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 Shot Off the Press by Victoria Quynn

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royannahuggins
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Join date : 2013-10-13

20140228
PostShot Off the Press by Victoria Quynn




Starring:
Pete Duel as Hannibal Heyes
Ben Murphy as Jed “Kid” Curry



Guest Stars:

Christopher Reeve as Ebenezer Scoggins


George Kennedy as Jake Brawley


Don Knotts as George Cavil


Claude Akins as Sam


Julia Roberts as Lila


Kevin Hagen as the Doc



Special Guest Star:
James Drury as Sheriff Lom Trevors




Shot Off the Press
by Victoria Quynn


Late Afternoon

Hannibal Heyes and Jed “Kid” Curry rode at a slow but steady walk into the town of Porterville. They appeared the epitome of trail weary and worn – clothes sweaty and caked with dirt; dusty faces, hats, saddles, horses.

A shot in the air suddenly spooked Heyes’ sorrel, and he short-reined her to bring her under control. “Whoa there, girl!”

Kid’s bay skittered slightly, but otherwise kept calm.

Just ahead of them, a crowd of cowboys in various states of inebriation clustered around the shooter, hoorahing him on. Gun in one hand and whiskey bottle in the other, he rocked to and fro, somehow staying on his feet.

“Dang, Heyes, so much for peace and quiet.”

“Yeah, but just think of the poker stakes. With these fellas celebrating – probably plenty of money to spend. Gonna be easy pickings with all this drinking going on.”

A weary sigh. “Which means no rest – again. Gonna be too busy watchin’ your back.”

Heyes could only smile. “Right. But if I hit it good, we’ll be able to relax in some nice, quiet town somewhere. You could sleep for a month and eat all ya want, and I’ll read and check out the poker – maybe sit in on some two-bit players who don’t know when to hold or when to fold.”

“You’re a regular poet, Heyes.”

“Ah, Kid, you flatter me. But it does fit, doesn’t it? A genius, and a poet!”

“And you’ll fall off that horse bein’ too top heavy….”

Heyes frowned. “Gosh, Kid, ya just don’t know greatness even when you’re in the thick of it.”

“Really? I sure don’t see Abraham Lincoln around here anywhere.”

Heyes just shook his head.

Moving determinedly toward the ruckus, Sheriff Lom Trevors arrived just as the ex-outlaws rode up.

“All right! Enough!” The sheriff grabbed the gun from the shooter and took him by the arm. “Got a nice soft cot waiting for ya.” Then, addressing the crowd, “And you others, if you want to join him, just keep it up. Plenty of room in the jail for all of ya.”

Kid chuckled. “Busy, huh, Lom?”

The sheriff’s attention momentarily diverted, he looked to the speaker, his visage sporting a lopsided smile. “Thaddeus! Joshua! What brings you to townnn…?”

The inebriated man suddenly swayed, his weight almost jerking Lom off his feet.

Heyes grinned. “A wire, remember? Uh, need a hand there, Lom?”

“Oh, yeah.” His head jerked toward his office. “Come on. I just made a fresh pot of coffee.” Then, indicating the man in his grasp with a nod, “Gotta keep plenty of it made what with all the goings-on.” He struggled to steady the cowboy.

Kid caught the sheriff’s eye. “Coffee sounds good, but a bath sounds even better.”

Lom started toward his office, both hands now holding on to the swaying man. “Plenty of time for that later. Got a proposition for you two.”

The pair exchanged a shrug and followed Lom to his office.

*****

Lom’s Office

The trio sat with coffee mugs in hand – Lom in his chair, Kid on a far corner of the desk, and Heyes on a bench by the front window.

The dark-haired ex-outlaw leaned forward, elbows on thighs. “So, what’s going on? Your wire was kinda – vague.”

“Well, when I sent it, I thought I’d have some news for you boys, but it turns out I don’t. Sort of a false alarm.”

“Good news? What happened?” Kid shifted his weight to his other leg.

“Received a wire from the Governor’s secretary that I should stand by for something. That’s when I wired ya. Then a day or two later, another wire said the new territorial office would be opened up in Buffalo, not here; but we’re next on the list. We didn’t even know we were being considered, so I presumed the news had to be about you two. Sorry, boys.”

“Why didn’t ya let us know? Woulda saved us a trip.”

“Heyes, that was two weeks ago. Haven’t heard from ya since I found out, and I didn’t know where to get in touch with ya.”

Kid sighed and regarded the sheriff. “So, what’s this about a proposition?”

Lom rose and refilled his mug. Motioning to the boys, he filled each of theirs in turn before replacing the pot on the stove. “As you saw, we’re right busy. This was trail’s end for this round-up. All the steers’ve been loaded and shipped off, so everybody’s celebrating. And Harker’s down with the grippe, so it’s just me. Was gonna deputize a couple of fellas who help out from time to time, but I’d just as soon have you two running roughshod on those cowboys – think you’d do a better job of keeping them in line. What do ya say?”

Heyes stood, his brow furrowed. “You want to deputize US?”

“Yup.”

“Why?”

Lom took a sip of his coffee and shrugged. “Hell, after all this time, with you two keeping out of trouble and all…If I can’t trust ya now...And this calls for a coupla tough fellas.”

Kid looked at the floor for a moment in contemplation, glanced at Heyes, then regarded Lom. He smiled. “Okay. So – where’re ya gonna find the second one?”

