K&H ROUND ROBIN
Ranger Pearson’s Story
By
Dana  DeVos
 
 
Flint Rock, Texas
Spring 1881
 
 
Judge Henry Callahan was an honest man. He took the law and justice seriously and was intelligent enough to have realized long ago they often had little to do with one another.  His circuit court included a large stretch of Texas in the panhandle, and he worked hard to ensure that a man arrested in his region received a fair trial even if he was guilty as hell.
 
He also knew that the circuits around him were often not as unbiased and that having a judge in your pocket was something the large ranchers in the area took pride in.  Which was why he was so surprised when the telegram came directing him to Flint Rock.
 
The town was built, bought and run by a Texas rancher named Bo Michaels and some said it just existed for his and his family's amusement and use.  His family included two brothers and a sister, just as mean as he was, all of whom inherited from their late father. Everyone knew the law, the courts and government in that section were under his control.  Michaels wouldn't let a man like Callahan in to decide something unless this part of Texas had turned upside down.  Pulling his buggy to a stop at the entrance to town, he sat back and decided it had.
 
The four lawmen with him, also honest and also requested, stopped and drew their horses in and just stared. 
 
"Was it a tornado?" one of the deputies gasped.
 
"If it was there had to be at least two of them," another decided.
 
Callahan leaned forward, hoping it would make more sense if he squinted.  The town looked like it had been hoorahed by the escapees of an opening of the flood gates of hell.  Buildings were smashed to rubble, outhouses on roofs, and bathtubs in trees.  Some structures were just charred remains from a selective fire and were still smoldering.  And everywhere there was debris, clothes, tin cans, sacks of feed.  It was as if some great giant had picked up the town and shook it.
 
"It seems we got here a little too late to stop whatever it was that happened," Judge Callahan said exhaling.  "What exactly did your telegram say, Sheriff?"
 
"Just to get down here, some miscarriage of justice had been averted and they wanted impartial law sorting it out." 
 
"Well something was averted, but it certainly wasn't Armageddon," the Judge said dryly and clicking the reins moved his horses forward.
 
"Sure is quiet," a deputy said, swallowing.
 
"I hear something up ahead," his friend said, drawing his gun from its already unhooked holster.
 
Turning the corner, the group once more stopped in disbelief.
 
Originally, and this they were certain about, a saloon had not been next door to the jail.  This saloon in particular, the Golden Slipper, had been across the street and four doors down.  And yet now here it sat, cozied right up to the jail even to the point of sharing a wall…well, if there had been a wall. 
 
Oh, the jail still had three…or the one cell remaining standing did.  The door was still firmly bolted, not that it mattered much with the roof gone.
 
Tucked right along next to it was the main floor of the saloon.  There was still the bar and the beer kegs, and the hurdy-gurdy was playing happily, but as far as any permanent building -- it was clean gone except for a stairwell that led up, but that was about it.
 
Several tables were set up, but all the attention was on a poker game half in the jail and half in the saloon among seven men.  A second group of men was watching, cheering enthusiastically as each hand finished.
 
At the bar an older blond woman was cleaning glasses and yelling at the cowboys to stop shooting at the ceiling until she got one again.
 
Judge Callahan considered all this, and then putting the brake on his buggy, climbed down and walked over to the group just congratulating a handsome dark haired young man on his winnings. 
 
"Gentlemen," he said with great dignity.  "I am Judge Callahan.  Ranger Pearson, is that you?" he said suddenly recognizing one of the poker players
 
"Yes sir," the lawman answered, standing politely.  "Good of you to come, sir."
 
"I don't suppose you could give me a quick synopsis about why?"
 
"This gentleman here, sir, is Sheriff Lom Trevors of Porterville, Wyoming," the Ranger said, indicating the man playing poker from inside the jail.
 
"I read about him, something about being arrested and convicted of murder.  I see their report that the hanging was supposed to take place yesterday was an error."
 
"Ah, yes sir," Trevors said, standing politely.  "Little difference of opinion on that."
 
