quasar273: (yuletide)
[personal profile] quasar273
Very belatedly, here's my main entry for Yuletide 2008!

Fandom: The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.
Title: Night of the Brotherhood of the Very Secret Thing
Author: Quasar ([livejournal.com profile] quasar273)
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Brisco/Bowler
Date written: December 2008
Length: 5400 words
Summary: Benefits and hazards and of a classical education.

Notes: Written for Blackbird Song in the Yuletide Treasure challenge.




Chapter One: Turning the Nob

San Francisco was shrouded in mist, only the highest hills peering above the thick blanket. Even from the hilltops the silvery orb of the moon struggled to shine through fast-moving clouds. The Autumn air held a damp, foreboding chill of oncoming winter, and the distant whistle of a train sounded almost like the howl of a forlorn predator....

If N. L. Scrimshaw was writing this story, it would probably start something like that. But the truth is, it all began on a beautiful evening. The sun was just setting, the sky was still light, the moon was skimming over the rooftops. It was Springtime, not Autumn, with mild breezes and birds singing and the first flowers blooming. And anyway, there was way too much noise from all the carts and coaches and horses and cable cars to hear any distant trains, much less lonesome wolves or coyotes or anything like that.

Socrates and I were headed up to Nob Hill to meet Bowler for dinner -- he'd promised us a big fancy spread at his mansion. And since I'm being a little more honest than old Mr. Scrimshaw, I have to admit I was feeling just a little anxious. I'd been having some weird dreams lately, nasty dreams about what happened in Warehouse 10 -- and even worse, what didn't happen there. It wasn't enough that I could remember something that hadn't even happened -- at least, not in this version of history, not the real version that everyone else remembers -- but now I had to dream about it, too? So I was looking forward to seeing Bowler in person, bigger than life, to drive those images of Bowler lying dead right out of my head.

But when we reached number 315, Reginald the Butler wouldn't let us past the front hall. "His Lordship wishes me to convey his regrets, but he will not be free to dine with you this evening," said the old guy stuffily.

"What?" sputtered Socrates. "Why not?"

"Yeah, come on," I said, "we were talking to Bowler just yesterday and he was looking forward to having us over for dinner tonight. What could have changed between then and now?"

"His Lordship is unavailable this evening," Reginald insisted.

"He means, Bowler doesn't think we're important enough to keep his appointment with us," Socrates interpreted.

"Nah, he means something came up," I guessed. "The question is, what? Either Bowler's off getting in trouble in one of his crazy schemes to make money, or --" I snapped my fingers. "I bet he has company. An unexpected visitor. Old girlfriend, maybe?"

"That could explain why he doesn't want us around," Socrates said with a nod.

"Is that it, Reginald? Did Lenore Raymond stop by? Or is it someone else?" I craned my head, trying to get a look through the gap in the double doors to the sitting room.

Reginald moved to block me. "I fear I am not at liberty to say --"

But it was too late; I'd already seen someone moving on the other side. "Bowler, come on, least you could do is say no to our faces!" I called through the crack of the door.

"Awright," came Bowler's familiar growl from the other side. "NO! That good enough for ya?"

I shouldered Reginald out of the way and pushed the doors open. "Now, that wasn't to our faces." I froze. "And speaking of faces, what happened to yours?"

Sprawled across his settee, Bowler scowled at me with one eye; the other was covered with a lump of raw meat. "See, this is why I told Reginald to send you away, 'cause you won't take NO for an answer!"

"But what happened?" Socrates insisted from behind me.

"What's it look like?" Bowler pouted. "I got in a fight!"

I moved in for a closer look. "Some fight! How many of them were there?" Aside from whatever bruises and swelling were hidden under the steak, the other half of Bowler's face was decorated with a nasty set of parallel scratches. "And what did you do to make her angry at you?" I gestured at the scratches.

Bowler pushed my hand away. "Five. And they wasn't no women. But they're lookin' worse'n I am tonight. Now, will you leave me alone? I ain't ready for dinner."

"I can see why," said Socrates. "You're not going to be eating much except soup for a few days."

"I'll be fine by tomorrow, if you just leave me in peace," Bowler grumbled.

I met Soc's eyes and gave a shrug. "All right, Bowler... but next time you decide to take on a pack of alley cats, let me know so I can back you up."

