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 Familiar Territory Chapter Eight

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Keays



Posts : 33
Join date : 2013-09-26

20140115
PostFamiliar Territory Chapter Eight

Familiar Territory


 Wayne and Jack were a couple of new hires with the Devil's Hole gang and were still being tested as to their reliability before being included in any of the jobs.  They'd still get a cut from any loot that was taken, just not as much as the fellas who actually risked their necks to get it.  This was fine with the two newbie's, as they were both relatively young and knew they had to pay their dues just like with anything else.

 They alternated, taking turns at look-out when the rest of the gang was off doing a job, and Jack had ridden up to take over for Wayne just before the boss had shown up with a new horse in tow.  They'd given him the all clear to carry on and then sat together for a while to chat.  They mostly discuss what they were planning on doing with their cuts of the bounty before Wayne began to make noises about heading back to the bunkhouse for some well deserved shut eye.

 It was then that they heard gunfire coming from the direction of the hideout itself.  Both men locked gazes for an instant and then as one made a dash for the tethered horses down in the gulley.  Not being brothers and therefore not concerned about sibling rivalry there was no time wasted over arguing the pros and cons of checking it out.

 They snatched up their horses, swung aboard and were headed back to the Hole at a full gallop before two minutes had passed on the clock.

 Fortunately for them they came upon the herd of run-away horses on one of the few straight stretches of trail and had plenty of time to hear and then see the animals galloping towards them.  Wayne wasted no time in pulling his rifle and sending two shots into the air.  That did nothing to slow the stampede, so holding his own anxious mount steady he re-aimed the rifle and sent three successive shots into the ground right in front of the lead horses.

 Heads flew up and brakes were applied as the lead animals skidded to a halt and pivoted away from the unknown predator that had suddenly risen up from the ground.  Pandemonium ensued as the horses tried to turn back but came up against the horses still coming at them from behind.  Dust bellowed into the air as angry wails came from the more dominate animals and with ears laid flat and teeth bared they coherst their fellows into also changing direction.

 Wayne and Jack took advantage of the confusion and pulling their side arms, they galloped towards the herd, shooting repeatedly into the air.  They didn't know how the Hole's horse herd had gotten loose but they sure as shootin' weren't about to let them get to open country.  That would be the last they would see of their horses and they knew full well that a gang without transportation was no gang at all.  They were determined to turn that herd around, and turn them they did.

 Confusion prevailed as horses kicked and bit and pushed their way through their fellows in an effort to escape from the loud noises from the guns and the sharp teeth from the other horses.  One unfortunate gelding didn't move quite fast enough and was bowled over by those turning back on him and pushing their way through.  He scrambled to his feet and tried to join up, but he was knocked down again and kicked and stepped on a number of times before the herd passed over him and carried on.

 He was on his feet again in an instant only to find the two horsemen coming at him at full speed.  Fear of being knocked over again added power to his hind quarters and he lunged away from the antagonists just in time to avoid another collision.  Ears back and neck stretched out he galloped after his companions and even added his teeth to the powers that be to persuade his fellows to move along.


 Back up at the Hole,  Duncan and Fergie were cajoling the other members of the gang to get busy fixing the broken fences when it was their turn to hear gunfire coming from down below.  Everybody stopped what they were doing in an instant, some still in mid-swing of a hammer to a nail in an effort to re-attach the boards.

 Everyone held their breath and waited, listening for what they hoped they would hear.  Sure enough, soon after the gunshots, came the thundering sound of galloping hooves.  Every one to a man sent up a cheer until the boss caught their attention by firing his own hand gun into the air.

 “Davis!”  Duncan yelled.  “Get the gate to round corral open!  The rest of you idiots get ready to send those horses into that corral!  Hurry up!  Get in line!”

 Everyone ran for a position, grabbing ropes and whips or simply retaining possession of a shovel or a blanket in order to shoo the horses along the desired line and into the open corral. Hardly had the men gotten into position when the snorting of the horses and the yelling of the two men could be heard getting closer.  After that everything happened in a flash.  The lead horses came into view and before they knew it, they were galloping between the lines of men, everyone of them yelling and waving something at the animals to keep them going and in the desired direction.

 Wayne and Jack brought up the rear, continuing to push the horses and keep the trailing ones from ducking out to the side and getting away.  Fortunately for the men, the herding instinct is so strong in horses that once you have the leaders going a certain way, the rest will usually follow even if it's someplace they really didn't want to go.

 Karma did what came naturally and took the course of least resistance which of course pushed her straight into the high, solidly built enclosure.  By the time she realized that she had come to a dead end and turned to the side, the horses coming in behind her made it impossible to retract her steps.  She was once again in the possession of Tom Duncan.

Duncan: 11  Karma: 2

 Unfortunately if the men at the Hole thought that their troubles were now over, they were sadly mistaken.  The herd of fifteen horses, six of which were mares were not yet finished with creating havoc in the Hole.  Their blood was up from the gallop and now that the horses were contained, the sexual tension that had started the whole thing took precedence again.

 Every mare in the group was feeling the intoxicating rush as their desires for a stallion became fever pitched.
 Every single gelding responded with studly behaviour until the prancing and snorting and manly posturing made the sturdy corral resemble a well stocked saloon on a Saturday night. Erections abounding, there were so many arched necks and flared nostrils sending out challenges that the air was filled with high-pitched squealings and deep-throated bellows. The geldings and mares alike struck and kicked at one another in a show of equine eroticism that was bound to cause fist fights to break out if nothing was done about it—soon!

 In a combined effort that would have rivalled the original Devil's Hole gang during a well planned out train robbery the new gang members set about repairing the original corral.  Then Wayne and Jack, being the only two men who had mounts already, assisted one another in roping each gelding one at a time and ponying them over to the repaired enclosure.  Nobody dared do this on foot as the horses were far too riled up and would likely kick or simply trample any human who tried to get near them on ground level.

 It took some doing, with the men on foot handling the gates to ensure that only the desired animal either exited or entered the desired inclosure.  It took two hours to move nine geldings from one corral to the other but when it was finally done, the dust began to settle.  The two dominants, Nonsense and Karma continued to prance around their respective enclosures, sending out challenges and enticements to one another but other than that, everyone else had had enough and life returned to a relative normalcy.

 Duncan stomped up the steps into the leader's cabin with Fergie close on his heels.

 “Goddammit!”  the younger man cursed as he headed for the cupboard and the bottle of whiskey.  “How the hell did Heyes put up with that bloody mare?”

 Fergie saw this as a rhetorical question so didn't bother coming up with an answer.  Besides, he was nursing his own new set of bruises and wasn't too pleased with the boss's new horse himself.

 Duncan grabbed two shot glasses and putting them on the table he poured out two drinks and both men downed theirs in one gulp.  Another round was poured and they sat down at the table to recover from their exertions.

 “Now every Goddamn fxxxin' mare on the place is in heat!”  Duncan continued with the obvious.  “What is it with them anyways?  Do they send each other telegrams or something?  It seems like all it takes is one of 'em to start acting stupid and they all decide to get involved.  Jezus!  If there was a stallion on the place maybe I could understand it, but what's the point of wavin' your tail in front of a gelding?  Goddammit!  I should just go out and shoot the whole lot of 'em—then no more mares!  Stick to geldings from now on—goddam bloody mares!”

 Fergie sat quietly drinking his whiskey and gave his boss time to settle down. Twenty minutes of ranting and threatening the life of every mare in the state seemed to be enough to allow his frustration to vent and he slowly calmed down and became quiet.  Another round of drinks was poured.

 Finally Fergie took the chance and changed the subject.  “What do ya' wanna do about them fellas that took off on us?”

 Duncan sent his lieutenant a scathing look and Fergie thought for a moment that he might have chosen the wrong time for this.  Then Duncan sighed and he thought about the old problem that was new again.

 “I'm not sure yet,”  he admitted.  “I got no use for men who ain't loyal to me, but I can't be lettin' fellas stab me in the back and then just ride on outa here without some kind of retribution.”

 “Yeah,”  Fergie agreed.  “that don't set a good example to the others, that's fer sure.”

 “But if Carlson and Murtry were still loyal to Heyes, then what the hell was they doin' here?”  Duncan mused partially to himself.  “And if they was loyal to me then why didn't they sound off at the train?”

 Another whiskey poured and another one downed.  Duncan sat and thought for a moment, considering his options.  Fergie took another drink and waited.

 “Naw,”  Duncan finally decided.  “if Ames and Orrison want to come back I'll let them—on a trial basis.  I suppose I can't blame them for not wanting to go up against Kid Curry.  But Carlson and Murtry?  No.  There's something fishy goin' on there and I don't trust 'em.  If I ever see either one of them bastards again I'll shoot 'em, straight up.  No questions asked.”

 “But what about Curry and Heyes?”  Fergie asked.  “If that mare really does belong to Hannibal Heyes and you left him breathin'....”

 “He ain't,”  Duncan declared confidently.  “I hit him square in the chest. Hannibal Heyes is dead, you can bet your bottom dollar on that.”

“Then I'd say your problems are just beginning,”  Fergie informed him.  “If indeed you killed Heyes, then Curry is gonna track you down no matter what.  You know what them two was like.  Curry may not give two hoots about that mare, but he ain't about to let you get away with killin' his partner.”

 “Yeah, you're right about that,”  Duncan conceded thoughtfully.  “but there ain't no way he can get into Devil's Hole without us knowin' about it.  That's what makes this an ideal hideout; there's only one way in and we got it covered.”

 “That's what they say,”  Fergie agreed.  “but that marshal, Morrison got in.  Did he just come through the front door?”

 “Yeah.”  Duncan stated matter-of-factly.  “It's common knowledge that Carlson got lazy and didn't have nobody on look-out.  You know that as well as I do.  There ain't no other way in.”

 “Yeah,”  Fergie nodded.  “that's true enough.  I just get the feeling there's more to it than that....”

 Duncan snorted.  “There ain't no more to it.  Carlson's an idiot who got his whole gang butchered.  Probably a good thing he's gone anyways.  I don't need the likes of him around here.”

 “Yeah okay,”  Fergie surrendered the point.  “but still you can't stay in the Hole forever, you're gonna havta leave it eventually and when you do Curry will be watchin' for ya'.  He might even have friends that we know nothin' about keepin' an eye on the Hole, just waitin' fer ya' to come out.”

 Duncan sat and thought about that possibility.

 “Yeah, that's a good point,”  he acquiescenced.  “so maybe I'll just make the first move. Maybe we'll just track down Curry and take care of him first.”

 Fergie noticeably paled. “Have you gone stark raving mad?”  he asked, regardless of the consequences.  “Track down Kid Curry and push him into a corner?  It took the law fifteen years to finally get him and they had to take him by ambush to do it! I don't care if he is legal now, it'd be suicide and the law would be backin' him up.  You're on your own Tom, if you go after Kid Curry.  I always figured I'd have a violent retirement from this profession but a bullet from Curry ain't my idea of a good pension. No sir.  You'll be on your own if you do that!”

 Duncan scowled.  “Jesus Christ!  What am I; surrounded by a bunch of cowards!? First Ames and Orrison run out on me and now you?  What the hell is the matter with ya'?  Curry's a 'has been'!  That hit he took in the shoulder damn near crippled 'im; he ain't no where's near the gunman he used to be and yet you're all still runnin' sacred!  He's gotta be at least forty by now.  He's an old, useless cripple.”

 Fergie's jaw set hard in irritation but he forced himself to remain calm.  “Ya' mean like me?”  he asked his younger 'boss'.

 Duncan stopped in his tracks, realizing that he had overstepped.  “Oh well, no.” he back-stepped.  “No, I weren't referrin' ta' you Fergie—you're still a good hand. I know you got my back.”

 “I do when yer not determined to get yourself killed,”  Fergie agreed.  “Curry may be gettin' older and he may not be as fast as he once was, but he's still younger and faster than me.  Some of the younger bucks here might be willin' ta' go, but I ain't gonna get myself killed over some stupid horse.”

 “Yeah, okay Fergie,”  Duncan agreed.  “I hear ya'.”

 “Good!”  Fergie finished his whiskey and stood up from the table.  “I'm gonna go out and make sure them horses is bein' tended to.  We need them animals fit and healthy if we wanna stay active.”

 Duncan downed his own whiskey and nodded as Fergie turned and headed out of the cabin.  Duncan poured himself another drink and downed it in one shot, then slammed the glass down onto the table top.

 “FXXK!”



 “Wha'cha gonna do with yer share of the money, Kyle?”  Ames asked his buddy as they allowed their horses to walk and recuperate.

 Kyle shrugged and sent a stream of chaw off to the side so his mouth would be free to answer.

 “Donno yet,”  he admitted.  “Ain't done thought about it.”

 “Ain't done thought about it?”  Ames was incredulous. “C'mon!  This is the best score we ever made!”

 Wheat sent a casual glance over to his partner, but the warning in his eyes was clear.  Kyle smiled and took his meaning.

 “Yeah I suppose,”  he admitted.  “fer you.  But we done better when Heyes was in charge.”

 “Really?”  Ames asked, awe coming into his voice.  “Wish I coulda rode with the gang when he were runnin' things.  It'd be like....touchin' greatness.”

 An audible snort could be heard coming from Wheat's vicinity. Kyle grinned again, knowing how much admiration of their former boss irked the man.  He chewed his chaw and sent out another small stream.

 “Yeah, you done missed out on ridin' with a legend awright,”  Kyle agreed.  Wheat sent him an evil look but it only caused Kyle to smile bigger.  “You don't know what real genius is until you've had the chance to ride with Hannibal Heyes...”

 “Yeah,”  Ames continued to fawn.  “Gettin' the chance to know Heyes was worth goin' ta' prison fer.  He sure was....”

 “Yeah, alright!”  Wheat pulled up his horse and stopped the group.  “Ah, me and Kyle is gonna be headin' east now.  We got a friend we gotta meet up with.”

 Kyle's smile dropped and Ames looked downright heartbroken.

 “Well, why can't we just come with ya'?”  the young outlaw suggested.  “We ain't goin' no place special—are we Orri?”

 “No,”  Wheat answered before Orrison could respond.  “that ain't a good idea.” Kyle was about to ask why not when Wheat cut him off as well.  “This fella we gotta meet up with don't take to strangers too well.  And we got business dealings with him, so...”

 “What kind of business dealings?”  Orrison asked suspiciously.

 “Business dealings that ain't none of your business,”  Wheat growled.

 “No need to get snarky!”  Orri complained.  “We don't mind movin' on, do we Ames?”

 Ames and Kyle exchanged disappointed looks.

 “Yeah, I suppose,”  Ames grumbled.  Young Mr. Ames didn't have many friends and Kyle was about the closest to a 'best friend' that he could remember.

 “Wul, may be we can meet up with ya'....ouch!  Wheat!  What you done hit me fer!?”

 “Don't be makin' no promises we can't keep,”  Wheat snarled at his partner.  “You know we got business—and it's private!”

 Kyle looked sulky but Ames smiled and tried to perk up.

 “Yeah, that's alright Kyle,”  he said, trying to make light of the split.  “We got our cut and we know how we're gonna spend it, don't we?”  and he gave Orri a playful slap on the back to emphasize their intent.

 “Yeah,”  Orrison agreed.  “we got places to go ourselves.  We'll be seein' ya' around.”

 “Ya' might consider hangin' on to some of that money,”  Wheat suggested, somewhat out of character.  “Times are changin' boys, ya' might consider gettin' outa outlawin' while ya' still can.”

 Orrison and Ames snorkeled over that one.

 “Yeah, right Wheat,”  Orrison chuckled.  “This is the easiest money I ever made. And now that we're not with the Devil's Hole anymore I think our best bet is to hook up with another gang and just carry on.  Just couse you got lily livered...”

 Wheat tightened up and booted his horse over closer to Orrison, looking like he meant business.

 “The hell you say!”  Wheat threw at him.  “I just know when it's time ta' move on!  It's the man who ain't got the guts to accept change that gets his-self killed!”

 Ames and Kyle sat back out of the way, concern on both their faces that there was going to be a physical altercation here.  But Orrison backed down, not wanting to risk an actual fist fight with the larger, more seasoned outlaw.  Wheat felt his own breath starting to fail him due to his damaged constitution but he refused to cough and fought the impulse as he stared the other man down.

