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 The Subtelty of Witches by Sarah Whyment

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PostThe Subtelty of Witches by Sarah Whyment


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


Guest Stars
Charlize Theron as Elodie Robertson


Peter Ustinov as Horace Pakenham-Smythe


Patrick Stewart as Jasper Eberstadt


James Marsters as Thurston Eberstadt


Harry Dean Stanton as Emmet Rebhorn


Billy Drago as Howard Rebhorn


Tim Curry as James Robertson




A dishevelled Kid Curry squinted into the sun, looking up at the building as an equally grimy Heyes fished the telegram from his dusty waistcoat pocket. “This is it, The Grand Hotel.”

“It doesn’t look too grand,” the Kid muttered, drinking in the peeling paintwork and the shabby curtains. “Are you sure this is the right place?”

Heyes read the missive again and shrugged. “It looks like we’ll fit in here, even without a bath.”

“Yeah, a bath,” the Kid sighed, longingly, “a shave, and a meal; that’s what I need. I’m gettin’ too old for jumpin’ on and off trains, and we hopped off that last one miles too soon. That was just plain dumb.”

“Well, we can’t jump off at the station either, can we, Kid? We’d be seen. That’d be dumb too.”

The Kid stared at Heyes. “Not as dumb as sittin’ next to the daughter of a sheriff...a sheriff who knew us.”

“She was pretty, and travelling on her own. I thought she might need taking care of.”

“This is me you’re talkin’ to, Heyes. We both know what you were takin’ care of...until her pa joined her at the next station; and that takes me right back to why we had to jump off a train, and walk the last two miles here, after a long night lookin’ for another train to jump. These boots are made for ridin’, not walkin’.”

“Well, it’s a switch. Usually you’re the one getting us roped in with some needy person,” Heyes retorted.

“SHE wasn’t needy, Heyes – you were; that’s the whole point,” the Kid grunted. “C’mon, we best see if anyone’s still here.”

They strode through the creaking doors and up to the front desk. Heyes leaned heavily on the top. “Smith and Jones; here to see a Mrs. Robertson.”

The grizzled man raised his frizzy, white head from his newspaper, his brown face looking like a pitted prune left out in the sun. He glanced behind them with an economy of effort, and whistled loudly at the immaculately dressed blonde woman heading for the creaking front doors.

“Mrs. Robertson!” he called. “Those fellas are here at last.” He gave the partners an indifferent shrug. “You’re real lucky. It looks like she was just headin’ off.”

The young woman turned, looking haughtily down her pert little nose at them with clear blue eyes. “Mr. Smith? Mr. Jones? You’re late.” Her crisp, English accent caused the partners to glance at one another in surprise.

“Mrs. Robertson? You sound like you’re a long way from home.” The Kid smiled apologetically. “Sorry, ma’am, we ran into some problems. We had intended to be here this morning.”

“I’m Elodie Robertson.” One pencil-thin eyebrow rose without creasing the porcelain skin. “Some people would have planned their journey to ensure they were here for this morning’s scheduled meeting. I was just about to leave.”

Heyes fixed her with uncompromising, tired, dark eyes. “Ma’am, I’ve had a bad day, which followed an even worse night, and I’m in no mood to be haggling over the time. We got here. I’m sorry we’re three hours late, but some people would have paid for us to stay in the hotel last night – if they really needed us to be here that urgently.”

She gave a sniff, gesturing to the dining room. “I suppose you’re here now, and you do come with recommendations from the Governor. Please, walk this way.” She sashayed seductively back to the room she had just left.

Heyes’ face dimpled into a mischievous grin and stepped aside. “After you, Thaddeus, I think that’s gonna be hard in these boots. You try first.”


oooOOOooo


Both partners removed their hats, standing politely while Elodie took her seat. She indicated the pot on the table. “I ordered some coffee, whilst I was waiting earlier. Would you care for some?”

Heyes and Curry nodded and sat, smiling sweetly while she gestured to the waitress.

“I’m sorry we look rather rough, ma’am.” The Kid moved to put his dusty hat on the table, but thought the better of it, and placed it on the floor. “We’ve had a kinda tough journey.”

“Really?” The Englishwoman fixed them with bright eyes fringed with deliciously long lashes, her tone more sceptical than curious.

“Coffee would be welcome, ma’am,” Heyes replied, pleasantly. “We bumped into some people who thought they knew us.”

Elodie frowned. “I would have thought men recommended by the Governor of Wyoming would be more single-minded.” Her eyes narrowed, looking them up and down. “And presentable. You look as though you have been raised by grizzlies. If I engage you for this role...”

The partners exchanged a glance. “If?” Heyes raised an eyebrow. “We have travelled a long way on the promise of a job; a real job – which pays.”

Elodie held the ex-outlaw’s gaze with a confidence belying her petite frame. “I promised you nothing, Mr...? I’m sorry; I don’t know which of you is which.”

