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 Last Laugh

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PostSubject: Last Laugh   Sat Apr 01, 2017 9:33 am

This month's prompt come courtesy of Javabee and it's a goody,  It's time for you to give us your best take on the prompt, be it funny, angsty, mysterious, or action-packed, in between 150 and 4,000 words. Your topic is:

lol! Last laugh  roll laugh
Don't forget to comment on last month's stories before starting as comments are the only thanks our writers get.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Laugh   Wed Apr 12, 2017 11:46 am

Here is my contribution. Enjoy!




Last Laugh


The two men pulled their wheezing horses to a halt on the rise. The excited animals stepped nervously about as the tired companions tried to hold them still long enough to search the path behind and below. 


The visible cloud of dust was still a mile or so away. Heyes swore under his breath. “Damn.”


“They’re still there?” Kid Curry asked on a high, nearly breathless whisper. His throat felt as raw as if he’d swallowed a handful of bent, rusty nails. “Dammit, Heyes. No matter what we’ve done, pulled every trick we know, we can’t seem to shake ‘em. What are we gonna do?”


“What we’ve been doing, Kid,” his cousin rasped, his own voice hoarse. “Keep running.”


“But we’ve been at this for days.” Curry swatted at a nagging fly buzzing circles around his head. “How much longer can we keep it up?”


“For however long it takes.” Heyes blew out a hard breath. “Not like we have much of a choice.” 
Curry studied the smudges of exhaustion beneath Heyes’ sunken eyes; he bordered near depletion. He didn’t feel in any better shape than his friend looked. With little food and even less sleep in the last seventy-two hours, it was clear they wouldn’t go much further before one or both of them finally collapsed. 
But as Heyes said, they didn’t have much of a choice. They had to keep moving. Heyes glanced at the distant cloud of dust again and straightened his foamy but agitated buckskin again. He crammed the black Stetson further down on his head and heeled the horse forward. Curry followed close behind. Wherever this posse came from, and whoever was leading them, they had been the most persistent and determined lawmen they had ever encountered. And also the most dangerous. It had been only a few hours ago that the ex-outlaws had stopped to water the horses in a clear running stream. They hadn’t more than knelt down to fill their canteens when a shot rang through the trees. In the next instant they were in their saddles and away. Curry knew it had been a very close call. It also told him that those in the posse weren’t the least bit concerned whether Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were taken back in their saddles or across them.


They rode until their animals were frothy with sweat before finally drawing them up to rest. Heyes took a short swallow of tepid water from his nearly empty canteen and handed it to Curry. He extracted his field glasses from his saddlebags and stood stiff legged in the stirrups. With the binoculars in both hands, he growled in disdain as he studied the view of the trail behind him. 


“Damn,” he swore softly. “They’re still there. Who the hell are these guys?”


 Curry swatted at the ever present buzzing around his face. The thing had bitten him twice already in the last few seconds. He was not only exhausted and irritated; he was in pain as well. 


Heyes lowered the binoculars. “What’s wrong?”


“Damn snipe fly.”


“What?”


Curry swung at the unseen pest as it buzzed by his ear again. “A snipe fly. What Uncle Ern used to call deer flies.” He searched the air to target an aim on the pest. “And they bite like the dickens.” 


“Well, just kill it.” 


“Dammit, Heyes!” Curry shot back harshly, this time swinging both hands when the insect zipped by again. “You think I haven’t tried?” 


He saw Heyes’ focus follow the quick dart of the fly around his head. He lowered his gaze and nodded a 
quick single time. “All right,” he said, redirecting his attention. He indicated the direction of the posse with a lift of his chin. “I think they’re losing ground,” he said, stuffing the field glasses back into the saddlebags. “If we move now, I’ll bet we can lose them before dark. We might even be able to get a decent night’s rest.”


“I’m all for that, Heyes,” Curry said on a sigh, scratching at a bite on his throat. “I don’t think you, me, or 
these horses are gonna go much further.”


****


Even after the sun descended beyond the horizon and plunged them into the darkness beneath a moonless sky, they continued to push forward until it became too dark to see. They agreed they were in a place safe enough to stop and rest. Silently, they walked their horses into a small clearing surrounded by thin trees and thick brush.


Curry groaned wearily when his feet touched down. He affectionately stroked the sweaty neck of his weary roan. “Sorry, big fellah,” he whispered. “You’re gonna have to keep your saddle on for one more night.” 


He looked around. Although almost too dark to make him out, he could tell Heyes had also dismounted, but facing the buckskin and clutching the cantle and horn with both hands. His forehead rested against the saddle.


“Heyes?” Curry whispered. “You all right?”


Heyes’ subsequent sigh sounded hollow in the darkness. “Yeah, Kid,” he said. “A little dizzy is all.”


Curry reached out and gripped his friend’s shoulder in one hand. He squeezed firmly but gently. “Then I’ll take first watch.” 


He heard Heyes issue another sigh and felt the rigidity of his shoulder diminish beneath his hand. “Thanks Kid,” Curry heard just above a whisper. “Wake me in a couple of hours.”


Curry nodded but wasn’t sure Heyes could even seen the movement. Not that it mattered. Heyes turned away and took two steps toward the nearest tree. His dark silhouette then slumped against it and slid to the ground. 


Curry gathered the reins of both horses and fastened them to a handy thick branch. He then slipped his rifle out of the scabbard and instinctively checked the safety. Though yearning for the light and comfort of a fire, he knew one was a luxury they could ill afford. The posse was too close behind. He moved to a nearby tree and squatted down. With the rifle held loosely before him, he studied his partner slouched at the base of the tree across the tiny clearing from him. He took comfort in the sound of Heyes’ deep and regular breathing. With so little rest in the past few days, it didn’t surprise him his friend had succumbed so quickly to his used up body. Despite how fatigued he himself felt, he was determined to stay awake. 


He fought back a yawn, failed to subdue it, finally gave into it. So expansive was the yawn that his eyes watered. His hands left the rifle on his knees long enough to rub his face briskly. The temptation of sleep was strong at the edge of his alertness. But he couldn’t fail Heyes. It was his job to keep them safe. The Kid then scratched absently at one of the many swollen bites on the back of his wrist. If there was only one true advantage to the darkness, it was that damn snipe fly was gone. 


****


“Kid, wake up!” Heyes’ voice whispered harshly in his ear.


The instant Curry’s eyes snapped opened, he saw it was daylight. He flung himself upright. It would take hours to determine each emotion that flitted through him in the twinkling of the moment he realized that he’d fallen asleep at his post. “Heyes, I’m sor—”


“Sh-h!” his partner hissed urgently. “Get up. They’re nearly on top of us!”


Curry swallowed hard. Regrets and apologies would have to come later. Their immediate dilemma demanded priority.


Heyes helped him to his feet. With hand signals and urgent whispers, in fleeting seconds there was a reciprocal, if regretful agreement the horses had to be sacrificed. The posse was too close to make a run for it. Quickly stripped of bedrolls and saddlebags, and with a sharp slap on each of their rumps, the horses went on their way. With one last strong but brief feeling of remorse after the departure of what might have been their only chance of escaping, Curry scurried after Heyes for shelter. The low-lying underbrush was thick on this part of the mountain. Although aware of any number of snakes or vermin hidden within the camouflage of vegetation, they were too desperate for quick sanctuary; their utmost desire to be out of sight won out over the regard of their natural cautiousness. They fell down onto their bellies to crawl through the dead leaves and prickling needles of the composting forest floor. They stilled, hoping, praying their concealment in a depression beneath the dense foliage would be enough. The approach of dozens of hoofs beat the ground around them. Curry buried his face deeper in the dirt and leaves. Despite the hammer of his heart, he held his breath in wild fear of being heard. Later, it would be hard for him to say if he’d ever been more terrified. The group of lawmen slowed their animals as they came into the clearing. Waves of acid welled up in Curry’s empty belly when a distinct creak of leather and the soft plop of boots in the loose soil told that two men had dismounted to check the area. 


The nagging snipe fly that had so doggedly bothered him yesterday buzzed a half dozen loud circles around his ear. Curry felt it land on the bare skin at the back of his neck. He began to sweat. He tried to brace himself for what he knew was coming. 


It bit hard. Curry’s muscles tightened throughout his body. He ground teeth and fought the almost involuntary urge to slap at it. But any movement in the dry leaves of their alcove would give them away. He could do nothing but endure the agony inflicted by this tiny, vicious assailant.Then there was a sudden relief of a firm, warm hand placed gently at the very site of his attack. Curry’s eyes snapped open. Heyes’s face was so buried in leaves Curry could see only one of his deep, dark orbs staring back at him. He could also see the edge of his slightly lopsided grin that told his partner had realized what was happening to him. Heyes left his hand in place on his neck as the posse searched the area.In the few moments that seemed to feel like forever, Curry listened as the lawmen grumbled amongst themselves. He heard them discuss alternatives, sounding every bit as exhausted as he and Heyes hidden only a few feet beyond. Someone alerted the others they had found two sets of hoof prints heading west. Heyes and Curry couldn’t have been gone any more than a minute or two. The lawmen mounted their horses again and sped off in the westerly direction indicated. 


As soon as the posse left the clearing, the two of them clambered out of their burrow.
 
“How many you figure?”


“Twenty too many,”


They turned in the opposite direction and headed down the mountain on foot to more level ground. 


****


An hour later, they were sore from walking, but confident the posse was a comfortable distance behind them. Still, they had no idea where they were going or what they were going to do.


Curry’s persistent pest continued to torment him. He swore and slapped at his shoulder when the fly bit through his shirt into tender flesh. “Heyes, it’s not biting you. What is it that keeps the stupid thing after me?” 


Heyes grinned as his focus followed the tiny black entity flying tight circlets around Curry’s head. “Maybe you’re just too sweet for your own good.”


Curry glared at him. He swung at the air again. “Then maybe again it just likes you.”


Kid scratched at a new welt on his forearm. “If you’re not gonna help, just shut up.”


“Could be that you’re just too slow—”


“Did it occur that maybe you just stink too badly for it to want you, Heyes?” Curry glowered at his partner’s irritating smile as he readjusted the cumbersome saddlebags to cover his recently chewed shoulder. 


The pair was silent as they concentrated on walking. It didn’t take long for Curry to feel poorly about the incident that nearly got them caught. “Ah…Heyes?”


Heyes drug a dry sleeve across his sweaty forehead. “Yeah?”


“Sorry about falling asleep on you last night.”


“Don’t worry about it, Kid. Neither one of us were in any shape to stay awake last night.” The smile Heyes turned to him was pleasant and forgiving. “At least we got some rest. With a little luck, maybe more than the posse did.” 


Curry chuckled. “I guess we did at that. It’s just that I hate being woke up like—” Distracted suddenly, he frowned and slapped at the air again. “Damn fly,” he growled.


His attention concentrated in the air above him, the toe of a boot caught against a rock and he stumbled.   
Heyes caught him by the upper arm, preventing him from tumbling to the ground face first. Curry saw his partner’s gaze focus on the fly. His free hand slowly rose and he smacked soundly at a place on Curry’s neck. 