 “Yea, yea alright,”  Orrison did indeed back down.  “I just don't see no reason to quit when the goin's good.  Young Ames here is darn good with explosives and I'm a pretty darn good forger.  I don't think we'll have any trouble at all gettin' in with somebody.”

 Wheat backed down, not wanting to push his luck any further.  “Fine,”  he said and allowed an innocent little cough to be met with his shirt sleeve.  “You go do that.  Maybe if ya' brown-nose Tom Duncan a bit he might just let ya' back in—but on second thought; naw.  The way that idiot's running that gang he ain't gonna be around much longer his-self.  Take my advice and stay away from Devil's Hole.”

 Orrison became suspicious again.  “What do ya' mean?”  he asked.  “You know somethin' we don't?”

 “No,”  Wheat told him.  “I just don't like that way that idiot runs things.  He's gonna end up killin' every last one of ya'  So just stay away from Devil's Hole.  C'mon Kyle.”

 Wheat hauled his horse's head around and booted the animal into a gallop, headed east.  Kyle hesitated a moment and sent a disappointed look over to his friend.

 “Wul, I guess I best be goin',”  he said around his chaw.  “You fella's take care a yerselves, ya' hear?  Be seein' ya'.”

 Orrison just gave him a quick head nod, but Ames looked real heartbroken.

 “Yea, okay Kyle,”  he accepted the fates.  “You take care too.  See ya' around.”

 Orrison and Ames turned their horses' heads to the north and booted them into a gallop.  Kyle sent out a disappointed stream of tabbaca and turning his horse east he sent it after his partner.
 
 After Wheat had gotten a fair enough distance away from the group, he brought his gelding down to a jog-trot to give Kyle a chance to catch up.

 “Whatcha do that fer?”  Kyle asked, still in a bit of a snit.  “They was alright fellas.”

 “Kyle, are you forgettin' that we ain't outlaw's no more?”  Wheat asked him. “Now that Duncan suspects us we ain't gonna do no good up in Devil's Hole.  I figure we should just head on back to Porterville and let ole' Lom know what's goin' on.  We can't have Orrison and Ames come with us cause then Lom would have ta' arrest 'em. You want your buddy Ames endin' up back in prison couse 'a you?”

 Kyle swallowed his chaw.  He choked a couple of times and then gulped it down and made a face.  “No, I sure wouldn't want that,”  he stated hoarsely once he had his composure back.  “But I like Ames.  I just hope he's gonna be alright, is all.”

 “Yeah,”  Wheat agreed.  “I just hope they listen to me and stay away from the Hole. If that bastard killed Heyes over some stupid horse then this whole county is gonna be like a powder keg.”

 “Yeah, I suppose,”  Kyle grudgingly agreed.  “Kid sure won't let that go by without a fight.”

 “You got that right.”


 Two nights later the travel weary ex-outlaws cautiously made their way down the main street of Porterville.  It was early evening as the two men pulled up in front of the sheriff's office and dismounted.  They both looked around them to make sure no one was paying them any mind, then untying their saddle bags, they quietly made their way up to the window to see who was on duty.

 Wheat hissed and drew back, cursing under his breath.

 “What?”  asked Kyle innocently.  “ain't it him?”

 “Naw, it's that deputy, Wilkens,”  Wheat grumbled.  “That big oaf is thicker than you.”

 “Yeah,”  Kyle agreed, then frowned.  “Hey....!”

 “Whatcha up to boys?”

 Both Wheat and Kyle nearly jumped outa their pants and both men swung around, nearly dropping their saddle bags and making futile attempts to grab their side arms before they had the chance to recognize their old friend.

 “Jeezus Lom!”  Wheat cursed in a whisper.  “You shouldn't be sneakin' up on a fella that way!”

 “Yeah,”  Kyle agreed as he tried to untangle his gun from his saddle bags.  “we mighta' shot ya'.”

 Lom smiled in an attempt to humour them.  “Right.”

 “Well now, what's goin' on out here?”

 Wheat and Kyle made another spin around, going for their guns a second time. Kyle actually fumbled his completely and the weapon thumped down onto the boardwalk, making a loud hollow echo as it landed.

 “Geesh...”  Wheat hissed through his teeth.  He'd about had enough of this.

 “It's our old friends, Carlson and Murtry come to visit,”  Lom informed his deputy.

 “Is that a fact?”  Harker boomed.  “Well, ha!  You best come on in then.”

 Wheat and Kyle looked at each other and then back at Lom.  Lom just nodded and shooed them forward.

 “Get on in there,”  he told them.  “Let's hear what ya' got to say.”

 “Yeah,”  Wheat agreed.  “C'mon Kyle, let's go.”

 Kyle stooped to pick up his gun, dropped his saddle bags, stooped to pick them up and nearly tripped over his own spurs before he finally got himself organized and following his partner into the office. It just didn't seem natural to be walkin' into a sheriff's office under his own steam. Even if it was Lom.

 They all filed into the office and Lom moved around behind his desk while Harker went to stand by the stove.  It wasn't actually cold in the room but Harker never did come to trust these 'outlaws turned detectives' and he was going to keep a close eye on the goings on.  The location of the stove just happened to be the best spot in the room to accomplish this.

 “Alright boys,”  Lom began the conversation.  “what's up?  Why aren't you still up at the Hole?”

 “Well who's brilliant idea was it to have Heyes and the Kid on that train we was robbin'?”  Wheat snarked in an effort to pass the buck before blame was placed on to them. “That put us in a real sticky situation.  I had ta' pretend I didn't know them then when Duncan found out I hadn't sounded the alarm he got to thinkin' that we might be up ta' something.  Worse thing about that is that he was right.”

 “Yeah,”  Lom grumbled himself over that slip-up. “I didn't even know they were on that train until I got a telegram from them.”

 “'Them'?”  Wheat questioned.  “Ya' mean Heyes ain't dead?”

 “No,”  Lom creased his brow wondering why Wheat would think that.  

 Wheat and Kyle exchanged looks, Kyle smiled.

 “Well that's gonna be a real shock to Duncan,”  Wheat continued with his own wicked grin taking over.  “cause he's damn sure he nailed Heyes right in the chest and struttin' around like a cock in the ring, declarin' that he killed Hannibal Heyes!”

 Lom sat down with a sigh and shook his head.  “Heyes never said anything about that in his telegram.  Just said they needed to get into Devil's Hole and would appreciate some help. The whole idea of you boys gettin' in there is so we could get inside information about the Hole in order to do just that, so I don't know what's put a bee under his bonnet to have it happen right now.”

 Wheat and Kyle exchanged looks again and Kyle's smiled turned into a full-toothed grin.  Both ex-outlaws started to chuckle.  Harker snorted in disgust; he sure didn't trust these fellas.

 “What?”  Lom asked, feeling his own level of irritation.

 “'What' is that Duncan done snatched that mare right out from under Heyes again,” Wheat explained.  “and Duncan's claimin' that he killed Heyes in the process.”

 “You mean to tell me that all that hoop la was just because Heyes' damn mare is back in Devil's Hole?”

 “Yup,”  Kyle grinned even more.

 Lom ran a hand through his hair,  “Oh lord help me!”  he snarked.  “And he expects me to get a whole posse together and ride on in there half-cocked just because of his horse!?”

 Kyle and Wheat exchanged looks again and then nodded in unison.

 “Yup.”

 Harker snorted.  

 Lom just shook his head.  “Well, we want to shut that gang down anyways, but Heyes is just gonna havta wait until we're ready,”  the sheriff proclaimed then looked at his two spies with a hint of suspicion.  “You boys got anything for me?”

 The smiles dropped from their faces and the two partners looked at each other again, only this time in confusion.  Harker straightened up, getting ready for trouble and Lom leaned forward with intent.

 “Such as money from the train robbery?”  Lom asked.

 “Oh!”  Wheat shuffled.  “Oh well yeah! A'course.  We plum forgot about that, didn't we Kyle?”

 “Yeah.”

 “It's right here, Lom.”  And both of them plunked the saddle bags onto the desk and opened up the straps.  “There ya' are Lom, our share from the hold-up.”

 Lom did a quick calculation of the money in the bags and surmised that it was close to what their share would have been.

 “Alright, fine,”  Lom accepted that.  “Harker, get this money in the safe.”

 “Yessir Sheriff,”  Harker strode over to the desk and scooping up the bags headed for the safe for safe-keeping.

 “Ah, we're gonna kinda need our saddle bags back there Deputy,”  Wheat told him. “Our personals is in there too.”

 Harker grunted as he got down to open the safe.  “Ha, yeah well that's fine.”  he assured them.  “Just let me empty 'em out first.”

 “So, you fellas need some money right now?”  Lom asked them.

 “Ah, well yeah,”  Wheat shuffled uncomfortably.  He still didn't like just taking money that's handed over to him, even if he had earned it.  It just seemed insulting to him somehow to not be robbin' it.  “We'd kinda like ta' get a room and a bath and then some dinner.”

 “Well that's fine,”  Lom nodded.  “Harker, give me that box for petty cash, will ya'?”

 “Yessir, Sheriff.” Harker reached in to one of the shelves in the safe and handed over the small strong box to his boss.

 Lom pulled a small key out of his desk drawer and opening the box he counted out a number of bills.

 “Here ya' go,”  he said as he handed the cash to Wheat.  “Go get yourselves cleaned up and fed but be back here first thing in the morning so we can discuss plans.  It's getting too late now and Martha is expecting me home.”

 Wheat nodded as he took the money and shoved it into his pocket.

 “How is yer wife, Lom?”  Kyle asked with a beaming smile.  “She sure is a nice lady.”

 “She's fine Kyle,”  Lom told him.  “Thank you for asking.  Perhaps you fellas can come up to the house for supper tomorrow.  I'm sure she'd like to see you.”

 Kyle grinned.  “Yeah.  I'd like that fine.  I can show her how much my readin' has improved.”

 Lom nodded.  “Alright fellas—stay outa trouble.  I'll see you in the morning.”

 “Yeah,”  Wheat agreed as Harker handed them back their much lighter saddle bags. “C'mon Kyle, you need a bath.”

 “Yeah, wul so do you!”  Kyle was not to be out-done.  “I want my bath first, cause once you get into the water, it'll just turn ta' mud and I won't be able ta' get clean.”

 “What do ya' mean, I'll turn it ta' mud?”  came the complaint back as they headed for the door.  “all that tabacca juice you get all over yerself, the water will be brown before you're up to yer knee's....”

 “Oh now that ain't fair, Wheat.....”

 The door closed on the bickering partners and Lom sent an exasperated look over at his deputy.

 “He wants us to ride up into Devil's Hole because of his damned horse!”

 Harker smiled and shrugged.  “Yeah, well.”

 Lom released a heavy sigh and stood up.  “Well, have a good night Harker.  I'll see you in the morning.”

 “Yessir Sheriff.  Don't you worry about a thing.”

 “Uh huh.”



 The following morning Wheat and Kyle showed up at Lom's office at half past ten. Lom sent them a glare like he meant it.

 “You call this first thing?”  he demanded as they shuffled in.  

 “Well shucks Lom, we didn't even get ta' bed until after one,”  Wheat complained. “Then them beds was so comfy....”

 “Yeah,”  Kyle supported his partner.  “I ain't slept in a bed that comfy since prison.”

 Both Wheat and Lom sent the little man questioning looks.

 “Wull, I ain't,”  Kyle insisted.

 “Yeah, alright,”  Lom grumbled.  “Ya' want coffee?”

 “Yeah, sure,”  Wheat accepted.  “We ain't had no time for breakfast yet.”

 “Yeah, we come over here just as soon as we was up,”  Kyle informed him as Lom poured them coffee.

 All three then sat down around Lom's desk and the two visitors savoured their first few sips of the day.  Lom waited patiently.

 “Where's that big deputy of yours?”  Wheat asked curiously.  “Didn't scare 'im off did we?”

 “Hardly,”  Lom commented with a roll of the eyes.  “Harker does the night shift so if there's nothing goin' on he can go home once I get here.”

 Lom waited for the two men to make their report.  The two men continued to drink their coffee.

 “So?”  Lom gave up the pretence of patience.  “ya' gonna tell me what's goin' on up in Devil's Hole or what?”

 “Oh!”  Wheat shifted nervously.  He wasn't used to making a report to a sheriff. He glanced over at Kyle and Kyle just smiled at him, letting him take the lead. “Yeah, ahh....well as near as we can figure there's about ten fellas up there right now, though Orrison and Ames I think are gone.”

 “Oh yeah?”  Lom asked.  “What sent them two off?”

 “Apparently they didn't want to stick around and help Duncan take on Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry just to get Heyes' horse.  They kinda left Duncan in the lurch so they didn't figure they'd be too welcome back at the Hole.”

 Lom nodded his appreciation of that concern.  “So where are they now?”

 “Well how should I know?”  Wheat's natural surely side was coming out.  “Last we saw 'em they was headed north.”

 Lom sighed.  “Alright.  So eight to ten fellas at the Hole.  What are their names?”

 “Well, Duncan's second is an old geezer named Ferguson,”  Wheat told him.  “He's been around for a while.  First I'd worked with 'im though.  Then there's Davis and then there's them two new fellas, Jack and Wayne.  Never did get their last names. Then there's Brian Keats and Jose Yamis and ah, then there's that black kid.  What was his name Kyle?”

 Kyle squirmed at being put on the spot.

 “Charlie, I think,”  he answered.  “Jones, weren't it?”

 “Yeah, that was it.”  Wheat agreed. “Oh and Lenny Hutchinson.  He kinda tends the horses and does most of the cookin'.  Don't get out on jobs much.”

 Lom was busy writing all the names down in his ledger containing all the other notes concerning the new Devil's Hole.

 “Alright,”  he said without looking up.  “Anybody else?”

 “Well, yeah a couple of other fellas who came and went,”  Wheat mumbled.  “We was only there for a week Lom, hardly enough time to get ta' know them all by name.”

 “Hmm, I suppose.”  Lom looked over the names and scratched his chin.  “Well, Ferguson I know; that old coots been around forever.  Keats and Yamis have been in and out of jail for minor stuff, they sure ain't new to this game.  Jack and Wayne.”  Lom shrugged.  “They could be anybody.  Young fellas?”

 Both Wheat and Kyle nodded.

 “Okay,”  Lom made more notes.  “Now, Charlie Jones.  That's a new one.”

 “He said he just come up from Arkansas,”  Kyle informed him.  “Kinda new to the area.”

 “Hmm,”  Lom nodded and made more notes.  “Okay.  Now, Hutchinson.  He kind of a big fella, blond—walks with a limp?”

 “Yeah,”  Kyle agreed.

 “Hmm,”  Lom nodded and jotted down more notes.  “Thought so.  Okay.  What's the feeling you get from the men up there?  You think they'd stay loyal to Duncan in a pinch?”

 Both ex-outlaws snorted.

 “Not on yer life!”  Kyle answered and grinned over his coffee and chaw.  “None 'a them boys been there long enough ta' be loyal ta' anyone but themselves.”

 “Not unless they come in as friends already,”  Wheat added.  “Duncan lost Orri's faith when he allowed Price to be taken without a fight.  Them two was friends.” he sent a question over to Kyle.  “Jack and Wayne?”

 “Yep,”  Kyle agreed.  “they come in together.  I think they's good friends.”

 “Yeah,”  Wheat carried on.  “the other's are just out for themselves.  Well, except Fergie. Fer some reason that old coot is loyal to Tom Duncan.  Gonna get hisself killed if'n ya' ask me.”

 Lom finished making the notes again and looked over at the two men.  “So, they're not well organized I take it.”

 “Shoot—no!”  Wheat looked disgusted.  “I mean, you musta heard about the mess they made 'a that train robbery.”

 Lom nodded.  “Yup, it was in the papers the next day plus I got a wire about it from the Union Pacific Police.  They suspected it was the Devil's Hole gang and since that gang is suppose to be my problem they thought they should inform me of what they've been up to.  Apparently they were also suspicious of Heyes and the Kid being on that train at the time it was robbed.”

 Wheat snorted.  “Ha, right!  If Heyes and the Kid'd had anything to do with that robbery the damn train would still be on the tracks.  Geesh what an idiot!”

 “Hmm umm, that's what I told 'em,”  Lom agreed.  “That gang's lucky no one was killed.  Real stupid.”

