Curry’s New Hat
Written for Penski’s birthday in 2010. Published for the 2011 challenge, Hats.
Life is full of questions that give reason to pause and ponder, like, Why does Michigan’s upper peninsula belong to Michigan when clearly, it’s connected only to Wisconsin? Why are there no fireflies (aka lightning bugs) west of the Mississippi? Why did Kid Curry get a new hat in the second season?
The answers to all, or none, of these questions may be found in the following tale.
“Where ya think we are, Heyes, Canada?” The question was yawned from the mouth of Kid Curry as he sat on the ground, removing his boots, revealing a pair of well-worn cotton socks.
“Hard to say, Kid. We been riding so hard for so long.”
“But we lost the posse, that’s for sure. Haven’t seen any sign of ’em for days.”
Hannibal Heyes still pondered the question of location. “We lit out north from Fort Dodge when that sheriff got suspicious. Took a turn east when they formed that posse back in Mankato. Near as I can figure, we could be somewhere in northern Wisconsin, or maybe even Michigan.”
“Can’t be Michigan, Heyes,” Curry shook his head. “We’d’a had to cross Lake Michigan first and I don’t think we were ridin’ so hard I’d’a missed a body’a water that size!”
“Not Michigan’s lower peninsula, Kid, I mean the upper one. The part that’s attached to Wisconsin.”
“If it’s attached to Wisconsin, how come it ain’t part’a Wisconsin?”
“Because back in 1835, there was this debate over some land, known as the Toledo Strip.”
“Ain’t Toledo in Ohio?”
“Yeah, but, by the time everything was said and done, the upper peninsula became part of Michigan, and the Toledo Strip, part of Ohio.”
“What’s Wisconsin got to do with any of this?”
“Well, because the… You see, when… Don’t matter, Kid, that’s just how it is.”
The Kid gave up, rolling his eyes and leaned back on his bedroll with an exhausted sigh. “These pine needles make for a nice soft mattress, huh, Heyes?”
“Hmmmm…” mumbled Heyes, equally as exhausted as his partner.
“An’ they smell good too.”
Another mumble came from Heyes.
“What the heck are them blinkin’ lights in the trees?”
“You must be dreaming, Kid. There are NO blinking lights. And even if there were, I wouldn’t be able to see them BECAUSE I’M SLEEPING!”
“Nope, they’re there, Heyes. Little green blinkin’ lights.” He rose to investigate.
Suddenly, Curry’s right hand made a grab, mid-air. He put his hands together, forming a hollow between them. Leaning close he moved his thumbs apart, just a crack.
“Well, I’ll be!”
From inside the dark, hand-made cave, a green light flashed.
“A little blinkin’ bug!” He opened his hand completely, but the insect made no attempt to fly away. It stayed, contented on his palm, blinking on and off, like lightning. “You’re one friendly little critter.”
Eventually the bug, growing weary of his human company, returned to the trees.
Curry quietly made his way back to the place he and Heyes had made camp. Heyes’ deep breathing assured him his absence had gone unnoticed. He moved to his own bedroll and lowered himself. It wasn’t long before sleep claimed him.
A pair of curious eyes had watched from a safe distance as the two men made camp deep in the woods. Her eyes had followed when one of them walked away from his sleeping partner, then returned. The quiet night-sounds of the forest assured her that both men now slept. Quietly, cautiously, she approached.
A slight rustle in the nearby bushes brought Kid Curry’s Colt to his hand, aimed and ready.
She stopped in her tracks, caught.
The Kid fell back, relieved. “You scared ten years off my life,” he mumbled, returning his gun to it’s holster. “You hungry?”
Two brown eyes stared back, warily.
Curry fumbled through his saddlebags, for some jerky. “Here ya go.” He tossed it to her.
She consumed it in a five seconds flat.
“Guess you were hungry. Want some more?” Another strip of jerky was held aloft.
She eyed it hungrily, mouth watering.
“Nope. You want this one, ya gotta come get it,” he encouraged.
One small step forward was followed by another until she stood within reaching distance. Snapping the jerky from his hand, she retreated a few paces before devouring it.
“You’re quick,” he complimented. “Want more?”
She turned to face him, as if suspecting a trick.
“This is the last of it.” This time he broke the jerky into a number of bite-sized pieces and dropped one on the blanket next to him. “C’m’ere,” he lured her.
She hesitated, still leery, but then moved closer once again.
As the animal’s tongue lapped up the first broken piece of jerky, the Kid dropped another with his right hand, while reaching toward the coyote’s ears with his left. She startled at first, but seemed to decide this human meant her no harm and allowed him to stroke her soft fur, as long as he kept feeding her anyway.
When the meal was finished, it was the coyote’s turn to investigate. She sniffed the warm hand, where the aroma of beef jerky still lingered, then licked it, as if in thanks. Her nose moved upward.
Kid sat perfectly still.
The coyote inspected his neck and tickled him when she sniffed his ear. A wet tongue flicked across his cheek. Before Kid knew what was happening, the coyote made a dive for his hat. Head held high and tail wagging, she disappeared into her forest home, seeming to gloat with his hat in her mouth.
“Where’s your hat?” Heyes asked the next morning as they broke camp.
“Not like you to lose something that important, Kid.”
“Didn’t lose it,” Curry mumbled.
“Oh?” Heyes waited. “So where is it?”
Another shrug from Curry.
