A.K.A. the POWER of CHEESE

Times were tough. Due to a strange bout of food poisoning the Army had destroyed all the cheese in Rock Creek and the local townsfolk just wouldn't stand for it. Tompkins had even gone so far as to ask for the help of the most powerful man in town. So there he was in the middle of a busy work day, in fact, knocking on his door.

His knock was hesitant and he had to wait a moment before the door swung open and Rachel was standing in the entrance to the bunkhouse.

"Mr. Tompkins, we were expecting you."

Tompkins swallowed past the solid lump in his throat and stared past the red-haired woman and into the darker interior. "I don't have time to waste, where is he?"

She looked a bit perturbed at the brusque tone of voice. "He's inside... won't you step into my parlor?"

Drying his damp hands on the edges of his apron, he stepped further into the room. "I'm not bothering him, am I?"

She shook her head and watched him from beneath her kohl colored lashes. "No,... no... Mr. Hunter is always here to help out... a friend."

With a look past him, she retreated through the door and let it click closed behind her.

"Whash ish ist, Mr. Tompkiss?"

Tompkins squinted as his eyes adjusted to the available light in the room.

He was there, behind a crude wooden table, with a bottle of chianti at his right and the dark shadow of a man at his left. A few steps closer and Tompkins could see that it was indeed Teaspoon Hunter, but his cheeks were puffy, like he was storing nuts for winter, and his voice seemed to be muffled somehow. "What's wrong with your voice, Teaspoon?"

"That's Mister Hunter to you, Tompkins," growled the man in shadows.

Teaspoon reached into his mouth and withdrew a huge mound of cotton. Clearing his throat, he wheezed out his answer. "Got a tooth pulled.. the dentist gave me the cotton."

Tompkins nodded.

"What seems to be your problem, Tompkins?"

Tompkins started to sweat... it took a lot to ask this man for help. "I took a big risk coming here.. in the middle of the day... you know..." Tompkins noticed the impatient look on Teaspoon's face and decided to continue on, "Well, it's the problem of the whole town, really." Tompkins looked around the room with a furtive glance. "It's the Army... they destroyed all the cheese-"

The shadow man spoke again. "Yeah... we heard about that, Tompkins."

Tompkins felt like he'd just walked through a rainstorm. "Well.. I sent for a shipment to replace it.. but the Army said I have to buy it through their suppliers and the price they want to charge... well... well..."

"Well, what?" Teaspoon's tone was deceptively light.

"I want you to bring in a shipment of cheese from St. Jo for me... ummm.. for the town."

The shadow man stood and stepped into the light of the dingy lantern. "What do we get out of it?"

Tompkins lost some of his composure. "I ain't talkin' to you, Hickok."

Teaspoon leaned forward, his elbows braced against the wood. "Now now, Tompkins... Jimmy here is like a son to me... and someday... he, or another of my 'children' will take over the family. Treat him... as you would treat me, with deference and respect."

The "t" of the last word hung in the silence of the room.

Nearly gasping for breath, Tompkins gritted out his apology and continued on. "I'll give you 5 percent of my profits."

The laughter was cold. "Mister Tompkins... surely, you jest."

"Fine, 10 percent."

Hickok opened his coat and slid a finger down the handle of one of his Colts. "You can do better."

Tompkins gulped, "25 percent and all the cheese your men can eat."

Looking over at Hickok, they conveyed much in their quiet conversation of silent signals and raised eyebrows. Nodding thoughtfully, Teaspoon turned back to Tompkins and poured himself a glass of wine.

Swirling his wine in the glass, he held it up in the light. "Mister Tompkins... I've talked with my second and we both agree-"

"Your second? What's your answer?"

Teaspoon stared at Mr. Tompkins with something akin to the irritation of a large pain in the behind horse fly, "There is something you should understand," clearing his throat, Teaspoon tried to impart his wordly knowledge to his impatient guest, "They say you should serve no wine before it's time...and I would say the same for cheese.... this whole situation however, smells worse than that limberger Cody brought back from Ft. Laramie that one time when..." Realizing that he was a might off topic, Teaspoon tried to bring it back to the line of logic he had begun, "So, I think we can all agree that this whole Army involvement stinks... we'll help you bring in your shipment."




Less than an hour later, the Kid returned back to the bunkhouse with a dour expression clouding his features.

He was admitted into the inner sanctum and immediately walked to the table to give his report.

