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PostSubject: Lock   Tue Aug 01, 2017 9:18 am

August already affraid  and it's time topic a topic for this month's story challenge. Your challenge is to give us your take on the topic in between 4,000 and 150 words on the word


safe Lock  Jail


That can be an actual lock, a lock of hair, or even a canal lock (if they had such things in the old West - if they did, I'm sure you'll tell us). Start writing!
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Silverkelpie

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PostSubject: Re: Lock   Wed Aug 02, 2017 3:27 pm

Alter Ego - Part Four

"She lied. What do you expect?" 

 Heyes put his weight on one leg as he hooked his thumbs in his belt and queried. "So? How you gonna kill her then?"

Abigail couldn't believe her ears. “What!”


She turned on her heel, but Heyes’ hand darted out and grabbed her by the wrist. Abigail swung her arm in a huge circle, breaking his grasp, only for him to catch the fabric on her dress and lock onto a great gathering fold at the front. He held her at arm’s length as she punched and kicked impotently, the cloth gathering around her throat in a tight ball in his hard fist.

Heyes sanguine demeanour belied the wildcat he held at a distance as he spoke casually to his partner.  "You gonna strangle her with your bare hands?  Not sophisticated but it'll get the job done I suppose."

The Kid turned his chilling gaze back to the woman writhing at the end of his arm before Heyes drew his attention back to his partner again. "A shot to the head would be quicker? Want me to do it?"

Abigail's eyes watered as she choked and struggled against the grip whilst Heyes’s brown eyes drifted over to her, drawn by her fight. "There's a river over there. How about drowning? Drowning’d work."

“You’re a monster! Let me go.”

Heyes mused this over and seemed to think the better of it. "No, you're right. Too wet. Or hanging maybe? What about hanging? One thing's for sure. I wouldn't do it that way."

The Kid snorted in frustration.

"We both got knives. No, I guess you've thought it through. Far too messy."

Heyes examined his grip before looking straight into Abigail’s furious face. Stray locks of her hair were wound into his fist. That had to hurt. "Maybe I should use both hands and put them right around the throat? That fabric’s starting to tear." He toyed with the grass with his toes for a few moments before he spoke again. "Or a rope? You could get me a rope from my horse? I’ve got some."

Kid Curry exploded at his annoying partner. "Oh, for cryin’ out loud! What can we do with her? We can’t kill her, Heyes.” 

Heyes gave the Kid a satisfied nod and shook his head with a smile of relief.  "No. Now you ask.  I don't want either of us to do it. It took you a while but we got there in the end." Heyes glared at Abigail. “It doesn’t do you any harm to hear us consider it though.”

He released her and led her over to a tree and pushed her to a seated position. He examined her. The dress was ripped and the flesh was reddening already, but he was satisfied her injuries were only superficial. "Stay there." His eyes transmitted an unnecessary warning.

He smiled at The Kid. “I knew you didn't have it in you. Not even for a woman who was going to hand us over to McCully. You ain't that man."

"I wasn't," croaked Abigail.

"We'll deal with you in a minute," barked Heyes.

The Kid closed his eyes and dropped his head. "McCully? Gettin’ us arrested is one thing, but McCully? I can't believe she would do that to us.

Heyes gave him a wry smile. "So, what did she say about it?"

"She denies it, but she would, wouldn't she?"

"Well. Let’s see, shall we?"

He towered over her, his dark eyes penetrating her soul. “Well?"

She stared back at him, her chest rising and falling in fear and exertion.

"Nothin’ to say? Not much of a defence?" His dropping of his ‘g’s told her Heyes’ anger robbed his accent of its polish.

"I can't. I really can't. But I’m not prepared to see you hurt."

He crouched, leaning on his knees, reading her every move. "Abi, listen carefully. I need you to tell me what's going on, otherwise things could get unpleasant for you. I'm sorry about that, sorrier than you'll ever know, but if you don't tell me you'll leave me no alternative."

“No alternative to what?” Her eyes turned to his, full of resignation and fear. "You’ll have to do what you need to. I can't. Lives depend on it."

"Whose life?"

"Many lives over time but-“ she stopped, biting back her words, having already said too much.

He watched her mute stare, wondering why she didn't speak. Why she refused to defend herself. He knew her well enough to know she was articulate enough to try to bluff her way out of this. The stakes had to be high.

"Is someone going to die soon?"

Her eyes opened, almost pleading. "No one will die if you let me go back. Nobody. Just leave here as soon as you can."

He scrutinised her. She looked like she was telling the truth, in fact she appeared to be placing her own safety behind her current assignment in the habit he found infuriating. She had no idea what he had planned for her.  She couldn't be sure whether or not Heyes would really do something to her if his life was at stake, yet she stuck to that damned secrecy which drove him insane. 

He scratched his cheek and thought back to what she had told him. It was a matter of life or death. She was guarding someone. She didn't need gun skills. Frank McCully was in the equation. Who could she be protecting? His agile mind ran through the fragments, doing his best to piece them together into a viable theory. It hit him like a kick from a horse, right between the eyes.

He sucked in a breath and stared at her. "Abi? It’s us. You're here to protect us."

Her eyes widened and filled with tears and confusion. "How? How did you know?"

"Who else needs protecting when McCully’s around? It’s got to be criminals and who else is around Everlasting with a price in their head, dead or alive? This is our territory."

"You sure about this, Heyes?” The Kid’s jaw dropped open, “She could be tryin’ to draw us out for him."

He shook his head. "Nope. She's done everything she can to stop me seeing her. She almost begged in the summerhouse. She's drawing out McCully."

"Why? Why would the law care about that? He kills criminals."

"Yes, he does, but he also makes criminals to fight to the death rather than be brought in." Abigail spoke at last, knowing the game was lost. "And they kill the law because they think we're all as bad as he is. In the last year three Pinkerton agents have been killed because the outlaws think they'll be shot anyway. We have to stop McCully and let them know we consider murder to be murder. They need to know the law is fair and applied equally. They can do their time and then live as free men. We can’t live by the gun like this."

"Why us?"

“Mostly your reward money.” Unblinking eyes looked straight into his. “Intelligence told us he was after you. We leaked it to him you had nursed me when I was shot by the Pattersons and then let me go after a few emotional entanglements. He has no idea I'm a Pinkerton. In fact he doesn't even know there are female Pinkertons. He's paying me to stay in Everlasting and pose as Abigail Ansell, even into making eyes at the Bank Manager to make sure I could be around when you robbed the Bank. I got engaged on his orders. He thinks he's running the show and it was only a matter of time before you robbed a bank in this area.”

"And to make arrangements to see us?"
 

She shook her head. "He knows you're too sophisticated than to fall for that. He thinks I'm setting you a challenge knowing you can't resist one.”

Heyes arched a dark eyebrow as his eyes bored into her. "It could be argued you did exactly that."

"No. You were never going to be there and I tried my best to keep you away when you arrived. We have agents planted to rob the place, but if we’d done it too quickly it would have looked suspicious. The agents can pass for you both to someone who's never seen you and is going on the descriptions. They'll be at a planned assignation and McCully’s gun will have been tampered with. That's my job. The only problem is you two turned up and almost blew the whole plan."

"How do you know he's never seen us?"

"He told me so."

Heyes narrowed his eyes and stood, letting out a long slow breath. It figured because they never mixed with criminals unless they were with the gang, and they were tested and loyal. So, McCully had never seen Heyes and Curry, but they had made sure they had seen him. Their lives depended on it.

"Why didn't you tell me this before now, Abi?" asked Heyes.

"I couldn't. I wasn't allowed to and it couldn't get out, but you guessed. Even if this didn't work out we had to find a way of winning him over so he'd use me again if he went after someone else. He's a mass murderer and he'll continue to kill unarmed people. If he's not stopped he'll undermine the rule of law and endanger more of my colleagues as criminals treat all arrests like life or death. And he's not just killing criminals; he's also killing men, women and children who don't stand a chance. They’re defenceless. For that reason alone I have to do this. He's a cold blooded murderer." She dropped her head. "Besides, if I had told you there would be no way you'd keep out of this. You’re too damned bloody-minded for your own good."

"You’re no better. What if he found out about you?"

She looked him straight in the eye. "We all know what he'd do. He shoots unarmed men in the head when their hands are handcuffed behind their backs so a woman who double crossed him wouldn't be a problem for him, but there would be someone else to take my place."

Heyes shook his head as he bit his lip. "I can't let you risk your life for mine, Abi. Does he know your real name?"

"Yes. Why not? If anyone of the gang had talked you might have told them my real name. It wasn't worth the risk to lie."

“The Devil's Hole Gang don’t talk, Abi. I make sure of that. I also don’t tell the gang about people like you. You need to protect yourself more.” He rubbed his face and turned towards the Kid who was staring at them, transfixed with horror at what he might have done.

"This could be a lie," he muttered. "She could have been settin’ us up to hand us over."

"Except for one thing, Kid," Heyes shook his head. "She pushed and pushed for me to keep away."

"Double bluff? She's a real good liar."

"She's not too bad but she ain't a poker player, Kid. In fact, she's real easy to read for anyone skilled at it. Right from the first day in the cabin, remember?"

"You sure?"

"It's a gamble, but I'll stake my life on it, Kid."

The Kid mused on everything he’d heard before he spoke again. "It sounds like you already have, Heyes."

The Kid turned to her, struck by Heyes’ certainty. He leaned over and stretched out a hand towards her bruised neck. Shame kicked him in the guts as she flinched at the approaching hand and stopped short.
 

He was suddenly caught in a vortex of abhorrence, seeing himself through her eyes as his stomach turned over.  Adrenaline still filled his system and it charged every emotion with a special power. The bile rose in his gullet, fired by his anxious episode until he clutched a hand to his mouth and ran behind a tree revolted at what he might have done. He had turned into one of the men he hated.

Abigail glanced at Heyes in surprise as the loud retching and heaving drifted over to them. He smiled tenderly and gave her a reassuring pat on the back on the knee. "I guess the Kid believes you too. It's his way of saying sorry."

He straightened and looked into the trees, following the Kid's movement. His pensive eyes dropped to her and drank in the woman whose confusion melded with her clear irritation at the men who were treading all over her carefully-planned operation. "Catch your breath. I need to speak to the Kid so we can decide what we're going to do with you."

Fire flashed in her eyes. "You're going to let me get on with my job. Too much time has gone into this and it could cost lives if we have to start again. I simply won't tolerate interference. Not this time. Am I clear?"

He turned and fixed her with a cold grin. "I hear you. You're unarmed in the woods with two criminals and you're in no position to give orders. Am I clear?" His eyes softened but the set of his jaw told her he meant business. "Rest a while. We'll talk, but I'm in no mood for ultimatums, Abi."

                                                                     ~ 
"You alright?"


The Kid turned bleary, red-rimmed eyes on his cousin. "You believe her, don't you?"

Heyes’s eyes glittered with sympathy. "Yup. She’s not the sort to allow anyone to be slaughtered, it goes against her values. I got to know her mind when I questioned her in the cabin. I explored her and tested her. I even know her breaking point. It wasn't pretty." He turned and sat on a fallen tree as he paused, lost amongst the troubling memories which came flooding back to him from that night. "You didn't see that side of her until now. You didn't have the chance to know her so deeply. Don't beat yourself up over it."

"Just how hard were you on her?" the Kid asked, his face drawn and weary.

"Real hard," Heyes flickered a reassuring smile. "Harder than you were. I broke her, remember."

The Kid sucked in a breath. "The thought of what I might have done is killin’ me."

"No, I know that would never happen," replied Heyes with a shake of his head. "It's not in you. You never act in cold blood without real good reason. You knew you didn’t have enough. Your instincts won out."

"Fine, so I ain't the brains of the outfit."

"I wouldn't say that. You see things I miss all the time. You got real good instincts. It's clever, just a different type."

"Huh? Instincts so good I kidnap an innocent woman?"

Heyes laughed softly and patted his shoulder. “Ooh, Kid. You can say a lot of things about Abigail MacKinnon, but innocent isn't one of them. She'd turn us in, but she wouldn't let anyone kill us. That's about as far as I'll go."

The Kid dropped beside him on the log and supported his pale face in his hands. "I was hit by what I nearly did. I was like the men who hit our place when we were kids. My stomach turned over at the thought of it."

“Yeah.” Heyes stiffened and gripped the Kid’s forearm reassuringly, knowing the visions which filled his mind with nightmares. "You ain't that man. You're better than that or I wouldn't be sitting here with you, family or not."

He laid an arm on the Kid’s shoulder. "Well, partner. The question is where do we go from here? Do we hot tail it outta here and let McCully target someone else, or do we get involved and help her?"

"She don't want our help. She's got agents ready to take our place."

"They ain't got the vested interest we got."

"True," The Kid sighed.

Heyes paused. "We got two big advantages though."

"What?"

"We know what he looks like, but he doesn't know what we look like."

"And the other?"

His grinned widened. "We got you. You’re the man who feigned a bad chest to stop from getting adopted, and taught me to do the same. You kept us together until we could go off on our own.Now if you can do all that when you’re a little boy, what can you do as an adult? There’s grown men who can’t keep a family together. You’re remarkable. You’re way better’n McCully at every single thing you do. Especially with a gun."

The Kid raised his deep blue eyes to his cousin. “I could’ve killed her, Heyes.”

“But you didn’t. You chose not to because you’re better than that. She’ll understand. I guess we’ve got to tell her about more about our past so she understands how protective you are.”

“What am I gonna say to her, Heyes?”

The sound of hooves clattered in the background, making both men turn. “How about, why are you stealing Heyes’ horse, Abi?” Heyes leaped to his feet. “Stay here, I’ll get her.  That damned woman is impossible.”

                                                                           ~
She was lighter and on Heyes’s mount, but he was a superior horseman on a larger animal and it didn’t take long before she heard the percussive pounding of his horse battering across the dry road towards her. She turned.  She could see him high in the saddle with a forward seat, urging his mount on faster and faster towards her. She gritted her teeth and pressed in with her heels, but the pulsating thumps behind her were getting inexorably closer and closer.  The adrenaline flooded her system and her heart beat like a drum which filled her ears, but somehow the horse refused to go any faster. The mare’s ears flicked back listening to the pursuit, but the thump of the hooves got louder, pounding a tattoo which told her Heyes was gaining on her. The dress fluttered in the wind as she rose in the saddle, the petticoats annoying her as they flapped around and robbed her of anything but comedy value.   


