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 The Unusual Suspects by Sarah Whyment

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royannahuggins
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Join date : 2013-10-13

20140228
PostThe Unusual Suspects by Sarah Whyment



Starring
Pete Duel as Hannibal Heyes and Ben Murphy as Kid Curry



Guest Starring

Amy Adams as Harriette Gilbert



Anthony Hopkins as Father Stevenson



Daniel Day-Lewis as Sheriff Edwards



Kathleen Byron as Sister Quinn



Margaret Hamilton as Martha



Milton Reid as Tobias Stubbs



Johnny Depp as James Cullen



Daniel Radcliffe as Jed Cullen



Robert Shaw as the Driver



Co-starring Scruffy as ‘the Dog’




The maid’s eyes widened with alarm as she stared down the barrel of a gun. Kid Curry dropped his arm and murmured a garbled apology, before standing up quickly and approaching her. “Miss? I’m real sorry. You startled me when you just walked in without knockin’.”

She clutched the bale of folded sheets to her chest, tilting her head back to stare into his eyes. “The desk clerk said that you had gone out. I came to see to your room,” she stuttered.

“Only my friend went out, not both of us.” He gave her his most charming smile and slipped a comforting, patting hand under her elbow. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” she stammered, backing off quickly. “I’m sorry. Really sorry. I didn’t know that you valued your privacy so much. I wouldn’t... I would never have...”

He shook his head. “I was just cleanin’ my gun... It was already in my hand. I hope I didn’t frighten you?”

She pulled herself together, her fragile, little jaw setting in stubborn anger. “Guns aren’t toys, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing! You could have shot me!”

He gave her a wry smile, his eyes softening. “I know a little. I wouldn’t have shot you.”

She gave an indignant snort. “I wish I could have been so sure!” She thrust the stack of sheets against his chest with a whump, as her hazel eyes flashed with anger. “Make your own bed! And if you DARE to complain about me, I’ll fetch you a slap! You see if I don’t! I need this job!”

The Kid gave a short chuckle. “Fair enough. Who could blame you? I won’t complain if you don’t. I really am very sorry.”

She turned, giving a little cry of surprise as she walked straight into the arms of Hannibal Heyes, who had suddenly walked up behind her. “Hey! Are you alright? What are you sorry for, Thaddeus?”

“Your friend pulled a gun on me!” she barked.

Heyes fixed the Kid with a look of admonishment. “What on earth were you doing?”

“I was cleanin’ my gun when she came in. She didn’t knock.”

Heyes nodded, smiling reassuringly at her, his eyes like molten chocolate as he purred a reply. “There, I knew that it was a misunderstanding. My friend here doesn’t even like guns,” he slipped into the lie whilst the Kid’s gun slid back into the holster on the table. “Isn’t that right, Thaddeus?”

“That’s right, Joshua. I can promise you, it won’t happen again, Miss...? What’s your name?” he paused, but she stiffened and stalked off down the hallway without providing it.

“Miss, have we met somewhere before?” Heyes called after her.

She whirled round. “I’m sure that I would have remembered that! You two are kind of memorable! Just keep out of my way. Please!”

Heyes nodded, his eyes clouding with thought as he closed the door. “You can be sure of that, lady,” he muttered. “What just happened in here?” demanded Heyes, pressing his back against the secured door.

“Just what you heard, except, I wasn’t cleanin’ my gun. I drew, but I put it away as soon as I saw it was a woman.”

Heyes crooked up an eyebrow. “She didn’t knock, you say?”

“No. Why?” the Kid asked, suspiciously.

“I think I’ve seen her somewhere before,” Heyes replied, pensively. “In fact, I’m sure of it.”

Kid sucked in a breath. “D’you think that she was comin’ in here, to search the room?”

“I’ve got no idea,” Heyes dragged out his bag from under the bed. “But I’ve got no intention of waiting here to find out.”

The Kid flicked up an eyebrow philosophically. “Well, at least we ain’t paid for another night yet.”

**********

The Kid gave a hoarse whisper as they reached the bottom of the stairs. “You see that? Him by the door! You were right. D’you think she was on a train we robbed?”

Heyes’ eyes fixed on the glistening deputy’s badge on the chest of the lanky man who stood beside the main door of the hotel. “Back door,” he hissed, cautiously.

Both former outlaws turned toward the kitchen door and Heyes' fingertips had barely touched its brass handle, when another figure stepped from behind an aspidistra which occupied a mahogany stand in the curve of the staircase.

"Goin' somewhere, boys?" rumbled a deep voice.

Heyes stopped and turned, eye-level with a shiny silver badge. He lifted his gaze to a brown handlebar moustache, then higher to a pair of steely eyes. Heyes let go of the doorknob, not even opening the door to the kitchen, and flashed his most glittering smile as a both men’s hands dropped down to their guns. “Just about to check out, but we wanted to thank the staff for looking after us. Can we help you?”

A hirsute eyebrow crept upwards. “Yeah, sure you were,” he murmured, suspiciously, indicating with his head towards the dining room. “Get in there and take a seat. My name is Sheriff Edwards and I need to speak to you.”

“I’m sure that there’s been some kind of mistake, Sheriff...”

Heyes was cut off by an impatient command. “There’s no mistake! A man’s been murdered and nobody’s leaving this place until I find out what’s goin’ on. Got that? Now get in there, the pair of you, and if I see you tryin’ to sneak off anywhere again you’re headed straight to jail! Got that!?”

“Murder?”

“Yes! Now stop makin’ my life harder than it has to be and get in there,” he huffed through the moustache and cast his eyes towards the man guarding the door. “Jake! Get that door locked like I told you, and tell Caleb that if anyone tries to get out of the back; shoot them! You two! What’re your names?”

“This here’s my partner, Thaddeus Jones. I’m Joshua Smith. We have folks who can vouch for us.”

Sheriff Edwards nodded slowly. “Good. You’ll need them. The register says that you were two doors away from the murder scene. Move, boys, now!”

Kid dropped his voice and whispered conspiratorially in Heyes’ ear as they complied with their orders. “Well, Joshua, it looks like they don’t know who we are. We still got our guns.”

They stopped dead at the growling sheriff’s next words. “Jake! Take them guns. They’re all murder suspects. Make sure that none of them are armed.”

Both partners handed over their weapons with a look of resignation, before they turned and continued into the dining room.

The Kid muttered quietly into Heyes’ ear, “It’s bound to be kinda obvious that we had nothin’ to do with it, ain’t it? We never even met the man. This won’t take long.” His face fell as he looked around the room at the assembled suspects; a nun, a priest, a boy of about fourteen, a tearful young woman of about sixteen, a man in his thirties whose white stick and little, round, dark glasses marked him out as profoundly blind, and an elderly woman with a little dog.

They both heaved a deep sigh of resignation and exchanged a long glance before Heyes spoke. “You were saying, Thaddeus?”

“Well, there’s always the staff,” Kid replied, hopefully, as the little animal slobbered and snuffled at the toes of his boots, its little curly tail waving back and forth, flagging up his delighted welcome to these interesting-smelling new suspects.

