I have to apologize that it took me so long to return to the story line which I started in May and continued in June.
It turned around a young woman who woke up in the middle of the night, not prepared to find not one but two handsome ex-outlaws in her house, not knowing how they travelled through time and space and not knowing how to return. Just when they got a little more acquainted, the nightly peace was interrupted by unfamiliar noises...
A young woman - who now hoped she was still asleep when her dream started to turn into a nightmare - startled as well as her uninvited reformed outlaw guests who accompanied her in her nightly kitchen.
“What’s that noise?” Heyes asked their under-dressed host. “Anyone else here with you?”
“Not as long as no others came along with you,” she said and pulled the jacket tighter around her shoulders.
She shook her head.
Her visitors exchanged a short glance. Deliberately Kid Curry sat down his food, wiped off his hands and edged around the counter.
More noises, louder now.
“Thieves?” she asked no one in particular and panned the modest surroundings. There was not much to find in her house besides herself. Who would...? Why...?
Panic flashed up inside her, rooted her to the ground and wrapped her in a dark sphere of fear. Her only movement was the trembling of her body. The papers were filled with stories of what happened in such occasions, and the knowledge wasn’t suitable to comfort her.
The power was off. No power, meant no phone too. There was no way to call the police. She was all on her own, with a stranger in her house, looking for whatever he might seek – and it surely were no riches.
She jumped as she heard someone clearing his throat behind her. Swiftly, she spun around and found herself facing a blond-haired, blue-eyed gunman, handsome and kind, but with steel in his eyes and an attitude of controlled danger surrounding him.
Two pairs of blue eyes locked.
Suddenly she wasn’t scared anymore. His eyes were unbelievable familiar to her. She felt home, safe, like she had always known him. There was no way he would ever let someone harm her. She had never met him before - and she probably didn’t meet him right now – so how was it possible to feel that way?
More sounds pulled her back into present before she could fathom the bottom of her thought.
She received a reassuring smile from the blond.
“Make a stand or run?” her hero asked her.
“Where? Clear off!”
“If there’s a place to run to – fine. Just running away is pointless. Once you start runnin’ it ain’t easy to stop again. So if you’re heading for nothin’ nothin’ might stop you – and there’s nothin’ you’ll find in the end. You still wanna go for it?”
She thought it over, hesitated and finally stated, “Nope. Let’s find out, who’s there and what they want...and make it a point that they went for the wrong place.”
“Now you’re speakin’!” A broad grin split Kid Curry’s face. He turned his head and faced his partner, starting a silent discussion. Fascinated she followed the unfolding nonverbal exchange.
Blue eyes asked a question.
Brown eyes narrowed, the brows above them knit.
The blond head tilted and indicated her.
Dark brows raised towards the hairline while the eyes below widened.
The look in the blond one’s eyes hardened a mite more, and something about the setting of his jaw changed.
Chocolate-colored eyes were rolled upwards, followed by a sight of surrender and a reluctant nod of the dark-haired head.
Smiling, the young gunslinger turned back to her again. “We’ll handle this. Just lead the way, we’ll cover you.”
In unison all three of them turned around and peeked out of the door, listening, but nothing unusual was to be heard.
Silently the threesome sneaked through dark rooms. The Kid went first followed by the lady of the house who indicated the direction while Heyes brought up the rear. Silently they searched for the source of the previous noises.
There – shuffling sounds! It was at the back of the house, probably around her bedroom – of course it had to be! When all this was over, she had to switch rooms or she would never ever get sleep again. It was way too busy in there.
They stopped in front of the door. Kid Curry drew his gun and then indicated the door to his partner. Heyes passed his comrades by and cracked the door open. Nobody was to be seen inside. Silently they slipped inside and closed the door.
Kid Curry took a quick glance around, taking in every detail. Suddenly he froze. “Hold it right there!” he hissed, pointing his gun towards the wall behind them.
His two companions whirled around, eying the potential threat. Heyes frowned while their lady friend bite away a smile. “Kid, that’s just a poster,” she said.
“A poster? Man-sized and colored? Of gunmen?” Heyes asked and tilted his head. “Don’t they look somewhat familiar, Kid?”
