A Christmas Story

"How much money we got between us, Heyes?" Curry asked quietly from his bunk.

"None," his partner answered, his deep voice echoing out from under his hat that was placed comfortably over his face. "The sheriff took it from us when we were arrested, remember?"

"Yeah, but we'll get it back when we leave," the optimistic partner insisted.

"If we leave," the pessimistic partner answered.

"He don't know who we are."

"Yet."

A few moments of contemplative silence.

"So how much money we got between us?"

"$1.28," the information mumbled from under the hat.

"That's how much I had on me," Kid pointed out. "How much do we have altogether?"

"$1.28."

Silence.

"Oh."

Silence again.

"Not really enough for a nice Christmas dinner with all the trimmin's, is it?"

"Nope."

"But it is Christmas," Kid stated. "If the sheriff is going to keep us in here over Christmas, ain't he kinda obligated to give us a Christmas dinner?"

Heavy sigh from under the hat.

"Donno Kid. Depends on the sheriff I suppose."

"Yeah, but if he's married his wife would likely insist on it. You know how women are."

Kid sat up and looked over at his partner who was still stretched out on his bunk, his black hat settled over his face.

"Is he married?" Kid asked.

"Who?"

"The sheriff!"

"I donno. Ask him."

"Well that's kinda personal. I don't know if I'd feel right..."

The front door to the sheriff's office opened and the two prisoners instantly felt the rush of cold air and the chill of snow come wafting through the interior. Heyes sat up then as well and both men turned to the sheriff who was in the process of stamping snow off his boots and slapping his white enhanced hat against his thigh.

"Oh man, that sure is some blizzard we got coming down out there," the lawman commented as he headed over to the stove to warm his hands. "You fella's should be thankin' me for arrestin' ya' last night. At least ya' got a roof over your heads."

Heyes stood up and walked over to the bars. "Just how long do you intend to keep us here, Sheriff Donner?" he asked innocently. "I realize we were a bit rowdy last night, but it was just a little Christmas Eve celebrating, and them other fella's, why you let them go first light."

Sheriff Donner poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down at his desk, facing his two guests.

"Yup," he agreed to the truth of that. "but I know them other fellas and they all had homes to go to. Now you two are about as transient as they come. Damn, the amount of money you had between ya' you would have ended up freezing in an alley way. You're better off in here until this storm subsides."

Heyes smiled winningly, knowing that he would have to lay the charm on thick to get this sheriff to release them.

"Yeah, but if you had just let us be, I had a really good hand there and we'd 'a had enough money for a hotel room.

Sheriff Donner snorted. "The way you had them other fellas riled up you wouldn't have made it to the hotel. They were fixin' to skin you alive."

"Yeah, but..."

"Besides," the sheriff continued. "Smith and Jones? I might'a been born at night, but not last night."

"There's plenty of folks named Smith and Jones, Sheriff," Kid offered the usual argument. "we just happen to be two of 'em."

Heyes' smile deepened and he nodded, supporting his cousin's logic.

"That's true enough," Sheriff Donner agreed. "But for the two of ya' to be ridin' together with no fixed address and barely enough money between ya' to keep ya' fed? That's too much of a coincidence."

"But Sheriff..."

"Nope," Donner shook his head. "I got a nice stack of wanted posters here and I've already started going through them. I don't know who ya' are, but I'm pretty damn sure you're wanted fer somethin' and I ain't lettin' you outa here until I've done some checking up."

Heyes and Kid exchanged disappointed looks.

"What about our horses?" Heyes asked solemnly. "Are they being tended to?"

Sheriff Donner looked insulted. "Of course they're being tended to! I'm not gonna leave animals standing out in weather like this—besides the money ya' had on ya' will pay for their keep for a few days. As for your keep, well it is Christmas I suppose."

"Are you married Sheriff?" the Kid asked.

"Yeah. Why?"

Jed grinned and sent his partner a 'I told ya' so' look. Heyes rolled his eyes.

"No reason," Kid answered him. "just wonderin'."

The front door burst open again and another draft of cold air and snow flurries accompanied the young woman who came bustling into the office. The sheriff was on his feet in an instant and bustled over to her to shut the door and help her brush the snow off her shoulders.