Heyes’ answering glower softened to a chuckle. “I guess you got yourself a couple of deputies, Sheriff.”

*****

Later that Evening

The trail dust gone and in clean clothes, Heyes and Kid made the rounds of Porterville. Badges prominently displayed on the upper left front of their vests, they confidently strode the boardwalk, peering over one set of batwing doors and looking around inside before moving on to the next.

When they stopped at the Queen of Diamonds, Kid looked inside, and frowned. “Joshua.”

Heyes stopped short and saw his partner nod toward the noisy saloon. They walked inside.

Two men were playing tug o’ war with a saloon girl, each holding one of her arms. Her blonde hair askew, the decorative fringe on her red and black dress swayed madly as she struggled.

She spoke in a frightened voice. “Would you two let me go! You’re gonna pull my arms out of the sockets!”

“But you promised to go upstairs with me, honey.”

“No, she didn’t. She said she’d go with me.”

“I didn’t promise to go nowhere with nobody. Just let me go!” the young woman pleaded as she tried to wrest herself from the brace.

“Keep it up, honey. I like ‘em feisty.”

“That might be, but I’m gonna have me a go.”

“Now stop it right there, and let her go.”

Without looking at the speaker, one of the men responded. “Sorry, mister, she’s spoken for.”

“I wasn’t askin’. Now I said to stop it. And I mean it. Let her go.” Kid Curry’s voice was quietly authoritative in the sudden hush of the room.

Both trail hands ceased wrestling with the young woman, relaxing their grip. She instantly pulled free of their grasp, glared at them, and hurried to the relative safety of the bar.

“Who’re you?” The former foes, suddenly sober, made a united stand.

Kid addressed them, his stare meeting theirs. “Well, boys, if ya can’t read, this here badge says, ‘Deputy.’”

The bigger of the pair had Kid by five inches and fifty some-odd pounds. He took a step toward the blond man. Kid did not flinch.

“Now, that’s a big lie. I hear’d tell the big deputy fella’s in bed, sicker than a rabid dog. Where’d the sheriff dig you up from?”

Heyes stood a few steps to Kid’s right. His eyes trained from one speaker to the next as the action took its course, but now rested on the smaller of the two men, ever watchful for a sudden move. His arms hung relaxed at his side, right hand close to his sidearm.

Kid responded, his voice still quiet. “Told ya all ya need to know. Now, you two git, before I take ya in for disturbin’ the peace.”

The smaller man’s hand reached for his pistol.

Heyes drew. “Hold it!”

The smaller man’s hand moved away from his holster.

The larger man stood his ground and stared at Kid. Neither moved for a long few seconds. Suddenly, the man’s hand barely, but obviously, flinched. Kid drew, lightning fast. The onlookers gasped.

“What the…?!”

“I told ya. Git!”

The trail hands glanced at each other, eyes wide and mouths agape.

The larger of the two refocused from his momentary lapse and faced Kid again. “I’ll be seein’ you around, DEP-U-TY!”

“I’ll be here.”

The man scowled. “Hmph, maybe you’d better make yourself scarce.”

Kid never averted his eyes. “I suggest you and your friend do the same. And we’ll take your names and those gun belts for your own good. You can claim them at the sheriff’s office on your way out of town.”

The larger man moved to step forward again, but stopped mid-step when Heyes shifted the aim of his Schofield from the smaller man to him.

The cowboys regarded each other.

The smaller man shrugged and started to unbuckle his holster. “George Cavil.”

The larger man hesitated, glared, before complying. They set the belts on the table.

Kid tracked every movement. “Name?”

“What’s it to ya?”

“We’ll need it to identify your rig. Otherwise, how we gonna know it’s yours?”

“I’ll know which it is. Bad enough you takin’ it.” Anger encompassed the man’s countenance.

“Name, or you don’t get it back,” Kid answered, matter-of-factly.

“Hmph! Think you’re a big man, huh?! You wait, DEP-U-TY – you and me’ll meet again. And it’s Brawley… Jake Brawley.”

Kid nodded. “Okay, Brawley. Now, git.”

Cavil almost rushed for the door.

Brawley stepped to Kid’s side and stopped.

The fair-haired ex-outlaw half turned his head, his eyes meeting those of his adversary.

“I’ll be waitin’ for ya.” The larger man stomped out, the batwing doors creaking madly at their hinges.

Heyes’ and Kid’s eyes met as they re-holstered their weapons, without flourish. The blond man blew out a breath.

Heyes addressed the customers. “All right, excitement’s over. Go back to your business.”

Kid grabbed the discarded gun belts, and they walked out.

*****

Reaching Lom’s office, they opened the door to find the sheriff speaking with a bespectacled man dressed in a suit and tie, a bowler on his lap, who appeared to be in his thirties. The sheriff and his guest rose as the deputies entered.

“Boys, I’d like ya to meet Ebenezer Scoggins. He just bought the newspaper. Mr. Scoggins, two of my deputies, Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones.”

The newspaperman narrowed his eyes. “Smith? And Jones?”

Heyes responded, “That’s right, Mr. Scoggins. Lots of people in the world named Smith and Jones.”

“I suppose.”

Noticing the gun belts in Kid’s grasp, Lom asked, “Trouble?”

The fair-haired man eyed him as he placed the holsters on the desk. “Yeah, you could say that.”