Heyes’ smile broadened as he pulled the hand back to show his open palm. Along with a smear of Curry’s own blood, the black crushed body and brightly colored wings of the accursed snipe fly lay in his hand. “Told ya you were too slow,” Heyes said. A deep rumbling chuckle began to percolate in his chest. Curry fought against a grin, but couldn’t help himself and joined him.


****


They walked. Another half hour passed.


A familiar buzz went by his ear. Curry abruptly snapped his head up. “Did you hear that?”


Heyes froze in his tracks. “What?” 


Curry scrutinized the air above him again. “It can’t be. It’s that—it’s another fly!”


Heyes released his breath in a huff and his stance relaxed. “Is that all? He slapped an open hand over his heart. "Kid, don’t scare me like that.”


Curry searched the air. He finally spotted it. “Well, if that don’t beat all. It is another snipe fly.” 


He saw a suspiciously mischievous grin cross his partner’s face. “Maybe he sent word to his family how good you taste—”


“Don’t start that crap again.”


“What’d I say?” Heyes defended with mock innocence. Curry could hear the smile in his words and glared at him. “Just keep your mouth shut, will ya?” He bared his teeth and swung an unsuccessful aim at the persistent fly.


Heyes shook his head and chuckled. Something suddenly snagged his attention and his feet came to a dead stop. Curry instantly froze in place. He stared at his friend in anticipation of the worst. 


Heyes’ head tilted to one side, obviously listening for something in the distance. He glanced at the Kid. “Hear that?”


Curry listened beyond the buzz in his ear. He felt a smile spread his face as he recognized the sound. “A 
river.”


Heyes’ chocolate eyes twinkled as he grinned. “Which means?” 


“Water.” Curry brightened. “And food.”


They allowed the clean, fresh smell and the rushing sound of the river to lead them, catching glimpses of white crested peaks beyond the stand of narrow trees. They stepped out of the edge of the forest into a small meadow. The land gently sloped to the water’s edge shaded by a tall, old cottonwood tree that stood alone. Smooth creek stones lined the embankment of the quick running course. The waning day’s sun had just began do dip below the canopy of distant trees, casting the area into the cooler shadows of the late afternoon, and tall golden grasses growing in the clearing bowed to the light, gentle breeze as if a giant hand swept across them.


Curry, in a better mood than he’d been in days, absently waved off the nagging snipe fly. He stood there with his partner taking in the serenity of the view. He grinned. “Ain’t that just about the prettiest thing you ever saw?”


Heyes grinned back. “Up for some fishing, Kid?”


****


With a bit of luck combined with determined perseverance, he and Heyes dipped bare hands into the water and efficiently flipped several fair-sized fish onto the bank. Curry built a small, smokeless blaze. Fabricating a spit out of a stiff green branch from the cottonwood to cook them, and with a quick slit of a knife to clean out the viscera, it didn’t take long for the air to be filled with the delightful aroma of their catch. They were soon able to fill their empty, growling bellies. 


“Heyes,” Curry said around a mouthful of food. “I don’t know if it’s because I was starving, or if your cooking is improving—” He took a moment to swallow “—but I believe this is the best fish I’ve ever tasted.”


“Kid, my cooking has never been that bad,” Heyes said with a smile. “You’ve simply matured enough to appreciate it, that’s all.”


“Hold it right there, gentlemen.”


Kid Curry shot to his feet and spun, pistol in hand and cocked in the same movement. Standing just outside the rim of forest were a row of horses and their twenty riders. The sun glinted off burnished badges pegged to chests. Guns were already drawn and trained straight at them. Over the roar of the river, the diligent, relentless posse that had chased Curry and his partner so stubbornly for the last several days had managed to come up on them without being heard. The muscles in his belly tensed at the sight of all those lawmen. Curry swore a bitter oath. They had let their guard down enough to allow themselves to be caught. Their hard efforts to elude them had been in vain. Vainly pathetic efforts, he thought. He noted that his and Heyes’ horses were in their possession.


“Hands in the air, Mr. Curry,” one of them ordered. “And you, Mr. Heyes. On your feet.” 


Curry slowly raised the muzzle of the pistol in the air. Not only do they know who we are, they even have our Names right. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the snipe fly land on the back of his gun hand. Before he could react to it, the fly bit into soft, tender flesh between the first two knuckles.


He automatically jerked his hand away. But in doing so, his trigger finger twitched, firing the still cocked pistol. The thunder of the unexpected shot echoed across the quiet, grassy meadow. The bullet shrieked skyward into the leaves of the cottonwood tree. 


Startled, every rifle and pistol raised, hammers cocked back. 


Before any one of the posse members had a chance to respond with a volley of panicked firing in what would likely be misconstrued as an aggressive act, Heyes, the only one with any inclination as to what just happened, lunged forward. He stepped between Curry and the posse, hands raised and palms forward in a frantic gesture of surrender. 


“Whoa! Whoa!” he yelled. “Accident! It was an accident!”


“Like hell it was!” cried one of the men, lodging the stock of his long rifle into his shoulder and sighting a 
direct aim at them. “Throw it away, Curry!”


Heart pounding, Curry did exactly what he was told. He then thrust his empty hand back in the air.


“No! No! It was an accident!” Heyes insisted. 


Curry silently blessed his partner. At the moment, he couldn’t think even to speak.


In his smooth-talking manner Heyes continued to plead. “Surely you guys see that pesky deer fly flying around his head? The thing’s been bugging the devil out of him for the last couple of days. Look!” He stepped back and pointed at his partner’s face. “You can see red marks all over him!”


The men in the posse thankfully began to listen to Heyes. Appearing to actually scrutinize the numerous red welts on Curry’s neck and arms and face, they looked a little amused. Their defensive stance relaxed somewhat.
 
“Well I’ll be,” one of them remarked and then laughed. “You know it’s a real shame to find out a man with a reputation like Kid Curry’s can’t even control how he handles his own gun.”


“And all because of a dumb old fly!” added another.


Curry scowled. His face grew hot. The muscles in his temple flexed from grinding his teeth. But he kept his mouth shut. 


He heard a rustle of leaves high in the trees above him. A quick glance upward revealed nothing. He resumed his glare at the men before him. 


“Yeah,” another joined in with a chuckle. “Seems the legendary Kid Curry ain’t as good with a gun as they say he is.”


A ripple of laughter skimmed through the assembly. Curry traded a laconic glance with Heyes but continued to stand quietly with his hands in the air. 


There was a small crash high above their heads, and then more rustling of leaves. Curry wasn’t the only one who heard it. Several faces turned upward looking into the green denseness of the tree. It was obvious something big was falling. 


“I see it,” one of them said excitedly. “But I can’t tell what it is.”


A different man issued a bawdy laugh. “What did you do, Curry? Shoot us down a squirrel for our dinner?”


He turned in his saddle to address the others. “Gawl-ee,” he affected. “Weren’t that just awfully nice of him, fellers?”


Obnoxious, ribald laughter made another round. He and Heyes remained motionless and silent. There was another crash of limbs, closer. Whatever the thing was, it was clearly large. Another rustle of cottonwood leaves was followed by a brief moment of silence. All eyes were turned skyward, everyone quiet in mutual anticipation and understanding that whatever was falling was now free of limbs and was about to appear.


The leaves parted. 


A giant, gray hornet’s nest fell into the lap of the posse member at the front of the group. A hundred tiny spasms flitted across his face. His eyes, transfixed with fascinated horror, grew as large as saucers. He didn’t move, and it appeared he couldn’t speak. But his throat began to bob up and down like a piston on one of those newfangled machines Curry had seen once at a county fair. There was a moment of silence. “Well, gall darn,” one of them said in reverent awe. “He really is that good—” 


As if on cue, the furious tenants of the hornet’s nest began to exit their home in a surge. The unlucky fellow holding the nest found his voice. He began to scream loud enough to scare birds from neighboring trees. Curry recognized the nest the second it fell into the man’s hands. He also wanted no part of it whatsoever. Having been repeatedly bitten for the last couple of days by one stupid fly, he had no intention of being stung by a swarm of mad hornets.


As soon as the man began to shriek, Curry spun to his counterpart. 


Heyes’ stare at the hornet’s nest was the same slack-jawed look of dumb wonder the rest of the men wore. 
If Curry had had the time, he would have thought the moment was hilariously funny and hee-hawed right out loud. But he didn’t feel much like laughing. 


Instead, he slapped an open hand onto his cousin’s chest, clenched the front of his vest tightly, and literally jerked him off his feet as he spun them around to the river in a dead run. As ill fate would have it, the huge paper nest had wedged itself between the man’s crotch and saddle horn. The Poor soul didn’t have any choice but to physically pick it up to remove it from his lap. Tears streamed down his face and he wailed mournfully when it momentarily hung on the tip of the horn. 


It came free at last and he threw it on the ground. But he was already covered with stinging hornets. Still screaming, he jerked the reins of his terrified animal. The man turned it and aimed it down the center of the group in a gallop. This action only served to send hornets not attached to man or horse in vengeful pursuance of all nearby prey. Loud, hysterical caterwauling punctured the tranquility of the clearing. Hands smacked frantically against clothing and skin. Horses brayed and stomped the ground in panicked alarm. A hundred frightened birds perched in the trees cried out and took flight. Several ineffectual shots were fired. Raw, high pitched voices called out for the Almighty God to save them, swearing, being the most noticeable and most loudly exclaimed. 


Safely submerged in the river for several moments, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry slowly raised their heads no Higher than chin deep above of the surface of the water. From this position, they watched the wild commotion on the bank. 


“Look at ‘em go, Kid!” Heyes chortled with quiet excitement.


Curry stared, shaking his head slowly. “I can’t believe he actually caught the durn thing.”


“I can’t believe you actually shot the durn thing down!” 


Curry looked at him. “Heyes, did you hear what that fella said? They all think I did that on purpose.”


“So?” Heyes began to laugh. “Let ‘em! I know it sure scared the heck out of me. I guess we got the last laugh out of this one, didn’t we, Kid?”


Curry didn’t outwardly acknowledge his partner, but considered the sentiment. Though glad the hornets had taken care of the entire posse band with Curry only firing a single shot—albeit accidental—he couldn’t help but feel sorry for the painful assault on innocent horses.


He and Heyes remained in the river until they were sure every member of the posse had fled the area. But they gave the hornets a few minutes longer to calm down. Even after they decided it was safe to exit the water, they still allowed the damaged nest and its furious tenants a wide majority of the meadow. 