"Dagnabbit!" he complained. "Cupid Sinclair—what in the world are you doing out on a day like this?"

"I just had to come and get you Uncle Dashiell!" the young woman insisted. "Some of the older boys are out there throwing snowballs at the horses going by. There's going to be an accident—mark my word!"

"Dagnabbit!" the sheriff cursed again as he gathered up his coat. "What in tarnation is the matter with those boys? Just because it's Christmas...!"

The office door burst open again and a small boy tumbled into the room, quickly followed by a barrage of snowballs that hit with loud thumps and splats into the far wall. One hit the stove and began to sizzle and sputter, as steam vapour spread upwards and water drops dripped to the floor.

"Hey!" the sheriff yelled. "What's the big idea...?"

More snowballs came flying into the office, one hitting the sheriff on the arm and another splattering across his desk. Finally Miss Sinclair thought to close the door before more projectiles headed their way.

"Rudolf Sinclair, what in the world are you up to?" his mother demanded to know.

"Weren't my fault, ma!" the young man insisted as he stood up and tried to brush the snow off his chest. "They ganged up on me!"

"So you run in to the sheriff's office?" Mrs. Sinclair asked incredulously. "Your uncle has more things to deal with than a silly snowball fight!"

Rudolf shrugged. "Yeah but they won't dare come in here," he insisted logically. "What's the point of having a sheriff in the family if ya' can't use it to your advantage?"

"What!?"

"Don't worry about it, Cupid," the sheriff assured his niece. "I'll take care of this. A simple snowball fight is one thing, but throwing them at the horses and people just going about their business, that's another. Especially on an awful day like this."

The front door slammed open again and two rather irate townsmen stomped in, their faces red either with the cold or with anger, or both. Their eyes meant business though.

Then 'thump!' as a white projectile exploded on the back of one of the manly heads. The gentleman cursed as his hat was knocked off his head and dumped to the floor. The second man quickly closed the door just as two more thump thumps smashed against it.

"Those boys have lost all reason!" Dan Sier complained loudly as he picked up his hat and his friend brushed the snow from his shoulders. "You gotta get out there and put a stop to this nonsense. Just because it's Christmas doesn't mean they should be able to get away with behaving like this."

"I intend to Dan," Donner assured him. "Just give me a minute to get my coat on will ya'?"

"Well, hurry up!" the second man snarked. "Those hellions are gonna start breaking shop windows before ya' know it!"

Sheriff Donner got himself organized and all three men made a concentrated rush out the door as two more snowballs flew in under the radar and skidded along the floor to smack up against the legs of the stove. The door slammed and the loud cursing diminished into the whirling distance.

"Who are you?" young Rudolf noticed the two men in the cell.

"I'm Joshua Smith and this is Thaddeus Jones." Heyes introduced them.

The boy snorted, sending a stream of snot flying through the air. "No you're not!" he insisted as he wiped his nose. "Who ever heard of two people named Smith and Jones ridin' around together?"

"Rudy, now don't be rude!" his mother cajoled him as she grabbed his arm and started pulling him towards the door. "Besides, you shouldn't be talking to those men."

"Why not?"

"Because they're bad men."

"Why?"

"How should I know why?" his mother complained. "but if your uncle locked them up on Christmas day then they must be bad!"

Rudolf looked back at the two innocent expression meeting him half way. "Oh."

Cupid Sinclair opened the front door once again and bracing herself against the swirling snow, forced herself and her son out into the elements. The door slammed shut and the two ex-outlaws once again found themselves alone.

"Well," Heyes commented. "That was interesting."

"Yeah."

Heyes sent a speculative look to the door, then over to the pile of wanted posters still sitting on the desk.

"You think that sheriff is going to be kept busy for awhile?" he asked his partner.

"Probably," Kid smiled. "If those boys are anything like we were, it could take him all afternoon to round 'em up."

Heyes grinned. "Exactly what I was thinking."

