Peace of the Season

By Victoria Quynn

“Heyes, what day is it?”

“Monday, I think.”

“You don’t know for sure?”

“Nope. Easy to lose track when you’re on the trail so long.”

“I know.”

Heyes and Curry rode along in silence. Each pulled his jacket a little closer. Coming south for the winter usually meant warmer days, but a cold spell here and there was to be expected, even in the desert. Good thing they always had warm jackets with them.

“It’ll be good to see Uncle Mac.”

Heyes raised an eyebrow. “Let’s just hope he doesn’t have a bust waiting to be rescued again. He was a little too quick about answering that wire we sent.”

Curry sported a wide grin. “Nah, probably just wants to see his favorite nephew and that other fella.”

Heyes smiled back. “You mean the fella who can beat him at poker? Maybe he just wants some good competition. We all know he won’t get the same level of play from his favorite nephew.”

Kid raised an eyebrow. “That’s cold, Heyes. Real cold.”

“Yes, Kid, it is … cold.” He pulled his jacket collar closer as a gust of wind blew through.

Curry glared at his partner. “I meant what you said, not the weather.”

Heyes scrunched up his face. “Not the weather? But it’s cold out here, you said so yourself. Kid, you have me confused. Would you care to elucidate?”

“No, you already said you didn’t know what day it was.” Kid Curry sighed, not caring to get caught up in one of his partner’s verbal jousts. Taking a moment to breathe, he replied, “Guess we’ll find out when we reach Advent.”

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As dusk bore down on our two travelers, the lights from the town of Advent beckoned them, perhaps as a star did certain others millennia ago. Weary from a trail so far stretching almost a fortnight, the partners looked forward to their first soft bed on the road to Uncle Mac’s.

“Heyes, maybe we should stay a couple days. It’ll be another week before we hit Red Rock.”

The dark-haired partner considered this. “I don’t know, Kid …” But then he spied a sign flapping in the breeze and partially visible in the waning light—Advent Poker Tournament. It was too dark to read the rest of the smaller print on the sign. Backpedaling, he brightened. “You know, Kid, that’s a great idea!”

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Entering town, the partners took a guarded ride past the sheriff’s office, hat brims lowered even in the twilight. They did not know him. That order of business attended to, they hitched their horses to the rail in front of the hotel, unfastened saddlebags, bedrolls and rifles, and walked in. Several minutes later, they walked out and re-tied the gear to their saddles.

Leading the horses this time, they strode a block away, left the gear stowed—just in case—and knocked on the door of the boardinghouse. The woman who answered shook her head, and in answer to a question, pointed down the street. The same actions once again resulted in a “sorry, no,” and a shrug of shoulders of the person at the door.

Curry’s stomach rumbled. “It’s gettin’ late, Heyes, and I’m starvin’. Let’s stop by the café and figure out what we’re gonna do.”

Heyes yawned. That was as good a suggestion as any. “Okay, but I was really looking forward to a soft bed.”

Kid clapped him on the shoulder. “Come on. Steak dinners. I’m buyin’.”

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After a fruitless search for lodging, the weary pair led the horses to the livery stable. At least they might have decent accommodations—if stalls were available, that is, and the partners might have to share with their mounts. Sure enough, the horses were in luck, and for a price—too high, they deemed, but beggars could not be choosers—the stable master offered up his own quarters in the barn when confronted with the travelers’ tale of woe. The room was small, the bed smaller still, and the place drafty. But they had a roof over their heads, a small stove to keep them warm, and the basic stuff of home.

Heyes pulled off his boots, examining the room in greater detail by dim lamplight. He spoke in a low tone, mindful to use their aliases lest they be overheard. “It’s not what I had in mind, Thaddeus.”

Curry replied, “Me, neither. But remember what Grandma Curry used to say about countin’ our blessin’s. Who knew a poker tournament would fill up the town? At least we’re not spendin’ another night in the cold on the hard ground.”

Heyes scowled, then brightened a bit. “That’s a saving grace, I suppose,” he said, scanning the room. “We can keep checking with the hotel and boardinghouses and see if any rooms become available.”

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After a restless night of shifting positions in unison to fit in the too-small bed, the boys woke surprisingly refreshed. Besides the lack of space, the mattress was soft, so that counted for something, Heyes thought. Making plans for the day, he had only one thing in mind. “Thaddeus, I’m gonna see about entering that tournament.”

The steep entry fee of fifty dollars served to weed out the penny-ante players. Flush from a just-ended ranch job, the boys easily covered the buy-in, figuring a bigger stake would help to keep the poker going at Uncle Mac’s—and keep them from having to entertain any harebrained schemes he might have in mind to occupy their time.

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Time and poker wait for no man. Heyes played cautiously at first to get a feel for the other players’ abilities and to gauge the rhythm of the place, but soon settled in to play his best, amping up his own game while faced with decent competition, which he welcomed. The sheriff and deputy were in and out, patrolling the premises to keep everyone honest. It was obvious they were respected and took no guff, and everyone seemed on their best behavior.

To this end, Kid Curry grew bored. Watching his partner’s back seemed unnecessary given the circumstances, although he could tell Heyes was just as uncomfortable as he was with the frequent surveillance of the law. However, whereas Heyes could forget his discomfort and focus as no one else could on poker, Curry could only sit and watch, and grow more restless still. As well, although the bar was open, the venue of the hotel meeting room did not offer the same pleasures as a saloon.

On a break, Heyes encouraged Curry to take a walk to see the sights—albeit almost nil as they were in a small town. “I’ll be fine,” the dark-haired partner said. “Just check in every now and then, and stay out of trouble.”

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Curry walked the circuit of the town. It was bigger than they had first thought, but not much, and did not need the coat of paint so many other backwaters did. Indeed, both homes and commercial establishments sported the colorful Victorian gingerbread trim seen in much bigger towns, now further bedecked with the greenery of the season, wreaths and pine boughs adorning doorways and porches. He smiled at the festivity of it all.

He noted a couple of saloons and entered one for a drink. Nursing the rotgut as long as he could, he went outside to return to the hotel to check in with Heyes.

Passing by an alley, he heard screams followed by moans. He unholstered his Colt.

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Back at their room at the livery stable that evening, Heyes was apoplectic. “I told you to stay out of trouble! Where were you? You were supposed to check in!”

“I did stay out of trouble.” Curry paused. “And keep your voice down, Joshua.”

Heyes rolled his eyes but lowered his tone. “Something happened for you not to check in.”

Curry grinned sheepishly. “You got that right. Something did happen.”


“Well, I ran into a girl in an alley …”

Heyes threw up his hands. “A girl! Figures!”

“Well, she was in labor and I …”

“You delivered the baby?”

Curry looked amazed. “How did you know?”

“Always helping the needy!”

“Calm down, Joshua. She needed help. There was no room for her anywhere in town after she arrived on the stage.”

“What was she doing traveling by herself in that condition?”

“She was supposed to meet up with her husband but his stage was delayed. She was lookin’ for a place to stay but went into labor in the alley.”

Heyes listened intently, if skeptically. “Next thing you’re gonna tell me is the girl’s name was Mary and you brought her here to the livery and you cleared out the feed bin so you could use it as a manger—uh, cradle. But since she’s not here now, I’d say you found her a room that could have been ours and brought her and the baby there.”

Curry listened, astonished. “Her name was Marie, but how did you know?”

Heyes furrowed his brow. “Uh huh. At least have the decency to tell the truth, Thaddeus. If you were that tired and came back here to take a nap, just say so. You didn’t have to make up some crazy story just because it’s Christmas Eve!”