“There! I am done!” I declared as I watch the last of the pages of Another Time roll out of the printer. “I am never writing another story.”
“What do you mean you are never writing another story? Of course, you are going to write more stories!” Heyes’s eyes flashed as his arms waved madly in the air.
“I can’t, Heyes. It’s just too difficult,” I removed my glasses and put my head in my hands pushing the palms hard against my eyes.
“It can’t be that hard, Miss Susan, Drena writes 2 or 3 stories a day,” Kid supplied offhandedly.
“Yeah, but Drena just writes down what happens to her and there’s a story. Nothing ever happens to me, not that I’m complaining, mind you, because I can live without avalanches, tornadoes, Big Foot, …”
“But Susan, I like your stories, I never get shot or thrown off a cliff and I always have a girl.” Heyes smiled coyly.
“And I would like more women, Miss Susan. I feel slighted.” Kid gave her a sad puppy dog look.
“Well, Kid, I have a lot harder time getting into your head and personality. I just haven’t studied you as much. I’ll try to remedy that.” I put my glasses back on and look up at Kid.
Kid smiled a big winning grin.
“What am I saying! No! No! Ask Sandra, Kid. She has a wonderful wit and can write for you real well. Or maybe SandyD. She did a good job on her first story.” I moved away from the computer. “And Terri, …”
“No, not Terri!” Heyes interrupted.
“Why not Terri?” I asked puzzled.
“Don’t want to end up in a tub full of hot water with a goat,” Kid added plaintively.
“She wouldn’t put you in a hot tub with a goat, Kid,” I looked at him with just the slightest doubt. “She was just trying to get back at Drena.”
“You never know with Terri and Drena where you will end up. But you,” Heyes gave me that infamous smile, the one that melts hearts and burns an aching desire deep down within a woman, “but you, we can trust. We stay in the West where we are familiar with things.”
“But Heyes, I dropped a train engine out of the sky into Devil’s Hole!”
“But it was filled with women!” Kid glowed.
I flopped down on the computer chair and stared blankly at Kid, then at Heyes. “There are so many good writers on the list…”
“And you are one of them.” Heyes stared hard at me like he did that bull in Mexico.
“I don’t have any story ideas.”
“Sure you do, you just haven’t thought them out yet,” Kid rubbed his hands together in anticipation of better character development.
“You mean with all of the seriously deep meaningful conversations you have on the list that you don’t have any ideas for a story? I don’t believe you,” Heyes was staring at me again and keeping a very straight face. Man, playing poker with this man must be something!
“Do you have to stare at me like that?” I pleaded for mercy.
“I won’t stare while you are writing.”
A few moments passed that seemed like really long minutes.
“Okay,” I whispered.
“What did you say?” Kid leaned closer.
“I have a few small ideas…” I muttered.
“Great!” Heyes stood up and affectionately patted me on the back. “We’ll be going so you can get started.”
“Hey, wait, no don’t go! You always help Drena with her stories! You have to stay here and help!” I couldn’t believe what I was saying. Did I really admit that I had story ideas?
“Yeah, we help Drena cause we want have some sort of control,” Kid patted me as well. And they were out the door.
I turned toward the computer and watched the screen saver twist and turn multicolored patterns across the screen. I hit the space bar button and the geometrical shape dissipated. There on the screen appeared two handsome men, dressed in their best fancy duds, Curry standing with hat in hand and Heyes sitting in front of him gripping his own hat in long slender fingers.
“You two could talk me into just about anything,” I spoke to the screen. “Here goes…”
The Better Side of the Coin
by Susan Moore
“Heyes, what are we goin’ do now?” Kid asked his partner without looking in his direction.
“I don’t know, Kid,” Heyes stared at the problem at hand.
Turning to Heyes, Kid grumbled, “Now those aren’t the words I wanted to hear, Heyes. I was expecting something like, ‘Don’t worry, Kid, this is only a slight problem and I have a great plan.’ Those words would have been much more comforting to me.” Kid’s blue eyes twinkled despite their problem.
Heyes fingered the broken spoke and the cracked rim. “You sure there isn’t a spare or any spokes?”
“Heyes, I’ve looked. And spokes wouldn’t help much with that cracked rim.”
Heyes stood up and straightened his shoulders, working the kinks out of his back. “Why is it, Kid, every time we get a wagon to deliver somewhere within a certain time period, the wheel breaks?”
“Well, seems like we’d learn to check the wheels from now on before we leave town. And make sure we have a few spares to boot. Then maybe if we didn’t drive them like a bat out of hell…” Kid walked around to the team of horses and began unfastening their harnesses. “How far you think it is to a town? Thirty? Forty miles? How long do you figger I’ll be gone?”
