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 Horses for Courses by Lana Coombe

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Join date : 2013-10-13

20140313
PostHorses for Courses by Lana Coombe



Heyes and Curry are hired by an old friend to get a racehorse and its rider safely to the starting line, but find out that finishing the job could be a horse of a different color.



Starring

Pete Duel and Ben Murphy


Guest Starring

Don Ameche as Diamond Jim Guffy


Yvonne Suhor as Jesse


Mills Watson as Todd Lawton


Brenda Fricker as Mrs. Connell




Horses for Courses
by Lana Coombe



Brightly coloured bunting fluttered in the breeze, which swept down the main street. Crowds of people milled about, whilst upbeat music came from a small band of musicians, seated on a podium. There was a general buzz of excitement and anticipation in the air. Banners, strung across the main street, exclaimed: ‘Welcome - Mesquite Annual Races.’

Heyes pushed his way through the crowd, looking about him appreciatively with a wide, beaming smile.

Curry followed behind, less enthusiastically, furtively glancing around.

“You sure about this, Heyes?” he asked his partner, in a low voice, issued from the corner of his mouth. “There’s an awful lot of people here and …”

“Will you stop worrying and try and enjoy yourself,” Heyes told his nervous partner, elbowing his way past a well-dressed man and tipping his hat to the lady on his arm.

“Thought you liked it when I worried,” Curry mumbled petulantly.

Heyes rolled his eyes in exasperation.

“Look, there are so many people here that no one’s gonna notice a couple of drifters … not unless they do something to draw attention to themselves, that is!’ Heyes fixed a meaningful, dark stare on Curry.

“I guess you’re right,” replied Curry, with a lopsided grin.

“I mean, who would possibly know us here in Mesquite?”

Heyes had hardly finished his sentence when a firm hand gripped his shoulder from behind.

“Boys!”

A look passed between Heyes and Curry and they slowly turned, in unison, to see a flashily dressed man in a suit, holding a silver-tipped cane, gold watch chain hanging from his embroidered vest pocket, and a diamond tie pin in his cravat. He gave them a broad smile.

“Jim!” Curry exclaimed, with relief.

“Well I’ll be! Diamond Jim Guffy! “Heyes contributed. “It’s good to see you,” he said, shaking the man’s hand enthusiastically.

“You too, Heyes,” Jim started, but Heyes took him firmly by the arm and frowned.

“I’m Smith and he’s Jones,” he hissed, jerking his thumb in his partner’s direction.

“Oh, right! Sorry,” Jim replied with a knowing nod and wink. A thoughtful expression creased the man’s face for a moment before he offered them another broad grin. Putting an arm around each of their shoulders, he surreptitiously guided them away from the crowds. “I’m real glad I bumped into you two.”

“Well it’s real nice to see you again too, Jim,” Heyes responded amiably.

Diamond Jim looked cagily about before pulling the boys into a huddle. “Thing is, I need your help.”

Heyes crossed his arms and frowned at him. “You sure it’s just a coincidence, us bumping into you like this, Jim?” he asked warily.

“Yeah, Smith was just sayin’ how unlikely it was to meet anyone we know here, amongst all these people,” Curry added, with a hint of sarcasm. Heyes glowered at him.

“Boys, you know you can trust me and yes, a coincidence is just what it was but it could be a mighty beneficial one, for all of us. And you do owe me a favour.” Jim gave them a friendly smile.

“How’s that Jim?” Heyes asked, cocking his head to one side and raising his right eyebrow with aroused interest.

“Well, you still owe me for that job we did with the real estate man and the charming Miss Hale. That mansion set me back a few dollars and ….”

Heyes scowled with indignation. “I mean, how’s it gonna be beneficial to us?”

“Let’s find a quiet table somewhere and I’ll tell you all about it over a couple of drinks,” Jim replied.

Curry gave a lop-sided grin and looked decidedly more cheerful.

*** ***

Jim slipped some coins to the girl and touched the brim of his hat with the silver tip of his cane. “Thank you, my dear,” he said, giving her a charming grin.

The girl looked appreciatively at the coins. “Just holler if you gents need anythin’ else,” she told them, letting her hand linger for a couple of seconds on Curry’s shoulder as she turned to leave. Curry smiled as he lifted his glass to his mouth.

“We sure will, ma’am,” Heyes said politely, giving the girl’s rear an approving once-over as she walked away. “So, what’s this all about, Jim?” Heyes diverted his attention back to the dapper man across the table, in a blink of an eye.

Diamond Jim leaned forward, glanced cautiously about, and said, “Boys, I have got my hands on some prime racing horseflesh. I can hardly believe my good fortune. Got the animal for a very reasonable price, too.”

“That’s good, Jim,” Curry responded, pleasantly.

“So why all the secrecy?” asked Heyes, giving Jim a suspicious look.

“Don’t want too many people to know how good a horse he is. That way I can keep the odds high and make a greater profit and, so can you.”

“Just how good is this horse?” Curry queried.

“Good enough for some people to try and make sure he doesn’t run in the race and, that’s where you two come in. I need a couple of body guards to make sure nothing happens, before he’s due to run.” Jim paused and looked between Heyes and Curry and watched their silent interaction. Seeing a hesitation between the two men, Jim continued. “If you get my horse and rider safely to the starting line, I’ll make it worth your while.”

“How worth our while?” Heyes came back.

“Say, two hundred dollars?”

Heyes pursed his lips in consideration. Curry gave a sniff, leaned back in his seat and looked casually around the room, in a distracted and disinterested manner.

“Each,” Jim added.

Curry’s mouth widened, into a smug smile.

A broad grin enveloped Hannibal Heyes’ face. “Just let us know what you want us to do.”

Diamond Jim lifted his hand in the air and caught the saloon girl’s attention. “Another round of drinks here,” he called over.

“So where is this horse of yours, Jim?” Curry asked.

“Got him at a secret location, outside of town, for now.”

“So why’d you need us? Sounds like you’ve got things covered,” Curry continued, taking a sip of his newly replenished drink.

“I need to get my rider out to practice, without anyone following, and that’s where you come in. You are the masters of evasion, after all,” Jim told them, with a knowing smile.

“So where’s this rider of yours?” asked Heyes, folding his arms and leaning back in his chair.

“I’ll introduce you tonight. Say, seven o’clock at my hotel room, Number 101. And be discreet,” he added, getting to his feet, straightening his cravat and placing his hat on his head at a jaunty angle.

As Diamond Jim left the saloon, Heyes and Curry saluted each other with their drinks and sat with a look of satisfaction on their faces.

“Told you coming here was a good idea,” Heyes told his partner conceitedly.

Curry merely rolled his eyes.

*** ***

Arriving at the hotel promptly at seven, Heyes and Curry slipped past the desk clerk as he turned his back to retrieve a room key for a guest, and made their way quickly and quietly up the stairs.

Heyes knocked on Room 101’s door. There was a silent pause and then sounds of hurried movement emanated from inside. Heyes and Curry exchanged a quick questioning look before waiting patiently until, eventually, footsteps were heard approaching the door.

“Who is it?” Jim asked through the door.

“It’s us, Jim. Smith and Jones.”

The latched clicked and Diamond Jim peered through the partially open door. He opened it a little wider and looked out into the corridor, checking both ways before ushering Heyes and Curry into his room, shutting the door firmly behind them and locking it.

The room was dimly lit, with just one lamp burning. Jim offered them both a glass of whiskey, which they accepted.

Heyes and Curry glanced about the room for signs of the person they were supposed to be meeting. They were about to ask the whereabouts of the rider when they noticed someone emerging through the door from the connecting room, coming to stand in the shadows, in the corner.

“Mr Smith, Mr Jones, I’d like you to meet Jesse,” Jim said, moving towards the small figure and taking his arm, pulled him forward into the light from the lamp.

Jesse stood with eyes downcast and a floppy brimmed hat pulled low over his eyes, hands thrust deep into his pants pockets. He momentarily looked appraisingly at Heyes and Curry, before dropping his gaze once again.

“How do, Jesse,” said Curry.

There was an almost inaudible grunt from the boy, which was only just discernable as a return greeting.

“Come on now, Jesse. Let’s sit down and you can get to meet these nice gentlemen who are going to be looking out for you,” Jim told the boy, pushing him towards a chair. Jesse slumped down, refusing to lift his chin from his chest.

Jim looked nervously at the boy. “He’s rather shy around strangers, I’m afraid. He doesn’t like to talk too much. He’s at that age where his voice is changing. One minute it’s all low and manly, and then it’s a squeak.” Jim smiled slightly uneasily at them. “Let me top up your drinks,” he continued, ignoring a chagrined Jesse.

Curry smiled encouragingly in the boy’s direction. “How old are you, Jesse?” he asked kindly.

Jesse darted a look in Jim’s direction, who responded decisively for the boy, “Fifteen. He’s fifteen.”

