Stories: Alias Smith and Jones

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  May 2011

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Penski

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Join date : 2013-09-26

20170105
Post May 2011

Calling the Bluff

A desperate Han goes to extreme measure to care for himself and his younger cousin




Two young teenage boys walked down the road to Deerfield. Their pants were too short, their hair too long, and they carried their belongings in a makeshift knapsack. They were barefoot with worn shoes tied together and slung over their shoulders.

“We almost there, Han?” asked the youngest, a curly blond with bright blue eyes.

Han, with dark hair and warm brown eyes, turned around to his dawdling cousin. “Think so, Jed. Are you still playing with that gun we found?”

Jed tried twirling the gun, putting it in his pocket and doing a fast draw. “Why not? Makes the time go by.”

“And you DID check – there ain’t no bullets in it, right?”

“Yeah, I checked – several times. You’ve asked me that a hundred times!”

“Just making sure. Don’t want you to shoot yourself.” Han grinned.

Jed dropped the gun as he twirled again. “Think we can get somethin’ to eat in this town?”

“Don’t I always make sure you get to eat?”

Picking up the gun and placing it in his pocket, Jed sped to catch up. “Yeah, you do.”

As they came around a grove of trees, they saw the town in the distance.

“There has to be water nearby.” Han looked around where the trees were growing and saw a creek. “Gotta clean up before we get to town.”

Han led Jed down the embankment to the water. “Wash up and change into your better clothes.”

Both boys rinsed their hair and did the best to clean without soap or a towel. Out of the knapsack came ‘cleaner’ clothes and the older ones went into the sack. Han ran his fingers through his hair to comb it out and then tried to do the same with the curly blond hair. “Your hair just don’t like to co-operate,” he commented. “Don’t know why I bother trying.”

Jed wore hand-me-down clothes from Han that were still too big and Han wore larger clothes he had snagged from a clothesline. “Gonna have to put our shoes on, too.”

“Do we hafta?” complained Jed. “Mine hurt and they have a hole in the bottom.”

“Yeah, we hafta.”

“Why?”

“You know why. We hafta look good when entering town. Gotta find a job or two so we can get some money. Now get ‘em on.”

“I am.” Jed grimaced as he put the shoes on.

Han looked at his own pair of shoes. They were too tight, had a hole in the bottom, and were beginning to break through where his left toes were. “Guess we’re gonna hafta buy shoes next time we have enough money.”

“Are we ever gonna have enough money?” Jed grumbled as he stood up wincing.

I’m trying!” Han said exasperated as he gave his cousin a glare.

“I know. Sorry I said that.” Jed hung his head down.

Han stood up and put an arm around the younger one’s shoulders. “It’ll get better. It has to. Come on; sooner we get to town, the sooner we get to eat.”

The boys walked into Deerfield and looked about for job possibilities. They came to a house where a woman was weeding her garden. Han nudged Jed. “Go ask.”

Timidly, Jed walked to the picket fence. “Ma’am, looks like you have a lotta weeds there. I could use a job. Can I do that for you?”

The older woman stood up and looked up at a mop-headed boy with big blue eyes that pleaded with her. “Well, I guess I do need help. How about a nickel if you pull all these weeds.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Jed gave Han a look and then walked through the gate. “Mind if I take my shoes off while I’m in the dirt?”

“Not at all,” she smiled.

Jed glanced at Han, who gave him an approving nod.

“I’m gonna find a job. See you later.”

Han went to the livery, the mercantile, the blacksmith, and other businesses asking for work. He received only shakes of a head or a definite “no” in response.

Despair rapidly filled Han’s emotions as he took the knapsack off and sat down in an alley. He had to care for Jed. He had to get some food. He had to get money to buy new clothes and shoes. He had to… The sack tipped over and the old gun fell out. As he retrieved the gun and held it in his hand, an idea formed in his mind. What if…

A few minutes later, Han walked into the largest of the mercantiles. An older woman looked over as she stacked canned goods. “Can I help … oh, it’s you again. We really don’t have any work for you, dear.”

“I know. I just came in to buy some stuff.”

“And you have money?” She gave him a questioning look.

Han gave her his best smile. “Of course. Said I wanted to BUY some stuff, didn’t I?”

“Well,” she turned around and smoothed out her dress. “What can I get you?”

“I need two shirts – one that’d fit me and another a little smaller.”

She walked over to the shirts and eye-balled the young man. “This should fit. What colors do you want?”

“Ummm…I guess a dark color for me and … and that blue one for the smaller one. And I need pants.”

The woman walked over to a stack of pants. “Ones that’ll fit you and another smaller pair?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She put the shirt and pants on a pile on the counter. “What else?”

“Ah… ya know… some underthings.” Han blushed and looked down.

“Of course.” The woman added long johns and socks to the pile. “Maybe a bar of soap?” She hastily added, “To wash your clothes.”

“Yeah, and a comb.”

“Anything else you need?”

“Uh huh.” Han looked at the shelves of food. “Some jerky and beans and… and some of them potatoes.”

The woman pulled down from the shelves the requested items, putting them on the counter. She looked at the young man for any more items he wanted.

Eyeing the jars of candy, Han saw one of Jed’s favorites, a rope of licorice. “And a piece of licorice.”

She smiled as she put added the candy to the growing pile. “Anything else?”

“No, ma’am. If you could wrap ‘em all up for me, I’d appreciate it.”

“Of course.” The woman wrapped the items in several bundles as she noted on a piece of paper the costs of everything. Adding the numbers up, she looked up and said, “That’ll be $12.63.”