“What happened?”

Kid answered, “Two cowboys were roughin’ up a girl, fightin’ over her, at the Queen of Diamonds. Took care of it, but thought they’d be better off without these for a while. Told them they could pick them up here on their way out of town.”

“Good precaution. Did the girl want to press charges?”

Kid looked to Heyes, who spoke, “I don’t think so.”

Lom nodded in acknowledgement. “Mr. Scoggins here was just mentioning he spoke to the doc today.”

Kid crossed to the stove to pour himself and his partner some coffee.

Heyes eyed the newspaperman. “That so?”

“Correct. He said how another dozen or so people are sick. This grippe, if that’s what it is, is spreading to every part of the county. I’ll be publishing a story about the number of cases thus far.”

Kid handed Heyes a steaming mug and all four men sat down. The blond man took a sip and recoiled. “That’s hot!”

Lom chuckled. “Didn’t come off a cold stove, Thaddeus.”

Kid scowled and took in a cooling breath.

Heyes addressed Lom’s guest. “Mr. Scoggins, from what you’re saying, the doc doesn’t know if it’s the grippe or not?”

“That’s right, Mr…Smith?”

Heyes nodded.

“Well, the good doctor was relating as to how it might be something else, but is probably the grippe. He hopes it just runs its course without further ado, or too much suffering.”

“Let’s hope for the best.”

“Indeed, Sheriff! Now, as a reporter, my curiosity is piqued here. What kind of trouble did you deputies find at the Queen of Diamonds?”

Kid responded, “I told Sheriff Trevors what happened. There’s nothin’ more to it.”

“Indeed, Deputy Jones! I would like your full report, if you do not mind. The names of all the parties, what witnesses have to say, any statements you got – all of that.”

Kid looked from the reporter, to Lom, to Heyes. His eyes went wide as he let out a breath and stared at his coffee.

Heyes’ eyes met Lom’s. The sheriff nodded. The ex-outlaw-leader-turned-deputy had the floor.

“Well, Mr. Scoggins, we didn’t take statements or interview witnesses, or make any arrests. Just took care of the situation.”

“Obviously, Deputy Smith. And I am sure you handled it well – I am not questioning that. I would just think law enforcement would be handled more thoroughly – all the facts for the paperwork…”

Lom interceded. “Mr. Scoggins, perhaps we do things differently from what you might be used to in the big city.”

A furrowed brow. “Sheriff Trevors, THAT is becoming very clear!”

Heyes asked, “Mr. Scoggins, where are you from?”

“New York.”

“And you came all the way to Porterville?”

“That is right, Deputy Smith. The West has always sounded very exciting – adventurous, and even…” His eyes grew wide, “Romantic! So I wanted to experience it for myself, you see – to publish dispatches of my own that I will also send East, to my old paper. And I am sure these untamed lands could use some ‘real’ journalism – of the type you probably do not see much around here. And what better way than from the reporter himself – first-hand, when possible, of course.”

Heyes raised an eyebrow. “Of course…”

Lom interjected, “Mr. Scoggins, you just happened to arrive at a busy time. Porterville is usually a very quiet place.”

“Perhaps, Sheriff. But it is best to be in the general area where things are happening, rather than two thousand miles away. From this vantage point, I can travel more easily to where things ARE happening – hopefully, AS they happen.”

Kid and Heyes shared a look, before the blond man’s eyes retreated to his coffee, and Heyes asked, “What kinds of ‘things,’ Mr. Scoggins?”

The reporter laughed. “Why, Deputy Smith, you jest! Indian uprisings, stagecoach holdups, bank robberies…Why, I happen to know those two vicious outlaws, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, are wanted in this very territory! I’d like to be there when they are finally caught and brought to justice. I think that would be quite the feather in my cap, if you will pardon the expression.”

Kid’s brow furrowed; he glanced at Lom. Heyes gave his partner a sideways look before also silently beseeching the sheriff.

Lom interceded, “Um, Mr. Scoggins, there’s very little, if any, trouble with the Indians now, and I’m afraid a lot of the other crimes you mentioned are blown out of proportion. Things out here have a habit of becoming larger than life.”

“That’s right,” put in Heyes eagerly. “As for Heyes and – er – Whatshisname – they seem to have disappeared.”

“Uh huh,” confirmed Whatshisname, favoring his partner with the “look.” “I haven’t heard of anything Kid Curry and – er – Thatotherfella have done in – oh…”

“Going on two years,” finished Thatotherfella, returning the “look.”

“Well, gentlemen, what you say might be so, but I have to find out for myself. That, I believe, is the very basis of good reporting.”

“Suit yourself.”

“I will, Sheriff, I will.” He rose, and the others followed suit. “But first I am off to the Queen of Diamonds to interview everyone who witnessed the altercation in which Deputies Smith and Jones found themselves. Then I will be back to talk to them before publishing the story.”

The journalist took a few steps toward the door. “Now, Sheriff, please do have your men available in the morning. It is very important that I get all sides of the story. And I would like to read the report when it is filed.”

At that, Heyes and Kid both met Lom’s gaze and silently mouthed, “Report?”

The sheriff waved them off, then spoke, gruffly, “Of course, Mr. Scoggins, but it might BE a few days. As you’ve seen and heard, we have our hands full at the moment. I’m afraid paperwork has to take a back seat right now.”

