Alias Smith and Jones
Originally published in Ouch #17, 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. That's it, typing practice. I'll return them to their actual owners (relatively) undamaged. This is an amateur work of fiction; no profit beyond pleasure was derived from the writing.
The Flower of Montana
by Susan M.M.
Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were taking a much needed break. They hadn't seen a posse in over a month. A legitimate job had just ended – - working for a farmer who had needed extra help until a broken leg healed – - and now they were busy multiplying their earnings at the poker table. The saloon didn't water its whisky (much) and the dancehall girls were pretty.
They should have known it was too good to last.
Hannibal Heyes' brown eyes twinkled. "Read 'em and weep, gentlemen - –full house." The handsome ex-outlaw laid his cards on the table: three jacks and a pair of sixes.
The other players grumbled as he raked in his winnings.
"I'm tapped out."
A dark-haired man, elegantly garbed in a black broadcloth suit, approached the table. In a soft southern accent, he asked, "May I join you? It appears that most of the action is at this table."
Heyes smiled up at him invitingly. The only thing he liked better than winning at poker was having some decent competition.
Kid Curry glanced at the pair of dancehall girls loitering by the bar. "I may mosey on myself. You know what they say: unlucky at cards, lucky at love."
Two of the townsfolk had followed the dark-haired southerner to Heyes' table – both prosperous businessmen by the looks of them. They didn't seem the sort to pull out a gun and holler "cheat!" if they lost, so Curry figured his cousin would be all right without someone to watch his back for an hour or two. He approached the two blondes at the bar.
"I sure hope you ladies are thirsty, 'cause I'd dearly love to buy you a drink."
Both of them smiled up at him. He was easy to smile at, with curly hair and a boyishly handsome face. The bartender hurried to bring whisky for Curry and colored water in shot glasses for the women.
"I got me a problem. You're both so pretty I don't know which of you to ask to dance first."
"You're hurtin' my arm," he heard a girl say.
Curry looked up. A young dancehall girl struggled with a man old enough to be her father. Dressed like a ranch hand, he was a head taller than she was, with a scar running down his left cheek. Curry recognized the girl – she was the redhead who had stood, watching the poker game earlier, and she didn't look more than sixteen. Heyes had sent her to the bar to fetch a round of whisky for the table, and teased her when he tossed her a tip, telling her to get a sarsaparilla for herself.
"'Scuse me," he told the ladies, touching the brim of his hat. He stepped over to the girl and the grizzled cowboy. "This feller bothering you, miss?"
The redhead looked up at him with frightened eyes.
"I believe the young lady promised me this dance." Curry rested his hand on his pistol-butt as he spoke, his blue eyes going as cold as ice.
The cowboy was twice the gunslinger's age and he had four inches and fifty pounds on Curry, but he backed down without a word after one look in the Kid's eyes.
Curry waited until he had stepped away, then asked, as politely as if he were at a cotillion, "May I have this dance, Miss?"
She smiled up at him shyly. "I– I reckon."
He took her hand and led her out to the dance floor. "What's your name?"
"Thaddeus Jones," he lied. "Aren't you a mite young for a place like this, Frannie? Shouldn't you be home with your folks?"
"Ma died, and I gotta eat."
"Sorry," he apologized, adding, "I'm an orphan myself."
Curry danced with her until the piano player stopped, then glanced over at the two blondes he had been with before. One was dancing, despite the lack of music, with another cowboy. The other had was at the bar, drinking someone else's colored water, at whisky prices. The man who had harassed Frannie was at the bar, too, glaring at them.
"They got rooms upstairs?" he asked Frannie.
The girl went as red as her hair – simultaneously embarrassed, confused and ashamed.
"I'm not trying to get fresh," he assured her. "You wanna just talk, that's fine. But you could use a chance to rest your feet, and it'll give that fella time to lose interest, maybe go bother someone else."
Frannie put her hand in his and let the gunslinger take her upstairs. She knocked timidly at the first door they came to. Hearing no answer, she opened the door. The two of them stepped inside.
"I ain't never done this afore," she confessed as he shut the door behind them.
"You could tell?" The news startled her.
"You aren't old enough for a boy to ask to a church social, let alone for what happens in rooms like these." Curry sat in the chair. Normally he wouldn't sit when a woman was standing, but he thought Frannie might feel more comfortable if he stayed well away from the bed. "Couldn't you find a ranch that needs a hired girl to help in the kitchen or something?"
She shook her head.
"Too bad they don't have a deck of cards or a checkerboard," Curry commented, glancing around.
Blushing, Frannie said, "The girls downstairs are expected to provide their own entertainment."
There was nothing much Curry could say to that.
After a moment, she broke the awkward silence. "Is it because of my freckles?"
"Is it 'cause of my freckles ya don't want me?"
"Of course not," Curry assured her. "Frannie, I'd be lying if I said you didn't tempt me, but you aren't much more 'n a kid. I've got ten years on you."
"Them fellers downstairs, they're all older 'n you. I guess I gotta start sooner or later." She looked up at him. "And ya are kinda cute, Thaddeus."
