a finger at Heyes.


“Well I’s reckon … I could try.” Wheat looked at both men and saw both of them wanted more than that. “Well if’n Heyes here would look out for me, stop me from … y’know getting inta trouble, keep me on the straight an’ narrow like, I reckon’ll it’d work.” He shrugged. “Sure why not?”


Heyes rolled his eyes before looking back at Lom.


“This isn’t a game Wheat. If I do this … go into bat for ya with the Governor, ya’d better mean it. ‘Cos if ya don’t … then I’ll lock ya up an’ be glad to do it. An’ I reckon Heyes here will help me.”


Wheat looked at them and nodded. “I knows ya will. Both of yous.” He swallowed hard and frowned. “I’m grateful for the chance, Lom … er Sheriff Trevors.”


Lom looked at Heyes, who nodded.


“Alright,” Lom sighed. “I’ll go an’ see the Governor. Like ya say it never hurts to ask.”


Heyes grinned. Wheat looked relieved.


“When can you go?” Heyes asked eagerly.


Lom growled. “Well I gotta finish this paperwork so … I guess I can go this afternoon, fix up an appointment, for tomorrow.” He looked from one to the other. “In the meantime, I’m holding YOU … .” He pointed at Heyes. “Responsible for HIM.” He pointed at Wheat. “You stay outta my town and you stay outta trouble. Make sure he does, Heyes.”


Heyes and Wheat got to their feet.


Heyes nodded. “I will. Thanks Lom.”


“Yeah, thanks Sheriff.”


Lom waved a hand. “Go on get outta here. I’ll be back tomorrow night or early the day after.”


As Heyes closed the door behind him, Wheat turned to him. “What’s this here job ya were talkin’ ‘bout, Heyes?”


Heyes frowned and slapped him on the shoulder. “Shhh! I’m Joshua remember?” he said, quietly as he ushered Wheat along the boardwalk.


“Oh, yeah sorry. I forgot.”


“Yeah, well if you work for me you’d better not!” Heyes growled, grabbing Wheat’s arm and pulling him into an alley.


Wheat waited while Heyes took a last furtive look round. Turning to the bigger man, Heyes hooked his thumbs in the waistband of his pants and let his tongue explore the inside of his mouth as he considered Wheat.


“What’s up?” Wheat frowned.


“Can you do it, Wheat? Really?” he snapped.


“Ya asking me that now? After I done give that sheriff my word!” Wheat was indignant.


Heyes sniffed, the look on his face telling Wheat he might not have believed his word. Wheat drew himself up.


“I gave my word, Hey … Joshua. That means somethin’,” he said, indignantly.


“Ye..ah,” Heyes said, slowly. “It means something alright.”


“Now what do that mean?” Wheat demanded.


Heyes licked his lips. “It means yeah you gave your word.” He sighed. “Whether you can keep it is another matter. If I give you a job …” A slim index finger poked Wheat hard in the shoulder.

“You had better not let me down.” Heyes growled and winced, tight-lipped. He realised he had just told Wheat he had a job. Something he still wasn’t decided on.


“Heyes …” Wheat winced. “When have I ever let ya down?” he asked, innocently. “Joshua?” he added for good measure.


“Ha!” Heyes laughed, humorously. So many ways! But now was not the time to list them. “Listen, Lom wants you outta town until he gets back. Go get our horses from the livery and meet me outside The Hardware Store. You and me are gonna ride over to Salt River. There’s something there I want to show you.”


“What?”


“We’ll discuss it on the way. We might be a night or two. Depending. We’ll stop and tell Mary on the way.”
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In Salt River, Heyes and Wheat spent two days at the store Heyes had just leased for his new store. They cleared out most of the fittings from the previous tenant, smashed through a wall out back to create more stock room space and set about repainting. New shop fittings would arrive the following week and Heyes was satisfied that everything would be ready.


“Thanks, Wheat. You’ve been a big help,” Heyes said, slapping Wheat on the shoulder and giving him a tight-lipped smile.


“S’right, Heyes. Glad to help. Takes my mind off … well y’know takes my mind off … a lot of things.”


“Yeah,” Heyes nodded.


“Say ya still ain’t told me what you wanted to show me.”


“We’ll er talk ‘bout it on the way back.”


Heyes had made up his mind. He’d give Wheat a chance. The big man had worked hard for him over the last two days. He didn’t mind admitting that it was good to spend time with Wheat again. He was surprised to realise that Wheat did know what he was thinking. That he did understand him. All the bluster and clashing of egos that had marked their time together in Devil’s Hole was gone. Well, not entirely but it would, give it time. Especially if Heyes had anything to do with it. He was beginning to think of Wheat as a “project”.


Heyes and Wheat rode back towards Porterville in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.


“This sure is pretty country,” Wheat remarked suddenly. The silence had gotton to him and he wanted the distraction of talking.


“Yes. I think so too. I like it here.”


“Y’know Heyes you’ve sure got a good life these days.”


“Yep. I sure have,” Heyes smiled, pleasantly, dimples cracked slightly. “All thanks to the amnesty y’know.”


“Ya ever figure out why Hoyt gave you ya amnesty? I thought he was jus’ stringin’ ya along.”


“I can’t deny I thought that too, Wheat. It sure felt like it at the time. A year he said, then it was two, then it was “I’ll see”. Kid an’ me were seriously considering going to South America.”


“What stopped ya?”


“Aw,” Heyes considered. “Can’t speak South American for one,” he grinned briefly. “And we needed a stake to live off which we didn’t have.” He sniffed. “And we like living … here. There was a whole host of reasons Wheat. Somehow we just couldn’t bring ourselves to go.” He smiled.
“While we were still pontificating, the amnesty came through.”


“Seems strange that he would jus’ up an’ gives it to ya, just like that.”


“Yep,” Heyes nodded. “I thought so too until I got to thinking ‘bout it.” He smacked his lips. “Then I thought ‘bout the timing. He signed the papers in mid July. He left office towards the end of that August but he wanted it kept quiet ‘till the end of the year. Went off to live in California for a little bit but I think he was hedging his bets. ‘Cos he returned to Wyoming in September of that year and do y’know what?”


Heyes looked smug. Wheat frowned then shook his head. “That supposed to mean somethin’?”


“Sure does. He became the first President of the University of Wyoming.”


“So?”


“Remember the Merchant’s Bank in Denver, Wheat?”


Wheat blinked at the complete change of subject. “Ye-ah,” he said, doubtfully. Then grinned.
“That was the one where you were there all night and came away empty handed.” He chortled. “The one you couldn’t crack.”


Heyes scowled at being reminded. “Yes but … we DID go back and I DID open it. Remember how?”


Wheat pursed his lips as he thought. “That the one ya blew? With nitro?”


“That’s the one.”


Wheat shook his head and Heyes grinned. “Someone called Nial H Benshaye … wrote a scientific paper ‘bout how I done it. Said what an ingenious, clever and sophisticated method I used.”

Heyes bit his bottom lip and nodded, wide-eyed at Wheat.


“It was involved I’ll give ya that,” Wheat muttered, disgruntled.


“Ex-Governor of Wyoming John Hoyt is a Professor of Chemistry, Wheat. He saw it. He was impressed. THAT’s why the Kid and me got the amnesty when we did. Figured two men with those kinda smarts and who had been trying to stay outta trouble oughta get a second chance.” Heyes sniffed. “That an’ the possibility if he carried on saying no we might jus’ try something even more spectacular. Might jus’ backfire on him if word got out that he’d promised us an amnesty but hadn’t followed through. Guess he decided that GIVING us amnesty was the lesser of two evils.”


Wheat looked disbelievingly at him. “You telling me Heyes that you and the Kid got amnesty ‘cos of some paper printed in some high falutin’ book?”


Heyes smiled smugly. “Yep.”


“Sheesh!”


Wheat shook his head. “An’ here ya are running a hardware store.” He said it bitterly. “Ain’t what I figured you for at all. I mean sheesh Heyes. Hardware.” Wheat chortled and shook his head.


Heyes shrugged. “Folks always need hardware, Wheat. Especially the way towns are growing. New people coming in, new businesses opening up. Lots of building work going on. It’s not like it used to be Wheat. These aren’t frontier towns anymore. We’re getting civilised.”


Wheat sighed. Heyes detected a note of regret and looked across at him.


“Something wrong, Wheat?”


“Naw!” he denied, a little too quickly and then growled when Heyes kept his eyes on him.

“Passing me by, Heyes. I guess I don’t feel too … comfortable with it.” He sighed again and twitched his head. “Perhaps … perhaps if Kyle …” He didn’t finish and looked away.


Heyes nodded in sympathy. The past two days had taken Wheat’s mind off thinking about Kyle but it was still raw. It would be for some time to come. Heyes took a deep breath. Here goes.
Before he could speak, Wheat did.


“I dunno ‘bout this amnesty, Heyes.” He shook his head. “I mean, Trevors is right. Outlawing is all I’ve ever done. I don’t reckon I’ve got a chance. Nothing to recommend me like you an’ the Kid had. That Governor … Barber is it? He’s gonna take one look at my record and …”


“Now Wheat, we don’t know what he said yet. Lom is good negotiator. He talked Hoyt into the amnesty deal for the Kid and me. That wasn’t easy. He was highly sceptical. That’s why if we’d screwed up it was Lom’s head on the block.”


Wheat grunted, non-committedly. “Don’t figure Trevors will go that far for me,” he muttered.


