The door slammed shut and everyone turned to see the cause.
Cody pressed his back against the door and panted out a few words. “You won’t believe what I found on my run!”
They all saw his eyes wide as saucers, the rapid fire indrawn breaths and the way he clutched a paper package to his chest. Everyone looked back down into their supper plates, conversations starting up where they’d paused when the latecomer had stormed into the room.
Slightly deflating Cody stepped closer to the table, his mouth watering at the smell of Rachel’s stew, but his blood coursed through his veins with steadfast conviction that they’d pay attention if they knew how important it was.
Dropping his saddle bag down Cody yanked at the end of the string tying together his package and let it drop on the floor as he struggled to remove the paper. Quickly flipping through the pages he stopped short at a name that caught his attention. “The Coachman.” He read the name and plopped the book onto the table between Buck and Jimmy.
“Cody, what the hell is-” Jimmy stopped when words failed him. Then again, by the look on his face, his mind had failed him too. He was staring at the book. Curious Buck turned to look at the page.
Ike could only gape at his friend when half a green bean fell out of Buck’s lips. *something wrong*
He didn’t need an answer, but didn’t look up but the blank expression on his face was enough to get Kid’s attention, too. “That ain’t what I think it is, is it Cody?”
Seeing that he finally had everyone’s attention, he reached over and flipped a few pages. “The Stars. What do you think of that, boys?”
“The stars?” Jimmy huffed and tried to paste a smile on his face where the slack-jawed expression had been. “I don’t see no-“
“I think it’s where they’re lookin’ Hickok,” started Cody.
*looks like she fell on him*
Buck shrugged. “Who knows… doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever heard of.”
Kid tried to flip the book closed. “You better put this away before Rachel sees it.”
“Naw… she ain’t comin’ back for a bit… what’s the harm we get to see what’s inside.” Jimmy’s bravado seemed to have made a slight recovery. “’sides… I’d say it’s instructional.”
“Yeah… don’t need to read words to get the picture either.”
Jimmy gave Buck a good bump with his elbow and Ike nearly choked on a bite of his pork chop.
Cody stepped in between them and plopped down on the bench, forcing Buck to brace himself or fall off the bench at the end. “That ain’t nothin’… wait until you see-“
A couple of calls from outside the bunkhouse had Kid on his feet. “That could be Lou.”
“-this…” Cody flipped another few pages and indicated the page on the right with a flourish of his hand, “is the Chapel.”
“Aw hell,” breathed Hickok, “we’re goin’ to hell for this ain’t we?”
Buck blinked a few times and gave Ike a silly grin. “Don’t recall nothin’ like that in a Chapel before.”
Ike bobbed his head in agreement. *the sisters would fall over dead if they saw that*
“Hey boys, I-” the door flung open and Lou stepped inside her face and hands still dewy with water, “I hope you left me somethin’ to-”
Kid whipped the book behind his back and stepped into the shadows. Lou’s eyes followed the odd movement. “What’s wrong?”
“Wrong?” Buck’s hand slipped behind his neck as he tried to school his expression. “What makes you say that?”
Jimmy’s shoulders were shaking so hard he could barely swallow the water in his mouth. “Nuthin’, ‘cept Kid’s skulkin’ around in the shadows like Lou won’t notice.”
“Why are you hidin’ stuff from me?”
Cody gave Kid a look before turning back to Lou. “It probably ain’t somethin’ you wanna see.”
“Why not?” She lifted her chin in a stubborn gesture and Ike leaned his chin in his hands. “Is it because I’m a girl?”
“I guess, but really Lou… it probably ain’t proper-“
“Then why do you boy’s have it?” She challenged. “How many times have y’all told me I can ride like any of you…? I can shoot like any of you… but now-”
“Sometimes you just gotta trust that we know what’s best for you, Lou.”
Buck’s head dropped forward until his chin nearly hit his chest. He didn’t have to look at her face to know that Lou’s eyes were dark with anger. He felt it ripple through the room like an earthquake deep below the dirt.
“What did you say?” Her gaze was directed on Kid and even Jimmy knew by now to get out of the way if he wanted to keep his head where God put it.
Kid’s eyes stared at the other riders around the room and his searching gaze begged for help.
Lou almost laughed at the lot of them. ‘A bunch of cowards.’ She stepped closer, a hand coming to rest on the butt of her pistol where it rose up at her hip. “Hand it over, Kid.”
Cody’s face arose over Lou’s shoulder, his lips pressed together in a grimace. This could go very badly.
With a look of resignation at the others Kid lifted the book in his hand and held it out to her. “Here… just take it.” He watched her fingers close over the volume and he blurted out a desperate disclaimer. “It’s Cody’s book… he brought it back from his run.”
Finally, Cody stepped forward, carefully watching Lou’s expression as she opened the book and sat down to peer into its pictures. “Oh my…” another couple of pages and another pause, “really now,” then a few more. She gave a start and drew back an inch or two as she considered the drawing. “I just… is that even possible?”
Buck tilted his head to the side and stared at the page in question. He gave a quick nod and smiled at no one in particular. “Yeah.”
They all watched him walk out the door before they crowded behind Lou to see what it was Buck was so certain could be done. “Naw…” there was more than a hint of wonder in Jimmy’s voice, “you been holdin’ out on us, Buck?”
“What’s the racket goin’ on in here?” Teaspoon sauntered into the room and surveyed the suddenly guilty expressions.
The book was hurriedly shut and passed around like a hot potato until it nearly fell into Ike’s hands.
Teaspoon gave the mute rider a serious stare and Ike dropped the book into his hands. Before he walked out of the room he pointed at Cody. *his*
Jimmy followed behind Lou, his laughter abating long enough to answer a question. “The horsewoman, huh?”
She slugged him in the shoulder and ducked out ahead of Kid, who gave Jimmy a look that could kill.
Finally it left Cody alone with Teaspoon, who peered at the gold gilt on the cover. “Where did you get this, Cody?”
The younger man shrugged and quietly admitted. “Got it at one of them stores down near the red-light district.” He watched Teaspoon flip through a few pictures, his eyes growing wider with each turn. “You ain’t gonna make me get rid of it… are you Teaspoon?”
Snapping the book closed, Teaspoon gave him a long searching look. “I suppose not… bein’ that you bought it with yer own money… let’s just say that we keep this under… our hats and out of Rachel’s sight. Yeah?”
Cody nodded in wholehearted agreement. “Sure… whatever you say, Teaspoon.” Cody held out his hand for the book and Teaspoon gave it over with a wink before he swiped a roll from the table and headed outside for some cool air and exercise.
Ducking over by bunk, Cody lifted the lid of his trunk and read the words on the cover a moment before he slipped it between some of his spare shirts. “The Kama Sutra.” He gave a little wink to the volume. “I think you’re gonna be real popular ‘round here.”
Kid flopped down onto his bunk and yanked his blanket up to his chin. It had been a long and painful day fixing the wall on the barn and he rubbed his eyes to get them to focus at the strange light colored areas under Lou’s bunk.
They came slowly into focus as color slowly warmed his cheeks. Pictures. Various… pictures… from Cody’s book. “What?”
Laughter filtered through the semi-darkness of the bunkhouse as Kid leaned out of his bunk. “Who did it?”
The laughter only grew as Cody gave him a wink. “Don’know, Kid… maybe someone thought you needed suggestions?”
*thanks to Cindy and Dede for their help beta reading and Tracy for her ‘additions’ *