“You had it last night. The thing’s gotta be around here somewhere.” He started looking.
“Just leave it, Heyes,” Curry threatened, growing impatient. “Needed a new hat anyways.”
Heyes’ eyes questioned silently and the Kid squirmed under his gaze.
“She took it, alright?” the Kid finally confessed, yelling.
“She?” Two dimples appeared, as Heyes sensed an interesting tale, one he could hold over Curry’s head for years to come.
“She, Heyes! The little coyote who come through camp last night after you were sleepin’. After I went to check out them blinkin’ bugs! I gave her some jerky and she ran off with my hat. You happy now?!”
Heyes stayed quiet for a while, enjoying his partner’s discomfort. Finally he ventured, “Blinking bugs?”
A bell jingled as Kid Curry pushed open the door of the local hat maker.
A young woman, pretty, probably in her early twenties, greeted him with a smile. “How can I help you, sir?”
“Lookin’ for a hat.” Curry pointed toward his head, stating the obvious.
“We have lots of hats,” she giggled, “bein’ this IS a hat store! I meant what type of hat? Something for your wife?” she checked, interested, and making certain.
“I’m not married,” he blushed.
She smiled again. “For yourself, then. Business, formal wear, everyday, work hat…” she trailed off.
“Just a regular hat. For ev’ryday I s’pose.” He smiled back. “Good for keepin’ the sun an’ rain outta my eyes.”
“I have just the right hat for you!” She led him to a hat rack containing dozens of choices.
“How about this one? I think it will fit your facial features along with your needs.” She held out a brown, floppy-brimmed hat.
He took it from her, inspecting it before placing it on his head and looking into a conveniently placed mirror. “You make all these? Or ship ’em in?”
“Father and I make all the hats we sell. Every last one of them!” she finished, proudly.
“Well made,” he nodded. “You and your father do fine work,” he admired. “You pick ’em good too,” he confided, approving of her choice.
“It does seem to be missing something though,” she pondered, studying her customer, hands on hips, tapping the toe of one boot against the wooden floorboards. “Can you wait here a minute?”
“Sure,” he answered, curious.
Fumbling noises came from a room at the back of the hat store. Finally, the woman returned. “Let me see that a minute.”
He relinquished the hat and watched as she removed the brown leather band, replacing it with a string of rectangular silver conchos, each with a small stone at the center.
She placed it again on his head, grinning. “Looks real good on you, mister! I was making a belt for myself, but it looks much better on you. Brings out the color in your eyes.” She gasped at her boldness, having spoken aloud more than she intended.
“It does,” he flashed her another smile, this one nearly taking her breath away. “I’ll take it!”
He glanced at her, suspicious. “Huh? Ma’am, this hat’s gotta be worth… Surely you gotta need… And what about the conchos you added? The ones for your belt?”
Her gaze dropped, embarrassed. “Consider it a gift, Mister…”
“Jones, Ma’am. Thaddeus Jones.”
“Consider it a gift, Mr. Jones.”
“Can’t do that, ma’am. Wouldn’t be right.” He hesitated. “Unless…”
“Unless you’d consider joinin’ me for dinner this evenin’?”
She swallowed hard. “I’d like that,” came her choked whisper.
“Until dinner then, Miss… Didn’t catch your name, ma’am.”
“It’s Lizz.” She pointed up.
His eyes followed her finger’s path to the sign hanging above. “Lizzy’s Leather Works, Hat Making and Millinery.” He smiled. “Until dinner then, Miss Lizzy.”
A dark-haired outlaw pulled himself from the water rubbing the rough towel across his skin. “Water sure feels good, huh, Kid?”
Kid Curry ignored the question, floating, watching the flash of green light from the stand of pines at the lake’s edge.
“Ya s’pose she and I will ever cross paths again, Heyes?”
“You mean the woman you had dinner with last night? Or that other ‘she’?”
Curry’s feet dropped to the lake’s sandy bottom. “What other, ‘she’? Lizzy’s the only woman that…”
“Lizzy’s the only WOMAN, you’re right about that! But she wasn’t the only ‘she’.”
“Heyes, did I ever tell you, you make me crazy sometimes?” Curry lifted himself from the water and began vigorously rubbing at his own skin. “What other ‘she’?”
“The ‘she’ who stole your hat, Kid. The coyote.”
Two blue eyes blinked, in exasperation.
Two brown eyes smiled, revealing two dimples.
Lizzy sat on the porch of the home she shared with her father, her canine companion comfortable at her feet. “You need to quit stealing from travelers, Kaliska,” Lizzy chided, one hand resting on her pet coyote’s head.
The coyote gnawed on the brim of a dark brown leather hat with a single silver band.
“Thaddeus sure needed a new hat, you were right about that, but stealing is wrong, girl… Even if it does bring me more business.” She paused and bit her lip. “And even if it does bring me a customer as handsome as Thaddeus Jones.” She sighed heavily, remembering their dinner, their stroll, the way he’d seen her safely home. “But I couldn’t charge him for it, not knowing YOU were the reason he needed one in the first place. This one time, Kaliska, this ONE time, I’m going to let you slide. You hear me? But there’s not going to be a next time, promise?”
Two eyes blinked in what Lizzy would have liked to interpret as a coyote’s promise.
As Lizzy slipped a piece of jerky from her pocket and into Kaliska’s mouth, she whispered, “Gotta admit you got fine taste, girl! Real fine taste!”
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.