Christmas

By Lana Coombe At first, they thought it was an animal they could hear but, as they drew nearer, Heyes and Kid realised what they had heard was someone calling. Guiding their horses through the trees, ducking to avoid low hanging branches, they eventually found the source of the noise. On the ground lay a stricken man, while a mule stood nearby, staring at him woefully. As they approached, they realised that there was a large tree branch pinning down the man. He looked up at them with undisguised relief, muttering, “Thank God!” It didn’t take the partners long to assess the situation and lift the branch off the man’s leg. Thankfully, no bones seemed to be broken, just a nasty cut and some vivid bruising. With some urgency, the man asked them to help him onto the mule, as he needed to get home as quickly as possible. The Kid tried to persuade the man to let him tend to the injury on his leg first but was unsuccessful. However, as the man tried to stand he found he was unable to put any pressure on his leg and began to tumble, only to be caught by two pairs of strong arms. “Easy now!” Heyes soothed. The man became agitated. “Please, you’ve got to help me. I have to get back. My wife …” His eyes darted from the dark haired to the fair-haired man, anxiously, uncertain whether he had made a mistake mentioning his wife. They were strangers after all who had just happened by. How could he know if he could trust them? “We’ll get you back to your wife, Mister. Just take it easy!” Kid reassured him with one of his affable smiles and a supportive grip on his arm. The man looked from the Kid to Heyes and realised he had little choice but to trust these two strangers. Following the man’s directions, they made their way back through the trees. As they rode, he told them his name was Jonas Carpenter. He had come to this part of the world to raise sheep but had not been welcomed, especially by one rancher in particular, Rex Herod, who had spent the last few months trying to drive him off the land he had acquired. There was a dispute as to the legality of the transaction of the sale of the land, which was taking a little while to sort out. Jonas had been out cutting wood, to make repairs to his cabin that Herod had his men set on fire, when the branch had snapped unexpectedly and fallen on him. After short time they came to more open country, where the ground was in dispersed with 1

rock outcrops. Jonas explained that the land was more suited to sheep rearing than cattle but Herod just wouldn’t see it. He was determined to drive Jonas and his sheep from the land. On reaching their destination Heyes and Kid saw the burnt out shell of a cabin and a little ways off a small barn that had some burn damage still visible. They headed towards the building. All was quiet, save for the soft bleating a few penned sheep. “My wife and I are living in the barn at the moment. It’s not the most luxurious of accommodation but at least we’re warm and dry,” he smiled sadly at them. Just as they were dismounting, they heard a cry from within the barn - a woman’s cry. Kid’s gun was instantly in his hand. Heyes reached out to grab Jonas who had limped hastily forwards. “Hold on a minute, Jonas. Best we find out what’s going on in there before we go rushing in,” Heyes told him firmly but kindly. “But my wife ….” the man started to say, “I know but it won’t help going into an unknown situation and …” “My wife’s in there - she’s having a baby!” Jonas cried as he struggled free of Heyes’ grasp, leaving the ex-outlaw unusually speechless. He looked over at his partner in amazement who merely smirked back his response. “Better go and see if the man needs some help I guess!” Kid said a little cautiously. “We can’t go in there!” Heyes replied incredulously. “A woman’s having a baby!” “Sounds like she’s in trouble, Heyes!” came the earnest reply. “Kid, I appreciate your knight in shining armour actions but, this is one time I’m not sure they’re needed!” The dispute was interrupted by the barn door being flung open and Jonas’ appearance. “It’s a boy!” he cried triumphantly. Relieved to know that the messy part was over, without their having to intervene, each smiled happily at the excited man and stepped forward to shake his hand. Eagerly he beckoned them forward and led them into the barn. In one of the stalls, bathed in the soft glow from a lantern, were the new mother and her child. The site of the small form of precious new life, being held so attentively, rendered the ex-outlaws speechless for a moment. The woman looked up at them a sweet, soft

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smile of joy on her lips. “This is my wife, Marie and our new son!” Jonas told them proudly. (Can you see where I’m going with this yet?!) While Jonas attended to his wife and new child, Heyes and Kid made themselves useful, tending to the animals - two dairy cows and several orphan lambs and their surrogate mothers. They both felt an over whelming sense of peace in this place and were grateful for the security it offered. Having spent the night warm and comfortable on a soft bed of clean straw, with the rhythmic sound of animals chewing about them and the occasional soft lowing and bleating, both Heyes and Kid awoke fully rested. When they suggested to Jonas that they should probably move on he simply said he thought it would be good if they stayed a while. There was something compelling in his suggestion and they agreed to stop for a day or so more, to help with the sheep, while Marie recuperated. Later in the afternoon they had visitors - Herod’s men. They had ridden belligerently into the Carpenter’s enclosure, scattering sheep before them. Jonas had been collecting water when they rode in. He immediately froze when he saw them and fear gripped him as they circled their horses about him. Just as he was expecting the worst to happen a voice called out, “What can we do for you, gentlemen?” At the sound of the voice, the men turned their horses and saw Heyes standing nonchalantly outside of the barn. “Don’t know who you are, fella but if you’re with these sheep lovers there I doubt there’s nothing you can do for us!” came the retort from a man in his late thirties, sporting a ridiculous moustache. Heyes gave an easy smile before replying, “And I don’t think there’s much you can do for these folks either!” “I don’t know about that!” the man replied slyly, un-hitching his lasso from his saddle and starting to twirl it. “Suggest you put that thing away,” Heyes told him, “or you’re gonna upset my friend!” flicking his eyes behind the man. Twisting his head around he saw the Kid standing calmly, arms crossed about his chest. Arrogantly, the man started to dismiss him with a sneer but his expression soon turned to one of disbelief, as the gun strapped to the fairhaired man’s leg instantaneously seemed to appear in his hand. The man checked himself and recoiled his rope wordlessly then, with a nod of his head, indicated to the other men that they were leaving.

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“We’ll be back,” he threatened over his shoulder as they rode out. Jonas scurried forward, a look of astonishment on his face and he regarded the men who had ridden into his life the previous day. “I ain’t never seen nothing’ like that before!” he commented. “I don’t know who you are but I’m sure glad to have you here!” he told them. It was only a short time later that they heard the sound of approaching hoof beats again but this time they were ready. Heyes and the Kid positioned themselves at opposite ends of the enclosure, with fully loaded handguns and a rifle each. Jonas remained in the barn with his wife and new born child. As the riders came into view it became apparent it was not the same men who had ridden in previously. It only took Heyes and the Kid a few seconds to register that one of the men was sporting a bright, silver star on his vest. On seeing the approaching group, Jonas came out of the barn and smiled in greeting at the three men, beckoning for Heyes and the Kid to come forward. “Jonas! We’ve got news for you and Marie,” one of the men called out. “How’s Marie doing?” asked the grey haired man in a suit, with a large leather hold all hooked onto the horn of his saddle. The third man was also smartly dressed in a dark but practical suit. All three men eyed Heyes and the Kid warily and on seeing the look Jonas instantly assured them that they were friends who had helped him out of a fix. This seemed to satisfy the men who introduced themselves respectively as the local sheriff, the doctor and town lawyer. They had brought the news that they had legal papers to say that Jonas and his family were entitled to the land they had chosen, that Herod could do nothing to stop him, and if he did that, the whole town were prepared to support him. There were great celebrations as Jonas went to tell Marie the good news, while the doctor checked on her and the new baby boy. The lawyer got Jonas to sign some documents to finalise the paperwork, as the sheriff regarded Heyes and Curry with interest. As the three men were about to leave he turned to them and said, “Who’d you say you were?” Just as Heyes was about to respond Jonas interrupted. “This here is Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. If it wasn’t for them, I’m not sure that this would be such a happy a day. The rode in like a …. like a pair of …. Guardian angels!” Satisfied with Jonas’ testament, the three men rode out, leaving Jonas to tend to his wife and son, while Heyes and the Kid stood looking thankfully at the dark blue sky of the

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night. Smiling knowingly at each other they stood a short while longer to admire the large, lone star that hung in the sky, winking at them with complicity.

By Lana Coombe The First Christmas Hannibal Heyes rode into town with an eager anticipation. It was unusual for him to feel so buoyant, at this time of year. For some years now, this time only brought back painful memories of a life before, one that he and his partner had left behind, to pursue their lives in their own inimitable way. This year was different, however. This would be the first Christmas that he and his partner, Jed ‘Kid’ Curry, would spend as free men. Finally, after three long years of trying to keep out of trouble and become law-abiding citizens, the two notorious ex-outlaws had been rewarded with amnesty. They had split up two weeks previously, each taking separate jobs, to ensure that they would have enough funds to enjoy the festivities of the season to their fullest. The Kid had escorted the wife and children of a friend of the Governor, to join her husband in Cheyenne for Christmas. In the meantime, Heyes had delivered some important legal papers to Denver. They had arranged to meet in the small but friendly town of Ogallala Springs, where they felt they would be able to relax and afford themselves some indulgences. It still seemed strange to Heyes that he was now able to ride into a town without the cursory glance at the sheriff’s office and the general sweep of faces, to make sure that there was no one who may recognise him. He still did it from habit though, just to satisfy a deep-seated need. He swung his horse towards the only hotel in town and eased himself down, flexing his back gratefully when his two feet were on firm ground. After un-strapping his gear from his saddle, he made his way into the lobby of the hotel. He smiled thankfully when he saw the familiar scrawl, in the register, which affirmed that ‘Thaddeus Jones’ had booked in two days previously. They had decided to both keep using their alias names to prevent any unwanted interest or provocation. Heyes was pleased that the Kid had managed to get here so soon, as they had been concerned that the job may take longer than planned. Coincidentally, the Kid’s room was just across the hallway from the one Heyes had been allocated, so, eager to let his partner know he had arrived safely, Heyes rapped on the door with the customary signal of three sharp knocks. There was no response from within the room. All was still and quiet. Heyes shrugged his shoulders in disappointment and turned to his own room.