He didn't pretend to misunderstand her, and he looked her over carefully. In his mother's hometown of Philadelphia, he would probably have been arrested for so much as laying a finger on her. But here in Montana, if a girl was big enough, she was old enough. And he would certainly be gentler with her than some half-drunk ranch hand. A girl's first time should be special.
"You sure that's what you want?"
She nodded, trying – and failing – to hide her nervousness.
"You're a very pretty girl, Frannie." He stood and unbuckled his gun belt, then hung it over the chair. He walked over to her and kissed her lips. From her inexperienced reaction, he guessed that it was her first kiss. "We'll take this slow and easy," he promised her as he began unbuttoning his shirt.
The door burst open and the scar-faced man who had been harassing Frannie stood there, a Colt .45 in his hand. "Get yer hands off that girl!"
Curry started to reach for his gun, but it was too far away, and the stranger's Colt too steady. "I haven't even touched her."
The older man eyed Curry suspiciously, as if he had expected to catch them in flagrante delicto, and was disappointed that he hadn't. "You all right, Frannie?"
"You hold it right there," Frannie's father ordered.
"What kind of a scam is this?" Curry demanded. He remembered Silky O'Sullivan telling him and Heyes about a hoax he would pull with a female partner. The woman would maneuver the mark into a compromising position – or at least a situation that looked compromising – and then Silky would show up, claiming to be her husband and demanding hush money. A man had to be pretty low-down to use his daughter in a stunt like that.
"Not a scam – bait, fer a trap."
"Pa, can I change my clothes now? I feel half-naked in this get-up," Frannie complained.
"No, if it worked to catch Kid Curry, might work to catch Hannibal Heyes, too."
Curry's heart sank. A bounty hunter, and he knew their real names, too. "Mister, I don't know who you are, but you're making a mistake. My name's Jones. Thaddeus Jones."
"Down on yer knees, like you was prayin'. Hands on yer head."
Curry cast one wistful glance at his gun before slowly obeying. "You wouldn't shoot a man in the back, would you?"
"Oh, don't shoot him, Pa!"
"Wanted poster says dead or alive," the man pointed out.
"Yeah, but he's been real nice. Talked to me real purty, acted like a gentleman. Besides," she added, "he'll stink something awful if we haul him all the way to Wyoming in a pine box."
"There's no reason for anyone to go to Wyoming. This is all just a misunderstanding," Curry protested, trying to stay calm.
"Shut up," the bounty hunter ordered. "Frannie, tie him up. Tie him good and tight."
Frannie came up behind the Kid. She pulled his hands down and began tying them together. Curry held his wrists an inch apart, hoping it would give him some leeway to work his way loose later.
"Make sure it's a proper knot, too, not a granny."
"Who are you?" Curry demanded.
"Name's Jim Tolliver. Mr. Tolliver to you."
"Well, Mr. Tolliver, you're gonna be mighty embarrassed when you find out I'm not Kid Curry. I'm sure if we just talked to the sheriff we could have this whole mix-up cleared up in no time." Kid Curry would never voluntarily step into a sheriff's office, so maybe suggesting that they consult the sheriff would convince Tolliver that he had gotten the wrong man.
Tolliver laughed. "Ain't no sheriff. This town's had five sheriffs in the past year and a half. Last one quit two months ago." He grinned. "Makes it a nice town for my line of work."
Curry tried to keep a poker face and not let his worry show.
Tolliver shoved the muzzle of his pistol against Curry's back. "Get up."
Surprisingly graceful under the circumstances, the Kid rose to his feet.
"Over by the door," Tolliver ordered.
Seeing as he didn't have much of a choice, Curry obeyed.
"Now, you're gonna call for yer partner," Tolliver informed him.
"Hannibal Heyes, the brown-haired feller you were playing poker with before."
"I never saw him before I sat down at the card table," Curry lied.
"Frannie, take my gun. Keep him covered." The girl obeyed. "Call him, I said."
"If there weren't a lady present, I'd tell you to go to Hell," Curry replied.
Tolliver drew a knife from his belt. Without warning, he plunged the blade into Curry's left arm.
The Kid bit his lip to keep from crying out.
Frannie winced. "That don't hardly seem Christian, Pa, knifing him when he can't run or fight back."
Tolliver grinned, a smug, self-satisfied sneer. "That proves he's Kid Curry, Fran. Why, any normal man woulda hollered his head off when I stuck him. Anyone 'cept an Injun or someone tryin' to protect his partner. And he sure as hell ain't no Injun."
Curry glared at Tolliver. He had been so intent on not leading his cousin into a trap that he hadn't stopped to think that his actions might have betrayed his own identity. If he really had been Thaddeus Jones, he should have yelled for help, good and loud.
"Call him," Tolliver repeated, twisting the knife.
Curry couldn't stop the tears that ran down his cheeks, but he managed not to scream or to moan.
"Maybe ya are part Injun," Tolliver muttered. He pulled the knife out. "Give me back my gun, Frannie. And gag him."
The redhead gagged the ex-train robber with his own bandanna. Then she pulled a pillowcase off one of the pillows and loosely bandaged his arm with it.