Chapter Two: That Time of the Month

On the hillsides, sheep huddled nervously together. In the town, the good folk shuttered their windows against the night. Down by the wharves business carried on, voices and faces appearing and disappearing through the swirling mist.

Socrates and I ended up eating at Stanyan's, after a little discussion.

"If you'd prefer the Horseshoe Club..." he offered.

"Nah, that's all right," I said quickly. "Dixie's out of town right now, and Ellie's sorta mad at me."

"Mad, why?"

I winced. "Well, we were discussing women's suffrage -- which I think is a good idea, don't get me wrong -- but I kinda ended up taking the position of devil's advocate. Just to make sure that all sides of the issue were presented, you understand."

Socrates nodded solemnly.

"I don't think Ellie really appreciated the rhetorical elegance of my debating style," I finished up.

"I know just what you mean," Socrates said. "It's one of the hazards of a classical education. Puts you out of touch with the common man."

I looked up and down Soc's three-piece suit, then down at my own very common, dusty leather gear. "Yeah, it does that," I agreed, just to keep him quiet.

It was when our meal was winding down that Socrates started to go quiet and thoughtful. I knew him well enough to realize that this could be a bad sign, or it could mean next to nothing. Trying to guess what might be bothering him, I looked around to see if there were any conspicuous government agents (nope), rich robber barons (no), or crazed lawyer-stalking women (not a one). But I did catch sight of a familiar profile just coming in the door. "Hey, Professor! Over here." I waved Professor Wickwire over to our table.

His face lit up in that goofy grin of his, and he pulled an extra chair up to sit with us. "Brisco! And Socrates! I see you've been exiled from the Horseshoe Club, too."

"Did Ellie get mad at you?" I asked.

"What? No, no, but it just isn't the same without Dixie there. Those other dancers can't hold a candle to her." Wickwire sighed wistfully. "But what's that you have, Socrates? You're not peeking at dirty pictures under the table, are you?" he added with a wink.

"What? Oh, no, no!" Socrates lifted up the little volume he'd been thumbing through. "It's the Old Farmer's Almanac; I just got my copy today. I'm looking something up, trying to figure out... hmmm..." He flipped back a few pages.

"What is it, Soc, trying to see when the planets will align to favor your love life?" I teased.

"Actually, there's no reason to suppose the positions of the stars and planets have any direct bearing on human activities," lectured Professor Wickwire.

"No, of course, not," said Socrates quickly. "But there are certainly things that depend on the season... and the phases of the moon... Brisco, wasn't Bowler sick a few weeks ago?"

"Sick?" I echoed.

"Yes -- remember, he begged off from that poker game?"

"Oh, well, lovesick maybe," I conceded. "That was a little while after we came back from helping out Lenore Raymond in Hard Rock. I think Bowler took the rejection a little hard."

"That was around the seventeenth, wasn't it?"

"About that."

Socrates flipped back more pages. "And a month or so before that..."

I thought back. "That would be when we were stopping the Swill brothers from pulling off that bull swindle, remember?"

"Ah, yes..." Now Socrates had a pen and was circling dates on some of the pages of the almanac. "That just might explain it. I'm starting to see a pattern here."

"What kind of pattern?" I craned my neck to see.

"Have you noticed that Bowler gets ill or, well, unsociable at about the same time each month?"

"Bowler's always unsociable," I retorted.

"More so than usual. Once a month," Socrates insisted.

Professor Wickwire giggled. "If you're trying to persuade us that Lord Bowler is really a woman in disguise, you've picked a tough case to argue!"

"Hardly that," Soc snorted.

"What are you getting at, then?" I asked.

He closed the almanac and folded his hands earnestly on the table. That, I knew, was always a bad sign. "Have you considered that there are other things which follow the phases of the moon?"

"Such as?" I prompted.

"Well..." Socrates's chin quivered for a second. "Lycanthropy. For instance."

I stared at him. "Werewolves? Wait, you're saying you think Bowler is a werewolf?"

"It fits the pattern. He's been ill around the last three full moons. He refuses to socialize with us, but clearly he is going out, and getting into trouble. He says he was in a fight, but did you see those injuries? He looked like he was --" Socrates stopped and looked around and lowered his voice to a penetrating stage whisper. "Mauled by some kind of animal!"

"I think you're getting a little carried away here, Soc."

