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Fic: Too much of a good thing

Just a brief interlude between Dearly Beloved chapters... here's a little one-off fic written for the Seven Deadly Sins Challenge at the Writer's Ranch. My sin was gluttony.



There was little conversation at the supper table that night, as the boys and Lou devoured the beefsteak that Rachel had prepared. Only Teaspoon ate daintily, savoring every mouthful, waiting for an opening. When it was clear that none of the riders were going to stop eating long enough to ask him about his day, he pulled out the envelope from his shirt pocket and twirled it in his fingers. Cody began regaling the group with a story about the goings on in a saloon he had visited during his last run, so none of them paid any attention to the marshal. Frustrated at their lack of awareness, he cleared his throat noisily, the envelope still in his hand.

"What's that, Teaspoon?" Lou finally inquired.

"What, this?" Teaspoon replied, feigning surprise. "Let's see here..."

He took his time open the envelope, eventually pulling from it a thick, cream colored card. He paused dramatically, ensuring he had everyone's full attention. "This, ladies and gentlemen, is my official invitation from the Rock Creek Christian Ladies Charitable Society asking me to be the official head judge of the Blue Ribbon Bake Contest at the town fair on Sunday."

The grand announcement did not have the desired effect.

"Is that all?" Cody muttered, distinctly unimpressed. He turned back to the boys to continue his story.

"Cody, I'll have you know this is a prestigious honor, reserved only for the most respected members of the community," Teaspoon tried again, not to be outdone.

Buck took a look at the invitation and noted the flowery language which did make the contest sound grander than it probably was. Someone had obviously been talking it up to Teaspoon.

"Head judge? Ain't that a bit grand for just eating cake?"

"Just eating cake?" Teaspoon replied, appalled at the lack of deference being paid to him. "It takes a finely tuned palette to fully appreciate the gastronomic arts, Buck."

"Whatever you say, Teaspoon."

"How is it you always get picked to judge pie contests?" asked Jimmy, remembering the last time Teaspoon had been called upon to perform such a task. He certainly wasn't the likeliest of suspects, charming as the marshal could be when he had a mind to.

"Firstly, this ain't just a pie contest and secondly, the ladies of this town know what a connoisseur I am, that's why," Teaspoon said loftily.

Cody shook his head. "It ain't right using that kinda language in front of a lady, Teaspoon. Now, Lou may not count, but Rachel..."

Lou glared him but Rachel only smirked.

"Connoisseur, Cody. It means I can tell the difference between gourmet meal and something you scrape out of the bottom of a pan, unlike some of you boys," explained Teaspoon. "I have an appreciation for the finer things in life. And that includes the delectable delights made by the ladies of Rock Creek."

"They know what a sweet tooth you have, more like," Rachel said. "I bet they've already started plying you with treats to win favor."

"There may have been a sample or two left in my office once word got out," admitted Teaspoon airily. "But I won't let that get in the way of the integrity of the position of official head judge."

"Who really cares about who wins some pie contest anyway?" Noah wondered.

"Don't underestimate the power of competition, Noah. These ladies will be vying for the blue ribbon and the knowledge that they are the best cook in these parts."

"And?"

"And things could get ugly, is all I'm saying." Teaspoon sipped his coffee, distinctly pleased with himself.

"What about you, Rachel? You thinking of entering something?" asked Jesse, scraping his plate noisily as he finished eating and looking around for dessert.

Rachel was already starting to serve up some pie onto plates which Buck passed down the table. "Me?"

"Your apple pie's best there is as far as I'm concerned," Buck said, feasting his eyes on the tasty dessert in front of him.

"Why thank you, Buck."

There was general consensus from the others as they made quick work of the pie.

"I don't think it would be right for me to enter, considering," Rachel said thoughtfully.

"I don't see why not. There'll be no favoritism here," Teaspoon replied, swallowing the last of his apple pie. He eyed off the remaining slice in the pan. "But seconds ain't out of the question to get in my good graces."