“Kinda small for fifteen, ain’t he?” Heyes frowned at the hunched, capped figure in the chair across from him.

“He’s small but spry!” Jim said enthusiastically.

“Hmmm,” came Heyes’ non-committal response.

“You figure he’s up to ridin’ in one of these races? I mean, they can get pretty rough out there,” Curry enquired.

“Oh yes, no need to worry about that. Jesse can take care of himself all right. Besides, my horse is so darn fast there isn’t going to be anyone close enough to him to cause any trouble.” Jim gave them a confident smile.

Curry returned the gesture, with a more sceptical smile and regarded the small, hunched figure before him.

“So, what’s your plan, Jim?” asked Heyes.

“Well, the race is in three days time, so all I need you to do is keep an eye on the boy here and make sure nothing happens to him. Each day, you’ll need to escort him out to the practice ground.”

“It’d be a good idea to vary the times we go, then there’s less chance of people catching on to what we’re doing,” Heyes interceded, a reflective expression on his face, slender finger resting thoughtfully on his chin.

“That seems sensible,” Jim replied.

“Where would we have to take him?” asked Curry.

“I’ve got the horse at a homestead, about three miles out of town, on the north road. Jesse’s been there before so he can show you the way.”

Heyes nodded in agreement. “Will the people looking after the horse be expecting us?”

“I’ve let them know you’re coming.”

“Why isn’t Jesse stayin’ out at the homestead? Seems to me it would be safer out of town,” Curry asked.

“Didn’t think it would be a good idea having them both in the same location. Besides it would be more obvious that Jesse will be riding in the race. This way anyone looking to cause trouble has double the watching to do,” Jim replied solemnly.

“Sounds reasonable,” Heyes responded. He looked at Jesse, who remained sitting quietly across from him, head still bowed, fiddling with the frayed cuff of his shirt. “So Jesse, how d’you feel about all this?”

“Okay, I guess,” the boy mumbled.

“He’ll be fine. He’s got two of the most wily people I know looking out for him,” Jim said, knowingly.

Curry beamed, and Heyes gave him a withering look.

“So, what do we do next?” Curry asked.

“Well, I’ve arranged for Jesse to go for training practice early in the morning, so I guess we ought to get an early night’s sleep. Need you both bright and alert in the morning, so no late night poker sessions, you hear, Mr. Smith?” Jim said, pointedly, regarding Heyes.

Heyes gave him a disgruntled look and then replied, “Jim, you can trust me!”

A brief look of amusement flicked across Curry’s deadpan face.

Diamond Jim chose to ignore them and carried on talking. “Perhaps you could both see Jesse to his room and check that everything’s all right. I’ve arranged for you to have a room just across the hallway so you’ll be able to keep a look out for any trouble, during the night,” he told them.

Heyes and Curry got up from their seats and shook Jim’s hand. “Don’t worry, Jim. We’ll take care of the boy and make sure he makes it to the race on Friday in one piece,” Heyes told him.

“Come on then, Jesse, let’s get you settled in for the night,” Curry drawled, affably.

Jesse made no move to get up from his chair but looked anxiously at Diamond Jim. “It’s okay, Jesse. I’d trust these fellas with my own mother,” Jim told the boy, taking him by the elbow and pulling him to his feet. “Now you go along with Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones and everything will be just fine.” He shoved the boy towards the doorway and with one last look of apprehension over his shoulder at the older man, Jesse made his way out of the room, with Heyes and Curry close behind.

When they reached the boy’s room, Jesse stood with his back to the door, blocking the entrance. “I can take it from here, thanks,” he mumbled.

“Best let us check it out for you first,” Curry advised.

“Uh, no – it’ll be fine,” Jesse stammered back.

“Look, Jim’s paying us good money to look out for you, so let us do the job right,” Heyes interjected.

“Really it’s fine,” the boy replied, his voice rising an octave or two.

“What you got hidden in there? A couple of saloon gals?” Curry asked good-naturedly.

Jesse’s eyes widened in shock. “No!” he exclaimed. “It’s just that I left the room in a bit of a mess. Mr. Guffy is kinda particular about keeping things neat and I haven’t had a chance to tidy up yet. Just let me go and sort it out and then you can do your checking.”

“Jesse, the whole idea of our checking is to make sure there ain’t no one in there, so we need to go in first,” Heyes explained, patiently.

“Well … I …” stuttered Jesse.

Before the boy knew what was happening, Curry had whipped the key to the room from his fingers, drawn his gun and opened the door.

The room was not as untidy as Jesse had insinuated. In fact, the only thing cluttering the room was a worn carpetbag, from which various items of clothing spilled.

Heyes and Curry expertly inspected the room, sliding past the door, opening the closet, looking out through the windows, but found nothing out of place.

Jesse, in the meantime, scrambled furiously to put his belongings back in the bag and snap it shut.

“Well, all’s clear, so you can settle down safely,” Curry told him, as he made his way back across the room and re-holstered his gun. Suddenly he stopped, as something on the floor caught his foot. Bending down, Curry retrieved a pair of ladies’ bloomers and, letting them dangle from the tip of a finger, raised his eyes enquiringly at Jesse.

The boy stood before him, mouth wide open, cheeks flushing several shades of crimson.

Heyes regarded the boy curiously. “Looks like we weren’t too far from the truth about the saloon gals, huh, Jesse?”

“It ain’t what you think,” the boy spluttered.

“I hope not!” Curry retorted, with a chuckle.

Jesse snatched the bloomers from Mr. Jones’ hand and held them behind his back. “It ain’t none of your business,” he told them indignantly.

Heyes glared back at the boy, hands on hips, a dark look of frustration in his eyes. “Look, Jim’s hired us to look out for you, and if you’ve got a mind to entertain ladies then, well … well it just don’t seem right for a boy of your age and you might get yourself in a whole lot of trouble.”

Curry threw Heyes a look of consternation. “Jesse, what my partner’s tryin’ to say here is you don’t know who these ladies might be or who hired ‘em and there’s a chance someone’s usin’ them to get to you. You understand?”

“I can look after myself,” the boy replied defiantly.

“That may well be but there’s big money to be made, bettin’ on horses and the sort of people involved ain’t gonna be too concerned about hurtin’ a boy like you to get to it.” Curry placed a hand gently on Jesse’s shoulder. “All we wanna do is make sure you get to the race safely, and we can’t do that unless you co-operate with us. Can you do that?”

Jesse shuffled uncomfortably from one foot to another and dropped his gaze. “I guess,” he mumbled.

“Good. Then I think you should get some rest. We’ll be just across the hallway. Lock the door after us and don’t answer the door to anyone but us. Got it?” Curry asked, crossing his arms over his chest and peering down at the boy.

“Got it,” Jesse said quietly.

“Good. We’ll be back in the mornin’ to take you to that trainin’ session.”

Heyes and Curry slipped out of the door, hovering outside until they heard the key turn in the lock and went to their own room.

*** ***

Curry lay on the bed, hands behind his head, feet crossed at the ankles, eyes closed and a contented smile on his face. “You know, Heyes, this is turning out to be a better deal than I thought,” he commented, cheerily.

Heyes turned his head to smile at his partner. Taking one last glance out of the window to the street below, he let the curtain, he had been peering through, fall back into place. “Yeah. It was a stroke of luck running into Jim like that. This is a much better room than we could afford. It’s gonna be the easiest bit of money we’ve earned in a while.”

Pushing himself up into a sitting position, Curry frowned at his partner. “Now don’t go saying that, Heyes. You know whenever we say things like that, things start to go wrong and …”

Folding his arms and regarding his friend with amusement, Heyes interrupted, saying, “Aw, come on, Kid. What could possibly go …”

“Don’t say it, Heyes. Don’t say it!” Curry interjected hurriedly.

Just as Heyes began to laugh, in response to his cautious partner, a loud crash was heard coming from across the hallway.

Both stared at each other for a brief moment before Curry leapt from the bed, rapidly reached for his gun and dashed to the door. Heyes also retrieved his weapon from its holster and was close on his partner’s heels.

The door to Jesse’s room was closed but another crash came from within, followed by a muffled shout. Heyes moved cautiously forward and put his ear to the door. Curry took a breath, braced himself and charged at the door, busting it open, leaving his partner standing with a mixed look of surprise and exasperation.

The room was now a complete mess, with upturned furniture, smashed china and rumpled bedding. In the centre stood a large man, holding Jesse firmly by the shoulders, while the boy let fly with both feet at the man’s shins. As Heyes and Curry burst through the door, the man was momentarily distracted, giving Jesse a chance to send a well-aimed kick at the man’s nether regions.

Heyes and Curry cringed as the man crumpled to the floor with a gurgled cry of pain.

“Well don’t just stand there!” Jesse shouted at them. “Tie him up or something.”

Heyes looked down at the prone man with a certain amount of sympathy.

“How’d he get in here, Jesse?” Curry asked, snagging a bandana, which was draped over the dressing table mirror. Moving across to the man, he gave him a respectful moment to regain his composure, before taking him by the elbow and yanking him to his feet.