“Besides you’ve got something the Kid and me didn’t have,” Heyes went on, ignoring him.


“What’s that?”


“Well …” Heyes swallowed. “Friends who are behind you, giving you support. You’re not on your own. The Kid and me were and it was hard.”


“You had each other.”


“Yeah, that’s true but sometimes it would have been nice to be able to talk to somebody else about it. Somebody who understood what we were going through.” Heyes cast a sideways glance at Wheat. “It’s only natural you’re feeling a little fragile right now. Your life’s been turned upside down in more ways than one. It’s a big adjustment. Y’know me, Wheat. I’m not gonna sugar coat it. It’ll be tough but I don’t believe you have zero chance.”


Wheat growled and looked away. It was a moment before he spoke and when he did, he couldn’t face Heyes. Heyes had to lean forward in the saddle so he could hear.


“It’s not that I don’t appreciate what ya trying to do, Heyes. I’m just wandering if I’m worth ya bother that’s all.”


“Awh, Wheat, stop feeling sorry for yourself,” Heyes said, more harshly than he intended. He licked his lips and continued in a softer voice. “You’ve got a lot to offer. You just don’t know it ‘cos it’s never come up before that’s all.”


“Like what?”


Yeah he had to go and ask THAT question. Heyes rolled his eyes skyward as he thought.


“Well … you’ve done a lot of living …” Wheat’s snort of derision interrupted. “Hear me out, will you? You’re nobody’s fool Wheat. You know what’s what ‘cos you’ve been there. You just have to apply what you know to the situation you find yourself in. Some things will be unfamiliar but you just have to take a step back before you go jumping in.”


“Be more like you, y’mean?”


Heyes smiled. “Naw! Don’t want the competition.”


A ghost of a smile appeared on Wheat’s face.


“Just think ‘bout what I said, huh?”


Wheat nodded and Heyes left it there. The two continued on their way in silence.


“How are your letters and numbers, Wheat?” Heyes asked suddenly, jolting Wheat out of his thoughts.


Wheat frowned at him. “I know ‘em. Y’know I know ‘em.”


Heyes smiled. “Yeah, but how well d’you know ‘em? Ever read a book? Newspaper?”


Wheat grunted. “Well I can’t say I read a lot. Books! Why they’re for folks with too much time on their hands! That’s what …” He broke off when he saw the look Heyes was giving him. “I guess they have their place and no I don’t read books. Not that there’s anythin’ wrong with folks who do.” He added the last bit quickly just in case. Had he got away with it?


Heyes looked away smiling.


“Would you improve ‘em if you needed to?”


“I’ve got along jus’ fine up to now. Why would I need to?”


Heyes chewed his lip. “You might have to if you had a job where reading, writing and adding numbers was a part of it.”


Wheat stopped his horse. “What ya trying to say, Heyes?”


Heyes stopped too and looked at him. “I need a manager in the Salt River store. How’d you feel ‘bout that if I offered it to you?”


Wheat looked stunned. He had figured that Heyes just might find him something but not that.


“Sheesh! Heyes. I think that’s beyond me.” He started his horse forward, shaking his head.


Heyes shrugged and followed. “Well it was just a thought. I mean you’ve gotta do something when you get amnesty and I did kinda tell Lom I had a job for you. You wanna make me out to be a liar?”


“If, Heyes. The word is if.”


Heyes rolled his eyes and nodded his head from side to side, accepting the correction.


“Okay, if.” He paused. Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea after all but it was too late to back out now. He had made the offer and he needed an answer “Just give it some thought huh?” He paused and grinned. “’Specially, IF you get amnesty or at least the promise of one?”


If Wheat was chewing on an answer, he didn’t get a chance to give it voice. Heyes’ horse, which had been skittish for a while, suddenly reared up. It pranced back a few steps.


“Whoa, easy fella,” Heyes said, patting the horse’s neck reassuringly. His eyes scanned the ground in front looking for danger. Whatever had spooked the horse, Heyes couldn’t see what it was.

Then the horse reared again. Something was really frightening it. “Easy! Easy!” But the horse was wide eyed in fear and prancing back and side to side. Suddenly the horse took off in a flat out run. Heyes sawed on the reins but to no avail. “Whoa!”


The rapid injection of speed took Heyes unawares. He slipped in the saddle, couldn’t right himself before the horse veered around a boulder. The sudden change of direction did for him. He was off. Yet his right foot failed to slip out of its stirrup and he found himself bouncing along the ground, arms flailing wildly.


All too aware that a similar accident had so recently killed Kyle, Wheat took off after the spooked horse.


Heyes was under the horse and desperately trying to avoid two pairs of galloping hooves. He was yelling, further terrifying the poor creature. He could do nothing to stop it as he flipped, rolled and bumped along. Caught in the stirrup, his right foot, twisted this way and that, shrieking in protest. His flailing right arm hit a rock. Intense pain. Ribs collided with the hard ground, knocking the wind from him. Hooves struck him a glancing blow to his cheek. A myriad of thoughts went through his mind, none of them good. The thought foremost in his mind; he was gonna die!
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Author’s note
John Wesley Hoyt was Governor of the Territory of Wyoming between 1878 – 1882
Before appointed Governor, he had been Professor of Chemistry at Antioch College and had founded the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Art and Letters, becoming its first president. During his tenure of Governor of Wyoming, he founded and presided over a similar organisation in that state. He later became the first president of the newly formed University of Wyoming.



Although Amos Barber was elected Secretary of State in 1890, his term was interrupted when Francis Warren, resigned as Governor of the newly constituted State of Wyoming. Barber served as Acting Governor between 1890 – 1893. 

_________________
Kid Curry and that other fella; Hannibal Heyes and whatsname
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PostSubject: Re: Zero   Sun Jan 08, 2017 2:23 pm

I started a another tale from the prompt Zero...but that's run over to epic proportions and will have to go somewhere else... This early outlaw tale fits the prompt though, and it is new this month, I think its obvious what chance of success Kid is giving Heyes' latest idea....






The Leap

Two sweaty horses danced at the edge of a deep ravine, their desperate riders searching the horizon for hope of escape from a seemingly tireless, tenacious posse. 

“What?!? …You’ve got to be kidding me……HEYES…. There’s no way …. AW COME ON … You can’t mean it… I mean… IT CAN’T BE DONE!  That’s not possible. These are good horses… sure… well … were good horses… till we near run them to death… But that’s gotta be… I don’t know… at least…“ 

Jed Curry swung his arm expansively across the void, failing to calculate its width in his head.  He looked back over his shoulder, hardly able to believe what his partner, and older cousin had just suggested.  Then his partner’s actions cut him off, short.
 
“HEYES, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?”

Hannibal Heyes was out of the saddle, flinging his possessions at the far side of the yawning chasm.  First his bedroll flew, then his rope, then his canteen.

“Lightening the load! Come on Kid …we don’t have too much time…”

“What?!? Are you crazy?!? We can’t jump that.  That’s… that’s… That’d be like suicide …A few pounds ain’t gonna make no difference… HAN ...HEYES! … WILL YOU JUST WAIT A MINUTE?!?”

Heyes had his saddle un-cinched and was swinging it to and fro, to get enough momentum to fling the heavy leather over the precipice.  Kid leapt from his own saddle, and grabbed at the flying stirrups to prevent the throw.

“This is crazy… you know this is crazy…”

Heyes glared into Kid’s face, shaking the saddle loose from Kid’s grip, and flinging it, with all his temper and strength, to the other side of the ravine.  He knew it was crazy; he just didn’t see they had a choice. Kid would see it too, but by then it may be too late.  The saddle landed heavily on the rim of the far side.  They both watched, with held breaths, as it slipped further towards the edge and came to rest, snagged on an out crop of rock, half hanging over the long drop. 

Heyes snorted, satisfied it wouldn’t fall further.  Then he turned on his reticent cousin. Jed was as tall as him now, but whip thin.

“Alright Kid…. What do you want to do?  Wait here …and shoot it out? OR .. Give ourselves up …and may be …spend the rest of our lives in prison?  BUT I ASK YOU ... YOU GOTTA THINK… they’ll probably decide the bounty’s safer if they just shoot us … ‘cause dead men don’t escape so easy… I didn’t want to tell you this yet Kid …but there’s new dodgers out on us now… They say $2,000 dead or alive!”

“Why? We ain’t killed no one” shouted a shocked Kid, getting up in Heyes’ face like it was his fault.

Heyes pushed Kid away from him.

“Well we sure wave guns around like we mean to shoot someone, don’t you think, Kid … HUH?! Maybe the Law’s just assumed we already used them.  NOW COME ON.  We both know there’s only one way this ends…What you waitin’ fer? A bridge …to magically appear for us? …Or a path may be…. down there …to suddenly open up… and invite us for coffee!“ 

He pointed down the ravine, just feet away from his boots.
 
“YOU THINK I WANT TO MAKE THAT LEAP?!?”

Heyes turned away, gathering up the mare’s reins.

“BUT… but …there’s gotta be another way…” grunted Kid, more to himself than Heyes.

Kid looked confused and panicked.  He looked up and down the ridge.  This here was the narrowest point.  The ravine opened up wider, both ways.  He looked over the edge, and shook his head at the long drop onto sharp rocks.  Looked at the far side, which was higher than this side, and groaned. There didn’t seem to be no soft-landing place either.  He tried one last appeal to Heyes.

“It’s just not possible… They just can’t make that jump…” he said flinging an arm towards the horses, whose sides were wheezing like bellows.   

