The Trouble with Prairie Dogs!

 

T.C. Belcher


 

 

“Lets do something!”

 

Kid threw the newspaper he had been reading down on to the floor and looked at Heyes blankly, “Exactly what do you have in mind?”  He shrugged and held out his arms to indicate the room they were in.  “The whole point of stay in this hotel room was to avoid that Sheriff and posse we been runnin from for the last week and rest up.”

 

“I know, I know.”  Heyes tossed Kid his hat and grabbed his own, “But, we have bathed, we have slept, we have even had several good meals and now I can’t take it in this room anymore.”  Heyes didn’t realize it but his voice was raising.  “If I have to spend one more day just lookin at your face I don’t know what I will do.”

 

“Like I’m enjoying looking at your face!?  Your not the purtiest thing in the world either ya know.” Kid gave Heyes an annoyed look, “What is your problem anyway?”

 

Heyes flopped into the near by chair, “I’m bored!  Bored!  Bored!  Bored!”  He sat up straight, “Besides this town hasn’t got a sheriff.  Surely the one that had we’ve been runnin from and that posse have gone to look someplace else or given up by now and gone home.  I mean we have been stuck in this room for almost a week.  The hotel manager isn’t gonna buy one of us being sick much longer with out wanting to send for a doctor or call for that sheriff to come back to town or something.”  Jumping to his feet and grabbing Kid’s arm pulling Kid to his feet.  “Come on.  You have been very sick.  It’s only natural that now you would need some fresh air and a walk to help regain your health and strength.”

 

Reluctantly Kid allowed himself to be dragged to his feet and reached for his gunbelt.

 

“Oh no no no no no.”  Heyes was shaking his head as he took the gunbelt away from him and dropped it on the bed.

 

“Excuse me.”  Kid looked at him like he had lost his mind.

 

“You can’t wear that.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Your weak. Remember.  You have been very very sick.  You’re weak as a kitten.  You can’t wear that heavy gunbelt.” Heyes looked at him, “Why if you tried to put that thing on, I’m sure it would just make you fall over it bein so heavy and you bein so weak and all.”

 

Kid just looked at him, “Heyes you’re nuts! You know that.  And I am not going out with out my gun.  Why it would be down right indecent to go out in the street neekid and all.”  Frowning while he thought that this argument sounded strangely familiar.

 

Heyes sighed, “Okay.”  Grabbing his hat and letting his face fall into a pout. “But don’t blame me if that gun causes you to just fall right over from exhaustion.”  And with that he was out the door.

 

Trying not to laugh out loud, but grinning broadly and shaking his head, Kid followed, “Well I guess if it does cousin, you’ll just have to catch me.”

 

Heyes made a humph noise, “Yeah like that is gonna happen.”

 

Watchfully they made their way down the stairs and out the front door of the hotel.   They had picked this town because as a rule it had no lawman.  Well not regularly anyway.  The sheriff they had been running from would come when he was sent for, but as a rule the town did just fine without.  Once outside, Heyes took a deep breath and smiled.  Now he was a happy man.  The sky was blue.  The sun was shinning, little wispy clouds floated in the other wise clear sky and he sighed contentedly. Kid wouldn’t give Heyes the satisfaction of saying so out loud, but if he had, he would have agreed that the fresh air smelled wonderful, not to mention the sunshine on their faces.  They made a turn and started down the street at a slow stroll toward the direction of the nearest saloon.  Heyes pulled out a cigar and lit it thoroughly enjoying the stroll after being cooped up for so long.  As they passed an alley a lone figure stepped out behind them, “BOYS!  What a surprise!”

 

Kid and Heyes stopped in their tracks and looked at one another.  Panic crossed Heyes face as Kid bit off the ‘I told you so’, that was on the tip of his tongue.  They slowly began to turn around.  Kid cautiously, reaching for his gun.  Heyes mind was going a mile a minute trying to think of something to say to talk their way out of this.      

 

Standing before them was an older man dress in a painfully cheap suit. The fabric and cut were terrible and the fit was all-wrong for him.  He looked like a salesman who had been on the road to long and whose business was very bad.  On the back of his head sat a weather beaten bowler hat.  His face was friendly and open.  A bright broad smile crossed his face and he began to laugh as he realized how much he had startled the two outlaws. “Oh now come on boys.  Is that anyway to treat an old friend.” 

 

Heyes and Kid looked at one another apprehensively.  They knew the man all right, but were not all that sure they were as glad to see him as he was to see them.  “Travis,” Kid held out his hand slowly and a bit apprehensively, “Travis MacCarter.  What in the world are you doin here?”

 

“Yea.”  Heyes took his turn shaking the offered hand. “Last time we saw you we were on the wrong side of a jail cell and you were on your way out of town as fast as that broken down ole mule you stole could carry you.”

 

Kid exchanged looks with Heyes, “That’s right.  Seems to me it took us about three days to convince that deputy that we not been involved in that miracle healing scam of yours.  It took another day or so to convince him we weren’t who we actually were and who you told him we were.”

 

Heyes nodded, “Mean time you took off with the mayors daughter, I believe it was.” Heyes looked at Kid again.  “You still wanna shoot him?”

 

Kid’s face broke into a bright beautiful smile and his blue eyes flashed.  Anyone watching would have thought he was about 6 and it was Christmas morning he looked so happy, “Can I?”

 

“Now boys.”  MacCarter began. “I sent the girl back as soon as I realized that you were still in jail.” And added under his breath, ‘and that she was really only 13.’  “Hell boys, I didn’t know she was the Mayor’s daughter until she told me.  She straightened her father and the deputy out long before the sheriff ever got back to town. And and didn’t I send ya your share of the money.”

 

“No!”  They replied in unison.  Then the boys looked at one another and back at Travis, “Why would you send us a share of that money?”  Kid asked painfully.  “We were not part of that plan of yours.”

 

“Honestly Travis!”  Heyes sighed in frustration giving MacCarter a look that said he was the dumbest man in creation, “We told you we wanted no part of bilking little old ladies and widows with sick children out of what little money they had.”

 

“Oh yea.”  MacCarter laughed slightly; “You did say that didn’t ya. I kinda forgot.”

 

Kid sighed as if he were in pain. Deciding to change the subject he asked, “So what are you doin here.”

 

“I’m in a new line of work fellas.”  MacCarter smiled, “Your not gonna believe it.” He puffed out his chest; “I’ve gone straight.”

 

Kid and Heyes exchanged another look. Heyes eyed him suspiciously and Kid responded, “uh-huh.”

 

“No no honest.  Come on Back here to my wagon and I’ll show you.”

 

They followed him down the alleyway to a small covered wagon. Travis had set up the area in the ally to look, well rather homey for being out side, with a couple of chairs and a small table.  He had made a sort of lean to by using the side of the wagon and propping up a canvas with two long poles.  Travis even had a small fire going where he had obviously been cooking.  He pulled the canvas that covered the back of the wagon open to reveal the inside was filled with cages that were filled with small furry creatures.  “See.  I’m selling pets now.”

 

“Pets?”  Kid asked, “What kind of pets?”  Leaning in to get a closer look at what was in the cages.

 

Heyes took a good look inside the wagon and shook his head, “Travis.  Those are prairie dogs.”

 

“Yeah so.” Travis looked at him blankly.

 

“So!  You can’t sell them critters as pets.  They are wild animals.”

 

“Yeah so.” Still not seeing a problem.

