Based on those Outlaws we love to write about-Orlando’s Joe Byrne & Heath’s Ned Kelly, Midnight Run was written for Nuit after she made small comment about Joe & those hands of his. It is interesting how a mere mention of something like that can cause one’s imagination to fire up! I was taken on a short journey with two likeable, warm, funny & open women who I couldn’t help but name Thelma & Louise.
No warnings but please note, some names, places & time lines are unlikely to be accurate.
Hope you enjoy the journey as much as I did.
"C'mon Louise, you ready? It's just after eleven, we have a long way to go tonight...in the dark an' all"
"I'm coming Thelma, stop nagging me. You know I'm not a horsey person... this is important & I want to make sure we don't forget anything" She eyed the horse warily. "Where the hell am I supposed to fit on anyhow?" She tip toed so she could look over the huge saddle at Thelma on the other side.
"Ahh you have to go just behind the saddle there" her hand tapping the small space behind the stock saddle's cantle. The leather girth creaked as she yanked it up another couple of notches.
"You're joking I hope, that doesn't look right, it's too near her bum, I'll bounce right off."
"Well its bloody lucky Cheyenne's bum is big & she's got some power in that behind, I need the stock saddle because the hills are a bit tricky without one. We don't both want to end up in the dirt now do we?" She was laughing but Louise frowned.
"You saying I've got a big bum? Oh all right, gawd the things I do, can't believe it myself sometimes" she muttered.
"Think of Joe & his mates. And hey, I sort of know where I'm going." Thelma tried to sound positive but she knew the dangers of riding in steep country with only the moon's cold light to guide them. The last thing she wanted was for either of them to fall or, perish the thought, actually get lost out there.
"You don't need to tell me to think of Joe, he's the only person that could possibly get me out here doing this. Have you got the rest of the goods packed?"
"Yep" Thelma quickly adjusted the straps on the saddle bags so they were out of the way for Louise's legs. Her dark haired head appeared from under Cheyenne's neck. "Let's get you on first"
"Should be fun...christ, did you have make me wear these stretchy pants, feels like I got Dad's thermal underwear on"
"You'll thank me later...anyway, they come off easy enough" She grinned at the thought.
"Hah, well in that case, they're perfect. Come on then, get this over with."
"Ok hold the horn...you should be good at that. Yep that firm, upright thing on the front of the saddle, now bend your left leg up & jump on the count of three. One...two...three!" Louise obliged with little bounces & then half crashed onto the saddle as Thelma attempted to fling her up.
“Careful with me, I want to at least try & reach him fully intact you know."
"You were supposed to jump the same time as me lifting you on three." She shook with laughter. "Now you have to shuffle back behind the saddle for me" Thelma already had her foot in the stirrup ready to vault up.
"Easier said than done I suspect...wait...wait...stop the beast from moving!" The mare's legs pranced under her, eager to be gone.
Cheyenne spun about as Thelma swung herself into the saddle, her foot just missing Louise. Squeezing hard with her thighs, they quickly headed amongst the trees.
He crept through the bush, quietly, stealthy...well as stealthy as a man who had drunk half a bottle of brandy could. "Not a bad drop either, compliments of the Victorian Constabulary", he spoke to himself. He smacked his lips savoring the taste. Fortunately, he knew the hills with his eyes shut, which was to his advantage, as they almost were.
Someone's Kelpie yelped in the distance, he froze-probably old man Jonesy's dog. A possum cackled in the tree somewhere to his right, hissing loudly. At least the moon was bright although he wasn't sure that was a plus as he might be spotted moving about but it saved him from tripping over the tree roots & stumbling over rocks.
And he wasn't exactly sure of the time anymore, but knew he had at least another half an hour of walking before reaching the meeting point. He sculled the remains of the bottle & hid it in a fallen log before stretching his legs & once more creeping & sliding through the undergrowth.
Thelma & Louise had managed to ride over the first hill in the ranges without too much trouble, but then uphill was always easier, the horse doing all the work for them. They were both shivering a little but it more from the excitement of their adventure than from cold at this stage. Even so, it unnerved the horse as she sensed her riders' thrill of the unknown.
