Fireworks in Four Corners

by Susan Macdonald

Crossover "Alias Smith and Jones"

Originally published in the fanzine Let’s Ride #9, from Neon RainBow Press. Standard fanfic disclaimer that wouldn’t last ten seconds in a court of law: These aren’t my characters. I’m just borrowing them for, um, typing practice. Uh, yeah, typing practice. They will be returned to their original owners (relatively) undamaged. No profit was made from the writing of this story; ‘tis an amateur work of fiction.

June 28, 1877

Tired and dusty, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry rode into Four Corners, Arizona Territory. Their horses picked up their hooves a little, knowing a town meant oats, water, and a comfortable livery stable.

"What first?" Curry asked. "Meal, drink, bath?"

"All of the above, and as soon as possible," Heyes replied, "but whiskey first. This trail-dust has left my throat as dry as a parson's sermon."

Curry nodded. He was tired and hungry, but he had to admit, a shot of whiskey sounded even better than a hot bath or a soft featherbed.

The two ex-outlaws watered their horses at the trough, slipped a feedbag over their noses, and once they were tethered, headed into the saloon to quench their own thirst.

"Two whiskeys," Heyes ordered. He threw a few coins on the counter.

From a table near the door, Ezra Standish gave the strangers a surreptitious glance. Both were dressed like cowboys. One had brown hair and brown eyes; he appeared to be in his mid-twenties. The younger one had blue eyes, and curly hair so matted with trail-dust that Ezra couldn't tell if it was dark blond or light brown.

"Saw a restaurant down the street. Food any good?" Curry asked.

"Ain't cordy blue," the bartender replied, "but it's all right if you don't mind paying. Now me, I can get you a sandwich, or a bowl of chili, and a whole lot cheaper than they will."

"Cordy blue?" Heyes repeated.

"Cordon bleu, Mr. Murphy. The phrase is cordon bleu," Ezra corrected. It had taken him forever to teach Murphy to brew coffee properly; he had given up on the bartender ever succeeding in providing a meal suitable for an educated palate. The dark-haired gambler rose and walked to the bar. He touched his hat. "Good afternoon, gentlemen. I take it you are new to our fair town?"

"Just rode in," Heyes agreed.

"And you are looking for lodgings and sustenance?" he continued in a soft southern accent.

Curry raised an eyebrow at Ezra's turn of phrase. Heyes just nodded.

"If you are merely passing through, you'll find the hotel comfortable enough," Ezra conceded, although his tone made it clear that the hotel did not meet his personal standards. "If you're planning to stay, there are some boarding houses that can provide more economical accommodations."

"Our plans are flexible at the moment," Heyes confessed.

"We're looking for work," Curry added.

"Anything in particular?" Ezra inquired.

"Anything honest–" Heyes began

"–As long as it ain't too hard on the back," Curry interrupted.

"We've tried our hands at just about everything. I'm Joshua Smith," Heyes introduced himself. "This is my partner, Thaddeus Jones."

"Ezra Standish." He touched his hat politely. "Perhaps I could interest you in a friendly game of cards?"

Heyes and Curry exchanged a quick smile with each other. Heyes played poker as well as most professional gamblers, and Curry was nearly as good. "Might be a pleasant way to pass an evening," Heyes agreed, his brown eyes twinkling. "Of course, we'll be better company once we've had dinner and a chance to clean up."

Ezra nodded. He hadn't wanted to be rude, but he would enjoy spending a few hours in the strangers' company much more once they'd had a chance to get reacquainted with soap and water. "I look forward to seeing you later, gentlemen."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Matthew Campbell grinned when he saw Billy Travis rolling a barrel hoop down the alley. "Hey, young'un. You like licorice?"

At the mention of candy, Billy forgot what his mother had told him about not talking to strangers. "Sure."

"C'mere, boy," Campbell invited him. "I got something to show you."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Heyes and Curry walked from the livery stable where they had left their horses to the hotel Ezra had recommended. "Bath first, to get rid of all the trail dust," Curry suggested. "Then a big, thick, juicy steak."

"Sounds good. Of course, after your cooking, anything would sound good."

"Could be worse," Curry teased his cousin. "Could be your cooking."

"Let go of me! Lemme go!"

Heyes traded glances with his partner. "That sounded like a kid."

"Yeah." Without another word, they broke into a run. Hearing a wordless, frightened howl, they doubled their speed.

The sight that met their eyes in the alley shocked even the two outlaws. Curry drew his gun, waited until he had a clear shot, and then fired.

Shrieking, Campbell collapsed as Kid Curry's bullet passed through his calf. He hit his head on a rock and fell silent. Billy tried to run, but tripped.

A moment later, JD, Nathan, and Josiah arrived. They took one look at the scene before their eyes: Billy on the ground, scared, crying, his trousers down; two strangers with guns drawn. Campbell was half-hidden behind a rain barrel.

Josiah murmured softly, "Leviticus, chapter eighteen, verse twenty-two. Abomination."

"Billy, are you all right?" Nathan asked gently.

"Get 'em up," JD ordered. "You're under arrest."

Heyes and Curry raised their hands slowly. "Easy there. He's the one you're after." Both held their guns by the trigger guard, ready to toss them down if the young sheriff ordered.

Nathan approached Billy slowly. He glanced down at Campbell. "This one's bleeding, JD."

