Posts : 244
Join date : 2015-11-29
Age : 60
Location : Norfolk, England
|Subject: Settling Wheat – Part Sixteen (Preparations) Wed Jan 31, 2018 7:29 am|| |
Settling Wheat – Part Sixteen (Preparations)The sound of gunfire woke Heyes from his snooze. His head jerked up and he rubbed his eyes as he slowly became fully awake. He frowned. Gunfire? Still half asleep, he listened. It was some distance away and … there was a pattern. Heyes grinned. Six shots close together, then a few seconds pause, then another six shots. Kid Curry was practising. That was a sound he hadn’t heard for a long while and he smiled at the memories it brought back. The Kid had told him he had been out practising but this was the first time Heyes had heard him.
As he listened, he thought two things.
Firstly, where were the children? Were they getting in the way? Was the Kid so long out of practise that he might accidently shoot one of them? Probably Harry. Heyes shook his head, dismissing that as foolish. He was just being the over protective parent. Of course the Kid, long out of practise or not, wouldn’t shoot an innocent child, no matter how impetuous that child was.
Secondly, just how well he could distinguish the six shots. Of course, the Kid wasn’t as fast as he had been. It wasn’t reasonable to suppose he would be. The natural aging process would have slowed him even if he still lived in the West and practised every day as he used to. Six clear shots. Heyes pursed his lips. They used to run together almost as one long sound. He could imagine how frustrated the Kid would be feeling, how slow he must think he was these days. Heyes listened to another sequence of six shots and then another. Hmm, he mused, I think he’s getting faster. Slowly.
He moved in his chair, trying to make himself more comfortable. He glanced at the plaster cast on his arm, sighed and rolled his eyes with a shaking head. How much longer? The cast on his foot, propped up on a stool, seemed to be silently urging him to be patient. He puffed. Tomorrow when Mary was out he was getting dressed properly and going downstairs. That’ll teach her to abandon him for hats. Then he winced. Awh, he’ll probably need to enlist some help and he wasn’t sure who would be around. The Pine Lake Affair, as he’d dubbed it, was taking all the Kid’s time, Wheat had gone to help and now even Cowdry had a starring role.
Heyes yawned and stretched. All this lazing around was tiring work. He glanced at the clock on the nightstand. Perhaps another half an hour. He settled his head back and closed his eyes. He could still hear the gunfire outside. The sounds had coalesced into a rhythm that soon lulled him to sleep again.&&&&&&&&&&Outside, the Kid loaded his gun with a worried frown. He shook his head in despair. He was so slow. Painfully slow. Who knew what would happen tomorrow when things came to a head. One thing was for sure. He would need his wits about him and he needed to be fast. He only hoped that he was still fast enough.
Snapping the chamber shut, he twirled the gun back into his holster. That still worked, he though ruefully. He dropped his arms by his side and loosened his shoulders. Then he stilled his breathing and concentrated.
Behind him, he heard a noise and the gun jumped into his hand. He spun round to see Cowdry stepping into the clearing. Cowdry started and raised his hands.
“Don’t shoot sir! It’s just me,” he said, a slight panic in his voice. This was the first time he had witnessed his employer’s skill with a handgun and here he was on the wrong end of it.
“Cowdry!” the Kid growled and quickly holstered his gun. “Never sneak up on me when I’m practisin’ y’hear?”
“Yes sir. Only I wasn’t sneaking sir. I was trying to be quiet so I didn’t disturb you sir.” In usual circumstances that might have been a perfectly reasonable thing to say. Not this time, judging by the look the Kid gave him.
“What d’ya want, Paul?” the Kid asked, quietly, turning away and checking the chambers of the gun he had loaded minutes before.
“Well sir,” Cowdry began, starting to step closer, then thought better of it and stopped. “I’ve been thinking about tomorrow sir.” He hesitated, making the Kid look round and frown at him. “What do you think will happen sir?” he finished all in a rush.
“To be honest I don’t know.”
“Will there be … gunplay sir? You must think so as you’re practising.” Cowdry waved a hand at the gun in the Kid’s hand.
The Kid turned away and stared off into the distance. “I don’t know, Paul,” he said, quietly.“But I do know it never hurts to be prepared,” he added, trying to lighten what had become a tense meeting.
