The Devil’s Hole Gang watched as one of their leaders paced up and down in the bunkhouse. He was deep in thought. Up and down. Up and down. Lobo, Shields, Hank and Wheat were playing cards on the round table at one end. Kyle, Preacher and the itinerant members of the Gang were relaxing in their bunks. Every time the saunter reached their end and turned away again, the card players looked up at him and then at each other. All this pacing was getting distracting. Not to mention worrying.
Why was he doing it in here? There was a perfectly good leader’s cabin to do that sort of thing in. And why was he doing it at all? Were they in trouble? Was something happening they didn’t know about? Was he afraid to tell them and he was working out how to? Whatever it was, it was sure unsettling everyone. Someone should say something. Who? Eyes locked on each other, silent questions asked, silent answers given. Nope. No one was stepping forward.
Kyle reached down and gave Wheat a push between his shoulder blades. When that man sprung round, Kyle nodded his head at their perambulating leader, encouragingly. Wheat shook his head furiously. Kyle nodded insistent. Lobo tapped Wheat on the arm and nodded his head at their striding leader. Wheat jumped his chair back to the table. He shook his head and looked disgruntled. He motioned that they should get on with the game.
Lobo shrugged at Kyle.
A moment later Kyle slid off his bunk and took a seat next to Wheat. He peered at Wheat’s cards.
“That one,” he said, pointing at the King of Clubs.
“I ain’t takin’ card advice from yous,” Wheat growled, holding his cards away. “Ya’re already out so you can’t play.”
“I can play real good. I jus’ ran outta money that’s all,” Kyle grumbled.
Wheat grunted and to prove a point laid any card but the King down.
“Trumped ya!” said Shields, triumphantly, laying the Jack of Clubs.
Wheat growled as the others laughed. Shields gathered the pot in delight.
“Dang fool game,” Wheat muttered, throwing in the rest of his hand. “’Taint a decent game like poker.”
No one was watching the ambler. He had come to a standstill at the far end of the cabin. He now stood with his back to them, one arm hugging himself, chewing the thumb of his other hand.
“I’ve got it!” he declared, suddenly with glee.
Both hands went to his hips in a classic Heyesian pose. He nodded. “Yep I’ve definitely got it.”
He spun round on his heel, his face a broad grin. He was met with doubtful and suspicious looks. Neither went away as he walked quickly over, grabbed an empty chair, and spun it round on a front leg. He sat down backwards to face them and folded his arms over the back.
“I’ve got it. I’ve finally got it.”
“Got what?” Kyle asked nervously and gulped.
“What I can get HIM for Christmas of course.” He tossed his head back in the vague direction of the leader’s cabin. They all knew who he meant by HIM.
The card players started to relax. It wasn’t about them. However, not entirely by the looks passing between them.
“How does this sound fellas? I thought I’d get him a guitar.” He looked from one to the other, searching for approval.
Nervous looks were back.
“Er yeah … .” Lobo started.
Shields shrugged unconvincingly. “Sure why not?”
Wheat let out a snort of derision.
“Good idea!” exclaimed Kyle, only to be met with startled looks from the ensemble.
“Ah, come’n fellas! What else can I get him? You know how hard he is to buy for. Have you any suggestions?”
Furious shakes of head.
“Why?” Preacher asked, suddenly. They all thought he was sleeping off a drunk but apparently not.
“Well ‘cos he’s always humming and warbling.”
“Can he play guitar?”
“Then … ?”
“I’ll get him a book that’ll teach him.”
“Supposin’ he don’t wanna learn?”
“Sure he does.”
“Why are you so sure?”
“’Cos it’s a challenge. Y’know he likes a challenge.”
The looks being swopped round the table suggested yes he did but it usually meant trouble for them.
“You’s gotta live with him,” Wheat said, offhand.
“I know but it can’t be any worse than his singin’ now can it?”
“Iffen ya say so,” Wheat shrugged and rolled his eyes.
“I do say, Wheat. I’ve decided.” The leader got up slapping the chair back. “That’s what I’m gonna do.”
“Ya don’t wanna be too hasty,” Lobo said.
“Yeah, after all tis only the 11th December. There’s plenty of time yet,” Wheat said.
“Nope. I’ve decided.”
The Gang was silent until the door closed on their leader. They all puffed out their cheeks and shook their heads.
“Sure don’t wanna be in his shoes come Christmas morn,” Wheat chortled.
“A guitar and a book to learn him,” said Preacher. “Simple Gifts. Heyes’ll be fine with ‘em you’ll see.”
The rest of the Gang didn’t share his certainty.