"Just look at the evidence! It all started when Bowler was exposed to the Swill brothers a few months ago -- a reclusive, inbred clan?"

"So, what, you think they're werewolves and they infected him?" Actually, I could believe almost anything ran in the Swill brothers' heritage. Almost anything, but not that.

Socrates was on a roll. "Look, I was just reading in the paper about a series of attacks on the sheep in San Miguel Rancho, not far from here. The ranch hands said it was a wolf, but the bodies had claw marks on them, so some people thought it might be a mountain lion instead." He sat back triumphantly, as if that proved his case. "Don't you get it? Werewolves use their claws as well as teeth; ordinary wolves don't. And those marks on Bowler's face could certainly have been made by claws."

"Socrates," I said patiently. "Werewolves are fictional. They're myths. Not real. Tell him, Professor."

"I'm afraid I can't definitively say one way or the other," Wickwire said sadly.

"Oh come on, you were just lecturing us on how silly and outdated astrology is! This is the same kind of thing!"

"Not at all. You see, we understand the motions of the planets very well. They're orderly and predictable, not at all like the vicissitudes of human history. But when it comes to the mysteries of nature and diseases of the body, well then, medical science has only begun to scratch the surface. Werewolves... I'd have to say it seems very unlikely, but impossible? I'm not sure science has progressed that far."

"There are werewolf legends going back thousands of years, in almost every human society," Socrates said. "Petronius wrote about them, and so did Ovid. There are American Indian legends, old Norse legends -- the French loup-garou..."

Wickwire chuckled. "Did I ever mention that the French language sets me on fire with passion?"

"Uh, no, I don't think you did," said Socrates, edging his chair a little further from the Professor.

"Soc, I think you're taking your classical education a little too far, here. The same people you're talking about also believed in witches, and burning people at the stake, and demonic possession."

"And some of them still do," Socrates said. "Can you say for sure that they're all wrong? All of it?"

"I can't disprove every single case, no, but --"

"Focus on just one case, then," said Socrates, and stabbed a finger at his almanac. "If Bowler isn't a werewolf, then what was he doing last night? How did he get all scratched up? Why does he go off on his own every full moon? Are you going to get those answers out of him?"

I narrowed my eyes. "Maybe he won't answer questions directly," I said, "but I can find out the truth. And I will." I stood up and waved the waiter over. "Mr. Poole here will be picking up my tab," I said over the sound of indignant splutters. "Since I have some work to do."

Chapter Three: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Bowler?

The wharf district served as home to every kind of depraved criminal and low-life feeding upon the dregs that flowed from the city. And it was there that Brisco County Jr. and his faithful companion Lord Bowler were bound...

The nice thing about staking out a house on Nob Hill was that most of the mansions in the area had little postage-stamp yards with nicely tended bushes perfect for hiding behind. I waited there for a few hours until all the lights went off in Bowler's house, including the last faint candle in his bedroom.

Now, here's where I have to admit something that makes me a little uncomfortable. Actually, the whole subject kinda gives me the willies: the subject of the Orb. Or I suppose I should say, Orbs. Back since the first time I encountered one of them, when it healed me from what should have been a killing shot, I think I was changed a little bit.

At first it was just that I had a kind of connection to the Orbs. I could sense when one of them was nearby, and when I was touching one I sort of knew what it could do and how to use it. By the time of that final confrontation with Bly down in Warehouse 10, I could almost hear the Orbs, as if someone was whispering for my ears alone. That's how I knew how to use the doorways in time -- once to go back and have a conversation with myself that was almost but not exactly like the one I already had, and once to go back and merge with my previous self and change things in a much bigger way.

I think that was also what was happening when I saw my father -- in a screwy kind of way, the damaged Orb was helping me connect with the past, or maybe with a timeline that might have been, if things had gone a little differently. At least, that explanation makes more sense to me than ghosts, and I sure like it better than the idea that I was hallucinating because I'm going insane.

Those connections disappeared when the damaged Orb blew up and Karina took the other two back to the future with her. But something else remained, a more subtle kind of a change inside me. I'm not sure what to call it except instinct, which is a hard thing to pin down. I like to think I've always had a pretty keen sense of intuition -- a man can't survive out in these parts without it, especially a bounty hunter. But ever since I encountered the Orbs, that instinct has been stronger, and I've learned to listen to it a little more closely.