 

Heyes looked at Kid in disbelief, “Well so, most folks in these parts spend a lot of time trying to get the varmints off their land. They are pests!  Sneaky devils.  Always digging and chewin up the grass and the land.  Why I even heard that they fool folks into thinking that they are other animals all the time.  Darn near impossible for the farmers and ranchers around here to keep their land up because of the varmints and now your bringing them back into the territory.”  Heyes looked at him in shock, “Someone besides Kid here is gonna shot you!”

 

“Nah!”  MacCarter waved aside Heyes argument.  “See this is my second time threw here.  I was here about a year ago selling them and they went like hotcakes.  The little ones just love ‘em.  Especially when they are just little things. Pups, I think is what they’re called. Most of the kiddies around here ain’t never seen one before.  They think they are really something.” He leaned against his wagon.  “Sold a bunch of the little critters the last time threw.  Not doin to bad this time.”

 

Kid looked into the wagon again, inside their where about a dozen cages.  Each one had at least two of the creatures in them.  Others seemed to have females with young.  “Just how many of these things have you sold anyway?”

 

“Oh in the last couple of years or so that I been sellin ‘em,” MacCarter thought, “Probably a couple of hundred or so.  Not all around here of course, got me a regular route worked out. Sell ‘em for a couple of bits a piece.”

 

Heyes shook his head, “And spend what to catch em?”

 

“Not a thing.  Seems the little suckers reproduce purty quick.”  MacCarter laughed.  “Yep after the first few I caught had youngin’s I didn’t need to catch any more.  They had around 10 in each litter and within a few weeks they are ready to sell.”

 

Heyes’ expression became thoughtful, “Ah Travis?  How many of these things did you say you had sold around here?”

 

Travis scratched his head; “oh I don’t know maybe a couple dozen or so.”

 

“Any pairs?”

 

“I don’t remember.”    He turned his attention to a couple of boys who had walked up with money in their hand.

 

While He dealt with his customers Kid strolled over to where Heyes was sitting thinking, “What’s on your mind?”

 

Heyes looked at Kid, “Think about this a minute.  If he sold a dozen or so of those critters around here in the last year or so that he has been selling ‘em and half of those where females, who could have had a litter of as many as 10 each.”

 

Kid whistled softly, “That is a lot of prairie dogs.”

 

“Then take into account some of those probably have gotten away from their owners, or been let go when kids got tired of taken care of ‘em, or parents who were tired of kids not taken care of ‘em.”  The two looked at one another.

 

“I’m beginning to get the feeling the less we know ole Travis here the better off we will be.”

 

Heyes nodded, “that crossed my mind as well.”

 

The boys waved a goodbye to Travis as he dealt with more customers who had wondered up while the boys were talking.  Returning to the street they headed toward the local dinner.

 

As the days passed the boys began to notice some things.  As they sat on the hotel porch enjoying the peace and quiet of this little town.  They had about decided this was the best town in the whole world.  It was small enough that all the locals seemed to know each one another’s business, but yet they didn’t ask questions of strangers.  They had accepted the two polite quiet strangers with no question.  Best of all, the sheriff hadn’t returned.  They had heard rumors that the Sheriff was still looking for them, but he hadn’t been back.  Sitting on that porch one afternoon just watching folks passing by Kid noticed that every so often a small brown blur would go streaking by.  Usually he would see 3 or 4 of them.  All heading the same direction toward the towns church.  The church sat on a small grassy hill and was surrounded on one side by large shade trees.  Heyes had noticed it too.  Neither of them thought much about it.  For now.

 

One afternoon as the boys headed toward the diner, they again noticed the brown blurs.

 

“Heyes that seems to be happening an awful lot lately.”  Kid following the blur’s path in the same direction all the others had followed.

 

“Uh-huh.” 

 

“Ain’t you curious about where they are goin?”  Kid looked at Heyes, “I mean ya know they have to be building a home some place.”

 

Heyes nodded, “I’m sure they are.  Do I wanna know?  Nope.  I think the less we know the better.”

 

“Travis still around?”

 

“Yep.  Wagon is still in that alley right where it was.  Haven’t seen him though.  I think he might be laying low.”

 

They stopped short as a small part of the street gave way and collapsed into a small sinkhole.  They looked at one another.  Kid nodded, “Yep I think maybe ole Travis might be real smart laying low.  Might be smarter still if maybe he just left town.”

 

Heyes gave Kid a knowing look, “Quietly in the middle of the night.”

 

They entered the dinner.  Liz the waitress nodded them toward a table over in the corner near a window.  She raised the coffeepot she carried in way of asking if they wanted any.  They both nodded that they did.  She mouthed okay to them and finished refilling the cup of the customer she had been about to serve, she then continued to take the order of a couple of very well dressed ladies.  Actually one of them was over dressed considering the town they were in.    The boys had come to recognize them as the Mayors wife.  Mrs. Virgil Blacketer, or Ivy to her friends, they hadn’t had much contact with her, but what little they did have the boys had found Ivy to be actually be very nice.  The other, the over dressed one, was the wife of one of the church elders.  Mrs. Gordon Whetstine III, Blythe, was from a very wealthy family and this woman seemed to think that all town business should concern her at all times.  She knew everyone and what they were doing.  If she didn’t like it, everyone knew.  There was to be a wedding soon between the children of these two families.  Ivy had smiled a friendly greeting as the boys took their seats.  Blythe on the other hand looked at them like they had just rode in off the trail after having rolled around in cow dung.

 

“Would you look at those two,” Blythe leaned forward to whisper a shade too loud to her friend, “I swear the things they let into this town.”

 

“Blythe Whetstine, you should be ashamed of yourself.”  Ivy scolded her, “from what I have seen they are polite very nice young men.  We could use more young men like those two in this town.”

 

“Oh Ivy really you are so innocent.  I can just tell those two are trouble.  I mean look at them.  Why they will probably rape and murder us in our beds before they leave this town.”

 

Ivy laughed, “Oh Blythe how can you say such things.”

 

Blythe snorted, “Humph trail bums that is all they are. The sooner they leave town the better.  Why I just bet the are in cahoots with that traveling salesman who is polluting this town with those vile little creatures.”

 

Ivy shrugged, “I don’t know,” she smiled at the boys again, “I think they are kinda cute.”

 

Blythe looked at her, “What are you talking about?  Those furry little things are rodents.  Why the town might as well be over run with rats.”  She scowled at the boys again, “And then you add the likes of that to the situation.”  She sighed a painful sigh; “well this town is just going down the drain.”

 

They smiled politely and tipped their hats to both ladies anyway as they took them off. When Liz brought their coffee she also brought menu’s not that they needed them any longer

 

“Heyes look at this.”  Kid indicated a spot on the menu that said Prairie dog stew.  “They have got to be kidding.”

 

Heyes looked more closely at the menu and shook his head, “Well the way the things multiply.”  He shrugged, “I guess it would be like eating squirrel stew.”

 

Liz brought their coffee and took their order.  She entered the kitchen to turn the order in and returned shortly.  When she came back she was carrying a large tray covered with food for another table.  As she came threw the kitchen door there was a loud crash in the kitchen and the sound of yelling and cussing in both English and German. Suddenly a brown blur raced out the kitchen door and between Liz’s legs.  As a result she staggered and almost dropped the tray covered with soup and chili.  Before she could completely regain her balance or the boys could get to their feet to help her another brown blur raced out of the kitchen and darted around her legs from the other side.  Following closely behind the blur, was Liz’s father, Kyler Hines and on his heels was Mrs. Hines, Jacqueline they were the owners of the little dinner.  Mr. Hines had a large cleaver in his hand and was swearing in language that would have made a sailor blush. The good ladies of the town gasp in shock at such indelicate language.  Directly behind him, Mrs. Hines was scolding him for his language and trying to get him to stop. 

