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 "AGAINST THE ODDS"

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moonshadow
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Posts : 16
Join date : 2013-10-26
Age : 58
Location : RED ROCK (AKA BURBANK, CA)

20160424
Post"AGAINST THE ODDS"

"AGAINST THE ODDS"

Two pairs of eyes followed every move the stranger made as he expertly wove his way between the poker tables and shouldered his way through the batwing doors. Totally oblivious of the fact, the man carried himself with a proud feline-like grace.

“Lordy, but that man sure is easy on a woman's eyes!” the hazel-eyed saloon girl breathed with a drawn-out sigh of appreciation.

“Sure ‘nough is,” her red-haired companion readily concurred.

“Did you see those dimples? They oughta be outlawed!”

“I couldn’t agree more - an' look at the way he walks – why it's almost as if he’s a'struttin'!” The sigh that followed her words was equally appreciative. It was a real pity - no, a downright shame – that the man had to leave, but what a glorious sight his backside made as he walked away!

Smiles were very much in evidence on the faces of both working girls long after the dark-haired man had disappeared from their sight. It was an even lengthier time before their hearts quit fluttering enough to settle back down to a normal rhythm.

Twin sighs were heard once again as the females reluctantly roused themselves enough to get back to work while their minds were occupied with wondering all kinds of delicious thoughts, the least of which was what the odds might be against fate being generous enough to bring the tall, dark and handsome stranger back their way anytime soon?

*~*~*~*~*~*

As the saloon doors swung back and forth behind him, Heyes surveyed the small town with mild interest. Moments later he was forced to step aside in order to avoid being jostled by two young ranch hands that had followed behind in his wake. As the pair made their way past him, he couldn't help but overhear a portion of their conversation.

"So tell me, whaddya think the odds are against me talkin' Jenny into goin' to the dance with me?"

"Well, Jack, I think you'd better hope they're a heck of a lot better'n the ones ya had at the poker table today, otherwise you're gonna be dancin' all by yourself!" his friend teased as he bent over double with laughter.

An angry scowl marred young Jack's features briefly. All of a sudden he grinned. "Hey, Johnny, you know what? You’ve got a real good point there. Don't they say that if'n a man's unlucky in cards then he's bound to be lucky in love? Boy howdy, if that's true, then Jenny oughta be downright ready to say she'll marry me!"

Johnny put a hand on his friend's shoulder. “Well, I'll be right there beside ya, backin' ya up when ya ask her, Jack. C'mon, let's go find good ol' Jenny an' see what she says."

Grinning, Heyes watched the two inebriated young men hold onto each other for support as they navigated their way cautiously down the few steps that led to the street. “Sure hope Jenny has a good sense of humor,” he chuckled.

Taking a few steps forward brought Heyes to the edge of the boardwalk. As he gave a lazy stretch, his sinewy muscles rippled along his shoulder blades. Lowering his arms, he placed his hands akimbo to his hips and contemplated what to do next. Kid wasn't due in until later this afternoon; in fact, the telegram he'd received from his partner had been uncharacteristically short.

Joshua Smith (stop) On stage (stop) Arrive late Tuesday (stop) Good News! (stop) Thaddeus

“Good news, huh?” he snorted, “That'd be a welcome change!” He watched the townspeople for a bit longer before lowering himself into one of the vacant chairs. He'd chosen one that provided shade as well as some exposure to the sun, and welcomed the warmth it provided. He leaned backwards to prop both feet up on the railing and let the back legs of the chair support his weight, then put a finger up to adjust his hat so as to shield his eyes from the bright glare of the mid-day sun.

With a sigh of content, Heyes shifted in his seat and settled himself in a more comfortable position to await the arrival of his partner. In the solitude the words the young man had spoken earlier came back to tease him.

Against the odds...

How could three small, and seemingly insignificant, words hold such a wealth of meaning, nonetheless? For almost as far back as he could remember the two of them, cousins by birth, friends and partners by choice, had struggled against the odds. From the first moment a band of renegades had left them the sole survivors of two massacred families, and through their years spent together as orphans in a home for waywards, the odds had relentlessly tagged right along with them. They were an uninvited, invisible, and definitely unwelcome third party that had become their constant companion.

Running away from the home, trying to make a life together out on the trail, they inevitably found themselves splitting up when times got tough. Each young man went his separate way, determined to make it on his own, stubbornly refusing to be the stumbling block that caused the other to fall.