Nearing the door, Scoggins replied, “Well, Sheriff, I quite understand that, but hope it is not the case all the time. I will make do THIS time with interviewing the witnesses and your deputies.”

Kid rolled his eyes. Heyes looked at Lom.

The sheriff spoke, “I’m sure you’ll do as you need to, Mr. Scoggins.”

“Yes, yes, by all means, of course!” The reporter closed the door behind him.

*****

About Midnight
Lom's Office

Kid Curry’s chin met his neck before he suddenly jerked awake. Sitting at the desk, he stretched and yawned. Shaking his head and opening his eyes wide, he stood and sauntered to the stove, grabbed a mug, and poured a cup of coffee.

Hearing heavy and hurried footsteps on the boardwalk, he strode to the entry. Just as he arrived at the threshold, the door suddenly opened. A man rushed into the office, bumping Kid and his mug of coffee, and splashing some of the contents of the cup onto the ex-outlaw's left hand and the front of the man's shirt.

"Oww! Watch where ya goin', will ya! What's the dad-blasted hurry anyway?!" Kid shook his hand, then put the knuckle of his left index finger to his lips. He was now fully awake.

The man held the front of his shirt away from his body. "Dang, that's hot!"

Kid practically shouted, "I know!"

The man regained his messenger duty. "Deputy, ya gotta come quick – Lila’s hurt! Somebody found her in the alley."

Kid's eyes tracked from his hand, to the man, and back again. He flexed the appendage and grimaced. "Calm down. Who's Lila?"

The man slowed his speech a bit. "Lila's the girl caught between those two guys earlier tonight in the Queen o' Diamonds – the ones you and the other deputy stood up to."

Kid's eyes narrowed. "You were there?"

"Yeah. I'm Sam, the bartender."

"How bad’s she hurt?"

Sam took on the urgent tone again. "Bad. Someone found her in the alley behind the saloon. She's been beat halfway to Kingdom Come. Ya gotta come quick!"

Kid shook and flexed his left hand once more. "Did someone go for the doc?"

"Yeah, first thing."

"Good." Kid calmly spoke while moving to the coat rack to grab his hat. "Send somebody to get Lom. Then get my partner – room 16 at the hotel. Tell him I need him right away."

"Ye-ye-yes, sir." Sam seemed momentarily bewildered at the instructions, but recovered and was on his way.

In quick succession, Kid set the mug on the desk, put his hat on, removed his Colt and checked the chamber, returned it to his holster, and started toward the door.

* * * * *

Front of Hotel
A few minutes later

Wearing a Henley, pants, and socks; boots and shirt in hand; and his gun belt slung over one shoulder, Hannibal Heyes was hurriedly led out of the hotel by Sam the bartender – a tall, stocky man. He grasped Heyes by the elbow, almost pulling the ex-outlaw along. Simultaneously, Heyes leaned over, trying to step into a boot. Finally, disgusted, he stopped in place.

"Now just hold on!" He pulled his arm free. "Damn! Can't a man get any sleep around here? What's going on?"

Sam tried to grab his arm again, but Heyes sidestepped him, sitting down on the edge of the boardwalk, pulling on his boots.

"I tried to tell ya – Deputy Jones sent me! Said he needs ya right quick at the Queen o' Diamonds."

Heyes looked up, his tone one of concern. "Trouble?"

"Yeah. That girl who was involved in the fight with the two cowboys – she was beat up real bad."

Heyes stood, grabbed his holster and started fastening it around his hips. "How bad?"

"Pretty bad."

Heyes sighed. As soon as he finished tying the string around his thigh, Sam again grabbed his elbow and hustled him off toward the saloon, Heyes almost tripping with the motion.

* * * * *

Alley near the back of the Queen of Diamonds

"All right, let's back off and give the doc room! Anybody who saw anything, stay. Everyone else, go home."

Kid Curry moved among the small crowd gathered in a huddle around the doc, who knelt over a prone figure.

Some of the crowd looked at him questioningly.

"Please, if you didn’t see anything, go home!"

As Heyes arrived, the last of the observers had moved on. The ex-outlaw leader strode to his partner's side. "What's going on?"

Kid glanced sideways at Heyes. "Girl's beat up pretty bad. Doc's lookin’ her over.”

Heyes surveyed the scene. A familiar dress had some of the fringe broken off; the blood splatters on the black fabric shined in the dim illumination of the gas lamps wafting in from the street. Marks on the girl's arms almost matched the crimson part of her dress.

The doctor looked up at the three men surrounding him. "Sam, can you get her over to my office?"

"Sure, Doc." The bartender knelt down beside the girl and with little effort gently picked her up and followed the doc toward the street.

Kid spoke, "One guess who's responsible for that."

Heyes chided, "Now, Thaddeus, everyone's innocent until proven guilty…Even if they are."


Sarcastically, "Right."

“Any witnesses?”

Kid rubbed his chin. “Don’t look like it. Everybody left.”

“Hmm. Better report to Lom.” Heyes, in Henley, and forgotten shirt still in hand, watched the sad procession exit the alley.

Kid clapped him on the shoulder. "Joshua, don't ya know better than to be out in public in your underwear?"

Brown eyes rolled.

* * * * *

Lom’s Office
An hour later

George Cavil sat partially slumped in a chair in front of the sheriff’s desk, Lom half-sitting on a corner of it.