"I'm tellin' ya, they ain't gonna listen to reason."

Teaspoon questioned him, "You gave them our demands?"

"Of course I did, but they ain't gonna listen, Teaspoon."

Thoughtful, that was the word to describe his face, Teaspoon stared down at the tabletop for a moment. A soft sigh shrugged his shoulders before he looked up. "Then I believe we need to make our point absolutely clear."

Kid didn't like the resolute look in the older man's eye. "What do you have in mind?"

"They need to know how serious we are.... we need to show them what we are willing to give up to get what we want." Teaspoon waved the boy forward. "I'm choosing you as that messenger."

The Kid looked positively green in the face as he leaned closer. Reaching over the table, Teaspoon grasped the Kid's face in his hands and slowly, with great consideration gave the younger man a solid kiss on each cheek.

Teaspoon released him and settled back into his chair, "I will await news of your success."

"But-" the Kid began to resist the order, for it would break his heart, "-not my girl-"

"You heard the man, Kid."

Kid turned on Jimmy, "Then you do it, if it don't matter to you!"

"It's just a simple message, deliver it and return here."

Stalking to the door, Kid mumbled under his breath, "Fine, then you use your own-"

"I don't expect you to disappoint me, boy."

With a derisive look, Kid answered his boss, "All right, Teaspoon... whatever you say." He turned and shuffled out the door to say his farewell to his best girl.




Kid stumbled on the step off the porch; his tears had nearly blinded him.

"Watch your step, Kid."

Righting himself, the Kid swiped at the imaginary dust on his knees. "Leave me alone, Cody."

Cody picked up the rag beside his leg and shook his head sadly. "I hardly said a thing."

Whirling back around, Kid threw the words back in his face. "But you can't stop talking can you!?"

His wide blue eyes stared back, "I was just tryin' to help."

"You're trying... that's for sure."

Cody swiped at the barrel of his rifle with his cloth. His lips pressed into a white line for a moment, but true to form, it wouldn't stay that way for long. "I was feeling sorry for you..."

"Really?"

Looking down the site of his rifle, Cody tried to ignore the cutting tone. "You ain't got cause to be rude. Teaspoon's got his reasons-"

"I don't care about his reasons, I ain't gonna do it."

"You'll do it, or there'll be hell to pay."

"I'm already in hell," Kid mumbled.

"Suit yerself... I ain't gonna argue no more."

Kid turned to Cody and noticed the stubborn upturn of his jaw. He tried to appear aloof, but there was a simmering anger in his eyes. "Aw... come on, Cody... don't be mad... it's just... well I'm supposed to... you know how much I -"

"I said I ain't gonna argue, dig your own grave if you want. I don't care."

The rifle barrel shone like silver. Cody inspected each side for any signs that he'd missed some dirt or other problems.

Kid waited for Cody to look up and quickly lost his patience, "Cody!"

Keeping his eyes away from Kid, Code set the rag down. "I'm done."

"You're so stubborn!" Kid stomped away toward the barn. "I just don't understand him... all he does is clean that rifle and eat... That rifle's so clean... I bet he eats off of it, too!"

Cody waited until the door to the barn slammed shut. He laid the rifle in his lap and smoothed his hand over the long shiny barrel. Softly, as if crooning to a child, Cody began to speak. "Did he frighten you? I know.. I know.. he's just angry he's gonna lose his girl.. but not me... not my baby.. no," Cody pulled the rifle close against his chest and wrapped his arms around the weapon, "but don't you worry none, I'm gonna make sure he doesn't frighten you aannnnyyyy more." Cody leaned closer and touched his lips to the rifle, feeling the cold clean metal slip over his lips. "That's right... I'm gonna protect you from him, that baaaaadd man... yes I will."

With one last kiss, Cody picked up his rifle and went back into the bunkhouse to wait for the morning.




Early the next morning when the bugle sounded, Captain Veeta raised his weary lids. Something had troubled him all night long. He'd tossed and turned and even tumbled a time or two. His pillow had fallen to the floor for only the hard and bumpy mattress was beneath his head.

"Ooohhhh." He groaned as he fought the urge to pinch his nose as a sudden smell assailed him.

His lips smacked open as he waved his tongue over his teeth and looked up at the ceiling. His breath seemed fine... but then again, he'd eaten the last of his limburger cheese supply last night ... and heavens knows.. that could leave a lingering smell.