“Yes sir, that’s what I thought,” Cowdry said, with a nod. He licked his lips nervously. “Sir … do you think? I mean should I? Would it be … appropriate sir …?”
“Cowdry! What are ya trying to ask me?” the Kid spun round, looking irritated, gun still in hand.
Cowdry swallowed hard and eyed the gun nervously. “Would you show me how to use one of those?” he sighed.
The Kid looked at the gun in his hand as if it had appeared there by magic. As it usually did, crossed his mind, bringing a faint smile to his lips. He looked back at Cowdry.
“You want to learn how to shoot one of these?” he asked, incredulously.
“Yes sir. I think I ought to know sir. Y’know … just in case.” Cowdry chewed his bottom lip.
“Just in case of what?”
Cowdry looked fazed by the question. “In case I need to … use one … perhaps … sir,” he forced out. “I have … sir.” With a finger comb of his hair, remarkably like a Heyes mannerism, he strode to a fallen log and sat down. “Some … experience with guns sir.” He nodded and paused. “’Course they’re generally a lot longer and … it’s not me who is usually using them … but even so I … .”
“Cowdry, what the devil are ya talkin’ about?” the Kid said, holstering his gun and walking over.
“Well sir you know I can load guns for shooting. My previous employer, the Earl of Stafford, he used to take me, every year on the Glorious 12th, up to his estate in Scotland. He’d shoot for hours sir and I had to keep up with him. It was no mean feat ….”
“Cowdry,” the Kid interrupted what was starting to be a dialogue of Heyesian proportions.“Take a deep breath, speak slower and tell me what’s on ya mind.” The Kid sat down on the log and waited for Cowdry to collect himself.
“I’m not afraid of using a gun sir,” Cowdry burst out and then stopped. He wasn’t making himself understood properly and he needed to. He took a deep breath, as the Kid had suggested. “I want to know how a handgun works sir. I’m not planning to go … at home we’d say tooled up but I expect you have a different expression here … but just in case a gun should come my way and I need to use it. I don’t want it to … look like I’ve not used one before because that could be dangerous sir. For me and … the parties on my side.” He swallowed hard and willed the Kid to understand.
The Kid looked at him hard and slowly he smiled. He shook Cowdry by the shoulder.
“Paul you’re a good man. And I’m real glad I’m one of the parties on your side.” He sighed thoughtfully.
Cowdry looked embarrassed at the complement. “Thank you sir.”
“But you’re wrong ‘bout not being afraid to use a gun. I’m afraid every time I have to use one,” the Kid said, sadly.
“You sir?” Cowdry was surprised.
“Yeah.” He hesitated and stared off into the distance. “I’m afraid I will have no alternative but to shoot to kill.” He paused. “Not a lot of folks know this but I have … killed. Never intentionally, Paul. I want you to be clear on that. Jus’ happened in self-defence, when I had no choice. Him or me.” He sighed. “Still ain’t easy to live with though Paul. I would hate to think that you … but you’re right. For your own protection and for the benefit of the parties on your side, I’ll be honoured to show you how to use one of these. C’mon.”&&&&&&&&&&The nest morning, Heyes lay in bed; hand over his head, listening to sounds outside. He heard the buggy draw up at the front of the house, Susan calling goodbye. Then the buggy drew away and disappeared up the drive. Mary was gone, taking Susan to school.
Heyes threw back the bedcovers. Operation Get-Dressed was a go.
He already had his clothes stashed so it was a simple matter to find them. Although the right leg of his long johns bunched up round his knee, they were stretchy and hadn’t been too much of a struggle to get on. The same applied to his Henley getting over the cast on his arm. Buttoning his shirt was the thing that proved the most difficult, however. It took him several long minutes to get the shirt buttoned up, only to realise that he’d misaligned buttons and holes and so had to undo. Growling in frustration, he started over.
He had secretly prepared his pants beforehand. Knowing he wouldn’t be able to get them on over his cast, he had set about unpicking the inside seam of the right leg up to the knee. All those years of sleight of hand, and time spent perfecting the art of pickpocketing, hadn’t gone to waste. More or less ambidextrous, apart from writing, wielding the scissors left-handedly hadn’t proved too difficult.