 “Yeah well I'd say that Duncan is on his way to the noose anyways,”  Wheat predicted.  “I mean, Heyes and Kid now they could get tough when they had to—you know, keepin' them other fellas is line 'an all.  And granted, Heyes could get a little unpredictable when he was drinkin', but he ain't mean-spirited—not usually. But Duncan—geesh! That bastard don't need to be drunk to be mean.  Kinda reminds me 'a Morrison....”

 Wheat stopped talking and his lip curled up in a well-aged anger.

 “Let's not get started on that,”  Lom strongly suggested.  “Stick to the matter at hand.  What about that back entrance?  Do they know about that?”

 Wheat swallowed guiltily.  He was never going to forget that it was his forgetfulness of that entrance that got his gang wiped out.  Kyle stopped chawing and sent an anxious glance over to his partner.

 “Ah, no...”  Wheat coughed. “Ah, far as we could tell nobody knew about that trail.  Weren't nobody sent to guard it in any case.”

 “Good,”  Lom's spirit rose a bit.  “Is it still there, still passable?”

 “Well, we done checked it out,”  Wheat said.  “It's a tad bit over-grown so if ya' didn't know where it was, ya' probably wouldn't find it.  But we knows where it is, don't we Kyle?”

 Kyle smiled and started chewing again.  “Yeah!”

 “Okay good,”  Lom smiled.  “Now after you fellas have rested up a bit I want ya' to go back into Devil's Hole Basin and keep an eye on that back entrance for us.”

 This news did not go over well with either ex-outlaw.

 “Ya' want us ta' go back?”  Kyle repeated.  “I don't think that's a good idee.”

 “Yeah ah....”  another cough and shifting in his chair from Wheat.  “I don't think Duncan would be too accommodatin' if he was ta' spot us up there.”

 “The whole idea is to not let him spot ya',” Lom reminded them.  “Stay hidden, you boys know how to do that.”

 “Well, yea a' course...”  Wheat still didn't feel too comfortable about the new assignment.

 “Just stay outa sight,”  Lom continued.  “Make sure that back trail stays undetected.  Anything comes up you send me a telegram from Saratoga.  Probably be a good idea if ya' checked in at that town every few days anyways.  Once we get things organized at this end, I'll get in touch with ya' there.  Alright?”

 Wheat and Kyle sat silently, neither one of them looking too pleased.

 “So why don't ya' spend the next couple of days restin' up, have some fun. You've earned it. Meanwhile, Martha's lookin' forward to seein' ya' for supper tonight.”

 “Yeah,”  Wheat grumbled.  “sounds like 'the last supper' ta' me.”


 Five days later two stark naked men were sprawled out comfortably in one of the many deep, calm pools of warm water that made up this section of the Platte River. They both sat, neck deep in the steaming waters and rested back against the warm smooth boulders that helped to make up the bank of the hot springs.  Both snoozed with eyes closed and contented smiles upon their faces, while their arms and legs floated and wove lazily with the soft current.  The remains of a lunch and small kegs of beer were scattered about on the bank along with numerous articles of clothing.

 “This sure beats the hell outa campin' up at the Basin,”  Wheat casually commented.  “Lom had a real good idea, suggestin' we come stay in Saratoga.”

 “Somehow I don't think he meant fer us to be lollygaggin' around at the hot springs though,”  Kyle mumbled though he didn't seem too inclined to leave the steaming water.

 “Lom don't need ta' know what he don't know,”  was Wheat's sage response.  “We got plenty 'a time ta' get camped out at Devil's Hole.  Shoot!  Heyes never did let us take advantage of these hot springs when we just lived a stone's throw away. Said it would be too obvious.”  He snorted, momentarily disturbing the serenity. “What ever the hell that's suppose ta' mean.  We'd a brung good business here.”

 “Yeah,”  Kyle agreed with a bit of a snivel.  “The locals wouldn't 'a minded. We'd 'a behaved ourselves.”

 The partners opened their eyes momentarily and looked at each other.  They both started to snorkel as they relaxed back into their dream state.

 “Yeah, probably not,”  Kyle agreed.

 “Yeah, but you can bet Heyes and the Kid come here often enough,”  Wheat groused “Them two always took advantage of the best Carbon County had ta' offer.”

 “That's whatcha get fer bein' leader,”  Kyle griped.  “You can be in charge and tell everybody else what they can and cannot do—then go and do whatever ya' want.”

 “Yeah, well he ain't our boss right now,”  Wheat pointed out.  “so now I'm sayin' what we can and cannot do.  And right now I'm sayin' that we deserve ta' take advantage of these here hot springs while we can.”

 “Yeah...”

 The two friends settled in to doze while the warm water gently swayed around them and washed all their stress and cares away.  A series of bubbles then rose from the depths and popped loudly upon breaking through to the surface.  Wheat creased his brow and sent a disgusted look over to his snoozing partner.

 “Did you just fart?”  he asked, rather accusingly.

 “No!”  Kyle insisted, looking defensive.

 “You sure?”  Wheat pushed.  “It sure as hell smells like somebody farted.”

 “No, Wheat honest!”  Kyle insisted.  “It's just them bubbles comin' up from the hot springs.”

 “It smells like rotten eggs!”

 “Yeah, that's what that stuff's suppose ta' smell like.”

 Wheat sent his partner a suspicious look but those innocent blue eyes staring back at him had him stumped.  He couldn't quite tell if Kyle was lyin' or not. Since he didn't really feel ready to exit the warm water just yet, he decided to accept the other man's explanation and with a 'humph' settled back to snooze again.

 Kyle grinned and settled back down himself.  No need to go hurrying off to be hiding in the bushes and sleeping on the hard ground.  Devil's Hole wasn't going anywhere's.  



  In the end, the three friends elected to take the train to Denver thereby giving their mounts time off in the luxury of the Greeley livery.  It would cost them a bit more than they had hoped to spend, but with a few days of rest and pampering, the horses would be ready for the long trip to Devil’s Hole.  Heyes intended to set off as soon as they came back.  The Kid and Joe had reluctantly agreed in order to secure Heyes’ cooperation in going to Denver for the meeting.
 
They pulled into Union Station at 11:15 a.m. and hustled off the train as quickly as they could.  Joe went to look for a hired cab to take them to the hotel while the Kid and Heyes waited impatiently for the porter to off load their saddlebags and carpetbag.  The third time Heyes pulled out his silver pocket watch and glanced at it, Jed couldn’t resist saying, “You’re more nervous than a cat on a hot stove, Heyes.  What’s wrong with you?”
 
Heyes looked up startled and quickly thought about covering, but sighed instead.   “I don’t know.  I’ve just got a bad feeling about this meeting.”  He saw Joe hurrying up the steps to the platform and changed the subject.  “Here’s Joe.  Where’s the damn porter?”
 
“Ahem.”  Heyes spun around and standing before him was a small, bearded man wearing a porter’s cap.  He stood next to a hand trolley bearing their luggage and wore a frown on his face but refrained from remonstrating a customer.
 
Embarrassed by his own rudeness, Heyes fished in his pocket and handed the man a silver dollar eliciting a curt tip of the cap before the porter quickly left.  He picked up his bags, handed the Kid his, and tossed Joe’s saddlebags over his shoulder.  The two partners strolled down the long platform towards Joe.
 
“Cab’s out front,” said Joe, taking his gear.  “Thanks.”
 
Twenty minutes later, they entered the lobby of the Oxford Hotel.  Joe had never seen it before and he couldn’t help gazing around the impressive room as he followed his friends to the front desk.  Tall columns resting upon ten-foot tall black marble pedestals supported the intricately plastered covered ceilings a good fourteen feet or so above their heads.   A filigreed iron railing ascended to the second floor along the sweeping staircase and encircled the balcony that overlooked the lobby.
 
“Jed, Hannibal, over here.”
 
All three men turned to see Jesse rising from the comfort of an overstuffed armchair placed in front of the massive oak Victorian fireplace mantle.  A modest fire burned in the hearth creating a cozy setting without too much heat.  Heyes, Joe, and Jed crossed the marble floor to where their friend stood.
 
“Jesse, you made it,” said Heyes, embracing his friend.  Hands were shook all around.
 
“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world, Heyes.  You all did good work finding the breeder’s so quickly.”  Jesse sat again and gestured for the others to do the same.
 
“Where’s Belle?” asked Jed.  “Is Beth here yet?” 
 
Jesse smiled.  “Not yet, Jed.  She asked us to send word when you arrived.  She and Bridget are on their way over now.  They’ll stay with Belle until the meeting’s over.  How are you holding up?”
 
“I’m missin’ her more than I ever thought possible,” sighed Jed.
 
“I tell you he was gonna shoot me if I didn’t agree to come to this damn meeting,” said Heyes.  “He and Joe ganged up on me until I caved.”
 
“And seeing Randa didn’t have anything to do with it?” laughed Joe.
 
Jesse looked from one man to the other.  He was surprised by the change he saw in Heyes’ and Joe’s relationship.  Where before they were always stiffly polite to each other, now they gave the impression of old, familiar friends.  He wondered what had happened in the past few weeks to have wrought such a dramatic change in their friendship?
 
Heyes chuckled.  “He’s got me there.  I can’t wait to see her and Sally.  Are they with Belle?”
 
“No, Belle and I came in last night.  It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything romantic with my wife so I surprised her with a candlelight dinner.  Wanted her all to myself, I figured tonight would be about family. 
“Miranda is driving up with Sally right now.”
 
Heyes tried not to let the disappointment show.  “So, I guess we should check in and then get to the meeting.”  Heyes started to rise, but was stopped by Jesse’s outstretched hand. 
 
“Hold on, son.  There’s something I need to talk to you about,” said Jesse.
 
“What’s wrong?” said Heyes, sinking back to his chair warily.
 
“Now don’t go buying trouble, Hannibal.  Nothing’s wrong yet.  There’s just something I promised Stephen I'd tell you.”
 
Heyes keyed in on a single word.  “Yet?”
 
“You need to know before you step foot in that meeting what the legalities are,” said Jesse.  Jed and Joe didn’t like the sound of that any more than Heyes did.  They could see him start to bristle.
 
“What legalities?”
 
“Now look.  Keep an open mind when you go in there.  These folks have agreed to meet us out of the goodness of their hearts, don’t go in there with a chip on your shoulder or it could turn ugly.” Jesse watched his young friend closely.  He knew he was priming Heyes’ temper by telling him this, but it had to be said.  “These folks still have the legal right to Karma.  In the eyes of the law, they’re the victims here.  She was stolen from them.”
 
“She’s mine, I bought her, and I’ve owned her for ten years!” growled Heyes.
 
“I know that, you know that, and they’re probably pretty sure that you aren’t the person who stole her by the fact you asked for this meeting, but that doesn’t change the law.  She’s stolen property and she legally belongs to them,” explained Jesse as gently as he could.  He could see the alarm leap into his friend’s eyes even as Heyes leapt to his feet and began pacing in front of the fireplace.
 
“You’re saying they could up and take her back?  Just like that?” ground out Heyes.  Jesse nodded.  “Then the hell with the meeting.  I’m not going!”
 
“Heyes…” began Jed.
 
“If you don’t go, you will be stealing her, Heyes,” said Joe.  “and that would violate the terms of your parole.  Right, Jesse?”
 
“That’s right.  Now look, Hannibal.  You can’t run from this.  You have a wife and a family now and you owe it to them to see this through as an honest man.”
 
Heyes didn’t answer and Jed could see the wheels turning.  He stood up and blocked his partner’s next pass in front of the fireplace.  Heyes scowled at him, offended at being interrupted as he worked himself into a fine snit.  Jed put his hands on his partner’s shoulders and stared hard into those familiar brown eyes.  “Heyes, you got money now.  Make them an offer they can’t refuse.  Karma’s gonna be gettin’ too old to breed soon anyways.  They know that.”
 
As the truth of what Jed said sunk in, Heyes felt his panic subside.  “Of course, you’re right.  Why didn’t I think about that?”
 
“Because you and me spent too many years running from the things we didn’t want to face,” said Jed with a soft squeeze of the shoulders.  “Come on.  I’m going in there with you.”
 
“No, you don’t need to.  I know you’re anxious to see Beth,” said Heyes.  Jesse and Joe stood and watched the two old friends.
 
“I won’t deny that, but she’ll understand.  She’d want me to support you.  Let’s go,” said Jed firmly.  Together the two partners walked towards the dining room.
 
Joe looked at Jesse and shook his head.  “Poor Heyes, he still lives his life as if he’s afraid it’s gonna up and disappear on him.”
 
“Most men go their whole lives without suffering the kind of losses he and Jed have.  He’s doing pretty well in my book.”
 
“I guess you’re right.  I’m going to check Heyes in with the local law, then go get some lunch myself.  I'll meet you folks back here around suppertime.  Good luck to you all.” 
 
“Thanks, Joe.”
 
Joe watched the older man walked over the where the two ex-outlaws waited for him outside the dining room.
 
“Joe’s checking you in with the sheriff, Heyes.  He said he’ll be back later,” said Jesse as he caught up to them. 
 
“Ready for this, partner?” asked Jed.
 
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” said Heyes, taking a deep breath and arranging his poker face.  Only his real friends ever got to see the true, unmasked Hannibal Heyes.  The rest of the world saw what Heyes wanted them to see.  He nodded to the maître D, who led them through the bar towards the dining area. 
 
As they entered the large, wood-paneled room, Heyes hesitated for a step, and then recovered.  “Is that?” he whispered to Jed.
 
“Damn, sure is,” said Jed.
 
“Who?” asked Jesse.
 
“Scott Medgar.  We know him,” said Heyes.  “Do you think he heard?” Medgar was seated at a round table, set for ten, with another man and a woman. 
 
“Naw, it’s too soon,” said Jed, remembering how they’d bandied Scott’s name about the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.
 
“Too soon for what?” Jesse was getting worried.
 
Medgar looked up at that moment and froze with shock.  The man seated across from him turned around and his jaw dropped.
 
“Monty!” boomed Heyes, delighted to see their old friend, and they strode towards the table.  The woman seated at the table turned and mutely stared at him, her face draining of all colour.  Heyes stopped cold.  He was rooted in place, unable to move, and his poker face was a thing of the past.
 
“Allie!” shouted Jed, delightedly rushing past his inert partner.  She recovered and stood up and Jed swept her into his arms, twirling her around before dropping her back on her feet.  “How are you, darlin’?”
 
“Jed,” Allie managed to say his name, but her eyes were on the dark-haired man standing ten feet away.  Her eyes met his and she couldn’t look away.
 
“Hannibal?  Are you okay?” hissed Jesse.  He’d never seen Heyes like this.  He gripped his friend’s elbow and tightened his hold hoping that the painful squeeze would bring Heyes to his senses.
 
“Ow! What’d you do that for?” snapped Heyes, coming out of his stupor.
 
“You’re staring.”
 
At the same time, Scott Medgar had risen to his feet and hurried to Allie’s side.  “Darling, pull it together,” he whispered gently, brushing her cheek with his lips.  Turning to Jed, his eyes cooled, but he held out his hand.  “Boswell, or should I say, Curry?”
 
Monty stayed seated and studied the four uncomfortable faces.  Wait till he told Ruthie!
 
Heyes covered the ten feet and stood before her.  She couldn’t believe her eyes!  All those times she prayed that she could see him one last time until she’d finally given up all hope; had allowed her heart to break with the loss of him; and here he was. 
 
“Allie.”  His voice was a baritone caress and she shivered with the joy of hearing it again. 
 
Medgar broke in.  “Hannibal Heyes.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that Cole James was the infamous outlaw.”  He slipped his arm about Allie and pulled her tight to his side.  “Well, since we’re all in need of getting re-acquainted; allow me to introduce my wife, Mrs. Allie Medgar.”  Allie blushed a deep red and dropped her eyes in confusion.
 
“Mrs. Medgar?” asked Heyes softly.  He turned to Scott.  “Scott, congratulations to you both; I had no idea!”  He held out his hand and Scott took it.  His feelings were in a jumbled uproar.  Why did he feel so hurt?
 
Medgar owed Cole James a debt of gratitude for helping him save his ranch, the Rocking M.  But long before they were married; when they were still only business partners, Allie had confessed to him that she had been deeply in love with Cole James, and he had broken her heart by leaving her.  Whatever feelings of gratitude Scott had had for Cole James had been abruptly cancelled by the knowledge the man had trifled with Allie’s feelings.  When he’d opened his newspaper one day and seen the photograph of Hannibal Heyes after his arrest, the disdain he felt for James had turned to open jealousy.
 