“There’s just HAS TO BE another way…”

Heyes took his bulging saddle bag off his shoulder and pushed it up on the chestnut mare’s neck. His eyes closed as he steeled up all his resolve, turning back to his reticent partner.

“Well there ain’t! …There ain’t, OK Kid… There’s only one way this plays out if we don’t jump …and I for one… am not getting shot dead… and I sure ain’t going to prison anytime soon neither… “

Heyes looked at Kid, stood with one gloved hand covering his mouth, trying hard to hold in the panic.  Kid had never looked so out of place, so young.  Not since they’d quit Soapy’s outfit and started robbing for themselves.  Heyes had gotten fed up of playing the monkey; he was sure he should be the organ grinder.  What with all that they’d seen and done, it was easy for Heyes to forget that his younger cousin was still just a very young man, nothing at all like the trail-hardened outlaw described on their wanted dodgers. 

Kid didn’t deserve any of this.  None of it had been his idea. He was only here because Heyes had known, knew for certain, that he could open that safe, and then of course, he’d had to go and prove it to himself.  This was bigger than any of their previous raids.  There was more money in that bank than either of them had ever seen before.  

Heyes stroked the saddlebag of bank notes lovingly.  Well if he was gonna die, he was gonna die a rich man. He just had to get Kid mad enough at him, to follow him, first.

“I’m not saying YOU have to do this… YOU COULD TRY TELLING ‘EM YOU’RE YOUNGER THAN YOU ARE … YOU CERTAINLY LOOK IT! … TELL ‘EM I PUT YOU UP TO IT … THEY MIGHT EVEN BELIEVE YOU … I’m just sayin’ …I’m doing it…” 

He spat the words into Kid’s face.
 
“I …worked hard planning that raid… I …worked hard opening that safe… and now… I … intend to work hard …spending my money… I would leave you half …but its not like you’ll get spend it …not if you’re in prison …or dead….”

He patted the mares neck, then grabbed some mane and jumped back on board, bare back.

“She can do this… I got a lot of faith in her …I know she can do it… and times getting short…”

Kid growled with disapproval and frustration, balling up his fists.  He looked back down the steep bank they’d climbed.  He knew for certain the dogged posse would be turning up here to follow them anytime soon.
 
Heyes was slowly walking the mare back away from the edge to get a run up. 

“AGHHHH!” screamed Kid, at his infuriating cousin’s back.  Why did Heyes always have to be right!  

He untied his bed roll and flung it at the far side of the ravine to hit Heyes’, like a bizarre game of bar billiards.  The canteen went over next, then the rope and saddle bags.  The saddle fell to the floor, and Kid let out another huge feral scream as he launched it too, towards the far bank.

“AND YOU CAN’T COME UP WITH NO BETTER IDEA THAN THAT?!…” he shouted at Heyes’ back.  “You’re always tellin’ me how you’re some kind of genius …and all you can come up with is …suicide… THAT’S IT… THAT’S ALL YOU GOT… LET’S JUMP …A NEAR IMPOSSIBLE… THAT’S ALL YOU GOT!”

He smoothed the big blacks neck then flung himself onto the horse’s back, all the time muttering through clenched teeth.

“What’s the use of having a silver tongue or that big brain of yours …if you can’t come up with nothing better …than a blind leap of faith? … you’re sure she can do it … well that’s just dandy …coz I ain’t at all sure he can…”

He began walking the black towards Heyes. 

Heyes, with his back to Kid, was staring intently back down the way they’d come, trying to judge how long he could give the horses to blow before that posse got back within rifle range.

“You could always try growing some wings…” he growled distractedly without turning his head.  

As soon as he’d seen Kid start flinging his possessions, he knew he’d won the argument, he also knew the best thing to do was now was ignore to Kid’s grumbling and let him get it out of his system.  A small cloud of dust below got his attention.

“They’re coming.”

Kid came along side Heyes, and followed the pointing finger to the dust cloud at the bottom of the climb. 

“Humph!” he snorted, glaring at Heyes.

“We are going to be in range of their rifles in about five minutes… “said Heyes quietly.  “Well Kid …This is it …You been tellin’ me that horse could get you out of anything.  You ready to put that to the test?”

Heyes held Kid’s gaze for a second.  He saw the fear mixed with the resolve. He could see clearly that his younger cousin realised they’d run out of choices. 

There was no choice at all.  

There was a deafening silence.  Each rider could only hear the pounding of their own heart in their ears.

Kid returned Heyes’ stare.  He could see plain as day his older cousin was scared and desperate, but he could also see Heyes’d decided to do this thing, and nothing was gonna stop him. 

Slowly they wheeled the horse’s heads around to face the edge. 

Kid stared back to Heyes for just a second more, then, from deep within his belly a wordless cry started to rise and broke loose.  He dug in his spurs and strapped the reins on the black’s neck, his lips setting in a feral snarl as the horse leapt to full gallop towards the rim.  Heyes sprang to life beside him, whooping up his mare and sending her plunging towards the precipice at the black’s side. 

In just a few strides of dust and fury, the eerie silence returned, as the animals flew through the air in a desperate attempt to reach the far side.  

Kid’s eyes appeared to be shut, but Heyes glued his eyes open, watching in slow motion as the far bank slid underneath his mare’s front hooves and she sank almost to her knees on impact.  He twisted sideways and grabbed at the Blacks head behind him, barely snagging up a piece of thin leather of the horses’ bridle with his outstretched gloved fingers.  The mare’s momentum carried her forward climbing back up onto her feet, and the Black scrabbled his hind hooves behind him, just catching enough rock and ground to push himself up and onto the bank behind her.

Kid clung to the neck of his horse muttering every swear word he could think of into its mane.

“Of all the cock-eyed, ridiculous, half-brained…” was the gist of it.

Heyes was already on the ground, snatching up his belongings, throwing on the saddle.  There was no time to let Kid dwell on the near death experience.

“COME ON KID… MOVE!  NOW!” he barked. “We gotta clear outta here …They won’t follow …but that sure won’t stop them shooting at us!”

Kid fell off the black’s back and drunkenly mirrored his cousin, gathering all his Worldly possessions and attaching them back on the blessed animal that had just saved his life.  He was still muttering profanities, his head shaking, his eyes half closed, his hand’s shaking.  

Before he’d finished, Heyes was up on his mare again and already on the move towards the horizon.  A couple of distant rifle shots was all Kid needed to get him re-focussed, and rapidly on Heyes’ heels.

---oooOOOooo---
Later that evening

“How much money we got Heyes?” smiled a weary Jed Curry.

“You know money isn’t everything, Kid. There’s more to life than money” teased Heyes.  “Look at all this lovely nature we got all around us … The clouds up there …kissing the mountains so pretty…”

“How much!?” groaned a unbemused Kid. “Tell me again.”

“Four … thousand … nine … hundred … fifty-three … dollars …and … thirty-seven cents…” smiled Heyes.  “Sounds good, don’t it kid?”

“Sure does, Heyes … sure does… and it means we never have to rob another bank, do we? ...  That’s enough fer us to live on … fer ever, right Heyes? You were brilliant opening that safe… No more robbing … and no more leaps of faith! …right? I couldn’t do that again…” said Jed dreamily.

His eyes were closing in the saddle. 

Heyes pulled up and stared back at him. 

Time to make camp.
 
He dropped his head with a huge sigh, Kid wasn’t cut out for this kind of life.  He’d have to find him a place; somewhere with a job maybe. 

Somewhere safe. 

Heyes knew, with more certainty than even Kid himself, that Kid’s life had hung on the width of a pair of worn-out, old leather gloves that afternoon.  If he hadn’t of snagged up the black’s bridle and pulled when he did, that big horse would never have made it up that bank. 

Kid would be gone.  

And for what? Just shy of five thousand dollars. 

No. 

It wasn’t worth it. The risks were too high. 

What he needed to do was ...join a much bigger gang …of real outlaws, and go after the really big pots! …Mine pay rolls!... Silver and Gold bullion! 

Heyes’ eyes danced with the possibilities.

But most importantly…
                   ….he’d be leaving Kid out of it.

---oooOOOooo---
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PostSubject: Re: Zero   Sat Jan 21, 2017 3:56 pm

Hey guys. This will be my first posted story to this site. I hope I've done this right. Forgive the title; it was the hardest part of this challenge.

BTW, has anyone noticed my avatar pic? It IS Ben Murphy.


The Uneasy Wait

Curry sat at the soiled gaming table closest to the tall windows at the front of the saloon. Each time the door opened, the bitter, zero degree winds sent a flurry of chills through him even as the heat of the big pot-bellied wood stove behind kept the rest of the room at a warmer, more tolerable temperature. 

Not that the saloon was enjoying a boon of patrons at the moment. Less than a dozen folks throughout, some were playing cards, some drinking, and a couple of others with their heads down on the table surfaces. Most likely asleep, Curry guessed. But all of them—like him—were just glad to be out of the frozen environment. He’d discovered early on that the owner of the establishment was an old widower who lived in the back otherwise the saloon would have been closed. By ordering a whiskey every day, it kept the barkeep off his back. But more often than not, the drink stayed untouched until Curry left at night.

Every day he’d come in to sit at this same table to stare out the same window to watch the weather around this wide-place-in-the-road town deteriorate. The first day he’d arrived the sky was cloudy but it had just been cold. The snow started to fall by the second. Now into the fourth day, the off-and-on snowfall was still coming down. And each day Curry’s level of worry piled on as deep as the white-out conditions outside. On his trip this morning, he’d trudged through snow almost to his knees. 

