By Maz McCoy Kid Curry lowered himself into the tub of hot water and sighed.
It had been quite a day. He was tired and dusty from hours in the saddle and the warm water soothed his aching muscles. He leaned back and closed his eyes. He had not been in the best of moods. In truth he’d been pretty tough to ride with, snapping at the Gang, biting Heyes’ head off about nothing in particular, as they rode from the posse. He was exhausted, but then so was everyone else. Kid ducked his head under the water and then resurfaced. He pushed the wet hair back from his head with his hands. Despite the way he had treated him, Heyes had helped him get the bath water ready and had taken his dirty clothes away for Duncan, the new member of the Gang to wash. He’d even left him a towel on the chair. Kid made a promise to himself to apologise to Heyes and the men later. The water was doing a good job of relaxing him. A sudden commotion outside the cabin caught his ears. Kid’s eyes shot open. He listened intently. Voices he recognised sounded alarmed. “It’s a posse!” someone yelled. “Take cover!” That was Heyes! Shots! There were gunshots! Kid stood up, water cascading down his toned body. He stepped out of the bathtub, water dripped onto the floor, as he searched for the towel. What had Heyes done with the towel? Damn it! He’d told him he’d left one on the chair..but all that was there was…Oh well it would have to do. Kid wrapped the cloth around him and reached for his gun. He opened the door a crack. Gunfire rang around the hideout but he could see no one. He edged out onto the porch, keeping low. “Kid help!” someone called from somewhere off to his left. Kid burst into the open, trying desperately to locate the Gang; to find Heyes, while avoiding the posse. The gun fire stopped when he was halfway between the cabin and the horses that were tied to a tree. Kid came to a sudden halt when the rest of the Gang emerged from the trees in front of him. Wheat, Kyle, Lobo..all the men had huge grins on their faces. Gun in hand, Kid looked around, confused. There was no sign of any posse, no sign of anyone firing at the Gang, no sign of any danger at all. And then he heard the laughter. A deep chuckle behind him. A chuckle that could only belong to one man. And as that man began to laugh, so did everyone else.
Kid turned and there was Heyes leaning with one hand against the cabin, a huge grin on his face. Kid realised he’d been tricked. He was standing, dripping wet, gun in hand, naked except for…and then it dawned on him. He had a flag wrapped around his waist. The flag. As the sound of laughter rang around him, Heyes pushed off the cabin wall and walked towards his friend. “You still grumpy?” the dark-haired man asked. Kid tried to suppress the smile that was threatening to break out on his face. He worked on an angry glare instead, narrowing his eyes for added effect. He could see the absurdity of the situation. A naked, gun-toting man wrapped in a flag. Sheesh, he must look like an idiot; he sure felt like one. “You still gonna moan at us?” Kyle asked, as he and Wheat walked up to them. Kid looked from one man to the next and then back to Heyes, just as Lobo let off some more firecrackers. “Happy 4th July!” Heyes said and Kid smiled.
By Ghislaine The Fourth of July: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness It was a beautiful September day and all the crops had been harvested without difficulty. Now, the women were busy canning and preserving whatever the men hadn’t taken to town to sell. And the children were back in school, though not all of them were happy to be there. Miss Collins, the new schoolteacher, was standing at the door to welcome the children as they entered the one-room schoolhouse. The younger children came in and sat quietly at their desks in the front while the older children, those ten and up, entered more noisily and sat in the back. “Good morning, children,” Miss Collins greeted her charges. “Good morning, Miss Collins,” they replied in unison.
“Today is a special day. Can anyone tell me why?” The primly-dressed teacher surveyed the room and her green eyes landed on a seven-year old boy, one of the Johnson twins, who had his hand up. “Yes, Jake?” “Um, Daisy is about ready to give birth, ma’am. Is that what you mean?” The class snickered. Eighteen sets of eyes studiously avoided looking at Miss Collins. “No, Jake, that’s not what I was thinking of, though I’m sure a baby calf will be very special for your family. I’m thinking of something that’s very special for all of us, not just for you.” No one else ventured a guess. Miss Collins sighed. Sometimes being a teacher was not the easiest job in the world. But there weren’t many opportunities for respectable unmarried women, so she had to make the best of things. “Children, today is September 17th. It’s a very important day in the history of our country. Does that help you remember why today is special?” She didn’t get her hopes up that someone would know. Most of the children at the school weren’t really interested in book learning. “Ma’am, Miss Collins, I know!” Thirteen-year old Marcy Peterson was jumping up and down with excitement at having the correct answer. “Today’s the day the War for Independence began, back in 1770. That’s it, isn’t it, ma’am?” Marcy was very pleased with herself. She didn’t often get the right answers but she knew this one, for sure. Miss Collins sighed again. “No, Marcy, the War for Independence began in April 1775. But thank you for trying, dear.” Marcy sat down, deflated. Slowly, a hand in the back of the room went up. A little smile appeared on the teacher’s face. Maybe this boy, one of the few who actually enjoyed coming to school, would have the answer. “Hannibal, do you know why today is special?” Eleven-year old Hannibal Heyes, known as Han to everyone but his parents and the teacher, brown eyes sparkling with intellectual curiosity, stood up to speak. “Ma’am, September 17, 1787, is the day our Constitution became the law of the land, ma’am.” “That is correct. Thank you, Hannibal.” The boy sat down, inwardly pleased with himself but not letting it show on his face. Miss Collins, however, did permit herself to smile at him. Teaching children like Hannibal made all the other disappointments worth it. “Yes, children, the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified—that means approved—on September 17, 1787. This is a very important document and we will study it thoroughly.”
Miss Collins ignored the groans and continued. “However, before you can study the Constitution, there is another very important document you must learn about. That is the Declaration of Independence. Without the Declaration of Independence, we would not have the Constitution, so you will learn about that first. As you should all know,” and here Miss Collins looked pointedly at Marcy, “the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. On this day, the United States of America was born.” The children watched Miss Collins as she walked to the chalkboard. On it, she wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” When she finished, she told the children to copy the sentence onto their slates. As the children struggled with the words, Miss Collins first read and then explained that the sentence came from the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. “We will talk about the meaning of this sentence tomorrow and why the Fourth of July is so important in our nation’s history. For now, I want all of you to write a composition about the last part. Your assignment is to explain what “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” means to you. You may start now. Your composition is due tomorrow. And, children…” They all looked up. “There will be a prize for the best composition. Now go work by yourselves; no helping each other this time, please.” Along with many other children, Jedediah Curry groaned again. How come nine-year olds had to do the same work as the older kids? It just wasn’t fair. Well, maybe his best friend Han could help him out. Han sure was smart and he was bound to have some good ideas. Jed slowly took out a piece of paper from his desk, picked up his pencil, and wrote “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” at the top of the page. Then he stared at the paper. He had no idea what he was going to write about. He slumped in his seat. It was going to be a long day. He hoped suppertime would come soon. Meanwhile, Han was busily scribbling away on his paper. Jed snuck a glance and saw that it was already half-filled with words. Sheesh! How much could Han possibly write? Jed shook his head in amazement. When Miss Collins finally announced that it was time for the children to go home for supper, Jed was one of the first out the door. He waited for Han so they could walk together. “Han, what does liberty mean?” “It means freedom, Jed.” Han knew his cousin didn’t read much and he liked sharing his knowledge with the younger boy. Jed was quiet as he thought about the word.
