Coming Home

Ann Stolfa

 

He was born in the summer of his 27th year, coming home to a place he'd never been before. –

“Rocky Mountain High” - John Denver

 

 

Joshua muttered a curse as the sleek red convertible hit yet another rut in the dirt road.  The hot dusty wind tangled his dark hair as he drove into what seemed like the middle of nowhere to him.

 

“What am I doing here?” He asked himself for the thousandth time,  even knowing the answer, it still didn’t seem real to him.  The father he barely knew had died and left him a ranch in Wyoming.  Damned if he could even remember the name of the town, something with ‘hole’ in the name, he thought.  His parents had separated when he was just a toddler and any inquiries about his father were discouraged; after awhile he quit asking, and his grandfather filled in as a father-figure.  “Besides,” he said out loud to himself, “If he really cared about me, why didn’t he ever come see me?”  He pushed that thought out of his head like he’d been doing for the last 30 years and continued up the road, such as it was.

 

A sign reading “Last Chance for Gas” made him realize that his tank was almost empty so he reluctantly pulled into the run-down gas station.  A beat up old pickup sat on one side of the pumps, but other than that the place looked deserted.  Joshua started honking his horn, trying to get someone’s attention.

 

“Why in the hell are you honking like that?”  A man appeared from around the corner of the station.

 

“If you knew a little something about customer service, I wouldn’t have to honk.  Now fill it up, and be careful not to scratch the paint.  This car cost more than your whole gas station.”  Joshua gave him a haughty stare, and was surprised to find the man didn’t back down like most people did.  Icy blue eyes met his dark ones for a long moment.

 

“Mister, I don’t know who you think you are, but I’m not…”

 

Joshua interrupted him with a wave of his hand.  “I’m not really interested.  Just fill it up.”  The other man flexed his hand like he wanted to punch Joshua, but evidentially thought better of it.  A sly expression crossed his face.

 

“Sure mister, I’d be glad to fill up your tank.”

 

“Just make sure you put the premium gas in, this is a high-performance car.  Not that you’ve probably ever seen one before.” Joshua mumbled that last bit under his breath.  He watched the blonde man in the rear-view mirror.  For some reason, the man looked familiar, but he couldn’t place why.  “Maybe all these small town hicks just look alike to me.” He thought nastily.  He was distracted from his thoughts as an older man stepped out of the door of the gas station and yelled at the man pumping the gas.

 

“Jed, what the heck are you doing?”

 

“Don’t worry, I’ve got this one.”  Jed gave the older man a wink.

 

“But Jed, you’re using…”

 

“I said I’ve got this one.”  He motioned the man to go back inside.

 

The older man sighed and shook his head. “I sure hope you know what you’re doing.”

 

Jed finished filling the car and walked back to the driver’s side door where Joshua was checking his hair in the side mirror.

 

“All done mister.  That’ll be 15 dollars.”  Jed gave him an “I-know-something-you-don’t-know” smirk.

 

Joshua handed him a 20-dollar bill, holding it by the corner like he was afraid Jed would touch him.  “You can keep the change if you can give me directions to the Heyes ranch.”

 

Jed’s expression turned serious.  “The Heyes ranch?  What business do you have there?”

 

Joshua looked at him like he couldn’t believe he was being challenged by this man.  “Not that it’s any of your business, but I own it.   Can you give me directions or not?”

 

“What do you mean you own it?  That ranch belongs to…wait a minute, are you Joshua?”

 

“How do you know my name?”

 

“Well, I’m…let’s just say everyone knows everyone else’s business around here.  Let me draw you some directions to the ranch; it can be a little hard to find if you’re not from around here.” Jed emphasized the last few words, making it clear that Joshua was an outsider.  Jed sketched him out a rough map on some scrap paper and  Joshua grunted his thanks, leaving Jed in a cloud of dust as he sped off.

 

The old man walked out of the station and stood beside Jed watching the car disappear down the road.

 

“Any particular reason you filled it with regular instead of unleaded?” 

 

Jed gave him a grin and handed him the 20-dollar bill. “Oh just a little lesson in manners.”  

 

It wasn’t long before Joshua’s car started sputtering and backfiring, the engine making horrible knocking sounds.  He cursed Jed under his breath, babying the car along until he reached the turn-off to the ranch, which was marked with a crooked old sign reading “Devil’s Hole Ranch.”

 

The first sight of his inheritance was disappointing.  Joshua had a picture in his mind of ranches he had seen on television, neat and tidy with a quaint farmhouse and red barns.  The reality was somewhat underwhelming.  The porch roof leaned at a crazy angle off the two-story house that had once been white but was now sorely in need of paint, and the barn wasn’t much better.  As he pulled into the yard, a few scrawny chickens scattered, and the cow in the ramshackle corral mooed hopefully at seeing a human.

 

Joshua could only stare.  Never in his wildest dreams had he thought his father would have lived in a place like this.  He compared it mentally to his modern apartment in New York and shook his head in disbelief.   

 

He walked reluctantly to the front door and let himself in with the key his father’s lawyer had sent him.  Joshua was pleasantly surprised to see that the house was tidy, even with the worn furniture and outdated furnishings.  Taking a quick look around, he was drawn to the fireplace mantle.  Framed photographs crowded the small space.  He picked up the one closest to him and smiled at a wedding photograph of his parents.

 

“Mother looks so young, like a child.”  He thought to himself.  He stared hard at his father, trying to bring any memories to the surface.  His father’s dark eyes seemed to stare back defiantly at him, and it somehow made him angry, so he set the picture back down and picked up the next one.  It took him a minute to realize the chubby, smiling baby was himself.   He looked at the rest of the pictures, realizing they were all of him.  His kindergarten school picture, one of him in his little league uniform, high school and college graduation pictures, and a recent one of him and his fiancé, Heather.   The last one startled him; it had only been taken a few weeks ago, right before his father had died. 

 

“Mother must have been sending him pictures all this time.”  It was amazing to Joshua that his mother had been keeping in touch with his father all these years and never mentioned it.

 

He set the picture down that he was holding and wandered through the rest of the house.  The upstairs bedrooms were clean and comfortable looking so he decided he would stay even though he had originally planned on taking a quick look and then going back to town and finding a hotel for the night.  The town hadn’t looked very promising for finding an acceptable hotel anyway, at least that’s how he justified it to himself.

 

He was unpacking his suitcase when he heard a knock on the door.  He went downstairs and opened the door warily.  He recognized the tall blond man standing there from the gas station.

 

“You!  What do you want? And what did you do to my car?”

 

Jed stuck out his hand.  “The name’s Jed Curry.  I think we got off to a bad start earlier.  I’m your closest neighbor, and I was friends with your father.”

 

Joshua hesitated a fraction of a second before taking his hand reluctantly.  “I guess you want to come in.”  He stepped back allowing Jed to enter, although his body language said he’d rather he didn’t.

 

Jed kept up a steady stream of conversation, seeming not to notice Joshua wasn’t saying anything. 

 

“So what do you think of the place?  Isn’t it great?  Beautiful country, my family has lived here for several generations, yours too actually.  This land was settled by a pair of cousins, they were famous outlaws, did you know that?  Any way, I’m named after him, Jed Curry that is, I’m the fourth one, kind of a family tradition.”

 

Joshua just shook his head trying to absorb all this information that was coming at him at a fast pace.

 

“So, uh, you were friends with my father?”

 

“Sure, used to come over here all the time when I was a kid.  He would show me your pictures when he’d get a new one.  He was so proud of everything you did.  I helped him out here on the ranch the last few months when he got sick.  Thought I’d come over and show you around, get you settled.”

 

“I don’t plan on being here long enough to get ‘settled.’” 

