Topic #96: A matter of fifty dollars
When You Wish... by: Jo Fifty Dollars by: Ellie
Final Reward by: Miss Raye Reminiscing by: Karen
No Injuns Allowed by: Donna Ree Money For Your Soul by: Dede
Nest Egg by: Wendy Sweet Opportunity by: Cindy
Unexpected by: Lori
When You Wish...
by: Jo

“Charlie says the papers won’t be ready for another couple of hours, you hungry Lou? We could grab a bite at the saloon….” Buck said to Lou as he came out of the printers in Seneca Falls.

“Yeah I guess so….” Lou replied dreamily looking in the dressmaker’s window.

Buck walked up and took a look at the dress Lou was looking at. “That’s really pretty, is that the dress you’re going to wear to marry Kid?”

“Oh, I don’t know…” Lou sighed. “I want to look at a few others too. I want it to be perfect, I guess every girl does.”

“I’m sure whatever you get it will be perfect and I know Kid will love you in it.” Buck smiled as they made their way over to the saloon. “We’ll have some time to kill after we eat, maybe I could give you a guy’s opinion on which dress to think on.”

“You WANT to go dress shopping with me?” Lou looked at him like he’d lost his mind.

“Not really but its better than watchin’ some old drunk guys play poker….” Buck said nodding in the direction of a table of grey haired men chewing on cigars and studying playing cards.

“Alright you got me there…” Lou laughed. “Two sarsaparillas and two ham and cheese sandwiches, please.” Lou ordered from the barkeep.

Half an hour later they left the saloon and walked back to the dress shop. “I’m not ready to buy a dress today but I want to get an idea of what I want for my wedding dress.” Lou told the dressmaker while Buck stood off to the side looking at the dresses, shoes and hats.

“Is this your intended?” the dressmaker asked brightly.

“Oh, no, he’s just a friend. He claims he’ll give me a guy’s opinion….” Lou almost laughed at the flush of Buck’s cheeks.

The dressmaker asked Lou a few more questions then produced several dresses for Lou to try on. Buck dutifully commented on each one but noticed how Lou’s gaze kept falling back onto the beautiful white dress in the window. “Why don’t you try on that one Lou….I think it’d really look beautiful on you.”

“He’s right, that dress would be perfect for you…almost like it was made for you.” the dressmaker encouraged.

“Alright I guess it really couldn’t hurt to try it on…” Lou said dreamily.

The dress was perfect. Lou was every bit the radiantly beautiful bride. Buck actually gasped when she came out from behind the changing screen. “Lou you’re, um, you’re breathtaking…that’s the one you have to get…” Buck said smiling.

“I love it but I think it may be a bit too expensive.” Lou whispered to Buck.

The dressmaker adjusted the mirrors and Lou studied herself from all angles. “It’s beautiful…How much is it?” Lou finally asked.

“It’s a bit expensive, all that bead work takes time, its fifty dollars and the matching boots are five, they’re kid skin.” The dressmaker said hopefully. “I could sell you both for fifty.”

“I really do like it.” Lou said taking one last look at herself in the mirror before going to change. “But like I said, today I’m just looking and I’ll be back next week to buy the dress.”

They left the dressmakers and headed back to the printers. The papers were almost ready so Lou waited for them while Buck got their horses. Soon they were on their way back to Rock Creek.

“Which dress you thinkin’ on?” Buck asked as they rode toward home.

“I kinda liked that really light blue one with the lace around the neck….Do you think Kid will like me in it?” Lou looked at Buck.

“I’m sure he would but he’d like you in a grain sack too….What about that last dress, the white one with all the beads and the lace? That was the one you looked prettiest in.”

“I loved it but Kid would kill me if I spent fifty dollars on a dress I’m only gonna wear once….still it was perfect wasn’t it….” Lou sighed. “Oh, Well….”

They arrived back at the station in time for a late supper and didn’t mention the dress again. Buck knew Lou was going back to Seneca Falls on Friday to buy her wedding gown. On Wednesday he accidently overheard Lou telling Rachel about the dresses she’d tried on.

“I found one dress that I fell in love with but it was way too expensive. The one I’m going to get is….” Buck walked away not wanting to hear anymore.

Friday morning Buck had already left on his run when Lou finished saddling Lightning and Rachel came out to see her off.

“Buck asked me to give this to you.” Rachel said handing Lou an envelope. Lou looked at her with questioning eyes. “I don’t know what it is, it has your name on it not mine.

“Thanks…” Lou said opening the flap and drawing out a letter. As she opened the letter several bills caught her attention. Lou and Rachel looked at the money a moment in disbelief.

“Well, what’s it say?” Rachel asked impatiently.

Dear Lou,

I want to see you in that dress again….its perfect for you, for your perfect day. I know Kid will like that one best of all. This is my wedding gift to you.

Love, your friend Buck

Lou was crying as she finished reading the short note. She quickly counted the money and looked up at Rachel, “There’s fifty dollars here…Why do men always go and do nice things but run away so you can’t thank them proper?”

