Standard fanfic warning 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. Yeah, that's it, typing practice. Originally published in Just You, Me, and the Governor #31, from Neon RainBow Press. Based on characters and situations created by Glen A. Larson, Don Tait, and Jack Bickham. There is no intent to infringe on the rights held by Glen A. Larson, Roy Huggins, ABC, Don Tait, Jack Bickham, Norman Tokar, Walt Disney Studios, or any other parties. This is an amateur work of fiction, and no profit has been derived from its writing, save for the joy of chasing my muse across the keyboard.

Christmas in Quake City

by Susan M. M.

Alias Smith and Jones/The Apple Dumpling Gang

Tulare County, California

October 1879

"Real pretty country," Hannibal Heyes observed. There were womenfolk who would consider him a pretty sight himself: brown-haired, brown-eyed, handsome face, strong muscles. He sat the gray stallion as though he and the horse were one creature.

"Real pretty," his partner and kinsman, Jedediah "Kid" Curry, agreed. He was two or three years younger than his cousin. His boyish face and curly hair – which could never make up its mind if it should be blond or light brown – made him look even younger. "I've been thinking about this amnesty business."

"You're not thinking of quitting, are you? Not after all the time and effort we've put into going straight?" Heyes asked. Two years ago he'd been the leader of the Devil's Hole Gang, the most notorious outlaws west of the Mississippi River.

"I'm not planning on going back to robbing banks and trains," Curry assured him. "It's just the way we're going about this. We don't like the aliases Lom gave us; let's just dump 'em and choose our own. Nobody knows us here – not closer than San Francisco. We can call ourselves anything we want and nobody'll know the difference."

Heyes thought a minute. It was true neither of them liked the aliases Sheriff Lom Trevors had chosen for them. However, Lom kept an ear out for the doings of "Joshua Smith" and "Thaddeus Jones," and reported their deeds (and misdeeds) to the governor.

"Instead of being good little boys and reporting to Lom that we're keeping our noses clean, let's just drop out of sight. Disappear."

"Then how will the governor know where to mail our amnesty papers?" Heyes countered.

"Hoyt can only grant us amnesty within the Territory of Wyoming," Curry reminded him. "There are wanted posters for us from the Dakota badlands to the Rio Grande. If we get arrested, they could extradite us anywhere we ever robbed anybody. And that covers a lot of territory."

Heyes nodded. He knew his partner was right. That didn't mean he had to like it. "Let's not borrow trouble."

"Trouble seems to find us easily enough on its own," Curry agreed. He changed the subject and they chatted amiably until they reached Quake City, California.

AS&J/ADG

"What do you want to do first?" Curry asked. "Stop at the saloon, find a hotel room, what?"

Heyes pointed at the barbershop. "Get a haircut."

"A haircut?"

Heyes urged his gray across the street to the barbershop. He dismounted and tethered the stallion to the hitching post. "Barbers are like bartenders: they hear everything. If anyone's hiring, he'll know."

Curry got off his pinto and tied it next to Heyes' gray. Both slipped feedbags over their horses' heads.

"Howdy, fellows," a small, white-haired man greeted them. "You looking for the barber, the sheriff, or the justice of the peace?"

"Barber," Heyes replied. He ran a finger through his shaggy brown hair. "Can't go job-hunting looking like this."

"You boys looking for work?" the old man asked.

"Yes, sir," both replied in unison.

"Sit down." The barber pointed to a chair and reached for his scissors.

"The sheriff and the judge, they spend much time here?" Curry asked, concealing his nervousness at the possibility.

"Quite a bit." His blue eyes twinkling, the man introduced himself, "Homer McCoy, barber, sheriff, and justice of the peace. And you are…?"

"Joshua Smith," Heyes replied promptly. "And this is my partner, Thaddeus Jones."

Curry shot Heyes a dirty look, but said nothing.

"Shouldn't have much trouble finding a job," McCoy told them. "Ever since the Bradley Nugget was found, every fool and his brother have been digging for gold."

"The Bradley Nugget? That the giant hunk of ore we read about in the newspapers?" Curry asked.