Someone almost laughed, but swallowed it quickly when the Judge's steely gaze settled over the other members of the group. 
 
"And the rest of you are?"
 
"Friends of Sheriff Trevors. I'm Joshua Smith and this is Mr. Thaddeus Jones of Wyoming," the dark-haired winner of the last poker hand said, standing with a friendly smile.
 
"Judge," his partner said, standing just as respectfully.
 
"Marshall Jared Stone out of Colorado," another man said, rising.
 
"My, we do have quite a group of lawmen here, don't we."
 
"And Bannermen!"  a voice popped up from the bar where a thin weasel-faced man was leaning.  "Harry Briscoe, sir, at your service."
 
"Patrick J. McCreedy," a larger older man said, relighting his cigar.
 
"Rancher at Red Rock?" the Judge asked.
 
  "That I am," McCreedy said, clearly feeling he was important enough he didn't have to stand.
 
"And this here is Wheat Carlson, Jim Stokely, Trampas and my cousin…" Trevors finished.
 
"Folks call me the Virginian," the tall man said, rising, and the Judge quickly noted the similarity.
 
"And the lovely lady behind the bar?" the Judge asked; once a southern gentleman, always a southern gentleman.
 
"Jenny, Judge; can I buy you a drink?"
 
"I think a bottle, ma'am, would be more useful," he sighed, looking around. "I don't suppose there is a hotel left?"
 
"Oh yes sir!" the one named Jones said heartily.  "Best one in town!"
 
"Course it is missing the front wall, but you get a real nice breeze off the prairie at night, you'll sleep like a baby," the one named Smith smiled.
 
"I'm sure I will," he said and taking the bottle Jenny offered him, moved to return to his carriage.  "I'd like to have some supper and then perhaps I can start hearing this amazing tale one at a time.  Oh, and the rest of the town?"
 
"Well, that's kind of a long story, Judge…" Smith smiled cheerfully.
 
The Judge held up his hand and walked away.  "I can hardly wait."  He called back over his shoulder, “And I’ll start with you, Ranger Pearson.”
 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 
Having found supper and a mostly-enclosed room at the hotel, Judge Callahan soon realized the only place left with privacy enough to conduct interviews was back at the saloon.  At his request, Jenny graciously let him use her office.  That chamber also served as her bedroom, of course, but Judge Callahan had conducted legal business in all sorts of places over the years.  A little red satin and a four-poster bed (well, a three-poster bed right now) would not distract him from his duty to the law.  The room did still have a functioning door and most of its ceiling.  “Hello again, Jace,” he greeted his first interviewee.  “Sit down.”  Callahan had commandeered the room’s only chair, a rocker missing only one arm and a piece of one rocker, and Jenny’s bedside table as his bench; Pearson obeyed the judge’s gesture and perched on the corner of the featherbed, after folding back the comforter out of the way.  He watched carefully where he put his boots, too – Jenny had figured the witnesses would be sitting on her bed and was eloquent in what would happen if any harm came to the coverlet or anything else in her boudoir.  The men exchanged grins as Pearson faced the judge again, remembering Jenny’s cautions.  Then Callahan took up his pen and began his notes.
 
“For the record, you are Texas Ranger Jason Pearson, is that correct?”  He noted the witness’s agreement.  “Ranger Pearson, this is not a trial, and we are certainly not in a formal court of law, but a witness’s deposition of facts places him under the same oath and the same penalties for perjury as if in a trial.”  He waited for his witness to state that he understood and noted same.  “Jace, how did you get into all this?  Were you here for the trial?” Callahan didn’t take time to exchange pleasantries with the Ranger he’d known for years.  He knew Pearson would be willing to chat later, after the judge’s job was done; that work ethic was one thing they had in common.  
 
“Only for the last two days of it, Your Honor.  I was in Austin, like I usually am when the legislature’s in session, when Ol’ Mac – that is, Mr. Patrick McCreedy -- telegraphed me that he needed some help up here.  He was expecting trouble, you see, because things weren’t looking well for Lom Trevors.”  
 