“Because they’re men…..” Rachel hugged Lou. “Now go get that perfect dress!”

Fifty Dollars
by: Ellie

A/N: I stretched show canon a touch on this, but in fact the wanted posters for Rachel, Kid and Jimmy offered rewards of $100, $200, and $400 respectively.

“Well, if you were worth four hundred, Hickok, then I’ll lay odds they were offerin’ at least five hundred for yours truly,” Cody grinned, tilting back in his chair.

“You’re dreaming,” Kid laughed at Cody from across the table. “I only got put down for two hundred when I ran with Hawk’s Raiders. Jimmy got four hundred just ‘cause of that Wild Bill nonsense. You’ll be two hundred, same’s me.”

“Oh, Kid, but you forget, I’m in a category by myself. I reckon I-“

Rachel turned and slammed down the pie in the middle of the table, cutting Cody off in mid-brag. “I can’t believe y’all are funnin’ about this,” she stormed at the group, before flinging her dishcloth on the floor and stomping out.

“What’s eating her?” Jimmy said, pulling the pie closer to himself and picking up a knife to cut it.

“She’s prob’ly jealous because she only got a hundred on hers,” Cody chuckled. “Pass a little of that there pie this way.”

“It’s not that, you idiot,” Lou said, exasperated. “It’s not funny to Rachel, you joking about wanted posters and whatnot. You three were workin’ undercover when you got put on them posters. It was serious business for her, her husband and baby died, remember?”

Cody, Jimmy and Kid all turned somber.

“Hadn’t thought of that,” Cody said pensively, as he put a large forkful of pie in his mouth. “Didn’t mean to bring up bad memories for her. I’ll tell her so after dessert.”

Teaspoon opened the door and grinned, licking his lips at the sight of the pie on the table.

“Well if’n it ain’t my favorite dessert. What kind is it?”

“Never mind that, Teaspoon! Didja get the wanted poster in with my name on it?” Cody was thrilled at having been chosen to go undercover at last and couldn’t wait to see his own name in print, hopefully with a picture on the poster.

“I certainly did, Cody,” Teaspoon said with a grin. “Brung ya a copy for yer scrapbook, too,” he said amiably, handing a folded paper over to him.

“Fifty dollars!” Cody spluttered. “Even Rachel got more’n that!”

“Yes. And she’s just a woman,” Lou said acidly.

“That ain’t the point,” Cody said furiously, throwing the poster on the table. “I got a reputation to uphold. What kinda wanted poster offers fifty dollars for a man dead or alive?”

“One that’s got your face on it, looks like,” Jimmy remarked.

Cody disgustedly picked the poster back up, then brightened, tilting his head to admire the line drawing. “True enough, Hickok,” he chuckled. “Important thing is, they spelled my name right. And this is a fine lookin’ picture at that.” He got up and opened his scrapbook of clippings and memorabilia, and placed the poster in it, grinning over his shoulder. “But then, how could it not be?”

Final Reward
by: Miss Raye

Thomasville wasn’t much of anything to look at even if it had two streets side by side. Most towns would consider that prosperous, but the number of stores displaying ‘out of business’ or ‘for sale’ signs in their windows was quickly outnumbering the open businesses in town. His shopping list tucked deep into his jacket pocket James Hickok turned away from another empty store front and stepped into the street. If things kept up this way he’d have to return to Rock Creek nearly empty handed.

Two women both dressed in modern yet austere fashions stepped closer together as he walked past. Touching the brim of his hat and offering a smile didn’t seem to help their demeanor one bit and the younger of the two turned away, her white-gloved hands clasped against her bosom as the elder glared at him over the bonnet of the other.

There was little he would do aside from shrugging off their rude behavior. Maybe it was the layer of trail dust he wore on his person, or perhaps it was the way he’d tied down his holsters, giving them the distinctive look of a gunfighter’s rig. Either way it just meant that there were two fewer in the number of women he’d have to be polite to while he was in town.

The rattle of a wagon approached behind him and Hickok felt the tremor of anticipation play up the nerves of his spine. The approach didn’t mean he’d have to fight, it rarely did, but a man that didn’t pay attention to the things coming up behind him didn’t last long in the West. A man could die right quick if he let someone get the drop on him.

A quick glance into the reflection of an empty window told him he had nothing to worry from the elderly couple come to town in their Sunday best and so he crossed the street, easily making it to the other walk before they lumbered past in their wagon.

The open doorway to the apothecary was a welcome sight and Jimmy reached up to push his hat back behind his head and stopped in mid movement.

The sudden cry of dismay from a distance caught his attention. The tremor that had climbed up his spine now shivered down his arms as a shot rang out in the sudden silence of Thomasville.

*** ***

Hickok had to push through the back of the crowd and quickly found the way open before him as folks scampered away, seeking safety in the shadows of the street. Jimmy couldn’t stop and take the time to tell them that the bullets had no way of knowing that they weren’t supposed to die in the shadows.

