DANA DE VOS
It was a dark and stormy night (no really, it was!). Kid and Heyes had been riding for what seemed like hours, the cold rain drenching them to the bone, the wind howling through the skeletal trees. They both knew their horses, and they themselves, couldn’t take much more. Heyes was in front, letting his horse follow a faint track through some overhanging trees. It wasn’t so much that Heyes knew where he was going, it was just easier to let the horse go where it wanted than to fight it along a different route. The cold and dark were lulling both men into an exhausted stupor.
Through the fog covering his brain, Heyes realized that the horse had stopped. A screeching sound followed by a loud bang startled him into full wakefulness. In front of them was a large structure that on closer inspection was an old barn. Heyes dismounted, motioning Kid to do the same. They entered the barn cautiously, making sure to grab the banging door so it didn’t spook the horses. Heyes pulled a match, thankfully and miraculously dry, from his pocket, lit it and quickly surveyed the surroundings. It wasn’t a large barn, but it was snug against the storm. The dust and cobwebs gave them the idea that it hadn’t been used in a long time, so they decided to bed down the horses for the night – not that the horses or the men had any intention or desire to go back out into the storm.
Kid looked out through the crack between the doors, old habits making him check that no one had followed them.
“Heyes, look at this…” He held the door open a bit more so Heyes could see the outline of a large bulk of a house. They were both surprised they missed it as they rode up, but chalked it up to exhaustion and the dark. There were no lights on in the house, but the occasional flash of lightning lit up the surrounding area, giving the two-storied, gabled house an eerie look.
“Guess we better make sure no one is home.” Heyes grinned, the state of disrepair of the barn telling them that no one had lived there for years.
“I don’t know Heyes; the barn is fine with me.” Kid couldn’t explain the uneasy feeling that the thought of going into that house gave him. Maybe it was too many of Heyes’ spooky stories when they were children.
“Oh c’mon Kid, it’s got to be better than sleeping on moldy old hay. I’m going; you can stay here if you want to.” Heyes headed back out into the storm, the wind grabbing the door and slamming it back against the outside wall. Kid sighed and followed, shaking his head.
They stepped up on the decrepit porch, making sure to glance in the windows just in case they were wrong about no one living there. The lightning lit up the interior enough for them to get a glimpse of broken furniture and more cobwebs.
“Looks pretty deserted to me; I’m going in.” Heyes reached for the doorknob, which turned easily in his hand, but the door wouldn’t budge. “Give me a hand here, Kid.” Kid thought about clapping, but common sense won out and he went over and both men threw their weight against the door. It held against them for a few seconds, then flew open like it was pulled from the inside. Heyes landed on the floor first, Kid landing on top of him, knocking the breath out of both men. They looked up sharply at the sound of a match striking, and a raspy voice…
“It’s about time you got here; I’ve been waiting for you.”
Before he drew a clear breath, Kid had his gun in hand. Heyes found his voice first, though. “Do we know you, mister? I think you got us confused with some other fellows.” Seeing their host was empty-handed, he stood up, extending an arm to help Kid up since he still held his pistol. Heyes gestured toward the door, eyebrows raised in a wordless suggestion that he close the door since the storm was raining in generously. The thin-faced man in the rickety arm chair sort of half-smiled and moved his hand toward the door. Taking this as permission, Heyes turned but stopped, staring. The door had closed. Without a sound, without a touch, it had closed.
He whipped back around and met Kid’s eyes, knowing Kid felt the same skin-crawling sensation he was experiencing. But it must be some sort of trick, Heyes thought, there’s a cord someplace that he pulled, or something. He and Kid had pulled enough stunts, as kids and adults both, to be taken in too easily. They instinctively moved closer together, though, as they gazed back at the man in the chair. With something like horror in his voice, Kid nudged Heyes. “Joshua, the match!”
Heyes’ uneasiness increased with the realization the man was still holding up the same match he’d struck when they fell in the door. It hadn’t burnt down a bit.