 

“Damn it, Kyler, just let the varmint go.”  Sliding to a stop when she realized she had followed him into the dinning room.  She blushed realizing the spectacle they had to be making and at her own language.

 

With the appearance of the second blur all hope of Liz regaining control of the heavy tray was lost and she dropped it.  Unfortunately she dropped it on the head of Mrs. Blythe Whetstine.  Covering her from head to waist.  Completely ruining her new hat and dress.  Her hair once in fashionable curls was now hanging in messy sticky strands as beans and chunks of vegetables dripped from what was left of the curls.  At first she was in shock then she began yelling in out rage.  Silence fell over the little diner, as they listened to language hardly becoming of a church elder’s wife.  No one dared say a word.  Liz stood and stared in shock her hands clutching the towel she used as an apron covering her face all except her eyes.  Her father was out the door after the brown blur oblivious to anything else that was going on behind him.  Once Mrs. Hines realized she was in her dinning room she turned around from the direction she had been going and her eyes instantly fell on the sight of Mrs. Whetstine covered in such a mess.  Liz snapped out of it first and snatched the towel from around her waist and began to try and clean the mess covering Mrs. Whetstine.  All the while apologizing for being so clumsy. At the same time her mother also tried to help with the mess.

 

Mrs. Blacketer couldn’t get a word out of her mouth.  She was afraid to try and speak.  Afraid she would laugh.  Mrs. Whetstine’s outrage finally rendered her incapable of speech something that the town folks rarely saw.  It didn’t last long.  Finally her silence was broken and she flew into a rage all over again as Liz tried helping her clean up.

 

“Why you clumsy good for nothing girl!  How dare you. You did this on purpose.” Snatching the towel from Liz’s hand.  Turning toward Mrs. Hines she practically screamed at her, “This establishment should be closed down.  I mean really.”  With that she got up causing even more of the mess to slide down her dress onto the floor and more dishes to crash to the floor.  Slipping and sliding in the mess that was on the floor she stomped toward the door.  “Ivy are you coming!?”

 

Mrs. Blacketer slipped some bills into Liz’s hand and muttered, “I cannot believe my Dorie is gonna marry into that family.  But then again Jack is so different than his mother.”  Slowly she followed toward the door. “Yes Blythe I’m coming.”  Still trying to swallow the laugh in the throat.

 

Once the two women were out the door the place exploded into laughter.

 

Several days passed where nothing happened.  All was peaceful again and the plans for the wedding moved ahead.  One day while Mrs. Blacketer was hurriedly running from general store to dress maker to check on orders and wedding dresses and a hundred other details, she spied the boys sitting on the hotel porch.  She had noticed them doing this and not much else for several days in a row and finally she approached them.

 

“Excuse me gentlemen.”  She began.

 

Both Kid and Heyes jumped to their feet and grabbed their hats off their heads, “Ma’am?”  Home training always shows and their Momma’s raised polite boys.

 

“I’m Mrs. Ivy Blacketer.”  She began

 

“Yes Ma’am.”  Kid acknowledged her.

 

“I was wondering if I could impose on you gentlemen to help me out with some carpentry work that I need to have done for my daughter’s wedding.”

 

The boys looked at one another a little startled.  “Ahum,” Kid began “Well ma’am we haven’t done much of that kind of work.”  He looked at Heyes and shrugged, “I guess it would depend on what you need to have done.”

 

“Oh nothing to difficult.  Dorie has her heart set on having an outside wedding, and frankly the church building wouldn’t be big enough to hold all the people that Blythe has invited anyway.” She rolled her eyes as she said it.  “So she and I thought that if we could have a tent of some kind outside.”  She looked from one to the other, “Nothing really fancy, just a frame of some sort that we could stretch canvas over and maybe a arch of some kind to go under it that we could decorate with flowers to use sort of as an alter.”

 

“Sure.”  Heyes started with a small shrug,  “we could probably handle that for you.”

 

Ivy clasped her hands together and squealed in delight, “Oh how wonderful. Thank you sooo much boys. Could you possibly start working tomorrow morning?”

 

Kid smiled at her, “I don’t see why not.”

 

Again Ivy squealed and began to giggle.  It was all she could do to keep herself from hugging them. “Oh goodie, I’m sooo excited.  How wonderful you boys are.”  She shook hands with both of them with enthusiasm as they smiled at her in amusement.  “I will meet you both by the church around, oh what shall we say, hummm not to early, how about 8 o’clock.”

 

Heyes nodded, “Yes Ma’am.”

 

“Now I really must run.  I have so many arrangements to make now that you have agreed to do this for me.”  Ivy almost skipped away from them she was so happy.  The boys laughed as they watched her as she was still talking to herself, “Now I must have Mr. Woosley deliver that wood he ordered for me and I must remember to get some nails and other tools from Mr. Bonea at the general store and oh dear what else…..” on and on until she was far enough away from them that they couldn’t hear her talking any longer.

 

Then Kid turned to Heyes and grinned, “If I had known that just agreeing to do a little carpentry work would make a nice lady that happy…”

 

“Yeah!  Heyes chuckled. 

 

The next morning they met Mrs. Blacketer at the church with her pile of lumber, nails and brand new tools.  She explained to them in some detail about where they wanted the framework built and how big they wanted it.  Mrs. Blacketer hadn’t lied to them it was indeed going to be a fairly easy job.  Nothing very complicated about it at all.

 

Several days went by and the boys were making good progress on the frame and the archway was done.  Some of the local teenage boys had volunteered to paint the archway for the boys.  The mayor had been by and expressed his appreciation and admired the work that the boys were doing.  Not having any carpentry skill what so ever, he was very impressed with the work the boys had done.

 

But then it happened.  As they worked, Kid was on one side of the framework and Heyes on the other.  They were just putting the finishing touches on the roof portion of the framework. Once that was done they would be ready to stretch the canvas over the whole thing.  Once that was done the ladies of the church were going to decorate the whole thing with flowers and ribbon.

 

Kid heard the sound first and could not place it.  Heyes was busily hammering the last nails in the 2 by 4 he was putting into place.  Then the ground beneath them began to shake.  Before Kid could call to him the whole framework began to shake. 

 

“LOOK OUT!!!”  Someone yelled from the ground.

 

Kid looked down in time to see the ground beneath them start to fall away.  He opened his mouth to yell for Heyes to jump, at the same time he was already jumping, but it was to late.  Heyes was already falling to the ground.  The ground under the corner where Heyes had been working was at then center of the yawning crevasse that was forming in the ground.

 

“JOSHUA, JUMP!!”  He screamed as loud as he could.  The last thing he remembered was Heyes startled expression as he disappeared into the ground and the lumber piled over the opening that had appeared in the ground.

 

Once he hit the ground Kid as immediately on his feet and running toward the now lumber covered hole in the ground. 

 

From all directions all over the town men and women ran to see what had happened and what all the noise was about.  The mayor was one of the first on the scene as he had been inside the church discussing wedding issues (i.e.: payment) with the Reverend Smithers.  Mrs. Blacketer and Dorie followed him a few minutes later.  Dorie let out a wail at the site of her now collapsed wedding site, “MAMMMMMMMMMMAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!”

 

“Oh now darling.”  Mrs. Blacketer tried to comfort her daughter.  “Now now darling it will be alright.”  Knowing in her heart that it wasn’t gonna be all right at all.  Mrs. Blacketer was sure that this was a sign that this wedding wasn’t gonna go off without a hitch.

