5. Dead Ringer

aka THE TYPO

By Calico

“Since when did we start goin’ to Church events?”

With a shiver, Kid Curry turned up his threadbare collar against the drizzle and trudged after the annoyingly jaunty figure in a damp black hat.

“Since we found out the saloon don’t have hard-boiled eggs on the bar.”

The ex-outlaws wheeled around a corner and headed down Church Street. Not the most original of nomenclatures as a church stood at the far end. Heyes glanced over his shoulder. Waves of Curryesque recalcitrance, coupled with a fresh mizzle of rain, washed over him.

“Look, Kid. If we don’t go here, what’s the alternative? You wanna nurse a single beer – which is ’bout all we can afford – in the saloon for four hours straight? Or maybe you wanna sit in that ice-box of a room, cleaning your gun all night?” Heyes dug a sheet of paper from an inside pocket. “This flyer I picked up…”

“The Appreciation Society cordially invites you to come try a new hobby – lots of fun for all ages. Everyone welcome,” quoted Kid, glumly. Still more glumly, “Bet it means singin’.” Deepest gloom, “Appreciation Society, huh? They’ll have their work cut out ‘preciatin’ your yowlin’.”

“This flyer I picked up,” pursued Heyes, with infinite good-temper, “tells me we can go get warm by a cosy oil stove AND get ourselves a free meal…”

“Free meal?” interrupted Kid, his attention caught.

“What did ya think ‘buffet provided’ meant, Kid?”

A shrug. “Some kinda padded bench for sittin’ on?”

“Nah! It means – y’know – sandwiches, sliced ham, cold chicken, raised pies… Hey! Where’s the fire?” Heyes stepped up the pace to catch up with his partner.

-oooOOOooo-

“Welcome! Welcome! Mister – er…?”

“Smith, ma’am. Joshua Smith. And this here’s Thaddeus Jones.”

“Oh, Mister Jones! Let me help you out of those wet clothes – I mean out of that wet jacket!” A lady in a gingham blouse elbowed her way, determinedly, past a cluster of women swarming around the boys and made a grab for Kid Curry.

“Mister Smith! Come sit next to me by the stove.”

“No, sit by me, Mister Smith. I’ve got a cosy nook for you!”

“Mine’s warmer!”

“Mine’s,” bright eyes flashed, meaningfully, “…Sizzling hot!”

“Mister Jones, have something to eat.”

“You too, Mister Smith.”

“Sweet buns, Mister Jones!”

“Ooooh! Yum!” Innocent flutter, “I can never resist beefcake when it looks this good, Mister Smith.”

“I’m guessing you’d like to nibble on this nice plump breast?” A carving knife hovered over a roast chicken. “…Or are you more of a leg man, Mister Jones?”

“Would you like some of our cherries, Mister Smith?”

“Which of the tarts here do you like best, Mister Jones?”

“Can this piece of crumpet tempt you, Mister Smith?”

“What do you think of my muffins, Mister Jones?”

“Do you like it firm and fruity, Mister Smith?” Not so innocent flutter, “Cake, that is.”

“Let me slip you a creamed ladies’ finger or two, Mister Jones.”

Two confused ex-outlaws found themselves firmly man-handled – no, make that woman-handled – into seats by the oil-stove, clutching hospitably full plates. Cornflower-blue and chocolate-brown eyes scanned the church. A collection of women, of what is often referred to as a certain age, gazed back at the toothsome twosome, hungrily. Lips were licked.

“Heyes,” Kid murmured under his breath, “…Have you noticed we’re the only men here?”

“Nah. There’s another fella over there.” Heyes nodded towards a youth straightening the dishes on a Scandinavian Smörgåsbord. He gave the ex-outlaws a friendly wave with a pickled herring.

A calico-clad lady beamed at her companions. “How wonderful, Ladies! New members!”

“And such fine, upstanding members they look to have – I mean be,” purred the gingham-bloused woman. The purr deepened to a growl, “We’re so looking forward to having you…” Long pause. “…Join our appreciation society.”

A Curryesque finger tugged, fleetingly, at a denim-blue shirt collar. A pair of Heyesian dimples shifted in the chair they rested on.

The silver-tongued one cleared his throat. “What exactly is it this society appreciates, ma’am? The flyer wasn’t too clear.”

“Campanology!” chirped Calico-dress, patting Heyes’ upper, inner thigh, affectionately.

“You boys’ll love campanology!” Gingham-blouse got her hand on Curry’s thigh – and left it there.

A mute conversation.

“Dunno, ma’am,” demurred Kid, removing a set of lingering fingers with some difficulty. “Me and Joshua – we ain’t s’posed to get too camp.”

“It’s kinda a rule, slash, etiquette agreement,” concurred Heyes, edging back in his seat as an excellently-manicured hand edged forward.

“You don’t know what campanology is, do you, Mister Smith?”

“Er – tents?”

Peals of feminine laughter. (Peals – geddit? Geddit? Oh, never mind.)

“No, it’s…” Calico-dress turned and gestured to the bevy of ladies.

