Thursday, March 31, 2016

Epilogue

The man who called himself Griffin was nervous. He’d come to work today at the Western Union outpost in Green River with a fair amount of trepidation. Tugging at the restrictive starched collar and ascot around his throat, he loosened the knot in the silk. I need a smoke, he thought, fumbling with his free hand for the half-smoked quirly in his pocket.


The bittersweet heat of the tobacco was soothing, and he breathed the smoke out through his nose in thin, blue streams, trying to settle his thoughts.


He’d shaved his beard today, carefully scraping the coarse, whiskey-colored brambles into the basin as if he were shedding a mask. It had been a very long time since he’d shown his bare face to the world. He felt naked. The only people that might have recognized him from his other life had been very scarce these last months, and mostly preoccupied with other things. But he knew he couldn’t hide forever...and he didn’t want to anymore. I’m done changing how I look and hiding. Done forgetting who I am. And I am especially done forgetting where I need to be.


Monahan, the coach guard might have recognized him if he'd been paying attention. But the man was tied up between courting one of the local schoolmarms, raising his teenage cousin, and helping his trail partner, Peter Bari, build a house. So might Bari, but he was making long-term plans with Lynch’s cook, Miss McMillian, and was preoccupied with other things. Neither man had taken a hard look at him, and he intended to keep it that way. At least for the time being. And thank goodness it was Egan and not Lynch who hired me. Lynch is in here all the time. So keeping a low profile had been relatively easy.


He’d intended to come here and get things up and running, get the team here settled in after the Express had gone bankrupt, and then move on. And move on he would, but not in the direction he’d initially planned.


The man who called himself Griffin knew he had let fear rob him of his happiness. Of his life. And today, he was going to take the first step to taking it back, if taking it back was possible.


It had been the last time Peltier had come through here with his white wife, Fiona, that had turned it for him. Peltier in his trapper’s leathers, and the Mrs. with her books and ledgers and her expensive dress. They’d come in with the Lakota woman and Jesse Hanson, the couple he’d defended against Spires and Harper, his late surveying partners. Hanson and his wife had brought their infant son by the office before the four of them headed back to their fledgling fur trading outpost near Fort Bridger.


The baby had looked to him like hope and miracles, with his dusky skin and hair like dark honey and eyes the color of summer. Like happiness against all odds. Like courage.


The door swung open, the sound startling him out of his reverie. He jerked his head up, watching Luis and Tommy approach his desk.


“Hey, Mister Griffin,” Luis said. “Mister Lynch needs...” He stopped, sniffing the sweet blue smoke hanging in the air. “That smells exactly like my favorite tobacco.”


“I have a confession, boys,” the man who called himself Griffin said. “Two confessions. I used to be a man named McGrath. I wanna be him again. And two...” He took another drag on his quirly, bracing himself. Steady, Adan. The first step’s always the hardest. He drew in a deep breath. “I need Tommy to mind the office for a couple days. I gotta ride out to Church Buttes. I need to do right by someone...some family...I got out there.”





Note-

I've been putting off finishing this. It's been done for about two weeks, and when I finished, I didn't know how to feel. I've been doing this so long, I don't know how not to do it now. I have other projects in the works, and this will not be the last you hear of me. And I will definitely keep you posted on what will be coming up the trail.

I'm working on re-writing the final book in the Five Dollar Mail series,
The Road Home. That's not to say I won't write any more Five Dollar Mail stories. I probably will at some point down the line. But we're done with the main body of work. I tried really hard to wrap things up nicely. And this is, after all, the draft version. So if you all see something that you feel is not resolved or wrapped up, please say something and let me know. I'm not always as clear as I mean to be. The book will be available on Amazon as soon as we get through the process. I'll announce it here.

Planning on leaving the blog up for about a month so my readers here can finish up if they need to. Then I'm going to strip out quite a bit of it. I'll leave the artwork and the extras and whatnot. I'm trying to direct traffic over to Wattpad for the time being.


But anyways, what I really want to say is thank you. Thank you so much, all you regulars, all you amazing people I have met along the way. All you people I never spoke with, but who lit up my statcounter every week. 

I'm a published author now because of you. Because I would have quit a long time ago if you all hadn't been holding my hand the whole time. You all know who you are.

I'm gonna hit "publish" now. My hands are shaking about as bad as they were the first time I ever posted a piece of work online. 


