“And now for our final number, Hank and I will perform ‘He Was a Dandy!’”
Isabelle curtsied to the applauding audience in the tiny theater. Halfway up she caught Victor’s eye, who gave the ‘drag it out’ sign as he slipped his hand into an old woman’s handbag. She winked and smiled, then nodded at Hank, who set his fiddle under his chin.
She began to sing, tap dancing as Hank played the lilting melody. Glancing through the crowd, she tried not to focus her attention on her partners for too long. They usually never got to ‘she wore a bonnet with a stuffed tomato on it’ without blowing their cover…
As Hank played the notes to start the final chorus, she noticed Thaddeus stepping up next to a well-dressed man and reach for his pocket watch. Hank slightly shook his head, furrowing his brows at him. Isabelle’s eyes widened- his finger skillfully grazed the chain as she began to sing slower and slower. Hank nudged her in the side and she regained her show smile.
Suddenly, Thaddeus reached too far, poking the man in the ribs. He jumped and snapped his head to the side.
“What are you doing?!” he said.
Isabelle tripped on her final shuffle as Hank popped a string in surprise.
“Well, g’night folks!” she exclaimed with a grin. They hurried offstage as the confused murmurs turned to angry shouts.
“That Thaddeus, always tryna show off...” Hank growled as he grabbed his coat on the way out of the back door. “I told him to go for the risky stuff in the middle of the show, not the end. I’ll go git the wagon; round up the others.”
Isabelle squinted in the dark. “If they try to run out the front way, I ain’t coverin’ for ‘em again-” She turned the corner and yelped as someone grabbed her arm and snapped on a handcuff.
“Gotcha. That’ll teach ya to swindle from-”
A lantern being turned up revealed a young deputy’s wrist connected to Isabelle’s with the cuffs.
“Oh- I mistook you for one of those thieves in the dark. I’m awful sorry ma’am, I know a sweet thing like you wouldn’t associate with people like that- I got reports that pickpockets would be workin’ here and I- terribly sorry, great show by the way.”
Isabelle raised an eyebrow, then played along. “Well, I’d appreciate the sentiment a whole bunch more if you would kindly unhand me, sir.” she said sweetly.
“Isabelle! Get in the wagon or I’m takin’ yer share of the loot!” A voice called in the dark.
She sighed as the deputy’s mouth fell open.
“I guess I was wrong.” He narrowed his eyes.
“Isabelle! What’s takin’ so-” Hank put his hands on his hips as the others followed behind. “Whadda we have here?”
“Now, I’ll have you know the sheriff and the rest of the deputy’s will be here any minute.” The deputy said, reaching for his gun. “Just put yer hands up and-”
“I don’t think so,” Victor said. Some of the men hurried to their horses, checking over their shoulders.
“Are you really gonna go shootin’ around in the presence of a lady?” He said, pointing his own gun as the other members of the group surrounded him.
The deputy raised his hands and dropped his gun as they grabbed him, pulling him towards the wagon with Isabelle close behind.
“She’s no lady! She’s a con!”
Isabelle grunted as she fell and banged her knee. “Hey, whatever you do to him happens to me, ya know!”
“What are you doing?!” The deputy demanded as the wagon disappeared into the night.
“Makin’ our getaway. Can’t go and abandon our star performer while she’s shackled to the likes of you, now, can we? Pretty hard to make a profit without her!” Victor grinned.
“Thanks,” Isabelle scowled. “Now, get your key and unlock this, yellowbelly!” she insisted, jabbing him in the chest.
“It’s Jeremiah, and gladly!” He huffed, reaching in his vest pocket. His eyes widened as he felt his other pocket. “Shoot!”
“What?” Isabelle growled.
“Must’ve fallen out when you fellas roughed me up! That’s what happens when you mess with the law.”
“Naw, that’s what happens when you mess with us!” Thaddeus said as the others burst out laughing.
“It’s not funny! You wouldn’t be laughin’ if you was chained to him!” Isabelle exclaimed, punching him in the arm with her handcuffed hand. Jeremiah grunted as his cuffed arm jerked to the side. “We have to turn back and look for the key!”
“You wanna get caught by the sheriff?!” One of them called.
“No!” she shot back.
“Aw, don’t worry darlin’, we won’t leave y’all like that. We’ll head to Maycorn, the blacksmith there’ll chop ‘em right off. He’s a friend to outlaws.” Hank said.
“And then what? Let him head back here and report us?” Another exclaimed.
“Good point. We can’t trust him not to tattle on us, I suppose.” Victor chuckled, grabbing Jeremiah’s hat on his head and placing it on his own.
“Not to keep quiet about thieves like you, no, not as far as you could throw me,” Jeremiah pointed. Isabelle rolled her eyes as her cuffed hand was jerked around.
“You’d be surprised.” Victor crossed his burly arms. Jeremiah gulped.
That night when they set up camp in the plain, Jeremiah slowly sat up in the wagon and eyed the others sleeping around a campfire. Isabelle had finally fallen asleep next to him after a lot of difficulty. He snapped his fingers, and she didn’t stir- out like a light.
Ever so gently, he scooped her up and scooted out of the wagon, approaching one of the horses. Jeremiah paused. Now how was he going to mount the horse without waking her up…?
She shifted in his arms as he froze.
“What’re you-” Isabelle exclaimed, jumping to the ground as he clapped his hand over her mouth. He hopped on the horse and pulled her up with him as he cut it loose from the wagon, kicking it in the side.
“Hey! Let me go, what’re you doing?!” she shouted. As they rode away the others could be heard shouting after him.
“Getting out of here. I’m doing you a favor.” Jeremiah said, glancing over his shoulder with a grimace, seeing the others mounting their horses and heading after them.