“Gets your attention, doesn’t it?” asked the man. He scratched his bearded chin, sort of smiling again. “I’d call them Moses Matches, but this is probably the only one I’ll need to use.” He stood up, chuckling as Kid tightened his clutch on his pistol. He wore well-tooled boots, black with hand stitching; the boots made no sound as he crossed the room to the fireplace. The instant he dropped the match, a healthy blaze arose among the ashes. The partners exchanged another glance, Heyes beginning to hanker for moldy old hay after all, as the man silently drifted back to his chair. “Please, gentlemen, warm yourselves. I have a great deal to tell you, which you won’t want to believe. You may as well be comfortable. You’ll find it’s noticeably colder where I am.”
“Why is that?” Nervous he might be, but Heyes’ intellectual curiosity won out.
Again the small smile. Seated once more, their host (captor?) settled back, stretching out his long legs and resting his feet on an upturned wooden box. He wore a dark business suit, which made his thin frame appear almost skeletal, and a fancy cravat fluffed up around his throat. He looked like a well-off professional man of some sort, Kid thought, lawyer maybe, not fat enough to look like a banker.
“Because, Mr. Heyes – yes, I really do know who you are, but you’re in no danger on my account – it takes energy for me to appear in this world, and drawing the energy, which is heat, you know, from the room makes a cold spot.” His eyes, dark like Heyes’, gazed sincerely at the two men by the fireplace, awaiting the statement of disbelief. It came quickly.
“You trying to say you’re a ghost, mister?” Kid didn’t want to believe it; he had no truck with things he couldn’t deal with physically. It would take more than a creepy old house and a couple of magician’s tricks to convince him.
“Of course that’s what he’s saying, Kid. Don’t mean it’s true, but that’s what we’re supposed to believe.” Heyes gazed steadily at the mysterious man, trying to puzzle out what his game was. “C’mon, Kid, let’s get out of here.”
The man made no move to stop them. He simply watched as they tried, and failed, to pull open the door. Pistol still in hand, Kid pointed it at the man. “Un-do whatever you’ve done to the door, mister, it’s not funny.”
With a sigh, the mysterious personage rasped out, “Mr. Curry, it will just be a waste of a bullet if you shoot me. You’re welcome to try it if you want to, but it won’t harm me. A bullet killed me, but no man dies but once.” He set his feet down, soundless where there should have been a thump, and sat forward in the chair. His voice took on a pleading tone, a request rather than an order. “Gentlemen, I really need you to hear me out before you turn away. I won’t stop you then if you refuse, but I very much need your help.”
Not sure why he was doing so, Kid holstered the pistol and returned to the fireside, leaving Heyes to pursue the conversation. Which he did, pulling up another chair close to the intriguingly macabre figure. And the guy was right – it was cold near him. Heyes scooted back his chair a bit closer to the fire, grinning an apology as he caught the man’s gaze. “Help to do what?” Heyes didn’t want to believe he was talking to a ghost and tried to concentrate on the conversation.
“To right a wrong, well, two wrongs, come to think of it. I committed them both but I can’t fix them without some worldly help.”
“Why us? Did we just come along at the right time? You said you were waiting for us; you mean “us” us?”
“Yes, indeed.” This was unwelcome news to both ex-outlaws; it usually meant trouble with live people looking for them, and if this was a ghost, that didn’t sound any better. Heyes didn’t have to voice his question. “You see, Mr. Heyes, I was Tucker Raymond, the local banker, second generation at that, grandson of Raymondville’s founder…beloved benefactor of the town, everyone’s favorite fellow…you get the picture. Only it was a lie. I committed adultery and embezzled money from the bank. I made it look like there had been a robbery and got shot through the neck pretending to be part of the posse looking for the robbers.”
Kid still thought he looked too skinny for a banker. “But what do you want us to do about that?”
“Yes…Mr. Raymond…” Heyes, against his intellect, was beginning to believe the tale. “What can we do? And why does it need to be us, particularly?”