As if on cue, the door opened and the tall, slim deputy ushered in the five foot tall, bespectacled desk clerk, the plump middle-aged woman who did the cooking, and the tall, hook-nosed woman who doubled as waitress and maid.

“Yeah,” Heyes nodded sagely, before he replied, sotto voce. “Impressive crowd. It’s hard to tell who’s the most bloodthirsty. We could be in serious trouble, Thaddeus.”

“Is that everyone, Jake?” the sheriff demanded.

“No, there’s the handyman and the other maid to come, then we got everyone in the place.”

Heyes indicated to the two seats at the table by the window.

Kid nodded almost imperceptibly as he read the message in his partner’s dark eyes. “Good seats,” Kid murmured, his eyes pointing the way to their fallback exit to the street.

Heyes cleared his throat. “I hate to point out the obvious, Sheriff, but this is a hotel. The public is free to come and go. If there’s been a murder, anyone could have done it.”

The sheriff tossed his hat on a table and ran his hand absent-mindedly through his hair. “I know that, but I got to start somewhere, and this seems as good a place as any. Men just ain’t randomly murdered in their beds by total strangers who wander in off the street.” His brown eyes glanced around the room distractedly as he looked at the assembled suspects as though he were taking inventory.

“So, who’s been murdered?” queried the Kid.

“A man in his fifties by the name of Robert Pastka. Doc reckons he was strangled.” The sheriff gave Heyes and Curry a long, hard look. “His room was two doors down from yours, so I’m told. You’re the closest to the scene, because the room between you and him was empty.”

Heyes cast an eye around the room, drinking in the hands of the frail and the very young. “Strangled? Well, I guess that eliminates a few folks then.”

The sheriff nodded, fixing them with a gimlet eye. “I guess it does, Mister. But it don’t take you out of the frame.”

“If you lay another finger on me, I’ll stick a fork in it!” the pretty, little maid they had met upstairs said, while bustling in backwards and facing the lean lawman with a fierce glare. “Do I look like a murderer?”

Sheriff Edwards smiled down at the young woman, her auburn hair burning as brightly as her fury. “No, ma’am, you don’t. But I guess you’ll be safer here until I can find out what’s goin’ on.” He cast out an arm to proffer a chair. “Please, take a seat.”

All eyes turned to the barrel-chested, bear of a man who followed her into the dining room, his baldpate sparkling with sweat. His fat fingers played nervously with the loose strap of his dungarees like worry beads, the bib remaining attached by only the left shoulder. The man then dropped his denim toy, leaving it to drag behind him like a tail as he walked over to a chair. “I didn’t do nuthin’,” he muttered, defensively. “I was playin’ cards all night with the undertaker and the baker. I can prove it wasn’t me.”

“That’s what we’re here to find out. Tobias Stubbs, ain’t it? The handyman? Is that everyone?” the sheriff queried.

“There was a manager here, when we checked in yesterday,” the Kid added. “Where’s he?”

“His wife gave birth last night. He was up all night with witnesses that include the local doc. He ain’t a suspect.”

“Great!” muttered Heyes, under his breath. “Just us and the local church picnic.”

The sheriff narrowed his eyes. “Yup! It ain’t looking too good for you two, is it? It takes a fit young man to strangle someone Mr. Prastka’s size with their bare hands, and there ain’t many of those in this room. Of those that are, you are the only ones who ain’t got proof that they were elsewhere. Couple that with tryin’ to sneak off, you look pretty guilty from where I’m standin’.”

“We weren’t tryin’ to sneak off,” muttered the Kid.

“No. He loves his food,” Heyes added. “He always tries to thank the cook so he gets good helpings next visit. That’s all we were doing.”

The tall maid spoke up with a wry smile. “I can testify to that. He was always real grateful for a bit extra. Especially the pie. He loves apple pie!” she giggled, coquettishly. “Quite the flirt, too.”

The sheriff gave small harrumph as the handyman glowered jealously at the Kid. “So? He’s a big eater. Cold-blooded killers don’t lose their appetites over a stranglin’. The dead man’s room was only two doors away from his.”

Kid glowered indignantly, sitting back tensely in the high-backed chair. “I never strangled anyone in my life.”

“That remains to be seen, in any case there’s two of you! Now, why don’t we start? Father Stevenson, Sister Quinn, you say you never met the deceased before?”

The priest nodded. “The sister and I are on our way to the orphanage at Sandholes. Our Order runs most of the orphanages in the state.”

“Well,” the sheriff nodded. “I think we can discount you.”

“Why?” demanded Heyes. “No offense, Father, but we don’t even know that you’re a real priest.”

“He’s a man of the cloth,” retorted the sheriff. “And I’m sure that the sister can speak for his character!”

Father Stevenson folded his arms. “Yes, and the Archbishop himself, can confirm our identities! Send him a telegram.”

“Give it up, Joshua. The sheriff ain’t listenin’,” said Kid, ruefully. “He’s made up his mind.”

“Well, I’m not just going to sit here and be railroaded into a murder charge.” Heyes’ dark eyes scanned around the room. “The way I see it, if anyone from the hotel did it, it could only be him or the handyman. No-one else is physically capable of it.” He stood, purposefully striding over to the blind man, his eyes narrowing as the germ of a hypothesis slithered around in their darkness. “Except, maybe, for you?”

He pulled off a glove and tossed it towards the man’s face, as he sat facing aimlessly into the black oblivion of his spectacles.

It bounced harmlessly off his forehead before fluttering to the floor.

“What was that?” queried the visionless man without a flinch.

Kid dropped his head into his hands in embarrassment. “Great work, Joshua! Ain’t nothin’ gonna get a lawman on side faster than treatin’ a blind man like a sideshow. Why don’t you get a few hoops, and try to get one over his head?”

“I’m sorry! I thought he might be pretending,” Heyes stammered. “I wanted to see if he reacted.”

The blind man swept out an arm, groping for the young lad’s hand. “Pretending? Why would I do that? Do you think I like having to depend on my son to get about!?”

“No. I’m sure you don’t.” Heyes sat down, looking sheepish. “I really am very sorry.”

“This here’s your son?” demanded the sheriff.

“Yes. The girl’s my daughter too. We share a family room with a connecting door. I play piano here.”

“So!” Sheriff Edwards folded his arms. “Anybody else got anything to add here?”

The cook’s double chins wobbled in urgency as she pushed forward her own alibi. “Martha and I share a room. I know that she couldn’t have done it! She was with me the whole time.”

The sheriff glowered at Heyes and Curry. “Well, I guess that’s leaves only you two, unless you want to accuse the other maid or the ladies.”

“We shared a room too! How come you let all of them vouch for one another, but not us?” spluttered the Kid.

“’Cos they’re not physically capable of stranglin’ a grown man with their bare hands and you are!”

“They look real shifty too,” added the scowling deputy as he leant against the door. “Especially that dark one.”

Heyes visibly bristled as he glowered back.

