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Airs from Heaven or Blasts from Hell

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"Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn'd,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell…"

- William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act I, Scene IV


 

"Hold it still, will ya’?"

His tone slightly to the left of irritable, Kid Curry replied. "I’m tryin’, Heyes,"

With his fingers half frozen, Hannibal Heyes endeavored to position the nail horizontal to the plank of lumber. With a resounding "thunk", the hammer bent the nail into a perfect "V", failing to catch the fence post behind.

"Damn it, Kid," Heyes grumbled, anxious to blame anything other than his own lack of carpentry skills for the minor mishap. "It’s wigglin’ all over the place." The cold was making his nose run and he sniffed, then huffed a cloud of breath onto his bare, numb fingers to warm them. The wind out of the west was picking up and it wasn’t friendly.

"Heyes, I swear I’m tryin’. It’s freezin’ out here and my hands are shivering." Curry replied defensively. He continued to hold the plank as steadily as he could. He was wearing gloves. A fact not lost on Heyes.

"Hands don’t shiver," Heyes barked. "And at least you’ve got gloves."

"Well the rest of me shivers," Curry countered. The icy blue of the sky was reflected in his eyes. "And my hands are attached." None to gently, he added. "And you’ve got gloves in your pocket. Put ‘em on!"

Growling under his breath, Heyes pried out the errant nail. It was too bad the heat in the Kid’s words wasn’t helping to warm his ears. Muttering low, he dug another nail from his pocket and repeated the maneuver with decidedly more success. His disposition improved moderately.

"I can’t hold nails with my gloves on," he said, reaching back into his pocket for another nail and driving it into the plank near the bottom edge.

When the second functioning nail was in place, Curry cautiously released his grip on the plank, relieved when it held. He slapped his partner on the shoulder. "Heyes, you’re becoming an honest-to-God carpenter. Now can we call it a day and head back to the house?"

But Heyes was already fishing for another nail. "One more," he said, his confidence level enriched by the demonstration of his skills. He set the nail midway down the plank and let ‘er rip. Two "whacks" and the nail head was nicely flush with the plank.

"Heyes?" the Kid urged, folding his arms across his chest and burrowing his hands into his armpits of his old sheepskin coat for warmth. "Now?"

For a moment, Heyes was lost in his admiration of the newly repaired fence. Then the bitter wind gusted again and mid-January air stung its way down his collar and into his bones. Shrugging his shoulders up around his ears, and dropping the hammer into the crowded toolbox at their feet, Heyes again breathed warm air on his exposed fingers. Finally pulling his gloves out of the pocket of his new wool coat, he tugged them on.

An eight-foot long, six-inch thick branch from the box elder lay like a skeletal arm on the ground next to them, ripped from the towering tree by the weight of snow and ice from a storm a few days earlier. When the branch fell, it took out a section of the east meadow fence in the process. There’d been no real need for urgent repairs. With a foot and a half of snow on the ground, the livestock couldn’t do much meadow grazing anyway. But Heyes and the Kid were continuing to pay their keep by helping around the Taylor’s farm and taking odd jobs in town when they could find them. In this case, the fence repairs kept them close to the boarding house. For Curry, that was the highest priority at the moment.

His humor improved by adequate carpentry and gloved flesh, Heyes indulged himself with a moment of contrariness. Regarding the branch thoughtfully, he nodded to himself. "We should trim that up, don’t you think?" he suggested, watching the Kid’s reaction out of the corner of his eye. "Chop it for firewood."

Curry shifted from foot to foot. "We need a cart to haul it back," he pointed out brusquely. He fidgeted, glancing back in the direction of the house. "And we ain-… don’t have one." The Kid’s impatience was waiving like a flag.

Heyes, with only the tiniest touch of maliciousness, lifted the battered black hat and scratched his head. "Well, yeah, but we’re here… We could cut it up now, stack it, and come back tomorrow with the cart. There’s a saw here in the toolbox…" He squatted down and began to rifle noisily through the box.

Curry said nothing but the sigh he emitted was pathetic. Looking up at him, Heyes couldn’t contain a chuckle. "Kid, if she was having the baby, somebody would’ve come to tell you."

From where they stood, the view of the house was blocked by the imposing structure of the barn. But another gust of wind brought acrid whiffs of wood fires and heady aromas from the oven. Maggie Taylor was baking bread. But it wasn’t just the warmth of the hearth and baked goods the Kid longed for.

"I don’t like leavin’ her alone right now, is all," Curry said defensively. "Cora said it could be any time."

Heyes uttered another amused chuckle and stood up, shaking his head. "Alone?! Let’s see…" He began ticking off on his fingers. "She’s with a surgeon, a nurse, a woman who’s already had two younguns of her own, another woman who’s helped deliver a baby or two…"

"Heyes…"

"AND," Heyes went on emphatically. "And, there’s Molly and Emma and they’re old enough to come and get us if need be."

"Heyes," Curry tried again, wearily. "I know all that. I just mean…"

"You mean YOU ain’t there," Heyes finished for him.

Curry’d had enough. With a familiar set to his jaw, the Kid picked up the heavy toolbox defiantly. "That’s exactly what I mean," he said without apology and began walking toward the barn.

Heyes watched him for a moment before following across the snowy field. He covered his smirk with his nicely gloved fingers. "And God knows you’re going to be very valuable when it comes time to deliver the baby," he teased. "Being such a baby-delivering expert and all."

"Nope," Curry admitted firmly. "But I’m a Kate expert. I should be there," he called back over his shoulder. "And I’m going home."

For a lot of years, "home" had been something lost. The memory had been a painful one for both of them, the word a reminder of that pain. But somehow, inside each man, like the glow of a stubborn ember in a hearth, it had remained… that word. It was a silent wish, a prayer left unprayed.

Then the utterance of another word had stirred the spark, stoked the flame. Amnesty.

At times, it still felt foreign, surreal. Both men still awakened in a fearful sweat when the house creaked in the middle of the night, still felt the fear, tasted the sudden jolt of adrenalin and reached for their guns before coming awake enough to remember. Amnesty. They had amnesty.

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