Scott Medgar was a smart man and it hadn’t taken him long to realize that Heyes had left Allie behind not because he had been toying with her, but because he had truly loved her and, as a wanted man, he couldn’t be with her.  The Medgars had been married for almost five years by that time and had recently celebrated the birth of their second child, their son, Carbon.  Their daughter, Libby, had been three.
 
He could still remember confronting his wife with the newspaper crumpled in his hands.  He’d felt lied to, cheated of the love of his wife, sure that she was carrying a torch for her outlaw lover.  He had expected her to cry and beg him to believe that she loved him, that he was her first and only, that she was over Heyes, but she did nothing of the kind.  Instead, she had boldly admitted that she had once loved the notorious outlaw leader, although not in a physical sense, and had gone on to devastate him with the details of her weeks long ride across Colorado with the Devil’s Hole gang.  She said that he needed to know that she still considered Heyes and Curry dear friends and she wished to go to the trial to offer him her support, but Scott couldn’t find it in his heart to put aside his jealousies and turn the other cheek.  He was furious with her.  For the first time in their life together, he made the mistake of trying to control her.  He had threatened to leave her if she went.  So she had stayed, but she had held it against him and made it plain to him  that  she had stayed only for the sake of the children.
 
It had created a rift between them that had almost destroyed their marriage. When the trial had begun, Allie had been angry at being banned from it.  She’d become upset and moody.  Depressed.  Finally, she had come to him and told him she was going to the trial.  She had admitted that she had even contemplated running away to attend, but she couldn’t do that do him.  So she had begged and he had again refused.  A chill had descended on their home and their hearts.  Finally after Heyes received his parole, Allie had begun to thaw and Scott had believed their love had survived.  Now this; he wondered what sort of troubles this would dredge up.
 
Scott was a good man, a wonderful father, but he’d been hurt deeply by his wife’s failure to divulge the full truth about her prior relationship and he still wondered from time to time if he was her second choice.  Still, he loved her dearly and would not embarrass her, so he clasped Heyes’ hand and thanked him with all the sincerity he could muster.  When Heyes turned away to greet Monty, Scott turned to Allie and whispered, “Are you all right?” 
 
She’d pulled her glance away from Heyes and looked up into her husband’s pained eyes.  She lifted her hand to his cheek and smiled up at him.  “Yes, Darling.  It was just a shock to see him again after all these years.”
 
He escorted her back to her seat and sat down next to her.  Despite his best intentions, he couldn’t help watching the two handsome men across the table and comparing his dull rancher’s life to theirs.  His wife was a spirited woman.  He knew she had blossomed into a strong, wilful adult after a terribly repressed childhood and he knew that Heyes and Curry had a lot to do with it.
 
Allie turned and introduced herself to Jesse who sat down to her left.  He’d noticed the spark between her and Heyes and correctly guessed that he was meeting an important part of Heyes’ past.  Trying to ease the tension, he chatted with her comfortably until Monty and the boys had finished talking.
 
The waiter arrived bearing a bottle of red wine on a tray laden with wine glasses.  He carefully placed a glass in front of each of his customers, presented the label, and opened the bottle.  He poured a small portion in Scott’s glass and waited as the gentleman tasted.  Scott held up his glass and swirled it gently before lifting it to his lips.  “Mmm, excellent, thank you.  We won’t be ordering for a while, we’ve some business to discuss first.”
 
“Very good, sir,” replied the waiter.  He hurried away to his next table.
 
Allie picked up her glass and toasted, “To old friends and new.”  Jesse smiled at her sweet acknowledgement and raised his glass as the others joined in.  While watching his wife with her former lover, Scott felt the fear that had clenched his heart loosen, and he smiled.
 
Monty spoke up first, “Heck, I reckon we all have a boatload of questions to ask you two.  Why don’t I go first to sorta break the ice?  Which one of you has the mare and can you describe her for us?”
 
“She’s mine,” said Heyes.  “Well, that is, I’ve had her for the last ten years.   I bought her as a two-year old.  She’s a big mare now; well over sixteen hands. She’s a liver chestnut with a star and snip and white socks on both hind legs.”
 
“Oh, Scott, isn’t this wonderful?  Heyes has had her most of the time she’s been gone!” Allie’s eyes widened, she knew exactly which filly Heyes was referring to.  There’d only been one liver chestnut in the young herd.  “We’ve worried about her for so long.  She was stolen from us as a yearling.  That would’ve been 1881, right, honey?”
 
“That’s right,” said Scott.
 
 “How is she?  Is she beautiful?  She was the prettiest filly I’d ever seen.  Is she here?  Did you bring her?” asked Allie eagerly.  She couldn’t contain her excitement.
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Familiar Territory Chapter Eight :: Comments

Familiar Territory
Post on Wed 15 Jan 2014, 11:13 pm by Keays
Monty laughed and broke in, “Hold on there, Allie, give the man a chance to answer before you shoot him full of more questions.”
 
Heyes frowned down at his napkin and Allie’s heart fell.  “She’s dead, isn’t she?” she asked in a flat voice.
 
“Oh no, she’s not.  As far as I know, she’s fine,” answered Heyes.
 
“As far as you know; I thought you said you had her?” Scott broke into the conversation.  He wondered what the purpose of the meeting was if Heyes no longer had the mare.
 
“No, I said I owned her.   Look, it’s a long story, but Jed and I were in that train accident last week.  Karma was with us.  She got stolen by the outlaw that stopped the train.”
 
“Karma?” asked Allie.  She could see that her two friends were fine, but she wondered about the poor mare.
 
“You two were in a train robbery?” laughed Scott Medgar, suddenly feeling a whole lot better about his competition.
 
Jed shot him an annoyed look.  “It wasn’t funny.  Lots of folks were hurt in that wreck.”
 
“I apologize, Mr. Curry, I meant no harm.  It just seems ironic that you two would end up being robbed that way.”
 
“Apology accepted and the name’s Jed.”
 
“Do you know who took her?” asked Monty.
 
Heyes turned to him.  “Better than that, we know who took her and where he took her.  We aim to go get her back.”
 
Monty sat back and digested what he had just heard.
 
“Heyes, wherever did you come up with the name Karma?” asked Allie, curious to know how the filly had acquired such an unusual name.
 
“I didn’t.  She was passed around a few times before I got her.  Seems she was a little tough to settle down.  She belonged to a lady for a while who’d fancied the name.  What did you call her?”
 
“I didn’t call her anything specific.  I couldn’t; she was the best foal of our first crop and I knew she was going to market.  I wouldn’t have been able to bear selling her if I had given her a name,” she paused, realizing she’d left out the most important information.  “Heyes, we called her Fannie’s foal.”
 
Heyes choked on the sip of wine he’d just taken and dissolved into a coughing fit.  Jed thumped him on his back several times, grinning broadly, before Heyes could choke out, “She’s Fannie’s?”
 
Allie’s eyes filled with tears as she looked at her old friend.   She had known how much Fannie had meant to him when he had given the mare to her and she’d never forgotten what he had said when he had handed her the reins.  That Fannie would give her the babies that he never could.  He had been so right.  “She was her first.”
 
Heyes took another big slug of wine.  He remembered the day he’d ridden away from the Second Chance Ranch like it was yesterday.  He remembered everything: the words he had spoken, the devastated look on her face, and the slow, excruciating feeling of his heart tearing in two.  He kept his eyes downcast.   He could feel everyone looking at him.
 
Jed spoke up quickly, “Well, I’ll be, that sure explains a lot.”  Curious eyes turned to him.  “How Heyes could possibly have two such irritatin’, aggravatin’, foul-tempered, ornery mares.”
 
Everyone laughed and the awkward moment passed, but before they could pick up the conversation they had another interruption.
 
“Papa,” cried Sally, running across the formal dining room and oblivious to the stares of the other diners.  She launched herself into Heyes’ lap and threw her arms around his neck, smothering him in kisses.
 
“Sally, darlin’,” murmured Heyes, his nose buried in her hair and drinking in the scent of her.  “I missed you so much, sweetheart.”
 
Sally pulled away and grinned at him, “I miss you, too, Papa.”  She turned to the others at the tables.  “I’m Sally Heyes,” she announced with such great pride, no one could resist smiling back at her.  “Uncle Jed!”  She wriggled off of her papa’s lap and pushed between her two favorite men, giving her dear uncle a big kiss on his cheek. 
 
Heyes turned and saw Miranda entered the dining room.  His eyes locked onto hers as she walked towards him.  He stood up and took her into his arms, not caring if they made a scene or not.  “Randa,” he said hoarsely.
 
“Hello, Darling,” she kissed his cheek and smiled.  “We saw you as we were coming across the lobby, I’m afraid Sally couldn’t contain her excitement.”  Turning to the table, she added, “I’m so sorry to interrupt your meeting.”
 
“Miranda, this is an old friend of mine, Monty Northrup,” said Heyes, making the introductions.  Monty stood and shook her hand.  “And this is Scott Medgar and his wife, Allie.”
 
“Hello, Scott; Allie,” said Miranda, with a polite nod.  Miranda’s eyes narrowed slightly at the red-rimmed gaze she got from Allie and she wondered at the cause of it, but she smiled sweetly and sat in the chair next to her husband that Jed had just vacated. “It’s a pleasure to meet you all.”
 
Heyes put his arm around her and gave her a loving squeeze, “Honey, you’ll never believe it!  Karma’s Fannie’s foal!”  No sooner were the words out of his mouth than he realized his mistake, but it was too late.
 
“Who’s Fannie?” asked Randa.
 
“Fannie?” giggled Sally.  “Isn’t that a naughty word?”
 
Randa smiled at her.  “No, it’s no naughtier than derriere.”
 
Allie giggled, too, and she smiled at Heyes.
 
“Fannie was Heyes’ mare during our outlawin’ days,” offered Jed.
 
“And she’s Karma’s dam?” said Randa.  Sally giggled again and Miranda shushed her. “That is what you call a mama horse, but I don’t want to hear you repeating that word.  Do you understand, Darling?”
 
“Yes, Mama.  But I’ve heard that word before; some of the boys used to say it in the orphanage, but they weren’t talking about horses.  The sisters would get awfully mad at them.  Why would they get mad if it’s a proper name?”
 
“Because some words sound alike, Sally, and the one that sounds just like it, is a cuss word,” said Heyes, “listen to your mother.”  He gave her a kiss on top of her head.
 
“Oh!  Well, I promise never to use it, Papa,” she said solemnly.
 
“Sally, Beth and Bridget are probably here by now.  Why don’t I take you up to our room and you can visit with them while your mama and papa talk business?” offered Jesse, glancing at Heyes and Miranda for their blessing on this course of action.   They didn’t need him here.  This wasn’t a business meeting any longer, it was a friendly chat between old friends.
 
“Oh, yes, please!” said Sally, excited to see her grown-up friends.  She was at that age where she hero-worshipped Jesse’s two girls and he knew it. 
 
Miranda smiled at her and said, “I think that is an excellent idea.  Have fun, dear.”  Sally took Jesse’s hand and happily pranced out of the room by his side.
 
Allie felt her heart swell with the pleasure of seeing Heyes in a happy relationship with a loving family; a family that he had built by giving his love to a sweet, lost child.  Jed looked happy, too.  It pleased her that they had all found what they were so desperately looking for.
 
Unfortunately, her intimate glance at Heyes didn’t go unnoticed and Miranda felt the first prickle of apprehension.  “Tell me, Scott, however did you happen to acquire Fannie?”
 
Scott opened his mouth to speak, but Heyes dove in to field the question.  “I gave her to Allie.”
 
“Oh?” said Randa with a slight arch to her eyebrow.
 
“Yes, Miranda, your husband and my wife are old friends.  As a matter of fact, we all are,” said Scott hoping to diffuse what was becoming an uncomfortable situation.  It was plain that Heyes’ wife knew nothing about Allie.  He was not a cruel man and he would not wish the jealousy he’d suffered on another human being.
 
“Well, then, you have me at a disadvantage.  Do tell how you all met,” she purred, “and, please, call me Miranda, or Randa if you prefer.  I answer to both.”  Hearing that Scott had known Heyes as well helped to settle her fears.
 
Monty chuckled.  Heyes had gone and married a smart woman, just like he had.  He decided to throw his old friend a bone.  “It’s a real long tale, and I’m afraid we’re going to have to leave soon.  Let’s save that for another time.  Why don’t we get down to business?”
 
Heyes picked right up on what Monty was doing and smiled gratefully as Scott spoke up.  “So, where is the mare?”
 
“She’s in Devil’s Hole,” said Heyes.  He felt Miranda’s eyes lock onto him, but he didn’t look at her.
 
“Devil’s Hole?!” gasped Allie, “but I thought the gang was destroyed when that horrible marshal went in there.  I was so sorry to hear about Wheat.  I’ll never forget how sweet he and Kyle were to me.”
 
Miranda stared at her, but Allie didn’t notice because she was looking at Heyes as though her heart was breaking.  The woman had said, ‘to me’, not ‘to us’.  Allie had known Heyes’ gang and she hadn’t had her husband along when she had!  A flush of anger spread across her skin, but she kept a neutral expression on her face.
 
“Wheat’s alive, Allie.  Morrison almost killed him, but Wheat gave as good as he got,” said Jed, “He’s gone straight now.  Kyle and him are workin’ undercover in the Hole for the law.  They’ll be helpin’ us.”
 
“We’re working for the law, too.  The governor’s asked us to step in and take care of the current band of outlaws who are calling themselves the Devil’s Hole Gang,” said Heyes.
 
“But that’s too dangerous, you can’t go back there!” cried Allie.  “Miranda, you can’t let them go!”
 
“I would certainly prefer they didn’t, but I don’t control my husband!” snapped Randa with more vehemence than necessary.
 
Allie reddened at the subtle rebuke and caught Scott looking at her speculatively. 
 
“Are you really planning on riding in there on your own?” asked Monty.  He hadn’t said much up until now, but he couldn’t let this pass.  He was too fond of these boys.
 
Jed nodded, “Yep, we are but we’re going to be pretty damn sneaky about how we go about it.”
 
Heyes put his hand over Randa’s and gave it a small squeeze.  “Trust me, Jed and I have too much to live for to risk getting shot full of holes by some second-rate lowlife like Tom Duncan.  Randa understands, don’t you, Honey?”
 
She turned to her husband.  She wanted to scream, no, she didn’t understand at all.  She didn’t want him going; she wanted him safe at home with her.  But she knew that it was too late, she’d already given him her blessings.  “I support my husband one hundred percent.” 
 
Allie read the lie in her eyes and her heart went out to the poor woman.  She knew all too well how much strength it took to love Jed and Heyes.
 
“How many men will you have along with you?”  Monty got right to the meat of things.  This was a suicide mission if he ever heard one.
 
“Right now, it’s just Jed and me; Wheat and Kyle on the inside and our friend, Joe, is coming along.  He’s a deputy from our hometown.  We sent a telegram to our sheriff friend, Lom Trevors, asking for more help, but we haven’t heard back from him yet.  He’s running this show out of Porterville.  That’s where we’re headed next,” explained Heyes.
 
“Do you know this Duncan fellow personally, Heyes?” asked Scott.
 
“No, I don’t, but Joe is familiar with him.  He’s a two-bit criminal who’s bounced around these parts pulling small thefts and doing a little rustling” said Heyes.
 
“Rustling?” said Monty.  “Could he have stolen her in the first place?  If he was the one, I’d sure like to get my hands on him.  We’ve gotten hit a couple of times since that first time, but that was the worst.  They took our entire yearling herd; almost sunk the Second Chance before it even got started.”
 
“I guess it’s possible.  I know Duncan seems to think she belongs to him, but I don’t know why yet,” said Heyes.
 
“We’ll find out soon enough,” said Jed. 
 
“I want to help.  Let me ride along with you,” said Monty, making a decision.
 
Heyes and Jed shared a glance.  Monty was a good hand to have in a fight.  He fought smart and he wasn’t above fighting dirty.  Jed said, “Thanks, Monty, we’d be glad to have your help.”
 
Allie was listening to them talking when she heard Scott speak, “I can help, too.  I’m better with a rifle than I am with a gun, but I do all right.  I’d like to have a hand in taking down those rustling thieves.”
 
“No!” said Allie, angrily.  “There’s no reason for you to go, Scott!”
 