A few years passed. Alone and with the odds still against them, both men arrived at the same conclusion even though they were miles apart. Each realized they were half of a whole and it was only when they stood together that they could they be a winning combination strong enough to withstand the odds that warred against them.

Heyes drew in a deep breath and then released it slowly. These days it seemed the odds were against the two of them even more, contriving to prove to the pair of outlaws how futile it was to try and beat them. Just when they thought things might turn in their favor, fate would intervene and something would go wrong.

When was the last time things had gone right?

The dark-haired outlaw frowned. He'd lost track a long time ago. The countless lawmen - sheriffs, deputies, bounty hunters and posses - the running and the hiding, believing that they'd finally caught a break, an opportunity to breathe. Then, they'd go around the next bend in the road only to find themselves once more the hunted. And what about the dozens of times one of them had been shot or injured? How many times had he or the Kid sat by each other, to wait and wonder if this might be the end?

Yes, they'd definitely been against the odds more than their fair share it seemed.

Yet, if he were honest, Heyes knew he'd also have to concede the fact that him and the Kid were still alive, able to claim they'd beaten the odds a few times... hadn't they? He relaxed even further, prepared to give the matter more serious consideration. His eyelids drifted slowly downward until they shuttered his brown eyes.

It made sense to think that the odds were bound to be in their favor soon...

The sound of thundering hooves and yelling brought his musings to a grinding halt as Heyes sat up. His boots hit the floor and he pushed his hat back just in time to watch a young man on a horse streak past in a blur. Animal and rider came to a sliding stop in front of the sheriff's office, throwing up a thick cloud of dust and sending rocks flying in all directions. Judging by the lather on the horse's heaving sides, it was easy to deduce the animal had been ridden hard.

Curious, and wondering what all the excitement was about, Heyes stood up in order to have a better view. There was no need to venture any closer; he had no difficulty in hearing the young man’s voice. Loud with his agitation and excitement, it carried across the width of the street. Heyes wasn't left to wonder long; he watched the rider slide down off his horse and lean against the animal, clinging to it for support.

Hearing all the racket the sheriff came rushing out of his office. He took one look at the boy's pallor and gripped him by the shoulders.

“Tommy - what's wrong? What're you carryin' on about?”

“Doc,” the boy gasped, “get Doc!” After taking several gulps of much needed air, Tommy was able to go on. “There's been an accident, Sheriff - a real bad one, too!”

“Where? What kind of accident?”

“Stagecoach - the one comin' in from Mooresville. Looks like maybe it took the curve too
fast... out by the old Bailey place. There's blood... an' bodies everywhere!” His eyes dilated by what he had seen, Tommy whispered, “I ain't never seen so much blood, Sheriff Jackson!”

Although the boy continued to speak, his voice faded away as Heyes felt his stomach give a lurch when the boy's words registered. Stagecoach accident? The Kid's telegram had said he'd be on the late stage... the one that would have been coming in from Mooresville... Swallowing the sudden knot of dread that had lodged itself in his chest, Heyes forced himself back to the present with an effort.

“...an' they was all pretty well busted up,” Tommy was saying, “even the driver. I don't know if anyone's alive, Sheriff.  Looks like the stage was all full-up, too. I counted eight bodies; six men an' two women... I think.”

The lawman took a deep breath and blew it out through pursed lips. After a quick glance around at the crowd of people that had gathered together, he shook his head.  “Well, folks, guess we'd better go an' collect 'em.” He turned back to the boy. “Did you recognize any of the bod- uh, I mean passengers, Tommy?”

The boy stared down at the ground, and then gave a reluctant nod. “Yes, sir, Miss Sally's Aunt Maude,” he whispered, “she was still inside; I - I couldn't get very close. I can't s-say for sure 'bout her Uncle Arte. He might've been there, but I didn't see him. There were more, but I couldn't really see much...” Tommy ducked his head, “jus' their legs stickin' out from under the stagecoach. The driver, Mr. West, well, he got thrown pretty far, out into some rocks. I think maybe, well, maybe he might’ve busted his neck or somethin', he was all bent up, kinda funny-like.”

An expression of deep sorrow crossed Sheriff Jackson's face. Aunt Maude was loved by everyone in the town; she was a real fine lady and would be sorely missed. He turned to the women standing nearby.