His tone was almost pleading. “Like I told ya, Sheriff, I didn’t even go back to that saloon after that little meetin’ with your deputies. I’d been talkin’ to the girl for a while and she said she’d entertain me – ya know... But that big jackass came up to her and grabbed her, like I wasn’t even there. Big galoot! I weren’t too happy about it, neither.”

The sheriff raised an eyebrow and glanced at his two newly minted deputies, who stood off to one side. “So, if you didn’t go back to the saloon, where did you go after the altercation?”

Tugging at his collar, George stammered, “Alter-cay-shun? That sounds like a hangin’ offense!”

“After the gunplay,” translated Heyes.”

The interrogatee sat up slightly, an edge of confidence seeping into his voice. “Back to the boarding house. Went right to bed. Was rousted from a sound sleep by THOSE two.” He pointed at Heyes and Kid. “They can’t leave well enough alone! Tonight’s one big interruption – that galoot interruptin’ my fun, and then those two interruptin’ my sleep!”

He started to stand.

Eyes narrowed, Kid stepped forward quickly, put his hand firmly on George’s shoulder, and pushed him back down into the chair. “Sorry to be interruptin’ ya all night, but ya don’t seem to give a care in the world about that girl!”

Concurrently, Lom stood, and Heyes moved between his partner and Cavil. Brown eyes met blue. Kid backed off.

Cavil’s voice climbed an octave. “See, Sheriff, he’s attackin’ me agin!”

Kid peered at him over Heyes’ shoulder. “You weasel! Get out of my sight!”

“Gladly!” Cavil stood up, only to find two more hands on his shoulders. Lom forced him back into the chair.

“No one said you could go,” the sheriff said, gruffly.

“But he said he wanted me out of his sight…”

Heyes answered, dryly, “It’s rhetoric!”

Cavil’s brow furrowed, “Is it big word day or some’n?”

Three sets of eyes rolled.

Lom’s tight-lipped gaze went from Cavil to his deputies. He locked eyes with the duo. Kid sighed, glanced at Heyes, nodded imperceptibly. The two relaxed and returned to their original places.

The sheriff towered over Cavil. “All right, so you never met this fella, Brawley, before tonight?”

The cowboy sat straight. “Nope. Like I told ya, Sheriff…”

“And you’re not with the same outfit?”

“No, Sheriff. How long do I hafta keep answerin’ the same questions? I done told ya all I know!”

Lom strode to the other side of the desk and leaned on it, facing Cavil. He sighed, spoke icily, “MISTER Cavil, you seem to be forgetting the reason you’re here in the first place! A young woman was beat up tonight like no one’s business, with no witnesses, and all you seem to care about is your fun and sleep being interrupted?! Whether I believe you or not, I don’t know. What I do know is you’re gonna keep us company for a while until we get to the bottom of this. And your sleep can continue to be interrupted, JUST LIKE OURS IS!”

Disgustedly, he opened a drawer, pulled out keys, and threw them at Heyes, who reacted and caught them with slightly slowed reflexes. Lom addressed the boys. “Since Brawley’s nowhere to be found and his horse isn’t at the livery, he must’ve made tracks fast. We’ll have to assume he’s armed, although his gun’s still here. Got a few more hours ‘til sun-up. We’ll provision and get a posse together and ride. I’m gonna get whatever shut-eye I can. You two trade off doing the same, but I want ya both rested at least a spell. We head out after breakfast!”

* * * * *

Outside Lom’s Office
Early morning

“All right, all you men be ready to ride in ten minutes!”

Lom Trevors only half-focused on adjusting his cinch as he noted the men around him. Beside him, Heyes and Kid secured full saddlebags and several canteens apiece onto their saddles. Two other men did likewise.

“Sheriff Trevors, I am reporting for duty and all ready to ride.”

Lom, Heyes, and Kid looked up to see Ebenezer Scoggins sitting astride a bay, bedight in apparel best described as – “dude-ish.”

The sheriff acknowledged, “Mr. Scoggins.” He briefly eyed the newspaperman. “And where do you think you’re going?”

“Why, with the posse, of course.”

Lom exchanged a glance with Kid and Heyes. Gruffly, “Sorry, Mr. Scoggins. Anyone riding posse has to know how to ride and handle a gun.”

Earnestly, “But, Sheriff Trevors, I DO know how to ride. I took lessons in horsemanship before coming West, although your western saddles are different from those to which I am accustomed – a bit bulkier, perhaps.”

Lom did not look convinced. “I’m sorry, Mr. Scoggins. A posse is no place for an amateur.”

“Oh, but I am not a rank amateur, Sheriff. I have been delving in equitation for quite some time now. Knowing I was coming West, I wanted to be prepared, you see. Let me demonstrate.”

With that, the reporter walked his mare in front of the men, then pranced her down the street a ways, before returning at a lope. He stopped the horse smoothly in front of the sheriff. Heyes, Kid, and the rest of the posse looked on approvingly. Lom glowered at them. They struggled not to grin. He turned his attention back to Scoggins.

“Well, Sheriff? I hope that demonstrates my ability as a horseman.”

Lom was not pleased. “Fine, so you can control a horse on the street. That doesn’t mean you’d be any good on the trail.” He looked to Heyes for back-up.

The ex-outlaw leader’s half grin turned to pursed lips, although brown eyes still danced with merriment. “Umm…That’s, uh, right, Mr. Scoggins. You never know what you’ll find out there on the trail that you won’t find in town.”

