Hannibal Heyes stared out at the Main Street of Sheriff’s Gulch. He pulled his heavy jacket tighter. It was cold but that was to be expected.It was the 22rd December and he and his partner were further north than they had intended to be.
Things hadn’t been good between him and his partner over the last few weeks. The life they were leading on the quest for the elusive amnesty was taking a heavy toll on their friendship. Lately it appeared as if something vital was missing and Heyes didn’t know how to get it back or indeed how to explain what it was.
MAGIC! It came to Heyes suddenly;That was the missing ingredient. His Mother had believed in it or at least she professed to do so. Christmas time had always been magical in both the Heyes and Curry homesteads. Neither family had much in the way of worldly wealth but there had been an abundance of love. Heyes sighed and pushing the memories of Yuletides past aside, he strode off towards the hotel and his partner.
It was apparent that Jed Kid Curry was not in a good mood as Hannibal Heyes entered their shared room. Heyes decided that he would try to remedy that as quickly as possible.
“Kid, I ordered a bath for you, it should be here in a few minutes. I thought it might help with those ribs.”
Curry glared at his partner. “Heyes, you know damn well that fight wasn’t my fault so lay off about my injuries.”
“Kid, I know that. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and you came off worse than I did.” Heyes wore the look of a man who was fighting hard to keep his temper in check.
“Thanks, for the bath. I’m a bit proddy and you’re right my ribs are hurting.” Kid looked contrite as he moved to his bed and lowered himself gently onto it.
Any further communication was stopped by a knock on the door signaling the arrival of a bathtub and several buckets of hot water.
Heyes tried not to show his concern at the extent of bruises covering his partner’s chest but when Kid leaned back against the bath the sight of his right eye which was swollen shut proved too much.
“Kid, are you sure you don’t need to see a doctor?”
Curry opened his functioning left eye and stared hard at Heyes. “No, for the one hundred time, I’m bruised, that’s all, you’ve seen me in worse shape than this. So, Heyes tell me about this poker game tonight.”
“Well, Kid, Charley the bar keep was really friendly and very knowledgeable about it. It seems the local ranch owners meet one night a month for a friendly game. The stakes are pretty large but not outlandish and they are always open to travellers sitting in, provided, of course, that they have the means.”
Curry laughed. “And for once we have the means.”
“Yep, thanks to that little job we finished we have enough for a stake, the hotel,, a few good meals in the restaurant down the street and the tickets for the stagecoach leaving tomorrow.” Heyes smiled as he lay back against the pillows on his bed.
Heyes eyed the pile of poker chips stacked in front of him. This was turning out to be a very pleasant evening. The men sitting around the table were competent poker players who enjoyed the game and took losing a few hands to a stranger in good part. Curry also seemed to be enjoying himself, sitting at the bar drinking good whisky as he watched for any trouble that might arise.
It was midnight when the poker players got up to stretch their legs, answer calls of nature and take a short break. Heyes immediately made his way to the bar.
“Well Kid this is a mighty friendly game and I think I can say I’m holding my own at the table.”
“I agree with you and Tom, the bar keeper, tells me these games can go on all night and there’s never any trouble at them, so if you’re alright I think I’ll head back to the hotel and get some sleep.” Curry winced slightly as he moved on the stool.
Heyes nodded and replied. “I'm fine Kid and I’ll catch up with you in the morning.”
Kid eased off his stool, nodded to the aforementioned Tom and left the saloon. A silver haired man with a bushy beard who had been playing opposite Heyes at the poker table took the Kid’s place on the stool beside him.
“Well Mr. Smith, you play a good hand of poker.”
“Thank you, Sir. Mr. Clissmann, isn;t it?”
“That’s right, Nickolas Clissman, call me Nick please, everybody does.” The older man smiled, lighting up his whole face.
“Thank you, Nick, I’m Joshua. I have to say this is one of the friendliest poker games I have ever had the pleasure of playing in.”
“Joshua, we old men enjoy meeting up and playing a few hands and we’re all at that stage in our lives where we like to relax and swap a few stories. Was that your partner who just left?”
Clissmann didn’t give time for Heyes to answer and added. “I noticed he was watching out for you and I guess he drew the same conclusion, that we’re a pretty harmless bunch, and so he’s gone to bed.” He Laughed. “I don’t mean to give offence but he sure looked like he could do with the rest. That was a hell of a shiner he was packing and I reckon he had other bruises where the sun don’t shine.”
“You’re very observant, Mr.-- Nick. Thaddeus and I ran into a little trouble a few days ago. It wasn’t of our making; I suppose we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Heyes turned on his biggest smile.
“Oh! Son, we’ve all been in that situation. If my wife spotted Thaddeus it would make her day: she misses doting on young ones. One look at your partner and she’d be fixing poultices and fussing around him as if he was a little boy.”
Just then one of the other players called for the game to resume. Heyes smiled as took his seat. Normally questions from strangers put him on his guard but there was something about Nick Clissmann that had made him feel at ease and he had to admit that it would be just like Kid to make Mrs Clissmann feel all protective.
Kid Curry made his way back to the hotel feeling satisfied that Heyes was safe and that there was little or no chance of trouble in the saloon. His thoughts went to the night before last.
They had finished up a delivery job and having received their agreed payment for it later than they had expected, had decided to have a few drinks and head back to their hotel. Unfortunately trouble had found them but this time it had nothing to do with their outlaw status. A bar room brawl had begun and though they had plenty of experience of those situations, it had erupted too quickly and too violently for them to evade it. Heyes had been luckier than Kid, receiving a few drunken blows to his chest before his assailant had passed out. Kid was unlucky as his attacker had been tall, wide and quite fast on his feet for someone of such immense girth. Kid considered himself lucky that he had escaped with a black eye and bruised ribs, well to be honest, he wasn’t sure that they were only bruised as the journey to Sheriff’s Gulch had proved anognizing.