Rachel smiled as she scooped up the slice and moved towards Teaspoon's waiting plate, before changing her mind and serving it onto Buck's instead. Teaspoon raised his eyebrows in mock annoyance, while Buck only grinned.

Cody grumbled loudly in protest. "I like your apple pie too, Rachel. I can be a cono-sewer."

"Thank you as well, Cody." Rachel took a seat in the rocking chair by the fire and picked up her book. "But I won't be entering. I got too much to do at the school to be worrying about some pie contest."

"Blue Ribbon Bake Contest. That's a real shame, Rachel, but at least the other ladies will have a fighting chance now," Teaspoon said, nodding to her in thanks for the meal as he prepared to head back to his office. He bent down and whispered conspiratorially to Noah on his way out, "And it means I won't have to suffer if she don't win."

"Well, I guess that only leaves Jimmy to represent the Express," said Cody after Teaspoon had gone, "and I don't fancy our chances."

Jimmy frowned, annoyed at the continued jibes he received about his cooking abilities.

As the other boys laughed, Lou looked up from her plate. "I can cook."

Everyone seated around the table scoffed, apart from Kid who ducked his head so she wouldn't see the disbelief on his face as well.

"What?" she said defensively. "My ma taught me her recipe for the best sponge cake you'd ever have in your life."

"And where have these cake making skills been hiding? I ain't seen 'em," Cody chortled.

"Well, it's been a while since I tried it," Lou replied less confidently. "And I always had my ma to help."

"Ha! You can't cook."

"I can too."

Cody threw her patronizing smile. "Fine, Lou, why don't you enter the contest and show us all."

"Maybe I will," Lou countered defiantly. She stood up from the table abruptly and stomped out of the bunkhouse.

"Better warn Teaspoon first!" Cody called after her.

"Thank you for volunteering to do the dishes tonight, Cody," Rachel chimed up from her rocking chair.

"Aw, Rachel!"

The other boys quickly mumbled their thanks to Rachel for supper and made excuses to leave. They scrambled to exit the bunkhouse, leaving Cody sitting alone at the table full of dirty dishes.

* * *

"Come on! I'm telling you, you gotta see this!" Jesse said over his shoulder, as he led Cody, Kid and Lou towards the marshal's office. They followed behind unenthusiastically, Kid just having returned from a run.

"This better be good," he grumbled, tired and dusty.

When they reached Teaspoon's office they were met with an amazing sight which stopped them in their tracks. The desk was covered in a variety of cakes, cookies and other baked goods, so many it was difficult to see the wood beneath. There were several kinds of pie oozing with sticky, fruity fillings, cream covered cakes two and three layers high, and a vast array of rich, chocolaty goodies and sugary cookies. Lou and the boys stood back to take in the mouth watering array of sweet treats.

"I think I died and gone to heaven," breathed Cody reverently.

"I thought the bake contest wasn't until Sunday," Kid murmured, wide-eyed.

"It ain't." Cody made a move to sample one of the cookies when Teaspoon suddenly appeared at the door.

"What do you boys think you're doing?" snapped the marshal as he entered his office.

"What is all this, Teaspoon?" asked Kid in awe.

"It ain't none of your concern." Teaspoon rounded his desk and stood in front of it territorially.

"They've been bringing 'em all day," Jesse piped up eagerly.

"Who?" Lou asked.

"The women in town."

Lou rolled her eyes in disgust. "Bribes, Teaspoon?"

"They're not bribes, they're a token of appreciation from the fine, upstanding ladies of this town for their marshal."

Lou crossed her arms across her chest and fixed Teaspoon with a withering stare. "And let me guess, they're all entering the bake contest. That's not right."

Cody pushed her out of the way. "What do you care? You shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth."

Teaspoon stepped forward to intercept him. "Speaking of horses, son, ain't you supposed to be getting ready to ride?"