“You want to look at that new maid, too.” Martha glared over her hooked nose like an angry hawk at her counterpart. “She only started here the day before yesterday. Positively begged for the job and is doin’ it for no pay, just bed and board! She must have had a real good reason for needin’ to get in here so urgent, if you ask me.”

The girl’s eyes widened in exasperated challenge. “Thanks, Martha! You’re a real pal!” she snapped.

“Well, what do you expect, Hattie!?” Martha gave a little sniff of indignation. “What do you think it does to my position if someone’s prepared to do my job for nothin’!”

“I... well, I needed something! I was desperate! Wouldn’t you rather that I did a respectable job just for my keep, than just do anything for money?”

Martha eyed her suspiciously. “I really couldn’t say! All I know is that the sheriff should know the truth. You arrived the same day as these two men. There ain’t nothin’ ever happened here, not till you showed up. It stinks!”

Heyes quickly took in the glint in the Kid’s eye and the shift in his position to make it easier to spring into action. “We’re on our way to see Sheriff Lom Trevors in Porterville! He needs us to be on time! He’s got a job for us.”

“I don’t care! I’ll contact him, but until I hear back, you two are gonna sit in my jail, right along with this little lady here! I think you’re all in this together.”

“Now, Sheriff, be reasonable,” the Kid drawled dangerously. “There ain’t no call to lock us up. Why would we kill him? We didn’t even know the man.”

Hattie stood, drawing herself up to make the most of every one of her full five foot three inches. “That’s enough! I’m not going to jail and neither are these two gentlemen! Stop being so stupid and start to investigate this matter properly! Have you even thought about who the victim was? What he did for a living!?”

All eyes turned to Hattie, surprised at the commanding voice coming from this sparrow of a woman who was now holding court. “He is... was a bank manager. Sister Quinn and Father Stevenson have an account at his bank, containing the funds they have siphoned off from the orphanages. Are you really telling me that it’s a coincidence that Prastka was found dead the morning after people that dishonest visited him in his room?”

Father Stevenson turned puce and exploded with indignation. “That’s a lie! She would say that—she’s just trying to save herself! Besides, we never went anywhere near the man!”

She turned flashing eyes on the priest. “Save myself? Nonsense! My real name is Harriette Gilbert. I’ve been investigating these people for the last four months! Prastka wanted a cut of their embezzled funds. He had money troubles of his own. I have full reports in my room that I can provide, as well as a record of their accounts.”

“Harriette Gilbert!” exclaimed Heyes. “I knew that I’d seen you somewhere before.”

“Who’s Harriette Gilbert?” demanded the Kid.

Heyes’ eyes glittered with respect as he stared at her. “She’s only the best known journalist in the country! That’s where I must have seen her before. In the newspapers! She’s exposed all kinds of powerful people’s crimes!”

“Precisely! And if you dare to lock me up, my editor will make sure that your name is Mudd. Am I clear, Sheriff?”

“As crystal,” he narrowed his eyes. “But I still ain’t convinced. The only folks backin’ you up are the men I think are in this with ya. I need evidence.”

She nodded and reached into her apron pocket, pulling out a delicate watch on a gold chain. “I kept this out of sight because I had to look poor. But this isn’t just a watch; it’s also a hidden camera. I took pictures of all the comings and goings on that corridor and the only people who went into that room were the Father and Sister Quinn.” She gave a small smile. “Get these pictures developed and investigate the bank details I give you and you’ll have all the evidence you need.”

**********

Kid grinned widely as he plunked down his empty shot glass on the table. His voice rang with laughter as he sat back in his chair and pushed his hat to the back of his head with a long forefinger. “I just don’t know what’s wrong with you, Joshua! How many times have we been in tight spots like that and got out of it so easy? I tell you, our luck’s turnin’, for the better, but you’re sittin’ there with a face like you lost a dollar and found a rattlesnake!”

Heyes raised his eyebrows, still clutching his unfinished drink. “You really don’t know? She had a camera, Thaddeus! She took pictures.”

“Sure she did! And that solved the whole thing. D’you really think that sheriff would have accepted that churchifyin’ folks were more likely to be killers than us without them?”

“No, Thaddeus, I don’t,” muttered Heyes, darkly.

“So? Cheer up! That little lady saved us a whole lot of grief!”

Heyes raised his head and looked directly into Curry’s delighted face. “Cheer up? She took photographs of folks going into a room two doors away from ours. How much do you want to bet that the killers weren’t the only pictures she took?”

The Kid’s face fell as Heyes’ point rammed home. “Do you think she took pictures of us?”

A sickly smile of resignation dimpled across Heyes’ cheeks. “I’m only willing to stake my life on it.”

Kid exhaled loudly through his nose as he considered the point. “Well, we ain’t the killers. She’ll probably just throw the others away.”

Heyes tilted his head to the side. “Sure, or maybe she’ll put them in every newspaper across the country to show folks the faces of the ‘innocent men’ she saved!”

Kid gasped. “You surely don’t think she’ll do that? Do you?”

Heyes lifted his glass to his lips. “Are you willing to take the risk?”

Kid slumped forward onto his elbows. “What are we gonna do, Joshua? Our lives won’t be worth a cent if our pictures got out.”

A pair of dark eyes burned into him, full of determination. “I tell you what we’re going to do. You’re going to take her out to dinner while I search her room.”

“I don’t know. She’s an awful good talker. She seems more like your type than mine.”

“I don’t care, Thaddeus. You’re going to polish up your silver tongue and keep her out of the hotel. It’s got to be me who searches in case there are any locks to be picked.”

“Well, she is real pretty.” Kid flicked up an eyebrow. “Anythin’ to be helpful, I suppose.”

“Make it your best effort, Thaddeus. There’s a lot riding on this.”

**********

Hattie looked up from her work as a pair of boots clumped to a halt beside her. “Can I help you?”

Kid swept his hat from his head and beamed his friendliest smile. “I’m sorry to bother you, Miss Gilbert. I just wanted to thank you for what you did back there. If it wasn’t for you, we’d be sittin’ in jail right now.”

She smiled. “Not at all. I’m just sorry that I didn’t nail this down before they killed someone. You’re very welcome, Mr...?”

“Jones, Thaddeus Jones. If you hadn’t cared enough about those kids enough to investigate in the first place, they’d still be doin’ it. I have to say I’ve got a lot of respect for you, although I can’t say that I’d heard of you before now.”

She glanced down at her pages of manuscript with weary eyes, before she dropped her pen and indicated for him to sit. “I have to say that your approach is very refreshing. I usually get either gushing sycophants or a lecture on a woman’s place in the world.”

Kid pulled out the seat and sat down. “Well, ma’am, it seems to me that you made your own place and who am I to question that? I’m too busy gettin’ on with my own life, to start tellin’ others how to live theirs.” He paused and looked straight into her face. “But, if you don’t mind me sayin’ so, you look tired.”

She nodded. “I am, but I’m nearly finished here. I like to make my notes while they are still fresh in my mind.”

“Have you eaten? Would you let me take you to dinner? As a thank you?”