“Han, what does pursuit mean?” “It means chasing or following something.” The boys began to sweat under the afternoon sun as they slowly walked towards their homes a half mile away from the school. “Han,” Jed began again. “What’s happiness?” Han stared at Jed. “You’re kidding, right?” “Yeah, Han, that word I do know.” Jed grinned. It wasn’t often he could get the better of his cousin. The boys split off to their homes when the path they were on divided. After supper they did their chores and then their schoolwork, which kept them busy for the rest of the day. They didn’t see each other until the following morning. Jed was real curious about Han’s composition. He really wanted to see what his friend had written, but he didn’t want to share his own work. He knew it wasn’t very good but it was all he could think of. By the time Jed made up his mind to ask Han if he’d show him, they had reached the schoolhouse. “Good morning, children,” Miss Collins greeted her charges, as usual. “Good morning, Miss Collins,” they replied in unison, as usual. Jed and Han went inside and sat down in their seats. “Children, please put your homework on your desks and Marcy will collect it.” Marcy beamed and jumped up to do what the teacher said. If there was one thing Marcy was good at, it was jumping up from her seat. “While I read your compositions, I want you to practice your times tables. The older children will help the younger ones.” Miss Collins picked up the first composition and started reading. When she came to Jedediah Curry’s composition, she read it once and hesitated. Then she read it again: Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness By Jedediah Curry Life means being uhlive. I want my ma and my pa and me and Han and his pa and his ma to have a good life. Liberty means being free. I want to be free from going to school. Pursuit of happiness means being happy. I will be happy if me and Han can go fishing evry day. I will be happy if I dont have to do chores. I will
be happy if my ma can make eggs and pancakes and bacun and bredd for brekfast evry day. This is what life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness means to me. Simple, but effective, Miss Collins thought. Really, she hadn’t expected much from the younger children, and she suspected that Hannibal had helped his cousin at least a little bit. But Jedediah was smarter than he thought he was, and for a nine-year old, this was a pretty good piece of writing. Miss Collins continued reading. Amazingly, the children were behaving well and so far she hadn’t had to rap anyone’s knuckles, not even Jake’s. She was anticipating an interesting composition from Hannibal Heyes and when she came to it, she wasn’t disappointed. He’d written: Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness By Hannibal Heyes These words are very important. Maybe they are the most important words in the whole Declaration of Independence. They aren’t the first words but that don’t matter, they’re still important. I am going to explain what they mean to me and you will see why they are important. Without life, you can’t be nothing. Everyone knows you have to be alive to be somebody. A rock ain’t alive and a gun ain’t alive so they ain’t important. A fish is alive and a tree is alive and they are important but people are more important. It’s people that make life good. Sometimes they can make life bad too but most people I think they try to be good. I want to be good too. If people don’t got liberty, then they ain’t free. Being free is important. If your free, then you can do what you want. Slaves ain’t free. They can’t do what they want. They have to do what their told. I would hate to be a slave because I want to be free. I know I’m just a kid and I’m not really free now but when I’m older and have my liberty I’m gonna help people be free so they can do what they want. People ought to be happy. But
sometimes it ain’t easy to find happiness. Sometimes you got to search for it. It might take a long time to find it. Like my ma and my pa searched and when they found each other, then they were happy. I want to be happy like that someday. But right now Jed and me we are best friends and we are real happy and I reckon that won’t ever change. This is what Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness means to me. Actually, Miss Collins was very impressed. Although she’d never tell him, because she was fairly sure he knew it already, Hannibal had a first-rate mind and she hoped he’d continue his studies long after he graduated from her school. Hannibal could make something of himself, he could. Twenty minutes later, she was done reading all the compositions. Miss Collins clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention. “Children,” she began. Eighteen sets of eyes looked up expectantly. “You have all done excellent work, thank you.” Eighteen children started to fidget. Miss Collins hurried on. “I know I said I would give a prize to the best composition, but I’ve changed my mind. It was just too hard to decide on one.” Some of the children were relieved but others, including Han, were not; they had put a lot of effort into their compositions and had hoped to win the prize, whatever it was. “So I’m going to give two prizes instead,” Miss Collins continued. “One prize is for the best composition by a student in the six to ten year old group, and one prize is for the best composition by a student in the eleven to fourteen year old group.” At that announcement, all the children looked around the room, wondering who the winners would be. Jed was pretty sure his cousin would be the winner for the older group and he turned around to give Han a grin. “Jedediah Curry, will you please come up here?” Jed whipped his head around and his mouth dropped open. “Me, ma’am?” he asked in shock. Nothing like this had ever happened to him in school before. He slowly walked to the front of the room. “Yes, Jedediah. Your composition was short and to the point and it expressed your ideas very clearly. Congratulations!” Miss Collins gave him a big smile when he reached her desk. “Would you like to read your composition to the class, Jedediah?” “Uh, no, thank you, ma’am,” he mumbled. He saw Han smiling at him with encouragement but there was absolutely no way he was going to read out loud in front of everyone.
