6. Stealing A March

by Calico

29th February 1884

Two mounted figures, shoulders hunched against the cold, are outlined against a cheerless grey sky. The breath of both men and horses hovers in the chill air. In the distance a coyote howls – the dismal note echoing in the emptiness of the plains.

“I dunno why we had to ride out so dang early,” comments Heyes, tucking his hands under his armpits in search of warmth. “I mean before breakfast. Us. Well – you. Sheesh.”

Nothing.

“It’s getting colder, too.”

Still nothing.

“I don’t like the look of those clouds.”

Zip.

“Reckon it’ll snow later.”

“Did I ask for the runnin’ weather report, Heyes?!” snaps Kid Curry.

“I’m just saying – we’d be warmer if we made camp and lit a fire…”

“Fires can be seen.”

“Warmer still if we rode on to the next town.”

“You know what day it is, Heyes. We agreed. We hide out. We lay low.”

A sigh from Hannibal Heyes. “Yeah, but…” Shiver. “When we agreed that, we were by a stove.”

“You remember four years back, Heyes? How bad it was?”

Heyes gives a shudder – this being different in both intensity and causation to the previous shiver. “Uh huh, but…”

“You remember how they tracked us down…”

Heyes gives another shudder. “Hoards of them.”

“Some of ’em moving in packs.”

“Others hunting in pairs.”

“Us trying to escape…”

“Being chased until we couldn’t run no longer.”

“The feel of the hot breath searin’ my skin!”

“The hungry eyes – waiting to devour me.”

“The clawin’ at my clothes…”

“The pawing at my – well, the pawing.”

A mutual shudder at the memory.

“Yup,” admits Heyes, “those ladies of the Appreciation Society can be a handful any day of the week, but in leap years…”

“Come 29th February, all of ’em wantin’ to make proposals at once…! It’s – It’s…” Apparently what it is is beyond words. Kid flushes. “And some of them proposals were downright indecent!”

“It’s even worse for me,” sighs Heyes, “because more ladies want me.”

Blue eyes glower. “Since when?!”

“Can’t argue with the math, Kid.”

“I can argue with that math!”

“Don’t get proddy. I didn’t ask to be born irresistible to women…”

“Heyes, you ain’t…”

Heyes does not pause for the interruption. With an expression redolent of brave resignation he presses on, “It’s simply a cross I have to bear.”

Kid Curry now combines fuming and freezing in one disgruntled 170 pound package.

“Anyhow, Kid, I think I have a solution. Somewhere safe we could hide out for the day…”

“Only safe place’d be – I dunno – bottom of a mine shaft.” Kid Curry narrows his eyes and scans the horizon. “You heard that howlin’ earlier? That coulda been…”

“Nah. Her howling sounds more – voracious.”

An eye roll indicates the Kid’s unspoken acknowledgement of another big word day.

“Anyhow – somewhere safe we could hide out…” Heyes’ gloved fingers dig into an inner pocket. A newspaper clipping is produced and handed over.

“Parisatt – a town without women,” he reads.

Questioning look.

“It’s a new mining town – only ’bout twenty miles from here – and the municipal laws are so tight, so far they’ve managed to keep out the soiled doves…”

“Spoil sports. So?”

“If it’s men only – that’s perfect for us. For today anyhow. No danger of running into any of the Society ladies. No danger of them telegraphing their friends and starting a stampede.”

Kid Curry’s brow wrinkles. “I dunno, Heyes…”

“Think of it, Kid. Cosy saloon. Snug hotel.”

A certain wistfulness in those blue eyes suggests Kid Curry is, indeed, thinking of it.

“Steak dinner – all piping hot.”

The Kid cracks. “Okay, we hide out at Parisatt until the 29th is over.”

Two sets of booted heels nudge two horses to a canter.

-oooOOOooo-

The ex-outlaws rein their tired mounts to a halt. As Heyes predicted earlier, it is now snowing. Patting the neck of his chestnut, Heyes squints at the clapboard building before them. “Parisatt Hotel,” he reads. “What d’you think?”

“It’s got a roof – that’s all I care about right now, but…” Kid peers through the fading light at the first floor windows. Almost imperceptibly a net twitches.

The partners scan the street.

A short fella, with a huge beard, watches them intently from the General Store.

Another short fella, with another huge beard, watches them even more intently from the doorway of the livery.

Two fellas, neither on the tall side, both with beards that could house a badger, stare – fascinated – from the entrance to the bath house.

A cluster of enthralled eyes above a cluster of assorted facial hair gaze from above the swing doors of the saloon.

A diminutive fella, beard almost to his belt, is half-heartedly pushing a broom along the porch of the barber’s shop and whole-heartedly drinking in every detail of our boys.

“Heyes, does anythin’ around here strike you as odd?”

“Yup. It’s odd how that barber manages to make a living.”

The look.

“Okay, Kid, I take your point. But, even if this town is so dull two drifters riding in is big news, like you said, any place with a roof looks good right now.”

Acknowledging shrug from the Kid. “Let’s get the horses to the livery.”

-oooOOOooo-

Heyes tings the brass bell on the hotel reception desk.

With the rapidity of a Jack-In-The-Box up pops a desk clerk, luxuriant brown whiskers cascading over his crisp shirt front.

“You’re here!” he squeaks. Then, much gruffer tone, “I mean, may I help you?”