 

Jed’s face fell.  “You mean you’re not moving here.  I thought…”

 

“I don’t know what you thought, but I have no intention of moving to the middle of nowhere.  I’m only staying long enough to sort through his personal possessions and then I’m selling the place.”  Joshua turned to dismiss Jed.

 

“Wait a minute, you’re selling this place??  It’s been in your family for four generations, you can’t sell it!”  Jed was horrified at the thought.

 

“Not only can I, I’m going to and as fast as I can.”  They squared off, staring each other down.

 

“I never thought kin of mine could be so coldhearted.”  Jed swiped his hat off in frustration.

 

Joshua swiped his hand through his hair in his own gesture of frustration.  “What do you mean ‘kin’?”

 

“I told you, they were cousins - the two that settled this land, your great-great grandpa and mine.  That makes us cousins too, although it’s pretty distant.”

 

Joshua looked dubious at this news. “How do I know you’re telling me the truth?  Maybe you just want a piece of this land, or money?”

 

“You calling me a liar mister?  Kin or no kin, I’ll flatten ‘ya for that.”  Jed’s stare turned icy blue.

 

Joshua reassessed his position seeing the fury in Jed’s eyes.  “Now hold on just a minute.  I think we got off on the wrong foot.  I’m a little overwhelmed here, this is not what I was expecting.” 

 

Jed relaxed a little.  “Well, I guess I can see your point.  This all must look a little strange to a city boy.  Tell you what, I’ll show you around anyway; maybe you’ll change your mind about staying.”

 

“I seriously doubt that, but I would appreciate a tour.”  As they stepped outside, Joshua had to admit the scenery was beautiful, very different from what he saw out his window in the city every day.  The massive mountains were capped with snow, even though it was the middle of summer.  They surrounded the flat land the ranch sat on, making him feel sheltered and intimidated all at the same time.

 

Jed took Joshua around the farm, pointing out the chickens, cow, and one old mule that needed to be fed; he even took pity on the city boy and showed him how to do those chores, only laughing a little when Joshua stepped in manure, ruining his expensive loafers.  Jed was still shaking his head in amusement as he drove out in his old beat up pickup truck leaving Joshua to his own devices.

 

Joshua went in the house after Jed left, mumbling about animals and farms and doing his best to clean his loafers.  “I guess I’m going to have to find a pair of boots if I stay here for very long.” He grumbled to himself.  He wasn’t really hungry after seeing the meager store of food in the kitchen, so he decided to look around the house a bit.  He gave each room a short look, making mental notes about the furniture and other things.  As he opened one door on the second floor, he found himself facing some stairs going up.

 

“Must be the attic. Probably dirty and full of old junk.”  Joshua’s curiosity got the better of him though and he headed up the creaky stairs into the stuffy attic.  There was the usual junk - broken furniture, boxes, old clothes - but one large trunk at the other end of the attic caught his attention.  As he got closer, he could tell it was old, the stained wood having faded, the hinges rusty and the leather accents dry and cracked. 

 

“H.H.” He read the initials carved into the lid.  “ I wonder who he was?”  The lid creaked loudly as he opened it.  Inside was a collection of yellowed papers and books.  Joshua carefully unfolded the piece of paper on top.

 

“Wanted: Hannibal Heyes. $10,000 Reward.”  He read out loud.  “This must be my ancestor Jed was talking about, the outlaw.  Hannibal Heyes, H.H.?  This must be his trunk.”  Joshua had to admit to himself that he was excited about finding the trunk.  The old west and outlaws had always held a fascination for him when he was a boy, although he had to hide it from his disapproving mother.  He lifted more papers and books out of the trunk, giving them a once-over and putting aside the ones he wanted to read in more detail later.  At the bottom of the trunk, he found a leather-bound book, the cover was old and worn, but the beautiful hand-tooling still showed through.  “Journal” was embossed on the front in faded gold leaf.

 

Joshua opened it and read the inscription on the front page.

 

“To Han, Merry Christmas, 1879.  From Jed.”  Joshua settled in with his back against the trunk and started reading the first page.

 

December 26, 1879.  I have to begin this with saying that I hate the thought of writing in a journal.  The only reason I’m writing at all is to make Kid happy; maybe if I write a few pages, he’ll leave me alone.  He gave this journal to me for Christmas insisting that it would be ‘good for me’ to write down what I’m feeling…”

 

Heyes looked up from where he was reading a book in front of the fire.  “What’s this Kid?”  Kid was handing him a slim package wrapped in brown paper.  “You know we decided not to get each other anything.  I thought we were going to ignore Christmas this year.”  Heyes gave him an annoyed look, but he took the package anyway.

 

“Yeah, yeah, I know, but I saw this a month or so ago, and I just had to get it for you.”  Kid looked like a little boy at, well, Christmas.

 

Heyes sighed.  “If you must know, I got you something too.”  They grinned at each other understanding completely.  “It’s not much.”  He handed Kid a box trimmed with a bow that he had been hiding under his chair.

 

They unwrapped their presents at the same time, Kid letting out a whoop at the big box of chocolates Heyes had given him.  Heyes stared at the book in his hand.

 

“Uh, thanks Kid.  A journal huh?”  He opened it and stared at the blank pages.

 

Kid sat down next to him.  “Yeah, I thought it would be good for those times when you got something on your mind and you don’t want to talk about it.  My dad kept a journal and he said it always helped him figure things out by writing them down where no one else would read it.”  Kid looked so hopeful that Heyes would understand, that he couldn’t bear to tell him he didn’t like it.  It’s not that he didn’t appreciate why Kid gave it to him, it was just the though of seeing certain things down in black and white, things he would rather keep hidden, that made him hesitate.

 

“Yeah, I see what you mean.  Thanks Kid.”  Heyes put the book on his desk.  “I’ll… I’ll start tomorrow.  Why don’t we go see if the boys have anything cooked up special for Christmas dinner.”  Heyes directed Kid out the door, effectively changing the subject.

 

 

Joshua closed the book, surprised at how much time had passed while he had been engrossed in the journal.  He stretched his cramped legs, stood up and took the book downstairs to the bedroom he had claimed as his, not realizing he had picked the one that he had slept in as a baby.  He climbed into bed, turned off the light and dreamed of outlaws and the Wild West.

 

Morning dawned bright and sunny, the scrawny rooster waking Joshua up earlier than he had planned.  Luckily he found coffee in one of the kitchen cabinets so he was starting to feel a little more human by the time his first visitor arrived.

 

Joshua was sitting in a chair on the rickety porch, legs up on the railing and looking at the scenery when he saw the dust being kicked up by a car coming up the driveway.

 

“What now?”  He groaned.  These people had no sense of others’ privacy, he decided.

 

The white Cadillac pulled to a stop right in front of the porch.  A man in a cheap suit and cheaper looking toupee stepped out of the car and walked up to Joshua.

 

“Mr. Heyes, I’m Edward Briscoe, I’m in the real estate business and I wondered if I might have a few minutes of your time?”  He held out his business card and Joshua took it, holding it like one might hold something dirty.

 

“What business do you have with me, Mr. ah, Briscoe, was it?”  Joshua didn’t trust the man on sight.

 

“Well, I’d heard about the unfortunate death of your father, tragedy that, and I though with you as his sole heir, not being from around here, you might be wanting to unload this old place.  Not worth much, I’d be doing you a favor to get even a small amount for it.” 

 

The thought crossed Joshua’s mind that Edward Briscoe had eyes like a weasel he’d once seen in a zoo.  He’d been in the business world too long not to recognize a con job when he saw one.

 

“A favor huh?  What’s in it for you Mr. Briscoe?”  Joshua crossed his arms and gave Edward a hard look.

 

“Please, call me Edward.  I’m just trying to be neighborly, my commission wouldn’t amount to very much on a place like this.  Why, I might even be interested in buying it personally, just to take it off your hands, mind you.”  Edward tried hard to disguise the sly look in his eyes, but Joshua didn’t miss much.

