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Payback Time

Payback Time
Jules — 25 Sep 1998, 8:04 PM

Continuity note: This story takes place immediately after "The Big Race"

Max was shooting the breeze on the porch of the Provencal when Tom got there, getting into the party mood a little early with his friend Ol' Mike, the town gunsmith. With unhurried but deliberate casualness, he flipped a cloth over the opened bottle of Madame Maxine's best Merlot that stood between the two drinking companions. Tom grinned, and played blind.

"Come for your Ma, have you?" Max greeted him.

Tom shook his head. "No. I've still got business in town before I go back to the ranch to clean up for the dance. Just thought I'd bring the buggy along so it was nice and convenient for my mother. She's still in there, I take it?"

"Yup. Still there. You'll be going in yourself, I reckon?"

Again, Tom shook his head. "Not now; I don't have the time. But I'll be back first thing in the morning. However late I get back from the dance." He dropped his voice and spoke privately to Max. "How much do we owe you, by the way? For fixing up the Doc's services, and giving Harry a bed and feeding him, I mean?"

Max figured that Tom was a good enough old friend that he wouldn't split on him about the Merlot, and uncovered the bottle to top his and Mike's glasses up again. "All taken care of. That Chinee fellow, Qwai-something-or-other, he's paying all Harry's expenses. Workin' for them in our cellar."

"That's very good of him, but we can't let him..."

"Says he's Harry's brother or some such," put in Max. "Can't quite figure that one out. Ain't Harry your brother?"

Tom grinned, but didn't explain. He knew that Miss Kathryn was touchy on the subject of the adopted status of her three children, for lots of reasons. Mark Janeway's death five years earlier had made it unlikely that she would ever have a child of her own blood, but it wasn't just a matter of frustrated maternal instincts. There was also the complexity of the circumstances under which she had accepted responsibility for her charges. Even Tom didn't know the circumstances under which she'd taken on Harry and Kes, and while his own origins were complicated enough, he was beginning to suspect that his adoptive siblings' lineage might give him a run for his money.

The subject wasn't entirely taboo, but it had become a habit for the Janeways to not discuss such private matters in public. So he merely slipped Max five silver dollars out of the purse containing his race winnings and asked him to use them to get Harry anything else he needed.

"You be careful with all that money," Max advised him, as he pocketed the coins. "Don't spend it all at once."

Tom's grin grew wider, if anything. "Funny," he said. "That was pretty much exactly what I had in mind."

Payback Time (pt 2)
Jules — 25 Sep 1998, 8:07 PM

The Empire Bank didn't normally open on Saturdays, but Tom headed over there on the offchance anyway, and rapped lightly on the door. He heard movement inside, and then the rasping of keys in the locks. Miss Julie opened the door a crack and let him in.

"Working late?" he asked, with mock innocence.

"Sure," she agreed, her eyes amused. "I thought I might open up after the race and see if any of those who got lucky this afternoon felt like depositing their winnings."

"Had much custom?"

"None so far. But I figure my luck might be about to change."

"You figured right." Tom reached into his pocket and drew out the little leather bag of silver dollars that was his prize for winning the big race, and gently placed it in Miss Julie's hands. "Of course, I'm not sure there'll be that much left to deposit. Seems to me I've got a loan to finish paying off first." He looked up at her anxiously. "Sure that'll finally do it?"

"It should do." Julie smiled reassuringly as she tipped the bag out onto the counter and started counting coins. "Leastways, I know how much there was in there when I gave the prize purse to Mayor Cavit this morning, and I also know to the penny how much is still due on that loan. Hmm. Five dollars short?"

"I gave them to Max. There's enough without them though, surely?"

"Of course. But why are you giving money to Max? You've not run up more debts, Tom, surely? I thought that was all in the past now?" She gave him a mournful look so full of reproach that Tom could have sworn she'd been taking lessons from Miss Kathryn.

"No, I gave you my word, and I've kept to it... although it hasn't always been easy. Seems to me I could have paid the bank back any time this past year, since Intrepid started coming good, if I'd done a bit of speculating on his chances."