“Had he told you what the circumstances were, or just asked you to come out here?”
 
“Oh, he explained about the trial, and that Lom was innocent, and he knew big trouble was brewing.”
 
“Yet you came alone?  Just one ranger?”
 
Pearson looked surprised.  “Well, hell, Henry, he was only expecting one riot.”  Callahan looked up from his note-taking and at his glance, Pearson added, “ ’Scuse me, Your Honor.”
 
Callahan seemed to need a long moment looking down at his notes before he went on to the next question.  “When you got here, were all the men I’m deposing already here?”  He nodded toward the door to indicate the group in the room beyond.  
 
Pearson thought.  “Most were.  Trevors and McCreedy, of course, and Marshal Stone.  In fact, everybody except Stokely, Trampas and the one they just call the Virginian was here before I came.  They came the next day.  McCreedy had telegraphed them, too, but they had farther to travel.  That was the day the verdict came in.”  
 
“There seems to be a consensus of opinion out there that Trevors was wrongly convicted.”  
 
“I’m convinced of it.  Course, I may be prejudiced in the matter because I know the Michaels family.  Anytime they get what they want, I suspect justice has not been done.”  
 
Callahan’s eyes narrowed.  “Tell me about that.  I know the name, of course, and that they own Hell and half of Texas around here, but I don’t know any of them personally.  Why would they want Trevors convicted of a murder he didn’t do?  Do you suspect them of the murder, Jace? Or do they have a grudge against Trevors for something?”  
 
With a sigh, Pearson admitted, “I just don’t know, Henry.  The murder victim was Wally Black, who worked for the Michaelses.  He kept books for them – probably more than one set, too.  He came across Trevors and Marshal Stone, too, in Denver, where he was doing something for Warren Michaels.  Stone and Trevors both say that Black confessed to fraud back here in Texas, and asked them to escort him to Austin.  They had to come here because the proof was in the bank president’s private safe, but Black was afraid of the Michaelses.  Probably they’re implicated in whatever Black was confessing to, or maybe he was just planning to blow the gaff on them in the first place.  But before they even got to town, the last night on the trail, Black was hanged.”
 
“While in Stone and Trevors’ custody, he was hanged?”  
 
“Just Trevors.  Stone had come on into town during the day to talk to the bank president, see how long it would take to get a court order to get the documents, that end of things.  Black was afraid to be in town; he said it was as much as his life was worth, and I guess he knew what he was talking about.”  As a lawman, Pearson felt for Trevors.  Having a man die in your custody was a terrible thing to live with.  Even old Jack Hays, Pearson’s personal hero, had talked about that haunting him sometimes.  
 
Callahan got up to pace the room a little.  He hated depositions and knew he was in for a long night and day of them.  “How does Trevors explain Black’s dying?”  
 
“He’d bedded down his prisoner for the night and was sitting up on guard, hoping Stone would get back sometime during the night to relieve him.  Maybe he dozed off, but somehow someone came up behind him and cracked him one on the head, knocking him out.  He had a lump that might have come from a gun barrel when he got to town; that was witnessed.  But the prosecutor said that happened when Black struggled against Trevors’ hanging him.  Anyway, Trevors says he was knocked out and, when he came to, it must have been a couple hours later.  He had the lump and some kind of irritation around his nose and mouth that might have been chloroform.  Black was hanged and his horse was running loose.  Whether he hanged himself or the ones who knocked out Trevors did it for him, we can’t know.”  
 
Callahan nodded, circling the space around the bed once more.  “I looked at the trial transcripts, such as they are, over my supper.  I noted that Trevors’ defense attorney was a local lawyer, could have been owned by the Michaelses.  I think Trevors has a good chance of getting his conviction overturned in the appeals court, Jace, even if I don’t find cause to set aside Judge Thornell’s verdict.  I know most of the appeals justices; not likely any of them carry anybody’s brand except that of the state of Texas.  By the way, where are the Michaelses?  And the others who were involved in the trial?  I see only Trevors’ allies out there.”  
 
