Heyes hated two things about being Mayor of Porterville. All the brown nosing he had to do and the amount of paperwork involved. Especially the amount of paperwork he brought home.
It was Thanksgiving Morning and here he was in his study doing paperwork.
Heyes sighed in satisfaction as he signed his name with a flourish at the bottom of the letter. That was it, he thought as, he blotted his signature. He was now officially off duty. The letter went on top of all the other correspondence he had dealt with that morning. Shutting the file with a slap, he leant forward to turn off his desk lamp. He gave the desk a nod and went out of his study.
Outside he performed a neat pirouette and locked the door. His children knew not to go in there unless invited but they had guests who would not know the rules of the house. Better to be safe than sorry. He pocketed the key and crossed the hall in search of the party. Not in the drawing room. Not in the dining room either. To his surprise, he found everyone in the kitchen.
As he entered, Mary put a finger across her lips at him. He stood for a moment hands on hips, taking in the scene. The Kid sat at the head of the kitchen table. The three Heyes children down one side. The five Curry boys, including the youngest in his high chair, down the other. Milk and half-eaten cookies littered the table, the bribe of obedience. Coupled with the Kid telling a story holding them all spellbound.
Heyes rolled his eyes. He tiptoed across to Mary and Caroline, who were standing to one side watching and listening. He motioned with his head to the Kid’s wife at the coffee pot by her elbow. Mary turned and took down a mug for him. When full, Caroline passed it over. Heyes nodded his thanks.
Mary leaned over and whispered. “Finished?”
He nodded and his hand, as always when she was near, slipped round her waist. He sipped his coffee and contemplated the scene at the table.
“We’d been tracking it for two days. It had been tracking us too. But would we get it, before it got us? Only time would tell who would be the victor in this contest. We wanted it to be us.”
The Kid looked round at the wide-eyed children.
“The lion prowled round our campsite at night, snarling at us, daring us to take it on. I fired off several shots. I thought I’d hit it but it was too dark to go looking. The next morning we found blood. Wounded. Made it even more dangerous. Now it knew we were after him. And we were closing in.” He paused. “We went on with caution. Then suddenly we heard a roar.” The Kid did a passable imitation of a mountain lion’s snarl. “I looked up and there above me …” The Kid paused for effect. The boys at the outer ends leant in. “Was the mountain lion.” His gulp was audible. As one, the children gasped.
“Before I could react, it was upon me. Huge, powerful, snarling, hungry beast. It knew I had shot him and it was out for revenge.”
Heyes put his head down and rubbed his forehead in amusement.
“It landed on my back. Digging its claws into me. Tearing at my flesh.”
Heyes frowned at Mary. “He was wearing his jacket. You know that thick sheepskin jacket he used to wear,” he whispered. When she looked blank, he continued. “You must remember him wearing it when we came to Porterville, that first winter?”
“Yes, I can remember every detail of the Kid’s wardrobe from thirteen years ago. Shhh! Now.”
Heyes smacked his lips and looked back at the Kid.
“It knocked me to the ground. We rolled over and over, this way and that. I couldn’t free myself from its deadly embrace. It roared and snarled in my ear.” Another imitation of a snarl. “I could feel its hot, meaty breath on my neck. It wanted to kill me. I fought as hard as I could. I thought I was gonna be dead for sure.”
Heyes rolled his eyes, puffed out his cheeks and turned away shaking his head. Mary smiled and patted his arm. “Shhh!”
“Heyes …” The Kid looked at the Heyes children. “Your Pappy.” Then turned and looked at his own boys. “Uncle Joshua … aimed his rifle. I heard the shot. He missed.” Pause for effect. “The beast still had me in his grasp. Mad now. I was inches from death and we both knew it.”
Heyes closed his eyes and put a hand over them. He touched his head to Mary’s, sniggering.
Mary hissed in his ear. “Stop it! You’ll spoil the story.”
“Yeah,” Heyes rolled his eyes at her. Then he straightened up, shaking his head, and tried to listen seriously.
