16 Reading the Signs

Reading the Signs

Part Sixteen of the Ranch Days series

By Maz McCoy

“Hold it right there. Take one more step and I’ll blow your head off!”

Facing the man Hank Fallows stood perfectly still, his gaze fixed on the eyes staring at him above the black bandana; eyes he recognised.

“With just your fingers, take your gun from your holster and throw it over here,” the outlaw ordered. “Do it slowly. I’m watching ya.”

The rancher did as he was told, using just his thumb and forefinger to remove his gun from the holster. He tossed it onto the ground beside Bart Granger then raised his hands slowly above his head. Granger picked up the gun and shoved it into the waistband of his pants. He laughed.

“I always knew I’d get my hands on your money, Fallows.” He waved his gun at the rancher. “Turn out your pockets.” The rancher didn’t move. “You heard what I said. Turn ‘em out.”

“No!”

“I’ll shoot ya where you stand if you don’t.”

“Go ahead! I knew you were a thief Granger and I bet you’re a murderer too.”

“Why you sniv…Sniver? Sni..? Heyes what’s this word?”

Heyes leaned across to look at the page of the dime novel Jed was reading aloud.

“Snivelling.”

“Snivelling? What’s it mean?”

“It’s ah…It means…Well, it’s…Just a way of cussing a man.”

“Oh.” Jed turned his attention back to the book. Looking at the cover he read aloud. “The River Creek Raider. The dastardly adventures of outlaw Bart Granger and his nem… Nemi…ss…Nemiss… Heyes?”

The young man peered at the cover.

“Nemesis.”

Jed looked puzzled.

“It means his enemy.”

“So why don’t they just write enemy?”

“Guess the author liked nemesis better.”

Jed considered this. It seemed like a good enough reason. He flicked back to the page where Granger was holding up rancher Fallows before he would shoot him dead, a crime for which heroic Sheriff Colby Trevors, the fastest gun in River Creek, would hunt him down, but only after numerous exciting scrapes and gunfights. Yes, Jed had read the book before.

“Are you gonna keep reading that or are you gonna give me a hand moving this?” Heyes asked as he stood beside a trunk from which he had just pulled a tarpaulin. Jed smiled at his friend.

“Well given the choice, Heyes, I guess I’ll sit here and read this.”

“Just give me a hand, will ya?”

Jed jumped off a bale of hay, shoved the dime novel in the back of his waistband and walked across the barn to the trunk Mrs. Culver had asked to be brought up to the main house.

“D’you reckon I could beat Sheriff Trevors in a fast draw?” Jed asked as he took hold of one end of the trunk.

“How the heck would I know?”

“Just wondering.”

They lifted the trunk and staggered towards the door.

“Is this thing full?”

“I don’t know.”

“So do you think I could beat him? The sheriff?”

“Sheriff Trevors doesn’t exist. How can you be faster than an imaginary sheriff?”

“I was just askin’, Heyes. Just wondered what your opinion of my fast draw was.”

“Well then why didn’t you just say…” They manoeuvred through the doorway and into bright sunlight. “Why didn’t you just ask how fast I thought you were?”

Jed shifted the weight in his hands and they set off towards the main house.

“So do you think I’m fast?”

“Yeah, you are.”

“Real fast?”

“Faster than me, that’s for sure.”

“Faster than Nathan?”

“Probably.”

“What d’you mean, probably?”

“Well seeing as how I haven’t seen you two draw at the same time…” They paused to let Gerrard and Bill go by on their horses, then set off across the yard once more. “Seeing as I don’t have anything to compare you with…”

“I’m faster than Gerrard,” Jed said in a whisper. “He challenged me to a fast draw and I beat him.”

Heyes’ end of the trunk hit the floor.

“YOU DID WHAT?”

“You don’t hafta look so shocked. We didn’t fire or anything. Heck my gun wasn’t even loaded. Marty has my bullets, you know that.”

Heyes shook his head.

“And what about his gun? Was it loaded?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did it ever occur to either of you idiots that he might squeeze the trigger by mistake? He might have shot your head clean off? But then as there’s no brain up there, I guess he wouldn’t have done any real damage if he had!” Heyes grabbed his end of the trunk once more.