"And then again, you could have ended up owing it even more." Tom stole a look at Julie. Yep, she'd got Miss Kathryn's look down pat. "Nothing's certain. That's why they call it gambling."

"Yes, ma'am," he agreed, with the village idiot grin he liked to put on which so often simultaneously amused and irritated people. "But I've been a good boy, honest I have. Sure, I still like to play cards now and then, but I don't wager more than I've got in my pockets nowadays. No, the money I gave to Max was for a different purpose entirely. Let me tell you about it..."

Payback Time (pt 3)
Jules — 25 Sep 1998, 8:09 PM

Tom had met Miss Julie on his first day at Mr Cavit's school; the one that was now run by Miss Ruth and his sister. Back then, before Cavit had come into money and given it up to enjoy a comfortable retirement and the sinecure of the Mayor's job, the school had been an altogether more forbidding place. Cavit had taken a dislike to the new boy from the Delta Q Ranch at first sight, and had delighted in making his life a misery throughout his entire school career.

Tom was clever enough, but a little lazy. Once he'd figured out that Cavit was going to give him a hard time whether he worked or not, he decided that there wasn't too much point in putting a lot of effort into his learning. He did the minimum work he could get away with, cut school, and left altogether as soon as he was able to. It was a little curious therefore, that he should have got along so well with Miss Julie, Cavit's prize pupil, but the two had been fast friends since that first day, when he had teased her in good humour about falling off her pony... and she had retaliated by making fun of his sum making abilities.

In the years that followed Miss Julie had helped Tom with his sums more than once, and he reckoned he'd gained more schooling unofficially from her than he ever had from old Cavit. And he, in his turn, had taught her how to ride and how to shoot. They were opposites in both abilities and personalities, the wild rancher's son and the prim banker's daughter, and they liked each other all the better for it. They balanced each other's strengths and weaknesses, though nobody would ever think of hiring Tom as a bank clerk or Julie as a race rider. He reckoned though that she might well be the best shot in Voyager City, although they'd kept that fact pretty quiet since her old man hadn't thought it proper or ladylike for a girl to be able to handle a gun.

The summer they'd both turned fifteen, and Tom had finally persuaded Miss Kathryn to allow him to leave school and escape Cavit's vindictive temper for good, they'd experimented with romancing a little, stepping out together and holding hands. But somehow it had never seemed quite right. They'd been best friends for so long that trying to change the nature of their relationship had seemed forced, wrong. After a couple of months of awkwardness about it, they'd finally gone out on a walk along the top of Coffee Canyon and had a good long talk about things, and agreed that perhaps it would be for the best if they went back to just being friends again. The years that followed had seen them both with other partners, and they didn't meet up so often nowadays, but old childhood loyalties die hard, and Tom still thought of Miss Julie as a close friend to whom he could tell anything and who would always back him up in a crisis... even if he guessed that most people in town were barely aware that the two of them knew each other.

It had been to Miss Julie that he'd finally gone with his troubles when Kaze Ogla started to turn nasty about his gambling debts, and he'd finally realised how foolish he'd been to let a man who was generally hostile to his family gain such a hold over him and, by extension, over his family as well. He had a strong sense of honour and was willing to face and pay for his own mistakes, but it concerned him that his adoptive parents might suffer for it too. It had been Julie, who wasn't a banker's daughter for nothing, who had suggested the obvious way out of his current predicament - a loan from the bank to allow him to pay off his debts to Ogla - and who had fixed it up for him.

Payback Time (pt 4)
Jules — 25 Sep 1998, 8:12 PM

They'd kept that loan quiet for a number of reasons. Firstly, Miss Julie's father had been becoming ever more hostile towards his daughter's wild rake of a friend and would have objected to her assisting in his affairs. It didn't even matter that he wasn't a suitor, nor ever likely to be. To the banker's mind, he was discouraging more desirable suitors simply by hanging around.

And secondly, with the debts paid off and the firm intention of being more circumspect in his spending from then on, Tom had hoped that Mark and Kathryn Janeway need never knew just how foolish he had once been.