The Kid holstered his weapon and took a closer look. “It’s...us!? What is it? That’s sort of a wanted poster?”
She blushed. “No, it’s not! It’s just...uh...How to explain?” she stammered and finally gave in with a shrug of her shoulders. “Well, kinda.”
“You have wanted posters on your wall? Of us? In your bedroom?” the sexiest gunslinger of the West asked her bemused. “What kind of place is this, huh?” His voice was soft and low and recalled images of silk and velvet.
Her face-color deepened, almost illuming the surrounding darkness.
The curly blond stepped a little closer and looked the poster up and down. “Hey, I look good!” he stated with an appreciative smile on his face.
“You look good?” Heyes chimed in. “Maybe. On a second look. First of all, it’s me there, who catches the eye! All handsome, self-confident, superior...” He adopted a heroic pose as he went on praising himself while his partner rolled his eyes. “Just look at that stance, that glance, it all tells you I’ve...”
“...got no clue!” the golden-haired cut him off.
“What!?” Heyes shot at him, taken by complete surprise.
“You’ve got no clue! Not the faintest idea!” Kid Curry claimed, grinning smugly. “You’re always posin’ that masterful when you’re bluffin’!”
“I - what?!? Now wait a minute...!”
Curry developed a self-satisfied grin while his partner was about to explode. Before a beautiful friendship could abruptly come to an end, the young woman piped up. “Will you shut up - both of you!” she hissed, indicating the window. Shadows moved, where no movement was to be expected.
All three of them turned around and none too soon.
The shadows outside condensed to a dark shape. Seconds later the windowpane moved upwards. Slowly a head slipped in, slim shoulders and the rest of a slender body followed. With a low thud the figure landed on the floor. Two handsome cowboys exchanged an amused glance and shook their heads.
“That’s an amateur if I ever saw one,” Heyes scoffed barely audible.
Their host nudged his side, indicating the new arrival on the stage of her bedroom. Then she faced the newcomer again. With all of her willpower she suppressed her instinct to run. Before the returning fear had a chance to get the better of her, she heard the sound of a cocking gun.
“Hold it right there!” Kid Curry’s voice was cold and had a dangerous edge about it.
Her third uninvited guest of the night, about to struggle to his feet, startled and dropped to his butt. The hood of his shirt slipped back and revealed a dark shock of hair above a fairly handsome face. When the young man lifted his head, the lady of the house drew one step back, and inhaled sharply.
“You know him?” a baritone voice whispered in her ear. She nodded. “Who is he?”
“It’s Jake. He is...was...well, I don’t know...a sort of friend of mine.”
“Complicated friendship, huh?”
“You can say that. I know him all of my life, but sometimes he just drives me crazy!”
“I know that sort of thing,” Heyes replied emphatically, which raised a huff from his fair-haired partner who added, “You can say that twice!” His dark-haired friend turned toward him and beamed him a bright smile that twinkled in his eyes.
Meanwhile their host placed her hands on her hips and scowled. “What do you want Jake? Scare me to death!?"
“No, darling, I...”
“Don’t you ‘darling’ me!” she snapped, while behind her back two pairs of outlaw-eyes met for another amused glance. “We made a clear split! I told you not to knock on my door again as long as you’re hanging out with those nasty friends of yours. And that didn’t mean you should use the window instead.”
“I didn’t knock...”
“You really think this is the point, son!?” Heyes scoffed.
“Who’s that?” Jake asked in puzzlement.
“You’re not the only one with friends,” the only female present told him.
“That’s friends of yours? What do they think they are? A pair of Texas Rangers?”
She smiled, all self-confident. “Not exactly, something way better. And if you’re lucky you’ll never find out. They’re gonna help me – like real gentlemen do. So, you better get going!”
“No, darl...uh...babe...uh...oh, come on, Jocelyn. I just came here to warn you.”
“That’s why you break into a lady’s house? In the middle of the night? Are you crazy?” Kid Curry snapped. He drew a menacing step closer, but a slender hand held him back.
