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 Hell Bent for Leather

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Join date : 2013-08-24
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Hell Bent for Leather Empty
PostSubject: Hell Bent for Leather   Hell Bent for Leather EmptyTue Jan 14, 2014 12:07 pm

Hell Bent for Leather
Heyes gazed into the big, brown eyes.  “I’ve just been reading about horoscopes.  What sign are you, Mabel?”  He held up a gloved hand to stop the reply.  “No, don’t tell me.  It’s gotta be Taurus the bull.  It’s written all over you.”   
“Joshua?  What the Sam Hill are you prattlin’ on about?”  The Kid leaned back in the railway carriage, “some of us are tryin’ to sleep.”
“I know and that’s why I’m bored.  I’d have to be, to read about horoscopes,” Heyes reached out and stroked Mabel’s auburn hair.  “At least she’s interested.”
Irritated blue eyes glittered through the shadows.  “She’s a cow.”
“Ssh!  She’ll hear you.”  
“A big, hairy cow,” the Kid continued, “hairier than usual.  I ain’t seen a cow like that in my life.”
“At least she stays awake.  She’s way less scary than she looks in spite of the wild hair and big horns.”  Heyes cast admiring eyes over the beast chewing absently on a mouthful of straw with loose lips wobbling at every movement.  “She reminds me of Kyle in a way.”   
“I ain’t seen one with hair over its eyes like that.  It must be real annoyin.’  Should we cut it?”
“She’s a prize winning heifer.  We’re not cutting anything off.  It might be important to her value and it’s our job to make sure she gets to her safely to her destination, remember?”
The Kid pushed his hat to the back of his head with a long forefinger.  “We could curl it, just to get it out of her eyes?”
A smile of disbelief spread over Heyes face.  “Are you seriously suggesting that we coiffure a cow?  No journey is that boring.”
“Coiffure?  Is that some fancy word for animal husbandry?”
Heyes arched a brow.  “It’s more like animal wifery and we’re not doing it.”
“A Highland Cow, all the way from Scotland?  Do all the animals have hair like the people over there?  The sheep must be hilarious.”  The Kid carefully appraised Mabel.  “Why do you think she’s so valuable?”
“She’s from Queen Victoria’s prize-winning herd.” 
The tousled nodded appreciatively.  “It’s all about who ya know, huh?  I bet a friend of royalty wouldn't have a problem gettin’ amnesty.”
“A friend of royalty wouldn’t have to turn to crime in the first place.”
“Not the way Grandpa Curry told it,” the Kid leaned back and folded his arms.  “The Irish are none too keen on the British upper classes.”
“I didn’t hear you complaining about that blonde in San Francisco.  Didn’t she have a title?”
“Yeah, an honourable; whatever that it is?  Soundes more like a nun to me.”  A grin twitched at the Kid’s lips.  “It’s a good job names can be deceivin’.”
“I suppose one of you had to be honourable,” Heyes chuckled.  “Her pa would have shot you through the heart if he’d caught you.”
“That’s a big ‘if.’  I can be every bit as slippery as you can, Joshua.  Besides, she was marryin’ an old bore just for his money and wanted a fling before she committed to him.  She told me so herself.  The Brits are marryin’ for money; Americans marry poor folks with a title to give their families class – and she sure had that in spades.”  The long legs crossed at the ankle.  “Unlike us at the moment; I can’t believe I’m bein’ paid to protect a cow.”
“She’s pregnant and if she’s stolen they get at least two valuable pieces of livestock, not just one.  We’ve had worse jobs.”
“Yup, but why do we have to travel in the truck with the cow while John Clay travels first class?  It ain’t like any other cows can break in.  Does he expect a hold up by a love-struck bull?  If she’s in calf, the damage is already done.”
“Clay’s desperate to make sure nobody gets the calf,” Heyes patted Mabel before tinkering with her velvet ear, “so I guess we’re like gun-toting fathers looking after a rich heiress.”  Heyes’ cheeks dimpled.  “One who can’t give you the run-around with sob stories for a change, so this should be easy.”