“The rifle cracked again. Still the shot went wide. I was losing my strength. I could feel my life’s blood seeping out of me.” The Kid looked at the ceiling, eyes moist, biting his lip as he recalled the emotion. “Couldn’t be long now.” Then he glanced at Heyes who rolled his eyes at him.
“Heyes needed time to reload. I made one last desperate effort. I punched that snarling beast as hard as I could.” He paused again. All the children, caught up in his story, were wide-eyed. “I slowed him a little but again Heyes’ aim wasn’t true.” He paused with a regretful look on his face. “The bullet went wide.” There was a gasp.
The Kid put his head down and shook it. “It was all up to me now.” He paused. “If I wanted to live.” He paused again. “And I surely did!”
Heyes closed his eyes. Smacking his lips, he shook his head.
“With my last ounce of strength, I turned the beast so its back was toward Heyes. My last desperate hope was to give him a bigger target.” He paused and finished dramatically, “My last chance to live!” He swallowed hard.
The Kid glanced at Heyes and gave him a wink. Heyes now stood arms and feet crossed. He nodded back with a false smile.
“This time Heyes’ aim was true. I felt the bullet thud into the beast.” He gave out a shuddering breath. “I felt its pain.” He bit his lip. “It made one final, instinctive attempt to end my life.” He paused again. “Then its strength gave out … and it died.” There was a grunt of sadness from the children.
He put his head down as a mark of respect to a noble adversary and went on in a softer voice. “Its weight pinned me to the ground. Heyes pulled it off but I still couldn’t move.” The Kid shook his head. “I was weak. I was bleeding.” He sighed. “From so many wounds. This was the end I knew it. I reached out my hand, imploring Heyes to put me out of my misery.”
“Oh, Sheesh!” Heyes turned away and leant on the counter, hands over his eyes.
“Instead he bound my wounds. He watched over me. Many days and nights, he bathing my forehead. Fed me water and broth.” He shook his head. “Dunno where he got the broth from. I knew nothing, hovering between life and death. It felt like days.” He paused then he inclined his head. “Well kids as you can see I pulled through. Eventually.”
“Are you hideously scarred, Uncle Kid?” Harry, Heyes’ elder son, wanted to know.
“Ugh!” said Susan, the only girl in the group.
“Well Harry I think it’s true to say I’m not a pretty sight,” the Kid said.
Heyes still turned away and shook his head. “Can say that again,” he murmured.
“Can you show us your scars?” Harry asked, eagerly.
“Ugh! No thanks!” Susan pushed back her chair.
“No Harry there’s ladies present. They’re not suitable viewing for the gentler persuasion.”
Harry looked disappointed.
Glanced at the kitchen clock Mary stepped forward. “Right children it’s time you all went and washed up. We’ll be having supper in a little while.”
They all got down. “Mama?” said the toddler in the high chair.
Caroline lifted him out, feeling his bottom. To her surprise, he was dry so she put him down.
“Go on after the others.”
“Come on Danny,” Susan said, holding the door open for him and he ran out.
As the door shut, Heyes explored his mouth with his tongue and looked at the Kid.
“That’s not exactly how I remember it, y’know?” Heyes had his head on one side, thrusting out his chin one hand was on his hip. “I only wrote a single paragraph about this in my book.”
The Kid grinned and joined them, hitching his pants. “Heyes, they loved it.”
“That’s not the point! It didn’t happen like that.”
“Was that you there? Y’know when I was rolling around with that thing on me? Waiting for you to get off that lucky shot?”
“Lucky! I didn’t want to hit you.” Heyes rolled his eyes. Mary put a hand on his arm and he frowned. “I’m just saying it’s not how I told it,” he mumbled. He still looked disgruntled.
The Kid shrugged. “Well Heyes I guess ya don’t have the gift for story-telling that I do.” He kept a straight face.
Heyes looked at him, smacking his lips. A smile was beginning to twitch onto his face and he sniffed. “I got paid for mine,” he said, finally, thrusting out his chin.
Then Heyes grinned and slapped the Kid on the arm. Both laughed gently. They caught sight of the glances their wives were sharing and frowned.
“What?” they chorused.