"I got time, Teaspoon. Time enough to have me some of this cake."

As Cody reached around him for some of the food, Teaspoon slapped his hand away.

"This ain't for you," he growled. "Any of you. Go on, get outta here."

"Aw, come on, Teaspoon, it ain't like you can eat it all yourself," Jesse complained.

"You should be working on your studies. And the rest of you got chores. Go on."

They shuffled out reluctantly, taking a last look at the heavenly spread of food. As he made to leave Cody tried to surreptitiously steal a cookie but Teaspoon was too quick and slapped his hand again. Cody frowned, tucking his hand beneath his other arm as he pouted.

Teaspoon stood guard by the door until they were on their way back to the waystation. Satisfied they weren't coming back he quickly shut the door to his office. Teaspoon walked lightly over the stove where he poured himself a fresh cup of coffee, his mouth watering in anticipation. He sank down slowly into his seat, letting out a contented 'Ah'. With a quick lick of his lips, he rubbed his fingers together and selected a cake to sample first. As he bit down on the creamy concoction Teaspoon moaned in delight.

* * *

The next day Kid finished his chores and made his way to the bunkhouse for a well-earned nap before he had to ride in the afternoon. Instead of finding the empty room he was expecting, he discovered Lou trying to cook, and a making a very large mess at the same time. The table was littered with mixing bowls, flour and eggshells and various other ingredients. Lou herself was looking flustered, a streak of flour visible on her brow.

"Watcha making, Lou?" he asked evenly, trying to hide the mirth in his voice.

"A bonnet. What does it look like?" she replied testily, cracking another egg into a bowl.

"You're not serious about entering the bake contest, are you?"

She glanced up, immediately defensive. "Why shouldn't I?"

Kid grinned automatically. "You can't cook."

"Says you!" she snapped, beating the mixture savagely.

"Well, I ain't never seen you cook before."

"And you ain't never seen me swim across the waterhole and back without taking a breath but I can do that too."

Kid peered into the bowl as he took a seat at the table. He said nothing as he watched her work, choosing not to mention that cake mixture usually didn't look so lumpy. Lou continued for a moment longer but then became self conscious.

"Just because I do the job I do don't mean I can't do other things a woman does," she said quietly, with a hint of defeat in her voice.

Kid's expression softened, his words meaningful. "I know that."

"I guess you do." Lou blushed slightly as he gazed at her.

Kid caught himself staring and turned his eyes away, clearing his throat as he did so. He wasn't ready to have that sort of conversation with her, not when they were getting on so well as friends now. He was afraid to ruin it if there was any suggestion he was thinking of her as more than a friend again.

"I better see if Noah needs a hand with the horses," he said, his nap forgotten. He glanced back only once before reaching the door. "Be sure and save me a slice."

Lou smiled at him, promising, "You can have the seconds tonight."

* * *

That night Kid remembered Lou's promise with some dread as the cake she proudly placed on the table after supper was the most unappetizing thing he had ever seen. Deep brown and lopsided, it looked nothing like the cinnamon sponge she had announced it to be. None of the boys looked too certain as she proudly sliced into it, grimacing only slightly when she struggled to get the knife through to the bottom. She passed out the plates, putting Teaspoon's aside as he had not yet come in for supper. Rachel and the boys stared grimly at the cake, but no one was brave enough to take a bite.

Lou could barely contain her excitement. "Well? Go on."

Still none of the boys made a move until Kid took the lead and spooned a piece into his mouth. He paused mid-chew, a strange looking crossing his face, but then, seeing her look of anticipation, he smiled wanly as he finished chewing and swallowed. He reached for his glass of water and gulped some down as the other boys sampled their own portions. In an instant and en masse, everyone spat out the cake, including Rachel.

"What's wrong?" Lou asked, horrified, before take a bite herself. She promptly spat it out too, her cheeks burning with shame.

