A Stranger in Town
Posts : 8715
Join date : 2013-08-24
|Subject: A Stranger in Town Sat Aug 01, 2015 6:01 am|| |
This is your mission, should you choose to accept it. Give us a story of between 700 - 4,000 words based on the prompt chosen by Remuda:
A Stranger In Town
Don't forget to comment on last month's stories before starting the next one. Comments are the only reward the writers get.
Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Location : Over the rainbow
|Subject: Re: A Stranger in Town Fri Aug 07, 2015 5:47 pm|| |
“We’ve been workin’ for him for a month now, Heyes. You’ve broken in and examined his books, we’ve followed him every time he went for a drink – that makes twice now, and we’ve spoken to almost everyone in town. Albert Charlesworth seems to be a dependable, moral, stand-up fella.” The Kid rested his hands on his hips and fixed Hannibal Heyes with a questioning stare. “We’ve found nothin’ wrong at all. It’s time for us to go and report back to his prospective mother-in-law that we can’t find any reason why her daughter shouldn’t marry this man. That’s our job, and I reckon we’re done here.”
His cousin shrugged and folded his arms. “I dunno...”
The Kid gave a hiss of exasperation. “What have you seen him do? Help too many old ladies across the road? Is twice a week at church not enough for you? What’s the problem? He spends every night sitting quietly at home. His housekeeper is the only other person there and she’s old enough to be his mother.”
“I dunno; call it instinct, trusting women’s intuition, or just following your gut. Something told Mrs. Rudgard that the man courting her daughter isn’t to be trusted. She’s sure he’s just after her money.”
“And you’re gonna listen to a woman’s fancying? We’re done here. We need to go back and make our report that Charlesworth is a model citizen. We ain’t found a thing and he ain’t put a foot wrong. She’s just an over-protective mother.”
“As far as I could see she’s a level-headed, sane woman. I listen to your instincts all the time.” Heyes arched a brow. “Nobody is so perfect that they have no vices at all. He’s got to be hiding something. He’s just too perfect. That’s his tell.”
“Yeah? Well you tell me what that is, because I can’t see it. The man lives a routine life, with his finances in order, no gamblin’, minimum drinkin’, and he doesn’t mix with women except in church,” blue eyes glanced over to the house. “The only woman he ever mixes with is his middle-aged housekeeper. The man’s almost a saint. He’s just too darn borin’ to spend any more time on. He’s too good to be true. He never even cussed when he stubbed his toe. I swear he sits in that house every evenin’ knittin’ mittens for poor kittens.”
“You’re right, Thaddeus.” Heyes nodded, firmly. “We’ve wasted a month. It’s time for us to do something positive. Let’s go and give a week’s notice. It’s make or break time.”
“Well, if it isn’t the stranger’s who’ve been asking about Mr. Charlesworth all over town?” The housekeeper pinned them with a harsh look. “Mr. Charlesworth isn’t at home. He’s at church. He’s helping paint it along with a few of the congregation.”
Heyes nodded. “Yeah, that sounds like the man I know. We need to be moving on, Ma’am. I wrote a letter to give notice. Can I leave it with you?”
She reached out. “Sure, I can take that for you. What, precisely, did you hope to find out?”
“We’re very devout men. You may have seen us go to church every Sunday. We like to know that we’re not in the employ of a scoundrel.” Heyes looked down at the proffered palm and smiled. “You have lovely hands, Mrs. Williams.”
The matron blushed and dropped her gaze beneath her round glasses, and turned it to examine it. “Why, thank you. I try to take care of them by applying a fard my mother taught me to make. It’s just one of my little feminine vanities.”
Heyes beamed at her. “Well worth the effort, Ma’am.” He stepped back as he handed it over, straight into his partner. The Kid stumbled and Heyes swivelled around to catch him, but his foot caught behind the gunman’s ankle, and Kid Curry would have staked his life that the hands reaching out to him were pushing him, not catching him. He hit the ground with a thump. “What the...” The Kid felt a sharp toe in his side to cut short the exclamation as Heyes rushed to his aid. Irritated blue eyes glared up the dimpled grin full of silent meaning.
“Mrs. Williams, I think my partner here has just turned his ankle. He’s always doing this. He’s a martyr to it. Are you alright, Thaddeus?”
The Kid flexed a muscle in his jaw and decided to go with whatever scheme the ex-outlaw leader had decided to spin this time. He looked straight into the brown eyes. “There’s a real big pain, that’s for sure.”
“Any chance of a glass of cold water for him?” Heyes asked.
“Of course,” Mrs. Williams opened the door fully to allow Heyes to assist the ‘injured’ farmhand inside. “Put him over there, by the table. Let’s get that boot off and have a look at it.” She frowned at the emerging limb, not noticing the evil looks emanating from the fair haired man rolling up his trouser leg. “No, maybe it’s just turned a little. Would you like some coffee while we see if he can walk it off?”
“That would be most hospitable,” nodded the Kid.
“You’re church goers? What denomination are you?”
Heyes hesitated. “We’re Methodologists.”
“Methodologists?” The crescent lenses sparkled. “I don’t think I’ve heard of them.”
“Yes, it’s an English movement.” Heyes paused. “We like to worship through hard work.”
A pair of blue eyes widened in surprise before glancing over at the woman pouring out the coffee. “You could definitely say that our actions speak louder than our words, ma’am.” He glowered at his cousin. “Especially mine.”
A tray clattered over to the table. “It’s very refreshing to meet such devout men. I knew there was something different about you. Cream? Sugar?” She indicated a heavy pottery jug which looked incongruous alongside an elegant sliver sugar jug.
“Sugar?” the Kid grinned. “I’ll have sugar.”
“You seem to have brightened up, Mr. Jones.” She raised a pair of delicate tongs. “One or two?”
“Three, please. If that’s alright, Ma’am.”
She pursed her lips and plopped the chunks of the precious commodity into the cups before stirring furiously. “Mr. Smith?”
“As it comes, Mrs. Williams,” the long fingers reached out to the sugar bowl. “A lovely piece. Silver?”
“Georgian. It belonged to my mother. It seemed a shame not use it.”
“It’s been part of a set, I’ll bet.” Heyes raised it up to peer at the bottom. “It’s hallmarked. It’s the real thing.”
A firm hand reached out and grasped the sugar bowl firmly before clattering it down on the table. “I do not care what it is worth. It was my mother’s and I like to use it. It makes me feel close to her.”
Heyes gave the woman a smile of appeasement. “Of course. Did she lose the rest of the set?”
“She never had it. She was a maid for some lord in England and it was given to her as a gift when she emigrated.”
“Really?” Heyes eyes sparkled with devilment. “Your mother got something like that. Didn’t she, Thaddeus? A silver snuffbox, I think. She always laughed when she observed how many of the gifts were given to people leaving the country conveniently fitted in a pocket, compared to the people who kept working there and got nothing.”
Hard blue eyes burned into his partner. “I don’t remember.”
“You must remember. She kept your baby teeth in it.”
“Nope,” daggers of blue ice reiterated. “I don’t.”
“What are you suggesting,” spluttered the housekeeper. “Are you calling my mother a thief?”
“Nothing.” Heyes shook his head innocently. “My folks came from England. I know what went on. The poor servants had a hard life. They deserved something.”
The grey eyes behind the spectacles froze. “I think you’d better go.”
Heyes gave a smile of contrition. “Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry. Sometimes my mouth just runs away with me. Get your boot back on Thaddeus.”
“I never wanted to take it off,” the Kid protested. “I’m real sorry, Mrs. Williams. There’s a reason I try to keep him workin’ on horses, and even then he only does the back end.”
“Just go,” she snapped. “I’m not amused by his slight against my late mother.”
Heyes stumbled and bumbled his way to the door supporting the supposed cripple all the way. “I really am sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
They staggered out to the porch and into the caustic sunshine and heard the door slam behind them. Heyes whispered hoarsely in his partner’s ear. “Keep acting. You never know if she’s still watching.”
“Acting? What were you up to?” the Kid hissed.
“It just struck me that we checked out everyone around this man but the woman who lives in his house.”
“The next time you’ve got a plan, how about lettin’ me in on it? That fall hurt.” The Kid swung an arm around Heyes’ shoulder and limped theatrically back to the bunkhouse. “You might as well help me. You ‘twisted’ the ankle, you get the extra weight. If you wanted her to talk why did you annoy her so much? That was just plain dumb.”
“Dumb as a fox, Kid. Did you see her hands?”
“Sure I saw them, what of it.”
“What I mean is did you notice her hands?”
The Kid scowled. “No. What about them.”
“Nothing, I guess, but I think I’ll have what Mrs. Rudgard wants by the time our week’s notice is up.”
The pair arrived at the bunkhouse. “Take me in and put me on a chair.”
Heyes frowned. “But there’s still the feeding to do, and the animals need to be bedded down for the night.”
Self-satisfied blue eyes fixed on the dark-haired man. “Nu-uh. I’m hurt. It’s gonna be better tomorrow, but you’d better do my share for tonight.” Kid Curry’s smile spread into a smirk. “I’m sure I’ll feel better in the morning, but ya never know. The housekeeper might see me if I do any work.” He watched Heyes’ mouth open to reply, but cut him off. “Smart as a fox, huh? Meet a coyote. I’ll be sittin’ with my foot up if you’re lookin’ for me.”
The horse looked patiently ahead as the saddle bags were thrown over his back. “Ya got everythin’, Joshua?”
The dark head nodded glumly. “Yeah, I guess.”
“So, you didn’t get anythin’ on Charlesworth after all? We’ve worked our week’s notice and you’ve got nothin.’ What were you expectin’ to find anyway?”
Heyes shrugged. “I dunno. For him to comfort her maybe?”
“What difference is that gonna make? She’s gotta be nearly sixty. I can’t see Mrs. Rudgard is gonna see comforting a servant as a reason why her daughter shouldn’t marry the man.”
Heyes kicked at the dust in frustration. “I know. I was hoping for...”
“Well, maybe you’ll get it after all. She’s headin’ this way and she still looks real mad at you.”
“How do you know she’s mad at me?” Heyes demanded.
“Well, she met ya, didn’t she?” grinned the Kid.
The retort was cut short by the irate matron storming over to them. “Mr. Smith! I need to speak to you before you go.”
“Why certainly, Mrs. Williams.” Heyes beamed his most innocent smile. “There’s no need to pay us. Mr. Charlesworth already saw to that.”
“Well, maybe I’ll want some of that back?” Heyes’ eyes widened in faux shock at her words, but the gunman leaned casually against the nearby fencepost to watch the entertainment unfold. “Don’t look at me like that,” she continued. “Cow’s eyes won’t get you anywhere with me. I want it back.”
The ex-outlaw leader’s smile became even more virtuous. “’It’, ma’am? Want what?”
“My mother’s sugar bowl, Mr Smith. I haven’t see it since you two were in my kitchen last week.” She propped her hands on her hips. “I demand its return before you two leave here.”
The Kid watched the devilment spiral in the dark eyes. “You’ve lost it.”
“You know I have. Give it back or I’ll call the sheriff to search you both.”
Heyes pursed his lips pensively. “A sheriff? Is that a good idea? Are you wanted anywhere?”
The blue eyes slid from his partner to the woman with renewed interest.
“Wanted? How dare you?”
“Dare?” Heyes pushed his hat back with a long forefinger and fixed the housekeeper with a determined stare. “It’s not a dare. You and Charlesworth are in this together. You’re married aren’t you?” He raised his hand to stop the words before they tumbled from her opening mouth. “It’s obvious that you are much younger than you look. Flim flammers can fake all kinds of things, but a woman’s hands are a great indicator of her real age,” he nodded down at the angry little fists. “I’m guessing that under that wig, glasses, and make up you’re pretty close to him in age.”
Her eyes became mute pools of hate. “Rubbish.”
“Sorry, but you picked the wrong heiress to mess with. Mrs. Rudgard hired us to investigate the man courting her daughter. You’re married to him. Women will only use their mother’s things in their own kitchen. They won’t use it in an employer’s kitchen. You couple that with a disguise and it’s fairly obvious that you’re his wife and that he’s pretty much under your thumb. He spends all his time in that house with you. Just how long do you think he’ll be able to keep that up once he’s married? I think he clears out what he can from an heiress and you move on to the next target.”