 

“HEYES!”  Kid shouted, “CAN YOU HEAR ME?”  Then he caught himself, “JOSH?  JOSH?  WHERE ARE YOU?”  He began to tear the boards away from the hole in the ground and throw them first to one side and then to the other, not caring who was behind him or beside him, or that the boards could have hurt them.  Soon he discovered that he had help in clearing the hole and he began to calm down.

 

The Mayor stopped short in his rush to help and mouthed to himself, “Heyes!” Then for the moment he forgot it and hurried to help.

 

“WHERE THE HELL DO YOU THINK I AM!”  Heyes called back as sunlight began to come threw the boards and the dust began to settle. “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”  High-pitched sounds could be heard coming from the hole.  Screeching and chittering along with the sound of scurrying little claws and squeals of all pitches.  Mixed in among those sounds was the sound of Heyes yelling.  Kid listened closely, he could swear it sounded like Heyes was saying to get the hell off of him? 

 

“OKAY!  MR. SMITH, WE ARE ON THE WAY HANG ON.”  The Mayor called as he and several others joined Kid in pulling the boards away.

 

Very quickly the men had uncovered the hole enough that they could all see down to where Heyes lay on the now sunken ground.  Kid looked at him and tried to hold in the laugh that began to bubble from deep inside him as he saw prairie dogs of every size, color and age scrambling to get away from the man in the hole and the sudden exposure of their dens.  Hundreds of them; running franticly every which way imaginable.  If it weren’t for him swinging at them and trying to knock them away, Heyes wouldn’t have been visible.  Occasionally Heyes would catch one and the thing would squeal as he tossed it across the distance of the hole.  A laugh almost escaped Kid as one of the helpless critters went sailing past his head as Heyes threw it.

 

Stifling it as best he could, “Are you alright?” Kid asked his eyes dancing with delight at his cousin’s predicament. 

 

“SHUT UP!”  Heyes looked at him, taking note of Kids barely concealed smile.  “Do not say one word.”  Heyes was not amused.  He knew that look in Kids eyes, that was Kids ‘I told you so.’ Look.  The last thing he wanted to hear from Jedediah Curry at this moment was about how many prairie dogs there had to be in this town.

 

“What?  I didn’t say one word.”  Kid answered not bothering to hide the laughter now.  He fell backward on to the ground laughing as one of the critters fell out of a hole in the dirt directly on to Heyes head;  “Does someone have a rope?”

 

“Yeah,” Answered someone near by, “I got one right here.”

 

Kid looked at the Mayor, “Sir, I think you have a problem here.”

 

The Mayor looked into the hole and saw the last of the prairie dogs disappearing from site. “So it would seem.”  He answered thoughtfully, then to himself, ‘and I think I know just the way to solve the problem.’  “If your friend there isn’t hurt, ahummm, Mr. Jones?  I would like to see you both in my office later this afternoon.”

 

Kid gave him a puzzled look, “Sure.  Soon as we get him out of there and cleaned up.”

 

About an hour later, after Heyes had been checked over by the town barber, who did double duty as the doctor in town, the two stood in the Mayors office.  Heyes was staring out the window with his hands fisted and on his hips.  His hat was in one hand and an expression of total despair on his face.  Kid stood before the Mayors desk looking stunned.

 

“Look Mayor…” Kid started to say.  But the Mayor held up his hand to stop him then picked up the wanted posters that he had on his desk. Turning them so that Kid could see the fronts.

 

“I’m sure of who you are Mr. Curry.”

 

With that Kid sighed and dropped into a near by chair.

 

“Look boys.  You haven’t been a lick of trouble since you have been here and quite frankly you have been a lot of help to me.”  With that Heyes frowned and turned to look at kid who was also frowning.  “No honestly, you have.  You helped my wife with these wedding details and that has helped to keep her out of my hair so that I could take care of other matters.”

 

Heyes scoffed, “Yea!  Like trying to figure out if we are who we said we were or not.”

 

The Mayor looked a little sheepish. “Really that never occurred to me until today.”

 

This time Heyes rolled his eyes and shot Kid a look. Then went back to staring out the window.

 

Kid sighed a painfully deep sigh, “Okay, so you got us.  Now what?”

 

The Mayor sat down at his desk and looked from Kids pitifully sad face to Heyes slumped shoulders as he stared out the window.  The despair he saw in the two men was almost more than he could stand.  “Well honestly, boys I’d like to make a deal with you.” Kid sat up a little straighter and Heyes turned around slightly.  “As you both know we have this little problem here in town and I do believe that you are aquatinted with the ‘gentleman’ who is responsible for this mess.”

 

Heyes spoke for the first time; “You mean the prairie dogs and Travis?” and then he and Kid exchanged looks again.

“Yes I believe the man’s name is Travis MacCarter, and he seems to have been very successful at selling these varmints that we seem to have an abundance of now.”

 

“Yea?”  Kid said cautiously. “And?”

 

“Help me get rid of the Varmints, ALL of the varmints, meaning Mr. MacCarter too and I just might be inclined to forget that I know who you gentlemen are.”

 

Heyes looked at the Mayor as if he had two heads and Kid jumped to his feet and stalked in a little circle around the chair he had been sitting in.  Then he plopped back down and rubbed his hands over his face, as Heyes turned back to the window.

 

Heyes closed his eyes as if in pain, “And if we don’t?”

 

“I’m afraid I shall be forced to send a telegraph to the sheriff and lock you boys up until he arrives.”  Mayor Blacketer tried his best to keep a poker face, because he wasn’t sure he could send that telegraph and didn’t want to have to try and find it in himself to do so.  Not with these men anyway.  Fortunately for the Mayor, Heyes was preoccupied with the thought they had just been caught or he would have called the Mayors bluff.

 

Kid took a deep breath and dropped his hands to his lap, “Look Mr. Mayor.  I’m sure we could get rid of Travis for you, but I don’t know about the prairie dogs.  I mean you saw how many of those…..”

 

The Mayor and Kid both noticed a change in Heyes posture at the same time.  The Mayor looked at Kid thoughtfully and Kid gave the Mayor a hopeful look and a little shrug.

 

“Ah Heyes,” Kid asked, “what are you thinking?”  Heyes didn’t say anything he just kept staring out of the window.  Kid looked at the Mayor.  “I think he’s getting an idea.  He always gets that look when he’s thinking.  Sorta a cross between constipation and inspiration.”

 

The Mayor tried not to laugh as Heyes nailed Kid to the chair with a look of annoyance.  Mayor Blacketer decided then and there that his wife was right about these boys.  He really liked them too.  And he wasn’t about to admit it to them at this point, but he wouldn’t have turned them in if they had bolted from his office and fled town.  He just wouldn’t have had the heart.

 

Finally Heyes turned and faced the two other men in the room with him.  His face was a mask of deep thought.  For several more long minutes he just stared at the floor.  This time the Mayor had the impression that he wanted to say something but was a little afraid to.  When he finally looked up, Heyes looked the Mayor dead in the eye and asked, “Would you be willing to flood the town if necessary to get rid of the four legged varmints?”

 

“Oh now surely Mr. Heyes it wouldn’t take something that extreme to get rid of them!”  This time it was the Mayor who flopped back in his chair in despair.

 

“Well sir, I’m not sure.  But if we could figure out a way to pump the water from that stream that runs near here into the dens…” Heyes shook his head, “maybe we could flood them out that way.  The stream is running fast and high, so it shouldn’t take much to dam it up.  But we might also be creating more problems than you have now.”  He gave a little shrug, “I’m just not sure.”