"Here Louise, have a sip of whiskey, it will calm you, just don't start your singing now." she warned. Reaching to her shirt pocket, Thelma took the silver hip flask out & passed it over her shoulder. "Yeah, it means you have to let go of me to open it" Thelma giggled as she heard Louise curse.
The liquid burned Louise's throat, making it's scorching trail all the way to her stomach but it was comforting, like an old friend & she relaxed slightly, handing it back over. They had reached the apex of the ranges & now had the scary descent before them. It was Thelma's turn to swallow a huge mouthful of whiskey; she replaced the bottle to her pocket before carefully urging Cheyenne down the steep, winding track. The bush closed in a little closer on either side of them & the rustles from creatures scuttling away was slightly unnerving. The horse snorted loud in the quiet night, her eyes rolling so the whites of them flashed.
"Easy girl...you're ok" Thelma's voice soothed her & she plunged forward down the track. It was a bit darker here & the trail was full of sharp rocks & boulders in every nook & crag. Cheyenne calmed as she concentrated on the task ahead & Louise began to hum a little.
"You reckon those other guys might come too Louise? You know, that Ned fella & those other blokes?"
"Don't know about that, I only arranged to meet Joe; it's kind of dangerous for them all to be wandering around, someone's sure to be watching. Anyhow, I don't so much as care, as long as he's there." She hummed some more.
"Well, me neither, I was just wondering you know? You hear a lot about Ned, would be kind of cool to meet such a famous like 'outlaw'. Anyway, I'm more interested in his brother Jim, he's lovely, I saw him in Melbourne last week, with a flash suit on"
"You never told me that you saw him, you been keeping something from me Thelma. Jim Kelly, he's nuthin' but a thief. Probably getting his photo taken before he gets six years in the slammer! I haven't laid eyes on him since school." She was reaching for the whiskey again.
Thelma was surprised by her friend's outburst "Well stealing is just a way of life around here...hey you weren't sweet on him were you?" The humming behind her stopped & a loud swallow followed. "Honestly he's real cute now Louise" the words rushing out of her "I wish he were part of the gang, instead of..." She stared dreamily at the stars & Cheyenne chose this particular moment to stumble over the rough terrain. She felt Louise lurch into her.
"You don't know what you're saying Thelma, you don't want to get mixed up with the likes of him."
"Hey but its okay for you to want to be with Joe, he's an outlaw now Louise, so he's bad news too."
Thelma was pouting now-it was always the way with the two of them, they had been friends for many years & yet they could never agree on a guy-especially one for Thelma. Louise felt she had to protect her somewhat naive friend from all the low-life in Victoria as Thelma seemed to think if he could ride a horse & shoot a gun, he was perfect for her.
"I'm just trying to look after you Thelma, you know how you get with those horse-men types & they don't seem good for you. Not that I'm saying all of the Kelly's are like that mind you...I have a lot of respect for Ned... & then there's Dan, well I would rather he wasn't caught up in all of this, he's far too young." She was silent, lost in her thoughts about the young men in the gang & where it would all lead. Somehow she wished they could all turn back time so Joe wasn't running, hiding, holding up banks as his only means of living. And being in the bush could do strange things to a man...
"I guess you are at that. I am old enough to look after myself though & if I make mistakes, maybe I'll learn rather than always wondering if that was the guy for me. He has to be able to ride a horse, don't ya see? I'm not one for going out with those gentlemanly types, nope..they just piss me off with their high-ferlooting ways & their fancy thinking. Me, I'm happy rounding up stock & taking what's to be sold to the market."
"Well I'm easy to please myself, just give me Joe & a shack to live in, I'll grow veges & have his babies till the cows come home." She laughed at the thought. "But Thelma, if Jim looked so handsome in his suit, maybe your tastes are changing-gawd I can only but hope"
"Yeah he was all smart looking in a suit but I'm betting he's just as cute on a horse"
"Shhh...Thelma, what was that?"