He ruminated on the unfortunate circumstances that had caused him and Heyes to split up three weeks ago. They’d agreed that once everything had calmed down, they would meet here. Curry looked back on the incident that had forced them to go separate ways and wondered if it had really been as bad as they’d first thought. 

He closed his dry eyes and ground the fingertips of one hand at his forehead in an attempt to rub away the headache developed there. Reflecting fondly on the tall dark vixen that had been the very cause for his delay, he cursed himself in the same thought for taking too long to leave her.

Janie had performed wonderfully torturous pleasures upon his body and made him forget his rendezvous with Heyes. Even upon realizing the fact that he was late and trying to pull his trousers on, she had been there pressing her warm, sweet, tantalizing body against him, her hands cool on the hot skin of his chest, her breathy, urgent whispers insisting he stay just a little longer…

Though delayed for three days, he hadn’t really worried because he knew his partner would wait for him. On the trip to town, in regard to the incoming frigid weather, he’d visited a mercantile to purchase a new set of long underwear and, although his funds had been short, had bought Heyes a trivial little thing as a peace offering, as it were, for showing up behind schedule.

The date of their arrangement had been Wednesday of last week. And every morning he’d brought the paper sack with him to the saloon to sit in the middle of the table in front of him. 

This all happened before he’d found the discarded newspaper and its ominous headline. 

The Notorious Hannibal Heyes, Dead.

Though chilled clear to his soul with this news, he knew it was a mistake. 

It had to be.

But Heyes should have been here already.

He reached into an inside coat pocket for the fragment torn from that inauspicious newspaper. He unfolded it and read through the article again. It said that Hannibal Heyes had been found trying to open a safe in the home of a wealthy horse baron. It claimed the old gentleman, fearing for his life, had shot and killed the intruder in self defense. 

But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t work it out. Wasn’t Heyes the one always trying to make sure he, Curry, stayed the course for their amnesty? It was miles off character for his partner to have been in that house and trying to open a safe. If it really had been him, what had he gotten himself into? What could have happened to force him to even be there?  

The article went on to say that, now as the hero of Wyoming for capturing and killing the famous Hannibal Heyes, the home owner could be awarded the hefty $10,000 reward.

But it also said the release of said reward was contingent upon the arrival of a certain unnamed law official who could confirm the identity of the body of the disreputable bandit.

Unnamed law official. 

There was one—and only one—lawman that could, without question, make that claim.

Lom Trevers. 

Curry had shot off a telegram to Lom as soon as he’d found the article. 

That had been five days ago. He still hadn’t received an answer.

He’d battled with relentless, internal question about heading north to find out the truth for himself: had Lom gone to Wyoming? Was that the reason Curry hadn’t heard from him? If the dead man wasn’t Heyes and he himself had seen the article, would he go all the way to Wyoming to meet up with Lom? But if Heyes had not seen the article, shouldn’t he have been here already? Curry already late for their scheduled arrangement to meet here, had Heyes thought Curry had gone to Wyoming and followed? But could Curry now hazard the trip and risk missing Heyes showing up here? 

Everything boiled down to the single, most important question.

What if the departed turned out to be the real Hannibal Heyes?

Curry studied the contents of the article again, his headache gearing up for a fresh assault. He cursed himself yet again. With so much doubt screaming, clawing around in his head, his indecision had kept him from taking quick action. 

As much snow as had accumulated out there already, it would be impossible for him to go the one hundred miles to Wyoming now anyway. No stagecoach, no train, no man in his right mind would attempt travel in this mess.

He drew another deep breath, lifting his head in the same motion. It was getting dark outside, the sun just starting to set.

Another day wasted. 

What do I do? 

There wasn’t anything he could do, but sit. 

And wait. 

And agonize. 

In the last few hours, he’d resigned himself to the fact that it might take months before he could get out of here to go anywhere.

Please don’t let Heyes to be dead, he prayed to whatever saints above.

Curry felt the burning sting in the back of his eyes forcing them closed. Briefly, he rested his head in his palm to hide his face. He sure didn’t need the mortification of someone accusing him of bawling like a baby for no apparent reason. It’d be too hard to explain the emotional turbulence going on inside of him without sacrificing his self-respect.

He blew out another hard breath. 

Damn.

All this thinking was making him crazy. 

There was a nice eating establishment down the way. Hopefully they were still open. He needed to get a hot, home cooked meal in his belly before he turned in for the night. Dropping his boots out of the opposite chair, he picked up the paper sack in the middle of the table, rolled the precious item up and stuffed it back into an inside pocket of his coat. He then downed his drink and turned for the door. 

****

Buttoning up his sheepskin coat, he stood on the boardwalk outside the eating house looking up and down the dark street. The snow had stopped and the town was still and quiet. Not a lot going on considering the weather. Though full of stew and hot coffee, he was tired but not yet ready for bed. He wondered what to do now. He hitched up the collar of his coat, jammed his gloved hands into the pockets, and started down the sidewalk along shadowy, empty storefronts.  

Seeking divine inspiration, he found himself doing something that he hadn’t done in a very long time; he aimed himself toward the church. Presently he found himself standing in front of the edifice looking up at the steeple. He could just barely make out the white peak against the dark sky. He climbed the four steps to the porch. 

The front door was locked. It didn’t really surprise him, considering Sunday was still two days away and it was so late at night, but he had really hoped to go inside and sit for a spell. He guessed, though, that being on solid holy ground was just as good as being inside. 

He leaned against the railing along the little porch and studied the empty street for a long time without any idea of what to do next.

Exasperated with himself, he shook his head. What was he doing here? Standing in front of a church in the freezing cold? He wasn’t much of a praying man, so what did he think was going to happen? Did he expect anything at all? A miraculously divine manifestation? Maybe some bright, unmistakable blessing from above? Would he even recognize it if it appeared to him?     

Just as he decided to leave, he was startled by the door opening behind him. He looked up sharply to find a middle aged man standing half out of the door with a surprised look on his face. Curry surmised him to be a minister or a preacher.

“Evenin’,” the fellow said.

“Evenin’,” Curry returned.

“Can I . . . help you?”

The genuine concern Curry realized in the man’s soft voice caused a fresh burn behind his eyes and he looked away. His initial intent was not to say anything, but the longer the man gazed at him, the harder the struggle for Curry to hold everything inside.

The preacher seemed to sense Curry’s hesitancy. He pulled the door closed behind him and then moved to the edge of the porch to stand beside him.

“Somethin’s troubling you,” the man said matter-of-factly.

Emotions too close to the surface, Curry continued to face the street as tears welled in his eyes. A moment later, he felt the warm pressure of the man’s hand on his shoulder. But he still couldn’t look at him. Already embarrassed enough to be seen weeping, he sure didn’t want to compound it by sobbing out loud like a whipped child.

He used both gloved hands to wipe the wetness away. “I—I think I’ve lost my best friend,” he said on a too high, too tight voice. “And I don’t know what to do.”

He heard the man pull in a long breath as if deliberating on an appropriate answer. Curry sure hoped he wasn’t about to quote scripture or talk about man’s doomed mortal soul. He’d heard that sermon too many times from too many reverends before.

“I’m sorry to hear that, son,” was what the man said instead, the gentle compassion in his tone just making it worse. “He was obviously a very good friend.” 

Curry’s eyes blurred. He had intended not to say anything, but words found their way to his mouth anyway. 

“More than a friend, sir,” he said slowly. “He was my cousin, but we were as close as brothers. Been together since we were kids. And when both our folks got killed, we hung on to each other for dear life. We supported each other, took care of each other.”

Without confessing certain details, their true names, or the notorious events of their past, Curry only revealed the closeness of their relationship. He told the reverend that he’d never believed they wouldn’t always be together, that he’d never planned anything after if anything happened to one of them. Curry depended on Heyes’s intelligence and his common sense, confident that he’d always keep them on the right track, trusting his judgment with his life.

He imagined Heyes might have planned for a future similar because he was always thinking, always preparing, always looking ahead and figuring out schemes and strategies. But now Curry was feeling lost, a little unsure of his future, unsure what he was going to do tomorrow, the next day, even the next hour. He felt as if he’d lost a vital part of what made up his mortal being without any idea how to get it back. 

“Is there any family left?” the preacher asked. 

Curry combined a shrug with a small shake of his head. “Not many, sir,” he admitted. “I don’t know if they’d ever want to hear from us again.” 

What he didn’t tell him was that the few relatives remaining back home had never been keen on the celebrity the two most famous outlaws in the west had thrust upon them. Still, he had to admit they’d need to be advised just the same, like it or not.

Curry drug a hand down his face and sniffed loudly. “Sir, I thank you for delaying your journey home on my account, but I realize it’s late and you’d like to be out of the cold. I want you to know how much I do appreciate that you’ve cared enough just to listen to my story.”

“It’s not been a problem, son,” he said. He offered his hand and Curry shook it firmly. “I’ll send up a prayer that you’ll find your friend.”

“Thank you, sir. Good night. You be safe going home.”

“God bless you, son. You be safe too.” 

Curry pulled in another shuddery breath as he watched the kindly reverend descend the steps and trudge off into the night toward home. He was a little surprised that he felt better. And the reverend hadn’t done anything but just let him talk. 

After a bit, Curry left the porch to make his way back to his hotel room.