Heyes lifted his right foot up onto the edge of his cot and slipping a hand into his boot he pulled out his every handy lock pick, along with the accompanying hand file. Walking over to the cell door, he slipped his arm through the bars and inserting the pick into the lock he played around with the file until he got his bearings and then clicked the lock open.

Both men were grinning as they grabbed their hats and coats and while the Kid went to lock the front door, Heyes knelt down by the safe in order to get their hardware. Within thirty seconds Heyes had the safe open and grabbing both their holsters, they made a dash for the back door. Heyes opened it and they were instantly assaulted by strong winds and swirling snow. Both of them cringed back with arms up to protect themselves. Heyes slammed the door shut again.

"Geesh!" Curry complained. "I knew it was snowing, but..."

"Yeah," Heyes agreed. "I think we need to re-think this."

"Yeah, but if that sheriff is going to search through them wanted posters, you know he's gonna find us in there."

"Hmmm." Heyes pursed his lips and nodded, engaging in some serious thought. "But the horses are at the livery and it'll be hard to get them out without being spotted. On top of that, we don't have any money between us now—and I have to admit; I'm getting hungry."

"Getting hungry?" Kid complained. "I've been smellin' turkey in my dreams."

"Yeah," his partner agreed. "C'mon, let's see if we can find our wanted posters and then stay for supper. Tomorrow's another day."

Jed grinned. "Yeah."

The two miscreants returned to the desk. Kid returned the holsters to the safe and swinging the door closed, spun the dial while Heyes started sifting through the stack of posters. Kid stood up and looked down at the pile and whistled in disbelief.

"I find it hard to believe that there's that many crooks in Wyoming."

"Most of these are penny-ante," Heyes noticed. "Still, it's gonna take forever to get through them all."

"Yeah, here give me half."

Heyes nodded and splitting the pile in half he set a share down in front of his partner. But before he could get back to his own pile, Jed gave him a tap on the arm and nodded towards the bulletin board. Heyes followed his gesture and they both found themselves looking at their own wanted posters pinned to the wall.

They shared a quick look and dashed over to the wall to unpin the telltale descriptions. They grinned mischievously and were about to head back to their cell when Heyes took note of the now large empty space on the bulletin board.

"Just a minute," he told the Kid as he handed him his own poster.

He stepped over to the desk again and picking up two wanted posters from the pile, he stacked the posters all together again and returned to the bulletin board. He pinned the two new posters up to replace theirs and cover up the obvious omissions. Heyes grinned in triumph while the Kid looked sceptical.

"Frank Blitzen?" he read in mock disgust. "Wanted for obscene behaviour and stealing from the Christmas orphan's fund'?"

"Yeah, well he can be you," Heyes informed him.

Kid read over the second poster and smiled. "Yeah, okay Heyes," he agreed. "Then you can be 'The 'Kansas Comet' Calhoun. Wanted for expectorating on women,' whatever that means—sounds disgusting, right up your alley. 'And petty theft.'"

Heyes frowned and looked from one poster to the other.

"Maybe we can find two others..."

Then two sets of eyes widen and locked onto each other as the handle on the front door began to rattle. The locked door refused to open and the handle began to shake and a soft thumping could be heard from the outside.

"Papa!" came a small muffled voice. "Papa, let me in!"

The small mittened hands continued to thump on the door as Heyes gathered up their hats and coats and the wanted posters and made a dash back to their cell. Kid waited until the child tried the door one more time and began thumping again, then unlocked the door and made his own dash back to the cell.

"It's open!" Heyes called out as the Kid quickly swung the cell door shut.

The visitor tried the handle again and this time the door slowly came open to reveal a small red cheeked cherub with big blue eyes on the verge of overflowing. Her pudgy face was adorned with long blond curls twinning their way out from under a snow powdered knitted hat to fall damply around a red scarf and snow covered shoulders. More snow was swirling in from the elements, making her look like a little fairy princess in a glass snow ball decoration. She stared over at the two 'prisoners' with a certain amount of accusation in her creased brow and pouting lips.

"The door was locked!" the little darling accused them.

"No it wasn't," the Kid lied. "It was just stuck."

"It was not!" she insisted. "You locked it!"

"Well, if we locked it, then how come you got it open?" Heyes asked logically.

