The lynch party drew closer to their victim. Angry chants were shouted at the young man who had disturbed their quiet town with his chaotic sense of humor. But this heated scene was nothing new to him. In fact, Ty was used being chased by an outraged posse.
“We’ve had enough of your games!” The spokesman of the group hissed.
“You ain’t been nothin’ but trouble since you arrived in Blue Creek!” another outraged citizen agreed as he shoved Ty to the ground.
The young prankster picked himself off the ground, and eyed the mob that had formed around him. “Now gents,” he began, amusement hidden in his voice. “Surely you all can appreciate the value of a good joke?” He stepped away from the crowd as they grew angrier.
“Your hooliganism caused a riot in my saloon, twice!” The saloon owner yelped.
“And my store!” Mr. Peterson, who owned the general store, cried.
“Let’s string him up!” A middle aged farmer suggested. Ty’s stunt had cost him half his cattle. “Just for fun!”
Ty slide along the wall slowly. The folks of Blue Creek were intent on punishing him for his unique activities and he longed for a diversion. A trick that would save his life. “Now folks,” he began as he looked around desperately. Then suddenly he caught sight of his savior. “I just gotta know one thing before ya kill me.”
“What’s that?” Mr. Peterson demanded.
“How much do you folks value your money?” Ty asked with a gleam in his piercing blue eyes.
“What’s it to you?” A bitter old lady spat.
“Nothin’,” Ty admitted as he raised up on the tips of his toes and peered over the crowd. “It just, well, I think the bank’s being robbed!”
“What?!” The fat banker wailed as he spun around. The crowd’s attention followed.
“Oh my lord!” The old lady exclaimed as she noticed three poorly dressed strangers looming outside the bank. “He’s right!”
“Looks like you actually did something right!” The crowd’s spokesperson declared before realizing their prey had disappeared the second they looked away. “Where the hell did he go?” He considered rounding his posse back up and pursuing the boy, but at the moment the town had more important problems. “Where’s the law?!” he cried as he tore after the scattering crowd.
Ducking through the alleys, Ty quickly made his way to the stables. His time was very limited, and mistakes could be fatal. The folks of Blue Creek were not clowning around. This time, he had played his pranks on the wrong citizens. These citizens couldn’t handle harmless jokes.
As he rounded the barn corner, he saw his ticket out of town. Since he didn’t own a horse, Ty had to use alternate means of travel. Usually, he walked. Not today though. Today, he was going to catch himself a ride.
“Come on Lightning,” Lou encouraged as her mount walked slowly out of the stables. “Time to head home.”
“Alley- oop,” Ty wailed before leaping on back of the dark horse. The young lady was taken by surprise, and Ty quickly wrapped his arms around her to restrain her fighting efforts. “Hah!” he commanded as he spurred the horse forward.
“What the hell are you doing?” Lou hollered angrily as they barreled out of town. “Get off my horse!” In attempt to get more control of the horse, the man grabbed for the reins, while Lou reached for her gun.
“Don’t do that!” he ordered as they battled over her drawn weapon. Eventually, his strength won out, and he managed to toss the gun to the ground. “Nooo!” he cried as the horse slide to a dead stop in protest of the battle. Both riders were thrown to the ground.
The impact of the fall left them both gasping for air. Lightning waited nervously in the distance for his rider. After recovering from the fall, Lou ran for him.
“Wait ma’am,” Ty called as he tackled her to the hard ground. “I’m mean no harm!” Lou, in response swung her fisted heatedly at the young man’s chin, only to miss. “Let me explain myself!” he insisted as he pinned her arms to the ground. “If you’ll listen, I’ll let you up,” Ty promised. “Please?”
“Let’s hear it,” Lou stated. What choice did she have?
Back in Blue Creek
“Those men weren’t robbing the bank!” The marshal informed the concerned citizens. He pushed the crowd away from the new arrivals. “They were waiting for it to open!”
“So, they’re waitin’ for it to open so then they can rob it,” the mean old lady accused as she peered through her spectacles and pointed her cane at the men.
“Mrs. Becker,” The marshal began calmly. “They’re here to open an account.”
“That’s right,” one of the accused admitted. “We just bought the McCullen’s old place, and we’re looking to start a nice horse ranch.”