 

“Uh huh, well, I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with the place yet.”  Joshua lied.  “I suppose I’ll have it appraised and see what it’s worth.”

 

Edward was quick to jump in.  “Actually, I took the liberty of having it appraised already.  I’d be glad to drop the papers off to you later.”

 

“That’s fine, like I said, I haven’t decided what I want to do yet.  I’ll let you know if I decide to sell.”  Joshua figured he better see why Edward Briscoe was so anxious to get his hands on this land before he made any decisions, and he wanted his own appraiser to take a look at the place; he’d learned long ago never to trust the other person in a business deal.

 

Edward didn’t quite disguise the disappointment in his eyes.  “Well, all right, I suppose we can discuss it at a later time, I’ll call you soon.”  He reluctantly got back in his car when he saw that Joshua wasn’t going to continue the discussion. 

 

As soon as Edward drove off, Joshua got his cell phone and called his assistant back in New York, instructing her to find out all she could about this area and also to find an independent appraiser to come look at the ranch.  As he finished his call, he turned to find Jed standing in the open doorway.

 

“So you’re going through with it huh?”  Jed looked more disappointed than angry.  “I guess it’s your business, but I wish you’d reconsider.”

 

Joshua didn’t understand why this stranger’s opinion was important to him, but it made him defensive.  “You’re right, it is my business.”  He turned, dismissing Jed, who walked into the house anyway. 

 

“I thought I’d come help you with the chores this morning.”  Jed sat down at the kitchen table.

 

“You might as well have some coffee, since you invited yourself in.”  Joshua gave him a half-smile to show he was teasing.  He handed Jed a mug of the steaming brew.

 

“Man, that’s terrible!”  Jed made a face.

 

Joshua looked sheepish.  “I don’t make coffee myself too often.  Usually I just buy a cup on my way to work.”

 

“Good thing, you might poison yourself, or someone else.”  They both laughed, Joshua surprised to find himself at ease for the first time since he had arrived in Wyoming. 

 

They finished their coffee, such as it was, and went outside for a morning of hard work.  It was the hardest Joshua had physically worked in a long time, but it was honest work and he had to admit that he enjoyed it.  The thought only briefly crossed his mind that his mother and fiancé would both be horrified if they saw him.  He snickered a bit at the thought of his fashionable fiancé on this ranch.

 

Jed had brought over some sandwiches, figuring that there wasn’t much to eat in Joshua’s refrigerator.  Joshua started to comment on how Jed had brought way too much until he saw him eat.

 

“Do you always eat that much?”  Joshua stared at the mound of food on Jed’s plate.

 

“What?”  Jed looked up, part of a third sandwich in his mouth. 

 

Nevermind.”  Joshua just shook his head.  “Hey, I found some stuff that you might be interested in.”  He went and got some of the papers he had found in the old trunk, but he hesitated in bringing the journal downstairs.  It just felt too personal to share yet.

 

“I found these in the attic.”  He handed Jed some papers, one being the wanted poster for Kid Curry that he had found along with the other one.  “I guess that must be your relative, the one you’re named after.  You can have it if you want.”

 

Jed looked at it for a minute.  “Yep, that was him, thanks, I would like to have it.”  Jed carefully refolded the yellowed paper and put it in his shirt pocket.  “Well, I have to be going; how would you like to go into town tonight? We’ll go have a few beers, maybe shoot some pool”

 

Joshua hesitated.  “I don’t know, I’m not really into beer and pool…” 

 

“Aw c’mon, it’ll be fun.  What are you going to do, just sit around this old house and stare at the walls?”

 

Joshua had really wanted to spend the evening reading the journal, but Jed didn’t seem to want to take no for an answer.  “Oh, I guess it wouldn’t hurt for just a little while.”

 

“Great, I promise you’ll have a good time.”  Joshua looked unconvinced about that, but he wisely kept quiet.

 

Jed got in his pickup and yelled as he was driving off “I’ll be back to pick you up about 7:00.”

 

After Jed left, Joshua picked up the journal and picked up where he’d left off the night before.

 

June 12, 1880. I feel so guilty about what happened to Kid in town; it was all my fault…”

 

Kid and Heyes stood at the bar, nursing their beers and trying to look inconspicuous. 

 

“Heyes,” Kid whispered. “You got any money?”

 

“Nope.  How about you?”

 

“If I did, would I be asking you?” Kid gave him a sideways, disgusted look.  “How we planning on paying for these beers, and the last ones we had.  I think they’re gonna’ want us to settle up before we leave.”

 

“Yeah, I’ve been studying on that Kid.  I think I’ve got an idea.  See them boys over there playing poker?”

 

“Yeah, what about them?”

 

Heyes gave him a smug look.  “Well, one of them is cheating, and not very well.  I say we join that game and make that knowledge work to our advantage.”

 

Kid contemplated the ragged-looking bunch of 4 men.  “I don’t know Heyes; I thought we were trying to keep a low profile here.”

 

“Aw c’mon Kid, it’ll be easy money.”  Heyes dragged him reluctantly to the table.

 

“Howdy boys, mind if we sit in a few hands?”  Heyes didn’t miss the sly looks two of the men gave each other.

 

“I guess it’s ok.  Pull up a couple of chairs.” 

 

Heyes and Kid sat across the table from each other.  Heyes played quietly and watched the game for a couple of hands, figuring out the other men’s not so subtle cheating.  On the third hand, Heyes triumphantly laid down the winning hand and started to rake in the pot.

 

“Not so fast mister, you haven’t seen my hand yet. I believe my four aces beat your full house.”  He laid down his cards with a smirk.

 

Heyes looked at the cards on the table.  “Well, yes sir, normally it would, but by my count, you only got three.”

 

The man looked up at Heyes with a startled expression and then down at his cards. 

 

Heyes held up the fourth ace.  “Looking for this?  I noticed you ‘accidentally’ dropped a couple of hands ago.  Hope you don’t mind me replacing it with that 2.  I’m sure you weren’t planning on cheating or anything.”  It was Heyes turn to look smug.

 

“Why you dirty…”  The man stood up and reached for his gun, only to find himself staring down the barrel of Kid’s. 

 

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”  Kid’s eyes were icy blue as he stared the man down.  He was concentrating so hard on protecting Heyes he was taken off guard when someone hit him from behind.

 

“Jed!” Heyes screamed as Kid slid to the floor.  The other men grabbed Heyes and proceeded to start beating on him when the bartender fired a shotgun blast into the ceiling.

 

“I’ll have none of that in here!  You boys let him go and get out of here.  I have one more barrel loaded in this gun and I’ll be glad to empty it in one of you.”

 

The men eyed him for a moment, and then let Heyes fall to the floor and they slunk quickly out the door into the night.

 

Heyes crawled over to where Kid was lying still on the floor.  “Jed, wake up, can you hear me?”  He was relieved when Kid let out a groan and put his hand on his head.

 

“What happened?   I feel like I got kicked by a horse.” 

 

Heyes chuckled a bit, mostly with relief.  “No horse, but I think we’d better get out of here before those boys come back.  It sure was nice of them to pay for our beers.”  Heyes motioned to the money left forgotten on the table as the men left in a rush.  “See I told you I’d get the money.”  Heyes gave him a grin.

 

“Heyes, if my head didn’t hurt so much, I’d flatten ya right now.”

  

 

Joshua found himself a while later hanging on for dear life as Jed’s pickup bounced down the dirt road into town.

 

“You know, we could have ridden in comfort if you hadn’t ruined my car.”  Joshua gave him a reproachful glare.

 

“Aw heck, it’s not ruined.  It just needs a little cleaning in the carburetor and drain the gas tank.   You can fix it up in no time.”  Jed thought for a second.  “Ok, well, someone who knows about cars can fix it up in no time.  I’ll see if I can help you out with that soon.”