Kid knew Heyes was worried about him but that just irritated him and to be honest lately most things about Heyes irked him. This try for amnesty was proving much more difficult than he had imagined and he and Heyes were arguing a lot recently. Still it was nearly Christmas and tomorrow, no matter how bad he felt he would make an effort to find a present for his partner.
With this decision made he entered the brightly lit hotel. He was surprised to hear voices at this time of the night and turned his head to see an older woman with grey hair sitting on one of the pair of richly covered couches that stood near the reception desk.. The woman was speaking to a young man who worked in the hotel.
Curry lifted his hat and smiled at her. “‘Evening Ma’m.”
The older woman turned her attention to Curry. “Oh my! That looks sore, young man. “ She beckoned to him as she spoke.
Curry felt himself blushing as he neared her seat.
“It looks worse than it is.” He said.
The woman patted a chintz armchair beside her as she turned her attention to the hotel employee. “Robert, could you be a darling and conjure up two cups of hot milk instead of one?”
Curry seemed unable to follow his inclination of heading for bed and found himself sitting on the chair beside the matronly woman.
“Where are my manners? My name is Sadie Clissmann and who might you be, young man?”
Kid felt like a child again as the woman addressed him. She had the kindest eyes and for a moment he was reminded of his mother. He blushed again.
“I’m Je- Thaddeus, Thaddeus Jones, Mrs Clissmann, it’s nice to meet you.” He stuttered.
“Thaddeus, what a lovely name and I am Sadie, calling me Mrs Clissmannn makes me feel old.”
She smiled again and now that Kid was closer he could see deep laughter lines around her eyes as proof that she smiled a lot. “What stories we both must have to be in a hotel foyer at midnight. I’ll tell you mine first and I hope yours is more interesting. My husband, Nick comes to town once a month to play poker with his friends in the saloon and I accompany him to town to catch up with my very best friend Anna who is a widow. Nick’s poker game usually goes on until the middle of the night or later so Anna and I spend the evening chatting and laughing and when I’m ready, her neighbor walks me back to the hotel. I always order hot milk as it helps me sleep. Now what is your story?”
“Well Ma.. Sadie, mine is a pretty dull story. My partner, Joshua, is playing poker at the saloon and I decided to come back to the hotel to get some sleep.”
“Thaddeus, I don’t for a moment believe that your story is that dull, for example, and please forgive me for mentioning this, but your right eye is swollen shut and if I’m not much mistaken you have a couple of bruised or broken ribs. I've been in the world a long time and I know how a man holds himself if he is hurting and I would say you’re hurting badly.”
Kid found himself telling Sadie about the fight he and his partner had been involved in and agreed that she was correct; his ribs were hurting but he didn’t want to worry his partner by saying too much.
Two glasses of milk were delivered to them and Sadie produced a handful of cookies from a large carpet bag on the floor beside her.
By the time the clock in the hallway of the hotel struck two a.m. Kid and Sadie were chatting away like old friends and it was with some reluctance that both of them rose to go to their rooms.
Kid escorted Sadie to her room on the first floor. She turned to him as she entered the room.
“Thaddeus thank you for a lovely evening, you have made this lonely lady very happy with your company tonight.”
She entered the room and closed the door before Kid could answer her. He went to the room he shared with Heyes in better form than he had been for weeks.
The next morning Heyes and Curry entered the hotel dining room for breakfast but before they could find a table they were greeted by two voices crying out.
“Over here, Joshua, Thaddeus, over here.” Both the Clissmanns beamed at the two young men.
Nick Clissmann stood up as the partners approached their table.
“Sadie, reckoned you boys would make it down before the kitchen closed and I should have known she’d be right.”
Introductions were made all round and conversation flowed lightly over breakfast and coffee. Finally even Kid was finished and somewhat reluctantly the partners stood up. Nick had insisted on paying for the meal and the young men thanked him for his generosity. Sadie nodded at her husband.
“Boys, I know you said you were leaving on the stage this afternoon but Sadie is the best predictor of weather I have ever known and she says it is going to snow tonight so you boys could find yourselves trapped in a way station or worse, so why don’t you both come back to the ranch with us and stay for Christmas and until the weather improves?
Heyes and Curry exchanged looks. It was a tempting offer but they were still two outlaws on the run.
Heyes turned his dimpled smile on the Clissmanns.
“Thank you for your kind offer and we do appreciate it but we should try and move south and avoid snow if we can help it and we wouldn’t feel right invading your Christmas celebrations. Thank you again Mam.”
Sadie smiled. “Look at Thaddeus, Joshua, he is hurting more than he wants to show and I know that because I’m a mother and wife and I have patched up Nick more times than I care to remember. “ She turned towards her husband. “He wasn’t always this mellow, in fact Thaddeus reminds me quite a lot of Nick in his younger days.”
Nick pulled at his long grey beard. “ Boys, Sadie is right, I got into my share of scrapes but I’m going to give you another reason to stay for Christmas. Our daughter, Lizzie is in Europe with her husband and two children and our son, Sam, is living it up in San Francisco so neither of them will be with us for Christmas and I know Sadie misses them. We’d both be right pleased with your company for the holidays.”
Kid spoke up. “ Sadie, Nick, we’d be delighted to accept your invitation, thank you.”
Later in the drawing room of the Clissmann’s ranch as they looked out the window at the falling snow Heyes knew the magic was back: brought to them by the generosity of spirit of Nick and Sadie Clissmann.
(Thanks to my Beta MF- Merry Christmas to you all)