 

The Mayor sat up straight in his chair, totally relieved and excited, “Why Mr. Heyes you are indeed the genius that I always heard that you were with a puzzle to solve.”  Kid and Heyes exchanged looks.  Heyes was used to Kid and the boys telling him how smart he was.  But he didn’t usually hear it from someone in authority. Usually they wanted to lock him up for solving puzzles.  And quite honestly he wasn’t sure exactly what he had said made him a genius.

 

“Huh?”  Heyes grunted.

 

“Why we just ordered some brand spankin new fire equipment.  Hoses and a pump like they have in the big cities.  We decided that we needed this equipment after the town was almost burnt to the ground in a grass fire that started in the prairie and spread across the range into town.”  Heyes sat up a little straighter himself and the Mayors eyes began to shine, “Is that the kind of thing that you had in mind?”

 

 “Well to tell the truth Mr. Blacketer I’m not exactly sure what I had in mind, but yes sir I think that might just do the trick.” Heyes admitted with a grin, “I think if we could control how much water went where, we might just keep from washing the ground out from under the whole town.”

 

Kid smiled a big bright smile, “I told ya he was on to somethin.  Plus it will give you a chance to show the town folks exactly how the equipment works and make sure yourself that it works right with out having to wait for a fire.”

 

“Oh boy! Boys.”  The Mayor was on his feet and came around his desk as the two outlaws’ rose to meet him.  Then he was pumping first ones hand and then the other, “I can’t tell you how glad I am that this is gonna work out.”

 

“When will the equipment be here?”  Kid asked.

 

“Should have been here a few days ago.  The next freight wagon is due before the weekend, but it hasn’t arrived yet.”  The Mayor was thoughtful for a minute, “Now what is this Friday?  No wait this is Saturday.  So it won’t be here now until Monday.”  He sighed heavily, “That means since my daughters wedding is Sunday, we will have to take the chance that nothing else collapses or catastrophic happens between now and then.”

 

“Heyes and I can check out the foundation of the church if you want to make sure that the building and rest of the ground around is sound.”  Kid offered, “I mean it’s pretty obvious that there is no way we can get that tent frame and stuff rebuild in time for the wedding.”

 

“Would you boys.”  The Mayor gave a sigh of relief, “that would be a big load off my mind.”

 

“Sure.”  Heyes agreed, “We can do that and then we will spend the rest of the afternoon rounding up Travis and getting him out of town, before someone decided to tar and feather him.”

 

Mayor Blacketer looked at Heyes, “You know that really isn’t such a bad idea.”

 

Heyes grinned, “Maybe as a little bonus we’ll have him see how many of the critters we can round up before he goes and make him take them with him.”

 

A short time later the boys left the Mayors office and rounded up their little ‘posse’ of boys that seemed to have gravitated toward them over the last several days.  The younger boys they armed with gunnysacks and sent out to see how many of the prairie dogs they could catch.  The Mayor having walked up behind this little convention of ‘outlaws’ offered a penny reward for each prairie dog that the boys could collect.  Then he over heard Kid telling the older boys to see if they could find Travis.

 

“When you find him keep him where he is and one of you come and get us.”

 

“Hog tie him if you have too,” Heyes added, “just don’t let him get away from you.”

 

With that the boys paired off in-groups of two and three and took off looking for Prairie dogs and Travis.

 

“Here now boys.”  The Mayor spoke with worry, “I’m not so sure that was a good idea.  Sending those children looking for this Travis character.  What if he tries to hurt them.”

 

Kid and Heyes looked and one another then at the Mayor and smiled, “Don’t worry.”  Heyes answered, his grin broadening. “Those boys can more than handle ole Travis.”  The Mayor wasn’t convinced, but he was willing to trust the two men in whose hands he had placed the fate of his town.

 

The boys then left the Mayor and headed out to check on the church foundation and the surrounding area.  Heyes really wanted to investigate and see if he could tell if they could do what he had in mind with out endangering the entire town. 

 

While Heyes looked over the grounds and the hole that had been created; Kid and the Reverend Smithers checked out the foundation of the church both inside and out.  They were both very relieved to see that there wasn’t a crack or burrow anywhere near the church.  As near as Heyes could see the main part of the prairie dog village that had been exposed by the collapse of the ground all headed down hill toward the stream, the woods and away from the town.  There where holes and tunnels leading from the town, but as Heyes began to actually look for burrows he could see that they began to thin out as they got nearer to the town itself.  There had been a couple of sink holes appear in town, but as Heyes noted to himself they were located near the edge of town heading toward the church.  The main part of town was relatively free of burrows.  The church itself sat on a small hill just outside of the main part of town and the cemetery was on the opposite side, the uphill side, of the church.  As Heyes looked around he realized that the problem hadn’t so much been the number of prairie dogs, but that they had chosen such a confined area to build their village in.  Once he realized that, Heyes was more comfortable that his plan would work.

 

As they headed back toward the hotel they became aware of footsteps behind them.  They glanced at one another and both knowing that the other was ready no matter what happened next.  Then Kid heard the words that he dreaded most.

 

“Reach for it mister.” 

 

Kid turned slowly and faced his attacker.  The boy couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 years old.  Kid tried not to smile at the serious attempt at fierceness on the boy’s face.  He glanced at Heyes and subtly nodded that it was okay.  He’d handle it.  So Heyes stepped aside, to lean against a nearby porch rail arms folded across his chest, with the bare trace of a grin on his face to watch.  He looked a little like the ‘Mona Lisa’ with that smile.  This was little David Smithers, the Reverend and Mrs. Smithers only son, he had been fascinated with the two men and the gun Kid wore ever since they started working on the tent frame.

 

“You sure you wanna do this?”  Kid asked taking the boy very seriously.

 

“Yep” Davy nodded.

 

“Alright then.”  Kid sighed with resignation.

 

Davy grabbed at the little wooden gun he had in tucked in his belt and drew, “Puu Puu. Puu Puu.”  He shouted.  Kid of course made no attempt to even reach for his own gun, but grabbed his chest and fell to his knees and then to the ground with a loud groan.  Then he flopped over on to his back with his arms out and kicked his legs up in a wild jerk.  Davy looked at him with wide eyes then slowly tiptoed over to where Kid lay on the ground.  Heyes covered his mouth with his hand to keep from laughing out loud as he watched the little boy sneak up on Kid.  Slowly the little boy moved within arms each of Kid who suddenly came back to life and grabbed the boy and began to tickle him as he squealed with delight at having finally gotten Kids undivided attention.

 

“Okay tough guy!  You got me.”  Then Kid sat the little boy on his lap and looked him in the eye.  “Now Davy.”  Kid was very serious, “That is a fun game huh?”  He grinned as Davy vigorously nodded his head; “Well I want you to promise me that you won’t ever play that with real guns okay?  Someone could get hurt really bad for real.”

 

“Okay.” 

 

Kid looked him in the eye, “You promise.”

 

“I promise.”

 

“And you need to be very careful which grownups you pick to play that game with.”

 

“Whys come?”

 

Kid Grinned at him and ruffled his hair, “Cause buddy, some grownups might not realize that you are just playing and they will do something very silly and you’ll get hurt.”

 

“Okay.” Davy nodded.  Kid stood the boy back on his feet and he took off running for home.  Kid followed his progress until he was threw the gate just behind the church building that lead to the home provided for the Reverend and his family, then he looked at Heyes. “I wish they were all that easy.”  He got up and began to dust himself off as two of the older boys they had sent out slid past him in the dirt.  They were running so fast that they couldn’t stop when they found the two outlaws they had been looking for. 

