A HARRIED JOURNEY
Dana De Vos
Dedicated to the memory of J. D. Cannon
Peace be with you, sir, and say howdy to Pete for us.
Even if you didn’t rob them any more, Kid Curry reflected, trains were worthwhile. Cinders, potential derailings, and the latest crop of outlaws notwithstanding, it still beat days in the saddle and sleeping on the ground. True, the hard seats that became berths didn’t make for good sleeping; Mr. Pullman should put his palace cars on more trains out west. But that wasn’t what was keeping him awake now.
“Heyes? You asleep?” Despite his anxiety, Kid had to smile at the switch in the pattern. Usually it was his partner keeping him from slumber in the pre-dawn hours. Kinda felt good to be on the other side for once. “Heyes?”
The sudden shake did it – Heyes came out of his slumber in fight mode, then rolled back against the wall of the train. “What is it, Kid?”
“You carrying a copy of our amnesty papers?”
Even with only the glow from the coal stove, even with only
one eye open, Heyes’ glance was withering.
“Kid. You saw me put it in my
wallet; the wallet’s right here in my coat.
You have your copy. The governor
has his copy in the territorial records.
Hell, Lom has a copy in
Kid frowned, shrugged, sighed. He was edgy but couldn’t come up with the words to explain it. Articulation was supposed to be Heyes’ department, after all. “I don’t know. I feel like there’s trouble around. Guess I haven’t got used to being free and clear yet. Thought I would in almost three months’ time, but I’m not.”
Heyes scrunched himself into a slightly less uncomfortable
position in his berth, which was too hard, too straight, too unyielding. Why couldn’t all trains have palace cars, now
that they could afford to travel on them?
“Well, that’s not so long. We
were wanted for a long time, remember?
If anybody stops us, we’ve got ample proof that we’re amnestied. Get some sleep. We’ll be in
The blond ex-outlaw grunted an assent from across the aisle and sought a position he could sleep in. Eventually he at least dozed. Neither partner completely woke up during the early morning stop in Federal, which is why they didn’t see the slim, dark man who spotted them and ducked back out of the car.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Just after sunup, Heyes opened his eyes to the business end of a .45. When he saw who was holding it on him he sat up and tried the famous grin and the glib heartiness. “Harry Briscoe, you old dog! Is this any way to greet old friends? Kid? Kid, wake up and see who’s come calling.”
Kid was awake, reflexively reaching for his weapon. Briscoe held out his left hand. “Go ahead and draw it, Curry. Just put it here. You, too, Heyes. We don’t need to have any trouble about this.” Curry’s didn’t-I-tell-you look at Heyes was eloquent.
They complied but Heyes informed him, “You’re too late, Harry. We’re not wanted any more.” He gave Briscoe a brief moment to snort in disbelief. “It’s true. We finally got our amnesty last July. Independence Day, to be exact. You can check the records; hell, you can telegraph Jim Stevenson himself. He’ll tell you.”
Briscoe’s hand hadn’t wavered, and his nasal twang expressed his disbelief quite emphatically. “So I’m supposed to believe you’re on first name terms with the governor, huh? Well, I’ll say this: that’s a creative lie, anyway.” A man and woman entered the car, stopping short at the scene, their cheerful chatter stilled. “Will you folks go get the conductor, please?” Briscoe’s hand still didn’t waver, and his eyes never left his quarry. “These two are the notorious Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, and I’m not letting them get away again.”
“Harry,” Heyes tried again as the man and woman took off, “you’re just letting yourself in for some terrible embarrassment.”
“Embarrassment? Oh, I’ve been embarrassed by you before, Heyes, downright humiliated a time or two. I’m not forgetting you’ve done me some good, too, but I just can’t let you go this time.” There was a hint of desperation in his voice, and Curry thought he knew why.
“What’s the matter, Harry? Your job in jeopardy again? Did you mess up something really important this time? ’Cause if you did, you’re doing it once more. Heyes is telling you the truth.”
The conductor arrived, full of excited officiousness, leaving the fascinated couple gazing from the entrance. Briscoe explained his situation and had the conductor hold the pistol while he arranged things. Once they were dressed, he handcuffed Heyes and Curry to each other and, shifting them to a seat already set up, cuffed their other hands to the rail at the top of the seat back. “Look, Harry,” Heyes plied the silver tongue, making a monumental effort to control his temper, “inside my coat on the left side, there’s a wallet. Look at the legal paper in there; it’s proof we’re not wanted any longer, signed by Governor Stevenson himself.”
Briscoe ignored him, turning to the conductor to demand a
couple of men to help guard the prisoners.
He abruptly dismissed the conductor’s suggestion that he might ought to
at least look at the papers, assuring the official that it was just “another
Hannibal Heyes trick, and I’ve seen enough of those to last me a
lifetime.” It was just like the
Brimstone trip, Kid thought. Briscoe
didn’t want to hear the truth then, either.
Instead, he confirmed the scheduled stops –
“Damn it, Harry – excuse me, ma’am.” Even in their current situation, Curry
noticed the couple were still watching, and his mother had taught him well. “Look, Harry, we have a job waiting for us in
“Kidnapping.” Heyes tamped down the part of his brain that automatically made a pun out of the word, too angry for trivialities now. “That’s the charge, Harry, and it’s not a short term, either.” Even that didn’t reach Briscoe as he arranged guards’ shifts with the conductor and shooed away the civilian couple. They didn’t resist, but the man’s eyes met Curry’s once more before they left for another car, deep in a whispered conversation.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Perhaps three quarters of an hour passed, silent except for the occasional jangle of handcuffs and Heyes banging his head against the back of the seat for a while. His cousin took this to mean he didn’t know how to get out of their predicament, either, but was working on it. So Kid waited, frustrated, watchful, and getting hungry.
“Say, Harry, what about breakfast?” he finally asked.
“Had mine, before I got on the train.”
“Yeah, well, that’s real nice for you, Harry. Heyes and me haven’t had breakfast. Do you intend to keep us chained up here until tomorrow evening without a chance to eat or anything?”
Heyes concurred. “You really need to keep him fed, Harry, you know how grouchy he gets when he don’t eat regular. It’ll be a long, unpleasant trip if you keep him hungry. And, to tell you the truth, I could use a trip to the facilities myself.”
Conceding the justice of this, Briscoe turned to his assistant guard, a lanky youth still grimy from the coal car where his normal job was. They arranged the logistics of Briscoe escorting one man and the boy guarding the still-cuffed prisoner, of getting some coffee and doughnuts brought in, and of taking off the handcuffs that joined the two men so they had one hand to eat with. By the time it was all done, some of the tension had eased. Seamus began to think prisoner-guarding had it all over shoveling coal, especially when Heyes got some conversation going.
“So, Harry, tell us what you’ve been doing lately. Chasing nuns? Planning a Mexican vacation? Surely you have some interesting tales to tell.”
Briscoe frowned. Did he know something? “Why don’t you two go first – fill me in on what you’ve been doing instead.” He had lit a cigar, the smoke curling up and hanging in the air like unanswered questions.
Around a mouthful of doughnut, Curry asked, “You mean besides the fact we got our amnesty? Our other big news is Heyes is getting married next month.”
“Why you no-good son of a – does she know who you really are?” Moral outrage just didn’t ring true coming from Harry Briscoe, but he tried it on.
Curry looked at his partner, finding the exact grin he expected to see on Heyes’ face. Kid could always tell when he was thinking about Maggie. Heyes softly answered the question, “Yes, Harry, she knows. She knew from the day we showed up at her place, me sick as a dog.”
“Awww, she nursed you back to health and you fell in love. How romant—OW! Damn you, Heyes!” Harry’s sarcasm had cost him the second half of Heyes’ coffee in his eyes, plus an exquisitely painful kick to his right kneecap. Curry, whose right hand was free, did not miss the chance to grab at the pistol when Harry dropped it, but the gangly fireman was not as slow-witted as he looked. He’d jumped right in when Heyes flung the coffee, and reached the weapon first. He sort of saluted Curry with the gun, and Curry sat back on the seat again with a shrug. A man had to try. He stamped out Harry’s cigar; this was no time and place to start a fire.
Heyes had leapt after Briscoe into the aisle, as far as his handcuffed right hand would allow, and the two were still in a fiercely loud swearing match. After a moment, the young guard moved between them, his impassive calm eventually silencing the two furious men. Curry was impressed; he’d initially written off the youngster as muscle but no brains. Briscoe dried his face once more and took the weapon so the younger man could replace the handcuffs. Heyes slumped back in the seat and his breathing slowed, but his face was still darkly angry. Briscoe took care to stay out of reach, across the aisle, as he warned his prisoner about “any more tricks.”