“Would some of you ladies mind goin' on over to Miss Sally's an' keep her company 'til we get back? She's gonna need someone to be with her when she gets the bad news; it's not gonna be easy on her.” He smiled his thanks as they nodded and walked away. The lawman headed into his office, only to reappear a few moments later with his arms full of rifles. He began to pass them out.

“Men, there's no tellin' what we're gonna find out there, or what scavengers we'll have to fend off. I think we'll all feel safer with these along, just in case we have to deal with 'em.” Scanning the crowd, the sheriff called out, “Sam, Joe, Luke, Ralph - you'd better go fetch your wagons. Get 'em hitched up as fast as you can and meet us out there. The rest of you men, saddle up and meet me back here in ten minutes; I don't want to put this off any longer than we have to.”

“You did good, Tommy,” Sheriff Jackson laid a hand on the boy's shoulder, “Go ahead and get on home; you've seen enough for one day.”

Tommy cast the lawman a grateful look and turned away. Head bent, leading his horse by the reins, he trudged past the saloon.

Heyes stepped forward. “S'cuse me, son. Out there... the accident - you didn't happen to see a man, 'bout my height, little heavier, blond hair -”

“Mister,” Tommy stopped dead in his tracks and lifted his head to look straight into the dark-haired stranger's face. “If you'd seen what I did out there this afternoon, ya sure wouldn't be askin' nothin' 'bout hair color.” The expression on the man's face hastened the young man to quickly add, “Sorry, mister, I wasn't tryin' to be ugly 'bout it or nothin', but I can't tell ya much 'bout the passengers - even the ones I know. It all made me kinda sick, seein' 'em like that.” Tommy hesitated as he searched for the right words. “There’s one thing I can tell ya for sure, not a one of ‘em was makin' any sounds; it was as quiet as a graveyard.” Then, as the realization of what he'd said hit home, Tommy began to stammer out another apology. “I'm real sorry, mister; I never meant it like that, I -”

“Nevermind, I just wanted -” Heyes stopped, took a deep breath and bowed his head. Just what was it he did want?

Tommy eyed the stranger in silence and then took a few tentative steps forward. “Hey, mister… did you have someone on that stage?”

Heyes nodded.

“Kin?”

After a slight hesitation, Heyes nodded again. Did it really matter now if anyone knew they were related? He reached up to brush back hair that had fallen down into his face. “My cousin,” he acknowledged in a low voice.

A sympathetic look of understanding crossed Tommy's face. “It's not much comfort at a time like this but, well, it didn't look like any of 'em lived long enough to suffer much.”

Wincing at the boy's unfortunate choice of words, Heyes managed a strangled, “Thank you, I -” Unable to find a suitable reply, Heyes’ words hung in the air; his silver tongue seemed to have deserted him. “I think the sheriff's right, son; you should be home with your family at a time like this.”

This time it was Tommy who nodded. After shooting another compassionate glance towards the stranger, he continued wearily on his way.

Against the odds…

Once more the words came back to taunt him; mocking him for his earlier optimism. Was this really the way their lives of chance would end? Cheated of the opportunity to fight it out together and unable to at least say a final good-bye? A deep sense of futility at the injustice of the situation pervaded his body as Heyes sank back down into his chair.

“Aw, Kid...” he whispered, “It wasn't a fair fight, was it? It snuck up behind you, like some yellow-bellied coward and sucker-punched you when you weren't looking...”

*~*~*~*~*~*

An interminable hour crawled by. Heyes rose to his feet abruptly and headed towards the livery stable. “I'm not going to just sit around and wait; I'll go out there myself and -”

The sound of wagon wheels prevented him from putting his plan into action before he had taken more than a few steps. The first wagon load of victims had reached its destination and was brought to a standstill in front of the undertaker's.

Like moths drawn to a flame, powerless to stay away, the townspeople began to congregate again.

Human nature was a funny thing, Heyes mused as he approached the wagon and joined them. Sometimes just hearing something wasn't enough; you had to see the proof for yourself, even when you knew the truth might hurt.

When he was close enough to see the bodies covered by the blankets, he wondered if he'd find the Kid's among them. Before he could gather up enough courage to lift the blankets and look underneath, a second wagon came into view.

“Hey, everybody, look!”

