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 Customer Service by Nell McKeon

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royannahuggins
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Join date : 2013-10-13

20140312
PostCustomer Service by Nell McKeon



The governor needs a favor, so how can Heyes and Curry refuse?  Running a hotel is honest labor, for honest pay, but when the railroad gets involved, our boys find their honest labor could turn shady.  


Starring Pete Duel and Ben Murphy


Guest Starring – In Order of Appearance

James Drury as Sheriff Lom Trevors


Shirley Booth as Mrs. Mabel Perkins


William Schallert as Mr. Henry Perkins


Penelope Cruz as Manuela Espinosa


Joan Crawford as Mrs. Bowdin


Ann B. Davis as Dottie Granger


Robert Mitchum as Sheriff Don Marsland


Broderick Crawford as Mr. Elias Walker


Richard Chamberlin as Doctor Bennet



Introducing

Count Beauregard of Armagnac alias Beau



Customer Service
by Nell McKeon


Porterville, Wyoming

“How much money we got, Heyes?”

Heyes didn’t even have to look before he patiently answered his partner, “It hasn’t changed since yesterday, Kid. Five dollars and thirty-seven cents between us.”

Curry scanned the familiar streets of Porterville, noting the darkened sheriff’s office as they rode slowly through town. The saloon sounded quiet, shopkeepers were hanging closed signs in the windows as they locked doors, and the few people about were walking purposefully on the boardwalks, scattering the fallen red and gold leaves in the late afternoon sunshine.

Kid nodded at the hotel as the partners slowed their horses’ gait to an easy walk. “Spend money for a hotel or take advantage of Lom’s hospitality?”

Curry watched his dark-haired partner fish a folded piece of paper from his vest pocket, read it silently with a furrowed brow, then glance up at the Porterville Hotel, and waited for the decision on where they would spend the night.

“I reckon we should ride out to Lom’s and see how long we’ll be in town. Then we can plan our moves. I wanna know more about this job.”

The partners rode the short distance to their friend and mentor’s home on the outskirts of Porterville in companionable silence. Arriving at their destination, they dismounted wearily. Heyes stretched, rubbed the small of his back and inhaled deeply, while Curry gathered the reins and led the horses across the yard.

“Don’t take too long, Kid. It seems as if our timing is right for dinner. My guess--it’s some kind of chicken and it sure smells good,” Heyes called out as the blond disappeared into the barn.

~~~*~~~

Lom was cleaning up the remains of the dinner; Kid was finishing the last of the biscuits and pouring himself a glass of apple cider from the near empty pitcher. Heyes sat back in his chair and cleared his throat, “Thanks for the chicken fricassee, Lom. I’m full and now that my partner has finished everything on the table, perhaps we can get down to business.”

Curry good-naturedly glared at Heyes as he nodded, brushing crumbs off his faded red shirt.

Heyes continued, “It’s the 20th and we’re here. Your telegram mentioned an easy job. Care to fill in the blank spaces?”

The dark-haired sheriff chuckled loudly as he placed the last dish in the drain board. Heyes shrugged in response to Curry’s raised-eyebrow glance.

“Lom, what’s so funny? What are you sending us into?” Kid asked with narrowed eyes and a steady stare.

“Nothing you can’t handle, boys. It really is an easy job, which pays well, and room and board are included. You see, a friend of a friend of the Governor’s wife’s daughter-in-law is having her first baby and somebody miscalculated the dates somewhere along the line, but the upshot is that the midwife now says the baby is apparently going to be born weeks earlier than originally thought. The proud grandparents own a hotel over in Green River and naturally they want to be in Cheyenne, where the girl and her husband, who’s the friend of the friend of the Governor’s wife’s son, live, on account of him being an up and comin’ lawyer, for her confinement and to help when the baby’s born and all.” Lom paused to pour a mug of after-dinner coffee for his guests as well as for himself.

Kid leaned over and whispered into Heyes’ ear, “You gettin’ any of this? And it better not have anything to do with babies, ‘cos I know I don’t know nothin’ about babies and neither do you.”

A grin tugged at Heyes’ lips as he whispered out of the side of his mouth, “I don’t think the baby is part of the job.” His voice rose in volume, “I think we’re about to get to the point. Isn’t that right, Lom?” He caught the sheriff’s eye as he accepted a steaming mug.

The older man sat down and looked across at his friends with a pleased expression on his face. “Rest easy boys, what I need you to do is go to Green River, Wyoming, to take over as hotel keepers of the Riverside Hotel for approximately one month while the owners go to Cheyenne. According to the Governor, they had made arrangements for the hotel management, but since the baby is coming earlier than thought, the person they had made the arrangements with can no longer take over. I was up in the capital discussing your amnesty…”

With this statement, Heyes and Curry both leaned noticeably closer to Lom.

The sheriff’s pleased expression disappeared and his face became serious. He held up his hands, palms outward. “No, not yet fellas, but he’s feeling favorably to you, especially if you help out in Green River. As I was saying,” Lom hastily continued before either ex-outlaw could get in a word edgewise. “The hotel owners, Mr. and Mrs. Perkins, need to leave by October 1st and plan to be away to the end of the month. The Governor’s wife promised that the Governor would find qualified individuals to help out, and you don’t want to disappoint the Governor’s wife now, do you?”

Silence ensued as Heyes and Curry exchanged a look that spoke volumes without saying a word. “No, we would never want to disappoint the Governor or his wife,” Heyes answered, barely keeping the sarcasm out of his voice.

“One thing though, Lom, that maybe you and the Governor shoulda thought about is that we don’t know anything about managin’ a hotel. A saloon, yes, but a respectable hotel, no,” Kid pointed out reasonably.

The sheriff sat back in his chair and smiled. “How hard can it be? You stay in enough of them. You know what a bad hotel is like and you know what a good hotel is like.”

Kid drained his coffee mug, placed it carefully on the table and looked his friend in the eye. With all seriousness he responded, “Yeah, I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels all over the West. I’ve also stayed in more than a few jails. I know what I consider a good jail, if there is such a thing, and what a bad jail is, but that don’t mean I know how to be a sheriff, now, does it?”

Heyes piped in matter-of-factly, “Actually, Kid, I always thought if things were different you’d make a hellava sheriff, maybe even a U.S. Marshal. In fact, after we get our amnesty maybe you could still be a sheriff. After all, it isn’t as if an outlaw never turned lawman before, right, Lom?” Heyes’ brown eyes crinkled with mirth and a hint of his dimple appeared.

Lom shot the partners an exasperated glare. “Ahem, we’ll discuss that when the time comes. Now, as I was saying, you boys could handle the job easily. Heyes, you have a good head for the business side of things and Kid, you do really well managing the public and employees. Don’t shoot any holes in the ceiling if you lose your temper and things will be just fine.”

Heyes lay two long, slender fingers against his bottom lip in thought. “Still, Green River is in Southern Wyoming. A month in one place in this territory is taking a chance I’m not sure we can afford. Not only do we have to worry about the townsfolk but the guests as well. And who is the sheriff there anyway? Not anyone who may know us, I hope.”

Lom hastened to weaken the ex-outlaws’ resistance. “The sheriff is Don Marsland, a good, fair man from what I hear. I don’t think you had any encounters with him. The Governor and his wife assure me October is a very slow month in the hotel business so you might only have a handful of guests. And at the end you’ll leave with four hundred dollars in your pockets, full stomachs, and be well rested after sleeping in warm, soft beds every night.”

Heyes shrugged and looked across at his partner. Kid gave a resigned sigh and nodded his assent.

~~~*~~~

Green River, Wyoming

The two partners hurriedly climbed the broad wooden steps of the wide covered porch spanning the front of the Riverside Hotel to escape from the pouring rain. Kid shifted his saddlebags on his shoulder and shoved his rifle under his left arm before reaching to open the heavy wood and glass door. Heyes, who was futilely wiping dripping water from his eyes, entered the deserted lobby. Both men stood and studied their surroundings before circumventing a collection of assorted valises and trunks to the large polished oak reception desk. They dropped their things on the floor and removed the dripping wet hats from their heads. Kid glanced quickly around, then shook his blond curls like a dog, inadvertently spraying drops of water in his partner’s face.

Heyes rang the shiny brass bell next to the closed leather guest register a little harder than necessary as he hissed, “Mind your manners, will ya. It’s enough that we’re dripping all over the floor without you spraying the walls as well.”

“How may I help you, gentlemen?” a short, plump, grandmotherly woman asked as she appeared from the doorway behind the desk. Smiling, she unobtrusively retrieved a handkerchief from the pocket of her navy traveling suit and wiped the top of the desk.