“That no good, trouble making dog!” The farmer growled. He understood the situation fully now. “I say we hunt that prankster down!”
“There ain’t gonna be no lynch parties!” The marshal ordered. “The boy’s more trouble than he’s worth. Just be glad he’s gone.”
“Marshal’s right,” The group leader declared. “He ain’t our problem anymore.” A look of relief washed over the crowd. Their tormentor was gone.
On To Sweetwater
“If I had known she was married, I never would have gotten mixed up with her,” Ty explained to Lou. His excuse was a complete lie, but it was better than admitting the truth.
“And now the husband’s chasing you?” Lou inquired as she searched for her gun.
“Not just him, but his brothers too,” his tale grew more intense with every breath he took, and he was selling it well. “They’d have killed me if I hadn’t done what I done.”
“How far do you think they’ll chase you?” Lou asked as she studied her companion over. His black hair, blue eyes, and charming voice made it easy to listen to him. At least, now that they weren’t battling that is.
“Not far I hope,” he said with reluctance. After spotting her gun, Ty quickly retrieved it and handed it back to her. It was a gesture to show his gentleman side. “Where are you heading?”
“Sweetwater,” Lou informed him as she holstered her gun. “I suppose you’d like a ride?”
“Well ma’am,” Ty began as a grin formed across his face. “Beats walkin’.”
“Come on then,” Lou encouraged as she swung on Lightning. “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”
“Much obliged,” he said as he grasped her extended hand. “Name’s Ty Morales.”
“Louise McCloud,” she said in response. “How’d you know I was a girl?”
“Ya look like one,” Ty declared. Carefully he climbed on back. “Aren’t you suppose too?” He now realized that her attire was a disguise. How very intriguing.
“Not when I’m dressed like this,” Lou confided. “It’s a long story.”
“We’ve got time,” Ty reminded her. “Besides, I’m curious as to why such a lovely girl would trick people into believing she’s a boy.”
“Just call me Lou,” she ordered quickly. “And let’s leave it at that?”
“Your call,” Ty acknowledged. His interest in Lou was growing. After all, they had something in common. Both tricked people. Of course, their reason’s were quite different. Still, he couldn’t wait to discover more about her. He also felt the itch to pull his trickery on some new targets. “So why don’t you tell me more about this town?” he suggested. The town that would soon take note of his arrival.
Here’s the Town
“Welcome to Sweetwater,” Lou stated as she halted Lightning outside the saloon. He slide off and eyed the small town over. “Nice,” Ty commented. “So where do you live?”
“Out of town,” Lou admitted hesitantly. “Please don’t ask about me. Most of the folks don’t know me that well.”
“You mean they don’t know Louise,” Ty corrected. He smiled mischievously at his new found friend. “Don’t worry mister, your secret’s safe with me!” With a quick wave of the hand, Ty dismissed her company.
She smiled warmly at him. “Thanks,” she called as she guided Lightning towards their home.
“Not a problem, dear,” Ty thought to himself. With the eagerness that possessed young children on Christmas morning, Ty wandered through the new town. He had so many things to accomplish. One task held higher interest than the others.
“Excuse me, Sir,” he called to the apparent owner of the general store. “Could you direct me to the residence of Lou McCloud?”
“Sure can,” the man answered in his deep voice. “Lives out at the express station.”
“Where’s that?” Ty asked. His mind began formulating theories about Louise. What secrets are you hiding, sugar?
“It’s about a mile-” the storekeep began, only to be stopped.
“Mr. Tompkins,” a woman interrupted from behind. “When will that material I ordered be in?”
“Should be in by next week, Mrs. Sanders,” he answered quickly before returning his full attention to Ty. “Like I was saying, the station’s about a mile north of here.”
“Thanks,” Ty declared before continuing his journey. Now that he got his desired lead, he could begin concentrating on his specialty. Pranks.
Late Evening, At the Station
“Come on, Noah,” Cody begged as he followed the rider to the table. “I’ll take your run next week.”
“Cody,” Noah cried. “I’m tired of covering your runs!” He turned away from his friend to silence the conversation.
“Jimmy-” Cody began only to have Hickok cut him off.
“Don’t look to me,” Jimmy stated with a shake of his head. “I’m sidin’ with Noah.”