They stopped, the mare's ears were forward listening like they were but she seemed calm enough.
"I think we are near the creek, it's just the water." They had reached the floor of the valley without noticing.
Crouched under the slab of granite by the creek, he waited, cursing to himself that he had finished the grog so early & wondering where the heck Louise & her friend Thelma were. It must be nearly time for them to be here.
He heard a dull thud, & another, the unmistakable sound of horse hooves kicking on tree roots. Then a muffled giggle followed by an 'ouch!'. Jesus they were loud, the whole bloody valley probably heard them coming. Still he waited, he wouldn't move until they were in the shadow of the huge rock as the moon was still bright, way above them.
The mare stepped from the bush into the moonlight. 'Not a bad looking mare actually, nice rump on her’ he thought. 'C'mon, just a bit closer now...'
"We're here...shh stop humming, we should keep real quiet." It felt like Thelma’s heart was doing a dance all of its own. "There's the large rock by the creek where we used to swim as kids, you remember it now Louise?" She whispered.
"Oh yes, those were the good old days, stripped down naked, laying bare on the rock getting ourselves baked, & swimming when the creek was still deep enough." Louise’s whisper drifted back to her.
They reached the shadow of the rock & Cheyenne whickered softly "Aggh!...” Thelma slapped her hand over her mouth as a man stepped out from the blackness.
"You ladies want to be a whole lot quieter than that, I heard you some way off up the hill" He held the horse's reins as Thelma got off & then he turned to help Louise down.
"Nice to finally meet you Joe" Thelma said shyly, sticking out her hand.
"It isn't Joe, its Aaron Thelma. Where's Joe?" Louise sounded more than slightly pissed off.
"Ah well it's like this, I've been doing a lot of running around & picking up gear for the boys, so they sent me here to meet you tonight, safer for them that way." He shook her hand anyway, smiling at her.
"Oh, okay." The disappointment oozed from Louise. "We were hoping to have a word with them that's all...well me a word with Joe actually"
"What is it? I can tell them him for you...do you have some news of the coppers for them? His face was eager now, excited even, to know what they knew.
"Its nuthin' like that really...had something private to talk with him about..."
"Well, lucky I decided to come then" Joe was behind her, lips close to her ear. She could feel his breath move wisps of her hair
All three of them jumped, Aaron just as surprised as the other two. "What are you doing here Joe, you sent me remember?"
"That I did Aaron, but you were as pissed as a chook, so we decided it might pay to follow you in case you fell to yer death or something" He was grinning at his mate & waving another bottle of brandy about.
“I ain’t that drunk” Aaron didn’t want them all to think he had let his mate down.
"Finally I can say I met Joe Byrne! Nice to meet you Joe, I’m Thelma" Grabbing his hand, her shyness seemed to evaporate. "You said 'we' decided to follow you…" She looked about hopefully.
Joe chuckled & made a strange sound in his throat & silently three more appeared from the dense bush. "This here is the Ned Kelly, his brother Dan & his mate Steve. You may have heard of them.” He chuckled again. “And Boys, this here is Thelma & you’ve met the lovely Louise"
They all shook hands rather solemnly, Thelma now shrinking back, as the sight of Ned & the boys was almost intimidating, she wasn’t feeling quite so bold anymore. In fact, she felt a trifle shaky.
Louise was all smiles as she offered the boys some of their whiskey. "Thanks, & we have some fine brandy-courtesy of Aaron-to share with you all" Joe handed the bottle to Louise before reaching around her to unbuckle the saddle bags, his fingers working the straps methodically as Louise stifled a gasp. He was so close.
" Now then Louise, what was it that you wanted to discuss with me in private?" He threw out a couple of tins to Steve who was stashing them into a cloth carry bag.
She was too busy watching his hands in front of her; she was even blissfully unaware of the horse as he delved deeper; rings glinting each time they reappeared, holding her attention. He had moved beside her now so he could access the bottom of the pack before going to the other side of the horse. Louise was finding it a bit difficult to hold back, the whiskey the culprit as much as the company. She didn’t dare look at him too long.
