Oh yes, we can-can!

"James--" I started, and Jimmy snorted.

"Jimmy, Red.  I was just say--"

"I know," I counter-interrupted.  "But you keep beating up your Pa for us, and I have to say I'm grateful.  Ben's grateful too, but he'll never tell you that."

"Nate and Suzie?"

"Well... Nate'd be more grateful if you told him over a drink you'd bought him, and Suzie's... well, she's Suzie.  And speaking of our old friends, I think it's about time we found out how they're getting on."

"Yeah."  Jimmy looked down at his Pa, a mixture of emotions on his face; mostly sadness and regret, with just a hint of disappointment.  I didn't know what to make of that.  "Guess we'd better tie Dad up then."

"No."  Jimmy looked up, startled.  The whites of his eyes were bright in the dark of the stable.  "You're right, Jimmy, Jenkins will want to make sure there's no wagging tongues.  If we tie your Pa up we're leaving him for Jenkins and his men to off without a struggle.  Now, I've got my issues with good Sheriff Best, but I think, and Ben will back me up here, that some of that's compensated for by how his only son's turned out.  So we stick him at the back there, leave him free as a birdie, and give him a decent chance of escape."  I paused and squinted.  "Are you crying?"

"Hayfever," said Jimmy quickly, bending down to grab his Pa's legs.  "You get the heavy end, and I hope he's not too quick to wake up."

We put the Sheriff at the back of a stall and then I sent Jimmy to the door; I had an unpleasant job to do and I figured he wouldn't want to see it.  He looked at me as I came out of the stall, his eyes red from where he'd been rubbing them and looked at what I had in my hands.  I tossed his Pa's trews and underwear in the water-barrel and winked.

"You ever seen a birdie wearing trousers?"

Then we headed back to the bar of the Broken Bow.

As we approached the door we could hear the sound of music and tuneless singing, and then there was a sudden rush of feet, a grunt, and Jimmy was bowled over by a flying nun.  They landed on the ground with a rough crunch, and I noted that Jimmy's arms tightened around the nun almost instinctively.  Hanging out with Ben and me seemed to be good for him.  Ben came running over seconds later, and kicked the nun hard, somewhere that would keep him out of heaven for all eternity.  Even Jimmy winced, and he didn't have the grandstand view that I had.

"Sweet Mary!" I gasped, feeling a little faint myself.  "Is that any way to treat a nun, Ben?"

"A nun with three-day stubble and iron," he said.  "Yeah, I figure this is just doing God's good work in keeping the poor and innocent from being taken in by these charlatans.  You just going to lie there, kiddo?  That mud ain't no beauty treatment, or Red here'd be winning pageants."

"Give me a hand then," said Jimmy.  "Your nun hit my shoulder pretty hard, I'm not sure how many of these stars I'm seeing twinkle down on us every night."

I hauled Jimmy to his feet while Ben rummaged through the nun's habit like he'd done this before.  Which, I'm only slightly embarassed to admit, we had.  Twice.

"Where's Nate and Suzie?" Jimmy asked.  He looked a little white, a bit unsteady on his feet, but it was clear he wasn't going to let a little pain stop him.  Or even a lot of pain for that matter.  Ben laughed.

"That you have to see for yourself," he said looking like the cat that found the mice were dipping themselves in cream for it.  "Right, this is what this 'nun' was delivering them!"  He brandished a piece of paper with a small leather pouch attached to it with a blob of wax, and shoved it into the inside lining of his hat.  We turned back to the bar.

In the doorway to the bar we could see Nate leaning back in his chair roaring with laughter, two empty bottles of rotgut in front of him and several nearly empty glasses around them.  Next to him, looking uncomfortable and edgy was Marshall Jenkins, a man whose mother must have given birth at the top of the ugly tree so he could hit every branch with his face on the way down; his nose was so flat you could mistake it for a third cheek.  On the stage was Suzie, in the middle of a long row of embarassed looking men, all with their arms flung over each others shoulders, all wearing skirts Suzie had rustled up from somewhere, and all trying to do the can-can.  The pianist had tears of laughter streaming down his face, and the bartender was shaking like an underdressed epileptic in a snowstorm trying not to laugh out-loud.  The music was loud, if erratic, the men on stage were trying to sing, at least three different songs by the sound of it, the smell was rank sweat and unwashed cowboy.

"How did she...?"

"She's Shanghai Suzie, isn't she?"

The End

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