Cody looked around the room desperately. He promised Sarah he’d meet her father tomorrow, forgetting all about his scheduled run. Glancing around the room he took note of the obvious refusals. Buck and Ike turned their backs to him, and the Kid’s eyes reflected his decline. Lou was the only one too absorbed in her own thoughts to symbolize an objection.
“Lou?” He called softly.
“No, Cody,” she responded in the same gently manner.
“It’s real important!” He insisted. “Lou?”
Pausing from her nightly tradition of writing her daily thoughts in a journal, Lou glared up at her pleading room mate. “Cody! I just got back earlier!”
With a hopeless sigh, Cody climbed up on his bunk. Silence passed over the group who were resisting his pleads. “Sorry to trouble you all,” he mumbled.
“Alright!” Noah reluctantly agreed. “I’ll take your run.” Somehow he always ended up surrendering to Cody’s antics.
“Thanks Noah,” Cody cried cheerfully. “You won’t regret it!”
“I already do,” Noah corrected. “Especially since I’ll be missing that meal Mrs. Rhode is gonna cook up for us after we help fix up her place.”
“Sure’s gonna make all that work seem worth while,” Kid agreed. “Preparin’ a meal’s second nature to her,” he added as he glanced at Lou. Unlike some women I know, he thought secretly. Lou’s poor cooking skills proved an old tale to be false. The key to a man’s heart wasn’t always through his stomach. Except maybe in Cody’s case.
The Next Day~ Mid Afternoon
The storekeeper’s vague directions lead him easily to the station. However, as Ty glanced around, he found the area deserted. Not one human soul lingered at the station. “Might as well explore while I’m here,” Ty reasoned. After all, why waste a trip? Especially when the station held vast opportunities for his mischievous ways. “I think I’ll start here,” Ty exclaimed as he entered the tiny bunk house. He had a feeling the little structure would reveal a great deal about Miss McCloud.
At Mrs. Rhode’s
“I sure appreciate the boys coming to help,” Mrs. Rhode commented to Teaspoon and Rachel. “My husband’s been so ill lately, that the doc’s confined him to bed.” She looked around the run down homestead they had purchased just weeks ago. Her husband’s bad health made their dream of fixing up the place seem impossible until Marshal Hunter offered his riders’ assistance. “It needs so much work!”
“A little hard work never killed nobody,” Teaspoon reassured her. “Besides after they tasted your stew, I couldn’t have stopped ‘em from coming!” He gave Rachel a little nudge. “Course, we’re still longing for your famous apple pie.”
“Lou’s birthday cake comes first,” Rachel stated cheerfully. In fact, Mrs. Rhode had given her a wonderful recipe to try.
“I should get to holding up my end of the bargain,” Mrs. Rhode declared suddenly.
“Mind if I help?” Rachel asked. “Maybe I’ll learn a few of your secrets.”
“That’ll be nice. I’m not use to cooking for so many,” she admitted. Together they headed off to the kitchen, leaving Teaspoon to supervise.
Back at the Station
Two hours later and nobody joined Ty at the station. Not that it bothered him. No, he found other ways to amuse himself. He even learned a few things about Louise through the journal he found stashed under a pillow. The journal revealed her deepest thoughts. The book told him that Louise was an express rider.
It also helped him draw a solid conclusion about the masquerader. Louise was jealous of a painted horse named Katy! Must be rough competing with horse over her owner! A fella called ‘The Kid’ owned the mare, and had obviously captured Lou’s attention. But he wasn’t the only man. Lou had taken an interest in another fellow rider named Jimmy.
After discovering his competition, Ty vowed to give them a surprise that would out do all the other little surprises he left around the station. Already ideas were formulating in his head. One thought revolved around a gift. Ty held up the cameo he removed from under the Kid’s bunk bed, along with the note the young man had attached to the delicate necklace. Yes, Kid’s present for Lou would be the key in his master plan. As for Jimmy, Ty had another route to take.
Realizing the danger of being caught at station now, Ty made for his rented horse. Naturally bringing with him all the treasures he had collected during his visit. “I’ll come back and play another time,” he reasoned. Until then, it was best to remain unknown to the express crew. Although, he was going to miss the looks on the groups’ faces when they discovered his presents.
Dusk settled in and the riders dragged their weary, but well fed bodies into the bunk house. To their surprise, Cody hadn’t beat them home. Things must be going well with Sarah’s father. Either that or he was afraid the riders would punish him for missing all the work.