“All right. I’ll read it then. You may return to your seat and I’ll give you your prize in a moment.” Jed went and sat down, thankful to have escaped that ordeal, though he turned bright red when Miss Collins read his composition to the class. “Now, then. There is still one more prize to give.” Miss Collins paused; she was enjoying the suspense she was creating in the older children. “This prize goes to a student who not only wrote about his…” All the older girls sighed in disappointment. All the older boys looked at Hannibal Heyes in expectation. “… personal life but also managed to include some philosophical details as well. That is, he wrote about some big and general ideas. Congratulations, Hannibal Heyes! Please come up here.” This time, Han let his smile show. As he walked to the front of the room, he looked over to Jed and brown eyes shared a secret look of pleasure with blue eyes. They’d have a lot to talk about later! “Hannibal, would you like to read your composition to the class?” Jed shook his head. What kind of question was that? Of course, Han would like to read it! Han loved to be the center of attention. Jed listened as Han read and was impressed with the way the words all flowed together and made such good sense. Han finished and returned to his seat. He’d known his composition was good but he hadn’t been sure if it was good enough. One or two of the other students also had a way with words. It was nice to know the teacher thought he had the ability to make people sit up and pay attention to what he had to say. Miss Collins interrupted his thoughts. “Jedediah and Hannibal, I’m sure you would like to know what your prizes are.” Both boys fastened their eyes on the teacher. Jed hoped it wouldn’t be something like the “honor” of washing the chalkboard for one week. Han didn’t care what it was; winning the competition was what had mattered to him. “I am very pleased to give you these prizes. I’ve been saving them for a special occasion and I think this is just such an occasion. Boys, I am very proud to give you your very own copies of the Declaration of Independence!” Miss Collins removed two parchment scrolls tied with red ribbons from her desk and, walking over to each boy, handed them to Jed and Han. “I hope you will read these every Fourth of July and on many other days, too. The Fourth of July is a very special day but we can celebrate this holiday on any day, whenever we want to show our respect for our country. God bless America!” Miss Collins finished with a flourish, returned to her desk and sat down. She gazed at the room full of children, her eyes lingering on Hannibal Heyes and Jedediah Curry. Maybe there was hope for the future after all.
Jed and Han grinned at each other, each knowing what the other was thinking of his prize. Yup, they would certainly have a lot to talk about on their way home from school.
Author’s Note: In 2005, the US Department of Education mandated that September 17th, Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, be celebrated by teaching all students in federallyfunded schools about the history and meaning of the Constitution.
By Lana Coombe Life, Liberty, Happiness and all that The sudden sharp crack had Kid Curry instantly awake, gun in hand. At first he wasn’t sure what it was that had woken him but his instinct for self-preservation had caused him to automatically grab for his gun. As he came out of his dazed state and his eyes became more accustomed to the hazy gloom of the hotel room, he had the feeling he was being watched. “Easy now. Ain’t nothing to worry about,” said a familiar, deep voice. “Just a few folk celebrating with some fire crackers!” Hannibal Heyes stood by the window, the glow from the street illuminating the side of his face, defining his fine profile. He was leaning against the window frame, dressed in his henley and pants, arms folded protectively across his broad chest. Kid let out a breath as he slid his gun smoothly back into its holster and slumped back down onto his pillow, throwing his forearm across his face. “What you doing, Heyes?” he asked in a resigned voice, knowing that the likelihood of his being able to return to sleep was somewhat remote. “Nothin’,” came the simplistic reply. “What you thinking’ on then?” came the slightly irritable return. “I was just thinking that it’s another Fourth of July. Another year has passed and, well … not that much has changed really.” He turned and gazed out of the window once more.
Kid rubbed his hands over his face and pushed himself into a sitting position and leaned against the headboard of the bed. From past experience he knew that this could take a while and decided it was best to get comfortable. “What do you mean, Heyes?” Kid asked. “Quite a bit has changed, I reckon!” Heyes smiled to himself. He had instinctively known, without turning to look at him, that Kid was now fully alert and ready to talk to him. Pushing himself off the wall, Heyes perched on the window ledge, clutching it with his fingers, resting his chin on his chest for a moment while he thought about what to say. His partner waited patiently, without interrupting. He sensed Heyes had things on his mind and needed to talk them through. “How many Fourth of Julys have we seen since we started out for amnesty?” “Reckon this would be our fourth but …” Kid started to say, but was cut short by a sardonic laugh from Heyes. “Four fourths of July!” Heyes said with scorn and a shake of the head, then he laughed again with a look of irritation on his face. “How many times did we wonder what the point of trying for amnesty was, in all those years, Kid?” he asked. “I dunno! Lots, I guess.” Kid wasn’t sure where this conversation was going and didn’t want to commit to saying anything that would disappoint Heyes. “Ironic really, if you think about it. The Fourth of July, standing for life, liberty, happiness and all that. We ain’t seen much of any of those things recently, what with trying to stay out of trouble, dodging the law, getting shot at, trying to find work, get enough money together for a meal, never being able to settle anywhere, getting locked up and …” “Well, I’ve been sort of happy, ain’t you, Heyes? I mean, I know it was real hard at times but we had some good times too and met some real nice folk. We weren’t always without money either and we saw some beautiful places too and .. Well, I guess it was good doing all those things with you,” Kid stopped abruptly, shooting a concerned look at his partner, suddenly realising that this conversation was in danger of turning kinda sentimental. “It’s not been all bad, is all I meant to say!” he finished, dropping his head to scrutinise his hands, with great intensity. The brass bed creaked as Heyes sat on the edge of it, next to Kid. “I ain’t saying it ain’t been good. It’s just that we went through all that and it just don’t seem that different, that’s all. I expected … I don’t know …I thought it would feel different, I guess and it don’t really! I feel kinda … let down!” Kid gave his partner a weary glance, his eyebrows twisting sorrowfully. “Heyes,” he said softly, “it’s only been three days. It’ll get a little getting used to, all this freedom, but we can do that together too! It’ll work out, you’ll see.”
Heyes smiled gratefully at his level headed, fair haired companion, who was pushing back the bed covers to reveal his own set of red henleys. As he pulled on his shirt, Kid continued, “So how about we start celebrating the Amnesty all over again tonight? Seems kinda appropriate on the Fourth of July somehow!” He gave Heyes one of his finest beaming smiles, who mirrored the expression, adding his own inimitable dimples. “Thought we agreed that I was the one that did all the thinking!” Heyes said, humorously. “Yeah well, things have changed! Let’s go and find some of that life and happiness the Declaration promised us, to go with our new liberty!”
By Grace R. Williams A Matter of Pride "You don't need to do this, Kid." Heyes spoke the words quietly, barely more than a whisper, but he knew his partner heard. The blue eyes remained fixed, unchanged. They had ridden into Carson's Ridge the day before. Heyes, Kid and the rest of the Devil's Hole Gang were celebrating. More than just their recent successful train robbery, but the Fourth of July festivities were in full swing. Men, women, children and a few other drifters like themselves had the small town bursting at its seams. "I know I can take him, Heyes," came the cool response. "Maybe ya can, but you got nothing to prove! Remember what happened last time?" Kid remembered. "That's not gonna happen again, Heyes. I can feel it." Kid finished his beer and pushed the empty mug back toward the bartender. "I can't leave Kyle and the boys thinkin' I was too..." he stopped. He didn't want to say the word. Kyle joined his two friends in holding up one end of the bar. With a playful slap on Kid's left shoulder he asked, "So you enterin' the contest, Kid?" Heyes shot Kyle a look of warning. "We was just wonderin', cuz if yer not enterin' then me and Wheat was thinkin' maybe we'd..."