****

Today was much like every other day had been. What bits of sleep he’d managed to get had been disturbed by dreams. Curry had awoken early, dressed, had a small breakfast, and then slogged his way back to the saloon. He ordered his usual drink. He situated himself at his same table and chair, both waiting as before, and pulled the crinkled, wadded sack of Heyes’s gift out of his pocket. He returned it to its place in the middle of the table alongside his untouched shot.

Several more uneventful hours passed. Curry knew—eventually—that he would have to leave here. Leave this town. Leave Heyes. Leave their old life behind. But how long should he wait? And where would he go? No particular destination came to mind. No job offers. No home. No sweetheart to go to for comfort. 

The only place he could think to go was to Porterville. To Lom. To see if he could tell him what had happened. To find out if he knew what they had done with Heyes’ body. Lom would understand Curry’s loss. Maybe give him a place to stay for a while. Maybe even give him some idea of what to do with the rest of his life.

After multiple nights of fitful slumber, being out in the cold, and now sitting in this dry heat, Curry was getting drowsy, his head heavy. Warm and dry, he dreaded trying to make the cold, damp walk back to that cold, empty hotel room. But no matter how hard he tried to stay awake, his exhaustion eventually won out. 

He slouched a bit in his chair, stretched out his legs and propped his booted feet into another chair, braced an elbow on the wooden armrest and supported his cheek against a fist. He closed his eyes, quite sure he’d feel better if he could just rest for a moment or two…

****

“Hey, Kid.”

Curry opened his eyes and blinked the figure above him into focus.

Heyes stood there beside him with his hands crammed down in the pockets of his coat. He grinned, and a mischievous sparkle lit up his coffee-colored eyes.

Curry wasn’t sure what he was seeing wasn’t a dream. “Heyes? Is it really you?”

His partner’s straight, dark brows came together and his head tilted slightly to one side. “Yeah. Who else would I be?”

Curry’s strength drained out of him as quickly and as completely as if he’d been a full vessel that someone had abruptly punched a big hole in the bottom. He wanted to put voice to all his pent up, passionate rage for all he’d been through in the last week and a half, but he was just too damn glad to see Heyes. Curry had to force himself to resist the enormous urge to yell, to laugh, to jump up and grab his partner in an enthusiastic bear hug. As weak with relief as he felt right now, he was afraid if he stood up he might tip right over onto his face. There were too many witnesses in the room and he was in no mood to embarrass himself. 

Also, he had to make him pay for worrying him so much.

“Where ya been, Heyes?” he chided quietly.

Heyes removed his chocolate brown Stetson and shook away the layer of snow dusting the brim. “Wyoming.”

“Then you saw the article, too.”

Heyes nodded and hummed an affirmative as he pulled up another chair, reached for Curry’s untouched drink, and downed it in one swallow. He then busied himself with brushing snow from the shoulders of his heavy coat. Wet, soggy gloves dropped with a splat onto the table. He rubbed the palms of his paled hands together before cupping them and blowing into them. 

Curry returned the nod. Heyes had gone north just as Curry had imagined he would. “You coulda sent me a wire lettin’ me know where you were,” he chastised.

“I tried.” Heyes hitched a shoulder, still rubbing his palms together to warm them. “The blizzard took the lines down.” 

That explained why Curry hadn’t received a telegram from Lom, either. “So how did you get here?”

Heyes laughed quietly. “It wasn’t easy, believe me. The train plowed through the drifts as best it could. It was slow going until we reached town just north of here. I hitched a ride with an old farmer headed home. Once we got to his place I bought a horse from him and rode the rest of the way here. Lom tried to talk me out of coming but I knew I had to come. For you.”

“Lom was there?”

Heyes turned his chair so that he could face the pot-bellied stove behind. He extended both hands, palms held out to the radiating heat before rubbing them together again. “Yeah. I kinda thought he would be since the Sheriff there had contacted him. It was kinda disturbing to see the dead guy, though. Same height, same weight, coloring.” A contemplative look crossed his features and his tone softened. “If I’d been anyone else, I might have thought I’d found Hannibal Heyes, too.”

“You saw him?”

“Mmhmm,” Heyes hummed, nodded, and glanced at him again. “Lom arrived almost at the same time I did. Real glad to see me, as you’d expect. Anyway, he invited me to go with him when he went to identify the poor fellow. Even though Lom already knew that it wasn’t me, he still had to go. Of course, the man who killed the guy tried to argue that it was Hannibal Heyes.”

“Afraid he wasn’t going to get the reward?”

“Pretty mad about it, actually. A big vein popped out on his forehead.” With a grin, Heyes pointed to a place just under his own hairline. “I thought he was going to have an apoplectic seizure of some kind right there in front of us. Me an’ Lom had a good laugh about it afterwards.”

Truly happy to see his friend so animated, Curry pulled in a long, slow relieved breath and blew out the last of his worry and tension with it. “I sure am glad to see you, Heyes.” 

“Glad to see you too, Kid. What’s in the bag?”

Curry’s gaze cut to the wrinkled, crumpled paper sack on the table. He’d forgotten all about it. “Oh, uh,” he said, remembering. “It’s for you. A gift.”

“Really?” Heyes reached for it. “For me?”

Curry nodded. “I found a store that stocked that chocolate candy you like so well.”

Heyes opened the bag and looked inside. “Well,” he said and looked up again, his brows rising in obvious surprise. “Thanks, Kid. I appreciate this. But I didn’t get you anything.”

Curry smiled and shook his head. “Doesn’t matter, Heyes. After sitting here for days starin’ at that stupid newspaper article, I’m just glad that…well…that you’re here. Alive and well. I sure wasn’t lookin’ forward to breakin’ in a new partner.”

Heyes studied him a moment. A half grin hitched one side of his mouth. “I know you, Kid. You’ve sat here and worried yourself sick, haven’t you? ”

“Yeah, well, I had no way of knowing you were okay, now did I?” Curry challenged, disgusted that it came out sounding like a petulant excuse from a school boy being chastised for a prank.

A thoughtful expression settled onto Heyes’s features. “Sorry, Kid. You really were worried, weren’t you?”

Curry dipped his head and fixed his focus on the toes of his boots still in the opposite chair. He blew off a hard breath. “Yeah.”

Heyes slowly filled his lungs to capacity. He released it just as slowly as he rolled the bag closed. “You know, Kid. I think I’ll save this until after I get something solid to eat.”

“There’s boiled eggs at the bar…”

“No,” Heyes denied with a chuckle. “I’m literally starving. Have you had supper, yet?”

Curry laughed at his friend’s engaging enthusiasm, feeling better than he had in days. “No, I haven’t. But I know the eating house down the way is open.” He felt a grin tease the corners of his mouth. “You can eat dirt cheap there.”

“But who wants to eat dirt?” Heyes responded on a chuckle as he rose to his feet.

It was an old joke between them, but it always made them laugh. Curry was glad to see his grinning friend hadn’t lost his completely normal, typical sense of humor.

Heyes had gone on. “Right now I want lots of hot coffee and a big hot plate of whatever’s cooking in the kitchen. Come on. I’m buying.”

Curry dropped his boots out of the chair onto the floor and carefully pushed himself upright. The strength had returned to his legs and his knees held him without shaking. With a grin, he slapped a hand to his friend’s shoulder. “I sure have missed you, Heyes.”

Heyes returned the grin with a sympathetic one of his own. “Missed you, too, Kid. Now let’s go get something to eat.”
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InsideOutlaw

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Posts : 480
Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 61
Location : Colorado

PostSubject: Re: Zero   Mon Jan 23, 2017 3:29 pm

A slight noise broke Hannibal Heyes’ concentration and he looked up from where he crouched in front of a safe, his hand on the dial.  “What?”  Rocking back on his heels, Heyes gave his partner his full attention. It was gloomy in the closed bank, but he could see the frown lines etching the Kid’s face.  


Curry dropped the curtain he’d pulled to one side with the barrel of his Colt and shrugged, “Nothin’.”


“You saw something.  What was it?”  


“I thought I saw something, but there ain’t nothin’ there.”  Curry waved his pistol.  “Get to work, Heyes.  You got less than fifteen minutes to find the last number or I’m yankin’ you outta here.”


“So quit interrupting me,” snapped Heyes, turning back to his task.  He couldn’t explain how edgy he was because, if he did, the Kid would hustle him out the door with nothing to show for the weeks they’d spent setting up this job.  Everyone was in place and everything was going to plan, so why was he antsy?  He’d awoken this morning with a nervous knot in his stomach and he hadn’t been able to shake it.  Instead he’d gone about his business feigning a calmness he wasn’t experiencing.  What else could he do?  He couldn’t call the job off, not with the gang slavering for a big payday.  Being leader meant you led.  If he called a job on account of nerves, he’d never hear the end of it.  Wheat would make damned sure he didn’t.  He hadn’t been leader long and the older outlaw hadn’t forgiven him for being chosen over him.  Then he’d brought the Kid in as his partner and things had gone from bad to worse between him and Wheat.  The two men had achieved a fragile peace based on the success of the new leadership but if Heyes showed any signs of weakness the gang would turn on him and the Kid like a pack of rapid dogs.   With an effort he forced himself to stop worrying and concentrate on the combination.