 

“Yeah, especially since you were the one who caused it in the first place!” 

 

“Well, if you weren’t being such a horse’s ass…” 

 

“Horse’s ass??  Look you…”  Joshua didn’t get to finish his sentence as they pulled into the parking lot of the bar.  “We’ll finish this conversation later.”  He got out of the truck and slammed the door in a huff.

 

Jed rolled his eyes. “I have no doubt of that.” 

 

The bar was like nothing Joshua had ever experienced.   The sound of the live band and the smells were almost too much for someone who was used to the upscale clubs in New York.

 

Jed yelled over the music.  “Let’s go get something to drink.”  Joshua nodded his acknowledgement and headed towards the bar. 

 

“I’ll have a martini, shaken, one olive please.”  Joshua looked at the bartender expectantly, and the bartender stared back as if Joshua had two heads.

 

“You want a what???”  Some of the cowboys sitting at the bar started snickering.

 

Jed stepped up beside Joshua.  Sheesh, are you trying to get us killed?  He’ll have a Bud longneck, make it two.”  The bartender just shook his head and handed them two ice cold bottles of beer.

 

Joshua stared at it like it was a snake that was going to bite him.  “Beer?  In a bottle?  Can I at least have a glass?”

 

Jed rolled his eyes again.  “Just c’mon, let’s find a table.”

 

As they made their way through the crowded barroom, Joshua stumbled and spilled his beer on a large, tough-looking man who promptly grabbed him by the shirt and lifted him off the floor.

 

“Put me down!  I’ll sue you, I know the best lawyers in New York.”  Joshua was struggling to break out of the big man’s grip.  The man just laughed and lifted him until his feet weren’t touching the ground at all.

 

Jed turned around at the commotion and sighed at the sight.

 

“Bubba, put him down.  C’mon, he’s just a city boy; he doesn’t know any better.”  Jed tried reasoning with the big guy, concerned about the shade of purple that Joshua’s face was turning. 

 

“Nope, I feel like squashing something Jed, he’ll do just as good as anything.” 

 

Jed picked up a pool cue leaning against a table.  “Don’t make me do this Bubba.”  He swung the pool cue with all his might, breaking it in two against Bubba’s head.  Joshua dropped to the floor.  Unfortunately Bubba did not and he turned his fury on Jed.

 

“Now Bubba, I warned you…”  Jed started backing up, motioning for Joshua to move towards the door.  Bubba punched Jed hard, knocking him into a pool table where he slid to the floor, not moving.  Joshua had made it half-way to the door when he saw Jed fall.  He hesitated; he had plenty of time to get away, but something made him stop.  The sight of Jed laying the on the floor made his stomach twist for reasons he didn’t understand.  He grabbed a pool cue and with a yell, ran towards Bubba intending to do as much damage as he could before he fell too.  The sound of a gunshot made him stop in his tracks.

 

“Put it down mister!”  The sheriff pointed the gun at him.  “I won’t hesitate to use this if you don’t.”

 

Joshua dropped the pool cue instantly. “But…” 

 

“Don’t talk back to me boy.  Pick up your friend and get over here; I’m taking you in for drunk and disorderly.”

 

“Drunk and disorderly??  We didn’t even have anything to drink.”  He mumbled under his breath  walking over to where Jed was laying on the floor.

 

“Jed, hey Jed, you ok?”  Joshua was concerned about the bump on Jed’s forehead, and he was relieved when Jed stirred with a groan.

 

“Did we win the fight?”

 

Joshua chuckled. “No, and I managed to get us both arrested too.”

 

Jed was instantly alert. “Arrested?  What for?”  He pulled himself to his feet with a little help from Joshua.  “What’s this all about Nicole?”

 

The sheriff walked over. “Jed, I didn’t realize that was you.  Are you ok?”

 

Joshua looked from one to the other.  “I assume you two know each other?”

 

“Yeah, this is Nicole Trevors.  We’ve known each other since we were little kids.  Nicole, this is Joshua Heyes.”

 

“Heyes?  You mean Jake’s boy?”  She looked at Joshua, seeing him clearly for the first time.  “Yeah, I can see the resemblance.”

 

Jed playfully punched her in the shoulder.  “So, are we still arrested?”

 

She punched him back. “Not unless I run you in for assaulting a police officer.  Seriously, are you hurt?”  She examined the bump on his head.

 

“Nah, it’s just my head.  You know it would take more than that to hurt me.  If you guys could just help me to the truck, I’ll be fine.  I think I’ve lost interest in playing pool tonight.”

 

Nicole and Joshua each looped one of Jed’s arms over their necks and helped him out to his truck, all three agreeing that it would probably be best for Joshua to drive with Nicole leading the way as he was still unfamiliar with the way back to the ranch.   They got Jed in the truck with some difficulty, since he was a bit dizzier than he would admit.

 

“Darn fool needs to go to a hospital, but we’ll never convince him of that.” Nicole grumbled as she shut the truck door a little harder than was necessary, showing her annoyance with the stubborn man.  “Could he stay at your place tonight?  I don’t think he should be alone, just in case.”

 

“Uh, yeah, sure I guess.  So you two aren’t, well…”

 

She stared at him for a moment. “Aren’t what?  Oh, me and Jed?  Nah, he’s like a brother to me.  I’m currently what you might call unattached.  Why?”

 

Joshua wasn’t sure why that made him feel good, but he decided not to follow that line of thought any further.  “Oh no reason, just curious.”

 

They made it back to Joshua’s ranch and got Jed settled into one of the guest bedrooms without further incident.  They found themselves in the kitchen, lingering a bit as if both of them were reluctant to see Nicole leave.

 

“So, would you like some coffee?  I think there’s some decaf in here…” Joshua shuffled things on the cupboard shelf until he found the can he was looking for.

 

“Sure, that would be good.”  Nicole answered, pulling a chair up to the table.  A comfortable silence settled over them as Joshua made the coffee, and then sat down facing her after handing her a cup.

 

Joshua cleared his throat, causing Nicole to look up from where she was staring into her coffee. “Look, what happened in there, it was all my fault he got hurt…”

 

She dismissed him with a wave of her hand.  “Nah, Bubba is always looking for a fight about that time of night; I usually stop in to check things out on my way home after my shift is over – saves me a trip back into town.  Don’t worry about it; you’ll get used to the people around here.”  She took a sip from the cup in her hand and made a face.  “Damn. No offense, but that’s really bad.”

 

Joshua rolled his eyes.  “So I’ve been told.  And I don’t plan on sticking around to ‘get used to the people around here.’  I’m only staying long enough to settle my father’s estate and then I’m going back to New York.”  He was surprised at how that didn’t sound nearly as appealing as it had a couple of days ago.  He gave himself a mental shake; of course he wanted to go back, who in their right mind would want to stay in this place? 

 

Several emotions played across Nicole’s expressive face.  She put her coffee cup down and pushed away from the table.  “Well, I guess that’s to be expected.  I think you’re shortchanging yourself though; there’s more to this place than meets the eye, but I don’t suppose you’re interested in finding out.”  She said this quietly, shaking her head in a small gesture of disappointment.  “I’d best be going now.”

 

“Wait, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.”  Joshua couldn’t figure out why she was upset, and why it mattered to him.  “Will you come back?  I mean to check on Jed.”

 

She turned from the doorway and gave him a slight smile. “Sure, I’ll come check on Jed.  He should be ok in the morning.  As long as you don’t make him any coffee.”  She shut the door before he could come back with a reply.

 

Joshua checked on Jed one last time before going to bed, making sure the other man was sleeping peacefully.  He didn’t like the protective feelings he was starting to have about Jed; he’d spent his life avoiding most entanglements after his father deserted him.  Even his decision to get married was motivated by having someone to attend business functions and parties rather than a true desire for companionship, if he was totally honest with himself.  He liked being without emotional entanglements – if he was a bit lonely sometimes, well that was the price he paid for no one being able to hurt him by leaving again.