Jesse looked on nervously, chewing at his thumb, while Curry tucked his gun into his waistband. Next he tied the man’s hands behind his back and pushed him into a chair, pulling out his gun again, and giving it a demonstrative twirl.

Heyes stepped up to the man and stood menacingly before him. “Who are you?” he asked in a low, threatening voice. The man winced but straightened up a little, as the sense of feeling between his legs returned and he managed to glare defiantly back.

“What are you doing here? Who sent you?” Heyes snarled, unperturbed.

Still stony silence from the detainee.

“Listen, friend, I suggest you start answering my questions or I’m gonna let my partner here, demonstrate a few more of his skills with that gun of his.”

Curry gave the man the full benefit of one of his glacial glares, while artistically spinning the weapon in his hand.

The man’s eyes widened. “Name’s Todd Lawton,” he muttered, with reluctance.

“And what are you doing here, Todd?” Heyes continued, his tone light, almost friendly sounding, but the look in his dark eyes said otherwise.

Lawton regarded them both sullenly. “I thought this was my room. It was a simple mistake.”

“How’d you get in?”

“Tried my key but the door was opened.”

“I thought it was one of you two,” Jesse said, shamefacedly.

Heyes gave the boy an irritated look.

“So why were you holdin’ on to the boy then?” Curry asked, pushing the barrel of his Colt a little closer in Lawton’s direction, causing the man to lean back in his chair.

“I thought the boy was thievin’” he responded quickly, never taking his eyes from the gun in Curry’s hand. Suddenly, he felt hands grabbing at his collar and he dragged his gaze from the gun, only to look into a set of intense, dark eyes.

“The boy let you in! A thief wouldn’t have done that,” Heyes exclaimed in disbelief. “Look, I ain’t in the mood for no storytelling, so why don’t you just tell us who sent you and you can be on your way,” Heyes growled at the man through clenched teeth.

“N… n… no one sent me. I just got the wrong room, is all,” Lawton stammered back. Heyes released him from his grasp, roughly, and shot a questioning look at his partner, who replied with a slight shrug of his shoulders. Heyes gave a nod of the head and Curry pushed Lawton forward and began to untie his hands.

“What’re you doin’?” Jesse exclaimed, stepping forward from the corner into which he had retreated during the altercation.

“Lettin’ him go,” Curry answered flatly.

“But he tried …” Jesse started to say, but Heyes placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezed it firmly and gave him a hard stare.

Lawton, in the meantime, got to his feet and made his way towards the door, mumbling, “Sorry for the misunderstandin’, young fella,” before slipping out.

Jesse stood, looking aghast at his two protectors, mouth gaping. “Why’d you let him go?” he asked incredulously.

“’Cos we had no proof he was lying and sometimes it’s better to make less of a situation and not draw attention to yourself,” Heyes replied, assuredly.

“But … but…” Jesse still wasn’t convinced.

“Look, the man had a likely reason for bein’ here,” Curry told the boy, “and besides, this way he can’t be sure if he got the right person. If we had roughed him up, it would have drawn more attention to us and you, which is exactly what we don’t want.”

Heyes stood, hands on hips, wearing a thoughtful expression. “I think it would be safer if you slept somewhere else tonight. Can’t risk them trying again. You better stay in Jim’s room until we can sort something else out”

“Is that really necessary?” Jesse whined.

“YES!” Heyes and Curry said in unison.

Jesse moodily picked up his carpet bag, stuffed a couple of items into it, and let himself be ushered out of the room, down the hallway to Diamond Jim’s room.

Heyes rapped on the door. There was no response. After a few moments he knocked again and the sound of hushed voices could be heard inside. Heyes looked at his partner and frowned. Curry shrugged his shoulders in reply. A couple of seconds later, the door opened a crack to reveal Jim, resplendent in a silk dressing gown.

“What is it?” he demanded, not too happily.

“Sorry to disturb you, Jim, but we found a man in Jesse’s room and …” Heyes started.

“Did you now?” Jim said, with a flash of a glint in his eye. “Thought I was paying you boys good money to make sure things like that don’t happen?” he added, with a frown.

“Well, yes, but nothing happened and we got it taken care of. It’s just that we thought it best he slept somewhere else for the night.”

“And we thought your room would be the safest until we can figure somethin’ out tomorrow,” Curry reasoned.

Just then a decidedly female voice came from within the room. “You gonna be much longer, Sugar ‘cos Bella’s gettin’ cold.”

Another look passed between the partners, over the top of Jesse’s head, this one being one of comprehension.

“Look, boys, I’d love to help but I’m going to be a little tied up tonight, so Jesse’ll just have to bunk in with you,” and, with that final statement, Jim closed the door in their faces with a determined clunk. From behind the wood panelling of the door came the tinkle of female laughter.

All three stood in shocked silence until Curry calmly said, “Well, think he made that perfectly clear.”

Heyes let out a sigh and shook his head. “Guess he’s the one paying the wages so what he says goes, I reckon. Come on, Jesse. Let’s go and get some sleep.”

Heyes and Curry turned to leave but Jesse remained rooted to the spot, staring blankly at the closed door.

“I said, come on, Jesse. You heard what the man said. He’s otherwise occupied for the night. It won’t be too bad bunking in with us, that is unless Thaddeus here starts snoring.”

Curry gave the boy a tug on the arm. “Don’t take it personal, Jesse. Jim’s just got other things on his mind for now, is all,” he chuckled.

Jesse turned wide, scared eyes towards him. “I can’t stay with you.”

Curry gave the boy a perplexed look. “Why not? My snoring ain’t as bad as Joshua makes out. What’s the difference? You didn’t seem to mind sharing with Jim.”

“He’s … well, he’s …. older. I mean I’ve known him longer and ….”

“Look, it’s getting real late now, Jesse, and we’ve got to get up early so iffen you don’t mind I’d like to get some sleep. This isn’t the time to go all shy on us. Let’s go.” Heyes’ irritation was clear and he held the back of the boy’s neck and guided him towards their room. Jesse walked reluctantly before him and got another firm shove to push him inside the room, once the door had been unlocked.

Once inside the room, Curry stretched and started to unbutton his shirt. “How’d you want to do this, Joshua?”

“Jesse’s pretty small so he can bunk in with one of us,” Heyes replied, as he started to unbuckle his pants.

“Yeah, but which one of us?” Brows furrowed over blue eyes.

Slipping his hand into his shirt pocket, Heyes pulled out a coin. “Call it,” he said, with a mischievous grin.

Curry rolled his eyes. “Tails.”

Heyes gave the coin a flick with the tip of his thumb, sending it spinning into the air.

As they watched it fall, the coin was suddenly intercepted by a small hand, which snatched it mid-air.

“Don’t you think I should have a word on where I’ll be sleeping?”

“Unless you’ve got a three-sided coin, I don’t see how else we’re gonna settle it,” Heyes quipped.

Jesse gave him a hard stare and then wordlessly whipped a blanket from one of the beds and collapsed into an armchair, curled up and pulled the blanket around his body.

“Ain’t you gonna take your clothes off before you go to sleep?” Curry enquired.

“Nope,” Jesse snapped back.

“Suit yourself,” Heyes said dispassionately, slipping off his shirt and lowering his pants.

Curry gave the boy a look of concern but shrugged it off and began to strip down to his own under garments.

Jesse closed his eyes tight and pulled the blanket over his head. Without any further words, both Curry and Heyes climbed wearily into their beds and the room filled with the sound of slumbered breathing.

*** ***

The next morning, Jesse awoke to find Thaddeus, stripped to the waist, shaving. Letting out a gasp, Jesse threw off his blanket, grabbed his hat and darted towards the door. Just as he was about to turn the handle, the door was held shut with a thud from a forceful hand. Jesse turned his head to find Curry standing behind him, shaving cream still on part of his face, razor in hand.

“And just where d’you think you’re goin’?” he asked.

“I … I n..need to go …” Jesse stammered.

“Not without one of us with you, you don’t,” Curry told him.

“But I really need to go and …”

“There’s a chamber pot under the bed. Use that,” he was instructed, as Curry turned back to the mirror to finish relieving his chin of the remaining bristles.

“I … I can’t.”

Curry gave him a withering look in the reflection of the mirror. “Sure you can. You just …”

“I know what to do!” Jesse blurted, his voice squeaking. He coughed and in a lower tone added, “It’s just I’d rather not, here, in front of you and all.” He slipped his gaze to the floor.

“There you go, bein’ all shy again. You ain’t got nothin’ I ain’t seen before, Jesse, and you did say you really need to go, so get on with it or Joshua will be back and then you’ll be twice as bashful!”

“You’re not wrong there,” Jesse muttered under his breath. “Where is Joshua, I mean, Mr. Smith?” he enquired more loudly, remaining at the door.