“Smith, Joshua Smith, and this is my partner, Thaddeus Jones.”

Elodie nodded towards both men in a faintly formal gesture. “Ah, here is your coffee.” She smiled at the waitress who brought a fresh pot and cups. “I made no promise of employment. That will depend on the quality of the persons.”

“Persons?” Heyes taut voice betrayed an edge of irritation. “Mrs. Robertson, we have travelled nearly two hundred miles, at our own expense. Are you telling me that we did that just so you could give us the once over?”

“I can’t just hire anyone.” Elodie glanced away from the penetrating, dark eyes. “A woman and an old man could be very vulnerable heading off with the wrong type of men. That’s why I met you in the hotel, and not at the house. It’s safer meeting in a public place.”

Blue eyes slid sideways to share a silent conversation with brown. “Mrs. Robertson, we ain’t sure what it is you need us to do. We were told that an elderly man needed protection. Nobody mentioned travellin’ anywhere.” The Kid’s questioning eyes fixed on her. “More to the point, no one said you were part of the deal, too.”

Elodie held his eyes confidently. “Is that a problem, Mr. Jones? Aren’t you capable of protecting an old man and a woman?”

The Kid’s eyes locked on to hers, rising to the challenge with devilment playing over his lips. “That’s for you to decide, ma’am. Would you prefer me for you, or against you?”

Elodie’s chin rose defiantly. “I didn’t realise those were my only options, Mr. Jones. I could turn that question around, and ask you exactly the same thing.”

The Kid smiled softly. “Suppose you tell me what you need protectin’ from, Mrs. Robertson?”

She shook her head. “Just general protection on a journey.”

Heyes frowned. “So why did the Governor ask us to come all this way? It seems to me that anybody could have done that for you.”

“Should I choose to employ you, I will discuss the details with you,” she replied, haughtily. “You have not made a good first impression.”

“Should we make this easy for you, and leave, ma’am?” Heyes gave her a cold smile.

She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “Perhaps we haven’t got off on the right foot. Maybe we should meet after you’ve had the chance to eat and rest. I sense that you are both somewhat terse. Maybe your travel problems have left you rather tired.”

“You got that, did you?” Heyes lifted his coffee cup, hooking Elodie with a determined scrutiny. “There must be scores of men lining up for this assignment. Maybe you should see them first?”

Elodie squirmed uncomfortably. “Oh, there’s nobody else to see.”

Heyes and Curry shared a meaningful glance. “You’ve seen them all?” the Kid queried, airily.

Elodie played idly with her coffee cup. “Yes...”

Heyes folded his arms. “We’re the only ones, aren’t we, Mrs. Robertson? I don’t play games. Do you want to employ us or not?”

Elodie’s back stiffened. “I won’t be bullied. I need to know more about you.”

The Kid’s voice softened. “Ma’am, we’ve done work like this before and come recommended by the Governor of Wyoming. What else do you need to know?”

She hesitated, fixing them with large, anxious eyes. “I need to know if I can trust you.”

“Well, Mrs. Robertson, we could tell you we were pillars of society, or we could tell you we were two of the biggest crooks you’ve ever met.” Heyes’ dimpled smile flashed beneath glistening, brown eyes. “At the end of the day, you have to go with your instinct. What does that tell you?”

She hesitated. “I need to think.”

“I can’t argue with that,” Heyes nodded and stood, tossing down a few coins for the coffee. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you, and good luck with your little problem if we’re not the kind of ‘persons’ for you. We need to a bath and some sleep. We’ll be having dinner here about eight. After that, who knows? It’ll all depend on who else wants to employ us.”


oooOOOooo


“Room 24, double, facin’ the front.” The clerk gave a gap-toothed smile. “You get a view from that one.”

“A view?” Heyes asked, his eyebrows arching in query. “What of?”

“The painless dentist. It looks straight down into his chair.”

Heyes and Curry grimaced. “Why would we want to look at that?”

“Some of us are medically minded.”

A bemused Heyes shook his head. “You study?”

The clerk’s eyes gleamed. “When they come out, it’s like they’re real drunk. You should’ve seen the school-marm,” his face wrinkled into a prune-like smirk beneath his madly wild hair, “and the preacher. Funniest thing I ever saw in my life; when he fell through the doors of the saloon, and landed on Big Bessie, but she’s a real soft place to fall. Now, there’s a lady who’s no stranger to a dish of fried chicken.”

“Yeah, real scientific,” the Kid rolled his eyes. “Any chance of a bath?”

“Yup, two bits. I’ll get one sent up.”

“HENRY!!?” bellowed a female voice from somewhere behind him. “I thought you said you’d get these sacks put away... And what about these barrels?” A buxom woman appeared from the kitchen and propped big, hard-working hands on her expansive hips. “I told you to do this yesterday. My mother was right; you are the laziest creature who ever lived! I was an idiot when I married you.”