The Kid pulled aside the heavy drape again.  Why couldn’t he stop checking the street?  It’s not like the gang wasn’t covering this town like a wet blanket.  He could see Wheat across the street having a smoke outside the saloon and keeping watch.  Kyle and Lom were waiting by the stockyards with their mounts.   Hank and Lobo were out of sight and Preacher was on the roof, so why couldn’t he settle down?  He glanced again at Heyes.  His partner’s dark eyes were closed and his ear was pressed to the cold steel while nimble fingers manipulated the dial. Heyes was totally focused on the job at hand, so why wasn’t he?  All his senses told him everything was fine, but he couldn’t relax.   He had the same keyed-up sensation that always came before a gunfight.  Like life had slipped his control and death was snapping at his heels—their heels.  He’d wanted to say something, but what could he say?  He had a feeling?  Heyes might listen but the gang would laugh at him.  He was their leader, he couldn’t show fear.  He dropped the curtain and walked to the back door to re-check the bolt was thrown.  


A gurgle of joy made Curry turn back and watch Heyes pull the lever on the door and swing it open.  He could see by the light of the tiny miner’s lamp on top of the safe Heyes’ visage change from glee to shock a second before a string of expletives dropped from his lips.


“What’s wrong?  Grab the money and let’s get out of here,” hissed Curry.


Angry brown eyes swung towards him.  “What’s wrong is there’s no money to grab.”


“What d’you mean no money?”


“You heard me.  No money, none. Zero.  Nada.”  


Hurrying over, Curry looked over Heyes’ shoulder and into the barren safe.  “Where’s the money?”


“How would I know where the money is?!”  Heyes stood up and blew out the lamp so Wheat would know to signal Kyle to bring up the horses.  Brown eyes met blue as both men cried, “It’s a trap!”  Shots erupted outside and the front window smashed into shards.  


The Kid ran to the back door, his gun in his hand.  He threw open the bolt, yanked the thick door wide, but stopped short as a double-barreled shotgun jammed into his chest.  Heyes collided with him. 


“You’re under arrest!” yelled the bushy-mustached man behind the gun.  “Fenster, get their guns.”  A deputy slipped around the sheriff and took their weapons before pulling Heyes’ arms back and cuffing him.  Another pair of cuffs secured Curry.


A stained smile spread across the sheriff’s face.   “Welcome to Desperation, Wyoming, gentlemen, I hope you enjoy your stay.”  Cackling laughter accompanied Heyes and Curry to jail.


oooOOOooo


A dust cloud hung over the group of riders clustered at the crossroads.  “What the hell happened back there?” yelled Wheat.  


“It was an ambush!  They was waitin’ fer us.”  Kyle wrapped his reins around his saddle horn and pulled up his canteen.  As he drank, streams of water trickled down his chin and dampened his shirt.


Lobo and Hank said nothing, still gasping for air.  


Preacher galloped up and slid to a stop.  “The sheriff got Heyes and the Kid!  I saw it.”


“Dammit!”  Wheat scowled at him.  “Where’s Lom?”


“I…I don’t know.  I thought he took off with you all.”


“He was a ways behind me when the shootin’ started,” said Kyle. 


“So we’re down three men and we don’t have a dime to show for it.”  Lobo had finally found his voice and it was dripping with sarcasm.


As the ramifications sunk in, the men fell silent until Hank timidly asked, “Are we gonna go back for them, Wheat?  Big Jim always said you don’t leave men behind.  Heyes, too.”


“I know what they said!”  


“So?” 


“Shut up, Hank, can’t you see Wheat’s comin’ up with a plan?  It’ll be a good one, too,” said Kyle, encouragingly.


Wheat was working on a plan, all right.  He was trying to figure how the heck he was going to get out of this one.


oooOOOooo


Lom Trevors’ eyes opened slowly.  His vision was blurred and his right side radiated a hot pain.  He groaned as he rose to consciousness.


“Please don’t move.  You’ve been hurt.”  A young woman floated into his view and leaned over to tuck a blanket around him.


“What happened?” he asked groggily.


“You were caught in the crossfire.  Some men were robbing the bank and there was a lot of shooting.  The sheriff said you were coming around a corner when a stray bullet hit you.”


“A stray bullet?”  Lom was pretty sure the bullet was meant for him.  At least it should’ve been but the nurse seemed to think he was an innocent bystander.


“I’m not surprised you don’t remember.  It’s not bad, just a graze really, but you fell off your horse and you must’ve been kicked by accident.”  She gently brushed a lock of hair from Lom’s head, exposing an ugly bruise.   “You were lucky you weren’t killed.”


“Yes, ma’am.  Did they catch the outlaws?”


“The sheriff has two of them over at the jail.  The rest got away, but he went after them with a posse.”  She saw the blood drain from his face and mistook it for fatigue.  “I’m so sorry I’ve kept you talking.  You rest, get your strength back.  The doctor will be in to see you when he’s finished with his other patients.”


Closing his eyes, Lom played possum until he heard the young woman leave.  When he was sure she was gone, he sat up and reached for his clothes neatly folded on a chair next to the bed.  His head was swimming but he had to get out of here.


A tap at the door stopped his dressing.  “Sir, may I come in?” asked an elderly voice.  The door opened a crack and a gray, bespectacled head peered around it.  “Oh good, you’re up.”  The doctor eased into the room, sliding the door shut behind him.  “My daughter told me you were awake but you shouldn’t be on your feet.  You had a nasty blow.”


Lom thought frantically, pulling on his shirt and buttoning it, before he opened his mouth.  “Yes sir, I did, but I need to get going.  Those two horses have to be delivered before noon tomorrow and I’ve a long ways to go yet.  Won’t get paid if I’m not on time.” He finished, buckling his belt and grabbed his hat.


“I understand young man, but I must warn you, you are risking your health by such rash actions.”  The older man frowned to emphasize his disapproval but Lom simply smiled at him.  “Very well then, I’ve done all I can.  Pay your bill on your way out.  You can pick up your horses at the livery.  Justin charges two bits a day even if they were only there an hour or two.”


“Fair enough.  Thanks, Doc, for everything.”  Lom hurriedly shook his hand and left.


oooOOOooo


“Nobody knows the trouble I see, nobody knows my sorrow…” sang Kid Curry in an off-key manner.  Heyes sat on the bunk across from him reading the local newspaper.  


“Hey, listen to this:  Old Mr. Peterson was found passed out again behind the Kelly house.  Mrs. Kelly said it’s the third time this month and she reckons he owes her two dollars rent for sleeping it off on her grandmother’s best quilt.  The judge agrees.”


“You two pipe down in there.  A body can’t think for all the yammering from you yahoots,” yelled the deputy from the other side of the barred door.


“Glory Hallelujah!  Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down. Oh yes, Lord.  Sometimes I’m almost in the ground.”  Curry’s voice increased in volume with each word and Heyes rattled the newspaper as loud as he could while trying to contain his mirth.


“Oh, for Pete’s sake!”  The jangle of keys brought a hush to the two outlaws no amount of yelling would.  They both turned attentively to the door hoping for a chance to breakout, but Fenster stood in the threshold frowning at them.  “Think you’re funny, do you?  Well, the circuit judge’ll be here tomorrow, first Monday of the month, and then let’s see you laughing.  My bet is you two will be looking at five to ten for your little heist.”


“But we didn’t steal anything, Deputy,” said Heyes solemnly.  “What’re you charging us with, criminal trespass?”


“You a lawyer, Rembacker?  I hate lawyers.”  Fenster was scowling at them.  “You’ll be charged with attempted robbery, breaking and entering, and whatever else the sheriff can throw at your miserable hides to keep you locked up and outta good folks’ hair.  You got a complaint?  You can save it for the judge, I’m going on rounds and then I’m gonna have me a good meal.   You’d better be quiet by the time I get back.”


“Yes sir, Deputy, sir,” said the Kid earnestly.  He grinned at Heyes when the door slammed shut.  “I don’t think he likes us much.”


“There’s just no accounting for taste, is there?”


The front door to the office opened and shut and a silence fell over the jail.  Heyes counted to ten before he flipped over his bed and began working on loosening a spring.


“Ain’t no use, Heyes.  The wire’s too thick to break.  Too bad he found your lock picks.”


“Well, you can sit there doing nothing, but I’m gonna try to get us out of here because we both know Wheat won’t.”  The dark-haired man worked feverishly as his partner hummed gospel for the next half hour.  


“Psst.  Psst.”


“You hear that?” asked Curry.


“Hear what?”  Heyes stopped and listened.


“That hissin’ sound.”  


“Psst, Kid!  Heyes!”  Lom’s face appeared in the small, barred window of the cell.


“Lom! I knew you guys would come bust us out,” laughed Heyes, grabbing the bars and smiling at his friend.  The smile slipped from his face.  “You’re alone.  Where’s everybody?”


“I don’t know.  I got shot off my horse and woke up in the doc’s office a while ago.”


“Are you all right?” asked Curry.


“A little sore, but I’ll be fine.”


“Good, you get us outta here.  The deputy’s gone for a while.”  Heyes let go of the bars.


“I can’t.”


Curry stared at him coldly.  “Why not?”


“I don’t have any money to get the horses out of the livery.  I had to pay the doc.  Can you loan me a couple of dollars?”  Lom glanced over his shoulder but saw no one.


Heyes frantically patted his pockets.  “I don’t have any cash.  Fenster took my wallet and picks!  Kid, do you have any cash?”


“Not one red cent.”


“Nothing?  How could you ride around with nothing?”


“’Cause I like to spend it, Heyes.  Count me out, I’ve got zero dinero.”  He pulled out the lining of his pocket to make his point. 


“Argh!”  Heyes ran the fingers of both hands through his hair.  “Lom, get the horses.  Steal ‘em if you have to!”