Another two shots rang out in the middle of the street and Jimmy watched the scene playing out before him. The tall lanky figure of Jake Colter shuddered as though he’d run head long into a wall and was recoiling from the impact. Fire spat from the muzzle of Colter’s gun once at a man facing him in the street and then another went wild toward the sky as if his hand had been kicked up by some unseen assailant.

“Damn you, Miles.” Colter grabbed at his middle, his knees buckling beneath him.

Jimmy stepped into the street and saw the man clearly. He didn’t know his name but he knew his kind. A part of a rare breed that saw killing as a vocation to be treasured. The man, Miles, lifted the barrel of his gun and leveled it at Colter from less than twenty feet away.

“No.” The word was quiet, nearly under Jimmy’s breath. “Enough.”

As Miles’ finger began to squeeze, Jimmy skilled a Colt from his holster and Miles fell forward into the dirt. Replacing his pistol Jimmy ran into the street, stopping beside Colter, pushing through the bounty hunter’s attempts to ward him off and lowered him down into the dusty street.

“Leave me alone… git me some whiskey or let me die in peace. “

“Never known you to think of peace, let alone wish for it.” Jimmy was surprised by the tightness in his throat as he looked down at the wound pierced through the worn cotton of Colter’s shirt. “You’ve gone and done it this time, Colter.”

“Hickok?” The sudden shift of Colter’s head forced his hat beneath his head and the brim lifted up at an odd angle until sunlight glared into this eyes. “What the hell are you doin’ here?” Someone, Jimmy assumed it was a doctor, poked at the wound and Colter nearly sat bolt upright. “Watch it!”

As Jimmy helped Colter back down to the dirt, the bounty hunter craned his neck to see the street. “I got him, didn’t I?”

Hickok looked around the assembled group, his eyes full of warning before he turned back to Colter. “Sure, Jake… gunned him down right here in front of all these people.”

“Is that right, Doc?”

The elderly man thought for a moment before he answered. “Man’s right, Colter… fanciest bit of gun-work I’ve ever seen.”

Jake’s body seemed to relax, a shudder passing through as he looked up at the sky. “Good…” he seemed to remember all at once that Jimmy was at his side. “You know, it was close,” he told his old friend in earnest, “I’d read up on him, Hickok… knew what to look for and still I never expected it. Never in a lifetime of Sundays did I figure him for bein’ as fast as he was.” Reaching into his jacket he pulled an oft folded piece of paper and handed it to Jimmy.

Ignoring the wet warmth of blood on the corner, Jimmy opened the paper with care. “Jeremiah Miles, wanted for Bank Robbery.” He looked at Colter’s face. “Never heard of him before.”

A sigh brought up a bubble of blood in the corner of Colter’s mouth. “Neither had I, Hickok… that was the mistake.”

“Just rest for now and we’ll talk about this later when-”

Colter laughed and coughed on the air in his throat. “Ain’t gonna be a later, Hickok. I’m mean not stupid. Miles shot me up good.”

“We’ll get you someplace where the doc can fish out the bullet and we’ll-”

“You’ll be dancin’ on my grave come the mornin’, Hickok. We both know it.” Jake looked away from Jimmy and back at the sky. “Never thought I’d go down shot by a man with only fifty dollars on his head.”

The statement struck the gunman as funny and he began to laugh, a slow rumbling chuckle that died when he did. Jimmy wanted to punch him where he lay, punish him for dying needlessly. Surely there was more intended for the man than a death like this, gunned down by a first time crook.

Doc began to rise from his knees and paused when he caught Jimmy’s eyes. “Reward belongs to you, son… seein’ as you were the one that really killed him.”

Jimmy turned to look at Colter as if he expected the gunman to sit up and complain that Jimmy had lied to him. “No… the bounty belongs to Jake, here… he was the one on the trail… it’s his reward.”

Sighing, the doctor folded his spectacles and slipped it into his pocket. “He won’t need it where he’s goin’.”

Looking around at the assembled group, Jimmy saw the thoughts of each person mirrored on their faces. They were glad he was gone… some indifferent… no one really mourned his loss and that bothered Jimmy deep down. “I’ll take the money then… spend it on a nice pine box and a fancy marker that folks will see when they pass by the cemetery.”

“Some folks might not take to puttin’ the likes of a bounty hunter in holy ground beside their kin.”

“He may have been a gunman and a louse to those he knew, Doc.” Jimmy agreed and struggled to make his point. “But he was a man who spilled his blood in the streets of this town tryin’ to take a criminal into custody. He’ll get a place in the cemetery and he’ll get a marker. I’ll see he does.”

He said it and knew he’d see it done. He didn’t know Jake Colter well, but he would do good by the man… he’d do it because deep down inside he hoped that if it came down to it… someone would do the same thing for him.

Reminiscing
by: Karen

A/N: Kid remembers how he came to acquire Katy.

“Tell me again,” said Kitty, as she jumped into her father’s lap.