"Lou, did you use the sugar from the bag over there?" Rachel managed to splutter as she reached for more water.

"No, I used the pot over the stove."

"Salt, that's the salt!"

"Oops." Lou looked sheepish, glancing around the table at the disgusted faces of the boys. "Guess no one wants seconds?"

* * *

The riders saw very little of Teaspoon over the next few days – they had all been banished from the jailhouse after Jesse, at Cody's urging, tried to steal a couple of the cakes that continued to arrive on the marshal's desk. Cody thought it unfair that Teaspoon was abusing his position as the judge to exclude them from all the tasty treats.

"The least he could do is share," he complained repeatedly, as the boys sat around on the bunkhouse porch watching for any movement from the marshal's office.

Teaspoon had even taken to eating his meals and sleeping at the jailhouse so he didn't have to leave his precious bounty. Jesse, not to be trusted to keep his hands off the baked goods, was banished to the bunkhouse, which made the other riders all the more annoyed with Teaspoon. They longed for peace and quiet and hoped the boy would be allowed to return to his cot in the marshal's office soon.

The whole town was abuzz with preparations for the fair. When the big day arrived folks came from far and wide, and Rock Creek was full of people enjoying themselves. The culmination of the day, as far as the ladies were concerned, was the Blue Ribbon Bake Contest. The church was full of women busying themselves making the final touches to their cakes and other sweets. The riders, drawn by their stomachs as usual, hovered around the judging tables which were laden with delicious looking concoctions.

With the attention of the women and onlookers elsewhere, Lou slipped a cake from behind her back and set it down at the end of the table. Only Kid caught her in the act.

"What are you doing?" he whispered. "I thought you changed your mind about entering after…"

Lou frowned, not wanting to be reminded of her disastrous first attempt. "I've been practicing in Rachel's kitchen."

The cake, while much better than the one she first made a few days before, was still the poorest of the offerings on the table. But Lou beamed with pride as if it were the finest looking cake there. Kid grinned at her, not immune to her good humor.

"Ain't you worried folks are gonna wonder why one of the Pony Express boys has entered a baking contest?" he asked, nudging her playfully in the ribs.

"One of them hasn't." She showed Kid the name card she placed in front of the cake which read 'Rachel Dunne'.

They shared a smile before being interrupted by the minister's wife who was clearly agitated.

"Has anyone seen Marshal Hunter?" she asked them, but speaking loud enough for everyone around them to hear. "He was supposed to be here by now. The invitation clearly said 12 noon for the final judging."

Cody and Jimmy came up behind her, startling her. "We ain't seen him, but we can go find him."

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Cody," she gasped. "Please hurry, this really is most aggravating. There is a schedule of activities."

"Don't you worry, Mrs. Evans." Cody tipped his hat and offered her a charming smile. Truthfully he was just glad of the excuse to go to the jailhouse. With Teaspoon out of the way there would be nothing to stop him helping himself to some cake.

At the jailhouse, however, Cody and Jimmy found no one. The desk, once full of baked goods, was empty, and Teaspoon was nowhere to be found. They were about to leave when they heard a groan from under the desk. Worried, thinking Teaspoon was hurt, they jumped over the partition and found the marshal on the floor. They pulled him out into the light, looking for any sign of injury. Instead they found a half-conscious Teaspoon, his belly bloated and his mouth surrounded by icing and sugar. He groaned again in obvious discomfort.

Jimmy squatted by his side. "Teaspoon, what is it?"

"No more..." he moaned miserably. "Can't eat no more."

Cody looked around the rest of the jailhouse. "You ate all those cakes, everything?" he asked with a mixture of petulance on missing out and admiration for the amazing, gluttonous feat.

Teaspoon only groaned again in response.

"Well, head judge, your presence is requested. The ladies are waitin' on you at the contest and I don't think they're gonna be happy if you don't go and place that blue ribbon," Jimmy said unsympathetically.