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When he’d had a quick wash and changed into his favourite dark shirt, he made his way downstairs and out into the street. The saloon was his chosen destination; as he was sure he’s find his partner there, beer in hand and a pretty saloon girl sitting on his knee. Heyes’ mouth crinkled, releasing one of his inimitable dimples, at the thought. Pushing his way passed the saloon’s bat wing doors, he was greeted with the familiar, yet comforting, sounds and smells of such an establishment. The odour of stale beer, whiskey and smoke hung in the air, which was filled with deep-throated voices of patrons, mingled with the shrill laughs of saloon girls. A practiced glance told Heyes that the Kid was not there. Perhaps he had slipped upstairs with one of the girls, he thought, not blaming him one bit, as they were some of the best-looking girls Heyes had seen in along time! When his partner had not emerged after about half an hour, Heyes became a little concerned and decided to venture a few questions with the bar tender. As the apronadorned man poured Heyes a whiskey he enquired whether a Mr. Jones had been in this evening. As Heyes began to describe his partner, the barman interrupted, saying he knew who he was talking about and it would be best to see the sheriff. At his words, Heyes suddenly went cold. What could have the Kid got up to in just a few days? How come he had managed to land himself in jail for this, their first Christmas of freedom? As Heyes crossed the street, he felt his irritation rise towards his partner. He had been so looking forward to this time and now the Kid had gone and spoiled it with his impetuousness, probably getting himself into some altercation over some woman or other! When Heyes entered the sheriff’s office, he was at first pleased to see that only one of the cells was occupied by a young cowboy, who was not his partner, but that begged the question as to the whereabouts of the Kid. With an undeniable tension in his gut, he introduced himself to the sheriff as Joshua Smith. The sheriff eyed him with unconcealed curiosity, narrowing his eyes and pursing his lips. This did not bode well, thought Heyes as he took the seat the sheriff offered him. It only took a second for it to register that the sheriff had addressed him as ‘Mr. Heyes’ and as Heyes was re-composing himself from this revelation, he did not hear the sheriff’s words too clearly. Slowly the words penetrated Heyes’ mind. The sheriff said it had been an unfortunate affair, after them getting the amnesty and all, but it was inevitable that ‘Kid’ Curry would eventually meet someone who was faster than him. That sort always do. *************** Hannibal Heyes sat in the chair, in his hotel room, staring blankly at the saddlebags and brown hat, on the end of his bed. The sheriff had passed on the Kid’s belongings. Not

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much to show for thirty years, Heyes mused. He felt exhausted, feeling he had gone through every conceivable emotion in the last twenty four hours - the joy and excitement as he rode into town, the frustration and concern as he waited for the Kid, the fear and disbelief at the news the sheriff had given him and the anger he felt at the young cowboy in the jail cell had wanted to try out the Kid’s reputation. Now, alone in his hotel room came the sorrow and the pain. This was to have been their first Christmas as free men but now it was Heyes’ first Christmas without his friend and partner.

By LAK Hannibal Heyes looked up from where he sat on the edge of his bed, pulling on his boots. “Kid,” he said, to get his partner’s attention. Kid Curry was standing on the other side of the room, buttoning the shirt he’d just pulled on. “Yeah, Heyes?” he replied, lifting his gaze briefly before turning his attention back to the task at hand. “I’ve been thinking about the last couple of weeks.” “Aw, Heyes, do you have to do that?” Kid groused. He’d finished dressing, and now sat down heavily on his own bed in the room the two were sharing. “C’mon Kid, you have to admit….” But that was as far as Heyes got before he was interrupted. “Look Heyes, I know how you get, worrying at something until you got it figured out, but the last couple of weeks have been good. We’ve had steady work…with room and board. We’re sleeping on real beds and eating some mighty fine cooking. We haven’t had to run from a sheriff or a posse or even a bounty hunter.” “I know, Kid, I know,” Heyes replied, sounding less than happy. “So why do you have to go and spend your time thinkin’ about what’s wrong with all of that?” “I can’t help it, Kid. It’s just not natural.” “Heyes,” Kid said, frustration clear in his voice. “Think about it, Kid. This is what, the second sweet old widow who reminds one of us of our ma, and who just happened to need to hire on a couple of fellas to help out around the place?”

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Kid sighed in frustration. He had thought it was a bit strange, but he wasn’t about to admit that to Heyes now. “And how many kids have you had the “I’m not gonna teach you to fast draw and here’s why” conversation with in the last week? Two? Three?” “Four,” Kid admitted reluctantly. “And every one with a grateful mother who just couldn’t thank you enough!” “Joshua! Thaddeus!” a voice interrupted them before Kid could try to come up with a reply. “You boys come down and get some breakfast in you before you start on that roof.” The two men looked at each other. Kid raised his eyebrows, as if to ask, “Are you going to keep on about this?” Heyes merely shrugged before calling out to let their hostess – and employer – know that they would be right down. Kid knew, however, that this was only a temporary reprieve. Once his partner had something on his mind, especially a puzzle that needed solving, he wasn’t likely to let it go so easily. It was worrisome, but not enough to ruin Kid’s appetite, especially for Bess Miller’s cooking. “Best not keep the lady waiting,” he said, getting to his feet and heading out the door. A few minutes later, the two ex-outlaws were seated at the big kitchen table and Mrs. Miller was setting plates of ham and eggs in front of them. “I made some of my biscuits too,” she said. “I know how much you love them, Thaddeus.” Kid smiled up at her. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said. “Now I’ve told you. Call me Bess,” she replied, before turning her attention to Heyes. “And you, Joshua, you could still use some more meat on those bones. If you keep picking at your food like that, I’ll think you don’t like my cooking.” Kid stifled a laugh, but couldn’t stop himself from smirking at his partner, who shot him a dirty look before quickly turning a dimpled smile on their hostess. “Now Bess, you know that’s not true. I’m going to miss your cooking almost as much as I’ll miss the cook herself when we’re through with this job. I was just a little distracted – thinking about what else we might be able to get done today. I figure if we finish up with the roof early enough, we might be able to make a good start on the fences.” Bess Miller blushed. Kid sighed and shook his head. Heyes flashed his partner a grin and purposefully tucked into his breakfast. A little while later, the two men were at work making repairs to the roof of the widow Miller’s farmhouse, and Heyes was back on the topic of how the last couple of weeks in the lives of Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes just weren’t “natural.” “Think about it, Kid,” he was saying again. “Kindly widows who want to feed us…

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young mothers with sons in need of lectures on gunfighting from the fastest gun in the West…and then there’s the Sheriff.” “Wait a minute, Heyes. The Sheriff? All he’s been is friendly. What’s wrong with that?” “Maybe. But remember the fishy way he was looking at us, a few days after we got into town?” “C’mon, Heyes. Don’t I remember you saying once how when a Sheriff looks at us it comes out fishy no matter what?” “And I was right. But that’s not the point.” “Okay…so how about you explain it to me Heyes. It’s cold, we’re up on a roof hammering our thumbs, and things’ll go a whole lot faster if I’m not playing guessing games with you.” Heyes chuckled, not at all put off by Kid’s attitude. “You remember the looks he was giving us or not?” Kid reluctantly admitted that he did, in fact, remember said “fishy” looks. “And you don’t think it’s even a little bit strange that he goes from not recognizing us when we ride into town, to looking at us like he’s comparing us to our wanted posters – which, by the way, are prominently displayed on the board by his desk in the Sheriff’s Office, to somehow deciding he wants to be friends?” Again, Kid reluctantly agreed that the situation was at least a “little bit” strange. “So what do you want to do about it, Heyes?” “That’s a good question, Kid.” “You’re not going to tell me you want to leave town, are you?” Kid asked, clearly not liking the idea. After a moment of thought he decided he had something to add. “You wouldn’t want to disappoint Bess, would you? You know she’s expecting us for Christmas dinner,” he said with a smile. “It’s not as if I want there to be trouble, Kid. Let me think on it a while.” Still later, Curry and Heyes had moved from fixing the roof to fixing fences. “I think I’ve got it, Kid!” “Got what, Heyes?” “Okay…so we’ve got motherly widows, kids who shouldn’t want to learn to fast draw, and a Sheriff who seems like he’s figured out who we are, but isn’t doing anything about

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it.” “We know all that already, Heyes. That’s nothing new.” “I know. But I think I’ve figured out why we’ve got all of those things.” “You wanna share it with me, Heyes?” “Don’t need to get all proddy on me, Kid.” All Heyes got in response to that was “the look.” Recognizing the better part of valor, Heyes relented. “I think it’s one of those writin’ ladies, Kid.” “Heyes?” “It’s almost Christmas, right?” “Well, yeah…but what’s that got to do with anything?” “It’s like we’re livin’ all sorts of things from some writin’ lady’s Christmas story.” “You know, Heyes, that’s got to be one of your craziest ideas yet.” “Crazier than making a deal with Clitterhouse?” Dirty look. “Did you come up with anything better?” Thoughtful pause. “Then again, crazy as it sounds, you may be onto something there.” “Exactly,” Heyes replied, looking rather pleased with himself. “Of course if I’m right, who knows what’s coming next?” he added, a little less certain. “Animals? Orphans?” Yet again later…dinnertime…Heyes and Kid came down the stairs, having washed up after a good day’s work. “There you are boys,” Bess said as she came toward them from the direction of the front hall. Followed by Sheriff Perkins. Although the Sheriff had for the most part been nothing but friendly, as Kid had rightly pointed out, the two ex-outlaws couldn’t quite help but pullup short at the sight of the lawman. Bess looked at them in confusion, but then apparently decided that they were just surprised by the sudden appearance of another dinner guest. “Sheriff Perkins was passing by on the way back to town, and graciously accepted my invitation to stay for supper.” “Passing by,” muttered Heyes under his breath. He’d seen the way the Sheriff looked at the widow Miller. Kid sent him a warning look, then stuck his hand out. “Good to see

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you Sheriff.” “Thaddeus. Joshua. And please, call me Sam.” On the way to the dinner table, Heyes hung back a bit. Kid slowed as well. “Sam?” Heyes said, giving Kid a look that clearly said, “And now we’re on a first name basis with the Sheriff?” Kid just shrugged. Dinner was pleasant enough. This time Bess had made a point of making the fried chicken Heyes had said was one of his favorites. And Kid’s biscuits. The Sheriff was his usual friendly self, though Heyes got the feeling he and the Kid were being told that they were welcome until Christmas, but that it might be a good idea of they headed out after that. Curioser and curioser. So much later that it was now the next day…two ex-outlaws, again full of a hearty breakfast courtesy of Bess Miller, headed into town for supplies. The two men split up, and when Heyes arrived back at the wagon he found it stacked with supplies the Kid had collected from the mercantile. He did not, however, find the Kid. He was scanning the street for any sign of his partner, and was just about to head into the nearby shop to see if he could find anything out when the object of his search appeared from out of an alley a few buildings down the street. He was moving slowly, one arm curled against his chest. Heyes’ first thought was to wonder at how Kid had gotten himself hurt, followed quickly by the recognition that he hadn’t heard a gunshot. What was going on? Still concerned, Heyes moved to intercept his partner. As he drew near, Heyes realized that Kid didn’t look hurt. No, he looked…embarrassed? “All right, Kid, what’s going on?” “You’re not gonna believe this, Heyes.” “Do I want to believe it?” In answer, Kid drew his arm back a bit, opening his coat slightly. There, nestled in warm sheepskin lining, was…a kitten? A kitten which was apparently responsible for a remarkable and unusual occurrence. Hannibal Heyes was – momentarily at least – speechless. He shook his head as if to clear it. Looked back down at the tiny creature cradled in the arms of the fastest gun in the West. Looked up at the Kid. Broke into a grin. “Whatever you’re thinkin’, Heyes, don’t say it. I couldn’t just leave it out there to die.” “I didn’t say a word,” Heyes replied. Under his breath he muttered to himself, “I wasn’t really serious about the animals. Or the orphans.” A little later, having procured some additional supplies for the care and upkeep of the tiny orphan ball of fur the Kid apparently couldn’t help but rescue, the boys headed back out