Her peripheral vision caught the shadow of the chasing man closing in, arm outstretched before a hard hand grasped at the reins. The reins tightened pulling the beast to a halt. “Whoa there, Gypsy. Good girl.” He glared at her. “That was aimed at the horse. Not you. What the hell are you playin’ at, Abi?”

“If he didn’t want me taking his horse, he shouldn’t have brought me out here.”

“That’s my damned horse. This isn’t over, Abi. You can’t go running off.”

She raised her chin. “Oh, it’s well and truly over. You need to put as many miles between yourself and Everlasting as possible so I can get on with my job.”

Heyes gathered the tethers in his hands, his jaw firming. “No, it isn’t. For a start you need to understand what happened back there and why.”

She tilted back her head, eyes flashing. “You discussed more convenient ways to kill me after your cousin kidnapped me.  What else is there to discuss?”

"There’s why.” He paused, his voice softening. “He’s real protective of me.” 

Her brows gathered. “Most relatives are. It’s not an excuse.”

He shook his head. “The reason we were orphans is that our families were wiped out in the border wars. We survived but we saw it. The Kid saw a whole lot more than me. He ran to our place and hid me after watching his family slaughtered before his eyes. I was stupid enough to run towards the place when I saw them, but he caught me and grabbed me. If he hadn’t I’d be dead too. Even after all that he thought about saving others. It’s why he became a fast gun. He needed to stop men like them.”

He dropped his head. “Nobody really cared, not enough to keep us out of a home. He saw it all and it affected him.” 

Her jaw dropped open. “Where was this?”

“Kansas. Our folks were involved in the underground railroad. Some pro-slavery folks decided to teach our kind a lesson.

“Oh, Hannibal!” she reached out and grasped his arm.

“He did everything he could to keep us together by lying to the authorities and saying we were too ill to get adopted as cheap labour. Then we ran away and he looked after me all by himself,” his shrug was weak. “The thought of McCully putting a bullet in my head was enough for him. I’m sorry you experienced that, but he thought you were setting us up.”

Her mind ran with everything she knew about the gunman, picking out his squeamishness around violence connected to women and remembering the man who fixated on the little girl when they broke into the undertaker’s office in Bannen.

Her brow creased. “Poor Jed.” Soft brown eyes fixed on him, “I’m sorry, Mr. Heyes.”

A slim brow arched. “Back to Mr. Heyes again? I was Hannibal a few seconds ago.”

She dropped her head. “A few seconds ago you were a child and watching your family die horribly. I’m so sorry. I really am.”

He urged his mount into action, ponying her mare along with him. “Good, because that’s why you and him need to clear the air, for both your sakes.”

Her brows curved in surprise. “Why for my sake?”

“Because I’m not finished with you yet, Abigail MacKinnon, and if you’re going to be around you need to understand a few things about us.”

 She opened her mouth, but he kicked the pace to a canter and left her reply hanging in the air.

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

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PostSubject: Re: Lock   Sat Aug 05, 2017 6:57 am

This is a little long (3000 words) but some of you will have read the first 1000 words before and can skip straight to the second section. Hoping this develops into quite a tale. Calx


Challenge - LOCK


Of all the Towns


Heyes’ mare danced in front of the way marker.  He had trouble keeping her there, obscuring the sign, as he only had use of his left hand. 


His right arm was strapped heavily across his chest, under his blue grey winter coat, immobile and thankfully no longer giving him too much trouble.  Kid had pulled the shoulder back into some sort of order, but they both knew Heyes needed to see a doctor, and quick. What were the chances a tree would drop a limb like that, just as they were passing underneath it.  Luckily for Heyes, his younger cousin had a way of staying calm and dealing with stuff, even when having obscenities hurled at him by a less than grateful partner.


‘Geez, it had hurt.’
 
Heyes had passed out for a while and woke to the breath-constricting hug of heavy bandaging and the insistent nag from Kid to try wriggle his fingers.  All fingers wriggled on command, and now the arm and shoulder felt comfortably numb. Still, they needed to find a town and a doctor before nightfall, and he’d been so pleased to see the way marker up ahead, he’d pushed on to read it.


“Five miles… that way.  Lesbastion? Never heard of it… quite small… Hopefully too small for a jailhouse… I need a drink …and a bed… Need to get this arm looked at…”


Heyes didn’t leave any gaps for comment, he pointed the way and encouraged Kid to pass him and take the lead.


Kid slowed, giving his partner a long cool look, from the mud-spattered boot heels to the battered black hat pushed right to the back of Heyes’ head.  He said nothing, not even slowing as he passed the dancing mare, and walked his big black gelding on down the road. 


He could read his partner like a book.  He didn’t have to look back to see the devilish grin he knew would be on his cousin’s face.
 
Heyes jogged alongside and managed to tone down the grin to a warm smile.


“Lesbastion… sounds like a real peaceable town” he said, quickening his mare’s pace a little.


“Think I’ll take me a look at that sign” said Kid suddenly, flashing his horse around on a dime, and jogging back to the way marker.


Heyes’ shoulders dropped, and the smile slid off his face into the dirt.


“HEYES!”


Heyes’ eyes shut, he didn’t turn.  He already knew what the sign said, but he really did have need of a doctor and a bed for the night; a real one, not just a bed roll on hard ground.  Now he’d stopped to think about his arm, it was starting to trouble him again.


“HEYES? DID YOU SEE WHAT IT SAYS HERE?”


Heyes rolled his eyes skywards lip syncing the words of the sign as Kid read aloud.


“BY TOWN ORDA…NANCE, SUBJECT TO THE MAYOR’S WISHES, ALL ARM…OUR…MENTS MUST BE SUR…RENDED AT THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE ON ENTERING THE TOWN AND MAY BE RE…DEEMED UPON LEAVING.  WE ARE PROUD TO DECLARE LES…BAS…TION A NO GUN TOWN.”


Kid’s head shook from side to side, his mouth hanging open in wonder.


“A NO GUN town?  Is that even …a THING? Can you believe that?  …. HEYES?.... Can you believe THAT????”


Heyes sat his mare, quietly studying his hand as it rested on the saddle horn in front of him. A dull ache was setting into his strapped arm, and he could have sworn someone was trying to take a bullet out of his shoulder with a rusty can opener.


He breathed slowly.  There really wasn’t anything he could say to Kid, that the Kid would listen to.


Kid came back along the road to join him.  A predictable rant issued forth mostly about needing to move on to the next town.  Heyes must have been doing a better job of hiding his discomfort up until now than even he thought, because when Kid got up close enough to look Heyes in the face, he stopped abruptly, mid rant.


Heyes saw the blue eyes dart around and close slightly.  He watched Kid pull his slicker out of his pack and start unbuckling his rig.


“What you doing now?” he asked quietly.


Of course, he already knew the answer.


“You gotta get yourself to a doctor… now Heyes… So, take off your rig… I’ll hang back … come in to town after dark… I’ll get our guns hid real good… up on the Hotel roof like last time…”


Heyes almost laughed but shook his head. 


Kid had a good memory. 


They had tried that, a long time ago now, in Utah, in a no drinking, no cussing, no shooting town called Ecclesiastes.  Kid’s memory wasn’t that good perhaps.  It didn’t end well.  It’s hard to go get your guns when you have to leave town in an awful hurry, if you have to scale a three-storey building just to do it. 


‘Guess them guns are still up there.’


Heyes chuckled to himself.


“No… no Kid… This time we’re gonna ride right into town… just like the law abiding, honest citizens we are… and ride right on up to the Sheriff’s office and hand in our hardware … Like a pair of Texas rangers…


He raised his good hand to stop the tirade promising to burst from Kid in its tracks.


“… AND… we’re gonna smile while we’re doing it… just like no outlaws ever would… then… we’ll get us a room… and you can go get me a doctor…”


He winced, cupping his sore shoulder.


Kid’s face was stony.  If he had any arguments, they died on his tongue with that wince, just as Heyes’ had known they would.  Heyes watched as Kid’s lips moved in silent cussing.  The gun belt was re-buckled and tied, the slicker stowed, and the gelding pushed to a slow canter towards Lesbastion without another word.


Heyes followed, slowly, holding his arm tight against every bump in the trail.


---oooOOOooo---


Less than an hour later they rode slowly down the main Street of Lesbastion, hats set low over their eyes. 


Heyes wasn’t showing any signs of being in particular discomfit, but the empty sleeve of his winter coat had pulled free of the pocket and was flapping around in the stiff breeze. The fact that he could do very little about it, just added to the feeling of vulnerability he was already experiencing, since Kid had unhitched his rig and set it over the saddle horn in front of him.  


Like Kid said, better doing that out in the sticks than stood in a Sheriff’s office.  


The frustration of not even being able to unbuckle his own gun belt had soured the ex-outlaw leader’s mood.  Not even the promise of a drink and a soft bed could lift it.


Kid stopped his horse in the middle of the street, right out in the middle of the wheel ruts, to glance over at the name above the door.  A brief look over his shoulder to see Heyes’ imperceptible head shake, and he mosied closer to the hitching rail and stood down.  His arm lifted towards Heyes to offer assistance, and quickly found something else to do; a hat adjustment, lifting it clear of the blond curls for just long enough to give them a wet-dog style shake.


That look from Heyes would have dried his hair instantly if it had been wet.


The gunslinger squared up to the door.  He had both their rigs over one shoulder.  The cornflower blue eyes never blinked. Slowly he started up the steps to the boardwalk.


“Ahhh! Geez…. ****!”


Heyes hit the ground behind him with very little grace.


“I’ll thank you to mind your manners young man!” scolded a passing elderly lady.


“Yes… Ma’am” growled Heyes between gritted teeth.


“Ma’am” said Curry touching his hat.


Heyes was right behind him now. Time to do this. He squared up to the door again, standing his full height and grabbed the door handle.


The door didn’t budge an inch. 


Kid nearly head butted the door with the force of his determination to get this over with.  Heyes assuming his partner was competent enough to open a door, walked straight into the back of him.


“****! My arm… COME ON… this is no time f’r cold feet K…”


“ITS LOCKED! … alright?” said the gunslinger trying to regain his poise.


“Young man! … I only just now requested that you temper your language…” said the Scold returning to their side.   “Is it too much to ask that you keep a civil tongue in your head?”


Kid gave her the smile Heyes couldn’t quite muster.


“I’m sorry for my partner’s cussing Ma’am… but he’s in a might of pain… see a tree branch dropped on him …and put his shoulder out.  Do you have a doctor in town… Ma’am?”


Heyes leaned heavily on the locked door, rubbing at the offending arm and sweating visibly.


The lady softened and took on a concerned air.


“No… no… not permanently.  He comes by when he can.  At least once a month… but we haven’t seen him for some time now...”


“Is there another town … nearby… with a doctor Ma’am?” asked Kid, ignoring the exasperated sigh coming from behind him.


“Lord sakes Son… you can’t put …him …back on a horse… There’s nowhere within a coupla days anyways… Your friend need help… NOW… The very idea…”


“Yes Ma’am”


“You help your friend along to Mr Lucas’… over there …and I’ll fetch Mrs Alderly… She’ll know what’s to be done.”


“Mr Lucas’?… Mrs… Alderly???” said Kid, looking up at the sign above the locked door in disbelief.


The sign read Sheriff Lesley P Alderly.


The woman looked pityingly at the rather slow cowboy.


“Yes…. Mrs Alderly… Now just you concentrate on getting your friend over to Mr Lucas’... Right away!”


Her wagging finger took Kid’s attention over to the Undertakers across the street.


Kid smiled.  A lady sheriff? He’d never known that either.  That could explain the No Gun ordinance. Perhaps this town wasn’t going to be so bad after all.


“Yes Ma’am…” he grinned, reaching a hand back to his growling partner.



“But he ain’t …not even near dead …Ma’am…”he chuckled hearing Heyes’ hackles rising.


The lady was already crossing the street in the opposite direction on her errand of mercy.


“I can see that for myself young man.  Now… You watch your sass!” she threw back over her shoulder.


Kid turned to Heyes not entirely sure what his cousin would make of the idea of visiting the Undertakers.  Heyes growled out his compliance, sighed heavily, pulled himself to his full height, straightened his shoulders best he could and led the way.


“Yeah Kid… Mind your sass” he smirked as he passed his too amused partner.


They marched across the street to the Undertakers, Kid bending Heyes’ ears with his theory that the town sheriff was a woman called Lesley Alderly. Heyes wasn’t in the mood to even give that lame-brained theory an answer. 


Mr Lucas kept a neat and comfortable parlour at the rear of the work shop, with deep plush sofas for the newly bereaved to rest their grief, whilst he led them through the funeral expectations of the modern, up to date, fashionable recently departed.  He didn’t seem the least put out, that two strangers said they were to wait there for Mrs Alderly to say what was to be done about Heyes’ arm.


Kid, still sporting the lethal shoulder-ware, stood at the parlour door and looked about as comfortable as a groom on his wedding day.  His eyes flicked between the workshop and the street beyond, and the lace covered window set in the back wall of the small parlour.


Heyes availed himself of one of the comfortable couches, finding cushions to prop up his injured arm.


“What are you worried about Kid?” he asked, eyes closing as his unwashed greasy head lolled back on the anti-Macassar adorning the back of the pristine upholstery. 


“This here is a real peaceable town…. No guns … No Sheriff …male or female … a locked-up Jailhouse… and we’re on the right side of the locked door f’r a change! I think this could be a good place for us…”


“You forgot … no doctor… Heyes.  That was the whole point of risking a place like …this… remember?” hissed Kid from the door.


Heyes chuckled.


“What you beefing about… you still got your rig ain’t yer… You can’t… surrender it… if there ain’t no one to surrender it to…”


That sofa really was comfortable.  Heyes thought, just this once, he could just close his eyes like the Kid could, and be asleep in seconds.


“And no Saloon …Heyes…” drawled Kid.  “Did you see any Saloon out there on the street? …Coz I sure didn’t… What kind of town doesn’t have a Saloon?”


Morpheus abandoned Heyes.


“Huh?”


He hadn’t noticed.  That could put a crimp in his plans to play a little poker.  Wasn’t a lot else he was fit for till his arm healed up. How else was he to get them some money?


The sofa wasn’t that comfortable anymore.  A sharp pain stabbed his shoulder.


“Company” hissed Kid.


Heyes groaned, attempting to sit up a little straighter.