She shook her head. “I’m afraid that I have too much to do. Anyway, I don’t usually go for the taciturn, apple pie type, like you.”

“We don’t have to have pie. I’m sure that there will be other things on the menu,” Kid replied, disingenuously.

Hattie gave a little snort of laughter. “You’re persistent, I’ll give you that. I mean that I don’t go for the clean-cut, outdoorsy type. I prefer the more erudite; someone who can give me some verbal sparring.”

Kid laughed gently as he gave her a twinkle of bright blue temptation. “Clean-cut? Me? I don’t think you get me at all do you? Life has a way of balancin’ things out, doesn’t it? That’s why carnivals are run by the most threatenin’ lookin’ folks you ever seen in your life. Come to dinner.”

She flicked up an eyebrow, clearly intrigued, a chuckle warming her voice. “Are you saying there’s another side to you, Mr. Jones?”

“Oh, Miss Gilbert, you have no idea! Dinner? In about an hour? Then you can find out for yourself.”

“Do you like being rejected? Are you some kind of masochist?”

Kid shook his head. “No, ma’am! I was raised Catholic.”

A smile spread over her alabaster features. “A masochist is someone who enjoys being made to suffer. They enjoy pain.”

Kid nodded, holding her eyes with a smile. “So they avoid it then?”

She shook her head. “No! They...” she paused, her brow crinkling as she realised what he had just done. “Very clever, they enjoy suffering so they avoid things they enjoy! I may have underestimated you, Mr. Jones. Paraprosdokian fencing! Very clever indeed.”

Kid nodded and tried to look knowing, as his eyes flickered with confusion. “I don’t know about para.... Well, whatever you said! Just say yes to dinner.”

She dropped her gaze, her long, dark lashes forming perfect crescents against her skin, before her eyes flicked up and looked directly into his face. “Yes Mr. Jones, I think that might be very enjoyable. You intrigue me.”

“Well, that’s just a cryin’ shame,” Kid replied. “I don’t want to intrigue you. In fact, it’s the last thing I want to do.”

**********

Heyes cast his dark eyes back and forth, checking the corridor to make sure that no observers witnessed the deft fingers working at the door lock with a small metal implement. A small smile dimpled over his face as the lock gave a barely audible click and the door finally moved.

He slid silently inside the room, pausing with his back against the door as he listened intently for any indication that his nefarious entry had been spotted. Finally satisfied that he was free to search, he relocked the door, before walking over to the table and lighting the oil lamp. A bubble of golden light filed the room as he placed the globe back on the brass collar and began to take stock of the room.

Hattie Gilbert was not a tidy woman. In truth, the place looked as though it had already been burgled.

Bloomers, petticoats, and toiletries were scattered over the bed, whilst a corset hung from the back of the chair by the strings like some kind of grounded kite. Heyes strode over to the chest of drawers and moved some clothing aside to get access to the drawers, his clever fingers quickly feeling for anything in the tumble that could be a watch or a photograph.

Nothing.

He strode over to the carpet bag and was just about to delve inside when a noise outside of the room caught his attention. He quickly extinguished the lamp with a puff and swept himself under the bed in a single movement.

A key jiggled in the lock until the door creaked open and a pair of heavy feet thudded into the room.

“Come on, boy. Shut that door after you, and git that lamp lit.”

A match could be heard fizzing into life and the room lit up again, allowing Heyes to see a pair of thick legs, clad in indigo denim, the long strap dangling down from one shoulder indicating that the large intruder wore dungarees fastened on only one side. Just like Stubbs, the handyman.

Heyes could hear rummaging, exploring and foraging as a deep voice cursed and muttered. “It’s not here. Look over there, boy.”

A pair of slim legs pattered over to the sideboard as the sound of drawers sliding out mingled with the confused sounds of the large man’s excavations and searches.

“Do you think it’s under the bed?”

Heyes’ eyes widened in alarm as he saw the legs start to bend. His hand curled around the handle of his gun.

The door rattled and the Kid’s voice could be heard theatrically remonstrating outside, clearly trying to alert anyone in the room that they were coming back, before it was flung open and the very angry voice of Hattie Gilbert cut through everyone in the room.

“JUST WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING HERE!? THIS IS MY ROOM!”

From his hiding place at floor level, Heyes saw Kid’s boots follow the swish of Hattie’s long, dark skirt into the room.

“Answer the lady!” barked the Kid.

Stubbs shifted nervously from one foot to the other. “Somebody reported mice on this floor. We were just checkin’.”

“Mice?” snapped Hattie.

“Or rats,” the lad added. “Great big rats!”

“We’ve come to leave some mousetraps,” gabbled Stubbs.

“Really? Let’s see.” Kid leant over, his face appearing at the side of the bed as Heyes raised his eyebrows and gave him an impish smile from his dusty bower. He straightened up. “I guess you could have rats. Great big dark ones!”

“No! Urgh! I can’t stay here, then. I just hate rats,” exclaimed Hattie.

“Oh, I’d guess that they’ve finished here, ain’t you, boys?” drawled the Kid, casually. “It’ll be fine.”

“Yessir! We’re done here, come on, boy,” the lad was grabbed by the scruff of his neck and hauled towards the door.

“Well, Miss Gilbert, get your throw and we’ll get goin’.” Kid bent down again, looking under the bed, giving Heyes a look of reproach. “Just checkin’. That big rat’s still sittin’ there. Guess he won’t come out till we’ve gone.”

Heyes heard Hattie give a tinkling laugh. “Stop it! I have to sleep in this room! There’s nothing there.”

“Sure there is! I can see a pair of mean, little, beady eyes staring right back at me,” he proffered an arm. “Come on. You can bring back a bread roll for it from the dinner table.”

**********

“Well?”

Heyes shook his head. “Nothing. Not one thing.”

“She was wearin’ the watch at dinner. Gave me the creeps, wonderin’ if she was takin’ my picture, all the while. What were Stubbs and the blind man’s son doing there?”

Heyes shrugged. “Same as me, I guess. They were looking for something. Whatever it was, they didn’t find it either.”

“Photographs?”

Heyes stretched out on the bed and put his hands behind his head. “Who knows? I can’t worry about that. Did she mention anything about the pictures?”

“Nope. And I didn’t ask her. I didn’t want to arouse suspicion.”

Heyes gave him a mischievous glint. “How did it go?”

“She’s a real nice girl. Clever, very clever but she’s got high principles too. She told me about some of the things she’s done.” He sat astride a chair and rested his chin on the hands that sat on the top. “She got herself admitted to a Lunatic Asylum just to prove that the folks there were treated real bad.”

Heyes nodded. “I know. I read about it. Foolhardy if you ask me, but then I guess those folks got no one else to look out for them.”

“That’s what she said.” The Kid shook his head and fixed Heyes with a glint of hopelessness. “What are we gonna do, Heyes? We need to find out if there are pictures, but we even don’t know if there are any! If there are, we need to take them from her, in any way we can.”

Heyes shook his head. “It’s a problem, sure enough. What’s she doing tomorrow?”