Curry tried to forestall Heyes’ response. “Harry, you should know better than to make fun of a man’s fiancée, ’specially when you don’t even know her. Even young…say, what’s your name, son?” he asked of the young guard.
“Seamus, Mr. Curry. Seamus Dunne. And I’d like to hear about the engagement, if Mr. Heyes doesn’t mind.” Tall and lean, with the muscles that went with hard labor, the sandy-haired young man had an open honest face and respect in his voice. But Kid doubted that would make him an accomplice in any escape plans.
The two partners exchanged a long look. It appeared they were having a telepathic conversation, so well did they know each other’s thoughts. Heyes finally growled, “Do what you want,” which told Kid he was free to relate the story. He would have to; Heyes didn’t really remember that first day or two.
The two men rode in on one horse, the blond supporting his dark-haired partner and leading the second mount. Rumpled and trail-dusty, even the stronger man looked done in. A massive black dog barked vigorously as they approached the large, well-maintained house. “Mrs. Stevenson?” the man inquired of the very young woman who had been sweeping the wide, inviting porch and crooning to a baby in a heavy basket.
“No, but she saw you riding in. Oso, hush,” she addressed the dog. He quieted down but took a position between the woman and the strangers. Broad-chested, with a large, square-ish head, the animal made it clear he was protecting his own. The young woman straightened a lock of wheat-blonde hair and asked, “Is your friend there a patient? Then it would be easier to meet Mrs. Stevenson at the side door. That’s where the sick rooms are, and she’ll be there.” Curry had turned his horse before his “Much obliged” was audible, seeking the woman recommended as “better than most sawboneses.” Oso followed silently, keeping a respectful distance from the horses’ hooves.
Maggie Stevenson turned out to be noticeably older than the sweeper, in her mid-twenties probably; perhaps it had been her baby in the basket on the porch. Chestnut-haired, green-eyed, she was dressed almost Quaker-plain. She was also brisk and businesslike, and stronger than she looked as she helped support Heyes up the few steps and into the house. By the time they settled Heyes in a large swivel chair in the designated sickroom and Maggie began scrubbing her hands, introductions had been made, Curry had explained that one of her neighbors had sent them to her, and Heyes had already asserted that he had “just a real bad cold.”
“Well, perhaps you’re right.” Heyes gave his partner an I-told-you-so look, which Curry rejected with a shake of his head. Maggie pulled a stool up close and continued, “I’ll just check on a few things. Has Mr. Jones been with you since you got sick?” At Heyes’ nod, she suggested, “Then why don’t we let him do the talking and we’ll spare your throat that way.” Heyes’ smile was weak but grateful, and Maggie reinforced the deal by putting a thermometer under his tongue. She felt the glands under his jaw, smiling an apology when Heyes winced. After listening to him breathe through a stethoscope (wasn’t that for hearts? Curry thought), she peered up his nose and into his ears, removed and checked the thermometer, looked down his throat. Then she was ready to listen. “Tell me the story of this illness. Did it come on slowly, over a day or two, or hit suddenly?”
“Suddenly,” Kid answered. “We’d been in
“Just a bad…cold,” wheezed Heyes. He’d said it a dozen times or more over the last day and night, hoping to convince his cousin to stop worrying. It hadn’t worked on either of them.
“Tell me about the aching,” Maggie directed him. “That hit you suddenly, too? Feels like the very marrow of your bones aches?” He nodded at the apt description. Turning back to Curry, Maggie pressed, “How was his health before this? Any history of weakness in the lungs? Heart?”
“No, he’s the healthiest person I’ve ever met.” Curry looked over for his cousin’s nod. It was something Heyes was inordinately proud of, actually. He took sickness as a personal insult, like he wasn’t in control somehow.
Maggie smiled, something she apparently did often. “That’s all to the good.” She turned back to Heyes, took his hand in both of hers, fastening her green eyes onto his deep brown ones. “Mr. Smith, you do have influenza. But you’re in no danger.”
Curry interrupted, “Folks can die of ’flu, though.” That had been what everyone talked about in town, how many folks had died over the winter. Unspoken, the fear of it had weighed heavily on him and his partner.
“Not the ones who are young and healthy to start with,” Maggie countered, still holding Heyes’ gaze. “And, not the ones who get good nursing care and avoid getting pneumonia. You have all the right answers to those criteria, Mr. Smith. There’s no sign of pneumonia in your lungs, and it’s not bragging for me to say you won’t find better care anywhere else.”
Curry felt relieved enough to grin. “That’s what Mr. Rasmussen said.” They had met him on the road, and Curry had asked directions to the nearest town and doctor. The profane old man had answered both requests but recommended they turn off and come to the Stevenson place, assuring them they couldn’t find a better place to heal up.
“Did he also tell you I’m ‘mean on clean’? That’s what he usually tells folks.”
“Well, something like that, maybe.” Probably best not to quote the remark about how the “hellacious fussy female, she’d clean the damned air you breathe if she could.” Curry had liked Maggie’s ornery old neighbor.
With a chuckle, Maggie turned back to her patient. “Are you wondering what we can do from here? I have three plans in mind for you, Mr. Smith: complete bed rest with good food, some medicines I have for the coughing, and for the aches and fever, plus all the liquids you can swallow. We need to fight that fever. Watch this.” Raising the hand she still held, she pinched up the skin on the back of his hand. “Now watch on mine.” When she demonstrated on her own hand, the skin fell back instantly. It had taken longer for Heyes. She answered his questioning gaze, “The fever is drying you out. Your temperature is almost 101 degrees when it should be about 98 and a half. That’s more miserable than dangerous, but obviously we want to fight it.”
Both men nodded, comforted to have a plan at least. Heyes managed to rasp out, “How long?”
“It’s hard to say precisely. Most likely you will feel perfectly dreadful for another two-three days and then begin to get better. I can promise you this, though: it will take much longer than you think is reasonable before you really feel like yourself again.”
Damn, Curry thought. “You don’t mince words, do you, Mrs. Stevenson?”
Another smile acknowledged the truth of it. “It’s been said of me. My father, who was a doctor, always taught me that lying does the patient no good. It’s been my experience as a nurse, too.”
Catching his cousin’s expression, Kid knew he was wondering the same thing. “Is this a hospital, then?” There were two narrow beds in one end of the spacious room, and two solid cabinet-looking things plus a couple of cots in the opposite end. Besides the desk and chair where Maggie examined patients, there two immense wardrobes, and no less than three washstands. The small pot-bellied heating stove was glossily blacked, and there was not a speck of dust in sight. Mean on clean, indeed.
“Only occasionally. It’s my home, but sometimes there are patients here. There’s another sickroom just like this one on the opposite side of the kitchen. Amy Ruth, whom you met outside, was a childbirth case, but she lives here with me now. You’ll be my only patient now, Mr. Smith.” As she spoke, Maggie turned down the covers on the bed nearer to the door. “Mr. Jones, you’ll be staying with Mr. Smith? Ordinarily, I’d advise you to isolate yourself, but the damage is already done so far as your being exposed to the illness. If you don’t have symptoms yet, you’re probably going to escape it.”
“I’ll stay here.” The glance between the two men made it clear separation would not have been acceptable anyway. Sick or well, they’d watched each other’s backs too long to do any different.
Amy Ruth tapped at the door frame. “Maggie, the hot water’s ready.” Maggie took the kettle from her, setting it on the nearest washstand and shooing the young mother away from the sick room. “We’re taking no chances on you and the baby catching anything.”
With an authoritative no-nonsense air, Maggie turned back to the two men. She often met resistance to the message she had now, and these men didn’t seem exactly the obedient, pushover type. “Part of any treatment here is to stay as clean as possible, so I will give you some privacy for Mr. Smith to wash up as best he can. You’ll need to put on something clean to wear to bed—“ she forestalled the question before Curry could ask it—“if you don’t have clean things with you, use anything from the wardrobes. There’s no need to shave, but cleanliness is essential for healing.”
“Is that really necessary? He feels so bad…”
“You can help him, Mr. Jones, or I can.” Her gaze went from Curry to Heyes. The smile that had lit up her face previously was nowhere in evidence now. “And it’s not nearly as much fun as it sounds like.” Convinced, or maybe just in no shape to argue, Heyes started unbuttoning his shirt, and Maggie left to collect medicines, closing the door firmly behind her.