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to the Miller farm, Heyes driving the wagon and Kid…well, the fastest gun in the West would probably deny it, but a reliable source tells us that Kid was doting over a kitten. Certainly Bess Miller was soon doting on both the kitten and her rescuer, while Heyes looked on in amazement. He certainly was not affected by the sight of the ridiculously cute creature. Or by the sound of her purring as she butted her head against his leg. Not at all. Nor was he moved a few days later when – on Christmas Eve no less – he and Kid returned to the house having finished the last of the repairs needed around the farm to find a pair of ridiculously cute children sitting at the table being fed soup and ham sandwiches by Mrs. Miller. A boy and a girl, brother and sister by the look of them. Caught by surprise by the sudden appearance of children in the house, and busy thinking that these could only be the orphans he’d previously invoked in his conversation with Kid, Heyes momentarily overlooked the fact that he and the Kid had just happened to finish everything that needed doing at Bess’ place on Christmas Eve Day. Anyway, back to the matter at hand…he was surprised yes, but moved, well, he was the former leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang, one of the most notorious bands of outlaws in the history of the West, wasn’t he? But then again, they were ridiculously cute. And it didn’t take long at all to see how attached to each other they were, or how protective the older brother was of his sister. And strangely enough they were just about the same age he and the Kid had been when they’d lost their parents. And yet again later. Evening. You just have to be able to know when to throw in a losing hand. Which was why, Heyes told himself, the former leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang found himself decorating a freshly cut evergreen tree with a kindly widow, a pair of freckle-faced children, and, oh yes, the fastest gun in the West. Heyes snickered to himself at the sight of his partner positioning an ornament just so, under the direction of a boy of about ten or eleven. Kid shot him a glare. Heyes just shrugged and kept on grinning. Right up until he felt the tug on his pants leg and looked down into a pair of big, pleading blue eyes. She was about eight years old, and was holding up an angel that was clearly meant to go on the top of the tree. Heyes looked at the girl, then reluctantly refused to look at his partner. Kneeling down so the child could look him in the eye he held out his hand. “You want me to put this on the tree for you?” he asked. “Please, Mister Smith,” came the quiet reply. “My pa always helped me put the angel on the top of our tree.” The girl sniffed and rubbed at her eyes with her free hand. “I can’t reach,” she said. And of course her pa wasn’t here to help her…wouldn’t ever help her again. Heyes cleared his throat. Was that some dust from the old boxes of Christmas ornaments in his eye? He certainly wasn’t blinking back tears. A brief moment to finish composing himself, and then Heyes carefully took the child in his arms and lifted her up to set the angel in its place of honor at the top of the tree. When he’d set the little girl down again, Bess was there, smiling at him, and a moment later trying to distract the children by tempting them with hot chocolate. Heyes mouthed a silent, “Thank you,” and watched as Bess led brother and sister off to the kitchen for the promised treat. He felt,

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more than hear, Kid stepping up beside him. The partners shared a look – neither man was smirking now. Later that night, in the privacy of their room, the two men were discussing this latest turn of events. “I gotta admit it, Heyes, I think you were right.” “I usually am,” Heyes replied, having regained some of his equilibrium. “But exactly what was I right about this time?” “I think it’s gotta be one of them writin’ ladies. I mean, one widow I could see. Maybe two. Or maybe a couple of orphans. Or a hurt animal. But all of them?” “Exactly.” “But I’ve been thinkin’, Heyes.” “Haven’t we talked about that, Kid?” Heyes said, unable to resist the old joke. Kid gave him his usual response – a stony glare. “All right, Kid, what’s on your mind?” Heyes, as usual, relented. “Think about it, Heyes. When you were wondering what was coming next you said animals and orphans, and what happened? We got animals – well at least one – and orphans.” “And your point is?” “Maybe you should try suggesting something we really want for Christmas.” Heyes mouth dropped open as he looked at his partner in amazement. Could it really be that simple? No. Things just didn’t work that way. “I don’t think it works that way, Kid,” he said. Kid looked deflated, but carried on gamely. “Neither do I, really. But I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.” Later…as in the next day…just before Christmas dinner. Bess had invited Sheriff Perkins over, as well as the Josephs – a young couple who’d lost their first child to pneumonia and found out that they wouldn’t be able to have any more. Between the three of them, Heyes and Curry, the orphans, and Bess herself, it was quite a full house. As Bess had hoped, the Josephs were thoroughly taken by young Billy and Kate. As Kid had hoped, Kate was thoroughly taken by the kitten she and her brother had gotten for Christmas. Okay, Heyes was also happy about that.

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And as two ex-outlaws had hoped, there was a knock on the door just as everyone was getting ready to sit down to Bess’ delicious feast. Okay, so the ex-outlaws weren’t specifically hoping for a knock on the door. Or at least they didn’t know they were. Until Bess opened the door to reveal a trail-worn looking Sheriff Lom Trevors. Later…the last later…no, really. A pair of thoroughly sated, and no longer wanted exoutlaws were sitting by a crackling fire, just soaking in the moment. A pair of brown eyes cast themselves skyward. “I really didn’t think it worked that way,” Heyes said, clearly amazed. “It doesn’t, usually,” replied the ‘writin’ lady. “But I guess I’m just a softie. And it is Christmas, after all.” Happy Holidays, Everyone!

By Christina Johnson Christmas in Florence For our Christmas story we travel to the small town of Florence, Colorado. It is Christmas Eve and the town has a festive air. A flurry of snow has fallen overnight, covering everything with a white sheen which is glistening in the early morning sunshine. The town is already bustling with the townspeople intent on doing their last minute errands and making sure they have everything they need for tomorrow’s festivities. At the end of the street, opposite the Sheriff’s office a large Christmas tree is being decorated ready for tonight’s carol service. But let’s not linger here. We are going up the street to the town’s only café where we will find the heroes of our story engaged in eating a hearty breakfast. Or should I say one of our heroes is enjoying his breakfast of eggs, bacon and golden biscuits (and I think you all know who that is!) The other is engaged in pushing his food around his plate whilst he peruses the town’s weekly newspaper. “Are you going to eat that?” “Huh?” “Your breakfast, are you going to eat it?”

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Hannibal Heyes looked up from his newspaper and smiled. Using one finger he pushed his plate towards his partner. “It would be a shame to waste good food.” “It sure would,” his partner agreed as he went back to his reading. “What’s so interesting anyway?” Kid Curry asked between mouthfuls. “It says the bank was robbed in Canon City.” “That’s the next town isn’t it?” “Yeah, I think so. The gang got away with about $2000 dollars and they shot the bank manager. They think it was the Fowler gang.” “Good.” Heyes looked at his partner and raised an eyebrow. “What I mean is,” he added more quietly. “It’s good they think it’s the Fowler gang at least that’s one bank job they can’t pin on us. Not that it’s going to make any difference. It’s been nearly two years now. I don’t think the governor has any intention of giving us that amnesty.” “Eighteen months,” Heyes replied, folding his newspaper and laying it down on the table. “What?” “It’s been eighteen months since we went to see Lom in Porterville.” “Well it’s the second Christmas anyway.” “Can’t argue with that, Thaddeus.” At the mention of his alias Curry looked round to see the friendly waitress approaching. “Two clean plates,” she smiled. “That’s what I like to see. Would either of you gentlemen like more coffee?” “Yes, I think I would. Thank you, Ma’am.” She collected their plates, “I’ll bring you a fresh pot.” “You’re having more coffee, Joshua? I thought you’d be keen to get to the saloon.”

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“I thought I might stay here for a while and read some more of this newspaper, you can find out some interesting things about a town from a newspaper.” “We’ve been in town three days, what more is there to find out? The time of tonight’s carol service. Or perhaps you’re looking for an interesting article on Christmas traditions that you’ll be able to discuss with Miss Perkins next time you bump into her.” The warning look he received from his partner made Curry think better of continuing this particular line of teasing. To be fair it was only luck; his good luck and his partner’s bad luck that it always seemed to be Heyes that the middle-aged spinster managed to corner. “Well,” he smiled. “I think I’ll take a walk and perhaps call in at the mercantile, I’ll meet you in the saloon later.” Curry stood up just as the waitress arrived at the table with a fresh pot of coffee. “Aren’t you having any more coffee, Mr Jones?” “No thank you, Ma’am” “But you will be here this evening, won’t you? It being Christmas Eve we have a special meal planned, you might even call it a feast.” “Mr Jones and I will be spending this evening in the saloon, Ma’am,” Heyes replied wickedly. Curry shot his partner a look, “But I’m sure we could manage an hour to eat, Joshua.” Heyes looked at his friend and a huge grin broke out on his face, “Sure we can, Thaddeus, after all it is Christmas.” *** Unknown to Kid Curry at the very moment he was planning his exit from the café a showdown was being planned in the street. No sooner had he stepped out onto the street than his hat flew off his head and he felt a cold, wet sensation on the back of his neck. Curry’s hand went down to his holster as he spun round only to come face to face with another kid, 10 years old, he guessed. “Sorry, Sir,” the boy gulped. “It were an accident.” “You threw a snowball, it hit me and it was an accident?” Curry exclaimed. He felt a tug at his coat. He looked down and saw a young girl, she was holding his hat. “Please mister, please don’t shoot my brother, it was me he should’ve hit,” she sobbed.

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Curry realized his hand was still near his weapon and quickly pulled it away. He crouched down so that his face was level with the girl’s and looking into her eyes, he smiled. “It’s okay, I’m not going to shoot anyone, now dry your eyes, a pretty girl like you shouldn’t be crying.” He reached over and took his hat out of her hand, “Thank you.” She wiped her sleeve across her face and sniffed. Curry stood up and turned his attention to the boy. “Come here!” He ordered. The boy dropped his head and edged forward. “I’m real sorry,” he murmured. “And so you should be. A big boy like you shouldn’t be throwing snowballs at his little sister he should be looking out for her.” Curry reached into his pocket, pulled out a coin and flipped it to the boy. “Catch!” The boy looked surprised. “Now go and buy your sister some candy and remember, no more snowballs.” “Yes, Sir, I mean no, Sir. Thanks!” The boy grinned. Curry felt another tug at his coat. “You’re nice mister,” the young girl smiled. She took hold of her brother’s hand and they ran off down the street. Curry followed but not as far as the mercantile because despite what he had told his partner, that wasn’t his destination. The mercantile in this town didn’t sell what he wanted to buy, nor did the general store. He’d searched both unsuccessfully. There was only one place that did, he knew because he’d seen a display in the window. He stood looking at it now and took a deep breath. Heyes, I sure hope you’re gonna appreciate this. He looked in the direction of the café to make sure his partner was nowhere in sight and stepped inside Milady’s Modes. *** It was true that Hannibal Heyes was happy to read some more of the Florence Gazette but that wasn’t his reason for lingering over another cup of coffee. When he calculated that enough time had elapsed for his partner to be safely installed in the saloon he threw a few coins on the table, along with his folded newspaper, tipped his hat to the waitress and left

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the café. After checking carefully that there were no signs of the Kid he strode purposefully in the direction of the mercantile. The smell that greeted Heyes when he entered the store evoked memories of his childhood and for a few moments he was taken back to the happy Christmases he had once enjoyed. Shaking these thoughts from his mind he started to wander around the store examining the shelves as he did so. He soon found what he was looking for and was heading back towards the counter when a familiar voice made him stop in his tracks. “And some red ribbon, please, Mr Graves.” “Certainly, Miss Perkins.” “Oh no, it can’t be,” Heyes muttered. “Not again.” He approached the counter with a certain amount of trepidation. Miss Perkins was standing with her back to him. As he got nearer he could see that she seemed to be wrapping a length of red ribbon around some sort of vegetation. The storekeeper addressed him, “Good morning, Sir, will that be all?” “Yes.” “That’ll be a dollar two bits. Would you like it wrapping?” “Please,” Heyes nodded. He searched in his pocket and put the correct amount on the counter. “Why, Mr Smith. Good morning!” “Heyes turned towards the voice and raised his hat, “Good morning, Miss Perkins. I trust you are well?” “Very well thank you, Mr Smith and you have arrived at exactly the right moment.” “I have?” “Do you remember those Christmas traditions we were talking about?” A feeling of foreboding began to sweep over Heyes. “Well I have another one right here and you can help me try it out,” she smiled. “I can? Um, I mean…. er, what is it?” Heyes regarded the piece of vegetation in Miss Perkins’ hand, it had white berries and was admittedly beautifully wrapped in the aforementioned red ribbon but he was at a complete loss as to how this could be connected to any Christmas tradition or indeed how he might be involved in trying it out.