“He’s gone to get the horses so’s you better get yourself ready, ‘cos we don’t wanna be late for the trainin’ session,” Curry answered, wiping the remnants of shaving cream from his face with a towel. Checking his face in the mirror one last time, he said, “I guess you don’t have to worry about shavin’ just yet, huh?” He turned and regarded Jesse thoughtfully. “And by the look of you, you won’t have to worry about it for a while. I’ve seen hairier lookin’ rocks than you!”

*** ***

Curry was standing on the boardwalk, outside the hotel, pulling on his gloves, as Heyes led the three horses he’d collected from the livery, towards him.

“Where’s Jesse?” he enquired as he looped the reins over the hitching post.

“Takin’ care of business,” came the retort. “Don’t know what that boy’s tryin’ to hide, but he sure is bashful,” Curry commented with a shake of his head.

Heyes merely grinned his response.

The sound of light footsteps heralded Jesse’s arrival. Heyes and Curry exchanged a look and both smirked.

“What?” exclaimed the boy as he joined them.

“Nothin’,” Curry replied innocently. “Let’s get goin’ before folk wake up,” he added, stepping down into the street and taking his horse’s reins.

When all three were mounted, they left town, via a back alley and headed out on the north road. Heyes rode at the front, with Jesse following and Curry taking up the rear.

“So when do we get to eat breakfast?” Curry grumbled, staring fixedly at the back of his partner’s head.

“We’ll get something when we get back to town,” Heyes told him, tersely.

“But I’m hungry now.”

“Well, you’re just gonna have to wait.”

Curry slumped into a sullen silence.

Jesse bowed his head to conceal an amused smile.

It didn’t take them long to get to the homestead, which was hidden away in a valley. All appeared to be quiet and deserted as they approached. Curry slipped the safety catch from his holster and kept alert. On reaching the house, they remained in their saddles and looked cautiously about.

“What do you think?” Heyes asked his partner.

“It’s quiet,” Curry replied.

“Too quiet?”

“Maybe.”

“Where is everyone?” asked Heyes, directing his question at Jesse.

“Not sure,” the boy replied as he tried to peer through the window of the house.

A sudden bang came from the barn, making them turn in its direction. As the door swung open, Curry’s gun was in his hand in an instant. Jesse stared at him, in open-mouthed shock, which Curry ignored.

A middle-aged woman stepped out. “Was wonderin’ when you was gonna show up,” she sniffed, giving them an appraising once-over.

“Mrs. Connell, this is Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. They’re here to … um, protect me, I guess,” Jesse told the woman.

“Smith and Jones, huh? Mr. Guffy told me about you. I guess iffen you don’t want folks knowing your real names, them’s as good as any.”

Heyes raised his eyebrows at his partner, at the woman’s comment, but gave her one of his best charming, dimpled and disarming grins, only to have the woman ignore him.

“Well, don’t just sit there. Let’s get this young fella up on this horse and see what he can do,” Mrs. Connell said gruffly, giving Jesse a friendly wink.

“Are you the only one here, ma’am?” Heyes asked, casting a wary eye about the homestead.

“Yep,” came the succinct reply.

“Ain’t that a little risky?" Curry enquired with some concern."I mean, Jim’s worried about someone tryin’ to get to the horse and, no offence, ma’am, but there wouldn’t be a whole lot a lady, such as yourself, would be able to do against a gang of ruffians.”

“When I say I’m alone here, don’t mean to say that there ain’t no one else about. I got me four boys to help me run this place,” she said proudly.

“I don’t see no sign of them, ma’am,” Heyes remarked, a mite suspiciously.

“Don’t mean they’re not around,” came the vague response. “Well, can’t stand around chatting all day. Let’s get this horse rode.”

Mrs. Connell disappeared back inside the barn and Jesse slid from his horse and followed. Heyes looked at his partner. “You think she’s crazy?”

“Nope. Been gettin’ the feelin’ we’re bein’ watched since we rode into the yard. Those boys of hers are here all right.”

“Then why don’t they show themselves?”

“Just bein’ careful, I guess.”

“Makes me nervous.”

“Lucky for you that I’m here to watch your back, then,” Curry smirked, swinging down from his horse.

Heyes shook his head at his self-assured partner, who was already disappearing into the barn, then, cast one last wary glance about the yard before following.

As Heyes entered the barn, he found Curry standing just inside the door.

“Now you boys just stay where you are for a minute, until we get this here horse settled,” Mrs. Connell instructed, from the depths of the building.

“Uh, ma’am? Couldn’t we give you a hand? I mean, those racehorse types can be mighty spirited and Jesse ain’t that big, an all?” Curry called out.

“Now, you just stay where you are,” the woman answered firmly.

“Yes, ma’am,” Curry replied, shrugging his shoulders at his partner.

A short while later Jesse emerged, leading a magnificent sorrel, which danced sideways beside the boy.

Curry let out a low whistle of appreciation. Heyes pushed his hat onto the back of his head and put his hands on his hips. “Don’t know how Jim managed it, but he sure has got himself some fine horseflesh there,” he stated, admiringly.

Mrs. Connell scuttled forward. “Now you boys go outside, outta the way, and stand well back to let Jesse have plenty of room,” she said, pushing them towards the door.

Perplexed by the woman’s attitude, they did as they were told, if a little hesitantly. As Jesse brought the horse out into the open, he pranced excitedly, nearly lifting the boy off his feet.

Heyes stepped forward to give him a hand and the horse immediately jerked backwards and reared up. Jesse held firmly onto the reins, trying to control the animal, pulling down on the bridle.

“Stay back,” he shouted over his shoulder.

“You need help,” Heyes called back.

“I can manage,” Jesse hissed through clenched teeth.

“Just leave the boy to it. He knows what he’s doin’,” Mrs. Connell said as she stepped between Heyes and the horse.

“I hope you’re right,” Curry responded, sceptically.

As they moved away, the horse became quieter, as Jesse talked to it in a calm, soothing voice. It didn’t take long until he was able to swing confidently onto the animal’s back and head out into the yard. Mrs. Connell gave Heyes and Curry a satisfied smile. “Told ya he knew what he was doin’.”

Mrs. Connell led them to a small rise, which overlooked the open ground in front of the homestead. They watched as Jesse put the horse through its paces, starting out nice and steady, at an easy canter, then giving the animal its head and letting it run more freely.

Curry let out another long whistle. ”He sure can move!” he exclaimed.

“You talking about the horse or Jesse?” Heyes quipped.

Heyes slipped out his pocket watch and timed one of Jesse’s runs. He smiled happily when he saw where the second hand reached. “If he can do that during the race, I reckon we’re onto a winner,” he said, with a greedy glint in his eye.

“That good, huh?” Curry replied with a knowing grin.

“Uh huh,” Heyes nodded.

By now, Jesse had slowed the horse to an easy jog. “Just going to cool him down,” he called over, loosening the reins and letting the animal stretch his neck.

“The horse got a name?” Heyes asked Mrs. Connell.

“Diamond Lad is what he goes by,” she told him furtively.

“Not his real stud name then?”

“I didn’t say that.” The woman gave him an appraising look. “You’d best stay back when Jesse brings him in.”

“Look, we’ve been around horses all our lives, Mrs. Connell. We ain’t gonna do nothin’ stupid. Our job is to look after the boy and the best way to do that is to stick close by,” said an irritable Curry, his arms firmly wrapped across his chest.

Mrs. Connell shifted nervously and she looked flustered for a moment.

“What is it with this horse?” Heyes persisted. “Seems to me you don’t want us anywhere near him. Part of our job is to look out for the horse too, you know. I mean, it’s no good having a fit rider if he don’t have a horse to ride, is there? Don’t you trust us or something, Mrs. Connell?” He fixed the woman with an outlaw leader glare.

“No, no! It ain’t that. It’s just that the horse ain’t that comfortable with men about, see? That’s why I tell my boys to stay outta the way and ….” Mrs. Connell stopped talking when she saw the puzzled expression on Heyes’ face.

“So, how come he lets Jesse ride him?” asked an equally baffled Curry.

“On account that Jesse has taken care of him for years, with the previous owners, I mean and …. and besides, Jesse ain’t really what you’d call a man. He’s just a boy, so it don’t bother the horse as much,” she babbled.

“So, Jesse came with the horse?” Heyes asked. “I wondered how Jim found him. He seems a pretty capable rider.”

“Oh, he is! He is!” Mrs. Connell gushed, with real pride in her voice.

Just then, they were interrupted by the clatter of hooves on the stony track, as Jesse rode towards them. The older woman gave Heyes and Curry a pleading look and they dutifully moved back, as Jesse directed the horse to the barn.

“What d’you make of that?” Heyes said, as much to himself as to his partner.

“I reckon that’s why Jim was able to afford to buy a horse like that and why he’s so keen for us to take care of the boy. Don’t seem like there’s anyone else who could ride the horse if Jesse’s not around,” Curry offered in explanation.