"Can't."

"Come on, up you get."

Jimmy and Cody heaved him to his feet and dragged him towards the door. Teaspoon tried to protest but he was barely able to speak. It took all their strength to get him over to the church. Outside they straightened him up as much as they could, brushing the sugar from his whiskers, but they were unable to do anything about the glazed look in his eyes. Cody shoved him unceremoniously through the door.

"Ah, Marshal Hunter, at last!" cried Mrs. Evans when she spied him.

Excited applause filled the church as they ladies took their places behind the judging tables expectantly.

"Ladies and gentleman, our esteemed head judge has arrived and the judging will now begin. Marshal, if you would do the honors..." Mrs. Evans led him towards the tables and handed him a blue ribbon and a fork.

Teaspoon straightened his hat and adjusted his suspenders with difficulty, putting off the inevitable. Accepting the offerings from Mrs. Evans, he smiled deliriously at the room, unable to focus clearly on the food in front of him. Every lady behind the tables was watching him with great anticipation. Finally Teaspoon started sampling the cakes with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, staggering down the line slowly. He grew paler as he continued, nodding and smiling at the entrants but the normally effusive marshal did not utter a word.

"Is he drunk?" Lou whispered to Kid after seeing the state he was in. Kid only shrugged in response.

By the time Teaspoon reached the end of the long tables he could barely open his mouth. He was swaying on his feet when he reached Lou's cake. With poor precision he lifted a piece to his mouth, but as soon as he touched the fork to his lips he dropped it with a clatter. Teaspoon paused, and the crowd of ladies inhaled a collective breath as they waited for the judge's decision. Teaspoon was fighting a losing battle. Before he gave in completely he quickly slapped the blue ribbon down in front of Lou's cake then made a dash for the side door of the church.

There was a smattering of applause. Lou brought her hands to her mouth in surprise and delight before remembering where she was and settled into boy mode. She punched Kid hard in the arm instead. Mrs. Evans emerged from the crowd, frowning at Teaspoon's sudden exit, then peered at the name on the winning entry.

"Rachel Dunne?" she announced in surprise.

Gasps went up in the crowd, followed by an angry buzzing as the other ladies realized that, despite their plying the marshal with sweet treats before the contest, he had named the station mistress as the blue ribbon winner.

"I won?" Rachel asked, stunned at the news.

"Congratulations, Mrs. Dunne," Mrs. Evans said superciliously, shaking her hand.

The boys spilled out of the church in search of Teaspoon. He was slumped weakly against the weatherboard walls, having emptied his stomach several times over. Still groaning incoherently, Jimmy and Cody picked him up and took him back to the jailhouse to sleep it off.

"Oof, let's go, Mr. Cono-sewer," Cody grouched, struggling under his dead weight. "You don't wanna hang around here once these ladies come looking for revenge."

* * *

That night, Teaspoon, feeling a little better, sat at the head of the table as the boys finished supper. He only sipped coffee, choosing not to eat. Rachel proudly announced that for dessert they would be having Lou's prize winning cake. The boys applauded boisterously which made Lou blush. Rachel pinned the blue ribbon onto her shirt front.

"Thank you," she said shyly.

Rachel handed her a knife. "Here, you do the honors."

Lou cut up the sponge cake, placing the biggest slice in front of Teaspoon. "For you, head judge."

The marshal took one look at his plate and blanched.

"Sorry, Lou, I've sworn off sweet things," he announced listlessly.

The other boys happily ate theirs, Cody relieving Teaspoon of his cake.

"Don’t mind if I do," he mumbled, his mouth still full of his own slice.

"No need to be greedy, Cody," Teaspoon said sagely. "Didn't anyone ever tell you gluttony's a sin?"

* * *

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Apr. 13th, 2011 09:24 pm (UTC)
Looking forward to get involved
Hey - I am certainly happy to discover this. Good job!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )