JD sat down opposite Buck, Vin, Josiah and Ezra, his eyes bright and his smile unnaturally bright. They all knew that look. Ezra coughed suddenly, jumping up from his seat, the full house in his hands slipping from his fingers, forgotten.
“Anyone need a drink?”
Unfortunately, he only made it a step before Josiah grabbed the tails of his green jacket and yanked, dumping Ezra unceremoniously back into his seat. The gambler shot a betrayed look at the preacher, who just raised his eyebrows mockingly in return. The smile dampened a little on JD’s face as he took in the pantomime, but came back full wattage when they all four men turned their attention back to him. The fact that all looked slightly frightened did nothing to deter him.
“Two fish, swimming in a stream,” he began, his eyes sparkling, “run into a wall.” JD bit his lip, pausing for ‘dramatic effect.’ Vin shut his eyes in anticipation, Josiah looked skywards for salvation, Ezra’s face looked like it could have been etched from stone, while Buck began to look a little ill. JD pressed on, “And you know what the first fish says to the second?…”Dam!”” He started laughing, “Get it? Dam? D-A-M? Instead of Damn?”
“Someday, kid,” Buck moaned, his skin slightly green, “someone’s going to shoot you over one of your jokes.”
On a hillside about a
day’s ride from
Small detonations in the hills rocked the countryside,
startling the animals and sending birds into the air in an explosive rush of
feathers. A coyote ran around in circles for a little while, not knowing
where to go to feel safe.
When the rumbling finally ceased, the coyote stopped running, and his paws touched the earth gingerly. Was it done?
A few hundred yards away, men's laughter echoed through the shallow sun-baked valley, bouncing off of rocks and blending into the wind. The coyote looked in that direction, its eyes curious. A few soft pawed steps, and he was closer to the laughter.
"Nice one Jeb," a coarse voice called. "Reckon you blew it to hell that time."
"Thanks Andy," another voice replied.
Zeroing in on the sound, the coyote peeked its head from around a low bush to see two men standing and staring at a huge hole in the side of a hill. Dirt and dust continued to smoke out of the dark space in puffs as the earth tried to settle itself back into place.
"You really reckon that gold in the river came from here, Andy? These mines all look dead to me," Jeb drawled. He was short man with mangy reddish hair and a low brow. Huge bushy eyebrows shadowed beady hazel eyes, and years of sunburnt skin had built up a sort of crust on his face that he routinely scratched through an unkempt red beard.
"It’s here," Andy replied. He was a little taller, but, in all other aspects, looked a lot like the man next to him. Brothers. Only difference, really, was that Andy looked a little more human than Cro-Magnon. "Water for the river comes from the springs out of this hill. Those nuggets have to come from here."
"Yeah, I guess," Jeb stuck his head into the newly expanded mine, then walked back to a small cart on which some hammers and other mining implements were sitting. Pulling out a hat with a candle attached to the front, he shoved it on his head, lit the candle and headed towards the opening.
Not long inside, he gave a low whistle.
“What?” Andy tried to see into the interior.
“This is it, Andy; There’s gold dust in the air!” Jeb’s voice echoed against the freshly dynamited walls. More bits of rock fell.
Andy grinned and leaned back, then he did a quick dance of joy. “We’re gonna be rich, rich men, Jeb. RICH men!”
“Yup…so long as we can get them nuns gone and make this land ours,” Jeb called back.
Andy’s smile vanished, vaguely looking in the direction where the nuns lived. A blackness took him over then, his true nature seeping out like puss from an infected wound.
“I don’t understand women who don’t know a good offer when they see it, Jeb,” he said darkly. “I understand them even less when they don’t respond to a good threat when they hear it, either.”
"How long you reckon we got before them nuns go searching for help?" Jeb asked, walking back outside. He pulled the hat off and blew out the candle.
"Well, they don't have the money to hire anyone other than locals, and no one around here will help them. I also understand that the mother superior doesn’t condone violence. She’ll eventually figure out that we’re not just whistling
Jeb frowned, “I dunno, Andy.
I don’t like the idea of hurtin nuns.