“Yeah, guess you’re right,” replied Heyes, narrowing his eyes in thoughtful contemplation.

*** ***

The ride back to town was quiet. Heyes had made arrangements with Mrs. Connell for their next visit and Curry had complimented Jesse on his riding but, after a few words were spoken, the boy choose to slip into a moody silence.

Reaching town, they hitched their horses on the post outside of the hotel. There was a throng of people in the street as more parties arrived for the upcoming races, the first of which was to take place later that afternoon. Stalls were being erected down one side of the street and wagons seemed to be continuously rolling into town. Groups of children ran excitedly about, pausing from time to time to look at some of the sideshows and goods on sale.

Heyes and Curry looked about them cautiously, but saw nothing suspicious to cause them any concern.

“Gettin’ kinda busy,” Curry commented. “You wanna watch the first race later?” he asked his partner.

“That’d be good if we can find somewhere quiet to watch. Keeping an eye on Jesse is our main priority,” Heyes replied.

Curry licked his lips and glanced longingly in the direction of the saloon. “Wanna get a drink before it gets too busy? I need one to cut through the dust and then I’m going to get me some breakfast,” he said determinedly.

“Think I’ll join you,” his partner responded.

Jesse began to make his way up the hotel steps. “Where’d you think you’re goin’?”

The boy paused a second, and then carried on walking but called over his shoulder, “I’m kinda tired and dirty, and am going to wash and rest up.”

He suddenly felt a firm grip on his arm. “No you ain’t. Not yet, anyways. We’re thirsty and we’re goin’ to the saloon,” Curry told him decisively.

A horror-struck Jesse blurted, “I can’t go in there!”

“Why not? ‘Bout time you put some hairs on your chest, and a saloon might be the right place to find some,” Heyes joshed.

“I can’t … I mean, I’m too young. Besides I got to be fit to ride, don’t I?”

“One little drink ain’t gonna hurt, and if you’re that worried, we’ll get you some milk!”

“I can get milk at the hotel,” Jesse said firmly.

“But we can’t get whiskey!” Heyes narrowed his eyes at the boy, while Curry still had a hold of his arm. “Besides, we can’t keep a watch on you if you’re not with us and Jim is payin’ us to do just that.”

Heyes stood in the street, hands on hips, stubbornness written all over his face. Curry wordlessly dragged Jesse down the steps, past Heyes and across the busy street, weaving through the crowds, towards the saloon. Heyes gave a crooked smile of accomplishment before turning and following them.

Jesse made a futile attempt to grab the doorframe as Curry pulled him into the saloon and marched him towards the bar. Heyes sauntered in a few steps behind and casually leaned on the bar, casting an amused look at his fractious partner.

“Whiskey – two,” he ordered. “Make it three,” he added, frowning at Jesse, who stayed mute, lips pressed firmly together in resignation.

Curry looked around the busy saloon and, taking Jesse by the arm again, steered him towards an empty table at the back.

“Sit there,” he barked at the boy, indicating one of the chairs. Jesse sullenly did as instructed.

Heyes joined them, with the drinks, which he placed on the table.

Jesse eyed the one in front of him warily. He chanced a look in the dark-haired man’s direction and leaned towards him.

“What’s eating him?” he asked, bobbing his head in Curry’s direction.

Heyes gave a rueful smile. “He always gets proddy when he’s hungry,” he whispered, conspiratorially.

Jesse made a face to show he understood and sank back down into his chair.

Curry glared at him and his partner.

“I ain’t proddy,” he mumbled, lifting his glass to his lips and tipping it down his throat with a decisive toss.

Heyes grinned and sipped his own drink more genteelly, hiding an amused smile behind the rim of his glass.

“You gonna drink that?” Curry nodded towards Jesse’s glass. The boy picked up the glass and took a tentative taste, and immediately coughed and widened his eyes.

“Yeah, gotta admit it ain’t the smoothest I’ve ever had,” Curry commented, a playful twinkle appearing in the blue of his eyes. “This kinda whiskey usually gets better towards the bottom of the bottle.”

Jesse tried again, staring at the fair-haired man over the top of the glass as he drank. This time he squeezed his eyes shut as the amber liquid hit the back of his throat.

“We’ll make a man outta him yet, Joshua!”

Heyes leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms and regarded the boy with, what can only be described as, admiration. “Yeah, reckon we will, Thaddeus.”

“Let’s have another one,” Curry said, rising and making his way to the bar.

Jesse looked horrified.

“So, Jesse, where’d you learn to ride like that?” Heyes asked, leaning forward and resting his arms on the table as he looked at the boy intently. Jesse immediately dropped his chin and averted his face from the older man’s scrutiny, answering with a shrug of his shoulders.

“You sure know how to handle that horse. I understand, from Mrs. Connell, you were with the horse’s previous owners. Who was that?” Jesse took a sizeable gulp of the whiskey and coughed again, to such a degree that he began to choke. Heyes gave him a couple of slaps on the back until the boy held up his hand to indicate it was enough.

“You okay?” Curry asked, as he placed a bottle of whiskey on the table, and a glass of milk in front of Jesse, who immediately grabbed it, gulping down half of the contents.

“Fine,” the boy rasped.

“I was just askin’ Jesse here, where he learned to ride like that,” Heyes informed his partner.

“Uh huh,” Curry acknowledged, settling back into his chair, waiting for the response.

Jesse took another mouthful of whiskey but managed to keep an almost straight face this time. Cradling the glass in his hands, he shifted nervously in his seat, fully aware of the two sets of eyes keenly regarding him. Jesse sipped his drink once more. The uncomfortable silence continued, as the two older men patiently waited him out. Finally, Jesse was unable to stand the awkwardness any longer.

“I learned to ride at a real young age. My pa was real good with horses.”

Heyes inclined his head in the boy’s direction and raised his eyebrows at him in anticipation of some elaboration on the statement. “And?”

Jesse took another swift swig and drew a breath. “After my ma died, he got a job at a horse ranch. At first, he just took care of the horses, mucking out stalls, grooming, and just generally helped out. The boss realised he had a way with horses and started asking his opinion. My pa sorta became Mr. Ryman’s ‘right-hand’ man.”

Jesse looked up at his companions, who were listening attentively. Finding courage in his glass, he continued. “I lived in town with my aunt, but I used to go out and see my pa, at the ranch. Mr. Ryman kinda took to me and even gave me my own horse to ride. Pa told me he used to have a child of his own, but she died. Anyways, all was good until they had one particular horse who was real difficult to handle. Pa wanted to gentle him, but Ryman tried to beat the spirit out of him. One day they had the horse tied down and were trying to put a saddle on him. They were beating him and my pa tried to stop them. Somehow he got kicked in the head. He never recovered.”

Jesse drained his glass and Curry wordlessly poured him another drink. Jesse smiled sadly at him. “To cut a long story short, they were gonna shoot the horse, but I pleaded with them not to. Think Ryman felt he owed me in some way. I spent a lot of time with the horse, and in the end I was the only one who could handle him.”

“Diamond Lad?” Heyes confirmed.

Jesse nodded. “Ryman met Mr. Guffy at a race and, well, the rest is history, as they say. Ryman knew the horse was fast but wouldn’t risk racing him, so was happy to sell him at a bargain price. I was part of the bargain.” Jesse dropped his head, suddenly ill at ease by his confession.

“Seems to me Ryman’s loss is Jim’s gain,” Curry told the boy kindly.

Jesse covered his embarrassment by taking another drink.

“If you ride in the race like you did today, Jesse, Jim’s gonna be one happy man,” Heyes added. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I can see a profitable poker game going on over there and a place has just opened up.” Taking his glass, Heyes rose from his chair, tossed back the remnants of his drink, and headed over to the other table.

“Hey, what about breakfast?” Curry called after him.

“Go ahead. I’ll eat later,” Heyes called over his shoulder and disappeared into the crowd.

Curry turned his attention back to Jesse, only to find the boy was topping up his glass once again. “Go easy with that stuff. Think you’ve had enough.”

“You’re right though. It’s beginning to taste a lot better,” Jesse replied with a sheepish grin.

“In your case it seems to be the bottom of the bottle,” came the sardonic response. “Come on, let’s go get somethin’ to eat.”

“What about Joshua?”

“He can look after himself. My stomach’s beginning to feel like my throat’s been cut.” Curry scooped up his hat, hauled Jesse to his feet, took a firm hold of his shoulder and manoeuvred him through the groups of people in the saloon, out into the street.

As the fresh air hit him, Jesse staggered as they descended the steps from the boardwalk onto the road.

“Easy there,” Curry said, taking the boy’s arm to steady him.

A short while later, they sat at a corner table in one of the many temporary eating establishments, set up to feed the crowds during the race. Curry ordered them both ham and eggs, and a glass of milk for Jesse. They soon sat with empty plates before them. A relaxed Curry sat back in his seat, drinking a cup of coffee. Jesse sat across from him, elbows on the table and chin cupped in his hands, staring at him.