Han nervously felt the gun in his pocket.

“You said you had money,” she said, concerned.

“Yes ma’am. Right here in my pocket.” Han slowly reached inside and held his breath as he pulled out the gun.

“Oh dear!” she said alarmed.

An older gentleman in the backroom overheard his wife. He came out into the store. “Is something the matter, Margy?”

“John…” She slightly tilted her head towards the customer holding a gun.

John’s eyes followed his wife’s direction. “I see,” he said calmly as he saw the boy with the gun. He eased his way between the gun and his wife. “Son, you don’t want to do this.”

Han nodded and put on an emotionless face. “Think this gun is saying otherwise.”

The man and the boy eyed each other for a moment.

“Hand over them bundles.” Han moved the gun slightly.

The man’s hands started towards the items, but then he cocked his head. “I’m calling your bluff. I don’t think you have the nerves to use that gun… or maybe it doesn’t even have bullets.” He slowly walked from behind the counter towards the younger man.

Han took a step back. This wasn’t going as he planned. “Don’t come any closer or I’ll shoot!”

The door to the store opened, catching everyone by surprise.

“There you are, Han…” Jed walked in and saw what was going on. “Hannibal, what are you doin’?!”

“Shut up, Jed.” Han quickly turned his attention back to the store owner.

“Why are you pointin’ a gun at that old man?”

“You wanna eat, don’t ya? And need new shoes?”

Margy and John glanced at each other as they heard the interaction between the boys.

“Well, yeah, but I don’t need ‘em that bad.” Jed walked closer to his big cousin. “What would our folks say if they was alive?” Big blue eyes looked into the brown ones.

Han was still desperate and aiming the gun towards the man. “I promised them I’d take care of you and I am.”

John walked closer to Han and reached out. “Son, give me the gun.”

Han’s face lost the stoic look as he shook his head and looked around.

“Son, GIVE me the gun.”

“I’ll… I’ll shoot!”

Jed made a face. “There ain’t no bullets, Han. Do as the man says.”

John carefully took the gun from the would-be robber and took a deep breath.

Han slumped dejectedly. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t get work and we needed…”

Jed sidled up next to his cousin. “It’s okay, Han. I got a dime. The lady gave me more ‘cause I did such a good job.”

Han closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. “It ain’t enough, Jed.” He ventured a look at the owner. “What’cha gonna do with me?”

“I’m not sure.” He felt his wife’s concern for the boys. “Get in the backroom for now – both of you.”

Han and Jed shuffled into the back area and John locked the door. Han slid down to the floor in a corner and hugged his knees with his head bowed.

“Han, I know you was doin’ that for me, but that ain’t right.”

“I know,” Han mumbled. “I just didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t get work no where.”

Jed sat down next to his older cousin. “It’s okay. It’ll get better.”

Han guffawed.

“Well, that’s what you’re always tellin’ me.”

“Jed, I’m in big trouble. For all we know, they could be getting the sheriff and I’ll go to jail. What’ll happen to you then?”

“It’s okay. It’ll get better,” Jed repeated, not sounding as confident.

An hour later, John unlocked the door with Margy at his side. They saw the two boys huddled together in the corner. “Boys, come on out,” he ordered.

Han and Jed slowly got up, neither daring to make eye contact with the store owners.

John eyed both boys, what they wore, and their appearance. He looked at Margy and they both nodded in agreement.

The boys stood in front of the owners, heads bowed and hands folded in front of them.

“By right, I should get the sheriff and throw you in jail, young man, for holding a gun on my wife and trying to rob us.”

“Yes, sir,” Han mumbled.

“However, my wife and I have discussed it and we are feeling charitable. We are willing to let you work off what you were stealing from us. How much was the total, Margy?”

“It came to $12.63, John.”

John calculated for a moment. “Seems like that would be wages for both of you boys for a month of work.”

Han and Jed stole a glance at each other.

“And while you are working here, you will look presentable. That means a bath, a haircut, and some new clothes. You can stay with us in our ‘house’ upstairs. There’s an extra room.”

“I… I don’t know what to say, Mr…”

“Brown. Mr. and Mrs. Brown.”

“Mr. Brown, thank you. I don’t deserve your charity.”

“It isn’t charity. You will be working hard. And if you don’t’,” he paused to make sure he had their attention, “The sheriff will hear what you did.”

“Yes, sir.” Han glanced up at the man with penitent eyes. “I appreciate all you’re doing for us. I… We won’t disappoint you no more.”

Mrs. Brown smiled. “And what are your names?”

“I’m Hannibal Heyes, but prefer just Han, if you don’t mind, and this here’s my cousin, Jed Curry.”

“Well, Han and Jed, why don’t you take the packages with the clothes and shoes in them and follow me upstairs.” She waited a moment as Han retrieved the packages. “Who was the rope of licorice for?”

“It was for him,” Han nodded to Jed. “He really likes it and hasn’t had it since… Well, he hasn’t had it for a long time.”

“You can take that, too.”

Jed smiled and took the piece of candy. He broke the rope in half. “We’ll have it after we clean up - I’ll give you your half then.”

“Where are you boys from?” Mr. Brown asked.

“From a small town near Lawrence, sir.”

“Damn raids,” John grumbled to himself. “Now get upstairs and mind you listen!”

“Yes sir,” the boys said as they started climbing up the stairs with Jed following Han.

“You’re right, Han. It IS gonna get better!”

Mr. and Mrs. Brown smiled at each other.
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