Heyes doused the fire and Curry retrieved his pistol. Ignoring their wet, dripping clothing, they gathered up Loose gear and crammed it back into saddle bags. Each kept glancing over their shoulders with a keen sensation of paranoia that every lawman in the country knew exactly where they were and on their way to capture them. They snatched up the last two bites of the remaining fish hanging on the spit as they took off. Only on foot for a few minutes, Curry heard movement in the trees. He motioned to Heyes and they crouched together, but he soon realized it wasn’t a person but a pair of animals. Advancing closer, he saw that the posse had released their own pair of horses and left them behind. The reins of his roan and Heyes’ buckskin were hung in the thick, low-lying brush. Calmly munching on leaves, the pair of animals raised their heads and perked their ears forward as the men approached. Heyes and Curry tossed their saddlebags and bedrolls across, mounted, and quickly raced away.


They rode several miles before feeling safe enough to slow to a walk.


Heyes turned to Curry and thumbed back his hat. “Kid?” 


“Yeah?”         


“What happened to your friend?”


“My what?”


“The snipe fly. I haven’t seen him in a while.”


Curry looked around. “Don’t know. Hadn’t even noticed it was gone.”


Heyes grinned. “Maybe that unscheduled bath we took scared it away.” 


Curry chuckled. “Yeah. Maybe. Could be he just got his fill of me.”


“Could have at that. I wouldn’t be surprised if you even made him sick to his stomach.”


Curry closed his eyes and shook his head. He was simply too tired to argue with his friend. “Whatever you say, Heyes.”


Heyes was gratefully quiet for a few moments. When he spoke again, it was in a quieter, more civil tone. “By the way, Kid. Thanks for saving our hides back there.”


“I didn’t shoot that hornet’s nest down on purpose, Heyes.”


“I know. But it doesn’t matter. You have to admit it was a pretty impressive stunt.”


Curry chuckled. “Not one that posse’s likely gonna be forgettin’ soon.”


“Might make Kid Curry even more famous.”


“Might. But only if any of ’em confess what happened. Chances are they ain’t gonna tell anybody the truth.”


“Could be right.” Heyes laughed. “Still, might make ’em think twice before trying to come after us again. So which way you want to go, Kid?”


“I don’t know.” Curry responded with a one-shoulder shrug. “The posse went east, didn’t they? West sounds fine to me.”


“Heading into the nearest town for a drink and a long rest never sounded so good.” Heyes declared, swatting absently at something suddenly buzzing around his head. “I’m gonna get me the biggest steak and the fattest cigar I can fi—yow!” 
   
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PostSubject: Re: Last Laugh   Wed Apr 12, 2017 11:47 am

The spacing is all wrong! I don't know what happened! So sorry!
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PostSubject: Re: Last Laugh   Wed Apr 12, 2017 12:58 pm

I fixed it for you.   sun 1
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PostSubject: Re: Last Laugh   Wed Apr 12, 2017 8:32 pm

Oh, thank you so much! How nice of you! flower
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PostSubject: Re: Last Laugh   Thu Apr 13, 2017 12:25 am

   
Wind


The wind sounded like it was whistling up a storm.  No rain had plagued them yet, but the clouds portended challenging weather to come.


 It had blown them across the flat expanses over which they had ridden.  It had swirled around them, teasing at hat and coat, until they were relieved to finally ride into sheltering trees and the cave like overhang they found in the canyon.  They were more protected now from its fury, but the sound as it blew through the rocks was unsettling.


Hannibal Heyes had fought the wind to get a fire started, and had finally won.  The Kid had found some fairly dry wood, but the camp fire was consuming it quickly.  It was not so cold now in later spring that they needed the fire for warmth, but it was needed for protection from creatures who might also find the overhang inviting.  As the gloaming came, it also provided comfort.


Heyes had coffee brewing on the fire, and was cooking up beans and salt pork. It would be a while before the beans were fit to eat, but the coffee would be ready soon.  He stared into the fire, for once not thinking much.  He was tired from the day’s ride, and happy to be sitting, not in a saddle.


The Kid had gone off in search of some more wood before it became completely dark.  He had returned, and stacked and organized the wood.  He stood and went to check that the horses were comfortable and secured for the night.  He walked back to the fire, sat down for a minute, then got up to search for something in his saddle bag.


“Kid, if you don’t settle down, I may have to get up and flatten yah.”  Heyes looked worriedly at his cousin, who seemed uneasy.  Curry’s intuition had saved them more than once.  “Something got you spooked?”


The Kid returned to the fire with his gun cleaning supplies and started spreading them out.  Heyes watched him as he started to disassemble his gun.  He decided it must not be anything of an immediate danger, or the Kid would not be without his gun ready.  Heyes stirred the beans, and then poured a cup of coffee, silently offering one to the Kid, who shook his head.  He then realized his cousin hadn’t answered him.  Heyes studied Curry again.  Gun cleaning normally seemed to calm the Kid down, but tonight even that routine left him jittery.  The Kid glanced up occasionally as the wind whistled.  Heyes though he saw him shiver, and knew the night was not that cold.  Maybe he just needed some supper to settle him.  Heyes stirred the beans again, willing them to cook faster.


By the time they were ready to eat, the Kid had reassembled his gun, and offered to clean Heyes’, but was still tense.  His cousin dished up supper, looking questioningly into Curry’s eyes.  The Kid returned his gaze, but then took the plate of beans and dropped his head to concentrate on eating.


After supper was finished, Heyes found himself staring once more into the fire.  He looked up to see the Kid glancing around.  Their gazes locked.  


“You gonna tell me now what’s got you all bothered?”


Curry stared into the flames, looked back at Heyes once more, and said, “You’re gonna think I’m crazy.”


“Maybe.  But I sure as heck know you’re gonna drive me crazy, if you don’t tell me.”


The Kid started to answer, paused, and then said, “You think there’s a hell?”


“What the…why’re you thinkin’ about that?


“I dunno.  Maybe the wind.”  The Kid stared at Heyes.  “Maybe more.”


“Well, what?”


“Remember Grandpa Curry telling us about the spirits who wander the earth on stormy nights?”


“I’ve not thought about that in a long time, Kid.”


“The wind tonight reminded me of his stories.”


“We’ve been in worse windstorms.”


“Yeah, I know.”  The Kid paused.  “It just reminds me of…Danny Bilson.”


Heyes’ face became grim.  “Why’re you bothering to think of him?”


“I know.  I thought I was past that.  I shaved off my mustache.  We’ve met some really nice folks since then who’ve helped us out, even knowing who we really are.”  The Kid paused.


“But?”


“I can’t get that look on his face as he died out of my head.  Or that last laugh.”


Heyes’ look became dark.  “If there is a hell, Kid, he’s gotta be there.”


“What about us?”


“What do you mean?”


“He may have been the meanest son of a …well, the worst person we ever met, and heck, we’ve met our share.  But he’s the only person I’ve ever killed on purpose.”


“He deserved it.”


“I don’t think that’s what the Bible says, Heyes.”


“It does say, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”


“I think Jesus said that was wrong.”


“What the heck is coming out of your head tonight, Kid?”


“We’ve done some pretty bad things, Heyes.”


“Not like Danny.”  Heyes shook his head vehemently.  “No.”


The Kid sighed.  “Well, the wind reminded me about Grandpa Curry’s stories, about the dead wandering the earth, if they were took before their time.”


“It was past time for him to be off this earth.”


“It’s just that look and smile, like he was surprised.  And definitely not ready.”


Heyes got up to pace.  “Why’d you have to bring him up again?  I thought killing him was the end of it.”


“You think God will forgive me for killing him?”


Heyes stopped and stared at the Kid, a stunned look on his face.  Then he laughed grimly.


“Yeah, probably before any governor of Wyoming will give us amnesty for everything else we’ve done.”


The Kid laughed back, not so grimly.  “Yeah, Heyes, you’re probably right.”  He looked around at the swirling wind.  



“Of course, I’m always right.”  Heyes stated.  “And if there is a God in heaven, and a Devil in hell, I know who’s entertaining Danny Bilson tonight.  And it ain’t the wind.”
   
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PostSubject: Re: Last Laugh   Fri Apr 14, 2017 5:38 pm

Turning the Tables - this was written as a VS


"Joshua!" Kid Curry's voice carried more excitement than urgency. "How'd things go at the telegraph office?"

Heyes shook his head ruefully.

A questioning gaze fixed on his friend's face. "Nothin'?"

"Nope," Heyes sighed. "Looks like we've been sent on a wild goose chase. Last time I wait it out for a courier to arrive at my own expense. He's either given up or gone another way."

Kid grinned and gestured towards the saloon. "Maybe it wasn't a complete waste of time. There's a man in there. He wants to talk to us about a job."

Heyes narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "Yeah? Just like that, he walks up to you! I don't like it."

The Kid gave a chortle and shook his tousled head. "You wait till you see him! He's in the saloon. He ain't like anythin' I ever seen before! Not outside a circus anyway."



*******

The character, who oozed over the edge of the wooden chair, twinkled at them with a grin only marginally less wide than his girth. He wore a loud, check jacket and an extravagant burgundy silk cravat, set with a glittering tie pin.

"You weren't kidding, were you?" murmured Heyes, as he strode up to the man with a smile of welcome.

"Gentlemen!" the man boomed as he stood, and just kept going. Both men's heads tipped back to maintain eye contact as he thrust out a hand the size of a moderate coal shovel. "Phipps is the name. The Honourable Pickering Wolverton Phipps, but everyone just calls me 'Phipps.' As you've probably guessed from my accent, I'm British."

"Why does he smell like the most expensive girls at Belle's place?" Kid muttered in Heyes’ ear while Phipps strode over to the bar and gestured for two more shot glasses. "That ain't manly."

"I'm more interested in that tie pin," Heyes whispered in reply as he nodded imperceptibly in agreement. "Do you think they're real diamonds?"

"Who knows?" Kid shrugged discreetly. "I ain't takin' on someone his size to find out. I bet no one else is either."

"I'm a visitor to your fine shores because I'm investigating some background for a book I'm writing. I need some..." Phipps hesitated and pursed his lips delicately. "Assistance."

"Assistance?" repeated Heyes. "What kind of assistance?"

"Well... The people I'm investigating don't take too kindly to interference. I need men who can support me and who can also use their brains to see past some 'subterfuge,'" his bright blue eyes glinted at them both. "I consider myself a good judge of character and I observed a certain... shall we say... 'artfulness' about you. That's just what I'm looking for."

Heyes sucked in a breath and started to turn. "Subterfuge! You want to con someone? We're not interested. Come on, Thaddeus."

"Gentlemen, please don't be so hasty; I should have said 'cleverness!' I'm offering good money." Phipps' dark eyebrows darted skywards as his eyes sparkled temptingly. "Four hundred dollars. That's two hundred apiece."

"Give us moment, Mr. Phipps." Kid tugged at Heyes' arm, gesturing with his head as he spoke in low tones. "It's November! That kind of money could see us through the winter."

Heyes let out a long breath. "You're right; it's too good to pass up. At least we can get some details."

He turned back to Phipps with a smile. "We don't break the law, Mr. Phipps," Heyes asserted. "We play it straight down the line."

Phipps nodded furiously. "Oh! Please accept my apologies. I was unclear. I am not looking for underhandedness. Quite the contrary. I need men of good character who can be relied upon to stick to the straight and narrow at all times, but I also need more than that. I'm looking for men who have good enough brains to see through some very clever trickery."