Scott smiled gently at her and tipped up her chin.  “Allie, I want to go.  Your friends need help and I am perfectly capable of helping them.”
 
Allie shook her head.  “I don’t want you to go.  You don’t know what it’s like riding with them, I do!”
 
Miranda stiffened.  Her heart sank as she heard the couple’s heated exchange.  It was painfully clear to her now that the woman sitting across the table had quite a past with her husband.  Heyes and Jed had always said that women hadn’t been allowed in Devil’s Hole.  Except for Abi, she had been the exception, but she had also been Heyes’ lover.  Now this brazen woman openly admitted that she had even ridden along with the gang! 
Randa wanted to flee from this conversation, these people, Heyes included.  He’d never mentioned Allie; had let her think she knew all about his past.  How many more women would she be blind-sided by?  His hand still covered hers, and as much as she wanted to yank hers away, she sat stewing in her own anger.  She looked around the dining room.  The tables adjacent to theirs were empty.  At least they weren’t making a scene.
 
“Those men are dangerous, Scott, you’ll get killed!” Allie’s voice was rising along with her frustration.  Monty leaned over and gripped her arm, reminding her to keep her voice down.
 
“Allie, it’s not up to you!” said Scott, harshly.
 
“Look, Scott, it’s nice of you to offer, but…” began Heyes, only to be interrupted by Allie.
 
“If he goes, I go!” she declared.
 
Heyes laughed.  She hadn’t changed at all.  She was still as pig-headed as ever.
 
Allie glared at him, “I’m serious.  You gave Fannie to me.  Karma’s her foal and that makes Karma mine.  I own her according to the law.  Not Scott and not Monty.  If you don’t let me go along, I won’t let you have her.”  She sat back obstinately and crossed her arms, daring the men to deny her demand.
 
“Allie, don’t,” hissed Scott.  He could see that her temper had gotten the best of her and he knew from long experience that Allie was capable of anything when angered.  He was definitely well on his way to losing his own.
 
Miranda was shocked.  The woman had been making doe eyes at her husband one minute and now looking as if she’d flay him alive the next.  Who was this person?
 
“You’re blackmailing me?” said Heyes so harshly that even Jed was surprised. 
 
“Take it any way you like.  You know I can shoot almost as good as you can and I can ride, too.  If it weren’t for me saving your butt during the Denver Merchant’s Bank robbery, you’d have been dead a long time ago,” she hissed, keeping her voice down, but her face filling with righteous indignation.
 
This time Miranda did pull her hand away from Heyes’ and she stood up, breaking the stalemate.  “I have no place in this conversation and I would prefer to be excused from it,” she said calmly.  “Hannibal, I will be in our room.”

 Heyes looked surprised.  He hadn't seen his wife in weeks and now she was getting up to leave?  What about dinner?  “But....”
 
“Miranda, I’m so sorry…” said Allie, realizing how insufferably rude she must sound to this stranger.
 
“Please, don’t let me interrupt your negotiations, dear.  You’re doing just fine,” said Randa and, with that parting comment, she swept from the room. 
 
Heyes watched her leave with a slightly confused expression.  Then his eyes narrowed and he focused solely in on Allie.  Jed sat back with a sigh.  He’d been witness to far too many fights between these two to lay odds on who would win this one.
 
Scott was staring at his wife as though he’d never seen her before.  “You robbed a bank with these two?”
 
Allie glanced at him distractedly and snapped, “No, I didn’t rob it.”
 
Scott exhaled, relieved.
 
“I just helped them get away.”
 
“Allie, dammit!” said Scott, furious with her and about to lose his temper completely.
 
Heyes couldn’t help it; he shook his head as memories of this woman's stubbornness flooded back.   He began to chuckle, and then rumble with laughter.  Jed and Monty joined in.
 
“It’s not funny!” protested Allie.  “You waltz in here and expect me to turn over Karma to you and then let you take my family into Devil’s Hole to get them all killed.  I won’t have it.  If you two idiots,” she said, looking at Monty and Scott, “insist on going than I will damn well go, too!”
 
“All right!” growled Heyes, getting angry all over again at her obstinate insistence.  “You can come, but you’ll come under my terms and you’ll only go as far as Porterville.  You will not be going into Devil’s Hole with us and that’s final.”
 
Now it was Allie’s turn to sit back and laugh.  “Agreed!  Besides, you’ll need someone on the outside to go for help when things go south.”
 
“Heyes!” said Jed.  “I ain’t agreeing to anything.”
 
“Neither am I,” said Scott.  He wanted to wring his wife’s lovely throat.
 
“Give it up, boys, you all know in your hearts that you ain’t gonna change her mind,” said Monty, shaking his head ruefully..  “I guess this meeting’s over for now.  I’m hungry, how about the rest of you?”

Scott stood up.  “I think my wife and I have some things to discuss in private.”  Allie and Heyes were still staring at each other in a now silent battle of wills.  “Allie!”

“Oh, yes, sorry.”  She jumped to her feet knowing that she dare not push Scott any further than she already had.

“Heyes, Jed, we’re staying at my mother-in-law’s old townhouse.  When you’ve made your plans, you can send word to us there.  Until then, I think it best that Allie and I have some time alone to discuss a few things,” said Scott tersely.  Allie had the good graces to look embarrassed and she meekly accompanied her husband out of the hotel.

“Well, if you two will excuse me, I think I’m going to go find my lovely wife. We’ll order lunch in,” said Jed, rising to his feet.

Monty stood up as well, and shook Jed’s hand.  “Jed, please tell your little lady that I’m looking forward to meeting her.”

“Will do, Monty,” said Jed, slipping away as well.

Monty sat again, “Well, Heyes, it’s just you and me.  Why don’t we order up a couple of sandwiches?  We can take them with us; I’ve got something I want to show you.”

Heyes looked at his pocket-watch.  Miranda was up in the room waiting for him, but she wouldn’t be expecting him yet.  This was supposed to have been a lunch meeting.   “Sure, I have some time.”

“Good,”said the older man, signalling the waiter.

Ten minutes later, they were outside on the sidewalk.  Monty carried a paper bag containing to hastily constructed sandwiches and a couple of bottles of beer.  He started walking down Seventeenth Street.

“We’re we going?” asked Heyes.

“Over to Blake.  Won’t take long,” said Monty.

“So, Ruth still has the townhouse?”

“Yep.  We bought it a few years ago so we could have a little place of our own.  Comes in handy when any of us has business in Denver,” said Monty.

“How is Ruth?  Why didn’t she come today?”

“She’s watching the grandkids.  They’re a handful.”

“Allie has kids?”

Monty looked sideways at him, and grinned, “Scott and Allie have kids.  Two of ‘em, boy and a girl, Carbon and Libby.  She’s just like her mom, smart as a whip and stubborn as a mule.  The boy’s the spittin’ image of Scott. Bright, dependable, soft-spoken, but he don’t miss much.”

It was hard to think of Allie as a mother, especially after their argument. The years had peeled away the minute they’d knocked heads and Heyes had felt as though no time had passed since he’d last seen her.  But it had.  Life had changed in huge ways for both of them.  She’d become a successful businesswoman, gotten married, and now had two children.  He was married, too, and had a family now, but he’d gotten there the hard way.  Five years on the run and five long, hard years in prison.  He’d never heard from her during those years.  Not when he was on trial and not in the dark days that followed.  It had hurt him that she’d never reached out to him and he’d forcibly pushed her out of his mind and his heart.

“You sound proud of them,” said Heyes.

“I am.  The good Lord has sent me a beautiful family again.  I couldn’t love those kids any more if they were my own flesh and blood.  I suspect you know exactly how I feel,” observed Monty.

He did.  Sally was as much his daughter now as Becky and Anya had been.  He couldn’t love her anymore than he already did.  “I do.  Monty, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m awful anxious to spend some time with my family.  I haven’t seen them in a few weeks.”

“I know, son.  We’re almost there.  It won’t take long.”

They turned the corner onto Blake Street and Monty stepped off the sidewalk and crossed the thoroughfare towards the livery stable.

Heyes stopped and grabbed Monty’s arm. “Fannie?”

“Yep.  I rode in on her this morning.  ‘Course, I had no idea you’d be coming to that meeting.  Boy, that was a shocker for all of us.”

Heyes barely heard what his old friend was saying.  He quickened his steps and entered the cool shadowy building.  A long line of stalls stretched down either side of the building and two double doors stood open at the other end of the aisle.  

“Hold on, I want to try something,” he said quietly.

 Heyes stopped and whistled loudly.  Five stalls down, an elegant head poked out of a stall, ears pricked.  He heard an answering nicker and then the head bobbed up and down several times and disappeared.  He could hear the mare circling her stall frantically, stopping to paw the stall door, in her frustration to be free.  He nearly ran the last few feet.  “Fannie!” he laughed, happily.


The coppery head reappeared and Heyes reached out to stroke her velvety muzzle.  She buried her nose into his chest and chuffed in his scent happily.  There was absolutely no doubt in either man’s mind that she recognized him.  She lifted her lip and threw her head up and down.
 
Heyes took in her shiny coat and well-muscled body.  Fannie must be pushing seventeen or eighteen by now but she still retained a youthful appearance.  He threw his arms around her neck and pressed his face against her.  “Hey, girl, how are you?  You look great.  Fannie, guess what, I’ve got your baby, can you believe it?”
 
Her ears flickered as he spoke and Monty chuckled at the sight of the two old companions.  “I’d say she missed you, Heyes.  We don’t breed her any more.  I keep her fit riding her around the place, but her working days are over for the most part.”
 
Heyes turned to his old friend and embraced him.  “Monty, thanks.  She looks wonderful.”
 
Flustered by the show of affection, Monty pulled away.  “Hell, I’m starvin’.  What say we sit down on this here hay bale and have us those sandwiches?  That way, you can gaze at her all you want.”
 
Heyes sat down and opened the bag, passing a beer and a sandwich to Monty.  They unwrapped the coil cages on the beers and clink bottles, toasting the mare and their friendship.  The sandwiches were quickly devoured and then Heyes looked at his pocket-watch again.
 
“Time to go see that pretty wife of yours?” teased Monty.
 
“Afraid so.  She’ll be wondering where I am by now,” said Heyes.
 
“Well, son, one thing I’ve learned as a happily married man is to never keep my lady waiting.  We’ll be in touch.”
 
Heyes patted Fannie one more time and hurried off. 

It only took a few minutes to reach the hotel and Heyes walked quickly through the lobby and took the stairs up to the next floor, two at a time.

It was a shame that the reunion between the old friends had ended on a strained note.  Though Heyes had been pleasantly surprised to discover the coincidence of Karma's parentage, the legal owner's successful attempt at blackmail had put him into a sour mood.

  Even though in hindsight it made sense, Heyes was thrown off balance by the realization of how similar Abi and Allie were in their personalities. He shook his head and growled silently to himself.  At that time in his life he had found that constant challenge exciting and even sexually arousing, but now it seemed all it did was wear him out.

 He still cared about his previous loves, of course—but thank goodness he'd married a more level-headed and amiable woman for his life's companion.

Coming up the stairs he saw Jed walking down the hall towards him.  "How's Beth?" he asked.

"I haven't seen her yet.  She wasn't in our room when I got there.  I waited for a while; ordered up some lunch, too, but figured she was with her ma when she didn't show.  That's where I'm headed now."

"Ah, give her my best.  I'm going up to see Miranda and Sally."

"They ain't in your room.  I knocked on my way past.  Thought you'd be there by now."

"Well, Jesse and Belle's must be the place to meet."

 By the time the two friends had arrived at the Jordan's suite door Heyes had pushed his irritation down for the time being.  He was still feeling snarky, but he would be successful at keeping it at bay while in the company of family.  This was suppose to be a joyous  but brief re-union and he didn't want to waste time being angry over something that had nothing to do with Miranda.

 Beth squealed with delight when she spied her husband and in her sudden effort to get up off the sofa had ended up rolling onto her backside with feet in the air and her large stomach weighing her like an anchor into the cushions.  Bridget did her best to come and assist her sister, but ended up practically falling on top of her--her family condition put her off balance.

 Within moments the suite was filled with high laughter and unhelpful advice.  Jed came to his wife's aide and with him taking hold of one arm and Bridget finally getting hold of another, they assisted the young mother-to-be to her feet.

 “Oh my goodness!”  Beth commented breathlessly.  “I can't believe how unyielding this is!  I can't even get to my feet anymore!”

 “And you still have a month to go,”  her sister kindly reminded her.  “Thank goodness I'll be rid of my pouch much sooner than that!”  she smiled over at her husband.  “But then I'll be running around the house trying to keep track of two of the little darlings!”

 “Well you both look beautiful to me,”  Jed complimented both ladies while he tried to get his arm around his bulbous wife.

 Beth laughed but rolled her eyes.  “You don't have to lug around all this extra weight.  Oh I'll be so happy when this little one comes out to say 'hello'!”

 Heyes grinned.  “Little one?”  he couldn't help but tease.

 “Oh you!” she laughed and threw a pillow at him.

 Heyes ducked and caught it and bringing it back to the sofa he leaned in and gave Beth a kiss on the cheek.  “Naw, darlin' you look beautiful.”  he turned to her sister and gave her equal attention.  “You too Bridget; you're both beautiful.”

 The two sisters smiled at each other.  What a charmer Hannibal could be when he wanted to.  Sally giggled and bounced up and down on the sofa while Miranda stood back and rolled her eyes.  Suddenly the child's face lit up and she leaped from the sofa and ran to her father, tugging at his sleeve for attention.

 “Papa!  I forgot to tell you,”  she announced excitedly.  “the most important news of all!”

 “Really?”  queried Heyes.  “It must be very important to be more important than all the other news we've had today.”

 Miranda simmered softly in the background while her daughter nodded enthusiastically.  “Yes, it is!”  she agreed.  “Mouse is going to have kittens!”

 Heyes' brows went up in surprise and he glanced back at his wife.  “Really?”

 Miranda pulled herself together and came forward to join the group.  “Yes!”  she smiled.  “the poor thing looks like she swallowed a balloon.”

 Sally giggled at the analogy and the two pregnant ladies groaned with simpatico.

 “Oh dear,”  Heyes commented as he ruffled his daughter's hair.  “Whatever are we going to do with a house full of kittens?”

 Sally giggled excitedly and started jumping in circles.  “It'll be fun!”

 Heyes turned to his wife and leaned in.  “No, honestly,”  he said quietly.  “what are we going to do with a house full of kittens?”

 “Well, depending on how many she has,”  Miranda responded.  “Merle said she would like one and Belle....”

 Heyes' brows went up in surprise.  “Belle?”

 Belle smiled a little self-consciously but then owned up.  “I know, I never permitted cats in the house, but I have to admit that I got used to having Mouse around.  Now that she's gone well, Bridget is already living here, Beth will be moving back to their own home soon.  Then J.J. will be at school.”  she sighed.  “the house is seeming awfully quiet.”
 
 “But don't you have enough cats?”  Heyes questioned her sanity.

 “Yes, but they're all barn cats, Joshua,”  she explained patiently.  “They're half wild.  I want one like Mouse.”

 “Oh,”  Heyes grinned with pleasure and glanced over at Jesse who rolled his eyes.  He was staying out of this.  “Well, hopefully there'll be enough kittens to go around.”

 “From what I understand about cats,”  Steven piped in.  “if there aren't enough in this litter there will soon be more on the way.”

 Heyes paled slightly.  “Oh, yeah.  This could get out of hand.”

 “Don't worry,”  Miranda assured him.  “I've already spoken to David about it.  Once this litter is old enough, he said he could do a small operation on her so that she doesn't have any more kittens.”

 Heyes smiled, relieved.  “Really?  He can do that?”

 Miranda nodded while Sally pouted.  “Aww, no!”  she complained.  “I want more kittens!”

 “Tell you what,”  her father offered.  “when you're all grown up and have your own household then you can have all the kittens you want.”

 Sally instantly burst into tears and began stamping her feet.  “NO!”  she wailed.  “I want more kittens NOW!”

 All the parents in the room raised brows and smiled at one another.

 “I think little missy is getting tired,”  Belle observed.

 “Yes,”  Miranda agreed with a heavy sigh.  “It's been a busy day already what with the train ride from Brookswood.  I think it's time for a nap.”

 “Come on,”  said Heyes as he scooped his daughter up in his arms.  “Nap time for you.”

 “NO!”  Sally sobbed even more.  “I don't want to!”