McCoy nodded. "Last month the three Bradley kids found a nugget that weighed over three hundred pounds in a mine that was supposed to be played out. Since then, every idiot for miles around has been abandoning honest work to try to go strike it rich. You should have no trouble finding a job. Or you can take your chances looking for gold."

"Tried prospecting, it's hard on the back," Curry said.

"In a gold rush," Heyes explained, "the best way to get rich is to be the one selling the picks and shovels."

"With a sensible attitude like that, you two won't starve. All done. Want a shave, since you're in the chair anyway?" McCoy asked.

"Might as well."

"The hotel's right comfortable, but if you're planning to settle, Mrs. O'Reilly's boarding house is cheaper." McCoy chatted as he shaved first Heyes, then Curry, advising them as to lodgings, places to eat, and leads on possible jobs.

As they were paying him, they heard a commotion outside. Between a thick southern accent and a thicker Spanish one, it was a moment before they could understand what was being shouted.

"I'm not going to drive a stagecoach for thirty dollars a month when I can make that much in a day in the gold mines," declared a young Mexican man.

"You'll be lucky to find thirty cents' worth of gold in those hills," retorted an older, well-dressed gentleman.

"I quit, Señor Clydesdale."

"You can't quit, Sanchez. You're fired," replied Clydesdale.

"Lose another driver, Colonel? Looks like Dusty'll have to come out of retirement," McCoy suggested.

Heyes looked at his partner, then at the white-haired colonel. Seeing assent in his partner's blue eyes, he stepped forward. "Colonel, maybe we can help you out."

Bleary-eyed despite the early hour, the colonel peered at the stranger. "Do I know you, suh?"

"Colonel Clydesdale, this is Joshua Smith and his partner Timothy Jones."

"Thaddeus," Curry corrected the barber reluctantly.

"Thaddeus Jones," McCoy introduced them. "They're new in town."

"You need a new driver. We're looking for honest work." Heyes stressed the adjective slightly.

"Can you drive a stagecoach?" Colonel Clydesdale asked.

"I can drive a wagon," Heyes hedged, thinking it couldn't be too different. "And my partner can ride shotgun. He's the best shot you've ever seen."

"By gum, you must have been sent by Providence. Come, let us retire to the saloon and celebrate our new association," Colonel Clydesdale suggested.

"Well, that didn't take long," McCoy observed. He didn't specify if he was referring to the speed with which Heyes and Curry had found work, or how little time the colonel had wasted before adjourning to the saloon.

"Of course, I'll have to discuss the matter with Mrs. Donovan," the colonel added as an afterthought.

"Mrs. Donovan?" Heyes asked.

AS&J/ADG

Mrs. Donovan was an attractive redhead, elegantly garbed in pink brocade. She didn't look as if her daintily-gloved hands had ever handled anything more strenuous than a crochet hook. Heyes and Curry had trouble believing that she was the former driver.

"Pa, you lost another driver?" she asked in dismay. "I'm a married woman now. I have three young'uns to tend to, a house to clean, cows to milk, and pigs to slop. I can't keep rescuing you every time a driver quits."

"But, Magnolia, my dear, this gentleman is going to be our new driver."

"You ever driven a stage?" she asked.

"I've driven a wagon," Heyes replied. "Both of us have."

"A coach and four is different from a horse and cart, or even a two-horse wagon. Real different," she warned him.

"Then teach me," Heyes challenged. "If you can do it, I can learn it."

Mrs. Donovan looked him over, scrutinizing him thoroughly.

"One week. If I can't learn in one week, then you don't have to pay me," Heyes offered.

"Hold it," Curry whispered.

"It's all right. I can do it," Heyes whispered back.

Mrs. Donovan glanced up at her father for his approval. "All right. I'll tell Russel he'll need to watch the kids for a few days. One week's trial. And if you can't hack it, we don't owe you a penny."

Heyes nodded his agreement. After Colonel Clydesdale and his daughter left, Curry turned to him and asked, "Are you crazy?"

"No more than usual."

"A week of work without getting paid?" Curry asked.

"Only if I can't learn it, and I can. So there's no worry," Heyes assured him.