Lom frowned. “I ain’t doing that, Heyes.”


“Why not?!”  Heyes’ voice was getting squeaky like it did when he was upset.  He face looked a little red, too.  “You’re gonna let the Kid and me go to prison because you suddenly got a conscience?”


“No.”  Lom glared back at him.  “Horsethieving’s a hanging offense.”


Curry smirked.  “Only if you get caught.”


“They’re OUR horses,” roared Heyes.


“I ain’t stealing them.  I’ll think of something.  I’ll be back.” Lom disappeared.


Heyes righted his bunk and sank down onto it, his head in his hands.  “Why me, Kid? Why?”


“I don’t know, Heyes.  I guess you’re just lucky that way.”


oooOOOooo


“What d’you see, Wheat?” asked Kyle reaching for the eyeglass but the bigger man lifted it beyond his reach.  The two outlaw were on the roof of a barn on the outskirts of town.  They had split up with the rest of the gang hoping to confound the posse.  


“Can’t see much of anythin’.  It’s too dark.  You’ll have to go in real careful-like.”


“Me?!  How come I go?”


“Because I’m leader now and I say so.”


“You ain’t leader.  Heyes’ leader.” Kyle spat a gob of chew at Wheat’s boots.


“Heyes ain’t here so I’m leader and I’m telling you to go in there and find out if they’re locked up in jail.”


“Where else would they be?” grumbled Kyle.  


“Just go!”


oooOOOooo


Curry was lying on his cot with the newspaper spread over his face to shield him from the light.  Heyes was still worrying his bedsprings hoping to make a new lock pick.


“Psst.  Psst.”


Looking up from his task, Heyes frowned.  "Not again.”


The Kid pulled the newspaper off before getting up and walking to the window.  “Lom, that you?”


“Lom?  It’s me, Kyle,” said a familiar voice.


“Kyle?”  Heyes came over.  


“Wheat sent me in to see if you were locked up.”


“Where else would we be?”  The Kid was straining to try to see the diminutive outlaw but Kyle was standing right under the window out of sight.


“That’s what I said!”


“Kyle, you need to bust us out tonight.  The judge’ll be here tomorrow.”  Heyes was beginning to pace back and forth across the length of the cell.


“Tonight?  I don’t think Wheat’s come up with an idea yet.  Where’s Lom?”


Heyes stopped in his tracks.  “How would I know where he is?!”


“Ain’t no need to get proddy,”said Kyle.  


“Go find Lom.  Get the horses and get us the hell outta here!” ordered Curry. 


“All righty, but it might be a spell.  It’s just me and Wheat.  The boys are keepin’ the posse real busy.”


“We don’t care how long it takes.  We ain’t goin’ anywhere.”  The Kid rolled his eyes at Heyes.   


“Can I use dynamite?” 


“I don’t care how you do it just get it done!” snapped Curry.  Both incarcerated men heard the rustles as their compatriot scrambled away.


Heyes went back and sat on the Kid’s bunk, leaning back against the wall of bars.  “We might be real sorry you said that.”


oooOOOooo 


Lom had gone back to the doctor’s office to explain his predicament.  With no money, he couldn’t make his deadline.  The elderly man took pity on the poor earnest cowpoke and gave him a dollar fifty discount on his services.  Hurrying back to the livery, Lom had paid the stableman as he was leaving for his evening meal.  Not wanting to miss his hot dinner, the man had left one door open and told him to saddle his own horses.


As Lom led Heyes’ horse out of his stall to join the other two tied up outside, a gun barrel pressed into his back.  “Hold it right there.  I’ll just be takin’ that horse.”  He recognized the voice behind the gun and spun around.  “You damned near gave me a heart attack!” 


Kyle grinned back at him.  “Lom, don’t this beat all?  Heyes told me to find you and get the horses.”


“They’re out?”


“No, we gotta bust ‘em out.  C’mon, Wheat’s waitin’ fer us.”


oooOOOooo


“The deputy’s back,” whispered Wheat, peeking around the corner of the alleyway.  He could see the lawman through the plate glass window.  Fenster was pouring himself a mug of coffee.  He put the pot back on the woodstove burner, sat down at the large oak desk and turned to pick up a sheaf of papers resting on top of the office safe behind him.  “Damn, he’s lookin’ through wanted posters.”


“Don’t matter, we can still blow the back wall wide open,” said Kyle.


“We ain’t blowing nothing without warning Heyes and the Kid.  They’ll need to take cover or we could blow them to bits.”  Wheat scratched his chin considering how he’d feel about that.  


Lom stood up.  “I’ve got an idea…”


oooOOOooo  


The bell over the front door jangled loudly as Lom walked in.  Fenster looked up from his paperwork surprised to have a visitor at this hour.  His hand slipped off the desk and came to rest on his six-gun as he stared at the tall, mustached man.


“Howdy, Deputy.  I’m here to fill out a complaint,” said Lom in an abnormally loud voice.  He was hoping Heyes and the Kid could hear him through the barred door to the cells.  They could and they pressed against the bars, listening.


“At this hour?  Couldn’t it wait ‘til morning?” 


“Well, no sir, it can’t.  I’ve got to be in Hartsville by 9 a.m.”


“You’re the cowpoke Doc patched up, ain’t you?”


“Yes sir, I am.”


“You got hit in the head.  Is that why you’re yelling?”


“I ain’t yelling, why’re you whispering?”


Fenster smiled.  “Have a seat, Mr. ….”  He indicated a chair pushed in the corner.


“Walters.  Sam Walters.  If’n you don’t mind, I’ll stand.  Tired of the saddle if you know what I mean.”  


“Suit yourself, Mr. Walters.”  Fenster pulled out a fresh sheet paper and a pen from the middle drawer of the desk.  “All right, why don’t you give me your statement?”


“Well, it was like this.  I was riding along, minding my own business and next thing I know I wake up in the doc’s office with a lump on my head and a hole in my side.”


“You didn’t hear the shooting?”


“I ain’t heard much of anything since the winter of ’69.”  Lom raised his voice even louder.  “That’s when my little brother, KYLE, blew out the BACK WALL of our barn with some of Pappy’s DYNAMITE for clearing fields.  Pappy whipped him something fierce.  Ol’ Kyle was UNDER HIS BED for the rest of the week.”


Heyes and Curry looked at each other, and then hurried to carry Heyes’ cot to the far wall next to the Kid’s.  Without a sound, they slid under the cots in their cell and pressed their fingers into their ears.


“I’m not sure what I can do for you, sir.  These men were in our custody by the time the lead started flying.  Whoever shot you, it wasn’t them.”


Lom walked over and peered through the barred door at the cells.  He could see his bosses hunkered down under the bunks.  Crossing to the desk, he pounded a fist on the corner.  “Are you telling me, those two crooks can waltz into town and BLOW my whole schedule, not to mention get me shot, and you can’t do nothing?”


“No sir, I’m afraid I can’t.”  Fenster was scowling now, defensive at being put on the spot.


“Well, then, I guess that’s that.”  Lom straighten and smiled before hurrying towards the door. 


Fenster stood up and followed him, ushering him out.  As he shut the front door on his odd visitor, the force of the explosion tipped over the oak desk and blew the barred door across the room where it landed at his feet.  The deputy stared down at it blankly, his ears muffled, and his mind dazed.  He swayed once, then twice, then fell face down on the floor.


oooOOOooo


“Tell us again, Lom!” cried Hank.


“I’ll bet that deputy’s ears are still ringin’,” laughed Lobo.


The gang was clustered around the bunkhouse table.  They’d lit a roaring fire in the woodstove and Heyes had brought out a couple of bottles of the good stuff to celebrate.  The only one not enjoying the moment was Wheat.  His brief stint at leader was a thing of the past and he had nothing to show for it.  Lom and Kyle had saved the day while he’d been left holding the horses.  Irritated and feeling left out, he came over to the table to grab a glass of whiskey.  “Don’t know why you’re all so happy.”


“We shook the posse and Lom and Kyle got Heyes and the Kid out, Wheat.  That’s something to celebrate,” said Preacher.


“Yeah?  And what do we have to show for it?  Nothing, that’s what!”  Wheat downed his drink and went back to his bunk to sulk.


Heyes grinned at the Kid and cleared his voice.  “Well, that ain’t altogether true…”  All eyes turned to him.  He picked up a saddlebag and tossed it onto the table.   Curry started unbuckling the straps while he continued, “So just where d’you think the sheriff put all that money he took from the bank for safekeeping?”  Eager smiles sprang to grimy faces and chuckles broke out.  “That’s right--he kept it in the big, beautiful safe in his office.”


With a laugh, the Kid pulled out bundles of bills and threw them on the table.  Cheers erupted.


Wheat sprang to his feet.  “That’s impossible!  You two weren’t in there long enough to crack that safe.”


The Kid grinned at him.  “Heyes didn’t need to crack it.  The sheriff had written the combo on the underside of his desk.  It was staring us in the face when we checked on the deputy.”  


oooOOOooo


It was long after midnight by the time the Kid and Heyes staggered out of the bunkhouse into the chill of the night and wove their way to the leader’s cabin.  


“Guess it’s all’s well that ends well, huh, Heyes?”  


“I don’t know, Kid.  I think I’m gonna have to have a talk with Lom about his honest streak.”


“Hey, he came through when we needed him.”  Heyes didn’t say anything for a while and Curry added, “C’mon, Heyes, that’s got to count for something.”