 Jed smiled as he watched his cousin deal with his daughter then returned his attention to his in-laws as the Heyes family headed for the door.

 “Ah I think Beth and I will retire for the afternoon too,”  he announced as he and his wife exchanged sly smiles.  The others in the room were not fooled.  “We'll see you folks down in the dinning room for supper,”

 “Sounds like a good idea,”  Jesse agreed.  “I think we could all use some quiet time after the unexpected events of this morning.”

 Heyes felt his irritation re-exert itself at the way Allie had blackmailed him into letting her come along on the 'rescue' mission.  He walked down the hall towards their room with his thoughts miles away while his daughter continued to squirm and complain in his arms.  He barely even heard her.  And he certainly didn't notice the cold silence of his wife as she followed along behind.

 Heyes was still nursing a slow burn when the young family returned to their hotel room.  The Oxford was an exquisite hotel and he wished that he could relax and enjoy the luxury while he had the chance.  Goodness knows Jed and Beth were very likely taking advantage of the soft double wide bed in their plush room despite the fact that poor Beth was about eight months along.  She was having a hard enough time just getting up out of a chair let alone manoeuvring around a soft and comfortable mattress.  Still, knowing Jed;  he would find a way to entertain his young wife.

 Heyes sighed deeply as he poured himself a small glass of brandy from the complementary bottle that had been waiting in their room upon their arrival.  Heyes suspected that Randa had ordered it along with one of the few two bedroom suites the hotel had to offer.  She had been anticipating a romantic evening with her husband once the child had been settled in to sleep.  Heyes shook his head to himself, trying to put his anger aside and enjoy his wife while she was here.

 He could hear her in the other room, speaking softly to Sally while getting her ready for bed.  The child was tired and would most likely be asleep before her head hit the pillow so Heyes made a concentrated effort to clear his thoughts and convince his brain to shut down.  What had Martha said?  Divert it onto something else.  Music.  Play some music in your head.  You don't have your music box here with you, but you know the tunes.  Put one on and play it.  Calm yourself.

 Another deep sigh and a quick swallow of the brandy and he felt himself relax.  He heard the door to the second bedroom softly close and putting a smile onto his face, he turned to meet his wife's gaze.  A slight chill went down his spine and the smile dropped.  Miranda's mouth was set in a hard line but that was fitting because it matched the look in her eye.  Heyes frowned.  The anger that she had been hiding from their daughter now came wafting off her in waves and Heyes felt hurt hit his heart before even a word was spoken.

 “What kind of a game are you playing at?”  Miranda threw at him in an angry whisper.

 “What?”  Heyes was almost comical in his stupefaction.

 “That woman!”  Miranda clarified as she walked purposefully across the room.  “Do you really think I couldn't see what was going on between you?”

 “What?”  Heyes repeated as he took an involuntary step backwards and knocked into the side table, almost tipping over the brandy bottle.  He was in shock; he'd never seen Randi show such hostility.  “What are you talking about?”

 “You're in love with her!”  The accusation was hissed at him.

 “What?”  Heyes' shock had turned to incredulity.  “No, Randi.  You're being silly now.”

 Heyes held out a placating hand to her but fire erupted in her dark eyes and she slapped the truce offering away.

 “How dare you tell me I'm being silly!”  she snarled at him.  “I saw the way she looked at you!  How many more lovers from your past are going to waltz into our lives?  How many more of your illegitimate get are going to ooze up through the floorboards?”

 Now Heyes felt anger taking over from his surprise.  

 “How dare you,”  he threw back at her, then cringed at his raised tone, remembering that their daughter was sleeping in the next bedroom.  He softened his voice but his anger was still apparent.  “How could you?  Becky and Anya are innocent!  They're beautiful children, made from love.  You know that!  You knew that before you married me....I thought you understood that....”

 “I understood that you loved Abi, I understood that you had two children with her,”  Miranda conceded, her face ugly with rage.  “But now it's apparent that there's more to the woodpile than I realized!  How many more Hannibal?  How many more women have you loved and left?  How many more children have you abandoned?  How many more of your 'innocent children' are out there?”

 “I don't know!”  Heyes snarled back at her, still trying with extreme effort to keep his voice down.  “We were young and we were wild!  We took what we wanted and didn't think beyond the petticoats!  We took what was offered and what was paid for!  What did you think Miranda?  Did you think that we were angels?  Did you really believe that we were honourable men—that we were celibate?  
 “Jesus!”  Both hands going through the hair as he began to pace.  “And Kid,” he added with a flourish towards his partner's room.  “he was at it more than me!  Damn—we couldn't be in town for more than an hour before he was off givin' to a saloon gal!  You don't hear Beth questioning him about it now...!”

 “Beth is young and naive!”  Randa threw back at him.  “and she hasn't had the delightful experience of ex-lovers and previous get coming to visit!”

 “Doesn't mean it won't happen!”  Heyes told her.  “He's had his share of lost loves too—as a matter of fact Allie was his girl first!  It wasn't until....”

 Miranda's eyes widened with more indignity.  “Oh really?  Well there's a young lady who certainly got around!  She likes her meat on the wild side huh?  Is her husband certain that he's the father of their children?”

 Heyes' anger grew quiet as his lip drew back across his teeth.  “That's not fair,”  his whisper was dangerous.  “Allie was young and a maiden.  She was confused and didn't know what she wanted in her life back then.  Neither of us took advantage of her.  We both loved her in our own way and we both respected her!  Neither of us went that far.”

 “Well that's a change,”  Miranda sniped.  “I thought you just said that you both took whatever you wanted.”

 Heyes felt such a frustration build up in him he thought he was going to explode. First Allie and now his own wife seemed determined to push his buttons today.   His fists clenched and he shook them in the air as a guttural growl escaped his throat.

 “That was different!”  his straining vocal cords ground out.  “We didn't love saloon gals!  That's what they were there for!  Allie was different!  I loved her!  I'd just.....just broken up with Abi.  I was hurting and then there was Allie.  Her relationship with Jed was already beginning to cool and we....”

 “So you had just finished impregnating one woman and you turned around and became involved with another!?”

 “I didn't know Abi was pregnant!”  Heyes' voice did rise this time; his anger and frustration was beyond containment.

 “Oh my God!”  Miranda was beyond consoling.  “I can't believe I've made such a mistake!  I have to get out of here!  I'm leaving!”

 True to her word Randa turned on her heels and headed for the door of their suite.  Heyes came after her and within two strides had caught up with her.

 “No!  Miranda, wait....”

 He grabbed her arm, trying to stop her but she whirled around and slapped him hard across the face.  He staggered back, a hand up to his stinging cheek; shock hitting him harder than the pain.  He collected himself just in time to see the door to their suite slam shut and he made a dash for it.

 “Miranda!  Don't be foolish!  Where are you going?”  he opened the door all prepared to run out ofter her when a noise over by the adjoining room stopped him in his tracks.

 “Papa?”

 Heyes was brought up short as guilt caught his breath.  He'd forgotten all about his daughter and had been all set to leave her alone in a strange place in order to try and placate his wife.  He straightened up, breathing heavily, trying to force his emotions to settle and to calm himself down.

 “Papa, why are you a Mama yelling at each other?”

 A small fist was rubbing at a sleepy eye but Heyes didn't fail to notice the dampness of tears on her cheeks.

 “Oh no, sweetheart.  It's alright,”  he soothed her as he hurried over to her.  He knelt down to her level and gave her a hug.  “We just had a disagreement, that's all.  Nothing for you to be worried about.”

 “But you were fighting...”

 Lifting his daughter up into his arms, he hugged her close and silently cursed himself for an idiot.

 “Shhh, darlin',”  he soothed her.  “don't cry.  It's alright.”

 “But where did Mama go?”  the sniffles continued as the child sought reassurance.

 “She just went to visit with....a friend.”  It was the best Heyes could come up with at short notice.  He really had no idea where his wife had gone.  “C'mon.  Would you like me to sit with you for a while?”

 The little head nodded and Heyes made his way into the darkened bedroom.  The light from their own room shone through the door and Heyes took the blanket off the small bed and sitting down in the rocking chair, he covered his daughter with it and let her snuggled in against his chest.  She curled up, bringing her bare feet up under the blanket and a thumb went into her mouth as she felt her father's arms wrap around her.

 Heyes suddenly felt exhausted himself as the strong emotions wrung themselves out.  He closed his eyes and settled his head against the backrest of the chair.  Without even thinking about it, a soft melody from his prison days—one that he had often used to quiet his own mind and lull himself to sleep, came to his lips.  He hummed it gently as he rocked the chair slowly back and forth and Sally sighed contentedly, listening to his heart beating and the soothing tones rumbling in his chest.

 Heyes had no idea how much time had passed—he'd probably fallen asleep along with his daughter.  But suddenly he jumped slightly and looked over to the open bedroom door when a quiet knock brought him back to consciousness.  He squinted slightly at the dark silhouette standing in the doorway the light from the other room making it impossible to  make out the features.

 “Everyone alright in here?”  came the quiet query.

 “Oh, Jesse.”  Heyes breathed a soft smile as the figure came into the room.  “Yeah.  Sally was just worried.”

 “Hmmm,”  Jesse nodded knowingly.  He pulled over another chair and sat down opposite the father and daughter.  His eyes were adjusting to the dim light and he could easily make them out now.  “She's sucking her thumb.”

 “Oh yeah,”  Heyes stroked her hair as he looked down at her.  “she still does that occasionally when she's worried about something.  I was going to ask David about that.  She's a bit too old to still be doing it, but....”

 “I wouldn't worry about it,”  Jesse assured him.  “She's in a good stable home now.  She'll stop doing it when she's ready.”

 Heyes nodded but his expression was worried as he continued to caress his daughter's hair.  “Is Miranda down in your room?”

 “Yes,”  Jesse confirmed.

 Heyes nodded again.  “I'm sorry about that.  She shouldn't have disturbed you.  We've all had a busy morning.”

 Jesse shrugged.  “It doesn't matter.  We weren't doing anything and I'd much rather she came to us than to just wander off aimlessly.  That's been known to happen when someone is upset.”

 Heyes nodded as he remembered hearing about Jed doing just that when he'd run off into the cold night with nothing on but his long johns.  “Thank you.  Is she alright?”

 “She is now,”  Jesse told him.  “She was pretty upset when she first got there, but Belle ordered some tea to be sent up and that helped to get her calmed down.”

 Heyes sighed and shook his head.  “I don't understand what happened Jesse,”  he admitted.  “I've never known Miranda to behave like that.  She was like a stranger; I just couldn't believe the things she was saying to me.”

 “Your first married fight,”  Jesse commented.  “It was bound to happen sooner or later.  As long as you didn't tell her she was being silly.”

 Heyes grimaced and looked slightly guilty.

 “Oh,”  Jesse mumbled.  “Oh dear.  Not a smart thing to say to an angry woman.”

 “Yeah, I noticed,”  Heyes agreed sheepishly.  “For someone who is suppose to be a genius I'm not doing very well at this 'being married' stuff.”

 “None of us do at first,”  Jesse assured him.  “It's all trial and error.  That's where forgiveness and a strong respect for one another comes into play.  You can't hold grudges in a marriage because both of you will do and say things you'll later regret. I suppose that's one of the differences between a good marriage and a bad one.  Respect.”  Heyes sighed deeply and nodded his understanding.  Jesse continued.  “It's been hard on her these last few weeks with you being gone like this.  She's been worried about you.”

 “I've been gone on assignments before.”

 “But not for this long,”  Jesse pointed out.  “and, I'm sorry to say since I'm the one who sent you on it; not one this dangerous.”

 “The train wreck could have happened any time....”

 “Yes, but there have been other things happen as well,”  Jesse reminded him.  “Dangerous situations that could not have been foreseen.  Now you're about to run headlong into another dangerous situation.  It's hard on the womenfolks when we do these things.”

 “I don't have much choice with either situation,”  Heyes grumbled.  “Rousting out the gang in Devil's Hole Basin is part of my obligation to Lom and to the governor.”

 Jesse smiled.  “Really?”  he sounded amused.  “and it has nothing to do with the fact that your mare is being held captive up there.”

 “Well....”

 Jesse snorted quietly.  “C'mon Hannibal, this has nothing to do with fulfilling obligations.  You're helping the law roust out that gang to get Karma back and you're going to help the Second Chance get rid of a thorn that's been in their side for years, in order to maintain ownership of Karma.  I don't blame you for it.  In a younger day I'd have done the same.  But let's not sugar coat it.  It is what it is, and it's hard on the womenfolk.”

 “I take it Miranda filled you in on the conversation in the dinning room,”  Heyes observed with a regretful sigh.  Jesse simply nodded.  “I suppose as far as Miranda is concerned, and Beth too; the job you hired us to do is completed now and we should be coming home.  You'll get Karma's lineage and our suspicions that she's from an excellent line have been verified.  Ned's foals will bring top dollar.  It certainly wasn't the conclusion I was expecting, but I'm glad for you that it has worked out.”

  “Yes,”  Jesse agreed.  “that was a surprise all around.  Imagine how Miranda felt; walking in to that unexpected reunion.”

 “Was it really that obvious, Jesse?”  Heyes asked.  “I did love Allie once upon a time and it was a shock to see her again like that.  I do still have feelings for her, of course.  But not that way.  We have all moved on and grown apart—just like me and Abi.  I still love them both, but I'm in love with Miranda.  She's the one I chose to be with.  For her to think that I would just walk out on her and our daughter...”

 “No no,”  Jesse shook his head.  “that was anger talking Hannibal.  Anger and fear.  Miranda knows you love her and Sally.  She's knows you're not going anywhere.  She just felt threatened.  By the time I left our suite, she was in tears, scared to death that you hated her now for the things she'd said.”

 Heyes groaned.  “I don't hate her—I love her.  I just didn't see that coming.  She caught me flat-footed.”

 “Well, just like she didn't see Allie coming,”  Jesse pointed out.  “those powerful emotions probably caught her by surprise just as much as they did you.”

 Heyes grinned as he continued to gently rock his daughter.  “How do you know so much, Jesse?”

 Jesse laughed.  “Been there done that, my lad.  And besides,”  he coughed slightly to cover his embarrassment.  “Belle and I are kind of concerned about you too.”

 Heyes' brow creased and his eyes asked the question.  Jesse smiled sheepishly and reaching into his inside pocket he pulled out an oblong metal case.

 “David asked me to give this to you,”  he said as he held it out for Heyes to take.  “he wanted to get a replacement to you as soon as possible, for the one that was damaged when you got shot.”

 Heyes reached out and took the case, guiltily avoiding his friend's questioning eyes.  “Did Miranda hear about that incident?”

 “Yes.”

 Heyes groaned.  

 “The doctor in Carr let David know what had happened and why you needed a replacement and David felt it was only right to fill your wife in on the events.”  Jesse sat quietly for a moment, waiting for an explanation.  When none came, he continued on.  “So you see, we've all had reason to worry about you.  Is there something Belle and I need to know Hannibal?”

 Heyes swallowed guiltily and again avoided his friend's eyes.  “It's nothing,”  was past his lips before he could stop it.  Even he knew that wasn't going to suffice.

 “Really.”  Jesse was rightfully sceptical.  “Then why was David so adamant that you get this as soon as possible?”

 “Didn't he tell you?”

 “No.  He did not.  I suppose I broke trust to some degree by opening the case to see what it was.  You can imagine our surprise.  And concern. What's this all about?”

 Heyes continued to look over Jesse's right shoulder.  He held the case in one hand while he continued to stroke his daughter's hair with the other.   The chair rocked quietly back and forth, the creaking of the runners on the floor being the only sound as both men awaited the inevitable.

 Finally Heyes swallowed and forced it out.  “Nothing has happened yet; it's just a precaution.”

 “Against what?”

 Heyes felt slightly irritated but forced it down.  He should know by now that these lame attempts at diversion were not going to work.  He took a deep breath and decided he may as well go for broke.  The whole bloody town was going to know about it eventually anyways.

 “With all the head injuries I've sustained over the years, David is concerned that I might have suffered some mild brain damage.”

 “Jesus!”  Jesse couldn't help the expletive.

 “No, but it's not that bad,”  Heyes was quick to reassure.  “Nothing's even happened yet, and it may never.  It's just a precaution.”

 “Against what?”  Jesse pushed.  “What is David concerned about happening?”