"And what do you mean, calling ourselves Smith and Jones? I thought we were going to change our handles."

"I want that amnesty," Heyes replied. "I don't care if it's only good in Wyoming. I want that piece of paper. Besides, I didn't have time to think of new names."

AS&J/ADG

The next day, when they saw Mrs. Donovan dressed in old trousers, a leather vest, and a battered felt hat, they could believe that she used to be known as "Dusty" before her marriage and retirement. Heyes was good with animals, and clever-handed. In three days' time, she pronounced him competent to handle the stagecoach solo.

Both the new driver and his shotgun earned their first week's pay.

AS&J/ADG

October passed well enough.

They found lodgings at Mrs. O'Reilly's boarding house. They kept their horses at the Butterfly Stage Company's stable, which saved them the cost of a livery stable. A few nights a week they played poker at the saloon to supplement their salary. Once a week they played with Dusty's husband, Russel Donovan. More often than not, they supplemented his income.

November went well. Come December, they began talking about heading south.

"Getting too cold and damp for outdoor work," Heyes pointed out.

"That's for sure," Curry agreed. "But would you want Mrs. Donovan to be out driving in this weather?"

Heyes thought. It would be a shame for their employer's daughter to have to take back the reins in the winter rains. Especially since she'd put on just a little bit of weight lately, and the town gossips were wondering aloud if she might be in a delicate condition.

"Not our problem who the colonel hires to replace us. We've got a nice bit saved up. We should head down to Los Angeles, or San Diego, where it's warmer. We've been here three months, three months at the same job. That proves we're reliable and steady, doesn't it?"

Curry nodded.

"Heck, we could probably get character references from the colonel and the sheriff. Wouldn't that help Lom convince the governor we deserve amnesty, getting a letter of recommendation from a sheriff?"

"You got a point there," Curry agreed. "We'd have a better chance of getting Colonel Clydesdale to speak well of us if we gave him a week or two's notice, let him have a fair chance of hiring a replacement."

AS&J/ADG

Colonel Clydesdale invited them to Sunday dinner at his daughter's house that week, and they broke the news to him then.

"You can't leave. Who would drive the stage?" the colonel asked.

"I'm sure you can find someone else," Heyes said, helping himself to another piece of cornbread. "This is real good, ma'am."

"Thank you." Mrs. Donovan looked over at her father. "I'm retired, Pa."

"You can't go now," Celia Bradley protested. "You won't be here for Christmas. Santa Claus won't know where to find you."

"Santa's clever. I'm sure he'll track us down," Curry told the child.

"Stay 'til the new year, at least," the colonel urged. "You can celebrate Christmas here with us."

Russel Donovan raised an eyebrow at the way his father-in-law invited guests to his house for the holidays, then nodded his consent. "It would be a shame to spend Christmas on the road," the dark-haired gambler agreed. He'd done so himself, more than once.

The ex-outlaws traded glances and came to a silent agreement.

"Thank you for the invitation; we'd be pleased to keep Christmas with you," Heyes said. "We'll stay 'til the new year, but after that, we're moving on."

"You've got our notice, all proper," Curry added.

After dinner, Heyes quietly asked, "Should we bring any vittles for Christmas dinner, or anything for the kids?"

Mrs. Donovan shook her head. "Just a handful of howdy and a mouthful of much obliged."

"Don't worry about the kids," Mr. Donovan added. "We'll make sure Santa Claus tends to them properly."

AS&J/ADG

"Oh, no." Dick Peterson, the telegraph operator, turned to his son. "Will, get this over to the sheriff, right away."

"Yes, Pa." The lanky teenager stuffed the yellow paper into his pocket. He headed for the barbershop.

"Hey, Will," called out Betty Lou Cochran.

"Hey, Betty Lou."

Her eyes were cornflower blue, and her lashes were long and thick, and batting up at Will in the most fascinating way. The sixteen-year-old had begun to change and grow in ways that Will – and every other boy in town – found very interesting. In a few minutes, Will's head was so full of her freckled face and youthful curves that he completely forgot the telegram in his pocket. And it stayed forgotten and ignored, until his mother checked the pockets before doing laundry two days later.