“It does, and I trust him, but it still worries me.”


The Kid threw an arm around his partner’s shoulder and squeezed him.  “Lighten up, Heyes.  Better we have Lom on the wrong side of the law with us so he’s not workin’ against us.”  Curry chuckled, “I mean what good would that do us?” 

_________________
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

“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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Distant Drums

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Join date : 2013-10-14
Location : Wherever the 'mooo'd takes me

PostSubject: Re: Zero   Tue Jan 31, 2017 6:06 pm

A Hero Not A Zero

He's always there, hard times to share
How I feel, what I need, and what I should do
Watching my back, supporting my plans
With a keen eye and a fast hand.
I'm lucky I have the person I have
Not a brother, but almost part of me
He’s been there most of my life
He's there for me through thick and thin
Wherever, whenever and whatever
So many stories relate to my life and him
Not enough to tell him that I love him
Says he's not the greatest and we both deserve better
He says we need to be better
He doesn’t berate, he doesn’t bully
He waits for me to see the sense for myself
Makes me laugh when he smiles
And worry for the future
Because I watch his back too
But with less expertise
The man is a hug that'll last forever
Protector, friend, and family in one
There's no place I'd rather be
Than sharing a drink and a story with you
I look to the future and see it looks bleak
Unless we take action and make a change
We’ll live by the bullet until it’s too late
The old lady brought the flyer
He brought the idea and made it sound possible
He even took the side door while I sold it to Lom
We now have a hope, and a future down the line
If we stay out of trouble, and that’s a good deal
This is for you Kid
For always having my back
This is for the real hero
Now it’s my turn to look out for you.

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Rome wasn't built in a day, but some of it was.  Like a bit of a wall or a chunk of a bridge.
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Remuda

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Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 41

PostSubject: Re: Zero   Wed Feb 01, 2017 2:12 am

Rattled


That night, time stood still, and our world stopped.

We had just arrived in town and didn’t know the sheriff.  It looked like a nice enough place.  I got a hotel room while my partner took the horses to the livery.  After settling in, we decided to clean up before sampling what the town had to offer.  The trail dust was thick and the bath house down the street.  It’s almost like a baptism every time:  the grime gives way to clean, in body and mind, and the spirit is lightened.  We both seem to think clearer when we’re not carrying around a few extra pounds of dirt.

Being flush from our last delivery job for the Colonel, we dropped our trail clothes off with the laundress and headed to the café.  I was feeling particularly generous for some reason, so the steak dinners were on me.  I told Kid he could take care of the cigars and drinks later.  We ate heartily, even took time for a nice bottle of wine.  Foraged game over a campfire is fine for the trail, but in town we hope to leave the roughness behind.  Civilization is about the finer things, the more gentle ways.

Speaking of gentle, after an unhurried supper, we moseyed over to the nearest watering hole.  The establishment had an air of genteelness about it, or at least as much as a gambling hall and saloon could.  The fairer sex seemed more carefree and not as hard as in some places we’ve come upon, almost like they had to meet certain requirements of respectability to work there.  The ones who served us seemed pretty smart, and you’d think they’d have made a good living as schoolteachers and led a respectable life.  It’s doubtful the more respectable ladies in town would consider these saloon creatures on a par with them, but they might one day if they met the right man.  One who came over was able to discuss the finer points of poker with me and when prompted even gave us a rundown on the different dealers.  This one I could be interested in – if the time ever came where I could consider settling down, that is.

So, after a bit of relaxation and watching the various tables, a couple of spots opened up at one table in particular.  The players seemed friendly enough, and the dealer fair.  Kid and me, well, we have an arrangement when we play the same game.  We communicate silently between us, and no one’s ever the wiser.  If he’s dealt what looks like a winning hand, he’ll let me know, and depending on mine, I’ll fold or let him know mine’s also got possibilities.  But if both of us think we have what it takes to win, we’ll draw and see what the extra cards reveal.  We also want to make sure no one suspects either of us, so we’ll take turns winning and losing and letting the other players win a few – but just a few, if I can help it.

We’re amiable sorts too, although some might have trouble with that notion.  After all, even though we’re doing our damndest to stay out of trouble to get amnesty when the governor deems it politically expedient, we are wanted men.  The bounties have swelled over time to $10,000 apiece, wanted dead or alive.  The most successful outlaws in the history of the West, we’ve been called.  Yes, I admit to being a genius and Kid is probably the fastest draw out there, but we’re still just men who want to go straight.  Of course, Kid has to hide the fact that he’s as good as he is, often with reminding from me, so when he has to pull out a gun when others are around, Thaddeus Jones tries to be an okay shot, but nothing special.  Truth be told, I’m no slouch either, but Joshua Smith rarely pulls a gun.  Smith does the thinking, and the other fella follows along.  Kid might tell it differently, though.

So back before I took off on that tangent, like I said, we were at this table, and the conversation flowed.  We had a banker, a couple of ranchers, and the owner of the general store, all apparently successful and leading citizens of this town.  We told them we were retired from the banking and railroad business and now served as security consultants.  Well, it’s not exactly true, maybe, but not technically a lie, either.

The drinks flowed and play continued.  Talk of business turned to more personal matters.  One gent had just sent his son off to college back East, while another allowed how he hoped to win enough to augment the dowry for his daughter, who was due to marry the mayor in the next couple of weeks.  Kid gave me that steely-eyed gaze of his when I began as to how my partner had once or twice found himself almost married to a mayor’s daughter himself.

At one point the sheriff came in and joined our game for a few hands.  His interest in us as strangers in town waned with an introduction from another of the players, who gave him a brief rundown of our professions as if he’d known us for a long time, never mind the acquaintance being but of short duration.  It obviously doesn’t hurt to play with the important men in town.

After the sheriff got up and left to continue his rounds, we played on for another hour or so, the same half dozen of us plus the dealer.  Sure, we took a break here and there to stretch, refresh, and step out back to attend to business before continuing.  We could get used to this kind of Saturday night.  Maybe one day.

We finally agreed to play until midnight.  It seemed fitting, given as to how the establishment had just sounded last call with a half hour to go.  Five minutes later, though, the jovial atmosphere was disturbed by a disheveled young whelp followed by a lady of the night in her bloomers.  From the looks and smell of them, they’d had way too much to drink and he had trouble holding his liquor.  She nagged on about how he hadn’t paid her.  Well, Lord knows Kid and me have spent enough time with enough ladies to know you pay up first and enjoy after.  This one sounded like he’d wanted one on the house.

So, before anyone could react, the young whelp started a scene with one of the ranchers at our table.  They got loud.  The young’un reached in front of the gent and grabbed a handful of money and threw it at the girl.  She yelled something and stomped out.  Meanwhile, the rancher stood and said to the whelp as to how he should get home and they’d talk there.  Things escalated, and the sheriff returned.  Kid and I stayed as calm as we could, but I could see his right hand at the ready, just in case.  Our eyes met and I willed him to stay calm.  After all, the sheriff didn’t know us, had no beef with us, and had no reason to suspect us.  But, wanted men always have to be on guard.

Just when the rancher had his whelp of a son calmed down and the man sat down to resume the game, the young’un pulled out a gun.  He waved it around but a second in our direction before two shots were fired.  Kid had his Colt in his hand, but rather than the steely gaze most fear, his eyes were wide in shock.  And in the split second it took me and others to realize what had happened, mine were too.

The rancher who sat opposite me and two over from Kid lay forward on the table, a bullet in his back.  The town doctor ran over and pronounced him dead.  His own gun still in hand, the sheriff knelt over the whelp, a finger to his neck.  He shook his head and sighed:  his own aim had found its mark.  However, spying my partner with gun in hand, the sheriff walked to him, motioning for the Colt.  Kid handed it to him with mouth agape in confusion.  Thinking it prudent to not give anyone any reason to suspect me, I left my hands in plain sight, although every fiber in me wanted to get the hell out of there.

The entire scene was unreal, to say the least.  The confusion didn’t last long, though, because the sheriff smelled the barrel of Kid’s gun and handed it back to him.  He did likewise with one other fella at the next table.  Kid let out a breath and looked at me.  We were, though, still in shock.  Things being what they were, the sheriff ordered everyone out and the saloon closed.

We had trouble sleeping that night.  The picture of the amiable rancher we’d played poker with for hours lying face down and shot in the back by his own son haunted us.  What had caused the whelp to go off like that; whether there was some underlying, simmering something between them, we’ll never know.  He’d had too much to drink, that was obvious.  But that he pulled a gun on his own father and didn’t hesitate to shoot him in the back – that got to us.  We, alleged hardened criminals who just happened in our heyday to give in to the larceny that stays mostly hidden in all of us, were shook to the core.  Whether the drink made him do it or as some said, he really had zero regard for life, will remain a mystery.

Weary from too little sleep, we hauled ourselves down to the café the next morning for breakfast.  The whole town felt different somehow.  It was Sunday and most were in church.  Sure, our folks had looked to the Good Book for comfort and made sure we were versed in it, too.  But here, after years of ignoring how we were brought up, we were tempted to step inside as well.

Unable to shake what we had witnessed the night before, we rode out later that day.  Through our whole outlaw past, we’d never seen anything like that.  We’d had guns drawn on us, been shot at, tied up, in jail, and all that goes with thieving.  All that, like it or not, went part and parcel with the lives we led.  But that night, that was something once in a lifetime for us we never want to witness again.

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Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. ~ Wyatt Earp
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