 “I.....could have a seizure,”  Heyes explained.  “and then of course, if Dr. Murrey told David that I'd been knocked out again when Karma was taken.....”

 “Oh Hannibal...”

 “No, but it wasn't my fault,”  Heyes defended himself.  “I wasn't looking for trouble.  It just seems that trouble has a way of finding me.”

 Sally moaned and began to squirm, her father's louder tones breaking in upon her sleep.  Heyes frowned and stroking her hair, he kissed her gently on the top of her head.

 “I'm sorry sweetheart,”  he whispered to her.  “are you ready to go to bed now?”

 “Yes....”  came the soft response from somewhere deep inside a dream.

 Both men stood and Heyes laid his daughter down on her bed and arranged the blanket back over her again.  He leaned over to give her another kiss and then he and Jesse quietly left the room.  Heyes closed the door and walking over to the side table he set the metal case down and poured himself and Jesse another glass of brandy.
 Jesse accepted it, took a sip and smiled back at his friend.  “You're heading into trouble now though,”  he picked the conversation back up from where they had left it.  Much to Heyes' disappointment.  “You don't have to go back into Devil's Hole.”

 “Yes, I do.”  Then he smiled and took a drink himself.  “Don't worry Jesse.  Joe is proving to be very handy to have around in a pinch—even with a broken finger, a bullet hole through his arm and a puncture in his foot.”

 “Ahhh!”  Jesse raised his brows with sudden insight.  “I was wondering why stepping on a pebble caused him to start swearing.”

 Heyes chuckled.  “Yeah.  He's getting quite an education.  But you can assure Sheriff Jacobs that we're watching out for him and that he's doing a fine job.”

 “Alright, I will,”  Jesse agreed.  “But what about this other thing.  Do Joe and Jed know what to do if anything happens?”

 Heyes nodded as he finished his brandy.  “Jed knows.  And so do Miranda and Sally.”

 “Sally knows about this?”  Jesse was surprised.

 Heyes nodded again.  “David felt she should know what to do in case it happened in front of her.  She handled the information quite well actually.”

 “Well yes, that does make sense,”  Jesse agreed.  “Better she does know.  And perhaps I should know too, don't you think?”

 Heyes looked up and met his eyes briefly, then nodded agreement.  He set his glass down and picking up the case, opened it to reveal the vial, the syringe and the needle.

 “It's simple, really,”  he explained.  “If I have a seizure, just inject all the contents from the vial into my stomach.”

 “That's it?”  said Jesse, somewhat surprised.

 “Yes,”  Heyes confirmed.  “I assume both you and Belle know how to give an injection?”

 “Oh yes, we've done it plenty of times with the livestock.  No worries there.”

 “Well, that's all there is to it.”

 Jesse smiled and finished his drink.  “Okay.  I'll let Belle know.  She's been worried about you.”

 Heyes smiled and nodded.  He was just going to have to accept the fact that there was no getting away from people who cared about him.  Then he looked up sharply when the door to their suite slowly opened and a red-eyed, contrite looking Miranda quietly entered the room.  She and Jesse smiled at each other and Jesse raised a brow at Heyes.

 “Well,”  he stated as he put his empty glass down.  “that's my cue to leave I believe.  Ahh, we'll understand if you don't show for supper.  I rather doubt that Jed and Beth will be there either.  Perhaps we should just count on breakfast with the group, how's that?

 Heyes smiled and nodded.

 “Fine.  We'll see you later,”  Jesse said.  He headed for the door, but stopped briefly to take Miranda's hands and give her a kiss on the cheek.  “It'll be alright,”  he whispered to her.  “Sally's asleep now, but if you'd like to send her down to us for a few hours later, that'd be fine.”

 “Thank you Jesse.”  came the quiet response.  “Perhaps later.”
Familiar Territory
Post on Wed 15 Jan 2014, 11:17 pm by Keays
The door closed and the married couple stood and awkwardly looked at each other.  Finally Heyes took a step towards his wife.

 “Miranda, I'm....”

 Suddenly his wife was in tears and sobbing she ran into her husband's arms and held on to him for dear life.

 “I'm sorry!”  she gasped between sobs.  “I'm so sorry.  Those terrible things I said...”

 Heyes felt tears coming himself as he held his wife tightly to him and gently rocked her.

 “No,”  he whispered to her.  “It must have been a shock to you.  I wasn't being fair....”

 “But those terrible things I said about your daughters...I had no right,”  Randa choked out.  “I know you love them and miss them.  I know they're beautiful.  I didn't mean what I said.  I was just so...scared.”

 “About what?”  Heyes asked.

 “That you would leave me!”  Randa wailed.  “You're so beautiful!  Other women turn their heads to watch you walk by—I've seen them do it!  And now here you are, stuck with me...”

 Heyes almost started laughing through his own tears.  “Stuck with you?”  he repeated.  “Miranda, I love you.  I'm not 'stuck' with you.  I want to be with you.  You must know that.”

 She nodded through her tears.  “I know,”  she admitted.  “It just came as such a shock to meet yet another....”

 “I'm sorry.”

 “No,”  she said.  “you have nothing to be sorry for.  I know you and Jed led wild lives before I met you.  And I know that you're turning all that around now—I know you are.  I had no right to throw your past in your face.  That wasn't fair of me at all.  I don't know where that came from.  I've never been like that.  I despise women who are like that!”

 Heyes did chuckle then.  “I know.”

 “Do you forgive me?”

 “Nothing to forgive.”

 He cupped her cheeks in his hands and turned the tear-streaked face up so he could gaze into those beautiful dark eyes that held his whole world in their safe keeping.  She smiled up at him as the wet sobs quieted and she gave a final sniffle.  The dimples that she loved so much came out to play.  He leaned down into her and they kissed, long and hard.
 Heyes manoeuvred her back over towards their bed and gently set her to lay back on it..  He came down on top of her and they kissed and caressed one another while at the same time, quickly unbuttoning various items of clothing.  In less than a minute the floor was littered and the two lovers were under the sheets, giggling and playing with one another....

 
 The afternoon sun was casting long shadows outside the window when Miranda awoke with a start to find herself staring into her daughter's brown eyes.  She was hugging her teddy bear and smiling with delight.

 “You came back!”  she squeaked.  “You're not mad at me?”

 “Oh,”  Miranda forced herself awake.  “No, of course not sweetheart.  Everything's alright.”

 Sally smiled even more and began to climb onto the bed in order to cuddle.

 “OH, ahh...”  Randa was instantly aware of the fact that she and Han were both naked under the bed sheet, but fortunately Sally settled in on top of the covering and simply cuddled in against her mother.  All she needed was assurance that her mother wasn't going anywhere and she made no attempt to get under the sheet, or to crawl over to be in the center.  “There you are,”  Miranda cooed to her as she hugged her daughter close through the sheet.  “Everything is fine.”

 A soft snore coming from behind her let Randi know that her husband was still sound asleep.  Hopefully he wouldn't kick the sheet off himself while their daughter was still in attendance.  Getting up for supper might be a challenge.



 As soon as Beth and Jed had entered their own room, Jed leaned back against the closed door and laughed out loud.  Beth turned around and have him an insulted look.

 “What are you laughing at?”  she demanded to know with a show of indignity.  “You'd be waddling too if you were carrying a bale of hay around your midriff.”

 Jed chuckled but waved his hand in an assuring negative.  “Oh no, darlin'.  I'm not laughin' at you.”  He came over to her and put an arm around her shoulders.  “You are not gonna believe what happened in that meeting this morning.”

 Beth smiled as she moved to sit down on the sofa.  She tired so quickly these days.  “Well, I have an idea,”  she told her husband.  “We were wondering way Papa returned to the room so soon—and with Sally in tow.  Apparently Karma's owner is an old acquaintance?”

 “More than an old acquaintance,”  Jed informed her as he joined her and held her close.  “an old love.”

 “Really?”  Beth laughed.  “Another one?”

 “Hmm,”  Jed nodded.  “On top of that, when they parted company Heyes gave her a real nice mare,”  he snorted.  “Cantankerous and moody, just like someone else we know.  Anyway, they parted company and we ain't seen neither one of 'em from that day to this, though Heyes had been sending her money for awhile to help her get her business started.  Anonymously though you know, cause she would 'a been too proud to accept charity from us—knowin' it was stolen goods an' all.
 “Anyway  as it turns out, Fannie, the mare Heyes had given her is Karma's dam.”

 Beth's eyes widened into saucers.  “Really?  But how exciting!  He must be thrilled.”

 Jed grimaced.  “Wellll....not real thrilled.”

 “But why not?  That's wonderful serendipity!”

 “Oh now darlin', don't you start doin' that too,”  Jed complained.  “Seren...what?”

 “Serendipity,”  Beth repeated with a smile.  “Ah, a playful coincidence.”

 “Oh.  Yeah well I suppose,”  Jed conceded.  “but now Allie, Karma's legal owner isn't gonna let Heyes off the hook.  Those rustlers who took Karma in the first place are still causin' problems and now Allie says she won't give Heyes ownership if he doesn't let her and her husband come with us to roust out Devil's Hole AND the rustler's den.”

 “Ohhh,”  Beth eyebrows went up as she settled back into the sofa.  “Oh dear. Hannibal does not like people telling him what to do.”

 “No he don't,”  Jed agreed.  “and on top of that, I kinda got the feelin' that Randa wasn't too happy about the way things were goin' either.”

 “Oh dear,”  Beth sighed.  “I must admit that Randa has been 'moody' lately.  But then, I suppose so have I!  I know I encouraged you to go on this adventure, but I have to admit that the closer I get to the due date, the moodier I get.”  she turned serious and looked up into her husbands beautiful blue eyes.  “I'm so worried you're going to miss this special day.”

 “I know,”  Jed understood.  “This is taking longer than I thought it would.  I've been worryin' about you too darlin'.  But I promise you; I'm gonna do everything I can to be back in time even if it means makin' a special trip home to be with ya'. I don't wanna miss this either, ya' know.”

 “I know,”  Beth acknowledged.  “but now here you are riding into Devil's Hole and even going after a nest of rustlers?  Those men are going to be dangerous Jed. They know they'll be heading for the noose if they're taken—they'll be fighting for their lives.  Miranda and I are both worried.”  she laughed. “Bridget has it easy; she married a lawyer!”

 Jed nodded, showing regret for what he was putting his pregnant wife through.  “I can't tell ya' not to worry, cause I suppose it's normal.  All I can say is that I will be real careful, cause it's not just me and Heyes now—it's all of us.  We do know what we're doin' ya' know.  Just cause we've switched sides that don't change the rules.  And one of the reasons the legals are lettin' us do this, is because we're comin' at it from the other side.  We know how the outlaw element think so we're gonna be one step ahead of 'em.  We got the upper hand darlin' so I don't want you to be worryin' too much about us.”

 Beth sighed.  “I suppose.  But it's still going to be dangerous.”

 “Yup,”  Jed nodded.  “can't deny that.  But I'll be careful.”

 “Well, considering who it is I married, I don't suppose I can ask for more than that.”

 “Nope.”

 “What are you doing?”

 “Nothin'.”

 “Don't give me that,”  Beth teased him.  “you're undoing the buttons on my dress!”

 “Well if ya' knew what I was doin', what'd ya' ask for?”

 “Because I can't believe it!”  she exclaimed with a laugh.  “I'm hardly in a condition to...”

 “You let me worry about that....”  


“Papa, Papa, wake up, we’re hungry.”

Heyes groaned and rolled over looking up into the expectant eyes of his daughter.  “Sally, what time is it?”

“Darling, it’s after eight.  We were supposed to meet Jesse and Belle for breakfast, remember?” said Miranda from where she stood at the dresser putting the finishing touches on an elaborate hairdo.  “Sally run and get Papa’s boots.  The shoe shine man should have left them outside the door by now.”

“What happened?  The last thing I remember was you…and me,” said Heyes, sitting up groggily.

“You slept, dear.  You slept through dinner, and the entire night. Apparently, so did Beth and Jed, however I suspect they didn’t get nearly as much rest as we did,” said Randa.

“We were supposed to have a family dinner with Jesse and Belle.  Why didn’t you wake me?” asked Heyes, standing up, grabbing his pants, and pulling them on quickly.  He’d heard the door open to the hall and knew Sally would be back any second.  He buckled his belt and turned to lift his shirt off the back of the chair where he’d left it yesterday afternoon.

“No, not that one, it’s dirty.  There’s a new shirt in the armoire,” said Miranda, gesturing with her elbow at the large piece of furniture while she placed the last pin in her coiffure.

Heyes crossed to the armoire and opened it as Sally ran in with his boots tucked in her arms.  “Here they are, Papa.  Look how shiny they are!”  She dropped the boots at his feet and flung herself onto the rumpled bed, snuggling down into the pillows, and pulling the covers up to her neck.

Miranda smiled and blew her a kiss.  Heyes had pulled on the shirt and was buttoning it when Randa reached around him from behind and kissed his ear. “I couldn’t wake you.  You were so tired and I am sure so grateful to have some peace from your wretched wife,” she whispered.

Heyes turned in her arms and pulled her tightly to him.  “I wouldn’t exactly call you wretched.  Maybe shrewish…”

She slapped his chest, “Oh!  I guess I deserved that.  I don’t know what came over me.  I just couldn’t bear seeing that woman looking at you that way.”

“What way?” asked Heyes, truly puzzled.

“You can't tell, can you?”  Miranda asked him, slightly puzzled herself.

Heyes shrugged.  “Tell what?”

“When a woman is looking at you 'that way'.”

“What way?”  Heyes asked again, feeling frustrated now.

Miranda smiled and shook her head.  “Oh never mind.  Let's not discuss it—it's time for breakfast.”

Heyes laughed and kissed her.  Pulling her through the door, he closed it behind them.  Sally didn’t need to hear this.  “Sally, Papa and Mama need to have a little chat.  We’ll be right here in the other room.”

He pulled Randa over to the sofa and sat down, swinging her onto his lap and holding her securely.  “Sweetheart, I know you don’t want to talk about Allie, but I need you to know that she’s no threat to you.”

“Hannibal, please, I’m still embarrassed by the way I acted…”

“And the only reason you acted that way was because you were blindsided, I believe you said, by her,” said Heyes.  “I was blindsided, too.  I hadn’t seen Allie since the day I gave her Fannie, nearly eleven years ago.”

“See, I was being silly,” said Randa, trying to wiggle off his lap and end the uncomfortable conversation.

Heyes held her tightly.  He took her hand and held it to his lips, kissing the palm gently.  “No, you weren’t being silly.  If I was faced with meeting William, I might have reacted the same way or worse.  Look, I loved Allie a long time ago, but we never acted on that love.  I never slept with her.  I want you to know that.”

“Yes, you said that last night.”

“There’s more you need to hear.   It took a while for me to realize it, but a lot of what I loved about Allie was the idea of being in love with someone who seemed so normal to us.  I think both Jed and I fell for her for the same reasons.  We were starting to hate our lives and we were desperate for a way out.”

“I don’t think that riding around with the West’s most notorious outlaws could really be considered normal,” chuckled Miranda.

“Maybe not, but it felt normal at the time.  You have to understand that she had a deprived, loveless childhood that she was running from.  Her mother, Ruth, is not really her mother, she’s her aunt and she took Allie from her real mother, Ruth’s sister Esther, and pretended she was hers to keep her safe from her real father, a miserable lowlife crook by the name of Jack Slade.  It’s a long story, but Ruth wasn’t really capable of being a mother. She did her best, but you know how children are, they know when something’s wrong and they usually believe they’re the cause of it.  Ruth’s marriage had turned sour, and Allie and Ruth were always at odds with each other.”

“Oh, dear, the poor child!”

“Worse, Ruth encouraged her to become engaged to an older, wealthy man; hoping that Allie would be protected from her real father by Bill Decker’s wealth.  It didn’t work out that way.  She ended up needing protection from Decker.”

“What happened to him?”

“He tried to kill me but the sheriff stopped him.  Killed him right there,” said Heyes, “but that story’s going to have to wait for another time.  We better get down to breakfast.”

“So, Allie ran away with you to get away from Decker, but he was dead.  Why did she run?” asked Randa, not ready to go yet.

“She wanted to get away from her old life, just like we did.  Only she didn’t run away with me, she ran away with Jed and I went looking for him and found both of them.”

Miranda laughed, “Oh, the poor girl, having to put up with the both of you. Tell me, though, did she really rob a bank with you two?”

