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 Curry's Ghost

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Join date : 2013-08-24

Curry's Ghost Empty
PostSubject: Curry's Ghost   Curry's Ghost EmptySat Mar 05, 2016 4:14 pm

Despite the title this isn't a ghost story, or in the least melancholy.

Curry’s Ghost

The dark eyes peered into the amber depths of the glass, seeking escape as much as a solution, but Heyes couldn’t afford to get drunk.  The Kid needed to be sprung from jail before he was transported to prison; because the minute he entered the Wyoming State Penitentiary there was a very real chance that he’d be recognized as Kid Curry, and not the damned fool who punched the local fat cat’s drunken son for annoying a woman in the street.  He’d always warned him that his needy people would be the death of him, but he’d hoped it’d only been a bad joke. 
Money.  That’s what he needed.  The fine stood at only a hundred and fifty dollars; a choice between a hundred and fifty dollars or thirty days; and he had twenty three dollars and fourteen cents.

A muscle flexed in his jaw.  The Governor was expecting them in ten days, and it wasn’t going to go down well if they didn’t show up.  Should he just go in there and break him out?  Lom knew they were here and a jail break was likely to get back to him.  The only thing going for them was that the Kid had already sported a split lip and the mother of black eyes from trying to hog-tie an ornery calf for branding when he when into the affray.  It made slightly harder to identify him when he was healed; but not much.  It was a tough one sure enough.

“Buy you a drink?”

Heyes looked up at the middle aged man shrouded in the grayness of shabby respectability.  His hazel eyes smiled like an angel backlit by roguish hellfire.  The natural connection caused the irritation at being interrupted to fall away from Heyes’ face, but didn’t go quite as far as a welcome.  “I’ve got one, thanks.”

“Got too much on your plate, son?”  A pair of surprisingly dark brows raised under a mop of madly-messy white hair.  An Irish brogue floated musically across the smoke and tinny music of the saloon.  “I’ve seen that look before.  If you want to talk about it, I’m a good listener.”

“I’m not much of a talker,” Heyes replied, without a hint of irony.   

“I don’t mind,” the stranger slid into the seat opposite.  “I’ll talk.”

Heyes made to rise, but the man grabbed his arm along with his attention.  “I saw what happened to your friend.  It wasn’t fair.  The other fella went for him when his back was turned.  It was a complete fit up and he got his pals to lie for him in court.  It was real harsh of the little gal not to tell the truth.  I’m guessing her family is intimidated by the prospect of going up against the richest family in the county.  No, not fair at all.”

Heyes’ glare hardened.  “So?  Why didn’t you speak up?”

The man shrugged apologetically.  “I...well.  I kinda couldn’t.  I’m not really in a position to approach the law.”

“I don’t care if you’re wanted for murder.  You’re coming with me over to that jail house right now.”

The man stiffened.  “I can’t.  I really can’t.”

“So what’s stopping me from putting a gun in your ribs and taking you there myself?  You said yourself there’s an innocent man in that cell.”

“Mainly, the fact that I won’t ‘remember’ a thing if you do.”  The man defiantly gestured back to the seat.  “Look, sit down.  I want to help, but there might be another way.”

Heyes scowled silently and dragged out the chair.  “Talk.”

“The name’s Gene Morton.  Short for Eugene, like my father, and his father before him.  I came from Cork, but he was originally a Donegal man, much further north....”

Heyes leaned forward.  “Maybe when I told you to talk I should have been more specific?”  He paused, punctuating his attitude with gathered brows, “for your own good.”

Gene nodded.  “I’d like to help you get your friend out of jail.”

“Great.  I’ll take one hundred and fifty dollars, please,” growled the ex-outlaw leader.

“I’d love to, but I’m as poor as a church mouse.  That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.  I have a proposition for you.” 

“It’d better be good.”

Gene smiled.  “It’s better than good.  I want to help you break him out of there.”

Heyes’ chair scrapped against the floor as he stood.  “Goodnight.”  He turned and strode out of the batwing doors, leaving them clattering into the pursuing Irishman’s chest.  He continued down the sidewalk, rolling his eyes at the pattering feet pursuing him. 


Heyes swung around, his fists balled.  “Look, unless you’ve got back up I’d walk away fast.  I’m in no mood for hare-brained schemes.  I’ve got things to deal with.”

