Wednesday, August 17, 2011

F3 - Cycle 44 - The Fee

Prompt: A story about unrest.
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1500 words (or fewer).
Deadline: Thursday August 18th 2011 8:30 PM EST

Posted for Flash Fiction Friday

Part 3: The Lone School Marm and the Art of War
Part 4: Poker Face
Part 6: A Day Late and a Dollar Short

"Now git in there and don't cause any more trouble!" Elroy McCrane yelled as he shoved Susannah down the stairs and into the cellar of the Old Tin Cup. "We'll take care of you later, if the fall don't kill ya!" he laughed as he slammed the door and locked it.

Susannah had been caught by Elroy, one of the Dirty Boys gang, when she was so close to Dirty Dan, she could taste the oil in his hair. Dirty Dan was playing poker at the Old Tin Cup and Susannah was posing as a barmaid. Jeb Riley had tipped her off about the game when he found out about Dirty Dan's aspirations to poker greatness.

The game was supposed to be top secret. But the owner of the Tin Cup had lost his mother to the gang and they had taken his young daughter and wife during one of their many waves of terror. He was forced to host this game but he knew Susannah was coming and let her in through the window when he went to get more whiskey from the storage room.

Suzannah had melted in with the other ladies of the evening and edged closer to the main table. She gripped the handle of her knife with the point of it angled toward her elbow along the inside of her wrist. She was going to sidle up to him, drape herself on his shoulder and then pull the knife across his hateful neck. But what light there was in the poker room had bounced off the polished blade and caught Elroy's eye. Fortunately, no one recognized her as the Susannah, who had been causing so much trouble for the Dirty Boys gang for months. She would have been killed on the spot for sure.

Ever since partnering with Jeb and coordinating George Shaw's access, the Chief's stealthy warriors, and her  money, Susannah had been systematically chipping away at the Dirty Boys' sphere of influence. Not that this was saying much; the gang had become so bold that they operated out in the open now. Most of the sheriffs in these parts were Dirty Dan's men. And they started enforcing his laws. Women over 18 years of age were to be kept indoors and out of sight unless they wanted to be shot. Schools were shut down. Boys were recruited for his gang. Children were taken. Men were forced into hard labor and those who opposed were hanged.

"Ow!" a voice shouted in the darkness as Susannah landed hard at the foot of the stairs.

Susannah froze and opened her senses. She could feel someone's leg beneath her and smelled something familiar...a strange blend of chamomile and sulfur.

"Doc?" Susannah whispered.

"Susannah? Is that you?"

"It is," Susannah said. For the first time in months, tears began to form at the corners of her eyes.

"Well, bless my soul..." his voice quivered.

"I owe you an apology, Doc," Susannah spoke softly, "I told you I wouldn't leave home and chase after the gang, but I did. I'm truly sorry for breaking my word."

"No, Susannah," Doc said, "I should'a recognized that look on your face, that air you had. I've seen it before, you don't get to be this old without seeing the wrath of God at least once or twice being borne out by a person. I should never have told you to stay."

"Why are you here, Doc?"

"Well sister, Dirty Dan didn't take too kindly to me refusing to treat his right hand man's right arm. The scoundrel ended up bleeding to death. I'm to be hanged in the morning."

"I can only imagine what's in store for me now," Susannah sighed.

"It seems to me that neither one of us has a thing to lose," Doc pondered, "I think that makes us dangerous, don't you?"

"What are you proposing, Doc?"

"I know where there's a trap door into the store room," He revealed, "I also know where a group of sympathetic and angry men can be found. I say, let's get out of here, get them, come back and burn this place to the ground."

"The Chief and his men are not far away either," Susannah added, "I'm game if you are, Doc."

"We'd best hurry," Doc said, standing up, "The whims of the criminal mind change quickly; we must return in haste, lest they disappear from here and go on some other fool's errand."

Susannah got to her feet and felt for Doc's hand. He led the way, feeling for obstacles.

"I'd light a match or something, but I fear we'd blow the place up prematurely," he warned, "I can smell the gunpowder down here, can't you?"

"Yes, sir," Susannah replied.

"Now if I remember correctly," Doc whispered, "The store room is about 25 paces straight back from the we just need to find the ladder and we'll be on our way."

They made their way slowly among the crates and cartons. They tried not to call out when barking a shin here and stubbing a toe there. They were both sweating from the exertion and fear of marching through the dark to overcome their recent fate.

"Ah," Doc breathed, "Here we are."

He pulled her hand toward the ladder and she gripped it. She began to climb silently up the rungs and when she reached the top, she pressed on the panel. It gave and she lifted it slightly, checking to see if anyone was in there. The room was still and lit with moonlight. She lifted the hatch the rest of the way and climbed up. When she pulled herself onto the floor, she turned back toward the opening and signaled to Doc that all was clear.

"You go on," he said. "Leave the window open and I'll come out after you. Make sure you get well clear of the building. I'll meet you at Doc Harmon's place. We don't want to draw attention to ourselves."

Susannah nodded and closed the panel. She moved toward the window and pulled it open. The air was still and the locusts' song throbbed around her. She looked up and down the main street and didn't see anyone. So she gathered her skirts and hoisted herself up and over the window sill.