“You!? Kid, you need to stay here and guard the wagon!” Heyes quickly stepped to Kid’s side.
“Why me, Heyes? Why can’t you stay with the wagon this time? And no, I don’t want to flip a coin; it’s my turn to ride to town.” Kid’s cool blue eyes steadily stared down the heated chocolate brown eyes of his cousin.
Heyes broke first and smiled, “Okay, Kid. You don’t have to get riled over it.” Heyes moved to help Kid unhitch the team. Looking around at the desolate country they were stranded in; he tried to formulate a plan. Why did these jobs always have a time schedule that was nearly impossible to meet? “You think Lom has it in for us, Kid?”
“What do you mean, Heyes? Lom’s our friend, he always comes up with jobs for us just when it seems like we are about to starve to death.” Kid began going through supplies picking out things to take with him.
“Well, seems like these jobs are always nearly impossible to do in the time given us and with the equipment supplied. Sometimes I feel like he is setting us up in situations that test our convictions to going straight. Like he’s testing us, Kid.” Heyes squinted his eyes against the sun that would soon be straight overhead.
“He wouldn’t do that, Heyes. Lom’s our friend,” Kid repeated as he stuffed the supplies into his saddlebag.
“Which way you goin’, Kid?”
Kid stopped stuffing the bag for a minute to glance around at his surroundings. “Well, we know that it’s a good day and a half days ride back the way we come. So I figure I’ll head on west. Shouldn’t be as far to a town that way.”
“Could be farther, Kid.” Heyes had finished putting Kid’s saddle on the horse and handed the reins over to him. With resignation, Heyes watched as Kid mounted. “Are you sure you want to go, Kid?” he tried once more.
“Heyes, I’ll make the sacrifice this time and make the long ride to town. I’ll have a drink for you and an extra helping of potatoes, too. Hopefully, I won’t have to stay in a hotel but if I do, I’ll make the best of it, as I know you would.” Kid reined the horse away, “See you in a couple of days, Heyes!”
Heyes leaned against the buckboard as his cousin rode off across the stark landscape. He watched until heat waves magically made Kid disappear on the horizon.
“I’m stuck,” I lamely admitted after being away from the story for many months. “I thought I knew where this was going to take me but, just like those two outlaws, all my ideas got up and walked out.” I stared at the black type on the computer screen. Nothing. No fresh ideas, no sudden revelations. No story plot.
“We didn’t leave you,” Kid’s voice startled me.
“Yes, you did!” I retorted to the outlaw perched on my arm of my couch.
“No, Susan, we’ve been right here. You just haven’t been listening to us.” Heyes chimed in from the other couch.
“You haven’t been talking to me. I thought you were mad at me and had left.” I suddenly felt remorse at all of the lost time.
“You’ve just been busy with your family, you know, Jeremy, the puppy, Christmas. We decided not to yell at you while you were dealing with ‘Life’,” Heyes smiled as he walked towards me, its effect was not lost on me. It hit me full force. “But, now… Well, now, Honey, it’s time to get back to that story. Or any of the other stories you have started.”
“Yeah, I’d kind of like to see you finish that one about the saloon girl who has a thing for me,” Kid’s blue eyes danced.
“Kid, all the saloon girls have a thing for you,” Heyes informed him.
“It’s just so hard… You tax my brain.” Okay, I feigned distress just a little. I needed help in a big way. “I need inspiration, motivation!” I fixed my eyes on Heyes; now there is inspiration! Then I glanced towards Kid who had his arms crossed and a less than sympathetic look on his face. Okay, he might be able to motivate me, just a little. I smiled weakly at them.
“No more excuses, huh?” I timidly asked, fumbling with a pencil in my hand.
“None.” Heyes answered decisively. “You are going to have to start listening to us again and you better take some good notes! I’m going to be in your ear night and day until you finish something.” Heyes leaned close in and lowered his voice to make his point. I was listening! And drinking in the smell of leather and whiskey from his closeness, his baritone putting my senses on alert and his breath on my cheek made me catch my own breath.
“I…,” I was speechless as I stared into the deep, mesmerizing brown eyes.
“I believe you’ve left me in the desert, while Kid is riding off into the sunset,” Heyes prompted softly whispering in my ear.
“Uh, no. The sun isn’t setting yet,” I whispered back…
Her body melded with his as he rolled her onto her back, her loose hair tangling in his fingers as he pulled her to his lips. He was urged on by her low moan of ecstasy.