“Well, yeah...” Jake stammered. “I mean, no! I mean you better be very careful, Josie. Wes is looking out for you.”
“For me? Why the heck would he do that?”
“To...well...just as insurance.”
“What‘s that supposed to mean?” Heyes inquired.
“For the money I owe him...”
“What money?” Kid Curry cut in.
“Debts from the last poker game.”
“The dead sure one you told me about? All of them players unexperienced and drawing on inside straights?” Josie pressed on her friend.
“Let me guess: you lost your last shirt...”
“...and a little more. I know the attitude,” Curry chimed in, glancing sideways at his friend.
“How much of a little more?” Jocelyn asked cautiously.
Jake just hemmed and hawed.
“How much?” Heyes barked.
The young gambler named a sum that made the girl’s eyes grow wide and raised a whistle from the boys.
“You can’t be serious!” Jocelyn gasped.
“It was dead sure! It was only a matter of time...”
“Oh yeah, a matter of time until something like this had to happen. Where have you had your brains?”
“Just stop it, alright! I’ve got a plan! I’ll go for a little job and pay him off. I already talked him into it. Everything will be fine! I just need your help.”
A pair of outlaws looked at each other, one of them mocking the other one pouting.
“That’s your stupidest idea ever! You’re asking for trouble!”
“But, darl... Jocelyn, listen! It will be quick money, just an easy little job.”
“Easy? Nothing’s easy, where Wes is involved.”
“I’ve thought of everything. It’ll work like clockwork. Only one little bank job would solve the problem!”
“A bank? Are you crazy? Why would you want to rob a bank?”
“That’s where the money is kept,” he answered and shrugged. Heyes and Curry exchanged a broad grin.
“Great! So why not break in into the mint?” Jocelyn scoffed. “That’s where the money is made!”
“Are you serious?” Jake’s eyes lit up.
So did a pair of dark-brown eyes, while a pair of blues rolled upwards.
“No,” she snapped.
“You know, you’re right about the mint. We could...”
“Just one single job!”
But Heyes took over again, “In my experience one job never means one job. One leads to another, this one to the next and faster as you can spell ‘armed robbery’, you’re deeper into the mess than you ever wanted to be. Trust me, there’s no such thing as ‘just one job’...”
Kid Curry nodded confirmation. “Money’s never enough. Your partner’s too excited. The next place is just too temptin’. Next time everythin’ will be easier...”
“The next job will solve all your problems,” Heyes continued. “But it just doesn’t work that way, ‘cause it creates a million new ones. It’s easier not to start, than to stop. Believe me, we know what we’re talking about! The way back to the straight and narrow is a might long and stony one.”
Jake chose to ignore the men, his eyes trained on his friend.
“I already said no, Jake, and I meant it.”
“And let’s face it,” Heyes added, “if this Wes guy ain’t as dumb as a brick, he’d never let you off, once you started to make money for him.”
“Who did you say they are?” Jake asked suspiciously and squinted his eyes.
“I said nothing, but they do have a point. You won’t talk me into this. I know better than that. We both do!”
Jake heaved a deep sigh. “Alright, but if you won’t help me, please, go away. At least for a while.”
“You think I would leave this house? My house? Built by my great grandfather where he met his wife-to-be and he fell in love with her? It’s everything I own!”
“I just...care about you, you know that.”
She huffed. “In a very strange way as it seems to me.”
“So, you won’t help me. You won’t leave, but you can’t stay either. What’re we gonna do now?”
“You’ll think of something.” Her voice was soft and filled with trust and a hint of resignation. “You always do.”
“There’s not much of a choice, huh?”
“And she didn’t say she wouldn’t help you,” Heyes interjected. “There must be a legal way to get even.”
“Well, if you’ve got enough funds to loan me...”
Threefold head-shaking answered him.
Jake sighted. “If I had at least a stake! There’s another game on Friday, and I know there’s still room for another player.”
Pouting, Jocelyn casted her eyes down. “There is one thing I could do to help you, but...”
“What is it?”