The Kid thrust a determined chin towards his cousin.  “Like you’re always so smart around women?  Your first theft was to impress Becky Smart and she ate all those cookies herself without givin’ you as much as a crumb.”
“Well, Mabel here isn’t going to give us any trouble.  Are you, old girl?”
The Kid shook his head.  “Now you’ve done it.  If there’s one thing you never call a female, it’s old.  You just got yourself a mess of trouble there, Joshua.”
“She’s a cow!” Heyes retorted.
“She’s a female and you called her old.  Mark my words, partner.  You’ve got trouble comin’.”  Mabel dropped her head and gathered up another mouthful of fodder before she stared aimlessly  and started ruminating over a drooping thread of dribbling saliva.  Her tail rose and a stream of unctuous, fetid, brown plap slopped onto the floor of her stall.  The air filled with a cloud of rank, ever-expanding malignoquence.    The Kid pulled his hat over his face with a smirk.  “Told ya.  It’s  started.”
“Oh, what a beautiful animal,” a pair of delicate, auburn eyebrows gathered in curiosity.  “The hair is almost the same colour as mine.  I’ve never seen such a beast.  Is he fierce?”
“She.  Her name’s Mabel,” the Kid leaned against the doorframe and smiled at the Titian beauty on the railway platform, “and she’s real gentle.”
“Can I stroke her?”
“If you want to, but she’s only a cow, Miss...?”
“Calhoun.  Amy Calhoun.  She’s a very unusual cow.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like her.”
“Do you know a lot about cattle, Miss Calhoun?”
“They taste nice; apart from that absolutely nothing.  All I know is they’re not usually that colour. She’s chestnut-coloured, how original. ”
“She’s a Highland from Scotland.  There were some brought down from Canada a few years back, but they’re comin’ further south.  Apparently they can graze on land other cattle can’t.  They’re good on mountainous terrain and in cold weather.”
“I can see why that might be popular in some places,” Amy agreed.  “Is she yours?”
“Nope, we’re just helping to transport her.”  The blue eyes landed on someone on the platform behind her and he raised a hand to greet Heyes.  “That’s my partner over there.  He got off to get us somethin’ to eat for the next leg of the journey.”
The pretty strawberry-blonde nodded.  “Yes.  I must get back on the train.  Are you going all the way?”
“Yes, ma’am.  Maybe we’ll see you in Abilene?  We deliver Mabel there, so maybe once we’re free I could buy you dinner?”
Amy swung around, letting loose a coquettish, carefree laugh as she continued to step backwards.  “Maybe, Mr....”
“Jones.  Thaddeus Jones.”  
“I’m travelling with my uncle.  I’ll have to ask him for permission.”
The blue eyes followed the enticing sway of her walk-away until a stony face blocked his view and thrust a greasy package towards him.
“Focus, Thaddeus,” Heyes murmured.  “We’ve got a cow to protect.”
“I’m right here where I should be.  There’s no harm in talkin’ to a pretty girl.”
“No?  Sometimes I think our fate will be sealed in a cloud of perfume and petticoats.”  The wrapped sandwich hit the Kid’s chest.  “Eat; at least one of your creature comforts will be taken care of.”  
“Well, Mabel.  You’re nearly home.  Mr. Clay is gonna take you to the Triple C Ranch where you can have your little, hairy baby.  We’re leavin’ you here.  Our job is over.”  The beastie blinked big, soft eyes at the Kid and huffed gently through a pair of wide nostrils.  “Yeah, I’m off to get myself all gussied up to meet Miss Calhoun for dinner.  You take care now and have lots of ginger kids, huh?”
“Kids?  Wouldn’t they be goats?”  
He turned to face the dimpled smile behind him.  “That’d surprise Clay, for sure.  Did he pay you?”
“Sure did,” Heyes fished notes out of his waistcoat pocket and started peeling some from the bundle.  “This has been the smoothest job we’ve done in a long time.  Anytime John Clay wants us to escort his premium stock I’ll be first in line.”
“Yeah, I’ve gotta say I’ve had worse jobs.  Mabel even grew on me after a while.”