“Bell-ringing!” they chorused, as one voice. (One voice, but – strangely enough – a multiplicity of English, Scottish, American and Continental European accents.)

“Bell-ringing?” chorused back the boys, in unison. (In unison being the best way to chorus anything.)

A cluster of ladies scampered off and returned immediately pushing a wheeled bench full of hand bells.

“I’m afraid we don’t know much ’bout bell-ringing, ma’am,” said Kid.

“Don’t worry,” Gingham-blouse reassured him, “…I’ll soon have you going at it like the clappers.”

“Beg pardon, ma’am?”

She upturned a bell and indicated the striking part.

“Oh – the clappers,” accepted the blue-eyed one. Thinking. A frown. What she said still made no sense.

“We’ll start on the hand-bells,” decided Calico-dress, “…Then, Mister Smith,” her hand rested on his shirt front, “…It’ll be our very great pleasure to take you in the belfry and show you the ropes.”

“Show me the…? Oh! The bell ropes.”

“I’d love to show you the ropes, Mister Jones,” Gingham-blouse stood so close as she said this that her breath ruffled the blond curls over his ear.

“The most important thing,” contributed one of the ladies, “is getting the stroke right.”

“Your grip has to be firm –but never too tight.”

“A long stroke downward, then let it slide – gently – back through your palm.”

“Slow, steady, even strokes.”

“Rushing spoils things.”

“I think we got the gist,” interrupted Heyes.

“We reckon we can manage pullin’ without too much instruction, ma’am,” agreed Kid. To his chagrin he felt his cheeks glow pink as a wave of giggles greeted his remark. (His face flushed too.)

Assorted eyelashes fluttered, assorted lips parted and were moistened by an assortment of female tongues, assorted bosoms heaved.

“Campanology is harder than it sounds,” warned Calico-dress. “We wouldn’t want you to get into trouble amongst all those ropes and finish up dang well hung.”

“Especially,” chipped in Gingham-blouse, “since from where I’m standing you already look pretty dang well hu… Ow!” She shut up, almost as if one of her so-called-friends had kicked her sharply in the ankle.

Calico-dress, returned her swift (and, incidentally, perfectly-arched) left foot to the floor.

“We’ll cope,” decided Heyes, firmly. “It’s not as if any of us are gonna find Big Ben waiting for us up there.”

“Oh!” Gasps of surprise and disappointment from about half the ladies. That would be the half clustering Curry-wards.

“Hey!” Exclamation of annoyance from the blond.

“Big Ben – the most famous bell in the world,” explained Calico-dress.

“Oh,” grunted Kid, somewhat mollified.

“Isn’t the most famous bell in the world, the liberty bell?” sniffed Heyes.

“Nope!” decided Kid. “AND, even if it was – it ain’t called perfectly-proportioned Pete. AND even it was called that – it’d still be cracked!”

A pause. Back to the plot. (Such as it.)

“So,” beamed Calico-dress, “we start on the hand bells. Ladies, do you think Mister Smith and Mister Jones are long dongs, or short dings?”

Giggles. Appraising and measuring glances. This time both ex-outlaws flushed.

Calico-dress gave a sigh and with infinite patience repeated, “Are they long dongs…?” She held up a large, heavy bell and swung it producing a lo.o.o.o. do.o.o.o.. “OR, are they…?” Up went a teeny tiny bell. It gave a… You guessed it. A short ding.

“I’ll be a lo… I’ll take this one.” Kid grabbed a large bell.

“Mister Smith?”

Heyes too reached for a sizeable bell, then…

“Wait a minute,” he frowned, “…Seems to me this whole episode is nothing but one long stream of innuendo!”

“We don’t mean to do any harm in your end-oh, Mister Smith!”

“We sure wouldn’t mind if you were in our end-ohs!”

“AND,” continued Heyes, firmly, drowning out the feminine protests, “…A stream of innuendo usually means only one thing.” Penetrating stare at Calico-dress. “This is some dumb challenge story , huh?”

“It might be,” she admitted.

“Hey!” Kid Curry, interjected, “…Ain’t this month’s challenge ‘Dead Ringer’?”

Innocent looks from all the ladies. Shrugs. Disclaiming murmurs.

Mute conversation between the ex-outlaws.

“Which one of us is gonna..? Y’know? And…” Heyes hesitated over the phrasing of the next question.

Kid Curry felt no such qualms. “Is it gonna hurt?”

“Neither of you is going to die, and nothing’s going to hurt,” declared Calico-dress.

Gingham-blouse cleared her throat, meaningfully.

“Nothing’s going to hurt – much,” amended Calico-dress. “I decided that the challenge title was a typing error and corrected it.”

“That’s cheating!” protested Heyes.

Calico-dress’s hands went to her hips, “Do you pair WANT to be standing with dang great bells in your hands in a story called Dead Ringer?”

Pause.

“Typing error sounds good to me, ma’am,” decided Kid.

“So…” A vivid scarlet bell was held out, “…Which of you wants to be the first fella with a Red Dinger?”

…oooOOOooo…

THE END

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