Parenthood: Ex-Outlaw Style
Written for the January 2015 Challenge: "Parenthood"
Five young boys stampeded across the porch and down the stairs, waking the two men from their much needed afternoon nap. The brown haired man didn’t move a muscle. He and his partner had their lanky legs comfortably crossed, resting on the rails of the bunkhouse porch. The blond man slowly opened one blue eye and carefully scanned the territory.
“I think they’re gone.” The Kid was hopeful.
“No they ain‘t.” Heyes knew better.
“A fella can dream, can’t he?” The blue eye closed.
“Dream a little quieter, why don‘t ya'.”
They gradually fell back into a state of blissful grogginess. Their breathing slowed and they began to make the rhythmic sounds of sleep. A fly buzzed overhead and the wind picked up for just a moment, rustling the leaves in a nearby tree. In the distance a dog’s barking became an insistent braying, and gradually faded away. If not for the approach of scampering feet and furtive whispering, they would've slept the lazy afternoon away, but it was not to be.
Heyes looked up in time to see the gang of boys run into a nearby shed. He slowly pulled out two cigars, lit one, and took a long draw.
“They back?” The Kid still hadn't opened his eyes.
“Looks that way. Join me for a smoke?.”
“Don’t mind if I do.“ The Kid straightened up in his chair, lit the cigar his partner offered, and gestured towards the shed. “What's up?”
“Looks like the boys have made off with another of the Widow Johnson’s prize pies. They’re holed up, splittin’ the take. They think we can’t see ‘em.” Heyes took another big puff.
Kid peered at the shed and could see the boys moving through the slats of the wall. The whispering subsided, as their mouths became full of their ill gotten booty. “I thought she was keepin' her place locked up, after what happened last time.”
“Yeah. I reckon they got a hold of my lock picks and figured out how to use ‘em.” Heyes couldn’t help but be secretly impressed, and flashed a dimple despite himself.
The Kid glanced at his partner with growing concern. “We just gonna sit here?”
“I think so. I think that’s the wisest idea. We’ve got a nice spot. This is our first day off, in I don’t know how long. It’s a warm, sunny day and I don’t see no reason to be disturbed.”
“That’s nice, Heyes. But I think you forgot somethin’.”
“These are your sons. Ain’t it your job to teach ‘em honesty’s the best policy, and crime don’t pay, and all that?”
Heyes stopped puffing on his cigar and patiently studied his cousin. “Of course, Kid. Trust me on this one. Sit back and enjoy your cigar.”
“Nope, not this time. If you ain’t takin' care a this, I will.” Heyes watched as the Kid started unfastening his belt buckle. “Now, don’t get proddy, but they’re gettin' a few licks from my belt, just like our folks would'a done to us.”
“You mean did to us. And look how well that turned out.”
The Kid stared at his cousin in disbelief. “That was different, Heyes, and you know it. After all we went through, ain’t you gonna make sure these young’ins…”
The Kid was interrupted by the sound of a buggy approaching at break neck speed. It was the Widow Johnson, with her gray hair scattered and wearing an expression that would curdle fresh milk. The ties of the apron she was still wearing were flying behind her like streamers in the wind. She glared fiercely at the two men as she rode past. They both nodded politely and tipped their hats, as their eyes followed her progress up to the main house.
“She don’t look too happy, Heyes, it looks like trouble.”
“Like I said, relax. I got this under control.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” The Kid was unconvinced.
The visitor was soon rapping insistently at the door of the main house with her cane. Mrs. Hannibal Heyes opened the door.
“Mrs. Johnson, are you alright? You look positively distraught. Please, won’t you come in?”
“Come in?” The widow appeared shocked at the very idea. “Mrs. Heyes, this is not a social call. I wouldn’t enter that den of thieves if I was hog tied and thrown.”
The younger woman appeared quite concerned. “My goodness, you mustn't upset yourself so. Please, take a seat here on the porch while I get you some lemonade. You must be parched.”
Mrs. Johnson plopped unceremoniously into the nearest porch chair and fanned herself frantically. Mrs. Heyes returned and handed her a glass. The older lady took a sip, and tried to compose herself.
“There, that’s much better. Now please, tell me how we can help, my dear lady. My family and I will do everything in our power to assist with whatever’s troubling you.”
“It’s your family that’s the trouble, Mrs. Heyes,” snapped the unhappy widow.
Mrs. Heyes seemed oblivious to the older woman‘s accusing words. “Please, call me Susanna. You've been my closest neighbor for years, and it’s high time we used our given names, don’t you agree?”