Everyone turned; there was a collective gasp from the crowd at the sight that met their eyes. Sitting on the bench seat, making large gestures with her hands and talking about a mile a minute was an elderly woman.

“Aunt Maude?” a female voice from somewhere behind Heyes whispered in disbelief. “Somebody quick - go fetch Sally an' tell her that Aunt Maude is alive – she’s still with us!” There was no mistaking the joy in the woman's voice.

As Heyes looked up at the feisty little woman, he couldn't help the ray of hope that flickered inside him. If an old woman like Aunt Maude could survive, then maybe... ?

Someone standing beside him must have had the same thoughts. “But I thought no one survived?”

“Were there any others?” another anxious voice inquired.

The driver of the wagon jumped down and held up a hand. “Now don't go gettin' your hopes up none,” he cautioned. “The doc's done checked out all the others - very thoroughly - and he'll be here soon enough to tell ya himself that all the rest of these poor souls has breathed their last breath. Aunt Maude was very, very lucky... seems she just got knocked out.

“The doc says she'll be fit as a fiddle once her Arte gets here.” At their expressions of astonishment he added, “Yes, ya heard me right. Arte wasn't on the stage; he had some business to tend to and decided to come back later. Aunt Maude had her heart set on bein' here for her Sally's birthday, so she came on alone.”

After the buzz of excitement and joy had subsided, Aunt Maude was escorted away by a very tearful niece and a whole bunch of well-wishers. A somber mood settled once more upon those left behind.

Forcing himself to look as the victims of the first of the two wagons were uncovered, Heyes had to clamp down hard on his emotions when neither of them turned out to be his partner. He traversed the distance to the second wagon on feet that felt like lead and prepared for the worst. Standing beside the wagon, he peered with great reluctance into it and waited for the blankets to be lifted. As the next two bodies were revealed, Heyes felt his stomach muscles clench tighter and tighter.

He had to fight down the feeling of nausea which had caused bile to rise in his throat as he viewed the carnage of broken and bloodied bodies on the floor of the wagon. When the third, and final, blanket was raised Heyes didn't know whether to feel relieved or frustrated.

Kid wasn't here either!

“Doc's comin' in with the last bunch. They were the ones trapped underneath the stagecoach when it turned over. There's three men left; poor sorry devils,” the driver shook his head. “What a way to go.”

Heyes swallowed to get moisture into a very dry throat. It made sense; Kid would have volunteered to sit up top, letting the women sit inside. As crowded as it was, he’d probably thought he’d be better off sitting with the driver. Heyes leaned forward to rest his head against the wagon.

Three more men to go... and in worse shape than what he'd already witnessed? Trapped
beneath the massive weight of the stagecoach, nothing to protect him - crushed - maybe beyond recognition? The Kid didn't deserve to die like that! An accident. An ordinary traveler, minding his own business, unaware of what fate had planned for him?

No, it just wasn't right! It wasn't fair, either; the odds should have been in Curry's favor, not against him! The chances of a fatal stagecoach accident should have been far outweighed by all the times they'd faced death while riding the outlaw trail. His thoughts were interrupted by the driver's voice.

“Not sure when the last wagon will get here, folks. It'll take them a while to get the men out from under that stagecoach; it's not gonna be an easy job. You might as well go on 'bout your business 'til then.”

As the crowd began to disperse, Heyes was left standing in the middle of the street, a solitary figure. He turned away to walk blindly towards the saloon. It was only when he reached the top of the last step and stood on the edge of the boardwalk that he realized he couldn't go inside. Not yet; not without knowing. Not until he had seen the occupants of the last wagon; he had to be sure.

He had to see with his own eyes that the Kid was really and truly gone before he would believe it. Then, and only then, would he allow himself the luxury of drinking enough whiskey to numb the pain he was experiencing. He felt as if he had aged twenty years in the past few hours. Still lost in thought, Heyes sat down in the same chair he had vacated only a short while ago and closed his eyes.

What if Kid really was gone?

It was a strange - almost surreal - feeling to realize that he'd never hear that familiar voice ever again. He took a deep breath. While Heyes tried to reconcile to the unexpected blow that fate had been cruel enough to deliver him, a shadow fell across him and blocked out the warmth of the afternoon sun which was just beginning to set. It stole away the warmth the outlaw had hoped would help chase away the chill that had begun to permeate his body.

“Hey, whaddya s'pose the odds are against a fella buyin' his partner a bath an' a steak dinner?”

Heyes remained motionless. “Great, now I’m hearing things,” he muttered.

“Huh? Why wouldn’t you hear me – I’m standin’ right next to you?”

Heyes opened one eye and looked up in disbelief. With both eyes, as well as his mouth open wide, he leapt out of his chair and grabbed the startled man by both shoulders. “KID?!” he shouted.

“Do you think you could yell that jus' a little bit louder?” Curry hissed, darting a quick look around. “I don't think the sheriff an' his deputy quite heard you, Joshua!

“Oh, Kid, I don't care who hears - you're not dead!” An exuberant Heyes wrapped his arms around his irritated – and thoroughly confused - partner in a bear hug of welcome.

Curry winced and tried in vain to extricate himself. “If you don't turn me loose soon, I'm gonna be dead - I can't breathe!” he managed to gasp.

“Don't joke around at a time like this!”

“At a time like what? Why - what happened?” Curry finally had the opportunity to pull back far enough to look into Heyes' face and could see the traces of concern that still lingered there. “What's goin' on?”

“There was an accident.” Serious brown eyes looked searchingly into bemused blue ones. “The stagecoach... it turned over.” Heyes paused to take a steadying breath. “They said there were no survivors,” he finished quietly.

A look of understanding passed between the two friends. They had played out this scenario far too many times before not to know what the other one had gone through. Unwilling participants forced to endure the waiting, coupled with the uncertainty of not knowing what the outcome would ultimately be and hoping against hope that they'd be given another opportunity to live another day.

*~*~*~*~*~*

“I'm sorry, Heyes,” Curry ducked his head, “I didn't know.”

“What have you got to apologize for? Being alive? What happened, Kid? You and that woman are the only two who survived.”

Despite his weariness, Curry's head snapped up. “One of the women made it, too?”

Heyes nodded. “Seems it takes more than a stagecoach accident to finish off good ol' Aunt Maude.”

Curry managed to summon up a tired grin. “After having spent considerable time with good ol' Aunt Maude while we were waitin' for the stage, I'd have to agree. She sure knows how to fry up a chicken an' bake the best oatmeal cookies, too!” he boasted.

An answering grin on his face, Heyes couldn't help but think to himself, Like Aunt Maude, the
Kid's appetite could survive almost anything!
Belatedly he realized that he hadn't released his hold on Curry's shoulders. He took a step backwards and let his arms fall to his sides. “So how'd you end up here and all in one piece?”

“Aw, Heyes, it's a long story... I never made it onto that stagecoach. It was a last minute change in plans an' there wasn't time enough to send another telegraph to let you know. At the time I was pretty frustrated, knowin' you expected me to be on it an' how you’d worry when I didn’t show up as planned. The stationmaster overbooked the stage an' since I was the last passenger to buy a ticket...” Curry shrugged. “Well anyway, once I saw how crowded everyone was, guess I didn't mind so much.

“Two of the men were sittin' up top with the driver an' six more passengers were stuffed inside, packed like sardines. The driver told me there was a train leavin' in a couple of hours so I decided I'd take it instead. The way I had it figured, I should’ve arrived here at almost the same time, only we had some trouble with a rock-slide on the tracks an' I ended up bein' late anyway. But you know what? After hearin' what happened to the stagecoach, I'm kinda glad things happened the way they did.” Curry looked at his partner. “Looks like maybe for once, the odds were in my favor, huh?”

Heyes smiled and slung an arm across his partner's shoulders. “C'mon, let's head on over and see if we can rustle up that steak dinner and a few beers. I don't know about you, but I could sure use one!”

Yes, Heyes agreed, the odds were definitely in our favor, at least for the time being. But even as the dark-haired outlaw drew in a deep breath of gratitude, glad to have his partner back safely at his side, he was also forced to acknowledge an indisputable fact:

It was only a matter of time before, once again, they'd be taking their chances… “Against the Odds.”

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"AGAINST THE ODDS" :: Comments

Re: "AGAINST THE ODDS"
Post on Mon 07 Nov 2016, 5:23 pm by Laura
I just read this story again, not sure how many times I have read it. I enjoyed it again as much as the first time. It is a great story. I like both endings.
 

"AGAINST THE ODDS"

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