Topic #98: Word List: Use at least three of the following words - ale, eight, intelligence, plate, tonight
Pretending by: Karen An Illuminating Conversation by: Lori
The Scavenger Hunt by: Leah Puppy Love by: Jo
A Good Meal and A Good Book by: Dee Full Moon by: Jadedghost
The Devil You Know by: Dede Secondhand News by: Dede
The Right Moment by: Cindy
Pretending
by: Karen

Buck sat quietly. He wasn’t really hungry so he just pushed the food around on his *plate*. He took a sip of the *ale* his fellow travelers had insisted on buying for him. As he swallowed, he began once more to question his own *intelligence*. He placed the mug back on the table with a sigh. As he took a bite of the food he’d recently been rearranging, he silently offered up a prayer that he would live long enough to tell the others what he’d been through *tonight*. After a few more swallows of the ale, he began to relax. Maybe things weren’t as bad as he’d originally thought – the *eight* other guests didn’t seem to mind his being there. He took another bite of food and managed a shy smile at the person sitting across from him.

She smiled back. “Where’d you say you were headed, Mr. Cross?” she asked sweetly.

Something in the back of his head told Buck to be careful so he said quietly, “I didn’t say.” He took another bite of food to give himself a reason for not saying more. He made a decision not to drink anymore of the ale; it was making it difficult for him to think clearly, and thinking clearly was an important part of this errand.

Buck managed to excuse himself from the table and make his way out to the stable to look in on his horse. He double checked the contents of his saddlebags before telling the horse good night, and returning to his room and turning in for the evening.

As he drifted off, he thought he heard someone enter the room. He tried to sit up, but something prevented him. When he felt the soft lips next to his ear, Buck woke up quickly. He sat straight up – pushing the weight of the person off him. He turned up the light and stared at the woman from across the table.

She smiled sweetly. “I didn’t mean to startle you,” she said as she reached to stroke his cheek.

Buck pulled away from her touch. “Why are you here?” he asked as he stood and moved to get dressed.

“Your friend sent me,” she said, reaching to stop his movement.

When Buck paused; she moved to stand next to him. Buck quickly grabbed the cover from the bed and wrapped it around her scantily clad form.

“Who sent you?” he asked, as he once more began to get dressed.

The young lady sat back on the bed. Thankfully she kept the cover wrapped around herself. “Your friend, Mr. Carson,” she said. “He paid me well over my usual fee, and told me to do whatever you wanted. I’m just supposed to be sure I keep you entertained until morning.” She smiled up at Buck and moved to drop her cover.

Buck quickly stopped her. “He’s not my friend,” he explained. “I’ve never seen him before this evening’s meal. I think he’s trying to steal something from me.” He decided to take a risk. “He said to do whatever I wanted?” he asked.

She nodded.

“I want you to make it sound like I’m still in here, and we’re having a wonderful time,” Buck said. He smiled at her. “Can you do that?”

She nodded as she breathed a sigh of relief. “I do that all the time to keep from having to really…” she let the sentence fade as she hung her head in shame.

Buck reached down and touched her cheek. “Do you like working here?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“Maybe I can help,” Buck said, as he moved his hand under her chin. Once she was looking at him, he added, “We’ll talk more when I get back.”

She nodded. After taking a few deep breaths, she started the show to make anyone listening outside the door think she was keeping Buck entertained.

Buck waited until she started, and then slipped out the window. He stuck to the shadows as he made his way to the marshal’s office. Once there, he gave the man a note from Teaspoon. The two of them quickly and quietly made their way to the hotel stables.

They arrived just in time to catch Mr. Carson going through Buck’s saddle bags.

“It’s not there,” the marshal said, as he drew his gun and pointed it at the man. “He never even had it.”

Mr. Carson dropped the bags. He thought about making a try at getting away, but changed his mind when Buck stepped out of the shadows.

After helping the marshal secure the prisoner, Buck repacked his belongings and returned to his room. There he talked to the young lady who had helped him. They came up with a way for her to leave with him.

As the sun climbed over the horizon the next morning, Buck was once more questioning his intelligence as he left town with the most sought after saloon-girl for miles around.

An Illuminating Conversation
by: Lori

Follows Quick Fics 43, 44, 51, 77, 80 and 84. More of Jimmy and his brood.

If J.D. Marcus could see him now, the man probably wouldn’t believe it. After inventing the blasted moniker Wild Bill Hickok and creating havoc in Jimmy’s life, he probably wouldn’t actually believe that the feared outlaw was now a father of *eight* and a marshal. For a man who had once faced down outlaws looking to gain some notoriety, or settle a score, due to the fame Jimmy had gained, he now walked around town and the people didn’t scorn him or look down on him. They appreciated his diligence to his job, the level-headed approach and fair manner he brought as he kept the peace of their beloved town.

Yes, Jimmy had been domesticated, for as much as a man who still loved to ride out in search of unspoiled land, could be considered tamed. However, those desires to be gone for several days, sleeping by a fire and enjoying freedom were definitely tempered. It was no longer comfortable to spend endless days with nothing but a blanket between him and the ground. He appreciated his soft bed, and the softness of his wife beside him. He liked a nice meal prepared by his wife, or his daughter, and not having to worry about cooking over a fire or merely working on beef jerky in the hopes of quelling his hunger until he could find something more substantial.

However, if J.D. Marcus could see him right now, at this very moment, the man would probably laugh. Because Jimmy Hickok was terrified. Terrified of the young man joining them for dinner *tonight*. A man half his age who Jimmy knew was about to deal him his most painful blow.