"Who hurt you, Billy?" Nathan inquired.

Silently, the boy pointed to Campbell.

Josiah holstered his gun. "Sorry, gentlemen, we owe you an apology."

Heyes and Curry lowered their hands and put their own guns away. Heyes explained, "We heard the boy yell and came to see what the problem was."

"Us, too," JD said. "Sorry we thought you did it."

Nathan drew his knife and cut some strips from Campbell's shirt to make bandages. He hastily bound the wound while Josiah questioned Billy.

"Did he hurt you, Billy, or just scare you?" asked the ex-preacher.

"Keep an eye on him, JD," Nathan ordered. "I'll fix him up at the jail. Billy, let me take a look at you, make sure you're all right." The Negro healer checked the boy as quickly as possible, not wanting to embarrass him. There was no blood, or any wounds that he could see; anything else could wait until he could examine the boy in private. "Pull up your trousers, Billy. I'll take you home to your ma."

"I'll go with you," Josiah volunteered. He reached down and scooped the boy up into his arms.

"I can walk, Mr. Sanchez," Billy protested.

"Don't doubt you can," Josiah agreed amiably. "But I'll carry you anyway, until Mr. Jackson's had a chance to make sure you're all right."

"Could you two help me get this piece of sh–" JD interrupted himself, not wanting to swear in front of Billy. "–to get him to the jail?"

Heyes and Curry traded amused glances at the thought that they were escorting someone else to the hoosegow.

"Sure thing," Heyes agreed.

"Never knew anyone who deserved it more," Curry chimed in.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

"Miz Travis?" Nathan called out.

"Yes?" Mary Travis took one look at Billy in Josiah's arms. "What happened? What's wrong?"

"I'm fine, Mama," Billy protested. "Put me down, Mr. Sanchez."

"I don't think he's hurt, Miz Travis. Just scared." The ex-slave lowered his voice. "A man caught him, pulled his britches down. He was– He was…" Noting the horrified look on her face, he assured her, "Nothing happened. The man's caught and in jail."

"Oh, thank Heaven," she said. Josiah set Billy down, and she grabbed her son, hugging him tight.

"You should've seen the man who shot him, Mama. He was as good as Mr. Larabee," Billy said in awe.

"Who was it?" she asked, transforming from mother to reporter.

Josiah shook his head. "Pair of strangers. They're helping JD get the skunk to jail."

"If'n you don't mind, Miz Travis, I'd like to check Billy in private, make sure he's all right," Nathan suggested.

Mary nodded. Nathan led the boy off, and the blonde turned to Josiah. "Where would I find these men? I want to thank them for rescuing Billy."

"Might still be at the jail," the ex-preacher guessed. "Or maybe at the hotel. If they're new in town, they'd need a place to stay."

"If you see them, please, tell them how grateful I am, and that I'd like to see them?" Mary asked him.

"Yes, ma'am." Josiah touched his hat and left the Clarion office.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

"Came to tend to your prisoner," Nathan announced as he stepped into the sheriff's office.

"About damn time you got here," Campbell complained. "I could've bled to death waiting for you."

"Shut up, you," JD ordered. "You're lucky you're getting a doctor at all. After what you did, you're damned lucky to be safe in jail instead of dangling at the end of a rope." The nineteen-year-old sheriff unlocked the cell door and let Nathan in.

"That stranger's a good shot. Bullet went clear through, didn't touch the bone. If this varmint don't take a fever, he'll be healthy enough for the Territorial Prison in no time," Nathan predicted. He washed the wound and bandaged it carefully.

"Prison? You ain't got proof I did nothing," Campbell protested.

"I think Billy might tell a different story," JD said.

"He's a kid. Kids lie. I didn't do nothing. He… He just pulled down his pants to pee in the alley, that's all," Campbell lied.

"The circuit judge is Billy's grandfather. Who you think he's gonna believe, you, or his grandson?" Nathan asked as he examined the bump on the man's head.

Campbell flinched and went pale. Nathan wasn't sure if it was from the goose-egg on his head he was pressing on, or learning who his victim's kin was.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

"Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, hail the conquering heroes," Ezra greeted them, his green eyes twinkling, and just a touch of irony in his voice.

"You heard about this afternoon?" Heyes asked him.

"I am well acquainted with Mr. Jackson, Mr. Sanchez, and young Sheriff Dunne," the gambler replied. "Mrs. Travis – the mother of the lad you saved – has expressed a desire to meet you and tender her personal gratitude."

"Anybody would've helped a kid in trouble," Curry replied.

"Unfortunately, we live in troubled times. I regret to say not everyone would've rushed to the child's rescue." Ezra shook his head at the perfidy of modern times. He shuffled the cards as he spoke. "Five card draw?"

Heyes and Curry nodded.

"Indeed, I understand you have placed the lovely Mrs. Travis in a bit of a dilemma, torn between her maternal role and her calling as a journalist." As he dealt the cards, Ezra added by way of explanation, "Mrs. Travis owns the Clarion. As a reporter, she wants to report your heroics. As a mother, she doesn't wish to embarrass young Billy after his humiliating ordeal."

Heyes thought as he looked at his cards, debating whether anonymity would be safer, or if saving a young boy would impress the governor of the Territory of Wyoming. "Two cards, please."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Several hours later, Ezra sighed and shuffled the cards a final time before putting them away. "Gentlemen, thank you for a pleasurable – if somewhat expensive – evening."