“Snakes, rocks – LOTS of rocks.” Kid joined in without missing a beat, also attempting unsuccessfully to stifle a smile.

Gruffly, “And that doesn’t address being able to handle a gun!”

Scoggins considered Lom’s statement for several seconds. “Will I need to, Sheriff? After all, as a reporter, it is the pen I wield – not a weapon.” He gestured to the men of the posse with a sweeping hand. “Surely, all of you handle your weapons expertly! I shall be very safe with all of you excellent and experienced marksmen.”

“That’s not good enough, Mr. Scoggins. We’re after a dangerous man. We can’t afford the time to babysit you! At the very least, you’ll slow us down.”

“Sheriff, I will be able to hold my own, and I will not slow you down. Of that, I am sure. You must trust me at my word.”

Lom shook his head and sighed.

Now serious, Heyes interceded. “Mr. Scoggins, this really can be very dangerous. You’re new to these parts and don’t know what it’s like. Sheriff Trevors is right.”

The journalist replied, thoughtfully, “I understand the trail can be fraught with danger, Deputy Smith. I am, however, prepared.”

Kid looked to the reporter. “Mr. Scoggins, why do you want to ride with us?”

The scribe’s expression exuded wonderment. “Why, Deputy Jones, I thought I expressed that with admirable eloquence yesterday. I came West to report from the scene, firsthand – to follow, if you will, in Mark Kellogg’s footsteps; to continue his legacy.”

Kid and Heyes exchanged a glance; Heyes shrugged.

The fair-haired man asked, “Kellogg? Who’s he?”

“Oh my, Deputy Jones – you don’t know?!”

Kid shrugged and shook his head.

“He was a reporter from Dakota Territory who rode with General Custer to the Little Big Horn, sent dispatches to his editor. They are accounts of the expedition one could not report but from the field.”

Kid continued, “Little Big Horn, huh? Where’s he now?”

Somberly, “He unfortunately perished along with so many of the Seventh Cavalry.”

“Sheesh, not a good way to end up… And ya wanna be like him?

“Well, Deputy Jones, not the dying part, but…” Excitedly, “Reporting from the scene – yes, indeed!”

Shaking his head, Kid turned to mount, “It’s your hide.” He looked to Lom. “Ready?”

The sheriff scowled. “Yeah. And I’m gonna live to regret this!”

The posse and Scoggins rode off.

* * * * *

The trail
Half an hour later

The posse rode along in pairs, the boys alongside each other.

Heyes coughed, then very audibly cleared his throat.

Kid glanced at him before focusing on the trail.

Another moment, and the brown-haired man coughed again, this time louder, and in succession.

“You okay?”

Heyes regarded his partner, nodding while he coughed yet again. Then he choked out, “Yeah, got a frog in my throat.”

Kid returned the gaze. "Hope you're not gettin' sick, Joshua, what with all that grippe goin’ ‘round. I'd hate to have to leave ya by the side of the road."

Heyes assured, “Hmph. Just a dry throat, Thaddeus."

Kid grinned. "Good. Then we should have a nice peaceful ride…Until the excitement starts anyway…”

* * * * *

Several hours later

The posse continued to ride two abreast, now Heyes and Scoggins together.

“Deputy Smith, you seem to be a learned man, and a gentleman.”

The ex-outlaw leader raised an eyebrow, and cleared his throat. “What gives you that impression?”

“It is just what I have observed, of course. You are obviously serious and thoughtful when you need to be. You have manners and get on well with the men – perhaps it is best to say you have an easy grace about you that I would not presume to find in men of the West. If I were a betting man, I would put money on your being a good leader of men.”

Heyes appeared concurrently surprised, pleased, and skeptical. “Mr. Scoggins, you got all that out of a short time together yesterday and today?”

The reporter sat up straighter. “Oh yes. My profession calls for keen observation, and I am very good at reading people. Do you not agree with what I have just said?”

“Uh…” Heyes paused. “No, I, uh, I think you...”

Before Heyes could continue, Kid rode up. “Couldn’t help but overhear that.” He winked at the reporter, grinned. “Now, Mr. Scoggins, with talk like that, you’re likely to give my partner a swelled head.”

Heyes rolled his eyes.

Kid laughed.

“Not at all, Deputy Jones! I simply report what I see. Now, you, for instance – you are a keen observer yourself. You are quiet. You study people. I have noticed you studying ME, for example.”

“Well, uh…”

Heyes chuckled.

“I am sorry if I embarrassed you, Deputy Jones. And you, as well, of course, Deputy Smith. I was only trying to demonstrate what I meant.”

Lom rode up.

“Sheriff, I was just telling your deputies…”

Gruffly, “I heard, Mr. Scoggins. I don’t need to hear what you’ve observed about me!”

Scoggins started at the rough tone. “Sheriff, I really do hope I have not offended you, and I do want to thank you again for letting me join the posse. Perhaps we can lighten the mood if we are on more familiar terms.”

Lom’s brow furrowed.

Heyes quickly jumped in. “How do you mean, Mr. Scoggins?”

“Well, instead of being so formal, please do call me ‘Eben.’ And perhaps I can call you by your Christian name…?”

“Joshua.”

Scoggins acknowledged, “Joshua, then.”

Heyes glanced inquisitively at Lom.