The partners pulled out chairs and sat opposite Phipps, fixing him with curious eyes.
VS jan 14 - ASJ Fan Fiction
The Kid sat back, folded his arms and smiled. "No offense, but we ain't much for flattery, Mr. Phipps. Leastways, not from someone who looks like you. My tastes don't usually run to someone six foot five."

The man gave an explosive laugh. "Backbone! I knew I had the right men... but I'm six foot six."

He drank deeply from his glass, the partners' eyes tracking how daintily he used his thick fingers as he placed it back on the table.

"You also mentioned that you're dealing with people who don't take too kindly to interference. What kind of people and just what are you asking us to get into?" demanded Heyes.

Phipps dropped his voice and leant forward conspiratorially.

"Gentlemen, do you believe in ghosts?"

The partners darted a look at one another before Heyes spoke.

"No," he replied firmly.

Phipps sat back and carefully observed the men in front of him. "Neither do I, but there are a lot of people who do. Many of them are vulnerable, bereaved people who will spend every last penny they have to get a message from their loved ones. They are desperate for any kind of contact, but there are some very skilful frauds out there who make a very good living, bilking them out of their hard-earned cash. I want to expose them and publicise their methods. Stop them in their tracks!"

Heyes gave a cynical laugh. "Let me get this straight. You want to save vulnerable, bereaved people from giving all their hard-earned cash to fraudulent fortune seekers... so they can give it to you instead?"

Phipps nodded as he flicked up an eyebrow. "A good analysis, except that I'm an independently wealthy man from an aristocratic family. I don't need the money. I dedicated my life to studying slight of hand, illusions and conjuring... It's a passion, but I've been sickened by the total greed of some of these people."

Blue eyes met brown before Heyes shook his head. "Table turning? I know it's all the rage, but that's just not us. We can't help you, Mr. Phipps... Lord Phipps or whatever your name is."

The large man leant forward again and fixed them with impassioned eyes. "Have you ever lost anyone you loved?"

Heyes and Curry squirmed in their seats as the Brit narrowed his eyes.

"I never married. I lost the woman I loved very suddenly, just before our wedding." Phipps took a deep breath. "I utterly adored her. She was everything to me and I felt as though I died. I turned to a séance in desperation and found that everyone there was just as lost as I. One woman had spent a week's earnings to attend and didn't know how she was going to pay the rent. It was just horrible."

Phipps paused and let out a long, slow, rasping breath as genuine angst filled his eyes. "The whole thing was terrible. The worst kind of trickery, full of deception, greed, and cheap manipulation. As a conjuror, I could see how every single thing was done. I was furious and made them give every last penny back, exposing them for what they were. I've made a career out of exposing these hoaxers in England and now I've turned to the States. Have you ever found that anger was a way to get past grief, Gentlemen?"

"I can't say that I have, Mr. Phipps," Kid replied quietly.

Phipps' wide smile extended into his mutton chops. "Gentlemen, why don't I buy you some dinner? I need to tell you all about a lady called Etta Palumbo, whose next séance is in a town called Epiphany. You can ask me as many questions as you like."



*******

Epiphany was a damp and depressing-looking place in the November drizzle, with the muddy ruts worn into the main road filling with dirty water. Kid stretched out a long leg as he stepped over a puddle, before he shook droplets of water from his hat. "Remind me why Phipps got to travel by train and we had to ride? Apart from him bein' a lord and all."

Heyes gave a chuckle. "Apparently, he's an 'Honourable.'"

The Kid looked indignant. "Yeah? Well, so are we. We don't just go 'round announcin' it! I like to think women can tell."

"It's an English title for the sons of lords. Phipps told me that he's not the eldest son, so he's not the one directly in line for a lordship. They call the other kids 'Honourables,' to make them sound better than the likes of us, I guess." Heyes stepped up onto the wooden board walk. "Anyway, these flimflammers can't know we're connected to him, so we can't travel together."

They entered the hotel and walked up to the mahogany desk where Heyes leaned on his right elbow and smiled at the hotel clerk. "Reservations for Smith and Jones?"

The small, bald man's round spectacles twinkled in cheerful crescents as they caught the light. "Sure. On the first floor. Need any help with your bags?"

"We can manage, thanks." The Kid looked at the clerk hopefully. "We've had a long, wet ride. Any chance of a bath?"

"Certainly, sir." The man paused before snatching a missive from a pigeon hole and hailing a fair-haired woman who had walked in from the street and began scattering droplets of rain from her umbrella onto the wooden floor. "Mrs. Palumbo, there's a message for you."

Heyes and Curry turned in unison at the mention of the woman's name.

"Palumbo?" asked Heyes, charmingly. "Not Etta Palumbo? The psychic?"

A tall, bearded man in his fifties walked up behind the woman and towered over her protectively. "She is," he proffered a hand. "Spiro Palumbo. I'm the lady's husband."

Heyes pumped the arm in an enthusiastic handshake. "This is truly an honor! I've read about your wife. What a reputation – her powers are absolutely miraculous!"

Etta Palumbo blushed modestly and fingered the cameo brooch at her throat. "You're too kind. I'm just a medium though – a mere vessel."

"Oh no! She's far more than that. She's a real talent!" beamed her husband, proudly. "Do you realize how many people she's helped over the years?"

"I've heard," Heyes nodded. "Mrs. Palumbo, I've read so much about you. Did you really manifest the spirit of a Cherokee maiden?"

"You mean Forest Water? Yes, of course! She's my spirit guide. She appears to assist me at all my meetings. She's the secret of my success really. She's wonderful!"

Heyes gave a gasp. "Really? You mean other people can see her? She certainly sets you apart from all the other psychics."

"Oh yes," Spiro nodded. "People see her all the time. She appears at all the séances. She's very beautiful."

Heyes stayed firmly in character as his eyes glittered with open admiration of the woman's talents. "What wouldn't I give to see that?"

The woman flicked up a slim eyebrow. "I sense that you have experienced great pain, Mr...?" she paused expectantly.

"Smith. Joshua Smith, and this is my partner, Thaddeus Jones," Heyes replied.

"Mr. Smith, I think that you have lost someone..." her eyes grew distant. "I'm getting a woman... with the initial M. Does that mean anything to you? Is it Maggie, Marie, Mary...?"

"Could it be Minnie?" the Kid asked cynically, leaning on the counter.

"Yes! Yes, I think it is."

"Strange, that! Minnie was his cat when he was a kid." The Kid stood and fixed the woman with sceptical eyes. "She was never much for conversation, but who knows? Maybe she's seen fish on the menu in the dinin' room and it's livened her up a bit."

Etta flushed angrily. "I was sure it was an M. Is there a woman in your family with that name, Mr. Smith? I can feel a presence..."

"Mother, maybe?" the Kid added sweetly. "That starts with M."

"Thaddeus!" Heyes rounded on his partner. "I know that you don't believe in this, but there's no need to be so rude!"

The Kid shrugged indifferently, but muttered under his breath, "Sorry, Ma'am."

"I have to apologize for my friend, Mrs. Palumbo. He's not a believer, and I can assure you that if you're kind enough to allow me to speak to you about a certain matter while you're in Epiphany, he will not be around." Heyes paused and glowered into a pair of amused blue eyes before looking back at Mrs. Palumbo. "I can't apologize enough."

Spiro Palumbo glared at the Kid, who held his gaze in a cold, hard stare. "My wife and I are used to doubters. We rise above it! Come, Etta."

He placed an ushering hand on his wife's arm as a diminutive, dark figure cannon-balled into them, as if fleeing from unseen assailants in the damp streets beyond the door.

"Lorenz!" cried Etta. "Just what do you think you are doing!?"

The boy sniffed and wiped away tears with the cuff of his jacket as he jammed his cap back on his head. "Local boys! They're really rough! One of them punched me in the stomach! He said you were a witch, Mother."

"Are you alright!?" Etta stammered in concern.

"I'm fine. I just feel sick," the boy gulped, clutching at his abdomen.

Spiro drew himself up to his full height and looked at the Kid with a fury. "You see? This is what we have to put up with, just to bring people close to their loved ones. Local brutes terrorizing my son! Come, Lorenz."

The man swept his family towards the staircase as Heyes called out after them. "Lorenz, if you want to go out, just give my door a knock. I'm in room nine. I'll make sure that nobody hurts you."

The boy turned and stared at Heyes and Curry with enormous black eyes as he rubbed his still churning stomach. "I'll be fine. I'm not going out here on my own anymore."

The Kid stepped forward, fixing the lad with sympathetic blue eyes. "How old are you? 'Bout twelve? Don't let them get to you, son. If you want, I can teach you to defend yourself. I could show you how to throw a punch or two."

"My boy does not brawl on the street like a common urchin, Mr. Jones! We're better than that!" Mrs. Palumbo put out a hand and patted her son's shoulder. "Come, Lorenz."

They watched the group disappear up the staircase as Heyes dropped his voice to a murmur. "I don't think the lady likes you much, Thaddeus."

"Nope. I don't think she does, but then that's the way it's supposed to be, ain't it?" Kid nodded in agreement. "I've got to be seen to be against them so that they invite you to spite me... prove me wrong."

Heyes gave a gentle laugh. "I get the feeling you're not enjoying your part."

Blue eyes glanced up the stairs as the hem of Mrs. Palumbo's black skirt was dragged out of sight around the corner. "Shame... They seem like a nice little family. Boy's a bit too delicate though... looks like he's made of china."

"Focus, Thaddeus – four hundred dollars. That's a comfortable winter and maybe even a good Christmas. She may be a mother, but she's also a flimflammer, and her marks can't afford to be taken for a penny. At least when we did it, we only hit the wealthy and the greedy. They could afford to lose it."

"Maybe." The Kid's voice was laden with doubt. "But what if it's true? What if she can contact them? She seems so certain."

Heyes turned and gave the Kid a long, hard stare. "You can't believe that! A name - beginning with M! You said it yourself, the only one was Minnie the cat!"



*******

Heyes lay on the bed reading a book as the Kid pulled out a shirt from his saddlebag. Their eyes met at a soft knock at the door.

The Kid grabbed his gun and stood off to the side.

"Who's there?" asked Heyes.

"Phipps."

Heyes opened it cautiously, tipping back his head to look into Phipps sparkling blue eyes.

"Can I come in?" he asked, theatrically sotto voce.

"Sure." Heyes opened the door to allow him to enter.

The behemoth looked less flamboyant now, wearing a far more sober suit with a conventional tie whilst his dark hair was parted in the middle and spammed heavily down with some kind of oil.

Phipps gestured towards the bed with a huge hand. "May I?"

"Sure," the Kid sat down, feeling himself rise and shift as Phipps' considerable weight joined him by sitting on the bed beside him.

"So, you've met the Palumbos. What did you think?" Phipps flicked up an eyebrow as his eyes rested on Kid's gun on the table beside the bed.