“Here he is, Mrs Alderly… I found him …by the Sheriff’s office… His ‘friend’ …there… was talking about putting him back on his horse… The very idea I said…. I told him…. Mrs Alderly will know what’s to be done… I said…”


“Thank you, Olive… I’ll take it from here…” said Mrs Alderly sweeping into the parlour passed Kid as he touched his hat with a silent Ma’am.
 
Mrs Alderly was the sort of person that commanded a room just with the aura of expectation that surrounded her. She turned to the smaller lady with an indulgent smile.


“Olive… Would you be a dear… and go and fetch the Sheriff?”


Olive looked slightly peeved to be so summarily dismissed, but took it in good part and turned on her heel and left. 


Heyes saw Kid’s eyes harden to flint.  Guess his theory of a nice weak woman sheriff, susceptible to his charms, just got blown out of the water and now he had a real sheriff to deal with and the parlour only had one exit.


“The Sheriff Ma’am?” Heyes asked quickly, drawing Mrs Alderly’s attention away from the riled gunslinger.


“That would be your husband Ma’am?”


“Yes” confirmed Mrs Alderly with a curt nod, approaching Heyes and telling him with a queenly gesture not to attempt to rise in her presence. 


“You’ll be wanting to surrender your arms to my husband’s care no doubt?”


“His arm Ma’am?” said a distracted Kid from the doorway.


“Your guns …young man… your guns! Or do you always wear them that way… over your shoulder? … No doubt you read my ordinance… Lesbastion is a no gun town … “


“Your ordinance Ma’am?”


“Ahh…” smiled Heyes drawing her attention again from his flustered partner.


“That would make you the Mayor of Lesbastion ma’am?”


 “Indeed!” confirmed Mrs Alderly finding this chatter unnecessary.


“NOW… I’ve asked Henry, to join us here presently.  There isn’t much about bone setting that Henry doesn’t know, you’ll have the use of that arm again for gainful employment in no time Mr…er…Mr…?”


Heyes’ eyes sparkled with mirth as he filled them with sincerity for the town’s Mayor.


“It’s Smith, Ma’am… Joshua Smith… but I’m pretty sure nothing is broken… there’s no need to bother…”


Light footsteps in the workroom got all their attention.


“You must be Henry?” said Kid, still standing sentry at the door but stepping aside to let a huge man mountain swathed in a leather apron enter the parlour.


“Yes… heard I was needed” whispered the colossus in a high falsetto.


“Henry… Mr Smith here has met with an unfortunate accident… seems he was careless enough to ride under a tree when it dropped a branch.”
Heyes’ mouth opened, but the force of nature that was Mrs Alderly did not give ground.


“His arm may be broken” she continued with not so much as a thought for even the briefest of introductions.


Heyes looked a might put out. No one seemed to be listening to him properly.


“There was nothing careless about it… and as I was saying… it ain’t broke…” he started as tactfully as he could manage.


Kid could hear the edge.


“Thank you, Henry…” said Mrs Alderly waving the giant towards Heyes as if he wouldn’t make the sofa without her direction.


Henry nodded deferentially to the lady, and sat precariously next to Heyes on the sofa.  He unwound all the bandaging and carefully probed the arm and shoulder never once making eye contact with his patient.


Heyes dropped his head in defeat, and carefully avoided seeing the smirk on the Kid’s face.


Henry was extremely gentle, his grip just like his voice, soft and calming until it wasn’t.  Suddenly he gripped Heyes’ shoulder and arm and pulled and twisted. A small pop and a twang accompanied Heyes’ expletives turning the air blue.


“Sorry” said Henry looking Heyes in the face for the first time. 


“Your fingers should go pink now …and they’re gonna throb some… but …you had some of your workings trapped up in there. At least you didn’t kick me.  Most of my patients try and get in a kick and a bite or two when I do that.”


Heyes, blinking back tears, looked dumbfounded by the idea that he should kick or bite the man.


“Guessing most of your patients have four legs Henry?” said the Kid helpfully.


Heyes, quick to recover, shook his head ruefully, hardly believing what he was about to say.  He smiled weakly, gingerly rotating his arm at the shoulder, noting the heaviness and tingling in his hand.


“Thank you… Henry…. I think? …You got it there… Thank you… I think you really got that… ”


He beamed a huge full dimpled smile, filling the room with its warmth.


Kid came over to stare at Heyes, who now seemed to have full use of his arm, fascinated by events. He nodded appreciatively for the Blacksmith’s skill, then remembered the lady in the room.


“My Partner apologises for the cussing Ma’am…” he said falteringly. 


 “He’s usually more mindful of a lady’s presence.”


Mrs Alderly raised a wry eyebrow not at all put out.  Something told Kid it would take a lot more than a little cussing to fluster this lady.


Over by the door there was a small cough.


“Did I hear a Sheriff was needed here?” said a tall white-haired fellow, sporting a tin star big as a hogs head on the front of his leather vest.


The boy’s eyes locked in alarm for just half a heartbeat. Kid swallowed.  Heyes recovered first.


“Sure did, Sheriff…” he smiled.  “My partner and I …understand …this here town …is a no gun town!”


Kid’s face was unreadable.  He still held Heyes’ gaze as his hand involuntarily tightened on the leather belts of their shooting irons.


---oooOOOooo---
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Nebraska Wildfire

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PostSubject: Re: Lock   Thu Aug 24, 2017 2:44 am

     
Separation


He was quiet.  He was still when I first found him lying in the barn, and he continued to be so.

I don’t think he was by nature a quiet man.  There were laugh lines around his mouth and eyes.  Occasionally I would almost detect a twinkle, but it never became fully formed.

It was barely dawn the morning he appeared.  I had gone out to the barn to take care of the animals.  I knew it would get warm later, so I was trying to avoid what heat I could, it being a baking day.

The moment I entered the barn, I could feel the animals’ anxiety.  Then I noticed the new horse.  Its saddle had been removed, and an attempt made to groom it, but it looked sadly at me, wanting a bit more attention.  Some hay and grain had been given to it in the night, but by the way it was snuffling around, it knew it was time for a more substantial breakfast.

It was when I walked around the horse, that I noticed the man lying in the straw in the next stall.  His arm was wrapped in a sling, and beneath that I could see blood soaked bandanas.  There was blood in the hay.  No wonder the animals were unsettled.

As I knelt down, the man tried to stir, his other hand going for the gun still tied down on his thigh.  He was weak from the blood loss.  I easily took the gun from his hand.  There was fear and confusion in his eyes, but exhaustion too.  I set the gun aside and got up to fetch some fresh water.

I came back with a bucket and a cup.  I eased him up to have a drink, and I saw gratitude replace the agitation in his eyes.  I laid him back down and his eyes fluttered closed.

I didn’t know if I could save him, but I decided to try.  There was no doctor close, but out here on the frontier, we made due.  I had removed bullets before.  I brought hot water, clean cloths, and whiskey.  He sputtered when I gave him a drink, but he did get it all down.  I wouldn’t chance more, with all the blood he had lost, but he didn’t need more.  After the first attempt to remove the bullet, he had gone unconscious and remained that way until it was done.

If there had been a way to move him, I might have taken him into the house, but I figured that would do him more harm than good.  I brought out old, clean quilts, and changed out the straw that had been covered by his blood.  His body fought the fever, and I kept him cool with water from deep in the well.


He was almost well enough to move out of the barn, when Pa and Silas returned.  They were not happy that he was there, but I would not let them move him.  I had nursed him through the worst and would not let them throw away that effort.

I knew they were most upset that they couldn’t go straight into town to celebrate their earnings, with another man about the place.  I just looked at them and then at the very weak man still lying in the barn and laughed.  I went about my chores until they figured out it didn’t matter.

I told them what we needed from town, and I saw them off down the road.

The place became quiet again. 


“What’s your name?” I asked as I was bathing the latest layer of sweat from his skin.  His fever was almost gone.

“Joshua.” His voice was almost a whisper, so deep it was.  “And you?”

“Ellie.”  I finished up his bath.  “From Eleanor, the queen.  Ma liked to read.”

“I like to read.”  He tried to smile, but then a ghost passed his eyes, and they closed.


Later in the day, after the garden had been weeded and supper was cooking, I brought out a book, and started reading to him.  I thought he had fallen asleep again.

“I like Mark Twain’s books,” he said quietly, when I had stopped reading to take a breath, and fan myself in the growing heat.

“Do you need a drink?” I asked.

He nodded, and I got up and brought back cool water from the well.  After we both had a drink, I read a few more pages, then stopped when I noticed his eyes on me.

“I like Twain’s humor.”  I didn’t know what else to say.  Again a smile might have wanted to cross his face, but he either had too little energy or too little will.

“He is a people’s philosopher.”

I looked at Joshua, but he did not continue.  I closed the book, as supper needed tending to.

“Those men.  Who were they?”

“My pa and brother?”  I was confused, but then realized he must have been sicker than he let on, when they were here.

“Yeah.”  His eyes closed again for a beat, but then he forced them open.  “They be back soon?”

I shrugged.  It usually depended on how much money they had to waste on whiskey and women.  “Eventually.”

“What do they do for a living?”  

I met his eyes, and saw the knowledge there.  A chill went down my spine, but then I had to admit to myself that I knew what he was when he showed up gunshot in my barn.  

He sighed and muttered, “No matter how much we keep trying …”  Then a bleak look crossed his face, and he shut back down, as if his soul was under lock and key.

“I’ll bring supper out when it’s ready.”

He didn’t respond.


Pa and Silas showed up a couple of days later.  By then Joshua was able to sit up and even walk into the house with some help.  He had continued to sleep in the barn.

“What’s he doin’ eatin’ up our food?” Pa had asked the day after they returned.

“And causing you work, so our breakfast is late,” Silas groused.

“He ain’t eating more than a bird, and if you all had been up at a real breakfast time, you would’ve had it then.”  I fumed.  “I was out in the fields, not tending him.”  I stomped off to start a stew for supper.

When they left the house for the coolness of the porch, and a smoke, I went out the back door to check on the animals in the barn.  I found Joshua up and attempting to muck out stalls.

“You shouldn’t do that yet.”  I tried to take the shovel from him, but I couldn’t.  He eased it out of the way.  I looked up at him, his face still so somber.  He must be recovering better than I had hoped.  Either that or he had the constitution of a mule.  I had seen other bullet scars on his body, as I had bathed him while he was feverish.  This was not the first gunshot he had survived.

“Sounds like I gotta earn my keep.”  He looked down at me with a questioning tone.

“They don’t.”  I scuffed the straw with my boot.  “If it were up to them, there’s be no animals or crops.”

“They bring in money other ways.”

I nodded, and sighed.  “What they don’t drink up or waste away.”

He shrugged.  “That’s men.”


“I’d be just as happy without.”   I looked out the barn door to the green fields.

“Doubt if they would.”

“Reckon that’d be true.”  I met his tired eyes.  “Let’s get this barn cleaned up, and then you can rest again.”

I did most of the work, but left some for Joshua to do, so we both could honestly claim he was earning his supper.


It was a quiet meal, with Pa and Silas eyeing him, and Joshua just trying not to fall off the bench.  There was something about him that bothered both of them.  They recognized like, and they recognized superior.  They also noticed that while Joshua was cautious around them, he did not appear scared.  That bothered them to no end. 

“Where you from, boy?” Pa tried to intimidate Joshua, to regain his sense of control.

“Kansas.”  Joshua finished off the stew, and cleaned his plate with a biscuit.

“You ride with the Baker boys?”

“No.  Heard of them.”  Joshua paused, mainly to regain his breath, but he also raised his eyes and fixed them with a stare.  

“That’s enough yammering for tonight.”  I stood to pick up the plates.  “You two go out for a smoke.  Joshua will help me clean up.”

Silas laughed crudely.  “You a mamma’s boy, or just think you can get at my sister?”

I started to yell at him, but Pa beat me to it.  “You don’t go disrespecting your sister.”  Pa hauled Silas out the door.

Joshua made to get up from the table, but I gently pushed him down as I passed.  He glanced towards the door, and laid his head down on the table.  I cleaned up around him.  When I finished, we walked out the back door of the cabin back to the barn.

“You alright?”  I was worried he had done more than he should.

He nodded slightly.  “Any chance I can have my gun back?”

I looked towards the barn door, where I could hear Pa and Silas talking on the front porch.  I turned towards the stall where his saddle and bags rested.  “It’s in there.”  

He looked like it would take his last burst of strength to walk that far, so I brought it back to him.  He checked that it was still loaded, and slid it beneath the quilt by his head.

“Good night, Joshua.”

“Good night, Ellie.”


It was getting on midnight when I heard Silas ease out of the house, and make his way towards the barn.  I started to put on my robe, when I heard Pa follow him.  I silently trailed after them.

By the time I arrived, the situation wasn’t good.  Silas had thought to scare Joshua by knocking him around a bit.  He had tried to grab Joshua by the shirt front, which only resulted in getting a six gun pointed in his face.  He had not brought his gun with him, thinking there was no need.  Pa had come upon this situation, and pulled his own gun.

I was scared when I came upon all this, but decided my best option was to call their bluff.

“What on earth you all thinkin’ with your guns aimed hither and yon.  Gonna end up with more holes in some of you, and I ain’t gonna nurse you all!”

I held my breath and plucked Pa’s gun from his hand, pulled Silas away and tossed him into the other stall.  I met Joshua’s eyes, and he released the hammer on his gun, and handed it to me butt first.  He then slowly laid back down and struggled to keep his eyes open.

“You two!”  I shoved Pa and Silas towards the house.  “Go back to bed.”

“We’ll talk in the morning, missy.” Pa glared at me.

I nodded.  “Yes, Pa.”  He nodded back and hauled Silas with him.

After they left the barn my knees gave out and I collapsed in a heap besides Joshua.  I put my head in my hands, with the two loaded guns still in my lap.

“You all right?” Joshua’s tired eyes looked up at me.

I brushed a lock of hair out of his face, and nodded.  His eyes flickered closed.   I looked at him for a moment, and then lay down next to him, pulling the quilt over me.  His eyes opened for a moment, meeting mine.  I put his gun back under the quilt, where he could reach it, and I kept Pa’s close to me.  His eyes closed and so did mine.


The dawn woke me.  The chickens helped, and so did the cow, but it was the light that opened my eyes.  It was still shady in the barn.  I wondered for a moment why I was there, but then his eyes opened, and I remembered.

“I best get into the house before Pa and Silas wake.”  I stood up dusting hay from my nightclothes.