“You have absolutely no evidence for any of this,” she snapped. “Some make up and using my mother’s sugar bowl don’t amount to a marriage. I could simply be wearing it to help me get a job. Most employers trust an older woman.” She pulled off her glasses to look Heyes straight in the eye. “Please don’t give me away. I’m begging you. I need this job. You’ve no idea how hard life is for a lone woman.”
Heyes turned his back on her and walked back to his horse. “You aren’t alone. You’ve got a man. Nothing tells me that you’re not a servant more than bringing out family heirlooms to use in the house. Call the sheriff. We’re working for the Governor of Wyoming. He’s a friend of Elizabeth Rudgard’s mother and he wanted Charlesworth checked out. He only moved here six months before he started courting her and by all appearances he’s as pure as the driven snow,” Heyes back to her with a knowing grin, “except for his housekeeper. He spends long intimate evenings with a woman who disguises herself to make her look much older than she is.”
“I’ll leave. This is nothing to do with Bertram...Mr. Charlesworth!” she protested.
“Do what you want.” Heyes mounted his horse, swinging a long leg behind him. “We’re just the strangers in town passing through. I’ve got what I came for. I’m here to stop a wedding, not to get you arrested.”
“Elizabeth loves him. She’ll never believe any of this. It’s not Bertram’s fault if I’m not what I appear to be. You can’t blame him.”
“No? You can tell Mr. Charlesworth that he needs to find another mark. I know flim flammers when I see them.” Heyes watched the Kid mount up beside him and gathered his reins in his hands. “It’s sure his call who shares his bed with him. Goodbye, Mrs. Williams.’ You can stay or you can go, but if I were you I’d be outta here faster than you can find a new wig. There are two bedrooms in that house and if you’d been sleeping in your own bed for the last week you’d have found your sugar bowl a week ago. ”
Historical note: The word fard is a very old English word for pastes used for female beauty, primarily used in the face.
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight Old Scottish proverb
Posts : 268
Join date : 2014-01-04
|Subject: Re: A Stranger in Town Sun Aug 16, 2015 4:45 pm|| |
The last part of my ongoing series. I have to thank Silverkelpie with her help on - well, what an expert on holes might be able to spot.
Heyes’ stomach sank at sight of the team riding up to the Beecher place. Pride of place, on Sheriff Smart’s right hand side, rode the deputy who had been guarding the Kid the night of the breakout, and who could identify Hannibal Heyes. On the left rode the other young lawman who had been grabbed on the way back from the privy. This wasn’t good. Time to grab a fast disguise. He lowered his binoculars and headed straight for the river.
“What on earth?” The hotel owner swung around at the sound of his companion floundering into the river.
“I slipped,” Heyes crawled out onto the riverbank on his knees. “There were some real interesting stones in there. I wanted to get a sample but I fell off the rock.” He rubbed his face with hands covered in earth from the grassy bank. “Darn it. I almost had it too. I was sure if was an ore bearing rock. So you know what that means?”
“Do you know what you look like?” Denton chortled. You’ve got a lump of mud on your cheek.”
Heyes pulled out a sodden neckerchief and smeared the mud even further. “Did that get it? He transferred the bandana to the other side, smearing it again. “How’s that?”
Denton strode over, shaking his head. “You’re making it worse. Much worse.”
Heyes rubbed harder, smearing mud diagonally over his forehead. “How about now?”
“Give me that, you look ridiculous. I’ll get it.”
The ex-outlaw leader was not about to let his carefully applied camouflage be removed that easily. He stepped back into the river and floundered about again, thanking his lucky stars that the weather was fine and the water refreshing, rather than frigid. He plunged in a fist and hauled up a random stone from the gravel bed examining it carefully. “I knew it.” He turned gleaming eyes on the hotel owner. “See? This is huge.”
“What is? That little stone?”
He held up the stone as he waded ashore again. “See this? See that lighter area there. See the glitter?” Heyes paused. “Do you know anything about geology?”
“Nope.” Denton peered at the rock. “What am I looking for?”
“See the shiny bits? They’re not just any bit of glitter. They’re silica deposits”
Denton arched a brow. “And they’re valuable?”
“Nope, but it means that we’ll also find silicates.”
“And they’re valuable?” The hotel owner looked at the shaking head with growing irritation. “Well if they’re not valuable, what use are they?”
“Wherever there we find anything worth mining we also see a set of conditions that show us it’s worth digging there. Where there are silicas, there are silicates and where there are silicates there very probably…,” Heyes looked around at the ground nodding knowingly. “Yup, it looks like it’s real likely.”
“And they’re worthless,” the now-confused man demanded.
“Only if you don’t like money, Denton. You might know them better as opals.”
Heyes nodded knowingly. “We can’t be certain, but it looks like exactly the kind of place we find them. I can’t believe it.” The cheeks pitted with muddy dimples. “This is a perfect set of conditions for their formation.”
“Here, in the old Beecher place?” Denton reached out for the stone. “Sure, I can see it. There’s something sparkling when you hold it up to the sun.”
Heyes’ smile brightened. “Yeah. I guess that’s why I fell in. I was surprised. I’ve only ever seen these conditions once before, in the Virgin Valley Fields of Nevada.”
“The Virgin Valley? I’ve heard of that.” Denton could hardly contain himself. “You think there are opals here?”
“I sure do,” the dark eyes narrowed, “and we are the only people who know about it. This is big. Way bigger than a railway. This is life changing.”
“If you tell the railroad the ground is unsuitable, they’ll go elsewhere, won’t they?”
The outlaw gave a conspiratorial nod. “They’ll go where I tell them, within reason. Listen you need my geological know-how, and I need your capital. Partners?”
Denton thrust out a hand to shake on it. “When I see a man of science so surprised he tips into a river, I know I’m onto a winner. Deal. Now, first things first. We’ve gotta get Beecher to sell us the place.”
Heyes turned at the round of the arriving lawmen, content his face was suitably distorted by the mud to throw the deputy. People were always confused when they saw someone out of place, and he certainly wasn’t expecting Hannibal Heyes to be dunking in Beecher’s river. “Ya, think? I’m guessing he’s got a whole heap of trouble heading his way. They said they’d be back if he didn’t let his wife see the doctor.”
“Yeah, darn it. The timing couldn’t be worse. The last thing he’ll want to talk about is selling the place right now.”
“Or…,” the dimples were just visible under the mud, “he’ll need some money for legal fees.”
“Nah. They never lock men up for things like that. Not when they were caught with another man.”
Heyes strolled over to the bank and picked up his hat, then thought the better of putting it on. The hatband was too distinctive. He jammed it under his arm and flattened down his hair with a muddy hand. “Come on. Let’s see what he’s been up to. The more we know the better.”
“Beecher!” Sheriff Smart bellowed from behind the safety of the water butt by the well. “Git out here and keep your hands in the air.”
The wiry frame of the bully appeared at the door, but he positively swaggered, oozing the irritating confidence of the bully. “What d’ya want, Smart? I was busy.”
“I warned ya that Doc Murray needs to examine your wife. We need to check on her welfare. Send her out.”
A smirk crept across the farmers’ weasel features. “Can’t do that, Sheriff. She ain’t here.”
The lawman stood and peered over the top of the barrel. “What d’ya mean. I’m in no mood for games.”
“Ah mean she dun up and lit out. Last night.” Beecher gathered a great gob of indifference from deep inside his hard ribs. “Ain’t got no idea where she is.”
“Is this some kina joke, Beecher?”
Beecher spat off the edge of the porch with an almost enviable precision. “Joke? She left me. Probably run off with that outlaw. I’m real broke up about it.”
The sheriff strolled cautiously out from behind the barrel. “Well, if’n you don’t mind I’ll have my men look around the place.” He gestured to his deputies. “Floyd, Albert, get the guns off those hands before we search the place.”
“Sure,” Beecher lowered his hands and called over to his staff. “Give ‘em your guns boys. Ain’t nobody here lookin’ for trouble.”
The youngest lawmen walked over and collected the weapons and arranged them into a neat pile by the horses and stood covering his colleagues while they checked out Beecher and his cabin. “They said they don’t know nuthin’, Sheriff. They ain’t seen or heard a thing.”
“Of course they ain’t. Beecher only employs the deaf, dumb, and blind. They ain’t gonna tell us a thing.” The sheriff walked over and deposited a few more guns on the pile. “Watch the men, Albert. Floyd and me’ll search the house.”
Denton frowned and turned to the man watching all of this unfold through the bushes. “Why are we watching this?”
“Because if Beecher’s going to be arrested we need to know. We want to buy this place don’t we? We need to know as much as we can about the man to get the best price.”
It didn’t take long before a smirking Beecher emerged followed by a couple of downcast looking officials. “She a told ya she’d gone. There ain’t no controlling a whore like that. She’ll go off where the scent takes her. I’m well rid of her.”
Smart headed out towards his horse. “We’ll be investigating, Beecher. This ain’t over.”
“It’s as over as it’ll ever be, Mr. Lawman.” Beecher gave a mock salute with two fingers. “I get the feelin’ she ain’t never coming back. Not while Kid Curry’s on the run. They’ll be together.”
Heyes fought back a snort of annoyance and got to his feet, walking into the clearing. “Hey, Sheriff. You’re not leaving are you?”
Deputy Floyd drew, pointing straight at the muddy stranger striding towards them. The hotel owner gave a huff of annoyance and jogged out behind. “Don’t shoot. It’s the hole man. He fell in the river.”
The deputies shared a look of surprise. “Hole man?”
Sheriff Smart watched the dripping man approach. “Yeah, the government’s checking for sinkholes hereabouts. Did ya fall into one, Smith?”
“Nope, just the river.” Heyes darted a look at Beecher. “You’re not just going to ride out and leave are you? You haven’t looked anywhere but the cabin or the bunk house.”
“Here, whasit to do with you?” barked Beecher.
Heyes ignored the farmer and continued, determined to share what he’d observed last night. “It’s clear that his son tired to shoot Doc Murray because he wouldn’t let up on his efforts to see Mrs. Beecher. He had to be pretty desperate to go that far, and the way I see it only one thing could make a son fear for his pa that much.” He pointed straight at Beecher. “He killed her, and his son was trying to save him from hanging.”
Beecher turned puce. “What? Who is this fella?”
“Yeah,” murmured the older deputy. “Where do I know that voice from?”
“I dunno. A saloon, maybe? I’ve been in town for a while.” Heyes realized he’d better get on with this before he was rumbled. “Anyway, he’s clearly killed her. Why aren’t you searching this place for a body? He’s not going to leave it in the house.”
“He’s gotta have a hundred and fifty acres here. I ain’t gonna dig it all that up,” the sheriff retorted.
“You don’t have to,” Heyes asserted. “You’ve got an expert on holes. If there’s a body buried, I’ll be able to spot it.”
“What kinda tomfoolery is this? Holes?” Beecher pointed at Heyes. “Git this damned fool off ma land.”
Smart lifted a hand. “Not so fast Beecher. He might have a point. So, Smith. You reckon you can find a body with all that knowledge of holes you got?”
“I sure do.” Heyes pointed over to the buckets at the end of the porch. “Look at those, and the track through the grass. He’s clearly going down to the river to get his water, but he’s not been doing that long enough to wear the grass away. He pointed at the well the lawman was leaning against. “So, why do you think he’s doing that when he’s got a well? Why has he recently stopped using it?”
The sheriff stiffened. “Yeah. Why is that?”
“You came to search the house. You dun that. Now git,” Beecher bellowed.
Sheriff Smart’s blue eyes narrowed. “Albert, draw your gun and shoot Beecher if he so much as moves a muscle. Floyd, come and help me get those logs off the top of the well.”
“You got no right to be doin’ this,” Beecher yelled.
“We came here to find your wife, and that there hole-man is right. Abner wouldn’t have shot the Doc unless it was real important. Doc Murray has bothered them to see Christina before and it never got further than obscenities.” He dragged at the top layer of logs, pausing only to brush off an irritated spider making a break for it up his arm. “Come on, Floyd. Gimme a hand with this board.” The two men heaved the timber aside and immediately pulled back as a foul, putrefying stench his their nostrils. Floyd leaned over, clutching at his stomach, dry-heaving into fresh air as a cloud of bluebottles dissipated into the air. “Dear God. I never smelled anything like it in my life.”