“Oh, really?!” Isabelle exclaimed. “And what would that be, exactly?”
Jeremiah looked at her. “You mean to tell me you want to stay? To live like this?”
“They’re family! Sort’ve. And I have my reasons, which are none of your business! You can’t just go judgin’ a book by it’s cover, it ain’t proper. I’m not like most gals.”
“You’re tellin’ me.” Jeremiah sighed.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” she glared.
“Oh, I think you know what it means…” He panted as he looked over his shoulder again, moaning at the sight of the men gaining on him.
“You’re right.” Isabelle said pleasantly. “And that’s just fine. Cuz’ as long as we’re chained up, you’re answerin’ to me! Turn back, NOW!” she demanded, pulling a gun strapped to her leg out from under her skirt, twisting around on the horse and pointing it to his chest.
“Whoa, whoa- there’s no need to-”
“I’m the one holding the gun here, I make the rules!” she insisted.
At that point the others caught up to him, surrounding them with their horses.
“Don’t worry fellas, he was just about to surrender,” Isabelle said.
“Aw, don’t mind her, she just carries that thing around for show,” Thaddeus laughed. “It’s Victor that’ll blow yer head off without a second thought.”
Her face turned red as Jeremiah’s turned white.
“Welp, it’s about sunrise.” Victor said, pleased with himself. “Time to hit the-”
They watched the wagon, now uneven without the horse Jeremiah was now riding, roll down the hill over the campfire. The men glared at him as it burst into flames.
“My fiddle was in there!” Hank growled.
“Quit yer bellyaching. If Miz Isabelle works a little harder on her purty singin’ ‘stead of her sharp shootin’, she can carry the show without ya!” one of them said as they laughed.
Isabelle glared at Jeremiah. “If we don’t get to the blacksmith’s soon, someone’s losing a hand.”
The next day was equally unbearable. Since half of the men without horses rode in the wagon, they decided Jeremiah should walk, too. Isabelle wasn’t happy either, as they insisted she ride while Jeremiah walk along side her, as they didn’t want her money-making tap feet to blister.
“I don’t see what you’re so angry about,” Jeremiah complained, his cuffed hand attached to hers raised, wiping his sweat on his shoulder. “I’m the one who has to walk in the heat, smelling my own armpit for hours!”
“Oh, shut up, I bet it smells like daisies, ya pansy.” She shot back. “I’m mad they don’t treat me like an equal. I do just as well as they do. I even had my own ‘Wanted’ poster in Reddingburg-”
“Why on earth would you want that?” Jeremiah looked up at her. “Don’t you want to make an honest living?”
“I’m no good at sewing clothes, if that’s what you mean. Doesn’t make much in the means of cash, neither. Sides, it’s sorta hard to make an honest living once you got a ‘Wanted’ poster…”
“Well, whaddya need money for? You’re ‘family’ or whatever seem to be doing just fine, robbing good people of their earnings! Why don’t you let them support you?” he growled.
Isabelle pulled hard on the reigns, making him trip. “I don’t need help from nobody. Everyone earns their own share here. And don’t think I’m saving up to buy a new pair of shoes or nothing. This is important.” She kicked the horse in the side as Jeremiah’s arm was jerked forward.
“Well, what’s so important you’d stoop so low as to become a con?” he asked.
She glared at him.
“No, really. You have my attention, no more bellyaching. We’re going to be attached at the wrist for awhile now still, might as well make the most of it.”
“If you must know, I’m saving up for my father’s bail. He was framed by yellowbellies just like you. It ain’t right what I’m doing, but there are worse things.”
She kicked the horses’ side harder as Jeremiah yelped, running alongside.
“Wait, hold on! You can’t just say something that cryptic and leave me hanging! What was he framed for? Who framed him? So many questions!”
“Shut up, okay! Just shut yer mouth! Sheriff Johnson framed him for robbing the market of extra crops, keepin’ ‘em for himself, and threw him in jail, just so he could sell our land and keep the profits!” she shouted. “Luckily the men took me in or I’da starved to death. Ya happy, ya busybody?!”
Jeremiah stopped in his tracks as the horse kept going, causing Isabelle to fly off into him.
“What’s you’re problem?” she said.
“He’s my uncle…”
“Well, sorry you’re kin isn’t as sweet as you thought, but-”
He turned to her. “He is not a good man… he does not deserve the title of Sheriff.”
“Well, then.” Isabelle nodded, getting to her feet to follow the others. “We’re on the same page, then.”
The next day, the group tied up their horses and crowded into the tiny blacksmith shop.
“Well, it’s been nice knowing you all…” Jeremiah said.
“Oh, don’t think you’re getting off that easy. Once we un-attach you from our Miss Moneymaker, we have to make sure you won’t cause trouble for us down the road.” Victor said, laying a heavy hand on his shoulder as he jumped.
Isabelle nudged him in the side and passed him a note. Jeremiah glanced down and read as Victor pushed them towards the blacksmith’s work table.
‘We both have a bone to pick against Johnson.’ It read. ‘If you trust me, follow my lead and I’ll help you make it out of here alive. Just help me get revenge.’
“So, this procedure’ll be a little risky, gotta watch for sparks. My eyesight’s not as good as it used to be, but I’ll cut this thing off best I can. Y’all up for it?” The blacksmith said gruffly.
Jeremiah nodded absentmindedly, drunk with the idea of bringing his uncle to justice.
He caught Isabelle’s eye across the table, their cuffed hands in the middle.
He nodded. “I’m in.”
The Dancer, the Deputy, and the Deal
“And now for our final number, Hank and I will perform ‘He Was a Dandy!’”