Despite his objections to the near-bath, Curry was immensely cheered to have turned over the doctoring responsibilities to someone who seemed so capable. He felt good enough to throw Heyes a nightshirt from the wardrobe, knowing how he loathed them. The weary patient was too puny to throw it all the way back in his face, and Kid laughed as he picked it up and tossed his cousin the henley shirt and drawers he had in mind anyway. Bedded down eventually, Heyes stretched, sighed, smiled. The sheets were smooth and cool, and smelled cleanly of sunlight and… something…lilac, maybe? “Nicer place to be sick than you had,” he murmured, remembering Curry’s illness at the gold camp.
“Prettier nurse, too.” As usual, the two were thinking along the same lines. “But you did good, Heyes, best that could be.” Curry kept his other thought to himself, wondering what such good care was going to cost in the end. Maggie hadn’t mentioned it. But no need to put that in Heyes’ mind if it wasn’t there already. Maggie’s knock interrupted the talk, and Curry opened the door. She held a tray with two pitchers, a heavy glass tumbler, a shot glass, and two dark-brown bottles, which she set on the small table between the beds. She washed her hands again before settling in the small chair next to Heyes’ bed. “Comfortable?”
Heyes nodded and showed her his hands. “Clean enough?” He turned his head, pulling his ear forward so she could check behind it. Maggie laughed, a silvery merry sound that suddenly touched something deep within him. He was startled at the unexpected tug on his heartstrings.
“Oh, Mr. Smith, we are going to have some times, I think.” The smile was back, and Heyes was downright enchanted. Or maybe it was partly the fever. “Let me tell you about the medicines. The tall bottle is willow bark tea, rather concentrated so it tastes unbelievably horrid, but it will help with the aching and the fever. You’ll want to drink a shot glass full, every three or four hours. If you develop a cough – probably about tomorrow – the shorter bottle has a tonic for that, a half a shot at a time. That one has honey and lemon in it; it tastes a little better.” She had filled the shot glass from the tall bottle as she spoke, handing it to Heyes. He stared doubtfully at the darkly thick liquid. Maggie reached now for the larger glass. “The pewter pitcher has water, the china one sweet cider. What’s your pleasure?”
The question drew a chiding growl from Curry but an indulgent grin from the nurse. “You think you’re being smart, sir, but I keep a small barrel of beer in the cellar.” She then dashed his hopes. “Unfortunately, the alcohol dries out the body almost as bad as your fever. So not yet. How’s this? As soon as you go twenty-four hours without any fever, I’ll personally bring you up a pitcher.” They shook hands on the bargain. “Of course,” Maggie off-handedly mentioned, “it will take several miserable days longer if you decide to tough it out without taking your medicines or drinking enough liquids. Did you decide on a drink?” She held his gaze, not pressuring him to take the noxious potion, but waiting for him to decide. He settled on the cider and was glad to have a large chaser for the shot of medicine. She had not exaggerated about the taste.
Sitting on the other bed to watch his partner, Curry grinned at Heyes’ puckered face. Maybe he’d been better off in the gold camp cabin after all. But no, he decided, watching Maggie hold Heyes’ hand and softly talk him into sleep. When she was sure he was asleep, she laid his hand down and got up. Curry followed her out to the kitchen. He needed to see to the horses, and he felt obliged to talk about money.
When they reached the kitchen, though, he was distracted by delicious cooking aromas. Breakfast had been sketchy and some time back, as the scent clearly reminded him. Amy Ruth was stirring stew and dropping in dumplings. “Sure smells good, ma’am,” Curry told her. The enormous dog, Oso, looked up at Kid intently. He had laid down by the baby’s cradle, at one end of a long table.
Amy Ruth smiled shyly, quickly returning her gaze to the stew pot. “It’ll be a while yet, three quarters of an hour, probably.” Then, because she had brothers, she added, “There’s doughnuts in the pie safe there, if you need something to tide you over.”
Who were these women, Curry wondered. An angel of mercy to heal up Heyes, a generous good cook, and both pretty and sweet-tempered to boot, so far as he could tell yet. Enough to make a man regret traveling. “Thank you, ma’am. I’ll take you up on that in a minute. But, Mrs. Stevenson, I need to ask you what Joshua’s nursing is going to cost.”
Maggie was pouring coffee and handed him a cup, nodding for him to sit at the table. Refusing the offer, Amy Ruth was searching the pantry for something. Curry sat, waiting for Maggie’s response and appreciating good coffee. As she joined him, Maggie declared, “I’ve been wondering if you’d be interested in an exchange of labors, Mr. Jones. Amy Ruth and I are in need of a hand here. The young man who’s been with me the past couple of years took a nice office job with his about-to-be father-in-law. It’s plain, ordinary farm work – looking after the stock, milking cows, helping me in the garden. I don’t raise a cash crop, but I keep a very large kitchen garden, and it entails a lot of work in the spring. Does that sound practical to you?”
“It sounds too good to be true,” responded Curry, shaking her hand before she changed her mind. “It’s been a long while, but I think I can remember which end of the cow to milk.” He set his empty cup on the work table by the stove. “I’d best be seeing to the horses now.” Not forgetting to pick up a couple of doughnuts, he saluted Amy Ruth with them as a thank-you on his way out. Things were definitely looking up.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Did she bring the beer, after all?” Seamus wanted to know. Both prisoners nodded, Heyes keeping his face down, though, as he remembered. “Pretty nice,” Seamus admired, “So you stayed on, then?” Within himself, he wondered And why did you ever leave such a setup? He still held Briscoe’s pistol steadily, but he found himself liking his prisoners more and more. Briscoe himself was still across the aisle, nursing his knee. He had to argue, “I thought you said she recognized you.”
Curry looked at his partner, expecting an outburst at anything Briscoe could say, but Heyes was ignoring their captor. Instead, he answered Kid’s gaze and they both grinned, remembering the remarkable conversation around the supper table that night. Kid, though, didn’t know everything about the afternoon before that. Curry answered, “She did; it just took a while before she said anything.”
The next three days had been just as miserable as Maggie had promised. Heyes hurt in every muscle and fiber in his body, he was alternately burning up and shivering with cold, and every time he breathed, it seemed, his charming and beautiful nurse was trying to pour liquids down him. Or Kid was, if she wasn’t there. But she was there plenty, day and night, just as she’d told them. “And I’d take it as a personal favor, Mr. Jones, if you don’t shoot me when I step in during the night.” Heyes had come to believe he could never again actually want anything to drink – coffee, lemonade, juice squeezed from oranges one time, apple cider, milk, water, tea – he had begun to hate the sight of glassware. When he began refusing to drink, Maggie reasoned with him; Kid threatened him; but when Maggie offered to match him ounce for ounce, he felt shamed into complying. And finally, waking to his third morning in bed, he felt better. He pushed off his covers and sat up, enjoying the sensation. Pulling up the skin on the back of his hand, he was delighted to see it fall back immediately.
“Need something, Heyes?” Curry was nearly dressed and headed out for morning chores. He’d been surprised how comfortable it already seemed, milking and mucking out, grooming the horses and filling the wood box like when they were kids, even stoking fires all day when the laundress and her crew came. All the chores they used to scamp out on at every opportunity seemed a small price for the care Heyes was getting. For that matter, the cooking alone was payment enough for the work.
“I’m better. I think the fever’s broke.” He knew Kid would appreciate the big news.
“Hell, I knew that.” Kid couldn’t resist teasing his cousin, a habit they both probably should nip in the full bloom, but wouldn’t. Mrs. Stevenson was here about an hour ago and told me your fever was down.”
Heyes flung his pillow at Curry, who threw it back. “Did she also tell you how much longer you’d have to be playing farmboy? Since you seem to know so much?”
With a shake of his head, Curry answered, “Hard to say. Seems it takes a long time to build up your strength again. And if you push too hard you’ll…what do you call it…relapse, and be worse than ever. She was very definite about that. So don’t push too hard, all right?” It was an effort to keep his tone light; for a while there Heyes had given his cousin a scare, and Kid didn’t want to go through it again any time soon.
Heyes stopped looking about, noticing details of the room (what were those odd, flat cabinets at the other end of the room?) and demanded, “Well, it’s not gonna take until the end of June, is it? ’Cause we’re keeping that appointment with the governor if I have to be in one of those chairs with wheels.”