“She’s leavin’ town, headed for Topeka. She’s gettin’ the mornin’ coach.”

Heyes scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Then so are we, Kid. We’re goin’ to Topeka. A long borin’ coach ride to meet up with the train should give us time to find out a bit more.”

The Kid shook his head. “I like her, Heyes. I don’t want to scare her.”

Heyes tilted his head in agreement. “I like her too, Kid. We won’t scare her. She's just about to gain two of the most ardent admirers she’s ever had, that’s all.”

**********

“I didn’t know that you two were travelling this morning?”

Heyes grinned, squinting against the low morning sun. “Neither did we, Miss Gilbert, until we got a telegram. We were too late for the job we were already headed for in Porterville. Sheriff Trevors understood though, he’s an old friend, so he recommended a job in Topeka.”

“Topeka. That’s where I’m going,” she narrowed her eyes and gave the Kid a sly look. “Now, if I didn’t know better, I’d think that you were following me.”

“And who could blame us, Miss Gilbert!” grinned Heyes. He gave the Kid a playful jab in the ribs. “Have you been harassing this lady? I’ll be very pleased to put him in his place for you.”

Kid held up a hand to support Hattie’s climb into the coach. “Don’t listen to him! I’m not on my way to any job. I’m here, purely and simply, to enjoy your company.” His eyes slid sideways to Heyes. “And if you feel like puttin’ me in my place, feel free to try, whenever you feel stupid enough to take the risk.”

“I really find it hard to believe that you two are competing over a woman,” Hattie smiled as she assessed them shrewdly. “I sense that you are very close. In fact, I think that if either of you wanted a woman, she would have to share a lot of your partner’s qualities.”

Kid shook his head. “No, ma’am! That’d never do. A female version of him doesn’t bear thinkin’ about. All that yakkin’ would bring a man down.”

Hattie gave a little laugh and she took her seat. The two men sat opposite, smiling as innocently as boys in the schoolyard. “So!” she arranged her skirts around her. “What kind of work are you headed for? Mr. Jones told me that you had been acting as couriers.”

“We do that. We do security work. All kinds really,” Heyes replied, enigmatically.

“Which entails what, exactly?” she pressed.

Heyes raised his eyebrows in admonishment. “Now, Miss Gilbert, anyone would think that you were investigating us, and with the nature of our work we just can’t allow that, can we? Our clients rely on our discretion.”

Hattie’s eyes crystallized with hungry curiosity. “So, you work as couriers, you mix with lawmen.” Her eyes dropped to their gun belts. “And I’m guessing that you know how to use those. Just who are you two?”

“We work in security, Miss Gilbert. In fact, you could say that we’ve been working around the law all our lives. Isn’t that right, Thaddeus?”

Kid smiled. “Yup, Joshua. You could say exactly that, and you’d be right on the nose. Right around the law.”

**********

The coach rattled its way northwards, wending and winding along the dirt road, the three occupants chatting about everything and nothing, before they heard the driver order the team of horses to halt.

Kid thrust his head through the window of the coach. “What’s going on? We ain’t due to stop for at least an hour and a half.”

“Rock fall! The road’s blocked.”

“Rock fall?” Heyes and Curry exchanged a look, before Kid spoke again. “This is late summer. This ain’t a common time for rock falls.”

“Miss Gilbert, stay here,” cautioned Kid as they climbed out, their eyes darting about, scanning for danger.

Once they were away from the coach, Heyes kept his voice low. “I don’t like this, Kid. This is exactly what I’d do if I wanted to ambush a coach. The rocks stop a getaway, and it sure can’t turn around easy.”

“I know. And we’re stuck here with a woman.”

They heard the crunch of footsteps on the earth behind them.

“Well, thanks, boys!” Hattie looked indignant. “I could say that I’m stuck here with a couple of uppity blowhards!”

Kid grimaced. “I’m sorry. You weren’t meant to hear that.”

“Obviously!” she smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m used to it. I’ll let you off the hook.”

“Did you hear anything else?” asked a worried Heyes.

“Oh, dear! What have you been saying about me?” She arched her eyebrows. “I thought you liked me.”

“We do,” Heyes smiled with relief. “It was.... just, maybe, not what we’d want a lady like you to hear.”

She gave Heyes a long, hard look before she spoke again. “So? What’s wrong?”

“This isn’t the season for rock falls. I think the coach has been stopped on purpose,” Heyes turned his back on her to drink in the surroundings again, his voice sounding a note of caution. “I’m sorry to ask you this, but please go with Mr. Jones. He’ll stay with you and make sure that you’re safe.”

“Joshua!” hissed the Kid, looking straight at a dot of movement against the rocky hillside as a couple of heads appeared from their concealment.

“I see it! Miss Gilbert, go with Thaddeus. Quickly! I’ll cover you from behind.”

“Look! I’m not just prepared to just do as ....”

Heyes snapped, worry etched in his face. “Dammit! Just do as you’re told, woman. This isn’t a game. Get the driver, go with Thaddeus and take cover! Let’s hope they’re not interested in the passengers, so they’ll take what they want from the coach and leave us be.”

Hattie glared at him. “We’ll discuss this later!”

Heyes gave a snort. “Don’t I know it, but I’ve got to hold onto my hide before you can tan it, eh? Now, go!”

She nodded curtly, following the Kid and the driver to a collection of rocks as Heyes covered them from all the way. Heyes swept in after them. The driver took position with his rifle perched on top of the boulder he used as cover, while Hattie pushed in between him and the Kid, and held a Schofield aimed firmly in the direction of the two men, making their way to the coach from the hillside.

“Where the Sam Hill did you get that?” gasped the Kid.

She gave a little smile, but kept her hazel eyes fixed firmly forward. “Women’s skirts are quite voluminous, Mr. Jones. They can hide a multitude of sins. I choose to use a Schofield as it’s shorter than the .45 Long Colt. It’s a bit easier to hide.”

Heyes darted a look of surprise at her. “Most women use a Derringer!”

“I’m not most women!” she retorted, her voice warm with amusement.

Kid shook his head. “A camera, a gun! What else have you got hidden in there?”

“Nothing you’ll ever see, Mr. Jones.” She narrowed her eyes. “Look! It’s that lummox from the hotel. The handyman. Why on earth does he think that tying a bandana around his face is going to disguise him? It’s like trying to hide a carthorse behind a veiled, flowery hat! He’s still wearing the same clothes and everything.”

“She’s right. That’s Stubbs!” exclaimed Kid. “Doesn’t he ever do up those straps?”

“STUBBS!” yelled Heyes. “Stop right there. We know it’s you and we’ve got you covered. Drop your weapon.”

The huge man stopped, his flailing, clumsy arms betraying his confusion. “Don’t shoot!” He turned, obviously looking at the slight, masked figure still reaching the road behind him, before stepping in front of him protectively.

“Do you think that’s the same lad? The blind man’s son?” asked Heyes.