 

He took the journal to his room and picked up where he’d left off earlier in the evening.

 

August 27, 1881.  Lom assures us that our amnesty will come through any day now, but I still have my doubts.  I’ll believe it when we finally have the paper in hand.  In the meantime, Lom is trying to interest us in a couple of parcels of land in Wyoming near the town where he’s settled with his family…”

 

“Yeah, it is beautiful land, Lom, but I just don’t know if we’re ready to settle in one place.”  Heyes pushed his hat back on his head, the warm summer Wyoming breeze moving a lock of dark hair across his forehead.  “I’m just afraid it will attract every bounty hunter in the west if word got out that Heyes and Curry had settled down.”  Heyes didn’t really know why the thought of putting down roots made him so nervous; he guessed it was all that implied – home, family, friends – and the emotions that went along with those long-buried hopes that were making him hesitate.

 

“Heyes I swear, the governor is ready to sign your amnesty; I’m meeting with him next month and I don’t plan on letting him weasel out of it this time.  You’ll be safe, I’d stake my reputation on it.  I’ll put the land in my name until you get your amnesty and you can go on using your aliases until then; no one will know who you really are or that you’re here.”  Lom wiped his hand across his face in frustration.  He knew that there wasn’t much reasoning with Heyes once he got stubborn, but that didn’t keep him from trying.  “Kid, can’t you talk some sense into him?”  He looked back where Kid had been standing watching the interaction between the two men, but not saying anything.

 

“Don’t try to drag Kid into this Lom, he agrees with me.”  Heyes turned his back to the two men, signaling he was done discussing the subject and he missed the hard look that crossed Kid’s face.

 

“You think maybe you could ask me about that before you go answering for me Heyes?”  Kid said softly, but with an edge of steel that he rarely used with Heyes.

 

“What?” Heyes spun around in surprise. “You actually think this is a good idea?  We’ve talked about this before…”

 

Kid sighed wearily.  “No Heyes YOU’VE talked about it before.  You never once asked me, you told me.  You’ve been so busy being parent and big brother to me all these years, and God knows I appreciate it Heyes, I really do, but you never bothered to ask me what I wanted.  You just assumed you knew what was best and that I’d go along.  And I have, because you did know best and it’s kept us alive more times than I can count.  But now it’s time for US to make the decision about this, and I think you’re wrong.”

 

Heyes just stood there with his mouth open, never expecting this from Kid, and more than a little hurt.   “I can’t believe I’m hearing this from you; I thought you’d always back me up.”

 

Kid cringed at Heyes’ words but continued. “I will always back you up Heyes, and that includes letting you know when I don’t think you’re making the best decision for us.  It’s time to stop running.  We can’t continue like this.  We have friends here, I trust Lom and I know you do too.  What better place could we find to finally put down some roots?”  Kid pleaded with him to understand.

 

They stood there in silence for a few moments until Heyes turned away first.  “I know you’re right Jed,” he said in a small voice, “but what if we lose it all again?  I don’t think I can go through that a second time.”

 

“But what if we don’t Heyes?  What if this is finally our chance to get back some of what we lost and never got the chance to have?  A place of our own, a family maybe, being part of a town again instead of always being on the outside looking in?” 

 

Heyes was quiet for a long while, obviously thinking about what Kid had said.  Finally he let out a long sigh.  “Ok Kid.  We’ll do it your way this time.  I still don’t like it much, but if you think it’s a good idea, then there must be something to it.  I’ll give it a try.” 

 

 

Joshua awoke to the sound of someone moving around downstairs.  The journal laid open across his chest where he had fallen asleep reading it.  He had had the weirdest dreams about him and Jed riding horses with people chasing them.  He shook his head to clear it of the images, but they had felt so real…

 

He made his way downstairs to find Jed rummaging through the kitchen in search of breakfast.  He gave Joshua a nod of greeting when he saw him standing in the doorway.

 

“Don’t you have any food in this place?”  Jed asked, head stuck in the refrigerator. 

 

“I haven’t exactly made it to the grocery store yet; someone toasted my car, remember?” Joshua replied, one eyebrow raised at Jed making himself at home, but he had to admit, it was kind of nice to have the company.  “Besides, I usually just have coffee for breakfast.”

 

“Oh speaking of that, I made some; I didn’t figure my stomach could stand up to another cup of yours.”

 

“Oh ha ha, you’re a regular comedian.” Joshua said sarcastically, but he gratefully accepted the mug of hot coffee Jed offered to him. 

 

Jed sat down with a plate piled with the last of Joshua’s small store of food.  “I guess I’d better get your car running so you can stock up.  You might want to see about trading that little ol’ car in for something bigger, like a pick-up.”

 

Joshua didn’t reply to that dig at his sports car, lost in thought as he was.  “So,” he tried to sound casual, “you’ve know Nicole for a long time huh?”

 

Jed gave him a knowing grin.  “Yep, since we were kids.  You like her?”

 

Joshua made a snorting sound of disagreement that didn’t fool either one of them.  “Like her?  No, just curious.  Besides I’m engaged.”

 

It was Jed’s turn to snort.  “Yeah, I saw her picture.  Looks like she’d faint dead away if she got a speck of dirt on her hands, much less have to do a hard day’s work.  Not that she’s not pretty, but after awhile you want someone a little more substantial, someone who can stand beside you and be a partner rather than just being a trophy.”

 

Joshua got defensive, maybe because Jed had hit a little too close to the mark about Heather.  “You don’t know anything about her, so just leave her out of this.” 

 

Jed held his hands up in a gesture of surrender.  “Ok, ok, sorry.  I’ll change the subject.  I noticed the other day that there was some fence down in your back 40 acres.  We probably should check that out today.  I can also give you a better tour of the rest of your land while we’re at it.  There’s some pretty country back in there.”

 

“Are you sure you feel up to it?  That was a pretty good whack you took to the head.”  Joshua asked, trying to convince himself that he wasn’t as concerned about Jed as he felt.

 

“Yeah, sure, I’ve always been accused of having a hard head; one little bump isn’t going to make much difference.” 

 

Joshua tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle a laugh.  “Somehow, I can believe that.”

 

Jed gave him a mock frown. “Well you didn’t have to agree so fast.” 

 

Joshua had never experienced this kind of teasing give-and-take with someone else, never having had siblings, and having been too busy as an adult to foster those kind of friendships.  It felt good to him; maybe too good, those old feelings of wanting to keep people at arm’s length surfacing again.  He turned away and put his cup in the sink.  “Yeah, well, I guess we’d better get at it.”  The two men got up and left in Jed’s pickup, neither one hearing the portable fax machine Joshua had brought with him start printing, the papers falling off the table onto the floor.

 

Joshua enjoyed the ride with Jed more than he would admit.  They chatted about nothing in particular, mostly soaking up the scenery.  When they got to the place where the fence was down, they got out and Jed started looking around.

 

“What is it?”  Joshua instinctively knew something was wrong just from Jed’s body language.

 

“The fence didn’t just fall down, it was cut, and someone drove through here.  No one should have any business out here, and no one I know would deliberately cut someone else’s fence.  This just doesn’t seem right…” He trailed off, following the tire tracks with his eyes to a rocky ridge not far in the distance.  “Lots of caves up there – maybe we should go take a look.”  They got back in the truck and Jed drove slowly, looking around like he expected trouble at any moment.

 

At the base of the rocks, they got out and spotted a faint trail going up.  Following it about halfway up, they found a cave and some mining equipment partially hidden. 

 

“I don’t like this Joshua; I think we’d better tell Nicole about this and have her check it out.”  The hair on the back of Jed’s neck was standing up like they were being watched, and Joshua was picking up on his nervousness. 