“I can’t recall working so hard in my life,” Jimmy commented, only half-joking.
“Neither can I,” Kid agreed.
“At least we got fed,” Buck reminded them. It was the only reward the Rhode’s could afford to give.
“Good thing,” Lou stated as she climbed up on her bunk. “Now I can afford to sleep for days.”
“Not through tomorrow,” Kid corrected. “Can’t open a birthday present if you’re not awake!”
“How about I open it now?” Lou suggested with new found energy.
Kid just shook his head. He had been dropping Lou little hints about her present, but refused to give in to her pleads for receiving it early. “You’re just gonna have to wait!”
“But if-” Lou’s protest was stopped when the bunk house door swung open.
“Hey,” Cody cried merrily as he wandered in. “Life’s great!”
“Things went that well, huh?” Jimmy questioned as he rested on his bottom bunk.
“Better than well,” Cody admitted. “Her father’s just like me!”
“And that’s a good thing?” Buck teased. The others laughed, including Cody! With his excitement showing, Cody quickly leaped on his bunk. “Oooh!” Cody exclaimed as his bed collapsed.
“Jimmy!” Lou cried as Cody and the bed came crashing down onto the unsuspecting rider below. “Are you alright?”
“What about me?” Cody demanded as he tumbled to the floor. “I’m the one who fell!”
“But you landed on me!” Jimmy pointed out heatedly as the Kid helped push the boards away.
“The important thing is that you’re both all right,” Lou pointed out to end the argument. The two men had a few bruises and scrapes from the ordeal, but otherwise they were fine. Surprisingly, her words did cease the heated words.
“Why don’t you take Noah’s bunk for the night?” Buck suggested.
“What choicee do I have?” Cody cried. He looked at the remains of his bed and shook his head. Tomorrow he’d have to fix a new one. Until then, the broken boards would remain where Kid had placed them.
Early the Next Morning
Kid woke as his best friend prepared for his scheduled trip to Ft. Laramie. Jimmy was picking up a package for Teaspoon. The rest of the express family still slept peacefully.
“Morning Jimmy,” Kid called softly. He slide out of bed and into the cool air that morning kissed you with.
“Yeah it is,” Jimmy reaffirmed teasingly. “Tell Lou happy birthday for me,” he reminded his friend. “I’d tell her, but I don’t think she’ll be up before I go.”
“I will,” Kid promised. “Thanks again for helping with her present.” Kid pulled on his old blue cotton shirt and brown pants. Then he situated himself at the table.
“Glad I could help,” Jimmy stated as he holstered his beautiful Navy Colts. “I’ll see ya in two days,” he said as he gathered his equipment.
“I’ll see ya off,” Kid decided. He rushed ahead and opened the door for his fellow rider. As they made their way out, something caught Kid’s eye. A note was pinned securely on the door.
“What is it?” Jimmy asked as he watched Kid reach for the letter.
“It’s a note,” Kid informed him. “To me.” After gazing over the note, Kid handed it to Jimmy in confusion.
A note to the Kid,
your gift I have hid!
Jimmy returned the same puzzled look. He had no explanations to offer. In order to gain an understanding, Kid returned to his bed side and looked for the cameo. To his disbelief, the present was gone. In its place was another letter.
To find the treasure
that will bring her such pleasure,
just follow the trail made from dear Katy’s tail!
Kid re-read the letter in a bewildered state before racing for the barn. He threw the letter down at Jimmy’s feet as he passed. After reading the note, Jimmy quickly tore after him.
“Katy!” Kid called as he reached his mare’s stall. Quickly he examined the mare’s tail and sighed in relief. It was perfectly intact. However, another message was tied to her long, flowing tail. Hesitantly he reached for it, and Jimmy leaned over his shoulder. Together they peered down at the new note.
Did I say her tail? I meant her mane!
Now stick to the plan and follow her strands!
~ The Prankster
“Jimmy?” Kid questioned as he watched his friend cross over to Katy’s other side. The look on his face delivered bad news.
“Sorry Kid,” Jimmy said quietly as he stared at what was left of Katy’s mane. Anger reflected in the Kid’s eyes. “What are you going to do now?”