“Yup. And Stubbs doesn’t want him hurt, by the looks of it. He’d have done better to think of that before he got him involved in a holdup,” muttered Kid.

”WHAT DO YOU WANT?” demanded Heyes, as Stubbs took cover behind the coach with the lad.

Heyes and Curry exchanged a glance as the awkward pause stretched from seconds to minutes, before the Kid gave the amateurs another order. “STUBBS! You’re out-gunned, and nobody wants to hurt that boy. Now come out, throw down those guns and tell us what you’re up to! We know you searched Miss Gilbert’s room last night! What do you want!?”

“NO!” Stubbs bawled back, petulantly.

“Do you know that they searched my room?” Hattie demanded suspiciously. “How do you know that? I thought they might be bungling thieves, or just plain nosey.”

Heyes threw a look of reproach at the Kid before he answered her. “We don’t. Thaddeus told me that they were in there and guessed that might be the case. He’s bluffing.”

“Really!” announced Hattie, indignantly, pulling up her skirt and thrusting her pistol into a pocket in her petticoats. “It’s about time someone got to the bottom of this then.”

She took a few steps, making her way out of the safety of their hiding-place before Heyes grasped her wrist, fixing her with incredulous, dark eyes. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“I’m going to talk to them,” she replied, almost casually.

“I’ll be damned if you are! This is a hold-up and those men are armed. You’re going nowhere.”

She raised imperious eyebrows at him. “Who died and made you king? That’s my decision and they’re not killers.”

“You don’t know that.” Heyes shook his head. “I can’t let you walk out there. It’s madness.”

She regarded him patiently with the eyes of someone used to handling people at difficult times in their lives. “Look at that bumbling idiot. He’s obviously been backed into a corner over something, and if I don’t find out what, someone could get killed,” she smiled. “Your answer is to get into some kind of standoff. How is that going to solve anything?”

“It’ll solve it because no one gets hurt,” the Kid said. “We can wait this out.”

Hattie frowned. “That’s one way. Another way is to nip it in the bud. Look at the time we’ll save.”

Heyes gave a gasp of exasperation. “Miss Gilbert, I can’t let you just walk out to men who seem intent on interfering with your work. Who knows what they want to do to you?”

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Did Jeremy Bultitude send you here?”

Heyes looked confused. “Who?”

“My new editor! Well, did he?”

“If I say ‘yes’, will you stop this idiocy?” Heyes snorted, his fingers still holding fast.

She shook her head slowly, looking deep into his eyes. “Nope. He didn’t,” she tugged against Heyes’ grip. “Let go! This is none of your business.”

“It became my business when they held up my coach!”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake! Fine. Have it your way,” she dropped her arm in defeat. “We’ll wait it out. Men! Why do you think confrontation is the answer to everything?”

Kid nodded. “I’m glad you’ve seen sense, Miss Gilbert. We couldn’t just let you walk out there. You do realize that, don’t you?”

“I’m not a fool, Mr. Jones. I know when I’m beaten,” she dropped down to the ground and sat with her back against a boulder. “Go on! Get on with it.”

“If you want my opinion, you should’ve let her go,” growled the driver. “Who needs to be pinned down with a sulky woman?”

“Keep your opinions to yourself,” barked the Kid. “Ain’t no need for anyone to get hurt here today.”

“You should listen to him,” grinned Hattie. “I can be really annoying when I put my mind to it. Let me go and talk to them.”

“I don’t doubt it, but you’re not moving from here. Got that?” grumbled Heyes. “Why are you so cheerful, anyway?”

“Because that man’s not a killer and I’m going to be proven right. You’ll see. This can all be sorted out by some straight talking.”

“Well, we prefer to wait until he’s not holdin’ a gun on us, Miss Gilbert.” Kid kept his voice as even and patient as possible. “They’ll give up, eventually.”

“Well,” mused Hattie, “You are welcome to your opinion, as long as you understand that you’re wrong.”

“See! I told ya!” muttered the driver. “Sulky women! You can’t live with them and you can’t get them to see sense!”

Hattie pinned the driver with an irritatingly, bright smile. “Are you always so cheerful? Perhaps you have a wife who doesn’t appreciate your homespun wisdom? Now that could make a man very grumpy! Very grumpy indeed!”

“What is there to be cheerful about? We’re pinned down here by a couple of mad gunmen and I’ll probably lose my job for being late on my round. They ain’t too understandin’ about things like that, you know!”

“Oh, come on! They can’t expect you to ride through a rock fall!” Hattie retorted. “And they’re hardly The Devil’s Hole Gang, are they? It’s the village idiot and a schoolboy!”

“The Devil’s Hole Gang?” Heyes’ interest piqued at the very mention. “They don’t hold up coaches, do they?”

Hattie shrugged. “They might if there was something they wanted badly enough, wouldn’t they? There might be something that means an awful lot to them on there, for all we know.”

The partners exchanged a glance before Kid changed the subject. “I doubt if Hannibal Heyes or Kid Curry would care about a small town stage coach. Let’s get back to reality, eh?”

“Yes. Let’s. When are you men going to accept that firearms are not helping this situation? This is not depravity! He is a not particularly intelligent man, driven to try to get something for some reason. I want to ask him why,” Hattie folded her arms, “And I think he’ll tell me. You can tell from his concern for the boy that he’s completely out of his depth.”

“You know a lot about depravity, Lady?” demanded the driver, cynically.

“That’s enough!” snapped Kid. “That ain’t a proper subject for a lady!”

“Sadly, there are too many women who are not protected from depravity in this society,” mused Hattie. “Especially if they try to live their lives in any way that men don’t approve of, wholeheartedly.”

Kid flashed a warning look at the driver. “Not when we’re around, Miss Gilbert.”

“Well, I must say I’m impressed. I never expected to find such ardent supporters of women’s equality in this phallocentric society.”

Heyes and Curry exchanged a long glance. The Kid gave a confused shrug before Heyes answered mutely by rolling his eyes and shaking his head.

The driver cackled. “Well, I don’t know about women in that country, but here in America they’d better know their place!”

“I’ve had enough of this.” Hattie suddenly sprang up, darting away from their cover before she ran in the direction of the coach.

“In the name of...,” Kid uttered profanities under his breath as he took off after her. “Cover me!”

She was fast; faster than he had expected and she was already a few feet away from the coach when the Kid caught up with her. He grabbed her around the waist, pulling her to the ground, trying to take advantage of what little cover a dip in the landscape afforded them.

“I swear! If I can get through this day without gettin’ shot, I’m gonna strangle you! Just what do you think you’re playin’ at?” the Kid barked.

Hattie pushed against him but found that she was totally pinned down by his body weight. “I thought you said you never strangled anyone!”

“There’s a first time for everything, and I’m willin’ to make you a special exception. Now stop wrigglin’ and keep your head down!”

“Stubbs!” yelled Hattie, desperately trying to ignore the angry man crushing her into a trench by the road. “Stubbs! These men work for the law. They know how to handle guns and we all know who you are, so unless you’re planning on killing every last one of us, you’d better talk, because they’re either going to shoot you or arrest you! Have you got that!?”