“No, more like a couple of weeks, not months.” Curry finished pulling on his boots and stood to go. “Take your time, though, I’m sort of enjoying it here. The work’s not that hard, the company’s pleasant, the food’s the best I ever ate, including our mothers’ cooking. I haven’t even had to listen to you all that much.” He caught the pillow again and fired it back on his way out. It was a cheerful thing to see Heyes getting feisty about things; he must be feeling lots better.
routine set in. Heyes spent more time up
and less in bed each day, coming to appreciate Kid’s description of their
situation. They had somehow landed in a
wonderfully pleasant place. The house
was located in a small valley, protected from the very worst of the snows, near
a middle-sized creek that ran clear and cold now from the spring runoff. The furnishings were on the plain side, but
everything was comfortable and practical.
Heyes was fascinated with the built-in bookshelves in the front parlor,
as well as the chair that somehow unfolded to become a small step ladder and
the odd cabinets that turned out to be beds, folded up to the wall until they
were needed. Turned out Maggie’s parents
had both been orphans raised in a Shaker community in
For Heyes, the most interesting feature on the place was the round barn. The first day he was able to be out and help Kid with the chores some, Kid thought he’d have to hog-tie his partner to get him out of the barn. It wasn’t just the shape of the building. The stalls were arranged around a central feed lot, sort of like spokes on a wheel. A wide ramp arced up from one of the wide entrances to the loft level, so a wagonload of hay could be driven up and unloaded directly to the loft, then the feed could be easily dropped directly to the feed station below. Grain bins, a tack area, storage space for tools and vehicles were set against the curved walls much like any other barn. It was so simple it was ingenious.
The other outbuildings were routinely rectangular – a small bunkhouse (Curry had been avoiding the question of whether they should move out there when Heyes started recovering), privy, smokehouse, cool room over the creek, dairy connected to the side of the house by a covered walkway. Everything was well built and well fitted. Someone – Maggie’s late husband and Mr. Rasmussen, it turned out – had taken great care building this place.
Besides the place itself, and the first-rate vittles, the two women were delightful company. Thinking of his time imprisoned by two women, Curry was appreciative of their cheerful natures. Amy Ruth was a quiet little thing, tending the baby she seemed ’way too young for and doing most of the cooking. Curry’s protective instincts came to the forefront around her, and he was even drawn to the baby boy. The first time Heyes found month-old James Richard cuddled in his cousin’s arm, tiny fist wrapped around Curry’s finger, he was actually silenced. And later, when the partners were alone and Heyes started to josh Kid about it, Kid silenced him again.
He did not share the story Amy Ruth had confided to him one early morning, pacing the floor with a colicky baby James. She’d been up and down with him through the night, Kid knew, and she looked like she’d been “rode hard and put away wet.” He put coffee on to brew and reached for the baby, smiling encouragement when she hesitated. “I can walk him a while. You just sit and let me know if I go wrong somehow.” He wasn’t as confident as he sounded about dealing with the baby, but he could tell Amy Ruth had reached her limit. And remarkably, little James settled down pretty soon. Curry suspected just changing to a different person made a difference, or maybe even just exhaustion set in, but he was pleased to have helped. He tried to convince Amy Ruth to go back to bed once James went to sleep, but she wanted to get breakfast started. Talking and helping out, Curry made the comment that she seemed very young to be a mother already.
Amy Ruth sighed. “I think you have to be very young to be as foolish as I’ve been, Mr. Jones.” It was an uncharacteristic gloomy comment, and Kid asked if she wanted to talk about it. Suddenly she did. It was not that startling to Kid: a young girl raised in an oppressively religious family (her father was a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher) falls head over heels for the first young buck to talk sweetness to her. James couldn’t be the first or last baby to get started that way. But the end of the story had sort of a twist. Curry asked, “Did he run out on you, then? Or maybe he was married already?”
“No, not married.” She didn’t sound bitter, but sort of defeated, staring at her hands on the table. “But I was so afraid, I didn’t say anything right at first, and I didn’t see him for a couple of weeks, so I was even more scared to speak out. By the time I could tell him, he had already gotten engaged to the other girl he got pregnant that summer.” It was hard to shock Kid Curry, but that did it. His heart went out to the girl, even while his memory summoned up his own years of having his brains behind his pants buttons. There but for the grace of God, he thought. At least, he surely hoped he hadn’t left someone in such a fix.
“And your parents didn’t take it well, I’ll bet.” No, they hadn’t. Amy Ruth, when she finally confessed to her mother, who turned the matter over to the reverend, had been literally dismissed from her home and family in the dark of night. Her father physically pulled her away from her mother’s arms and shoved her out the door. Her mother had managed to tell her, though, to come to Maggie Stevenson and, after spending the rest of the night in the barn, Amy Ruth had done so.
Her eyes shone and a bit of a smile returned when she talked about Maggie taking her in. “I owe her everything. I don’t know what would have become of me without her. Not just because she looked after me as a patient. Her kind of religion is different from my father’s, more about forgiveness and getting right with God inside yourself. She taught me how to feel God’s forgiveness and how to forgive myself. She’s even my legal guardian now, until I’m twenty-one. She had the lawyer work out something with James’ father and his family. There’s money in the bank for James for later on, and we agreed not to ever make any claim on the family or say who the father is. He’s moved with his wife, so I don’t expect to see them.”
Curry thought over that last statement. Must have been somebody prominent in the local town to want it hushed up so much. His respect for Maggie grew even more. A remarkable woman, indeed. No wonder Heyes was showing signs of being spellbound. Married at eighteen and widowed at twenty-three a few years ago, Maggie now midwifed and nursed folks, made soaps and medicines from the huge garden’s plants, and was a published author. (“What sells are foolish romantic novels for foolish romantic women, but I also write for the newspaper some and am working on a real book about medicinal plants.”) Aside from being well educated, she was just the smartest woman either man could remember meeting. And cheerful and funny – it just made people feel good to be around her.
That turning-point day, at dinner, she and Heyes got to tom-fooling until they all laughed themselves just about breathless. Heyes’ coughing spell settled them down some, and Kid commented, “I don’t think I ever laughed so much as I have since we’ve been here, Miss Maggie.”
“That’s Maggie’s gift,” asserted Amy Ruth. “Just to be around her cheers people up. She’s plumb ruined me for living anywhere else.” It was a long speech from the quiet girl.
“Why, thank you, Amy Ruth.” Maggie stacked the plates she had gathered into one hand so she could reach down and hug her friend in her chair. “I don’t know what I ever did without you, anyway.”
Heyes and Curry exchanged a look, remembering a conversation. Heyes said, “We had sort of wondered if you ladies were sisters, when we first came here.”
In unison, Amy Ruth and Maggie answered, “Not by blood, just by love.” Apparently the subject had come up before. James’ sudden cry hushed the laughter. Amy Ruth went into the other sickroom where they were still staying, and Maggie called after her to stay there and rest some. She turned to Heyes, who said, “I know, I know, me too. I’ll go read for a while.” The dinner party broke up as Heyes headed for the parlor and his current book, Curry went out to saddle up and go target practice some, and Maggie attacked the dishes.
The parlor was a long room, across most of the front of the house, with tall windows on the front side looking onto the wide porch. A stone-manteled fireplace took up one end of the room, on the house’s side wall. In case that wasn’t warmth enough, there was a heating stove in the other end, too, where Maggie’s writing area was, dominated by her large secretary desk and an oaken cabinet. The parlor held a cherry-wood square grand piano – both women played and sang – plus a sofa and several wing-back chairs, all large and comfortable. A couple of small lace-covered tables held lamps, and a gaming table near the fireplace had drawers with cards, chess, checkers, and something called backgammon which Heyes was determined to learn. It annoyed him that Maggie still beat him every time.
When Maggie came in, intending to write during this quiet hour, Heyes was reclined against the end of the sofa, boots properly removed, but he wasn’t reading. He was instead petting and talking to the monstrous-big dog, who had gradually come to accept the men as part of his household. They both looked up guiltily at Maggie’s step. “Well, Mr. Oso, so you now belong in the parlor, do you?” Oso thumped his long, heavy tail against the braided rug and looked to Heyes for protection.
“Don’t fuss at him – I coaxed him in. You were busy and he was lonesome, and I was, too.” Heyes looked up at her with his best getting-out-of-trouble charm, knowing she wasn’t really angry.
Indeed, she chuckled but nonetheless pointed, out the door to the kitchen, and Oso obediently trudged out, stopping briefly for Maggie’s caress. He lay down as soon as he got out of the room, nose right on the threshold, technically out of the parlor but staying where he could see Maggie and Heyes. They both laughed, and Maggie came to see what her patient was reading now. “Idylls of the King. One of my favorites; I love all the Arthur legends.” She perched on the edge of the sofa, feeling Heyes’ forehead.