He sat up, a bit wobbly, but did not lay back down.  I helped him to stand, so he could take care of some business after I left.

“I’ll be back after I talk to Pa.”


“Ellie, it ain’t decent.”  Pa was trying his best to be reasonable, but being Pa it wasn’t easy for him.

“Pa,” I locked gazes with him.  “Joshua cain’t hardly stand.  I doubt if somethin’s even working yet.  You don’t have to worry about me.”

“I promised your ma that you’d be raised proper … “

“Heck, Pa, you and Silas be outlaws.”  I huffed as I finished up cooking the eggs for breakfast.  “I don’t think anyone proper would ever talk to me.”

“Now, Ellie … “

“Pa, do you have another job or not?”

“Well, yes.  There were this thing that Silas is eager to be in with, but I ain’t so certain.”

At that moment, the smell of breakfast cooking had brought my brother out of his bedroom.  “Now, Pa, we discussed this all.  It’s easy money.  It’ll be done and over and we’ll be back with loads of cash and not need to go out again for a while.”  He sat down as I put full plates for him and Pa on the table.

“You just see that he’s gone by the time we get back.”  Pa tried to look sternly at me, and Silas looked annoyed.

“I’ll do my best, Pa.  Cain’t make him leave ‘til he can sit his horse.”

“Ain’t no one come lookin’ for him?” Pa asked.

“No, Pa.”

“I bet he’s got a bounty on his head.”  Silas’ eyes gleamed.  “Or he’s got money on him from a haul.  Gotta be a reason he was shot, and running.”

“He ain’t got no money.”  I glared at my brother.  “I looked in his saddle bags.  He’s got two dollars and sixteen cents to his name.”
 
“See, Silas, your sister’s always been a smart one.”

“Guess I’m wrong.  If he was someone with a bounty on his head, he’d have more money on him.”  Silas looked thoughtful.  “Maybe he hid it somewhere.”

“Unless it’s in the manure pile, I would have found it.”  I glared at him.  “It’s me that keeps this place clean and tidy, ain’t it?”
 
“Yeah, got me there, Ellie.”  Silas looked disappointed, until he turned back to Pa with plans for their next job.  “Jacob Wheeler said this one’ll be easy.”

“Jacob Wheeler?” I exclaimed.  “You came back gunshot from the last job he planned.”

“That t’were an accident.”  Silas looked determined.  I hoped he was right this time.

They rode off the next day.


Joshua continued to improve.  I had never seen a man so determined to get better, but still so full of melancholy.  Physically he was recovering well.  I was afraid his mind was not.  

Something had happened besides him getting shot.  

There were times where he’d seem to remember a happy memory, and start to smile. He looked about to relate some story, when he’d just shut down and turn away.  It scared me at times, but more often it almost drove me to tears.


It was a week later, and Pa and Silas had not returned.  Joshua was continuing to improve.  After spending wash day cleaning the sheets, I insisted that he sleep in Silas’ room.  He was reluctant, but after I said it would ease the amount of work I had to do, he relented.  I had not insisted earlier, because he continued to try and help out around the place.  He had just regained enough strength that he could, if not easily, but determinedly, make it from the house to the barn and back, to help with morning and evening chores.

I had just whipped up something simple for supper, some ham and potatoes, when the sheriff arrived.  I had been eyeing one of the young chickens for supper all week.  I planned to make a large dinner when Pa and Silas returned, to appease them, if they found out that Joshua was sleeping up at the house.

We had been about ready to sit down and eat, when we heard the horses in the yard.  I assumed it was Pa and Silas, and turned from the stove, wiping my hands on my apron.  I saw it was Sheriff Newcomb when the setting sun glinted off his star.

Joshua had turned before me.  I had yet to see him move as fast as he did then.  His gun was in the bedroom, but he was back with it and his belt strapped to his leg before I could move towards the door.

I met his gaze.  He was not frightened, but rather annoyed.  I put my hand out to his chest to stop him.

“Sheriff Newcomb is a friend.”

“To your pa and brother?” he asked suspiciously.

“They don’t bother his town.  And tend to lose when they play poker with him.”

“Ah.”  He paused.  “Well, I don’t know him, so I guess we play this coolly.”  He looked towards me.  “Who am I supposed to be?”

“A drifter, looking for work.”  

“A harmless drifter wouldn’t show up gunshot.”  

I smiled. “Got kicked by the cow, while helping out with chores, so you’re still here healing up.”

A ghost of a smile crossed his face.  He nodded towards the door, so I went out to greet the sheriff.  He followed closely behind, but stayed in the shadows.

“Howdy, Sheriff.” I smiled friendly like.  Then I saw his eyes.  They looked haunted.

“Ellie,” he sighed and looked down, before meeting my eyes again as he came up onto the porch.  “It’s your pa and Silas.”

“They get arrested?”  My voice turned hard.

He shook his head and came up to grasp my hand.  “Ellie, they’re dead.”

I didn’t hear much after that.  Joshua came up behind me and got me to sit down in one of the chairs on the porch.  I heard a word here and there, but my head felt like it was surrounded by cotton.  I heard the words robbery and posse.  I didn’t listen any more.


After a while I realized the sheriff had left and Joshua was sitting with me on the porch.  He had found the whiskey and poured each of us a good measure.  He was trying to get me to take a drink, but somehow I couldn’t move my arms.  They seemed too heavy.

“Ellie, you’ll be better if you get a drink in you.”  Joshua was looking at me with dark, sad eyes.  “It will help you sleep.”

“I don’t think so.”  I shook my head.  Looking around I realized it was dark.

“Supper … “

“It’s waiting on the stove.”

I hadn’t even noticed when he must have left to take care of the food.

“I don’t feel like eating, but you … “

“I’m fine, Ellie.”  He reached across and took my hand.  “Let’s go inside.”

He raised me from the chair on the porch and maneuvered me into a seat by the table.  I just stared.

After a few minutes I heard him cracking eggs.  I turned towards the stove.

“You don’t need to do that … “

“I hope you don’t mind.  I’m cooking up something fresh.”

“Where did you learn to cook?”

“I’ve learned a lot of things, traveling the west.”  A ghost of a smile might have crossed his face.  “Decided I didn’t want to starve.”  A dark memory chased the remnants of the smile away into the night.  He continued to stir the eggs as they cooked, chopping up the ham to add it to the eggs and rewarm it.

I got up and poured the coffee as he dished up the eggs.  We ate in silence.

As we were cleaning up from dinner, with me washing, and Joshua drying, he said, “Sheriff Newcomb said the bodies would be here day after tomorrow.”  He paused.  “He said someone needed to identify them.  I could if you don’t want to.”

I met his eyes, dark pools of loss, reflecting my own.  I shook my head.  “I’d be real grateful if you came into town with me, but I have to do that for them.”

He nodded, then took me and set me down in my ma’s rocker, settling near me on one of the chairs.

“You’ve lost your ma already?” he asked gently.

I nodded.  “And a younger brother and sister.  Cholera.”  

“You have any other family left?  That you can go to?”

I shook my head.  “No.”

He laughed for the first time since I knew him, but it was a harsh, dry laugh.  “My family is all gone too.”  He looked out into the dark night.  

We sat in silence for a while.  I started rocking, and he rested his head against the back of the chair.

After a while, he led me to my bedroom, gave me a soft hug, and turned to go into what used to be Silas’ room.


The funeral was the next Thursday, after the law had released their bodies.  Reverend Paulson said some nice lies over them, and I tossed a handful of dirt on each.

Joshua came back to the farm with me.  I had wondered if he would ride away, as he was now healthy enough to sit his horse.

“I don’t want to be a bother at this time, Ellie,” he started as we were on the way home.  “I don’t really have anywhere to go.  I thought you might want some help until you decide what to do.”

I turned towards him with a sharp stare.  “I’m gonna keep working the place.  What else would I do?”

“Ellie, you’re a woman alone.  That’s not safe.”

I laughed my own dry laugh.  “Heck, Joshua, Pa and Silas weren’t home much.  I’ve been on my own for years now, since Ma and the babies died.  I’ve run quite a few men off the place, them that thought they could take advantage me bein’ alone.”

“You got enough money to keep it goin’?”  

“Yup.”  I nodded.  “I ain’t a stupid girl, no matter what it appears.”

He started to disagree, and I stopped him.

“I’d always save a bit from their hauls, either from what they’d give me for running the place, or from their pockets, when they were falling down drunk, and didn’t know how much they had spent at the saloon.”

A smile didn’t quite make it to his face, but his eyes showed some consideration.

“Never call yourself stupid, Ellie.  I wish I had done some of that when I was your age.”

Joshua helped me bring in the harvest.  We received a good profit on it and stored that away for seed in the spring and for the coming winter.  I asked him if he planned to stay through to spring.

“Like I’ve said, Ellie, I ain’t got nowhere else to go.  You want me to leave?”  There was some hurt in his eyes, but also determination to go, if I wanted him to.

I shook my head.  


It was one cold winter night, with the wind and snow howling around the outside of our snug cabin, that he finally told me what brought him to me.
   
   
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MoulinP

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PostSubject: Re: Lock   Mon Aug 28, 2017 1:52 pm

This is just for fun so no need to poll

Lock

Tulsee Murdoch knocked on the front door of the little house that belonged to Heyes. After a few moments, when there was no answer, she tried the handle. Locked. Then she peered through the window next to the door. She couldn’t see anyone inside. Walking around the side of the house to the back, she looked to see if there was a window open. Of course there wouldn’t be. Heyes was particular about security. Too many crooks about, he said. She rattled the back door anyway. It was locked. As she knew it would be.


“Hmmm,” she frowned. What to do? She could sit and wait of course. The small area of decking out back was comfortably equipped with steamer chairs. But for how long? No she would go in search of him. There were a number of places in town to try and he was likely in one of them.


Tulsee tried the saloon first.


“Heyes in here?” she yelled, standing just inside the swing doors.


“Nope. Ain’t seen him today,” came the reply. “Have you tried the Town Hall?”


Tulsee tried the Town Hall. The sniffy woman, Heyes called his secretary, told her Mr Mayor was on vacation today.


“Hmmm,” Tulsee frowned, when she was back on the street. Just because he was on vacation from THAT job, didn’t necessarily mean he was on vacation from every job. She tried The Hardware Store next.


“Nope. Haven’t seen him today. Have you tried The Hat Shop? He sometimes pops in there.”


“Thanks.” Tulsee touched the brim of her hat and returned to the street. She glared at the lady’s hat shop on the other side. Not the sort of place she would normally want to be seen in. But the woman who ran the store for Heyes might know where he was.


Taking a deep breath, she crossed the street and went in. She had already prepared herself for the look of disgust on the womans’ face. Okay Tulsee knew she wasn’t the most feminine of girls. Her fringed buckskin jacket was well worn. And she was in dirty men’s pants that were a little too tight to be acceptable, if ever, on a woman. Even so, the woman deserved to be put in her place. But no Heyes would be cross if Tulsee upset her. He depended on her. What did he know about women’s hats? Unwilling to part with The Hat Shop after Mary’s death, he had taken on a manager who was as knowledgeable as Mary had been. Tulsee bit off the angry retort she felt coming and politely asked after Heyes’ whereabouts. As expected the answer was no; he wasn’t around and he hadn’t been in.


As Tulsee gratefully retreated, she saw Susan, Heyes’ daughter coming out of The Mercantile. She had a small boy in tow. Heyes had said he had a grandson. This must be him. Tulsee headed her off. “Susan!”


Susan turned, saw who it was and scowled. This young woman … ha! … young girl was causing a lot of trouble. For some reason, unfathomable to any respectable person, her father was infatuated with her and making a fool of himself in front of the whole town.


“Can I help you?” Susan said, drawing herself up.


“I’m looking for your Pappy,” Tulsee said. She glanced down at the boy who was staring up at her with big eyes. Frowning at the unsettling gaze of the small boy, she looked back at Susan. “Do you know where he is?” 


“He’s a grown man.” Apparently, she added to herself. “I’m not his keeper,” Susan said, haughtily. “Have you tried the house?”


“Would I be looking for him if he was there?” Tulsee snapped, icily.


Susan smiled faintly. “No I suppose not. Well I don’t know where he is but he’ll turn up. He usually does.”


“I could wait at his house. Do you have a key?”


“No but you could try breaking in,” Susan suggested, with a smirk. She meant it tongue in cheek of course. “If you ask in The Hardware Store. I’m sure Dan’ll give you something to use. Tell him I said so.” With that, she dragged the small boy away.


Tulsee watched her go with a scowl. There was no love lost between herself and Susan. They had already had several heated debates over her relationship with Heyes. As if it was any of Susan’s business whose company Heyes kept.


“Mama, is she a girl?” Tulsee heard the boy say.


“Yes Alfie, I’m afraid she is,” Susan sighed.


“But she’s wearing pants! Girls don’t wear pants.”


Tulsee heard no more. She considered what Susan had said. Perhaps breaking in wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Heyes would be surprised when he finally came home. He’d be cross of course at first but later … well … making up was SO much fun.


With a smile, Tulsee went into The Hardware Store. The man she had seen earlier was still there behind the counter. She knew this was Dan.


“He’s still not here,” he said.


“I’ve just seen Susan. She says you can give me something I can use to break into Heyes’ house.”


Dan looked horrified. “I can’t do that! He’s my boss!” He paused. “I’ll can let Susan have something. She knows how.”


Tulsee wasn’t thrilled at the thought of confronting Susan again but if that was the only way of getting inside Heyes’ house and surprising him, then so be it. Outside she frowned in the direction Susan had been heading. Neither she nor the boy were insight. Tulsee went in that direction anyway, glancing in each store as she went until she spotted them in the butcher.


Susan turned and frowned as the little bell tinkled Tulsee’s entrance.


“What do you want now?” Susan asked, irritably, finding this girl’s continual presence tiresome.


“Dan says you can do it,” Tulsee said, thumbs hooked into her belt and looking at Susan hard.


“I’m kinda busy here,” Susan snapped.


“Please.”


Susan gave a deep sigh and thrust her basket at Tulsee to hold. “Mind him,” she ordered, flicking her head in Alfie’s direction. The boy was staring at Tulsee again.


Susan marched up the street and into The Hardware Store. Dan grinned ruefully as she came in.


“So, I have to help my father’s mistress break into his house do I?” Susan demanded hand on hip.


Dan held his hands up in surrender. “I’m not getting involved,” he laughed.