Kid shook his head. “Find Lou’s present,” he declared after spotting the trail made of Katy’s hair. “Then, I’m gonna find the person who did this.”
Rachel hummed softly to herself as she mixed up the flour, salt, and baking soda needed for Lou’s birthday cake and set them a side. Then she pulled out a second bowl and combined the egg whites, sugar, and vanilla. The recipe Mrs. Rhode gave her was very simple, and Rachel was sure the riders would love it even though it was for a plain white cake. The icing she planned on making would compensate for the cake’s plainness.
“I’ve never seen a trail weave this much,” Jimmy exclaimed as he assisted Kid in following the strands of hair laced crazily along the barn floor.
“I think that’s the point,” Kid answered after discovering the new direction they had to follow. The pattern was made to frustrate its followers.
“This prankster’s having a real good laugh,” Jimmy reasoned. Suspiciously, he glanced around the barn for watchful eyes. He spotted no one.
“He won’t be when I get a hold on him,” Kid promised.
The two men finally ran out of hair to trace, and they stared up at where their treasure should have been. Jimmy and Kid looked at each other in disbelief. Surely, they were wrong. The present couldn’t be where they both dreadfully suspected. However, the delicate piece of paper that rested on the giant haystack reaffirmed their suspicion. Jimmy grabbed the note.
Like finding a necklace in a haystack!
“Great,” Jimmy exclaimed. Fort Laramie was getting farther and farther away. But he couldn’t leave. He promised Kid he’d help get Lou’s present back.
Kid shook his head furiously. “Who’ve have done this?”
“That’s the question of the day,” Jimmy answered. “Someone who had a lot of free time on their hands.”
“Cody!” Kid cried. “He was the only one not with us yesterday!”
“Kinda like him,” Jimmy agreed. Quickly the two young men rushed to the bunk house. They had words for their mischievous friend.
Lou and Cody gazed at the note they had found on the floor. Then they looked at the remaining pieces of Cody’s bed. Finally, they glanced at each other. After examining it, they passed the letter to Buck and Ike.
“The Prankster?” Lou questioned. “Who’s The Prankster?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Buck replied. Ike shrugged his shoulders.
Shaking his head, Cody exclaimed, “Of all the bunks in the room, he’d pick mine!”
*Better you than us,* Ike signed.
“What’d he say?” Cody demanded after missing the first few gestures.
“That’s too bad,” Buck lied. He had to work hard to suppress his laughter.
“How do you know this Prankster’s a he?” Lou questioned. “Could be a woman.”
“Too creative for a woman,” Cody answered. He ducked quickly as Lou attempted to scold him with an open fist.
“Is not,” Lou shot back. “But you’re probably right about this prankster being a man.”
“Thank you,” Cody stated with a hint of arrogance in his words.
“Oh you’re welcome,” Lou replied. “See, a woman would make better use of her time!” Her argument caught her male companions full attention, but only Cody challenged her.
“Are you saying a man doesn’t know how to use his-” Cody began his debate, but failed to finish it. The bunk house door being flung open heatedly distracted him.
“Real funny, Cody!” Kid exclaimed angrily. He glanced at Lou, not wanting to reveal her missing gift’s identity.
“What’s funny?” Cody asked in confusion. He looked to the others for help.
“The little trail hunt,” Kid declared. “Along with these stupid little notes!”
“Notes?” Lou questioned. “They wouldn’t happened to be from ‘The Prankster’?”
“How’d you know?” Jimmy took the letter Lou handed him, and read it out loud.
I think you should know,
the bed is about to go.
Truly sorry to the fellow below!
~ The Prankster
“So much for an advanced warning,” Kid commented dryly. If only the note had been found last night. Then maybe Katy’s mane could’ve have been saved! Not to mention Lou’s gift!
“Well, at least he apologizes,” Jimmy muttered sarcastically. “That’s real nice.”
“I don’t recall getting an apology,” Cody pointed out. He was the one who fell!
“Let’s not start another argument about this again!” Lou demanded. Why can’t men let simple incidents go?