He didn’t see why he should have to sit down and break bread with this…this…man. He’d rather break a *plate* over the upstart’s head. But his wife, and his daughter, would strenuously object and Jimmy’s life would become absolutely miserable. For while Robert Martin was an annoyance who was constantly calling at the house and seemed to be there in town every time Jimmy turned around, he didn’t live at Jimmy’s house. No, Jimmy lived with five women and in his experience he had learned it was best if they weren’t unhappy with him. Breaking dinner wear over his daughter’s beau’s head would upset her and his wife, and then his wife would be even more upset over the destruction of the table setting.

“Don’t see why I shouldn’t be allowed to do what I want,” Jimmy grumbled as he stomped into the marshal’s office and slammed the door behind him. “Stupid Robert Martin.”

“What are you bellowin’ about, son?”

Jimmy turned around, startled by the voice behind him. He knew that Teaspoon had not been in the office only moments before. He knew this because Teaspoon had passed on the year before after living a long and adventurous life. While Jimmy knew that his *intelligence* was not going to impress any of the fancy university professors back East, he did know enough to be certain dead men did not come back to life. This was merely a figment of his imagination. A hallucination.

Or maybe it was a conjuring. Teaspoon knew that Jimmy needed advice and had decided to come visit. Or maybe Jimmy had summoned him somehow. Buck believed that spirits could guide and direct people when called upon, maybe Jimmy had done that.

“Jimmy?”

“I’m grumbling about dinner,” he answered sullenly.

“Ain’t suppertime yet,” the older man chuckled, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “And Karen’s a mighty fine cook…can’t see what you’re complain’ about.”

“It’s the company I’ll have to endure,” he sighed. “Robert Martin is joining us. Again. He’s there at least once a week…but this time…this time he asked if he could talk with me.”

“Ah,” Teaspoon nodded sagely.

“I thought that I could scare him off,” Jimmy groused. “Make him see that Becky was too young, that he shouldn’t be thinkin’ of courtin’ my daughter. But no, he followed every restriction I set in place. Could only meet her at socials or church. Then when he finished schoolin’ and went to work for his pa, I thought he’d be so busy he wouldn’t have time to think about her.”

“But he stuck with it,” the other man stated. “And Karen suggested that you invite him and his folks to come for dinner.”

“And then he still kept comin’ ‘round. And then Karen suggested maybe we could let him drive her and their friends to the social. And then it was just him comin’ over for supper. And the next thing I knew I was lettin’ him take her for a walk around town and then escortin’ her to the dance. And now…”

“And now she’s finished with her schoolin’ and they’re still courtin’.”

“And now he wants to talk with me,” Jimmy sighed heavily. “And I know he’s gonna ask me for permission to marry her. He wants to take my little girl away.”

“She’s seventeen, Jimmy,” his friend pointed out. “Not that far from eighteen. Karen was married to you by this age.”

“I know,” he sighed again. “I finally understand her father.”

Teaspoon chuckled and leaned forward in his chair. “What don’t you like about Robert?”

“Nothing,” he answered. “I like him. He’s honest, he works hard with his pa, he’s made improvements at the store that have really been good for business. He’ll be prepared to take over once Ned decides to retire, he’ll be able to provide for Becky. He’s a good man. I just don’t like that he’s interested in my daughter.”

“You’ll have to let her go sometime, son,” the former marshal pointed out. “Wouldn’t it be better to let her go with your blessing to someone you know will take care of her?”

“You’re supposed to be on my side, Teaspoon,” the current marshal grumped.

“But I am,” the older man grinned. “I’m in your head, so you’re just talkin’ to yourself. You know you should give Robert your blessing.”

Jimmy let out a weary sigh into the empty room and let his shoulders fall. It’s what he knew he should do, knew that he would do…it just didn’t make it any easier to face. It was going to be a long day as each minute brought him closer to dinner and the ultimate conversation that would mean his little girl would be leaving him much sooner than he’d ever wanted.

The Scavenger Hunt
by: Leah

Kid grinned as he ran around the station. He tried for hours last night to think of the places Lou was most likely to go, and he thought he’d finally figured the four best places to hide his presents for her. He was really hoping that she wouldn’t get mad at him for this but he was willing to take the chance. He‘d finally accepted the fact that she was the only one for him and unless he was really off his mark she was feeling the same way about him at the same time.

“Rider Coming!” He heard Rachel call just as he finished hiding the last present. He came running out of the barn as fast as he could, “Hey Lou.” He called as she tossed the mochilla to Tommy and slowed down to a stop.

“Hey Kid.” She said looking at him suspiciously. “You’re in a good mood aren’t you, what have you done?” Why did his good mood worry her, she wondered.

“I left something on your bunk.” He said quietly before he led Lightning towards the barn.

Lou looked after Kid curiously but then at the bunkhouse. She hurried to her bunk the curiosity was killing her. Lying on her pillow was a small bunch of perfect daisies and a tiny note that said *eight*. “Eight? What does eight mean?” she asked the empty bunkhouse. She sniffed the daisies and smiled. “Kid’s lost his mind.” She said laughing as she sat down on her bunk and looked at her flowers. “Guess I should get a vase so you don’t go bad huh?” She said to the flowers before sniffing them one more time and heading over to Rachel’s.

“Kid’s lost his mind. Either that or he’s just trying to drive me insane.” Lou said happily as she walked into Rachel’s house.

“What’d he do now?” Rachel asked a smile in her voice.

“He left me flowers.” Lou said walking into the kitchen and sitting down, “and a note that said eight. Does eight mean anything to you?”

“It could mean anything.” Rachel said trying hard not to grin. She in fact knew exactly what it meant but Kid had sworn her to secrecy.

“You know what he’s up to don’t you?” Lou asked watching her face.

“Sorry can’t answer that or any other questions related to Kid.” Rachel said laughing.