He pulled his pants on and stood awkwardly to button them up. It was only then that he realised he’d lost so much weight they were in danger of falling down unless he had a belt of some sort. His regular one had gone missing. The tie of his robe was the answer but threading it through the belt loops in situ was too difficult. He had to sit with his pants round his ankles to thread the tie through, glancing nervously at the door as he did so. If someone walked in now … . He’d never hear the last of it!
Having dispensed with socks, he was finally clothed. Reaching for the crutch, he was off.Cautiously he poked his head out of the bedroom door. Skulking had never seemed so important. No one around. Good, he thought as he made his way down the landing to the top of the stairs. He paused and looked down. The floor of the hall seemed an awfully long way down and he swallowed hard. Only briefly did he consider turning back.
“Nope, you’re here now, Heyes. Don’t be a yellow-belly!” he muttered to himself.
Heyes positioned his right armpit over the handrail, his crutch under the other and gripped it tightly with his hand. Taking a deep breath, he lowered the crutch to the next stair. With another deep breath, he took his weight on the crutch and with an awkward hopping and sliding action advanced to the next stair down. He winced and let out a grunt as the jolting jarred his injured ribs. Tongue rooted to the corner of his mouth and a look of intense concentration on his face he slowly managed to start making his way down stairs.
“JUST WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING?”
Heyes winced. Damm. Caught.
He licked his lips and smiled pleasantly at Mary, who was standing at the bottom of the stairs, arms akimbo and looking daggers up at him.
“Um for a walk,” he said, cheerfully.
“Back to bed.”
Mary was firm.
“Nope,” Heyes said, simply and shook his head.
“Josh-u-a,” Mary said, warningly.
“No Mary. I’m halfway now.” He nodded. “It’ll be more dangerous to try and turn around than to … carry on down.”
He wasn’t moving.
Mary sighed and conceded he might have a point. She pursed her lips with annoyance, then sighed again and started up to join him on the halfway stair. He watched her come with an innocent look.
“Can I help then? As you’re the world’s worst patient.”
“Nope. I got this.”
She stayed by his side as he made his slow and awkward way down. They were both relieved when he reached the bottom safely.
“Now what were you planning to do?” she asked.
A reasonable enough question but one he wished she hadn’t asked. If Heyes was honest, he didn’t know. So consumed by getting dressed and negotiating the stairs, the little matter of WHY he was coming downstairs hadn’t featured.
“Um …,” he started, clinging to the volute end of the handrail.
Mary’s hands were back on her hips as she looked knowingly at him.
“Don’t give me that look,” he said, testily, unable to meet her eyes.
“I don’t think you meant to stand here all day. Study or drawing room?”
Heyes considered. In either place, he could put his foot up. The drawing room was nearer but the study meant books.
“Study,” he forced out, smacking his lips.
Mary smiled ruefully. She didn’t know why she had bothered giving him a choice.
Some minutes later, he was ensconced on the chaise lounge.
“I thought you’d taken Susan to school?” he queried as Mary draped a blanket over his legs.
“I was about to but Jed said he was going into town and he’d take her.”
Heyes winced at the change of plan and Mary smiled knowingly. “You didn’t expect me to catch you did you?” He thrust his chin out, embarrassed. “You thought I’d come home and find you here and marvel at how you got downstairs ALL on your own. Didn’t you?”
Heyes looked away, nose in the air. “Yes,” he admitted in a small voice.
“And if I had come home and found you in a heap at the bottom of the stairs? How do you think I’D feel then?”
“Mary, if you keep making excellent points, I shall stop talking to you,” he said, sulkily. “I’m here and I’m fine. Now stop going on.” Heyes was firm.
Mary sighed. “I suppose we’ll have to worry about how we get you BACK upstairs later,” she said, under her breath. “Well now you’re here I suppose it would be cruel of me to leave you surrounded by books and not give you some to look at,” she muttered, with fake crossness.“Which ones to you want?” She looked around at the piles of books everywhere. She called it clutter. He called it strategically placed.
Heyes grinned. “I have a list,” he said, and with a flourish pulled a piece of paper from the top pocket of his shirt. He held it out.
She sat down on the pouffe by the side of the chaise lounge and unfolded the list slowly. She read with a frown.
“What are you researching?”
“Ways to commit murder,” he told her with aplomb.
She shuddered. If anyone else had said that, she would be worried but she knew her husband was writing a novel. Yet the subjects of the books on the list were wide ranging and unrelated as far as she could see.