“But that’s just it,” grinned Gene.  “I have got back up.  The best there is.  Would your friend be up for a bit of harmless deception to get him out of there?”

“Harmless? snorted Heyes.  “Sure.  Why do you care in any case?”

“I have a deep sense of right and wrong.  I live by it, but it just seems wrong to punish an innocent because I succumbed to temptation and can’t face the law.  If things were fair I’d have been in a position to speak up for him, but I’m not.  It behooves me to do whatever I can for the poor unfortunate man.”

“You want to break him out, go ahead,” snorted Heyes.  “You won’t get past the sheriff.  You’ll be headed for the State Penitentiary right along with him.”

“What if I could guarantee that none of us were?”

“You’re drunk.  Leave me alone.”

“I can assure you that I’m not.  All I’ve come to do is make sure you get yourself an alibi.  The way you defended him in court would make you the prime suspect.  Just leave the rest to me.”

Heyes’ brows gathered in confusion.  “Just what difference does it make to you?”

“I’m a man of god.  I can’t see an innocent punished because of my failings.  I have deeply held principles, but not the money to bail him out, but I think there is a relatively simple solution though.”  He watched the doubt glitter in Heyes’ eyes.  “I see you are a doubter.  That’s fine.  Just listen to me.  Please.”

“Aw, what harm can it do?” muttered Heyes.  “Come on back to the bar.  I could do with a laugh.”  


“Come to pay the fine?” asked the Sheriff.

“I haven’t got the money, Mr. Lomax, and I’m not likely to get it before tomorrow either. Heyes shook his head.  “Can I see him?  Tell him goodbye?  I’ve got a job I need to head off for and I can’t afford to lose it.  I’m on the two o’clock train.”

The lawman looked him up and down.  “You can if you check that sidearm.”

Heyes unbuckled his gun belt.  “Sure.”  He held out his arms.  “Want to search me?”

Sheriff Lomax grinned.  “You’re fine.  Jail breakers don’t usually walk in politely and hand over their guns.”

“I suppose not.”  Heyes’ eyes glittered innocently.  “I couldn’t do your job.  Is it this way?”

He followed the lawman towards the cells where a curious frown flashed over the bruised features of the blond prisoner who peered through the bars.  “Joshua?”

“Thaddeus, I’ve come to tell you I can’t raise the money.  Oh, and I brought you a book.”

“A book?”  The lantern jaw firmed.  “It’d better be a damned good one to make up for no money.”

“It sure is.”  Heyes raised it to his nostrils.  “I love the smell of books.”

“Smell?  You do know how reading works don’t you?  Unless it smells of one hundred and fifty dollars I’m not interested.”

“Don’t be like that.  It’s Edgar Allan Poe.”

“That one you told me about?  Yeah, I'd probably freak out too, if a raven flew into my house.  The poem holds up but it ain’t my kinda thing.”

“No, not that one.  It’s a collection of short stories.  There’s a great one about a man scared of being buried alive.”

“Great.”  The Kid slumped on his bunk.  “You’re just a regular little ray of sunshine, ain’t ya?”

Lomax turned the key in the lock and ushered the visitor in.  “Just let me know when you want to leave and I’ll let you out.”  He flashed a grin at the fair man who raised a hand.  “Not you.  You’ve got your lovely book to finish.”

He wandered over to the pot-bellied stove and poured himself a cup of coffee, watching the two men with wry amusement.  It was fascinating to observe the prisoner’s stiff demeanor as he glared at his friend who talked at him with earnest intensity.  Yup, these weren’t your average drunks around town.  This pair had something about them and they could easily make something of themselves.  Hopefully this incident would be a wakeup call for them.

The window beside the cells shattered suddenly, shards of glass scattering the floor and causing the two men in the cells to jolt against the far wall.

“What the…?”  Lomax plonked down his coffee and bolted out into the street.  “I see you Billy Wright.  You wait until I see your ma, you’re for it!”

“Lynch mob?” the alarmed-looking dark-eyed man asked the sheriff as he marched back into the building.

“Scallywags,” he retorted.  “I tell you, them Wright boys are wrong ‘uns.  They’re gonna see more’n their fair share of this place in a few years.  Are you alright?”

“Fine, Sheriff.  I don’t mind staying here if you want to go after him,” ventured Heyes.