Spying his wash stand at the opposite side of the room Velman tossed back his blankets and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. It was the moment that his feet touched the cold wood beyond the floor rug that the Captain took a deep indrawn breath and fell to the floor.

With unbelieving eyes he stared up at the flat expanse of his bed. There, in the middle of the covers lay the biggest, moldering, fly-encrusted... dripping chunk of headcheese he'd ever seen!




Katy nickered in her stall as Kid smoothed his hand over her nose.

"Managed to keep her safe?"

Kid lowered his eyes, "Oh... hey, Lou."

Lou sauntered over and leaned an elbow on the top of the swinging half-door. "I knew you wouldn't give up Katy."

"Of course not!"

She leaned forward and lowered her lashes while she stared into his eyes. "You'd do anything for her... and me?"

"Of course, Lou-"

"Then there's something I want you to do-" She stepped up and nearly leaned against him.

As the hem of her skirt brushed past his leg he nearly jumped, "You're wearing a dress!"

"Of course I am, silly!" Lou slid the tip of a finger along his jaw. "What else would I wear?"

Kid shrugged and stepped back to look her over. "Your pants... why would you wear a dress now?"

Louise leaned over the door of the stall and ran her hand down Katy's neck. "I'm tired of wearing pants everyday. Besides, I thought you'd like me in a dress!"

He watched her warily. "This isn't like you-"

"Oh!" She threw up her hands in frustration. "What's so hard to understand? I want to be a woman...look like a woman, be treated like a woman... but if you can't understand that...then... then..."

"What, Lou? What is it?"

She pulled a gold ring from her pocket and threw it at him. "Then you can kiss me goodbye!" Louise stormed out the door and slammed it shut behind her.




The Army camp was agog with activity. Soldiers combed over the grounds like a swarm of blue-dyed yellow jackets looking for an elusive flower.

In the center of the chaos was Captain Veeta. "No one.. and I mean NO ONE will have any rest as long as the man responsible for the absolutely reprehensible act goes unpunished!"

Lt. Jean-Pierre Fromage was standing at his side, "Mon Capitain, surely you jest? You can not mean to have everyone search for this ... intruder! Mon Dieu! He only put a small insignificant piece-"

"Insignificant," sneered the other officer, "That ...thing in his bed was an affront to the Army itself!"

The French officer leaned closer. "Silly, silly, silly, Corporal Pepperjack! I can 'ardly imagine that our brave and noble Capitan would be so offended by this gift."

"Gift?" The Captain nearly fell to the ground with an attack of the vapors, "Surely you've seen how this had affected me?"

Pierre held up his hand in mock surrender. "Oui.. oui I can not have you feeling that I do not take your concerns into consideration... come, come... I will help you find this scoundrel!"

"Captain... Captain!" A young private ran up like the Kiowa were on his heels. Seeing the dire looks thrown his way he ground to a halt and nearly knocked himself unconcious giving a proper salute, "Sir!"

"What is it, Private Fontina?"

"The bootleg shipment, sir! I can't believe that you would forget!"

"Good Lord!" With a single hand he called a halt to the search, "Saddle your horses and mount up!"

"What is it?" asked one of the soldiers.

Staring at the rough hewn road out of camp the Captain felt a calmness o'ertake him. "There be cheese in them thar' hills!"




The coast was clear, the boys were gathered around the table in the bunkhouse, awaiting the call to arms.

Clutched in Louise's hand, the cool metal handle of her paint pail. The barn door barely creaked as she swung it open on it's hinges. Katy nickered her agitation and Louise shook her head, "Quiet down, girl... you're gonna get me caught!"

Katy clipped her hooves against the wooden door.

Louise set down her pail and stared into the closest eye. "Is that what you're tryin' to do?" She eyed the horse with a cool distrust. "Fine... fine... two can play at that game." Louise pulled aside her coat and Katy saw the gunbelt snug and tight around her hips. "Now, we could end this right here... or you can hold still and I'll give you a fighting chance."

For a moment, it looked as though Katy was going to start making noise again. All Louise had to do was twitch a look down to the butt of the gun and Katy.... well, Katy was a smart girl, she settled down in her stall.

Taking advantage of the moment, Louise quickly took care of her chore and finished with a satisfied smile on her face. Hiding the bucket beneath a large mound of hay she turned back to look at a job well done. "Well now, that was easier than I thought."