"Well...you unlocked it!"

"How could we have done that from in here?" Kid asked her and he gave the cell door a rattling just to prove his point. "We're locked in ourselves."

The child's brow creased even more but her chin jutted out stubbornly. "I donno," she admitted. "but you unlocked it!"

"Ah, do you mind closing the door?" Heyes asked politely. "You're kinda heating up the outside."

Her red little lips pursed even more but she did step into the office and close the door.

"Where's my daddy?" she demanded as the sniffles threatened to begin. "He said he was coming in here."

"Well I'm sure I don't know," Heyes informed her.

"But he said he was coming in here!" the lips started to tremble as a damp sleeve wiped across a running nose. "Where is he!? WHERE'S MY DADDY!"

Heyes cringed and looked to his partner for help. Kid rolled his eyes and smiled over at the bereaved child.

"There's been a number of people coming and going today," he explained. "Why don't you tell us what your name is and then we can tell you if he was in here earlier, alright?"

"My papa says that I shouldn't talk to strangers," she insisted.

"But you've already been talking to us," Jed pointed out. "Besides, what harm can we do you, locked up in a jail cell?"

The child frowned as she thought about this.

"Well, I suppose it's alright," she finally agreed. "My name is 'Pranny'."

"Pranny?" came the unison query.

"Yes!" she insisted with a cross look. "Pran Sier! What's wrong with my name?"

"No nothin'!" Kid quickly assured her, not wanting a continuation of the tears or tantrum. "It's a very pretty name. It suits you."

"Of course it suits me!" the sweet thing insisted. "Everybody says so..."

The office door once again flew open, bringing with it not only more wind and swirling snow, but two people and the enticing aroma of roasted turkey and stuffing. Kid instantly perked up and even Heyes grinned in hopeful anticipation. Sheriff Donner began to shake the snow off his coat and hat while the woman with him set the large picnic basket down on the desk and did the same for her own hat and cape. She turned to close the door and gasped in surprise.

"Why, little miss Pran Sier! What are you doing here?"

"Hello Mrs. Donner," she answered politely. "I'm looking for my papa."

"Your papa's gone home," the sheriff informed the child. "Which is exactly where you should be. It's getting late."

"But he said he was coming here!" the lips started to tremble again. "I can't find him!"

"Oh you poor dear," Mrs. Donner consoled her as she draped an arm over her shoulders. "Come, come. I'll take you home."

"I think the child's old enough to find her own way home Alicia!" the sheriff grumbled. "I'm hungry!"

"Oh don't be an old bear!" his wife prodded him. "It's getting dark out. You start getting the dinner set out..."

"Me?" the sheriff asked as a look of panic settled over his features. "But I don't..."

"Oh don't be so silly!" his wife chided him as the child smiled at him. "I won't be long. Besides it will give me the chance to give the Sier's our glad tidings and solicitude's."

With that the woman and the child headed back outdoors to complete their journey, leaving the three men to organize the supper arrangements. Sheriff Donner looked lost and frustrated, then he growled and shook his head in defeat.

"Dagnam that woman!" he cursed. "I swear she's a vixen in disguise the way she twists me around her little finger!" He looked over at the prisoners and was met with two very hopeful grins. "I suppose you fellas are hungry?"

"Christmas dinner?" asked Heyes.

"Turkey and potato's," asked Curry.

"Stuffing and gravy?"

"Yeah, and sweet meat pie for dessert too," the sheriff grumbled as he began to unload the large, heavily laden basket. "The missus insists that if we have fellas locked up over Christmas than the only 'right' thing to do is to bring supper to the jailhouse so that we can share in our abundance with those less fortunate...or something like that. I swear word has gotten around cause every year we end up with somebody in here—it's becoming a blasted tradition!" He set out numerous plates that were weighed down with aromatic delights and began to unwrap them in preparation of serving. He looked up from his endeavours and eyed the two prisoners. "I suppose you'll be wantin' wine too?"

The ex-outlaws sent sparkling looks to one another and then grinned back at the sheriff. Heyes made doubly sure that their wanted posters were neatly stuffed under his mattress.

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!