“Coward!” Susan spat then spluttered. “Come on, come on. You know what I need.” She gestured furiously with her hand.


“Yes ma’am.”


Dan fetched a slender knife and the set of lock picks, kept in the Store for this eventuality.

Susan marched back to the butchers to find Tulsee and Alfie were staring at each other.


“Why’s he staring at me like that?” Tulsee asked.


“I don’t know.” Susan turned to her son. “Why are you staring at her like that?”


“She’s wearing pants. Girls don’t wear pants,” said Alfie.


Susan shuddered and grabbed his arm. “Come along. We’re going somewhere before we finish our shopping.” Then to the storekeeper. “I’ll be back Mr Finlayson. My order is on the counter there.”


“Right-o, Ms Brandon.”


The three of them went to Heyes’ house. With a lot of glaring and harrumphing on Susan’s part, she started to pick the lock.


“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Tulsee asked, after several unsuccessful minutes.


Susan had resorted to her knees, hoping that position would be more productive. Judging by the cursing she was doing she wasn’t having much luck there either.


“Yes,” Susan snapped. “Pappy taught me how to do this and he should know. He WAS Hannibal Heyes.”


Susan turned back to the lock and fiddled some more.


“Mama, what are you doing?”


Susan took a deep breath at the interruption but she marshalled a smile for her young son.

“I’m picking the lock so I can let Tulsee in to Grumpy’s house,” she explained, patiently. “I won’t be long Alfie. Just let me do this and then we can go buy you some of those acid drops you like so much. Alright?”


Alfie beamed. He liked acid drops. He stood as patiently as a six-year-old boy can.


“Don’t you need a key?” Alfie asked, after what to him seemed ages but in reality was only a few moments.


“I haven’t GOT a key,” Susan said between gritted teeth.


Alfie reached into his shirt. Around his neck on a string was a key.


“I have,” he announced, holding it up.


Susan looked up and frowned.


“What key is that?” she demanded, perturbed that her son had a key she knew nothing about.


“It’s my key to Grumpy’s house.”


Susan huffed. “Why have you got a key to Grumpy’s house?” she squeaked high-pitched.
Then noticing Tulsee smirking at her, cleared her throat. “Dust.”


“Grumpy gave it to me.”


Susan took a deep breath trying to be calm. “Why. Did. He. Give. You. A. Key?”


Tulsee grinned and folded her arms as she watched the tableau unfolding before her.


“’Cos you forget to pick me up from school sometimes an’ he’s had to leave important meetings to come get me. He gave me the key so I could come here and be safe and he’d deal with you later,” Alfie explained smugly. “It’s our secret.”


Susan’s face was like thunder. She held out her hand.


Alfie hesitated. Then he took off the key and dropped it into the waiting hand. Susan grunted as the key turned in the lock and the door opened. Not only was she suffering the indignity of letting her father’s mistress into his house, she had now found out that her father and son had been conspiring against her. She scrambled to feet, handing the key back to Alfie. She would be adding this to the list of things she intended to have out with her father the next time she saw him. That list was growing by the second.


“There.”


“Thank you.” Tulsee stepped inside.


Susan nodded. “Tell Pappy to give you a key. I can’t be doing this every time he goes missing. Come along, Alfie.” She swept away.


Alfie skipped up the path after her, delighted that acid drops were getting closer.


“Mama, did you wear pants when you were younger?” he asked innocently as he reached the gate.


Susan turned on him. “No!”


“Why not?”


“’Cos Grumpy would never let me!” she said, scowling at a grinning Tulsee, who was closing the door.


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


Heyes dropped the fishing paraphernalia he carried and searched his pockets for this key. Billy was home from university for vacation and the only way Heyes would get to see him was if he went to Amnesty, where Susan had kept Billy’s old room. Billy refused to come here because of the possibility of running into THAT girl. So Heyes had suggested they went fishing in the hope that a neutral place would help their increasingly difficult relationship. Er … no. HE had caught two fish but Billy hadn’t caught anything. His younger son had returned to Amnesty more disgruntled than when Heyes had arrived.


A sixth sense told Heyes there was something wrong as he went to put the key in the lock. He knew the door was unlocked. That couldn’t be. He knew he locked the door when he went out. He distinctly remembered. He frowned. This was worrying. Flakes of paint on the ground under the lock told him someone had definitely had a go at it. No one had a key to this house except him. There WAS only one key. All the time he and Mary had lived here when they were first married. All the time it was rented out after they had moved to Amnesty. He kept meaning to have another key cut but he had never gotten around to it. He owned a small chain of hardware stores. It wasn’t as though it would COST him anything. He had the machinery and know-how to do it himself. He had entirely forgotten the secret key he had made for Alfie.


Slowly he turned the handle. He growled to himself. The door was definitely unlocked. He quickly glanced around. All looked normal but he drew his gun just in case. He rarely wore it these days but he had been out of town, into the countryside and it was just a precaution. He hoped he wouldn’t have to use it should he have to confront someone inside.


He pushed the door open carefully and stepped in. The door of course was well oiled and made no sound as it opened. Quickly he scanned the small house. Doors to the three bedrooms on the right were all open. So was the kitchen door straight ahead. Unlikely anyone could be hiding in any of those places. That left the closed door of the bathroom, to the right of the kitchen and the alcove he used as his study to the left. Years of stealth came in handy as he tiptoed down the large room and poked his head cautiously into the alcove. No one there. Phew!


As he turned back to investigate the bathroom he caught sight of someone lying stretched out on his couch, asleep. Despite himself, he smirked. Troublesome woman! Then he frowned. How on earth did she get in?


He leaned on the back of the couch and looked down at her. She must have helped herself to his bath, as her haystack of hair was freshly washed and more curly than usual. She was sound asleep and looking peaceful. He cleared his throat loudly. All she did was smack her lips and turned her head over one shoulder.


Part of him was annoyed to see her, in his house, so comfortable. And another part of him was thrilled to see her. This young woman fascinated him and he couldn’t explain why. She was nothing like Mary or any woman that he had enjoyed associating with before his marriage. He had always been attracted to more sophisticated, intelligent woman. Not that Tulsee was unintelligent. She was just not an intellect. Their growing friendship was a source of gossip in the town, obviously puzzling the townsfolk as much as him. He was still the Mayor after all. Perhaps he should be more circumspect with his friendships with the opposite sex? This was something Susan never failed to mention each time she saw him. But that fact would go away in a few month’s time, when Porterville would elect a new mayor. Then he’d be able to go about his business without so much scrutiny. As for the gossip, he wasn’t particularly happy about it but he was unable and unwilling to do anything about it. Resisting as long as he could, it was inevitable when his relationship with Tulsee became delightfully and deliciously intimate.


Which now confused him even more. She was far too young for him, younger than two of his children. They had nothing in common and she was everything he’d always hated in a woman. Always in pants and that smelly buckskin jacket and the most ridiculous of hats. She usually wore her curly and unruly hair tied back with a leather cord that was never up to the job. Now it was unbound and spread out around her head, in a way he found most appealing.


That aside, why did she fascinate him so much? He shook his head, completely at a loss. She did make him laugh though. Telling the most outrageous stories, mostly unbelievable. Not just smile and chuckle but laugh out loud, until tears came and he was helpless. The town had noticed that their normally serious but likeable Mayor became a different person when Tulsee was near. She held him spellbound. After Mary was killed there had been precious little for him to laugh about. He had buried himself in his work, moved out of Amnesty and now lived alone. He hadn’t written a word in over a year and he barely paid attention to his hardware business. He was lucky he had good managers in all three stores and could leave them to manage without his supervision.


He had met her when he stood in for Dan one day, when a delivery was due at the Porterville store. She was the delivery driver. Managing a large and heavy wagon and a team of four powerful horses was no job for a woman. Especially not for the slip of a girl that she was. Yet drive them she did, over mountain and desert, in all weathers. She loved it.


In the saloon, he had tested his rusty poker skills against her. While Mary was alive, he had operated a self-imposed embargo on any card game for money. He knew he could easily become addicted to gambling and he wasn’t willing to put his hard won family and livelihood at risk. Suddenly finding himself a widower, he played for the company rather than the money. He only take a small amount with him when he went to play poker, knowing how easy it could be to fall into his pre-amnesty ways. He found Tulsee a challenging and lively opponent. She played reasonably well, could bluff convincingly and took her risks carefully. She didn’t lose too many hands. Unless he was playing of course, he grinned ruefully.


Heyes cleared his throat again more loudly. This time the violet eyes flicked open.


“Heyes!” A big beam of delight spread over Tulsee’s face and she sat up, her face close to his as he leaned over the back of the sofa.


“How did you get in?” he asked, ominously low. Tulsee didn’t know him well enough yet to know that was a warning.


“Susan let me in,” Tulsee said, moving closer. She wanted a kiss. He knew she did. He wanted to kiss her. However, she wasn’t going to get a kiss. At least, not just yet.


“Susan doesn’t have a key,” he told her and moved back to avoid temptation. He wasn’t sure how long he could play annoyed with the smell of a freshly washed Tulsee so close to him.


“I know that’s why she tried to pick the lock,” Tulsee said, smugly. She shook her head. “But she couldn’t do it. Then your grandson gave her his key.”


Heyes dropped his head. “Ah!” He’d forgotten about that and he sighed. Not the boy’s fault.
He winced. No doubt, that would be high on the agenda when he and Susan next met.


“What’s that smell?” Tulsee wrinkled her nose in disgust.


“I’ve been fishing,” he growled, going back to the door to get his gear.


Tulsee swung her legs over the side of the couch.


“That’s why I couldn’t find you then.”


“Yep,” Heyes agreed. He stacked his fishing equipment inside the door and closed it. With a sigh, he spun his hat to the top of the hat stand where it stayed. He gave a nod of satisfaction.


“Bet you’re surprised to see me,” Tulsee beamed.


“Yep. Sure am. No sure I like you surprising me INSIDE my house Tulsee.”


“Isn’t a nice surprise?” she asked, ignoring his rebuke.


Heyes stood hands on hips considering. His tongue explored his mouth. “Haven’t decided yet,” he said, ominously.


Tulsee lost her smile. He was annoyed. She’d better tread carefully.


“Why does Alfie call you Grumpy?” she asked, slowly, hoping the change of subject would distract him.  She had been wondering about that since earlier.


“Ha!” Heyes sighed and rolled his eyes at the ceiling. He sighed. “When Susan brought him home from Europe he only spoke Italian. She jokingly told him to call me Grumpy instead of Grampy.” He sighed again. “The boy didn’t know any better and after while I gave up trying to correct him. The name stuck.”


“Are you grumpy?”


Heyes’ face twitched a small smile. “Yes. Very.” He started for the bathroom door. “I’m going for a bath. Wash some of this fish smell off you find so objectionable.”


“Do you need any help?”


“Nope.”


He paused with his hand on the door handle and looked back at her. That was a mistake. In clean clothes and freshly washed he knew what he saw in her. She was gorgeous and willing, his impossibly troublesome woman. He wasn’t about to admit any feelings for her other than desire but he was beginning to doubt that was ALL it was. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. But that was something for another day. For now, he needed to gather more evidence, do more research. He hesitated and then the beckoning of his head was imperceptible.


Tulsee beamed.

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

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Posts : 483
Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 62
Location : Colorado

PostSubject: Re: Lock   Thu Aug 31, 2017 7:47 pm

The last time I made chat, we talked about how fun it might be to pepper a story with authentic Westernisms.  Hope you can decipher this one.


Two tuckered out horses kicked up small puffs of dust as they slowly jogged down the nearly deserted main street of Hopeless, Montana.  With hats pulled down low, the riders guided the animals to a crude hitching rail in front of a thoroughly dilapidated building.  An askew sign dangled from frayed ropes announcing the Bent Elbow Saloon.  As one, the men dismounted and secured their horses before climbing rickety steps and pushing through a heavy oak door.  Looks of surprise leapt to the men’s faces as they took note of the boisterous crowd inside.  The gloomy room was crammed full of mismatched, homemade furniture and every seat and bit of floor space was occupied by an unwashed body judging by the close, foul air that assaulted the newcomers’ noses.  Frowsy barmaids held trays over their heads and shoved their way through groping hands to deliver over-filled beer mugs to tables.


The dark-haired man glanced at his blond partner before roughly shouldering his way through the throng.  It was slow going but the two men were determined to belly up to the bar and, after stepping on multiple toes, elbowing ribs and trading plentiful curses or apologies, the two men carved a path through flesh eventually arriving at a rough planked bar.  A harried, sweat-stained man poured drinks, slopping beer out of a pitcher into a line of empty glasses already set up along the length of the bar.  Eager hands snatched the libations then disappeared into the crowd as more men surged forward.  When he reached the light and dark-haired partners the bartender tilted the pitcher towards their empty glasses but a gloved hand shot out and gripped his wrist.  He glared up into ice-cold blue eyes and said, “If you ain’t tipplin’, get the hell out.”


A grim smirk appeared on the dark-haired man’s face.  “Friendly sort, ain’t you?”


“I ain’t got time to be friendly.”


The blond’s grip tightened as the man tried to move past them.  “We don’t want beer.  Give us a pair of overalls.”


“Beer’s free.  Old Henry struck a vein today.”


“I’m real tickled for Henry but we want two whiskeys,” growled the blond.


“Show me your chink.  I ain’t havin’ no one shoot the crow in this boodle.”  He glanced at the unruly crowd and shook his head.


The dark man with the fancy, silver-studded black hat fished out two bits and a twenty dollar bill.  He tossed the coin down on the counter, but held onto the bill.  “We’re paying customers.  Are you Bronc Hardy?”


The man’s bushy eyebrows snapped together with consternation, but his eyes hungrily locked onto the cash while his hand pocketed the change.  “Who’s askin’?”


“Rembacker.  This here’s Hotchkiss,” Heyes nodded towards Kid Curry.  “We’re friends of Wheat Carlson.”


The storm clouds lifted from the man’s visage and a filthy, gap-toothed smile lit his face.  “That old owl-hoot!  I ain’t heard that name in a coon’s age.  Figured someone would’ve made buzzard food outta him by now.  Man’s as crooked as a Virginia fence. ”


The Kid grinned back at Bronc.  “Guess you really do know Wheat.”


“We need some information and we’re willing to pay,” said Heyes, waving the twenty.


“Is there somewhere we can talk, private-like?” asked Curry.  