 

“I think that’s a very good idea.”  They went back down to the truck, looking over their shoulders frequently.

 

As luck would have it, Nicole was waiting for them on the porch when they got back to Joshua’s house.

 

“I guess it would take more than a knock on the head to keep you down.” She said disgustedly to Jed, arms crossed across her chest.

 

“See I told you.”  Jed whispered to Joshua, both of them laughing like school kids with a secret.

 

She rolled her eyes at them.  “That’s the thanks I get for being concerned.”

 

“Speaking of being concerned, you might want to take a look back up in the hills on Joshua’s land – it looks like someone has been messing around up there. “

 

“Gold hunters again?”  She sighed, shaking her head.

 

“Most likely.” Jed agreed.

 

“Gold?”  The word had definitely caught Joshua’s interest.

 

“Oh, there’s been rumors for years that there’s gold in those caves.  Every once in awhile someone will come across an old map and then we’ll have idiots digging all over the place looking for it.  It’s just an old legend though; no one has ever found anything.”  Jed shook his head in disgust.  “People looking to get rich quick will do some stupid things.”

 

“I’ll check it out when I get a chance – probably nothing to worry about.  You boys interested in going to a dance tonight?  They’re having a fund-raiser at the high school, mainly just a potluck supper, but it might be fun; could be a nice way to meet some other folks, Joshua.”  Nicole looked expectantly at Joshua, trying not to look like she cared if he said yes or not.

 

“Uh, well, I’ve never been to a potluck before, but I guess…” he looked over at Jed, who was looking way too amused at the whole thing. “Sure, I guess that would be fine.”

 

Nicole ducked her head, a little shy now after her boldness in asking him, maybe a little surprised he said yes.  “Well, um, ok, see you later, I mean, see both of you later.”  She quickly got into her car and drove off. 

 

Jed couldn’t resist.  “I think she likes you.” 

 

“What?  No, she was just being nice. Shut up!”  Joshua sputtered like a teenager.

 

“Now what kind of talk is that?”  Jed asked with a grin, slapping Joshua on the back.  “I need to get over to my ranch and take care of my chores.  I guess since we haven’t worked on your car yet, I should come pick you up?”

 

“Uh yeah, that would be fine.” Joshua said distractedly.  “I have a few things I need to take care of as well.”  He went in the house as Jed drove away.  He knew he should call his office and take care of some business there, but the journal drew his attention and he sat down to start reading where he had left off.

 

March 18, 1882.  We’ve had our amnesty about six months now, and I still can’t believe it’s real.  Jed seems to be settling in real good though; I think he enjoys being part of a community again, and I’m glad.  I just wish I could get rid of this feeling that something is going to happen to take it all away…”

 

Heyes reluctantly let Kid drag him to a box supper and dance in town.  He had thought it was a joke and laughed when Kid asked him to go, but he changed his mind when he saw the hurt flash through Kid’s blue eyes.   Kid was popular with the girls in town, his good looks, friendly manner, and that little bit of “badness” his outlaw past gave him made him irresistible.  Heyes just watched with amusement as Kid was surrounded by hopeful dance partners.  Heyes hung back, leaning against the wall, his crossed arms and stance warning off any would-be conversationalists.  When they had first gotten their amnesty and revealed who they were, they had been overwhelmed with people wanting to get to know them, mostly through personal gain or the “prestige” of being friends with famous outlaws.  Eventually it had died off and the people that were left truly welcomed Heyes and Kid into the community, but Heyes had shunned most of their attempts at friendship, while Kid had joined in wholeheartedly.  Heyes was truly happy that Kid had found a place where he fit in, and he only envied him a little his easy way with people.

 

Heyes sighed as an obviously drunk cowboy came stumbling up to him. 

 

“Hey, you’re Hannibal Heyes, aren’t you?” The smell of whiskey was strong as the man slurred out his words.

 

Heyes just glared at him, trying to intimidate him enough to back off, but the man was too drunk to notice.

 

“What’re you too good to talk to me?” Heyes could see this turning ugly real fast and he tried to just walk away.  The man grabbed his arm, stopping him; Heyes tensed, not wanting to cause a scene, but ready to defend himself if necessary. 

 

“Famous outlaw my ass, you don’t look so tough.”  The cowboy drew back his arm to throw a punch, but it never landed.  He looked in bleary-eyed surprise at the hand gripping his arm tightly.  Even through the whiskey-fueled haze he could see the danger lurking in Kid’s ice blue eyes.

 

“Heyes, you having a problem here?”

 

“Nope, pretty much got it under control, but thanks.”  Heyes looked up in surprise at the other men standing behind Kid, ready to back him up.  One of them stepped up and pulled the cowboy away from Kid.

 

“Look Charley, Mr. Heyes here just wants his privacy, and we respect that.  Now I suggest that you move along before you get yourself into real trouble.”  A couple of Charley’s friends came up and offered to take the now cowering man off their hands, and an uncomfortable silence fell as Heyes looked at the group of men standing around not quite sure what to do now.

 

“Uh, I appreciate you all wanting to help me out there.” Heyes said awkwardly.

 

“It’s just what neighbors do.”  One man stepped forward and shook Heyes’ hand.  “Would you like a drink?  I think the strongest thing we have at the moment is lemonade, but it’s pretty good.”

 

“Yeah, sure, that would be good.” Heyes was stunned at the welcome he was receiving from the townspeople, as several people came up and shook his hand.  He thought maybe deep down that they wouldn’t accept him because of his past, but here they were, treating him like one of them.  A little flare of hope lit inside him; maybe this could actually be home…

 

 

Joshua stood by the food table, uncomfortable in the midst of so many strangers.  Jed seemed to know everyone, and lots of people sought him out to chat.  Joshua tried to keep up with the introductions, but eventually he made his way to the edge of the crowd, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, but he could see the glances people gave him and heard the whispers around him.   He definitely had aroused the curiosity of the people here. 

 

His stomach did a funny little jump when he saw Nicole walk in the door; he told himself it was just relief at seeing a familiar face, but even he knew that was a lie.  She looked so different out of her sheriff’s uniform that he almost didn’t recognize her at first.  The gauzy green sundress she was wearing set off the dark chestnut color of her unbound hair that fell almost to her waist in soft waves.  She seemed to be searching for someone, and Joshua was surprised to find it was him as she spotted him and made her way across the room towards him.

 

“You look really nice.” Joshua said as she got to where he was standing. 

 

Nicole blushed shyly. “I’m sure I don’t hold a candle to the women you know in New York.”   Joshua just smiled at her and tucked her hand in the crook of his elbow, leading her to the food table.  He briefly compared her in his mind to his stylish fiancé, who would never be caught dead in the dress Nicole was wearing.  He was surprised to find that Heather suffered by comparison.

 

They got a couple of plates and sat down, watching people walk by, while Nicole entertained him with stories about various people.  Nicole, like Jed, seemed to know everyone, and quite a few people stopped by to say hi and to be introduced to Joshua.  He was pleasantly surprised to find he enjoyed hearing many of them say nice things about his father, and he began to relax and actually have a good time.  There was a warm feeling of community here that he had never felt back home.  People seemed to accept him for who he was, rather than his net worth or his career like many of the people he usually surrounded himself with did.

 

As everyone finished up eating, a band started playing and the floor was cleared for dancing.  Despite his protests, Nicole dragged Joshua onto the dance floor and tried to teach him to two-step to the country music playing.  She knew her toes were going to be really sore from all the times he stepped on them, but they both ended up laughing at his attempts. 

 

When the music switched to a slow song, Joshua started to head off the dance floor, but Nicole’s hand on his arm stopped him.  He knew it probably wasn’t a good idea, but he took her in his arms and they swayed to the music.  Neither one said a word, but the looks they shared left no doubt that they were attracted to each other.  When the music stopped, they both stood there for a minute, not sure what to say, until Jed walked up and broke the spell.