“It’s a bear,” Beecher yelled. “I closed off the well cos a bear fell in and soured the water.”
“You’re under arrest, Beecher. You’re gonna sit safely in the cells until I can get a hook down there to drag out whatever’s floating about. Dear Lord! An old lawman once told me that there was nothing like a body left in the water, but sheesh, he didn’t tell me the half of it.”
“C’mon. We need to get back to town. I need a bath.” Heyes looked over at Denton but a light went out in the dark eyes. “That poor woman. I hope she knew that were people who cared enough to make sure he paid for this, even if they couldn’t stop him.”
“Do you really think she’s down that well?” Denton whispered, hoarsely. “He says it’s a bear.”
“A bear?” snarled Heyes. “He’d have dragged the thing out by now, not hidden it under a pile of logs.” He shook his muddy head unable to bring himself to say her name in case it betrayed his emotions. “No. That’s the remains of the woman. You’ll see. If there’s one thing I know about it’s holes…”
It was a somber Hannibal Heyes who walked back into their hotel room. He’d spent far too long at the bath house; partly out of reluctance to face his injured partner with the news, but mostly because, he; Hannibal Heyes, didn’t know quite what to say. The silver tongue had turned to lead, and the heart had turned to stone. Christina hadn’t been the love of the Kid’s life: she hadn’t even been his first. She had been a diversion in a hard life where joy was snatched where it could be found. There had been no thought of repercussions, or of the impact on anyone else, and they certainly never thought that they’d hurt the women they left behind. He lay in the soapy water and damned the blindness of youth, along with the callous impetuosity and bravado which made them grab their pleasures where they found them.
When they had met Christina she had been the beautiful daughter of a wealthy farmer, but by the time they’d done with her she had become an embarrassment and inconvenience to be quickly married off to anyone who’d have her, and that brute Beecher was there. He didn’t even want to dwell on the life she’d had, the doctor’s fears already told him enough about that. He didn’t blame the Kid for a second, he was no better.
This whole episode had been a wake-up call. It was time to grow up and look at the bigger picture, but how could they move on and live decent lives? No matter where they went they’d still be wanted.
For some reason he heard his mother’s voice in his head, quoting the bible. “What ye sow, so shall ye reap.” The only problem was that everyone else seemed to be facing the consequences but them. It was only a matter of time before fate bit them on the ass. All they ever sowed were weeds which grew and choked the life out of anything good.
But Christina…poor Christina. She had been beautiful, funny, and clever, and they’d both vied keenly for her affections. The Kid had won, but she was most definitely the loser. Yet still she’d welcomed the Kid with open arms when they’d bumped into her leaving the mercantile. Maybe it was one of the few happy memories she had in a brutish, awful existence, but all Heyes could focus on was that meeting them heaped more violence and pain on an already terrible life.
How was he going to tell him? What was he going to say? He felt the round metal door knob in his hand and breathed deeply. He was simply going to tell him the truth; then they’d talk about the future, the past, and share bittersweet memories.
One day they’d have to face up to the consequences of the memories they were making right now, but tonight was not the time.
Posts : 834
Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 45
|Subject: Re: A Stranger in Town Sun Aug 23, 2015 9:26 pm|| |
An oldie spruced up a bit.
"Your call, Joshua."
Hannibal Heyes, alias Joshua Smith, contemplated his poker hand. "Fold. This one's too rich for me." Catching sight of his partner entering the saloon, he pushed back from the table. "Deal me out the next coupla hands. I'll be back directly."
"Josh, bring me back a beer if you don't mind."
Heyes smiled. "Sure, Cal. Anyone else?"
A chorus of "no thanks" came from the three other men at the table as Heyes raked in his winnings and headed for the bar. As he approached Jed "Kid" Curry, he gave his partner's shoulder an affectionate squeeze. The cousins had separated for several days to attend to different delivery jobs, and Kid had just arrived in town.
"Two beers," Heyes ordered from the bartender before turning his attention to Curry. "How'd it go?"
"No problems. Things are starting to look up." Heyes grinned. Handing his partner a beer, he hoisted the other to his lips. "Now we can relax for a few days."
Curry took a long swig and set the mug down. "Just direct me to the room and the bathhouse, and I'll be relaxin' before you can finish that beer.” He lowered his voice. “How’re things lookin' here?"
Heyes leaned in closer to Kid, their heads almost touching. "This is as good a place as any to hole up for a few days. And the poker's good, too. Sheriff doesn’t know us, and the town’s really welcoming to strangers. Can’t say anything bad about it."
Curry grinned, his blue eyes dancing. Removing his brown hat, he mowed a hand through the dark blond curls matted to his scalp. "Good to hear. Last thing we need is to head out too soon in this heat."
"My sentiments exactly," agreed Heyes. Nodding in the direction of the poker table as he ordered another beer, he continued, "I want to get back to that game. The hotel's across the street – room 206. Told them I'm expecting ya. Livery's down the street two blocks, and the bath house is next to it. Get yourself settled and come back. I'm buying – a nice steak dinner with all the trimmings."
"You're so good to me, Joshua!" Kid smiled as he slapped Heyes on the back. "Give me a couple hours and you're on."
"Good. Now back to the game." Heyes’ magnanimity dissipated as his focus returned to lady luck. He grabbed the extra beer and returned to the table.
Re-seating himself, Heyes placed the beer in front of Cal and waved off the older man's attempt to pay for it.
"Thanks, Josh. Right nice o' ya."
"Anytime, Cal. So, did I miss anything?"
"Well, probably nothin' important," opined Drew, another middle-aged man. "Somehow, we got to talking about the war, but you're probably too young to remember anything about it."
Heyes studied the man. Until now, he had not noticed that all four gamblers were considerably older than he – certainly old enough to have fought. "I suppose."
Ward, another of the players, asked, "So, Josh, did your daddy fight?"
Heyes, feeling uncomfortable now under the scrutiny of four sets of eyes, shook his head.
"Was he killt?" asked Sam, the fourth man.
"Yeah, he was killed," Heyes said quickly. "Now, where were we?"
Several of the men regarded Heyes before he suddenly glanced away, eyes table-ward. Drew noticed and interjected, "Aw, come on, boys, can't ya tell he doesn't want to talk about it."
Ignoring Drew, Sam asked, "On what side was your daddy and where was he killt?"
Heyes closed his eyes against the lightheadedness that washed over him. Consciously regulating his breathing, he looked up to face the questioner. Pausing for several seconds before speaking, he finally said, "Neither side. He was killed in the raids in Kansas."
Drew spoke again. "Sorry to hear that, Josh. Okay, boys, let's get back to poker."
"In a minute, Drew. Sorry 'bout your daddy, too, Josh," said Sam. "Cal, you were in Kansas, weren't ya?"
Cal put his beer down and turned to the questioner. "Maybe that's not proper conversation for right now, Sam. After all, we're here to play. Besides, we don't want to upset young Joshua any more than he might be already." With that, he encountered the now disturbed dark brown eyes of the ex-outlaw.
Heyes held his gaze. "You were in Kansas?"
Cal did not avert his sightline. "Yes, son, I was."
"Who were you with?"
Cal's voice was steady. "I rode with both Bloody Bill Anderson and Quantrill before headin’ east to join Wade Hampton's outfit and becomin’ a proper soldier. Somethin' to ya?"
Heyes glanced at the table momentarily before looking back at Cal. Given the timing of his war experience, Heyes presumed him to be about forty-five, but he appeared much older – drink perhaps? He had put away quite a few whiskeys over the last couple of days as they played. "Not sure. Those men did some awful things."
Cal's voice turned gruff, before becoming almost mournful. "It was war, boy, and war's hell. And sometimes ... Well, sometimes ... Just be thankful ya didn't see any of it."
Heyes swallowed, hard. "Excuse me."
The dark-haired ex-outlaw barely acknowledged the other men as he rose and strode to the bar, where he ordered a bottle of whiskey. Grabbing it, he left the saloon.
Kid Curry whistled and took the stairs two at a time. Reaching the door, he entered the hotel room just in time to dodge a glass that sailed past him and shattered on the opposite wall in the corridor. Two women in the hallway gasped as the shards rained down to the floor in front of them.
Curry tipped his hat to them in embarrassment. "Ladies."
The women's expressions went from surprise to disapproval as they eyed first Kid, and then Heyes, inside. Hiking their skirts a few inches, they moved carefully around the broken glass before hurrying down the hall.
Wordlessly, Curry dropped the bag of soiled clothing he carried onto the bed, then surveyed the room. Not finding what he sought, he approached the entryway to step back into the hall, and carefully moved the shards of shattered glass to one side with a boot, out of the main pathway. Then, re-entering the room, he closed the door noiselessly behind him.
He regarded his partner. Sotte voce, he demanded, "Okay, what was that about? I leave ya an hour or so ago in the saloon, and now you're almost drunk and throwin’ things."
Heyes stared back. "I'm not nearly drunk, Kid. Just stay outta my way."
Curry approached his cousin and placed a hand on his shoulder. Heyes violently shrugged it off. "Leave me alone, Kid."
"What happened, Heyes? An hour ago, you were gonna buy us a steak dinner. Now ..."
Heyes raised his voice. "I'm not hungry now, Kid. Here, you go eat." With that, Heyes stuffed some bills into Curry's vest pocket.
Taken aback momentarily, the blond man recovered quickly and pushed the bills back into Heyes' hands. "I don't want your money, Heyes. I just wanna know what's goin’ on."
Heyes scowled. "Nothing!"
Kid answered in disbelief, "Nothin'?"
"Heyes, you don't really expect me to believe ..."
Before Curry could finish his words, Heyes socked him in the jaw with a solid right – the punch sending the blond man crashing to the floor with a sickening thump. Heyes exited the room without a backward glance, slamming the door behind him.
In the livery stable, Cal Brundage steadied his horse, and himself, before saddling the animal. Pulling the cinch tight, he half-leaned against the mare before clumsily hefting himself up. Taking the reins, he let the animal set her own pace as he guided her out of the building.
Unnoticed by Cal, Heyes watched his former poker mate leave. Saddling his own bay, he rode it back to the hotel. Single-minded, but somewhat contrite, he entered the room he had left only thirty minutes before.
Curry lay on the double bed, holding his chin, seemingly dazed – perhaps half asleep. However, the blue eyes flew open as his partner entered and approached him. Heyes carefully moved Kid's hand away from the bruised jaw. Wincing, he stepped away and poured water into the washbowl on the night stand, returning with a wet cloth. He dabbed at the swelling.
Kid roused fully at the mention of his name.
Heyes placed the cloth in Curry's hand, motioning for him to hold it on the bruised jaw. He then regarded the blond man for a moment before turning to grab his saddlebags and gathering items to pack.
"Heyes?" Kid's voice quavered.
Finishing his packing, Heyes sat on the bed. "I've gotta leave for a few days. Wait for me here, okay?" Nodding at Curry's jaw, he smiled sheepishly, grimaced. "Sorry about that."
Kid grabbed Heyes' arm. He rasped, "Where ya goin'?"
Heyes glanced at the floor before looking Curry in the eye. "Not sure yet. Gotta take care of something."
Kid's voice grew stronger, but rueful. "Heyes, what is it? And so sudden-like?"
"Jed ... Don't. Just gotta take care of something."
"I've only seen you like this once before in the last few years. We were in Kansas ... Don't do it, Heyes."
The dark-haired man smiled. He tried to speak reassuringly, but missed the mark. "Don't do what? I'm not going to do anything."
"That guy in Kansas. You almost ..."
Kid locked eyes with his partner, his voice now strong. "You almost killed him."
Heyes held the gaze. "But I didn't. Turned out he wasn't there."
"There? You mean our farms, right?"
Heyes dropped his eyes.
"Han ... You always spoke of what you would do if you found one of them. After all these years ... Drop it ... Please??!!"
"I can't, Jed. It never totally goes away. I can't make peace with it the way you did." Heyes sighed and rose. "Just promise me you won't follow me. I'll be back in a few days."
The dark-haired man stopped, his back to Curry. "What?"
"Don't forget about the amnesty."