“I thought you only had eyes for Amy?” Heyes grinned.
“What have you got planned for the evening?”
“I thought I’d head to the saloon to and check out the game.  If it’s an honest game I might join in.”
The Kid frowned.  “Is that a good idea?  I’m busy and I won’t be able to watch your back.”  
“You’ll be around.”
“No, I’m takin’ Amy out to dinner.”
Heyes twinkled with devilment.  “I know.”
“So; I won’t be around.”
The dark eyes widened innocently.  “Amy’s gonna have dinner with you in the hotel dining room and have you escort her back to her room safely and respectably.  That’s it, Thaddeus.  Your evening will be two to three hours tops.  I can tell what kind of woman she is just by looking at her.”
“You can, huh?”
Heyes nodded slowly.  “And so can you.”
“I guess,” the Kid muttered.  
“That’ll give me time to have a relaxing bath, have dinner and check out the game. “  The cheeks pitted with infuriating dimples.  “Most games don’t get interesting before ten o’clock in any case.  You can have your date and come to the saloon later.”  The only reply was a heavy sigh which prompted the dimples to deepen.  “It’ll be fun; you can have a drink and relax.”
“Yeah, great,” The Kid shook his head.  “Ya gotta stop readin’ those horoscopes.  You’re turnin’ into a fortune teller.” 
The gunman leaned on the bar, his relaxed body language betraying the alertness in the keen, blue eyes.  The evening had gone just as predicted by the suddenly prescient ex-outlaw leader and Amy had been a diverting, but very respectable, dinner guest.  It had been a long time since he had dined with a sweet gal and he’d enjoyed her lightness of spirit but it was all over too soon.  The tryst had rammed home to him that normality was only a place to visit and his spirits flagged as life underscored his predicament once more.
His trained eyes drifted over to the poker table where Heyes was doing just well enough to consolidate their newly-earned funds, but not so good as to annoy the other players – not yet anyway; but the night was young.  The burly man sitting across the table from Heyes merited some attention, his sausage fingers carried a stogie up to his mouth before drifting down to his leg and it wasn’t the first time he’d made that movement.  He was probably concealing something at his ankle and testing how easily he could get at it; it could be a weapon or it could be a set of aces, but either way it held the potential for trouble.
The Kid watched Heyes arrange his hand, carefully appraising the tells and reactions of the other players with his own features artfully bland.  Was it a good hand?  Who knew?  The Kid swirled the amber liquid in the shot glass feigning indifferent curiosity to the game and changed position, leaning back on both elbows, quickly rising to a standing position as their previous employer marched into the bar pointing an accusing finger at each of the partners in turn.
“That’s him, leaning on the bar and Smith is over there playing cards.  Arrest them, sheriff.”
Heyes leaped to his feet while the Kid’s hand crept down to his gun.
“Arrest us?”  Heyes raised his hands to show he was unarmed.  “What for?”
“For the theft of a prize-winning cow.”  John Clay pointed at the man sitting opposite Heyes.  “There’s another one of them.  They’re all in this together.  Look at them sitting playing poker together.”
“I’ve never met any of these men in my life,” Heyes protested.  “This is an open game.  Anyone with stake money can sit in.”
Clay’s face started to colour from the neck up.  “Do you expect me to believe that?”  The hand of condemnation swept over towards the Kid.  “He was seen dinning with his niece tonight.”
“Whose niece?” the Kid demanded.
“His,” the finger aimed straight at the burly poker player with the mutton chops, “Thomas Calhoun.  Not only is he the very man I was trying to protect Mabel from, but I find you two in deep cahoots with the whole family on the night she disappeared.”
Alarm spread over the sheriff’s face.  “A woman has disappeared?  Who is this Mabel and why didn’t you mention this before?”         
“Mabel is a special type of hairy cow, sheriff,” the Kid folded his arms and fixed the lawman with a look of consternation, “and we were paid to escort it here to Abilene.  We delivered the animal safe and sound.  It’s nothin’ to do with us if it’s gone missin’ now the job’s over.”