 

“We found that MacCarter guy.”  Paul crocked out breathlessly.

 

“Where?”  Heyes asked standing up straighter off the railing.

 

Michael gulped down some air; “He is at his wagon.  He was trying to sneak out of town.  Matt distracted him and Derrick and Justin took his horses and hid ‘em out at Justin’s house so that he couldn’t hitch up and get away before we found you guys.”

 

Kid patted the boy on the shoulder and nodded his approval.  “You boys go on and earn some money now catching those prairie dogs.  We’ll take it from here.  Thanks.”

 

The two outlaws took off to the ally where Travis had kept his wagon ever since he came to town.  When they rounded the corner Travis was busily trying to run off the gang of three or four teenage boys that were hanging around watching him quickly trying to load his wagon. 

 

“Go on shew.”  Travis waved his hands at the boys as if he could wave them away.  The boys didn’t move they just stood there.  One on either side of the ally and one behind them at the mouth of the ally; watching for Kid and Heyes, and yet another at the opposite end of the ally’s opening.  “Don’t you boys have anything else to do except bother me.”  He whined as he threw crates and bags into the wagon.  “And while I’m at it,” he glared at the boys, “where are my horses.  That feller at the livery told me that some of you kids took ‘em and did something with them.  So where are they?”  The boys just smiled.

The boy at the mouth of the ally, spoke softly, “here they come.”  The boy waved at Kid and Heyes as they approached.  “He’s been loading up.”  He told them as they rounded the corner.

 

Quietly the two outlaws moved down the ally.  Travis was so busy throwing things into the wagon and complaining about the boys watching him that he didn’t notice that anyone else had entered the ally way.  That is not until he had backed into Heyes who was standing there with his thumbs tucked into his belt, fingers laced together, with the ‘Mona Lisa’ smile on his face again.  Travis jumped about a foot as he bumped into Heyes, and turned around to see the two standing there.  Kid adjusted his hat and smiled at Travis.  While Heyes, repositioned his hat on the back of his head and smiled bigger.

 

“whacha doin?”  Heyes asked innocently.

 

Laughing nervously, Travis looked from one to the other, “Ahh hi boys.  Good to see you again before I go.”

 

“Go?”  Heyes looked puzzled at Kid then back at Travis. “Where ya goin?  I thought you liked this little town.”

 

“Oh you know how it is.  Every so often a salesman needs to move on.”

 

Kid looked at Heyes, “Guess he smelled that tar warming up.”

 

Travis gulped, “Tar?  For what?”

 

Heyes smile got a little bigger. “Guess.” 

 

“Okay, okay.”  Travis stuttered, “I’m on my way out of town and they won’t have to see me again.”

 

“That’s good Travis.”  Kid agreed, “But not just yet.”

 

“Waddaya mean not yet.”  Travis stared at him. “I really need to get out of here.”

 

“Oh you will Travis.  Don’t worry no one is gonna hurt you.” Heyes told him and Travis relaxed.  A little. “But before you go your gonna help these boys catch as many of these varmints as you can and then you are gonna take them with you.”  Conveniently about that time the little members of their posse began to show up with gunnysack squirming and squeaking with the very varmints that Heyes was referring to.

 

“I’m gonna what.”  Travis stammered, and laughed, “Now boys be reasonable.  I can’t take all these critters with me.  Why there is no room in that wagon for all of ‘em.”

 

“He didn’t say all of ‘em Travis.  He said as many as you and the boys can catch.”  Kid looked around and pointed out a pair of fairly comfortable looking chairs that Travis hadn’t put back in his wagon yet.

 

“Heyes and me, well we are gonna sit right here and count up how many of these critters the boys find, while these boys here help you load them into your wagon.”  He pulled up a crate and propped his feet up.  Heyes took a seat in the other chair and pulled out a couple of cigars handing one to Kid.  Then he put his own feet up on a crate and made himself comfortable.

 

“But, but, but….” Travis began.  “You can’t do this to me fellas.  Aww come on.”

 

Heyes signed, “Travis don’t whine.”  Then his eyes met Travis’s, “maybe you would prefer the alternative.”

 

With resignation Travis held out his hand and the boys handed him a sack.

 

Kid and Heyes spent the rest of the afternoon and evening until dark making a list of the boys who brought them prairie dogs and how many, so they could let the Mayor know who to pay and how much.  The boys who had helped them find Travis now helped to load the critters into the back of the wagon and it was filling up fast.

 

Sunday dawned bright and beautiful.  A bride couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day for her wedding.  Dorie was giggly and happy all threw Sunday services.  Her fiancé Jack was attentive and couldn’t keep his eyes off of her.  The afternoon following church services was spent decorating the church for the ceremony that was to take place later that afternoon. The church was being beautifully decorated with flowers and ribbon.  One of the girls who worked at the saloon was very gifted at making arrangements of flowers and bows made of ribbon.  Mrs. Whetstine had a fit when she found out that Mrs. Blacketer had enlisted the girls’ help in decorating the church.  Mrs. Smithers looked at Mrs. Blacketer and rolled her eyes when Mrs. Whetstine began to rant and rave about the sort of people that the two of the associated with.  She just couldn’t understand it. 

 

“What I can’t understand,” Mrs. Smithers began, “Is how a church elders wife can be such a bigot.”

 

Blythe gasp in shock, “I am not a bigot, Amanda Smithers!  How dare you say that about me.”

 

Butter would have melted in Amanda’s mouth as she continued in an oh so innocent tone, “Well what else could I possibly think Blythe.  Here Ivy has worked so hard with Crystal to help her believe in herself.  To get her to show off her talent with the decorations, so that maybe she can be convinced to open herself a little flower shop, or maybe go to work with Miss. Peterson at her dress and hat shop and all you can do is complain about the girls reputation. Something she is trying very hard to overcome.”

 

After much huffing and puffing, Mrs. Whetstine just stormed away mumbling about the never of some people.

 

The time arrived and the guest gathered at the church.   Everyone marveled at how their plain church building had been transformed into something magical by the flowers, ribbons and candles that were scattered threw out the entire building. 

 

The boys stood in the back of the church watching as the wedding began. They hadn’t really wanted to come, but Mrs. Blacketer had insisted that they did.  She insisted that they had done so much to help that they should at least be there for the party.  They deserved that much.   So here they stood in their suits at the back of the church trying hard to blend in and not feel too uncomfortable.  Kid spotted two little boys in the very last pew of the church.  They were little Davy Smithers and the groom’s baby brother, Christopher Whetstine.  Between them sat a shoebox that the boys kept peeking into and occasionally thumping on the side.

 

Kid nudged Heyes in the ribs and nodded toward the two little boys. “Who do they remind you of.”

 

Heyes followed Kids line of site and smiled at the two. “Age difference is about right.”  Then he frowned, “what are they up to?”

 

“What makes you think they are up to anything.”

 

Heyes looked at Kid a grin tugged at his mouth, “You’re the one who asked who they reminded me of.  Well ….”

 

The piano started to play the wedding march and the Groom, Jack and his attendants took their place at the altar before the Reverend Smithers.  Dorie’s friends were lovely in their dresses as they came down the aisle all smiles.  Then Dorie appeared looking beautiful on her father’s arm.  She couldn’t have had a bigger smile on her face if she had tried.  As the ceremony began a small squeaking sound could be heard coming from the direction of the two boys.

 

“Oh no.”  Kid said softly.