Bronc nodded and yelled out to a scrawny man collecting empty mugs.  “Delbert, take over for me!  Sally Mae, make sure you tally every one of those drinks.”  A chubby, red-headed gal nodded back at him.  Bronc untied his stained apron and stuffed it into his back pants pocket.  The strings trailed down the back of his leg.  “This way, gents.”  He led Heyes and the Kid past an unlit woodstove at the rear of the room and out the back door of the saloon.  Bronc climbed a set of worn stairs that led to a second floor balcony where he stopped and turned to them.  A row of windows cast a soft glow onto his back and through the dirty panes the Kid could see and, more importantly, hear, a different kind of business being conducted.   


“You got somewhere a little more private than this?” asked Heyes.


Grinning, Bronc said, “Must be real special information if’n you want to keep that dry.”


“Ain’t a secret if everyone hears it,” replied Curry.


“All right.  I’ll take you to my private office up on the roof.”  Bronc walked to the end of the balcony where a ladder stood propped up against an overhanging eave.  He scrambled up the worn rungs with an agility belied by his girth.  Heyes followed and then the Kid.  On the flat roof, they found a scarred table surrounded by two mended chairs and a couple of overturned slop buckets placed next to the stovepipe from downstairs.  When a fire was lit down in the saloon, the pipe would provide welcome warmth.  A corked bottle of whiskey and a deck of dog-eared cards sat in the center of the table.  Sliding into a chair, Bronc seized the bottle and yanked out the cork with his teeth.  He took a long pull and held the bottle out to the Kid.  “This is the good stuff, not that sheepherder’s delight I’d have poured you downstairs.”


Curry took a drink and smiled, nodding his agreement to the quality of the booze as he passed the bottle to Heyes. 


“So how is ol’ Wheat?” asked Bronc.  “He was the best wheel-horse I ever had although a mite beef-headed.  Still, he’s loyal as the day’s long.”


Heyes snorted mid-drink, spraying speckles of whiskey across the table.  He gestured at his throat and rasped, “Went down wrong.”


“Hey now, don’t be wastin’ my fine neck oil.  Here, gimme that.”  Bronc snatched the bottle.  “Now fork over that dinero and tell me what you wanna know.”


Clearing his throat, Heyes handed over the twenty dollar bill.  “Wheat tells us you two robbed the bank in Buffalo a while back.  That true?”  He and the Kid had heard that the same bank had recently received a large shipment of gold from a nearby mine.  When Wheat had discovered the gang’s new target, he’d regaled them with boasts of the huge haul he and Bronc had made, assuring Heyes that his former partner was the perfect inside man for the job.  


Bronc chuckled heartily.  “That Wheat always was stringin’ a whizzer, but better a tall tale than the sad truth.  We tried. Lord, how we tried.  Spent months workin’ up a plan, had all the details, but we still come a cropper in the end.  We was lucky to escape with only a few nicks in our hides.  Almost baked our horses hightailin’ it outta there.  Weren’t the first time one of our dogs wouldn’t hunt, but it was the last time.  Did he tell you how we ended up in cahoots?  Ol’ Wheat was a snoozer down in Texas.  Imagine a big man like that thinkin’ he could makin’ a livin’ stealin’ hotel guests.  The chucklehead tried to rob me blind while I was sawin’ logs in the Beaumont down in Abilene.  Caught him red-handed when his two hunnert pounds of lard hit that loose floorboard.  Boy, was he surprised to find my lead-pusher up his nose.  Lucky for him, I was of a larcenous bent myself.  After we calmed down a mite, Wheat offered to paint our tonsils, so we went downstairs and tied more’n a few on.  By sunup, I’d convinced him he was too damned big to be a sneak thief and he should throw in with me.”


“How’d that work out for you?” smirked the Kid.


“Pretty good for a while, but Wheat had delusions of grandeur, as the fancy folks say.  Kept pushin’ for us to go big time.  Now, me, I know my limits.  I was a pennyweighter, you know.  Started out in the camps, taking a little gold here, a little there, no one’s the wiser.  I made enough to squeak by and that was fine by me.  Never did like unwanted attention.  Now Wheat, Wheat’s a different animal.  He lives on blusteration.  That boy could blow his own horn for hours.  Trouble was, I finally figured out he couldn’t live the lie.  That’s when we parted ways.  It was right after Buffalo as I recall.”  Bronc paused for air and a drink. 


Heyes leaned forward and locked his gleaming eyes onto Bronc’s.  “Let’s talk about those details.”


“Huh?” Bronc stared at him blankly.


“About the bank.  The one in Buffalo,” urged the Kid.


A slow smile crept onto Bronc’s face.  “You two are makin’ a play for it, ain’t you?  What is it you wanna know?”


Heyes returned his smile.  “Wheat said you got a job at the bank sweeping floors.  Cased it inside and out.”  


“Hell, I’ll split fair with you.  It’s the truth.  I know that bank like the back of my hand but, if you want the lowdown, it’s gonna stand you another twenty.”


Heyes looked at the Kid expectantly.  Frowning, Curry pulled out his wallet and extracted a bill.  “This better be worth it.”  He put the bill on the table. 


Bronc swept it up and tucked it away.  “You gotta piece of paper?  I can draw the layout for you.”


Pulling out a journal and pencil he carried with him to record ideas and plans, Heyes flipped the small book open to a blank page and handed it to Bronc.  The bartender bent over the journal and sketched out a simple plan of the building, labelling the lobby, teller’s cages, vault, and offices.  Finished, he slid the book back to Heyes who looked it over carefully before slipping it back into his pocket.  “What else can you tell us?”


Crossing his arms, Bronc leaned back in his chair and eyeballed his audience.  “You’re gonna have to plank down more tin.”


Heyes scowled but produced another ten dollar bill putting it on the table.  “This better pan out.”


“Ain’t no guarantees in life, Rembacker,” chuckled Bronc.


“’Cept death,” replied Curry, giving the man his best gunslinger’s stare as he dropped his hand to rest on the butt of his pistol.  


Swallowing hard, Bronc looked at each of them.  “Well, I guess maybe I didn’t mention one little problem, but it don’t seem like Wheat did neither.”


“Spill,” snapped Heyes, annoyed.


“Are you settin’ us up, Bronc?” Curry frowned.  “My friend here gets a bit wrathy when crossed.”


Beads of sweat adorned Bronc’s forehead and he ran a finger around the rim of his starched collar.  “I, er, well, see, it’s like this….”


“Like what?”  Heyes’ face had darkened to an alarming shade and his eyes had turned flat black.


“Um, er, after our stab at it, we thought maybe we’d try again but we found out the bank decided they needed more security so it moved down the street--next to the sheriff’s office—the deputies started moonlightin’ as night watchmen.  There ain’t no way you can rob that place without someone gettin’ lead poisonin’.”


Heyes and the Kid stared at him, their mouths agape.  Heyes was the first to regain his tongue.  “Couldn’t you have led with that?”


Bronc, sensing the worst was over since his heart was still beating, laughed.  “Guess I should’ve, but the last thing I want to do is go back downstairs and deal with that crowd of roostered miners.”


“Give me the cash back.”  Heyes eyes narrowed and his face was hard.


“Nope.  Deal’s a deal.  I gave you what you paid for.” Bronc got up to leave.


Heyes rose, too.  “You chiseling, horn-swoggling four-flusher.  You gulled me.”


Bronc pointed at the ten dollars still on the table.  “No sir, I didn’t.  Your ten’s still there.  Figure I earned the rest.”  He walked towards the ladder.


The Kid grinned at the man’s audacity.  “He’s got you there, Heyes.”


Bronc froze and turned around, alarmed.  “I thought you said your name was Rembacker!”


“I did.  I also said his name was Hotchkiss.”


“It ain’t?”  Bronc shifted his gaze to the Kid who smiled meanly.


“The name’s Curry.”  A Colt had appeared out of thin air and was now resting in Kid Curry’s hand and pointed at Bronc’s belly.


The frightened man’s hands flew up in surrender.  “Now, hold on.  Please.  I didn’t mean nothing by foolin’ with you, Mr. Heyes.”  He slowly reached down into his pocket and pulled out the money.  “Here, here you go.  There’s your cash, every last cent.”  He threw the money at Heyes’ feet but the outlaw leader made no move to pick it up.  


Instead, Heyes seized Bronc and reached into his back pocket, pulling out the bartender’s soiled apron and tearing it in half.  He grabbed Bronc’s head and stuffed half the apron into his mouth, gagging him.  He used the other half of the apron to bind his wrists.


“Heyes, are you doin’ what I think you’re doin’?” asked the Kid, concerned his best friend’s anger was getting the best of him.


Not answering, Heyes unbuckled the man’s pants and pulled them down to his big, heavy laced boots.  Bronc’s eyes were terrified saucers by this point but the Kid was smiling.  He now knew what Heyes had planned.  


Heyes shoved the table out of the way.  “Gimme a hand, will you?” 


The two outlaws picked up the hog-tied man and turned him upside down.  They guided his legs over the large stovepipe and dropped Bronc over the side of the building.  His boots prevented his pants from slipping off as he dangled above the alley, exposed to the world. Muffled protests emerged from Bronc and he wriggled desperately.


“I’d settle down if I were you,” warned Heyes.  “You don’t want to work that pipe loose, do you?”


The Kid reached down to pick up the cash.  


“Leave it.  He’s right, he earned it,” said Heyes.  He picked up the whiskey bottle and took a last, long draw from the bottle then passed it to the Kid, who drained it.  “Thanks for the drink, Bronc.  We’ll give Wheat your best.”


The two outlaws climbed down the ladder and pitched it over the railing into the street before going down the stairs and back into the saloon.  As they crossed to the front door, Delbert called out to them.  “Where’s Bronc?”


“He was feelin’ a tad discombobulated so he said to tell you to close up for ‘im,” shouted Curry, following his partner out the door. 


The two men mounted their horses.


“You know, Heyes, for a minute there I thought you were gonna throw Bronc off that roof.” 


“I won’t lie, I gave it some thought, but I figured I had a better way to stop him from getting any ideas about collecting bounties.  Besides, Bronc did me a favor.”


“What’s that?” 


“He expanded my vocabulary.”

_________________
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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


Last edited by InsideOutlaw on Fri Sep 01, 2017 7:48 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Nell McKeon



Posts : 17
Join date : 2017-04-18

PostSubject: Re: Lock   Thu Aug 31, 2017 9:07 pm

Locked
By Nell McKeon
 
Hannibal Heyes was bored, he was annoyed but most of all he was worried, not that he could improve his situation at the moment. He paced to the back of the cell to stare out the tiny barred window, nope, still couldn’t see the doctor’s office. Heyes paced the short distance to the front of the cell and idly stopped to watch the sheriff at his desk fiddling with an intricately carved and assembled small wooden puzzle box.

“Sheriff, you got any word on how my friend is doing?”

“Locked,” muttered the sheriff to himself as he deposited several wooden pieces and the mostly intact puzzle box in the carboard box sitting in the middle of his desk and slammed the lid on. Sheriff Marty Rhitt looked up and answered with audible strained patience, “Like, I’ve told you before, Heyes, Kid Curry is still running a high fever, which Doc Colton says is to be expected, after all, it’s only been two days since he removed the bullet from the Kid’s left leg.”

“It’s Smith, and my friends name is Jones, Thaddeus Jones. Can I see him?”

“You’ll see him when my deputies guarding your partner at the doc’s house let me know that the Kid’s been cleared to be moved to the jail. Now as to who you are, that will be settled when the marshalls from Wyoming arrive to identify you two and transport you back for trial.”

“Now sheriff, if Thaddeus was really Kid Curry don’t you think that he wouldn’t be the only one to wind up with a bullet in him. I’ve always heard Kid Curry is an eagle-eyed shootist and if I was Hannibal Heyes I sure wouldn’t have lead us into that dead-end box canyon. Heyes is supposed to be smart, a genius planner and escapist. We were just a couple of drifters looking for work, who thought you were a gang of robbers when you started chasing and shooting at us.” Heyes tried his innocent act one more time.

Marty Rhitt rose from his desk, ambled over to the cell and leaned against the bars. He looked Heyes in the eyes. “That’s the thing. I couldn’t help but notice that your partner was the only one who was taking aim, you seemed to be shooting over our heads. Hats got shot off, guns flew from hands, and dust kicked up right in front of our faces and I don’t believe they were unintentional misses. Not many men being shot at, outlaw or not, are capable of such accuracy. Kid Curry is. Curry and Heyes are known for not being killers, neither is any posse member I’m in charge of but I did need to get him to stop shooting and for you to surrender peacefully before someone did get killed with all that lead flying around.”

Heyes didn’t have a return argument so he decided a change in subject was in order. “Say sheriff, what was that you’ve been fiddlin’ with on and off for two days now?” He watched as the sheriff’s ears turned red as the man straightened up and turned abruptly away.

“Never you mind, it’s nothin’ you need to concern yourself with.”

“Come on sheriff, you can tell me. There’s no else here, who am I gonna tell? Maybe I can help?” Heyes really needed a distraction from the constant worry about his partner and the less than fruitful escape planning.

Marty Rhitt appeared to be a year or two older than Heyes and was proving to be a cautious, intelligent sheriff, conscientiously doing his duty. He also plainly was preoccupied with the complicated puzzle box.  The sheriff knocked the lid off the carboard box on his desk, peered inside with frustration, and glanced back toward the cells with indecision clearly written across his face.

“If you’re so convinced I’m Hannibal Heyes and you know Heyes is known for being a problem solver, why don’t you let me work on your problem. If I help you out, maybe, you can let me see my partner for myself, or I’m sure we can agree on something.”

“I don’t think I should be getting’ any help from an outlaw.”

“Maybe I’m an outlaw, maybe not. What do you have to lose?’

Sheriff Rhitt relented, his whole life, well at least his happiness depended upon opening that box without destroying it. He lifted the carboard box from his desk, fished the keys from his pocket, and approached Heyes’ cell.

“Back up against the wall Heyes or Smith, whatever your name is.”

Heyes backed up and watched the sheriff with interest.

Marty Rhitt, drew his gun, juggled the box in one hand while he opened the cell door with the other, and proceeded to carefully place the box on the cot. He then backed out of the cell and relocked the door. He indicated his permission for Heyes to look with a nod of his head.

The intrigued prisoner peaked into the box then looked up. Heyes was surprised to see a fleeting glimpse of real anguish in the dark brown eyes looking back at him.