“I’m fine,” he protested, but didn’t move away from her touch. “Pretty soon you’ll have me so molly-coddled I’ll be completely useless.”
“Well, think of it this way. It doesn’t happen often that being lazy is the right choice. And it’s never a good idea to argue with your nurse.” She smoothed a lock of hair off his forehead, and he caught her hand in his, bringing it to his lips. Pulling her face to his, he found himself murmuring, “I don’t want to do no arguing.” She pulled back from the kiss almost immediately but didn’t move away. For a long, tense moment, she simply looked into his eyes, then seemed to reach some decision. “No, I don’t, either.”
Her kiss was tender, sweet, and Heyes wrapped his arms around her, feeling he couldn’t get close enough to satisfy the longing. The kiss grew more intense, Maggie leaning into his embrace, caressing his face, ears, neck. A wave of desire flashed through Heyes like nothing he’d ever experienced. For a second or two, his blood actually felt hot in his veins. When Maggie finally pulled away, he was incapable of speech, managing only a protesting moan at the separation. It took a couple of seconds for his eyes to focus on her.
She was a little breathless, too, and her eyes were dark with desire. But she said, “It’s very foolish of us to stir up these longings when there’s nothing to be done about them here and now. But I wanted you to know the feelings are mutual.”
Heyes struggled for speech. “W-When?” Maggie’s silver-sounding laughter was not the answer he’d expected, but it broke some of the tension. He dimpled a grin back at her, still hoping for a more direct reply.
“Such a practical man,” was her comment. “I don’t know, my dear. Before anything more can happen between us, there’s a great deal of truth-telling to be done.”
“What do you mean?” He tried to keep his voice light, even as his heart began to sink. Truth-telling was not a source of comfort for him and Kid these days. He wondered sometimes if it ever would be, if they’d ever feel honest and whole again.
Maggie smoothed his hair again and removed his hands from her waist, setting them on his chest. “Just what I said. We have things to tell each other. Let’s powwow at supper.” And suddenly she was leaving, Oso padding along with her. There’d be no writing accomplished that afternoon.
Seamus was surprised at the idea of a woman keeping her own counsel like that. His ma was known for speaking her mind freely and immediately. When he commented on the notion, Curry smiled. “Maggie Stevenson is a remarkable woman.”
Heyes was moved to speak. “You have no idea.”
“Sure I do,” retorted Kid. “Maybe not everything you know, but enough to appreciate how special she is. Like this, Seamus: the first time I drove into town with her, she not only insisted on paying me cash above taking care of Heyes, she recommended the best whorehouse to me.” Seamus and Briscoe both reacted to that statement, but Briscoe kept his mouth shut when he caught Heyes’ glare. Heyes turned the glare on his cousin, and Kid hastened to explain. “Remember, she’s a nurse, and she told me that while she wouldn’t presume to tell me what to do with my own time, that if I did intend ‘renting some female companionship,’ I should go to Rose Turner’s place because the girls there were checked every two weeks for diseases. Never mind whether I did or not,” he didn’t wait for Seamus to ask, “the point is, what other good, decent, church-going woman would do that?”
The young guard acknowledged the truth of it and was about to ask how she knew, when it occurred to him she was probably the one who checked them. Instead he inquired when the lady did tell them she knew them. Beginning to be sorry he started such a long story, Curry looked over at his partner, hoping Heyes was ready to take over the talking. But no.
“Well, Heyes has never told me exactly what happened, but he and Mrs. Stevenson had begun to have feelings for one another, about the time he was really getting back on his feet. And Mrs. Stevenson decided it was time to get everything out in the open, our secret and hers, too. Turns out she knew us because a long time before, she’d been on a train we robbed, one of our earliest jobs with the Devil’s Hole gang, in fact.”
Heyes shook his head. “I would have remembered you, I think.”
“And I’m that heartbroken, too, that you don’t. Here I thought I was so special, but I guess you kiss all the new brides when you’re robbing trains.”
“THAT WAS YOU?” from both men – Curry in delighted surprise, Heyes in remorseful horror. To think the woman he was rapidly falling in love with had been the young bride he
couldn’t resist teasing. He’d been so stupid that day, all keyed up from the job, just had to razz the newlyweds, even insisting on kissing the bride. “My God, Maggie, I’ve never been so sorry for what we used to do. I can’t tell you how ashamed I am to face you.” He couldn’t face her, in fact, burying his face into his crossed arms on the supper table.
She came around the table, sliding in beside him on the bench. “But that’s good, don’t you see? When you truly repent of a sin, it means you’re ready to accept God’s forgiveness.”
Never mind God right now, he thought. “What about your forgiveness?”
She raised his head, smiling at him. “You’ve had mine for years, you silly man. And, as I recall, Robbie took retribution at the time.”
“That’s right, Heyes!” Details were coming back to Kid now, and he remembered the sudden, powerful punch the new groom laid onto Heyes. “It was three days before you could chew food again, remember?”
With a sigh, Heyes finally met Maggie’s eyes and half-smiled. “He sort of did me a favor, at that. That’s the only reason Jim Santana didn’t pound me into the ground.” He’d been careful never to get Big Jim that mad again, tending strictly to the business at hand from then on, and becoming better at the job because of it.
Abruptly, Curry stopped talking. The details of the kiss-the-bride story seemed too personal to go into with Seamus, let alone Briscoe, glowering in the opposite seat. And Amy Ruth’s story was a different matter entirely, although it had affected Kid quite strongly. And Maggie’s other secret – he looked to Heyes, perplexed. “Should I tell the part about Maggie’s relative?”
“No, you should just shut up. Time enough for that story when we bring Harry up on kidnap charges.” Heyes had obviously had enough sharing for the time being. Kid was tired of doing all the talking, anyway, so neither of them argued when Briscoe snarled something about everybody shutting up before it sounded any more like a ladies’ gossip circle. Seamus shut his mouth without asking the question he had formed, and it appeared he was trying to think out an answer for himself. Not long after, his replacement came in. On his way out of the car, out of Briscoe’s line of sight, Seamus mouthed silently Governor Stevenson?. Curry briefly nodded; Heyes just smiled. The young man shot a glance at Briscoe, shaking his head, and went back to the coal car with much on his mind.
Maggie had owned up to her deception even before telling Amy Ruth who their new hands really were. “I know you asked me early on, whether I was related to Governor Stevenson, and I told you no, Mr. Jones. Technically, that wasn’t a lie since a relation is defined as blood kin, but it’s a distinction without a difference. The truth is we are connected; Jim Stevenson is my father-in-law.” Questioned as to why she had effectively lied, she explained, “Knowing who you are, I thought it might put you off from staying here; and this one (nodding to Heyes) needed to stay put.”
She went on to explain to Amy Ruth who the two really were, and they went on to explain that they had gone straight and the ladies should not be worried about trouble from them. Somewhere in the course of all the explaining, it came up that the men were scheduled to see Governor Stevenson at the end of June.
“The end of June? Specifically then?” Maggie sounded excited. “What for?”
Heyes hesitated, wishing he were free to speak of the amnesty. “Well, it’s not something we can talk about just yet…”
Maggie slapped the table, grinning broadly. “You’re up for amnesty, aren’t you?”
“What makes you so sure?” Curry wanted to know.
“Because Jim always announces the important amnesties on the Fourth of July. It’s part of that long boring speech he makes every year, about the country being founded by people starting new lives and such. If he wants to see you at the end of June, it’s for that. He wouldn’t call you in just to say no.”
Kid and Heyes looked at each other for a long moment, hardly daring to hope. They’d been close, then disappointed, before. But Maggie was so elated…and Lom had been so specific about being there that last day of June…suddenly the room erupted in celebration, laughter, hugs all around, dancing for joy.
Separately, Kid and Heyes tried to summon up that memory as
the train shook and rattled. It was a
long, monotonous thirty hours or so. Any
hopes Heyes and Curry had of attracting attention to their situation in
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Harry Briscoe, Bannerman Detective Agency, Sheriff.” Briscoe shook the lawman’s hand more enthusiastically than he needed to. “Well, there they are, Sheriff, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, in the flesh, just like I telegraphed you.” A body would think Harry had created them from dust with his own hands, he was so proud of himself.
“That true, gents?” Sheriff Walker seemed pretty easy-going under the circumstances, Briscoe thought. He checked to be sure the railroad guards were still at the ready. They were, looking pretty uncomfortable about it, but there.