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“It’s called mistletoe,” she beamed. “It is?” “And according to this edition of Harper’s weekly,” for the first time Heyes noticed some sort of periodical on the counter that Miss Perkins was tapping with her forefinger, “It’s lucky.” Heyes was starting to feel decidedly uncomfortable and felt that the store had suddenly become quite warm. He glanced at the man behind the counter who had now wrapped his parcel and seemed to sense his discomfort. From the smirk on his face he was clearly enjoying it. “All we have to do,” she took a step towards Heyes and he automatically took a step back in turn, “Is to hold the mistletoe above our heads and kiss.” “And what?” Heyes spluttered. “And kiss!” Miss Perkins held the mistletoe high above her head and once more advanced towards her prey. Heyes was aware of a chortle coming from behind the counter. Panic seized the ex leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang and momentarily he was rendered speechless. He started to cough, “Germs!” he pointed at his throat and coughed some more. “Came on sudden this morning. It would sure be unlucky if you caught them, it being Christmas.” And with that Heyes made a dash for the door. He had his hand on the handle and was just about to turn it when the storekeeper called him back. “Mr Smith.” “What?” “I believe you have forgotten your parcel.” In one swift movement Heyes reached the counter, retrieved the parcel, tipped his hat to the lady and was out of the store. He was followed by the sound of the storekeeper’s hearty laughter. *** After depositing his purchase in their hotel room Curry walked over to the saloon. There was no sign of Heyes so he walked over to the bar to order a drink. Before he could catch the barkeep’s eye the conversation taking place between a couple of cowboys standing next to him caught his attention.

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“But how sure are you?” the first cowboy asked. “I was on a train he robbed. I got a good look at him and then there’s that black hat he wears, it’s famous you know.” his companion replied. “Then we should go to the sheriff, now.” Curry felt as if he had been punched in the guts. He tried very hard to keep his composure as he turned and watched the two men walk out of the saloon. Trying to assume a nonchalant air, Curry followed them. *** Heyes left the hotel cautiously he didn’t want to meet Miss Perkins again. The thought of their encounter made him shudder but he was pleased with his purchase now safely tucked away in his saddlebags. He marched across to the saloon and almost bumped into his partner coming out. “Hey, what’s the rush, Kid? Are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” “Not a ghost, Heyes, but maybe a posse.” “What?” “You see those two men hurrying down the street; the one in a checked shirt and the man wearing a brown hat. Well one of them was on a train you robbed and he’s on his way to tell the sheriff you’re in town.” Without another word they turned and headed the other way in the direction of the livery. Suddenly Curry stopped and caught his partner’s arm. “Wait a minute, Heyes. This is stupid, leaving without any supplies especially in this weather. Maybe one of us should go back to our room and collect our things while the other saddles the horses. We could meet in the alley at the back of the hotel.” “I don’t think there’s time, Kid.” Heyes replied with a sad smile. “But don’t worry at least we are both wearing our warm coats and I have a plan. We’ll leave town, ride for a bit, find somewhere to lay low and avoid that posse that’s forming. They’ll soon give up, remember it’s Christmas Eve; they’ll want to be back with their families. Then when it’s dark, say about six o’clock we’ll sneak back into town and collect our belongings and then head out of town without anyone being the wiser ‘cos, that’s when everyone will be busy at the carol service.” “Six o’clock, huh?” Kid grinned. “Okay, Heyes, we’ll do it your way.”

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The partners soon had their horses saddled and were heading out of town. *** It was slightly after six when the two men rode back into town. They had been lucky. The snow that was now falling quite heavily had only started recently. Even so the men were very thankful to have their warm coats. Their collars were now turned up and their bandanas wrapped tightly around their necks. They were cold, hungry and slightly wet but their discomfort had been well worth it as they had seen no signs of a posse and now as Heyes had predicted the streets were empty. They tethered their horses outside the hotel and dismounted. “It looks quiet, Kid, but we’d best not take any chances,” Heyes said, knocking the snow off his hat. “I can’t imagine the hotel clerk will have left his post.” “Yeah, Heyes, whoever heard of a hotel with no back door?” Curry took out his Colt and held it by his side. He nodded at his partner who slowly pushed the hotel door open. As they had feared the hotel clerk was standing at the desk. He looked up when the two men walked in. “Gentlemen, Gentlemen, come in, you must be frozen. Come and warm yourself by the fire.” The two men exchanged a glance, Heyes gave a slight nod of his head and Curry holstered his gun. “Have you been out riding all day?” “Most of it,” Heyes replied. “Then you’ve missed all the excitement.” “Excitement?” “The sheriff arrested Jake Fowler, right here in our town.” The clerk misread the glazed looks on the two men’s faces, so he decided he needed to give them some more information. “You know, the famous train and bank robber. He was recognized by a man who had been a passenger on a train he robbed and of course the outlaw’s big black hat is a dead giveaway.” The clerk regarded the two men standing in front of him, they looked decidedly unwell. “Gentlemen, forgive me, you’ll want to get out of those wet clothes and have something to eat. Room nine, isn’t it?” He held out a key.

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Curry took it, “Thanks.” The two men turned and walked up the stairs to their room.

Curry closed the door and turned the key. “Heyes, I’m sorry but when I heard those two men talking, I thought...” “You thought a train robber, wearing a black hat, it must be me.” “Yeah.” Heyes chuckled. “You’re not mad at me Heyes?” “No, Kid. I’m not. Forget it. Take your coat off and sit down in this chair. I’ve got something to give you.” Curry did as he was asked and Heyes reached into his saddlebags and took out a parcel. “Here, I know it’s a bit early. Happy Christmas, Kid!” Curry took his present and opened it. “A shirt! Thanks, Heyes; it’s the same colour as -” “The one you tore into bandages last time I got shot. Yeah, I know. It’s the shade of blue that matches your eyes perfectly, Kid, the one that all the ladies find irresistible.” Curry looked at his partner but decided to let his comment pass for now. “I have something for you too, Heyes.” Curry opened his saddlebag. “Happy Christmas!” Heyes took the gift from his friend. “Well there’s only one thing this can be. I’m a little surprised, Kid.” “But you love them, Heyes, why wouldn’t I buy you one for Christmas?” “Sure but where did you get it, Kid? I’ve looked in the mercantile and the general store and there were none to be seen. I’d come to the conclusion that the town was completely illiterate ‘till I discovered that newspaper this morning.” Curry began to shift uneasily in his chair. “Why does it matter where I got it, Heyes? Just open it.” Heyes noticed Kid’s uneasiness and decided this was something that could be pursued later but for now he said nothing and opened his present.

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“Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.” “You like his books, right, Heyes?” “Yeah, he writes great stories. Thanks Kid.” “And I liked the title, ‘cos that’s what we’ve got isn’t it?” Heyes looked curiously at his partner. “Great expectations, you know the amnesty.” Heyes grinned. “Yeah, that’s exactly what we’ve got, Kid; great expectations. All we need is a little faith. Now, let’s get out of these wet clothes. Didn’t that waitress mention something about a Christmas feast?”

By Calico Christmas Present… “Open it, Ma! Open it!” Thaddeus Curry bounced on his seat, eyes sparkling with excitement. Excitement and impatience. Jed suppressed a grin. He knew their Ma was frustrating his younger brother by being a slow unwrapper. Thaddeus could not understand this ‘make it last’ attitude. Thaddeus was a ripper. In HIS opinion folk should tear the paper off presents fast as they could. To his five-year-old mind it stood to reason! “Open it!” A small bottom slid off the chair and Thaddeus trotted round to stand beside his Ma. He remembered the ‘no getting down without leave’ rule and shot a glance at his Pa. No, it was fine. Pa was wearing a ‘since it’s Christmas morning, pretty much anything is okay’ smile. A breakfast-encrusted finger stretched out to point at the uneven writing on the parcel. Ma had read it out loud once already, but, obedient to her young son’s obvious, though unstated, demand she read it again. “To Ma and Pa. Merry Christmas Jedediah, TahDDeuSs aNd …” “I wrode that!” interrupted Thaddeus. “I wrode that bit myselve. Not Jed. He wrode the rest. But I – ME – I wrode ‘Thaddeus’. It’s a bit c’ooked but you can see it says ‘Thaddeus’ huh? You can see THAT’S a ‘T’”

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He indicated his proudly inscribed moniker. “Sure we can see it says ‘Thaddeus’,” said his Pa, firmly if not entirely truthfully. “Look at the size of that ‘T’ starting if off! Huge! No mistaking that.” A delighted smile curved the plump face at this paternal affirmation. “An’ – An’ – THAT bit,” a scarlet whirl was indicated, “that’s s’posed to say ‘Joshya’…” Joshua, hearing his name, looked up from his artistic finger-painting endeavours using the medium of butter on tabletop. Seeing this, Thaddeus lowered his voice, tactfully and leaned in to his Ma’s ear. “If don’t really say ‘Joshya’. It don’t really say nuffin’. It’s just sc’ibble. AND he wanted the red crayon – though EV’BODY knows wridin’ oughda be black or – or dark blue! But, he saw us wridin’ an’ he wanted a go an’ – an’ Jed said we hadta let him, ‘cos it’s only fair. Even if it spoit it a bit. ‘Cos o’ sharin’…” “Jed’s right,” said their Ma, decidedly. “It’s always nicer to share.” She beamed approval at her eldest son. Jed gave a little shrug and grinned back, sheepishly. He was not so sure about it ALWAYS being nicer to share. His Ma knew that. Sharing had it’s good side, but… Stood to reason sharing meant YOU got less. Didn’t it? Part of him had wanted to keep this present to his parents JUST from him. AND, he sure understood Thaddeus’s qualms about letting Joshua spoil it. He – Jed – had had the same qualms about letting Thaddeus join in. “That’s what Jed said,” confirmed Thaddeus. “’S’nicer to share. So – we did, didn’t we, Jed?” “Uh huh,” confirmed Jed. Another grin appeared. It was sappy but he couldn’t help but feel pleased at Thaddeus quoting him as if ‘Jed said’ was the ultimate discussion closer. A pair of eyes, blue as his own, smiled up, telling him clear as clear he was the best big brother in the history of the world. He ruffled the blond curls. Yeah. It was nicer to share. “It’s from ALL of us!” Thaddeus summed up. Once more he leaned in to add, sotto voce, “It’s not REALLY from Joshya too. He didn’ do nuffin’ ‘cept get in the way! It’s REALLY from Jed an’ me. WE made it! Well Jed MADE it an’ – an’ I y’elped. But – but if you wanna PRETEND it’s from Joshya as well – that’d be okay, huh? Huh, Jed?” A solemn nod from the older brother oracle backed this suggestion up. Jed met his mother’s understanding glance. “Sure,” she agreed, in the same conspiratorial tone. Nice and loud she added, “Thank you, Joshua.”