I love you guys. I really, really mean that. I owe you. More than you'll ever know. 

Here goes. 

-gina 

   


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Chapter 316: Sunset

It felt like a holiday in Abigail's, with the smell of beef stew and black German bread wafting through the homey dining room. The sun was going down orange and pink and outside the spotless glass windows. Saint felt a deep satisfaction, the wistful homesickness he’d learned to live with quieted. He reached down, intertwining his fingers with Lily’s, and brought her hand briefly up to his lips.

Lynch’s crew gathered around the cobbled collection of tables they’d shoved together, squabbling and laughing and bickering. It felt like home. It was home. He smiled, turning to look at Lily seated beside him, overwhelmed with the idea that he was hers, and she his, and he didn’t have to feel any regret over it. And here he was, sitting with her, holding her hand. With what he now understood was family around him.

Lynch took the tray of black bread from Miss Abigail and passed the tray to Luis. “Thank you, Abigail, he said. “Alright, so Hanson...you’re leaving us, eh?”

“Yessir, I’m afraid so.” Jesse held up his bowl so Abigail’s hired girl could fill it. “I’m sorry to be leaving. And I just wanna thank you, sir, for all you’ve done for me. Truly. For me and Lily both. I hate going, but I reckon it’s time.” A self-aware grin broke across his face, toothy and familiar. “‘Sides...it’s too quiet around here for me.”

"'Too quiet', says he," Wash huffed derisively, giving Jesse a shove. “The lad’s taking the piss out of us, so he is.”

“Wash!” Rosie scolded, covering her mouth to hide her giggling. “You can’t say that at the supper  table!”

“Gonna meet up with Still Water Woman and her family tonight after supper,” Jesse went on. We’ll head out in the morning. You ain’t seen the last of me; we ain’t gonna be too far to visit. We’ll be back for Christmas for sure.”

Lynch nodded. “You ever find yourself needing work, you know where to find me.”

“Thank you, sir.” He turned his attention to Fiona, who was trying awkwardly to manage her spoon with her off-hand. “I put some of that money we got on the land sale to good use. Got a business proposition for you two.”

Us two?” Fiona said as Storm reached over and started cutting the chunks in her stew into smaller pieces. “A business proposition?”

“Yeah,” Jesse nodded. “We’ll talk after. I think you’ll like my idea.”

The cart with the stew pot stopped behind Bender. Abigail dusted bread crumbs from her fingers, taking the ladle from the server’s hand. “Surely our handsome adventurer needs seconds, ya?” She spooned another helping of stew into Bender’s bowl and reached for another chunk of bread.

“Thanks, Abby,” Bender said, startled at the extra attention.

“Gern geschehen,” she smiled a little too long at him, giving his shoulder a brief squeeze before handing the ladle back to her hired girl and scuttling off to the kitchen.

Saint raised an eyebrow. Huh. He smirked, amused at the sudden color blooming on the farrier’s face.

“Boys,” Lynch said. “I need to talk to you about something. Back in Bridger, I had a long conversation with Howard Egan from Salt Lake House and the man we met out there, Griffin.”

Storm was buttering a piece of bread for Fiona. “The surveyor we picked up on Stone’s trail? The man who survived the ambush?”

“Yeah.” Lynch nodded. “He says he’s been contacted by Western Union. They are doing extensive mapping out here right now.”

Luis, seated next to Rosie, was sopping up his second bowl of stew with his fourth piece of bread. He looked up, his chin shiny with butter. “Is that another stage line?”

“No.” Tommy put down his spoon, instantly giving Lynch his full attention. “It’s a...it’s a...that’s a telegraph company.”

Saint leaned forward, a kernel of foreboding forming in the pit of his stomach. The Old Man’s tone and Tommy’s sober pronouncement brought his giddy mood stumbling to a halt. “Go on.”

“We talked,” Lynch said, his woolly eyebrows hitching upwards across his skull as he soberly shook his head. “A lot, being stuck there as we were. If they manage to connect the eastern and western telegraph lines...we’re done.”

“That won’t happen...will it?” Luis’ face went pale. “People will always need mail delivered, right?”

Lily’s brow furrowed. “Five dollars is a lot of money to send a letter.”

“And even at that price, we’re losing money,” Lynch said. “Yes, I think it will happen. Howard and I simply don’t think the company can sustain itself at this rate. If the telegraph can send messages faster and cheaper, we’re not going to survive the hit.”