"He's not entering!" Heyes cut in, answering for his partner. "Yes I am, Heyes!" the determined look on Kid's face assured Heyes and Kyle that the discussion was over. "Alrighty then!" beamed Kyle. "Looks like me and Wheat'll just start takin' bets instead." A wad of tobacco missed the spittoon, hitting the floor with a splat. "Ain't no one faster than you, Kid!" he finished with a split-toothed grin. Heyes emptied his mug and slammed a coin down on bar before he turned to leave. "Don't say I didn't warn you!" Kid was left standing alone. Heyes was right, he had nothing to prove. He knew he was the fastest. But it was the way Kyle looked at him, with that dad-blamed look of admiration in his eyes. Alright! It was a matter of pride! He could admit that. Stubborn, masculine, PRIDE! *** High noon the next day found the Devil's Hole Gang lining the streets. Heyes found an empty rocking chair on the porch of the general store and chose to watch the contest from a distance. Two at a time, contestants stepped up. One at a time they were eliminated from the competition. Finally, it was down to only two men. Kid and a burly-looking man who had been last year's champion. "You can do it, Kid!" "C'mon Kid! We got alotta money bet on ya!" Cries of encouragement could be heard from the gang as well as shouts of support for his opponent. "The final round! Gentlemen, are you ready?" Both Kid and the town champion nodded to the official that they were indeed ready. "On your marks, get set..." *** "Kid?" Heyes knew his friend wasn't asleep yet. An irritated grunt was the answer. "I tried to tell ya you shouldn't enter that contest. It's just like the last time."
Kid rolled over, holding his aching stomach. Heyes was right it was just like the last time - and the time before that. Kid was the fastest, but the next few days would be a belly full of regret. "I knew I could beat him, Heyes." A soft moan escaped his lips. "Everyone knows you're the fastest! No one can eat a watermelon faster than you, but Kid, that don't mean ya have to go provin' it every time!" Through his pain, a small grin appeared on Kid's face. "Heyes?" "Hmmm?" A full smile, "I won!"
By Patricia Percival The heat of the day was unbearable as the two men rode as fast as they could. Their horses were worked into a frenzy, and the two outlaws could feel the heat from their trusty mounts rising through their saddles. “Heyes, you’re gonna have to come up with a plan soon. I don’t think this posse is going to give up!” Kid bellowed. “In fact, I know either me or my horse is gonna give up first.” “Kid, what do ya think I’ve been doing for the last two days? Just sitting here and admiring the scenery?” Heyes replied sarcastically. Both men were now feeling the pressure of the relentless chase from the posse, which had been pursing them for the last couple of days. Exhaustion was finally setting in, and although they were reluctant to admit it, both of them were starting to get a little anxious at their predicament. “Kid, you know we’ve tried virtually everything. But hey, if ya come up with any bright ideas, feel free to share them!” shouted Heyes as he pushed his hat back on to his head for the hundredth time. Suddenly, a pretty large stream appeared ahead of them. Both men turned to look at each other, grins spreading across their faces as they read each other’s minds and they headed for the water.
The coolness from the water felt wonderful against their hot skin. Heyes bent down, scooping water into his hat, before replacing it on his head. He looked over at Kid and then at his horse, and swore he could see a small grin appear on his horse’s face. “We’ll head downstream for as long as we can.” said Heyes as he took hold of his saddle horn to help him swivel round in the saddle to look over his shoulder for any sign of the posse. In the distance he could see a large cloud of dust appearing on the horizon and allowed himself to relax slightly at the thought that although the posse hadn’t given up on them, at least they didn’t have them in their sight. “As soon as the water gets too deep, or we see a good place to get out, then we’ll head for the bank.” “Heyes, no problem. This water feels marvellous. I’m more than happy to stay in it all day.” They carried on downstream and followed the twisting turns of the water. For the first time in two days they were able to relax slightly, allowing the sound of the water tripping over the stones to help soothe their worried minds. It seemed that the sun didn’t feel quite so hot, and there appeared to be more birds singing in the trees. Kid leaned forward, resting one arm across the saddle horn, allowing his back to bend forward slightly. His weary muscles enjoyed the slightly different position. He turned to look at Heyes, his eyes squinting against the bright sunlight. “Got any idea as to what we’re gonna do once we leave the stream?” he asked, reluctant to break the peace and quite. “Well I’m hoping that when the posse hit the stream they won’t know which way we went, up or downstream. Then I’m hoping we can get out of the water on the same side we got in. After that, nope. I haven’t got a clue.” replied Heyes, with a deep frown across his forehead. The two outlaws continued in silence until Heyes spied the perfect spot to climb out of the water. Without any communication they turned their horses and led them out. “It sure would be nice if we could actually find a quiet place to stop and get some sleep tonight.” said Kid, “And if we could actually find something to eat, that would be a real bonus.” he continued, his stomach grumbling. “I think I can do better than that.” Heyes pointed into the distance and Kid noticed a small town on the horizon. “You think we should head for a town?” Kid asked incredulously. “Don’t ya think that would be kinda stupid?” “Nah, think about it, Kid. Where do ya think they’re gonna be looking for us?” Heyes said, grinning across at Kid. “In a town, or d’ya reckon that they’re more likely to figure we’ll be hiding up some place outdoors?”
“Aww, Heyes, I’m not sure. You really think it’s a good idea?” “Come on Kid. Who has the brilliant mind?” Heyes removed his hat, pushing his hair back from his face. “When have I ever let you down?” he added with a grin. “Well, there was that time you thought it would be a good idea to rescue Joe from the guys who were gonna lynch him. Then there’s the time you thought it would be a good idea to get the bust back from Armendariz for McCreedy, and…” “Alright! Alright! Gees, Kid you sure do know how to carry a grudge round with ya.” said Heyes rolling his eyes to the sky. “Trust me. This is a good idea.” “OK, Heyes. But don’t make me say ‘I told you so’” They rode into the town, casually checking out the sheriff’s office as they passed it by, looking at each other and grinning at the realisation that neither of them knew the name. A little further into the town they spotted the hotel, and after tending to their horses in the livery stable, they checked themselves into ‘Grace’s Grand Hotel’ “I gotta admit it don’t look that grand, Heyes.” said Kid as he looked round the rather shabby lobby. “Kid, it’s gonna have beds, baths and right across the street is a restaurant. What more d’ya want?” asked Heyes, slightly irritated. They walked to the desk clerk and signed the register, Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones. They chose to ignore the looks of disdain from the clerk as he took in their rather shabby appearance, and made their way to their room on the first floor, overlooking the main street. Later that day, after enjoying a rather good steak at the restaurant, both men, exhausted from the last two days, made their way to their beds. They undressed to their Henleys, Heyes lying on his bed with his hands behind his head “Well no sign of the posse, hey, Kid?” he said rather smugly. “Yeah, OK, Heyes. Maybe this was one of your better ideas.” Kid grudgingly conceded. Within minutes they both fell into a deep sleep.