Raymond hesitated, appearing to be summoning his strength to talk again. “It has to with synergy—” he noted his listeners’ blank looks “–-with keeping good and evil balanced.” That didn’t help much, either, as the blond and dark heads turned to each other and shoulders shrugged. “I was a bad person who was perceived as being good. Before my spirit can rest, I need to make what restitution I can, only I need human help. And that human help has to come from someone who is good, but everyone thinks they’re bad.”
“Oh.” Two voices spoke as one. They both recognized that description. Kid asked, “What exactly do you want from us, though? What would we have to do, if we agreed to do it? And, if the answer is going to be long, can I go get the jerky from our saddlebags? The horses have eaten, but we haven’t.”
Ramond looked guilt-stricken. “I forgot. One gets out of worldly habits, gentlemen. And I’m barely keeping my visibility.” He closed his eyes and addressed…someone… “My dear, could you possibly? …thank you.” A deep breath in and out, and he looked at the partners again. “What would you like, gentlemen?”
They stared at him; if it was a trick, this part was a hum-dinger. “Fried chicken,” Curry said, “and rice and gravy.” Heyes put in, “And cherry pie.” Curry snickered suddenly; leave it to Heyes to ask for cherries in October. He stopped just as suddenly, when the aroma hit them both. Spinning around quickly, they saw the table near the fireplace – the table that had been bare, they both remembered that – laden with brightly burning lamps, full serving dishes and two empty place settings. There was even a pitcher of cold milk, condensation just beginning to drip down its side. Not trusting their own senses, they circled the table. Heyes put out a hand and touched several things; the milk was cold, all right, and the chicken hot. There was the pie, even, cherries brightly red through the lattice crust. Stunned beyond words, he looked at Kid, then at Raymond, who encouraged, “Please, Mr. Heyes, Mr. Curry, eat. The food is real.”
Kid plucked a chicken wing from the platter, nibbled at it gingerly. Damn, it was real. And good, too. Ghost or no ghost, he settled in one of the chairs and set to. Heyes joined him, asking Raymond, “I take it you no longer need to eat?”
“No, although I confess to enjoying the scent still. And I’ll stay here. We can still talk, but I’d rather not put out the energy to move around, nor chill you while you eat.” Spooning rice, Heyes asked for more details on what their “job” would be. “There are two things. One is to get the money I took from the bank, which no one has found in over three years, back into the bank safe, along with something that will explain it’s from me. Or that it was taken by me, at least. The second part is trickier, since it involves people’s emotions. The man I…well, cuckolded found out about me and his wife. We were going to run away together, and I had hidden the money outside of town. But Micah found out, so I had to make up the robbery story. And while I was out with the posse, I got scared, which made me get careless. I couldn’t stand it and went to check on the money, dropping back out of the rest of the posse. One of the men heard me scratching around and ended up shooting me.”
Even with a mouthful of rice and gravy, Kid’s look of disgust was unmistakable. Raymond managed his half-smile once more. “Yes, I was stupid. That can’t be undone. But what must be undone is that Micah and Irene are apart. She’s repented her sin a thousand times over, even though it was mine more than hers. I pressured her. But Micah threw her over, keeps their kids from her even now, and they really belong back together. He’s too proud and she’s too ashamed to work it out for themselves.”
“What about your wife? Or weren’t you married?”
Obviously uncomfortable with the question, Raymond hesitated but answered. “I had been; she was dead before any of this happened. And…we’ve both forgiven each other of a lot of things, before and after she died.”
Heyes finished pouring his second glass of milk. “So you tell us where the money is, we put it back, and somehow play Cupid to Micah and Irene? That’s what you need done?”
Kid had his own question. “And if we say No?”
Sadly, Raymond replied, “Mr. Curry, when you try the door again, it will open. I can’t force you to do this. I can only ask. I can offer you the money that was mine; I had $225 in the satchel that was my own. It doesn’t seem much for the risk you’ll take in breaking into the bank, I realize.”
“What’s to keep us from digging up the money and just taking off?” was Heyes’ next question.