 

“Hey, you having a good time?”  Jed put one arm around Nicole’s shoulders in a brotherly way.”

 

“We’re trying to.” Joshua growled, giving him that ‘you can leave anytime’ look.

 

Jed just gave him a knowing grin.  “Well I’m sorry to break this up, but I need to get home; I’ve got to be up early.” 

 

Nicole and Joshua both looked disappointed, but they said their good nights and Joshua followed Jed to the truck.

 

“What was that all about?” Joshua asked when they got in the truck.  “It’s not that late.”

 

Jed hesitated a minute.  “Look, despite the fact that we got off on the wrong foot, I like you; I think this town would be good for you if you’d just figure that out.  But, since you’re dead set on leaving, and I also know that you’re engaged to someone else, I don’t think it’s right for you to toy with Nicole like that.” 

 

Joshua was quiet for a minute, mulling over what Jed had said.  He couldn’t very well get mad when he knew what Jed said was true, although he wasn’t so sure that he was in that big a hurry to leave, especially after tonight. 

 

“You’re right.  I wasn’t toying with her though; she’s different from any other woman I’ve known.” 

 

Jed shook his head.  “Boy, you’ve got it bad; I’m glad I’m not in your shoes.”  Joshua glared at him as Jed started the engine. “Let’s go home.”

 

Joshua wasn’t ready to admit to himself yet, much less Jed, how right the word ‘home’ sounded in reference to the ranch.  He wondered when he stopped automatically thinking of New York as home…

 

Joshua was still too wired from the evening to go to bed, so he decided to read a bit more in the journal.

 

 

October 3, 1882.  I swear that stupid rumor about gold in the hills keeps coming back to haunt me.  I “escorted” another group of gold hunters off our land today – after they managed to scatter Jed’s herd of cattle to who knows where.  When will these fools figure out there isn’t any gold there; probably not until one of them gets hurt, or worse…”

 

Heyes looked out across the flat pasture towards the ridge that crossed the back part of his land.  He could just barely make out the specks that meant yet another group of people was trying to get rich quick by finding gold in the caves there.  He shook his head at the amazement of the stupidity of some people and went to find Kid.

 

They rode up around the back of the ridge and peered over the edge to get a look at the people before they confronted them.  Even though they weren’t wanted men any more, their instinct for survival always kicked in, drawing on all those years of watching their backs.  They were both surprised to see a woman and children in this group; usually it was just men.

 

“What kind of fool drags his wife and kids into something like this?” Kid whispered.

 

“The worst kind.” Heyes said in disgust.  He counted three men, one barely out of his teens, the woman and a small boy and girl.  After satisfying himself that they didn’t seem all that dangerous, just misguided, he stood up and announced his presence.

 

 “Howdy folks.  Seems we have a bit of a problem here.  You’re trespassing on private property.  You might as well keep on climbing up; there isn’t any gold down there.” 

 

“Says who?” One of the bolder men shouted out.

 

Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.”  Heyes smiled to himself as the men whispered amongst themselves, obviously recognizing their names and not willing to take them on.  Maybe it was showing off a bit, but Heyes still got a little enjoyment from people’s reactions like that.

 

“Ok, ok, we don’t want no trouble.  We’ll send my wife and the kids up first.”  The man hurried his wife the short way up the cliff, Kid graciously extending a hand to help her up, then helping the kids up next.  The man and the teenage boy scrambled up next, on their own, leaving one man below.  Kid’s eyes narrowed as he watched the man hesitate, then reach for the gun in the holster on his hip.

 

“Heyes! Get down!” Kid knocked Heyes to the ground as a shot rang out.  The man was screaming about how it was his gold and no two-bit outlaws were going to cheat him out of it.  Kid managed to get a shot off and hit the man in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground.  The other two men climbed down and disarmed him while Kid and Heyes brushed themselves off.

 

“You ok?” Kid asked, worry in his eyes.

 

“Yeah, thanks, I didn’t see that coming.  I must be getting slow in my old age.” 

 

“Mommy!”  The cry from the little girl brought them running.  The woman was laying still, a dark stain spreading across the front of her dress.  “Mommy wake up!” The two children were crying hysterically.

 

Heyes took off his bandanna and pressed it against the hole in the woman’s chest.  He looked at Kid and shook his head, knowing it was bad.  Without a word, Kid ran for his horse to get the doctor from town, while the woman’s husband knelt down beside Heyes, tears streaming down his face.

 

“When are you people going to learn, it’s not worth it.  There is NO gold here, and you’ve just sacrificed the thing of value you had for a fool’s dream.”  Heyes voice was bitter; he had hoped his days of watching innocents die for someone else’s stupidity were over.

 

 

Joshua closed the journal, disturbed by what he had read, even knowing that it had happened so many years ago.  He wondered what had happened to the woman; the journal didn’t say, but he suspected the worst.  It was strange to think that it had all happened right here, and his last thought before he drifted off to sleep was that he hoped the old saying about history repeating itself was wrong.

 

Jed came over the next morning and offered to fix Joshua’s car.  Even though Joshua couldn’t remember ever actually looking at the engine of his car, he was fascinated watching Jed take things apart and fix them.  He had the stray thought that this was the kind of stuff he might have done with his dad if he had gotten the chance to know him.

 

“Oh, I saw Nicole this morning heading out to check out that fence and equipment we found out by the caves.  She said she’d stop by afterwards and tell us what she found.”  Jed told Joshua after they finished with the car and headed in the house to clean up.

 

“Are you sure she’ll be ok out there alone?”  Joshua still was unsettled about what he had read in Heyes’ journal the night before, and it left him with an uneasy feeling about that particular area.

 

“Oh sure, there’s nothing really dangerous; if there’s anyone out there, she’ll make them leave or haul them in for trespassing.  She’s pretty tough.”

 

“Still…what’s this?”  Joshua noticed some papers laying under the table and picked them up.  “It’s a fax, wonder how I missed it.  I had asked my assistant to gather some information on this land.”  Joshua sat down and read over the papers, until one made him stand up abruptly, knocking over his chair and startling Jed.

 

“What the heck?” 

 

“Jed, it’s not gold they’re after, it’s uranium, and there are some people after it that aren’t just going to let Nicole ‘haul them in.’  I have a really bad feeling that she’s in trouble.”

 

Without need for words, they both ran out the door to Jed’s pickup and headed towards the caves. 

 

“I think the best way would be to go around the back and come at them from above – it gives us a better vantage point.” 

 

“I think you’re right. “ Joshua had a strange feeling of having been through this before but the plan made sense.  “What then?”

 

“You ever fire a rifle?” 

 

“Once a long time ago in Boy Scouts we had a gun safety demonstration, but that’s it.”

 

“It’ll have to do.”  Jed stopped a ways back from the top of the ridge, not wanting anyone that might be there to hear them coming.  He pulled two rifles from the gun rack in his truck and handed one to Joshua, showing him how to work it. 

 

They inched their way towards the edge and peered over.  Nicole was sitting slumped over next to a large rock, and there were three men dragging out the mining equipment.  Joshua was startled, but not entirely surprised to recognize one of them as Edward Briscoe. 

 

“That dirty rotten snake.”  Jed whispered, apparently recognizing him at the same time.

 

“Jed,” Joshua whispered.  “I think Nicole is hurt.”  His stomach clenched, praying that she was all right, but it was hard to tell from this distance.

 

Jed’s eyes turned a hard, icy blue color.  “We’ll make them pay for that.  You take the one on the left, I’ll take the one on the right.”

 

Joshua nodded his understanding, his expression as fierce as Jed’s.  He could see through the scope of his rifle that two of the men were armed, but he didn’t feel any fear, only the burning need to get Nicole to safety.