Saint felt as though he had been punched in the gut. Freight’s always gonna need to be moved...but with the railroad being built...and now this... “So what’s going to happen to the mail lines?”

“I don’t know,” Lynch said, holding up his coffee cup for a refill. “But what I wanted to talk to you all about is that I’ve signed a contract with Western Union. They’re paying me a lot of money. It won’t take effect immediately. You boys still have jobs running mail for a while. But the money’s running out. And when it does, it’s over.”

“And then what?” Luis’ voice cracked, and the stricken look on his face made Saint’s heart hurt.

“That’s it?” Saint said, feeling lost. “We just go our separate ways?”

The clamor at the table had gone silent. Everyone was staring at Lynch, stunned.

“I hope not,” Lynch said slowly, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes deepening. A broad smile broke across his face and he took a long, noisy slurp of coffee. “Because the reason Western Union is paying me all this money is because I listed you all as the assets and resources I'm bringing with me.” He put down his cup and looked around, clearly amused by the open-mouthed stares surrounding him. “I’m a businessman,” he said, narrowing his eyes shrewdly. “And you irritating sumbitches are one hell of a crew.”

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Chapter 315: The Quality of Mercy

The bunkhouse was eerily empty, the long shadows of late afternoon slanting through the windows and turning the dustmotes hanging lazily in the air into a sleepy haze. The rest of the crew had left for town for a celebratory supper at Abigail’s, and Saint wondered if he’d made a mistake meeting Jesse here before heading out. The last time Jesse had gotten wind of Saint kissing his sister, the two of them had ended up having to lie to the Old Man to explain away their bruises and scraped knuckles.

Jesse had grown into a different man since the last time he’d been in the bunkhouse. It hadn’t really been all that long ago, but it might as well have been a lifetime. Saint just looked him over for a long moment, baffled at how out of place he looked here now. Farm Boy had been living rough without a hat, and his skin was burnished dark, peeling in places with healing sunburn. A short, blond beard sprouted over his cheeks and chin, and he looked completely comfortable in his native clothing and moccasins.

Farm Boy was gone. Saint had no doubt in his mind that the young man Jesse had been no longer existed. He wasn’t sure he knew this man. “Jesse,” he said finally. “You ain’t staying. Are you.”

Jesse held his gaze for a moment, his blue eyes startled. There was a hint of sadness in his smile, and he gave Saint a barely-perceptible shake of his head. “No.”

Saint turned this over in his mind, nodding. “Does she know?”

“Yeah.” Jesse sat down in the chair by the table and stretched his long legs out with a sigh. “ We talked, but I’m pretty sure she knew as soon as I rode up. I love Still Water Woman. I love her family, I just...I want to be with her. Lily...she...” His face twisted for a brief moment, betraying him. “She just wants me to be alright. I want her to be alright, Saint.”

“Jesse...” Saint eased himself into the opposite chair, tension knotting his shoulders.
“A lot’s happened since Point of Rocks.”

Jesse chuckled, the toothy grin breaking suddenly over his face reminding Saint of the callow country boy he’d rode out of here with. “Sure as hell has.”

“You’re gonna hate me,” Saint went on. “You’re gonna hate me, and I’m sorry about that...but I swear to you I’m going to spend the rest of my life making sure Lily’s alright. If she’ll have me.”  He tensed, wondering if Jesse was going to leap across the table at him. He can strike like a diamondback. And if he does, I’m gonna just let him. He drew in a steadying breath. “I can’t help the way I feel, Jesse. I love her.”

Jesse nodded slowly, his gaze never leaving Saint’s. “A lot’s happened since Point of Rocks.”

Saint ran his fingers across his scalp, sweeping his hair back. “I know I ain’t getting your blessing...”

“You already have it, Saint,” Jess said, his voice earnest. “You had it back before I got dragged off by Galloway. Hell, maybe even before we left the Green. The kind of friend you been to me...to both of us...” He shook his head, shrugging. “You ain’t gotta explain nothing to me, brother.”

Saint felt his eyes start to burn, and he blinked. He’d expected he’d live the rest of his life in agony over his failures that he thought had led to Jesse’s death. Now that he was alive against all odds, he expected he’d live the rest of his life enduring Jesse’s betrayed hatred. That none of that was coming true was almost too much. “What...?” he started, unable to go on.