The sheriff smirked. “Let’s just keep it at ‘Deputy.’”

The reporter’s shoulders slumped. “Of course, uh, Sheriff...”

* * * * *

Two hours later

Dismounted, Lom drank from his canteen as he watched his deputies examine the ground – Heyes in the middle of the road and Kid to one side.

The sheriff replaced the cap and hung the vessel on his saddle, before wiping his mouth with his forearm. “Well?”

The Champeen Tracker of all Southern Utah stood. “He’s slowed down; was riding faster before. Tracks are uneven, too.” He looked at Lom. “We’re probably getting pretty close.”

Scoggins seemed fascinated. “How do you gentlemen discern that?”

Heyes opened his mouth to answer, but Lom barked before he could speak, “Experience, Mr. Scoggins! Nothing more.”

Kid rose, holding his hand aloft, something made of leather visible. “No doubt about what Joshua said. Broken brush over there. Must’ve fallen. Dropped this.”

The fair-haired man tossed the item to Lom, who caught and examined it. “Knife sheath. Must be drunk. He’s careless. Drops evidence. There’s blood on this. ” He turned to the rest of the men, “All right, be on high alert now.” He eyed Scoggins. Emphatically, “And quiet!”

* * * * *

Before dusk

The posse knelt behind a line of bushes, which looked out over more brush and a clearing, wherein a saddled horse, bedroll, and campfire were visible.

Barely audible, Heyes spoke. “Fire’s low. He’s been here a while.”

Kid continued in the same low tone, “And that bedroll looks occupied, or it could be a trap.”

Lom looked at the brace. Quietly, “Could be. Wouldn’t put it past him, although he’s probably sleeping off a drunk, but we can’t be sure.”

The sheriff gestured for Heyes to go right and Kid left, whilst he went down the middle, with the two remaining men covering them. He gave one last emphatic hand signal, with accompanying glare, telling Scoggins to remain where he was.

Lips pressed tightly together, the reporter nodded, his visage a look of bewilderment. He sat stock still, his arms hugging his knees against his chest, eyes wide and staring straight ahead.

Lom, Heyes, and Kid unholstered their sidearms and checked the chambers. With a nod, they set out, moving slowly and low along their decided paths, sticking to cover as much as possible. Lom stopped behind the last row of brush before the camp, while Heyes and Kid diverged on a course oblique on either side.

Suddenly, a loud crack of wood split the air.

Kid and Heyes froze and surveyed the scene from their separate vantage points.

Lom mouthed a profanity, then held his breath. He looked down and carefully moved his boot from the torn underbrush.

They remained motionless for a long few seconds.

Three sets of eyes met across the distance. Lom signalled to the partners to remain in place. There was no movement yet from the camp.

Finally, the sheriff called out, “All right, Brawley, you’re surrounded!”

Moments passed. Once again, eyes darted back and forth in silent communication.

Nothing.

“Brawley, throw out any weapons you have, and we’ll do this nice and peaceful!”

Several tense seconds went by.

Finally, a cough, then another, rent the air.

With eyebrows raised, Kid and Lom looked at Heyes.

The brown-haired man shook his head. He nodded in the direction of the camp.

More coughing. This time, it seemed to emanate from the bedroll.


Kid gestured with a hand signal toward the campsite.

The others acknowledged.

Colt at the ready, Kid Curry burst from his hiding place. He ran flat out, covering the ground quickly, smoothly, arriving in the center of the camp without incident.

“Ohhh…”

Kid knelt by the bedroll, extended the back of his left hand to the man’s brow, then rapidly pulled it away. He holstered his weapon.

Kid signalled an “all clear.” “He’s sick!”

* * * * *

Lom’s Office
Noon, two days later

Hats in hand, Heyes and Kid opened the door to find Lom standing at the stove, pouring coffee.

“You’re just in time for a fresh pot.”

The dark-haired man reached for a cup. “Thanks. That’ll hit the spot before hitting the trail.”

The blond shook his head at the mug Lom offered. “Thanks. I’ll pass.”

Heyes chuckled. “Ah, Kid, it’s nice and hot, just the way you like it!”

Kid glared at his partner and rolled his eyes. Then, reaching into his pocket, he deposited a badge on the sheriff’s desk. “Wanna make sure I don’t forget this.”

Heyes reacted. “Oh yeah.” He fished the metal star out of his vest pocket and looked at it thoughtfully before placing it beside his partner’s. “Well, can’t say it hasn’t been a new experience.” He looked at Lom.

The sheriff regarded the boys. “I wanna thank you two. It’s good to have things back to normal, and Harker’ll be along later. Couldn’t have gotten through these last few days without ya. The Governor’ll hear about it. Just wish I could do more.”

The partners shared a glance before both looked again at their friend.

Heyes spoke. “We know you’ll do what ya can. In the meantime, we’ll keep in touch.”

“You do that, for more than the usual reasons this time.”

Heyes looked at the lawman. “Huh?”

Lom picked up a piece of paper. “While you two were sleeping in this morning, I was here watching the store. A wire came in from New Mexico. Seems your friend, Brawley, was wanted down that way, and there’s a small reward. You boys deserve it. I’ll wire it to ya when it comes in.”

The partners shared a look, perhaps of cautious optimism.

Kid spoke, “That’s great, Lom. But how would we…?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll sign for it on behalf of the office, and spread it around as I see fit. That’ll be legal enough.”