"Now, go downstairs and fetch his partner. Tell him he took sick."
Despairing blue eyes watched as she left the room. Curry tried to think of some way to warn his cousin… and failed.
Frannie slipped downstairs and hurried to the poker table. She tapped Heyes on the shoulder. "Mister, ya gotta come upstairs with me."
"Sorry, honey, I'm just a little busy right now. Check back with me in a year or two."
"I'll go upstairs with you," one of the other players offered.
"It's your friend." Frannie struggled to remember his alias, knowing she dare not use his real name. "Uh, Thad. He took sick all of a sudden and I don't know what to do."
"Thaddeus?" Heyes looked up at the young, frightened face and then turned to the other players. "I fold." He laid his cards down and gathered up his money.
"You can't leave in the middle of a hand," the southerner protested. "There's five hundred dollars in the pot."
"My partner's worth more to me than five hundred dollars," Heyes retorted, then turned to the girl. "Take me to him."
Something niggled at the back of Heyes' mind as he followed Frannie up the stairs. It wasn't that Curry had taken sick suddenly, when he had been just fine half an hour ago, although that worried him.
It wasn't that the Kid had taken an underage dancehall girl upstairs, although that surprised him.
No, there was something else, and Heyes couldn't put his finger on what.
"In here." Frannie reached for the doorknob and Heyes saw the blood on her wrist. She hadn't washed all of it off after bandaging Curry.
The door opened. Tolliver stood there, his Colt in his hand.
Tolliver swore. "Good for nothing coward! Frannie, watch him," he ordered as he chased after Heyes.
Heyes threw open the first door he saw and dashed in.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing?" demanded the man in bed.
"You gotta pay extra to watch," the woman protested.
Ignoring the couple in the bed, Heyes proceeded to the window and hurried out, shimmying up the drainpipe.
Just as the half-dressed man got up to shut the door, Tolliver rushed in.
"Get the hell out of here!"
"Where is he?"
"Ain't nobody allowed here 'less they pay for the privilege," the woman informed him angrily. "Get out or I'll scream."
Ignoring her, Tolliver went to the window. He looked down, but saw no trace of Heyes. Swearing fiercely, he holstered his gun and returned to his own room.
"Some partner." He all but spat the words at Curry. "Ran out on you like a yeller dawg."
Curry breathed a sigh of relief. Heyes free was his best chance of escape.
"Go ahead and get changed, Frannie. You, turn around. She don't need yer dirty eyes on her." He grabbed Curry's gunbelt and slung it over one arm.
Curry turned around. The mirror gave him a decent view of Frannie changing out of her dancehall clothes and into a calico dress. After a quick peek just to be contrary, he politely averted his gaze. His mother hadn't brought him up to be a Peeping Tom. Besides, Frannie was too young to have anything worth peeking at, anyway.
"Can we go now, Pa?"
Tolliver shook his head. "We'll wait a few hours, 'til things settle down."
"In that case, can I redo his bandage?"
"It's bound to be hurtin' him, Pa."
"If he's thinkin' 'bout pain, then he ain't thinkin' about escapin'."
Frannie pursed her lips, thinking for a moment. "I don't wanna have to clean his blood out of the wagon, easier just to bandage him proper now." She looked up at her father. "Be easier if I had some whisky."
"You're jist gonna nag me to death if I say no, ain't you?" Tolliver realized, shaking his head. "Soft, jist like yer ma."
Frannie looked up at him, saying nothing.
"Soft-hearted and soft-headed." But whether he was referring to his daughter, his wife, or himself, he did not specify. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a silver dollar, and tossed it to her. "Go buy a bottle of whisky and fetch it up here."
She nodded and slipped out of the room.
Tolliver turned to face Curry. "You're a damned fool if you think I'm leavin' you alone with my daughter twice." He gestured to the chair with his gun. "Sit down."
When Frannie returned a few minutes later, her father ordered her to tie Curry's legs to the chair. "Good and tight," he directed. "I'll keep him covered."
"You want me to tie his right arm to the chair, Pa? Or do you think it'll be safe for him to have both arms free?"
"No reason to untie either arm. You can bandage him up like he is," Tolliver replied.
"Be easier if I had his left arm free," Frannie muttered. She tore another pillowcase into strips, dipping one into the wash basin. Then, taking the bandages in one hand and the whisky bottle in the other, she knelt beside Curry's chair. "This is gonna hurt."
Frannie tore the hole in his sleeve a little bigger, to give herself room to work. She dabbed at the wound with the wet cloth, wiping away the blood.
Then she poured a little whisky on the cloth and wiped the wound clean.
Only the ropes kept Curry from jumping right out of the chair, and only the gag kept him from screaming.
"Sorry," she whispered, going as quickly as she could, cleaning and bandaging the wound. "Better than it was," Frannie declared. "I know that hurt a mite, but at least it won't fester."
Curry had always been told his blue eyes were expressive. He hoped his gratitude showed now.
Jim and Frannie Tolliver settled down to wait. And up on the roof, Hannibal Heyes was busy making plans.