“A room please,” says Heyes. “One night, two beds, we like a view of the street.”

“Certainly, sir. Would you sign the register, please?”

Heyes complies. The clerk turns the book towards him. “Welcome to the Parisatt Hotel Mister Smith. Welcome to you Mister Jones. My name – should you wish to call on me for any, ANY, service whatsoever – is Arnie.” Arnie’s turn to ting the bell.

Two fellas dressed as porters – burgeoning beards obscuring at least half of their shiny buttons appear from the back room with the rapidity of light.

“Bernie will carry your bags, Mister Smith.”

A squeak of excitement from Bernie as he grabs Heyes’ saddlebags and gear.

“Chris will porter for you, Mister Jones.”

Exultant squawk of eagerness to oblige from Chris.

A look is exchanged between our boys indicative of their surprise at the level of service offered by a hotel in a tiny mining town.

“And now,” continues the desk clerk, “if you’d like to follow me.” He leads the way. As Bernie follows Heyes and Chris trails the Kid upstairs, the porters’ eyes appear strangely glued to the ascending – admittedly shapely – butts. Arnie flings open a door. “Behold, your suite.”

“We didn’t order a suite,” protests Heyes.

“I know you didn’t order a suite, but, on behalf of all the staff at the Parisatt, is our pleasure to offer you the most luxuriant accommodation we have – at no extra cost.”

The ex-outlaws step inside.

“Nice room,” remarks the Kid.

“It IS a nice room,” agrees Arnie. “And through here…” He flings open an inner door. “Is an even nicer room.”

Brown and blue eyes blink.

“And not only that, we have laid on a team of staff who’ll be exclusively dedicated to looking after your every need while you stay with us.”

Indeed, snowy aproned hirelings are scurrying from the inner room and lining up. The colours vary through black, brunet, chestnut, ginger, blonds of both strawberry and dishwater varieties. What does not vary is the bushy abundance of the facial topiary and the general air of excited eagerness to please.

“Let me introduce your butler…”

A hand is held out. Heyes shakes it. Then Kid. From beneath the whiskers there is a high-pitched squeal of excitement. With difficulty Kid gets his hand back.

“Your chef.” Squeak.

“Your wine waiter.” Snort.

“Your boot boy.” Snirt.

“Your laundry man.” Heek.

“Your pillow plumper.” Honk.

“Your sheet smoother.” Titter.

“Your bath water tester.” Snicker.

“Your back scrubber.” Giggle.

“Your lost soap retriever.” Heek.

“Our – what?!” interrupts the Kid.

“You do both want baths?” checks Arnie, voice rising eagerly. He clears his throat. Gruff voice, “There’s plenty of hot water.”

The back scrubber pushes open the door to the inner room a little further revealing two huge bath tubs. Inviting steam carrying a faint odour of sandalwood rises from each. Fluffy white towels are warming before a glowing stove.

A mute conversation between the partners.

“How much for a bath?” Heyes asks.

“We can probably raise fifty dollars,” squeaks the back scrubber, digging into his pants pocket. “I got five.”

“I got ten,” flutes the butler, handing it to Arnie.

Shrill murmurs as the other staff rifle their pockets.

“Fifty dollars – apiece – for the baths,” tempts Arnie.

“You gotta have a bath,” trills the pillow plumper.

“All that dust you pick up on the trail,” concurs the sheet smoother.

“You really need to let us work up a lather…”

“Soap up all your nooks and crannies…”

“Get things really steamy…”

“It’ll be so warm and wet…”

The tone of the urging is distinctly – soprano.

Heyes holds up a hand for silence. “There wouldn’t be any – women – among you, would there?”

High voices in unison, “No! No! No!” Realisation in the eyes above a dozen beards. Deep voices in unison, “No. No. No.”

Heyes turns to the bath water tester, dimples meltingly, “So, what’s your name?”

“It’s Penny,” breaths a voice melting before those chocolate brown eyes.

“That’s a strange name for a man.”

The Penny drops. Gruff voice, “It’s short for – for Hank.”

“Uh huh?” To the room in general. “Let me put it to you this way…”

“You can put it to us anyway you like, Heyes!”

“You ARE all women – and you’re women with as much talent for disguise as a pack of coyotes …”

“I’m over here, Kid!”

“…Rolling in cotton wool then trying to mingle in a flock of sheep.”

A pause.

“Okay, you got us,” admits ‘Arnie’ slamming shut the outer door, locking it and depositing the key in ‘his’ – ahem – ample bosom. “This isn’t Parisatt. It’s a trap.”

“April Fool!” trills from a dozen exultant throats as the ex-outlaws are seized by two dozen hot and hungry hands.

“What the…?!” exclaims Kid Curry, with the breath he can spare from struggling – unsuccessfully – to stay inside his shirt. “How the Sam Hill can this be an April Fool?”

“Look at the calendar,” squeals ‘Bernie’, as she pins down a squirming Heyes while the Chef poaches his tan pants.

Brown and blue eyes turn to a day by day calendar displayed on the dresser. Indeed, it is turned to April 1st.

“But…” Kid gives up, concurrently, the struggle, his dignity and his long johns. “…We rode in 29th of February.”

“Kid,” sighs Heyes, as he is carried aloft by many eager arms, nekkid, towards the waiting tub. “I think these ladies have stolen a March on us!”

THE END

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