“Oh, Hannibal,” she murmured, the sound tickling against his cheek as her hands created the same sort of sensation on his skin of his bare chest. She arched her neck as his kisses slipped away from her mouth and followed the angle of her jaw, down…
“HEY!” Kid suddenly stood up behind me. “What’s this got to do with the story?! You left Heyes in the middle of the desert, stranded, alone, baby-sitting a loaded broken wagon! How’d he suddenly get a girl?” Kid’s voice filled with indignation.
“Sorry, I… I was just writing what Heyes was whispering in my ear…,” I blushed as I glanced up at the passage.
Then we both looked at Heyes who was smiling a slightly wicked smile. He shrugged his shoulders, “I was just seeing if she was listening.”
“She’s listening, Heyes! Maybe I should take over for a while so we can get back to the real story,” Kid shoved Heyes out of the way.
“I think I’ve got an idea…,” I pursed my lips and hit the keyboard.
“I love you, Hannibal,” the woman breathed heavily into the Hannibal’s ear, her lips softly caressing his earlobe. “I’m so glad we got married…”
Heyes bolted upright knocking something away from his face, his eyes blinking wide trying to adjust to the sudden light. Sweat trickled down the side of his face, the mahogany hair on his brow damp with perspiration. After a few tense moments his surroundings finally registered in his brain and his body relaxed. His hand instinctively searched for and found the hat that he had knocked off and after dislodging a few dust particles from it, he pushed his hair back with long fingers before he plopped the battered hat back on his head. Funny, but his reaction to dreams where he is being chased by a posse was the same.
No longer comfortable napping on top of the cargo in the back of the wagon, Heyes, still blinking away the bad dream, jumped to the sandy, ground below. He needed to move around, do something to occupy his time. The horse had eaten everything edible within its reach. He should find it something more substantial, if possible. He eyed the mesa that had shadowed the wagon for a short time. It would afford a grand view and perhaps, if he could find an easy way to the top, grazing for the horse. Or there was the ridge of low mountains to the north. Heyes took a few steps off of the roadway to take care of some personal business before scouting for a new place to tether the horse.
“Hold it right there, Mister!” The request was followed by a distinct click.
Heyes froze with his hands still on the buttons of his trousers. Was he dreaming again? No, he was certain he was awake this time. But there was something peculiar about the request.
“Ah, don’t be foolin’ with him, Jesse!” another smaller voice added.
Heyes peeked back over his shoulder just in time to see a half pint figure punch a slightly taller person in the side.
“OW! Carrie? Why’d you go an’ punch me for? I was goin’ hold the man up!”
“Won’t do us no good to hold ‘im up. He’s done lost a horse ta someone else! Anything good he got surely gone already. ‘Sides you don’t even have a real gun.”
Heyes finished with the last button then dutifully held his hands up as he turned to face his two captors who were standing shoulder to shoulder behind the wagon. The smallest one was engulfed in a pair of tan overalls that drug in the dirt around simple moccasins and was topped off with a large toffee colored hat that drooped well over its occupant’s eyes. Wispy dishwater blonde hair struggled to escape from under the hat. A red handkerchief swathed the owner’s neck from chin to bellybutton nearly hiding the yellow calico shirt beneath the bib of the overalls. The taller, gun wielding individual’s pants struck him well above the ankle but still managed to cover the tops of the well-worn boots, his dark blue chambray shirt strained at the cuffs on sleeves about three inches too short. However, the dirty gray hat fit almost perfectly as did the blue bandanna that covered the lower half of the person’s face. In his hand hung a large realistic looking replica of a gun. A similar one dangled from a leather strap at the side of the smaller intruder. Heyes fought the urge to smile at the odd pair.
“You kin put your hands down, Mister,” the little voice informed. “We ain’t gonna shoot ya.” A small hand adjusted the large floppy hat enough that one brown eye peered out.
“Whatcha doin’ out here without a horse an’ a wheel? Someone already rob you?” the older boy asked in a pre-adolescent voice. His small companion reached up to yank the bandanna away from his face and the hand was promptly slapped for its efforts.
Heyes couldn’t hold back a smile any longer as the sight of the two children brought back special memories of his own. “No I wasn’t robbed. And I don’t intend to be!” he added with mock determination. “My partner and I were delivering these supplies to a friend of friend for a friend when we busted a wheel. My partner took the horse to get the wheel fixed.”
“We didn’t see no one totin’ a wheel on the road to town. You sure he’s gone to get it fixed?” the mouth moved above the red handkerchief as the eye stared at Heyes from under the brim of the big brown hat.