Pearson’s boots seemed to require his attention for a long moment.  At Callahan’s firm throat-clearing, he finally allowed, “I don’t know, Your Honor.  The circuit judge was long gone as soon as he pounded his gavel to adjourn the trial.  Neither one of the lawyers has been seen since all the fracas started.  But I think, I’m pretty sure in fact, that the Michaels family is all out at the big ranch house.”  Best poker face forward, he fervently hoped Judge Callahan wouldn’t press the issue; he’d prefer not to say how many men were out there, making sure the Michaels family stayed at home.  Callahan stared at Pearson, finally deciding he didn’t need every single detail right now.  If Pearson was trying to avoid discussing it, maybe he had good reason.  It could be dealt with later.
 
Easing back into the rocking chair, Callahan summarized, “So Trevors was, in fact, found guilty and sentenced to hang for the crime last Thursday.  Since he’s currently out there losing a lot of mythical money to that Smith fellow, your little fracas must have happened Wednesday night, right?”  He noted Ranger Pearson acknowledged by nodding the correctness of said conjecture.  “I think you’d better tell me all you know about that, Jace.”  
 
A brisk knock, followed by Jenny’s offer of coffee, put off the story a little longer.    Both men accepted gratefully and Jenny left the tray, pot and all, with them.  “Seems to be a very nice woman,” Callahan commented.  “She own the saloon herself?”  
 
“No, she runs it for McCreedy.”  At Callahan’s questioning glance, Pearson elaborated.  “Oh, yes, McCreedy owns a couple of businesses here as well as his big spread at Red Rock and all his put-ins there.  Di-vers-i-fied, he calls it, which I figure means he wants every half-dime he can grasp onto, wherever it is.  Still, you gotta admire a man who’s built such an empire pretty much single-handed, and can capture Jenny’s attentions.”  
 
An undignified snort escaped Callahan’s composure.  “Old McCreedy?  And that beauty?  She seems far too nice a person for old Mac.”  
 
With a grin, Pearson agreed.  “Smith and Jones know her from ’way back, it seems, and they keep trying to convince her of that, too.  But she says she knows her own mind.  And you and me know, Henry, there ain’t no arguin’ with a woman who’s dead-set on something.”  They exchanged a chuckle at the memory they shared on this subject, but Callahan was ready to get back to business.  He prompted, “You were going to tell me about Wednesday night.”
 
Pearson cautioned the judge, “I don’t know all this first-hand.  But I’ve been piecing things together, and this is the best I’ve come up with.  There were several dynamite explosions, and those set off the fires that did the rest of the damage.  You know how the winds are on these prairies in the spring; it didn’t take long to spread them all over town.”
 
“Where’d they get so much dynamite?  And who-all set off the explosions, Jace?”
 
“One of the businesses McCreedy owns ’round here is an explosives factory; it’s southwest of town.  He says there’s ‘some considerable inventory’ missing.  Some was taken by that big fellow, Carlson, and I think – but I can’t prove it – that Smith and Jones had something to do with it, too.  Maybe you can get it out of them when you talk to them.”  Callahan wondered aloud what they intended to do, other than blow up the town in general, and Pearson related his account of overhearing a conversation.  
 
“…But we gotta get Lom outta that jail, fellows!”  Normally belligerent, Wheat Carlson’s tone was sliding toward desperate.  “We ain’t just gonna let him get hanged, now are we?  I didn’t ride down here all the way from Wyoming to see that happen!”
 
“Wheat, you know better than that.”  Pearson wasn’t sure whether the dark-haired partner was Smith or Jones, but he was speaking, and sounded like he was trying hard to control his temper.  “We gotta stop the hanging, yes, but it won’t do Lom any good to get charged with breaking out of jail.  We gotta keep Lom within the law.”  
 
There was a rude snort from Carlson.  “Seems-so you two are mighty concerned about the law nowadays.”  
 