“Alright.” Lou said with a smile, “Can I borrow a vase though?”

“Sure. I’ve got three, pick whichever you’d like.” Rachel said pointing to her china cabinet.

“Thanks. I think I’ll go and take care of the flowers and then get washed up. I’m a mess.” Lou said looking at the vases and picking a cranberry colored one. “I’ll tell ya this much he’s got me intrigued.” Lou added as she ran out the door smiling.

She quickly put the flowers in the vase with some water and then put them on the table since she didn’t really have anywhere else to keep them. Grabbing her towel and some soap she headed outside to get washed up. As she got to the shower area Teaspoon had set up for them she unfolded her towel and a piece of paper dropped out. *Tonight* it read.

“Well I guess I know what eight means now.” Lou said smiling as she carefully folded the note and put it into her boot before cleaning up. A little while later feeling more like a person than a horse she got mostly dressed and walked back to the bunkhouse.

“Time for the pain.” She muttered to herself as she opened up her drawer and pulled out her brush and saw another note. ‘Privacy’ it said. What is he planning, she wondered as she pulled her brush through her hair. As straight as her hair was, now that she was starting to let it grow out it tangled all the time.

Lou smiled as she sat on her bunk and looked at her flowers sitting on the table. You’ve got chores, girl. Lou thought as she finally pulled her eyes from the vase and headed to the barn. She checked on Lightning and saw that he was happily roaming around the paddock. “Everything where you left it?” she asked as she went over to the supplies and wedged between two salt licks was a piece of paper.

“Guess everything’s not like I left it though.” She said as she unfolded the note and looked down at the single word, ‘Talk’. Lou put her fingers to her lips, the note still in her hand. “Talking would be good wouldn’t it.” She said thinking aloud. It must be the pond. She thought, any time Kid wanted to talk privately in Sweetwater they went to pond. That has to be what he meant this time too.

Lou quickly finished her chores rinsed off her hands and face again at the water pump and realized she should get headed over to the pond. She decided to walk rather than ride seeing as she had some time to waste on the way over. As she walked she thought about some of the things she wanted to talk to Kid about. Then she began to wonder at what he would want to talk with her about, her own fears began to run through her head and she nearly turned back twice.

She approached the last turn before the pond as saw Kid standing by a rock looking at her. He had a flower in his hand and laid out between them was a soft blue blanket laden with *plates*, flatware, candles, and several examples of Rachel’s cooking. “Hi.” Lou said feeling suddenly nervous.

“I knew you’d have the *intelligence* to figure out my clues.” Kid said as he stepped around the blanket and handed Lou the flower. “Would you like to have some dinner Louise?”

Puppy Love
by: Jo

The run had been decidedly uneventful but long. Buck had been gone for three days and in the saddle the whole time. He was looking forward to a good hot meal and his nice warm bed. He crested the last hill and the station came into view. “Home sweet home, I bet you can’t wait for some oats, a clean stall and a good brushing.” Buck said patting his horse’s neck. “With any luck one of the others will take care of you while I eat….Hmmm how’s that sound girl” Buck gave the tired horse a little kick and horse and rider hurried toward the station.

“Rider comin’” Kid called out spotting Buck on the horizon. Jimmy and Lou stood up from their seats on the bunkhouse porch and Ike came out of the barn followed by both Puff and Situpsa. Puff had adopted the puppy the moment Buck brought him home and Situpsa happily followed her everywhere.

Buck rode into the station and dismounted; Ike took the reins and began leading the horse toward the barn. Situpsa still hadn’t grown into his legs and he came bounding and rolling across the yard toward Buck. Buck knelt down and caught the puppy in mid flight as the little furball launched himself at his owner. Buck started laughing as the puppy covered his face with wet kisses. Soon Puff lopped over and joined in giving Buck kisses. The *eight* paws proved too much for Buck and he fell over backwards landing on his backside with a huge laugh that soon had everyone else laughing as well. Jimmy and Lou finally took pity on Buck’s predicament and Lou picked up Situpsa while Jimmy pulled Puff back by her collar and extended a hand to Buck.

“I guess I don’t need to wash my face now!” Buck laughed standing up and brushing the dust off his clothes.

“I’d rethink that Buck, go wash up dinner is almost ready.” Emma smiled from the porch of the house. Lou put a wiggling Situpsa down and the puppy ran after Buck as he walked toward the bunkhouse washbasin.

“That dog really loves Buck…..” Lou said as she sat back down on the bunk house steps.

“I think that works both ways but Buck don’t want to admit it.” Jimmy laughed.

Half an hour later the riders were sitting down to dinner in the bunkhouse while Puff and Situpsa whined and scratched at the door. Ike had already asked to be excused but Emma said no. Buck kept looking at the door but what was on his *plate* tasted too good to ignore.

The dogs managed to push the door open an inch or so but the latch kept it from opening further. Little and not so little paws pushed into the bunkhouse only to pull back when the door would snap closed.

“It won’t be long before they figure out how to get that door open.” Teaspoon was saying when the door opened a tiny bit again; this time it was followed by a sharp yip and a bark.

Buck was on his feet in an instant followed closely by Ike. Situpsa was sitting just on the other side of the door licking his paw. Buck scooped the puppy up and began inspecting the injured paw. “I think he just pinched it in the door….he looks fine.” Buck said more to himself that anyone in particular.

By this time everyone had gathered around Buck and the puppy and Emma gave up. “Situpsa, you win, you too Puff….I know I said no dogs in the bunkhouse but come on in. It’s the only way we’ll ever finish dinner. They sleep in the barn with the other animals, though, understood?” Emma looked at Ike and Buck who both nodded.

Puff lay on the floor beside Ike and Situpsa managed to wiggle onto Buck’s feet under the table while the riders finished dinner. Every once in a while Buck smiled when the puppy licked his knee through his pants.

“Buck didn’t you say the puppy’s part wolf?” Jimmy asked.

“Yeah the mother looked to be more wolf than dog, I was told the father was a wolf. Look at the size of his paws he’s going to be huge.” Buck said lifting the puppy onto his lap.

“What did you say Situpsa meant again?” Emma asked looking at the wiggling pup.

“It’s Lakota for wags tail.” Buck answered looking at the puppy’s paw again. He squeezed each paw with no reaction from the puppy. “I guess he’s alright.”

“What’s Lakota for wags whole body?” Jimmy laughed watching the puppy wiggle.

“Please Emma, can’t he sleep in here just for *tonight*? I’ll clean up any accidents…” Buck asked and Ike stepped up pointed at Puff and made a sad pleading face he batted his eyes at Emma.

Emma rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips. “You are not the only….” She began but a chorus of “I don’t mind” cut her off.

“Just tonight….” Emma said reaching over to pat the puppy who licked her fingers. She sighed and shook her head. “Are wolves known for their *intelligence* too?”

“Yup, Thanks Emma, I’m just hoping he’s not a blanket thief too!” Buck smiled.

A Good Meal and A Good Book
by: Dee

Stepping out of the bunkhouse after a goodnight’s—and half a day’s—rest Cody stood on the bunkhouse porch and stretched. This last run had been a long one through new territory and though he liked to blaze the new trails, it had been a pretty hard ride. Which was how he found himself with two well deserved days off.

Of course he’d wasted half of this one sleeping. Cody grinned as he stepped off the porch and headed toward town. He hoped Tompkins had some new novels in since he owned most of the ones the storeowner sold but a few. He smiled to himself; he did own a few of those but he’d not admit to it since they were the romances some of the ladies in town enjoyed secretly.

He caught up with Jimmy sitting out front of the jail. “Thought you had a run today,” he said by way of a greeting.

“Travis hasn’t made it in yet,” Jimmy replied with a grumble. “Thought since you had the day off you’d still be in bed,” he teased his mood lighting a bit.

Cody stretched again and sat down next to Jimmy on the bench. “Twelve hours is enough sleep even for me,” he said his trademark grin brightening his face.

“Guess, it is,” Jimmy replied with a smirk and a hint of a laugh in his voice.

Cody looked through the window of the jail. “Where’s Teaspoon?”

“He’s helpin’ Polly hang a picture at the place.” Jimmy’s grin widened. “He’s spendin’ a lot of time down there—hangin’ pictures, moving furniture, unpackin’ boxes.”

Cody nodded, looked like Teaspoon was smitten—again. “Well, it is spring,” Cody said a hint of laughter in his voice. “You want to grab a bite to eat down at the restaurant?”

“Didn’t you get the food Rachel left you on the table?”

“Yep,” Cody replied standing and patting his stomach, “but *eight* days of jerky, jack rabbit, and hardtack ain’t much to live on.”

Jimmy laughed causing a few heads to turn their way. “I heard there’s a new cook down there. Let me know if she’s any good.”

Cody nodded and headed toward the restaurant. He made a quick stop at Tompkins’ to see if he had any new books. He had good luck in finding two he hadn’t read, one was a serial called David Copperfield and the other was a book called Moby Dick. He decided on both because he liked the suspense of waiting on the next part of a serial and the other because it looked like it might be full of adventure. He paid for the books and headed on toward the restaurant.

Entering he found a table by the large windows for the light and opened the serial. He paused when the owner, Mr. Adam O’Shay told him what was available and placed his order for steak, potatoes, and coffee. Then he settled in to enjoy the serial, it was by Charles Dickens and having read a couple of other books by the man Cody figured this one would be just as good. But he wasn’t to enjoy the story for long.

“I told you I would have none of your trouble, Skye!” He heard O’Shay yelling from the kitchen.

A shout and the banging of something being thrown sounded in the kitchen. “And I told you,” the voice of a woman shouted back, “Adam O’Shay; I’m a cook and not some doxy you can be forward with!” The door to the kitchen swung open and a very pretty redhead backed Adam O’Shay out of the kitchen at knifepoint.

“All I did was offer you the use of the upstairs room,” Adam said in his defense, but only earned snickers from the men in the room and disgusted looks from the women. Most of the town knew O’Shay would take advantage of any woman in his employ.

“You’ve run every other decent woman in town out of this job with your…your wandering hands,” the redhead growled. “My pa and brothers will have your hide…” the girl’s face drained of color as she laid the knife on the table next to her. “They would have and you ken that,” she said her voice quieter with an edge of sadness to it. But the fire of anger still burned in her eyes.

“Come on back in the kitchen, Skye Kerry,” O’Shay said none too gently, “ya still owe me for your passage.” Cody saw the grimace on the man’s face and a knowing look in his eyes that said that Miss Skye Kerry had not seen the end of his advances.

“I’d rather go back to County Kerry and face the bloody English landlords than go back in that kitchen,” the young woman spat pausing next to Cody’s table.

Cody knew he had to do something if he wanted to get that meal he came there for. O’Shay, for all that he owned the restaurant in town, was worse than Teaspoon in the kitchen. “Ma’am,” he said raising and running a hand through his hair to smooth it down, “I’m sure Mr. O’Shay didn’t …” When her face flamed again Cody quickly changed course, “What I mean is if you would like I’d be happy to keep you company in the kitchen.”

Her green eyes widened and he could tell she was going to lump him in the same category as O’Shay. “I mean as a protector, ma’am. Folk’s will tell you that Teaspoon…Marshal Hunter that is…would have my hide if I was to do anything um…um…untoward.” Cody wanted to groan; it sounded lame even to him. Then as an afterthought he added, “With the door open of course.”

She stood looking back and forth between him and O’Shay. Finally with a heavy sigh she conceded, “I can tell you’re a man of some *intelligence,*”she said indicating the open book on the table, “and I hope some manners. Come on then, the kitchen’s through the door.” She paused as she passed the table with the knife and picked it up. She turned as she reached the door and pointed the knife at him. “Ya best keep in mind I’m no light skirt to be messed with.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Cody said with a grin.

In the kitchen the young redhead lay the knife on the table and turned back toward him, her skirts swirling around her, introducing herself, “Skye Kerry,” she said holding out her hand…the knife still in the other.

“William F. Cody,” he replied as he shook her hand. “Billy, if you like.”

She smiled and Cody felt his stomach drop to his feet. “Sit yourself down, Billy and I’ll have your order right up.” She turned back to the stove and a moment later was sitting a *plate* in front of him with a smile.

She turned back to the stove and had the rest of the orders finished and waiting when O’Shay came in. The man’s jaw worked but no words came out. “Customers are waitin’ on that food, MR. O’Shay,” Skye said with her hands on her hips. “Best get it on the tables, folks don’t like cold food.”

Cody couldn’t help but smile as O’Shay picked up the plates and headed back to the dining room. When he was gone Cody asked, “So, Miss Skye, how did you get yourself in this predicament?”

Skye’s face fell and she sighed deeply, distracting Cody from his meal. “It’s a long sad story, Mr. Cody,” she replied after a moment her Irish brogue thick with emotion.

Cody grinned as he cut another piece of the steak. “I’ve got the rest of today, *tonight* and all of tomorrow,” he said with a grin just before he ate the bite of steak.

“Da would say it’s a story to be told over a pint of *ale* or a shot of good Irish whiskey,” she laughed and Cody’s mouth went dry. Her laughter was like the prettiest music he’d ever heard.

“Then a picnic, tomorrow. Ya think that would be a good place to tell the story?” he asked his blue eyes sparkling at her.

“If you know a meadow where there is green grass and plenty of sunshine, it’d be a grand idea,” she replied her green eyes shining with laughter. “And since we lack good Irish whiskey here or ale, lemonade will have to do.”

Cody stood and bowed to her. “Then tomorrow, Miss Skye. I’m sure I can talk Mr. O’Shay into giving you the afternoon off so I’ll be by at one o’clock, with a couple of horses.” When she started to protest he asked, “You can ride, can’t you?”

“Since I was a wee lass, Mr. Cody. And like the wind,” she replied because she knew this man would keep his word and his hands to himself—if she wanted him to, which she wasn’t so sure she did.

Full Moon
by: Jadedghost

She had begged Teaspoon not to make her go, but he had carried on as usual about how fair is fair and since she drew the short straw she had to go. All she could think of was how it was going to be a nightmare of a trip with him. Last time all he did was whine about food, and would give up on eating her share of food just to make him quit talking.

Now she sat there staring at his *plate* in utter disbelief. He had eaten three helpings of dinner and all *eight* of the biscuits that Emma had packed for their trip. Louise wondered if he had the *intelligence* to stop eating when he was full, or preferred a stomach ache.

What was worst was she knew that *tonight* would be a full moon and Cody would keep her up all night talking about how the moon looked like some sort of food he was craving. While she did admit that she liked to think of it as a big wheel of cheese. She did not want to talk about all the ways it could be eaten, or who made the best pie. With any luck he would fall asleep early from drinking the *ale* that they had tried at some bar in a near by town and he would sleep like a baby.

Author’s note: I figured that I have read so many wonderful stories over the last few years, that I should finally start writing a few of my own! Please send some feed back!-Thanks!

The Devil You Know
by: Dede

Edward Pierpoint Tenpenny marched through the doors of the saloon, irritated at the late hour. The ignorant stage driver had stayed longer than necessary at the last station. If this made Edward miss his appointment, the stage driver would find himself at the end of a very sharp dagger.

“Barkeep. *Ale*. Now.”

He continued towards his usual table in the back of the room, carrying a small valise. This would be the final meeting with his informants. After three months, the bumbling fools had something useful to report and Edward was impatient to find out the specifics. He spared a glance back at the man behind the bar. Edward couldn’t remember the man’s name, but then there was no reason for him to. The man meant nothing. He was just another slovenly boor who lived in this godforsaken part of the country.

Once at the table, Edward grimaced at the sight of someone sitting at the table directly beside his. Being a meticulous man of consistency and strict schedules, he kept not only his day-to-day rituals the same, but any situations he was in, he maintained control. He felt it eliminated the possibility of unknowns. Thus, though the sensitive nature of his current business, Edward couldn’t bring himself to move to another table. With a closer look, he saw the man’s cloak was pulled up around his head and realized the man was a drunk who was slumped over in his chair, snoring. Even if the fool heard anything, Edward doubted the old sot would remember it in the morning.

Teeth grinding, Edward looked back and stared at the barkeep, who in turn was staring back. The man just stood there, with a baffled expression. Not taking his eyes off the man, Edward slowly pulled out a chair at the table. “What an idiot,” Edward grumbled. The drunken slob snorted loudly and burped. Edward sneered in the man’s direction. ‘Get me out of this place. Once the job is finished, I will be gone.’

Looking back at the barkeep, Edward smoothed the front of his very expensive suit coat and took in the atrocious appearance of the pig of a man who owned this establishment. As if reading Edward’s mind, the man glanced down at his own attire – a pair of pants that should have been washed days ago, a shirt that was once white but now a yellowish-brown, and an apron that bore stains from what Edward presumed was the last few days’ food the saloon had served. Edward was sure that the proprietor could easily tell you his menu by the spots on his apron.