"But Pa knew all along," he said to Miss Julie, a little sadly, after he'd finished telling her about Harry's miraculous return. "Chakotay Torres told me that, quite recently. I guess Kaze must have figured that if he couldn't stir up trouble by calling in the debt, he could at least cause dissention by questioning how I was able to pay it off. The whole town knew I hadn't a cent, after all. And then there was the robbery. I suppose it must have looked mighty suspicious to him. And the worst thing is, he went to his grave believing me a liar and a thief - and not just an idiot who didn't know enough to quit the tables when his luck changed."

"But how many people actually knew about the theft of your mother's jewellery?" asked Miss Julie. "I know you told me, but I thought that other than that you'd kept the matter pretty much within the family."

Tom shook his head. "More people seem to know than you might imagine. Pa told Chakotay Torres, which explains a lot about why he's persisted in thinking me such a degenerate lowlife all these years, no matter how much I've tried to meet him halfway. Even so, I can hardly imagine that he would have spread the word around. He may hate me, but he's an honourable man in his own way. I guess it was just one of those secrets that was never quite as secret as we thought." He sighed.

Julie plucked at his arm sympathetically. "But Harry knows the truth, you said? And has been telling people? I guess it'll all sort itself out now."

Tom shrugged. "I guess. I just wish that Pa had been alive to see it, that's all."

"I wish he had been too, for your sake," agreed his friend. "But I doubt he thought so badly of you as you seem to think."

"Chakotay thought he did."

"But Chakotay's judgement is clouded by his own misinterpretations of what happened five years ago. His is hardly an unbiased opinion. And even if he's right, your father loved you. And he'd have been proud of you now, the way you've turned your life around and made good all your mistakes. I'm sure he would."

"Maybe you're right."

"I know I am." And Miss Julie suddenly chuckled, and punched her friend's arm. "C'mon, this is pretty sombre talk for a man who's just shaken off the shackles of debt for the first time in over six years. You should be celebrating. Why aren't you?"

Tom looked sheepish. "Well, I did plan on taking a girl to the dance... and maybe painting the town just a little bit red."

"Then do it," his friend ordered him firmly. "Give yourself a break. You deserve it."

Tom grinned suddenly. "O...kay. I guess I know when to follow orders. Especially orders like that one. See you at the dance?"

"Actually, no. I don't plan on going."

Payback Time (pt 5)
Jules — 25 Sep 1998, 8:14 PM

Tom's eyebrow rose, in a passable imitation of Marshal Tuvok. "Whyever not? You can't tell me you don't have a date?" And, as Miss Julie slowly nodded, "Who are these blind fools who've stood you up...?"

"Huh. Flatterer." Miss Julie made a rueful face, then smiled slowly in resignation. "Well, I thought I might have a partner lined up, but it seems that I was mistaken about that. There are a couple of detectives hanging around the bank at the moment, watching out for some gang of outlaws they believe may try to hold up the place. You may have seen them about?"

Tom thought back, remembered the light haired man who had accompanied Kes home the night that Jabin Ogla had died. "I believe I might have seen one of them. Youngish, fairish, grey-blue eyes?"

"That's the one. Detective Locarno. He seemed inclined to flirt with me for the first couple of days he was here, and I kind of thought he was making a play for me..."

"I hate him already. So, what happened?" Tom asked with sympathetic indignation.

"That lawyer blew into town to represent Sevenita at her trial. She took one look at him, crooked her maroon clad little finger and... suddenly he changed his tune." She rolled up her eyes in exasperation, which indicated clearly to someone who knew her moods as well as Tom did that, while a little put out, she was far from heartbroken. He laughed.

"So, what happened to his colleague? You didn't think of going with him instead?"

Miss Julie pouted, but there was a twinkle in her eye. "Not my type. Besides, he only arrived yesterday morning. Within the hour Cowgirl Vickie came in to pick up the payroll for the Circle V and it was patently obvious that she fancied him for her own corral. I left her to it.

"And besides, it isn't as if I don't have a date of sorts for tonight."

"You do?"

Miss Julie slid her shotgun out from behind the counter and ran a caressing hand down the cold tempered steel of the barrel. "I thought I might spend the night here at the bank with an old friend. I'm under threat of a robbery, remember? While my detectives are out playing, somebody's got to take care of business."