 

“What?”  Heyes asked.

 

Kid shook his head and whispered, “just watch.”  Just then a ripple went threw the pews at the back of the church as a brown blur escaped from the box the boys had.

 

“ut-oh”  Christopher whispered and looked at Davy with panic in his eye. “it gots out.”

 

The panicky creature began to run back and forth threw the pews.  Bushing across the guest’s feet causing them to jump and look around.  But it would be gone before anyone could see what was touching them.  The prairie dog then huddled under a seat trying to hide as the two boys began to crawl around on the floor looking for their lost pet.  Davy bumped into someone’s leg that gave him a stern look and sheepishly the little boy returned to his seat.  Christopher’s mother pulled him up by his ear from the other side of the church and sent back to his seat.  The two boys looked at each other and tried not to giggle was they realized that the prairie dog was beginning to cause a stir again.  Mrs. Whetstine looked around and cast an evil glance at several people who dared to interrupt the wedding she felt she had worked so hard to bring about.  Mrs. Blacketer didn’t seem to notice that there was some kind of disturbance going on and that annoyed Mrs. Whetstine as well.

 

“Holy….” Some one practically shouted from the back of the church as the prairie dog ran part way up his leg and darted across the church to find another quiet corner to hide in.  The gentleman looked embarrassed, “Oh dear excuse me.”  He said and quietly resumed his seat.

 

“Oh good heavens.”  A lady from the other side of the church blurted out as the frightened animal ran past her legs causing her dress to swish rather loudly.  “There is something in here.”

 

Again the animal escaped unnoticed as it darted away. Davy and Christopher were trying very hard to hold in their giggles as they watched the prairie dog work its way across the room trying to find a way out.  The wedding party itself didn’t seem to realize that anything was going on behind then, as yet.

 

The poor prairie dog was about at its wit’s end as it raced across the room yet again.  This time it ran into an obstacle that it couldn’t find a way around.  Seeing no other option it ran straight up another mans pants leg.  “OH MY GOD!”  He declared, “There is something in my pants! And it’s alive!”

 

Several ladies of the congregation gasp and blushed at the outburst.  Some of the men didn’t know whether to laugh or be embarrassed.  Meanwhile the gentleman with the prairie dog up his leg is jumping around pulling at his pants like he had a live animal in his pants (which of course he did).  Kid and Heyes just looked at one another.  Somehow the prairie dog managed to run back down the man’s pant leg and escape without being seen.  It took several minutes for the man to realize that the critter was no longer in his pants.  Once he did, he looked around at all the people who were staring at him and shrugged.  “I tell you something had me.  There is a demon of some kind in this building.”  Everyone looked at the man like he had lost him mind and turned back to the wedding. 

 

The good reverend had just reached the part of the ceremony where he asked if anyone here knows of a reason these two should not be joined, when Mr. Prairie dog made his way to the front of the church.  Looking for a place to hide. The poor creature nearly out of his mind by this time with fright, found what it thought was a perfect hiding place. Mrs. Whetstines skirts. Yard and yard of fabric were just waiting to be hidden in.  As she felt the prairie dog dart under her skirt, Mrs. Whetstine jumped to her feet and declared for all to hear, “HOLY FATHER SAVE FROM THIS DEMON.”  All eyes in the church turned to her as she began to jump around and wiggle like a dancer in a hoochie-coo show.  She shrieked and squealed as the critter climbed up her leg and effectively began to do laps around the inside of her skirt.  “OH HELP ME! HELP ME! I SHALL REPENT MY SINS, OH FATHER HELP ME.”  She cried, and began to rattle off a long list of liaisons that she had with different male members of the congregation as well as naming the names of those individuals. She went on to reveal every bit of gossip about other church members relationships that she had stored in her memory.  Things that she had been saving it to use when she needed something.  As she named names those men wives began to turn to their husbands and Mr. Whetstine jumped to his feet and began to looks for individuals.  Before Reverend Smithers could stop it several men began to have arguments with their wives leading to faces being slapped.  Mr. Whetstine grabbed the first person he could find whose name his wife had mentioned and the fight was on.  Before anyone knew it several fist fights had broken out in the church.  Dorie turned to observe all of this.  She looked at her parents and back at her Jack.  Her eyes filled with tears.  Jack knowing what was coming stepped closer to try and comfort his almost new bride.  But it was too late, “JJJJJJAAAAAACCCCCCKKKKKK!!!!!!!!”  She began to wail, then looked at her mother, “MMMMMMMAAAAAAAMMMMMMMAAAAA!!!”

 

As Kid and Heyes stood in the back of the room and watched the wedding quickly degraded to a free for all fight.  And the little critter that started it all escaped quickly out under the pews toward a door at the back of the church that had been opened when the fight spilled out of the building on to the grass outside.  That, However, meant the end of the wedding cake that had been so lovingly constructed by Dorie’s mother.  Ivy had worked all evening and most of the night constructing the cake for her daughters wedding only to see it become part of the fight that had spilled out of the church.  Once outside the fight had turned into a food fight using the wedding cake as well as every other tasty treat’s that had so lovingly been prepared by the bride and grooms families and sat on the table to be consumed later.

 

It took a while, but calm was finally restored.  No one was speaking to each other, but calm was restored.  Dorie and Jack found their way back into the church with their witnesses and the wedding was completed without the rest of the guest in attendance.  The party following was to say the least strained.  Some of the guest’s had made attempts to clean the food and punch off of their clothing.  Others had hurried around trying to find things to replace the items that had been destroyed in the fight.  But thankfully every one found a way to make peace, for the sake of the new bride and groom.

 

Early Monday morning the freight wagon arrived and being towed behind it was the new fire equipment.  Neatly stored on the fire wagon itself were the hoses, nozzles and everything else that could possibly be needed to fight fires in any community.  The mayor had gathered as many men as he could get to help.   Together the men build a wall around the lowest part of town, near the hill at the bottom of the church (that brand new wood got used after all).  Heyes reasoned that if they could build a wall of some kind to hold back the overflow, it would spare the middle of town from getting flooded streets at least.  Then they took the new fire wagon down to the stream to fill the pumps. 

 

The stream was running faster and higher that day than it had been. This was from storms that had raged in the distant mountains for the last several days.  Kid joined the men there to fill the new pumps in the wagon.  They decided that the simplest was to do the job was to simply form a bucket brigade and fill the wagons pump that way.  It was going to take some time, but being unfamiliar with the new equipment they weren’t sure how else exactly to go about it.  Everything was going well until the bank gave way from where the fast moving stream had washed away the bank underneath where Kid and Caleb Blacketer were working on the line.  Kid made a grab for the boy and a low hanging tree branch at the same time.  The problem was that once the ground had begun to go it was quickly taking the rest of the bank with it.  Several of the men grabbed on to Kid’s belt and anchored themselves while others grabbed a rope that had been left on the fire wagon for some reason.  They managed to tie the rope around Kids waist and to a much larger tree that was several feet away.   But not before Kid and the boy ended up in the water. 

 

“Hang on kid.”  Kid yelled to Caleb.  Kid was trying his best to keep his grip on the boy’s hand.  All the while wishing the others would hurry up, because that grip was beginning to slip.

 

Other members of the crew had gone for more help.  When they returned they brought Caleb’s father, the Mayor with them as well as blankets to wrap the two of them in.  The water that Kid and Caleb had ended up in; was freezing having come from high up in the mountains.

 

“Oh Mr. Jones.”  The mayor gasp as he realized how close he had come to losing his son.  “I don’t know how I can ever thank you.”