“Sure it is!” barked Clay.  “The only other man in the three states who owns Highland Cattle is sitting right here.  The same man who filed a court action to stop me from bringing Mabel from Wyoming to Kansas.”
Thomas Calhoun rose to his feet at last.  “That’s because the only Highland bull for hundreds of miles is mine.  That cow is pregnant and if that calf is a full-bloodied Highland, the semen must have come from my prize winner!  You stole it and that calf is mine.  We both know that.”
“Stolen semen?”  The sheriff scratched his chin, the uncertainty in his eyes displaying a man getting increasingly out of his depth.  “Is that what I think it is?”
Heyes and Curry exchanged a glance before striding towards the lawman.  “Sheriff, the Governor of Wyoming recommended us for this job because we can be trusted.  I can show you the letter from him.”  Heyes threw a hand out in the direction of the hotel.  “That cow was safe and sound when we left it in his care.  It’s nothing to do with us if it’s now been stolen.”
The lawman thrust his thumbs onto his belt and rocked back on his heels.  “Yah got this letter?” 
“We sure do,” Heyes nodded.
“And we’ve done loads of jobs for him,” the Kid cut in.  “Send a telegram to Sheriff Lom Trevors in Porterville if you need to check.  He can vouch for us.  We haven’t stolen his cow; search us.”
“Well, I didn’t expect to find Mabel in your back pocket, did I?” growled Clay.
“When was the animal taken?” Heyes demanded.
“She was there when I checked at eight thirty, but the man guarding her was found tied up when I sent someone to relieve him for the night.”
The sheriff cleared he throat with ruthlessly uncouth efficiency.  “What time was that?”
“About ten,” Clay replied.
“Then how could we have stolen that cow?” Heyes reasoned.  “Clay said himself that we’re been in here playing poker.  We’ve got an alibi, with all these good folks in here to testify that neither of us left this table between eight thirty and ten.”
“Yeah,” the Kid agreed, “and I was in the restaurant with Miss Calhoun between eight and ten.  There are loads of witnesses.”
The lawman cocked a bushy eyebrow.  “Is that so folks?”  He looked around at the nodding heads of the townsfolk.  “I guess we’ve got no case against these men.  You’re free to go.”
“But they’re all in it together,” Clay stammered.  “They’d have had someone else do it to make sure they were in the clear.”
Calhoun gathered his money from the table and grabbed his hat.  “Like you did when you tampered with Angus?  I doubt you do your own dirty work.”
“Angus?” the sheriff gathered a gob of phlegm and spat vaguely in the direction of the spittoon causing the Kid to step back rapidly.
“My bull,” Calhoun stuck his hat firmly on his head.  “There’s  no other Highland bull outside Canada that doesn’t belong to me.  If that calf is a full blood there’s only two ways it could happen, and I can tell you that Angus never left my ranch.  Ya won’t explain how she got pregnant either, will ya, Clay?”
Heyes’ brow arched.  “Two ways?”
“Yeah, the traditional way and artificial insemination,” Calhoun asserted.  “That’s where ya just take the...”
“I’ve heard enough!” the sheriff declared, holding up a hand, “and I certainly don’t want to hear any more.  ‘T’ain’t natural.”   
“My point exactly,” Calhoun agreed.  “It’s done with a syringe.”
“No more!  I ain’t listenin’ to the breeding habits of strange cows.  I’m a married man,” the sheriff rubbed his chin.  “You folks are free to go and I’ll get my deputies to start a search for this cow.  There’s gotta be some trace of over a thousand pounds of hairy cow flesh.  I can’t vanish into thin air.”
The shirt hit the bed, rapidly followed by the shaving kit and the balled up socks.  “Joshua, get packin’.  We need to get outta here.”
A pair of pensive dark eyes stared into the Kid’s.  “Do we?  The Calhouns aren’t leaving here until tomorrow.”
A Henley hit Heyes full in the face.  “They don’t have a price on their heads; pack.”  
“The Governor might think we’re part of this.”  Heyes dropped his underwear back on the bed.  “We have to get to the bottom of this.”