Heyes trailed Cal Brundage for a day and a night, and another day. The older man moved slowly, seemingly not running from anyone, or anything. Indeed, he drank as he rode. Heyes kept his distance when Cal fell out of the saddle. Though he was a local man, he did not seem to turn toward home, but meandered, riding away from town – west, but without direction.
Heyes camped a second night. He tried, but did not, could not, sleep. And yet, his resoluteness did not wane, nor did it fully engulf him. Instead, it enveloped him alternately as sadness, and anger – but without fury. He tried to sort his feelings, but could not pinpoint them. Perhaps time, and maturity, had tempered things that had raged tempestuously in him in his youth? Perhaps his partner's steady influence? He realized any and all, and other things could explain the confusion he felt – or not. Why were there no clear answers?
Still, he kept on. But to what avail?
While brewing coffee the morning of the third day, a gun clicked. Heyes startled.
"Just hold it right there."
Heyes looked up to see the object of his hunt approach him.
"Why are ya followin' me, Josh?"
The ex-outlaw stared at the man – and the Schofield in his right hand. He remained mute.
Cal stepped closer. "Now take that pistol out of your gun belt nice and easy and toss it over here."
Heyes did as instructed, showing his palms for added measure. He felt strangely calm.
"Now, again, why ya followin' me?"
"I'm not ..."
Cal's voice rose. "Now, don't lie, boy! You've been a-followin' me for days now. Don't think I'm some stupid cuss of a kid who ain't been around some." He paused. "Your mood changed soon as you heard about the war. Said your daddy was killt in the raids? You know I was there."
"Well, like I told ya, some ugly things were done. Whole families wiped out. And why? War's hell, boy! I can't ever forget that … But I suppose you can't, neither."
Heyes stared at the ground.
"Boy, that was twenty years ago! Ya can't keep that with ya and expect to live a happy life. I ain't. My daddy was a preacher, a good man. He named me Calvary. Said it would always remind me – of whatever needed remindin'. And I never forgot. And my daddy never knew what I seen, or done. And I'm not proud of it. Hardly any of us was."
Cal stopped. Bending down, he tossed Heyes' pistol back to him. "Here, boy, if you need to do somethin', do it and get it over with. I'm forcin' your hand."
Heyes looked at the gun, but did not reach for it. His eyes rested on his adversary. He saw – a man.
After several minutes, Brundage walked back to his horse and rode away.
Heyes watched him go, motionless.
Heyes stared at the campfire several hours. Reflections of a life wavered in the flames. His thoughts wandered. His head dropped into his hands. Looking up, he sighed, staring again at the embers – once bright and dancing, now retreated, fading as so long ago ...
Hoofbeats broke his reverie. He watched as his partner acknowledged him and dismounted.
Kid appeared contrite. "Sorry, Heyes, but that was a promise I couldn't keep. Not this long."
Heyes slapped him on the back. "It's okay. Glad ya didn't."
Taken by surprise, Curry blinked. "Yeah?"
"How ya feelin'?" Kid asked, cautiously.
Heyes swallowed hard. "Okay."
"Did anything happen?"
Heyes paused. "No."
"Not really. He talked a bit."
Kid’s brow furrowed. "HE talked?"
"Then he rode out."
Curry let out a breath. His shoulders relaxed. "Good. So, you're okay?"
Heyes gazed skyward before regarding his partner. He sighed. "I'll never forget, Kid."
"Neither will I, Heyes. And your resolution to get them?"
"I'll never forget."
Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. ~ Wyatt Earp
Posts : 538
Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 64
Location : Colorado
|Subject: Re: A Stranger in Town Wed Aug 26, 2015 2:18 pm|| |
This is probably not the best use of the prompt, but I wanted to continue last month's tale:
The words washed over him like a soft rain, tickling his consciousness but sliding off with little effect. Instead, his thoughts were on the men standing in the stifling room. Packed tightly, the collective odor of male bodies squeezed into the prison meeting hall added to the already dense atmosphere. Hannibal Heyes let his eyes rove over the crowd looking for familiar faces. He saw one or two men who jogged his memory. Outlaws whose paths he’d crossed in his long career, but no one he knew well.
It was always terrible when he recognized a former friend. Like a betrayal that he should have his amnesty while they were incarcerated. Fortunately, he’d never encountered any of his own gang members. It absurdly pleased him that the Devil’s Hole gang was still a thorn in the governor’s side, although a lesser one than when he ran things.
“You can do it. We earned our freedom by mendin’ our ways…” Kid Curry’s voice droned on listlessly as he read from the notes atop the lectern. Heyes tuned him out again. They both knew this speech by heart. Written for them by the governor’s press secretary, he and the Kid had already given it here and at countless prisons throughout the greater West. It was full of promises that would never be kept; designed to seduce compliance from the men before him. He wondered how many of those men would be inspired to try for an amnesty. How many would fail and end up back where they started, or worse, at the end of a noose? If they only knew what amnesty really meant, they’d head for the doors. It was an illusion of freedom reined in by the obligation to perform like a trained bear in the governor’s private circus; fenced off from a fulfilling life by the condemnation of the Wyoming public. Heyes was heartily tired of being used and shunned, his and his partner’s lives suspended.
He shifted his attention to Warden Burke seated on the only chair in the room at the edge of the stage and flanked by two well-known reporters from the Wyoming Tribune. Heyes was curious why they were here. The press had never attended one of their past presentations. The governor must’ve sent them. As Heyes was staring, another person entered the room. The tall, well-groomed man was a stranger to him and from all appearances a stranger to Burke as well, yet the cut of his clothes and his confident bearing signaled he was a man of some importance. Heyes wondered briefly who he was. Maybe he’s the reason why the reporters had come.
The warden also studied the new arrival and then turned to one of the reporters. After a hastily whispered conversation, Burke returned his attention to Curry. The smug man relished his position and flaunted it; his chair an ersatz throne before which all others must stand while he sat comfortably. His hands were gripped across his bulging waistline and he nodded his head periodically although his glazed eyes belied his attentiveness.
He had agreed to this little spectacle as a sop to the governor’s vanity. Burke knew that Congress would soon be voting on whether to construct a new state prison in Rawlings and it was his intention to apply for the prison superintendent position. But he would need the governor’s endorsement to get it, so he had responded positively to the request for these two ruffians to, once again, be allowed access to his inmates. What else could he do? His job as warden had taken him as far as he could go in the Wyoming Territorial Prison. He had his eye on the new, lucrative post that would be created in Rawlings.
Burke’s gloating eyes drifted from the droning speaker to the dark-haired man standing slightly behind Curry. He mentally willed Heyes to look at him to no avail. He’d give anything to humiliate the man before his peers and it irked him to no end that Hannibal Heyes had escaped his reach. He should be wearing prison stripes, not a three-piece suit.
Heyes felt the weight of the warden’s gaze and ignored it. He understood all too well the small games small men played to establish their dominance. Hadn’t he made a career out of manipulation?
The newspapermen were bored. Heyes couldn’t blame them, he was bored. Tomorrow’s paper would have a couple of short, dull paragraphs about the ‘inspirational’ speech given by two lawless men redeemed by the governor’s grace. More fodder for the politician’s empty campaign for prison reform. It was the new popular cause. The futility of it all irritated Heyes and fanned his resentments. It also allowed an idea to form and begin to percolate through his mind.
“Remember, work hard, do your jobs well, and live a clean life,” the Kid cleared his throat, nearly choking on his next words, “and, you too, might end up free men like we did.” He hated uttering that lie. The governor had made it plain to both of them that he had no intention of offering amnesties to jailed men. The purpose of these talks was to show his constituents that he was a progressive thinker and to hold his tamed ex-outlaws up as shining examples of his efforts.
Curry crumpled up his notes and jammed them into his pocket. A smattering of applause floated to him, but he didn’t hear it. He was too busy reading the faces in the room. Disbelief and flat-out skepticism was what he saw, what he always saw. He was wasting his time and theirs. These men weren’t stupid; they’d heard it before. This was the third time he and Heyes had been invited to speak at the Wyoming Territorial Prison and give the same tired speech. He heartily hoped he wouldn’t have to face them again. These men all knew how long it had taken Heyes and Curry to get their amnesties, that they’d still been wanted while trying for them, and it had nearly cost them their lives several times. Outlaws didn’t have a long life expectancy. Six years was an eternity to them.
Stepping back from the podium, he looked at his partner who had withdrawn his own notes from his best suit. Heyes didn’t look at the Kid as he neared the podium. His gaze was pinned on the imprisoned men in the room and he looked at them with an intensity that both surprised and concerned Curry. What was going through that damned convoluted brain?
A wad of paper slipped from the dark-haired man’s hand and dropped to the floor by his feet. Gripping the dais, Heyes leaned forward and peered down at the men gazing up at him. His reputation commanded their attention. Projecting his voice, he boomed, “Do you want the truth?” A stunned silence greeted his question. This wasn’t the speech they were expecting. Puzzled eyes riveted onto the famed outlaw gang leader. Murmurs erupted throughout the crowd. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the warden nervously gesture to one of the guards. Good, he was pleased to rattle the pompous fool. The reporters were watching him carefully, alert to the departure from the script, their pencils poised above paper. Sensing a change, the tall, elegant man watched him closely as Heyes waited for the murmuring to die away.
“The truth is the governor’s amnesty was his way of taking care of a big problem. Us. The law couldn’t catch us; no one could. We were the best of the best.” Cheering broke out and several fists were thrusted into the air. “It was the only way he had of bringing us to heel and it worked. Now he wants it to work on you.”
Heyes glanced at the Kid. He could see the confusion on his best friend’s face. Curry rolled his eyes in return, but offered up a tiny nod of encouragement. The Kid, too, was sick to death of being the governor’s puppet and he’d back his partner’s play, whatever it might be. Smiling wolfishly, knowing he had his partner’s trust and tacit support to continue, Heyes drew a deep breath.
“We aren’t free men any more than you are. Our leashes are longer and we’re allowed the illusion of freedom, but we are at the law’s beck and call. Here’s the reality of amnesty. We are social outcasts. Adrift from our gang, exposed, with no real means of support, we are justifiably vilified by the average citizen.” He paused and listened to the low growl racing through the crowd. Another quick glance told him the warden wasn’t going to interrupt his tirade. He’d counted on that. The man was enjoying seeing him hang himself with his own rope; probably already had his cell picked out.
“We have it better than you; we know that. We aren’t cooped up four to a cell with no heat, eating bad food, and only a filthy bucket to relieve ourselves. But we’re not free. Not by a long shot. If we were free, we wouldn’t be standing here before you trying to convince you of the error of your ways; we’d be off living somewhere warm, doing work not too hard on our backs.” A ripple of tense laughter rose to his ears.
“Why am I telling you this? You already know we’re frauds. Nothing has changed for any of you since the last time we were here, has it? Let’s see a show of hands. How many of you have applied for the governor’s amnesty program?” Dozens of hands were held up. “And how many of you heard back from the Governor’s Office?” All raised arms disappeared. “Well, you aren’t going to hear from him. You aren’t getting amnesty because he’s already got what he wants--your best behavior and your silence. And it didn’t cost him one red cent. Words are cheap. Face it, you’re locked up and he’s thrown away the key.”
Anger crept into the large room, and the guards responded by cocking their weapons which only succeeded in touching off another round of murmuring. The inmates were beginning to look around at each other unsure of how to react to the inflammatory words. The warden stood and sidled towards the exit as Heyes continued, taking command of the crowd.
“Why am I telling you this? Because you can make your lives better; not by chasing a pipe dream, but by demanding that you are treated fairly and given adequate living conditions. It’s time the public knows what goes on in here and I’m going to help you tell them.” Heyes face broke out in a broad smile and he turned towards the reporters. “Gentlemen of the press, here’s an opportunity for a real story. I challenge you to reveal the truth to your readers.” The two newspapermen nodded enthusiastically at Heyes while the tail end of the warden disappeared out the door followed by a small cadre of guards. Burke could hear Heyes’ next words following him down the hallway to his secured office. “I see our friend, the warden, has scurried off to safety.” Burke’s face reddened as a roomful of laughter reached him. He’d see Heyes hanged for this. The man was fomenting rebellion. He screamed for his secretary and his telegrapher.