“Shitfire, Saint. How many times did ya almost die for her?” He nodded again. “I was wrong. You been the truest friend I ever had, and I’m proud to call you my brother. Lily loves ya. Thanks for loving her back.” 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Chapter 314: Part of All That I Have Met



“Little Miss,” Saint swung into the open doorway of the kitchen, his fingers locked into the doorframe. “You might want to come out here.”


Lily spun around, an unformed biscuit dangling from her hands. “What is it?” She had been on edge since her brother and the others had been gone, and just the tone of Saint’s voice was enough to send another wave of foreboding through her.


His dark face was smudged with dust, and bits of hay stuck in his hair. She knew he, Bender, and Wash had been out in the barn loading hay into the loft, and her first thought was that someone was hurt. But his eyes were bright, the rakish dimple in his cheek showing itself. “Sweetheart...” he said, his voice fragile, “I think your brother’s back.”


She gasped, the dough falling forgotten onto her shoe. “What?” she gasped. “Oh, Saint...Pete...”


“Come on,” he said. “He’s ridin’ up with what looks like some Indians.”


“Oh!” She shoved her glasses back up onto her nose and wiped her hands on her apron as she grabbed his outstretched hand.


Jesse was riding into the station yard on Comanche. She was vaguely aware that he was not alone, but her vision narrowed into a single point of focus. Her brother, on a company horse. Sun-darkened, unshaven, and wild-haired, clad in native leathers. She barely recognized him. But it’s him. It’s Jesse. Alive.

Home.


She let go of Saint’s hand and bolted, watching Jesse  throw a leg over Comanche’s back and slide from the saddle when he saw her.


“Jesse!” she cried, throwing herself into his arms when they collided. She was sobbing, and didn’t even know when she’d started weeping. “Oh, you’re back,” she gasped. “You’re back. I thought I’d never...”


“I’m here, honey,” he whispered, crushing her in his embrace. “Everything’s alright.”

His chest was heaving, and Lily knew he was crying. His breath was a choppy gasp in her ear.


Lily pulled away from him, looking at his bearded, tear-streaked, face. “Are you hurt? Are you...”


Saint was at her shoulder, the dust on his face leaving stark, wet streaks down his cheeks. “Farm Boy,” he breathed, pulling Jesse into a rib-crushing hug. “You scared the hell out us, you crazy mamaluke.” His voice broke into a sobbing gasp, his face twisting with emotion. “I’m sorry.” He gave Jesse a hard thump between the shoulder blades and released him. “I wasn’t able to stop them from...”


Jesse swiped a fringed arm across his red and streaming eyes, chucking Saint’s shoulder with his other arm. He shook his head “No, Saint. Don’t. Not your fault, brother.”


Wash and Bender were pulling him into rough embraces, ruffling his hair.


“Struth, mate,” Bender blew out a breath Lily suspected he’d been holding since they had embarked on their ill-fated trip from Green River. “I don’t think I’ve ever been gladder to see someone, and that’s the fair dinkum oil. I’m not going to be able to sleep until everyone’s back home.”


“Don’t worry,” Jesse said. “Lynch, Fiona, Storm, and Dev are right behind me. Lynch made everyone stop at Doc’s place. It’s been a rough trip.”


“Oh, thank God,” Lily said. “But who’s hurt?”


“We’re all a little banged up. It’s alright.”


“Jesse...” She nodded at his three companions. It would have been more than a little frightening at the sight of four natives sitting astride Indian ponies in the yard, if they hadn’t ridden up with her brother. But taking a closer look at them, she realized they hardly posed a threat. Aside from the stern-faced warrior with hawk’s eyes and a heavy bandage on his leg, Jesse’s entourage consisted of a young woman, a little girl, and a silver haired elder in what looked a lot like a dress. She raised an eyebrow, curious. “Introduce us to your friends.”


“This is Two Elk,” he said, taking Lily by the hand and pulling her to face the elder first. “Two Elk, this is my sister, Lily.”


“I’m so pleased to meet you,” Lily took the offered hand and shook it, unsure of herself.


“I wouldn't be home if not for Two Elk,” Jesse said. “He was my voice. He speaks English.”


“Better than you do, Wacanga,” the old man quipped.


Jesse smirked fondly and gestured to the little girl. “This is Runs Laughing. She found me and got me help.” He grinned, nodding at her. “She owns me now. And this is Eagle Bone.” He switched to what Lily knew had to be Lakota to introduce the brave to her. Lily’s jaw dropped and she nodded at the young man, flustered.