They were woken with a start at the sudden crescendo of sound coming from outside their window. They both reached for their guns from the holsters that hung from the bedposts, taking refuge behind their beds, ready for the possible impending gunfight. “I knew it! I knew it!” shouted Kid above the noise. “Why? Why do I always listen to your not-so-brilliant ideas, huh? Just answer me that, Heyes! Go on!” “OK, Kid, OK. Maybe this wasn’t one of my better ideas. What do ya want me to do about it?” Heyes replied, angry at his cousin’s lack of confidence. “I want ya to crawl to the window and see just how many men there are in that darned posse, for starters.” “Why me? Why do I have to crawl to window and look?” “Cos it’s you who’s got us into this mess, Heyes, not me.” snapped back Kid. “Boy Kid, don’t let me forget just how bad tempered you get sometimes.” Heyes replied as he started crawling across the floor towards the window. “Just cos you ain’t had no breakfast and got woke up without any warning.” “Heyes, you’re muttering. Just get on with it will ya? The sooner we know what we’re up against, the sooner you can come up with another one of your ‘brilliant’ plans!” Kid replied rather sarcastically. Heyes took hold of the windowsill and carefully pulled himself up to peer outside. Slowly, ever so slowly a small smile started to appear on his face as he turned to his partner “Kid, what‘s the date today?” “Heyes, are you serious? We have a posse of men outside the window and you seriously want me to tell you the date? Ya know, Heyes, you sure do pick your moments.” “Kid, think about it, that’s not gunfire you can hear, it’s fire crackers.” Heyes thought it was best to put his partner out of his misery. “Kid it’s the fourth of July!” Heyes let out a roar of laughter as Kid tentatively stood up from behind the bed. The two men walked towards each other and embraced in the middle of the room, the relief evident in their faces. “Happy fourth of July!” they both shouted to each other, before heading off to join in the celebrations.
By Calico THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS A FINE, TRADITIONAL, ASJ FOURTH OF JULY STORY Heyes levered himself from the lush foam. The muscles of his arms tautened as he pushed back the dampened dark hair. Beads of water silvered a curving path over his finely honed jaw and neck, coming to rest in the nook of sweet, sweet flesh where the column of his throat met the first swell of his firm chest. Water misted the dusting of fine hair covering his belly and long, lithe inner thighs and glistened, still steamy with heat, trapped amidst the thickening hair of his… “Hey, towel please! This story is strictly PG13!” The dark-eyed older woman, lying full stretch on her stomach upon the Emperor sized satin swathed bed, watched Heyes swathe a small, fluffy – and small – white – did I mention small – towel low and loose around his smooth slim hips. “That’s better,” she approved, returning her eyes from the damp and near-nekkid ex-outlaw to the laptop propped against her pillow. Heyes strode gracefully over and sat beside Cally Coe. “What are you writing this time?” he asked, bending close so his warm breath stirred the downy hairs on her neck. “Why am I dripping wet and…” he tenderly nuzzled her ear lobe, “…why are you cutting and pasting stuff you’ve used before about my …” nuzzle, nuzzle, nip, “…body?” Heyes shut up. His tongue was kinda busy. “It’s supposed to be something for the ‘Fourth of July’ challenge,” said Cally, pushing Heyes back so he didn’t cast a shadow over the screen as she typed. “Fourth of July!” came a disgruntled voice from the direction of the bathtub, “…Bit late, huh? It’s nearly August!” “I HAD realised that!” sighed Cally Coe. She eyed the blond fella – whatisname – oh, yeah, Kid Curry, as he slowly unbuttoned his blue shirt. As each fastening yielded to his strong fingers, a little more of smooth, tanned chest was revealed, the muscles forming a firm wall against which a Kidette would love to nestle, safe in a tender embrace, inhaling a manly scent of leather and…“…I’ve got writer’s block,” Cally explained, sadly. “That’ll be why I’m taking my shirt off, AGAIN?” grumbled Curry, continuing to take his shirt off. “It’s not much to ask, Kid!” said Heyes, coming up for air. He gave Cally a warm smile, with a little wicked twinkle on the side. “…Would a massage help?” he offered. “Can’t hurt,” accepted the inspiration short writer, allowing him to slide the silk robe a few inches down her creamy shoulders. Deft and finely tapered fingers began to work
their magic on her upper back, sneaking a little lower with each gentle but masterful stroke. “No ideas at all, huh?” asked Kid, still unbuttoning. He looked down at himself, confused. He had already tossed aside the blue shirt with a careless, though graceful, gesture. Now he was taking off a crisp white linen number. “Oh I had TWO – count ‘em – TWO ideas,” corrected Cally Coe, wriggling just a little further – though still a PG13 distance – out of her robe, to allow Heyes’ skilled hands access to a tension knot under her fictionally flawless skin. “What were they,” prompted Heyes, usefully. “Well the first involved the ladies of the Ex-Outlaw Appreciation Board,” she explained. “Not THEM!” groaned Kid. “We always end up nekkid and up to our ears in bubble bath when they appear.” He looked down at himself. The white linen garment discarded, he was now unbuttoning ‘that dang pink pirate shirt’. He looked at the bubble bath he was about to step into. He rolled his eyes. “It was going to be about Fourth of July box picnics,” went on Cally Coe. “One of the American ladies, here’s a clue - she has a silken pelt and howls, was telling me how it’s traditional for womenfolk to pack a picnic on the Fourth, then the men folk bid for which picnic box they want…” “Without knowing which lady packed which box,” nodded Heyes. “Exactly! AND, the man has to spend the day with whichever lady packed the box he chooses.” “Uh huh.” “So I was thinking, either you and the other fella could be INSIDE two of the picnic baskets…” Once again, Kid rolled his eyes. Then he got on with unbuttoning a checked flannel lumberjack shirt torn, strategically, to reveal tantalising glimpses of his honey-gold, broad and sinewy back. “…OR, when you open the boxes, you find nothing but oysters, asparagus and other supposedly, er…” Cally Coe searched, “…SUSTAINING foods. Together with tactile – or should that be tonguile – items such as whipped cream, chocolate sauce, melting icecream…” “Are you sure this was PG13?” checked Heyes.