Katy stared at her, showing the whites of her eyes but didn't shy away as Louise leaned forward and placed a kiss on the long expanse of her face.

"Good," Louise smiled, "Very good... looks like we've come to some sort of understanding... just us girls."




Louise had only taken a step or two past the doors when she almost ran straight into Ike's chest. "Goodness Ike, I almost knocked you over!"

Ike smiled and shook his head **what were you doing inside**

"Me?" Louise pointed to her chest and saw a paint smudge on the side of her finger. She quickly wiped it on her jacket. "Nothin'.. just making sure the horses were ready to go!"

Ike didn't look convinced, **saddled**

"Um...." Louise needed to get away, "No.. well, I just.. you see.. brought them some hay.. yep.. that's what I did!"

Ike stared down at her, a question poised on the tip of his fingers, but before he could ask it, Louise started to sneeze and drew up her hand to stop it. She dragged her finger along under her nose to stave off the blast and miracle upon miracle... she didn't sneeze, but trailed a long line of white paint under her nose. "Phew!" She smiled up at Ike, but missed his questioning look, "That was close... I'll see you later, Ike... so long!"

He walked around the back of the barn to Sampson's pen. The mule obediantly trotted towards the edge for a visit.

**sampson**

He heard a bray in response.

**i don't understand women**

Another bray.

**you, neither... hmmm**

Ike sat down on the ground by the pen and pulled a blade of grass from the ground. Slipping in the dying piece of grass between his teeth he bagan to chew on it as he worked out the problem in his head. Everyone was so upset, tempers were flaring and unholy alliances were being made... all because of **cheese**

Sampson flashed a toothy grin.

Shaking his head, Ike sighed **that's not what i meant**

Moving closer, Sampson nudged Ike's hand with his nose.

Dropping the blade of straw from his lips, Ike leaned closer **you're always here for me**

Sampson gummed at Ike's shirt.

**you always listen**

The mule wuffed at his cheek.

**you're a great friend**

Ike leaned his forehead against Sampson's and placed a hesitant kiss on his nose. A moment later Ike sprang to his feet sputtering. **ewwwwwwwwwwwwwww**

Dragging his sleeve over his mouth, Ike spat again and again, until finally, the one stubborn hair on his tongue was gone.

Grimacing from the taste that lingered in his mouth, Ike turned away from Sampson and headed into the barn to start saddling all the horses for their ride.




From a mountain peak, high over the well worn wagon trail, a lone shadow stood against the sky. His visage, hidden from view, was one of solid concentration, waiting for any sign of life along the road. He flexed the muscles in his legs again and again, trying to keep his muscles loose and primed for the battle ahead. He was the lookout, the eyes in the sky... the SCOUT... "The indian scout," he mumbled...rather, he grumbled it out.

He'd been up here for hours.. and hours with nothing to do but... but... well, he watched the road. "So exciting!"

An eagle called to him from the sky, his spirit guide was free among the clouds while he was tied to the earth from an obligation to the family.

For years and years he'd longed to belong to a family.. now all his wanted was .... to get out. "I was meant for better things than... protecting CHEESE! I don't even eat it... why should I give my life for it?"

Crossing his legs he sat down on the solid rock and scanned the horizon again. Nothing.

Raising a hand to his chest, Buck felt the familiar weight of his medicine pouch in his palm. Whispered words of prayer filled the air around him and he felt a swell of confidence. Today would be a great battle, one of legend and full of magic. It would take a great effort, but after the battle was over he decided to leave. He'd leave the trappings of the white world behind and make his way back to the Kiowa and beg his brother to take him into the tribe.

A long way off, a ribbon of dust waved on the horizon. "Here it comes... " Another whispered prayer slipped past his lips, the words tangling with his tongue. The ribbon blossomed and swirled closer and Buck could feel the heat of battle rise up in his blood. Slowly he raised his medicine pouch to his lips and pressed a reverent kiss to the worn fabric. A growl awakened within his throat as he sprang to his feet and leapt onto Warrior's back. With a silent cry he rode toward his fellow riders. The moment was at hand.




Around them, people from the town had gathered to aid in the gallant fight. They'd brought rifles and shotguns... even farm tools and sewing shears.

Teaspoon surveyed the crowd from the saddle, his keen and knowing eye sizing up the strength and zeal of each person. "Seems we got quite a little group here."