 

Keeping themselves hidden, Joshua called out to them. ”I think you all are a bit lost, this is private property.”  The men below immediately pulled out their guns and looked around trying to see where the voices had come from.

 

“We don’t want any trouble; we’ll just take what we came here for and leave, no one has to know the difference.”  Briscoe was trying unsuccessfully to find a place to hide even as he tried to reason with the unknown person.

 

“It was too late for avoiding trouble when you hurt Sheriff Trevors.   Now throw your guns away and lay down on the ground.”  

 

“I can’t do that, I’ve already promised the uranium to some people who don’t let you back out on a deal.  They’ll kill me.”  Briscoe’s voice was turning whiney.

 

“Not my problem.”  Joshua’s voice growled with anger.  “Put down the weapons, I won’t tell you again.”

 

“Look maybe we can make a deal – I can offer you a lot of money…” 

 

“Enough talking!” One of the other men shouted and started shooting, his bullets ricocheting wildly as he fired up the side of the cliff towards Joshua’s voice.  The sound of two rifle shots rang out and the two armed men fell, one clutching his hand, the other his shoulder.  Briscoe cowered on the ground, arms over his head.

 

Jed and Joshua slowly made their way from behind the rocks, watching the men on the ground warily, but they both seemed more interested in their injuries than in causing further trouble. 

 

“I’ll cover you, go see to Nicole.”  Jed kept his rifle aimed at the men while Joshua hurriedly climbed down.

 

“Nicole…” Joshua finally reached her, sickened at the sight of the blood staining her uniform, a trickle of blood running down the side of her face.  He pulled off his shirt and ripping off one of the sleeves, he pressed it against the cut on her head. 

 

He was relieved to see her stir at his touch.  “Joshua?  What…what are you doing here.  Ow!”  She put her hand up to her head where he was applying pressure.

 

Shh, you’re hurt.” 

 

“I’m ok, they started shooting at me; I ducked and I fell, I think I just whacked my head…whoa, little dizzy…” She tried to stand up and staggered.  Joshua just swept her up in his arms.

 

“Hey, I can walk, put me down you…you big caveman.” 

 

Joshua just laughed, relieved that she was feeling good enough to insult him. “No way; I’m taking you to the hospital.”  He managed to climb back up to where Jed was standing, surprising all three of them

 

“Wait, I have to deal with those goons that shot at me, and there’s paperwork, and how would it look for the sheriff to be carried in…”  Joshua silenced her with a long kiss, startling both of them. 

 

She was speechless, for once, and Jed just shook his head, having seen the whole thing. 

 

“Look, Jed can keep them pinned down while you call for a deputy or something, you have other deputies right, and then I’ll drive you to the hospital.  Please just let them look at you, for my peace of mind?”  Joshua used his most persuasive voice on her and gave her a knee-melting grin.

 

Nicole sighed.  “Ok, ok, you win.  How can I resist when you ask like that.  My car isn’t very far; I’ll call for back up and then you can take me to the hospital.”

 

After getting several deputies there, and an ambulance for the wounded men, Joshua was relieved to hear Nicole was going to be just fine, other than a couple of stitches and a killer headache.  He offered to drive her home, but as his place was on the way to hers, and he was still bare-chested having used his shirt as a bandage, he decided to stop at his house for a minute to change. 

 

As he pulled in, he was puzzled to see a rental car parked in the driveway.  He asked Nicole to stay in the car while he checked it out.  He crept up on the porch and looked in the window.

 

“Oh no.” He groaned, leaning back against the wall.  The door opened and a woman in a fashionably cut dress and stiletto heels came out the door and threw her arms around his neck.

 

“Joshua, darling!”  The woman moved to kiss him and then realized the state he was in.  Ew, you stink, and you’re not wearing a shirt.”  She stepped back and brushed herself off.

 

“Nice to see you too Heather.”  He said without enthusiasm.

 

Another, older woman stepped out on to the porch behind Heather.  “Joshua, you look awful; are you all right?”

 

“Yes Mother, I’m fine.  What are you doing here?”  Joshua sighed and ushered them both into the house.

 

“We were worried.  You hadn’t called and even your assistant hadn’t heard from you.  That’s not like you.”  His mother frowned at his state of undress.  “Is that blood on you?”

 

Joshua looked down at his chest.  “Yeah, but it’s not mine…”  They all turned as the door opened.

 

“Joshua, is everything ok….Oh, hello.”  Nicole stood in the doorway, and the women all looked at each other and then back at Joshua, who sighed at the complicated turn his life had just taken.

 

“Joshua, I want to talk to you. Now!”  His fiancé stomped into the kitchen, fully expecting him to follow which he did reluctantly.

 

“Look Heather, I…” he started, but she cut him off.

 

“I’m not even going to ask who that is.  I demand that you come home now.”  She even stomped her foot like a spoiled child.

”Demand?” Joshua raised one eyebrow at her, wondering what he had ever seen in her.  He was amazed at how the few days he had spent here had changed his priorities.  “You might want to rephrase that.”  He gave her what would have been call the outlaw leader look on his ancestor.

 

“If you don’t come home with me right this instant, our engagement is off!”

 

“Well, maybe that would be the best thing, because I’m staying.”  He informed her, surprising them both.  He guessed he had been mulling it over subconsciously but until now he hadn’t realized that was what he really wanted.

 

“Well fine.”  She took off her ring and threw it at him, stomping out of the house in a huff.  He went back in to the living room where he was surprised to see Jed chatting with his mother and Nicole.  They all looked up as he walked in.

 

“That went well.” He said sarcastically.  “I guess I’m not engaged any more.”   His mother got up and gave him a hug.

 

“She wasn’t right for you anyway.” She said, surprising him. 

 

“Mother, can I talk to you in private?” He asked, steering her towards the porch.

 

They stood for a moment in silence, just looking at the scenery, the warm afternoon wind blowing across their faces.

 

“I’m staying here.”  He said without preface, hoping she wouldn’t be too angry.

 

“I thought you would; you’re so much like your father.  I kept you away as long as I could, knowing once you came here, I’d lose you.  I know that was wrong of me, but I was too selfish to lose my son the way I’d lost the man I loved.”  She started silently crying, and he put an arm around her.

 

“Why did you leave him?”  He asked softly, not wanting to hurt her, but needing to know.

 

“I was so young, and my father intimidated me.  I was their only child, and he saw in you the son he never had.  He put pressure on me to come back to New York – he never thought your father was good enough for me – and I eventually gave in, like a coward.  Your dad tried to make it work, even moving back with me, but New York was killing him; this land was in his blood.  I never stopped loving him though.”

 

“Is that why you never remarried?”

 

“That and we never got divorced.  We were still married when he died.  I corresponded with him frequently, and I visited him when I could sneak away.”  She looked so sad that he didn’t have the heart to be mad at her for keeping him away from his father.

 

“Some time, will you tell me about him?  I would love to know what he was like.”

 

“Yes, I would be glad to.  I think Heather and I need to get back now though.  Nicole is a lovely young woman, and Jed was a good friend to your father – I hope the two of you can be friends as well.”  She gave him a quick hug and went to the car where Heather was waiting.  Joshua watched them drive off then went back into the house.

 

Jed and Nicole looked up at him expectantly.  “Well, do you think you could stand having me around a bit?”

 

Nicole got up and threw her arms around his neck, and he hugged her tightly back.  Jed got up and affectionately slapped Joshua on the back.

 

“Good to have you home cousin.” 

 

July 1, 1883.  This will be my last entry.  When Jed gave me this journal so many years ago, I thought he was crazy, but as he is about so many things, he was right.  I sit here watching the sun set over the hills, looking at the land that is mine, surrounded by family and friends, putting roots down in one place - something I never thought I could have again.  I don’t know where life is going to take me, but it’s comforting to know I can always come here, my home.

 

- Hannibal Heyes