“You there!” Heyes pointed at a gaunt inmate with a long, graying beard. “Yes, you. Come on up here and tell us your story.”
The Kid walked forward and reached out a hand to pull the older man up onto the stage. “What’s your name, partner?”
“Elwood. Elwood Burnbuckle.”
“And what’s your crime, Elwood?” asked Curry gently.
The man turned a ruddy hue and hemmed and hawed for a moment. “I…er…um…I stole the sheriff’s long johns.”
Wild clapping and laughter ensued and, as it died away, Heyes spoke again. “Long johns? You were sent here over underwear?”
“Well, yessir, they was the sheriff’s!”
“How long have you been here, Elwood?” asked Heyes.
“Four years, eleven months, and twelve and half days.”
“Must’ve been some mighty fine long johns,” said the Kid with a grin.
“Nossir. But the sheriff was the judge’s nephew and I guess I roughed him up a bit when he tried to take ‘em back. Sure wish I still had ‘em. They was full o’holes but it’s damned cold in here come winter.”
“Don’t they give you blankets?” questioned Heyes.
“Only the one when I first got here, but it’s holey now, too.”
“One blanket? How cold does it get in here?
“Don’t rightly know. Lots of mornings I wake up with frost on me and sometimes it’s so cold my gruel freezes on the spoon before it gits to my piehole.” Knowing snickers abounded at this comment.
“How’s the food in here?” asked Curry. He knew the answer; he’d heard stories most of his adult life.
“It’s gruel. How do you think it is?” Elwood smiled, enjoying his moment in the spotlight. “Sundays we get stew if’n we attend services.”
“What if you’re sick or you can’t go?” prompted Heyes.
“Then it’s more gruel.”
Heyes thanked Elwood and invited another man up to join him. “Thank you for coming up and speaking with me. What’s your name?”
“Bull, the governor says he’s instituted a work system to help rehabilitate prisoners. Can you tell me what your job is here at the prison?”
The big, heavily-muscled man grinned at Heyes. Most of his teeth were broken or missing. “I move rocks.”
“Are you building something?”
“No. I just move them from one side of the yard to another. Back and forth; all day, every day.”
“Isn’t that kind of pointless?”
Bull shrugged, “Guess so. Don’t think much about it, but there ain’t much time to think. If I slow down, the guards whip on me. Last time, one of ‘em busted out my teeth with his gunstock.”
Even Heyes was shocked and he allowed it to show. “They whip and beat you for moving the rocks too slowly?”
“Yep, or sometimes just ‘cause they feel like it.” Bull pulled his striped shirt over his head and turned his back to the outlaw leader. “See?”
Heyes saw dozens of scars and half-healed welts crisscrossing the man’s spine. Waving to the reporters, he brought them over to witness first-hand the state of Bull’s body. They scribbled furiously. As they wrote, the tall distinguished man drifted over and peered at the scars.
Disgusted, the man turned to the crowd and shouted angrily, “Who else has been mistreated in this fashion?” Hands shot up, waving furiously.
Not wanting to allow his momentum to be thwarted, Heyes confronted the man. “Excuse me, sir, who are you and why are you here?”
“I am Chester A. Thornton, head of the President’s exploratory committee on prison reform, Mr. Heyes, and, quite frankly, I am shocked at what I am hearing today.”
Excited gasps rose from the journalists. They couldn’t believe their good fortune. This story was going to be front page!
Delighted as well, Heyes couldn’t prevent a huge, dimpled smile from springing to his face. “Mr. Thornton, I think I can safely say you might just be the answer to these men’s prayers.”
Thornton faced his audience. “I can promise you, you will be heard, each and every one of you.” Wild cheering broke out and the men surged towards the stage trying to shout out their individual stories, anxious to be heard.
Kid Curry climbed the pine steps leading up to the small cabin he shared with his best friend. In his right hand, he held a stack of letters and a folded newspaper. Heyes was seated in a rocker enjoying the shade offered by the deeply overhanging roof. It was hot in Arizona, but it was a good kind of hot at this altitude. His gaze shifted to the fenced pasture next to the home. A few head of horses grazed peacefully in the lush grass, several of them noticeably pregnant.
“Let me see the paper,” said Heyes. Curry handed it to him and sat down in the empty rocker on the far side of his partner. Heyes unfolded the newspaper. “Hey Kid, says here the brand-spanking new State of Wyoming’s gonna be taking over the Territorial Prison later this year.”
“I wonder what ever happened to our old friend, Warden Burke.”
Heyes chuckled, “Last I heard he was being brought up on charges of misappropriating funds; seems he was lining his own pockets with the inmates’ lunch money.”
Curry shuffled through the envelopes on his lap before withdrawing one and holding it up to the light of the mid-day sun. “Check’s here.” He tossed it onto Heyes lap. “How long you think we’ll get paid for consultin’, Heyes?”
“We still got two more years before the next election, Kid. My bet is we can rest easy ‘til then.”
“I hope so. With a little luck, we might even pay this place off ‘fore then. That last crop of yearlings fetched a nice price.”
Heyes nodded his agreement. “The President’s spent a lot of time and money on his committee. He ain’t giving it up yet.”
“Who’d of thought we’d end up working for the government?”
“The governor sure didn’t. You should’ve seen his face when he heard we were being called to Washington.”
“Wasn’t a surprise to me.” Curry sat back, put both hands behind his head, and his booted feet on the porch railing.
“It wasn’t?” Heyes smiled at his old friend. “How come?”
“Everyone knows that’s where the real crooks are, Heyes.”
Notes (from Wikipedia):
The Wyoming Territorial prison was built in 1872 and began accepting prisoners in early 1873. The facility had problems from the outset with a fire in 1873 and recurrent jailbreaks. Of the 44 prisoners accepted in the first two years of operation, 11 escaped. By 1877, the prison was overcrowded. As the prison filled, its reputation worsened and it became less used, being considered more appropriate for those with light sentences. During the 1880’s, the prison was under capacity with as few as three prisoners at one time. However in 1889, a second cellblock was constructed expanding capacity to 150 and providing a central kitchen, dining hall, guards' rooms and steam heat. There were at least five cells for female inmates, and several solitary confinement cells. In 1890, Wyoming became a state and the facility was transferred to the new state which already had planned a new facility in Rawlins. Butch Cassidy was incarcerated here in 1894-1896. Prisoners were transferred to Rawlins in 1901. The prison was closed in 1903 and given to the University of Wyoming.
“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
Posts : 1467
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 63
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|Subject: Re: A Stranger in Town Fri Aug 28, 2015 5:49 pm|| |
A Stranger in Town
They were strangers riding into town, just like they were strangers riding into all those other towns that found their way to their horses' front feet. It was nothing new. They were both used to the sidelong glances they received from passers-by on the street, from regulars leaning up against the bar in the saloon and from waitresses serving them in the cafe. They didn't mind it anymore, as long as the sidelong glance filled with curiosity didn't belong to a vest with a badge.
Then they saw him, and both of them at the same time, locked eyes with a boy standing on the side of the street just outside the mercantile store. The partners held his gaze for a moment, then shifted their eyes to look at each other, both asking the same question. Did that boy know them? Was he on some train or in some bank that they had robbed? But he was so young, and it had been so long since they had pulled anything so nefarious.
They shrugged at each other, silently answering the unspoken question. It was probably nothing, just a young boy watching two strangers ride into town. Maybe he longed to leave himself, to explore the wide open spaces. Maybe he thought the partners had exciting, adventurous lives, and he wanted so badly to follow in their wake. Anything to get out of the boring life that engulfed him, living in a back water town, where nothing happened until a stranger rode through.
“Well, there's the saloon, and the hotel,” Kid commented as they rode past the boy. “Sheriff's office must be around here somewhere.”
“Yep,” Heyes agreed, as his eyes scanned his side of the street. “And there it is. Hmm. Sheriff Knuckle. Sounds ominous.”
“Yeah, it do. You want to ride on?”
An hour later, the horses were stabled, the hotel room secured, and two thirsty vagabonds were elbowed up at the bar, appreciating the watered down beer. Heavy sighs followed voluptuous mouthfuls as the warm liquid cut through the dust of the trail, and both men smiled dreamily.
They turned as one, bringing their beers with them, and surveyed the inner workings of the drinking establishment. A number of eyes were caught discreetly giving them the once over, but the partners ignored understandable curiosity. Obvious transients always caught the attention of the local inhabitants. Nobody wanted trouble.
Heyes sighed wistfully at the poker game. Well, what was left of it. The game seemed to have broken up, and even with Heyes and the Kid joining it now, it wouldn't make a full house. Heyes could wait. Tonight might be more promising. They needed the money too. They had enough to get them through the next few days, but neither of them wanted to head out of town without adding to their meagre funds. The future was too unreliable and jobs too scarce to head out into the black with only promises in your pockets.
As one, they turned back to face the bar and ordered another round. Quench their thirst first, then head over to the cafe for some real food. Meat that was cooked through, and biscuits that didn't threaten to break a tooth. Yeah, something other than roasted rabbit, or squirrel stew. Something with some substance.
Two coincide sighs as thoughts of dinner invaded both their brains. Their second round of beers arrived, and taking a quick gulp from their respective glasses, they both looked towards the exit.
“Hungry?” Kid asked.
They lifted their small mugs, and with three consecutive gulps, drained their beers to the last drop. Heyes dug into his vest pocket, and pulling out some coinage, tossed the required amount onto the bar. The barkeep nodded his acceptance from further along his route, and the partners headed out to deal with the hunger pangs.
Stepping out onto the boardwalk, they both halted and looked to their left. There was that boy again, looking at them. He had a book with him, and seemed intend upon its contents, but that didn't stop him from sending furtive glances in the direction of the two strangers in town.
Frowns crept across faces as the two wanderers turned as one and strode over to the bench where the boy was seated. The Kid walked by him, and then both sat down on either side. The boy looked from one to the other and discreetly closed the book he'd had his nose partially buried in.
“Howdy,” the Kid greeted him.
“Nice day to be sitting outside, watching strangers ride into town, isn't it?” Heyes asked him.
Heyes smiled and nodded.
“I'm Joshua. My friend here is Thaddeus,” Heyes introduced them. “What's your name?”
The lad looked from one to the other, not sure if he was comfortable with this. Still, it was late afternoon, and there were quite a few people out and about. He decided he was safe enough.
“Name's Jason, sir.”
Heyes nodded again.
“My friend and I were just wondering why it is that you have been paying so much attention to us,” he commented.
“Because you are strangers in town,” the lad answered, matter of factly.
“Now why would you be doin' that?” asked the Kid.
“Because I'm tired of drawing everybody else in town,” Jason explained.
“Drawing?” asked the Kid. “You mean like a fast draw?”
“Well, I guess it's something like that,” the boy answered. “People don't tend to stand still, so I do have to draw kinda fast.”
Heyes and the Kid exchanged glances over top the ruffle of dirty blond hair. Both shrugged.
“Ahh, what kinda book ya' got there?” Kid asked.
“It's a drawing book.”
“A fast drawing book?”
“Can we have a look?” Heyes asked.
Jason looked at him suspiciously.
“I donno,” he said. “Everybody laughs at me. Ma says it ain't right for a boy to be drawing silly pictures. A young man can't make a living drawing pictures, she says. I need to get myself a trade, and get serious about my life.”
“Yeah?” asked the Kid. “How old are you?”
“Twelve huh?” Heyes asked. “I think you have a little while yet before you have to get too serious.”
The boy instantly brightened up.
“Sure,” Heyes confirmed. “Ah, can we see what you have in there?”
“Promise you won't laugh?”
“Promise,” Heyes agreed.
The boy sent an enquiring look back at the Kid.
“Solemn word,” Kid seconded.
Jason tentatively pulled open the front cover and allowed the first page to be revealed. The partners' jaws dropped, and they became more and more entranced as the lad peeled over one page after another. They couldn't believe what they were seeing.
Even Heyes, who could manipulate a signature to flow any way he wanted it to, couldn't get over the craftsmanship of the drawings being presented to them. How could a simple pencil produce such depth of field, such texture, such intricate patterns and detail? They were beautiful drawings, depicting different scenes and buildings in the town surrounding them. Portraits of people going about their daily business. Children playing in the courtyards. Horses and wagons trotting by. The drawings came alive, and seemed ready to jump right off the page and become living, breathing creatures of the town.