You’s a Christian, Andy. You don't jes go hurtin' nuns."
"First off, they're papists, Jeb. That's not real religion. Like Jews. Just old ways that don't mean squat. A good Christian doesn't liken some ancient potentate in
Andy looked at his brother, a small smile on his lips. Jeb looked puzzled by the expression, but when Andy walked over and patted him hard on the back and laughed, the younger brother laughed as well.
The older brother stopped abruptly when movement out of the corner of his eye had him looking towards a clump of bushes.
”Hey, whazzat!" he yelled suddenly, pulling his
gun. Jeb jumped a mile, unprepared.
The coyote had stepped on a twig trying to get closer, and jumped when Andy's eyes fell on him. The lithe creature immediately took off running as Andy pulled his gun and started firing.
"Coyote! Mangy cur! Filthy scum!" The red headed man kept firing even after the coyote was well away, vanished into the underbrush. "Disgustin' creature," Andy spat, lowering the smoking weapon and turning back to his brother. “C’mon, we got plans to make.”
The two men started walking, both grabbing their horses as they went and leaving the mining supplies behind.
Sitting in the bushes next to where Andy had been shooting
at the coyote, a young, dark-haired boy sat shaking, holding his breath. As soon as he was sure the two men were out
of sight, he crawled out and started running to where he’d hidden his
pony. He had to go warn the
A little later, overlooking a narrow plain, at the far end of which a pretty convent sits….
“What I’m thinking, Jebediah, is that little valley they sit in seems awfully dry.”
“Valley? S’not a valley, Andy. That there’s a plain, or maybe a mesa. A valley’d be surrounded on all sides by mountains. That place they’re in’s only got these mountains here, on this side, while the other side drops away. And they’re not really mountains, so much as low-lyin’ hills…”
Andy shut his eyes, counted to ten, then looked at his brother.
“Do you purposefully do that to annoy me?”
“Do what?” Jeb asked, completely unaware.
Ten counts grew to twenty.
“Right,” Andy looked back down at the convent below, “Then I guess I’m thinking that plain they’re on is awfully dry….dirty almost…like it could use some irrigating.” He looked at his brother, offering him a wicked smile. Jeb blinked back.
“Irrigatin’?” Jeb furrowed his brow, “But it is irrigated, Andy. That’s why they’s got that dam up here. It stops the river from flooding the plain and they kin control the water to their gardens, like. See,” he pointed down below, “all them lines between the fields? Them’s irrigatin’ canals, Andy.”
Andy counted to thirty this time.
“Yes, Jeb, I know what those are.”
“Then why did you say that about the plain bein’ dry?”
“Jeb…what is our purpose here?”
“Our purpose? Well, you said it yerself, Andy -- to drive them nuns off their land, so we can mine them hills here….”
“Correct. And has offering them money worked?”
“Um…no,” Jeb frowned.
“Has intimidation worked?”
“Um,” Jeb scratched at his beard, thinking.
Andy started counting again.
“No?” Jeb offered at last.
“Correct,” Andy spoke through gritted teeth. “So, since we already established we can’t just shoot them…that leaves?”
Jeb stared at him, then smiled, “giving up?”
“No!” Andy shouted, slamming a hand across the top of his brother’s head. “Damn it, Jeb, why are you so smart and so dumb at the same time?”
Jeb sniffed, rubbing his head, and made small pathetic noises, almost like a dog.
Andy sighed, then tapped his brother on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, Jeb,” he said softly.
His brother immediately brightened, and smiled up at his older brother.
“Oh,” Jeb said, “you mean we should force them out, right? Do something so that they can’t stay?”
Andy smiled and rubbed his brother’s shoulder, “Yes, Jebediah, that’s exactly what I mean.”
Jeb smiled even more brightly…then it slowly disintegrated, until he was looking supremely puzzled.
“Then why was all that talk about their plain bein’ dry? I mean, a‘course its’ dry. The river’s been dammed.”
Andy resolved to count to fifty this time.