“And this is Still Water Woman,” he said. His face was alight, transcendent. It was the face of a man gazing with delight upon every good thing in the world. Lily’s heart squeezed in her chest. She’d seen that look on Saint’s face. And on Fiona’s. This bearded, leather-clad man was not the one that rode out of the yard with her a lifetime ago. This man lived a bigger life now. The reach of his embrace was wider, stronger. 
 
And this woman before her, in her plains dress and with her rough-cut, windswept hair, held her brother’s heart. And she realized with startled jolt of fear and joy that this strange, alien family was perhaps Jesse’s. Maybe even hers as well. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Chapter 313: Straight and Swift to My Wounded

“Alex?” Fiona called softly as she stopped in the doorway of the medical tent, her sun-dazzled eyes adjusting to the relative darkness inside. She squinted, the swelling around her eye aching with the movement. She dropped the door flap back down behind her, fumbling it with her left hand. She could smell the cloying scent of opium and camphor and whiskey.  

There was a rustling of linen as Captain Scarcliff shifted in the narrow cot. His voice was sleepy, hoarse. “Miss Lewis-Smythe?”


He was lying propped against a bank of pillows, his silver-streaked brown hair unbound and tousled, and his face pale. His vulnerable, helpless appearance nearly robbed her of her composure, tightening her throat into a painful lump. Dressed in a simple linen sleeping shirt and lost in a sea of bedding, he hardly looked like the same man. He certainly didn’t look like the callous, overbearing military Captain she’d initially seen him as. “They told me you were awake,” she said. “Alex, I’m so sorry you’re hurt. This is all my fault. I don’t expect you to forgive me...”


He shook his head, giving her a weak chuckle. “There’s nothing to forgive, Miss Lewis-”


“Fiona,” she corrected.


He stopped, holding her gaze, before nodding slowly. “Thank you for that.” He sighed, waving a hand at the chair near the cot. “Please sit, and spare me this urge to rise” His brows furrowed unhappily. “It mortifies me to see you with your arm in a sling...and...” He winced as she approached, clearly taking inventory of her split lip and her blackened eye. “Or any of this. I should be apologizing to you. This happened on my watch, and I’ll never forgive myself.”


“You are certainly not to blame,” she said. “Alex, I’ve caused you so much trouble You were trying to protect us. And you got shot...”


“I’m going to be fine, Fiona. I was on my feet this morning. I...” he met her raised eyebrow with a sheepish look. “I wasn’t happy about being on my feet, mind...but I managed to walk a bit. I’ll live.”


“Thank goodness for that,” she said, and meant it. “Storm...Mr. Peltier says it was Lieutenant Collins that shot you.”


Alex nodded, sighing heavily. “I should have seen what he was planning. I didn’t want to.” His blue eyes were earnest. “He was out of his head. He thought getting rid of me would assure his promotion. That he got that many of his men to go along with his madness is...just...” He shook his head, huffing in disgust. “We’ll be doing nothing but conducting court court martials in the weeks to come.You’ll be glad to be gone before all that gets under way, I’m sure.”


“I’m so sorry.”
 
“It would have happened regardless. You didn’t cause any of this. He was biding his time.” He shook his head, as if clearing the way for less oppressive thoughts. “How is...” he gave her a look she could not read. “Peltier? They said he was injured.”


“He was hurt before he even arrived. He didn’t help himself coming here.” She felt her eyes suddenly fill with heat and water. “Collins nearly shot him...well, Collins did shoot him. Thank goodness it was just a bad graze. And his ear is ruptured...he can’t hear out of it. He says a pistol fired right next to his head.”


“I’ve seen that happen before. His hearing may come back.” Alex was looking at her, searching her face. “I know you’ll be going back to Green River.”


She nodded, averting her eyes. He’ll see. He’ll...know. “Yes,” she said, her voice small. “I have to.”


“I know. And Peltier will be going back with you and your uncle, I suppose.”


She froze, her eyes fixed on the rough surface of the wool military blanket draped over the bed linens. Suddenly, the tent was sweltering, her breath catching in her throat. He does know. How can I lie to his face?


“Fiona,” He shifted against the pillows, wincing. “Despite how badly I bungled things with Collins...and with you...I’m not blind.”


Her heart was pounding. She looked up at him. “You...” She took a deep breath. “You understand, then?”