“Your problem’s in the box? You’re that upset about not being able to take apart a puzzle box?” Heyes reached in to pull out the largely intact intricate puzzle box. He held it carefully in two hands towards the sheriff.

“Yes, in a manner of speaking.” Sheriff Martin Rhitt sighed heavily as he holstered his gun. He took a deep breath and thought that if his prisoner was Hannibal Heyes, and he was convinced of that fact, then he wanted the famous outlaw’s help, which might prove invaluable, more than he didn’t want to be beholden to the man.

Heyes lifted one dark eyebrow, trying to illicit further information from the reticent lawman.

“My problem is I fell in love with a wonderful woman, Herta Bauer. Herta’s family is originally from Austria, now they live in Saint Louis where I’m from before I took this job. Her father is a clockmaker, and a master wood craftsman. He doesn’t think much of my career choice because he thinks that I could get killed by some dirty outlaw in the Wild West and leave his daughter a widow before her time.” Sheriff Rhitt glared meaningfully at the outlaw behind the bars of his jail cell.

“Not that I’m admitting I’m an outlaw but I’d wager that the outlaw, especially one wanted dead or alive, is more likely to be killed than a competent Sheriff, which you seem to be.” Heyes countered.

Another sign escaped before the Sheriff continued, “Maybe? Who calculates the odds on these things? We do what we have to do. Anyway, he was happy I moved here. He was wrong to think I’d forget Herta, though. Once I moved here and settled in. I proposed. Herta’s answer is in a box, which I can’t open. I have to send something back that’s in the box and I don’t know what that is either because I can’t open the damn box! Her father constructed and carved the thing and he probably made it difficult on purpose.”

Heyes cynical heart started to soften as in spite of himself he found himself sympathetic to the genuine heart sickness that was evident in Marty Rhitt’s voice. “So, do we have a deal, Sheriff? I’ll work on opening the box, you let me see my partner when I get it open, then I’ll teach you how I did it so you can honestly say you opened the box.”

“It’s a deal, Heyes”

“Smith.”

“Whatever you say, until the marshals arrive.”

~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~

The following day rays of sunshine slanted through the tiny window illuminating the dust motes dancing in the breeze drummed up by a determinedly pacing frustrated outlaw. Not only was Heyes still in the dark regarding Kid’s true condition but the puzzle box was proving to be truly a puzzle.
Sheriff Rhitt observed the actions of his unwilling guest on and off all day, not knowing whether to be amused by Heyes’ inability to take apart and access the interior of the box despite hours of single minded attention to the task or disappointed that his objective was no closer to being met.

“Hey Sheriff, how’s my partner doing? When can I see him?” Heyes called out.

“You have the puzzle apart yet? I don’t see a reply from Herta in your hand.” Rhitt retorted from behind his desk. He held up one hand to stop the response he saw coming in Heyes’ dark eyes. “But, I’ll tell you what, I’ll stop at the doc’s on my late rounds and give you an update if the deputy who’s stationed there doesn’t get here first to report after his night relief arrives.”

Heyes halted and sat on the bunk. He picked up the wooden contraption, his sensitive fingers ghosting the surface for subtle joins of wood, and applying pressure at a point here or there and then a push or a pull that yielded…nothing.

A jangle of a door opening had both men turning towards the front door. Three men awkwardly entered the jailhouse semi-sideways through the door. Kid Curry arrived noticeably limping with his hands handcuffed in front of him and supported on each side by a deputy. Heyes’ eyes traveled in relief from Kid’s pale, tired, and slightly flushed face to the left thigh, wrapped in a large bulky bandage visible through the split seam of Kid’s pants. The deputies deposited Kid on the cot in the small cell adjoining Heyes. Kid slowly lowered himself into a recumbent position while the deputies gave their report to the sheriff.

Curry turned his head towards the other occupied cell and found his partner crouched on the other side of the bars in order to look Curry in the eye. Kid sought to reassure the worried one, “I’m fine. The fever broke in the early morning and now the leg is just sore and weak. How’re you doing? You look like hell, partner. You get any sleep? Are you eating?”

Heyes just shook his shaggy head at Kids questions as they didn’t merit an answer. They both glanced at the lawmen to gauge their level of attentiveness and mutually agreed that a short private conversation could be risked.

“Heyes, we might have a problem. The doctor said I can be moved soon, as long as I don’t hafta ride a horse. Horse riding’s out for at least 6 weeks, according to Doc Colton. Have you worked out a plan to get us out of here yet?”

“That could be a problem for us since it will only give a few days at the most before the marshals from Wyoming arrive and they’ll know we are who the Sheriff thinks we are. The sheriff was gonna wire them when you were moved to the jail. He’s a pretty thorough sheriff, not fat and lazy. They found all my lock picks and I’m not given anything that can be used to pick a lock. Riding a horse won’t be an issue, you’ll have to deal with if we can’t get out of this cell.”

“You’ll think of somethin’, you always do.” Curry yawned and his eyes started to close.

Heyes rose and crossed back over to his cot to resume his mental and physical dexterity challenge involving the intricate pieces of wood making up the puzzle. He briefly wondered why bother. He discarded the idea to strike a change in the terms of the bargain for solving dismantling the box as unworkable. He didn’t think the sheriff would consider letting them go. A snort of self-mocking escaped the dark-haired outlaw as he realized the problem of the puzzle box had become more than a distraction but a downright challenge to his genius abilities.

~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~

Early the next morning Sheriff Rhitt was offering Heyes a cup of steaming coffee through the bars. “Deputy Predmore will be bringing your breakfast shortly.” He peered into the carboard box sitting on the floor along the bars and smiled. “Hey, I see you’ve made some progress with my box. There are two more pieces you got apart.”

Heyes accepted the coffee, blew across the top before taking a small sip. “Thanks, the coffee is a little weak for me but it’s just the way my friend likes it. That is if he finally wakes up. The smell of food ought to do it. And by the way, those two pieces took me most of the night. I’m beginning to think you’re right about your potential father-in-law not being happy about the situation.”

The sheriff’s face fell into a look of chagrin.

“Don’t worry Sheriff, I’ll get it opened. Impossible situations are my specialty.”

Sheriff Rhitt’s look of chagrin deepened. He pointedly stared at the lock on the cell door and slowly and firmly stated, “As long as you’re focused on the impossible situation in a cardboard box and no others, we’re good.”

Heyes chuckled and smiled with false innocence as he thought to himself I’m working on both and when I have a workable plan I’ll be good. Now if the Kid recovers quickly we’ll both be good.
Marty Rhitt nodded over to the still sleeping Curry in the next cell. “Doc Colton will be coming over to check up on your partner sometime in the afternoon.”

Breakfast came and went with Heyes for once finishing both his and most of Curry’s eggs, bacon, and biscuits. Time passed slowly and uneventfully, the lawmen were in and out all morning on their daily duties. Heyes had dragged his cot to the other side of the cell to be closer to the Kid as he continued to work on the puzzle box, and Curry slept.

“Kid? Kid, wake up. I’ve got an idea,” hissed Heyes when he judged that the partners would have a reasonable amount of time to talk privately.

Kid rolled over and cracked open one bleary blue eye to stare through the bars. “I’m awake. Glad to hear you have a plan. What do you need me to do?”

“Listen, when the doctor comes to check your wound he’ll probably have his doctor bag with him, right?”

“I guess so.”

“Right. I know you’re not feeling your usual self but I bet your hands are still fast and you haven’t lost your pickpocketing skills. When the doc opens the bag he’ll most likely put it on the cot next to your leg or on the floor, the important thing is it will be within your arms reach. What we need you to do is to swipe something out of the bag I can use to pick the lock, it just has to been long and thin. You think you can manage that without getting caught.” Heyes nodded his head as he talked, liking the odds that Kid would be able to snag something useful.

“If that will help get us out of here and avoid a trip to Wyoming, you can bet I’ll give it my best shot.”

Several hours later, during which Kid struggled to shake himself out of the half stupor he’d been in and out of since he’d been shot. Doctor Colton entered the jail to check up on his patient. Deputy Predmore brought a stool for the doctor and let the doctor in Curry’s cell, locking the door behind him.

“Well Mr. Jones, let’s see how you’ve been doing? Any increased pain?”

“It’s Kid Curry, Doc, We’re sure. You’ll see when the marshals get here in a day or two,” called Marty Rhitt from across the office.

The doctor sat on the stool alongside the Kid’s thigh and placed his bag on the cot. He opened the bag and removed bandage shears and new bandages then proceeded to go about the process of examining the wound’s healing progress and changing the bandage.

Heyes watched the activity in the adjoining cell from the cot on his side of the bars with avid interest.

Curry jerked his leg in response to a prod of the doctor’s fingers, knocking over the doctor’s bag, spilling the contents onto the cot and floor.

“Look what you did Thaddeus. You should be more careful,” admonished Heyes

“Sorry about that Doc. I couldn’t help it; the leg was sore that spot you prodded sent a shooting pain though the leg. Here, let me help you gather them up.” Curry sounded contrite as he gathered the instruments spread around on the bed while the doctor picked his tools and supplies of the trade off the floor, both men depositing their finds in the black bag placed back on the cot.

Sheriff Rhitt inquired, “You get everything back, Doc?” as he watched the commotion.

The doctor twisted around to face the lawman. “Yes, I did thank you.” He turned back to find Mr. Jones closing the bag.

“Don’t want to spill everything out again. How about you sitting here with me and put the bag on the stool,” suggested Curry. “How’s the wound looking? I’m still pretty worn out and sleeping a lot. How much can I do with the leg? Not that there is a lot to do in jail.” He continued as he shifted closer to the bars between the two cells.

~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~

“Heyes, are you still trying to figure out that box thing. How can you even concentrate with that deputy snoring up a storm over there? Can you see, he’s got the light pretty dim?”

Heyes flicked his eyes up to meet Kid’s through the bars then returned to what he was doing.” I can see just fine.”

“Will that probe thing of the doc’s work, do you think?”

“Yep, quiet for a minute, I think I almost figured out this piece.”

Kid ignored him. “So, we’re leaving tonight?”

“No, not tonight.”

“Why not tonight? I think we should go tonight.”

“You can’t ride. If we use our horses we’ll have to ride hard and fast. The deputy is only gone about an hour or two when he does his night rounds. I think the timing depends upon if a certain dove is in the saloon or not. I haven’t heard any trains coming by in the middle of the night yet and I don’t think any stages are leaving. Now go back to sleep and get some rest.”

“I’ve been resting for days now. I can ride. It won’t be the best thing for my leg, but I’ll keep up with you. I think we should go tonight. I don’t want to take a chance of the marshals showing up early.”

“Shush will you. I’ve almost getting how this works.”

“Heyes, is opening that box keepin’ us here? We leave tonight. Give me that thing!” snapped Curry with quite annoyance. He stuck his hand through the bars and snatched the puzzle box out of Heyes’ hands.

“Kid, I kinda feel sorry for the sheriff. His girl’s answer to his proposal in in the middle of that thing. He was struggling even more than me to get it apart without ruining the craftsmanship. It was made by Herta’s father who doesn’t want his daughter to marry a sheriff.”

“I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry a sheriff either.”

“That’s ‘cause you’re an outlaw. Marty Rhitt is pretty decent, for a sheriff, kinda like Lom, I bet. Now give me back the box.”

Kid sat up in bed and studied the object in his hand. “No let me try for a little while. Hand over the pieces you have apart already. Then try to rest for a little while. We leave tonight.”

“Kid…”

“Hand them over Heyes, If I get it apart without breaking it can we leave tonight?”

“Have I ever told you that your stubbornness is annoying.”

“Many times, but my stubbornness is going to keep me on my horse and movin’ fast when we leave later.”

Heyes signed, his partner in this mood couldn’t be reasoned with. He’d let Kid struggle with the box until his patience ran out and his frustration made him give the puzzle box back to Heyes. They could stay one more day. Meanwhile he would take his partner’s suggestion and get some rest. Heyes handed over the pieces from the carboard box then got as comfortable as one can get on a jail cell cot for some shut eye.

Two hours later Heyes was drifting back to awareness when he detected a satisfied quiet humming coming from his partner’s cell. He sat up, rubbed his eyes and stared in shock at Curry. Heyes’ jaw dropped open. Kid Curry was sitting on his cot, a small pink piece of paper unfolded on his lap, the fully assembled puzzle box sitting on the cot and a small red enameled heart-shaped box being lightly tossed from hand to hand.

Kid smiled, he held up the unfolded pink piece of paper and read aloud, “Yes. I will marry you. I love you with all my heart. Aah, I guess the father will have to get used to having a sheriff for a son-in-law whether he likes it or not.”

“You opened it? You opened it in that short a time.” accused Heyes is disbelief.

“Yep. Can we leave tonight now?”

“Prove it, show me,” demanded Heyes.

Curry did just that, he slowly demonstrated the tricks and intricacies of the puzzle’s construction by disassembling and reassembling the object to Heyes reluctant satisfaction. If Curry didn’t know better he would say his partner was sulking and he didn’t know if he should be insulted.

“Heyes, don’t take your problem with the puzzle box to heart. You’re still a genius planner and problem solver. You get past any lock that you put your mind to. The thing is that this wasn’t a lock. It was easier for me ‘cause I’m used to taking apart and putting back mechanical things with small parts that have to work a certain way, like my gun. I have to be, my life depends upon it. It’s second nature, like you with a new safe.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah, I do. And you know what else I think. I think we can leave tonight.”

Heyes looked once more at the puzzle box and the lock on the cell door. The deputy snored on. The dimple appeared as the grin spread across Heyes’ face as he pulled out the doctor’s thin metal probe that Kid had placed under Heyes mattress earlier in the day and put it into his pocket. “You’re sure you can ride, the doc said…”

“I know what the doc said and we both know that doctors are cautious. Caution outlaws or ex-outlaws like you and me can’t afford. Yeah, I can stay on my horse. You just get us to the livery.”

“All right Kid, we’ll go tonight as soon as the deputy leaves on his rounds. But before we go we have to leave the heart box with the note inside, the puzzle box and a note explaining how take apart and put together the box on the sheriff’s desk. Who knows, maybe he’ll be so grateful, nah he won’t, but he might be intrigued enough that it will slow him down on forming a posse.”

“Now, that’s a plan. I told you you’d think of somethin’. You always do. You haven't failed yet.”