"They seem like a nice enough little family. They'd be quite ordinary if the mother wasn't so – intense,” said the Kid.

Phipps gave a snort. "Ordinary! Did you take a look at that boy of theirs?"

Heyes walked over to the window. "Only in passing. Far too thin."

"Poor specimen for a boy, yes, but..." grinned Phipps.

"What?" enquired the Kid.

Heyes' brow crinkled. "Yes! It's so obvious! Those big eyes and high cheekbones! Why didn't I spot it? Are you saying what I think you are?"

"I certainly am," Phipps replied in a voice heavy with laughter.

"What!?" the Kid shook his head in confusion. "That's not a boy!?"

"Her real name is Lorenza. She plays Forest Water. That's why she can't go around as herself all the time. People would recognise her from the séances. She really is quite lovely."

Heyes folded his arms in annoyance. "You didn't tell us this? What else haven't you told us?"

"Nothing. Excuse the ruse, gentlemen. I just wanted to see if you'd notice it yourself. I must admit that I didn't."

"That boy? He got punched in the stomach today! She got punched...." the Kid corrected himself as his forehead wrinkled in concern. "How old is she?"

"Twenty-two. From what I can discover, they are only the Palumbos when they're on the road. The rest of the time they live in quiet respectability in Philadelphia under the name of 'Galea.' Mr. Galea is from a Maltese family and Palumbo was his mother's name."

"Well! I gotta say that I'm now completely convinced that they're flimflammers. There's no other reason a young woman would go around dressed as a boy," snorted the Kid.

"Yup," Heyes nodded. "Psychic manifestations, my foot! I take it that she drifts around in the background looking spooky."

Phipps laughed in agreement. "Something like that. Most magicians agree that priests in ancient societies used tricks and drugs to make people think they had extraordinary powers. People like the Palumbos are still doing it; there's nothing new under the sun."

"So, what now?" asked Heyes.

Phipps smiled. "There's a séance booked for tomorrow night in the dining room of the hotel. All kinds of local worthies will be here. Be there and be ready to follow my lead."

"What about me?" asked the Kid.

"Aah, Mr. Jones. I need you to use all your powers of persuasion."

"Persuasion? Just what do you need me to do?"

Phipps bit into his bottom lip. "I want Forest Water to be prevented from attending the séance. Find a way to keep Lorenza away from the place. She's a young woman just following the lead of her dishonest parents. I don't want her to be arrested any more than you do. It just wouldn't be fair. I'm not a vindictive man and I don't want innocents caught up in all this."

The Kid looked doubtful. "Just how much 'persuasion' do you expect me to use? I ain't gonna use force. Not on a woman."

Phipps' eyes glittered with emotion. "That's entirely up to you, Mr. Jones. It all depends on how much you want to protect her from ten years in jail. If it was me? I'd do just about anything. Ten years in a place like that would eat up her childbearing years, her looks, her whole future. I'm only trying to look out for her."



*******

Heyes glanced around the hotel dining room where most of the tables had been stacked at the side, leaving only a long table in the centre of the room. Etta Palumbo turned to give him a welcoming smile.

"Thank you so much for allowing me to attend this meeting, Mrs. Palumbo," Heyes beamed at her. "It means so much to me. Do you think we'll have any success tonight?"

Mrs. Palumbo's dark blue eyes swirled with mysterious portents. "I feel that the night is full of spirits. I think that it promises to be a sparkling evening," she closed her eyes and sucked in a deep breath. "The air is positively laden with ectoplasm. Can't you smell it?"

"Can't say that I can, Mrs. Palumbo... What exactly does ectoplasm smell like?"

She gave a tinkling little laugh. "Ooh! It's just there. I can sense it." She stretched out a hand in welcome to Phipps as he approached. "Mr. Pickering. Thank you for coming. I was just saying to Mr. Smith, here, that it promises to be a good evening."

Phipps leant forward and gallantly kissed the back of her hand before nodding to Heyes. "Albert Pickering. Pleased to meet you."

"Joshua Smith," Heyes eyes drifted over to a huge cage at the top of the long table. "What in the name...? What on earth is that for?"

"Oh that!" Spiro had joined the group. "I take it that you have never attended a séance before?"

"No. Never," Heyes replied.

"Well, the medium is separate to the circle and is contained in a spirit cabinet."

"But it's a cage!? I thought she sat at the head of the table and we all held hands!" exclaimed Heyes.

Spiro shook his head. "I do that, Mr. Smith. The medium is a channel, bringing the spirits to the circle and it's her power that allows us to see and hear them. The medium is restrained in the cabinet whilst the room is dark. The best go further, as so many of these cabinets have been found to be no more than the kind of thing a cheap conjurer would use, full of hidden compartments, with spring-loaded panels where people could slip out of the back and engage in trickery around the room. The best now use a cage with a view from every side so it is clear that there are no hidden compartments," Spiro gestured for them to follow him. "See? Thick iron bars, seven inches apart. Test it... see for yourself."

He clanged his booted foot against the bars before he continued.

"This world attracts a lot of hoaxers, you know, and various ways of containing the medium have been used from cabinets and restraints... right through to cages. Did you know that a man was caught pirouetting around a room in a white cheesecloth dress pretending to be the spirit of someone's wife when he was supposed to be tied to a chair!? There are some very tricky people about, you know, and they can get up to a lot in the dark."

"Sure can," murmured Heyes.

"Did you say something, Mr. Smith?" asked Spiro.

"Nope," Heyes replied, placing a hand on top of the cage. "It's not very tall."

"It's five feet tall, with just enough height for a person to stay seated inside. They don't need to stand," Spiro Palumbo explained, as he tugged on the bars. "As robust as any prison. These bars just can't be bent by hand."

"How is it locked?" asked Heyes, casually.

"We always ask the host to purchase a padlock and chain themselves and retain the key throughout the evening. That way they know that the medium stays in the cage during the séance." Spiro gave a little laugh as Phipps pushed against the cage. "It took four men to get that in here. Even with your considerable muscle power I doubt that you would be able to move it, Mr. Pickering, let alone my wife on her own. She will be in here throughout the séance. We don't hold with trickery and want to prove it."

Heyes watched Spiro walk away to greet some more arrivals as Phipps whispered to Heyes. "Psychics always have to be in complete darkness. The psychics claim that light damages them when they're in a trance. Very convenient, considering people have seen ghosts in all kinds of light for centuries."

"So she's locked in a cage and Lorenza's not coming. It's going to be a bit of a flop, I guess."

"No... I think she can pick locks. She'll get out... and in the dark, sounds, light touches and a breath in your ear can play tricks with the mind. Keep focused, Mr. Smith, and remember, everything you see and hear is a trick!"

Heyes shook his head. "Nope. They have no way of knowing what lock they might buy. That's too unpredictable. If she gets out, it's not that way."

"But how!?" Phipps hissed quietly. "I had her down as picking the lock."

"I've worked in security, Mr. Phipps. I know a bit about breaking in and out of places. Locks can be picked, but completely in the dark and not knowing what kind...? Nah, too chancy." Heyes took hold of two of the bars and lowered his face down, looking straight at the chair in the middle of the cage before giving a little laugh. "Of course! It's so obvious!"

"What is?"

Heyes gave Phipps a dimpled smile as Spiro brought a middle-aged couple over to examine the cage in the same way as they had. "Tell you later. You'll kick yourself for not spotting it."




The rest of this story is in the Sarah Whyment Story thread   http://aliassmithandjones.canadian-forum.com/t46-turning-the-tables

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PostSubject: Re: Last Laugh   Sun Apr 23, 2017 12:59 pm

I think this is last laugh. If not, then understand why if it doesn't poll.


The Last Laugh

“I’m telling you for the last time, Susan. You are NOT wearing pants!”


Heyes glared at his daughter over his desk.


“Awh, Pappy. They’re so much more practical than a dress!”


“But they are not for girls to wear!”


“You know we’re going to keep having this conversation don’t you? Until you give in. Why not save us both the bother and just say yes now?” Susan shrugged, reasonably.


“No.” Heyes was firm.


“You don’t tell Harry or Billy not to wear pants!” Susan huffed, folding her arms.


“That’s because they’re boys!”


“That’s not the point! They’re still your children. You’re always saying you treat ALL your children the same way. So when are you going to start telling THEM not to wear pants, huh?” She nodded. Surely, she had him now.


Heyes’ tongue explored his mouth. He took a deep breath, put his hands on his hips and tried to look the stern father.


“You’ve got no answer for that have you?” Susan taunted. “You see you know I’m right.” She smiled smugly, dimples appearing either side of her mouth.


“Stop doing that with your face!”


Susan grinned wider. She sensed victory. “You shouldn’t have given them to me if you didn’t want me to use ‘em!”


Heyes sucked in a deep breath. There was no answer to that. He glared at her smug face. He knew exactly what she was trying to do. What she always tried to do. Get round him. Mostly she succeeded; he had to admit. Not this time though. This time he would stand firm in the face of … in the face of … dimples. His dimples! Drat!


“Go to bed Susan. It’s late,” he growled, resorting to the only weapon in his arsenal that had a remote chance, his old outlaw leader’s persona.


Susan unfolded her arms. She knew just how far to push him. As soon as she saw that look, she knew she had reached it. She nodded and turned back to the door. “Goodnight Pappy. We’ll talk about this some more in the morning,” she said, quickly scooting away.


“Goodnight Susan. AND NO WE WON’T!”


A smirk appeared on Heyes’ face now she was gone. Ten minutes later, after he had done security (Harry’s name for Heyes’ insistence on checking that all the downstairs doors and windows were locked before he went to bed), he stomped upstairs into his bedroom.

Mary was sitting up in bed flicking through a magazine. She sighed at his bouncing on the bed as he struggled to take a boot off. It thudded into a corner.


“Did you see off the burglar then?” she asked casually.


Heyes frowned at her. “What burglar?”


Mary looked up innocently. “The one you were yelling at.”


Heyes growled and attended to his other boot. “That was Susan. She’s going on at me again
‘bout wearing … will you come off!” He heaved the boot off. “Pants!” The boot thudded next to its pair.


“Oh.”


Both socks popped off, balled and landed near his boots.


“She’s a girl Mary. She shouldn’t be wanting to wear pants.” He shimmied furiously out of his, kicking them to one side. Unbuttoning his shirt, he ran a hand through his hair, brushing it angrily from his face. “Did you ever want to wear pants when you were her age?”


Mary considered but she took too long. Heyes answered for her.


“No you didn’t!”


Mary shrugged. “I didn’t have two brothers. Who knows? If I had, I might have done.” She looked back at her magazine.


Heyes gave her the look, threw off his shirt, crumpled it up and tossed it onto a chair. Mary’s eyes followed it, but decided silence was the better part of valour and watched him climb into bed beside her in his underwear.


“There is no way, Mary that I’m going to allow her to wear pants!”


He wound the alarm clock to within an inch of its life, slammed it down and stretched out a hand to the switch of the new-fangled electric lamp. The room plunged into darkness.