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A golden head looked up briefly from ‘self-portrait in dairy’ and gave her a smug beam displaying admirable progress on the cutting of milk teeth and a little semi-masticated oatmeal cookie. “An’ – an’ – Joshya was gonna scream if’n we didn’ givim the red – so we let him have it. ‘Cos – he don’ dunderstan’ ‘bout wridin’ havin’ to be black. He’s only a baby!” “NAOW!!” protested the maligned one. “NOD!!” “’Course Joshua ain’t only a baby,” appeased Jed. “You’re a big boy, aren’t you?” “Deh. Oud.” A split second pause. Then, outraged at the delay, “OUD!” “I’ll take him.” Their Pa moved to release the non-baby from his high chair. “You sit easy, open our present from the boys.” However, Joshua rejected the offer of a seat in his Pa’s lap and insisted on toddling over to jab a buttery finger at the scarlet scrawl on the parcel. “Joshua!” admired Ma. “And such a lovely red.” “I reckon the red makes it look real – real Christmassy,” offered Jed, seeing a pucker beginning on Thaddeus’s brow. Thinking. Then – a beam. Jed was right. Jed was ALWAYS right. The red DID make it look more Christmassy. “Hurry yup,” he urged. “Your Ma’s untying what looks like a whole ball of string here, Thaddeus,” demurred their Pa. “And somebody’s done a real fine job on the knots.” “ME!” A proud finger jabbed at a small chest. Thaddeus had helped Jed a lot with those knots! It had been HIS finger those knots had been fastened around. A sturdy pair of Jed’s old ‘hand-me-down’ boots began again to dance with impatience. “Hurry yup!” Finally, Ma folded back the last covering of much creased and fingerprinted brown paper. For a moment she said nothing, then, when she spoke, her voice was all shaky. “Oh Jedediah, look at this!” She did not mean ‘Jed’ Jedediah. She was talking to Pa; his name was ‘Jedediah Curry’ too.

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“D’you like it? Do you? You do – don’t you?” Thaddeus tugged on his Pa’s sleeve. “It’s a frame…” said Jed. “An’ – An’ – INSIDE – there’s a picture!” stressed Thaddeus. “I – I mean – WE – kinda thought you could put the photograph in it. Y’know the one you had taken when we all visited…” “The one where I’M only two!” cut in Thaddeus. “’Cos – you’ve only got the cardboard frame the photographer supplied and it’s gettin’ kinda dog-eared…” “An’ – An’ – JOSHYA, he ain’t even in it at ALL. ‘Cos – ‘Cos he wasn’ born…” “Then Thaddeus thought…” “An’ – An’ – Misder Reyes says – Joshya WAS in it! He’s the – the wicked tinkle in Pa’s eyes!” “HE thought we could do a picture to go IN the frame. Just to show it takes a …” “Jed carved. I y’elped. I – I passed stuff! An’ – An’ – I swep tup sawdust!” “Just to show it takes a picture. You can put the photograph in later.” “An’ – An’ – we was REAL sekkit! You didn’ guess, huh? You didn’ see? It was a – a susprise! A proper susprise!” Jed looked anxiously at his Ma. She did realise HE had not meant it to have a dumb drawing in? It was for the studio photograph his parents had had taken before the war. The last time they’d travelled to…She did realise he had let Thaddeus do a picture because…Well, because it had seemed mean to say ‘No.’ “It’s a proper surprise,” she confirmed. “And - I love it. I love the frame. I love the picture.” “It’s you an’ us!” elucidated Thaddeus. “YouAnPaAnMeAnJedAnJoshyaAn…” A breath. “An’ Han, ‘cos I reckon he’s ALWAYS vistin’. An’ we’se in fronta our house! An’ – An’ – “ “I love it,” repeated Ma. “Thank you.” “Jed drewed the house. He drewed mosta the lines. I drewed US…an’ I colored! An’ – an’ the red squiggles – they’se Joshya. They ain’t nuffin’. Just squiggles. An’ THERE –

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that’s you Ma!” “Will you take a look at that?” marvelled Pa. “Ma’s hair is SO golden!” He decided to hazard a guess. He pointed at a particularly inky black spot. “This must be me, huh, Thaddeus?” “Uh huh. Wearin’ your Sunday Suit!” “Jed…” Ma said, softly. “You won’t mind if I keep THIS picture in the frame, will you?” For a moment Jed felt a wave of disappointment. It had been such a good idea to do a frame for the photograph. And, letting Thaddeus and Joshua join in had spoiled… Then, his Ma looked up and he saw how brightly her eyes were shining. He understood. It was not spoiled at all. It was…Sheesh he felt sappy. It was wonderful. “I reckon that’d be fine,” he said, gruffly. He cleared his throat. “I could always do another one – for your birthday.” She looked down again at her present. “It’s beautiful,” she said. “Thank you boys.” It WAS beautiful actually. Jed blinked a little as he watched the tip of her finger trace the twining leaves etched into the wood. He had done his very best, but he did not remember it looking quite that good. “I guess we’d better get ready for church,” said Pa, checking his pocket watch. “That means a necktie everyone. No arguing.” Pa watched Ma still touching the tiny flowers nestled in the leaves. “I think that’s – that’s a real fine bit of carving.” His eyes met those of his eldest boy. “It must have taken…You must have been working on that all winter son.” Jed felt his chest swell with elation at the pride he saw in his father’s face. Without any of the usual grumbling he went to the small mirror to slide the scratchy necktie under his collar. Ma followed. Though he had been tying his own tie for years – YEARS – now, Jed let her turn him round and do it for him, just like she had when he was a little kid. “This shirt turned out real well, if I say so myself,” she murmured, straightening the collar. “Sure did,” agreed Jed. “And, I always liked this blue. And – thanks for remembering the secret pocket.” That had been one of Han’s ideas. For keeping secrets in! He had mentioned it AGES ago and Ma had not forgotten. Of course, you could not get really excited about a new shirt, but his parents had warned him there was no spare money at all this Christmas and…It was sappy again, but he did not care about proper presents. Not much anyhow. Ma had given up one of her calico

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dresses to make shirts for them all. Just like he had given up all those evenings he could have been out with Han to get on with his carving. His mother’s hand lingered on the collar then rose to softly stroke his cheek. He felt so – so full of… Jed did not know the right word. Just - everything - was all welling up inside him. This Christmas was going to be so... Ma leant forward to push back his curls and kiss his forehead. Hey! Jed wriggled. He was a bit old for that! Still, even though it was mushy, it was kind of... He could not help liking it. And, there was no one here to see. Just the family, so it did not really matter. Ma had really, REALLY loved her present. He was SO glad… Ding. Ding. Sheesh! Was he so glad he heard bells? “Jed, hurry yup!” urged Thaddeus, letting Pa fasten his necktie. “Or we’ll be late.” He trotted over and shook his big brother. “Won’t we be late, Jed?” Shake. Tug. Shake. Ding. Ding. Ding. “We’ll be LATE, Jed. Jed!” Shake. Shake. “Jed, we’ll be late!” Ding. Ding. Ding. “Jed – wake up. Can’t you hear the bell? We’ll be late down. Jed!” Shake. Shake. A fist emerged from under the rough blankets to rub at a pair of sleepy blue eyes. For a moment, joy still bubbling inside, Jed blinked up, happily, into Han’s anxious face. Then, he… It hit him. Full on. It hurt so much he gasped, breath lingering in the chill air. Waking up after a home dream was always the worst. Those couple of seconds before you realised – then, you remembered. And remembering was almost like it happening, all over again. Jed sat up and took the shirt that Han held out to him. Still his favourite blue, though a touch tight now. It was a year old and getting shabby at the cuffs.

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The dream had been all mixed up. Some stuff from other Christmases. Some stuff …He guessed some stuff he must have been thinking about. He looked at Han. There were tell-tale traces around the dark eyes and his friend wore that kinda – kinda stricken look. Jed reckoned Han had had a ‘home’ dream too. “Merry Christmas, Jed.” Jed’s hands stopped buttoning his shirt. His hand shook as it strayed to the ‘secret’ pocket and to a hidden scorched and tattered remnant of much creased drawing. He gulped. Part of him wanted to lash out; to yell ‘No! No it ain’t! It ain’t ‘merry’ at all!” at the top of his voice. But, whose ever fault all this was, it sure wasn’t Han’s. Their eyes met. A mute conversation. Yeah. Han understood. Han summoned a resolute dimpled smile. “C’mon. Can’t have you missin’ breakfast, huh? Not THIS mornin’ of all mornin’s! Setting his chin, Jed finished buttoning his shirt and reached for his pants. “There’s a lotta truth in there!” A pause. “Merry Christmas, Han.” ---oooOOOooo--Valparaiso. December 25th 1863

By Calico ‘Tis The Season To Be…Silly! MID-DECEMBER 188???? “Kid …” “Nope.” Ham and eggs continued to go west. Or – should that be south? Heyes and Curry were in a stock small town restaurant – classic gingham tablecloths, lettering on the windows, coffee pot between them. Hey, you know the scene, you’ve watched it often enough. “I haven’t said anything yet,” objected Heyes.

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“Just tryin’ to save time Heyes. The answer’s – no.” “No – what?” “No, I don’t think we should take the job.” “You don’t know what it is!” “I don’t need to.” “This is a good job, Kid.” “No it ain’t!” Heyes voice rose – both pitch and volume - as he repeated, “You don’t know what it is!” “I know you’ve been broodin’ over the same spot in that ‘Situations Vacant’ column for the past quarter of an hour…” Kid speared the untouched egg on his partner’s plate and converted it into ex-outlaw food by the oral ingestion method. “If it was a GOOD job, by now we’d be knockin’ on the door of whoever was offerin’ it. It wouldn’t take you fifteen minutes to work out whether it was worth riskin’, or calculatin’ the odds you could talk me into it. What THAT is…” Kid’s knife indicated the spot his partner had been staring at in the small print. “…Is NOT a good job. What THAT is, is a DUMB job.” Chewing. “Are you done?” Kid thought about that for a moment. While concurrently chewing. And you thought he was just a pretty face! “Uh huh,” he agreed. Polishing of an empty plate with a hunk of bread. More chewing. “Listen Kid, this IS a good job…” “Does it involve cougars?” “It’s…” Heyes blinked at the interruption. “No. Why the Sam Hill should it involve cougars?” “Dynamite?” “No.” “Big Mac?” Kid decided to widen the criteria on this one. “Or any owners of statues?”