There was a long pause before a plaintive voice drifted back. “Yes, ma’am. I got it.”

“Good! Just put your guns down and come out with your hands up. We don’t want to hurt you.”

There was some audible whispering behind the coach before Stubbs’ drawl was heard again. “They’ll shoot us, ma’am. We didn’t mean no harm. We weren’t goin’ to hurt no one.”

“STUBBS!” bellowed Heyes. “Put down the gun so we can talk about this. DO IT!”

Hattie heard the panic rising as Stubbs spoke again. “Ma’am, he sounds like he’ll shoot us.”

“No. I won’t let him. I won’t let any of them shoot you. Just throw out your guns so we can talk about this sensibly.... Please.”

“Ma’am, will you promise me that they won’t shoot?”

“I promise. I’ll even stand between you and them. Just, please, do as they tell you! You clearly want something important. Let’s talk about that and see what I can do?”

“You ain’t standing between them and us until we’ve searched them!” the Kid hissed into her ear.

“Oh, for goodness sake! He’s a bit simple.” She writhed under Kid’s weight as a rock dug into her ribs. “He couldn’t hurt a fly. Someone’s using him and that boy, and he won’t talk if you terrify him.”

“That remains to be seen,” he snapped back.

“Ma’am, we want to give our guns to you,” bleated Stubbs.

“Then toss them out here,” called Kid. “In this direction. Then come out with your hands up. Then you can talk, as much as you want.”

There was a moment of hesitation before two guns clunked onto the gritty earth and the boy’s ursine mentor ventured out from behind the coach.

“Hands up, clear, where I can see them!” barked Kid as he climbed to his feet, holding him at gunpoint all the while. “We’re gonna search you and then we want to know just what you think you’re doin’.”

Stubbs wandered out from behind the coach, his hands raised, only dipping one of them for a moment to remove the bandana. His bottom lip trembled and his big eyes widened and it looked, for all the world, as though he was about to burst into tears.

“Don’t hurt Jed,” begged Stubbs. “He’s too young to die.”

Heyes and Curry exchanged a look as Heyes strode forward from his hiding place.

“Jed?” demanded Heyes.

“My nephew. He’s only fourteen. Please promise me that you won’t hurt him.”

“We ain’t gonna hurt anyone,” said the Kid. “Come out, boy, and keep your hands where we can see them until my partner has searched you.”

The boy crept timidly out of hiding, before Heyes approached and patted down both “robbers.” “Fine, you’re clean. Sit down. Legs crossed. You’ve got some explaining to do.”

**********

Stubbs pulled at his thick, stiff thighs. “They won’t cross, mister. My legs don’t work that way.”

Kid gave a huff of exasperation. “Just sit still, will you!? Now! Just what were you really doing in Miss Gilbert’s room, and what were you after today?”

The boy cast big eyes at his uncle. “Tell them, Uncle Toby.”

“We wanted the pictures,” Stubbs murmured, reluctantly.

“Pictures?” demanded Hattie.

Heyes and Curry exchanged a guilty glance.

“Yes. You said that you took them of folks in the hotel to catch the killer. We wanted them extra ones, in case....”

“In case of what?” barked Heyes.

Stubbs dropped his head. “In case there was a picture of my brother in there.”

Blue eyes met brown yet again.

“Who’s your brother?” asked Heyes.

“James Cullen,” the young boy stammered.

There was an audible gasp before Hattie spoke. “The ex-outlaw?”

The two downcast heads of the captives nodded in unison.

Kid shook his head. “I thought you said that your name was Stubbs?”

“That was my ma’s name. We all changed our name because he got known so bad. His enemies came lookin’ for him, and found us. It weren’t good!”

Heyes nodded, a frown playing over his forehead. “And I bet that he had a barrel-load of them after he turned State’s evidence and got let off from his sentence! They wouldn’t see it as much of an excuse that he got blinded in an explosion in their last bank job.”

Hattie nodded. “And two of the gang got hanged. The rest are probably still in jail.”

“They still have friends and family though,” muttered Heyes.

“Does your brother know that I took a picture?” asked Hattie.

Stubbs shrugged. “I dunno, he’s blind. He wouldn’t have seen you! We just had to make sure.” He cast imploring eyes towards Heyes and Curry. “My other brothers don’t want to know. They said this was mad. They say it’s all his own fault. But James just kept on and on! He’s real smart, you know. Much smarter than me.”

“Do you have a big family?” asked Hattie.

“Sure do. Six brothers and five sisters. I slept with five other boys growin’ up.” His face fell. “In fact, the only time I slept alone was after I married that saloon girl.”

Hattie rubbed her face. “Mr Stubbs, I live out of a carpet bag. I don’t have the time or the will to carry extra equipment or documents around with me. I destroyed the pictures that I didn’t need. There are no extra pictures.”

Stubbs looked dismayed. “You mean that this was all for nothin’?”

“I guess so,” Heyes replied. “If that’s all you really wanted?”

“I ain’t a thief, mister, and I ain’t a criminal. I was just desperate. He has a son and a daughter. There are folks who would kill them, or worse, just to hurt him.”

“You have a sister?” Kid asked the boy.

He nodded. “Dorothy. She was the girl in the room that day. She’s sixteen.”

“I remember her. Blonde girl?” Kid glanced at Hattie before he shook his head. “This just wasn’t smart! You were bound to get caught and that was going to get the story out. You’d have been better doin’ nothin’.”

Heyes rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Good advice,” he murmured, without a trace of irony.

“Well,” the driver strode forward. “You’ve messed up now! You’re going back to town and headed to jail. You’ve held up my coach.”

“You don’t have to tell anyone that they held up the coach!” exclaimed Hattie.

“No deal. This coach is now about an hour late and I got to tell them why. I ain’t takin’ the blame for the relatives of a yella, thievin’ turncoat.”

Hattie smiled sweetly. “Mr...? What is your name, driver?”

“Alison.”

“Huh?” grunted the Kid.

“That’s MISTER Alison to you, friend.” scowled the driver.

Hattie darted a look at Heyes and Curry, who had started to chortle, unhelpfully. “Of course it is, Mr. Alison, but do you really have to turn in these poor fools? After all, they were only trying to protect the family of James Cullen. You wouldn’t want a sixteen year-old girl, or a fourteen year-old boy to bear the brunt of what their father did, would you? They are innocent after all!”

“I guess not, but why should I lie for them?”

Hattie gave him her sweetest smile. “How about I make it worth your while? Would fifty dollars help? I’m sure that would help to sweeten your mood.”

The driver shook his grey head. “But what am I supposed to tell the line? It’s already late and we ain’t gonna get through! The road’s blocked.”

Hattie nodded. “The road’s blocked. That’s what you tell them. I’m sure that the money will make it worth your while to take us all back and drop the Stubbs family just outside the town, won’t it?”

“I guess,” grumbled the driver. “I wouldn’t want the young ‘uns hurt.”

“Why would you do all that?” asked the Kid.