Mary gave a deep sigh. “Thank you. I was reading.”


The light came back on again.


“Sorry.” Heyes put his hand behind his head. “I am right aren’t I? Girls shouldn’t go round wearing pants. Girls should wear dresses and put their hair up and smell nice.”


“She does wear dresses. She does put up her hair. And she does smell nice. Josh, I don’t think she wants to wear pants all the time. Just at certain times.”


“What times?” Heyes demanded.


“Well for … riding and for doing her chores.”


“She’s got a skirt for riding. One of those divided things.” He widened his eyes. “Several I seem to recall. And anyway, what chores does she have that requires pants? She bribes the boys to do THOSE chores for her.” He puffed and looked away.


Mary put aside her magazine and settled down next to him. “She’s sixteen. She’s just spreading her wings.”


Heyes considered. “No. She is NOT wearing pants.” He sighed. “Why did we have a girl, Mary? Boys are so much easier to deal with. I understand boys.”


“That’s not what you said last month when they sledged down the hill, spun out onto the frozen lake and then went through the ice.”


He glared; she looked innocent.


“Whose side are you on?”


Mary laughed and patted his chest. “Yours darling of course.”
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A noise woke Mary. The room was in darkness but she could see a ghostly figure pacing up and down at the end of the bed. She started and then realised. There was no one in bed beside her.


“What are you doing?” she asked.


“Sorry Mary I didn’t mean to wake you.”


“That doesn’t answer my question,” she said, struggling onto her elbows.


There was a deep sigh. “I’ve been thinking about our daughter. We’re gonna havta do something drastic.”


“I don’t think I like the sound of that,” Mary said, doubtfully. She sat up and hugged her knees.

“What do you have in mind?”


“I don’t think there’s any other way round it. We’re gonna have to send her back East to learn how to be a lady.” The ghostly figure coalesced into Heyes in his white Henley and long johns. He sat on the bed next to Mary.


“You’ve never wanted to send any of them away to school before.”


“I know but I don’t see any other choice. She’s too plain speaking, too confident, too impulsive and she has no regard for others. She’s out of hand, Mary. I know you’ve done your best but she’s stubborn and devious and far too bright. She can run rings round you and she’s in danger of doing the same with me.” He shook his head. “I can’t allow her to do that. You know I can’t.”


“She won’t like it.”


“No. I don’t expect her to. But this is one argument, I can and will win.”


“Where will we send her?”


“Boston probably. At least then the Kid can be on hand if there’s any trouble.”


“He has no experience with girls.” The Kid’s five children were all boys.


“No,” Heyes agreed. “But Caroline knows what’s what.”


“Not for a girl like Susan she doesn’t.”


Heyes thought about it some more throughout the rest of the night and the next day. By the evening, he had decided. He was going to set things in train. From his study, he dialled the long distance number and waited for the connections.


“Curry residence,” he heard a voice, after a long wait.


“I’d like to speak to Jedidiah Curry please.”


“Who shall I say is calling sir?”


“It’s his cousin, Joshua.”


“One moment sir, I’ll see if he can be disturbed.”


Heyes waited, rolling his eyes, tapping his fingers, sighing. It seemed an awfully long time before he heard footsteps and the sound of the receiver picking up.


“Kid?”


“Heyes?” the Kid sounded sleepy.


“Yeah, Hannibal Heyes!”


“I know who ya are! What’s the emergency in the middle of the night?”


“It’s not the middle of the night. It’s only just got dark!”


The Kid spluttered. “That’s there!” He groaned. “Awh! You’ve forgotten ‘bout the time difference again, haven’t ya?”


“Ah! Er … oh … ye-ah.” Heyes winced. “Sorry.”


He heard the Kid sigh. “What d’ya want Heyes?”


“Um.” Heyes swallowed. Suddenly this was more difficult than he thought. “I want … you to do something for me.” He paused. “Please.”


“What?”


Heyes sighed. “I want you to ….” He licked his lips.


“WHAT? Ya wake me up in the middle of night … .”


“Alright, alright. I’m getting to it. I want you to find out where I can send Susan to school. Y’know learn how to be a lady.” There was silence on the other end. “Hallo? Kid are you still there?”


Now he heard it. Started softly at first, a low chuckle, and then building steadily into a crescendo of guffaws.


“You want to send Susan to school to learn how to be a lady! Heyes that’s a tall order don’t ya think?” the Kid said, doubtfully.


“I know! I know!” There was a deep sigh. “I don’t like it but I’ve got to do something. I can’t let her continue to behave the way she is. She’ll get into trouble.” There was a pause. “And I might not be able to get her out of it. Somehow, I’ve managed it up until now but she’s nearly an adult. Things are starting to get serious. She needs calming down a bit.”


In Boston, the Kid wiped his eyes and sobered. He recognised the desperate edge to Heyes’ voice. Privately he would keep his doubts to himself but of course, he would help, anyway he could.


“I understand Heyes but do ya really think this is the way to do it?”


Heyes sighed. “I dunno Kid but it’s worth a try.”


“Alright. What d’ya need me to do?”


“Can you scope out some schools for me? Caroline will have more of an idea.”


“Yeah okay. I’ll speak to her in the morning.”


“Thanks Kid. I owe you one.”


“You betcha.”


“Speak to you soon, Kid.”


“Yeah Heyes. Oh and Heyes?”


“Yeah.”


“I now know what I’m gonna buy ya for Christmas.”


“What?”


“A clock. Permanently set on Boston time,” the Kid laughed.


A chuckle escaped from Heyes. “Yeah okay. Point taken.”
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It was several weeks before all the arrangements were made. Heyes and Mary pored over brochures and had several long conversations with Caroline and various head mistresses. Finally, they made a decision and a school selected. Now all they had to do was tell Susan.


Susan came into the drawing room with a puzzled look on her face.


“Why is there a trunk in the middle of my bedroom floor?” She asked as she sat down.


“Ah! Glad you noticed that.” Heyes levered himself out of the chair he had been sitting in. “It’s for you to pack your things into,” he said, pleasantly. He held his hand out to Mary and she put something into it.


“We’ve decided. Mama and me. You’re going there.” Heyes casually dropped the selected school brochure in Susan’s lap as she sat on the sofa. He stood back, hands on hips and watched as
Susan took it in. Mary looked up from her sewing with interest.


“You’re not serious!” Susan looked up horrified.


“Oh yes I am.” Heyes smirked at Mary. “I’m very serious.” He started out of the drawing room.


“But … but.” Susan got up after him. “You can’t!”


Heyes paused in the doorway. “Why can’t I?”


“Cos … cos … it’ll cost too much that’s why!”


Heyes shrugged. “If it turns you into a lady then it’ll be money well spent.”


“I don’t want to be a lady!”


“Yes you do Susan. You just don’t know it yet.” Heyes turned and stalked into the hall.


“Pappy!” Susan looked at Mary for help. “Mama, are you going to let him do this?”


“Yes Susan, we’ve decided. It’s for the best.”


Susan stomped after her father. “Can’t we talk about this?”


“Nope.”


Susan ran in front of him and brought him up short in the middle of the hall. “You’ll miss me.”


“Yes I will,” Heyes confirmed and side stepped her.


“Mama will miss me more!” Mary had come to the drawing room door now to watch. “She’ll cry. You know how you hate to see her cry.”


“Yes she will and I’ve ordered extra handkerchiefs for that very eventuality.”


Susan headed him off at the door to his study.


“I don’t think you’ve thought this through properly.”


Heyes raised an eyebrow. “Explain.”


“There’s more here at stake than just me y’know. What’s going to happen to Harry’s homework?”


Heyes put his hands on his hips and regarded his daughter’s smug face.


“What about Harry’s homework?” he asked patiently.


“Well without me here, who is going to do it?”


The expression on Heyes’ face suggested that he couldn’t believe he was having this conversation. “Harry will do Harry’s homework,” he said, firmly.


Susan snorted and folded her arms. “That’s what you think. Shall I tell you what will happen?”


Heyes false smiled at her. “Do tell.”


“You’ll stand over him while he does it right? Or not does it, is probably more accurate. And you’ll get so frustrated with him YOU’LL end up doing it for him. There. I’m right aren’t I?”


Behind them, Mary chuckled. Susan was so sharp she’d cut herself one of these days.


Heyes eased her gently aside. “You let me worry about your brother. Okay?”


Heyes entered his study and Susan followed.


“They’ll make me walk around with a book on my head. Now where’s the good in that?”


Heyes paused and looked back pursing his lips in thought. “At least you’ll know where your book is,” he shrugged.


Susan came to stand in front of the desk. “I shall run away,” she said, defiantly, folding her arms.


“Where to?” Heyes had put his glasses on and was looking at correspondence on his desk.


“Well I don’t know. Anywhere.”


“Running away costs money.” He peered over the top of his glasses at her. “You haven’t got any.”


“Yes I have. I have the money Grandpa left me. You’ve invested it well. I bet it’s a fortune now.”


“That money is held in trust. You need a parent to co-sign until you’re twenty-one and that won’t happen.”


“Then I’ll forge your signature! You know I can.”


“Yep.” Unfortunately, he did know. “But which signature?” He sat down and looked up at her.

“You can’t assume Susan. I have several names. It could be anyone of them. And so do you for that matter.”


“Then I’ll sign Mama’s name.”


Heyes looked at her doubtfully. He saw Mary came up behind her. “You can do your mother’s signature can you? All those loops and flicks.”


Susan knew she couldn’t. Her face crumbled and she sank onto the pouffe in from of the desk.


“Pappy, you can’t send me away,” she wheedled, changing tack. “You’ve always said you’d never send any of us away ‘cos the thought of having a family was all that kept you going when you went for amnesty.” Susan was sobbing now. Mary sat down beside her and put her arm round her shoulders.


Heyes took off his glasses with a sigh. He swallowed and licked his lips and then clasped his hands in front of him on the desk.


“Susan, you’re right, I have always said that and it’s true. I don’t want to send you away.”


“Then why?”


“Because your Mama and me also have to do right by you. There are so many more opportunities for young people these days. Opportunities I … we … never had. And you shouldn’t miss out, stuck out here in the middle of nowhere. You deserve a decent shot at life. As your parents, we owe you that chance by giving you every possible help. You’re smart, funny, talented and beautiful. I don’t want you to lose who you are, Susan, but you just need the rough edges smoothing a little that’s all.”


“Susan, just think about what we’re offering you. Read the brochure. You’ll see that this is a wonderful opportunity,” Mary said, gently.


Susan wasn’t convinced. “Is this because I keep asking to wear pants?” she asked suddenly.


Heyes rolled his eyes. “Partially. But not entirely. It just got us thinking that’s all.”


“Then I promise I’ll never ever ask if I can wear them again. How’s that?”


Heyes looked like he was considering. Even Mary looked hopeful. In reality, he was pausing for effect.


“No. You’re going and that’s the end of it. Now do as your mother has suggested. Go and read the brochure.” He put his glasses back on and flicked her away. “Go on. I’ve got work to do.”