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“No.” “Bein’ actin’ deputies escortin’ other outlaws?” “No.” “Going back to Devil’s Hole with a woman carryin’ a concealed gun?” “No.” “Going back to Devil’s Hole with a pack of archaeologists speakin’ in assorted accents?” “No.” “Going back to Devil’s Hole – period?” “No.” “Diggin’ up lost army payrolls?” “No.” A pause. “Wrassling grizzlies while manacled, nekkid, in a snake pit?” “No. HEY! When did we ever…?” A grin creased Kid’s cheeks. He drained his coffee mug. “Just yankin’ your chain with that one, Heyes.” A chair was pushed back and Kid stretched out, hands behind his head. A contented sigh. Ah – the pleasure of feeling well fed! “Okay, Heyes. Tell me what dumb job you DO want us to do next.” “Not ‘US’, Kid. Just me. There’s only one vacancy.” “Just you?” “Uh huh. Read it.” The newspaper was thrust into Curry’s hands. “If it don’t involve me…” Kid pursed his lips and mulled. “I like it already!” He read. “Huh?” “I read about some big fancy stores back East doing this,” enthused Heyes. “I guess even small towns pick up on the trends, huh?”

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A pair of blue eyes looked up. “Are you serious?” “Yup! Good money, Kid.” “Yeah but…What’s the thing we usually try and avoid? Being recognised. You’re gonna take a job where long lines of people queue up and stare hard at you.” “Ah! But think, Kid! What’ll I be wearing?” Kid did think. A grudging nod of the head. Heyes was right – no one would recognise him. “Look at the requirements, Kid. I’m PERFECT for this!” Kid read, (out loud this time) “Patient, affable, outgoing, able to make cheerful conversation with folk from all walks of life.” A quizzical raising of one eyebrow. Kid scanned his partner. A grudging shrug indicated ‘Maybe’. He read on, “An aff – affinity…what the Sam Hill is an ‘Affinity’?” “It just means ‘a way with’.” “Uh huh? An affinity with children is essential.” His head came up. “Since when did YOU have an affinity with children? It’s ME has an affinity with children!” Kid did have some justification here. The unwritten Huggins tenet is definitely that CURRY is the one who has an affinity with children. “Hey! I like children!” protested Heyes. “Yeah, sure. You like ‘em fine – but you couldn’t eat a whole one.” An affronted Heyes rose to his feet. “You oughta have more faith, Kid. I am perfect for that job. I will see you AFTER I’ve been hired.” The restaurant door swung shut behind him. Kid took another look at the advertisement. “Dumbest thing I ever heard,” he disgruntled. A musing sniff. “Heyes is right about one thing though – good money.” The forehead furrowed. Decision. The section of newspaper was ripped out and tucked into a snug back pocket. A couple of dollars were tossed onto the table. A brown hat and sheepskin jacket were donned. A second ex-outlaw strutted out into the street. ---oooOOOooo--LATER THAT SAME DAY. Our scene shifts to a stock small-town hotel room. Kid, his back to both the door (and to

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us) stands before a mirror – adjusting and preening. The rear of a tousled blond head obscures what he sees in the glass. The click of a key in the lock. Heyes strode in, with a gloomy, “’S’only me, Kid.” He hung his jacket and THE hat. Under a dark blue shirt a pair of broad shoulders displayed a disconsolate droop. A disgruntled – though still gorgeously taut – butt, dropped onto the bed. “Dumb interview panel!” “They didn’t hire you, huh?” “No! Told me they’d seen a better candidate! Tchah! I’d like to see the man who they think is gonna do a better job than Hannibal Heyes! I’d like to see the man who they think is gonna do a better job than the genius who worked out the Bryant pump …” Heyes made the mistake of listening to himself. He realised cracking safes was hardly a relevant ‘past experience’ example. He shut up. Briefly. “I’d like to see him, that’s all Kid.” His partner turned away from the mirror. A luxurious snowy beard obscured the lower half of his face. His blue eyes twinkled out below equally white and bushy eyebrows. These rose, teasingly, as he reached for a scarlet fur trimmed coat and shrugged it on. The look on Heyes’ face was all Kid had hoped for. Heyes was speechless. Again – briefly. “You!” he sputtered. “YOU stole my Santa Claus job???!!!” “Nope!” smugged Kid. “I don’t steal any more, remember. I won fair and square.” Heyes opened his mouth, failed to find a suitable riposte and shut it again. “No hard feelings?” checked Kid. His partner caught the genuine query under the still-teasing tone. “Nah. No hard feelings.” A dimple peeped. “After all – you got an advantage over me, Kid.” “Uh huh?” “I guess they reckoned if they hired you they could save on the padding. What with you providing your own.” “Hey!” There was a distinct sucking in of Kid’s belly. Defensively, “I am NOT fat, Heyes! I am well-built!” “You’re fatter than me.”

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“There’s skeletons dangling on wires in front o’ medical students fatter’n YOU!” “I am NOT skinny! I am simply - lean.” An exchange of ‘the look’. Curry reached for his hat. Well, not HIS hat. Not the floppier brown second season ‘Hey wardrobe, can I have this one? It looks cool!’ number so beloved of Kidettes everywhere. He reached for his NEW hat – scarlet velvet, white fur trim, cute fluffy pompom dangling from the top. His eyes glinted. “Hey! Come with me – they have another job to fill after all. I could put in a good word.” ---oooOOOooo--ONCE AGAIN IT IS LATER THAT SAME DAY. Kid Curry made himself comfortable. Glass of milk to the right, check. Cranberry cookies to the left, check. Carrot for the reindeer, check. Beard arranged in smooth waves, check. The back door to Santa’s grotto opened. In walked… The blue eyes widened to their fullest extent. One could say they bulged. In fact one will say they bulged. The blue eyes – these would be Curry’s, okay? – they bulged. “Heyes!” “Shut up!” A pair of dark eyes – these would belong to the other fella – flashed the dangerous look once employed to keep a gang of mean and desperate outlaws, or at any rate the Devil’s Hole crew, under control. “You knew. When you said ‘assistant’ you KNEW it meant this! You knew and you never so much as warned me. Now, if I hear so much as a peep – one peep – of laughter outta you, so help me I’ll flatten…” “I gotta laugh, Heyes,” protested Kid. “It’s part of the job requirements. Ho Ho Ho!” His gaze rested on his partners emerald clad legs. “Ho Ho Ho!” His gaze travelled up. “Ho Ho …Oh ho! Sheesh, Heyes! Are you sure that outfit is even legal? You know trouble with the law is the last thing THIS Santa’s little helper needs?” With as much dignity as he could muster – which, to be honest, was not much – Heyes gave an upward hoist to his tights and a downward tug to his tunic. If it WAS a tunic. I guess it could have been a really broad belt. Nah! It had a zigzag hemline that makes it a tunic, huh?

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“Some folk,” he said, firmly, “…some folk oughta take a good look in the mirror before they start making fun of other folks’ uniforms.” “Heyes…” “And SOME folk,” Heyes interrupted, the silver bell on his jaunty cap tinkling as his finger jabbed the air to emphasise his seriousness, “…Oughta have a little more professional pride. AND, remember their aliases.” Kid blinked. They were alone – what was the problem. “We,” continued his partner, “…Have been officially on duty for the last thirty seconds. I am NOT Heyes. I am not even Joshua Smith. From now on, Santa, I only answer to ‘Jingles the Elf’!” “Heyes!” protested Kid. This was dumb! Feigned deafness. Not a flicker from the bell-topped one. “Jingles,” capitulated Kid. “Yes, Santa?” “Do we have any customers?” Tapered fingers pulled aside the snowflake decorated spangled drapes curtaining the front entrance to ‘Lapland’, just an inch or so. A dimpled elf peeped out. “Sheesh!” breathed Heyes. “We don’t just have customers. We have ‘em queuing like Christmas is going outta fashion!” He gazed at the excited throng. His brow furrowed. What was wrong? What was missing? Oh! “Kid – I mean, Santa, come take a look.” The bearded one did come take a look. He saw what Heyes saw. He realised what Heyes realised. “There aren’t any children. They’re all…” Kid dropped the curtain as hungry, searching eyes seemed to burn through the material, flushed cheeks spoke of rising excitement and parted lips heated the air with hot, hungry breath, “…All women.” Above the heads of the queue a fluttering banner announced, ‘Ladies Appreciation Board - Annual Christmas Fair’. “This isn’t what I expected,” gulped Santa Claus. “Me neither,” admitted Jingles. “But, nothing in our contracts said they had to be

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children.” He squared his shoulders. “C’mon Santa. If you have an affinity with children, what you have with the ladies must have one big capital ‘A’.” From beyond the curtain a chorus was beginning. “Oh you better watch out, You better not cry, You better not pout…” “Let’s start,” said Heyes. “Ready?” Outside, what now sounded like dozens of feminine voices trilled, “Sa.a.a.a.a.a.a.a.a.anta Claus is coming to town.” Kid Curry considered a quick dash out of the back door, but…Hey. Would not that behaviour be a little cowardly from the rough, tough, fastest gun in the West? “Sa.a.a.a.a.a.a.a.a.anta Claus is coming to town.” Giggles. Squeals of laughter. “Sure I’m ready,” lied Kid. Jingles the Elf stepped out. Feminine breath was drawn in. Eyes devoured him from the bells on his hat to the bells on his toes, then returned to a – central - area. Lips were licked. Heyes gave another fruitless tug at the tunic. “This way to see Santa, ma-am,” he charmed the brunette heading the queue. She stepped into ‘Lapland’ after him. “Ho Ho…” “Actually, Mister Jones,” he was interrupted, “It is not you I’ve come to see. I work here, in Human Resources …” “Huh?” “Like the rendition of song outside, it is anachronous…” Kid decided he was caught in another Big Word Day and let that one pass without a ‘huh?’ to speed things up. “It is YOU I need Mister Smith…or should I say, ‘Jingles’?” Another set of lips was licked. “Come with me. I want to de-brief this Elf in safety.” “HUH?” This time the interjection was from Heyes. “I want to brief you on health and safety.”