“Humph! As I was saying, Mrs. Heyes, it’s your boys again. This time they took off with the pie I baked for tomorrow’s Fourth of July Baking Contest. I carefully selected every piece of fruit that went into that pie, and saved for weeks to get the finest ingredients. Now it’s..., it’s gone!”.
“Oh my, what a dreadful loss. Here.” Mrs. Heyes sympathetically offered her handkerchief to the frantic old woman who grabbed it and patted her brow.
“Exactly, a dreadful loss, to a gang of ruffians with no respect for private property. Why, I bet they gulped it down like it was common fare. It was in my pie safe, with every door and window secured. I have no idea how they got in. This was breaking and entering to the highest degree, and this time I have a mind to call the sheriff.”
Their conversation could be clearly heard all the way across the barnyard. The boys in the shed didn’t move a muscle. The Kid closed his eyes and grimaced. Heyes continued to calmly puff his cigar.
“Sheriff? Oh no, my husband is going to be so disappointed.“ Mrs. Heyes began to wring her hands and pace across the porch.
“Your husband? Your husband and his cousin are common criminals, and it’s quite clear to me they are a dismal influence on your boys. The apples don’t fall far from the tree, I say.”
Mrs. Heyes pointedly ignored the insults. “My dear lady, there's no doubt the boys have done wrong. Rest assured they will be dealt with accordingly.” The clever young woman feigned a worried glance at her husband. “But worse than that, I'm afraid my husband will be overwrought at the loss of your pie. After all, your pies are his favorite food.”
“What?” The older lady was caught off guard with this revelation, and gazed at her in disbelief.
With a twinkle in her eye, Mrs. Heyes stopped pacing to explain. “Oh yes. What he wouldn’t do for one of your pies. As a matter of fact, he has volunteered to serve on the judging committee at tomorrow’s contest in hopes of getting to taste one.”
“He has?” Mrs. Johnson looked across the yard at the ex-outlaw with fresh eyes.
The Kid stopped puffing his cigar, gave Heyes an incredulous look and whispered, “You have?”
“I have now,” Heyes hissed, his cigar between his teeth.
Mrs. Heyes took a seat next to the older woman. “May I ask you something, dear lady?”
“Yes, of course.” The younger woman finally had Mrs. Johnson’s full attention.
“Was there any damage to your windows or doors?”
“I see. Rest assured the boys meant no harm, my dear. I'm afraid they heard their father raving about your mouth watering pies, and being small boys, couldn’t resist such a magnificent treat. I’m sure you already know there’s talk of your pies all over town.”
Mrs. Johnson stopped fanning. “There is?”
“Oh yes. Since we're such close neighbors, folks ask me about your pies all the time.” Leaning in, Mrs. Heyes softened her voice, as if sharing a secret. “Why, just yesterday my husband and I were visiting with our close friend, the Mayor. He confided he's going to ask the winner of the contest to bake a pie to serve at his next dinner party. My husband advised him that you would likely be the winner, but now, with none of your pie to taste or judge…” Mrs. Heyes stood and recommenced her worrisome pacing. “I’m afraid the honor will go to someone else, not to mention the prize money!”
The full implication of the situation began to dawn upon the widow with increasing clarity. It was time for a change of tune. “My dear Susanna, I had no idea that your charming husband felt this way.”
“Oh yes, he will be so upset. If only there was a way…” Susanna stopped pacing and looked at Mrs. Johnson hopefully. “You wouldn’t happen to have any more of those premium ingredients, would you?”
“Well, yes, but...”
“I fear I may be asking too much, Mrs. Johnson, but would you...? Could you…?”
“My dear girl, there is no need to be so formal. Please, call me Emily. If I get started right away I think I can bake another pie before I lose daylight. You are certain your delightful husband will be judging?”
“Oh yes, Emily. He is very influential, and is known for being quite persuasive. I‘m sure he thought you would win, my dear. I can‘t make any promises, but with him as a judge…”
Emily abruptly stood. “Then, there‘s no time to waste.” She wagged a bony finger at the younger woman. “But mark my words, next time I will see the sheriff.”
“Believe me, Emily, there won’t be a next time. And please, come visit us again after you have won the contest. After all, you are our dearest, closest neighbor. It was such a pleasure to see you again.”
This time the Widow Johnson rode by, beaming and nodding, as she smiled knowingly at the men. Once again they tipped their hats, and nodded dutifully in return.
Under his breath the Kid muttered, “You gonna go along with this, Heyes?”
“I never question my wife when it comes to this sort'a thing, Kid. She’s in charge of security when it comes to the boys.”