“No, I robbed that one by myself,” mumbled Heyes.

Sensing his reticence, Randa asked, “What happened?”

“I knocked myself out blowing the safe.  Allie and Jed saved me.”

“No wonder she doesn’t want her husband riding along with you!  All right, dear, that’s enough ancient history for one morning.  Just promise me that you don’t have any feelings for her now.”  Randa kissed him thoroughly and sprang off his lap, brushing away his hands as he tried to pull her back to him for more.

Heyes stood up and ran his hands through his hair, “Oh, I have feelings; I feel like I’d like to wring her neck.”

“Well, that’s perfectly acceptable to me,” said Miranda.  She walked to the bedroom door and opened it, “Sally, time for breakfast.”

Sally came out of the bedroom hesitantly.  She looked from her mother to her father and saw that they were both smiling.  “Is everybody happy now?” she asked, with a brilliant smile.

Her parents each took a hand and swung her off her feet between them.  “Yes, we are,” said Randa, giving Heyes a warm smile.


The threesome headed downstairs with Sally laughing and giggling all the way. Heyes marvelled at how well Randa had adjusted to parenthood considering how suddenly it had been thrust upon her.  But Miranda loved it, much to her own surprise.  She was able to relax and be herself around Sally and allow herself to have fun.  She always felt that she tended to say things that might offend that she was always over-stepping but with Sally, it didn't matter.  The child loved it. The laughing fits the two of them could get into were infectious and Heyes would find himself laughing along with them when he didn't even know what the joke was.
 
More than mother and daughter, Miranda and Sally had become good friends and Heyes just couldn't believe how happy he was.  He loved them both so much it hurt.  He marvelled at how his life had turned around for him.  It seemed only yesterday and a thousand years ago that he was chained to his cot to prevent him from taking his own life.  The rage and the resentment he had felt at the world had been all consuming and he just hadn't been capable of seeing beyond it.

'Thank goodness for friends,' he mused, and yet again he found himself laughing only because his wife and daughter were laughing and the sound of it was like sunshine on a drowning soul.

“Hey!”  Sally yelled as she pointed back up the staircase.  “there's Uncle Jed and Aunt Beth!”

Everyone turned to see Jed and Beth on the top of the stairs with Beth holding onto the bannister with one hand and her husband's arm with the other.  Her expression was one of anxious consternation as she gazed down the staircase as though it were Niagara Falls.

“Oh!  Hang on!”  Heyes told them and he came bounding back up the stairs two at a time.  “Can't have my new cousin breaking her neck.”

“Oh dear, this is so silly,”  Beth complained.  “How does Bridget do it?”

“I'm sure Steven helps her, darlin',”  Jed assured her.  “Just take your time.”

Heyes took her hand off the bannister and clasped it firmly in his own.  “One step at a time, sweetheart,”  he smiled, flashing those dimples and Beth couldn't help but giggle.

“Alright,”  Beth said as she carefully took her first step down.  “don't let me go!”

Heyes and Jed smiled at each other over top the blond head.

“Just take it slow,”  Jed told her.

“Oh, do be careful!”  Miranda couldn't help the obvious advice.

“She won't fall,”  Sally commented casually.  “Papa won't let her.”

Heyes slipped a smile to his daughter and then turned his attention back to the job at hand.

“Almost there,”  he said.  “just a couple of more steps.”

“There ya' go darlin',”  Jed patted her hand as she reached level ground.  “Nothin' to it.”

“Oh my goodness,”  Beth exclaimed.  “I never thought stairs could be so intimidating.  We should have got a room on the ground floor.”

“Oh, you're fine,”  Heyes countered her.  “Besides, you're going to be heading back home today anyway aren't you?”

“Yes, I think so,”  Beth agreed as the whole group headed for the dinning room.  “I should get home.  It's getting so awkward just to get around!”

Upon entering the dinning room, the friends stopped to look around and soon found where their table was.  The Granger's were already there along with Jesse and Belle and a quick wave from Steven got the newcomers heading their way.

“Good morning, everyone!”  Beth greeted her family.

“Good morning,”  Jesse answered.  “We have coffee on the way.”

“Oh good!” came the unison response from the two cousins as they helped their respective ladies get seated.  

Sally came to sit beside the special chair brought out for Rosie so the toddler could have breakfast with the family as well.  “Can I help her with breakfast, Aunt Bridget?”  she asked hopefully.

Bridget laughed.  “You certainly may,”  she agreed.  “I might actually get my own breakfast down while it's still hot.”

Sally beamed a smile and started to entertain the youngest member of the family—for now.

“I'll be right back,”  Heyes announced once Miranda was seated.  “I just want to send a message to Monty.”

“Sure,”  said Jesse.  “we should be about done in an hour.”

“Yes,”  Steven seconded.  “I'm looking forward to meeting these people eventually.  It seems there's quite a story to tell.”

“Hmmm,”  Heyes smiled and raised his brows.  “I'll sure you will.  I'll be right back.”

“Yesterday was quite an interesting day,”  Belle commented.  “Lots of revelations.”

Everybody adamantly agreed with that.

“I feel so silly now,”  Miranda admitted.  “I'm so sorry to have barged in on you like that.”

“Oh don't be silly,”  Belle assured her.  “Marriage takes some getting used to—especially being married to these two!”

“Hey!”  Jed complained.  “What did I do?  Heyes is the one who leaves broken hearts in his wake.”

“Ohh!”  Beth teased him.  “And you've never left a broken heart behind?  I don't believe you!”

Miranda smiled but kept her mouth shut.  Memories from the argument of the previous evening when Heyes accused Jed of being a very busy patron of the cat houses coming back to her.

“Who me?”  Jed asked innocently.  “Never!”

Jesse and Steven both snorted over that one.  “Better be careful how far you go denying it Jed,”  Steven warned him.  “I don't want to be a witness to libellous statements.”

“Oh!  Coffee!”  Jed exclaimed as the waiter came by and deposited two large carafes of coffee to the table.

Everybody smiled at his quick avoidance.

“Are you ready to order your breakfasts?”  the waiter asked as he tried very hard not to stare at the two very obviously pregnant women.

“Ah no,”  Jesse told him.  “We're waiting for one more person.  Give us ten minutes, Waiter.  We should be ready by then.”

“Very good,”  the waiter bowed his head, then went about pouring coffee into all the cups.

That done, he put the carafe back on the table and made his exit.  Walking back towards the kitchen he passed by his fellow employee and whispered an aside to him. “Can you believe the audacity of some of these people?”  he complained.  “Allowing two women out in public in that obvious condition!  Try getting away with that back east!”

“I know,”  snitted the other one.  “I don't know what the world is coming to; men allowing their wives to strut around like that.  It's disgusting.”

“Oh well,”  the first one shrugged his shoulders.  “the management is allowing it, so I don't suppose there's much we can do.  You sure wouldn't catch my wife out and about like that...”  he snickered.  “...if I had one!”

The two men laughed at their obvious superiority and carried on in their own directions.

A few minutes later Heyes came striding through the dinning room again, and taking note of a certain atmosphere in the air, he came up to one of the waiters and touched him lightly on the arm.  The man turned with a smile that was plastered on for customers.

“Yes sir, how may I assist you?”  he asked, all full of customer service.

“I noticed you looking over at my table as though you disapproved,”  Heyes smiled quietly.

“Oh!”  the waiter looked back to the Jordan table.  “Oh no sir—not at all. Everyone is welcome here, Mr...?”

Heyes' grin grew; he loved this part.  “Mr. Heyes.  Hannibal Heyes.”

“Oh!  Mr....Heyes,”  the colour paled slightly.  “There's no problem at all Mr. Heyes. I can't imagine what you...”

“And you see that blond haired man?”  Heyes nodded over towards the couple. “That's Kid Curry and he's very much in love with his wife.”

“Oh, ahh.  Yes.  She's very beautiful.”

“Hum hmm,”  Heyes put a hand on the man's shoulder.  “and you see the other gentleman there, sitting beside his own wife?”

“Yes.”

“Well he is not only a good friend and Kid Curry's brother-in-law, he is also the family lawyer.”

“OH!”

“So,”  Heyes' smile grew as he patted the man's shoulder.  “Keep up the good work sir, I'm sure we're all ready to order now.”

“Oh yes of course, Mr. Heyes,”  the waiter practically bowed.  “I'll be right over.”

“Good.”

Heyes returned to his table and settled in between his wife and Jesse.  “The waiter said he would be around momentarily to take our orders.”

“Good,”  Steven stated.  “I was beginning to think he'd forgotten about us.”

“Oh, I can assure you,”  said Heyes with a smile.  “he hasn't forgotten.”

“We were busy discussing Jed's past loves,”  Beth informed Heyes with a cheeky smile to her husband.

“Oh yes?”  Heyes grinned.  “Is Allie going to get crucified on both ends now?”

Jed groaned and Heyes instantly realized he'd messed up. Beth's brows went up as she send an accusing look to her husband.

“What's this?”  she enquired.

“Oh boy,”  Steven mumbled and focused on his coffee cup.

Jesse and Belle looked over to their youngest daughter, not quite sure what to expect.  Miranda waited with baited breath; was there going to be an explosion?

“Ah, yeah.  Thanks a lot there Heyes,”  Jed grumbled.

Heyes sent him a sheepish smile.  “Sorry.”

“I want the truth here,”  said Beth.  “Just who's girlfriend was she?”

“Ah well...”  Jed knew he wasn't getting out of this one.  “Ya' gotta understand darlin'; I thought Heyes was dead.”

“Really?”  Beth brows went up.  She was enjoying watching her husband squirm.  “So she was just there to comfort you?”

“Well yeah---well, no...”  Jed sighed.  “Yes.  That's how it started out but then we got closer...”

“Closer?”

“Well, not THAT close!”

Everyone at the table but Jed could see that Beth was teasing him.

“And then Heyes showed up again,”  Jed continued.  “Thank goodness.  And well, Allie and I were kinda backin' off each other and well that's when she kinda, well she and Heyes kinda...it was nothin' real serious darlin', ya' know.  It was just...I thought Heyes was dead and...”

Beth couldn't stand it any longer and she burst out laughing.  She patted her husband's arm to put him at ease.

“My what a tomcat you were!”  she teased him.

“Well...”

“That's alright dear,”  she assured him.  “I'd be very naive indeed if I thought that I was your first.  I know you've been around—both of you!  And that's fine because I know that you've already sowed your wild oats and you won't be wondering what else might be out there, waiting for you if only you hadn't tied yourself down in marriage.”  she looked over at a surprised looking Miranda.  “Isn't that right Randa?  We know they've had lovers before, considering the lives they led.  But now they're done with all that and they're ready to settle down and have a family.”

“Oh.”  Miranda felt even sillier now.  “Yes, of course they are.”

Jed leaned over and kissed his wife's cheek.  “Thank you darlin'.  And you're right.  I love you and I'm done with all that other stuff.”

Beth beamed.

Heyes and Randa exchanged looks and Heyes gently squeezed her hand under the table. Miranda smiled and nodded and squeezed his hand back.

“Still,”  Beth commented.  “I really have to meet this Allie now.  She must be one amazing woman to have gotten both of you unseated.”

Heyes and Jed exchanged looks. Oh no!

“Is everyone ready to order now?”  asked the very helpful and polite waiter.

“Yes,”  Jesse stated.  “I think we better.”

The breakfast was superb and though Miranda didn't eat very much, her stomach still tied in a guilty knot over her behaviour of the previous evening she still joined in on complementing the chef.

“So you folks are heading back home today?”  Heyes asked Jesse.

“Well I will be,”  Jesse agreed.  “but I think Belle wants to stay here until Bridget delivers.”

“Yes!”  Belle was adamant.  “After the trouble you had delivering Rosie I want to be right here with you for this one.”

“But what about me?”  asked Beth, suddenly fearful.  “This is my first; I'll be scared to death if you're not with me.  And what if Jed doesn't get back in time? I need you with me Mama!”

“Oh, Beth darling.  I know,”  her mother assured her.  “but you're not due for another month yet and Bridget will have had her baby well before then.”

“I know, but...”

“It's alright sweetheart,”  Belle continued to placate her youngest daughter.  “I trust David impeccably and Trich will be there too.  She's not due for another two months and has already had one child.  She'll be good company for you.”

“But I want my Mama with me,”  Beth was almost beside herself.  “I was counting on you being there.”

“And I will be,”  Belle promised her.  “Now don't you fret.  Both me and your husband will be there for you.  Don't worry.”

Bridget kept out of this debate.  Though she'd already had one child, deep inside she really did want her mother with her for the second one.  The first delivery had been so difficult and she was feeling somewhat trepidatious about the second.  She could understand Beth's concerns but she was allowing herself to be selfish with this and secretly willed her mother to not give in to Beth's pleadings.

“I'll be there,”  Jesse reminded everyone.  “I think I've been through this enough times to be of some assistance.”

All three of the Jordan ladies looked over at the paternal head of the household and as one they all started to laugh.

“What?”  said Jesse, fringing hurt feelings.  “You think I wouldn't know what to do?”

“Yes Papa,”  Beth smiled at him.  “I'm sure you'd do fine.  It's just not the same as having Mama there.”

Jesse humphed.  “My own girls don't appreciate me.”

Beth and Bridget smiled at each other and rolled their eyes.

“We love you Papa,”  Bridget assured him.  “but for some things, a lady needs her mother.”

Jesse smiled.  “I know sweetheart.  Don't you worry Beth.  Your mother will be home in time.”

Beth smiled and nodded.  “Okay.”

“Where's Joe this morning?”  Jesse asked, conveniently changing the subject.

“Ahh,”  Heyes and Jed exchanged looks again.

“I donno,”  Jed confessed.  “I kinda expected him to show for breakfast.”

Heyes smiled.  “I think Joe is busy sampling the finer things of life while he still can.”

“Hannibal!”  Bridget admonished him.  “What a thing to say!”

Heyes grinned wickedly.  “Joe's still a young, unattached fella,”  he pointed out. “Remember those wild oats you were referring to?”

“I know, but really,”  Bridget continued.  “at the breakfast table?”

“Well of course he's not doing it at the breakfast table!”  Heyes intentionally misunderstood.  “I think he has a little more sense than that.”

The table broke up laughing and more coffee was poured all around.

“Oh my,”  Jesse complained.  “Alright.  One more cup and then we should make plans to head for home.”

“Oh,”  Beth was disappointed.

Jed smiled and put an arm around her.  “I'll be coming home soon darlin',”  he assured her.  “don't you worry about that.”

“Aren't you coming home with us Papa?”  Sally quietly asked.

“No sweetheart, not yet,”  Heyes told her and his daughter started to pout.

“Now, I told you that Sally,”  Miranda reminded her.  “I said this was just a visit, remember?  Papa's not finished his work yet.”

“Yeah, I know,”  Sally acknowledged.

But she came down off her chair and climbed up onto her father's lap anyways. Heyes smiled and gave her a hug.

“I'll be home soon,”  he assured her.  “we just have a few more things to do to tie this up.  Then I'll be home.”

“Good,”  she said.  “Mama needs you to come home soon.”

“Really?”  said her father.  “Well, I need to come home soon too.  In the mean time you're going to have fun playing with those kittens.”

Sally instantly brightened up.  “Yes!  New kittens!”

“Yes,”  Heyes agreed.  “But you be mindful of Mouse.  If she tells you to leave her babies alone, you listen to her, alright?”

“Yes I will Papa, I promise.”

“Good.”  he hugged her and gave her a kiss.  “You're a good girl.”

“Well, I guess we better get moving,”  said Jesse, breaking up the gathering. “We still have some things to get organized before we head back home.”

“Yes,”  Heyes agreed.  “And we better get ready to meet with Monty.  Did I tell you he brought Fanny with him?”

“No,”  said Kid, looking surprised.  “Did you see her?”

Heyes smiled and nodded.  “She's looking real good.  And now that I see her again I can really see her stamp on Karma.  Don't know why I didn't notice that before.”

Jed just smiled.  Heyes always thought he should notice everything.

“That's lovely,”  said Belle. “how wonderful for you to have been able to see her again.  It seems your past is really catching up with you Joshua.  No more skeletons in the closet, I hope.”

“I hope not,”  Heyes responded quite emphatically.  “I think we're had enough revelations for one life-time.”


To Be Continued.
 

Familiar Territory Chapter Eight

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