And that's why, when the lights went off in Bowler's house, I listened to the instinct that said nothing more was going to happen tonight. Bowler was too banged up to be getting into trouble. I waited a little longer, just to be sure, but when no one came sneaking out the back door I headed off to do a little investigating in other places.

The San Miguel Rancho had a nice little hill overlooking the sheep pens. I may not be the tracker that Bowler is, but the light of the moon was strong enough to show me boot marks and cigar butts. Men, several of them, had been hanging out here for at least a few hours sometime in the past few days, since the last time it rained. I doubted that any wolves or coyotes or even mountain lions would have stayed in the area with those smelly cigars around.

I also found something else glinting in the moonlight, something I didn't recognize, but I had a pretty good idea who could tell me about it. I waited until morning to go look him up -- just to be polite.

When I got to 777 1/2 Carney Street, Lee Pow was quick to disabuse me of my first idea. "No, it's not Chinese," he said, looking at the tool I'd found. "Indian."

"Indian?" I turned the thing around. It looked sort of like a set of brass knuckles with sharp spikes attached. "I've never seen an Indian using anything like this."

"Not Red Indian. From India," Lee Pow clarified. "Called Bagh-nakh, the tiger's claws. Use in palm of hand, like this." He tucked his hand into the metal contraption and made a slapping motion. The claws slashed wickedly through the air.

"Okay, that explains... something, I guess. Kill some sheep and make it look like an animal did it. But who, and why would they want to?"

Lee Pow shrugged. "Kill the sheep, steal the lambs. Lamb meat is expensive this time of year -- shepherds aren't ready to cull their flocks yet."

"They will in a few weeks, though. A lamb on every table."

"A few weeks may be too late for a traveler passing through."

I looked around at the street bustling with people from every continent of the world. There were sure a lot of travelers here, but it still didn't make sense to me. "So eat beef instead -- there's always plenty to go around."

"But the cow is sacred to some sects in India. Forbidden to eat except during special ceremony."

I looked down at the tiger's claws in my hand. "Indian, huh?" Maybe that was the who, or a part of it. I had learned something, but I wasn't sure what it meant just yet.

After that it was back to the hotel for some rest, then I was up keeping an eye on Bowler's house before the sun went down. I didn't care whether it was instinct or some kind of supernatural sense of where destiny was headed or just knowing my partner, but a little voice was telling me something would happen tonight. Bowler was a fast healer and a hard man to keep down. Whatever trouble he'd been getting himself into, I was betting he'd be ready for more of it tonight.

Sure enough, a couple of hours after sunset I heard the door creak and Bowler came stepping out of his front door. The swelling had gone down in his eye, and the scratches on the other cheek were almost invisible in the flicker of the gas streetlights. He looked around before stepping out, but he didn't see me; it was just the natural caution of a man who's been a hunter or hunted (or both) for most of his adult life.

That same caution made it tough to follow him without giving myself away, so I had to hang back a bit. I'd taken a couple of extra precautions too, like taking my spurs off and putting leather pads under the heels of my boots. A few blocks from his house, in an area with more businesses and shops, Bowler ducked into an alley.

He was either trying to get away, or setting a trap for the person following him. I hurried into the alley, but carefully.

I stopped and ducked behind a crate when I saw Bowler's shadow on the wall ahead, thrown by the light from a gas lamp. He wasn't lying in wait for me, but at first I couldn't tell what he was doing. I thought for a moment he might be struggling with something or someone, as his shadow writhed and distorted along the wall. Then an even crazier thought came to me: what if Socrates was right, and Bowler was transforming into something else, something not entirely human?

And then the shadow straightened and shook itself and turned a little, and the shape of it came clear. Bowler hadn't turned into an animal, just changed his hat; from a certain anglethe silhouette of the long curled brim looked almost like a snout, but it was just a regular hat like the one I wore every day. Not Bowler's usual style, though. As he stepped out of the alley I saw he was wearing a different coat, too. He hardly looked like the man I'd gotten to know so well, without his ratty duster and jaunty bowler hat.

Just what kind of trouble could Bowler be getting into that he thought he had to try to disguise himself? It didn't seem like my friend at all.