After a minute of this, Curry felt a little uncomfortable. “What is it, Jesse?” he asked.

“I was just thinking how blue your eyes were,” Jesse commented, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “I really like being with you, Thaddeus. You know, you make me feel … I don’t know, comfortable, I guess.” Jesse gave him a lopsided grin, until his arm slipped and his head nearly hit the table.

Curry’s eyes widened in disbelief at the boy’s remark. “I think you’ve had enough excitement for one day. I’m gonna take you back to the hotel to get some rest,” Curry muttered, getting to his feet and tossing a few coins, in payment for their meal, on the table. Jesse staggered to stand and slipped his hand through the crook of Curry’s arm.

“I guess I am a little tired. It’ll feel good to go to bed for a while, won’t it?” Jesse slurred.

Curry cleared his throat, took a breath and led Jesse back to the hotel.

_________________
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.


Last edited by royannahuggins on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 12:19 am; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Horses for Courses by Lana Coombe
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 12:02 am by royannahuggins

“I’m tellin’ ya, Heyes. That boy was givin’ me ‘the look’.”

Heyes sat on the edge of the chair, in the hotel lobby, and bowed his head, covering his mouth with a gloved hand, in a vain attempt to stifle the laughter, which threatened.

Curry glared at his partner. “Well, I’m glad you find it so amusin’,” he snarled, sarcastically.

“The boy drank a little too much whiskey is all, and perhaps you did too.” By the look on the Kid’s face, Heyes knew his attempt at pacifying his already-irritated partner had failed.

“So, how’s he doing now?” Heyes asked.

“Sleepin’ it off in the room. I locked him in,” a subdued Curry replied.

“Good. Don’t want Jim to see him in that state. Why don’t you go check on him and I’ll go get us all something to eat.”

“We ate already.”

“Oh, yeah. The romantic meal for two!”

Heyes rose quickly to his feet, pushed his hat firmly on his head and made a hasty retreat before Curry had a chance to land a punch.

Curry made his way back up the stairs to the room. As he rounded the corner, he saw a figure crouched by the door. On seeing Curry, the man fled down the corridor and into another room, shutting the door behind him. Curry drew his gun and pursued him, shouldering in the door, only to find the room empty. He was about to go through the door to the adjoining room when the sound of running footsteps, in the corridor, made him move back towards the main door. He opened it slowly and peered out, only to see the man disappear inside another room. He strode quickly across the corridor and burst into the room, to find that one empty too. There was no adjoining room door this time, only a pair of curtains fluttering in front of an open window. He dashed to the window and looked down into the street, but could not locate the man in the busy throng of people. He cursed, re-holstered his gun and made his way back to check on Jesse.

He slipped the room key from his pocket and quietly unlocked the door. Pushing it slowly open, he stepped into the room and was relieved to see Jesse, curled up, fast asleep under the covers. Curry locked the door and made his way to the table and chair near the window. Taking a cloth and a can of oil from his saddlebags, he settled down to clean his gun and watch over the boy.

*** ***

A loud rapping on the door caused Curry to leap from the chair, where he had dozed off, his newly-cleaned gun instantly in his hand. Loud voices accompanied the knocking. “All right, all right, Jim!” came the recognisable, yet irritable voice of his partner. “Thaddeus, it’s me and Jim. Open up.”

Curry made his way across the room, gun still in hand, slipped the key from his shirt pocket and unlocked the door. Heyes pushed his way into the room, only to be met by a serious-faced Curry and the muzzle of his Colt. Diamond Jim was close on his heels and bumped into him as he stopped suddenly.

Heyes stared, wide-eyed at the weapon in his partner’s hand. “What the hell you doing?” he asked.

“Can’t be too careful,” Curry told him. “There was a fella snoopin’ ‘round earlier.”

“Well, I’m glad to see one of you is taking this seriously,” Jim retorted, scowling at Heyes. “Where’s Jesse?”

“I’m here,” mumbled a sleepy voice from across the room. “What’s going on?” Jesse asked, rubbing his eyes as he began to sit up.

“What fella?” Heyes interjected worriedly.

“I lost him when he went out the window and disappeared in the crowd,” Curry replied, matter-of-factly.

Jim frowned at them both, as he made his way across the room towards the boy, who now sat on the edge of the bed, with a puzzled and pained look on his face. “What’s going on? And why’s my head hurt so much?” he moaned.

“That would be because these two gentlemen thought it was a good idea to take you to the saloon,” Jim informed him scornfully. “What did you think you were doing?”

Jesse looked suitably shamefaced.

“Jim, it wasn’t the boy’s fault,” Curry interceded.

“Oh, I’m well aware of that! What was I thinking when I asked you two to look out for him?” Jim said, shaking his head in dismay.

“The boy’s fine,” Heyes told him gruffly. “No harm done.”

Jim snorted with indignation before turning his attention back to Jesse. “So, how did the training go this morning?”

“Okay.”

“Okay?” Heyes repeated. “Gotta tell you Jim, you’ve got a fine horse there and Jesse knows just how to handle him. If he runs like that come the race, you’re gonna make yourself a whole bundle of money.”

Jim gave a satisfied grin. “Just make sure both horse and rider get there in one piece,” he warned them. Patting Jesse on the knee, he added, “And make sure you don’t let these too lead you astray again, you hear?”

“Yes, sir,” the boy replied meekly. Jim smiled down at him, then turned, scowled at Heyes and Curry, and stalked out of the room.

Heyes let out an audible breath. “Well, he took it better than I thought he would,” he said, lightly.

“You reckon?” Curry replied dubiously.

“Considering what he said when he found me in the saloon, I would say so.”

Curry shook his head and sighed. “It’s clear that there’s someone tryin’ to get to Jesse so we’d better be more careful from now on. Just hope Mrs. Connell can take care of the horse.”

“If she’s really got four sons to help her out, then I reckon the horse is pretty safe,” Heyes commented. “Now, what about this fella you saw trying to get into the room?”

Curry had just opened his mouth to fill his partner in on the details when Jesse interjected, “What fella, trying to get into what room?”

“Oh, Thaddeus caught some man snooping around outside the room.”

“He was tryin’ to pick the lock,” Curry added.

Jesse’s eyes went wide, his mouth fell open, and his face visibly paled.

Heyes caught the look and rested a reassuring hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. Thaddeus chased him off.”

“But he could come back and ….” Jesse looked nervously from Heyes to Curry.

“Don’t worry, Jesse. We got it covered,” Curry told him confidently.

“Think it’s best if we stay put for the rest of the day,” Heyes stated. “We’ll set out early for the training session. Take the long way ‘round, give us a chance to give anyone who tries to follow us the slip,” he continued thoughtfully.

Curry nodded in agreement.

“Spend the whole day cooped up in here with you two?” Jesse exclaimed.

“Yeah, we’d better all sleep in the same room again, too,” Heyes added.

“No!” Jesse’s tone was resolute.

A bemused look passed between Heyes and Curry. “We ain’t that bad company,” the fair-haired man responded.

“Yeah. I thought you liked Thaddeus’ company?” Heyes said, with amusement, earning himself a steely look from his partner.

Jesse blushed at the comment and hid his face by searching for his boots on the floor. “I can’t stay locked up in here – I get clos –robey and …” Jesse jittered, hopping about on one leg, trying to get his boot on his left foot.

“Claustrophobey,” Heyes corrected, calmly walking over to the boy and pushing him back onto the bed. “Jesse, we’ve been through this before but I’m gonna explain it again on account that you don’t seem to have grasped it. Jim – Mr. Guffy – hired us to protect you and the best way to do that is to keep you close. Understand?” he asked deliberately.

Jesse glared up at him, boot in hand. “You can’t keep me here like some … some … some sorta prisoner,” he shouted, his voice squeaking in agitation.

Heyes’ eyes darkened, his brow furrowed and he pursed his lips. Before Jesse realised what was happening, the older man had snatched the boot from his hand and thrown it across the room to his partner, who was watching the interchange with interest.

Heyes held out his hand. “I’ll take the other one, too,” he said menacingly. Jesse glowered defiantly back at him.

“NOW!” Heyes bellowed, causing a look of panic to streak across the boy’s face as he fumbled to yank the second boot off his foot and smack it angrily into Heyes’ outstretched hand. On receiving the footwear, Heyes gave a nod of accomplishment and strode back towards Curry. “That should keep him put,” he informed his partner nonchalantly.

Curry responded by raising his eyebrows a degree and coolly stating, “Reckon it will.”

*** ***

“Hit me!” Curry instructed his partner.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, go ahead,” Curry replied, inclining his head in the direction of the pack of cards Heyes held in his hand.

“Okay,” Heyes said acquiescently, turning over the top card of the deck to reveal the eight of spades.

“Darn,” came Curry’s irritated response as he threw the seven cards he already held in his hand on the bed, on which he and Heyes sat.

Heyes scooped up the cards, glimpsed at them, and looked incredulously at his partner. “You asked me to hit you when you held eighteen?”

Curry sniffed his reply and turned his attention to Jesse, who sat by the window, staring out onto the street below. “You sure you don’t want to play, Jesse?” he asked the boy.

Glancing over his shoulder at them, Jesse shook his head and returned his gaze to the street below.

“You know, you ought to move away from the window. Someone might see you and take a chance,” Heyes observed, but Jesse chose to ignore him.

Curry stood up and stretched. “I could do with somethin’ to eat. What d’you say I go get us all somethin’?”

“Sounds good,” agreed his partner.

Jesse got up from his seat by the window. “I need to go.”

“I’ll be sure to bring you back somethin’, Jesse. No need for you to come,” Curry told him, reaching for his hat.

“I mean I need to go, you know, to the outhouse.” Jesse shuffled uncomfortably.

“We’ve been through this before. You can use the pot,” Heyes told the boy firmly.

“I really need to go to the outhouse,” Jesse replied through gritted teeth. “And iffen you don’t let me go I think you’ll regret it,’ he added resolutely.

Heyes glowered at the boy.

“Come on, we’ll all go. Joshua can go get the food while I take you. Might do us all some good to get out of this room for a little while,” Curry said with a sigh.

Heyes snatched up his hat and the trio headed out of the room.

*** ***

“You done yet, Jesse?” Curry called through the wooden, slatted door. He got his answer when the door opened and Jesse emerged.

“I’m done,” he replied moodily.

“Let’s get goin’ then,” Curry urged.

The street was relatively quiet now, most people having withdrawn indoors to the saloons and restaurants for the evening. Jesse kept close by Curry’s side as they made their way back to the hotel, through the alley.

Suddenly a shot rang out. Curry grabbed Jesse’s arm and pulled him against the side of a building. As Curry drew his gun and scanned their surroundings, another bullet grazed the wall, close to the boy’s head.

“Get down,” Curry growled, pushing Jesse to the ground and crouching down besides him. He scanned the area, trying to locate exactly from where the shots were coming. Another close call caused him to dive on top of the boy, laying him flat on the ground. As they lay there, they could hear voices, as people came to investigate the sound of gunshots.

“Thaddeus? You okay?” a familiar voice called. Curry let out a breath and relaxed a little, knowing the immediate threat was over.

“Yeah I’m fi…’” he started to say, but then stopped and just stared down at Jesse who still lay beneath him, breathing heavily, his chest rising and falling under the weight of the man on top of him. Curry scrambled to his feet and continued looking at the boy with wide eyes and open mouth, who, in return, gawped back.

“Did you see who it was?” Heyes asked as he approached.

Curry didn’t respond but continued staring at Jesse.

“You all right, Jesse?” Heyes continued, offering his hand to pull the boy to his feet. Jesse gave a small nod, never taking his eyes from Curry. Heyes shot a look from the boy to his partner, who remained motionless.

“You sure you’re both okay?” he asked again, frowning in consternation.

“We’re fine,” Jesse replied, taking Heyes’ proffered hand and getting to his feet and dusting himself down.

“Whoever it was shooting at you got scared off,” Heyes commented as the number of people, who had come to see what the shooting was about, at the end of the alleyway, increased.

“Let’s get outta here,” Curry growled. “We got things to talk about.” He gave Heyes a shove in the direction of the hotel, who responded by shooting him a frustrated glare over his shoulder.

“I think that’s a real good idea,” Jesse added, walking briskly ahead.

*** ****

“What in tarnation is going on?” Heyes exclaimed, as he closed the hotel room door behind him.

Curry leaned against a wall, arms folded over his chest. “You wanna explain or should I?” he asked doggedly, staring directly at Jesse, who stood, head bowed, in the middle of the room.

“What?” an irritated Heyes enquired.

The other two people in the room remained resolutely silent until Curry said, “Go on, Jesse, tell him.”

“Tell me what?”

“Iffen you don’t, I’m gonna!” Curry threatened.

“Please, someone just tell me!” Heyes implored.

Curry inclined his head to the side and raised his eyebrows at the boy, who was managing to avoid any eye contact with either man. When he didn’t receive a response, Curry inhaled deeply, and stiffened his shoulders. “Well, alrighty, iffen you won’t tell him.” Curry’s tone became lighter, almost jovial, although the scowl on his face told that his mood was otherwise. “Jesse here, hasn’t been altogether honest with us, Joshua. Now, I come to think on it, it makes sense of some of the things that have happened. Just can’t believe we didn’t see it sooner,” Curry rambled, shaking his head in bemusement.

“WHAT?” an exasperated Heyes shouted.

“I think what he’s trying to tell you is that I ain’t a boy,” Jesse said quietly.

“Huh?” Heyes looked puzzled, unsure he had heard correctly.

“He is a she,” Curry stated bluntly.

“I don’t understand,” Heyes replied, looking more and more confused by the minute.

“Let’s just say Jesse has lumps and bumps where boys don’t!”

Another “Huh?” from Heyes.

Jesse looked Heyes square in the eye and, removing her hat, ran her fingers through her cropped hair. “I’m a girl,” she said.

Heyes stared at her, mouth gaping, trying to form words but for once finding himself at a loss. After nearly a minute of incredulous opening and shutting of his mouth, Heyes finally said, “I knew it! I just knew there wasn’t something quite right about you!”

Curry rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Pity you didn’t say nothin’ then.”

Heyes wrinkled his nose in disdain at his derisive partner and turned his attention back to Jesse, who still stood nervously between them. Placing his hands on his hips, Heyes regarded her with renewed interest.

“A girl, huh? Wanna explain why?”

“You’d have to ask God that. He was the one that made me this way,” she said with feigned innocence.

Twisting his mouth in controlled irritation, he leaned in a little closer. “I meant why are you pretending to be a boy? Does Jim know?”

“Of course he does. He’s not stup …” Jesse stopped mid-sentence as the two men gave her a threatening glare. “He knew about me when he bought the horse. I was part of the deal, remember? The horse developed a fear of men, ‘cos of the way they tried to break him. It took me a long time to get him to trust me. I reckoned I owed that much to my pa.” Jesse dropped her gaze and let out a soft sigh.

“Still don’t explain why you pretended to be a boy,” Heyes said.

Curry eased himself from the wall and moved over to stand next to Jesse, his expression one of empathy.

Heyes, on the other hand, wore an expression of feigned indifference, to disguise his annoyance at being duped.

“Even though Mr. Guffy bought the horse at a good price, he didn’t realise it was because I was the only one who could ride him,” Jesse continued. “He saw the horse could run and we came to an agreement that any prize money would be shared between us. I just wanted to get a stake so I could, I dunno, try and make something of myself, I guess.”

Heyes rubbed his hands over his face. “You do realise what’ll happen if you’re caught riding in a race? They’ll run you and Jim outta town … at the very least.”

“They ain’t gonna find out. I ride as good as any boy. You saw that for yourselves. And I had you both fooled.”

“She’s got a point,” Curry interceded, on seeing his partner’s face flush in annoyance.

“The point is we’re involved in what, some might say, is an illegal act,” Heyes said pointedly.

“Oh,” came Curry’s simple response as realisation dawned. “What we gonna do?”

Heyes scratched his chin and considered the situation.

“You ain’t gonna do nothing!” Jesse exclaimed. “This is my chance to get hold of some real money and I ain’t gonna let a pair of idiots, like you, spoil it for me.”

“Fine!” Heyes retorted angrily, spinning on his heel and heading for the door.

Curry stepped forward and, keeping his back to Jesse, spoke to Heyes in a low voice. “We can’t just leave her. It’s too dangerous. There are people out there tryin’ to kill her.”

“I know, but we can’t afford to get involved,” came the whispered response.

“Iffen you haven’t noticed, we’re already involved. Look, we owe it to Jim.”

Heyes pondered this for a moment, looking over his partner’s shoulder at a forlorn Jesse, who stood biting her lip.

“Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll take Jesse to the training session this afternoon and see she gets to the starting line. Then we’re gonna leave.”

Curry nodded his head in agreement and a look of relief washed over Jesse’s face.

*** ***

Heyes sauntered down the train station platform, paused momentarily under the sign declaring it to be Little Creek turned on his heel and strolled back.

Curry sat on a wooden bench, legs sprawled in front of him, arms folded, trying his best to ignore his meandering partner. “Still don’t see why we couldn’t have stayed in Mesquite to watch the race,” he grumbled.

Heyes sighed and gave him a look of annoyance. “I already explained this to you, Kid. People have seen us with Jesse, and if she was found out, we could have been mixed up in a whole load of trouble. We did what we agreed to do – we got her safely to the start line.”

“You mean, Mrs. Connell and her boys got her to the start line,” Curry interrupted.

“Jesse seemed pretty safe in their hands. I think a couple of those boys would have liked to have got their hands on her too!” Heyes quipped.