“Because I’m a journalist, Mr. Jones. This is a great human interest story! The innocent family battling to save their children from the terrible revenge of their father’s enemies! You don’t just stumble across a story like this every day,” she paused, chewing on her lip thoughtfully. “At least, not exactly the same story... I’ll need to omit the hold-up, though. Things like that tend to lose the reader’s sympathy. I suppose that they’ll have to relocate too, but the newspaper can help them with that. It’s really a wonderful story!”

“But they’ve broken the law,” blustered Heyes.

She shrugged. “So? No one’s hurt and there’s no real harm done. Besides, I’m a journalist. Not a lawman. It’s my job to find a good story, not to lock people up.”

“Well,” announced Heyes, philosophically, “We’d best get going while Mr. Alison here is still overcome by the love of his fellow man, eh?”

“Thank you, Mr. Alison. I will have to make sure that I mention your care for these children in the piece I’m planning on writing. What’s your first name? I’ll need it for my editor to wire the funds to you.”

“Leslie.”

“Leslie Alison!” laughed the Kid. “Did your folks want a girl?”

“Hey! None of that, you! There ain’t nuthin’ you can say about my name that I ain’t heard all my life!”

“What do you like to be called?” asked Heyes.

“Sir! That’s what you can call me!”

The boy spoke up. “He gets called Les to his face. Grizzly, behind his back, on account of his nature.”

The driver scowled as Heyes slapped him on the back with a guffaw. “Well, Grizzly, let’s get going. Back to town it is!”

**********

“Well, it looks like you didn’t make it to your job in Topeka either.” Hattie smiled at them. “That’s two jobs in a row that you didn’t show up for. Aren’t you worried that you’re going to get a bad reputation? After all, you’ve stayed in this town with me for the last two days.”

Brown eyes met blue before Heyes responded. “Oh, reputation isn’t everything. Is it?”

Hattie raised her eyebrows. “Try telling that to a young woman on the week before her wedding!”

“We’ve always found it best not to get involved with women just before they marry, Miss Gilbert.” Kid laughed. “They tend to have men folks around, who don’t like strange men givin’ them advice... or anything else, for that matter.”

“It looks like your visit here has given you two good stories, Miss Gilbert.”

She looked pensive. “Hmm, it just goes to show that you don’t know who’s hiding around the next corner. Doesn’t it?”

Heyes shifted uneasily. “Yeah, who’d have thought that a man like James Cullen would be sitting in a backwater town like this?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” mused Hattie. “I think some of the most interesting people can be found in the most unlikely places. After all, I met you two.”

Kid smiled. “Well, Hattie, we’re flattered, but we just ain’t that interestin’.”

Her eyes glittered mysteriously. “Oh, I beg to differ! Two men like you, one an expert draw, the other with an ability to talk the hind legs off a donkey, drifting from town to town. That’s curious enough, but your names—Smith and Jones!? Come on, just who do you think you’re kidding?”

“I’m not an expert draw! Where did you get that from?” demanded the Kid.

“When I walked into your room, that gun was up my nose faster than I could sneeze!”

Kid shook his head. “I was cleanin’ it!”

“Without any rags or equipment? Just who do you think you’re talking to, Mr. Jones?”

“You just missed them!” Kid said, defensively.

Hattie hooked him with a determined stare. “I didn’t build my reputation by missing things, Mr. Jones!”

“We told you. We keep a low profile because we need to keep things confidential for our clients.” Heyes helped her up into the stage, shutting the door behind her as she took her seat and poked her head out of the window.

She gave him a long hard stare before she smiled. “You’re right, Mr. Smith. It’s probably best that I go.”

“I’m real sorry that I broke your camera, Miss Gilbert,” the Kid looked sheepish. “It just came apart in my hands.”

“You really shouldn’t have let him see it, Miss Gilbert. He’s real clumsy.” Heyes gave her a glittering smile. “I kick myself for not mentioning that until it was too late. I really do. I hope that it wasn’t valuable.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Hmm. It’s strange that I never noticed that clumsiness at any other times, isn’t it?”

Kid’s eyes widened innocently. “Didn’t you? I thought you knew that I fell over at the coach when I grabbed you. I would never throw a lady on the ground like that! That’s right, isn’t it, Joshua?”

Heyes nodded. “It’s been a real pleasure, Miss Gilbert. I think I can speak for both of us when I say that you’ve been a real interesting person to meet. We’ll remember you.”

She nodded. “And I’ll remember you, too.”

They stepped back and watched the coachman climb up to his seat. “Do you think she guessed, Heyes?” muttered the Kid.

“Dunno. I thought at times that she had, then she seemed to back off from it,” Heyes shrugged. “I just can’t figure her out.”

“Well, at least we know that she ain’t got our picture, and she couldn’t have taken another because her camera got broke.”

“Yeah!” Heyes grinned. “That was great work. It was inspired the way it just came to pieces in your hands!”

The driver gave the reins a jerk as he yelled an order to the team of horses and the vehicle jerked forward.

Hattie thrust her head out of the window. “Goodbye! It’s been fun and don’t worry too much about the broken camera, boys. They can hide them in just about anything now. In fact, I have one hidden in this hat I’m wearing right now!”

The smiles froze on their faces but they managed to keep an arm raised in a friendly wave.

“Heyes, you don’t think.....?”

“Keep smiling, Kid. Just keep smiling.”



Historical Notes

Nellie Bly (real name Elizabeth Jane Cochran 1864 – 1922) was probably the most famous journalist in the 19th Century. She wrote an eloquent piece and sent it to the Pittsburgh Dispatch in 1880 to protest against a sexist column and was offered a job which was withdrawn when the editor found out she was a woman. She was a very persuasive woman, however, and talked him around. Her career started to bloom at a very young age, working under the pen name of Nellie Bly.

She spent six months in Mexico, reporting on life there and protesting for freedom of the press until she had to flee the country. She also had herself admitted to a Lunatic Asylum to expose the abuses of the mentally ill, causing changes in the law and reformation of their treatment.

It seems bizarre to us, but she carried out many investigations despite publicity photographs appearing in the press.

In 1888, she emulated the Jules Verne novel, travelling around the world in seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds. She was given this particular job as she told her editor that if he gave it to anyone else, she would go and work for a rival. Nellie was such a popular and respected figure that he could not afford to let her go, so the job was hers, with only two days’ notice. She did this completely alone and carried her currency in a bag around her neck.

She married the millionaire Robert Seaman in 1895. She never had her own children, and she was forced back into journalism when his business went bankrupt, covering the First World War and women’s suffrage. She adopted a mixed race child and maintained a keen interest in orphanages and social issues until her death in 1922.

On May 9th 2007, a ‘Detective Camera’ from the 1880s, what we would call a spy camera, was sold for £21,600 ($34,778.16). It was hidden inside a woman’s watch, which increased its rarity as most were male watches. Detective cameras were well known to be in use in the 1880s and were hidden in a

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Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, the two most successful outlaws in the history of the west. And in all the trains and banks they robbed, they never shot anyone.
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