“Can’t do that.  I’ve got to stay here as long as there’s a prisoner, even if there’s someone with him.”

“We ain’t gonna do anythin’,” shrugged the Kid.  “How can we, locked in here?”

He propped his hands on his slim hips.  “I ain’t takin’ the risk, so you two just settle down and enjoy your visit.  I’ll get that window fixed by and by.”        


“Who are you?  It’s five thirty and it’s still dark.”  Sheriff Lomax squinted at the stout, moon-faced man in front of him scratching a thick growth of stubble and bearing a tool box.

“Jimmy Redmaine.  Mr. Quinn sent me over to fix your window.  I’m doin’ odd jobs for him,”  the man replied in a thick Southern accent.  He wandered over to the broken window and tapped at the covering boards.  “Yeah.  It won’t take long. I need to cut the glass to size.  Can we open the back door and I’ll do it in the back yard?  There’s always some dang fool’ll play with it if you put it out on the street and don’t start me on what the kids do to the putty. ”

“The Back Maria is gonna be here by six to take the prisoner to the Penitentiary.  They’ll use the back yard.”

“I won’t be workin’ there by then.  I’ll just cut it to size and putty it in as I fit it.  It’ll take ten minutes to cut it after measurin’.  It’s January.  I ain’t gonna hang about in the cold.  Quinn said you’d want it done early so you could get on with business.”  Jimmy eyed the coffee pot under the brim of a tattered hat.  “Any chance of a cup of that?  It smells real good.  ”I hate these early starts.”

“Sure.  Get your glass cut and there’ll be a cup waiting for you,” Lomax stood.  It’s time the prisoner was up anyway.  He’ll be out of here soon.”  He clattered a tin mug on the bars until a bleary, tousled head poked over the top of a rough blanket.  “Time to get up.  You’ll be out of here soon.”

The Kid propped himself up in his bunk and delicately blinked away the sleep from his bruised eye. 

“Ya want some coffee?” yelled Lomax.  “The prison wagon’ll be here soon.  Get yourself ready.”

“Sure.”  He swung his long legs over the side and propped his head in his hand, pausing to glance at the glazier bustling in from the back yard.  Both men gratefully accepted the mugs of steaming coffee being proffered by the lawman. 

“Gee, thanks.  Just how I like it,” Jimmy grinned.  “I like my coffee I like my women; dark, bitter and hot.”  He put down the cup and started prying off the boards.  “Do you fellas like a joke?  Have you heard the one about the blind prostitute and the elephant?”

All the men turned to the twinkling handy man, sipping their coffee and allowed themselves indulged in a never-ending flow of risqué wit and merriment from the workman who operated in the aisle outside the cells like a king holding court.  Occasionally one of the others would cut in with their own punch lines and ripostes until the whole jailhouse was rocking with laughter.  He worked seamlessly, the repartee never once interrupting his work, and before long the broken window was prepared for the new glass to be fitted.  A couple of uniformed men appeared at the back door, smiling slightly at the unexpected merriment bouncing off the walls.  “Hi, we’ve come to take the prisoner to the penitentiary.  Is this the Redbridge jailhouse or have we backed up to the saloon instead?”

“Since this fella showed up to fix the window we can’t be sure.  He’s a laugh a minute,” Lomax chortled.  “If he keeps this up I’ll be throwin’ cowpokes outta the place.”

“Well, I gotta go and get that glass I cut.”  Jimmy opened the back door onto the blackness of the winter morning.  “Unless you ran it over?”  He smiled at the shaking heads.  “Nah, I guess you might be worried about someone breakin’ into your wagon?”

“Not many do that,” laughed the taller prison guard.  “Any chance of some of that coffee before we go?”

“Sure, help yourselves,” Lomax retrieved the box of prisoner’s possessions from the cupboard.  “I’ll get his stuff.”

The smaller guard peered at the Kid’s black eye and split lip.  “Is this one a fighter?”

“Nah, he’s a real easy-goin’ fella.  It was wranglin’ beeves what did that to him.”  Lomax plonked the box on desk.  “You’ll have no trouble with him.  He ain’t the sort we usually get in here.”

“Let’s get him loaded up.”  Lomax opened the cell door and led the subdued man out to the prison wagon.  The back door to the jail house was the only source of light apart from the bull’s-eye lantern held by the smaller guard.  The Kid climbed inside and sat on the wooden bench while he was shackled at the ankles and feet.  The door was then slammed and locked.