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“Oh.” The back door was opened. “Ladies first,” said Heyes. “No. After YOU, Mister Smith.” A mischievous grin, “I insist.” Heyes went first. “Sweet buns!” “HUH?” Heyes’ hands involuntary reached behind him and made an ineffectual attempt to lower the zigzag hemline. “We’ll talk in Suite One.” “Oh.” Left alone, Kid guessed he had better call in the next customer, but before he headed for the curtain, three ladies invaded the grotto. All were of a certain age. All were oozing mature, sensual, gorgeously female – oomph. “Me first! Me first!” fluttered a pouting mouth beneath a glorious pair of pussycat eyes. Kid crossed his legs. “Er…sure, ma-am! And – what do YOU want for Christmas?” “Let me sit on your lap, Santa,” came a mouse-squeak of excitement. Kid uncrossed his legs, hastily, as he found his arms full of forty-something voluptuousness. “…And we’ll see what comes up.” “Huh?” “Me too Santa!” The second lady made haste to occupy Kid’s other knee. Her voice husked into a growl, as she breathed into his ear, “I’ve been an awful good girl this year!” A tiny nip on his lobe made Curry doubt she was telling the whole truth there. The tip of a moist tongue made him dang sure she wasn’t! “Oh Santa, I could eat you up!” “And me! Make room for me!” The third lady spoke with a distinct hint of English accent. She perched between her friends. “Do you want to know if I’ve been naughty or nice, Santa? Or shall I tell you a secret?” “Er – if you like, ma-am.” She leaned in. Since the two American ladies were blowing in Kid’s right and left ear

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respectively, it was not EASY for her to lean in, but years of teaching experience had made her resourceful and she managed it. “When I’m REAL naughty,” she whispered, “…THAT’S when it’s nicest!” Kid blinked. “Hey!” Number One protested (a squeak of indignation this time rather than excitement) “If I’M sitting on this knee…” “And I’M sitting on this knee,” joined in Number Two. “What the Sam Hill are YOU sitting on?” Kid flushed scarlet as his robe. Number Three raised a perfectly arched eyebrow. “Muhahahah!” ---oooOOOooo--MEANWHILE IN SUITE ONE “Staff welfare is very important to us, Mister Smith. For instance, we ensure all employees receive a Christmas goose.” “That sounds real benevolent, ma-am.” “Oh!” A pout. “I’ve dropped my pencil! Did you see where it rolled?” “Here it is, ma-am,” smiled Heyes, gallantly, as he stooped to retrieve …”Hey!” He shot upright, clutching the rear of the emerald tights. “Did you just…?” “I did promise you a Christmas goose.” ---oooOOOooo--BACK IN THE GROTTO “Ma’am!” “Yes, Santa?” “Please remove your hands from my sack!” ---oooOOOooo---

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OVER IN SUITE ONE “You wanna kiss me under the middle WHAT, ma-am?” A feminine finger pointed upwards at the bunch of green leaves and milky berries. “Oh!” A dimpled grin, as Heyes decided to yield to temptation. “Not a problem, ma-am.” ---oooOOOooo--ONCE MORE UNTO THE GROTTO “Oh, Santa! Your beard tickles!” “Oh, Santa! I can’t wait to finish unwrapping this!” “Oh, Santa! Would you like to slip a little something into my stocking?” I think we can gather Kid Curry has also decided to yield to temptation. ---oooOOOooo--SUITE ONE “Nice Christmas baubles! Oh, Jingles – you can ring my bells any time…” ---oooOOOooo--THE GROTTO “Santa! Is that a gun under your robe, or are you pleased to…?” Hey! What would Christmas be without a few old chestnuts? ---oooOOOooo--SUITE ONE Or rather – outside suite one. We may not enter as a ‘Do Not Disturb – Elf Granting Christmas Wishes’ sign hangs from the door handle, tied on with a pair of vivid green tights. ---oooOOOooo--THE GROTTO

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Again, we are outside, amidst the impatient queue waiting their turn, rather than inside. We are held back by a ‘Do Not Disturb – Christmas cracker being pulled’ sign and our innate sense of decency. From inside we hear feminine voices once again rising in triumphant song: “Sa.a.a.a.a.a.a.a.a.anta Claus is coming...”

By Maz McCoy A Christmas Present “It’ll be Christmas tomorrow,” Hannibal Heyes announced, ducking his head as his horse passed under a snow laden branch. His words were muffled by the bandana tied across his face to keep the cold from his nose and mouth. “Huh?” came the equally muffled reply behind him. “I said, it’ll be Christmas tomorrow,” Heyes called back louder. From under a snow covered hat, two blue eyes looked up thoughtfully. “Yeah, I guess it is.” Kid’s horse plodded on, following the deep holes in the snow created by the animal in front. It was still snowing. White flakes clung to the men’s coats. They had hoped to make it through the pass before the snow came, but the ominous clouds hovering over the mountain had begun to deposit its load almost as soon as they reached the pass. Their horses moved bravely on, ploughing through the white powder. Kid gave a shiver and pulled his collar tight around his neck. Frosty flakes had attached themselves to his eyelashes. “Kid look!” Heyes called, as he pointed to a ramshackle building up ahead. Without another word they urged the horses towards the small cabin. *** Opening the door, Kid moved cautiously inside. There was no one there. There was no furniture either. An old stove stood in the centre of the room and beside it was a basket containing enough wood to start a fire. It wasn’t long before they had their bed rolls laid out, a fire going in the stove and a pot of coffee warming. Sitting crossed legged on his bedroll Heyes held out his hands towards the stove feeling the circulation return to his cold fingers.

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“Well this isn’t a bad Christmas present,” he stated, looking around the tiny cabin. “It sure beats sleeping out in the snow.” “Yeah, it does,” Kid agreed, handing his friend a steaming cup of coffee. “What more could we want? We have warmth, shelter from the elements, food…” He held up a stale biscuit. “…and good coffee.” Heyes raised his cup to Kid in a toast. His friend returned the gesture and they each took a sip of the hot brew, relishing the warm feeling as it moved down inside them. *** The wind whistled outside in the darkness as light, from the fire in the stove, flickered around the room. Despite the long ride, neither man could sleep, each lost in his thoughts on this particular night; thoughts of happier times in the distant past. “I wonder what they’d look like,” Kid said, suddenly breaking the silence. He lay on his back, his head resting on his hands. He knew without looking that his partner was awake. “Married with kids of their own maybe? Little ones running around their grandparents. Everyone getting ready for…” “Don’t!” Heyes’ sharp tone cut him off. “Sorry.” They were silent for a while. “What time do you think it is?” Kid asked, later. Heyes searched for his watch, opened it, and turned it to catch the dial in the fire light. “2 a.m.” “So it’s Christmas Day. Happy Christmas Heyes.” “Happy Christmas Kid.” Kid sat up and began searching for something in his saddlebags. “Heyes.” “What?” a tired voice asked. “Here.” Heyes opened his eyes and looked across at his partner. Kid held out something towards

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him. Heyes sat up and took the small parcel. It was wrapped in brown paper. “What’s this?” he asked. “Your Christmas present,” Kid told him with a smile. “Kid I don’t…I didn’t have time to get you anything. I thought we’d be in town by now and…” Heyes apologised. “It’s okay. Go on open it,” Kid urged. Feeling bad about not having a gift to offer in return, Heyes slowly untied the string around the parcel. Then he ripped away the paper. Heyes stared at the object in his hand. It was a hat band. A brown leather band with shaped silver studs embedded in it. Some were six-sided, other like tiny lightning bolts. Heyes’ mouth fell open in surprise. He had seen the band before. It must have been a month ago. They had been in a General Store in…he had forgotten the name of the town…but he remembered spotting the hat band and admiring the silver trimmings. Not many material things caught Heyes’ eye but this had. However, at the time it would have been an extravagant waste of their precious funds. “When did you? I mean I know where you…I didn’t know you…How did you pay…?” Heyes was struggling with what to say. “Do you like it?” Kid asked. “Of course I like it! You know I did, do.” “Good.” Kid sat back, happy. “But how did you? We didn’t have much money then.” “I robbed the bank,” Kid told him, flippantly. Two brown eyes opened wide in alarm and Kid burst out laughing. “Heyes you should see your face!” Heyes looked sternly at him. Kid gave a heavy sigh. “The guy at the livery stables gave me more for my saddle than I told you.” This seemed to satisfy his partner. Heyes reached for his hat and placed the band around the crown. It fit perfectly. “Hey it fits!” “It had better. I measured your hat.” “You what? When?”

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“Well not when you were wearing it. I can be sneaky too Heyes.” “Kid it’s great. Thanks.” Heyes held his hat up, admiring the fancy addition. “You’re welcome.” “I don’t have anything to give you.” “That’s okay. You’ve done enough for me over the years. I reckon I’m still in debt to you.” “No, you’re not. Hey wait!” Heyes reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a coin. “Here.” Kid took it, turning it over in his hand. It was a two-headed coin. “Heyes I can’t take this.” “Go on. You can use it. Someone has to go outside and get some more wood. Let’s toss for it.” “With a two headed coin?” Kid asked, incredulously. “Yes.” “Heyes.” “Go on,” the dark-haired young man urged, enthusiastically. Humouring his friend, Kid placed the coin on his thumb, preparing to flip. “You ready?” “Yep.” “Call!” Kid flipped the coin into the air. “Tails!”

By Shenango A Christmas Tale of Two Ex-Outlaws

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The two weary riders came into town late in the day. Their horses were almost as exhausted as the men and plodded along slowly. The first stop was the livery stable, where the horses were tended to and left inside away from the cold, wind and snow that would be coming any second now. The next stop was the hotel. Checking in, they ordered baths to be sent to the room and went upstairs. Opening the door, they checked the room and one took a look out the window to check the view of the street while the other made sure the door was securely locked. "I could sleep for a week, Heyes," Kid Curry told his partner. "I thought we'd never lose that posse." "Yeah, Kid," Heyes answered. "It was a good stroke of luck; that rock slide cutting them off from us." "You mean it was good shooting," Curry answered. Heyes nodded and smiled, "And good planning; you hit just the right rock to start it. Remind me not to give you a hard time about practicing again." Curry smiled back at him. The quiet was broken by a knock on the door to announce the delivery of two baths. They opened the door to let them in and proceeded to relax in the hot water. Two cleaner cowboys went back downstairs to ask about a place to eat. As luck would have it, there was a restaurant in the hotel, to the right of the front desk and on the other side was a door to a saloon. Smiling at their luck about not having to go back outside in the cold, they went first to the dining room and then to the saloon. Both places were quiet with no action at all. Seeing that they had the saloon almost to themselves, Heyes asked the bartender. "Is it always so quiet in here?" "Not usually. Everyone's over to the church for the Christmas pageant." "Christmas pageant," Heyes asked. "Why, yes gents. Tomorrow IS Christmas." He turned away and went back to washing his glasses. The two looked at each other, trying to hide their surprise. They had been dodging a posse for several days before they were finally able to lose them completely and had been so focused on the chase that they had lost all track of time. Both were quiet, thinking about Christmas. It was the second one since they'd started

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going for amnesty and they were both tired. The days and nights seemed to run into each other and neither had remembered to get a gift for the other. The fact that they hadn't been in a town long enough to spend money, which they had for a change, had bothered them both. After a while of nothing happening in the saloon, Kid decided to go for a walk. The town was mostly tucked in for the night, but he noticed the lights still on in the general store. Walking in, he was greeted by the owner at the counter. "Good evening, sir; Merry Christmas. Can I help you with something?" Kid looked around. "I was hoping to get a Christmas gift for my cousin. We've been traveling a lot lately and I plumb forgot all about it. Mind if I take a look around?" The man nodded to him and smiled. Kid wandered around the store looking at everything, trying to think of something that Heyes would enjoy. Along the side of the store, he came upon a small stack of books. Looking through them, he knew there were a few in there that Heyes had already read, but one or two he wasn't sure of. Picking one out, he wandered to the counter. "Will that be all, sir?" The man asked him. Kid put it on the counter. "I'm not sure if my cousin has read this one or not." "Well," the owner said, "You can't go wrong with that Mark Twain fella. He's real popular." He smiled at Curry. "Would you like this wrapped up?" Kid smiled, "Thanks." Paying for the book, he looked around at the rest of the merchandise in the store. A few minutes later, he took his package and left. Heyes meanwhile had decided to take a walk for himself. There wasn't much he could think of that would make a good Christmas present for Kid, so he wandered puzzled. In a short time, he found himself in front of a gunsmith. Kid's gun belt had been looking a bit shabby lately, even though he'd been working on the leather and trying to keep it in good repair. He picked out one he thought the Kid would like; similar to the one he still wore, a style that allowed for his fast draw. He paid the man and had it wrapped up. Going back to the room, he was going to put the present into a drawer and get ready for bed. As he walked got to the desk, he asked for the key and was told his partner had already gone up to the room. Hoping to try to find a way to surprise him, Heyes took off his coat and held the holster under it. Walking to the door, he knocked, giving the signal they'd worked out so Kid would know it was him. Kid answered the door in his stocking feet. He was getting ready for bed and was glad