I followed him down through the winding streets of the business district. About the time we crossed Washington Street I started to get nervous. This was a seedy, dangerous area known locally as the Barbary Coast. The kinds of businesses that tended to thrive here were saloons, brothels, gambling parlors, opium dens, and saloons with a sideline in gambling, prostitution, and opium. We were close to the docks here, but even the toughest sea salts wouldn't wander around here alone. Bowler could handle himself, sure, but it was always best to some backup with you in an area like this. Men walking alone here tended to disappear and wake up on a ship bound for the other side of the world.

Bowler wasn't exactly keeping to the safer well-lit areas, either. He stopped in a doorway and spoke to a shadowy figure -- I couldn't even tell if it was a man or a woman. He moved around a corner, and several men in dark clothes drifted after him.

This was where I stepped in. Bowler was in the alley having a low-voiced standoff with one of the gang, but he'd break the standoff if he turned to keep an eye on the guy creeping up behind him. So I took care of that part.

"Now, now," I said, catching hold of the hand that had been about to bring a sap crashing down on Bowler's skull. "Five against one might be fair, when that one is my friend here, but there's no need for nasty tools like this." With a twist, I forced him to drop the weapon.

He tried to throw a punch with his left hand; I ducked it and hit him in the stomach hard enough to put him down for a couple of minutes. And then the fur was flying.

"Brisco, what are you doin' here?" Bowler demanded when we ended up back to back for a moment in the middle of the fray.

"Watching your back, what else?" I snapped, and then I had to duck something that looked like a machete.

I wasn't sure who our attackers were, but they had a lot of friends, and they just kept coming. Finally Bowler and I had to make a run for it. Our escape involved a lot of alleys, a back room with some very private goings-on, a very long pier, and a dip in the bay -- almost. Instead of jumping in the water I managed to land us in a leaky rowboat. It wasn't that much drier than swimming, but it got us across to the next pier in time to lose our pursuers.

Once we got back to a more civilized part of town where we could dry off our outsides and wet our insides with something a little less watery, it was time to try to get the real story. I got us a table in a private corner of the public house where I could grill him properly, and I started with a nice straightforward question. "What the heck were you doing down there, Bowler?"

"Investigatin'," he grumbled.

"Try again," I said. "If it was legitimate business you would have asked me to go with you -- that's a nasty place to be alone."

"I can take care o' myself."

"That's not what your face says," I pointed out, gesturing with my beer at the scratches on his cheek. On a closer look I could see that the spacing matched the tiger's claws perfectly, but it must have been a glancing blow since the cuts weren't very deep. "Why did those guys attack you?"

"They probably want more hands for their ship, isn't that how it usually goes?" Bowler pouted into his drink.

"The guy with the sap tonight, and all his sailor buddies? Maybe. You could have woken up halfway to Shanghai."

"Calcutta, more likely," he said. "Those fellas were Lascars."

That brought me back to the tiger claws. "Okay, but whoever opened your face a couple nights ago wasn't trying to lure you onto a ship. You made someone really angry, didn't you?"

"Must be my naturally charming personality." He twisted his mouth into a sour smile.

"If this was all for a case, you wouldn't be so determined to hide it. Come on, Bowler, give! Whatever you think my reaction will be, it can't be as bad as getting beat up by five guys."

Bowler rolled his eyes. "Fine. If you must know, I was looking for some companionship, all right? I have... needs."

I blinked. "There are better places for that. Safer. A better class of... companions." Not quite as cheap, it was true, and Bowler was pretty stingy. But it was the wrong area to try to economize.

He shook his head. "Not the kind I'm looking for. My needs are more specialized." He wouldn't meet my eyes, and if it were possible with his complexion, he would probably have been blushing.

My mind blanked for a moment. What kind of special or sordid acts would Bowler be looking for that a regular class of floozy couldn't provide?

And then it clicked for me. He went to an area with lots of sailors. He spoke to a person who could have been either a man or a woman -- or one dressed up as the other.

I leaned over the table. "Are you talking about the Greek vice?"

Bowler's forehead furrowed. "Huh?"

"Sodomy? Buggery? Rogering? Homos--"

"Shh, shh!" He patted the air frantically. "Keep it down, will ya?" He looked around at the few bodies decorating the bar. "I don't want anyone gettin' any ideas."

"What kind of ideas? Thinking you like that sort of thing? But they'd be right, would they?"

Bowler squinted unhappily. "Some people think it makes a man weak, wantin' to.... bend over like that."