“Well, I don’t know how she did it, but she sweet talked that old biddy into leavin’ happy and keepin’ the law out of it. You been givin’ her pointers on how to do a con?”
“Nope. She’s a mother, Kid. She comes by it natural like.”
The Kid thoughtfully took another puff of his cigar. “Still, I don’t think the boys ought’a get away with it, Heyes. Like I said, let me get my belt and…”
“Hang on, Kid. She ain’t done.”
The Kid looked back at Susanna, and the expression on her face said it all. The sweet demeanor she had used on the Widow Johnson had faded and was replaced with a look that would stampede a herd of buffalo.
“Uh oh,” whispered the Kid. “I never seen her like this.”
Stepping off the porch and into the yard, she called for her misbehaving brood with a tone to her voice that would’ve made the entire Devil‘s Hole Gang shake in their boots. “Harry, Hadley, Hotchkiss, Hank, and Hale, get out here this instant!”
The eerie sound of silence echoed around the barnyard. She caught the eye of her husband, who clearly nodded in the direction of the shed. Hiking up her skirts, she glided over to the small building. She could see little eyes peering out between the slats as she approached. Yanking the door open, she grabbed the closest two boys and escorted them into the yard. The other three hesitantly peeked out, as they tried to decide what to do.
“She’s got two of ‘em by the ears, Heyes, but she’s out numbered. Looks like the other three are gonna bolt.” It did indeed look like the rest of the young gang was getting ready to make a run for it.
Heyes finally stood. “This is where I come in, Kid. I’ve got her back.”
Heyes took a step towards the edge of the bunkhouse porch and adopted the kind of intimidating stance that only an ex-outlaw leader could. Catching the attention of the boys, he sternly shook his head from side to side and bit his cigar, making no attempt to hide his displeasure.
The Kid stepped up beside him, hands on his hips, ready to pull off his belt at a moments notice. “Say the word, Heyes, and I’ll tan their hides so quick they won’t even think of thievin’ again.” The young boys faces turned to ash and all thoughts of escape quickly evaporated.
Susanna efficiently lined up her offspring. Each of the brown haired boys had the remains of pie all over their dimpled faces and clothing. There would be no denying their guilt with such incriminating evidence at hand.
“So, it’s true,” said Susanna softly, disappointment written across her face. Five sets of big brown eyes blinked back tears at the thought of hurting their beloved Mama.
“Hand them over,” she directed. The tallest of the boys, the one with two dimples, reluctantly reached into his overalls and slowly pulled out his father’s lock picks. Susanna dropped them deep into her big apron pocket.
Restrained fury returned to her face, and they all saw it roll in like thunder. “This will not stand, and you will not soon forget it. You will not attend the Fourth of July celebration tomorrow and neither will I, because I will be right here keeping watch as you work. Right now you will get the washboard, scrub your dirty clothes, clean up and go to bed early without supper. And that‘s just the beginning. When you’re ready for bed, you’ll face your father.”
They all glanced at their father who was still glaring at them in full outlaw stance. Their obviously displeased gun slinging uncle was still at his side. All five boys gulped in unison and turned nervously back to their Mama.
“Now, move!” She stamped her foot, and they all ran for the house at fast as their bare feet could carry them. After sharing a determined look with her husband, the indomitable Susanna Heyes followed them into the house.
As they sat back down, the Kid was deep in thought. “You’ve got yourself a fine wife there, partner. I’ve always loved and admired Susanna.”
Raising a brow, Heyes lowered his cigar, and looked questioningly at his cousin.
“In a sisterly sort a way, of course,“ the Kid reassured him. Heyes relaxed and his puffing recommenced.
“Sure wish she’d been around when we were in charge of the gang, Heyes. If we’d had wives like her, maybe things would'a gone a lot smoother.”
Heyes pondered that for a moment and finally concluded, “Nah, no women allowed, remember?”
They comfortably settled in, stretching out their legs across the porch rail once more. Slowly but surely, their eyes closed and they began to doze. A fly buzzed over their heads and the leaves rustled in a nearby tree. A dog barked in the distance. Hannibal Heyes thought he was finally going to get his long awaited afternoon nap, but it was not to be. His cousin still had something on his mind.
“Could you talk to Susanna and have her get me in on that pie tastin‘ job, too?”
Heyes sighed with annoyance. “Nope. When are you gonna stop yappin’ and go find your own wife, Kid?”
“After today?” The Kid opened one blue eye, and gazed in the direction the lovely Susanna had disappeared. “Soon, Heyes. Real soon.”
"If I asked for a cup of coffee, someone would search for the double meaning." Mae West