“Yes, Wheat, we are.  And you know why, and that’s the way it is.”  This was the other partner, who didn’t talk much, Pearson had observed.  But apparently when he did, he really meant it.  “So let’s just do things the way…Smith, here, says.”  
 
Carlson had grudgingly agreed:  he would dynamite the local hanging tree – the only big tree in the area – so at least someone would have to build a gallows before any hanging took place.  And, they hoped, by that time McCreedy’s judge friend would get there and things could get straightened out properly.  At Smith’s question, Carlson reassured him that “our boys and them local fellers” were indeed keeping the Michaels ranch house surrounded, pending the arrival of the new judge.  
 
“And the hanging tree was the first thing to get blasted, but as you can see, Your Honor, not the last,” Pearson ended his story, omitting the part about the Michaels ranch.  Yes, he had located the blast areas:  the back side of the bank, the back of the jail, the side of the jail, a bench on the platform at the train depot.  That one had given that Bannerman fellow quite a start.  He’d been intending to leave, but someone seemed to want him to stay around.  It wasn’t much of a blast, compared to the others.  But it had definitely got his attention; he’d been nervous as two rabbits in a coyote den ever since and dogging Pearson’s every step.  
 
“Do you know who set them all, Jace?  Or have some idea, at least?”  
 
“Durned near everybody out there in the next room, best I can figure.  Trampas and the Virginian found Carlson getting ready to set a blast outside the jail, despite what he told Smith.  They lit into each other, and I busted up the fight.  I told Trampas to take care of the dynamite and took Carlson to the saloon so Smith and Jones could look after him.  I was going back toward the jail when I had to break up another fight.  This time it was Stokely and Stone.  Stokely deputies for Trevors up in Wyoming – did you know that already? – and he was accusing Stone of getting Trevors convicted, and Stone was claiming he couldn’t perjure himself even for a good friend, and they set to.  I broke them up, and convinced them to go figure out a way to stop the hanging instead of fighting each other.  I think they set the blast at the side of the jail.  Carlson claims he gave them some dynamite, anyway.”  
 
Pearson re-filled his coffee cup.  “So that’s the tree and the side of the jail accounted for.  The Virginian tells me he and Trampas almost came to blows, too.  Trampas got to thinking it over and decided Carlson was right, blasting Lom out was the only hope.  The Virginian wanted no part of it, but couldn’t stop him.  Trampas and Carlson together pretty much admitted setting the blast at the back of the jail.”  The ranger shook his head, reflecting.  It was a small miracle Trevors had made it through with only a slight loss of hearing.  And the doc said that might be only temporary, too.  “But I can’t settle on who blasted the bank.  Or why, unless it was just an opportunity to rob it.  Didn’t work, though, the money’s kept in a Brooker 404 vault, and it was still standing after everything settled.  Now the bank president’s little safe, it was blown clean off the premises.  Smith and Jones found it Thursday morning, beat up some and standing open.  Funny thing, though, when Stokely and I went out after it, the safe was closed again, locked up tighter than Dick’s hatband.  BUT…” Pearson paused, reaching for the documents he’d brought in.  “Smith and Jones brought these in to me and the other lawmen.  I think you’ll find good reason to suspect at least some of the Michaels family now.”  
 
Callahan reached for the papers.  Now this was something his lawyer’s mind appreciated; documents and proofs satisfied him where speculations couldn’t.  “It’s a will.  And some deeds.”  He had expected something to do with the fraud Wally Black had told Trevors and Stone about.  Reading the will, he gave a low whistle.  “Yes, I believe the Michaels siblings would do almost anything to keep this quiet.  Obviously, it supersedes the will they inherited under.  It’s dated not quite eight months ago, and looks quite valid.  Did you read it?  So you know they were cut off with a dollar apiece and their father’s enmity from beyond the grave?”  
 