“Tell you what?” asked her father with a smile.

“All about how you got her,” said the little girl with a sigh.

“Who?”

“Katy.”

Her father stood, scooping her up into his arms. “Only if you promise to go right to sleep when I’m done.”

The child hugged her father. “I promise,” she said.

Kid carried her across the room and deposited her into the bed she shared with her younger siblings. Once she was settled in, he sat on the edge of the bed. He smiled down at her and began…

Once upon a time, there was a handsome young man.

Kitty giggled, but didn’t say anything. Kid simply paused until she was once more quiet. Once she was, he took up his story…

He had traveled a long way and had very little to his name. He made his way into the newest town, taking in his surroundings. He was hoping to find something to eat, and possibly a job to earn enough money to purchase a horse.

As he walked, he spied the most beautiful creature he’d even seen. She looked up at him, and he knew they were meant to be together. He slowly approached her and started talking softly.

The owner of the establishment looked up from where he was working on the other side of the building. He let the handsome young man know he wasn’t pleased with what was going on.

Not minding the look from the owner the boy spoke up. “How much?” he asked.

“She’s not just any animal,” the owner said.

The young man nodded. “How much?” he repeated. “Thirty-five dollars; she’s a bargain at that,” the owner replied. He laughed softly as he returned to his work. “Not like you’ll ever see thirty-five dollars,” he mumbled just loud enough for the boy to hear.

The boy smiled sadly and left. He felt worse than he had in a long time. As he walked, he now looked more earnestly for employment. He was just about to give up when he heard, “Fifty dollars! Fifty dollars to any man who can stay in the ring with…”

The handsome young man smiled, not bothering to listen to the rest of the taunt. He said a quick prayer of thanks and made his way to the makeshift boxing ring.

“Anybody?” he asked.

No Injuns Allowed
by: Donna Ree

“Under what charge are you holding him?”

“Well now, that depends…” The sheriff hitched up his pants angled his head to the right and spit, missing the spittoon by a good 3 feet.

Lou, who was clearly losing her patience tried hard not to let it show. “Depends on what, sheriff?”, cocking an eyebrow above her glasses.

He shrugged, clearly not wanting to give a definite answer, waiting to see what the runt of a boy would do next. Maybe he could have two visitors in his jail if he just bided his time.

“And what did you do to him? Look at him!” She gestured to the only occupied jail cell. Buck was slumped against the wall, bruises and cuts apparent on his face, one eye was completely swollen shut. She could only imagine what the rest of his body looked like underneath his clothes. And then she noticed something that stole her breath away. “You cut his hair!” She railed at the sheriff accusingly.

“Well now, cain’t have no Injuns in this town. There’s a sign posted at the edge of town.”

”I didn’t see any sign.” Lou said, giving the sheriff the evil-eye.

“Well ya’ must not have been lookin’ in the right place. It’s there. And this one there,” He motioned to Buck, “either cain’t read or had a death wish ‘cause we hang Injuns here ain’t no two ways about it.”

Lou tried to swallow around the lump that had formed in her throat. She had seen the gallows built out in the middle of the town’s street and had hoped against hope it wasn’t for Buck. Now her worst fears had just been confirmed.

While eyeing the sheriff and the jail, wondering if she could spring Buck in the middle of the night, the sheriff must have been able to read her mind because he broke into her thoughts saying, “Don’t know ‘xactly what yer thinkin’ but if you’ve got any ideas ‘bout breakin’ yer friend outta here, don’t. We haven’t had us a hanging here fer a coupla weeks and we don’t take kindly to being thwarted outta one.”

Stunned, Lou didn’t know how to respond.

Eyeing her, the sheriff rubbed his jaw contemplating his next move. Finally he resolved to say, “Mebbe there might be somethin’ ya could do to help yer friend there outta the mess he got hisself into.” Narrowing his eyes at her, he added, “Yessiree, there just might.”

The sheriff propped himself against his desk while he looked on, giving a quick glance to Buck who by now had started to stir just enough to listen in on the conversation, but not making it known to the sheriff – only to Lou who knew Buck so well.

“Let’s say ya were ta give me a certain amount of money let’s say as a…gift. That just might make me change my mind ‘bout ever seein’ yer friend set foot in this here town. Yessiree, that just might do it.”

Lou’s eyes widened, quickly adding up the amount of ready money she had on her. It was much, much more than she had ever carried on her person at one time before and just thanked her lucky stars she had the wherewithal to have taken it with her this time.

Keeping her voice low and trying to sound a bit disinterested to tamp down the excitement she was feeling, she asked, “So how much ya talkin’ about?”

“Well, now, that depends.” The sheriff leaned in real close to Lou and she could smell his horrid breath as he spoke. “How much is he worth to ya?”

“I’ve got 50 dollars on me, would that be enough of a gift for you?”

Taken back that he would make this much off a stupid Injun, glee shown in the greedy sheriff’s eyes, but he quickly smothered it back, not wanting to appear too eager. Slowly, he nodded his head, “Yep, that ought ta do it. Let’s see yer money first though. I wanna make sure yer not lyin’ ta me.”

Lou turned to her side and pulled out the small pouch she kept her money in and pulled out the correct amount. Thankful she still had a 5 dollar piece in her right shoe just in case, she turned back to the sheriff and laid the money on the desk.

He quickly grabbed up the money and counted it. Grinning inside, he sauntered over to the jail cell and unlocked the door. He made his way in and grabbed Buck roughly by the back of his shirt, hauling him to his feet and shoved him out the cell door.

Lou had to keep from crying out at the harsh way Buck was treated. She went to him and held him up under his shoulder, trying to keep him from falling. “What about his horse, sheriff?”

“Horse?” He laughed indignantly. “Sonny, I wouldn’t push my luck if I were you. ‘Sides, I don’t likely remember he had a horse. And iffin he did, it likely woulda been stolen. Everyone knows ya cain’t trust no Injuns.”

Lou tamped down her fury and the insult to Buck and Indians everywhere and let the matter of the horse go. She figured she had been lucky to get Buck out of this town alive.

Trying to placate the sheriff and keep him from changing his mind about Buck, she merely said, “Sure, sheriff, whatever you say. We’ll just be goin’ now.”

“You just make sure you do that and I don’t wanna catch either one of you in my town again, ya hear?”

Lou nodded and ushered Buck out the door and to her horse tied up to the hitching rail outside the jail. She looked up at Buck and quietly whispered, “Buck, can you make it up in the saddle? I can help, but I can’t do it alone.”

Buck nodded and between the two of them he got seated and Lou quickly swung up behind him so she could hold onto him in case he started to fall.

“It’s okay, Buck, I’ll get you back to the station as soon as I can and Rachel can take care of you or we can send for the doc.”

Buck slowly started to lose consciousness, but Lou kept a firm grip on him to keep him in the saddle. But as Buck was starting to fade, his mind latched onto how wonderful it was to have a friend like Lou, who like Ike, always seemed to be there whenever he needed someone. As he started to lean forward, Lou tightened her hold around his waist and said into his ear, “It’s alright, Buck, I’ve got you and I’m not gonna let go.”

Money For Your Soul
by: Dede

“Hey Kid?”

Kid stared off, oblivious to his friend’s voice. Why was he here? What had he thought he’d find? Or help?

“Kid!”

Kid’s head whipped around and he looked into the boyish face of his new friend Ethan. “Sorry Ethan, I guess I was….” He was what? Lost in another dream of home? Which home? The Virginia home that had been just a false vision of what he’d wanted, or of the real home, the one he’d left so many months before that it felt like a lifetime.

“That’s okay Kid,” Ethan said. The friendly, calm Southern drawl brought a smile to Kid’s weary face. “I jus’ thought you’d be a might interested in that there goin’s on.” He pointed towards a tent where a group of soldiers were gathered and more were approaching from the camp.

“What goin’s on?” Kid eyed the crowd.

“It’s conscription,” Ethan said softly. “Seems we’re in this fer sure.”

The young man’s eyes were large and fearful, but there was also an underlying excitement. Kid suppressed the desire to shake Ethan and try to knock some sense into the boy. A chuckle bubbled up; boy, Ethan was only a year younger than Kid but seemed so much more. His naiveté, the simple innocence that the farm boy from Dinwiddie Virginia, a county named of Ethan’s ancestors, brought to the band of men Kid had joined six months earlier.

On a dreary, cold, rainy November day, he’d arrived in Virginia, just seven months after the beginning of the war and one month after the end of…the end of his other life. However, the end of this hell wasn’t in sight, as the war was now out of its first year and into the second. Where was that quick resolution both sides swore would come?

“You okay Kid?”

Ethan’s voice caught Kid by surprise. The young man was truly worried about him. Kid smiled. “Let’s go see what this is all about, ‘k?”

“Sure,” Ethan replied, his spirits seemingly buoyed by Kid’s interest.

As they joined the group, Kid mused at how Ethan had become like a younger brother in such a short amount of time. The other men poked fun at Ethan’s devotion to Kid but they were all very protective of the boy too.

“Now listen up,” the sergeant’s booming voice carried over the murmurs of the crowd. Kid didn’t trust the grin the man wore; there was something very false in how many teeth were showing. Almost like the man was forcing the smile. “The good men of our Provisional Congress have bestowed upon us the right to grant bounty and furlough to all reenlistin’ men.”

“Reenlistin’?” Kid murmured. “It ain’t been but a few months since most a’ us joined.”

“What’re the goods?” a nasally voice called from somewhere in the crowd.

“Well, now, glad ya’ asked,” the sergeant drawled, puffing his chest out a bit. “Fer ev’ry man there’s a bonus a’ fifty dollars and a….” he paused for emphasis, “a sixty-day furlough.”

The enthusiastic rumblings made the sergeant’s grin widen. “See? Good ol’ Jeff knows that we’re doin’ a dangerous job and should be paid as such. So jus’ step up and sign here.” He turned towards the table that was set up for the reenlistment process.

“Bible for your soul, money for your pocket,” Kid muttered.

“What’s that?”

Kid glanced at Ethan and smiled. “Nothin’. Jus’ rememberin’ somethin’ a man once said to me.”

Kid watched as the men clamored forward for the pay and leave time. No one had asked how long they were signing for.

“How long’s it for?” Kid hadn’t realized he’d even opened his mouth until his voice came out.

“Uh, yeah,” someone else said.

The crowd grew quiet. All eyes were on the sergeant, whose face fell slightly. For a fleeting moment, Kid saw the man clench his jaw and narrow his eyes before quickly plastering on the friendly grin from before. So there was an underlying secret.

“Jus’ three years, but, but –” He held up his hands to quiet the grumbles. “Now look, y’all know as well as I do that we’re but months,” he leaned forward as if imparting a secret, “hell, weeks from beatin’ ‘em so it ain’t gonna be three years, really.”

“Yeah,” a stocky, bearded man said. “We’ll get ‘em on the run in no time. Heck, I’m gonna take it.” He strode up to the table, picked up a pen, and put it to paper.

“We gotta do it,” a tall, lanky man added. “It’s our duty; we’re soldiers and gotta stay on as long as there’s any war.” The man hurried up to be next. Soon, others followed and the sergeant had his men.

“Wha’d’ya’ think Kid?”

Kid stared after the men, all rushing to sign over three years of their lives. This wasn’t ending in weeks, or even months. No, it would be longer than that.

“Money for your soul,” Kid replied and walked towards the table.

Nest Egg
by: Wendy

Lou McCloud waited until all the other riders had fallen asleep, before she jumped down from her bunk above Kid’s. She heard him stir on his bunk, and froze. He rolled over onto his side, facing the wall, and settled into sleep once again.

As soon as he was sleeping soundly, Lou padded over to her trunk, and knelt down in front of it. She lifted the lid slowly, wincing as its hinges creaked, and hoped the noise did not awaken the others.

With one hand, holding the lid up, Lou rummaged through her clothing and other belongings in it, until her fingers curled around what she was looking for. An old wool sock weighted down with coins and crumpled bills. She removed the sock and closed the lid.

She padded barefoot over to the cook stove, where a warm fire was burning inside, and settled onto the floor next to it. She opened the iron door so that it cast its flickering light onto her and the money sack in her hands.

As quietly as she could, Lou dumped the contents of it into her lap, so she could count it. She worked to straighten the paper money into smooth piles, before she set to work counting it all up.

*Fifty dollars*

Lou could not believe she had managed to save up such a sum of money out of her wages each after taking money out of her wages each payday to bend to the orphanage for the care of her younger siblings, and purchasing, clothing and other supplies she needed, too. Fifty dollars was not enough money to buy a piece of land for her, Jeremiah, and Teresa to live on, but it was a start.

Quietly she put the money back into the sock, closed the door to the stove, and walked back over to her trunk. She stored the sock away and then climbed back onto her bunk. Lou fell asleep with a smile on her face and dreams of a future life with her siblings in her head.

Sweet Opportunity
by: Cindy

“Awww, c’mon fellas. It’s only fifty dollars!”

Jimmy shook his head. “Ain’t no ‘only’ about fifty dollars, Cody.”

“It is a lot o’ money,” Lou agreed.

“Maybe if you told us what it was for,” Kid suggested.

Cody sighed dramatically. “I told you, I promised to keep it quiet.”

“Cody, you still owe me five dollars from last month,” Buck pointed out. “Why would I give you more, and not even know what it was for?”

Cody grinned and walked around the table to put an arm around Buck’s shoulders. “Well, ya see, Buck, if you help me out here, I’ll be able to pay you back that five dollars. Why, I’ll pay you back ten dollars!”

Buck raised an eyebrow in skeptical response, but Cody wasn’t paying attention. He turned back to the other riders and continued his sales pitch. “You ain’t givin’ me the money,” he started. “You’re investin’ it.”

“Investing it in what?” Kid insisted.

Cody looked around, seeing nothing but skepticism on the faces of the other riders. Finally, with another sigh, he went to the door, opened it, and looked out, checking the yard.

Jimmy looked out the window, trying to figure out what was out there, and seeing nothing but the rain that had kept them inside most of the day. “Cody, what the hell’re you lookin’ at?”

Cody shut the door and turned around before answering. “Just makin’ sure no one else is listening.”

Ike rolled his eyes and signed something that made Buck grin. “Ike’s right,” he translated. “Teaspoon took Emma into town, so that just leaves the horses and chickens to listen in.”

As the others chuckled at that idea, Cody moved back to the center of the room. “It ain’t no laughin’ matter,” he insisted.”This here is a serious business opportunity.”

“So tell us what it is,” Lou said.

With another sigh, Cody sank down onto a chair by the table. “All right, I’m gonna tell ya,” he said, his voice so low it was almost a whisper. “But you gotta promise not a word to anyone else.”

“Cody…” Jimmy started, looking ready to argue.

“Who are we gonna tell?” Kid asked, cutting off the argument.

“Probably nothin’ we’d want Emma or Teaspoon to know anyway,” Lou mumbled.

Cody looked around and motioned everyone to come closer. “I got this real good business opportunity,” he said softly.

“Cody, you already got a job,” Jimmy pointed out.

“Well, I know that, Hickok. See, this would be somethin’ extra, to do around mail runs.”

It was Buck’s turn to roll his eyes. “Cody, you already try to get out of your chores here. Why would we think you’d do this other work?”

Cody threw his hands up as if the answer should be obvious. “Well, I don’t get paid no extra for doin’ chores here.”

“No, but you sure eat your share anyway,” Lou retorted, leading to chuckles all around…

Except for Cody. “While you’re complainin’ I’m tryin’ to better my position in life!”

Kid leaned over the table toward him. “So just tell us.”

Cody pursed his lips into a pout and looked at each of the others before continuing. “All right,” he finally said, drawing out the two words as if to make sure everyone understood the sacrifice he was making. “You know old Mr. Creavy?”

“Ain’t that the guy with the place just north of town?” Lou asked. “The one Teaspoon calls a crazy old coot.”

“Well, Teaspoon’d sure know about that,” Jimmy added with a chuckle.

Cody chose to ignore the extra comments. “That’s his place north of town.”

“You got some business deal with him?” Kid asked.

Buck looked even more skeptical than before. “Sam told me once that Creavy blew up his own barn.”

“That was an accident,” Cody insisted.

“Didn’t he get gored by a bull a couple months ago?” Jimmy asked.

“Coulda happened to anyone,” Cody said, sulking.

Ike thumped his chest for attention and his hands flew.

“That’s right,” Lou nodded. “He’s the one Doc treated when his chimney fell on him.”

“And I heard he nearly killed some folks with the stuff he brewed in his still,” Jimmy added.

Cody pounded a fist on the table. “Do you wanna hear about this opportunity or not?”

“NO!” the others chorused.

Cody ignored the protests. “Them other things, that was just accidents,” he insisted. “This here’s a real business opportunity.”

Jimmy shook his head and held his hands up. “Cody, the way things happen to this guy, why would you wanna work with him?”

Cody grinned, as if finally seeing an opportunity to draw some interest from the other riders. “Well, now, see I ain’t gonna work with him. He’s willin’ to sell it to me.”

“Sell what?” Kid asked – and almost immediately looked as though he wished he hadn’t.

“The bees.”

”What?”

“The bees,” Cody repeated. “Well, the hives, actually.”

Stunned silence ensued as the other riders looked around at each other. Jimmy finally voiced the question for all of them. “What d’ya want with beehives?”

Cody exhaled a long-suffering sigh. “For the honey, of course.”

“The honey?”

Cody nodded enthusiastically. “See, Tompkins sells honey for thirty cents a pound. But since ol’ Creavy’s givin’ me such a good deal, I figure I can sell for twenty five cents.” He nodded proudly. “See, I got this all figured out.”

The new silence in the room said that the others weren’t quite so sure about that.

“Cody, what do you know about taking care of bees?” Buck asked.

“Ain’t nothin’ to it,” Cody insisted. “Plenty o’ wildflowers around here, so they just, uh… do what bees do.”

“And how do you harvest the honey?” Kid challenged.

“Well, uh, I guess…” Cody gestured with his hands, miming dipping his hand into something. “You just dig it out, I guess.”

“Well I ain’t diggin’ it out,” Lou insisted, shaking her head. “When I got stung a couple months back, my hand swelled up near as big as a watermelon.”

“Did you ask Creavy how he does it?” Buck asked.

“I was gonna,” Cody replied. “But he was kinda busy.”

“With what?” Lou asked.

Cody hesitated before replying. “He was rubbin’ somethin’ on some bee stings,” he finally admitted, very softly.

Buck rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Count me out,” he said as he walked over and flopped down on his bunk, reaching for the book he was reading.

“C’mon, there’s gotta be a way to do it,” Cody pleased. “I’ll find out!”

“Not me,” Lou said, heading for the door. “I’m gonna go brush Lightning.”

Kid hurried after her. “I’ll help,” he said, pulling his jacket up as the rain hit him.

“But it’s a real good opportunity!” Cody shouted, even as the door slammed shut.

Jimmy turned and pulled his cleaning supplies out of his trunk. “Give it up, Cody,” he said as he sat down on his bunk and started to clean his pistol. “We ain’t givin’ you money.”

His options diminishing, Cody looked around the room. “Ike, you can see it’s a real sweet opportunity, can’t you? You an’ me, we could do this…”

Ike shook his head and climbed up onto his bunk. He pulled out his pencils and a sketch book and buried himself in a drawing.

Cody slumped at the table, his chin resting on his hands. “A sweet opportunity,” he repeated, softly.

But no one replied.

Unexpected
by: Lori

A/N: A companion piece to QF #95

Jimmy had never expected to get married. He never thought he’d live long enough; he never thought he’d stay in one place long enough. In the years after the Pony Express ended, he felt that the target on his back because of J.D. Marcus’ ridiculous book had grown. When he tried to find decent work, too many people were scared off when they heard his last name. When young bucks and aging gunslingers looking to infuse a little notoriety and glory into their lives came after him and he fought back – coming out victorious – it only added to the unwanted fame that followed him around.

It had been happenstance that led him to this town and this job. He’d been drifting, watching his money and trying to move on, move further in the hopes that he might find someplace to settle where people didn’t know about Wild Bill Hickok. Sure, he probably could have changed his name, and maybe there were some that said he should have, but Jimmy could never bring himself to do that. While he may not have had the best childhood and his father was a hard man, Hickok was still his family’s name and he just hadn’t quite been able to part with it.

He’d come into town, hoped to find a poker game and earn a little more money, get some provisions and move on. The town was rough, the unsavory and lawless elements a little more prominent, though nowhere near as bad as Regrets. But just like there, when the sheriff was killed and the criminals were out of control, he hadn’t been able to sit back and do nothing while those few honest folks who were fighting for their livelihood were terrorized and taken advantage of. He’d stepped into the fray and fought back, pinning on a badge and taking a stand just as Teaspoon had taught him. So many times he wanted to leave, but he knew that he couldn’t. The town would be overrun again and he simply couldn’t walk away and leave people helpless just because he was tired of the constant fight. He was the only person who would take on the criminals and he felt it was his duty to stay.

Then she came into town. Young, fresh, scared and innocent, until one discovered the jaded, distrusting side that had been cultivated in her because of her home life. Her father had sold her off, looking for cash to cover his own dissolute habits, and she’d ended up here, promised to a man she’d never met. A man that Jimmy wished he could put into jail but couldn’t because the law bound his hands. There was no way that he was going to let such a woman suffer just because of some mail-order contract.

Johnson was a drunk and always looking for a quick buck, so when Jimmy said he’d pay the man a portion of what he’d paid for his bride, the grizzled old man had quickly forgotten about the young woman and went for ready cash. Then the marshal had to convince Gabrielle that the money would only be a temporary reprieve for her. Old Johnson could come back wanting more, or he could decide that he wanted her for his bride since he’d paid for her. She needed to leave town. And when she refused to do that, when she refused to return home and several of the single men began to come sniffing around, some offering to pay Johnson and have her for their bride, Jimmy knew he had to step in. The only way to protect her was to take her off the market, so to speak.

So he told her that they should get married. He’d protect her, the men would leave her alone, she wouldn’t have to go back to her father, and it would all work out. He told her that he wouldn’t expect her to share a bed with him and she’d been so shocked and against his proposal that when she finally agreed, she readily moved into the spare bedroom. Jimmy thought life would settle down after that. He’d been woefully wrong.

Gabrielle wasn’t someone who would instantly turn a man’s head, but she was pretty. She was kind, she took care of the house, cooked the meals and did more than Jimmy had ever expected of her. His clothes were freshly laundered, mended or replaced, all without a word exchanged between them. She learned his favorite foods and fixed them. Jimmy found that it was nice to come home at night and know that someone would be there. It wasn’t just because there would be a hot meal waiting; it was because there would be someone to talk to, someone to pass the time with and know that he would not be alone all the time.

Jimmy was determined not to impose on her, though. They had married to solve a problem, not because they’d truly cared for each other. They had become friends and companions, but he knew that they didn’t really have a traditional marriage. He would never make overtures towards her because he didn’t want her to feel obligated to him in any form. He had not saved her from Johnson and the rest of the town only to feel that he had earned the right to certain liberties just because it was his ring that she wore on her finger.

Which was why that night in their kitchen had completely shocked him. When Gabrielle tended to his wounds, he focused on the pain instead of her gentle touch. He tried not to look at her eyes and see her gentle sympathy or kindness shining through. When she kissed his face, Jimmy had sat there numb with shock and wondered if he’d somehow fallen asleep and was dreaming the whole encounter. And when she said that they could have a real marriage, he had been ready to refuse. Certain it was just her thinking she owed a debt to him and wanting to make the best of their situation, he had no idea how he was even able to think let alone come up with an excuse but knew that he had to. He hadn’t done this to take advantage of her.

His arguments fell away when he looked into her eyes. They were open and said all that she hadn’t; they also let him know that she meant everything she was saying. That she was sincere in her offer. It was all the encouragement Jimmy needed and that night their marriage became real. Several nights later when his injuries had healed to allow him to move better and she was no longer sore, he gave her a proper demonstration of his feelings. Whispered words of devotion and love were shared in the dark and Jimmy knew that he would always be glad the day he decided to bribe Johnson into going away and leaving Gabrielle alone.

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