The Usual Suspects

by seagray

Main characters: Gloria Potter, Nettie, Mary, Inez, Seven

In a room behind the Four Corners General Mercantile:

China cups clinked and skirts rustled as the women took their places in Gloria Potter´s kitchen.

There was a light knocking and Gloria quickly headed for the back door. “Oh, good, she was able to get away.” She let in her last guest and Inez Recillos took the final chair at the lace-covered table.

“I am sorry to be late,” she told them, shaking her head. “I had to wait for Henry. I could not leave the Saloon until he finally showed his face.” She shook her head again. “Men,” she said, exasperation lacing the word.

“That´s quite all right, dear, everyone just arrived. Let me pour you a cup of tea. Have a butter cookie. It´s been a busy day for everyone.”

“You´re going to run out of room for those ribbons,” noted Mary Travis as she eyed the new blue satin addition to a board by the cupboard.

Gloria beamed, the color rising to her round cheeks. “Well, I used my grandmother´s recipe this year.” Her voice lowered to a whisper. “And the last batch of peaches I put up was the best in years, if I do say so myself.”

Nettie set her tea cup down with a clink. “Aw, let´s quit the palaver and get down to it.”

Gloria raised an eyebrow, but then shrugged. “Well…”

“All right now,” said Nettie Wells. “Who do you think did it?”

“One of the usual suspects, of course, Nettie,” replied the editor of the Clarion. “Had to be either Vin or J.D. or Buck.” Both Inez and Gloria nodded in agreement as she continued. “I´m certain it was Vin last year. Remember the crumbs on his hide coat?”

“What is the saying you have, it is asking for trouble when foxes guard the chicken house, yes?”

A round of chuckles greeted the comment. “Yes, Inez, I guess you´re right,” answered Gloria.

Nettie frowned in thought, finally shaking her head sadly. “I hate to say it, but I guess Vin does have the best skills for it. He´s quiet, quick, and smart as a bullwhip. He could do it in two shakes, right under the others´ noses.”

“Why, you sound rather proud of him, Nettie,” stated Mary with a twitch of amusement.

Nettie sniffed. “It was my apple pie that got stolen last year and he´s crazy about my apple pie. Should´ve made one again this year.”

“Now, Nettie, be honest,” chided Mary Travis. “Vin likes every kind of pie…or anything else that´s sweet, for that matter. And he could eat the whole pie and still have room for more.”

A brief silence descended and then Gloria glanced at each of the women as if she was about to impart a shocking revelation, leaning forward slightly. “I believe it could have been Ezra this time,” she said. “He has expressed an extreme fondness for my peach pies.”

“Senor Standish? But, he is not one of the…the used suspects.”

“That´s usual suspects,” corrected Mary automatically.

Lo que sea.* I do not believe he would take it. That lovely, juicy pie, sneaking off with it, perhaps having to run? It could spill on his clothes. You know how Senor Standish is about his clothes. He would rather sit and be served.”

“That Fancy Man´s a popinjay, that´s fer sure. Now, Buck, there´s a man with an appetite for pie.”

“Among other things,” murmured Inez.

“He´s not as fast and agile as Vin,” returned Gloria, to nods from the other women.

“Well, it weren´t J.D. I can see how he could´ve done it that first year, but not now. Not with how he´s been comin´ by and practically courting Casey these days. She´d skin him alive if she found out he´d been grabbing someone else´s pie. He wouldn´t risk it anymore.”

“Good point, Nettie,” agreed Mary. Her blue eyes grew wistful. “I wonder if my pie will ever be stolen,” she wondered aloud.

The other three women exchanged knowing glances. “You make a fine blueberry pie, Mary,” offered Gloria kindly.

Mary threw her napkin on the table. “Oh, I know it´s mediocre, but at least it´s not as bad as Casey´s custard…” she stopped, shooting a guilty glance at Nettie.

“Hell, Mary, I know my niece is the world´s worst pie maker. No news there. Cain´t figure out how I went wrong.”

“So, we´re agreed. Vin Tanner is the likely pie thief again this year. If any of us see him later this evening, be sure and check his coat for crumbs.”

Sighs rose from around the table.

“He is the logical choice, si.”

“That boy´s still way too thin anyway.”

“It´s a good thing we´ve been baking extras for the Pie Contest. Folks seem to be happier having more pie around. Seem to celebrate a bit more. And I still have a few jars of peaches left, too.”

Teacups were lifted in salute. “You know, we could just ask someone else besides the peacekeepers to guard the pie display,” suggested Mary. “As it is, they´d never admit Vin was the thief, even if they´d seen him take it. We could ask Yosemite and—“

“Don´t be silly, Mary,” countered Gloria, “That´d be like saying we didn´t trust them. Besides, no real harm done.” She paused, a smile lighting her face. “And let´s remember, the thief always seems to pick the winning pie.”

A moment later, the other women were smiling, too. “After three years, I guess we have ourselves a tradition now,” declared Mary.

“Next year, I think I will make sweet potato pie,” said Inez. “It is very popular in the Saloon.”