“Sheesh, you sure are proddy.”

“I oughta flatten ya for being so stupid!”

Jed lifted his end of the trunk.

“I beat him anyway.”

Heyes shook his head as they set off again. After a couple of minutes of silence during which Heyes shot disbelieving glances at Jed they reached the end of the corral.

“Set it down for a minute.” Jed did as Heyes suggested and they stood, breathing heavily, looking down at the old trunk.

“I wonder what’s inside it,” Jed mused as he studied the scratches and scrapes on its sides.

“Or what the heck they want it for.”

“Maybe it’s outlaw treasure.”

“You know you’re always telling me I read too much but it seems books have a greater influence on you.”

“Huh?”

“You’ve got quite an imagination, kid.”

“Feels heavy enough for treasure. Gold maybe? Lots of it that Mister Culver’s great grandfather discovered after he…” Jed stopped talking when he noticed Emily walking down from the main house. Heyes turned to see what had caught his friend’s attention at the same moment that Emily spotted Jed and Heyes. She stopped walking, her eyes fell on Jed. Jed’s eyes fell on Emily. Sheesh!

“Morning, Miss Culver.” Heyes touched the brim of his hat.

“Hello, Heyes.”

Jed touched the brim of his hat.

“Hello, Jed.”

“Miss Culver.” He had reverted to calling her that ever since the wedding of the mayor’s daughter. He didn’t mention her much anymore and avoided her whenever he could. He wasn’t going to be able to do that today.

“Is that the trunk my mother wanted?” She strode towards them.

“Yes, Miss.”

Emily looked down at her feet. Heyes looked from the girl to his friend. Sheesh!

“I think I left something in the barn,” he announced.

“I’ll get it for you.”

“No, Jed, you won’t.” Heyes touched his hat again to Emily and walked off, leaving them alone. Jed kicked the dirt with the toe of his boot. Emily brushed some dust from her dress.

“It’s a heavy trunk,” Jed finally stated.

“I imagine it is.”

Jed kicked a stone. Emily laced her fingers together. A horse in the corral couldn’t stand to watch them any longer and went to tell its friends what dumb animals humans were.

“Guess your ma wants to store something in it.” Dumb, dumb, dumb! Of course she wanted to store something in it, that’s what trunks were for! Why the heck had he said something so dumb?

“Yes. I think she does. We have a lot to pack up. I mean to store.”

Another stone was kicked, another invisible speck of dust was removed.

“You got any trunks?” Had he really just asked that?

“I’m sorry, Jed.” He looked directly at her. “I’m sorry, if you thought… I mean, I did… It’s just that…”

“You don’t hafta explain.”

“I don’t think I was. At least I wasn’t making a very good job of it.” Jed smiled as the tension between them eased. “I like you a lot; an awful lot, but…”

“I know. I’m just a ranch hand and your father wants more for you than that.”

“That’s not true.”

“Yes, it is, Emily.”

She glanced back at the house.

“You’re right. William is… I mean he and I… Our family’s have an understanding and I do like him. I really like him.”

“I know you do. So does every girl in town.”

She laughed.

“He is handsome.”

“If you say so.”

“You’re not too hurt are you?”

“I guess I’ll survive.”

She walked towards him, her boots just an inch from his. Jed stepped back, his knees colliding with the trunk.

“Emily, you shouldn’t…”

“No one can see.” She leaned forward and kissed him softly on the lips. Then she backed away. “Thank you, Jed.” He stood there open mouthed as she headed for the barn. Heyes tipped his hat to her as he walked back to Jed.

“You okay?”

“Yeah.”

“She okay?”

“She’s fine. She has William.”

“She likes him.”

“Yeah, more than she likes me.”

“I saw her kiss you.”

“Shut up, Heyes.” Jed bent down and picked up his end of the trunk. His friend didn’t move. “Are you gonna grab the other end or what?”

“Okay, don’t get proddy.” Heyes picked up the trunk. “Just ‘cos your girl chose a man in uniform over you.”

“She’s not my girl.”

“She was.”

“No, Heyes, I don’t think she ever was.”

Brown eyes studied his friend as they carried the trunk up the slope to the main house.

End of Part 16

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