“Are you deaf?” he snapped, as he withdrew a handkerchief and wiped off his chair. All the while, he kept his gaze leveled. Malevolently pleased, he saw the man swallow hard and shake his head. Taking his seat, he used the same handkerchief to wipe the top of the table. As the man poured what the simpletons of the area called “beer,” Edward made a cursory look around. Other than the drunk, there was a drifter at the bar and one at the corner table. ‘Good, the fewer people the better.’ Not giving the other patrons another thought, he proceeded to remove papers and other items from his case, and set them out in front of him. He looked over the one that had the chronology of the events leading to this point. A man of details, Edward left nothing to chance.

Finally the barkeep walked up with the glass and as he set it down, he stared at a picture Edward had placed on top of his documents. It was of a very attractive woman sitting on a settee with Edward standing behind her. The *plate* had a crack that went perfectly down the middle, as if a force wanted to divide the couple.

“Leave,” Edward spat and covered the picture with his hand. The barkeep quickly did as Edward ordered.

As the man reached the bar, two scruffy men walked in. Edward thought he saw a change in the bartender’s demeanor but it was fleeting. Possibly just recognition since Edward had been meeting these same two men, at the same table, for the last few weeks. He dismissed it, knowing the man didn’t have the brain to reconcile what was going on. The two men approached his table.

“Mr. Ten –”

“No names you imbecile,” Edward growled. “How many times do I….” The two men shrank from Edward’s intense gaze. “Sit.” They obeyed and he pulled out a few sheets of paper. “Now what you’ve told me is that the item I’m looking for is in Sweetwater, correct?”

“Um,” the larger of the two men hemmed. He glanced at his friend, who shrugged. Biting his lip, he pressed on, “Well, didn’t you…um, that is, we thought you was lookin’ fer a man.”

Edward hissed through his clenched teeth. Keeping his voice as low as possible, though he felt like screaming, he gritted out, “As with names, we are trying to be as subtle as possible.”

The two men exchanged confused looks. The wiry man ventured to ask, “Uh, Mr. Te…sir, what?”

Edward clenched his fists, took a deep breath, and explained, “Crafty, sly, quiet. Good God.” He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I can’t believe I’m getting *intelligence* from men who lack it.” Inhaling deeply once more to calm his nerves, he continued, “Jacob, tell me what you’ve found.”

Edward took a sip of the beer sitting in front of him and spit it on the floor. He glared at the barkeep but the man was in a conversation with the young drifter at the bar. Jacob looked uncertainly at his boss. Edward waved his hand for the man to continue,

as the furious gentleman wiped his mouth with his handkerchief. “There’re *eight* of ‘em,” Jacob said.

Edward frowned. He hadn’t expected so many people to be around his target. “Eight?”

“He’s in charge of one a’ them Pony Express station,” Pete, the smaller man put in. “Six of ‘em are riders.”

“And a woman’s with him too,” Jacob finished, giving Pete an annoyed glance.

“Hmm,” Edward murmured as he scratched his chin. He thought about what the consequences of seven more people would be. Deciding it wasn’t a problem, he said, “I doubt a few misfits and a wench will cause me trouble.”

“Oh, she ain’t no whore,” Jacob said, as if the information was important. “She ain’t with ‘im.”

Edward gave Jacob a hard, stony stare. “As if that is relevant to the situation.”

“But she’s –”

Edward stifled Pete with the same rigid look. “Enough. I have everything I need.”

“So we start *tonight*?” Jacob asked cautiously.

Edward smiled a cold, calculating smile and began putting all his paperwork back in his valise. Off the last document, he picked up the picture but didn’t look at it. He stared off, his smile becoming more of a sneer. “Yes, I want you both to go back to Sweetwater and keep an eye on my friend.” Carefully wrapping the picture in a soft chamois to protect it, he placed it delicately in his bag. Without another word, he stood and walked away.

Jacob and Pete watched as Edward strode through the batwing doors. Nonplussed, the two stared for a moment at the swinging doors. Jacob looked around but no one seemed to be interested in anything they were doing, so he picked up the remaining beer and downed it in one gulp. Pete cuffed him and grabbed the glass.

“Come on,” Pete grumbled, “we got a long ride ahead a’ us and I ain’t ridin’ with you drunk.” He stood and headed for the door.

“Jus’ one glass,” Jacob said, sullenly and followed Pete’s lead.

As the doors swung back, the barkeep ran over to peek outside. He looked both ways and turned back to the room. “All clear.”

Teaspoon sat up, removing the poncho from over his face. “Well boys….”

Kid turned from the bar and walked towards Teaspoon’s table, as Jimmy walked over from the corner table. They stood there waiting for Teaspoon to tell them what to do. They didn’t know what this man, Tenpenny, had to do with their stationmaster but they were ready to go to war to protect Teaspoon from anything this man had planned.

“Nice drunk impression Teaspoon,” Kid joked. Jimmy grinned.

“Yeah, the burp was a good touch,” Jimmy drawled, nudging Kid.

“I’ve had practice,” Teaspoon stated. He looked around the saloon. “Uh, Buck?” He never did see where the boy went. Opening his mouth to call out once more, he saw Buck materialize out of the shadows from under the stairs. He grinned at the Kiowa who only raised his brow in response.

Jimmy laughed. “I had no idea where you’d gone.”

“Me either,” Kid said, laughing with Jimmy.

The corner of Buck’s mouth threatened a smile but he never quite let it. “What now Teaspoon?” That was the question everyone wanted answered, including those left back at the station.