“Wait...wait a minute!” Kid said, as he noticed a woman heading into the pharmaceutical. “Isn't that...?” He flipped the pages back, three or four times and stopped at a portrait. Jed stared at the drawing and then pointed at the woman across the street. “That's her! Isn't it? That's her!”
“Yessir,” the boy grinned. “That's my school teacher. She doesn't like me doing drawings of her though, so I don't tell her.”
Once again, the cousins exchanged a look over top the boy's head.
“Umm,” Heyes tried to sound casual. “What did you draw when you saw us ride into town?”
Jason sighed. There was no getting out of it now. He flipped the pages towards the back of his book and stopped when he came to his most recent additions.
Heyes and the Kid stared at the first drawing, small knots of apprehension developing in their guts. The drawing was perfect. Two dusty saddle tramps riding into town, their furtive glances taking in the surrounding establishments as they sought to get their bearings. Everything, from the boots they were wearing, to their guns and the holsters that held them, and on up to the shape of their hats. Everything was perfect. Even Clay and Midnight looked like who they were, they simply could not be any other two horses. Jason had rendered them perfectly.
“You did this drawing in the time it took us to ride into town?” Heyes asked him, incredulously.
“Well, not completely,” Jason admitted. “I got the rough sketch down first, and then finished it from memory. Is it any good?”
Kid snorted. Heyes took in a deep breath.
“Ahh,” Heyes cleared his throat to get the strangle hold to loosen. “Have you done any other drawings of us?”
“Sure,” Jason announced, pleased that his work was being appreciated.
He turned the page and their blood ran cold. Heyes would swear he was looking at a photograph, only better. It wasn't grainy at all, it was smooth and clear and precise, right down to the hole in his hat and the dimple in his cheek.
Kid couldn't believe it. Even his eyes looked blue despite the black and white tones of the drawing. His light curly hair, his rounded chin and floppy hat with the belt buckle band. The boy had caught it all. It was them, in black and white and shades of gray, and they were perfect.
“Do you think they look like you?” came the innocent enquiry.
“Oh yes,” Heyes answered.
“Uh huh,” Kid nodded.
Jason grinned and beamed his pleasure. But then he sighed and shrugged his shoulders.
“Ah, it doesn't matter,” he complained. “Ma says that drawing silly pictures is a pass time for girls. A man has to put stuff like this aside, and get a real job. She doesn't think I could ever make any money doing drawings like this.”
“Oh, I don't know,” Heyes surmised. “I think you might find a couple of options.”
“You really think so?”
“Hmm,” Kid agreed. “At least one comes to mind as we sit here.”
“Yeah,” Jason agreed, as he thought about the situation. “I see those wanted posters in the post office, and at the sheriff's office, and I know I could do a better job than that.”
“Yeah,” Heyes shifted uneasily. “but you'd have to know what the outlaw looked like before you could do a drawing of him, and that's easier said than done.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of illustrating newspapers, or novels,” Heyes continued. “I think you'd be really good at that. And you could draw the great outdoors. This country isn't going to be staying the way it is for much longer. More and more people are coming out here, the land is being developed. Just think if you could do drawings and paintings of the land like it is now, before it changes?”
Jason's eyes lit up with creative enthusiasm.
“Yeah!” he agreed. “That would be worth something!”
“Sure would,” Kid agreed.
“And you could do drawings of famous people too,” Heyes continued. “I mean, good famous. Not a bunch of scruffy outlaws...” The Kid looked over at Heyes with a frown and mouthed the word “scruffy?” Heyes shrugged. “...somebody like the governor of the territory, and some such dignitaries. You know, drawings that people would want to hang on their walls.”
Jason sighed wistfully.
“I'd love to do stuff like that,” he admitted. “but if my ma don't see any good in it, then what's the point?”
“Tell you what,” Heyes said, as he dug into his vest pocket. “How about me and my partner here, buy those three drawings you just did of us?”
Again, Jason's eyes lit up with enthusiasm.
“You'd really buy them?”
“Sure would,” Kid agreed. “How much you want for 'em?”
Jason bit into his lip and pondered the exchange.
“Ten cents apiece,” he finally announced.
“Ten cents!?” Kid argued. “That's highway robbery.”
“Well I don't particularly want to sell them,” Jason lied. “If you want ta' buy them, that's the price.”
Another exchanged look across the child sized head.
“Alright,” Heyes agreed as he started counting out the money. “But on one condition.”
“That you don't do any more drawings of us.”
Jason looked disappointed.
“But you're fun to draw,” he complained. “You have a quirky face.”
Kid snorted. Heyes looked indignant.
“What do you mean, quirky?” he asked. “I'll have you know that there are plenty of young ladies who find my face to be quite appealing.”
“That's 'cause it's quirky.”
Heyes sent a frustrated look to his cousin, who didn't help matters by trying to stifle a laugh.
“Look,” Kid said, as he got his mirth under control. “I'll even throw in an extra ten cents to seal the deal. How's that?”
“Wow! Forty whole cents? For my drawings!?”
“But ya' gotta agree,” Kid specified. “You won't do any more drawings of us.”
“Deal!” agreed the young entrepreneur, and he held out his hand for payment.
Heyes dropped three coins into the open palm, and then the hand swung over to the Kid's side and awaited further payment from that end. The Kid obliged, and Jason, happily clutching his first commission, pulled the three pages out of his book and handed them to Heyes.
That done, the boy gathered up his belongings and jumped to his feet.
“Wow! Just wait until I tell my ma! This is more money than she makes in a week!”
“Careful how ya' spend it,” Kid cautioned him.
“Bye,” Heyes answered.
The two men continued to sit on the bench, watching the young lad run off towards home, pencils and drawing pad and money safely grasped in his hands.
Heyes sighed, and looking down at the drawings, he slowly and carefully began to roll them up.
“Heyes, what are ya' doin'?” Kid asked him. “Ya' know we gotta destroy those.”
“Oh, I donno...”
“What do ya' mean 'ya' don't know'!? You got any idea what would happen if those drawings got into the wrong hands?”
“Nobody knows they're drawings of us, Kid,” Heyes rationalized. “As far as anybody else is concerned, they're just some drawings of Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones, two saddle tramps who wondered into town one day. Besides...” he added with a wicked grin. “...we could always send them to Clementine for safe keeping.”
“Ha!” Kid laughed out loud. “Talk about dangling the mouse under the cat's nose. I'm tellin' ya' Heyes, those drawings are dangerous.”
“Yeah,” Heyes had the good grace to agree. “But that boy has real talent. We hang on to these drawings for a few years, there's no telling how much they could be worth.”
“I can tell ya' right now how much they're worth, Heyes! Ten thousand dollars apiece! That's how much they're worth!”
Posts : 181
Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 63
|Subject: Re: A Stranger in Town Sun Aug 30, 2015 7:51 pm|| |
This is the first story that I've written in about three years. Please forgive me for being rusty and out of practice.
Strangers in Fort Benton
“Beer,” muttered Hannibal Heyes as he rode into Fort Benton, Montana. “First the livery and then a beer.” His horse’s hooves clomped in dry dust while a breeze cooled by the Missouri river reached out to ruffle strands of his dark hair. The name posted on the sheriff’s office was Matthias Watley. Heyes nodded to the skinny man with the deputy star standing outside.
The deputy yanked open the door and hollered, “Sheriff.”
Heyes’ smile slipped away. “Now what,” he muttered, prodding his horse to a trot. “Stables and then a beer,” he reminded himself. “Everything’s fine.”
A little later, Heyes laid a coin on the counter and motioned for a refill. The barkeep filled his mug and scooped up the coin. After a sip, the dusty ex-outlaw turned his back to the bar. Resting an elbow on the satiny wood, he glanced around the saloon. With a squeak of the batwing doors, a tall, broad man pushed inside. The star on his chest caught Heyes’ attention.
Turning casually, Heyes presented his back to the sheriff. He took a gulp of beer and tried to ignore the looming presence now standing beside him.
“Howdy, Stranger. Heard you just rode in to town.” The sheriff inspected the ex-outlaw “Could ya tell me your business in Fort Benton.”
Heyes’ smile twitched a bit around the corners. “Rode in from Helena, Sherriff. I’m meeting my partner here. We’re doing a job for a friend.”
“This friend got a name?”
“Colonel Harper. Lives in Cheyenne. We—me and my partner—work for him occasionally. Do you know him?”
“Harper? Can’t claim the honor, but I‘ve heard of him. What kinda work?”
“Oh, deliveries, messages, that kind of thing.”
“Actually, Sherriff, my partner has the delivery, and it’s of a delicate nature, so I’d appreciate it if you’ld keep your voice down.”
“Tell you what, Mr.…”
“Smith. Joshua Smith.”
The sheriff’s eyebrows rose. “Tell you what, Mr . . . . Um. . . Smith…. Come on over to my office, and we’ll talk private like.”
Heyes’ smile didn’t touch his eyes. “That’s not—” His objection was cut short by the sheriff’s pointed gun.
“I don’t understand.”
“Just come along to my office.”
“Okay, Sheriff, but you don’t need the gun. I’m a real peaceable fella.”
The sheriff gestured toward the door. Heyes grabbed his beer and drained it before accompanying him outside.
Inside the office, the sheriff motioned to a cell.
“You’re locking me up? Don’t I get to know what you think I’ve done?”
“Sure. But first let Deputy Littleton take your gun and your belt.”
Heyes’ eyes turned flinty above his frown, but he unbuckled his belt and handed it to the deputy. The sheriff motioned with his gun before Heyes stepped into the cell.
“What’s this about?”
“I have a suspicion that Smith ain’t your name. I need to lock you up for a bit while I check out an idea I have.”
“My name is Smith, and I’m waiting for my partner. We are doing a job for Colonel Harper.”
“If that’s all true, you’ll be outta that cell soon. But in the meantime I need to check out my suspicions.”
“Yep. I’m real suspicious that your right name might be Hannibal Heyes.”
As the cell clanged shut, Heyes slumped onto the thin mattress and cradled his head in his hands. Again! Why was this happening again? He didn’t know this sheriff or his deputy. He and the Kid had checked that out before taking this job.
He leaned against the wall, pushed his black hat to the back of his head, and pasted on a wide smile. “You’re gonna feel real foolish, Sheriff, when my partner rides in and backs me up. Colonel Harper told us this job is important to your town. I don’t want you getting into trouble.”
Watley ignored Heyes. “Sam,” he said to his deputy, “run on over to the dry goods and ask Jake Harrison to come by. I need his help.”
Heyes slumped and lowered his hat. Jacob Harrison Heyes, he thought. Known here as Jake Harrison. He had hoped to introduce himself to his brother while he and the Kid were in Fort Benton, but he hadn’t imagined that he’d be doing it from behind bars.
The bell over the door jangled, jarring Heyes from his brooding. He schooled his body to stillness, hoping to appear calm. Surreptiously he peered from beneath his hat, observing the man limping into the office.
Jake was broader in the shoulders than his brother and not as slim. His brown hair was a match for Heyes’ own, though it was cut short at the neck and above the ears. His eyes were the color of walnuts, rather than the deep brown of roasted coffee beans. His face was narrower than his notorious brother’s, and fine lines gathered around his eyes and mouth. He used a cane to walk. A smile for the sheriff revealed the signature family dimples, but he didn’t spare even a glance for cell’s
Heyes sat straighter, but adjusted his hat to cover most of his face.
“What can I do for you, Matt?” asked Harrison, sinking into a chair.
“You remember tellin’ me about your brother?”
Harrison frowned. “You agreed to never talk about that. Figured it’s safer for my wife and kids to keep it quiet.”
“I remember. But a stranger rode into town today, calling his-self Smith. He looks so much like ya, Jake, it got me to wonderin’ if he was Hannibal Heyes.”
Harrison’s eyebrows crawled up his forehead. “Here? In Fort Benton?”
“In the cage behind ya.”
Jake rose from his chair and peered inside the cell.
Heyes slowly removed his hat and set it on the mattress. His eyes locked with the lighter ones in Jake Harrison’s face. The ex-outlaw offered the hint of a smile before dropping his eyes and resting his forehead on his hand.