“Oh, come, come, Mr. Heyes, you don’t steal any more. And when you did, you didn’t double-cross people personally, just the banks and railroads.”
Kid thought, he knows too much about us. “How do you know that?”
For the first time, Raymond seemed at a loss for what to say. “Well, ah, I’m, shall we say, acquainted with someone who knew you for a long time and still sort of watches over you.”
Suddenly Heyes knew. His dimples deepened as a wide grin took over his face. He just knew. “It’s Grandpa Curry, isn’t it? Kid, remember? He told us when we were kids he’d always look out for us, no matter where he was. That’s right, isn’t it, Mr. Raymond?” His excitement made it clear Heyes had bought into the story now.
“I didn’t tell them; he guessed.” Mr. Raymond was addressing the ceiling and apparently listening to an answer. Smiling his small smile, he told Heyes, “The story is you always were too smart for your own good or your cousin’s. But he says to tell you he’s proud you’ve gone the right way now and that you’re not sleepwalking any more, Mr. Heyes.”
Even Kid was convinced now. Outside of Preacher and Soapy Saunders (and he’d had passed on now, too), no one knew about Heyes’ sleepwalking but the two of them. He looked at Heyes. “Okay. I believe it. But I don’t like it.” He looked at Raymond. “Can Grandpa show himself to us like you are? Heyes used to see him when he sleepwalked, but that’s all.”
“Probably not. I’m sorry, no doubt you’d like to visit with him. But it only rarely can be done, and then only if there’s unfinished business that can be made right. Do I dare hope, gentlemen, that you will help me? It will be a very great kindness for the living and the dead.”
“Could we talk it over some, between us?” Heyes hedged, not wanting to admit how much he believed.
“Of course. You can let me know in the morning. I hope you don’t mind sleeping down here. I haven’t done anything with the upstairs rooms.” And he was gone.
Leaving Curry to his third slice of pie, Heyes walked over to the now-empty chair. That portion of the room was already noticeably warmer than it had been with Raymond in it. Could be, though, that the fire had just warmed the room since they came in. That fire, now…Heyes looked back at it, still burning at the same level although no one had fed wood to it. He was just about to comment on that to Curry when he noticed one more thing. “Kid, these two sofas…weren’t they full of dust and cobwebs when we came in?”
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Heyes liked how things looked after a storm, like the world had had a good scrubbing. He watched the horses he’d just let out in the corral, frisking about as if they enjoyed it, too. The tan gelding Kid had been riding nudged Heyes’ bay mare, and she nipped at him to keep the younger horse in his place. They then both took off across the corral and back, splashing mud a goodly distance with each step, clearly enjoying the autumn morning. Heyes heard his cousin approaching behind him, and they both leaned on the corral fence, watching the horses. Curry was the first to speak.
“Did you dream about Grandpa Curry last night, Heyes? ’Cause I did, and…I don’t know, it kinda felt like you were there, too, but I couldn’t see you.”
Knowing how Kid distrusted dreams generally, Heyes knew this must be disturbing for his cousin. “I dreamed about him too, Kid. I can’t remember anything that happened, exactly, just that he was there. And I felt you, too.”
Curry sighed. “I thought so. I guess we’re really gonna do this ghost job, then, aren’t we?”
Heyes clapped a comforting hand on his cousin’s shoulder. “I think we’d better, Kid. If we can. I don’t know how to let Raymond know, but he’ll probably—”
Curry stopped him, pulling a note out of his vest pocket. “He knows. Or he was betting that way, anyway. This was on the table. So is breakfast, if you’re interested. And last night’s dishes have disappeared; it’s just breakfast now.”
Heyes grinned his dimpled grin. “I thought a ghostwriter was something else entirely. You know, Kid, a house that cooks food and cleans it up again is kind of a handy thing, even if it has to have a ghost in it to do it. I could get used to that part.” Curry rolled his blue eyes and waited for his partner to read the note. It was short. Here’s where the money is. (A small map followed.) Micah owns the big general store in town. Irene is a seamstress at the ladies’ shop. The white dog will guide you. “The white dog? I haven’t seen a dog of any color.”