Now Heyes allowed himself to frown as he absorbed the information from his diminutive would-be robbers. “Which way is it to ‘town’?” he asked with genuine interest as he walked back to the remaining horse and looked around for the youngsters’ mounts.
“Why town would be that a way,” the boy pointed north to the rise of hills. “Don’tcha know where you are, Mister?”
“My name is Joshua Smith,” Heyes offered with a smile, “and what town would be over there? And how far?”
“He don’t know where he is, Jesse,” little Carrie said with obvious disgust and disbelief.
“Casper is about 6 miles that a way,” Jesse answered.
“Six miles? Just over there?” Heyes pointed to the hills.
“Yes, sir,” Jesse acknowledged.
Heyes frowned again as he glanced to the west and the direction Kid had gone. “How far to a town if you go that way?” Heyes pointed towards the western horizon.
“That way?” Carrie looked in the direction the adult pointed. “There ain’t nothin’ that a way.”
“Well, there is, but it’s about 60 miles to a town,” Jesse puffed up with this knowledge. “I ain’t never been there but once. Is that the way yer friend went?”
Heyes just continued looking at the horizon.
“Why’d he go that way? Why didn’t he go to Casper? Don’t you have no map?” Carrie’s simple questions brought Heyes back to his spot on earth.
“Well, yes we have a map and I thought there should be a closer town…” Heyes looked like a school boy himself.
“But the sign’s gone,” Jesse observed. “Look, Carrie, there ain’t nothing telling you that Casper is that away.”
Heyes sighed and slapped his gloves against his thigh before slipping them on. “Is there someone in Casper that could fix me up with a wagon wheel?” he asked his two new companions.
“Sure, there is, Mister!” Carrie eagerly answered. “My Pa can fix anything! You want to come home with us? You can sleep in my bed.”
Heyes chuckled at the small girl’s notion. Oh, to be less than 10 again!
“Ma ain’t gonna let ‘em stay in yer room, Carrie,” Jesse hissed at his little sister. “He ain’t like some stray dog.”
“All I need is a new wagon wheel,” Heyes reminded them. “But I can’t leave the wagon. If I give you everything you need can you bring one back to me?”
“Sure, we can!” Carrie repositioned her hat so that the second eye joined the first in staring at Heyes. “Some pretty important stuff in that wagon, huh?” her gaze stayed steady on the outlaw for a second more. “I’ll go get the ponies, Jess!” she announced suddenly and took off running.
“Want me ta stay with the wagon whilst you go with Carrie to get that there wheel fixed?” Jesse offered.
“No, I was hired to stay with this wagon so that’s what I’d better do,” Heyes stated matter-of -factly to the youngster.
“What’s in it?” Jesse queried as he peered over the sideboard.
Heyes pushed his hat back on his forehead and gazed curiously at the crates in the wagon bed.
The sun was dipping below the western horizon when Kid finally rode into town. It wasn’t much of a town but it looked mighty inviting compared to the lonesome landscape Kid had just crossed. He passed the saloon although that was where he wanted to stop first and headed straight to the livery to care for his exhausted mount and to go about having the wheel fixed or replaced. Once the necessities were taken care of Kid turned his attentions to his own essentials. He smiled as he signed the hotel register and thought of Heyes spending the night on the desert. Kid was going to enjoy his night in a real bed after he had filled his belly with steak and potatoes. It was about time Kid got the better side of the coin.
“I’d like a bath brought up right away,” Kid requested as finished signing the book.
“Sorry, Mr….ah, Jones, we can’t do that,” the desk clerk apologized.
Kid turned a hot, tired face towards him, “You can’t do that?” he asked incredulously. “Why not?” he demanded.
“Well, see, we, ah…, we had a bit of a problem in here late last night and ah, well,” the mousy clerk was sweating under Kid’s steely stare. “Well, it seems as though a patron filled our tubs full of bullet holes. And we ain’t got them fixed, just yet.”
“Bullet holes? Someone shot your tubs?” Kid mused.
“Well, ah, someone was shooting at the occupants. Thank goodness, they were too drunk to shoot straight and the only causalities were the tubs,” the clerk had relaxed ever so slightly during his explanation.
Kid smiled understandingly and thanked the clerk as he took the key. Okay, no bath but he still had supper and a good night’s sleep to look forward to.
“We got your wheel, Mr. Smith!” Carrie rode her pony right up to the back of the wagon where Heyes had been reading a book and watching for the children to return. “Pa came with us!” she slid out off of her pony in one quick easy motion, her landing creating a small dust cloud.
“Pa had just the wheel you needed, Mr. Smith,” Jesse reined his mount to a quick stop just avoiding bumping into Carrie’s pony. “He’s a comin’ with it,” Jesse pointed to a lone figure driving a wagon towards them. “He couldn’t race us since he had the wagon,” the boy felt compelled to explain. “He didn’t know if you would need any tools so he brought a bunch of things.”
Heyes smiled at the pair and stood up to greet their father.
“Hallo there, Mr. Smith!” the children’s father extended his hand to the stranded stranger. “The kids said you were in a bit of a fix. Short a wheel and a horse and stuck to wait for friend to return out here. They thought you needed help right away.”
Heyes chuckled as he shook the man’s hand. “I’ve been in worse fixes but can’t say that I’ve had much better help.”
“Mom says you can stay with us tonight!” Carrie beamed. “We’re having roast and potatoes!”
“We gotta get the wheel fixed first, Carrie,” Jesse reminded her. “And we need ta do it quick so we can get home and do our chores ‘fore dark.”
“Well, we best get busy if we’ve got chores to do!” Heyes helped unload the awaiting wagon wheel.
Kid slid into a chair at a small table in the little restaurant. He flicked a piece of leftover potato into a nearby corner and swiped a chunk of beef under the table. He sighed as he looked around the less than clean atmosphere. It wasn’t exactly a packed establishment either but, it was the place the hotel clerk had recommended. Kid couldn’t help wandering what the other restaurant was like.
“What can I get you, Mister?” the waitress wiped a hair back from her face then shooed a fly with little enthusiasm.
“Uh, steak and potatoes, please,” Kid’s blue eyes hinted at a smile but his mouth was hesitant to follow.
“Ain’t got no steak,” the woman wearily shook her head.
“Okay, how about some ham then?” Kid asked uncertainly.
“Got some, but not sure it cured out good,” the waitress offered casually.
Kid stared at her silently for a moment, not quite believing his luck.
“What do you have that is good then?” Kid smiled impatiently and wondered if pulling his gun on her would arouse any spark of interest from her.
“Chicken or stew,” her monotone answered.
Kid sighed deeply, “Ah, chicken sounds good. And some potatoes, gravy, if you have it, and some biscuits,” and his stomach growled to punctuate his order.
Without saying another word, the waitress retreated to the back, wiping her hands on her apron as she went. Kid twisted around to see if he could see any chickens running around back there or feathers flying but did not detect any activity. He had just relaxed back into his chair when the waitress reappeared empty handed.
Kid looked up at her with neither surprise nor amusement. “I guess it will be stew then.”
“And biscuits!” he yelled after the disappearing waitress.
“This is the best meal I’ve had in months, Mrs. Saunders,” Heyes said with genuine appreciation of the tasty hot meal.
Carrie smiled up at him from under his right elbow where she had positioned herself a couple of hours earlier. “Ma makes the best biscuits and canned peaches in the county. And she’s got the ribbons to prove it!”
The rosy blush that quickly covered the shy homemaker seemed to brighten the whole dining area. “Carrie…” she shushed the child with a look.
“I certainly believe it, Miss Carrie. She should have ribbons for her roast and potatoes, too!” Heyes complimented.
“Just wait ‘til you taste her blackberry pie!” Jesse added.
Kid slowly headed for one the three saloons in town as he wiped the last of the dry biscuit crumbs from his shirt front. At least he had a little more choice in this matter. He paused at the batwing doors of the first saloon he came to. It was dimly lit with few noises filtering out to the street. It was easy to see why it was so quiet, there was only about a half a dozen people inhabiting the interior. One drunk passed out at a nearby table, a burly bartender, an aging saloon girl, and a table with a few cowpokes playing at a game of poker. Kid stepped away from the entry to survey his other choices. The saloon across the street erupted as a cowboy was effortlessly tossed through the door closely followed by a bear of a man who pounced on the recovering cowboy. A throng soon emerged cheering and jeering at the activities of the unmatched pair.
Kid eyed the last choice at the far end of the street and set off to discover its vices, somewhat hoping they wouldn’t be obvious from the street. He considered joining the lackadaisical game at the first saloon, having a couple of beers and then calling it a night. But the brighter atmosphere from the far end of the street called to him and he made his way towards the lively piano music and the gruff laughter.
“Go fish!” Heyes demanded as he held his cards for Jesse to choose one. Heyes was winning but not by much. The kids had wanted to learn to play poker but Mrs. Saunders protested in the most polite way. Heyes had worked out a system of betting on Old Maid and Go Fish and soon they placing bets with marbles. Even Mr. Saunders joined in the games. When questioned by their mother, the kids explained it was just a way to keep track of who was winning. Pacified that her children were not gambling, she let them stay up past their bedtime to enjoy the rare event of having company.
“Hi, Cutie!” the well painted bleached blonde wrapped her arm around Kid as he walked through the busy saloon. Kid finally had something to smile about. Though he spotted a much more attractive red head across the room.
“Hello,” Kid responded as he removed the woman’s arm from around his waist then led her by the hand to a nearby table. “Let’s sit here and I’ll buy you a drink,” Kid offered an empty chair to the robust, could-be-attractive woman. “What’ll you have?” he asked above the din of the room, his blue eyes twinkling.
“Beer,” she flashed an uneven toothy grin and batted her eyes several times as she dropped into the chair.
Kid smiled hesitantly, gulped, and scanned the poker tables for more favorable company, a sheriff perhaps, but was unable to find any immediate distraction. So he managed to get two beers and returned to the table and his rather eager companion.
She grabbed a beer, sloshing it on herself and the table, “I’m Bertie, What’s your name Cowboy?” She took a healthy swallow of the golden brown liquid from one hand as her other hand started to wander up Kid’s arm.
“Jones, ma’am,” Kid stated flatly. He plunged into the beer and came up sputtering. It was some of the most God awful fermented fluid he had ever had! He coughed, then wiped his mouth on his shirt sleeve and eyed the woman suspiciously as she nonchalantly drank the horrid concoction.
“Just Jones? Ain’t you got a first name?” she asked as sweetly as sandpaper rubbing over a chalkboard.
“It’s Thaddeus, ma’am,” Kid choked out and he politely pushed the beer back and coughed into his hand again.
“Takes some gettin’ used to, don’t it? Charlie makes it himself. It ain’t the best stuff in town but it sure beats what Hank serves down the street!” she smiled proudly again showing off her stained broken teeth as she tugged at the end of one of Kid’s corn colored curls.
“What the hell do you think you are doing with my girl!” a cannon of a voice boomed just behind Kid’s back.
Kid slowly turned to see the bear-man from the second saloon positioned over him.
“Me?” Kid asked innocently, with Bertie’s fingers still woven into his hair.
“Yeah! You!” the monster bellowed as he effortlessly stood Kid on his feet.
Kid instantly wished he was sitting in the back of loaded wagon stranded in the desert without the comforts of town.
“Just having a beer,” Kid smiled and pointed to the glass. “But you’re welcome to take my place. Just got the beer. You can have it.” The hold on Kid’s shirt relaxed some.
“You’d give me your beer?” the bear asked as though no one had ever offered him anything before.
“I’m not nearly as thirsty as I thought I was; I was thinking of letting Bertie have it, but you are most welcome to it,” Kid offered him the chair that Kid had recently vacated. Kid’s cool eyes watched the man’s moves carefully and managed to work the chair between himself and the grizzly guy.
Bertie’s love interest squinted at the gunslinger then turned to Bertie who was about to polish off her beer. Kid took the opportunity to back up out of the man’s reach.
“Hey! Somebody get my baby another beer!” the cannon voice exploded as the bear plopped down in the chair.
“We don’t have a bunk house or a guest room but you can sleep in Jesse’s room. Jesse can bed down here in the parlor,” Mr. Saunders explained as he carried some bedding into the parlor.
“Oh, Mr. Saunders, Jesse doesn’t have to give up his room. I can sleep down here or I could sleep in the wagon. It wouldn’t be the first time for that.” Heyes felt guilty about how much trouble this family was going to.
“Nonsense!” Mrs. Saunders exclaimed from the top of the stairs. “You don’t need to sleep out with the snakes, scorpions and tarantulas tonight.”
“Well, when you put it that way, Mrs. Saunders, it’s not very inviting,” Heyes retrieved a pillow from her and carried it to the parlor.
“I don’t mind, Mr. Smith,” Jesse yawned as his father helped him put cards away. Carrie had fallen asleep on the floor where they had been playing. She still had a handful of marbles that gently rolled away as her mother stooped to pick up the sleeping child.
“Let me carry her, Mrs. Saunders,” Joshua offered quietly as he gathered Carrie into his arms. “Just lead the way.”
Kid stepped out of the saloon and took a healthy gulp of fresh air before strolling back down the street to his hotel. He slowed his pace as he approached the second saloon’s door but hurried on when chairs scraped across the floor most urgently followed by crashing noises and a scream.
At least the hotel seemed to be decent and after a good night’s rest he could pick up the wheel and return to Heyes. Kid thought of Heyes, bored out of his mind, sleeping in the wagon on that desert. Despite all of the disappointments, Kid still had the better side of the coin this time. This one time he wouldn’t let Heyes flip that unlucky coin.
Kid settled into bed, not the best he’d ever had but decent and soon fell asleep.
“Are you going to sleep with me?” Carrie asked drowsily as Heyes lowered her into bed.
“I’ll be right next door in Jesse’s room” Heyes assured her.
“Are you going to sleep with Jesse?” Carrie worried.
“No, Carrie, Jesse is going to sleep downstairs in the parlor,” her mother informed her.
“Good,” Carrie rolled over in as her mother tucked her in.
“What the…?” Kid sat up straight in bed drawing his gun instinctively from the bed post as he bolted upright.
“Mr. Jones! Mr. Jones!” there was frantic pounding at the door. “Mr. Jones wake up and save yourself! The hotel is on fire!” The voice took off running down the stairs.
Fire! Kid’s nostrils confirmed the announcement as Kid’s feet hit the warm floor. Too warm. Kid quickly pulled on his trousers, buckled on his gun belt and pulled his boots on. Then he grabbed the rest of his belongings and headed towards the door. “Ow!” Kid released the word and the door knob at the same time. Too hot! Kid looked at the window and he could see flames licking up through the porch roof. Still it was the only way to go. Without further hesitation Kid crossed the room, dumped a pitcher of water on himself and climbed out the open window. He hotfooted it across the roof quickly before it had the chance to succumb to the flames and the added pressure of his weight. At the roof’s edge he plunged into the awakened street below. People ran helter sketler like ants that had been trampled out of their hill. There he found the mousy clerk sullenly staring at the engulfed building.
“Did everyone get out?!” Kid shouted at the stunned clerk.
“All but Mr. Jones…” the clerk answered hollowly.
“Good morning, Mr. Smith!” Carrie stood next to the smallish bed and stared at the man stretched out on his stomach across it completely filling every edge of it.
Heyes’s eyes popped open and sweat started to break on his brow until his eyes focused on some toy soldiers and other assorted boyish toys across the room.
“Mama told me not to bother you, but I just wanted to see if you were awake yet.” Carrie squatted down to look into the huge startled brown eyes. “Yup! You’re awake!” she proclaimed. “We’re having flapjacks, eggs, bacon and biscuits for breakfast! Want me to go see if it’s ready?” Carrie swayed and swung her arms back and forth.
Heyes blinked and closed his gaping mouth. After licking his dry lips he answered, “Yeah, Carrie, why don’t you go see?” As the youngster took off for the kitchen, Heyes rolled to his side then sat up on the edge of the bed as he fingers combed through his hair. He must have died when he hit that bed. He hadn’t slept that good in weeks. The smells of breakfast filtered up through the floor making his stomach growl like he hadn’t eaten in ages as he pulled his clothes on. He sure was lucky when those kids found his wagon. He was rather glad he hadn’t flipped that coin. Course he didn’t have steak or a night on the town or a fancy hotel bed but he’d managed quite well. After breakfast he would have to head out to meet up with Kid and hear all about his ‘roughing it’ in town.
Kid stared dumbfounded at the man before him. “What do you mean you don’t have my wheel fixed! Just get me a new one then!”
“Can’t do that mister. Like I tried to explain to you yesterday, I haven’t gotten my shipment in yet. I’m plumb out of new wheels and this one you brought in ain’t fixable. Supplies were supposed to be in yesterday. I figger they be here today. Sometime. Hopefully,” the man looked doubtful.
Kid could not believe this. He must have looked a sight standing there with his mouth agape. He had tried to wash the smoke out of his hair and off his face and arms before going to breakfast but the girl, who served him runny eggs and cold coffee, looked at him as if his hair was still on fire. His boots were starting to dry out and his socks hadn’t. His feet would be good and sore by nightfall. And no wheel.
“Which way to the closest town?” Kid asked impatiently. “That might have a wheel.”
“About 60 miles that away,” and the man pointed east down the road Kid came in on.
“Mister, I came from that way yesterday. There ain’t a town on that road sixty miles from here.” Kid squinted at the man and considered shooting him just because.
“Well, no Casper is about 6 miles north of that rode, sixty miles from here,” the man admitted.
“Do you have to go, Mr. Smith?” Carrie pleaded as she clung to Heyes’s hand practically pulling him back towards the house.
“Carrie, he ain’t some stray dog you can keep,” Jesse kicked at the dirt with the toe of his boot.
Heyes glared at Jesse, not sure whether to thank him or not. Then he squatted down in front of Carrie, who was dressed like a little girl today in a blue calico dress and a white apron, “I’ve got to go meet my friend, Miss Carrie. We have a job to finish. But, perhaps someday we’ll ride through here again. Maybe we could stop by and play some cards. I know my way to Casper, now.” Heyes gave her a big open smile complete with dimples.
Carrie sniffed as she tried to smile back still hanging on to his hand.
Heyes drug her with him to Jesse’s side. “Be careful, Jesse, there’s an awful lot of lawmen and bounty hunters out there eager to take good men to jail,” Heyes whispered in the young impressionable want-to-be robber’s ear. “Might want to find a safer, more respectable life that isn’t so hard on the nerves.”
Jesse turned to look into the outlaw’s serious eyes, “Yes, sir. I think I will, sir.”
“Thanks for everything, Mr. and Mrs. Saunders. You have a lovely family and a warm home.” Heyes picked up Carrie to hand her to her parents. She clung to him and hugged him tightly before he placed her in her father’s arms.
“Good luck, Mr. Smith,” Mrs. Saunders wished as he climbed into the wagon and drove off with a new wagon wheel and a horse acquired from Mr. Saunders completing the team.
“Heyes!” Kid urged his horse to pick up the pace to meet the oncoming wagon. “Heyes, you got the wheel fixed. How?”
“Kid, you look awful! You get a night to rest up in town and just look at you!” Heyes scowled at his cousin.
“Don’t even ask, Heyes. I’d rather shoot you then recount last night,” Kid’s face was streaked with smoke and sweat. “You look rested, though,” he noted Heyes clean, content appearance.
“Yeah, I didn’t do too bad for being taken by robbers,” he chuckled.
“Oh, no! Heyes, don’t tell me…” Kid rode to look in the back of the wagon and Heyes pulled the team to a stop. “You still have the cargo,” Kid looked at him confused.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t say the robbers actually took anything,” Heyes climbed into the back of the wagon and untarped the cargo. “Kid? Don’t you wonder what’s in there?”
“Yeah, well, I guess maybe we’ll find that out when we get it delivered. Let’s just get this done so we can find someplace decent to stay.” Kid was looking pretty bedraggled. “What’s the name of the town we have to go to?”
“Ugghhh!” Kid groaned and gritted his teeth.
“What’s wrong with you, Kid? You don’t act so well!” Heyes squinted and peered at his cousin.
“That’s just where I came from, Heyes! An undesirable hole in the ground!” Kid winced at the thought of returning there so soon.
“Well, maybe it will look better after we deliver this wagon, Kid.” Heyes said with enthusiasm.
“I doubt it Heyes, I doubt it.”
Kid and Heyes stood at the back of the wagon waiting for a Mr. Johnson to come check his cargo and pay them. The hotel lay in a smoldering heap in front of them with a few people, the mousy clerk among them, picking through the ashes. Kid kept on the look out for Bertie and her bear to appear. He mumbled to a woman with an apron tied around her when she asked him if he wanted steak today. But his jaw fell open when the man who could not fix or replace his wheel appeared in front of them.
“Good day, gentlemen, I’m Mr. Johnson. And this must be my shipment of wagon wheels!”
The Better Side of the Coin
June 26, 2001
“There! I did it! I finished another story!” I rejoiced at the keyboard. “What do you think of it?” I whirled to face two solemn outlaws. “What’s wrong? Isn’t this what you wanted or expected?” I asked hurt.
“It took you a year to write this?” Kid waved the story in front of my face.
“Well, it’s not exactly what we had in mind,” Heyes approached me, placing his hands on my shoulders.
“Sure it is Heyes! Kid was in the story more. Neither one of you got hurt, injured, or put in jail. Kid got food, you got the girl. I think it’s exactly what you asked for,” I smiled innocently pleased with the finished product.
“Susan, it was a little girl,” Heyes looked deep into my eyes.
“And it was lousy food,” Kid added. “A whole year…”
“But you didn’t get sick from it!” I pointed out but neither outlaw smiled. “Okay, I quit! I should have quit a year ago.” I pouted.
“I can’t believe it took her a year to write this,” Kid said honestly as he walked away, manuscript in hand.
“No, you can’t quit,” Heyes stated quietly but firmly. “You’re just going to have to try again.” He moved closer pulling me into his arms. “I think we should get started right away.”
Hmmm, I do too……….