“There’s a ring.” She hesitated to continue and heaved a sigh. Then she opened a drawer of her dresser and produced an antique ring: braided golden bands twisted together and ending in leave-shaped gems of noticeable size and brilliant green color. Their fire sparkled lively in the dark of the night. “My great grandmother’s wedding band, the only heirloom I’ve got besides this old house. It holds dear memories. It’s given from mother to daughter on their wedding since her husband gave it to her. I just own it, because mom...” Her voice trailed off.
Gently, Jake took her hand and looked her deep in the eyes. “I know, Jocelyn. And I know it means everything to you. I’d never ask for it. But if you give it to me by choice, I promise I’ll bring it back to you no matter what. It would cover the buy-in and I won’t put it in any risk. I could make up my debts and even get ahead again.”
“...or they’d skin you alive once more,” Heyes objected. “The longer I think about it, the entire thing seems pretty much like a scam to me. Too many coincidences for my liking.”
Jake rubbed his chin. “Maybe you’re right. But I’m quite a player, and I don’t know how they managed to fleece me.”
“A crooked game?”
The young man shrugged. “I didn’t notice it. If I had any evidence, I could make it work in my favor. There’s a lot of important people there on Friday...”
“...meaning other crooks...” Josie translated in disgust.
“...Wes has a reputation to lose – and more. He would have a real hard time, if word spread his games were not straight. A lot of boys would be pretty pissed, boys you better not cross.”
“Sounds like a chance,” Heyes confirmed.
“But how would I spot it?”
Two ex-outlaws exchanged a long glance. Kid Curry finally shrugged and left the room.
“Where’s he going?” Jocelyn asked.
“Getting my deck of cards. Where can we set up a game?”
The young woman led them back into the kitchen, where they met Kid Curry with the cards. Jocelyn lit a couple of candles, opened a bottle of wine and all four of them settled down around a kitchen counter.
Heyes took his hat off, stretched his fingers and started shuffling the deck. First, they played a few easy hands. Jocelyn turned out to be an average player, but Jake showed true talent. They only played for matches, but most of the pots went to him or Heyes.
“Keep your eyes on everything,” Heyes told his scholar, “but never let on. It’s not only the cards, it’s the drinks, the girls, any kind of distraction.” Then he started doing his magic. The cards moved like they had their own will, but always in his favor. He repeated some tricks slowly and explained to Jake how to spot certain cheats. As the night wore on, Jake’s knowledge grew as well as his awareness. He even tried a few tricks himself.
“Don’t let temptation get the better part of you, Jake. What you’re doing is mighty risky. If they catch you cheating, they’ll rip you apart. So. Don’t. Cheat. Ever!” Heyes empathized. “Nobody of us wants Jocelyn to get hurt. And I have the strange feeling she would be hurt, if you got hurt.”
The young gambler looked up and met Jocelyn’s eyes. They both kept silent, but both of them blushed.
Kid Curry cleared his throat noisily. “Dawn must be coming soon.”
The kids broke their eye contact. Jake stood and rolled his shoulders. “Then I better get going, huh?”
“That’s the first thing you said tonight that makes absolutely sense!” she replied.
He stretched his shoulders again and tried to pass her by, heading for the staircase.
“What you think you’re doing?”
“Get outta here.”
“Oh, no. No, no, no. You’ll leave right the way you came in.”
“Through the window?” He stared at her in disbelief.
“But I could break my neck!”
“I doubt we’ll be that lucky...”
“I don’t want anyone see you coming out of my door this early!”
“You won’t push me outta that window, will you?”
She gave him a long, thoughtful look, before she shook her head, grinning.
“Alright, I’ll see you to the back door.”
“I didn’t know your house had one.”
“It’s hidden. I don’t know who built it and why, but it comes pretty handy right now.”
Jake followed her, nodding at the boys before he left. “See you ‘round.”
Only seconds later a dull niose was to be heard from the hallway, followed by a painful moan.
“Stop whining, Jake!”
“Your furniture is attacking me!”
“It’s rather your own clumsiness getting back on you!”
A second thud sounded.
“You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you?” the male voice asked.
“Nope.” A smile lit up her face, unseen, but definitely heard.
“You wanna kill me?”