Curry went a little pale and said, “He must mean that one, walking out of the barn.” Heyes followed his gaze, astounded. The dog was large, maybe two feet tall at the shoulder, powerfully built and strong-looking. She was brilliantly white-coated, with a black nose, lips, and eye rims. Both men knelt, reaching down for the dog to come sniff them. Pausing to shake out her thick, double-layered coat, she did so, even putting her right paw into Curry’s hand to shake. Her eyes were dark and deeply intelligent, rather like Heyes’, and she met the men’s looks without hesitation. For a moment, they all stared at each other; then the dog broke away, put her front paws on the lowest rail of the corral fence, and barked at the horses. They came trotting up as if she had summoned them. Heyes laughed, “Is it all right if we have some breakfast first?” The dog whined something to the horses and made for the house.
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Feeding bacon to the white dog, Heyes and Curry talked out a plan. Before dragging out the money, it seemed smarter to check out the bank and plan that part as much as possible. Only slightly sarcastically, Heyes asked the dog if that was agreeable. She barked and reached up to pull another slice of bacon off his plate. Curry barely managed not to choke on his coffee. “Anything I hate, it’s a pushy female,” Heyes commented, and refilled his coffee cup. “It will look funny if we and the money hit town the same time. We should move into town right away. That’ll give us a chance to meet Micah and Irene sooner, too, and figure out something about them. Sound good to you, girlie?” He fed the dog the last half of his biscuit and petted her, fondling the rough-coated ruff around her neck. She really was a beauty, and felt quite live and real, which he found a comfort. Raymond’s ghostly self had unnerved both men more than they wanted to talk about.
“That’s it!” Heyes was exultant, finally remembering what it was about white dogs that was nagging at him. Curry was waiting for the explanation he knew would come. “Remember Grandpa’s stories about ghost dogs? They’re protectors, sent to help people who need it. They’re always large, white dogs.” He looked at Blanca with a new respect, which she acknowledged with a wink and a handshake for Heyes. Curry wasn’t sure which was worse, a ghost dog or a live dog who was essentially their boss on this job.
By , the unlikely trio had cased the bank on the pretext of changing -dollar gold pieces for greenbacks, something Curry hated to do as it usually meant the money would disappear faster. They had spent some of the greenbacks at Micah Tanier’s general store, sizing up the man and talking with his oldest daughter, who was cashiering in the store. They had walked past the ladies’ shop, noting the sign advertising an on-site seamstress for fittings and alterations. Presumably that would be Irene. Turning in to the hotel Blanca chose, they were told dogs were not allowed in the building. Blanca put her front feet on the desk and turned on her canine charms, sensing the desk clerk liked dogs. She whined, she licked his hand, she wagged her tail. Trying to stifle their grins, Heyes and Curry didn’t dare look at each other.
“She’s a nice, clean dog, isn’t she?” admitted the clerk, scratching around Blanca’s ears. “Tell you what. I won’t say anything, but if Mr. Sonntagg finds her, I told you she couldn’t stay, all right?”
“Fair enough,” said Curry, and registered Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. Safely in their room, they laughed until they had to sit down, wiping their eyes. “Oh, Blanca, were you always such a flirt?” Heyes asked, collapsing in laughter again when she winked at him. As the men left in search of noontime dinner, Blanca curled up on one of the beds and had a nap. They were careful to ask for food to take up to their friend.
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“…But the real problem is the safe. We’re all too familiar with the Brooker 404.” Heyes waited for Curry’s wry nod and continued, “so I’m afraid the best we can do is get the satchel in the bank. I hope that’s enough to take care of Raymond. Blanca, what do you think?”
“Heyes, you’re starting to scare me now. The dog is not going to answer you – I hope.” Curry finished cleaning and inspecting his pistol and, following Heyes’ example, started undressing for bed. As she had done when Heyes stripped, Blanca turned around to face away from him. Heyes was sitting up, propped against the head rails, and Blanca was curled up at the foot of his bed. Apparently they would be sharing.