Curry gave an appreciative snicker at his partner’s comment. ”Still, would have been good to know how she did,” he added.

“We’ll know soon enough, when Jim gets here. He was real understanding, considering.”

“More likely he was worried we’d let the cat out of the bag.”

“There is that. At least he was happy to honour our deal. His train should be here soon.”

“Yeah. It was good of him to meet up with us,” Curry replied appreciatively, “and we sure could use the money we’re owed.”

The rhythmic sound of a steam engine was heard in the distance. Curry stood up to join his partner and watch the approaching locomotive.

The engine came to a hissing stop before them and, as the steam dispersed, a smartly-suited figure emerged, down the steps, from one of the nearby carriages. Both Heyes and Curry shifted nervously, not quite sure what kind of reception they’d receive from Diamond Jim Guffy. They were relieved to see a broad, toothy grin spread across his face.

“Jim!” Heyes greeted him warmly, stepping forward and holding out his hand, which Jim clasped without hesitation. He repeated the gesture with Curry.

“You look mighty pleased with yourself. I take it everything went smoothly?” asked Heyes.

“Couldn’t have gone better,” Jim replied smugly.


Enlarge this image
“Jesse won? How’s she doin’?” Curry asked.

“See for yourself,” Jim answered, turning and offering his hand to help the young lady who appeared on the top step of the train. Taking Jim’s proffered hand, she serenely made her way down the steps to the platform, dressed in a pretty blue dress and large-brimmed bonnet.

“Jesse?!” both men exclaimed.

“Jessica,” Jim corrected.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” the composed girl replied.

Heyes and Curry regarded the attractive young woman before them with utter disbelief that she was the same person they had been hired to protect.

Deferentially, they removed their hats. “You … you look so different and so grown up,” Curry managed to stammer, his eyes still wide with astonishment.

“I reckon I do. I have to admit to not being altogether truthful about my age. I’m a little older than fifteen,” she blushed, “and it’s amazing what a little money can do,” she beamed at him.

“Does this mean you won the race?” Curry asked.

“And got away with it?” Heyes added.

‘She sure did, boys,” came Jim’s joyful response. “She rode like the devil himself. No one cottoned on she was a girl. We cleaned up, you might say.”

“How’d you manage to get her outta there after the race, without bein’ discovered? And where’s the Diamond Lad?”

“The horse is still with Mrs. Connell. She and her boys managed to get Jesse out before anyone had a chance to blink. When they came looking for the winning jockey, no one had any idea the girl on my arm was one and the same. It worked like a charm, didn’t it my dear?”

“It did, although I missed having you two around. Why didn’t you stick around for the race?” Jessica asked.

“We had our reasons,” Heyes told her firmly.

“It’s such a shame as the odds were pretty good and you could have made a good deal of money with the bookies – like I did.”

Curry raised his eyebrows at his partner.

“Speaking of money, better give you what I owe you both. Two hundred, wasn’t it?” Jim asked, reaching into his inside jacket pocket.

“Each,” Heyes prompted.

“Yes, of course,” said Jim, pulling out a very fat roll of notes and, peeling off a couple, handed them to Heyes. “There you go, four hundred dollars as promised.”

Heyes followed the roll of notes with his eyes as Jim tucked them back into his pocket. “Looks like you did real well, Jim.”

“I’m not complaining. “

The shrill shriek of the train whistle indicated it was about to leave.

“Now, boys, Miss Jessica and I had better get on board before it leaves. We’re off to sample the delights of San Francisco and spend some of our ill-gotten gains,” Jim said gleefully.

Jessica stepped forward and kissed Heyes lightly on the cheek. Then she turned to Curry and kissed him also, lingering just a little longer. “Thank you. I do appreciate your looking out for me. Oh, and Thaddeus, you really do have lovely blue eyes,” she said coquettishly over her shoulder, as she skipped up the steps, back onto the train.

Diamond Jim shook both their hands once again and, giving them a cheery wink, joined Jessica on the train. “Goodbye, boys. Try and stay out of trouble, you hear,” he called, as the train pulled away, with Jessica waving a delicate hand at them from his side.

“Can you believe that?” Heyes said incredulously, as the train disappeared down the track.

“I know. I can’t believe we didn’t know she was a girl,” Curry replied.

“No, not that. I meant all that money Jim had and he only gave us a measly four hundred dollars.”

“To be fair, Heyes, we didn’t really finish the job and he was decent enough to pay us what he owed, which makes a change, you gotta admit.”

“S’ppose,” Heyes replied glumly. “Jesse does make a pretty nice girl, too,” he added with a cheeky grin.

“Yeah,” Curry replied wistfully.

“A girl jockey! What next? Women outlaws?”

“Don’t sound so bad to me,” Curry smirked. “Might even make me think again about the amnesty.”

Heyes gave his partner a thoughtful look. “Nah. I think this going straight is beginning to get to us. We’ve managed to resist temptation for nearly a year now,” he said with sincerity. “Well, most of the time.”

“I still can’t believe Jesse was, well, Jessica. How’d she do that? I mean, we stayed in the same room as her and everything and we never noticed.” Curry shook his head.

“Guess she did what she had to do. Shows it takes all sorts to make this old world go ‘round. Horses for courses, as the saying goes. Kinda appropriate, don’t you think?”

“You always got the words, Heyes. I’ll give you that,” Curry laughed, resting his arm over the back of his partner’s shoulders, as they walked off, down the platform.

*** ***



(Writers love feedback! You can tell Lana Coombe how you enjoyed the story with a quick comment. Just click Post Reply for the Comments for Horses For Courses thread below the story.)
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Re: Horses for Courses by Lana Coombe
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:19 am by royannahuggins
PENSKI - (clapping hands) Gotta love it when once in awhile Heyes and Kid are conned by the master Diamond Jim Guffy. One of my favorite lines is Kid's - “Let’s just say Jesse has lumps and bumps where boys don’t!” Very different for a typical Lana Coombe story, but you do humor very well, along with angst. Excellent VS story, Lana!
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Re: Horses for Courses by Lana Coombe
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:20 am by royannahuggins
GHISLAINE EMRYS - Great story and of course Jesse could only be played by Yvonne Suhor! More comments:
Jesse must’ve been taking self defense lessons—good for her!
Liked the sparring about eating breakfast as they rode out to the homestead the first time.
Cute how you used "clautrophobey."
Great line: “…but I’m gonna explain it again on account that you don’t seem to have grasped it.”
Very funny: Women outlaws?” “Don’t sound so bad to me,” Curry smirked. “Might even make me think again about the amnesty.”
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Re: Horses for Courses by Lana Coombe
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:20 am by royannahuggins
NM131 - Sheesh, action/adventure, angst, h/c and now humor, Lana does it all. Loved how Heyes just knew something wasn't right about Jesse. So many good bits - the saloon scene leading to the "romantic breakfast for two" and the boys reactions was one of my favorites along with how Curry finally figured out what was going on. Jesse was portrayed with just the right amount of shyness, regarding personal business and self confidence in what she knows. Great VS story and even though they had to leave the race early (loved Heyes reasoning) they still go paid!
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Re: Horses for Courses by Lana Coombe
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:21 am by royannahuggins
SILVERKELPIE - Oh Lana! What a great episode. Heyes knew somthing was up but couldn't work out what. Loved them getting Jesse drunk before breakfast and the way that you wrote the character of Jesse. Poor Kid missed out on the pretty girl flirting with him, if only he'd known eh?
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Re: Horses for Courses by Lana Coombe
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:21 am by royannahuggins
SKYKOMISH - Wonderful story. Loved the character of Jesse. I enjoyed her easy handling of a horse no one else could touch. My favorite scene was in the saloon. Yeah, that bad whiskey does always seem to taste better at the bottom of the bottle, or so I've been told. Very fun with a packed plot and lots of chuckles. - Skykomish
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Re: Horses for Courses by Lana Coombe
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:21 am by royannahuggins
ALLEGRA - A great story, Lana. Very, very funny. I loved the romantic breakfast and Heyes' amusement at the Kid's outrage. You had Jesse down perfect and the boys at their best. Talk about turning Bob to Kate! A brilliant episode. - Allegra
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Re: Horses for Courses by Lana Coombe
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:21 am by royannahuggins
Great episode! This just kept me chuckling the whole way through. Funny them getting a little tipsy before breakfast. Thanks.
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Re: Horses for Courses by Lana Coombe
Post on Sat 15 Mar 2014, 1:22 am by royannahuggins
MAX -
Clapping, clapping, Lana!!
Dear old Jim fooling our boys with a little national velvet and loved all the misunderstandings and banter.
"I find you strangely attractive young Thaddeus - I mean, Bob."
"I am honoured and for my part ask nothing but to be with you."
"Nothing more healthy than two young chaps having - a chum."

Repeat of snickers.
 

Horses for Courses by Lana Coombe

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