“Do you know where any of these books are?”
“Yep. Providing no one’s been in here TIDYING!” Then seeing that perhaps he was losingMary’s goodwill added quickly. “I’ll direct you. Won’t take long.” He smiled his best smile.
The corner of Mary’s mouth twitched into a smile. She touched his cheek fondly.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
“Yeah me too,” he said, taking her hand and pressing a kiss on her palm. They looked at each other.
There might have been a further tender moment, had footsteps at the door not interrupted them.
“Sorry to disturb,” said Cowdry, turning away.
“No Paul don’t worry.” Mary got up. “You’ll be better helping Joshua. Here.” She held out the list. “He wants these books found.”
Cowdry took the list and glanced at Heyes, unsure. Heyes nodded.
“I’ll bring some coffee in a while. Have fun plotting your murder.” Mary smiled and shut the door.
Cowdry looked horrified and Heyes laughed. “I’m writing a novel, Paul.”
“Ah!” Cowdry smiled faintly. “Yes, of course sir.” He still looked a little unsure and there was an awkward moment before either of them said anything.
“Not that I mind, Paul, but why were you coming in here?” Heyes asked, slowly.
Cowdry looked embarrassed. “I … like to read, sir.” Heyes nodded. “And you have a lot of interesting books.” He tried a faint smile.
Heyes returned the smile but he wasn’t fooled. There was something more.
“Something on your mind?”
Cowdry swallowed hard.
“Sit down.” Heyes indicated the pouffe with his eyes. Cowdry hesitated before sitting down with a plop. “What’s on your mind?”
“I’m worried about this evening sir. Yesterday Mr Curry was practising sir. With his gun.”
“Yes I heard.”
“He showed me how to use it. Shooting at lumps of wood is hardly realistic. I … I’m not sure I will be able to … fire … should I need to.”
Heyes nodded. “That’s understandable, Paul.”
“I’m responsible for Mr Curry, sir!” Cowdry burst out then bit his lip.
Heyes looked at him. “Paul, Mr Curry is his own man. He can look after himself.”
Cowdry frowned and swallowed. “It’s my job sir. I should be looking after him but I’m not sure I can. In this situation.” He dropped his head.
Heyes smiled. “Paul, nobody expects you to.” Then saw he needed to say more. “Paul, when Mr Curry chose to go and live thousands of miles away, it was hard for me. He and I had looked out for each other for a lot of years. Then suddenly he wasn’t there for me and I wasn’t there for him. I worried ‘cos Jed needs someone to look out for him. He can be an impetuous and stubborn man at times.” He paused. “But I needn’ta worried. There is no one I trust more to look after him than you.” Cowdry looked up. “I know you will always do your best. And that’s all anyone can ever ask. If it wasn’t for you, Paul, Mr Curry wouldn’t have a chance of getting Pine Lake and I know he really wants that piece of land. So you’re helping him fulfil a dream. I can’t pretend that tonight will be easy. For any of you. Or that it will go as planned. These things rarely do. But I do know that you will do everything that is asked of you. And probably more, if your performance to date is anything to go by.”
Heyes smiled. “Don’t beat yourself up worrying about this Paul. What will be, will be.”
Cowdry took a deep breath and nodded. “Thank you sir,” he said, quietly. “I have to be you again. How should I play it?”
Heyes rested his head back and frowned in thought. “Well I’m afraid to say it but we’ve gotta make Jeremiah compromise himself. Gruber and Mr Curry will be listening. They’re witnesses.” He sighed. “You’re gonna have to put the pressure on, Paul.”
Cowdry looked doubtful. “How do I do that sir?”
Heyes grinned. “You’re gonna have to put the price up!”
“But we had a deal!”
“I know. Paul, but remember you’re playing a crook and one with a considerable reputation,”Heyes said, ruefully. Cowdry shifted uncomfortably, as if he had suddenly remembered just who he was talking with. Heyes saw his apprehension and sought to alleviate it a little.“’Course that was a long time ago now and I don’t do that sorta thing anymore.” Cowdry looked brighter. “But I still remember HOW to do it so I’ll give you some pointers,” he finished smugly.
Cowdry smiled. “Yes sir.”
Kid Curry and that other fella; Hannibal Heyes and whatsname