Curry deferred answering to Heyes, who replied, “Yes, we’re Curry and Heyes, but you should know, Sheriff, that we’re not wanted any more. And if you don’t know it already, we can easily prove it. Briscoe’s barking up the wrong tree, as usual.”
Unruffled, Sheriff Walker recommended that they all just step over to his office, just around the corner, and straighten everything out. “And you railroad gents can go back to your regular jobs; thank you very much for your help. Mr. Briscoe, would you rather carry those bags or uncuff Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry so they can carry their own?” Briscoe started to protest, but the sheriff just repeated the question, calmly and firmly. Heyes and Kid looked at each other, suspecting something was up. Briscoe bent to pick up the luggage, and as he did, the sheriff gave the partners a large wink. Trying to contain relieved grins, they followed the sheriff’s directions to the office.
A portly, well-dressed, and visibly angry man was waiting in the office as they stepped in. He waited for the last of the foursome to come in and could contain himself no longer. “Briscoe!”
“Mr. Bannerman! Nice of you to come down! Well, sir, as you can see—”
“As I can see? All I see is the same idiot I fired last month, only more idiotic! How dare you call yourself a Bannerman Detective?” The irate man waved a document at Briscoe, who was shocked into stillness, still incongruously holding the two carpetbags. “Do you know what this is? It’s a sworn statement, sworn to by me, that you were fired from my detective agency weeks ago, and that your actions since then are in no way connected to me or my agency. Just because you’re too stupid to read your dispatches, not to mention the newspapers, and know these men aren’t wanted any more, you needn’t think you’ll put any of the blame onto the Bannerman Detective Agency!”
Sheriff Walker stepped in between them, smoothly guiding Bannerman away from the stricken Briscoe and toward the door. “No one’s going to impugn your agency, Mr. Bannerman, don’t give it a thought. You can go back to your office now, and don’t waste a worry on any of this. We all know your agency is in no way responsible. Good day, Mr. Bannerman.” He closed the door and turned back to take stock of things. Heyes and Curry had found chairs and sat to watch the tirade, which they found tremendously cheering. Briscoe, apparently taken with a catatonic spell, was still staring at the door, bags in hand. He jumped when the sheriff addressed him. “Mr. Briscoe, why don’t you put down the bags? I think we can take the handcuffs off Mr. Curry and Mr. Heyes now.”
Dropping his burdens, Briscoe handed the key to the sheriff
and made his way to a chair near the lawman’s desk. He moved stiffly, like he’d suddenly aged,
and sank heavily into the chair.
Silently, he watched as
Sheriff Walker lifted Heyes bodily and tossed/shoved him toward Curry, who held on to him. “That’s enough, Mr. Heyes. I don’t say he didn’t have it coming, but you’re to stop now.” The big man seemed the type who didn’t get openly excited by too much. “Why don’t you show him the amnesty papers? Or I can, if you’d prefer.” He took Heyes’ document and made Briscoe look at it. “It’s true, Mr. Briscoe, you arrested two free citizens.”
“We tried to tell you, too, Harry, didn’t we?” demanded
Curry. “But you wouldn’t listen, and now
you’ve made us miss—Sheriff, we need to send a telegram right away to Sheriff
“Well, maybe not, if it’s to let him know where you are. He knows. He’s the one telegraphed me to meet you at the station, in fact.”
The partners consulted each other. “Seamus,” said Curry. “The couple who called the conductor,” said Heyes.
The sheriff laughed.
“Both, in fact. Plus, the
conductor himself buttonholed Trevors’ deputy at the
“Then let’s go, Heyes—much obliged, Sheriff Walker.” Curry was already reaching for his carpetbag when the officer responded.
“What do you want to do about Mr. Briscoe?”
Now there was a question. Curry looked at his partner, startled at the vengeful calculation he saw in Heyes’ face. Heyes asked what options they had, listening carefully to the lawman’s response. Briscoe himself seemed unaware, or uncaring, of the discussion. He still sat, head in hands, ashen-faced and unmoving. It was kind of spooky, Curry thought. Heyes moved to confront their tormentor. “Shoe’s on the other foot now, ain’t it, Harry?” Briscoe raised vacant eyes at Heyes’ question but made no other response. “What about it, Kid? One word from us and Harry here’s behind bars for years, kidnapping, obstruction of justice, assault because of the handcuffs. Should add up to quite a stretch.”
“Then do it.” Finally Briscoe found words, though they came out a little weak and shaky. “I don’t care what you do. None of it matters now.” He put his head in his hands again and seemed not to hear the other three men’s conversation.
Curry suggested calling a doctor, but the sheriff knew he was out on a nearby ranch, for several more hours probably, possibly until morning. Heyes was holding out for pressing charges, although Sheriff Walker explained that, given that Briscoe believed they were wanted, he probably wouldn’t actually be found guilty of anything serious. He merely smiled at Heyes’ recommendation that he arrest Briscoe for vagrancy, then, since they all knew he didn’t have gainful employment. “Oh, come on, Heyes,” Curry protested, “think about what Maggie would want you to do.” That hit home, as Kid had expected it would. He was ready to leave Briscoe to his own fate, now that he knew Lom was still expecting their help. He knew if he could get Heyes to think calmly, Heyes would come around to agreeing with him. After a lengthy silence, Sheriff Walker suggested that they go get some supper and think on it. From the looks of things, Mr. Briscoe wasn’t going anywhere very soon.
The routine was years-familiar: greasy spoon for supper, saloon, hotel, leave town. But it made all the difference to be leaving town going to something instead of running from someone. When Kid brought up the point, Heyes had to agree, and the idea visibly cheered him. Food, liquor, and a couple of hours of poker helped, too. By the time they left for the hotel, Heyes was no longer even talking about Briscoe. Conversation had turned to what they might do to help Lom, what sort of con they could use on the con artists, running over several of Soapy’s and Silky’s methods. Unfortunately, like something sticky on your boot heel, they just couldn’t get rid of Harry Briscoe. He was slumped against a post in front of another saloon, a small second-rate type, drunk, disheveled, and mumbling to himself.
Curry looked at Heyes. Heyes looked back. They both looked at Harry, but not for long. It wasn’t a pleasant sight. “Heyes, we can’t just leave him here, much as he might deserve it. What can we do with him? Don’t look like the sheriff’s interested in him any more.”
Heyes nodded; that thought had come to him, too. He bent down to talk to their defeated adversary, backing up a step when Harry breathed on him. “Harry? Can you hear me? Can you talk to me?”
“What do you want?” It was something between a slur and a snarl. “Come to gloat? Well, go on, gloat. You’ve won and I’ve lost. I’ve lost everything.”
Like light and dark bookends, they sat on the boardwalk, on either side of the former detective. “What do you mean, Harry?” asked Curry. “It’s not our fault you lost your job; Bannerman fired you a long time ago, right?”
Briscoe blew out his lips, like a spent horse. “Job…should taken the other job like Helen wanted. Never liked me being a detective, but then when I got fired, she didn’t like that either. Women!”
Heyes and Curry shrugged at each other. Curry tried again. “Who’s Helen, Harry? Is that your wife?”
Prefaced by a sob-like moan, Briscoe finally answered. “Used to be.
She left me. She took my boy and
went to her brother’s in
Although part of him didn’t blame Helen, even Heyes felt
some compassion for a man who’d lost everything. “And you thought if you brought us in, got
the reward, you could get Helen back?”
Harry moaned again and began to rock from side to side, lost in his own
torment. “Harry, it’s almost , here’s what you should do for
now. Get a room for the night, then
decide in the morning if you want to go down to
Back in their own room, Heyes stretched out on his bed and sighed in relief. “I hope that’s the last of Harry Briscoe; I’ve had enough of him. Who’s the telegram from? Lom?” He watched his partner open and read it, alarmed at Kid’s expression. Kid handed it over and watched Heyes’ expression match his own feelings. It was from Lom Trevors, all right, with the message Bring Briscoe with you.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Early morning was not Heyes’ finest hour under the best of
circumstances. And the best of
circumstances would not include a shortened sleep because he needed to pace off
his rage, a train to catch before ,
and dragging around a haggard, hung over, Harry Briscoe. Fortunately, Briscoe fell back to sleep as
soon as he hit the train seat, so he wouldn’t be annoyingly talkative, at
least. Curry kept handing Heyes coffee
and avoided speaking or catching his cousin’s eye for quite a while. He hadn’t slept much, either, and was glad
enough to catch a few winks once the train was underway. At least they were in a Pullman car this
time. He awoke to find Heyes in an
improved humor, working his five pat hands game. He was pleased but not
surprised; Kid and his cousin knew well enough how to cope with each other’s
moods. Harry, when he came to life later
that day, was pretty subdued. They were
all mystified as to why Lom wanted Briscoe along, and it was the first thing
Heyes asked after the howdying was done in
Lom explained, “Because we can use another man who’s not well known here, and I thought a man with detecting experience might be useful.” He seemed a little dubious now, looking over Harry. Not knowing all of the history between Briscoe and the ex-outlaws, he’d expected a more professional manner from a Bannerman man, even a former one. But he’d probably be better than nothing, Lom hoped. He recommended all three travelers get cleaned up some and they could talk over a big meal. Not at the hotel dining room, though, too public. Lom’s landlady at the boarding house had already agreed to fix a second breakfast for the visitors. Oh, and Heyes had a telegram from Horse Bend. He read it, threw back his head in laughter, and passed it on to Curry. Maggie, keeping to a frugal ten words as she had said she always did, had wired “Don’t get shot up or I’ll whop you. Much love.”
Coffee, bacon, and buckwheat pancakes almost as good as Amy Ruth’s were welcomed and generously praised. Once Mrs. Bridges cleared the table, leaving a fresh pot of coffee on the sideboard, she closed the pocket doors to the dining room. The men were free to talk privately, and Lom didn’t wait.
“Here’s the situation. Two-three weeks ago, these three fellows came into town with big talk about building a big jockey club about five miles outside town. Hotel, racetrack, shops for the ladies, I don’t know what-all. They’ve ‘invited investments’ from the local citizens, selling shares of the business.”
Curry offered, “And you don’t think they’re honest. Why?”
Lom frowned, looking for specific arguments. “Well, for one thing I don’t see how they can maintain horses, let alone a hotel and everything else, on the land they claim to own. There’s not enough ground water there. They claim, now, that there are underground water sources they can drill into with new equipment they know about. It could be true, but it just doesn’t feel right to me.” He looked from one man to another, hoping to see understanding.
Heyes understood. He’d cancelled outlaw jobs at times because things just didn’t feel right, and other times wished he’d paid attention to the feelings. “Can they prove they own the land?”
“That’s one of the things I want you for, Heyes. They showed me a title when I questioned them
early on, but I want to see it again, closely.
The story is they bought land from the
With a deeply dimpled grin, Heyes asked, “Are you telling me the papers are kept in a safe, Lom?” When Lom nodded, though, a sobering thought struck him. “Not the bank’s safe?” He remembered the Brooker 404 that the Bank of Porterville used to have; they’d probably replaced it with something even more impenetrable.
“No, the little one at the hotel. The hardest part will be getting the night clerk distracted or drunk or something.”
“What else do you want done, Lom?” So far Curry hadn’t seen much play for him in the plans, and he figured there was more on Lom’s mind.
There was. Lom also wanted a man or two to pose as potential investors, to see what they could get the so-called businessmen to say. There wasn’t anyone in town he felt he could confide in without getting word spread all over. When he’d heard the boys were in the company of a Bannerman man, it had seemed a stroke of luck. Everyone had heard of the way Bannerman detectives could disguise themselves as ’most anything.
Harry Briscoe faced up to the silent gazes around him. He was not the brashly confident agent he once felt himself to be, but he wasn’t cowed by his circumstances any more, either. “Not me, Sheriff. That was never my strong suit. I’m not a good enough liar. No, where I can be of use in this operation is tracing the land sale up the chain of events. The boys here can attest, I’m mighty stubborn when I have a job to do.”
They could, indeed, and did. Their testimony was not exactly complimentary, but Lom could see the advantages of such single-mindedness in tracking down the purchase, or non-purchase, of the land. Briscoe might be just the man for that.
“Well, then, Kid,” Heyes declared. “I think Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones are back in town. Right, Lom?”
Lom nodded, even as Curry protested mightily. “Why? After all we went through to get our own lives back?”
“Because, Kid,” Lom explained, “if these crooks knew they were dealing with Heyes and Curry, they might panic and disappear with a lot of citizens’ money. Famous ex-outlaws might not be such easy marks. No, you need to be those old friends of Miss Porter’s, Smith and Jones.”
That brought up another question for Heyes. “Does Miss Porter know about your suspicions? Or are we supposed to just happen into town and stop by to say howdy?”
“She knows. She
suspects them, too. Part of the problem
is that her father has fallen for the sales pitch. Once word got out that Banker Porter was
personally investing, these guys can’t take people’s money fast enough. If I’m right, half the town is going to get
skinned unless we can find proof and stop them pronto.” Aside for the legalities of the fraud, Lom
was worried about his town, and it showed.
Glancing at Curry, Heyes knew he was remembering Lom in the old days,
too, when he was always concerned about everyone’s well-being. A good man to have watching your back;
“Well, Kid,” Heyes suggested, pushing back from the table, “Looks like we need to get our suits pressed. We don’t want Harry showing us up when we go call on Miss Porter. Lom, how soon do you think we can get to the desk clerk?” He ignored Kid’s frown; too bad if Kid hated tight coats and stiff collars, but some things couldn’t be helped.
Lom said it would depend on which clerk was on duty that night. The younger man was ’way too straight and narrow to be cooperative. The old clerk, though, had a fondness for drink and conversation that would work to the group’s advantage. They would just have to wait and see. The first night he was working, they would make a play for the safe.
Heyes wired Maggie, “Job not dangerous only slow. Wire before returning. More love.”
It took until the third night in
The second evening brought them all to dinner at the Porters’ home – the very fancy, very long sort of Victorian dinner meant to impress the family’s good breeding on everyone’s mind. True to his word, Mr. Porter had invited the very businessmen Lom wanted them to meet. Thurgood Rylander was obviously the big dog – he dominated any conversation that began around him, pronouncing his opinions as if they were Gospel. He was well dressed but appeared just a little out of place in the gentleman’s role – a shade too loud, a bit too quick to be right about everything, something was off-kilter. Sizing them up, Heyes compared Rylander to Mr. Porter; it was obvious the banker’s gentility came naturally to him. On the other hand, the smaller partner, Horace Manning, looked and sounded like the Boston Brahmin he claimed to be. Not a hair out of place, not a speck on clothes or shoes, not a word less than perfectly phrased. And he looked comfortable, at home in the genteel surroundings and company. The third man was not at the dinner; turned out he was valet and manservant to the other two. Between the soup and fish, Heyes decided Manning was the brains of the outfit despite appearing to kowtow to Rylander. Between the dessert and the savory (was that eight courses or nine? wondered Lom, it seemed like they’d been eating dinner for half the night), Heyes saw that same knowledge in Curry’s eyes and even Briscoe’s as well.
When Miss Porter excused herself, leaving the masculine company to their brandy and cigars, Lom begged off from the company. He had rounds to make; he also knew Rylander and Manning would talk more freely in his absence. In fact, it wasn’t long after his departure that Mr. Porter brought the conversation just where the new arrivals wanted. “Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, our little town has grown some since you were last here,” was his comment.
Before they could even nod an agreement, Rylander boomed
out, “That’s nothing to the growth that’s coming when our little venture is
completed.” He barely waited for Heyes
to ask what venture that would be before spinning out his sales pitch. Why, the Porterville Jockey Club and Hotel
would be the talk of
The unavailable opportunity – how many times had Soapy and, later, Silky drummed into their young heads the importance of telling the mark he “couldn’t” take part in the con? It was all Heyes could manage, not to laugh out loud. Good thing Briscoe had sense enough to take up the story.
“Wal, it’s funny you should say that, Mr. Rylander. Joshua and Thaddeus have been telling me all
the way here, that it’s just the sort of town they’re thinking of settling
in. They say they’ve had enough
traveling in our security business and can’t sing the praises of
Heyes, and perhaps a little less, Curry began to relax into
their roles. This scene was so like one
of the old cons they cut their teeth on, it was easy to put on the role of
marks, like re-telling a favorite story somehow. Surprisingly, even Briscoe seemed to fit
himself into the scene. Maybe he just needed
to be second or third man instead of a leader.
All three of them were careful not to inquire into how Rylander and
Manning got the land in question. The
long evening ended in a talked-around but unspecific understanding that if Mr.
Smith and Mr. Jones decided to stay in
Hearing the story the next day, Lom was delighted. Finding out later that afternoon that the right clerk would be on night duty at the hotel was even better. At last he could take some action on his suspicions.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Under Heyes’ skillful fingers, the hotel safe practically
opened itself. He grinned, partly at the
ease of the opening and partly remembering when he took the photo that belonged
to Clementine from a hotel safe much like this one. He hoped Clem and her dad were doing all
right, together again at last; if he and Curry got down to
In a moment, Curry had firmly shut the door behind the
clerk. Harry climbed back out of bed,
and Heyes spread his notes out on the table.
“The deeds look like real deeds,” he said. “I wish Silky could take a look at them; he
can practically smell a forgery. These
are the plots of land and the names of the sellers. Two of them are signed by Army officers on
behalf of the War Department at
“Seems fishy, all the sales being transacted there for land in
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Fidgeting with his celluloid collar, Curry thought he’d have
been better off going with Briscoe than playing the mark all these days. Harry had wired back as he’d promised; the
bank was a real bank, all right, but no one connected with it knew anything about
the big parcel of land, much less deeded one over to someone. The Army clue looked suspicious, too. The officer whose name was on the so-called
deeds was real. Problem was, he’d
finagled a transfer to
“Heyes, it’s time to leave. Tie up the rigging and let’s go.” Curry waited semi-patiently while Heyes came out from his book spell and got his eyes focused on the real world again.
Grinning, he asked, “You remember when we buried that ‘treasure’ and played pirate in Mr. Addison’s leaky old canoe?” Curry remembered, all right. As junior pirate, he’d done most of the digging. And they’d come near drowning when the patched place on the canoe gave way. But Heyes’ version of it, the rival pirates who swarmed aboard and scuttled the ship, had sounded real good. They never could find the treasure again.
Curry tossed Heyes’ derby at him, just missing getting it to land on his head. Heyes must have moved. “That happen in your book, too?”
“No, just made me think of it. I think Rylander and Manning are sort of pirates, too.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
On their way to tell Lom of the new development, Heyes and
Curry almost literally ran into him, on his way to update them on Harry’s
progress. He had the goods – Lom had
known a Bannerman man would be a good addition to the team – on the Army
officer. Between Briscoe’s pressuring
him and that of his commanding officer, Major Fieldnorth had given up, spilling
out every detail. Briscoe had wired Lom
that he had the documentation, including the major’s affidavit, and was on his
way back to
“You know what this means, Lom. You have to tell Mr. Porter.”
Lom shook his head. “He’ll tell Rylander. He’s convinced Rylander and Manning are his one chance at a big deal. I can’t take the chance. I’ll tell him before I make any public knowledge of it, but that’s the best I can do.”
The partners could see his point, although they knew the banker would be highly embarrassed before his town. For his daughter’s sake, and for the developing friendship among the men (who’d have predicted a banker friend?), though, it was troubling.
“How soon will Briscoe be back? Do we need to delay meeting Rylander and Manning tomorrow?” Heyes wondered out loud.
“It would help,” conceded Lom. Briscoe expected to return on the second day. Maybe Smith and Jones would need to go somewhere to raise the cash they’d need? They could take a train out that day, back the next, and be ready to close the trap when Briscoe got back with the documents. Well, Curry thought, at least they wouldn’t find Harry on that train trip.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Every step was planned and timed, like a Hannibal Heyes bank job. Miss Porter led them into the president’s office where Rylander and Manning were waiting, eyes aglint with greed. As she left, Miss Porter looked at Curry, trying not to show her worry about the bank’s money she had supplied him for the transaction. He smiled back, blue eyes comforting, and she closed the door with a quick little prayer.
The paperwork was Manning’s specialty, it seemed. He double-talked over three different sets of papers, “explaining” how the investors’ money would be used and the returns that would start rolling in very soon. Mr. Porter watched and listened intently, like maybe he didn’t get it all the first time he’d heard it. Kid let Heyes do their talking while he held the bag of money and watched. From the corner of his eye, he saw Lom walk past the window. Briscoe was with him, but not Harker; it was the younger deputy.
Manning finally ran low on words, passing over the papers, pen and inkwell to his marks. Curry handed the money bag to Mr. Porter, and all eyes watched him count bills for one hundred shares at five hundred dollars each, fifty thousand dollars. Curry helped him put it back in the bag as Heyes reached for the pen and ink. “Gentlemen,” Heyes intoned formally, “this is a great pleasure.” He signed and moved over for Curry to do the same, taking up the documents when he did. He handed these to Mr. Porter and placed the bag of money in his lap. “Mr. Porter, you need to hold on to these, please. Do not let them go; that’s your bank’s money in there.”
“Now, see here, Mr. Smith,” Rylander sounded offended. “What are you doing? Trying to hornswaggle us somehow?”
“No, Mr. Rylander, that’s more your department. We’re just stopping you from doing it any
more.” The rich-brown eyes sparkled with
the joy of the game. “And the name’s
Three pair of eyes, shocked and questioning, stared at him. Mr. Porter found his voice. “Is this a robbery, then? I had heard Heyes and—Curry?” Kid nodded. “I heard you went straight, you even got an amnesty, didn’t you? Why are you doing this?”
Heyes chuckled. “We’re not robbing you, Mr. Porter. We’re stopping Rylander and Manning from robbing you, and half your town.”
“There’s no jockey club, Mr. Porter. No magic water-finding machines, nothing but a plain old confidence game.” At Curry’s explanation, Mr. Porter turned pale. Rylander and Manning made a sudden break for the door, checked by Curry’s quick-drawn gun and quiet shaking of his head.
Heyes reached behind his partner and opened the door for Lom and the young deputy, Mason. Rylander looked to Manning, out of his element now. Manning rose to the occasion with fierce expostulations. “You got nothing on us, Sheriff. These two were trying to con us, signing these papers with aliases. You notice we haven’t taken their money. Why, we don’t have any money from anyone in town.”
“WHAT?” thundered Mr. Porter. “I gave you nine thousand dollars myself, all told. What about that money?”
Manning shook his head, grinning smugly. “What money? Search our hotel rooms; there’s no money.” Mr. Porter looked a little sick, turning helplessly to Lom, who didn’t seem worried at all.
“Well, that’s sort of right. The money’s not there because it’s down in my office, along with your third partner. Pretty clever, having the real brains of the outfit pose as the manservant. But I had just the least suspicion he’d bear watching, too. I got a warrant from Judge Taylor, and Harker and I picked him up a little while ago. Not the most loyal fellow, by the way. He’s talking his head off. And, I’ll bet, if you look at the papers you just had these gentlemen sign, you’ll find they’re signed with their real names.”
Hardly daring to believe in his rescue, Mr. Porter asked, “You mean all the money’s recovered?”
Lom shrugged. “It’ll take a while to match money to documents – oh, yes, we have them, too, Manning — but it looks likely.”
Thirty minutes later, after the bank’s money was replaced and the confidence men were behind bars, Heyes sent the telegram he’d been wanting to send.
Six hours or so later, Heyes and Curry saw Harry Briscoe onto a southbound train. It had been a lively day. Mr. Porter had been effusive with gratitude, and generous with hard cash, too, paying each of them five hundred dollars from his personal funds. Miss Porter had been positively radiant to discover she’d been the first (well, almost) to recognize what fine men two outlaws really were. And Lom had given them something to think about. They had skills to sell, now that they were right with the law. Maybe it was time the Bannerman outfit had some competition. “You sure you want to leave, Harry? You could be working for us: Heyes and Curry, Detectives.”
“You mean, Curry and Heyes, Detectives,” offered the blond partner.
“Either way, no, thanks.
I’m sure, boys. I’ve been doing
some telegraphing of my own. I’m going
“What’ll you do for a living, Harry?” Curry couldn’t imagine Briscoe as anything but a detective, albeit not the best one.
“Not quite sure. My brother-in-law sells insurance; I might throw in with him for a while until I figure out something else. Whatever it takes to get me back my family, I’ll do.” Harry tossed his bag up and swung aboard the train. “Always a pleasure, gentlemen: whenever I meet up with you, it’s a lucky day.”
Two hours more, and the outlaws-turned-detectives were packed and boarding a train of their own, bound northwest instead of south. They made the sequence of handshakes, hugs, and farewells on the depot platform and sauntered toward the train.
“Heyes, you never told me. What did you wire Maggie – did you get it in ten words?”
Heyes’ dimples deepened, and Curry recognized the expression. “Job finished. Arrive Thursday. Pie for Kid. Kisses for me.”
Curry smiled, all over his face. “Let’s go home, Heyes.”
And they did.