The explosion rocked the hillside town, much bigger than the smaller ones they’d been ignoring for the past few weeks. It shattered thin glass windows and shook the weak foundations. Townsfolk ran outside and looked towards the southern plain, just in time to see another explosion destroy the hillside. Mrs. Crabapple, the owner of the only saloon in town (and the local brothel) covered her mouth with her hand as they all witnessed the breaking of the dam in the hills above the convent. Water rushed down in torrents, flooding the small controlled stream and much of the rest of the plain, drowning all of the sisters’ crops.
“It’s going to hit fast,” Mr. Flax said darkly, his mouth etching itself into a frown. “God help them.”
Even as the grocer finished speaking, the water hit the side of the stone structure, and a few shouts and screams echoed over the rush. The ominous sound of creaking reached their ears as the water pushed against the walls, annoyed that something should be in its way. It soon overpowered the low surrounding fences, and sped through the small courtyards in front and back…and through the open doors of the convent.
“That’ll be their stores gone then,” Mr. Duval muttered. “The basement’s going to collect that water like a dry well.”
“How will they survive now?” Mrs. Crabapple asked, clicking her tongue. “The poor dears.”
“If they can’t rebuild that dam,” Mr. Flax said, “and quickly…they won’t.”
Slowly, each of the townspeople looked at each other, as if gauging the other’s reaction to that news. Sheriff Cotton broke the mood by giving a small smile and shrugging.
“Oh well, guess that’s the way it goes.” He turned and walked back to the dilapidated jail, his smile growing. Mrs. Crabapple soon followed, followed by the rest of the “concerned citizenry,” until only Mr. Flax remained.
The owner of the grocery rubbed at his arms. Sometimes he wished he were a better man. Bowing his head, he turned and walked back to his small store.
In the Town of
Sister Frances frowned as she stared up at the saloon in the
“I’m aware of that, Sister Frances,” Antonia replied,
stopping her sniffing. Instead, she licked
her lips, as if she could taste the air she could smell. She looked around at the rest of the nearly
silent town of
The reason for their hesitation was obvious. The saloon was bleak. More than bleak. Someone had once obviously thought it would be a clever idea to paint the wood black…not the brightest idea considering they were in the middle of the desert…and what was even worse, no one had kept up the color. Where it wasn’t flaking, it was chipped, showing the original paint underneath which…unfortunately…was red. Holes peppered the sides, probably from bullets, and rather nasty permanently wet stains covered parts of the boardwalk and the baseboard of the building. The upstairs windows were hidden by broken shutters (also painted black), most of them near to falling off, and a faded mustard yellow curtain fluttered loosely out of the one open window on the top floor. The main window of the saloon itself, upon which the words “Beer Wimen Gambling” were scrawled in bright red paint, was shattered by two tiny holes spaced at uneven intervals, spiderweb cracks emanating from around each one.
And…and this was perhaps the worst part…no noise at all came from the inside.
“Well?” Antonia asked, nudging the other with her shoulder. “Are you going in?”
Frances was transfixed by the façade, and she had to swallow hard before responding. “I…don’t honestly know if I can,” she admitted.
Antonia sighed, took Frances’s hand, and stepped up onto the boardwalk, dragging her unwilling partner with her.
Four people were inside, each spaced with as much distance between them as possible in the dreary interior. They all looked up as the two nuns entered.
The leading nun, a fifty year old woman with black hair heavily lined with silver, held her head high, her almost invisible pale lips pressed into a thin line. The other, who was following with a clearly unhappy step, was about the same age and had pale hair that might once have been blond but was now closer to white. Her bright pink lips, full and chapped from too much sun, stood out starkly from gossamer thin skin. She kept her pale hair away from her face with a series of combs, but frizzy wisps defied her attempt and stuck out at odd angles. The black haired one, by contrast, wore hers in a tight bun, and not a hair was out of place. Both wore their habits, missing the headpieces, and were covered in dust from head to toe. The white haired one even had smudges of dirt on her nose, as if she wiped her hands across it constantly.
In other words, they both looked like they’d been through hell to get here…only to find they were still in hell.