Jimmy followed his gaze and nodded, "Just never imagined this town banding together for anything... but I guess... there's just something about-"

"Yep, son. There's just something about the cheese that calls to a man's soul... makes him more than what he was. It's just magic, Jimmy."

Nodding thoughtfully, Jimmy took in the words and pondered over their meanings. "You know, Teaspoon... you could make a convincing argument for indoor outhouses."

"Yes well... it takes years of experience for a man to command the troops like I do." Over the rise, Buck's mount thundered into view. "Looks like we'll have another chance to improve your knowledge of the brutal realities of life, son."

Jimmy heaved out a sigh, "I'm not looking forward to this."

"Smart man," Teaspoon agreed, "but someday, Son... all this-" Teaspoon swept his arm over the landscape before them, "will be yours and I would be remiss in my duty to the family if I didn't leave you with the knowledge to follow in my trail."

"I want to learn."

Nodding like an age-old sage, Teaspoon took something from his pocket and tossed it to Jimmy. "Then wear this, show your connection to the family."

Jimmy bounced the metal star in his hand and felt the weight against his skin. "It's heavy."

"Like the mantle of responsibility."

The pin on the back of the badge bit into his skin. Jimmy swallowed a curse and slipped the badge on his shirt. He cupped his hand and examined the wound, a large drop of blood welled in his palm. He covered it with his lips and kissed it away, grimacing at the metallic tang.

Teaspoon edged his horse forward as the wagon came into view. From another direction a column of soldiers swept over the ground, "Like the sidewinders they are," noted Teaspoon. He gathered up his reins and straightened his spine. "Well folks," he waited until they had all turned toward his voice, "it begins."




The battle lasted day and night.. night and day... for nearly a week they battled back and forth beneath the hot sun. The wagon driver had run off at the first sign of trouble and likely would never be heard from again. First, the Army ran out of cannon balls.. then shotgun shells. Bullets were a mainstay for a day or so and finally they'd all been reduced to hatchets and knives and when those ran out... it was a battle of the words.

"You low down lily-livered son of a goat!"

Kid grimaced at the effect Teaspoon's words had on the Army forces. They staggered back from the shock and horror.

Captain Veeta lunged forward and called out at the top of his lungs, "Oh yeah? You weak-kneed old goose. You're not fit to shine my one-size-too-small leather-thigh-high boots with your crackled old hands even if you begged me on your knees."

Teaspoon turned to his second, "Did that make sense to you?"

Jimmy shrugged, "Not to me.. but I'm thinkin' that fancified son-of-a-gun Captain is just another one of those curdo-philes... they're just whacked!"

"You said it, Hickok." Turning back to the Captain, Teaspoon took in a deep breath and launched the last volley. "Well just feast on this Captain Veeta... I sincerely doubt that your whiny little shiny-buttoned boot-kisser would ever know what to do with a prime piece of perfect pungent pepperjack or even a chilled chunk of cheeder! It seems to me that a man of your taste couldn't tell the difference between a slab of perfectly aged swiss and the sole of your shoe. Sure you got some fancy uniform and enough metal covering your chest to build a bridge to cross the Atlantic Ocean itself, but I surely doubt that you've got more sense than a cheese mite on a holiday in a dutch oven... so why don't you and your whiney bunch of soldiers beat a quick retreat back to the recruiting station you came from.. we don't have the time to deal with your ignorance, you slimy-backed-scum-sucking-piece of cr-"

"Teaspoon!!!" Buck waved his hands frantically.

"What is it, Buck?"

"It's over!!! Look!" Buck pointed to the line of Army soldiers. The Captain was laying on the ground in the middle of the group, his hands clutched to his chest. "He's dead!!!"

Turning to his own troops, Teaspoon puffed out his chest in pride. "Let's go home folks... I'm feelin' in the mood for a little celebration! Who's got the cheesecake?"

Epilogue:

Katy made it through the battle, even with the target painted on her side. Lou and Kid made their peace even though he made her white wash Rachel's fence five times over. For the rest of their lives, Katy and Lou refused to be in the same place together. Hell hath no fury...

Things turned back to normal in Rock Creek, the cheese supply slowly crept back up into normal levels, the riders went back to ruling the world... and gosh darn it... everyone stopped kissin' each other all the time.

And now, ...you can kiss this story goodbye!

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