Heyes smiled. “That’s great, Lom. Thank you.”

The sheriff’s attitude turned more business-like. “You’re welcome. And don’t mention it…Really!”

Heyes’ eyes danced. “Your secret’s safe, Sheriff.”

Lom glared at them briefly. He nodded.

Kid sat down on the bench near the window. “Any word yet on the girl?”

“Yeah, Doc dropped by last night after you two left. She’s coming along. He thinks she’ll be okay.”

The fair-haired man half smiled. “That’s good news.” Then, contemplatively, “It’s a shame she had to go through that. No one deserves that kind of beatin’, leastways a woman.”

Heyes agreed, “For sure.”

He took a seat next to his partner. Seemingly by rote, they both crossed their legs, right over left.

Lom regarded the pair. “So where’re you two headed next?”

Before either could answer, Ebenezer Scoggins burst through the door.

Holding several papers aloft, he commanded, “Gentlemen! Hot off the press – literally! Or should I say, ‘SHOT off the press?!’ The first edition of the new Porterville Dispatch, Ebenezer Scoggins, owner and editor.” He beamed, and handed newspapers to the three.

Lom and Heyes read their copies.

Kid chuckled. “Shot off the press! That’s a good one, Mr. Scoggins.”

“Please, do call me ‘Eben.’”

“Okay…Eben. That has a nice ring to it.”

“Thank you…?”

Kid extended his hand, “Thaddeus.”

Heyes interrupted his perusing and looked up. “Well, you know it’s ‘Joshua.’”

The reporter shook hands with both. “Thank you. I do appreciate it.”

Lom looked up as well. “You know, Mr. Scoggins, I might have you wrong. I expected some dime novel-type story. Instead, you got the facts straight. I like a no-nonsense, straight shooter. I’m happy to see that.”

The reporter smiled, almost shyly. “Sheriff Trevors, I am very happy myself to hear that from you. It is high praise, indeed.”

Gruffly, “It’s nothing of the sort. It’s just the way it should be.”

Embarrassedly, “Well, I suppose. I was taken aback by the possibility of such violence. I am afraid I expected to find it – this being the Wild West, after all – but, when faced with it myself…Well, it turned out all right in the end, ‘all’s well that ends well,’ as the saying goes – although I must say I found it anti-climactic at best.”

Lom raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure what that means, Scoggins, but I’m glad you didn’t pull everything out of proportion.”

“Oh, never! I write the facts as I have witnessed them – nothing more, nothing less, Sheriff Trevors.”

“Lom.” The sheriff extended his hand.

The newspaperman took it. They shook heartily. Scoggins nodded, almost bashfully.

A moment of quiet enveloped the good will.

The partners rose.

“Oh, before I forget, Thaddeus, that phrase, ‘shot off the press,’ was not just an aside to the first edition.” Scoggins paused. “There is reasoning behind it.”

Kid smiled. “What’s that?”

“Well, getting back to what happened the night I met you gentlemen…I spoke to the people in the saloon that night, as I indicated I would. Most of what the witnesses remember was a lightning-fast draw. Thaddeus, they swore to a person that you might be faster than Kid Curry himself. For the record, what do you make of that?”

Kid glanced at Heyes.

The silver tongue spoke. “Well, Mr. Scoggins, my friend here just had a lucky night. He’s usually slow as molasses, and good thing he didn’t have to use that weapon of his – he can hardly hit the side of a barn! Certainly few men, especially my slow-drawing friend here, are a match for Kid, er, Slurry – though word is, he’s way past his prime…”

Kid exchanged a merry gaze with Lom, then looked off in the distance, letting his partner do his convincing.

“Well, certainly, Kid Curry’s faster. Too many witnesses to that kind of thing. And I don’t for a minute think Thaddeus is ANYWHERE near as good as Kid Curry…”

Kid hid a smile with his hand.

Heyes changed course, “Well, it really was good to make your acquaintance, Eben, but we must be on our way.”

Scoggins exuded surprise. “You’re leaving?”

“Well, yes. We were here to visit Sheriff Trevors and help out for a while, but now that everything’s back to normal, we’ll be on our way.”

Eben eyed the duo. “So you two are making a fast getaway like Heyes and Curry would...?!”

Heyes was taken aback. “Uh, not quite...Ya see, Mr. Scoggins…Eben…”

Kid tensed for a moment, as if on high alert, then relaxed and chuckled softly. He grabbed his partner’s shoulder and steered him towards the door. “Come on, Joshua. We’ll be late for the mayor’s daughter’s wedding…”

The end.



Historical Note:

Mark Kellogg was a stringer for The Bismarck Tribune who rode with George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry to the Little Big Horn. On June 25, 1876, he perished along with Custer and the five companies with him in the battle that has come to be known as “Custer’s Last Stand.”

Kellogg’s three dispatches from the field were distributed around the country by the Associated Press (AP), and he is, therefore, considered the first AP reporter to die in the line of duty.

The following links provide more information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Kellogg_(reporter)

http://www.historybuff.com/library/refcuster.html


(Writers love feedback! You can let Remuda know how you enjoyed the story with a quick comment. Just Post Reply to the Comments for Shot Off the Press thread below the story.)

_________________
Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, the two most successful outlaws in the history of the west. And in all the trains and banks they robbed, they never shot anyone.
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