“Maybe we should take these letters to Teaspoon?” Buck suggested. The others quickly agreed. Hopefully Teaspoon would be able shed some light on the subject. ~*~*~
“I don’t understand it,” Rachel cried out loud. “The recipe was so simple!” She stared at her disastrous version of a cake. Not even Cody would be tempted to try it. The cake failed to rise in the oven, and it rested rock hard in her best cake pan. And the icing! It tasted horrible! Somewhere she had gone wrong. But where? She had followed the instructions so carefully, and measured the ingredients out precisely. “Oh!” Rachel cried as she grabbed the pan and headed for the door. There was nothing she could do now but toss it out.
Luckily, the pan had been greased enough for the tough substance to slide out. Rachel watched it landed roughly in the dirt. As she turned to head back in, Rachel noticed a note clinging to the door.
To discover your mistake,
first you must taste
all the ingredients used in making such things as cakes!
~ The Prankster
Rachel’s jaw dropped open. Someone played games with her ingredients! But which ones? When I get my hands on this Prankster! Quickly she headed off to the stables where she noticed the riders gathering.
“Which one of you messed with my ingredients?!” she demanded as she cornered the group in the barn.
“Not you too?” Lou cried. This prankster sure was making a name for himself.
“This fella’s just having barrels of fun!” Cody exclaimed.
“What’s going on here?” Rachel questioned. “What else has happened?”
“Read ‘em,” Jimmy insisted as he handed Rachel all the notes they’d received. “We’re goin’ to talk to Teaspoon about it now.”
“That’s sounds like a good idea,” the house keeper agreed. She watched the group saddle their horses, and lead them out of the little barn.
“We’ll be back soon,” Lou reassured her friend. “Let’s go boys.”
The riders mounted up easily, but soon the situation became chaotic. ‘Whoas,’ and ‘easy there’s,’ were called by each one of the young men as their mounts bucked and spun out of control. Lightning was the only horse tolerating his rider. He was a little startled by his stall mates actions, but remained relatively calm. Jimmy, after deciding it wasn’t worth the trouble of staying on, flung himself from his palomino. Instantly the horse halted its crazy behavior.
“Get off your horses!” He hollered. His friends did. Some exited more gracefully than others. Cody displayed the most style, but had the roughest landing.
“Sticker burs!” Buck noted as he checked his saddle pad. “He attached stickers to our blankets!”
“I think he forgot one,” Cody said as he gestured to Lou. “Happy birthday!”
“It ain’t her fault,” Kid said in his love’s defense.
“I’d be willing to bet there’s a note somewhere,” Jimmy said confidently. Notes were the jokester’s trade mark.
Rachel, joined by Lou, went to search the barn while the boys removed their riding tack to look for hidden surprises. After checking all the saddle stands, the ladies finally found the note. It was resting near Lou’s saddle rack.
Ride em’ Cowboys!
“He really went all out writin’ this,” Rachel joked. “Let’s go show the boys.”
“Well?” Kid demanded as they walked out of the barn. “What did have to say this time?”
“Ride ‘em Cowboys!” Lou said. She almost laughed before remembering the severity of the situation.
“You know what this means?” Cody looked around, putting all the recent events together. “Whoever did all this, didn’t do it with one trip.”
“He’s right,” Buck reaffirmed. “He had to make another trip to finish what he started.”
*Think you can track him?* Ike questioned.
“It’s worth a try!” Kid reasoned. The idea of tracking the troublemaker was more appealing than hoping Teaspoon knew something. “We’d better get a move on it though.”
“I’ll grab some supplies,” Lou volunteered eagerly as she ran for the bunk house.
After their equipment was examined carefully and put back on their animals, the riders hesitantly mounted up. Sighs of relief were exchanged as the animals proved to calm and content.
Examining the ground, Buck declared, “Looks like he went south.” He looked at the faint trail again. “Can’t be sure though.”
“Sounds good to me,” Cody assured the rider.
“Here’s the supplies,” Lou said as she handed them to the Kid. “I’m gonna stay here with Rachel. I don’t think she should be left alone,” she whispered to him.
“That’s probably for the best,” Kid agreed. “You two take care.”
The boys rode off, but not before throwing a puzzled look at Lou. She never liked being left behind, but now she was insisting they leave her. The concept made Jimmy suspicious. Halting his horse, Jimmy turned and looked back at the station. Lou and Rachel were conversing excitedly. Like finding a necklace in a haystack, he thought with a smile. Good luck. Then, he rode off to join in the hunt. It was time they found ‘The Prankster’, and showed their undying appreciation.
On to Part Four