“We don’t serve nuns here,” the man behind the bar said, speaking in a deep Yorkshire accent. “You sisters best be on yer way.”
“Ah, no, we can’t,” Antonia said, striding forward. She reached up and patted down her flawless black hair, then walked forward. “We’ve come about lodging.”
A snort from one of the men sitting in the room caused Frances to jump and look in his direction. A rather frightening looking man with three teeth, a tan hat, and more hair coming out of his nose and his ears than the top of his head, smiled back at her. She shivered as his clear blue eyes checked her out.
“Lodgin’?” The barkeep gave a small smile, “Yer not serious. Go stay at the hotel, sisters. Ain’t no rooms here, less you want to pay fer ‘em on your back.”
Antonia’s eyes widened, and Frances whimpered.
“How dare you,” Anotnia said, drawing herself up. “We will do no such thing.”
“Then there’re no rooms,” the barkeep replied. He turned his back on them then, to grab at a filthy rag with which he started to wipe the handful of mugs and tin cups behind the bar. Antonia’s nostrils flared.
“We have good money,” she insisted.
“Well ma’am, that’s always better than bad money, but I still don’t care. You’ll ruin me business. Now git on wid ya.” The barkeep didn’t turn around.
“Sister Antonia,” Frances whispered, her eyes still watching the man with three teeth. He was grinning broadly now and was starting to stand up. “Sister Antonia…I don’t think this can be right,” she tugged at her sister’s sleeve. The other nun ignored her.
“Business?” the black haired woman demanded, slamming a hand on the bar table (and instantly regretting it, as her hand came back sticky). “What business? As far as I can tell, sir, this place is slower than the proverbial snail sitting on the back of the turtle. I’m offering you cash in hand for a room…the one with the yellow curtain to be exact…and I will not take no for an answer!”
“Antonia!” Frances squeaked urgently, tugging harder at the other nun’s sleeve. Three Teeth was walking towards them now, and there was no hiding the lothario look in his eyes. Antonia turned, took one look at Three Teeth, and growled deep in her throat. Three Teeth paused, as if reconsidering. Frances dashed around to Antonia’s other side and leaned over the bar.
“Please sir, we must have that room. It’s only for a few hours. It’s imperative that you allow us access, please. Please!” She held out her hand to him in supplication. The barkeep glanced at her over his shoulder, sighed…and walked away.
“Wait!” Frances leaned even further over the bar, as if she could reach him by sheer stubbornness as he disappeared through a door to the back, shutting it firmly behind him. “Don’t leave!”
Antonia, meanwhile, was standing her full height – approximately 5 feet 6 inches tall – and was doing everything she could to stare down her nose at Three Teeth…who stood a good four inches taller than her.
His grin returned, and Antonia had to repress a shudder as his breath caught her nose unawares.
With a sharp turn, Antonia grabbed Frances’ arm and marched her away and to the back room where the barkeep had disappeared. For a moment, she considered knocking on the door, then, thinking the better of it, she simply pushed it open.
The barkeep nearly fell of his stool where he was sitting with his feet up, reading the paper. The cigarillo fell from his lips to the floor.
“We must have that room! I have three dollars here, more than triple its possible worth and probably more than you will make all day. Now, please, let us have that room!” Antonia slammed the three coins on the table as she spoke, causing the barkeep to gape at her.
“It’s okay, Lloyd,” said a calm voice from behind the two nuns, “they’re here to see me.”
Turning around, Frances squeaked as she found Three Teeth practically at her heels. She pushed herself into Antonia, who equally tried to push the smaller woman protectively behind her.
“We most certainly are not here to see you, sir!” Antonia announced to Three Teeth, wagging a finger at him. “We were told to rent the room with the yellow curtains, where we are going to meet someone, and that person is most certainly not you! Now back away! We are not what you think we are!”
“You mean, you’re not nuns?” Three Teeth asked, grinning again and pulling out a half smoked cigar from his pocket.
Antonia stared at him, then whirled around on the barkeep. He had stood up and was trying to figure out where his cigarillo had fallen. Antonia grabbed his jacket, looking up into his face. The fact that Lloyd was well over six feet tall and at least 250 pounds did nothing to deter her.
“Give us that room!” she demanded.
The barkeep jumped back a step, pulling his jacket free and shook his head.
“Nuns? They’s not nuns, Hannibal! They’s crazy! Just pushing in here like that without a by your leave! What’ve I’d been doing something…not innocent…in here?” The barkeep glared at Antonia and stuck a finger in her face, “You should respect a closed door, sister. And learn what it means when someone says ‘no’ to you! Nuns my arse.”
Hannibal laughed, “Sisters, I’m afraid Lloyd startles easily. My apologies.”
“What?” Completely nonplussed, Antonia stared back and forth between the barkeep and Three Teeth. Then Frances’s squeaking turned into a prolonged squeal as Three Teeth reached up into his mouth and pulled out the rubber and wood mouthpiece. Spitting onto the floor, he turned a grin including a full complement of shiny white teeth on the women.
“Sister Antonia and Sister Frances,” he greeted, pulling off his hat to reveal a head of healthy white hair. Tucking the hat under his arm and using his free hand to smooth down his hair, he then stuck the hand out to them to shake, “I’m Hannibal Smith, leader of the A-Team. I understand you need our help.”
“Please tell me you’re joking,” Face moaned, leaning his head against his hand. He’d just returned from checking on a small ranch the team had invested in, to find that the colonel had just taken on a new client without his knowledge.
Hannibal grinned. This was his favorite part.
“”Fraid not, lieutenant.”
“They want us to build a dam?”
“Yes. The bad guys in this scenario, Andy and Jebediah Fishman, blew it, flooding the narrow plain on which the convent sits, destroying not only all their crops and grazing land, but flooding the first floor and basement of the convent. If the sisters don’t rebuild the dam, and quickly, they’ll have to leave…and they don’t have any place they can go.”
Face emitted another groan, “And a convent, of all places.” He turned betrayed eyes on his colonel, “are you punishing me for something? A whole building filled with women, and nothing I can do about it. The sheer torture of this, how could you!” He buried his head in both hands this time. “And I suppose I don’t need to ask what we’re getting in payment….”
“Now lieutenant, you don’t think I would broker a deal without you without ensuring that we were well paid, do you?” Hannibal shook his head in mock dismay. Face peered through his fingers, blue eyes hidden beneath a scowl of skepticism. Hannibal just continued to grin at him. Face sighed, leaned back and stared his colonel straight in the eyes.
“Fine. What are we getting?” the younger man asked.
“Only the most valuable, desired, sought after reward there is.”
Face shut his eyes. “I see, and that would be…?”
Face stared at him, his jaw tense. “Great,” he said, “wonderful. After we starve to death because we don’t have enough money for food, at least we’ll be saved in the afterlife.”
“Exactly!” Hannibal said, reaching over and patting Face proudly on the arm. “I knew you would understand!”
Face gave up, lowering his head to the table and covering it with his arms, which almost (but not quite) managed to cover up his mutterings about crazy old colonels and how they really should watch their backs….
The shit-eating grin on Hannibal’s face was almost too bright to be real. On the other side of the table, Murdock cleared his throat, not wanting to ruin the colonel’s mood, but wanting a question answered.
“Hannibal…isn’t this convent close to that town which shall remain nameless?”
The colonel looked askance at the captain, and arched an eyebrow.
“And which town would that be, captain?”
“Oh…you know…the one with that gunslinger….the one with the penchant for black clothes? And, ah, a desire to throw you in his slammer and lose the key?”
Hannibal pursed his lips, then shrugged. “We’ll be almost a days’ ride away, Murdock. I don’t see any reason why any of the men of Four Corners should ever learn that we’re near their territory.”
Murdock shrugged, and looked at BA, who was looking at Face.
“After all,” Hannibal rested a hand on Face’s back, “there’s not much more to Vista City than the convent, a few ranchos and a few stores.” His smile grew wickedly, “I doubt there is even a decent saloon….”
The strangled cry from the lieutenant started Hannibal laughing.