“You never can tell.” Heyes knew Curry was unnerved about this whole venture, even more than Heyes was, and hoped their usual teasing banter would help calm him. “It doesn’t look like Raymond’s coming back; she’s our messenger, if Grandpa’s stories were right.”
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Apparently they were. In the morning, Heyes let Blanca out for the usual canine reasons, and when she came back to the hotel door where he waited for her, she had a piece of paper in her teeth. Somehow Heyes wasn’t entirely surprised when he took it from her and saw the same handwriting as the note at the house had. President’s office were the only words, but Heyes understood. Curry was somewhat less accepting – not unbelieving, but dramatically unnerved by the communication.
“I don’t like this, Heyes!” Curry flung down his razor and paced the room, turning away when he neared Blanca, who lay by the door to their room and looked reproachfully at him. “I don’t like ghosts telling me what to do, I don’t like dogs delivering messages from the dead – I’m a practical man, Heyes, I like real things, things I can feel and understand. Maybe that’s why Grandpa never visits me, just you.”
Suddenly the feelings behind that statement jolted Heyes. He’d never understood that Kid had felt left out when Heyes would sleepwalk and, at least, think he was talking with Grandpa Curry. It was like him never to mention it, of course, just carry the hurt around with him. “Jed,” he said gently, “I don’t think there was any slight intended. And that’s if I ever really did hear Grandpa; I was dreaming and sleepwalking, remember, it could have been all imaginary. I’m sorry I never knew how bad that was for you. Guess I got too used to you looking out for me.” He joined Kid at the window. “If you say so, we’ll stop this here.” Blanca whined in alarm, but Heyes kept his eyes on his cousin.
Curry watched people moving about, patently unaware of death and spirits around them. He wished he was still like that, but last night had convinced him otherwise. With a sigh, he answered Heyes, “I’d like nothing better, to tell you the truth. But somehow I know it’s important that we do this. I guess ’cause doing it seems harder than not doing it – that usually means it’s the right thing, don’t it?”
Heyes nodded and clapped him on the shoulder, words failing him. Blanca broke the tension, yapping and rolling over, then waiting alertly by the door. They had a job to do, and she, at least, was ready.
The money was buried just as the map indicated, in the wooded area they had ridden through during the storm. Heyes thought that might explain why Raymond could only appear in that area, but he decided not to speculate on it out loud. Curry was tense enough. The leather satchel had suffered from several years in damp ground, but the gold-plated clasp was still bright, engraved with an elaborate TWR. “Heyes, will that engraving be enough to convince folks Raymond took the money? Wasn’t he supposed to give us something to put with the money?”
“You’re right.” Heyes finished refilling the hole and leaned on his shovel. Every other time something had come up, Blanca had some answer, but she was off on some canine errand. Neither man was entirely surprised when she came back carrying a set of papers in her mouth. “What you got for us, Blanca?” Heyes asked, and read them off to Curry. “A train schedule, from the proper year, too; two tickets from then, too, one whole and one torn up; and a letter, from Raymond to Irene. My dearest love, I know now that you will never be mine. That you, in fact, have not been mine, as your heart has ever been and will always be with Micah and your family. I respect your decision, but I will never forget you. With all my heart, Raymond.”
A noise from Blanca made both men turn to look at her. With a snort, she turned away from them, squatted and urinated. “Well,” commented Curry, “I guess we know her opinion.” When he met Heyes’ eyes, laughter bubbled up for both of them. Heyes spoke to the dog. “Hey, I know it isn’t great literature. The guy’s trying to make a point here.” Blanca scratched dirt over the wet spot and barked, looking from the men to the horses.