“No, we don’t.  We delivered the cow fair and square and now we have to hightail it outta here before we get caught up in it.  You know how corrupt these rich cattlemen are.  They make us look like angels.  They don’t have souls; they have corkscrews.  Kyle could steal from his own grandmother and still be better’n them.  ”
“Nah, that was never proved.”  Heyes stood determinedly.  “I’m going to talk to Calhoun, are you coming?”
“Calhoun?” the Kid snapped shut his carpet bag.  “Suppose someone sees us?  Do you think anyone’s going to believe we’re not in on the theft after that?”
“Some folks will think the worst no matter what, so we might as well have some answers for them.”  Heyes pulled open the door.  “Are you coming?”
“Oh!”  Amy Calhoun’s porcelain cheeks flushed with anxiety as she opened the door.  “Thaddeus?”
“Amy?”  The Kid gave her his most charming smile.  “Can I have a word with your uncle?” 
“He’s busy.”
Heyes insistent hand pressed flat against the door.  “We can wait.”  
Amy stepped back against the pressure, her eyes widening.  “You can’t just push in here.”
Heyes closed the door behind him and leaned against it.  “Where’s your uncle, Miss Calhoun?” 
There was the rattle of a doorknob and Calhoun stepped into the suite from an adjoining room.  “I’m here and you should know that my secretary is in there too.  If there is any suggestion of trouble he will call for help immediately.”    
Heyes’ smile widened.  “There’ll be no trouble, sir.  I can give you an assurance on that, but our good names could be affected by this, which in turn could impact on our whole future.  Don’t you think we deserve an explanation at the very least?  You seem to be the reason that Mabel needed protection in the first place.  What’s going on?”
“This is nothing to do with either of you,” grumbled Calhoun.
“It’s everything to do with us,” the Kid protested.  “The Governor might think we’re involved.”
Calhoun folded his arms.  “Get out of here before I call the manager to get you thrown out.  I’m not afraid of you.”
“And neither am I,” said Amy.  “I had dinner with Thaddeus and he’s a sweet, gentle man.  We can’t do this to him, Uncle Tom.”  
“This is no time for female sentimentality, Amy.”
“Look, if it gets us to the truth of the matter, I think it is.”  Heyes fixed Calhoun with a glare.  “I, for one, don’t care what happens to the cow.  I just want to be able to offer an explanation to the Governor if he asks what’s gone on here.”
“John Clay tricked my uncle years ago.  He drove the same herd around a hill three times so he thought he was paying for far more than he got.  It was the same amount of cows; just time after time, after time.”
“Ya didn’t need to tell them that,” exclaimed Calhoun.  “They’ll think I’m an idiot!”
Blue eyes met brown.  “I don’t think we will, sir.  We’ve seen our fair share of honest men cheated over the years,” the Kid murmured.  “Is this payback to Calhoun, Amy?”
She shook her head.  “No, we learned from it.  My uncle started to look at specialist breeds for different terrains and climates.  Some were expensive failures but others meant that his business took off and started to rival Clay.  His latest successes were the Highlands and Aberdeen Angus, but Uncle Tom refused to sell his any stock to Clay and he was forced to make an expensive import from Canada.”
“He imported only one cow,” Calhoun glowered at his niece but the cat was clearly out of the bag, “and Mabel’s been here a year.  We’re sure he stole Angus’ blow and impregnated his cow.  Even in court he wouldn’t say how she got pregnant.  If that calf is full-blood Highland he belongs to us.”
“Is this really a fittin’ conversation to have around a lady?” the Kid demanded.
Amy smiled at her uncle.  “I told you he was a gentleman.  He didn’t want me to have dinner with one of Calhoun’s ruffians but I told him you were different, Thaddeus.”
“We’re nobody’s ruffians,” Heyes asserted.  “So you’ll give Mabel back when you see if the calf is full-blood?”
Calhoun smiled mysteriously.  “How can we give her back?  We don’t have her.  We’d never stoop to stealing, would we, Amy?”