“No.” He shook his head, tensing. “I don’t. And I don't want to know any more than I do. But it seems I will have to accept it. It’s best we don’t mention it again. To anyone.”


She sniffed, pulling the handkerchief she’d tucked into her sling out and wiping her eyes. “I would...” She cleared her throat. “I would hope you won’t find me forward if I write you on occasion, Captain. To keep you appraised of what’s happening out our way, of course.”


His blue eyes softened, and the faintest hint of a smile curled his lips. “Of course.”

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Chapter 312: Kickers


Rosie thought she just might pop like a soap bubble. The schoolhouse was filled with the warm, amber glow of oil lamps, and she was sitting with people she had grown to love so fiercely that she didn't’ know if her heart could contain it.

They’d gathered in the evening at the schoolhouse, to decide who was to win the wager Luis and Wash had made. To decide which of the two of them had progressed farther in their goal of learning to read. All Rosie knew was that she was glad it wasn’t up to her to decide. And anyways, she had decided, I don’t even care. I love them both. And they both have won.

Wash was sitting in a desk to her left, his long legs sprawled awkwardly into the aisle as he exchanged flirty glances with Miss Sullivan. He looked happy, and it was all Rosie could do to not jump up, run over, and hug him. And Luis...Luis, with his sweet brown eyes and his adorable curls and his amazing accent...sat beside her, his long, warm fingers entwined with hers.

Tommy stood at Mrs. Plunkett’s desk, peering over the schoolmarm’s shoulder with a furrowed brow as the two of them considered the two sheets of paper in Mrs. Plunkett’s hands. He let out a long exhalation through pursed lips and pushed his glasses back up onto his nose. “I don’t know,” he muttered. “They...it’s...what do you think?”

Mrs. Plunkett cocked her head and raised her eyebrows, deep in thought. “Well, Thomas...I would say Mr. Monahan and Mr. Santana are even.”

“We can’t be even!” Luis blurted, a faint smile dimpling his cheek. “Shoveling the stables is on the line here!”

“Aye,” Wash laughed, sweeping his coppery curls from his face and leaning back into the too-small desk. “The stakes are pretty high on this, so they are. We were at a tie back when we were both gormless eedjits who couldn’t read our own names. We can’t still be at one after all this.”

“Well,” Tommy stood thinking, staring up into the whitewashed rafters as if the answer might be etched into the wood. “I dunno...maybe...what if...how about we come up with something else to break the tie? Some...other subject?”

Mrs. Plunkett considered this. “Penmanship, perhaps?”

Miss Sullivan smiled, giving both Wash and Luis knowing looks and shaking her head. “Something else, I think. I am not sure which of them has the worse handwriting.”

“Art!” Rosie blurted, remembering the incredible beauty of the clay letters Luis had made. “Luis is an amazing artist! You all saw what he made!” She gave Wash a sheepish look. “Sorry, Wash,” she winced. “I think he should get some credit for that. It helped him study!”

“Aye, so it should, lass,” Wash smiled back at her, holding up his hands in defeat. “I got all thumbs on me hands, so I do.”

Miss Sullivan perked up, arching an eyebrow. “Well, Mr. Monahan...you may not be much of an artist, but you are an absolutely gifted mathematician.” A faint smile tugged at her lip, and she gazed at him a little too long before turning her attention to Tommy and Mrs. Plunkett. There was a light in her eyes Rosie hadn’t seen there before. “I’ve never seen anyone go through arithmetic papers so quickly and accurately, Miss Sullivan went on. “Surely, there’s something to be said for that.”

Mrs. Plunkett nodded, shrugging at Tommy. “I don’t know if I can make a fair choice between them.”

“It’s a tie, then,” Tommy said. “I can’t either!”

“So,” Wash leaned forward in his seat and cracked his knuckles. “We both do half the stables. It’s better than the whole barn, so it is, I don’t mind so much...”

“No,” Tommy said. “I’m taking care of it. You both should get a month off stable duty.”

“That’s not fair to you,” Luis protested, “It’s our bet, you shouldn’t have to do all that work...”

“Oh, I’m not going to do it,” Tommy said. “I’m gonna talk the Old Man into paying someone to do it,”

“Lad, how are...”

“I’m the only one of his crew that he hasn’t had to get out of jail at some point.” Tommy said, winking. “And you two learned to read! He’ll do it, I know he will. Anyone...uh...anyone care to place a wager that he won’t?”