Jimmy observed the whole thing in silence before he spoke up again.  “Did I tell you fellas the joke about the prisoner on escort?  A police officer was escorting a prisoner to jail when his hat blew off.  "Shall I run and get it for you?" asked the prisoner obligingly.  "You must think I'm stupid," said the officer.  "You stand here and I'll get it.””

The officers started laughing again, following Jimmy towards the door as he took his panes of cut glass to the window in the cell corridor.  The glazier continued.  “Or the one about the burglar who broke into a house and heard a voice telling him that Jesus was watching him…,”

The guards stepped back into the corridor of the jailhouse, listening to the handyman as he prattled on and on, puttying the glass into the window.  “…the same idiot as named that great big dog Jesus…”

More laughter ran around the building as Jimmy carried on, the jokes getting more and more spicy, entertaining as he deftly pushed in the putty around the replacement glass.  “…and then the elephant said, “I’m not saying it’s not useful.  I just don’t see how you can pick up a bun with it.””

The quips became faster and saltier, Jimmy turning to drink in the smiles until he finally smoothed off the putty and wiped his hands on a cloth.  “Well, I gotta get outside and do the other side.  Can you make sure nobody cleans this window for at least a day, Sheriff?”

Lomax nodded.  “That should be easy enough.  Ain’t nobody cleaned the old one in all the eight years I’ve been here.”  He turned to the prison officers who had stepped back inside to enjoy the show.  “Hadn’t you two better get goin’?  I’d never leave a prisoner sittin’ outside on his own like that.”

“He’s fine,” the taller one pointed outside.  “I had my eye on the wagon the whole time.”

Jimmy picked up his tool box and strode out the back door.  “I’d want to check, if it was me.”  He tipped his hat.  “See ya!”  And he strode out into the darkness to deal with the other side of the mended window.

“He’s right,” agreed Lenox.  He grabbed a lantern and strode up to the door of the wagon.  He stood on tiptoes and peered into the shadows though the back hatch.  “He’s gone.  He ain’t there!”

“What!?  Whatdya mean?”  The tall guard brought out his jangling keys and quickly opened the door.  They all blinked into the darkness.  “He’s right.  He’s gone….”  He lifted his lantern and shone it inside catching the pale battered face blinking against the invading glow.  He held up manacled hands to shade himself from the caustic radiance and nodded at the lawmen.
“Phew!  That’s a relief.  He’s in the back.  That’s why we couldn’t see him.”  The tall guard slammed the door shut and re-locked it.  “I’ll sign the handover book now.”

“Hey, when you left him out here it’d have been on your head if’n he got away.”  Lenox thrust the ledger under his arm.  “Have a good journey, boys.  See ya next time.”


Wyoming State Penitentiary  

The keys rattled on their ring of pig-iron at the door to the armored wagon before the guard pulled open the door.  “What the ^&*%!  Where the *$*” is he?”

“Did you stop anywhere?”  The receiving officer peered into the completely empty prison vehicle.

“No, we never *&^~&$^% stopped anywhere.  He was locked in at the jailhouse and we never stopped once.”

“Well, did you lock him up properly?”

The tall guard held up the keys.  “You just watched me unlock the *^~$*”£ lock.”  He turned to his shorter companion.  “Tell him, Bill.  He was in there.  He even waved at us, manacled hand and foot, as we closed the *~%$£~@* thing.  It’s like he’s disappeared into thin air.”


Kid Curry raised his face to the sun and winced as his split lip protested against the spreading smile.  The birds darted about, catching flies and living life in the moment as a salutary example of joy.  “I can’t believe that worked.  I thought you were insane when you told me about this, Joshua.”

“I’ve got to admit that I thought the same when Gene came forward, but once I started listening to him he made a lot of sense.  We even had time to practice it.”

The Kid nudged his horse forward and turned to the man with wild white hair riding between them.  “Where did you learn all that stuff?”    

“I used to be an ingénieur.”

“On the railways?” asked the Kid

“On the stage,” Gene smile enigmatically. 

“They’ve got engineers on stagecoaches now?” frowned the gunman.

“In the theatre.  We help to design things; illusions, tricks, magic, and the like.  I used to be on the stage.  That’s how I came to America.  I was one half of ‘The Dueling Wizards’; a great act, but a lousy partnership.  We ended up hating one another and went our separate ways.  Ingénieur’s have to know a lot of stuff, including how to fix and build things.  It’s helped me turn my hand to almost anything.”

The Kid shook his head.  “Hide behind a pane of glass.  You’ll be invisible….”  It was the maddest plan I ever heard in my life.  Yeah, I could see Joshua slippin’ into the wagon to pick the locks, but to stay hidden in the yard, behind a pane of glass to look invisible?  I took a lot of persuading.”

“Pepper’s Ghost is what they call the trick.”  Gene nodded.  “They’ve been doing stuff like this since the middle ages with a thing called Camera Obscura, but it’s been used on stage for decades now.  The glass is placed at 45 degrees to where you want the effect and by the use of lights and reflection you can project the image of the person into the other space as though they were there.  We usually make things look like their floating in space, but we can make it look like someone is in a room when they aren’t,” he chuckled, “or in this case, a prison wagon.” 

“Well, they fell for it.”  The Kid shook his head.  “They ‘saw’ me sitting in the prison wagon waving at them.”

“When you were really next to it behind a pane of glass with Joshua holding up a black light to copy the movements of their lamps, the glass projecting your image through the window of the wagon.” grinned Gene. 

“Sittin’ on a barrel to make it the right height,” laughed the Kid.

“I tell you, Joshua.  You’re a natural.  When you told me you used to be a locksmith, it made this real easy.  I came up with the distraction and an excuse to have glass in the back yard.  You got to break in and release him.”

The two ex-outlaws exchanged a conversation in a glance.  “Yeah, that was real lucky.”  The Kid felt the need to change the subject.  “Lom isn’t gonna be happy if he hears I was in jail.  He might still put two and two together.”

“Lom?” asked Gene.  “Your sheriff friend who gets you jobs?  That’s easy.  I’ll just swear you were with me.  It must have been a different Jones.”

“Yeah, Thaddeus.  There are a lot of people called Jones in the world,” Heyes’ cheeks dimpled.  “There’s got to be at least one of them called Thaddeus; but the escape won’t be reported here.  It’ll be at the penitentiary where they find you gone, and we never went anywhere near there.”    

The Kid arched his brows cynically.  “Yeah, well, I don’t suppose we’ve got much choice.  Tell me again why you couldn’t just give evidence, Gene?”

“If I did that, I’d have to give evidence in court and I know the judge personally.  I had no excuse for being in that part of town.  Absolutely none.  They’d have known that I gave into temptation and succumbed to the sins of the flesh yet again.  I couldn’t let you sit in jail because of my weakness, and the sheriff doesn’t know me, only the judge.”  Gene smiled ruefully.  “I have a great weakness for the ladies.  I hold off as long as I can, but I have to give in and visit a fleshpot about once a month.  I’d go mad if I didn’t.”

The Kid’s brows furrowed.  “Once a month ain’t bad.  I know men who use those places more often than that.”

“Yes.  Once a month isn’t much for your average man,” Gene nodded, the January wind tugging at his jungly, wild hair, “but it’s pretty good for a Priest.” 

Historical notes

A prison wagon was often called a Black Maria in the USA, until the term Paddy Wagon became more popular.  There are a few theories relating to various infamous ‘Marias’ but the most popular relates to a famous racehorse from 1826 in Harlem and once which swiftly transports prisoners to jail.        

Pepper’s Ghost is a variation of the Camera Obscura technique which has been performed for centuries.  It is an illusion technique used in theatre, amusement parks, museums, television, and concerts. It is named after John Henry Pepper, a scientist who popularized the effect in a famed demonstration in 1862. It has a long history, dating into the 16th century, and remains widely performed today. Notable examples of the illusion are the Girl-to-Gorilla trick found in old carnival sideshows and the appearance of "ghosts" at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. Teleprompters are a modern implementation of Pepper's ghost. Examples of concert illusions based on Pepper's ghost are the appearance of Tupac Shakur onstage with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg at the 2012 Coachella Music and Arts Festival and Michael Jackson at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards.  

black light was a lantern used often by thieves and criminals.  It shone light through one bull’s-eye lens, which was protected by flaps which could be closed to quickly block out the light or ensure it shone in only one direction.
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