“Thanks George,” Teaspoon said, avoiding the topic. He really wasn’t sure what was next. George nodded to Teaspoon.

“Ya’ don’t need to thank me,” George said. “I owe ya’ a lot an’ when I heard yer name mentioned a bit ago, I knew I needed to keep my ears opened.”

“Nonetheless,” Teaspoon said standing and stretching to pop his aching back. “I thank you.” He’d been sitting in that seat for the last three days while the saloon was opened, waiting to hear this special meeting.

“Teaspoon,” Jimmy prodded, “are ya’ gonna answer?”

Staring towards the door that Edward Tenpenny had just walked through, Teaspoon contemplated what to do. What do you do when there’s a man planning to kill you? Sighing he turned to his boys, impatiently standing there, and said, “Well, we go back to Sweetwater…,” he moved towards the door, “and wait.” Not waiting for the argument that he knew was coming, he waved at George and walked out the door. The three boys exchanged uncertain looks and, with no choice but to follow, they did.

Secondhand News
by: Dede

“The streets in our quiet town ran red with the blood of many. Wild Bill Hickok quickly dispatched *eight* men, turning our peaceful town into a shooting gallery. Pressed to answer for what he –”

“Enough!” Jimmy paced back and forth inside the sheriff’s office.

“Lad, what ya’ need is a good *ale*,” the sheriff said, helpfully. “Or perhaps a whiskey.”

“Or two,” Buck added, folding the paper he’d just been reading aloud from in half. He slapped it on his extended legs as he sat stretched out in a chair by the opened door. Doing his best to hide his smile, Buck watched Jimmy’s rant.

“Aye, two would be good,” the sheriff said with a chuckle. He and Buck exchanged a bemused look.

“Oh yeah,” Jimmy said, snidely, “gettin’ drunk would really help here.” He glared at Buck as he stopped in front of his supposed friend. “Why didn’t ya’ stop her?”

“Excuse me?” Buck asked, sitting up straight from his slouched position. “She asked you for a comment, not me.” Buck was quick to point out that the editor of the local paper, The Waterville Gazette, had truly followed Jimmy around the town after the shooting, trying desperately to get the great “Wild Bill” to say something – anything. But as was Jimmy’s way, he stayed tightlipped about the whole situation. “Probably if you’d said something, given the woman something to print…” Buck didn’t push anymore.

Jimmy ran his hands through his hair in annoyance. “Why me? I mean, what did I do? First, Marcus had to come up with that stupid name, then that…what was her name? Jessica, Julie…” Jimmy began his pacing again.

“Jennifer Walker,” Buck replied. “But she didn’t get much from you, just that you’d become sheriff of one of the most hardened towns out here and that you’d –”

“Buck,” Jimmy said, quietly.

The warning was clear and Buck held his hands up in surrender. Though Buck found the whole situation amusing, he understood why Jimmy just couldn’t, considering how much he hated the moniker that had been forced upon him. But, Buck also wanted his friend to see the ridiculousness of the situation so he opened the paper again and said, “It’s not all bad.” Jimmy’s expression was guarded.

“Wha’d’ya’ mean?”

“It says that you only wounded two men,” Buck said, grinning.

Jimmy grabbed the paper out of Buck’s hands and walked to the window at the front of the office. Staring out the *plate*-glass, Jimmy sighed. “You’d think a woman that owns a paper would have some decency, some good sense.”

Buck shook his head. He couldn’t believe how dense his friend was being. The woman, Clara Reynolds, was smitten with Jimmy. She’d been trying to talk to the man ever since they’d arrived, the week before. They’d been sent by Teaspoon to help the sheriff in case of trouble due to a cattle drive close to Waterville. It had been peaceful until the day before when a few of the men had started shooting up and down the main street. One of the storekeepers had refused the cowboys service because they were drunk. The drovers had decided to teach the man a lesson and had pulled him out into the street, tying him to a horse, ready to drag him down the main road. Jimmy and Buck had put a stop to it.

“Now, Jimmy,” Buck said, the teasing tone clear, “don’t say that, she did show decency.” When Jimmy stared in shock, Buck continued, “She didn’t say I killed anyone.” He grinned again, and Jimmy started towards his chair. He was stopped by the lady in question walking in.

She smiled when she saw the paper griped in his fist. “I see you’ve read it,” she said sweetly. Her brows wrinkled in confusion. “But it wasn’t your voice I heard reading.” She turned her gaze to Buck, leaning back casually in his chair. “Ah, you were the one I heard.” She looked back at Jimmy. “It’s good to know you have a friend with some *intelligence*.”

“Thank you?” Buck smirked. He waited for Jimmy to catch what she’d said – she’d been eavesdropping. But Jimmy wasn’t too quick when he was angry so he just grunted at Miss Reynolds and turned his back on her. Well, Buck wasn’t letting this go.

“Hmm,” he said as he stood up. Looking curiously at her, a small smile played on his lips. “Miss Reynolds, why were you standing out there that long? You really could have come in.” That caught Jimmy’s attention and he whipped around, his eyes boring into the woman.

Buck watched as Miss Reynolds squirmed. “It wasn’t that long, besides I was speaking to someone.” She nodded stiffly and turned away. But Buck wasn’t through.

“Really? I didn’t hear anything and I was sitting right here by the door, which has been open the whole time.” A slow grin spread across his face as he saw Jimmy stalk towards the woman and she backed up a few steps, her eyes wide.

“I…I didn’t…” she stammered. Finally looking down at the ground, she said softly, “I didn’t know what to say.” Jimmy glanced back at Buck, his confusion plain.