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Heyes wasn't too late coming in. After letting Heyes in, he turned quickly and went back to getting ready for bed. Noticing that Kid wasn't looking, he quickly took the gun belt out from under his coat and put it into a drawer. Quietly, the two turned in. Morning broke, bright and sunny as the sunshine reflected off the snow that had fallen through the night. The pair woke and talked quietly as they started to dress. Heyes was trying to find a way to give Kid the present, and finally hit upon a way to surprise him. "Kid," he said trying to pull his boots on over his pant legs, "I have a clean shirt in that drawer there, could you hand it to me?" Kid looked at him funny, but opened the drawer. He stopped when he did and found the package but no shirt. "Heyes," he said, "There's no shirt in here. There's something wrapped up..." Heyes turned on him, smiling as he waited for Kid to get it. Kid looked up at him, puzzled first, then smiling and then said, "Yours is in the drawer by the bedside." The next couple minutes were spent opening and admiring the gifts and thanking each other. With a big smile, Heyes looked at Kid, now decked out in his new holster after having loaded it with cartridges. "This is really nice," Heyes said, caressing the leather cover. "I haven't read this one. Merry Christmas, Jed. Now come on, let's go eat." Kid was practicing his fast draw with the new holster, trying to make sure it worked for him. "I appreciate this, Han. Merry Christmas to you, too. I think I'm going to go do some target shooting; loosen up the leather a bit." Heyes looked up at him, "Before breakfast?

By Grace R. Williams It had been three days since the fever set in. Another day drew to a close while Hannibal Heyes sat waiting, watching, hoping for some sign of improvement. "Hang in there, Kid." The whispered words of encouragement fell on un-listening ears. At least Curry rested quietly now, a welcome change from his hours of thrashing and incoherent mumbling throughout the previous night. Most of it had been incoherent

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anyway. The one sentence Heyes had been able to make out had only increased his concern and intensified his own sense of responsibility for his partner's current state. The Kid had looked directly at him, eyes glazed, and pleaded, "I wanna go home." Home. He and Kid hadn't had a home in years. Only Devil's Hole, and no one should need to think of this God-forsaken place as home. If things had been different, if only they'd made different choices. Who was he kidding? HE had made all the choices, Kid had simply followed. It was his fault Kid had a price on his head. His fault Curry lay here now, wounded and maybe...he wouldn't even think the thought. The cold, hard truth stared Heyes in the face. Kid Curry would have been better off never knowing Hannibal Heyes. Heyes checked the bullet wound and applied another poultice. Satisfied he'd done all he could to make his partner comfortable for the moment, he left the bedroom. The cabin was quiet. Kyle and the boys had no doubt eaten dinner in the bunkhouse. Heyes poured himself a cup of coffee. A calendar on the wall reminded him of the date. December 24th. Christmas Eve. Seemed as good a night as any to hope for a miracle. Leaning against the weathered window frame, Heyes surveyed the freshly fallen snow. Good. They should be safe here and the additional snow would surely cover their trail, cover any traces of Curry's blood as it marked their path. He and Kid hadn't been back to the Hole in months. Not since beginning their quest for amnesty. Heyes wasn't happy about having to bring Kid here now, but there didn't seem to be much choice. The two had just completed a job, a request from Lom. They were leaving Porterville, heading south for the winter, when they'd been spotted. A posse had been assembled and the fateful shot had been fired, embedding itself deep in Curry's shoulder. This was Wyoming. Knowing they'd be recognized wherever they went, Heyes had picked the only safe spot he knew. Devil's Hole. Heyes returned to his post, the bedside of his injured friend. (If he called Kid a friend, would he in any way trivialize their relationship?) Curry was more than a friend. He was essential, a vital part of Hannibal Heyes. His hand touched the pale cheek. Still too warm. Heyes let out a sigh, ashamed at having to admit to himself he had checked to see if Curry was still breathing - he was. Heyes pulled a soft chair closer to the bed and leaned back, resting his head. The moon, shining on the snow outside, cast shadows across the yard. When he and Jed were kids, (How long had it been since he'd thought of the Kid as 'Jed'?) they would have slipped out a bedroom window on a moonlit night like this to meet at the big hill near the creek. They'd have taken turns sliding down the hill on a sled

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made by one of their Pas. Finally, both boys would have climbed onto the sled, one on top of the other, laughing until they couldn't breathe when they tumbled off in a snow bank. Days without proper food or rest began to take their toll on Heyes, his usually sharp mind growing cloudy, his eyelids growing heavy. "I'm here, Kid." As he fought exhaustion, visions of the previous days flashed before his closing eyes. The posse, the gunshot, then, his own hands, covered in Curry's blood, digging a bullet from his partner's body. "Mr. Heyes." Heyes' eyes fluttered open. The room had grown dark now, and cold. Heyes quickly reached for the sweat-covered brow before he realized the voice that wakened him didn't belong to the Kid. "Mr. Heyes!" the voice spoke again. Heyes shook his head, still groggy in his semi-sleep state. Although darkness hid the face, the voice was familiar. The visitor lit a lamp, spreading a dim glow over the room, illuminating the man's features. "Joe?" "That's right, Mr. Heyes." "I can't believe it! The last time we saw you, you were..." Heyes stopped. Was he dreaming? The last time he'd seen Joe Sims was the day he and Kid had buried him! A smile tugged at the corner of Joe's mouth, as he read the questions written on Heyes' face. Joe lifted the lamp to observe Kid Curry's unmoving form. He didn't take his eyes from the wound, but spoke to Heyes, "Looks like he's hurt bad, real sick." Then leaning close to Curry's ear Joe whispered, "Won't have to wait much longer now, Mr. Curry." Heyes stared in disbelief. "You can't be here, Joe, you're," he stumbled over the next word, as if by speaking it aloud, he might insult the former bounty hunter, "...dead." "Right again, Mr. Heyes! Yet, here I am." He smiled again, an irritatingly confident smile. "Couldn't collect on you and Curry while I was livin', but I plan to collect an even greater reward now."

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"You can't have him!" Heyes was standing, yelling, panic flooding through him. It would be the death of Kid if Joe was to try to haul him in to a sheriff's office now! His mind whirled with thoughts unspoken. This was crazy! Joe was not here! This was just a dream! And what did he mean, a greater reward? Joe moved closer to Heyes, "But I AM here, Mr. Heyes, and I meant exactly what I said!" Heyes sank back into the chair. "You can read my thoughts too, Joe?" He swallowed hard. He had never seen a ghost before, if indeed that's what Joe was, but his mind told him that was impossible. Joe nodded. "I can." Joe sat at the foot of Curry's bed, facing Heyes. "Know what you was thinkin' earlier too." "Earlier?" "Yeah. You was thinkin' 'bout when you and Curry was just boys, sleddin'. Thinkin' 'bout what Curry means to you. Thinkin' how YOU should'a done somethin' diff'rent and how he'd'a been better off without you." Heyes sat silently, listening, mind still reeling with more questions than answers. "You was wrong on that count, Mr. Heyes." "Wrong about what exactly?" "Come on. I got somethin' ta show ya." Heyes looked at Kid who was still resting quietly, then, at Joe's outstretched hand. His finger barely brushed Joe's. A loud noise, like a rushing wind surrounded them. Instantly, Joe and Heyes stood inside the school at Valparaiso. A rough-looking boy, not yet 13, sat in the headmaster's office. He looked bitter, angry. His clothes were torn and an eye blackened. The headmaster spoke, "Jedediah, you've been warned about your persistent disobedience and violence. Doctor Field says the other boy will live, but you've left me no choice. Tomorrow morning, you'll be turned over to the authorities in Lawrence." A defiant expression on the boy's face was his only response. "That's Kid! Only, he never looked so mean as I recall, and nothing like this ever

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happened! I know, because we were always together!" Joe raised an eyebrow. "Were you, Mr. Heyes?" He held out his hand. Heyes touched it again. This time they stood in a valley, train tracks stretching from north to south as far as both could see. A large boulder blocked a section of rail. The train stopped, shots were fired, lifeless bodies scattered the once peaceful valley. Horses galloped hard past two unseen visitors and as they did, Heyes saw murderous rage deep in the blue eyes of one gang member, the gunman. Kid. Only, NOT Kid. He was different. "These are lies, Joe! Kid was never a killer! These things did NOT happen! NOT like this! I don't understand!" Joe grabbed Heyes' shirt, speaking softly but with great emphasis on each word. "I'm showin' you what would'a been! What Curry's life would'a been, without no Hannibal Heyes!" Suddenly, they were back in the bedroom, Kid's motionless form on the bed, sweat still dampening his head as it rested on the pillow. Joe stood watching Curry whose breathing seemed more shallow, his lips, almost blue. Turning toward Heyes, he continued. "He would'a been alone, Mr. Heyes. Alone! You wouldn't'a been around ta keep that temper 'a his in check. Not when he was a boy and not now. He'd'a had no one! And it would'a turned him into the killer you saw." The room seemed to grow colder. Heyes could see his own breath coming out in smoky puffs. Joe's voice sounded angry. "The choices he made was his, Mr. Heyes. HIS! Not yours! And every man gotta answer for his own choices!" Fear gripped Heyes. Was Joe here to collect the bounty on Curry's soul? "You can't have him, Joe! You can't!" Joe's cried out in a voice like thunder, "NO! That's NOT why I'm here! What did you learn, Mr. Heyes? Haven't you been LISTENING?" Heyes was struck with a sudden revelation. It was like Joe said, "Every man gotta answer for his own choices." Heyes made his own choices and Kid made his. And just as Kid was a vital part of

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Heyes, Heyes was a vital part of Kid. Essential. Kid had always needed Heyes. "Heyes?" The voice was quiet and weak, but Heyes recognized it immediately as Kid's. He opened his eyes and looked around the room. The sun was up. It was morning. Christmas morning. He and Kid were alone. "I'm here, Kid." A smile spread across Heyes' weary face. He lifted Kid's head, it felt much cooler now, and encouraged him to sip some water. Kid gratefully accepted. “Where are we?” “We’re safe. Back at the Hole.” Kid nodded. “Good to be home.” Right. Home. Heyes shook his head. Only Curry could view this place as home. “I had a crazy dream, Heyes." HE had a crazy dream? Wait until Heyes told Kid HIS! "Joe was in it. Remember Joe Sims?" Heyes' mouth fell open. He nodded. "Joe was here, like an angel or somethin'. Crazy, huh? Said he came to heal me, but first I had to wait until he delivered a Christmas message." "A Christmas message?" "Yeah. He never told me what is was or who it was for. I just hoped whoever it was got the message real quick, 'fore the waitin' killed me!" "Guess Joe got his message across just in time." Heyes had never felt more gratitude. Kid's eyes were starting to close again. "Hey, Kid." "Hmmm?" came the sleepy response. "Merry Christmas!"

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"You too, Heyes."

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