Mary ushered Susan to her feet. At the door, Susan turned. Her tears had turned to anger. “What no debate? No reasoned argument? No negotiation? That’s it, you’re going?”


“Yes.”


“You’re a hard man. Do you know that?” Susan was shaking.


“Yes.” His voice had hardened. Heyes was no longer playing. “Go now before you say something we’ll both regret,” he said, softly.


Mary turned her daughter round and walked her out. Glancing back, Mary saw a flicker of pain cross her husband’s face.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
“How was ya trip?” the Kid asked, handing Heyes a whiskey.


Heyes and Susan had arrived in Boston that afternoon. Susan had gone straight to her room and had declined to join them for dinner. A tray, sent up, had returned with very little eaten. Heyes had decided that he’d leave her for now.


“Long and very silent,” Heyes replied, bitterly. “She barely spoke to me all the way. I’ve had more conversation travelling alone.”


The Kid sank into a chair. “Can you blame her? You’ve taken her away from home and plan to leave her alone in a strange place.”


Heyes scowled. “Being a parent is hard sometimes Kid but you have to do what’s for the best.”


The Kid nodded and sipped his own whiskey.


“How do Mary and the boys feel ‘bout it?”


“Mary agrees with me, Billy just shrugged and Harry tells me his grades will suffer!” Heyes said, rolling his eyes.


The Kid frowned. “Is he gonna miss his sister that much?”


“No. He’s suddenly realised he’s gonna have to start doing his own homework!” Heyes fought the smirk bubbling up but couldn’t stop it.


The Kid chuckled.


The pair lapsed into companionable silence, each lost in their own thoughts. It was a long while before Heyes spoke again but when he did, he surprised the Kid.


“It may not come to that.”


The Kid looked at him suspiciously. “What d’you mean?”


Heyes couldn’t meet his eyes and looked embarrassed. “I er … think I’ve changed my mind,” he admitted, quietly. “When we were planning it from two thousand miles away it seemed like the right thing to do. But now I’m here and … about to hand her over to total strangers. I’m not sure I can do it. She’s so upset and if I do this … make her do this … I just might lose my little girl.” He shook his head. “I daren’t risk it.”


The Kid’s mouth formed an O. “Bit of a wasted trip then?”


Heyes sighed. “For her, yes. Me, I was coming anyway. Richard wants me to do a major rewrite of four chapters of The Gilded Cage.” (Richard was his publisher.) “It’s easier to have the argument face to face than by letter.”


“The Gilded Cage? Is that your new Artie Sutter book?” The Kid was referring to the inept but strangely successful detective who featured in some of Heyes’ books.


“Yeah.”


“D’you base him on Harry Briscoe?”


Heyes threw a lop-sided grin. “All writers draw on real life for inspiration, Kid. Harry Briscoe is a mine of inspiration!”


They chuckled gently, thinking of Harry. Heyes drained his glass and set it aside.


“I’m gonna go tell her. Put her out of her misery.”


The Kid nodded. “You sure?”


“Ye-ah.”


“You’ve paid for the term haven’t ya?”


Heyes nodded and heaved himself out of the chair. “I’m gonna lose that.” He sighed. “But rather that than my daughter.” He patted the Kid’s shoulder and left.


Heyes went upstairs and knocked on the bedroom door.


“Come in,” he heard Susan call.


Susan was lying curled up on the bed.


“May I come in?” Heyes asked, poking his head round the door.


Susan nodded. She scrubbed a hand over her face as he walked over to the bed. She had been crying and he felt a stab of regret that he’d caused it. As she pulled herself up into a sitting position, Heyes found the pillow and placed it behind her.


“Better?”


“Thanks.”


Heyes sat on the bed and looked at her.


“How you doing, sweetheart?”


“Okay.” Susan tried a weak smile.


Heyes hesitated. “Sue I’ve been thinking … .”


“Before you say anything, Pappy,” Susan interrupted him in a rush. “I’ve realised you’re right. I’ll go.”


Heyes stared at her open-mouthed. He hadn’t expected that and he wasn’t sure how he felt about it.


“You’re giving me an opportunity and I should take you up on it ’cos you never know what life will throw at you do you? You know that more than any one. And you have to be prepared and fully equipped as much as possible to deal with it. Right?”


He didn’t trust himself to speak. He just nodded and had to look away so she wouldn’t see that his eyes were watering. Frowning he swallowed the lump in his throat.


“The brochure said that they encourage all sorts of useful skills that I might need. Okay so some of it is a bore. But there’s academic subjects I’ve barely touched on and classes in art. You know I’m good at that and I’ve never had a proper art teacher before.”


Heyes nodded.


Susan took a deep breath. “So I have decided that I will give it a try. I can’t promise that I’ll enjoy it. I can’t promise that I won’t be a heap of trouble but I’m going to give it a fair crack of the whip.”


Heyes broached a weak smile. “That’s my girl,” he said, pulling her into his arms. Behind her back, his eyes really did water as he hugged her tightly.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The study door opened. The Kid looked round. He was surprised to see Heyes; a very dazed looking Heyes. He motioned for the Kid to pour him a drink.


“That was quick. How did she take it? I didn’t hear no screams of delight.”


“No, there wasn’t any.” Heyes sat down heavily and accepted the drink.


The Kid raised an eyebrow as Heyes knocked the drink back.


“I didn’t get to tell her. She um … she’s gonna go. She’s thought about it and has decided that I’m right.”


“Ah! After all that soul searching and everything.” The Kid paused. “It’s for the best Heyes. You know it is.”


“Yep.”


“And aren’t you the one that’s always saying that the first idea is usually the best idea?”


“That was Grandpa Heyes and you didn’t know him.”


The Kid smiled. “Nope but it sure feels like I did the times you’ve said that to me. And you know Heyes, he’s right.”


Heyes nodded sadly. “I know. But he never said it was easy.”


The Kid looked pensive. “It sounds to me that she’s having the last laugh, Heyes,” he said slowly.


“Ye-ah but I don’t think she’s laughing all that hard. And neither am I. This is just something that has to be done.” He sucked in a deep breath. “And it’s gonna be real hard on both of us.”

_________________
Kid Curry and that other fella; Hannibal Heyes and whatsname
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Cal

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PostSubject: Re: Last Laugh   Tue Apr 25, 2017 8:28 am

cliff hanger alert....Cal


Along Came a Spider
 
“Do you think he saw which way we were headed?” gasped Kid, twisting the raw hide thongs at his wrists and attacking the knots with his teeth.


“I didn’t look back to find out” shot back Heyes, having just a little more luck with his own bonds. 


He grunted and swore and gasped till the thin leather fell to the floor with a very satisfying snap. Heyes quickly pushed Kid to the ground and attacked the knots at his partner’s bloody wrists with his pen knife, using his teeth to pull the short blade clear of the sheath.


Kid jumped to his feet, grabbing at the horses reins and with two long strides was aboard pulling Heyes up behind him. He pushed the horse to a gallop knowing Heyes would have no trouble at all, staying with them as he bounced on the back of the saddle. Kid almost smiled, hearing Heyes hollering on the horse to greater effort.


After a panicked flight across some open ground, Heyes came to his senses.


“Kid… Kid… pull up… pull up will yer… over there… in them rocks…”


“What?” screamed Kid “We’d be sitting ducks… Heyes we gotta get outta here…”


An almost comical battle of wills ensued, where both riders of the one horse, tried to direct the flying animal. Eventually Heyes realised that a battle of brawn with the Kid was beyond him.  He tried a different tack.


“Kid… Kid… I got a plan.”


Kid’s shoulders dropped. 


Kid’s head dropped. He looked back to the rocks where Heyes had been trying to direct the horse. Then he looked out at the next stretch of nondescript, barren emptiness they’d have to cross, on the one horse with no water, and caved. 


Heyes smiled wickedly seeing the change in Kid’s demeanour, and patted one of his shoulders rather patronisingly.


“You’ll see Kid… I got us a plan.”


---oooOOOooo---


“You better know what we’re doing Heyes… ‘Coz some might say this is real stupid” spat Kid, dropping from the horse behind Heyes.


Heyes was already crouched up behind a big rock gazing back the way they’d just ridden.


“Stupid and dangerous…” continued Kid, getting nothing back from the genius. 


“Are you gonna tell me what we’re doing here waiting for that snake to catch up? … You know he’s got our guns… Don’t think he’s gonna oblige us, by standing still long enough for us to get in a lucky shot with a boulder… HEYES… Why aren’t we running?!?”


Hannibal Heyes licked his dry lips and never took his eyes off their back trail.


“Because …he laughed at us Kid” he growled. “Laughed… at us!  And he took our boots, and our canteens …and our money.”


“And our guns, Heyes… Don’t forget our guns!” nodded Kid to Heyes’ back, catching the general mood of unabridged disgruntlement, and fingering the empty leather holster at his side. 


Then his sharp eyes picked up a wisp of dust on the horizon a few degrees to the right of where Heyes focused all his attention. 


Kid pulled a sour face. He tapped his wrapped partner on the shoulder and pointed.


“Guess there’s no doubt as to who that is, huh? Why couldn’t he have just broke his neck… Horse puts a foot down a gopher hole… least he could have done was break a leg…. ”


Heyes looked around startled for just a second.  With so few features to go by, it was easy to lose a sense of direction out here. 


The dust was rising slowly and drifting to the East.  There was no doubt in Heyes’ mind either, as to who was causing it, Grant Jamerson, Bounty Hunter and agent for the Grand Union Pacific Railroad.


Grant Jamerson had been riding the train they’d robbed two days ago.  He’d had a horse in the freight car, saddled and waiting for just such an occurrence. 
 
He’d followed. 


Waited till Heyes and Kid had split from the rest of the Devils Hole gang, before making his move.  He’d let them think they were clear.  Think they’d gotten away scot free.  Let them drop their guard, even celebrate a little in Hollins, and then, he’d set a trap ahead of them and just waited for them to spring it.


It had been simple.


Then he’d made them remove their guns, and their boots, and their water.  He’d taken their haul, and reminded them they were wanted dead or alive… then… he’d laughed at them.


Things were looking grim, till Jamerson’s horse put a foot in a gopher hole. 


They were ahead, saw the opportunity and ran… on just the one horse… that had been another source of mirth for the bounty hunter.


“This way… I can shoot both of you …with just the one bullet.”


Heyes’ anger simmered, as he scowled out at that plume of dust.  He felt his stockinged feet simmering on the hot rocks, also. 


He’d have the last laugh on Grant “Grand Union Pacific” Jamerson.


“Kid… He’s got our money… I spent a lot of time planning that raid… and I’m not crawling back to the Hole without it.  How’d that look?  How long do yer think they’d follow me fer... after that! … Even with you backing me?”


Kid didn’t answer.  Some questions didn’t need answers.


“Reckon we got us thirty minutes, Heyes… What you figering on doing with it?”