“All right, bossy,” Heyes told her. “We’re coming. We want to be seen around town some this evening, we know.” He opened the satchel, found a leather wallet with the same monogram, and looked inside. Two hundred and twenty-five dollars, just as Raymond had said. Checking with Blanca, who nodded at him, Heyes passed the cash to Curry and placed the paper items inside. Closing up the satchel, he tied it to his saddle horn and the short shovel behind his saddle. “Want a ride, Blanca?” he offered. Taking the tail wag and the bouncing on her front feet to be a Yes, Heyes picked up the dog and, with some difficulty, handed her up to Curry, who was already mounted.
“Heyes!” Kid protested, but lapsed into agreement when Blanca rolled her eyes up at him and snuggled against his shirt front. “Honest to God, Heyes, this dog will drive us both plumb loco before this is over.”
“Could be worse, Kid. She could be a human female.” Heyes kicked his horse’s flanks and they headed for town.
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As they had expected, the bank part of their job was fairly easy. From their hotel window, the men watched a deputy make rounds of the business section about and again close to . Figuring they had at least an hour, they hurried to the bank’s back door. With Heyes’ picklocks, they were inside the bank and the president’s office in a matter of minutes. They left the satchel in the middle of the large desk, noting the name plate for another Raymond, locking up behind them, and were back in the hotel room before . Blanca raised her head sleepily from Heyes’ bed, seeming to sense that all was well, and promptly went back to sleep. “Nice to know you were so concerned,” grumbled Heyes, pushing her next to the wall so there was room for him.
Next afternoon, they flipped Heyes’ famous coin to decide who had to rip up a shirt to take to Irene the seamstress. The honor fell to Curry. He protested the coin toss, and Heyes asked what he wanted to do instead. Cornered, Kid’s eye fell on Blanca. “What do you say, Blanca? Don’t you think your buddy Heyes’ shirt would work better?” Apparently not. The dog scratched open Curry’s saddle bag, pulled out his other shirt, and brought it to him. Heyes collapsed with laughter, hardly aware when Kid slugged him one or when Blanca joined him on the bed, bouncing and wagging her tail.
Curry straightened his hat and re-folded the torn shirt over his arm. Heyes was right; human females were as disconcerting as ghosts, maybe more so. This kind of feminized ladies’ store felt all wrong to him. But a lifetime of practice enabled him to put a twinkle in his eye and charm in his manner when the proprietress offered to help him.
“I hope you can, ma’am. I’ve managed to tear my shirt on a nail at the hotel, not once but twice.” The matronly store owner clucked sympathetically, inspecting the tears. One was a three-corner rip, the other longer and straight. Curry made himself more needy. “Since I’m traveling, I don’t have many changes of clothes with me, so I was hoping to get this fixed right away. I saw your sign that there’s a seamstress here in the store…”
“Yes, of course, Mr…..” It was Jones, Thaddeus Jones, he told her, blue eyes brimful of hope that she could make things right for him. “Mr. Jones. Yes, Mrs. Tanier can do this right away. Irene?” she called through a door behind the sales counter. “We have a rush job, dear.”
Irene was average height, trim-figured, and didn’t look old enough to have a daughter the age of the girl at the store. Her hair was bound in a work cap, so if it was gray, it didn’t show. Her face was unlined, though, and her eyes a startling green against creamy skin. There was a sadness about her. Still, Curry could see where Raymond had been tempted. Wonder why she had?
While Mr. Jones gratefully accepted a cup of tea and chatted with Irene and her employer, Mr. Smith graced the Tanier Emporium with his presence once more. He was in luck; Mr. Tanier was sweeping the front walk, so Heyes wouldn’t have to use his trumped-up story to talk privately with him in the store. It seemed the Emporium did not have any cobblers’ nails. They could be ordered; it would take about two weeks, probably. Mr. Tanier took it that Mr. Smith was a shoemaker, then? Oh, yes, and could not ply his trade until he could locate some proper nails again. Nails were funny things, weren’t they? Heyes blathered inanely, working his way around to the fellow at the hotel who tore his shirt on one, on purpose, just so he could meet the pretty seamstress he’d seen going into her shop yesterday. Yep, that struck a nerve. Three years and a lot of bitterness might be in the way, but there were feelings there, all right. Oh, no, the fellow seemed to be an all right sort, but you know how those curly-haired handsome fellows could be with the ladies–
Heyes caught the broom as Tanier stalked off down the street. Following at a discreet distance, Heyes hoped Kid wouldn’t lose his temper and fight back. Tanier was a big fellow, with fire in his eyes. He banged open the shop door, startling all three occupants. Curry stood, right hand close to his gun.