“Hello, ma’am. I suspect that we can help you. I’m Joshua Smith and this is my partner, Thaddeus Jones.” Heyes indicated the Kid, who was watching the woman sheepishly.

The woman’s eyes grew wide with relief. “I’m so happy you finally made it. We were worried you wouldn’t make it in time for us to leave as scheduled. Henry, they’re here! Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones are finally here,” she called out.

A balding, thin man came bounding from behind the double doors across from the front desk. “Am I glad to see you two. I see you met Mabel. I’m Henry Perkins. Thank you for helping us out on such short notice. I will admit I was wondering if you had second thoughts since we expected you three days ago. Not that I’m complaining, you know. We did appreciate your wire explaining the delay in traveling that this constant ten days of rain caused you. Unusual weather we’re having for this time of year. As I was saying, we expected you a few days ago, and I was kinda counting on having that time to familiarize you with the hotel’s operation and introduce you around town.” The hotel owner finally paused to take a breath as he grabbed first Heyes’ and then Kid’s hands in a vigorous handshake.

Kid’s blue eyes crinkled with amusement at the torrent of words from Mr. Perkins. He whispered into his partner’s left ear, “I wish we were here earlier, too; if for no other reason than to see which one of you could out talk the other.”

“Well, Mr. Perkins, now that we’re here and time is apparently short, why don’t we make the most of it?” Heyes ignored the Kid and focused his attention on the hotel proprietor.

“Yes, yes, of course. Mabel will show you to your room in the private quarters. I’ll gather the employees for you to meet. The cook, Mrs. Granger, who has been with us for seven years, now that her dear husband has departed, and Manuela, she’s only been in our country for a year, is the maid and waitress. Oh, here she comes. Manuela, por favor vien aquí. Quiero presentarte los caballeros que tomarán el cuidado del hotel.” [Manuela, could you please come here and meet the gentlemen who will be taking care of the hotel?”] Perkins broadly gestured with his arm at the black-haired, young woman coming down the stairs.

Manuela nodded at her employer as she shifted the wooden bucket stuffed with dirty towels into her left hand while she descended the stairs into the lobby. “Madre de dios, ese animal toma más baños que yo!” [“Mother of God, that spoiled animal takes more baths then I do!”] she muttered to herself.

Curry pulled himself to his full height and whispered out of the side of his mouth while his attention never wavered from the approaching Latin beauty, “Whose coin?”

“Mine, Kid, only mine,” Heyes whispered back, his long fingers already searching his pocket.

“Manuela, estos hombres manejaran el hotel en mi ausencia. Confío que estaras en buenas manos con Sr. Joshua Smith…” [“Manuela, these men will be managing the hotel in my absence. I trust you’ll be in good hands with Mr. Smith…”] Mr. Perkins pointed to the dark-haired partner.

Manuela’s brown eyes met the warm brown eyes of Mr. Joshua Smith before sliding down to linger on his fine-boned hands.

Heyes followed the track of her eyes and gave a small wave that stopped just short of mimed caress.

“… y este caballero es su socio, Thaddeus Jones, que supervisará también.” [“...and this gentleman is his partner, Thaddeus Jones, who will be overseeing things as well.”]

Kid smiled.

Manuela’s gaze sought out Mr. Jones’ hands but rested and lingered on Mr. Jones’ waist instead as she sighed and murmured to herself, “Las joyas en su hebilla de correa felicitan sus ojos.” [“The jewels in his belt buckle compliment his eyes nicely.”]

Kid’s skin flushed to light pink when he noticed where Manuela’s eyes had focused. He turned even pinker when her eyes met his and her smile deepened.

Perkins paused for a quick breath as he watched his temporary managers gather their belongings after Manuela returned to her duties. “She’s working on her English and manages well enough for her work. Do either of you speak Spanish?”

“Not very well, but I’m sure we’ll get along just fine.” Heyes straightened up and replied.

Perkins shook his head and interrupted, “Oh, don’t worry; Mason, when he returns, can translate and actually, she understands English a lot better than she can speak it. Mason is the general help here. He’s originally from Texas and was brought up in a little town close to the Mexican border, so he speaks Spanish quite well. He went home to visit and should be coming back on the train tomorrow morning. That’s everyone, Mabel and me, Dottie Granger, Manuela Espinosa and Mason Barclay. Now, you run along and change into dry clothes, we’ll meet the cook, and then I’ll show you the layout and the books.” Henry Perkins abruptly stopped speaking as he caught sight of his wife’s stare and heard the tapping of her foot on the hardwood floor.

Mabel and Kid exchanged a knowing look of tested patience.

~~~*~~~

Kid entered the lobby and stood close to Heyes. He swept his dripping hat off his head and gave it a vigorous shake in Heyes’ direction before bending down and grabbing the handle of a large black trunk.

“Be careful with that, Thaddeus. Remember, Mr. and Mrs. Perkins packed the valuables in that one,” Heyes helpfully reminded his partner as he ignored the droplets of water that landed on him.

“That’s right, Mr. Smith. It was good of you to remember that. I see you pay attention to detail, which fills me with confidence,” Mr. Perkins praised.

Kid muttered under his breath, “I wonder why I even bothered to change into dry clothes.” Curry glared in Heyes’ direction as he struggled to open the door, his hands full with the last of the luggage. “And I wish someone would tell me why I always get stuck with the bags.” He unsuccessfully tried to catch the eye of his partner, who was deep in conversation with the hotel owners.

Heyes was reassuring Mr. and Mrs. Perkins their hotel was in good hands. “As soon as Thaddeus gets back from delivering your bags to the train station, you can be on your way without worries. I’m sure we can handle anything that may come up, especially since you’ve told us October is a quiet month.”

Mrs. Perkins nodded, “It really is; for most of the month we only have one or two rooms rented at a time. The staff will help you with things as well.”

“Besides, Thaddeus and I are known to be pretty resourceful men. We’ll be fine and your hotel’ll be fine,” Heyes stated confidently.

“While we’re waiting for Mr. Jones to return for us with the carriage, we could take a quick trip over to the bank and the sheriff’s office so I could introduce you. I did tell the bank manager, since you’ll be making the deposits and handling the payroll, and Don Marsland, the sheriff, of our arrangement, but it might be nice for me to introduce you in person, should you have any problems. You’ll find Sheriff Marsland is very helpful,” Perkins ruminated aloud as he peered out the large lobby windows at the still pouring rain.

“Don’t worry Mr. Perkins. We don’t anticipate any trouble and I’m sure Thaddeus and I won’t need the sheriff’s help. It’s raining cats and dogs out there. You stay dry and we can introduce ourselves at a more opportune time.” Heyes stood next to the hotel owner and glanced out the window. He shook his head ruefully and muttered to himself, “Nice prosperous town, bank right across the street, sheriff’s office a little ways down the street, on the corner, hotel in a great location for reconnaissance—I wonder why we never were here before?”

The balding man frowned. “Excuse me, did you say something Mr. Smith?”

“Not really, I was just saying this seems a right nice, prosperous town.”

The Perkinses beamed.

“Yes, it is. Oh, you just reminded me. The remark about raining cats and dogs, you see,” Mr. Perkins hesitated.

Heyes turned towards his employer expectantly with raised eyebrows and head cocked at a slight angle. “Go on. Raining cats and dogs?” Heyes prompted.

“We have one guest with us, as I mentioned earlier. Mrs. Bowdin stays with us for two weeks three times a year for the last several years. She is a very good customer. She rents the best room and tips the help well. There is one thing, though.” The proprietor avoided Mr. Smith’s now probing dark eyes.

“And that thing is?”

“She stays here and not with her daughter’s family. Her daughter is married to the town doctor, who is very good, by the way, in case you have to call for a doctor for one of the guests. They live in the big yellow house at the end of River Street. You can’t miss the brass plaque hanging outside.” Henry Perkins took a big breath and continued, “The son, you see, has breathing problems so Mrs. Bowdin stays with us because we let her dog stay. The dog causes little Tommy’s breathing problems to get worse. Mrs. Bowdin has rather peculiar ideas about her dog, but as long as she pays and keeps coming back, we let her be. Besides, it never hurts to be nice to the doctor’s mother-in-law, right?”

Heyes opened his mouth to inquire further when Henry Perkins grabbed his right hand and pumped it once again.

“I see Mr. Jones is here with the carriage. We don’t want to keep him waiting in the rain, now do we? Come Mabel, I’m sure we can leave Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones in charge. They came highly recommended. Whatever you need to know, the others can help you with. We’ll see you in one month.” Mabel and Henry Perkins walked out the door, climbed into the carriage, and gave a wave to the dark-haired temporary manager standing on the porch, while his wet partner coaxed the horse into motion.

~~~*~~~

Late that afternoon

Heyes and Curry were sitting behind the reception desk, playing a few hands of blackjack.

“Almost time for the dining room to open, Thaddeus,” Heyes remarked nonchalantly.

Kid looked up from his cards. “Yeah, so?”
“You have to go help in the dining room.”

“I do?”

“Yes, of course. I have to stay here and mind the front desk, and you’re the expert on dining rooms.”

“Just why am I the expert? You’re right there eating with me in those dining rooms.”

“Yeah, but I’m not the one who gets upset if we don’t sample the wares of every one we come across.”

“A man’s gotta eat regular. You forget that sometimes. Besides, there’s nobody in the dining room right now, and with the rain comin’ down like it is, I don’t think we’re likely to get a dinner rush,” Kid explained patiently.

“Manuela’s in there, besides…” Heyes pointed behind Curry, causing him to turn around in time to observe a tall, thin, well-dressed, gray-haired woman entering the dining room. Following proudly at her heels was a small, light beige-colored animal.

“What was that, Joshua?”

“That was a dining customer,” Heyes smirked.

“Very funny; no, I mean the animal with half its fur missing, and what fur it did have was poofy.”

“I think that’s the dog Perkins mentioned. Now get,” Heyes chuckled.

Kid stared narrow-eyed at his partner. “Okay, okay, I’m going, but it don’t look like any dog I ever seen.”

~~~*~~~

The dark-haired man reading at the front desk looked up from his book.

“YAP, YAP, YAP, YAP, YAP, Growl, YAP, YAP, YAP!”

Heyes peeked in the dining room at the sudden commotion. His partner had one arm around Manuela, examining her right hand as he stood between her and the dining table. He did a double take in disbelief. The dog was sitting upon a tasseled seat cushion at a table place.

“Manuela, you know the steak must be cut up in the kitchen before you bring Beauregard’s dinner to the table,” the dog’s owner admonished.

“Manuela, go take care of your finger. I’ll take care of things here.” Kid gently nudged the waitress towards the kitchen.

He turned and leveled his controlled blue-ice look at woman and dog. “Mrs. Bowdin, iffin’ Beau’s gonna sit at the table, where he don’t rightly belong, then he better mind his manners if he wants to eat. Otherwise, I’ll be happy to take him to the porch where he can gnaw on the bone.” Curry pulled the plate closer to him and proceeded to efficiently cut the steak into bite-sized pieces.

Mrs. Bowdin frowned in displeasure. “See here, young man, Beauregard has an impeccable pedigree, better than your lineage, I’m sure. If the help could only manage to follow my instructions, there would be no cause for concern,” the matron huffed.

“Ma’am, I’m willin’ to overlook the fact that you don’t treat Beau as the dog he is since my employer, Mr. Perkins, is okay with things, but I must insist that no one gets hurt.” Kid Curry stood with feet shoulder-width apart and fixed both woman and dog with a steady stare.

Heyes straightened his vest. It was time for damage control. He entered the dining room.

Kid extended his left hand to the dog. “Now, Beau, you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you, do you?”

The dog turned from staring at the plate to the man. Blue eyes met blue. He sniffed the hand tentatively, then licked it, causing Mrs. Bowdin to shut her mouth in startlement.

Curry ruffled the ball of poofy beige fur on top of dog’s head and pushed the plate of cut-up steak within reach of the hungry animal. “Good dog. Now that we understand one another, enjoy the steak. It sure smells good.”

“How is your dinner, Mrs. Bowdin? Is everything to your satisfaction?” Heyes asked, solicitously, approaching to the table. “I’m Joshua Smith, one of the temporary managers engaged by Mr. Perkins. I see you met my partner, Mr. Jones.” Heyes shot a disapproving look at the younger man.

“Everything is fine here, Joshua, we just had a little misunderstandin’ earlier. Manuela’s finger is just nipped, nothin’ serious. Mrs. Bowdin and her pet are enjoyin’ their excellent dinner, isn’t that right?” Jones’ voice held a note of authority to it.

Mrs. Bowdin appeared ready to add to the conversation, but thought better of it and nodded graciously to the dark-haired gentleman.

Kid scratched Beau’s ears during a pause in the dog’s meal. “What kind of dog is Beau, ma’am? I’ve never seen a dog like him before,” Kid asked, genuinely curious.

Mrs. Bowdin’s countenance softened as she regarded her beloved companion. “Beauregard, or rather Count Beauregard of Armagnac, is a miniature French poodle. They are not common in the West but are highly prized pets in the civilized cities of the East.”

Heyes rolled his eyes at Kid out of sight of the French poodle’s owner.

“Does he have some sort of skin condition causin’ the bald spots? I mean the fur is growing fine little balls in some places.”

“Oh my, goodness gracious, I should say not.” Mrs. Bowdin gasped, aghast at the idea.

Heyes turned from the conversation and snorted into his hastily grabbed handkerchief.

Kid shrugged and stroked the poodle’s flank. “What he does have is soft, though.”

“My good man, Beauregard was groomed by a reputable pet salon before we made our trip. His coat is cut into the latest fashion for the breed. He is supposed to look that way, is considered quite a handsome, champagne male, and is in demand for stud services. He is also high strung and must be handled by individuals who understand his needs,” Mrs. Bowdin stated proudly.

The partners gave slight bows in unison to the matron and hurriedly turned from the table. Heyes flicked his eyes skyward then glanced at Curry, who, wide-eyed, mouthed the word “stud.”

PING! PING! PING! Thump, thump, stamp, stamp, cough.

“Anybody here?” a deep voice called from the front lobby.

“Mr. Smith, I do believe someone is lookin’ for you,” Curry sweetly stated.

With a warning look to behave, Heyes turned on his heel and left the dining room.

“Here someone comes,” a tall cowboy, standing in the middle of the lobby, announced when he caught sight of Heyes walking out of the dining room.

“Good! Sir, sir, we require a room.”

A well-to-do middle-aged man with an expensively dressed lady on his arm strode to the front of the desk.

“We need adjoining rooms that can sleep six - myself, my wife and our four children,” a young man called out as he drew a harried brunette with a toddler in her arms close to him. Three young children were clutching her damp skirts.

“Excuse me, but I believe we entered the lobby before you.” A black-haired man in his forties indicated his large family, who were sitting on dripping trunks along the front windows. “We should get taken care of first,” he demanded.

“Wait a minute,” cough, cough, cough, “I’m already sick and I’m soaked to the skin. I need to change into dry clothes as soon as possible. Certainly you can’t argue about that.” A thin pale man in his fifties pushed through the rapidly converging crowd around the front desk that Heyes had taken refuge behind while he quickly studied the situation.

More bedraggled people were entering the lobby, dragging luggage and trunks. A cacophony of voices created a crescendo of undecipherable sound in the lobby.

The multitudes parted for a large, rugged man wearing a bright yellow slicker as he made his way rapidly to the front. “Folks, just step back and let me talk to hotel manager for a minute. I’ll explain the situation and then he can take care of all your needs.”

“Hi, I’m Don Marsland, the sheriff in Green River, and you must be the Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones that Henry told me were going to help him and the missus out.”

Heyes’ brown eyes moved from the shiny star just visible under the opened slicker to the friendly, rugged face in front of him. “It’s nice to meet you sheriff. I’m Joshua Smith. My partner is Thaddeus Jones. We’re the men the Governor’s wife sent. What can we do for you?”

The sheriff pulled the hood of the slicker off his head, wiped his face with a bandana from his pocket, and leaned across the front desk towards Heyes. “The railroad bridge across the river outside of town was washed out this afternoon. The rail loop that crossed the river north was destroyed two weeks ago by an incompetent gang of would-be train robbers. They not only blew up the track, but the train car with the money in it and themselves. What a mess.” The man shook his head in renewed disbelief.

Heyes ran his hand through his disheveled hair. “Haven’t read about that, sheriff. Do you know what gang it was?”

“Some new gang from across the territory border calling themselves ‘The Devil’s Chosen,’ a wannabe Devil’s Hole Gang, but all they succeeded in doing was blowing themselves up. The devil chose them all right ‘cos they’re going straight to hell.”

Heyes maintained a serious expression as he nodded at the sheriff’s words while his shoulders slumped in relief.

“So right now, Midwest Railroad’s line in these parts ends here, since Midwest hasn’t sent a crew to fix the track yet. My deputies, some volunteers and I transported the passengers and their things into town. I’ve sent Frank to telegraph the railroad, but, meanwhile, until someone can get here to help these folks, you’ll have to accommodate the passengers as best you can. Thanks. I’ve gotta go back out to finish taking care of things. I’ll send word as soon as I hear back from Midwest.” The big man pulled his slicker closed and turned to wade back through the mass of anxious individuals.

It seemed to Heyes that all the adults in the room starting demanding his attention at once amid a herd of children running around and screaming. He cleared his throat and assumed his leader’s voice, “All right, everyone quiet down so you can get to your rooms as quickly as possible.”

A few people complied, but the vast majority paid little attention.

Heyes gave one more try at obtaining order before stepping back from the desk and surveying the room slowly. Brown eyes met the laughing blue eyes of his partner, who was leaning against the dining room entrance.

Kid took two steps into the room and whistled loudly. All eyes turned towards the whistler; quiet descended for a moment. The room’s occupants converged en masse upon the dark-haired man behind the counter since he was the one who was guarding the register. The cacophony started again.

The crack of a gunshot echoed in the sudden silence. Everyone stood stock still and stared at the smoking gun in the blond man’s hand with plaster dust swirling around him. All eyes traveled up to the small hole in the ceiling before fixing once more on the man, who was now twirling his Colt back into his low-slung holster.

“That’s better. Hi, I’m Thaddeus Jones and my partner over there is Joshua Smith, and we’re managin’ the hotel at the moment. If everyone could remain nice and quiet until spoken to and pay attention to Mr. Smith, we’ll do our best to get you settled as quick as can be.” Kid gave one of his dazzling smiles to ease the tension in the room and nodded to his partner as he crossed over to stand by Heyes.

“Thank you, Thaddeus. So we can see what room assignments will work best, please form into the following groups: First, families with children, then people sharing one room and finally singles, who may need to share, depending upon availability,” Heyes instructed the now cooperative train passengers.

As the crowd formed into the requested groups, he quietly spoke to Curry, “Your method works well by the side of a railroad track, but now you have a hole in the ceiling to fix, Thaddeus.”

Kid looked up at the ceiling and sighed. “I guess you’re right.” He watched the groups form and added, “Looks like you got things under control; I better get the cook to ready some sort of simple dinner and plenty of coffee - those people will surely be hungry. Be right back to help.”

“Mr. Smith?”

Yap, yap, yap, yap.

Heyes shook his head in annoyance as the small beige French poodle darted around his legs. He turned to face Mrs. Bowdin. “Yes?”

Yap, yap, yap.

Heyes shook his leg and glared at the nuisance nipping at his trousers.

Yap, yap, yap.

“Beau, quiet, sit,” Curry snapped at the poodle before disappearing into the dining room.

Heyes and Mrs. Bowdin both looked down in surprise as Beau sat quietly next to the reception desk.

“It looks like you have a full house. You may have my room. I know my daughter will be happy to have me stay with her. Perhaps Mr. Jones will take care of Beauregard in my absence.”

Heyes looked thoughtfully in the direction of the dining room and then at the anxiously-awaiting, stranded train passengers. “Thank you, Mrs. Bowdin, your room will be needed, and Thaddeus, I’m sure, will be delighted to take good care of your precious pet.”

“Good, I don’t know why but Beauregard seems to like your partner. Make sure Mr. Jones takes Beauregard outside for his constitutional three times a day. Mrs. Granger is familiar with his breakfast and dinner requirements. Beauregard sleeps on the right side of the bed and doesn’t like the covers tucked, but loose.”

Heyes’ brown eyes widened at the picture of Kid and the poodle sharing a bed and struggled to keep a straight face. He refocused on Mrs. Bowdin’s continuing directions “…brushed every evening. I’ll have Manuela bring Beauregard’s things down.”

~~~*~~~

Later that evening

Curry walked into the kitchen, trailed by Beau, poured himself a cup of coffee, and sat heavily down in a chair at the work table.

“Well, me and Manuela got everyone settled in their rooms. I finished carrying the last piece of luggage and water pitchers up the stairs, and Mrs. Bowdin is safely at her daughter’s house. And thanks, Joshua, for volunteering my dog-sitting services. Is there anything else you’d like to me to do?”

Heyes looked up from the piece of paper he was scribbling on. “Not right now, Thaddeus, but I’m sure you’ll have plenty to do in the morning. I’ll even get up during the night to answer the bell if anyone needs anything so you can get a good night’s sleep. Mrs. Granger and I have been going over our food supplies. You’ll need to handle things first thing in the morning while I go place orders and purchase what we’ll need, given our unexpected full rooms.”

PING, PING, PING.

“Mr. Smith? Mr. Jones?” a booming voice called out.

“It’s the sheriff,” Mrs. Granger stated.

Heyes and Curry exchanged a brief, concerned look before getting up and slowly walking to the lobby.

“Ah, there you are. I’ve received a wire from Midwest Railroad. A Mr. Elias Walker is on the way by stage and should be in Green River in two days. He’s supposed to take care of the stranded folks’ needs. Please let them know the railroad will be helping to make alternate arrangements, or so they say. Just like they said the blown-up track will be fixed as soon as possible,” Sheriff Marsland humphed as he glowered at the floor. “Oh, there was also a wire from Mason. He’s going to be delayed, but will back as soon as he can. I’m going home now, but if you need anything, Frank will be over at the jail. We’ll be happy to help ya.” Sheriff Marsland looked tired as he turned and wearily waved good-bye.

Kid whipped around to face his partner as soon as the sheriff was out the front door. “Elias Walker? The same Elias Walker from Midwest who swore he was gonna shove a stick of dynamite up both our…”

“No, it couldn’t be. That Mr. Elias Walker was highly placed in the Midwest Railroad Security Department. He wouldn’t be going around to small towns to take care of customer relations,” Heyes answered with more hope than confidence.

“How many Elias Walkers do you really think work for Midwest?”

Heyes softly groaned as he rubbed his forehead. Suddenly a smile formed. “Even if it is the same Elias Walker, he don’t know what we look like, and he’d never expect to run into Heyes and Curry running a hotel in Green River, Wyoming. We’re safe enough.”

“I hope you’re right. You think about it tonight and I’ll worry about it in the mornin’. I’m goin’ to bed now.” Curry opened the door behind the reception desk leading to the Perkins’ private rooms, where they were staying. “Come on Beau, time for you to curl up on a rug in front of the fire.”

“Uhm, Thaddeus?”

Kid turned with a question in his eyes at Heyes’ tentative call.

“Beau, he don’t sleep on the floor according to Mrs. Bowdin.”

“Where does he sleep then?”

“He sleeps with you, on the right side of the bed, and he like the covers loose, not tucked, which is good, since you don’t like them tucked in either.” Heyes smirked as he studied the changing expressions on his partner’s face.

“No, I don’t think so,” Kid stated firmly while staring at the poodle looking adoringly up at him.

“Fine, I don’t care where the dog sleeps as long as it isn’t with me. But, remember, we need her room. She’s paying you to take care of that ridiculous dog, and we need them both to be happy since we’re being paid by Perkins to keep the customers happy, and the Perkinses are the friends of a friend of the Governor’s wife, who we need to keep happy so that the Governor will continue to look favorably on our amnesty.”

_________________
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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Customer Service by Nell McKeon :: Comments

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Re: Customer Service by Nell McKeon
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 12:31 am by royannahuggins
Two days later

Kid stood on the second floor landing, leaning against the wall to catch his breath - a large copper tub blocked the hallway. His right hand was pulling little slips of paper from his various pockets. He looked up and smiled appreciatively when he spotted Manuela coming down the stairs from the third floor. He caught her eye and gestured to the copper tub.

“Por favor, I forgot what family wanted the tub and bath for the kids. Do you remember?”

Manuela smiled back at her blond, wavy-haired manager. “¿Qué?”

Kid once again pointed to the tub, mimed washing, put his hand at waist height, and finally held both hands palm up and shrugged his shoulders.

“Los niños en el ultimo cuarto a la derecha de este piso están esperando bañarse. Me gustaría verte en nada que burbujas.” [“The children in the last room on the right on this floor are waiting for their bath. I wouldn’t mind seeing you covered in nothing but bubbles either.”]

The dark beauty watched blue eyes narrow in frustration and fair skin turn a pleasing shade of pink. She kept her smile to herself and sighed, pointing down the hall. Her right hand shifted its load of dirty linen closer to her body while she held up two fingers, then flashed five fingers twice. “Sitio dos diez…room two ten.”

“Gracias.” Curry nodded his thanks before bending down to heft the copper tub into his arms. A beige head suddenly popped up from the interior and bestowed a flurry of licks to the Kid’s face. Curry laughed, turning a shade pinker in embarrassment when Manuela’s laughter joined in. He lifted the poodle out and set the dog on the floor, then sheepishly started down the hall.

The young woman laughed harder as he almost tripped over Beau, who was dancing around his feet. With one last long glance at his retreating back, she continued down the stairs.

The front door of the hotel opened with a bang as a stout, middle-aged man entered. He immediately shook his head in annoyance at the scene in the corner of the large lobby before advancing purposefully to the reception desk.

The dark-haired man leaning over a young boy and indicating which cards to discard at the temporary card table in the lobby looked up from his afternoon gratis, novice poker lessons.

The boy placed the cards on the table and held up two fingers to the adolescent dealer.
“Mr. Smith, I showed my pa what I learned in the last two days and he was real impressed when I won a couple of months’ allowance from him. He wanted to know if you have room in the lessons you give the men at night and he said he’ll gladly pay your fee. It would be worth it if his game improves like mine did.” The dealer didn’t stop dealing cards as he conversed with his temporary teacher.

“Tell your father he’s more than welcome. We’ll see him tonight at nine o’clock,” Heyes answered as his wary brown eyes traced the newcomer’s gaze and evaluated his appearance. He had a very good guess as to who the newest arrival might be. He straightened and strode slowly and purposefully to the lobby desk.

“Can I help you?” Heyes asked evenly from behind polished oak.

“I require a room, preferably one with a writing desk and in your quietest location,” the guest demanded, perfunctorily. He pulled the ledger over to him and searched for a pen.

Heyes laid his slender fingers on either side of the leather book and deliberately closed it. “We’re all filled up. No rooms at the inn.”

“You will find me a room. I have important business in this town.”

“Sorry, we don’t have any rooms available. Perhaps you could inquire at the saloon.” Heyes didn’t sound sorry at all.

The man sputtered and snapped, “Do you know who I am? I’m Mr. Elias Walker from the Midwest Railroad. These people are dependent upon me to resolve their issues. I am a family man and will not be staying at the saloon. Now, stop wasting your time and mine and give me my room key.”

YAP, YAP, YAP, growl, growl, snarl, snap.

“Ouch! That animal bit my ankle. Get him away immediately or I’ll sue!”

Growl, yap, yap.

“Beau, come,” Kid called from the bottom of the stairs. He bent down as the poodle trotted over to stand protectively in front of him and patted the dog’s head, praising softly so only Beau could hear, “Good dog, little nips are fine for him, just don’t break the skin. That’s a good boy.”

Kid raised his eyes to Heyes’ and silently asked the question as he came to stand menacingly behind the railroad man.

Heyes nodded almost imperceptibly and Curry maintained his stance with his thumbs tucked into his gun belt.

“Mr. Walker, as I told you, all the rooms are occupied. Oh, I forgot, you’re from the railroad, so which family do you want us to put out on the street to accommodate your need for space?” Heyes didn’t bother to keep the heavy sarcasm from his voice.

“There’s no need for that Mr.?”

“Smith, I’m Mr. Smith and the gentleman behind you is Mr. Jones. We’re managing the hotel at the moment.”

“I am not throwing women and children out into the street as you implied, but am merely suggesting you rearrange your guests’ lodgings so that I can perform the function that brought me here in this miserable weather. The sooner the better, since I had to travel by an inferior stagecoach.”

Heyes’ eyes narrowed in thought and his slender fingers tapped his lower lip as he absently watched Manuela descend the stairs. His eyes slowly widened. He jerked his head to the side. “Excuse us, Mr. Walker; I need to confer with my co-manager for a moment.”

Mr. Walker leaned against the reception desk and muttered, “Almost makes me wish Heyes and Curry had hit that train north of here. At least they would have done it right and the track wouldn’t have been completely destroyed, so I could have traveled in comfort on a train.”

Curry and Heyes spun around rapidly to hide their smirks and retreated to the door of the private quarters, whispering furiously.

Heyes looked back, a satisfied smile pasted upon his face, and spoke to the impatiently waiting railroad man, “We may have a solution, Mr. Walker. Mr. Jones is going to speak with the current occupant of one of the penthouse rooms. The price is a little higher but it includes breakfast in bed.”

Curry gave a small start and a warning glare that his partner ignored. Kid left to talk to Manuela and Mrs. Granger in the kitchen.

~~~*~~~

“…so will you do it Manuela? Will you give your room, su sitio, so the railroad man can sleep there for much money for you and Dottie, hombre duerme mucho dinero. Dottie said it’s okay with…” Kid’s eyes widened and his head snapped to the side when a furious maiden’s hand connected soundly with his face.

Curry rubbed his reddening cheek and looked pleadingly at the astonished cook. “What did I say?”

“I think she misunderstood, Thaddeus.”

“No foolin’. Wait here, I’ll get Joshua; he’s better at explainin’ things and Manuela seems to understand him better anyway. Por favor,estancia aqui.”

~~~*~~~

Heyes’ eyebrows rose as he took one look at his returning partner. “What happened to your face?”

Curry just shook his head and pointed towards the dining room. He took up his place beside the railroad man and resumed his subtly intimidating body language.

~~~*~~~

Early the next morning

Knock, knock.

“Mr. Walker, I have your breakfast – eggs, sausage, toast and coffee – just like you ordered.” Kid stood outside the door of Manuela’s room or, rather, the new Penthouse Room on the top floor of the hotel. No answer was forthcoming, so he juggled the tray in his left hand while he struggled to open the door with his right, using the pass key.

“Beau, you wait here.”

The room was darkened, since the curtains were drawn and the lamp had burned down low. Kid tiptoed in when he spotted the railroad man reclining in bed with a book on his chest. He quickly glanced at the figure in bed while he set the tray down on the bedside table. Curry tentatively extended his hand towards the reclining man’s shoulder before drawing it back. He soundlessly stepped back across the room.

“Better not tempt fate, the less contact with Mr. Elias Walker, the better,” Kid explained to the waiting poodle in the doorway.

“Ooooh, oooh, ugh,” moaned Dottie Granger as she slowly climbed the stairs to her room, which she was now sharing with Manuela on the top floor.

“Dottie, are you all right?” Kid asked as he hurriedly exited the penthouse, not checking to see if the door closed completely.

Beau silently nudged the door slightly open and slipped inside the railroad man’s room following the tantalizing scent of the breakfast meat.

“Thaddeus, all of a sudden I got very nauseous, and I’m having stomach cramps. Joshua and Manuela are taking over in the kitchen so I can lie down for awhile.”

“Do you need help with anything before I go back downstairs?” Curry asked as he followed the cook into her quarters.

“No. I’ll be fine. You just go back downstairs. They’re going to need your help to finish feeding the crowd we have staying with us or, most likely, to clean up by now.”

Manuela arrived on the top floor, carrying a teapot and cup that Joshua had sent up for Mr. Walker. She noticed the door was ajar.

“Thaddeus? Senor Walker? Tengo tea – no coffee.” she called, softly, before entering. She came to a dead stop at the unexpected sight of Beau standing on Mr. Walker’s lap, finishing the last of the sausage from the breakfast tray.

“Shoo, shoo, estúpido perro; qué piensas que estas haciendo? Despulpa me, Sr. Walker, no debes dejar ese animal portarse así. Él ya tiene costumbres extraños que su dueño anima.” [“Shoo, shoo, you stupid, bold dog; what do you think you’re doing? I’m so sorry, Mr. Walker, but you should not let the animal get away with such behavior. He already has strange habits his mistress encourages.”]

The poodle jumped down and ran lightly out of the room. Mr. Walker slowly slumped sideways, catching the corner of the tray and knocking the meal and a small brown bottle that had been on the nightstand into his lap.

“Sr. Walker? You okay?” Manuela asked, quietly, with increasing dread as she came closer to the bed. She turned up the lamp. The maid peered closely at the silent guest and tentatively touched his hand. It was cold and stiff.

“Madre de dios! Pienso que esta muerto. Sr. Smith sabrá qué hacer,” [“Mother of God, I think he’s dead. Mr. Smith will know what to do,”] she sighed.

Dottie Granger hugged the washstand bowl and battled her nausea while Thaddeus hovered. “Go, I can manage…Wait, Thaddeus, I just had a thought. There were only five breakfast sausages left, four I gave to that railroad man and the last one I ate. The sausages were a little old but they still smelled all right, plus I cooked them thoroughly, but maybe you better check on that Mr. Walker on your way down, casual-like, to see if he needs anything else.”

Her right hand made shooing motions as she looked up. Kid stepped closer to the door when a thought struck him.

“Dottie…you made plenty of coffee. I mean, you didn’t let Joshua make the coffee, did you?”

A puzzled look came over the cook’s face as she answered, “I made a big urn full. Why?”

“Just askin’. You make great coffee. Thanks, I hope you feel better. I’ll check on you later.”

Kid pushed the slightly ajar door to Mr. Walker’s room open and peered in cautiously. “Mr. Walker? Mr. Walker, is everything all right? Are you feeling okay?”

Blue eyes widened in consternation as they honed in on the slumped, white figure on the bed. Kid walked to the bed, much as a condemned man does to the gallows. He resignedly checked for a pulse and, finding none, stared at the remains of the breakfast tray dumped onto the dead man’s lap. The sausages were the only food missing from the plate.

Curry’s head snapped up at the sound of footsteps, and he bounded across the room in order to close the door, running headlong into his partner, who was rushing in from the corridor.

“Kid, where were you? I needed you downstairs.”

“Heyes, he’s dead. What are we going to do?” Curry anxiously whispered.

“Are you sure he’s dead, not just passed out?” Heyes whispered back.

“Oh, I’m sure. And I’m sure the next person to be dead is me – hung for murder by poisoned sausage. I can see the headline now – Kid Curry murders railroad nemesis without firing a shot.”

“Calm down, no one murdered anyone. What are you talking about with the sausage anyway? I don’t see any sausage; in fact, it doesn’t look like he touched anything of his breakfast before it wound up in bed with him.” Heyes studied the scene and his agitated partner.

“The sausage is the only thing missing. He must have eaten it first,” Kid insisted in a low tone.

“Kid, you don’t have to be quiet. The guy’s dead. He can’t hear us.”

Curry glanced down at the corpse searching for any sign of the sausage. “I brought what he ordered – eggs, sausage, toast and tea.”

“Except you brought coffee. I had to send Manuela up with the tea, which I don’t see, now that you mention it. I wonder where Manuela went with it.” Heyes frowned as his eyes traveled from bed to door and back again. “Kid, he’s the only guest to have sausages, right? Everyone else had either bacon or ham.”

“Yeah.” Curry took a few nervous steps towards the closed door.

“Okay, all we gotta do is quietly cook up some more sausages and dump them in his lap. Then call the doctor, look all innocent and concerned.” Heyes started to slowly pace. “Let me do all the talking.”

Kid snagged Heyes’ sleeve as he passed.

“What?”

“There aren’t any more sausages. That’s why everyone else had bacon or ham.”

“You’ll just have to get some, on the quiet.”

“From where?”

“Where do you think, Kid, from the butcher’s, of course.”

“Then the butcher will know, and then the sheriff will find out when he investigates after he arrests me on suspicion of murder!”

“You send the butcher to the back for something that isn’t on the counter, and while he’s gone, you lightfinger four sausages. You’ve got fast hands; it’s no problem.”

“What if someone comes in when I’m helpin’ myself and stuffin’ my pocket with sausage? No, I don’t think that’s your best plan. Besides, it ain’t honest. I’d hate to get arrested for petty theft and wind up spendin’ twenty years in the Wyoming Territorial Prison when they find out who we are!”

Heyes read the stubborn look on his partner’s face. “Okay, how about you go in through the back alley when the butcher is in the shop with customers? There’s bound to be sausages in the cold storage, and you can leave a dollar somewhere he can find it. And since when are you so worried about being arrested?”

“Since we started goin’ straight and our jail breakin’ options are kinda limited. I’m not breakin’ in the back way in broad daylight, either. Come on, Mr. Genius, let’s hear plan C,” Curry retorted.

The partners stood, hands on hips, on either side of the bed, dead Mr. Walker between them, and froze when the sounds of footsteps along with mingled English and Spanish conversation drifted from the hallway.

“Estoy aquí, doctor. Iré otra vez a encontrar Sr. Smith o a Sr. Jones. ¿Beau, qué estás haciendo aquí?” [“In here, doctor. I’ll go try to find Mr. Smith again or Mr. Jones. Beau, what are you doing here?”] The maid stopped in front of her room, now the designated Penthouse Room. She glared at the closed door. “No estoy feliz que hay un hombre muerto en mi cama. Espero, que estaré buen pagado para todo esto. [“I am not at all happy about a dead man in my bed. I better get well paid for this.”]

“Gracias, Manuela, I’ll just take a look and wait for Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones aqui.”

Wide brown and blue eyes watched the door slowly open, and Manuela appeared with a tall, bearded man. All four individuals gave a slight jump in surprise. The poodle slipped in quietly, coming to sit by the Kid’s scuffed boots.

“You must be Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. I’m Dr. Bennet. Manuela sent word that one of your guests unexpectedly expired.” The bearded man nodded at the bed while he entered the room, his black doctor’s bag swinging in his left hand. “I’ve notified the sheriff, and he’ll be here shortly,” he announced as he drew the curtains open before joining the hotel staff members surrounding the bed.

The doctor placed his fingers at Mr. Walker’s neck, adjusted the corpse’s arm. He sadly shook his head and ran his hand lightly over the man’s face to close the eyes completely.

Heyes and Curry exchanged a quick look, and both took a deep breath. Kid’s right hand drifted of its accord to rest on his holster while he warily watched the doctor begin to study the bed and its deceased occupant.

Heyes stepped forward. “Mr. Walker was found just as you see him here.”

“Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, Dr. Bennet?” a deep voice boomed.

Kids hand tightened reflexively on the butt of his Colt. Heyes looked pointedly at Curry’s right thigh and mouthed “relax” before he called out, “Up here, sheriff.”

Sheriff Marsland entered.

YAP, YAP, YAP, YAP, Beau jumped to his feet and lunged into the space between Curry and the sheriff.

“Beau, quiet down. It’s okay, the sheriff’s a good guy.” Curry shot a fast glance at Heyes to confirm that statement.

The lawman had pulled up short, warily eyeing the poodle before continuing into the room and joining the others at the bedside. “Well, can someone tell me who found the victim?”

Manuela started rapidly speaking and gesturing at the bed, “Lo hice cuando traje el té. Se cayó de la cama, tirando su desayuno. Cuando fui a ver si estaba bien, estaba frío, y muerto. Fui a buscar Sr. Smith o Sr. Jones, pero no podía encuéntralos. Intenté de ajudar y mande por el doctor.” [“I did when I brought the tea. He fell over in bed, knocking his breakfast into his lap. When I went to see if he was all right, he was stiff, cold, dead. I went to look for Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones, but couldn’t find them. So I tried to be helpful and sent for the doctor.”]

At the same time as Manuela let loose with a stream of Spanish, Curry stepped forward and squared his shoulders, “I did, Sheriff. I delivered Mr. Walker’s breakfast to him this mornin’. He appeared to be asleep, and I didn’t disturb him, but left the tray on the bedside table.”

Sheriff Marsland held up his hand and quickly glanced sideways at the physician. “One a time please. Doc, do you understand what Manuela said, because I sure didn’t? All I got out of that was something about tea.”

Kid stepped closer to Manuela. “She brought tea up because I forgot Walker wanted tea, not the coffee. I brought eggs, toast, sausages, and coffee. He musta …”

The doctor interrupted, “Doesn’t matter what was on the tray. From the state of rigor mortis, he’s been dead for hours. My guess is he died sometime last night.” He picked up the small brown bottle resting mostly hidden under the upturned toast in the dead man’s lap, and read the label.

Holding up the bottle to show the others, the doctor informed his audience, “Hmm, I suggest we look through Mr. Walker’s things for clues. This is a common heart medicine taken for sudden chest pain. It helps the symptoms temporarily. My guess is we’ll find other medicines in his bags, and unless the sheriff has reason to suspect otherwise, Mr. Walker most likely died of natural causes.”

Heyes immediately started rifling through the railroad man’s opened bags, while the sheriff busied himself examining the surface clutter on the furniture.

Kid heaved a relieved big sigh, then suddenly straightened and muttered to himself, “Then what happened to the sausages?”

The Latin beauty elbowed Curry in the side to get his attention and pointed at his feet. Kid studied the floor with a baffled look. He didn’t see any sausages. Manuela rolled her eyes, poked him again and mimed eating, then pointed at Beau.

Kid looked down at the poodle with a smile that quickly turned into a frown. The blue eyes darkened with genuine concern as he continued to stare at the small dog. A whispered oath was not quite suppressed, “Darn, I forgot about the fifth sausage. Dottie’s sick after only one link. What’s four goin’ to do to a little dog?”

“Doc, Doc? While my partner and Sheriff Marsland are searching the room, could you take a look at Dottie Granger? She’s been sick since breakfast.” Kid grabbed the doctor’s bag and started hustling him out the door. “Doc, is there a vet in town?”

Manuela followed Curry and the doctor out, but went downstairs instead of down the hall to Dottie Granger’s room.

“Well, well, no surprise here. The railroad is as self-serving as always,” Heyes called out to the room as he looked with contempt towards the now sheet-shrouded railroad representative.

Sheriff Don Marsland, who had his find of two small apothecary bottles in his large hand, looked up questioningly from in front of the vanity and crossed over to where Heyes stood before a small desk by the window.

Heyes laid out the contents of Mr. Walker’s portfolio on the desk top. He arranged a letter, typed on Midwest Railroad letterhead, an expense voucher pad, a signature stamp, and an ink pad along the front. Heyes drew a deep breath and opened his mouth to explain, only to close it again as Dr. Bennet, his partner, and his partner’s small shadow trooped back into the Penthouse Room.

“Dottie’s got the grippe that’s been goin’ around town. Doc says it’s nothin’ serious and she should be fine by tomorrow. In fact, she’s feelin’ better already. It had nothin’ to do with sausages,” Kid announced, with a smile of obvious relief.

“That’s nice, Thaddeus,” Heyes replied with patient tolerance. He beckoned his partner over with a wave of his hand.

Everyone crowded around the dark-haired temporary hotel manager as he pointed to the letter on the desk. Heyes’ voice took on a tone of instruction, “See, here’s a letter from Midwest giving Walker his instructions.” He looked up to find three pairs of eyes travel from the letter to focus intently on his face. Curry tilted his head towards his partner and gave a slight, encouraging smile.

“You can read it for yourselves, but basically it says to accommodate the passengers as cheaply as possible. If anyone made their own arrangements, don’t offer to reimburse them unless they make a fuss. Arrange for the fewest stages as possible. If people have to go out of their way or it takes longer, oh well. Don’t reimburse for horses and gear, only public transportation. There’s more of the same.”

Sheriff Marsland and Dr. Bennet both shook their heads in anger as they bent over the letter, reading.

“Don, you notice it doesn’t say anything about when they’re going to fix the North loop line, either. Of course, that only serves a few ranches up that way and is probably not profitable.” The doctor looked up, met the sheriff’s eyes, while waving his hand in a vague northerly direction.

Don Marsland nodded and sighed. “Now I hafta notify Midwest of their representative’s untimely death. It’s most likely gonna be a few more days until they send someone else. By that time, most of the people will get tired of waiting for the railroad to do what they promised – the right thing and reimburse the folks for their living expenses and make alternate travel arrangements. At least those who can afford to will make their own arrangements, but the others are at Midwest’s mercy.”

“I’m sure you’re right, Sheriff. I’ll lay odds that more than a few of those folks will not make enough of a fuss to get reimbursed by Midwest,” Heyes added to the discussion as he ran his fingers lightly over the letter. His hand rested on the voucher pad and brown eyes narrowed in thought.

Dr. Bennet stared out the window, then back at the shrouded corpse. “I wouldn’t take that bet, Mr. Smith. You are undoubtedly correct.”

Curry watched his partner closely, taking note of the hand raking brown hair back and rubbing his chin, narrowed eyes, and the beginnings of a pacing pattern. “Whatcha thinkin’, Joshua?”


Heyes stopped pacing, stood with his hands on his slim hips, and faced his audience. He took a deep breath, “Well, I reckon the stranded folks have been inconvenienced enough. Everything is here, the vouchers and ink stamp. We could make the arrangements, with you, Sheriff, watchin’ that we didn’t take advantage of Midwest’s funds. The doctor and you could hold off notifying the railroad until Thaddeus and I are finished. We could probably get everything straightened out by tomorrow; we’ve had experience with the logistics of moving people and equipment, especially with the railroad.”

Curry studied the sheriff’s and doctor’s reactions. The sheriff had picked up the letter from the desk and was staring at it with a frown. The doctor sat on the edge of the bed, stroking his beard.

Nobody said anything when Heyes paused. He glanced at Kid with a raised eyebrow. Kid gave him a go-ahead nod back. Heyes continued, “The railroad is none the wiser, passengers get taken care of and sent on their way, and the railroad might even make out better since the room and board bill will be for fewer days. It’s simply better customer service.”

Dr. Bennet rose from the bed and joined the sheriff in front of the desk. He picked up the ink stamp and lightly tossed it from hand to hand. “You know, Don, I’m not normally one for stretching the truth, but Mr. Smith may have a point.”

A dimpled grin appeared on the dark-haired manager. “You can send a telegram thanking the railroad for their prompt response and concern for the passengers, and how helpful Mr. Elias Walker has been for Midwest’s customer service…”

Kid muttered under his breath, “Yeah, helpful by dyin’ before…ouch.” He bent down and rubbed the ankle that his partner just kicked.

“…but unfortunately, Mr. Walker passed away from natural causes after working diligently on their behalf. The town will hold the body and Mr. Walker’s possessions until Midwest provides direction for their disposition.”

The sheriff and doctor retreated to a corner of the room, engaged in a short, quiet conversation, then turned towards the waiting hotel managers.

“You seem like trustworthy men. Henry Perkins told us that you know the Governor, so we’ll trust you to make travel arrangements. I’ll take Walker’s stuff over to the jail. When things are straightened out, one of you can come over and we’ll make out the vouchers…” Curry unobtrusively pointed his finger at Heyes. Heyes gave a slight nod in agreement “…I’ll send Midwest the telegram then. The doctor, when he leaves the hotel, will notify Adam, the undertaker, to come pick up the body. Do we have an agreement, gentlemen?” Don Marsland stuck out his right hand.

Heyes extended his and shook hands with the sheriff. “Yep, Thaddeus and I will try to keep the expenses to a minimum, but without further inconvenience to the passengers.”

“Mr. Jones, can I ask you one other thing?” Dr. Bennet came up to Kid and looked down at the beige ball of fluff at his feet.

“Sure, go ahead. What can I do for you?”

“My mother-in-law is enjoying her stay at our home, knowing that Beauregard is being taken care of so well. I’m sure she would like to stay for the remainder of her visit. Would you consider taking care of the French poodle until her departure?”

Curry hesitated, tossing Heyes a sideways glance and catching him mid eye roll.

“She’d continue to pay you, of course. My wife would be very grateful as well,” the doctor added quickly.

Kid crouched to look the poodle in the eye. “What do you say Beau? You wanna stay with us for awhile and learn to be a man…uh… regular dog.”

Beau jumped to his little feet, hopped around and licked Kid’s face. Heyes made no attempt to mask his thoughts and let loose with a laugh.

~~~*~~~

The next night

Heyes sat, going over the hotel’s ledgers at the battered desk in the small office behind the reception area. His head rose from the figures on the page at the creak of the front door and the sound of heavy footsteps. He pushed his too long dark hair out of his eyes and got up to investigate.

“Mr. Smith? Mr. Jones?” Sheriff Marsland called out as he closed the heavy front hotel door and entered the deserted lobby.

Kid Curry and Manuela peeked their heads out from the first floor storeroom. Manuela saw Mr. Smith come out from the office to answer the sheriff, and ducked back while Kid joined his partner. Beau trotted at his heels.

YAP

Curry looked down and frowned. Beau slid between Kid’s legs quietly.

“Sheriff Marsland, you’re out late. What can we do for you?” Heyes asked.

“I sent the telegram to Midwest a few hours ago and picked up two telegrams for you…” the sheriff shuffled his feet. “…Only I started to make my rounds and forgot to deliver them. I didn’t remember until I left to go home. Here.” The sheriff dug his hand in his jacket pocket, withdrew two yellow envelopes, and handed them to Heyes.

“Thanks.”

“Good night, gentlemen. Thanks for helping with the railroad business. Everyone looked mighty happy to be finally leaving. The railroad really oughta do something for you two, helping out and doing Mr. Walker’s job. Too bad they don’t know.”

Heyes and Curry exchanged a quick knowing look.

“That’s all right, Sheriff. It’s better if it’s our little secret. Everyone comin’ away satisfied is enough for us,” Curry stammered slightly.

Sheriff Marsland wrapped his large hand around the front door knob and opened the door. “Guess you’re right, Mr. Jones. Maybe when Mabel and Henry get back, they can write the Governor’s wife and let her and the Governor know what a good choice it was to send you both.”

“We’d appreciate that Sheriff. Perhaps you can suggest that. Good night,” Heyes called to the sheriff before he closed the door.

Curry gestured to the yellow envelopes. “What do they say?”

Heyes opened the top one and read silently before looking up. “Mason will arrive here on tomorrow’s stage.” He started chuckling.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothin’… He can translate so you and Manuela don’t have any more misunderstandings.”

“That was a mistake. I get along fine with her.”

“I get along better. She hasn’t slapped me.”

Curry glared and tried to disguise the disgust in his voice, “And the other one?”

“The Perkinses arrived safely; their son and daughter-in-law had the baby. They received a…”

“Was it a girl or a boy?”

“Huh? Does it matter?”

“No, I’m just curious. Was the baby a girl or a boy?”

“A boy named Jacob Daniel. Okay, can I continue?”

“Sheesh, I was just askin’. Yeah, go on.”

“They received a telegram from the doctor saying that a guest had died in the hotel.” Concerned brown eyes met equally concerned blue.

“Oh, it’s all right, Kid. The doctor apparently said we handled the situation very well and the Perkinses shouldn’t be worried. They thanked the Governor’s wife.”

“Heyes, if the sheriff talks to Mr. and Mrs. Perkins when they get back, that will make two respectable, upstandin’ citizens vouchin’ for us. And as talkative as Mr. Perkins is, word should get back to the Governor. That’s bound to help with the amnesty, right?”

Heyes reached out and good-humoredly slapped his partner on the back. “Yep, this should definitely cause more favorable feelings towards our amnesty.”

Curry abruptly yawned, then stretched. “It’s been a long day. Glad the place is empty, for now. I’m gonna turn in. You comin’?”

“Nah, I want to finish the accounts. It shouldn’t take too long. You go and I’ll get things ready for the night.”

“Come on Beau, time for bed.”

~~~*~~~

“Buenas noches, Manuela. Gracias for staying up to clean the last room, so if the hotel gets bombarded with guests during the night, we’re ready. Mucho dinero helps, courtesy of Midwest Railroad, no?” Heyes called softly to the Mexican beauty slowly ascending the stairs.

Manuela stopped halfway up the first flight and nodded. “Sí, mucho dinero ayuda, estoy alegre que el Thaddeus consiguió que el ferrocarril me compraren un nuevo colchón.” [“Much money helps, yes, but I’m glad that Thaddeus got the railroad to buy me a new mattress.”]

When Manuela reached the first landing, Heyes turned from the bottom of the staircase and surveyed the deserted lobby. There was not a piece of luggage in sight. The hotel register was closed, the night bell was in place on the desk, and all the hotel room keys hung neatly on the rack. The lobby clock struck eleven as he turned down the lamps.

Heyes moved stealthily down the short hall leading to the guest bedroom of the private quarters, not making a sound. He slowly placed his long fingers firmly but lightly on the doorknob.

YAP, YAP, YAP.

In frustration, Heyes flung the door open, and his brown eyes narrowed when they met the angry blue eyes of twelve pounds of fluffy guard dog. Beau stood poised for action at the edge of Kid’s bed, watching Heyes’ every move.

YAP, YAP, YAP.

A sleepy blue eye opened, a hand patted the mattress next to a tousled blond head, and Kid soothingly assured the one who was watching his back, “It’s okay, it’s Heyes. You know my partner is allowed in here. Shush, now. Go back to sleep. Heyes will stay over in his bed. Shush.” Kid patted the mattress once more, then rolled over.

Heyes moved into the room, closing the door behind him, and sunk wearily onto his bed.

The dog gave one last “Yap,” turned, circled three times, and settled himself, snuggled against the Kid’s back with his head on the pillow. Kid tugged the covers over his shoulder and surreptitiously placed the blanket over the poodle’s hindquarters.

Heyes stood to disrobe and glanced at his partner. He opened his mouth.

“Not a word, Heyes. Not one word!”

~~~*~~~


(Writers love feedback! You can tell Nell McKeon how you enjoyed the story with a quick comment. Just click Post Reply for the Comments for Customer Service thread below the story.)
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Re: Customer Service by Nell McKeon
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:10 am by royannahuggins
PENSKI - Nell, you would not know this is the first time you wrote for Virtual Season. You did a marvelous job! This story has humor, and a little angst and more humor, but the characters were so very much "in character". Kid asking if something was wrong with the dog had me in stitches ... along with a few other places. LOVE this story!
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Re: Customer Service by Nell McKeon
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:10 am by royannahuggins
GHISLAINE EMRYS - Love Kid’s argument that just because he’s been in jails, that doesn’t mean he knows how to be a sheriff! Poor Kid—Of COURSE he gets stuck with toting the bags in the rain! Love the whole subplot with the dog—it’s hilarious! I thought it was going to be a murder mystery but, for once, it turned out not to be. A real fun story with an evil railroad man (of course he'd have to be). Great mix of humor, mystery, and suspense. Congratulations on a wonderful first VS episode!
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Re: Customer Service by Nell McKeon
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:11 am by royannahuggins
FRISCOGIRL - What a fun read! I loved the interplay between Kid and the poodle. Of course the two sets of blue eyes would fall for each other! And Heyes teaching poker to the children. A hoot! Very nice interplay of plots and subplots and characters. THANKS
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Re: Customer Service by Nell McKeon
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:11 am by royannahuggins
SILVERKELPIE - I was really surprised to read in the comments that this was your first VS. You worked the plots and sub-plots like a veteran. So much to mention - loved the dog responding to being treated like a dog and bonding with the Kid, loved the maid slapping the Kid's face and loved them getting one over on the railroad. Absolutely wonderful.
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Re: Customer Service by Nell McKeon
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:12 am by royannahuggins
SKYKOMISH - Wonderfully fun story, Nell. I t has been said many times before, but I just must say it again; the poodle and the Kid are priceless together. Loved when the dog tried to keep Heyes out of the room. The Spanish maid, and all of her Spanish comments, were very funny. I also really like the scene when the lobby is full of people and Heyes is trying to keep order. Thanks for the "episode."
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Re: Customer Service by Nell McKeon
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:12 am by royannahuggins
REMUDA - Wonderful episode, Nell! And have to agree with the others that you would never for a moment think this was your first VS. It's spot on in all the characterizations and combines so many elements we loved from the show -- humor, mystery, and lots of great banter. Loved Kid's new "partner" -- Beau makes a wonderful debut, and it would be great to see more of him. Loved it!
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Re: Customer Service by Nell McKeon
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:12 am by royannahuggins
What a delightful story! You pulled a lot of plot threads together seamlessly. I love Kid getting along so well with the dog, and Manuela is a hoot! Well done!
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Re: Customer Service by Nell McKeon
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:13 am by royannahuggins
LANA COOMBE - I love how this story has developed from the first hop of a bunny - or should I say poodle! The boys sure have learned quite a few skills, which come in very useful at times, during their outlaw lives! When can I go to stay at their hotel? I'd be willing to get a room there any day time - I'll even dress as a poodle!!!! ; ) Seems you can do humour too Nell!
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Re: Customer Service by Nell McKeon
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:13 am by royannahuggins
ALLEGRA - I've finally managed to read this. It's been that sort of week. I LOVED it. Laugh out loud funny scenes with Kid and his poodle partner. And of course he slept on the bed. Loved the spanish banter from Manuella too and Heyes was doing what he does best, that is making Kid to all the hard graft while he talks. Very well done on a marvellous episode!
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Re: Customer Service by Nell McKeon
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:14 am by royannahuggins
MAX - Hmm - flipping for Penelope Cruz - what has she got that I haven't? Oh, yeah.
And she's eyeing Kid's jewels - the Curryettes won't like that. And she's imagining him only in bubbles - is she one of our ladies in disguise?
Smiling at Heyes eyeing up the town from a reconnaissance point of view.
Pooffy?? Poor dog! (Aha!! Kipper and the Corpse alert. 'He bite me!')
Kid thinking - can I get to be a champagne style stud??
Oh no! The DHG blew themselves up!!
Awwwww - Beau wants to be a regular dawg. Love it.
Triple Awwww - Kid tucking Beau in!
What fun that was... and I think you have won the ' Who would ever have thought it?! ' adaptation award!!!
Re: Customer Service by Nell McKeon
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Customer Service by Nell McKeon

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