---oooOOOooo---
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InsideOutlaw

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PostSubject: Re: Last Laugh   Sat Apr 29, 2017 8:06 pm

“Mornin’,” said Kid Curry, pausing from peering into the bore of his dismantled Colt .45.  The remaining parts of his weapon lay scattered across the scarred oak table of the leader’s cabin.  




“Umpf,” mumbled a rumpled Heyes.  His dark hair stood out from his head in every direction as he stumbled over to the coffee pot on the wood stove.  Pouring a mugful, he wandered back to the sofa and plopped down.




“Didn’t sleep so good, huh?”  The Kid leaned over and plucked a wet cloth from a bucket of hot, soapy water at his feet.  He wrung it out with both hands then carefully threaded it into his bore while working it back and forth.




Heyes watched him without comment, sipping his coffee.




“So, do we have a plan?” asked the Kid.




Heyes’ nearly empty mug slammed down on the wooden arm of the couch.  “No, we don’t have a damn plan!”




“Hey, take it easy, will you?  You’ll come up with somethin’.  What’s that you always say?  ‘There’s a formula for everythin’.”




“Not this.  It’s only five days before that bank shipment comes in and I haven’t got a clue how to steal it.  I’ve been up all night racking my brains and there’s nothing I can come up with that’ll work.  The security’s too tight.”




“Are you surprised?   You took ‘em for fifteen grand the last time you hit ‘em.  Can you blame ‘em for overreactin’?”




Heyes got up and refilled his mug before coming over to sit down at the table.  “I was expecting the new safe and maybe even the bars around the teller’s cages.  It’s the twenty-guard detail escorting the shipment that’s a little over the top.”




“Well, give it a rest.  You’ll figure it out or we’ll pull the plug on it.”




“I better figure it out.  The boys are expecting a big score.  After being snowed in and stir crazy all winter, they aren’t gonna take no for answer.”




The front door of the cabin slammed open and a wide-eyed Hank leaned through the portal.  “Heyes, Kid, come quick.  Kyle’s stuck in the well.”




Blue and brown eyes rolled.  




#




“Easy, go slow,” instructed the Kid, guiding the jute rope through his gloved hands.  Heyes leaned over the wooden side of the well peering into the gloomy interior.  The rest of the gang hovered nearby except for Wheat and Lobo who stood several yards away pulling on the tail end of the rope, their faces purple from exertion.




“Oww!” drifted from the mouth of the deep well.




“Wheat!  I said go slow.”




“We’re goin’ slow!” growled the big, mustached outlaw.  Lobo shifted his grip on the rope and, for one terrible second, it slid through Wheat’s hand before he caught it.




A few more minutes of tugging and Kyle was lifted from the well by his friends.  His clothes were soaked and his normally brownish smile appeared pearly white compared to a film of greenish slime adorning him.  “Whew, thanks y’all.  I was gettin’ a mite panicky down there.  That water is cold.”




Heyes hooked a hand under Kyle’s arm and pulled him away from the rest of the men.  “How the hell did you end up in the well?!”




Casting sheepish eyes towards his friends, Kyle hemmed and hawed.  “I…er…I…uh.  Geez, Heyes, I guess I don’t rightly recall.  I must have me that am-neezy or whatever it’s called.”




“You can’t say?”




“That’s right.”




“Or you won’t say?”  Heyes’ face darkened with anger as he turned to the other men.  “Does everybody have amnesia?”  There was no reply so he turned back to Kyle.  “Go get cleaned up.”  He waited until the small outlaw was gone before he addressed the rest of his men.  “You’re all real lucky Kyle didn’t get hurt.  Lay off him or you’ll answer to me.”




“Aw shucks, we didn’t mean any harm.  We’re just bored,” explained Hank.




“Well, find somethin’ else to do besides pickin’ on Kyle,” warned the Kid.




“Sorry.”  Admonished, Hank reddened and skulked away with Preacher and Gully.
 
“I told ‘em to quit foolin’ around,” claimed Wheat.




“You did not,” countered Ike.




“Did too!”  Wheat’s meaty hands curled into meatier fists and the slighter man cowered.




“THAT’S ENOUGH!” roared Heyes.  “Get outta my sight and go find something else to do!”




“Ain’t no need to get proddy, Heyes,” was Lobo’s parting shot.




The two outlaw leaders watched their men file into the bunkhouse.  Wheat was the last through the door and he slammed it closed.




Curry turned to his partner.  “You’re right.  We need a plan before they kill each other off.”




#




Hunched over his desk, scribbling on a piece of scrap paper, Heyes was engrossed in his task.  The Kid yawned and stood from the kitchen table.  His gun was re-assembled and its embossed leather holster was gleaming from the bear grease he’d rubbed into it.  He curled and uncurled his cramped hands.  “I need a break.”  Having walked over to the desk, he leaned over Heyes’ shoulder.  “Anything?”




Heyes sat back with a discouraged sigh.  “I’ve looked at it from all directions.  There’re just too many men.  We’ll be outnumbered almost two to one.  They’re expecting trouble so they’ll be ready for us.  We can’t hit them while the gold’s on the stage and we can’t storm the bank.    I can’t risk it.”




“Are you sure your source was right about the guards?”




“She said the men are assigned to deliver the shipment and guard it in shifts twenty four hours a day until it gets shipped out on the northbound train.”




“She?” grinned Curry.




“Secretaries don’t get paid much, not even at Wells Fargo offices.  Someone always needs a little extra cash.”




“A little?  I’m bettin’ it cost you a lotta cash if she knew that gold’s worth almost thirty grand.”




“All part of the cost of doing business,” Heyes rubbed his neck, “but it doesn’t do me much good if I can’t use the information.”




“Well, you better figure it out fast.  Last week I caught Gully spikin’ the coffee with red pepper, Monday mornin’ Hank put plate glass under the seat in the outhouse, and yesterday Kyle white-washed Wheat’s bay horse. I’m bettin’ that’s how he ended up in the well.”




Heyes laughed.  “Practical jokes, huh?  At least it’s keeping them busy.”




“Oh, they’re gettin’ real creative.  Maybe we should let ‘em come up with the plan.”




“That’d be a formula all right; a formula for trouble,” snorted Heyes, standing up.




“C’mon, let’s take a walk and clear your head.  No point in beatin’ yourself up.”




Heyes picked up his hat and followed his partner outside.  It was a beautiful day, the morning had warmed up, drying up the previous night’s frost, and steam rose from the backs of the horses in the corral.  The two men walked down to the meadow.  They sat down on a couple of old stumps and watched the early snowmelt water burble through holes in the ice covering the stream while they discussed possible strategies.  By the time they returned mid-afternoon, they were no closer to a solution but they both felt better for having had some fresh air.  




“Where is everybody?” asked the Kid, looking around the empty yard as they reached their cabin.




“Who knows and who cares.”  Heyes crossed the porch and opened the door, stepping inside only to be hit by a falling bucket filled with flour.  The white powder rose in a cloud and settled on his hair, his shoulders, and his shirt before wafting slowly to the floor.  The outlaw leader stood rooted in place as his partner doubled over with laughter.  Heyes shook his head and dusted his clothes raising another fog of flour.




“Your face, haha,” said Curry, almost choking with glee.  “You should see…haha…you…”




Heyes scowled back at him.  “This has gone far enough!”




“You said it yourself, they’re keepin’ busy.”




“It’s one thing if they pull jokes on each other, but I can’t let them get away with pulling them on me. It’s a matter of respect.”




“Oh, lighten up.  There ain’t no harm in them havin’ a little fun.”  The Kid stopped laughing as Heyes went in and changed his clothes.  When he came out with his jaw clenched and started for the door, Curry stepped in front of him.  “Where’re you goin’?”




“I’m going to make sure those yahoots don’t ever pull another stunt on me.”  




“You shouldn’t get mad, Heyes, you should get even,” chuckled Curry.  Seeing the humor was lost on his furious partner, he quickly changed his tune.  “Hang on, I’m comin’ with you.”  The Kid went over to the table, picked up his gun, and grabbed his holster; yanking it hard but nearly losing his balance when it stuck in place.  “What the hell…”  Recovering, he pulled again before noticing the sixteen-penny nail that secured his best leather holster to the hard oak surface.  “Those sonovab….”




“I thought there was no harm in them having a little fun,” smirked Heyes. 




“You don’t mess with a man’s holster,” snarled the Kid.




A light went on in Heyes’ eyes.  “That’s it!”




“What’s it?”




“Hahaha.”  Heyes grabbed the Kid’s shoulders and danced him around in a circle.  “You did it!  You helped me.”




“Do what?”




“Come up with a plan!”




“I did?  How?”




Releasing Curry, Heyes sobered up. “I’m gonna get even.”  




Going into the kitchen, Heyes started pulling matches from the dispenser nailed to the wall next to the woodstove.  “Grab me the biggest jar you can find, will you?”  He sat down at the table, pushing aside the Kid’s gun cleaning supplies and started lighting one match after another, striking each one and quickly blowing it out.  




Curry brought over a large mason jar.  “What’re you doin’?”




“I’m building a bomb.”




“A bomb??!!!”  The Kid bobbled the jar, nearly dropping it.




“Calm down.  I’m building a stink bomb.  You know, like the one I made for the headmaster.”  Heyes smiled maniacally.  “We’ll gas out the guards.  They won’t know what hit them!”  




The Kid sat down with a laugh.  “You really are the genius you think you are!”




“Heehee, I am, ain’t I?”




“Lemme help.”




“Cut the heads off these matches.  I’ll go find the ammonia.”




A few minutes later, the match heads were in the bottom of the jar and Heyes was carefully pouring the ammonia over them.  He placed the lid on the jar, tightened the band around it, and gave it a good shake.  He walked to the stove and placed the jar on the warming shelf above the burners. “We’ll leave this here to ripen for a few days.  It’ll be ready just in time for the job.”




The Kid grinned back at him.  “I’m kind of looking forward to this one.”




“Me too.  Now, let’s go chew the boys out,” chuckled Heyes.




#




The robbery went like clockwork.  The gang struck the bank in the wee hours of the morning after the shipment arrived.  The ‘bomb’ was thrown through the plate glass window of the bank and seconds later, the door opened and out streamed the guards on duty, rubbing their eyes and harshly coughing.  




The gang rode out of town at a dead run with the Kid carrying the loot.  After a while, Heyes pulled up and told Wheat to take the men north while he and the Kid went south to confuse the posse.  Splitting up worked like a charm.  A little later, certain that they weren’t being followed, Heyes reined up his tired gelding and smiled at his partner.




“What say we head into Chambersburg and have a little fun?”




“Chambersburg?  I thought we were headin’ back to the Hole. That’s what you told Wheat.”




“Like you said, Kid, don’t get mad, get even.”  Heyes chortled.  “I reckon we’ll go into Chambersburg and live it up for a few days; spend a little of our hard earned cash before we have to go back and divvy up the leftovers.”




A broad grin split the Kid’s face.  “I like the way you think, partner.”




“Well, you know what they say…he who laughs last, laughs best.”

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