“There’s nothing non-PG13 about licking ice-cream,” said Cally Coe, throwing Heyes a wicked smile over her nekkid shoulder. “Depends where you’re licking it from,” he grinned back, straddling her storybook slender waist to ensure his purely therapeutic massage was delivered evenly. Kid, finally nekkid, stepped into the bathtub. “Don’t see why I hafta be the one usin’ HIS second hand water,” he muttered. “I oughta be in one o’ them Coyote, or Mizz Coy, or Mizz Mouse stories where I get to be the hero!” Heyes dropped his hands to his hips and threw his partner ‘the look’. Then he thought better of it and dropped his hands to Cally Coe’s hips instead where they would do more good. Therapeutically that is. “What was your second idea?” he asked, being perfectly briefed as to how to ensure an information divulging dialogue has to be helped along. “The second idea was about the pair of you – probably when you were youngsters – entering a traditional Fourth of July greased pig contest.” “That sounds like fun!” smiled Heyes. “No it don’t!” objected Kid. He stood up in the bath to peel off yet another fine white linen shirt, this one rendered completely transparent by being sopping wet. “It sounds like the kinda story where Heyes makes a dumb wager, but somehow it’s ME ends up chasin’ some slippery porker through the mud an’ getting filthy an’ plumb tuckered out!” “And proddy,” added Heyes, helpfully. “You probably get all proddy, too. And I probably try and talk you round with my silver tongue – y’know – a banter scene.” Suddenly, Kid’s gun flew into his hand. Startling ice-blue (or, possibly, glacier-blue) eyes rolled. The blond ex-outlaw heaved himself out of the bath and, leaving damp footprints from his puckered pink toes, padded over to replace the wet colt in it’s holster, hanging safe on the back of the door. “I wish it wouldn’t keep doin’ that!” he grumbled. Proddily. After stripping off another shirt or two, he climbed back into the water. “Actually,” clarified Cally Coe, pressing save, “…my greased pig Fourth of July idea involved Heyes having TRAINED the pig in advance. It came to him on command. A sort of anachronous version of ‘Babe’, you know? I just never came up with a framing story.” “I though you didn’t do anachronisms,” said Heyes, now massaging any potential stress points on Cally Coe’s thighs. Apropos of nothing he added, “…It’s a good thing you have wireless broad band access – otherwise we’d be tied up together in cables by now.”
Another wicked grin. “That’d never do, huh?” Then, “…That sounded a pretty good ‘greased pig’ story. Me being pretty sneaky, but not actually cheating.” The writer shrugged, “…Never mind. I can always reuse it. I reuse most ideas.” “Several times usually,” put in Kid from the tub. “Waste not, want not,” admonished Heyes, supportively. Kid’s gun flew into his hand. “Oh for Pete’s sake!” he groaned. “Oh well, I guess I oughta get dry, anyhow.” Stepping out, he reached for the towel rail. He looked down. “Why the Sam Hill am I wrapped in the stars an’ stripes?” he yelped. “I think,” mused Cally Coe, “…it shows you are leeching into another writer’s story. Perhaps, subconsciously, there is somewhere you’d rather be?” “No ‘perhaps’ about it,” muttered the gooseberry. Sorry; that should have read, ‘muttered the blond ex-outlaw’. “If you pressed delete,” suggested Heyes, “…Wouldn’t that send – the other fella – into a Kidette’s fantasy world.” “Yup,” confirmed Cally Coe. “…But that won’t help me write something for this dang Fourth of July challenge, will it? I need both of you for that – don’t I?” “I have a story idea – for just two,” a seductive, deeply masculine, voice cooed in her ear. A seductive, also masculine, tongue tip followed the voice. Whispering from Heyes. Cally Coe shivered in anticipation. It did sound appealing. “But how does that have a Fourth of July theme?” she asked, tempted – but also ruleabiding. “It involves…the pursuit of happiness,” breathed the former leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang, softly. Cally Coe brightened as her conscience eased. That was true! Her hand hovered over the delete button, which would leave her alone with Heyes. “It will definitely end in – fireworks,” enticed the silver tongued one. Cally Coe brightened yet more. Fireworks – even if metaphorical – were traditional on the Fourth! Sounded good! Should she press the button?
“I think we could work in the line…” A finger slid down the writer’s spine. An exceedingly wicked look lit the melting brown eyes. “…’The British are coming! The British are coming!’ “Naughty!” reproved the British gal, who scarcely ever stooped to innuendo. Not more than once a sentence anyhow. “ Of course, we may have to give up on the strictly PG13 rule,” admitted Heyes. “No story’s perfect!” decided Cally Coe, hitting delete.
By Shenango A Race for Independence The popping sounds around them drowned out the laughter and sounds of fun coming from the children in the yard of the old town square. For a change, the orphanage had allowed the children out of the gates and into town; on a trial basis, they were all told; and the privilege would be revoked if there was the least bit of trouble. They were being watched closely and they all knew it; even though some of the younger teenagers in the group knew that there was already trouble brewing. There were hard feelings between some of the town boys who were in the habit of lording it over the orphans. As if the orphan boys didn't have enough problems without being picked on, but there were a small but vocal group of bullies belonging to the banker, the land office owner and a couple of the larger ranches in the area who had banded together in their own makeshift outlaw gang. To themselves, they were just of the opinion they were better than the kids at the home. To the kids at the home, they were just pests: rich kids with too much money and not enough respect for anyone with less than they had. There were a pair of them who had arrived at the home together, both on the quiet side, but one with a quick temper and the other with a way of talking himself out of just about anything and they were always just ripe for picking on. In particular, they had been pulled aside and talked to before going to town. "You two best realize that if you do anything that causes any trouble at all, everyone at this home will be confined to the grounds until Christmas. Now mind, you're not going to be creating havoc with that hanging over your heads; you will have your peers here to deal with if there's the least bit of trouble."