“But you’d stoop to lyin’?” The Kid shook his head in admonishment at Amy.  “You told me you knew nothing about cattle.  You were brought up on a ranch?”
“No, my father runs a tannery but I do know about Uncle Tom’s business.  I am sorry, Thaddeus.  I just wanted to check out how Mabel was guarded.  Dealing with cowhands is one thing, but two men with tied-down guns is another thing entirely.  I only got involved because nobody would suspect a young woman was checking out the security arrangements.”  Amy flushed red.  “I’m sorry, Thaddeus.  I didn’t expect you to be so sweet.”
“And I don’t suppose anyone will admit to stealing Mabel?” Heyes asked.
Calhoun fixed the partners with an icy glare.  “Do I look like my head buttons up the back?  Now you’ve got your explanation.  Get outta here.”
They heard the door close behind them as they walked down the hallway towards their own room.  “I’m guessing that Mabel won’t be found, so we can sleep in a bed and head off in the morning,” Heyes shook his head.  “Why can’t you just keep away from women?   They’d never have been able to associate us with the Calhouns at all if you hadn’t taken Amy out to dinner.”
“Same goes for you and poker, Joshua.”  The Kid sighed, heavily.  “D’ya think Mabel will ever be traced?”
“Nope.  That’d only be incriminating.  What do they wrap beef in, Thaddeus?”
Heyes shook his head.  “Cowhide.  Amy’s pa owns a tannery.  I don’t think poor Mabel will ever be seen again.”
“Hell or leather ?  That’s a tough fate for poor, old Mabel.”
“I guess.  Maybe there’s hope.  Angus and her might make the most beautiful hairy baby anyone ever saw and it’d be a better idea to start a new herd?”
“We can only hope so, Joshua.  You’ve been real good at the predictions since you starting readin’ about horoscopes.”   
Historical Notes     
Highland cattle (Scottish Gaelic: Bò Ghàidhealach) (Scots: kyloe) are a Scottish breed of cattle with long horns and long wavy coats which are coloured black, brindled, red, yellow or dun.  Their hair gives protection during the cold winters and their skill in looking for food allows them to survive in steep mountain areas. They both graze and browse and eat plants which many other cattle avoid.  They have a sweet and gentle nature and many Scots have a fondness for this iconic, long-horned breed.  They were established in North America first in the 1870s in Canada and began to be imported into the U.S.A. in the 1880s. 
Artificial insemination in animal husbandry is very ancient.  First used in horses, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Extension states that documents from approximately 1322 A.D. found an Arab chieftain who wanted to mate his prized mare with a stallion owned by an enemy. He used cotton containing the scent of the female to excite the stallion, causing him to ejaculate. He placed the released semen in the reproductive tract of the mare, leading to conception. In the 1780s, Italian naturalist Lazzaro Spallanzani artificially inseminated a dog.  Although the procedure was not used commercially in cattle until the early 20th century it is fair to assume that it may have been used in other animals in the interim.  Victorian slang for semen was ‘blow.’    
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The driving of the cattle around a hill so they were counted multiple times seems to have been a popular ruse, having been perpetrated on Sir Edward Morjoribanks and the Earl of Aberdeen, later Governor General of Canada, John Campbell Hamilton Gordon by his Ranch Manager on the Rocking Chair Ranch in Texas; and on Moreton Frewen by the cattle baron Stephen Wallace Dorsey who instructed that two herds be run around the hill twice.  Supposedly in the herd was an old yellow, lop-horned, lame steer known as "Old Buck."  After the one herd had passed by several times, Dorsey became concerned that his naive buyer might notice that the same steer was being counted multiple times.  Thus, Dorsey instructed his foreman to cut Old Buck out and separate him from the herd. Soon, however, Old Buck made his way back into the herd.  Once again, Old Buck was separated, this time by a further distance.  Once again, Old Buck was back in the herd.  The legend arose, that a week later Old Buck was still circling the hill and that, even today, on a moonlit night the ghost of Old Buck may be seen limping along around the hill.  The legend gave rise to Frank Benton's 1903 Old Buck's Ghost:

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