Nodding, Pearson admitted, “We all took a look at it, Henry.”  It was his turn to pace, his 6’4” frame seeming too large for the room.  “Keep reading, and see who he ended up leaving the ranch and the money to.”    Every man Jack of them had been shocked.  And Jenny was keeping her own counsel about what it meant that William Michaels had left his fortune to her, for reasons that are nobody’s damned business, as the will attested.  Jenny, in fact, didn’t seem to have much faith that she’d actually inherit, anyway.  All she’d say about the reasons was It was a long time ago, and there’s nothing left of that anyway.  They were all curious, but it was driving McCreedy plumb loco.  
 
Callahan was looking back at his notes and was unsatisfied about the dynamite story.  “Jace, I’m still a little unclear on how those four or five blast sites blew the whole town apart like this.  I understand how they set off the fires, but not put bathtubs in trees and outhouses on roofs.”  
 
Ranger Pearson ran his fingers through his hair, still blond but thinning a little since the last time Callahan had seen him.  “Well, the outhouse on the roof wasn’t from a blast.  That Bannerman fellow, Briscoe, did something or said something that made Smith and Jones see red.  They and Carlson barred the door and wouldn’t let him out most of the day Thursday; they even got a block and tackle and hoisted the outhouse on that roof.  It was after that he slipped off to the train station and had his little accident there.  As to the rest, there had to have been a handful of other places with dynamite.  Those were smaller, and my own opinion is that they were places where extra dynamite had been stashed.  The fires set them off as they came to them.”
 
“That’s a lot of dynamite, Jace.  How could anyone steal that much from McCreedy’s factory without any hue and cry?”
 
With a short laugh, Pearson answered, “Talk to McCreedy about that, Your Honor.  He’s been very cagey with me and Stokely and Stone.  It wouldn’t surprise me to learn he supplied it willingly, but I don’t know you’d ever prove it against him.”  Pearson hadn’t pursued the matter all that closely, in fact; if it was true, it seemed to him McCreedy had been more right than wrong, anyway.  The Texas Rangers had a long tradition of judging right and wrong on a situation’s specific needs.
 
With a nod, Callahan made himself a memorandum to be sure and ask that question.  “I think that’s all I need right now, Jace.  I believe I’ll talk to Marshal Stone next.  Wait, though.”  He was quickly writing out a separate document and handed it, and the coffeepot, to Pearson.  “That’s a restraining order, staying the execution until my inquiry is complete.  Obviously the local law is owned by the Michaelses, so I’m putting it in your hands.  The deputies who came in with me will help you carry it out.  And would you see if the lovely Jenny could make me another pot of coffee?  I think this will be a long night.”  
 
He was right; the long night lasted until around nine the next morning, when Judge Callahan finished deposing people and went to his bed at last, with a request to Pearson, Stone, and the other law enforcers to make sure the Michaels family remained at the ranch, by whatever means was currently working so well.  When he came back to his improvised chambers, mid-afternoon, he wrote arrest warrants for all four Michaels siblings, for questioning in the murder of one Wallace Black, among sundry lesser matters; officially set aside the ruling of Judge Thornell, thus freeing Lom Trevors from custody; telegraphed an official complaint to the U.S. Marshal’s office in Austin against Judge Thornell and the local sheriff for accepting bribes and obstruction of justice; and had a quiet little chat with Smith and Jones.  Shortly after that, Harry Briscoe of the Bannerman Detective Agency was seen hastily packing and headed toward the train station, with no more interference from his acquaintances.  Wheat Carlson slipped away, too, with his partners who had been guarding the Michaels home.  Everyone else settled in, expecting it would take a week or two for Judge Callahan to straighten out matters criminal and probate.  The three Michaels brothers would take up Lom’s quarters in the jail, much more closely guarded.  Sister Sarah, though, posed a problem until Jenny remembered a friend with a basement that had escaped harm.  True, the basement was in a bordello, but the deputies probably wouldn’t mind too much, guarding there.  In fact, several volunteered right away.  
 
It was an emotional moment when Lom and his nearly identical cousin embraced on the saloon side of the cell’s bars.  “You look better without the bars, Lom,” was the Virginian’s next remark.  “Trampas, what are you staring at, anyway?”
 
“Damn, it’s like seeing double.  Ain’t it, Stokely?”  The curly-haired cowboy turned to the partner of the other cousin.  Stokely agreed, and several others voiced the same opinion.  
 
“Then doubles it should be, boys,” was Jenny’s put-in.  “And I propose the first one be a toast to Justice!”  
 
That was the first, but not the last, heartily supported toast that evening.  Some hours later, Jenny sat down for the first time since her original toast, sharing a table with McCreedy, Smith, and Jones.  Lom was talking shop with his fellow lawmen at the next table, although several people noted the Virginian had not left his side.  McCreedy moved his glass over in front of Jenny, and she finished the drink.  The little intimacy made Smith and Jones both uncomfortable; their exchanged glance confirmed it between them in their usual silent communication.  “Well, Jenny, it looks like you’re going to be a rich woman in your own right,” McCreedy told her.  “I expect our young friends here will be telling you to get shed of me as fast as you can.  Certainly not to marry me.”  
 
Heyes’ poker face abandoned him; it was obvious from his guilty look that he’d been thinking exactly that.   Jenny looked from him to Curry, who couldn’t meet her eyes.  “Oh, really, Joshua, Thaddeus?  Is that what you would ‘tell’ me to do?”
 
“Now, Jenny,” Curry found his voice.  “We wouldn’t presume to tell you anything about how to live your life, would we, Joshua?”  He kicked Heyes under the table, signaling say something.  
 
“No, no, of course not.”  Heyes kicked him back.  “It’s just that, Jenny, we…you know how much we care about you, Jenny.  It’s just…well, we just…we’re just happy for you that you can be secure on your own, you know, that you don’t feel like you have to marry any—”  Kid’s gasp and Jenny’s expression cut him off short.  Even Mac backed his chair up a little, as if getting out of the line of fire.  
 
Jenny took her time before she spoke, drawing a deep breath and letting it out.  She even reached out to stroke first Heyes’cheek, then Curry’s.  “Boys.  I’m old enough to be your ma, so let me tell you a couple of things.  First off, I’m a wee bit past the age when I’m likely to ‘have to’ marry any man.”  A sudden guffaw from McCreedy distracted her attention.  He clapped one hand over his mouth and waved an apology with the other, although when Jenny turned back around to the younger men, he was still shaking with suppressed laughter.  By that time, their blushes had had a chance to fade somewhat.  
 
“Secondly, I don’t much care for being told I’m the sort of woman who takes up with a man for what she can get out of him.  You know me better than that, boys, that hurts.”  She waited for them to stumble over themselves apologizing, then her grin told them she wasn’t really offended.  She poured drinks for all three of them from the bottle on the table, and they toasted her cheerfully.  
 
“But really, Jenny, what are you going to do?  Do you know yet?”  Curry asked.  
 
“No, K—Thaddeus, I haven’t made any plans yet.  When I have a deed and a bank book in my hand, I’ll make plans.”  Jenny had learned the proverb about counting chickens all too well.  
 
The late train pulled out of the station with a long whistle.  Glad to change to a less dangerous topic, Heyes mentioned that Harry Briscoe must be on his way back to Denver like he wanted.  But McCreedy had other information.  
 
“No, boys, he didn’t take the train.  I hired him to do a special little job for me.”  Heyes and Curry locked their eyes on him.  
 
“You didn’t,” was Heyes’ reaction.  
 
“Uncle Mac, you don’t mean that job, do you?”  
 
Unruffled, McCreedy just said, “Well, recovering stolen property is a specialty of the Bannerman Detective Agency, isn’t it?”  
 
Heyes and Curry silently consulted each other.  “What do we do, Joshua?”  Kid finally voiced the question.  “Do we go after him?”  
 
“I don’t know.  If it was Wheat or Kyle, or almost anybody else in the world…but for Harry?”  Heyes toyed with his glass, aware of McCreedy’s amusement.  At last, with a dimpled grin to his cousin, he reached for his famous coin.