With that threat hanging over them, the two spent a lot of the day just wandering around together, looking at all the town decorations and the windows in the shops. They knew if they spent time with the others from the home, that the local boys would set something up and make it look like they were responsible, so they discreetly wandered, making sure to lay low for the day but staying together and remaining visible in the crowd so that even if there were any trouble, they would have plenty of people around them so they couldn't be implicated in anything wrong. The group of local boys sat at a picnic table outside the town hall, where they had just finished judging the pies made by the local ladies. The oldest of the group was the son of the largest rancher in the area, and from the wealthiest family. He and the banker's son and another boy, who's father was a big man at the railroad all became friends at a very early age and were in trouble a lot until they opened that orphanage on the outside of town. Then, it became a game to them to see what they could do and blame it on the "poor dumb orphans" and get away with it. The current plan involved the pony race. The livery stable was providing a bunch of ponies that were left them in payment by a circus that had run up a big bill and had to leave suddenly. The ponies were well trained but only really suitable for pulling carts and loading with supplies. They were small but sturdy animals and good tempered, so it was decided that for a change, the race this year would be for the local school children, under the age of twelve. The plan for disruption centered on finding enough burrs to put under the saddle blankets on the ponies to cause them to buck off every child that decided to enter the race. Except for one boy, a small child from the home, making him easily the winner and throwing suspicion on to their two favorite scapegoats. The boys paid no mind to the two dusty cowboys who had sat at the next table over, quietly eating their lunch while they discussed the plan just a little bit loud. They didn't see the looks exchanged between them, the raised eyebrows and they had no way of picking up on the silent conversation passing between them. They'd sat there just long enough to get the gist of the plan, and figured they wouldn't have any problem finding the "scapegoats" and providing them with alibis, while at the same time, making sure none of the riders in the race were hurt. Splitting up, the two cowboys went in search of the two boys. They found them, sitting outside the General Store, quietly watching the town. "Howdy, boys," the blond one said. "Nice town you got here." He walked over to an empty chair near them and sat down. Noticing a barrel with a checkerboard on it, he leaned and pointed to it. "Either of you boys care for a game?" The two looked at each other, wary of the stranger, not sure why he was bothering with them. Noting the caution, he leaned back in his chair again. "Name's Thaddeus Jones. My partner and I just got into town last night. He's looking at the booths down the street.
Me, I just thought it might be nice to relax a bit. Mind holding my seat here for me, while I go inside?" Not waiting for an answer he stood and walked into the store. When he came out a few minutes later, he had a cigar in one hand, another one in his pocket and a small bag in the other hand. As he returned to the chair, he handed the bag over to them. "I wanted a cigar myself, but you boys aren't old enough to have one. So I hope you don't mind if I bought you a couple pieces of licorice." The younger boy took the bag from him and looked inside. "Mr. Jones, that's real nice of you, sir," Said his older friend. "But we can't pay for that." "I had a feeling boys, that's why this round is on me," he smiled at them. "Now, about that game, either of you want to play?" The younger boy looked at him. "I'd like to play, Mr. Jones. My name's Lou and this is my cousin, Tom." "Well," Jones said, "Nice to make your acquaintance boys." He extended his hand just as his partner walked up to the store. "Joshua," he looked at the man who had just arrived, "This is Lou and his cousin, Tom," he introduced them. "Boys, this is my cousin, Joshua Smith." Smith nodded his hello to the boys as Jones handed him the cigar. "We were just about to have a game of checkers here, Joshua." Joshua sat down next to Lou, and they watched the others start the game. He leaned back to engage the boy in conversation. "Nice little town you got here, Lou. You enjoying yourself?" Lou looked at him, still cautious. "Yes, sir," he answered quietly. Joshua recognized the tone and worked to get the boy to relax. "I hear they're going to have some fireworks later on. You like fireworks?" "Yeah," he answered. "But we don't get to see them that much." "Yeah, they don't let us do much from the home," Tom blurted out, before realizing what he said. Blushing, he dropped his head after a stern look from his cousin. He'd said more than he should have and he knew it and was embarrassed for them both now. "I remember what that was like, don't you, Joshua?" Thaddeus said. "Yep. Wasn't any fun at all, as I recollect," Joshua answered. Twin eyes looked at them, from one to the other and then at each other. Shyness was replaced by curiosity now, and tongues started to loosen. Enough detail was exchanged in the next few minutes for the boys to realize that they had a lot in common with these two cowboys. In the discussion of the rest of the day's activities, the younger boys let the
cowboys know that they had a reputation for "attracting troubles like honey attracts flies" as the matron from the home told them. So they decided to stay well away from the crowd, but visible enough to be noticed when and if the trouble started. They seemed sure it would, and over a second round of licorice, they told the story of the town bully boys to their new compadres, knowing there would be some understanding. The race was brought up as the time grew nearer for it to start. "I wanted to enter it," Tom said, "But Lou don't think it would be a good idea for me to do that." "Why not, Lou?" Joshua asked him. "He's the right age, isn't he?" Lou looked at Tom first, then answered Joshua. "There's a group of bullies that like to pick on us kids from the home. They start things and then they point fingers at us and go to their folks and say it wasn't them. Their Pa's are all real important in town, so everybody believes them and," "Nobody bothers to listen to you?" Thaddeus finished. "No, Thaddeus, they don't," Tom said. "I want to enter," Lou said, "I used to have a horse and don't get to do much riding, but Tom thinks if I enter, something will happen and we'll get blamed again. And this time…" "This time," Tom finished, "If we get into any trouble at all, everybody at the home won't be allowed into town until Christmas. It ain't worth the risk, Lou." Lou nodded, dejectedly. "I know. I just wish…" He looked away and wiped at his eyes. "Lou," Tom said, "its okay." "No," Joshua said, "I don't think it is okay. What about you, Thaddeus?" "Not okay at all, Joshua. Fella wants to ride in a race, he oughta be free to enter the race." The checker game long ended, the two cowboys stood as one. "Boys," Joshua said, "I think we need to see about entering someone in a race." "But," Tom said. "I can't," Lou protested. "There an entry fee at all?" Joshua asked. They shook their heads no. "Then looks like we got us a rider here, don't you think, Thaddeus." "Yep. Seems like it to me." Each of the cowboys guided a boy by the shoulders as they went to where the race was going to start.
They had some time yet before the race was scheduled to start, so Joshua started talking to Ken, the owner of the livery, about the ponies. "Looks like my friend here and I have someone to enter the race," he said. "Is there a pony available for one more rider?" "Well," Ken said, "I think we can accommodate that." He smiled at Tom, "You going to enter this year, Tom?" "I'd like to, sir." Came the shy response. Thaddeus had been looking over the ponies, all saddled and tethered inside the livery corral. He looked up at Joshua, who continued talking to Ken. "So now, how does this work? Does the boy get to pick his own mount?" "Yes," Ken answered, "He does. They're all saddled in there and ready to go. We've had a few other boys looking at them, but they were too old to be racing this year, so he can have his pick." Joshua and Thaddeus knew that burrs had most likely been placed under all the saddle blankets but one, so they decided it was time to give both Lou and Tom a "lesson" in how to pick a good mount. The four of them wandered in the corral, checking each of the ponies thoroughly. Thaddeus seemed to make it a point to check all the saddle blankets himself, then thoroughly check the cinches before moving on. Nobody seemed to notice that they nodded to each other before he and Joshua took the boys from pony to pony. After having checked all the stock, they let Tom pick out one for himself; only offering a little bit of guidance on his choice. The four of them stayed right near the corral until race time, Thaddeus offering Tom some pointers on how to get a quick lead and hang on to it to win and Joshua keeping a very keen eye on the activity around them and the ponies. When it was time for the race, Ken came into the corral for the ponies. Joshua and Thaddeus offered to help him take the mounts to the starting line, and the boys followed them. Tom was helped up and Joshua stood by his side, giving him encouragement. Thaddeus meanwhile, had been standing with Lou on the side of the street, watching Ken with the horses and Joshua with Tom. Lou looked startled suddenly and Thaddeus put a hand on his shoulder to calm him. "Lou? There a problem you want to talk about?" He said gently. All the other riders had lined up with Tom and he sat eagerly in line. Lou looked at Thaddeus, then at Tom and finally noticed Joshua coming his way. Taking a deep breath, he decided to trust his two new friends. He pointed to a laughing group of teens across the street. "Those are the bullies me and Tom told you about, over there," he said. "Tom wasn't going to ride today because we were afraid they'd do something to the ponies. That was the only thing either of us wanted to enter and they knew that. If
anything happens to any of the other kids in the race, we're going to get into a lot of trouble." He looked down, anxious, expecting disapproval. When none came, he looked up at them. "Lou," Joshua said, "Why do you think Thaddeus and I went with you and Tom to check out all those ponies?" He grinned at him. Lou looked at the two, seeing matched grins, and puzzled on that not coming up with an answer. "I.. I don't know," he stuttered. Thaddeus's grin widened. "While we were eating, we heard that group of bullies of yours planning what they were going to do," Joshua told him. "We decided that you and Tom should be allowed to enjoy a holiday for a change, without having to worry about getting into trouble. So we went looking for you and found you, and we spent time with you, so nobody can claim you did anything to cause any problems." "And while we were looking over the ponies," Thaddeus continued, "We found all the burrs they put under the saddles and took 'em out, so everyone in the race has a safe mount." Lou's eyes widened and he gave them the first genuine smile he'd had in a long time. "Thank you! You did that for Tom? But why?" "Well," Joshua said, "Seeing you and Tom is like looking into a mirror for me and Thaddeus not too long ago. We know what it's like to be blamed for everything that goes wrong," They looked at each other, silently thinking and not so long ago either "and we didn't want it to happen to a couple nice boys like you two." Lou blinked a couple times, trying to keep moisture out of his eyes and tried to cover by making them think the sun was in his eyes. "Thank you, Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones. I don't know what to say. This is the best holiday we've had in a long time and I'm sure glad we met you." "Our pleasure," Thaddeus told him. "Now, where's the best place to go sit and watch the race?" "I think," Joshua said, "Right over there would be good." He said and pointed over to where the town bullies were waiting for the excitement to start. "Let's go get ourselves a front row seat to watch what isn't going to happen." Three smiling faces crossed the street right before the race was started. They waved to Tom wishing him luck and silently ducked behind the crowd, but not out of earshot. "This is gonna be good!" "Yeah, can't wait to see those ponies buck those little kids off." "And nobody will suspect us at all!" They commented to each other, laughing.
Ken from the livery had joined them, and not far behind him was the sheriff, who they were quick to notice they didn't know, and the three sat silently letting the boys in the front incriminate themselves. When the race started and nothing happened but ponies running, the boys turned angrily on each other. "I thought you put those burrs…" The sheriff looked at them, "What burrs?" He stood behind them like the voice of God. They stared at each other, then noticed Lou behind them. Trying to cover Jake, the oldest pointed at him. "He did it! He put burrs under all the saddles on those ponies except for the one his cousin's riding!" Ken looked at the sheriff. "Sheriff, I saddled them ponies myself. There ain't no burrs under them saddles. Why, that would be dangerous for all them kids riding in that race!" "You sure, Ken," he asked. "Why, yes, I'm sure. And you can ask these two gents right here," he pointed to Heyes and the Kid. "They took Tom in there and checked all the ponies out; they made sure all the cinches were tight." Jake turned red, furiously trying to talk his way out of the trouble he now realized they were in. "We saw them earlier; him and Tom. About an hour ago. They were with the ponies." "Sheriff," Heyes said, "that's just not possible. My cousin, Thaddeus and I were playing checkers with the boys in front of the general store up until a few minutes before the race started. We walked Lou and Tom over here with us. They didn't do anything." He looked to his partner, who nodded in agreement. "That's the truth of it." The noise of riders coming back in stopped all the talk about burrs and saddles, but the sheriff and Ken had grabbed the boys in hand and were holding them. As soon as the riders passed, the sheriff turned to the two men and boy behind him. "You say you can vouch for the whereabouts of those boys?" They nodded. "That's all I need to hear. Thank you, boys. Ken, let's go to my office." And off they walked with the small group in custody. Tom ran over to his cousin and new friends. "Did you see me?" he shouted at them. "I won! I won! It was great!" They all congratulated him. Lou threw his arms around him in a hug, which was part congratulations and part relief and joy over not being in trouble for once.
Thaddeus stuck out his hand to congratulate Tom, and was rewarded with an enthusiastic shake. Knowing the feeling of relief Lou was feeling and the excitement Tom was feeling, he said, "Seems to me a celebration is in order, Joshua. What do you think?" "I think you're about right that, cousin." Remembering how bad the food had been when they were in the home, they looked at each other. "How about a couple chicken dinners, boys? To celebrate, that is." The answering smiles lit up more than their own faces. Later that night, in the hotel room, after the fireworks and after the boys had said their goodbyes and walked back to the home, not in trouble for a change, the two men sat reflectively in the room. "Nice boys," Heyes said. "Just like we were, Heyes," Kid answered. "Hope they turn out better than we did." "After what we did today, Heyes, do you really think we turned out so bad?" Heyes smiled at him. "No, Kid, I guess we didn't turn out so bad after all."