“Micah? Whatever in the world?” Irene, still at the counter mending on Curry’s shirt, had stopped in mid-stitch, her needle hand still in the air. The store owner, frozen in fear, stood staring helplessly. Curry took a quiet step toward the door, hoping to sidle out while the couple talked, but no such luck. Micah took a step back, reaching back to clamp a meaty hand on Curry’s shoulder. “Hold it, mister. I hear you ripped that shirt a-purpose, so as to meet my w---this lady here.”
“Oh, really, Micah, who told you such a silly thing? He’s just a customer.” Even as she protested, Irene’s heart leapt. Micah’s appearance meant something, she knew it.
“Irene, don’t you know anything about men yet? Even after…well, after all this time? You can’t trust them. Some men will say anything to get a woman’s attention, do anything…” Irene had come around the counter to stand in front of him, and held out her hands. Micah had to let go of Curry to take them, and Kid began a slow, silent exit as the couple touched each other for the first time in three years. It was a long, tense moment, broken when they both spoke at the same instant.
“Oh, Micah, a hundred times I would have crawled back home, but I was afraid you wouldn’t take me back, and it would have just killed me…”
“Oh, lord, Irene, I’ve been so stupid. Whatever happened or didn’t happen with Raymond, we never need to talk about it again. Just come home, come home…”
Curry was out the door by the time they embraced, falling into step with Heyes as they put some distance between the store and themselves. “You told him that, didn’t you, Heyes? Did you see the size of that guy? He would’ve flattened me with one punch.”
“But he didn’t, Kid. It all worked out great. We have some cash, we rekindled a romance, we’ve given a man peace in the next world—” Heyes fell silent as they came up on a bunch of folks, circled around a man with a story.
“…and it was right there on Mr. Raymond’s desk. His uncle’s old satchel, with the money still in it. And the most beautiful letter, addressed to someone he was in love with who wouldn’t leave her husband for him.” The bank employee must be the romantic sort, Heyes thought.
“But how did it get there, Mike? Just show up like that, in a locked building?” Several people speculated at once (none of them suggesting ex-outlaws breaking into a bank, though), but Mike had his own theory.
“Well, you know what day today is…” The crowd shivered Ooh at each other. Of course, it was Halloween. Kind of surprising the mysterious event didn’t take place tonight instead of last night, but still…
The partners moved on. “Heyes, can we get out of here now? I mean, this minute?”
Heyes considered. “If we do, we’ll be out in the open country when night falls. Grandpa used to say with so many spirits out on Halloween, the smart money was on staying in and risking the ones in your own house. Want to hole up in the hotel?” He looked around to ask their spirit messenger. “Where’s Blanca? I thought she went with you to the shop.”
“I thought she went with you.” They realized together that she had finished her job and gone, and were surprised at their sense of loss. Holing up was sounding pretty good, though. After a quick supper, they did just that. When darkness fell, they watched the town’s Halloween festivities from their window, chuckling to see schoolboys pulling some of their same old stunts. By , though, lights had mostly gone out and the town was silent again. Curry was about to say he was headed for bed when a movement on the street caught his eye. He nudged Heyes, who had seen it already, too. It was Raymond, calling to someone. The white dog came up to him, stood on her hind legs and, as they watched, shape-changed into a human female form, embracing Raymond as they both faded away.
“Heyes, you did see that, didn’t you?” Curry wasn’t sure he should trust his own eyes.
“No! And neither did you!”
As they pulled down the shade and hustled themselves into bed, for some reason leaving the lamp on between them, they made too much noise to hear Grandpa Curry’s chuckle.