And that brought a whole new set of images to mind. I'd been thinking it would be the other way around, which had its own kind of appeal. But if Bowler had the occasional craving for someone to give him that kind of treatment, I could almost -- almost -- see why he thought the docks might be the right place to go looking.

I sat back a little in the chair and let my legs spread a little wider. "That's a recent way of thinking," I said casually. "Anyone who's read the classics knows it used to be a regular part of life. They thought it made someone more manly, not less."

Bowler boggled. "The classics? Like, fancy literature? They have stuff like that in there?"

"Sure! Catullus, Homer, Sappho -- they were a pretty lively bunch back then, I'll tell you." Then I leaned in again and gave Bowler my best, most charming grin. "And you know something else? There's no place better than Harvard to get a real classical education."

His eyebrows were rising up to his hairline now. "Are you saying that -- that you..."

"Uh-huh." I gave my lips a little lick. "You remember Matt Carter? He was my roommate back at Harvard. We taught each other a lot, him and me."

The surprise held for a few more seconds, then Bowler's eyebrows snapped down suspiciously. "You're gettin' me on."

"Not yet. But I'd like to."

"You'd really... with me?"

"Who better? Couple of partners helping each other out? It's perfect. I wish you'd told me about this before, Bowler -- could have made those long nights on the trail a lot warmer." I grinned at him.

"Wait a second," he growled. "If you really mean it..."

"Sure I do."

"I don't want you gettin' no ideas about the long term. This is just a convenience thing. I got plans, Brisco. I'm going to settle down someday, have me a family."

"So am I, someday," I said. "But until then... like you said, a man has needs."

"That's right," he said, still not sure if he should trust me.

"This would be cheaper, safer, and more fun than paid companionship. So why don't we go back to your place -- or mine, if you prefer -- and see if we can do something about those needs. In a mutual, convenient kind of way."

Bowler swallowed hard. "All right, let's do that."

And this is where I have to draw a curtain across the scene. Because even if I'm not writing a dimestore novel, I'm not writing that kind of story, either. I'll just leave it at this: the arrangement worked out to be mutually convenient and satisfying. Bowler's favorite sawed-off shotgun turned out to be a pretty good match for his personal arsenal, and I enjoyed the benefits of it myself.

Chapter Four: A Very Secret Thing

Socrates Poole shook his head in wonder. "I can't believe you actually tracked the Wolf Man to his lair and brought him to justice. The ranchers promised a rich bounty for this one!"

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: Socrates. We did have to do some fast talking to persuade him that his werewolf idea really was crazy, without telling him what was really going on.

"Illegal press-gangs?" he said doubtfully.

"Sure, everyone knows they prey on any visitor down near the docks at night. That's why Bowler set a trap for them."

"But... isn't that the job of regular law enforcement?" Socrates said.

"They wasn't doing it very well, was they?" said Bowler. "Sailors comin' in from all over the world, stealing people off our streets --"

"And sheep off our ranches," I filled in.

"So I thought I'd lend a helping hand."

"Not much in the way of a bounty, but we have the satisfaction of a job well done!" I said. And I was satisfied -- even a little smug, when I noticed the way Bowler kept squirming around in his seat.

"But what about the full moon?" Socrates protested. "It was a perfect correlation -- I had it all worked out!"

"And you were right. But you forgot about something else that follows the phases of the moon."

"What's that?"

"The tides!" I said triumphantly. "Sailors live by the rhythm of the tides. When the moon is full, the timing is perfect -- high tide is in the middle of the night, so they can go out and get some new deckhands in the wee small hours, then leave the harbor on the falling tide before their new recruits wake up."

Socrates blinked rapidly. "I guess that could explain it."

"It explains everything, Soc. You took the evidence and leaped to completely the wrong conclusion -- like seeing hoofprints and hypothesizing zebras instead of horses."

"I guess." Socrates shook his head wonderingly. "You win this one, Brisco. But I'll get the better of you one of these days!"

"Maybe you will, Soc," I laughed, "but it won't be a case involving mythological creatures!"

On our way out of the building, Bowler bumped shoulders with me. "You can talk him into anything, can't you?"

I shrugged. "Like good old P.T. Barnum said, Bowler, you can fool some of the people all of the time."

"Just don't get any ideas about foolin' me."

I gave him a grin. "Never, partner. You can trust me." And I winked.
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