"The pleasure was all ours, Mr. Standish." Heyes gathered up their winnings.

"The pleasure and the profit," Ezra muttered. "I hope you'll give me a chance for revenge tomorrow night?"

Curry smiled. "We'll give you the chance."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

June 29, 1877

An attractive blonde in her late twenties or early thirties approached the table where they were eating breakfast. "Mr. Smith? Mr. Jones?"

Both set down their forks and rose politely.

"I'm afraid you have us at a disadvantage, ma'am," Heyes said.

"I'm Mary Travis, Billy's mother. May I join you?"

"Please." Curry pulled out a chair for her.

"Thank you." Mary sat down. Once she was seated, the two ex-outlaws did likewise. "I wanted to invite you to supper tonight. I know a home-cooked meal isn't much to thank you for saving my son's life, but–"

"We'd be honored to be your guests, ma'am," Heyes told her. "After so long on the trail… A home-cooked meal is more of a treat than you might realize."

"Is there anything in particular you'd like? Something special I can make for you?" Mary offered.

"Anything you make'll be better than my partner's cooking, ma'am," Heyes assured her.

"I haven't had fried chicken in a while," Curry suggested wistfully.

"Then fried chicken it'll be, Mister– I'm sorry, I don't know which of you is which," she realized.

"Joshua Smith, ma'am," Heyes introduced himself. "My partner, Thaddeus Jones."

"Billy was very impressed with your marksmanship."

"Didn't have a choice. Had to be accurate, with a kid in danger," Curry said, brushing off the praise.

"He said you were as good as Mr. Larabee."

"Larabee? Chris Larabee?" Curry asked.

Mary nodded. "He lives here in Four Corners."

"Who is he?" Heyes asked. If it were someone who knew the Kid, they would need to move on before they were recognized.

"A gunman. Very fast, very accurate," Curry replied. "Faster than me, from what I've heard."

"Do you know him?" Heyes kept his voice casual.

Kid Curry shook his head. "Only by reputation."

Heyes let himself relax a trifle. His cousin was too smart to go looking for trouble, or to try to test himself by calling out this Larabee fellow. And if the Kid didn't know Larabee, then Larabee didn't know him.

"May I ask why you're in Four Corners?" Mary inquired.

"Just a pair of drifters, tired of drifting. We're looking for work, maybe a place to settle down if we like the town," Heyes replied. "A gentleman we met yesterday said you were the newspaper editor. Maybe you've heard if anyone is hiring?"

"What sort of work are you looking for?" she asked him.

"We can both read and write. We can both handle a gun, although Thaddeus is the better of the two of us at that. We're good with horses. We're willing to do just about anything, so long as it's honest work," Heyes said. They had several other skills – train robbing, safe cracking, demolitions, lock picking – which it seemed more prudent not to mention.

"There are some ranches outside of town. I don't know if they need any hands or not. I know Charlie Smith mentioned needing a groom at the livery stable. Are you trying to get work together?"

"We'd prefer it; been partners quite a while," Curry said.

"But if we can both get jobs in town, that'd do," Heyes added.

"I think Bert Watson may still be looking for someone to help him at the hardware store. He never did find anyone to replace Vin. You'd be better off trying the ranches, if you want to get work together," Mary suggested.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

"Gentlemen." Ezra smiled up at them in greeting. "Going to give me a chance for revenge?"

Curry smiled back at him. "Actually, we liked the first half of your money so much, we thought we'd come back for the other half."

"You may certainly make the attempt," Ezra replied.

Across the saloon, Larabee caught Buck's eye. He nodded at the table where Ezra sat with the strangers and slowly headed over there. Unsure what his friend had in mind, but willing to follow his lead, Buck, too, moseyed over to the card table.

"Evening, Ezra. Got room for one more?" Larabee asked. He was a tall man, dressed in black. His hair was blond, his eyes hazel-green. Although he neither said nor did anything threatening, he carried a subtle aura of menace.

"Of course, Mr. Larabee." Ezra nodded at the empty chair on Heyes' right in silent invitation.

"I'm in the mood for a game of cards myself." Buck took the seat on Curry's left. He was taller than Larabee. His skin was tanned from hours spent in the saddle. Dark hair and mustache, blue eyes, a face that was too handsome by half – it was no wonder he was popular with the ladies.

Heyes and Curry traded quick glances. Although it had been done as unobtrusively as possible, they knew they had been deliberately hemmed in.

"I'll be happy to relieve you of your money, Mr. Wilmington."

"From what I hear, this gentleman took most of your money the other night," Larabee said.

Ezra lost his smile for a moment, but only a moment. "Lady Luck is a notoriously fickle wench. I intend to win my money back, with interest. And yours, as well."

"You managed to whup Ezra at cards?" Buck grinned. "I'm right sorry to have missed that."

"I hope you're prepared to wait, sir. It may not happen again in your lifetime," Ezra warned.

Buck just chuckled.

"Have you gentlemen met?" Ezra quickly performed introductions. "Is five card draw agreeable to everyone?"

"I hear you were the one who rescued Billy Travis. Two cards," Larabee told Ezra.

"Anybody would've helped a kid in trouble. We just got there first," Heyes said modestly. "One card, please."

"Three other fellows tried to help the boy, too," Curry concurred. "I'll take two."

"You shot at Campbell with Billy in the line of fire. You stupid and lucky, or are you that good a shot?" Larabee asked the Kid.

"When you're shooting a rattlesnake, your aim needs to be good." Curry hoped Larabee wasn't worried about a possible rival.

"I understand you had dinner with Billy and his mother," Larabee continued.

Ezra glanced suspiciously at Larabee. This was more talking than the blond usually did in a week.

"One card," Buck requested.

"And dealer takes one. Jacks or better to open."

"She was kind enough to invite us over for supper, to say thank you," Heyes acknowledged.

Larabee threw a dollar in the center of the table.

"Bakes a mighty fine pie," Curry added.

"I'll see your dollar." Heyes threw in his own coins.

Buck laid his money on the table. "See your dollar and raise you a dollar."

"I hear tell you been asking around town, looking for work," Larabee went on.

"You seem to hear a lot of things," Heyes observed.

"Mr. Larabee is one of a group of men retained by the territorial judge to act as peacekeepers for our little town. As such, he considers it his responsibility to keep his eyes and ears open," Ezra explained. "Raise you five."

"See your five," said Larabee.

Curry kept his voice casual. "So, you're the sheriff, marshal, deputy, what?"

Buck shook his head. "Nothing that official."

"Makes sense," Heyes allowed, "considering your sheriff doesn't look old enough to shave."

"He'll be twenty next month," Buck told them.

The small talk dwindled down as the poker playing became more serious. The first hand went to Larabee, the second to Curry. After that, the victories alternated between Heyes and Ezra.

After raking in his winnings for the fifth time that evening, Heyes remarked, "That Mrs. Travis, she's a mighty handsome woman. Good cook, too. I'm surprised she hasn't remarried."

"Mrs. Travis is a lady, not the sort of woman who has her name bandied about in a saloon," Larabee informed him coldly.

"No disrespect intended," Heyes assured him.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

June 30, 1877

Larabee walked into Watson's hardware store. He looked tough, and he oozed mean.

Heyes just smiled to himself. He'd seen such tricks before, and they didn't impress him. "Good morning, Mr. Larabee. What can I do for you?"

"Need some bullets."

"Certainly. What caliber?"

Larabee tried staring down the brown-haired stranger as he filled his order, but it didn't faze him. Smith didn't even seem to notice.

"Anything else today?" Heyes asked cheerfully.

Larabee shook his head.

The silence didn't intimidate Heyes any more than the stare had. He merely checked a price list and announced, "Two dollars and thirty-five cents."

Larabee handed him three dollars.

"And sixty-five cents change." Heyes quickly did the calculations in his head. Then he went to the cash register to ring it up.

Just then Mr. Watson, a small, bespectacled, graying man, came out of the back room. "Good morning, Chris."

"Morning, Bert. See you found someone to replace Vin."

Watson nodded. "To tell the truth, I think Vin's better at your line of work than mine."

Larabee gave him a curt nod, acknowledging the truth of his statement, and walked out without a word.

"Did I take his friend's job?" Heyes didn't let his nervousness show, but from what the Kid had said, and what he'd seen last night, he'd prefer not to get on the wrong side of Larabee.

"Vin quit two or three months before you got here. Give me a hand putting these cans up on the shelf, will you?" Watson asked. "He works with Larabee, keeping an eye on things."

As Heyes stacked canned peaches on the shelf, he decided he needed to learn more about the unofficial peacekeepers of Four Corners. Just how official was "unofficial"? How many were there, and who were they?

"Goes to figure Vin'd do better as one of Larabee's riders. Can't expect an ex-bounty hunter to settle down to work in a hardware store."

Heyes dropped a can on the floor. "Bounty hunter?"

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

When Heyes arrived at the saloon, Curry was already halfway through a bowl of chili. "Beginning to think Mr. Watson wasn't going to give you a lunch break. How's your first day going at the hardware store?"

"Kid, we may have made a mistake picking Four Corners. We might want to move on," Heyes suggested.

"Another bowl of chili and another beer," Curry called to the bartender. Lowering his voice, he asked his cousin, "Why? We're too far south for anyone to recognize us. The sheriff is nothing but a kid who's read too many dime novels. And that pretty Widow Travis thinks we're heroes."

"It's not the sheriff I'm worried about. It's Larabee's riders."

Curry raised an eyebrow. "Larabee's riders?"

"These regulators, peacekeepers, whatever you want to call 'em. Just found out one's a bounty hunter."

"So? He doesn't have any reason to suspect us, or to be looking for any of the Devil's Hole Gang in Arizona. And even if he did, he doesn't have a picture of us." Curry finished his chili, then drained his beer mug. "Running for no reason might make him suspicious. We sit tight, we mind our own business, we're inconspicuous. Besides, it's almost the Fourth of July. You don't want to miss the fireworks, do you?"

Heyes smiled despite his worries. In some ways, the Kid really was an overgrown kid. "No, I don't want to miss the fireworks."

Just then the bartender brought his chili and beer over.

"Thanks," Heyes said.

"I got to get back to the livery stable," Curry told him. "Eat your lunch. Try not to worry so much. I'll see you at the boarding house for dinner."

Heyes decided it would be more prudent not to mention that he was less than thrilled about sharing the same boarding house as Sheriff Dunne.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

July 2, 1877

Heyes pulled out his pocket watch and checked it. "Afraid this'll have to be my last hand. Looks like you're the victor tonight, Mr. Standish."

"The evening is still young, Mr. Smith," Ezra coaxed.

Heyes shook his head. "Got to be up early for work tomorrow."

"Work." Ezra repeated the syllable disdainfully. "With your skills, sir, perhaps you should consider my profession."

"If I could ever get a big enough stake to get started properly, I might," Heyes confessed. He thought for a second of Wickenburg where, for one glorious week, he'd had the best legitimate job of his life, managing a saloon/gaming hall for an attractive but overwhelmed widow. "But, if I did, what would I do with the Kid?"

"The kid?" Ezra repeated.

Heyes bit his lip, managing – just barely – to hide his dismay at his slip. It was so easy to be relaxed and comfortable with Ezra, despite the southerner's habitual formality, he'd used Curry's nickname without thinking.

"Three years older than me, and he never lets me forget it," Curry mock-complained, covering for his cousin.

Ezra shuffled the cards. "Have you gentlemen been partners long?"

"Since the day I was born," replied Curry. "Aunt Sarah delivered me."

Ezra chuckled. "A long-term partnership indeed. Good night, sirs."

"Good night, Mr. Standish," Heyes said.

"Good night," Curry echoed.

Across the saloon, Larabee glared at Heyes and Curry as they grabbed their hats and walked out.

"What is it bothers y' about 'em?" Vin asked him. "Is it that they're friendly with Ez, an' y' don't trust anyone he trusts? Or is it that Mary thinks so highly of 'em?"

Larabee gave the long-haired tracker a dirty look. Vin's habit of reading his mind could be downright annoying at times.

"Or is it just that Smith refuses t' be bothered by the infamous Larabee glare?" Vin continued teasingly.

"Shut up and drink your beer." As the blond gunman followed his own advice, he thought over what Vin had said. Smith wasn't bothered by his glare. Vin hadn't mentioned Jones. Maybe he could put some pressure on Charlie's new groom, find out just what it was about those two that bothered him.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

July 3, 1877

Mary and Billy Travis were waiting when the stage pulled into town. Judge Orin Travis, a middle-aged man with gray hair, was the first to climb down from the stagecoach. He helped his wife down.

"Grandma, Grandpa!" Billy ran to hug them.

His grandfather forgot his magisterial dignity, picked the boy up, and swung him around.

"Orin, you'll make the boy dizzy," his wife Evie scolded. As soon as the judge set Billy down, she knelt to smother him in kisses.

"Easy with that box," another passenger warned the driver, who was handing luggage down. "You don't want to risk dropping it too hard, or letting it fall."

Billy broke away from his grandmother's embrace. "Are those the fireworks?"

"Billy, this is Mr. Sullivan, the pyrotechnic expert," the judge said. He was still fit, despite being nearly sixty; his iron-gray hair was as thick as it had been when it was black.

"Pi-ro-tek-nik," the boy stumbled over the strange word.

"Fireworks, son," Sullivan translated. "I'm the man who's gonna set the sky on fire in red, white, and blue flames."


The elder Mrs. Travis kissed the younger Mrs. Travis on the cheek. "You look well, Mary."

"So do you. Would you like a chance to freshen up after your trip?"

"That would be wonderful," Evie agreed.

"May I carry this for you, ma'am?" Larabee appeared out of nowhere and took her suitcase. He turned to face the judge. "JD would like to see you."

Judge Travis gave Mary a quick peck on the cheek. "I'll join you ladies as soon as I can. Mr. Larabee, please meet me at the jail in a few minutes."

Larabee nodded.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

JD had his feet up on his desk, a well-worn dime novel in his hands. He glanced up when the door to the sheriff's office opened, saw the judge, and nearly fell out of the chair in his haste to sit up properly. Jock Steele's Blood on the Prairie dropped to the floor.

Travis chuckled. "Hello, JD."

"Howdy, Judge," said the red-faced young sheriff.

"Is this your prisoner?" The judge approached the cell.

"Yes, sir. His name's Campbell."

"I'll have to order a change of venue," Travis announced. "I couldn't possibly be an impartial judge in this case."

"What's that mean?" Campbell demanded suspiciously.

"It means, sir, that since I want nothing better than to take a horsewhip to you, it would be highly improper for me to judge your case. I'll make arrangements to have you transported to Prescott after the holiday. Judge Bolton can hear your case."

The door opened. Chris Larabee stepped inside.

"Ah, Mr. Larabee, I was just explaining to Mr. Campbell here that a change of venue will be required. Would you be so kind as to fetch the two men who rescued Billy? We'll need depositions from them both."

"You want them both at once or one at a time?"

"One at a time, I think. Bring them over to the Clarion office. It would be better if they didn't give their testimony in front of the accused."

Larabee touched his hat and went out the door as silently as he'd come in.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

He found Curry at the livery stable, applying a poultice to a strawberry roan that had been spur-galled.

"Judge wants to see you," Larabee announced.

"Me?" Curry asked, trying to sound innocent.

"Now." Larabee's tone brooked no argument.

"I can't just up and leave," Curry protested. "I just got hired a few days ago; I don't wanna get fired."

"Hey, Charlie," Larabee called.


"I'm borrowing your new hand for an hour or two. The judge needs to talk to him. That okay with you?" Larabee asked.

"If the judge needs to talk to him, I reckon so," Charlie Smith allowed reluctantly. "Send him back as soon as you can, though. These stalls ain't gonna muck themselves out."

Larabee escorted Curry to the Clarion office. Neither man spoke a word on the way.

"This is Thaddeus Jones." Larabee didn't quite push Curry through the door. "He's the one who shot Campbell."

"Judge Orin Travis," the older man introduced himself. "As Billy's grandfather, I'm grateful for what you did. As a territorial judge, I am forced to order a change of venue; it would be a conflict of interest to hear a case where my grandson was the victim. We'll need to take your deposition, to send along with Campbell."

Curry thought quickly, reevaluating his situation. He wasn't under arrest. "If I write out this deposition, then I don't need to leave town to testify?"

"It would be better if you could testify," the judge said.

With a ten thousand dollar price on his head, the last thing Jedediah "Kid" Curry wanted to do was to go into any courtroom, anywhere. His mind raced, trying to come up with a valid excuse. "I just started a new job. Don't want to lose it."

"I'll speak to your employer," the judge assured him. "Mr. Larabee, you have a clear hand. Would you please write down what Mr. Jones says? Now then, sir, tell me exactly what you saw and did."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

July 4, 1877

"Did you tell Chris Larabee that your basket had a red ribbon?" Judge Travis asked his daughter-in-law.

Mary blushed, but didn't say anything.

"If Mr. Larabee doesn't buy your basket, you just make sure Billy has lunch with you. There's more than enough for three. But if it's Mr. Larabee or someone else you want to be with, then send him to eat with us," Evie said.

"Really, Mother Travis," Mary protested.

"Steven was a good man, and you were a good wife to him," her mother-in-law told her gently. "But it's time for you to get on with your life. Steven wouldn't want you to be alone."

"Are you ready to go?" the judge asked.

Mary nodded, grateful for the interruption. She took her picnic basket in one hand and took Billy by the other hand. Together with Billy's grandparents, they walked to Josiah's church. Three tables had been set up in front of the church. Dozens of picnic baskets covered the tables.

The judge stepped forward. "I've been asked to deliver a patriotic address in honor of Independence Day. However, my grandson informs me that he is hungry, and has asked me to keep it short."

The crowd laughed.

"I could happily discourse on this great nation of ours for hours. However, I'm hungry, too." The crowd laughed again. "Therefore, I will limit myself to quoting the words of our third president: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…'" His glance fell on Nathan and Ezra, standing beside each other in the crowd. "…'that they are endowed with their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'"

The crowd applauded politely. Someone called out, "God bless America!"

"Amen," Judge Travis responded reverently. "Now, let's get down to what we're all here for. And remember, gentlemen, you're not just bidding on a delicious lunch, and the company of the lovely lady who made it. We're raising money for a new schoolhouse and the teacher's wages. Be generous." Travis' eyes twinkled. "Besides, the more money we raise today, the less will have to come out of your taxes later."

Everyone laughed.

The judge picked up a white basket. Blue yarn was tied around the handle in a clumsy bow. "What am I bid for this lunch? You'd better have a good appetite; this one feels heavy."

Buck glanced at Nettie Wells and her niece Casey. "Fifty cents."

"Fifty cents? There's more than fifty cents' worth of food in here. Who'll give me a real bid?"

"Seventy-five cents," JD said quietly.

"Speak up, Sheriff, I couldn't hear you," said the judge.

"Seventy-five cents," JD repeated nervously, but a little louder.

"A dollar," Buck offered.

Vin called out, "Dollar fifty."

"Two dollars," JD said.

"Two dollars," Judge Travis repeated. "Do I hear any other bids?"

Buck and Vin traded glances, but kept their mouths shut.

"Sold! Come up and claim your lunch, JD."

Casey blushed as she stepped forward to meet JD.

"Don't forget, ladies, save the first dance tonight for the gentleman who buys your picnic basket." The judge turned to his wife, who handed him up the next basket. "Mmm, smells like fried chicken. If I weren't a married man, I'd bid on this one myself. Who'll bid?"

"Fifty cents," someone called out.

Ten baskets later, he picked up Mary's basket and held it high, making sure the red ribbon was clearly visible. "Who'll bid on this fine lunch?"

Larabee opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Ezra beat him to the punch. "A dollar," the gambler said.

Travis frowned at Ezra.

"Dollar fifty," Larabee countered.

"Two dollars," Heyes bid.

"Two dollars, two dollars, who'll make it two-fifty?" The judge eyed the brown-haired stranger speculatively. This was one of the men who'd helped Billy. He'd offered to buy him and his partner a steak dinner yesterday after taking their depositions, but the man had turned him down, just as his partner looked like he was about to agree.

"Two-fifty," Larabee agreed.

"Three dollars," Heyes offered.

"Three fifty."

"Four dollars."

"Five dollars," Larabee bid.

"Five fifty," Heyes said.

"Six dollars," Larabee announced.

Mary blushed, and the crowd watched in fascination as the bids went higher and higher.

"Seven dollars."


"Nine dollars."

"Ten dollars," Larabee said.

"Twenty dollars," Heyes doubled the bid.

Someone whistled.

"Twenty dollars," the judge repeated slowly. "Twenty dollars for this picnic basket. Do I hear any other bids?" He looked at Larabee.

The gunslinger shook his head. Twenty dollars was nearly a month's pay for a cowboy, too much for a picnic lunch, even with Mary.

"Sold." The judge handed the picnic basket to his grandson. "Billy, go have lunch with your mother."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

"Ma'am, that apple pie would win awards in any county fair." Curry wiped his mouth with the napkin.

"I'm just glad I made enough for all four of us," Mary said.

"Your in-laws seemed happier with having us well chaperoned," Heyes admitted. He looked at his cousin and her son. "Two chaperons are better than one."

"Can a chaperon ask a favor, Mrs. Travis?" Curry inquired.

"What, Mr. Jones?"

"I know the first dance goes to the man who buys your picnic basket, but I'd be more than grateful if you saved the second dance for me."

"I'd be pleased to, Mr. Jones."

"I'd be grateful if you could spare me more than one dance," Heyes hinted. "Especially if one happened to be a waltz."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Seth Campbell sidled up to the jail window. "Matt, can you hear me?"

His cousin hurried to the window. "Wondered when you'd get here. The rest of the boys with you?"

"Uh-huh. We got some dynamite. When the fireworks start, we'll come break you out."

Matt nodded. "I'll be ready and waiting."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Larabee approached Curry. "You're not signed up for the marksmanship contest."


"I want to see you shoot."

Curry shook his head. The last thing he wanted was for Larabee to think he was a rival, someone trying to steal the gunslinger's reputation by outdoing the best. "I shoot when I need to, not to show-off."

"I want to know whether you were just lucky, not hitting Billy when you shot that skunk Campbell, or if you're really as good as you think you are."

"I'm as good as most. Better than some," Curry allowed.

"Let's see how good," Larabee ordered.

Seeing no graceful way out of the situation, and more than a little scared of Chris Larabee, Curry followed him to the makeshift shooting range that had been set up on the outskirts of town.

"Pistols first, gentlemen. And lady," Judge Travis added, in deference to Casey's presence. A row of bottles was set up. Everyone took turns shooting the empty bottles. Only those who could break the bottles were passed on to the next round.

Paper targets waited for the semi-finalists. JD grinned when Casey didn't get past the semi-finals, but frowned when she scored ten points higher than he did. Josiah and Nathan were also left behind.

For the final round of competition, only Larabee, Buck, Vin, Ezra, and Curry remained.

Curry meant to hold back. He meant to aim a little to the side. But when his turn to fire came, habit took over. Skills that had saved his life time and time again were too deeply engrained to set aside: he found it impossible to do less than his best.

It would be hard to say who was more annoyed that Curry won, Larabee or Curry himself.

"A masterful demonstration of marksmanship, Mr. Jones," Ezra complimented him. The gambler had come in fourth.

"I was lucky," Curry muttered.

Ezra shook his head. "In my profession, the ability to distinguish between luck and skill is a necessity. Why is a man with your skills shoveling out manure?" He remembered two days ago, when he had asked Smith a similar question.

"Be lying if I said I liked mucking out stalls. But if you're good with horses, no one tries to shoot you to see if he's better than you are. If you're good with guns…"

"Yes, I recollect Mr. Larabee mentioning an occupational hazard of being a professional shootist was young punks trying to make a name for themselves by taking out someone who already had a reputation." Ezra eyed his new friend as discreetly as possible. That was only a problem for someone who already had a reputation as a deadly shot.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Buck laughed when JD hopped past him in the sack race.

"You were young, too, once," Josiah reminded him.

Buck shook his head. "Never that young. That boy was born green."

"Ain't half as green as he used to be," the ex-priest pointed out.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Ezra turned his gaze from Mary Travis, dancing with Kid Curry, to Chris Larabee. He looked at Mary wistfully, at Larabee with amusement. "Well, sir, it appears we are tied this evening."

The gunslinger turned to face the gambler. He raised an eyebrow.

"We are equally unfortunate in our romantic endeavors."

Larabee just hmmphed.

"Mrs. Travis hasn't sat out a dance yet," Ezra observed.

"She's a beautiful woman. Pretty girls don't sit out dances."

"Alas, you, Mr. Wilmington, Mr. Sanchez, and my unworthy self have only been favored with a single dance a piece from the fair Widow Travis. Mr. Jones is currently enjoying his second dance with her. And Mr. Smith, I believe, has been lucky enough to have claimed no less than three dances with our lovely journalist."

"You got nothing better to do than count dances?" Larabee growled.

"There is one inequality between us tonight, Mr. Larabee. I am envious of my new acquaintances. You are jealous of them." Ezra touched his hat and wandered off.

Larabee just scowled.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Ezra gracefully whirled across the dance floor, Irene Dunlap in his arms. Vin tried not to step on Nettie's feet. In the woods or the desert, tracking man or beast, he was as light on his feet as thistledown. On the dance floor…

"Hear tell you won the marksmanship contest," the old biddy said.

"Won for rifle. Came in third for pistol," he explained.

The white-haired woman glanced at her niece, who was dancing with JD. "Still can't believe that girl wore a dress tonight. That friend of yours, should I be asking him if his intentions are honorable?"

Vin chuckled. "No hurry. That boy's backward 'bout comin' forward, at least where girls are concerned." He didn't want to embarrass his friend by explaining that JD was so green he probably didn't know how to behave dishonorably with a female.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *



The crowd marveled as the fireworks exploded overhead. Sullivan was an expert, well worth every penny Judge Travis had paid him.

The lights flashed. The explosives boomed. The people applauded.


Heyes turned to his cousin. "That wasn't fireworks."

"Dynamite." The two of them had blown up enough bridges and banks before retiring from a life of crime to know dynamite when they heard it.

"If I were still in our old line work, I'd call this a perfect time to rob the bank," Heyes said quietly.

"Or to break Campbell out of jail," Curry suggested.

"Go find the sheriff, or any of Larabee's riders," Heyes ordered.

"Any of 'em 'cept Larabee," muttered Curry.

Despite the severity of the situation, Heyes smiled to himself as he hurried off. He didn't like Chris Larabee either.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Heyes met Buck and Ezra at the bank. He swore when he saw the hole in the bank wall. "You heard the dynamite?"

Buck nodded. "They must've figured we wouldn't hear 'em over the fireworks."

"Mr. Larabee and Mr. Tanner are checking out the jail. They suspected Mr. Campbell's friends might use the patriotic display overhead as a diversion for breaking him out of durance vile… as unlikely as it seems that a snake like that would have friends."

"Does he ever use two-bit words, or does he limit himself to the five-dollar ones?" Heyes asked Wilmington.

"Never a two-bit word as long as I've known him." Buck drew his guns and nodded to the others to do likewise.

"An insufficient vocabulary is a sign that one lacks a gentleman’s education," Ezra muttered under his breath.

Five scruffy-looking men headed for the hole in the bank wall. David and Daniel Campbell were carrying a heavy trunk, filled with cash. Luke and Zeke Campbell each had moneybags in one hand and pistols in the other. Seth Campbell had pistols in either hand, with a saddlebag full of banknotes thrown over his shoulder.

"Hold it right there, boys," Buck ordered.

"We would be obliged, gentlemen, if you would be so kind as to place your weapons on the floor," Ezra remarked.

"And the money," Heyes added.

The Campbells were not kind. They fired. However, as Ezra, Buck, and Heyes had their guns out and ready, and the Campbells merely had theirs unholstered, it was a waste of the Campbells' ammunition.

Ezra's left-hand gun shot Daniel in the shoulder. The bullet from his right-hand gun whizzed past David's ear. The twins dropped the trunk. It landed on Daniel's toe. Buck shot Seth straight through the heart, killing him instantly. Heyes shot Luke in the leg, then winged Zeke, leaving a bullet-hole and bloodstain on his sleeve.

"Put your hands up," Buck ordered.

Swearing to make a sailor blush, the Campbells reluctantly complied.

"Amateurs," Heyes muttered. "No lookout… blowing a MagnaLock 100 instead of cracking it… amateurs."

Ezra snuck a quick glance at his new friend.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"C'mon, Matt," Mark Campbell urged his older brother. "Let's get out of here!"

"The others are hitting the bank," his cousin Hiram explained.

"Hurry up," Matt's brother John ordered. "I can't hold the horses; the fireworks are spooking 'em too much."

Cousin Benjamin was too busy trying to control the horses to say anything. A blue circle exploded overhead, very loudly. The horses fled.


The Campbells ran after their mounts. Larabee and Vin ran toward the jail. Curry hurried toward the jail, then stopped when he saw Larabee. After a second's hesitation, he ran after the Campbells, too.

It took Larabee, Vin and the ex-outlaw only a moment to catch up with the Campbells. Fists flew. Boots kicked.

"Save some for me," Josiah said, joining in the fracas.

As the donnybrook eventually wound down to a close, Ezra sauntered up, jauntily whistling "The Campbells are Coming." He eyed the human debris on the street. "I see you've gotten your evening's exercise. Mr. Wilmington, Mr. Smith, and I tended to the rest of these felonious fools; they were attempting to make an unauthorized withdrawal from the bank. Mr. Jackson is ministering to their wounds, and is desirous of knowing whether his services will be required here."

Larabee looked around. His men, other than some bruises, were unharmed. Campbell and his relatives didn't seem to be seriously injured. "We're okay."

"I shall inform our colleague that once he has patched up this pervert's kinsmen, that he may return to enjoy the patriotic festivities." Ezra shook his head. "Campbells. Completely devoid of manners in 1692, and they haven't improved since."

"Where's JD?" Larabee demanded. As sheriff, he should've been responsible for the prisoner.

"Sparkin' Casey, last I seen him," Vin replied with a grin.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

July 5, 1877

Ezra saw them heading for the saloon for breakfast. "Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, may I have a moment of your time?"

Curious, the pair strolled over to the dapper gambler.

He pulled a piece of paper from inside his jacket pocket and handed it to Heyes. "As much as I have enjoyed your company, it might be best if you left town before Mr. Tanner or young Sheriff Dunne notice that this is missing from their collection."

Heyes and Curry stared at a wanted poster of themselves.

A dozen possible responses raced through Heyes' mind: denials, excuses, outright lies. Ignoring them all, he touched his hat. "Much obliged, Mr. Standish."

Ezra nodded. "I am sorry, sirs."

"So are we, Mr. Standish. So are we."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Judge Orin Travis sat down at his desk and dipped his pen in the inkwell. "Dear John," he began the letter to his old friend from law school, Governor J. W. Hoyt of Wyoming. He glanced at a wanted poster of Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. "I am pleased to report on the success on your rehabilitation experiment…"