Both partners settled down to rest up until the deputy roused to do his rounds. After all, they’d be riding hell bent for leather in an hour or so.
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Javabee

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Join date : 2013-09-08
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Location : Seattle

PostSubject: Re: Lock   Fri Sep 01, 2017 3:58 am

LOCKED

“Kinda looks like a castle, Heyes, I can’t believe she’d build such a thing.” The outlaws were hidden in a grove of trees near the main entrance, gazing up at the imposing seven story mansion.

Kid knew the reports about the mysterious estate, but they all seemed far-fetched. For years the eccentric owner had been adding to her sprawling Victorian home, running the construction crew day and night. Towers, balconies, turrets, curved walls, and cornices were all detailed with extravagant trim. Backdropped by a silver-dollar moon, the ornamental spires created an eerie dance of shadows on the manicured lawn below.  

Heyes pulled his grey coat snug around his neck and hugged himself in the brisk night air. “You know what the paper says as well as I do, Kid.”

Their old friend Silky gave them a copy of the San Francisco Gazette during their recent visit, pointedly gesturing to the front page story. Apparently the sales of the Winchester rifle left the inventor’s family richer than their wildest dreams. Sadly, their wealth couldn’t protect them from tragedy, and Sarah Winchester was left alone, with only her grief and money to console her.

Kid shivered, but not just from the cold. “Heyes, I told you right from the start, I don’t like the sound of this job. I know Silky thinks she’s a good mark, but just cause you can take someone, don’t mean you should.”

“Silky’d say you’ve gone soft on me, Kid, but I know better. What’s wrong?”

“You know it ain’t like us to rob a widow, especially one with a dead baby.” He eyed his cousin hopefully. “Maybe we should stick to the big fella’s, like the railroads and the banks. It don’t seem proper to rob someone so down on their luck.”

Heyes chuckled, and tried to put him at ease. “Kid, the paper says she inherited $20 million. There ain’t no one bigger than Mrs. Winchester, and she sure ain’t one of the needy folk.” The outlaw leader’s brown eyes were wide with excitement as he considered the many larcenous possibilities.

Kid recognized the determined look on his friend’s face, and silently contemplated the vast sum. They’d enjoyed their fair share of large heists over the years, as high as $20 thousand, a fortune by most folks standards. But $20 million? He shook his head, baffled at the thought.

“I reckon she could spare a few dollars,” he agreed reluctantly. “But there’s still her dead baby and all. It just don’t feel right.” Kid continued his inspection of the landscaped grounds with discomfort. A nearby fountain gurgled menacingly, as the shadows of thirteen cherubs danced tauntingly around it’s perimeter.

Heyes placed a hand on his partner’s shoulder. “Trust me, Kid. You know I’ve thought it through. All we have to do is wait till midnight to make our move.” The outlaw grinned like a cheshire cat at the thought of what was waiting for him inside the woman’s safe.

“Midnight?” Resigned, the gunman took a deep breath. If they were going to do this, he wanted to get on with it.

“Yeah, that’s when she’s busy with her so-called guests.” Heyes had posed as a construction worker long enough to discover the layout of the house, and the grand woman’s routine.

“In the middle of the night? She ain’t a Madam, Heyes, and this ain’t a high class...”

“Bordello?” Heyes chuckled. “Nope. Her visitors are more of the ghostly persuasion. Mrs. Winchester puts on her own private seance every evening at the stroke of midnight.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, and that ain’t all.” He leaned in with the rest of the story. “She thinks the ghosts of the victims of the Winchester rifle killed her family. She’s building them this house as a peace offering, so’s they won’t kill her, too.”

Kid shook his head at the absurd notion. “Sounds like she’s gone plumb loco, Heyes. All the more reason to get outa here.’”

“Now, don’t be like that, Kid.” His fingers practically tingled with anticipation at the thought of opening her safe. “The servants are gone and the construction crew is at the opposite end of the house makin’ all sorts a noise. When midnight comes she’ll be in some kinda trance and no one will ever hear us.”

The bell tower looming over the property chose that moment to begin its eerie countdown to midnight, one echoing chime after another.

“That’s it, let’s go!” Heyes darted from behind the trees with Kid on his tail. Skirting the shadows, they discreetly made their way to the front door. Heyes made quick work of the locks on the ornate knob and stepped aside. Kid readied his gun, tentatively opened the large double door, and gestured for his partner to follow.

“Which way?” The Kid looked around in confusion as he surveyed the entry hall.  A huge chandelier with thirteen gas lights, still gently lit, cast a soft glow on the rich mahogany wall. Instead of a single grand staircase, two spiralled upward, each heading in different directions.

Heyes fumbled with his hastily penned map and gestured toward the stairs to his right. “Uh, it looks like we can ignore that one.”

Kid’s eyes followed the staircase upward, until it inexplicably ended in a dead end at the ceiling. He looked questioningly at his partner. “What the blazes is that?”

“She’s tryin’ to confuse the evil spirits, Kid, you know, the ones she thinks are after her.”

“You mean she did that on purpose?” The beautiful staircase was intricately carved, highly polished, and completely useless.  

Heyes shrugged. “Nevermind, the safe’s in the room directly above us, but it’s like a maze to get there. Stay close, some folks have been lost in here for hours.” Between the soft glow of the chandeliers and the bright light of the moon shining through the stain glassed windows, they had no trouble making their way up the second staircase. They reached the first landing, where a large painting of a man posed with a Winchester rifle looked down on them ominously.

“He don’t look too happy, Heyes.”

“It’s William Winchester. He was married to a crazy lady, what did you expect?”

“I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t always crazy, he looks pretty happy in these.” The walls on the next leg of the staircase were lined with photographs, showcasing the Winchester family.

“Look at that.” Kid pointed to an unusual door. It was positioned to the left of the large portrait, papered with the same wallpaper as the walls. He swung the door wide and came face to face with a solid brick wall.

“A dead-end staircase and a door to nowhere.” Kid turned a raised brow to his partner “I don’t like it, Heyes. What’s next?”

“Who knows, come on.”

They carefully made their way to the second floor, scanning the rest of the photographs as they went. One pictured the bride and groom smiling at each other adoringly. Another showed an infant sleeping peacefully in a grand bassinet, as the proud parents gazed lovingly at their precious child.The final photo was grim; their dead baby, dressed in ruffles and lace, was held by a bereft Sarah, as was the manner of the day.

“We don’t steal from folks like this, ain’t she lost enough?”

“We lost our families too, Kid, lot’s of folks did. At least she’s still got the golden touch.”

“What’s that?”

“Just an old story. There was this greedy king who wished everything he touched would turn to gold. He got his wish, but when he touched his daughter, she turned to gold too.” He looked at his cousin, who’s face had drawn a blank. “Nevermind, I’ll tell ya later. All I know is, Mrs. Winchester has more than enough gold, and we don’t. Come on.”

They meandered around the labyrinth of stairs and hallways, taking in their luxurious surroundings. No expense had been spared when it came to satisfying the ghosts that haunted Sarah Winchester. Finally they reached what Heyes thought was the right place, and faced two innocuous looking doors. Heyes opened the door on the right and took a step into what he expected to be a sitting room.

“Heyes!” A wave of brisk outdoor air alerted Kid just in time for him to grab his cousin by the collar and yank him back to safety. His partner had almost taken a fatal step into thin air.

Catching his breath, Heyes leaned against the wall to avoid the sudden drop to the ground below. His brown eyes were as big a saucers as he watched his favorite black hat fall unceremoniously into a thicket of well-groomed shrubs. Still breathing heavy, Heyes ran his fingers through his hair, and tried to compose himself. He glanced furtively at his map. “Come on, it’s gotta be behind this next door.”

Kid thought the quirks of the house were harmless enough, but now he wasn’t so sure. Readying himself for anything, he drew his gun. Heyes waved him ahead and Kid gingerly looked into the room.

“All clear,” hissed the Kid. He opened the door wide and nodded at his partner to enter.

It was the Daisy Room, and Sarah had filled the sitting room with images of her favorite flower. The wooden mantle above the fireplace was artistically carved with the floral design.Thirteen decorative tiles were tastefully arranged on the wall above the mantle, each engraved with thirteen lovely daisies. The windows were made of thirteen stained glass panes decorated with the flower. Even the expensive wallpaper sported a subtle imprint of the theme.

“I guess the great woman likes daisies,” Heyes muttered with a grin. Kid rolled his eyes at the understatement and slowly closed the door with a barely discernable click. He took position, gun still drawn, carefully listening for warning footsteps from the hall.

The outlaw leader sauntered around the room like a kid in a candy store. Sumptuous upholstery covered the furnishings, and expensive collectables decorated the mantle, including a gorgeous imported clock. A glint of gold caught his eye as the moonlight shifted through the window. It was another photograph of Sarah holding her baby, framed in gold.

Heyes grabbed it and inspected it thoroughly. “It’s real, Kid. Solid gold. If she keeps this out in the open, imagine what she keeps in the safe.” His eyes sparkled with anticipation as he shoved the heavy golden frame into his bag.

Kid continued his vigilance, completing his inspection of the area. “We got one problem, Heyes, there ain’t no safe.”

“Over there.” Heyes gestured across the room.

Kid groaned. “Not another door.”

“Yeah, but this one’ll make us rich, come on.” Heyes cautiously peeked inside, and sure enough, a huge safe appeared. This is what he'd been waiting for. Kneeling, he removed his gloves, and set to work. Listening closely to the tell-tale clicks, the combination only took a few minutes to solve.

“What’s wrong?” Kid noticed the glum look on his partner’s face, even though he’d just succeeded at one of his favorite pastimes.

“Nothin’, but with all her money, you’d think she’d have a better safe.”

Kid ghosted a smile at his partner’s so-called professional disappointment, holstered his gun, and readied his bag to scoop up the valuables.  

‘Now what do we have here?” The door swung wide to reveal another safe, tucked snugly inside the first. With a newer, more sophisticated model to crack, Heye’s mood instantly improved. “I reckon she spent some good money on security after all.”

Eager to test his skill, the outlaw flexed his nimble fingers, once again resting an ear close enough to hear the tumblers fall into place. 
It took a little more effort than the first, but in due time he was able to pop the door.Their breath hitched as they simultaneously leaned in to view the contents that were sure to make them wealthy men. Instead they were met with yet another safe, and this one wouldn’t open so easily.

”Three safes?” Heyes hissed, blinking in disbelief. He wanted a challenge, but enough was enough.

“I hope you’re happy, Heyes. Next time, be careful what you ask for.” Heyes ignored him, already troubleshooting the task before him.

“There’s something special in here, Kid, no doubt about it.” The master safecracker ran his hands over the surface of the safe, inspecting every nook and cranny. “I’ve read about this model. It’s a beautiful piece of workmanship, top of the line.” He stretched his shoulders and wiggled his fingers, readying himself.

The tick of the clock became ominous as the Kid restively watched his partner work.They’d only counted on cracking one safe, not three, and time was running out. The bell tower was set to chime at 2 am, marking the end of Sarah’s seance, and by that time they needed to be long gone.

Heyes mopped his brow with his bandanna and gave his partner a cheeky grin of satisfaction when he finally cracked his third and final safe of the night. The Winchester fortune beckoned to him like none other, and he fully expected to find the mother lode within. To his dismay the interior was nearly empty. All they could find was two yellowed newspaper clippings and a small white silk bag. Perplexed, Kid reached for the clippings and Heyes took the bag.

“Looks like their obituaries.” The gunman quickly scanned the pages. “It says here William died of tuberculosis and baby Annie starved to death cause she couldn’t digest her food. Sarah watched helplessly as her baby wasted away.” Kid stared at his partner, stricken at the tale. “Little Annie was only 6 weeks old, Heyes.”

Heyes took a moment to absorb the news. With one last chance at finding something valuable, he turned his attention to the small delicate bag. He carefully released the ribbon closure and a wisp of fine, blond baby hair slipped out, gracefully falling to the velvet surface below.

“Damn.” Too stunned to move, Heyes stared at the wealthy heiress’ most cherished possession with dismay. Kid finally reached across his partner and reverently captured the delicate strand between two fingers. He returned it to the silky bag, determined to leave the treasured mementos as they were found.

The two cousins, having lost so many loved ones themselves, shared a moment of silence. In a hushed tone the gunman finally put his thoughts to words, “I reckon Sarah’s one of the needy folks after all, Heyes.”

“Yeah.” Heyes swallowed his disappointment, methodically closing each of the safes and carefully resetting the dials. He finally stood, pulled the golden framed photograph from his bag, and gently returned it to it’s original resting place.

Heyes put on his gloves as he studied the image of mother and child. The sad truth about Sarah Winchester could no longer be denied. Frantically building her home to appease her ghostly enemies, she had unwittingly turned it into a prison of fear and despair. She was hopelessly locked in a nightmare of overwhelming grief, and even her infinite wealth could not release her.

“When you’re right you’re right, Kid. There ain’t anyone more needy than Mrs. Winchester. Looks like she favors that king more than I thought.”

The Kid raised a questioning brow.

“It’s the rest of the story, Kid.” He quietly cleared his throat. ”King Midas begged the gods to take back all his riches and his golden touch, if only they would return his daughter. I reckon Sarah would make the same trade if she could.”

Kid thought of what he’d give to get his own family back, and locked eyes with his cousin. “If it’s all the same to you, Heyes, from now on I’d just as soon stick to robbin’ the railroads and the banks.”

“Yeah.” Heyes grabbed his empty bag and patted his cousins back. “Come on, let’s get outa here and go find my hat.”

Hat safely in hand, it didn’t take long for them to reach their horses. As they were mounting they heard the bell tower chime it’s 2 am farewell to Sarah’s ghostly guests. Kid felt the hair raise on the back of his neck, and turned for one last look. The melancholy silhouette of a small woman could be seen gazing out a top floor window, the shadows of flickering candles dancing eerily behind her.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx



After inheriting $20 million, Sarah Winchester started construction on what would become The Winchester Mystery House in 1884, so unless our boys gave up on amnesty, the timeline is about a decade off. I’ve never been to visit the Mystery House, so I’ve used a lot of creative license in describing the property. However, there really is a Daisy Room, a dead-end staircase, a door opening to a brick wall, and an upper floor door that opens into thin air. The number thirteen is featured throughout the house.  Construction on the house continued nonstop until her death, since Sarah Winchester believed as long as it continued the spirits could not kill her. It's said she received instructions for the next day’s building project during her seance each night.


After Mrs. Winchester’s death, her safe was opened with great expectation. They found 3 safes nested within each other, the only treasure being the obituaries and a wisp of hair. Fascinating stuff.

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