 

Kid looked at him from under the wet curls of his hair, blue eyes shining with relief that he didn’t have to watch the boy drown and simply responded, “I do.”  And walked away.

 

Once every thing had calmed back down they went back to work filling the pump.  Kid and the others who had gotten wet went to dry off and returned later to go back to work.  Next they attached the hoses and headed toward where it looked like the main part of the prairie dog village was located along the timberline on the side of the downhill side of the church leading toward the stream itself.  Heyes pointed out places he wanted the men from town to place themselves around the hill with clubs and sacks.  He really hated the idea of killing the little critters, but he wasn’t sure they were going to have much choice.  The boys of the town had been catching and bringing prairie dogs to Travis wagon for a couple of days now and there just wasn’t any more room in the wagon for them.   The mayor was beginning to worry about his offer of a penny a head for the captures.   Taking a deep breath Heyes stuck the nozzle of the hose in the first prairie dog hole and signaled the men manning the pump to start pumping.  Then Heyes opened the nozzle to allow the water to flow. It started slowly at first.  The pump being new it needed to be primed before the water started flowing freely.  Heyes and the Mayor exchanged worried looks that maybe there was something wrong with the equipment when the first trickle of water began to spurt out of the nozzle of the hose.  Then they exchanged relieved looks.  The water began to flow freely and with quite a bit of force behind it.  Much to Heyes surprise the hose became hard to handle as the pressure built up.  Kid seeing him struggle to keep the hose pointed in the direction that he wanted the water to go in, took up a position behind Heyes to help control the hose.  Freeing Heyes to direct it.  Several others saw what Kid was doing and joined him.  Now there was Heyes at the nozzle, Kid and two other men behind him to help control the hose.  Behind them were four others on the wagon itself working the pump.  It was tiring work, so the men were spelling each other as the need arose.  As the water began to flow threw the burrows the prairie dogs began to panicked screeching could be heard coming from underground.  Almost before anyone realized what was happening there were prairie dogs popping out of the ground all over the place.  Sickening, as it was several of them were clubbed and several more drowned.  Kid took the more direct route and just shot them.  But all in all there were not as many as anyone expected.  The sinkhole created when the tent frame collapsed began to fill with water and turned into a little pond.  The ground next to it leading toward the stream collapsed and created a stream with sort of a little waterfall leading back to the main stream.  The wall that had been build to protect the town turned out not to be needed after all.

 

“Travis…” Kid spoke softly to him. Travis turned with sad eyes from looking at his overloaded wagon. Kid’s tone chanced to the same one he used with the gang when he needed to reinforce something.  Anyone knowing Kid at all never questioned that tone.  They just did as they were told. “You can go now.  And if you know what is good for you, you’ll keep going.  Don’t try to sell those critters anywhere around here.  Not in the county, in the state, in any territory anywhere close.  Do we understand one another.”

 

Travis just nodded. 

 

“Good!”  Kid quietly walked away.

 

Travis was allowed to leave town after the prairie dog village was flooded.  And he did so quickly.  He was afraid that someone would change their mind about the tar and feathers.  However, Travis found his way to get back at the boys as he headed out of town.  In the form of a very tired sheriff who had long ago lost his posse.  Travis ran into him not a day or twos ride from the little town.


“Say Sheriff.  You still looking for those two outlaws.”

 

Wearily the Sheriff looked at Travis and sighed, “Why?”

 

“I think you need to go back to that town, a day or so down the rode there.”

 

 “I have already searched that town and they weren’t there.”

 

“I suggest you search again.  They just ran me out of town threatening to do me bodily harm if I should return.”

 

“Now why would they do that?”

 

Travis looked shocked at the Sheriff’s stupidity, “Why because I knew who they were and was going to turn in them in of course.”

 

The Sheriff nodded, “Well I guess that makes sense.”

 

Travis nodded, “Yes sir, you might be surprised what you find.”  Then Travis just rode away, with the Sheriff watching after him.

 

The Mayor stood on the walkway in front of his office surrounded by several towns’ people as he faced down that sheriff.  Kid and Heyes watched discretely hidden by the curtains in his office.  They had the window slightly open so that they could hear every word.

 

“Why Sheriff you have already been threw this town from one end to the other.  Searching for these two outlaws.  You have searched the hotel, saloon, diner, church, and every other building where you think you might find them and have found nothing.”  He looked around at the town’s people who stood near by listening. “I am not going to allow you to continue to bother these good people with this foolish search for someone, two someone’s, who are obviously not here.”  The crowd murmured their agreement. 

 

The sheriff sighed and looked around at the faces that surrounded him, “Mr. Mayor, I have it on good authority that Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry have been in this town for weeks. Now I have been on the trail of those two for weeks.  Running from one little town around here to another checking out every possible sighting of those two.”

 

“Just who is this ‘good authority’?”  The mayor asked.

 

“Fella named Travis MacCarter.  Said that he ran into them here in this town and that they threatened him to keep him quiet until he could manage to get out of town.”

 

The Mayor started laughing.  The Sheriff looked at him with annoyance close to hate.  “Sheriff, this fella whose word you are putting such stock into was run out of this town just yesterday, because that wagon of his was full of inventory that almost destroyed his town. You see he was selling prairie dogs around here and we had a population explosion of the things.  Took us a great deal of hard work to catch the varmints and load them into his wagon and get them both out of here.”  He gestured to the people of the town, “these good folks had the tar heating and were collecting feathers as he left.”  Then he laughed, “And you are gonna take his word?  Really sheriff.”

 

The Sheriff took off his had and scratched his head, “Yeah okay, you have a point there.  He kinda neglected to tell me all of that.” 

 

Shaking his head the mayor laughed again, “I’m sure he did.”

 

“Okay then. You swear that these two fellas haven’t been here?”

 

“Nope they haven’t been here. Only strangers that have been in this town lately, where the two gentlemen that the company sent to show us how to use our new equipment.”  He indicated the fire wagon.  “And I believe their names were Hotchkiss and ….”

 

“Darling.”  Ivy volunteered, gently touching her husband’s arm. “I believe the other gentleman’s name was Rembacker or something like that.”

 

“Rembacker.  Yes that’s it.  Thank you Ivy dear.”

 

“I have your word on that.”  The sheriff asked.

 

“Yes sir you do.” 

 

“Well okay then I guess I will just be headin home and let it go.  I seem to have lost them.”

 

Ivy looked at him sadly. “Gee that’s to bad sheriff.  After all you’re hard work and they still got away.”

 

“Well ma’am it happens.”  He mounted his horse, adjusted himself in his saddle and headed out of town. 

 

The people of the town watched as the sheriff rode out of sight. Then the Mayor called, “Okay boys, you can come down now.”

 

Kid and Heyes emerged from the building as their little posse of boys brought their horses out of hiding.

 

Taking the mayors hand to shake it Heyes told him, “Sir I don’t know how to thank you.  You didn’t have to do that.”

 

“No, you didn’t.”  Kid agreed.

 

The Mayor nodded, “After everything you boys have done here.  What else could I possibly do; I mean you saved my son’s life Mr. Curry and you Mr. Heyes you saved my town. And how did we repay you.  We dropped you in a hole, covered you with Prairie dogs and got you involved in a free for all, threatened to turn you in.  The least we could do is cover your tracks for you with that Sheriff.”

 

“Well sir.”  Heyes smiled, “I’m just glad everything worked out for the best.”

 

“Boys please know that you will always be welcome back here.”

 

With that the boys mounted their horses and headed out of town in the opposite direction as the Sheriff.