“Uh, say about what?” Jimmy asked, cautiously. Buck wanted to take Jimmy by the shoulders and shake him silly, but he just waited for Miss Reynolds to answer.

“I…I’m sorry about the article,” she said, still staring at the floor. “I waited over at the office, thinking you’d come by to discuss it.” She finally looked up into Jimmy’s eyes.

Buck saw Jimmy’s whole bearing change; his body relaxed, he let the paper drop from his hand, and a charming smile appeared.

“Now, I don’t think it’s too late to, as you said…discuss it,” he drawled. “Perhaps, *tonight*, over dinner?” He placed his arm out for her to take and she willingly did.

“That sounds lovely,” she purred. The two walked out the door, not giving Buck or the sheriff a second glance.

Buck leaned against the wall, watching the couple. “I swear, I thought he’d never get it.”

The sheriff chuckled. “So, how about an ale?”

Buck pushed off the wall and said, “Don’t mind if I do.”

The Right Moment
by: Cindy

Teaspoon checked his tie in the mirror, tugging one end down to make it even. Then he wet his hands in the water basin and slicked back his hair. Next came his hat, set on his head at an angle just so.

Getting to this moment had taken a bit of work – and the confluence of some fortuitous circumstances. First had been the arrival of a dapper Englishman on the eastbound stage. Nigel Blakely by name, the man had taken refuge in Polly’s saloon when the coach needed some repair work before moving on. By happy coincidence, Teaspoon had been there at the same time, and they’d gotten to talking. It turned out that Nigel had just opened what he termed a ‘proper British pub’ in St. Joseph, and he’d invited Teaspoon to visit.

Next, Polly had announced that she needed some new glassware and other supplies for the saloon. And she wanted to pick them out herself, which meant a trip to St. Joe.

She wanted some items for her quarters above the saloon as well – something about setting up housekeeping, she’d said. That was the part that had gotten him thinking.

And what he thought was that he’d been a damned fool to let a woman like Polly go in the first place. The idea of her setting up housekeeping alone wasn’t sitting well.

That had surprised him initially. It had been years since he’d thought about marrying again.

But the thought of losing her again scared him even more than the idea of another try at marriage. A man didn’t live as many years as he had without gaining some *intelligence* along the way.

A woman like Polly though… the proposal had to be just right. And so he’d decided to go to St. Joe with her.

Buck could handle the duties with the stages that came through, and he’d help fill in at the Marshal’s office too. Polly’s bartender, Max, could handle the saloon, and Rachel had agreed to help if needed.

Which had left Teaspoon and Polly free to set off for the big city, well bundled against the early December cold.

Now they were here, at the Patel House hotel, and *tonight* was the night. A quick glance at the clock on the mantle showed that it was nearly *eight* o’clock, the hour he’d promised to call for Polly to take her to dinner.

One more glance in the mirror, a last-minute adjustment to the angle of his hat, and he headed for the door.

~~~~~

The sign over the door proclaimed it to be the ‘Lion’s Head’ Pub, and the depiction of a roaring lion between the words reinforced the name. Teaspoon opened the door and held it, blowing slightly and gesturing for Polly to precede him inside.

Pulling the door shut against the chill wind, he paused to look around. There was a roaring fire in the huge hearth set against the rear wall, the heat radiating through the room. Red, white and blue flags adorned the walls, but instead of the familiar Stars and Stripes, these banners he recognized as the Union Jack. Portraits hung here and there, royalty in crowns, and men in powdered wigs and bowler hats.

The front wall was dominated by the bar, and by a huge mirror hung behind it. Reflections of the many bottles of libation flickered in the candle and lamplight.

Just then Teaspoon heard someone call his name and he turned to locate the source. “Well, howdy Mr. Blakely.”

Nigel extended his hand in greeting, a broad smile on his face. “Delighted to see you again. So good that you could accept my invitation.” He turned to Polly and bowed. “Ah, and the lovely owner of that fine establishment in Rock Creek.”

Polly blushed a bit as he kissed the back of her hand. “Not nearly as fine as the Lion’s Head.”

Nigel dismissed that with a wave of his hand. “Just my poor attempt to bring a bit of jolly old England to the frontier.” He gestured toward the fire. “I have my best table available.”

As they were seated, Teaspoon looked around. They were very close to the fire, so it was warm and cozy. The corner table was even fairly private – perfect for his plans.

“Now, what’s your pleasure?” Nigel asked.

“Well, I was figurin’ we’d try some o’ that special brew you was talkin’ about,” Teaspoon replied.

Nigel cocked an eyebrow at that description. “I assume you mean the fine British style *ale* we brew?”

“Yeah, that’s the stuff.”

Nigel cocked another brow at the word ‘stuff’ to describe his ale, but he managed to bite back a reply. “Excellent choice,” he said. “We do have a special *plate* tonight, Shepherd’s Pie.”

“Shepherd’s Pie?” Teaspoon repeated. “That got sheep in it?”

Polly suppressed a giggle as she reached for Teaspoon’s hand. “I believe it’s beef, Sugar Lips,” she said softly.

Nigel nodded. “That it is, m’lady.”

“Well, that sounds mighty good,” Teaspoon said. “Guess we’ll try some o’ that pie, along with the ale.”

Nigel bowed and took a step back. “An excellent choice. I’ll have the ale delivered immediately, and your food will be out shortly.”

Teaspoon settled back in his chair, watching as Nigel walked away. Then he looked over at Polly, smiling at her smiling at him.

He slipped his hand into the pocket of his suit coat, fingering the ring he had picked up while Polly was getting ready for dinner.

The pub seemed to be a good choice for tonight. They had a comfortable table, and the promise of good food and drink on the way.

Now all he needed was just the right moment…

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