“No. You’ll live. And you’ll remember what stupid idea it was to ambush me in my own house...” She led him to the secret door, peeked out and whispered, “And don’t forget about your promise. I want my ring back.”
“I’ll never forget I owe you a ring!”
“My ring! And don’t try anything funny. You’ll live to regret it, if you cross me!”
“Sheesh, Josie, what’s gotten into you?”
“Something that was always there, but I didn’t know about - my true self,” she said, smiling. “You better get used to it.” Then she kissed him on the cheek, before she pushed him out and slammed the door shut.
For a moment she leaned her shoulders against the wood. She felt good, so unbelievable good. She wouldn’t run anymore. Now she knew what she was capable of. She would master her life better than she did before. Oh, life tasted so sweet to her today!
With a happy smile on her face Jocelyn returned to the kitchen. On the threshold she stopped. Something felt wrong. The room felt...empty. It was empty.
She searched room, then the entire house. Her visitors had gone. Sadness tried to get hold of her, for the things she had lost, for the friends she had lost. But were they really gone? Had they actually been here in first place? She felt inside herself and there she found them. Two men who would always be close to her. Her smile returned. Some things can’t be taken away from you, no matter what.
She returned to her bedroom and surveyed the room. Everything was like it was expected to be. Everything in its place, even the mess. Maybe she would clean up tomorrow. The door of the closet stood a crack open. She gave it a shove, but it wouldn’t close. Something blocked it. She reached down and picked it up, eyeing the object in her hand in surprise - a brown floppy hat. Funny. She had searched for her replica of Kid Curry’s hat for weeks and couldn’t find it. And now it lay right at her feet. She really needed to clean up. First thing in the morning! Well, maybe after breakfast...
Gently she placed the hat on her dresser before she went to bed again. The dawn was already breaking, but there was still enough time left to get a little more sleep.
Jocelyn Jones snuggled into the pillows and returned to dreams of cowboys, rogues and outlaws...
When Jocelyn and her friend left the room, Heyes and Curry turned to face each other.
“What we’re gonna do now?” Kid Curry asked.
“Return home.” Heyes said, stood up and slapped his battered hat on his head.
“Home...” Kid Curry pondered the thought. “You know, I really like the layout of this house.”
“Huh? What you talking about, Kid?” The schemer threw him a puzzled glance before he turned around, heading for Jocelyn’s bedroom. His friend fetched their belongings and followed him.
“Just sayin’,” the blond said and shrugged. “If I should ever build one this would be just perfect. But that’s not what you meant, I guess.”
“Hell, no! I was talking about getting back in our own time. Back where we belong, you know.”
“Taking that door.” Heyes pointed towards the closet.
“This one? Where does it go?”
“How would you know?”
“It just figures,” Heyes told him firmly.
“Look, we searched the whole house, passed every door. This is the only one left. It has to be the right one!”
“And if not?”
“It is. Trust me.”
Kid Curry just stared at him skeptically.
Heyes heaved a deep breath. “Alright, then we’re licked,” he admitted and shrugged. “In that case I’ll think of something else. Now, just give it a try, will you?”
“But I don’t know how!”
“Maybe you don’t have to! Just do it!”
“You’re crazy, Heyes, you know that?”
“Being your partner for a lifetime held its risks,” Heyes teased him and paused. He addressed his partner with a warm smile. “Go on, Kid, get us outta here. I know you can make it.” Barely audible he added, “At least I hope so.”
Hesitantly, Curry went to the door and turned the knob. “We came here just in time, huh? But why her?”
“How would I know? A needy one was calling you and you jumped into it, head over heels, like always. That was not the kind of smooth escape I was hoping for.”
The Kid just opened the door but spun around.
“Hey, it wasn’t me who...!”
“Just go! Let’s get outta here before others line up for your help.” Heyes pushed his partner through the dark opening. “If we’re lucky, Bill Manson is long gone now and we can make a couple of miles before he finds out where we’ve been gone.”
He took one last long look around and smiled. The Kid had been right: the floorplan was just perfect. He had already memorized it, just in case...
One beat later he followed his friend - hopefully back into their own time and space. And back to the long and winding road towards amnesty.