“Is it him?” prompted the sheriff.
Heyes looked up and two sets of brown eyes locked again. Harrison frowned. His eyebrows drew together as he studied the man in the cell. After a pause, he shook his head.
“Matt, I haven’t seen Han since he was 11 years old. I can’t positively identify a man of thirty when I last saw him as a boy.” Jake faced the sheriff. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t know. Could he be my brother? Sure. You figured that out by looking at him. But I can’t confirm it. He was too young when I left, and too many years have passed in between.”
“Dang. I was hopin'.” The lawman paused in thought. “Did your brother have any identifiable scars or birthmarks?”
“No, Matt,” Jake replied firmly. “Han didn’t have any distinguishing marks.”
Heyes jammed his hat back on his head and rubbed his hand across his mouth. “Sheriff. I told you my name is Joshua Smith. My partner has the delivery for Colonel Harper. I was a decoy. That’s why we’re riding separate.”
Jake raised his eyebrows at the mention of a partner.
“Who’s this delivery for?” asked the sheriff.
“A lawyer. Fella by the name of Edwin Howell.”
Harrison and Watley exchanged an intense look.
“Did Harper tell you what was in the package?”
“We don’t agree to dangerous jobs without knowing the particulars, Sheriff. But like I told you, the job’s confidential. I’m not confident about what I can say.”
Before anyone could respond, the door popped open, revealing the deputy’s face. “Another stranger’s ridin’ into town.”
Heyes jumped to his feet. “What’s he look like?”
“Sam! Don’t answer the prisoner!”
“Follow him and report where he’s goin’.”
“Smith, does this friend yer expectin’ have a name?”
“Jones. Thaddeus Jones.”
“Smith…. and …. Jones.” The sheriff glared at Heyes. “Jake, are you sure you can’t identify that fella in the cage?”
Harrison chuckled and laced his finger through his hair in a manner that Heyes found unsettlingly familiar.
The deputy burst back inside. “He’s headed to Mr. Howell’s office.”
“That’s the lawyer excepting the delivery,” added Heyes. “Can I get outta this cell now?”
“Not yet, Smith. I’m goin’ over to guard that delivery. I’ll be back with this man Jones, assuming that’s who he is, as soon as this business is finished. After that, we’ll see about releasin’ you.”
Heyes slumped back onto his bunk. The bell over the door jangled as the sheriff left.
Harrison looked out the window. “The deputy’s gone too.” He walked back to the cell and examined the ex-outlaw. “Is it really you?”
“Yeah, Jake, it’s me. Thanks for not identifying me.”
“I really couldn’t be sure. You were only eleven.”
“But you didn’t tell the sheriff about the birthmark on my hip. That’s when I figured you wouldn’t turn me in.”
“You thought I might?”
“I didn’t know what you would do. Like you said, it’s been a long time.”
“Han, I’d like to explain—“
“Not here. The sheriff could come back any minute. Let’s talk later. Somewhere we won’t be overheard, and when I’m not in jail.”
“I’m guessing it’s not the first time. For jail, I mean.”
Heyes’ smile was rueful. “You got that dead on.”
“One thing more. The man you’re expecting?”
“Yep, it’s K— I mean, it’s Jed.”
The sound of boots on the boardwalk warned them to silence. The bell jangled as the deputy entered.
“Don’t you get sick of that thing clanging?” complained Heyes.
The deputy shrugged. “Sometimes,” he answered. Sitting down at the desk, he placed his hands behind his head. “Sheriff Watley and that fella Jones are guarding Mr. Howell’s office while he gets the paperwork ready to go over to the bank.”
“I should be helping. Keeping me in this cell is keeping me from my job. That delivery is real important to a lot of folks here in town. Do you know what’s in that package, deputy?”
“Yep. Bunch a money.”
“Twenty-two thousand dollars. Now I ask you, deputy, if I were that outlaw Hannibal Heyes, would I’ve been trusted with that kind of cash? Think about it. A bank robber trusted with twenty-two thousand dollars.”
Jake gaped at his brother and shook his head.
“It sure don’t seem likely,” answered the deputy. “But maybe that colonel fella didn’t know who he was hirin,’ or maybe you jest couldn’t get your hands on the money with that Jones fella carrying it all.”
“Or maybe, just maybe, my name is Joshua Smith, and I need to be over at the lawyer’s office helping.”
The deputy chuckled. “Whoever he is, he sure can talk, cain’t he, Mr. Harrison?”
“Yes, he sure can, Sam. He sure can.”
About an hour later, Watley returned with a dusty Kid Curry. Curry exchanged a nervous glance with his partner. Jake Harrison’s eyes were fixed on the blond.
“Mr. Jones,” began the sheriff, “this is Jake Harrison. He owns the local dry goods store.”
Kid extended his hand, but when he saw the man, his mouth fell open. He looked at Heyes who rolled his eyes.
“Looks a lot like me, don’t he, Thaddeus?”
“Yep,” Curry gulped. He extended his hand again. “Sorry ‘bout the reaction. Nice to meet you, Mr. Harrison.”
Jake clasped Curry’s hand and flashed him a dimpled smile.
The Kid controlled a shudder.
“So, Jones, is the man in the cell your partner?”
“That’s Joshua, Sheriff. Why’s he locked up?”
“Had a suspicion that he might be Hannibal Heyes. I’m still nervous about lettin’ him out.”
“This might help,” said Curry handing over telegram.
“What’s it say, Sheriff?” asked Heyes and his brother in unison. They glanced at each other with a sideways slide of the eyes. Neither man turned his head. Standing behind the lawman, Curry sighed.
The sheriff read the telegram aloud.
To: T. Jones and J. Smith
Have additional job stop
Gunnie arriving Fort Benton to help banker stop
Ask Sheriff for details stop
Standard daily wage stop
Confirm acceptance by telegram stop
“I guess you really are working for him. Time to let you out, Mr. Smith, but you got to admit you fit the description of Hannibal Heyes. I hope there’s no hard feelin’s.”
“No hard feelings, Sheriff.”
Watley squatted in front of a safe tucked behind his desk. Heyes watched him turn the dial until he caught Curry glaring at him. He shrugged and smiled with one side of his mouth. A wide eyed Jake looked from one partner to the other. After the safe was opened, the sheriff stood up with a ring of keys and a gun belt. Heyes stepped out of the unlocked cell and took his things.
“What details is Colonel Harper talkin’ about?” Curry asked.
"Are you taking the job?”
“We need the details before we can decide,” Heyes answered.
The sheriff sat behind his desk. “Pull up a chair, and I’ll fill ya in. Somethin’ fishy is goin’ on at our bank. A few months back a man arrived claimin’ to work for the railroad. But it’s not clear which
railroad he’s workin’ for, and the money he offers for land is way below market value.
“About the same time, Gerald Barstow, the banker, started shaking down businessmen and foreclosing on folks’ land. He’s always been a hard-nosed fella, but this was different. Good people, like Mr. Harrison here, were surprised to learn about really high late fees and things in their loan papers that allowed Barstow to raise the interest rates. Between the depression and Barstow’s policies, folks have been forced to choose between sellin’ to this so-called railroad man at really low
prices, or just plain losing everything when Barstow forecloses.”
Heyes mouth formed a thin line. “So someone arranged for a loan from a bank in Helena to help out, and Colonel Harper hired us to deliver the cash here quietly. Then that lawyer—Howell was it?—arranged the paper work to pay off folks debts, or at least bring them current. Do I understand the situation?”
“Yes, you do, Mr. Smith,” interjected Jake.
Curry frowned. “Why haven’t you arrested this railroad fella and the banker?”
“Because they haven’t done anything illegal. I don’t like what they’re doin’ but I can’t arrest folks for being greedy jackasses. They gotta break the law first.”
“What do you think this gunfighter they are sending to town will do?”
“Not sure about that, Jake,” replied the sheriff.
“Most likely his job is to intimidate people into selling or leaving town altogether,” offered Heyes.
Curry nodded. “Seen this kinda thing before in the range wars down in Texas and also in Wyoming.”
“So how can we help, Sheriff,” asked Heyes.
“Extra man power. Keep an eye out in the saloons and on the streets. Look out for anyone makin’ threats and help protect the folks who owe the bank money.” The sheriff looked from Heyes to Curry and back again. “You two any good with those six shooters?”
Curry smiled. “I usually hit what I aim at.”
Jake shifted nervously, and Heyes coughed to disguise a chuckle.
“What about your partner?” the sheriff persisted.
“He’s kinda slow,” Curry said, “but he’s accurate.”
“You gonna take the job?”
Blue eyes met brown in a silent conversation. The Kid answered. “Yeah. We’ll take it.”
“Then I should deputize both of ya.”
“I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” Heyes rattled off with a sideways glance at his partner. “We’re working for Colonel Harper, not you. Besides having two strangers arrive in town and then show up wearing stars would draw attention. We’ll just pretend to be drifters. That will make it easier to keep our eyes on things.”
“You could be right about not drawing attention.”
The tension ran out of Curry’s shoulders.
“We’ll send a telegram to Harper on the way to the hotel,” added Heyes.
“No. Bath first, then the telegram,” argued Curry, his eyes turning to blue ice.
“Fine, Thaddeus. No need to get proddy. I’ll telegraph him. You head to the hotel. Save me some bath water.” Heyes paused and pushed his chair against the wall. “Mr. Harrison, we could use some more information, from the business perspective. Details about what the banker is doing. If you have the time…” Heyes’ voice grew soft and his words trailed off. Curry watched with concern. “Would you mind coming up to our room so we can ask you some questions?”
“I’d be glad to, Mr. Smith,” replied Jake with a reassuring smile.
About an hour later, a bathed and shaved Hannibal Heyes paced between the beds in their hotel room. He wore his dark blue shirt and tan pants. The door opened, and his gun was half drawn before he recognized the Kid’s red shirt. Curry pushed inside and set an unopened whiskey bottle and three glasses on the dresser.
“Thanks, Kid,” Heyes said as he attacked the seal on the bottle. After splashing about two fingers into a glass he raised the bottle in unspoken question. Curry nodded. Heyes poured again.
A soft knock sent the blond to the door with his colt drawn. “Who is it?”
“Jake Harrison,” came the muffled response. The Kid cracked open the door without holstering his pistol. He peered outside before pulling it wider. Harrison stared at the drawn colt.
“Sorry,” whispered Curry, holstering his gun.
“You two must need to be careful.”
“Yeah,” Heyes murmured before boldly meeting his brother’s gaze. “Twenty thousand dollars is a big temptation.”
“I won’t turn you in, Han. I thought I made that clear earlier.” He stepped closer. “I just want to apologize. Explain why I wasn’t there when . . . you needed me.”
“You want to apologize to me?”
“I wasn’t there for you. For either of you.” His look included Curry.
Heyes placed a hand on Jake’s shoulder. “If you had been there, you would be dead. You were only nineteen. If you had survived, you couldn’t have taken care of us? You would have starved with Jed and me. I couldn’t find a job at nineteen. Not with the depression and unemployed men from the war.”
“At nineteen you had five hundred dollars on your head, Heyes. Makes finding honest work kinda tricky.”
“Thanks a lot, Kid.”
Jake studied the blond gunman. “I haven’t even said hello to you, Jed. I’m sorry.”
Curry smiled and extended his hand. They shook and then slapped each other on the back.
“You were always an amazing shot, even as a little guy learning to hunt. If you are half as good as your reputation. I’m in awe.”
“He’s better than his reputation,” beamed Heyes.
Jake scrutinized his brother. “Five hundred dollars on your head at nineteen? Really, Han? That’s one thing I’m glad Ma and Pa didn’t live to see. It would’ve broken their hearts, especially those words “dead or alive” that appear above your name.”
“I like to think that if they had lived, I wouldn’t have a price on my head. But I may be making excuses for myself.” Heyes poured another whiskey. “Would you like a drink?”
Jake nodded. Heyes refilled his partner’s glass and poured for his brother.
“Jake, there is something I want you to know. Kid—or Jed—and me, we’ve stopped outlawing. It’s been over a year since we robbed anybody. We are trying to go straight.”
Jake grabbed his brother in a hug and then held his shoulders. “That is the best news I could’ve heard. I’ll give both of you any help that I can. Is that why Colonel Harper trusted you with all that money?”