Swiftly he swapped sides, Steve moving with him. His curls were flattened on top from wearing a hat most of the time & she stared there, waiting for his face to pop up in the half light. But she only saw him side on as he threw the goods to his mate.
"Ahh maybe later Joe, when we're not so...surrounded." Her heart clambered about in her chest so loud she was certain he would hear. Clearing her throat a little & looking over at Thelma, hoping she would take the hint & just bugger off with the others somewhere. Thelma rolled her eyes.
"C'mon then, let's have a drink & maybe open a tin of something, you boys must be hungry..." Steve handed the first bag to Ned & Thelma led them down by the creek where they sat down by a clump of dense bush, deciding what to eat first, the freshly baked bread seemed to go down as the favourite.
Now that Joe had finished his job, he turned his full attention to Louise.
Thelma tried not to stare as they ripped into the loaf of bread hungrily, she felt sorry for them in a way, having to live rough & rely on friends to help out all the time. Their clothes looked okay in this light but she imagined in daylight it would be a different story.
"I saw your brother Jim the other day Ned." She was starting to relax & had stopped worrying that her tongue might not co-operate.
"Yer did?" His voice muffled with bread as he reached for the brandy to wash it all down. "An' how was he looking? I haven't seen him for a few weeks."
"Oh fine, mighty fine actually...I mean...well he was dressed all smart like & walking about the main street in Melbourne." She felt the heat rising in her cheeks.
Ned laughed, elbowing Dan in the arm. "Aye he scrubs up well our Jim" He grinned some more as he threw back his head swallowing a good swig of brandy. "I'll let him know next time I see him"
"No way Ned, I'm going give him hell when I see him & I'll see him before you" Dan cackled. Thelma was horrified.
"Please don't say anything to him...I mean don't mention that I said it...oh shite"
"C'mon lass, he won't mind, he'll be chuffed when we tell him-we promise not to say it was you, he'd love to know that there might be a lass waiting on the 'outside' for him" Ned gave her a wink.
Oh so Louise was right. Her head stooped in embarrassment.
"I'll tell him it was her, I don't care" Dan laughed loudly.
"Shut up Dan, you're too fucken loud" Aaron hissed & punched his arm
"Get off Aaron, I'll smack that pretty mouth for yer!" He stood as if to take Aaron on but Aaron remained seated, knowing that Ned would step in to silence the pair of them.
"Ahh sit on yer arse would you Dan & keep yer voice down; I don't need to tell you how the sound carries at night." Ned's eyes were serious now; he didn't want any of them to get shot over those two fools carrying on. "We’ve got Thelma & Louise's safety to think of at the moment too"
Thelma wished she hadn't mentioned Jim now but was too late & Dan continued to scowl at Aaron.
"Sooo…Thelma... is it?" Steve was leaning close to her, his hand clutching a half empty sardine tin, his fishy breath washing over her. She nodded, trying hard not to breathe again. How long could she hold her breath? She didn’t think it was very long.
"How did you & your friend get to know about us?" His hand waved vaguely in the direction of Louise & Joe.
"Oh Louise met Joe at the Woolpack Inn & she offered to run some food out to you boys. I have a horse, so it made sense that I help transport her & the goods." She blushed as she realised he was probably wanting to know how famous the ‘gang’ was & how they were wanted by the whole state of Victoria, not how Louise chatted their mate up in the pub.
"Ah well you're both good girls then...we appreciate it" He was grinning at her & she passed him the bottle, desperate to divert his attention from her.
"Aye, that they are, & I would be grateful if you could deliver a message to my ma...our ma…Ellen Kelly." Ned eyes swiveled from her to Dan & back to her.
"Of course, Louise knows where your ma lives. What is it?" She held his gaze, feeling very important that he should single her & Louise out for such a task.
"Just let her know, we will be back in ten days...& if she could have some dinner on the table when we get there-would be just grand." He smiled at her, at all of them, & Thelma’s body quivered ever so slightly.