“Got me an idea for a special crumb topping for my apple.” Nettie grinned at Gloria. “Gonna give you a hard run for that ribbon next time, Gloria. We´ll see whose pie gets snatched by one of those rascals come next year.”

The ladies began to laugh as the talk of recipes and pie thieves continued.


And in another room, in an undisclosed location, in the town of Four Corners:

A shade was lowered on the window, shutting out prying eyes. A moment later, a lamp was lit, brightening the dim room.

A crate was carefully placed in the center of the small scarred table, the contents slowly removed. “Get the crate.”

The box was whisked away and its contents reverently set back in its place.

“What a beauty.”

“Yup, prettiest pie yet.”

Seven men crowded around the table, empty tin plates and forks clattering.

“That perfectly formed, flaky crust is the most heavenly shade of golden brown I have seen in quite some time. And the ambrosial scent of those succulent peaches and the hint of cinnamon and I´m certain there´s a pinch of nutmeg--”

“Damn, hoss, you run on like a river in flood season.”

“Mister Wilmington, with such a delicacy, one must take time to offer the proper accolades--”

“Never mind, Ezra, we all got eyes,” cut in their leader. “Nathan, just slice ‘er up.”

Vin shoved his plate a little closer. “Me first.”

“Now, just a moment, why you first?” queried the gambler.

“Cuz I probably got the blame for stealin´ it…again,” returned Tanner with a pointed look at Ezra.

“Oh, now Mister Tanner, you must see that you were the logical suspect. Mrs. Wells was positively delighted last year. Of course, that apple pie certainly deserved the ribbon. As I recall, she added currants that gave it an absolutely piquant—”

“Didn´t mean you had to throw crumbs on my hide coat, damn it,” groused the tracker. “Don´t think I´m letting you do it again either. How about this time we smear some peaches on your shirt?”

Standish threw back his head and laughed. “First of all, I would not allow such a delectable commodity to be wasted in such a boorish manner. And secondly, food…on my fine haberdashery? On this impeccably tailored, ivory silk shirt? No one would believe it. Quite preposterous, I assure you.”

“Brothers, let´s eat first and worry about the crumbs later, if there are any.” Josiah rubbed his hands together in anticipation, giving the others a toothy grin.

The town´s healer sketched out imaginary lines over the pie, measuring out seven slices.

“Now that Mister Jackson is doing the cutting, perhaps this year I will not be denied my proper share.”

“Gosh darn it, Ez, for the hundredth time, I cut ‘em all equal,” snapped J.D.

“Then I suggest you consider obtaining spectacles because-- ”

“I still feel a little guilty about us stealing Miz Potter´s pie,” interjected Nathan as he slid the sharp knife into the pie´s tender crust.

“Too late to worry about that now, Nate,” replied Larabee, his hazel eyes fixed on the first thick slice as it emerged, syrupy juices clinging to the sweet peach wedges encased in buttery golden pastry.

“Hell, yeah,” agreed Buck. “Besides, those lovely ladies were just waiting to see which pie would be grabbed. They´d be downright disappointed if one didn´t go missing. Why, if we didn´t take one of ‘em, they´d feel about as low as a buzzard in a bone yard.”

“Hey, maybe we can take Casey´s pie next year?”

Quick horrified glances were exchanged around the table.

“Now, J.D., you know I love Casey like a baby sister. And I´d be the first to say she´s grown into a fine young woman,” began Buck. “But, uh, well, her pies…”

“Are worse ‘n dirt,” completed Tanner. “I like pie, but I gotta say, I ain´t got the stomach for whatever it is she makes.”

“At least Mary´s blueberry is edible,” added Larabee with a glint of amusement, followed by a glare in Ezra´s direction at the gambler´s whispered, “Just barely.”

J.D. opened his mouth to defend his girlfriend but found his shoulders slumping when he couldn´t summon a decent argument. He sighed in resignation. “Maybe I can ask Miz Potter to give her some lessons. Don´t think she´s learned much from Miz Nettie.”

“That´s a good idea, son, if only in self-defense,” said the preacher with a smile.

“All right, here you go, Vin.” Nathan placed the first slice on Tanner´s tin plate.

Ezra huffed as the tracker gave him a smug look.

The rest of the pie was carefully divided and distributed.

“You started a pretty good tradition here, Buck, even if it is built on thievery,” stated Nathan.

“Oh now, it was J.D. that stole Gloria Potter´s cherry pie that first year,” returned Wilmington.

“Only because you dared me! Yeah, you didn´t think you could get away quick enough without stumbling over those big feet of yours. I remember how you couldn´t take your eyes off that pie, you were drooling so much! Good thing she baked three of ‘em.”

Buck´s indignant expression faded, replaced by a broad grin “That was a damn tasty cherry pie, too, near as perfect as this one right here. I gotta say, Mrs. Potter is looking more youthful and beautiful with each contest. Wonder if she´s seeing anyone,” mused the rogue as he pressed his fork through the flaky crust, a hint of drool showing at the corner of his mouth.

Snorts and chuckles drifted around the room as the men settled on the two available chairs, the narrow bed and on the floor.

And then the room grew silent except for the blissful sounds of the usual suspects and their friends happily finishing off another prize- winning pie.

The End

*lo que sea – whatever