Blue eyes met brown.
“The specifics are confidential, but the Wyoming governor has promised to help with our legal troubles if we stay clean. Harper’s a friend of the governor. He knows who we are and likes to recruit us for dangerous jobs.”
“I see. One other thing, Han. You didn’t show a hint of surprise at seeing me. Are you that good a liar?”
“Maybe. I’ve had a lot of practice. But I wasn’t surprised to see you. I knew that you lived here in Fort Benton, and I knew that you were using the name Jake Harrison.”
“Kid and I were here five years ago. I saw you.”
“Why didn’t you talk to me?”
“It was five years ago, Jake.”
Heyes sighed. “What do you think we were doing here five years ago?”
“I don’t know. What were the two of you doing here five years ago?" Heyes could see his brother putting together the pieces. “You were planning a robbery.”
“But the bank here has never been robbed.”
“And the good people of Fort Benton, Montana have you to thank for that. I couldn’t risk wiping out my brother’s savings. Once I saw you, the job was off.”
“I know what you two have been doing all these years. I can hardly help from knowing with the wanted posters and the newspaper articles, but it just isn’t real to me. The two ornery boys I knew who were always getting into mischief. Now that’s real. The wanted men Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry with ten thousand dollars a piece on their heads, that’s not real to me.”
“Unfortunately, it’s real to us,” stated the Kid.
Heyes poured everyone a refill during the silence. Kid put hisfeet up and reclined on his bed. Jake limped over to a chair in the corner and placed his cane by the wall. Heyes continued to pace.
“What happened to you, Jake?” he asked. “How’d you get that limp, and how did you end up in Montana?”
“I got injured at Shiloh. Captured too. I spent the next two years at the Camp Douglas prisoner of war facility near Chicago. That place was horrible. When they offered to let us out in exchange for serving in the Union Army out west, I volunteered. I was afraid they wouldn’t take me because of my limp, but they needed men badly enough to ignore it. So in May of ‘64 I was sent to Fort Benton by the Union army. Galvanized Yankees they called us.”
“You were in a prison camp?” Curry asked.
Heyes chuckled. “After all the laws that Kid and I have broken, it’s my honest, straight arrow brother who serves time.”
Jake shot Heyes a dark look. “Anyway, after I was mustered out in ‘67, I went back to Kansas. You know what I found. Two dead and haunted farms and no family. Folks in Stanton couldn’t help. The courthouse had burned down taking all the records with it. I didn’t even know that you two had survived until I saw your wanted posters.”
Curry sat up straight. “Emily Ann is still alive. At least she was.”
“Your baby sister?”
“We got separated when they sent Heyes and me to a home, but Emily Ann was adopted. I don’t know where she is now.”
A knock caused the Kid to pull his gun while his partner walked to the door. Once Curry was in place, Heyes called softly, “Who is it?”
Heyes opened the door. When the deputy was inside, the Kid lowered his colt.
“There’s another stranger in town. Sheriff wanted ya to know.”
“Thanks,” said Heyes as the deputy left.
Kid moved to the window while the dark haired partner rummaged in his saddle bags. Returning with binoculars, he stood against the wall on the other side of the window.
“Yeah, and it’s makin’ me nervous.”
Heyes handed him the binoculars. Curry inspected the stranger, sighed, and handed them back.
“Who is it?’
“Sam Ackerly. He’s dangerous, Heyes. He might be as good as me.”
“In Texas. Maybe Colorado.”
“He knows you?”
“Well, Kid, he don’t know me, so here’s what we’re going to do.”The back story of Heyes’ older brother Jake is in two challenge stories posted about three years ago on a different site. They are titled Fallen and Look Away.
When you put your hand in a flowing stream, you touch the last that has gone before and the first of what is still to come.
- Leonardo DaVinci
Posts : 8715
Join date : 2013-08-24
|Subject: Re: A Stranger in Town Tue Sep 01, 2015 3:23 am|| |
Sheila's message -This was written for August's challenge but I didn't get it quite written up in time!
Admin's message - I've included it, Sheila. The rules are meant for fairness, but I'm sure nobody will object to 30 minutes. The main idea is to encourage participation and so I want to work to the rules in such a way that it maximises the amount of people able to play and I've already had PMs saying just that.
A Stranger in Town
A raspy snore burst from the man sat, more half lying, on the chair in the corner. A battered hat covered his face. His clothes were faded, worn and dirty. He had unkempt hair and a mustache. The other people in the stage depot glared at him. One of the women wrinkled her nose.
“Stage is ready to go folks.” The driver called out as he entered the building. He looked at the sleeping man.
“He for the west bound stage?”
“He got a ticket?”
“Would he be here if he hadn’t? Sold it him meself.”
The driver kicked at the man’s feet, “Hey, hey! Get up, the stage is leaving!”
“Uh, wha?!” The man struggled to sit up and pushed his hat back. “Wassup?”
“Stage is leaving.”
The man struggled to his feet and wove an unsteady path to the door. The 4 other passengers were already seated inside and watched with increasing dismay as the man tried to get into the stage. His foot slipped on the step and he lurched sideways, hanging onto the stagecoach door as it swung wildly.
One of the men looked at the driver, “Does this …person…have to ride with us, can’t he ride on top?”
“In that state? I can’t be hanging onto him and I can’t lose a passenger. He’s paid his fare, so long as he causes no trouble, he rides inside.”
The driver grabbed the man and pushed him inside. The man fell against the passengers’ legs and grunted. He pulled himself up, his hands grabbing at anything, including stockinged legs!
The woman, who had earlier wrinkled her nose, protested. “Good Lord, get it off me! Harold! Do Something!”
Harold sighed, grabbed an arm, wincing at the feel of the rough plaid, and, with the help of the other male passenger, attempted to pull and push the drunk onto the seat. Unfortunately, the drunk did not cooperate. Instead, he pulled away, complaining “’Ere, whatcha doin’? Lemme go!”
He pulled away so hard that his feet slipped out the door and he would have fallen out if the driver hadn’t still been there, grabbed him and pushed him back in.
“We’re only trying to help,” Harold griped.
The drunk ignored him, “Give us a hand,” he demanded.
Harold sighed and pulled him in and onto the seat.
The drunk settled in the corner, legs stretched out, taking up all the leg room. His fellow passengers moved as far away as possible, grimacing and glaring ineffectually as he ignored them and pulled his hat over his face.
Satisfied all his passengers were settled, the driver shut the door, climbed up and shook the reins. The stage lurched and they were off.
Inside, the five passengers jolted. Fortunately, Harold had had the premise of mind to hold onto the drunk and so prevented him from sliding off the seat. The response was another raspy snore.
The snores continued on and off and Harold found himself constantly having to grab at the drunken fifth passenger as he slid off the seat at every bump and jolt. At no time did he appear to wake up.
Finally, the stage came to a halt. The driver got down and opened the door.
“You can get out if you want folks, be here about half an hour while I change horses. You can get a bit to eat inside.”
The two men and two women gratefully climbed out, glad to have an opportunity to escape the drunk.
The man started up. His hat fell off and he grabbed at it, then climbed out of the stage. He stretched his back and legs. His eyes, surprisingly shrewd for a drunk, roved around the area. The driver came out of a barn and walked toward the stage, leading two horses. The man’s shoulders suddenly slumped and he swayed on his feet.
“Where are we?” he whined.
“Way station. You can eat inside.” The driver indicated the cabin with his thumb.
The man shook his head and held up a flask, “Nope, this will do.” He took a long pull from the flask and wandered off as the driver went about his task.
A series of shots broke the quiet. The horses panicked and the driver struggled to hold them. The four respectable passengers and the station master burst out of the cabin as the drunk came back toward the stage, pulling his suspenders up and wiping his hands on his pants. The five people skidded to a halt and the women both shuddered.
The driver came round from the horses, “What the heck do you think you’re doing?” he yelled.
“Wha! Jes’ some fun!”
“Any more ‘fun’ like that and you’re off the stage!”
The man shrugged and climbed into the stage.
The driver took a deep breath, “You folks ready to go?”
The passengers glumly nodded and climbed in.
The man gave them an unfriendly smile. “Any of you folks wanna drink?” he waved the flask around.
“Well, I never!” the wrinkled nose exclaimed.
“That’s okay, I’ll have a drink for ya”, the man responded, gulping down from the flask. “Anyone else?”
Everyone mutely shook their heads.
“Suit yesselfs.” The man continued to gulp liquid down.
The stage jolted.
The man continued to drink from what appeared to be an endless supply in the flask. The other passengers eyes drooped. The man drew his gun and fired out of the window.
The passengers jerked awake as the stage was pulled up.
The driver appeared in the window.
“You again! What do you think you’re doing?”
“Jes some fun – liven things up!” The man’s words were slurred and his breath could have felled a bear.
Looking at the other passengers, the driver was firm. “Sober up or you’re out at the next stop!”
“You can’t do that!” the man protested, “I’ve paid fer Tenstrike!”
“An’ you’ll be off in Buckton if there’s any more trouble from ya!”
“Jes some fun!”
The driver climbed back up and set off again.
It had been quiet in the stage for several hours. For a while, the drunk had stretched out with his hat over his head, but now he was awake and his flask was empty. He began to whine about being thirsty and then, without warning, he fired out of the window again.
The stage juddered to a halt. The driver jumped down, yanked open the door and pulled the drunk out!
“I said no more trouble!” The driver pulled the gun out of the man’s hand and then shoved him, protesting, back into the stage.
A couple of hours later, the passengers wanted to throttle the man. He had whined on incessantly about the unfairness of it all, when all a fella wanted was some fun and a drink. They were so relieved when the stage entered town that they could have wept.
The driver got down, opened the door and pulled the troublesome man out. He stumbled and half fell, but somehow stayed on his feet. The driver threw his saddlebag and gun at his feet and got back onto the stage.
“There’s the saloon!”
“You can’t leave me here, I’m paid through to Tenstrike! I’m gonna see the Sheriff about this!” The man’s eyes wandered to the saloon, “after I’ve had a little drink…”
There was a collective release of breath from Harold and his fellow passengers as the drunk walked, a little unsteadily, into the saloon.
A deputy sheriff approached, “What’s going on?”
“A drunk. He’s been nothing but trouble since we left Rosewood, drinking, bothering the other passengers, shooting at nothing! I’m leaving him here. If he’s sober enough, or they wanna take him, he can get the next stage!”
The Deputy pursed his lips, “I’ll keep an eye on him. All we need right now is a troublesome stranger in town.”
Several hours later, the drunk was still in the saloon. He’d consumed a couple of bottles of whiskey and the bar tender was somewhat impressed that the man was still upright, although he was leaning against the wall by the entrance. So far, he had been little trouble, other than accosting everyone who entered to complain about being thrown off the stage.
The doors opened and the Deputy entered, “the jury’s coming back!”
The crowd started to leave. The drunken man fired into the air, “Yay!”
The Deputy, anxious to be in the courtroom and already fired up from the account given by the driver, grabbed the recalcitrant stranger and hauled him off. The man was half dragged to the sheriff’s office complaining all the way, “I was jes having some fun! You can’t do this to me!” They passed a dog which followed them, barking.
The Deputy pulled the man over to a cell, unlocked in, pushed him in and locked it behind him.
“You can sleep it off in here!” He then hurried off.
Suddenly sharp brown eyes watched him leave. Then, the dark haired man settled himself on the bunk to wait.
(and, dear reader, if you want to know the end of this story, I direct you to the end of “The Posse that Wouldn’t Quit”)
Posts : 576
Join date : 2015-03-21
Age : 57
Location : Derbyshire UK
|Subject: Re: A Stranger in Town Tue Sep 01, 2015 3:44 pm|| |
Thank you, Admin! I appreciate the kindness! I am loving trying to fulfill the challenges though the biggest challenge for me is to get anything written (and posted) each month!
Posts : 8715
Join date : 2013-08-24
|Subject: Re: A Stranger in Town Wed Sep 02, 2015 5:37 am|| |
Well, The idea is to give people a place to play and to encourage creativity; not beat them over the head with rules. But shhh! I'm sure nobody noticed...
|Subject: Re: A Stranger in Town || |
A Stranger in Town