Her landing was soft and she quickly found her footing and began to run silently toward Doc Harmon's, the hawk trailing her.

O, Warrior Mother, she called out in her mind, I have done everything you have asked. Help me bring an end to this bloodshed by spilling the blood of Dirty Dan. Protect Doc Shaw and see us safely out of this...

Her prayer was interrupted by a blast and a burst of light. Susannah stopped and wheeled around toward the Old Tin Cup, which had burst into amber flames and black smoke. She fell to her knees and began to weep. Men came running out, entombed in flames; the lucky ones found troughs of water nearby and extinguished the fire. Before long, the Old Tin Cup collapsed in on itself, windows bursting and black, acrid smoke belching outward.

She guessed rightly that old Doc Shaw had sacrificed himself and ignited the powder kegs, taking the opportunity to strike at Dirty Dan. And Mother Warrior took her fee, that was for sure. Blood had been shed and Dirty Dan was done, but at a huge cost. Susannah's heart broke a little bit more, which surprised her; she had no idea there was anything left of it.


She looked up and saw Doc's spirit approach her. She was stunned.

Susannah...I'm sorry to leave you like this; I know I told you I'd follow you, and I broke my word. For that I'm truly sorry. I suppose this makes us even now, heh. Don't you waste your time crying over me. I chose my end and I'm satisfied. Now go and finish this. I'll be seeing you...

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

F3 - Cycle 42 - A Day Late and A Dollar Short

Posted for Flash Fiction Friday

Prompt: The aftermath of being late. Late. Late!
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1000 words
Deadline: Friday, August 5, 2011, 9 am EST

This is part 5 and here are the others...

Part 3: The Lone School Marm and the Art of War
Part 4: Poker Face

"I left that night in pursuit of Dirty Dan and his gang," Susannah explained, "I knew the posse'd be chasin' them through the woods with dogs and such, but I was too late for that. So I hopped on Chance and started toward Two Forks. They've got a respectable Sheriff there, who I thought might have information about the Dirty Boys gang. I wanted to dig that weed out at the root."

"Well?" Jeb asked, "How'd that turn out?" Jeb and Susannah were sitting in old rocking chairs on the porch of his homestead, watching the stars as wind crossed the prairie and made dark waves in the grass. 

"Sheriff Stanley was some help," she said, "He did provide me with a list of crimes they couldn't pin on Dirty Dan. I've been moving from town to town, sheriff to sheriff coming up with nothing but lists. I'd heard stories about the posse and how they couldn't find the criminals nor the missing Hailey twins," she winced slightly at this admission.

"George Shaw and the Chief are tracking them now," she continued, "But they keep missing the gang somehow...showing up moments before they hopped on a train or hours after they broke camp." 

"Huh," Jeb responded, "That's damned inconvenient." 

"Yes, sir," she nodded. "The gang's got help in high places and they've got the locals terrified."

"So it would seem," Jeb said. 

"Anyway, I've spent my long evenings studying these lists and all these crimes had something in common: They all happened in the afternoon and women and children were the victims. Also, it seemed like the gang knew when extra money was going to be they could sniff it in the wind. All the victims had recently gained access to piles of money."

"Hmm..." Jeb replied. "I wonder how they knew that?"

"Well, I can't tell you that, sir," Susannah said, "But I'm beginning to wonder if some banker isn't involved in all this, someone who knows about these kinds of things and can tip off the gang." 

She let that float into the evening. It was the crucial piece of information that she wanted to bring to Jeb Riley, a man of influence and one of the few who could stand on his own against most authority and did so regularly. He had enough money and power to be heard, anyway, which is more than she could muster. She wanted to give him a chance to think.

Susannah had said her piece. At least he listened. Of course, she'd had to trick him into thinking she was a man and prove herself in a card game first. She could've called on  Mother Warrior to help her again, but that tended to give people the impression that she was some kind of witch. Plus, Mother Warrior had a price when you call on her that left Susannah weak and sad afterwards. 

But it was a nice night and she could use a breather. Jeb Riley had just won a bunch of money at cards and had a snoot full of brandy; she suspected it was likely that he'd agree to throw his weight around for her cause. Susannah looked up at the sky and watched the hawk circle her. She was used to him by now; he was always nearby as a constant reminder of her quest. 

This evening had been a welcome respite from hunting. Her eyes were tired from searching and her mind ached from trying to put all the pieces together. And her heart burned with a mixture of righteous anger and holy terror. Tonight was a night of fellowship, really. The card table always bonds people, if they sit together long enough. 

If only she didn't feel so far behind...grasping at straws and always arriving a moment too late. Dirty Dan was bound to make a mistake; he's only a man, not an actual monster. He'll trust the wrong person or tip his hand. It's the only hope she had, until tonight.

"Well, Miss Susannah," Jeb spoke.

"Yes, sir?" She asked, looking at his face, into his eyes. 

"I think I can help you."

"I think you can too, sir."

"Heh," he chuckled, "You got guts, girl; let's just hope your mind is built of the same material and this ain't some wild goose chase."

"Thank you, Mr. Riley," she said.

"Call me Jeb," he replied as he stood up. "C'mon inside, sister. I reckon we've got a lot of planning to do."