The clerk turned. “Yes, dear, but I was in love, so I didn’t notice it until later.” He shrugged towards his new guests. “I take it you can manage your own bags?”


oooOOOooo


Heyes and Curry strolled into the dining room, their restored appearances openly impressing the gawping waitress, now they were washed, shaved, and changed.

Elodie Robertson stood, dropping the menu on the table, her eyes widening at the men who approached her table. “My, don’t you clean up well? I want to apologise, gentlemen. I was rude; my only excuse is that I’m at my wits end. I’d built things up in my head, and I was very upset by the time I saw you. It all came out wrong.” Heyes and Curry gallantly stayed on their feet until she sat again. “I hope you’ll allow me to buy you dinner?”

Heyes shrugged. “If you insist, ma’am.”

The Kid glared at Heyes. “Mrs. Robertson, we understand – and we won’t have you pay. What is this job?”

She stretched out a delicate hand and lifted her glass of water, sipping at it nervously. “I sat here, with nothing else to think about for four hours. I suppose I got worked up, and was rather more sharp than you deserved. I’m sorry.”

“Four hours?” Heyes’ brows gathered. “But we were only three hours late.”

“I was early,” she gave a half shrug, using only her right shoulder. “This is all very important to me.”

Heyes’ eyes held her gaze with a new intensity. “What is?”

“Mr. Smith, we came to this country for a new life but it didn’t work out as we intended.” She paused. “My father joined me here after years of service to her Majesty’s Government, looking for a peaceful retirement. I came here because I got married.” Heyes nodded in silent encouragement. “Nothing has worked out for us; my marriage, his retirement, nothing...” Elodie stared off with lost eyes.

“Where’s your husband, ma’am?” the Kid asked, gently.

“The last I saw him he was locked in his wine cellar in Boston,” she gave a weak smile, “so I could get away. We came to California to be as far away from him as possible”

The Kid’s brows gathered. “You left him?”

“My father arrived and wouldn’t tolerate his treatment of me. When he saw the bruises...” she sighed, gulping deeply. “My husband hadn’t banked on my father being such a strong character when he agreed to allow him to live with us. My father married late and is rather old, so I suppose James thought he’d be easy to control. The pension didn’t hurt either.”

Heyes leaned on the table. “Do you want us to protect you from your husband, Mrs. Robertson?”

She shook her glossy, blonde head. “No, I ask him for nothing, and money is all he’s interested in. We live on my father’s pension.”

Heyes arched his brows. “You’ve already said your father is far older than you, and you can’t marry again without a divorce. What will you live on once he’s gone?”

Pain flashed over Elodie’s face, but she beat it down and continued. “My mother was French and I speak it fluently. I translate dime novels for sale in Europe; you know the kind of thing – outlaws, derring-do, the Wild West. It brings in a small income, but that’s not why I‘ve called you. My father has a great interest in mathematics and ciphers. To that end, he purchased a rather expensive old book. He planned to spend a happy retirement working out a very difficult code.”

Heyes frowned. “A code? Surely that wouldn’t take up his whole retirement?”

Elodie pursed her lips. “Men have been trying to break this code since 1657, and some have devoted their whole lives to trying to decipher it; nobody has. The book he bought is called ‘The Subtlety of Witches.’ It’s not about witchcraft, despite the name. It’s a book of alchemy, and famous in intelligence circles because the code is so clever. However, he is an expert on codes and ciphers and spotted it as a fake almost immediately.”

“So?” Heyes fixed her with thoughtful brown eyes. “You want us to help you get your money back?”

Elodie shook her blonde head. “No...unfortunately he’s delighted at the challenge, and has decided to track down the forger himself. He simply won’t be dissuaded, even though he’s nearly seventy. Professional forgers are very dangerous; the U.S. government have just created their own intelligence department to track them. They’ve never done that for any other type of criminal. I’m at my wit’s end. He’s going into some very dangerous areas.”

“So you want us to help him?” the Kid asked.

Her blue eyes lit up with determination. “I want you to stop him! It’ll need to look as though you’re helping him, but you’ll actually be misleading him. A gang of professionals will probably kill him if he gets anywhere close.”

Heyes tilted his head from side to side, weighing the options. “I don’t understand why you’re coming along if it’s dangerous, ma’am?”

“I used to assist my father, especially for close work. He taught me a lot, and my eyes are better than his for tiny details. I have a good knowledge in the area of ciphers and old books. I can help.”

“How hard can it be to look after an old man?” shrugged the Kid, glancing at Heyes.

Elodie fixed him with earnest blue eyes. “You should know that my father is a very clever and active man, despite his age. He also spent forty years working with British Intelligence. He knows every trick in the book, and won’t hesitate to use them. I expect that’s why the Governor sent you two – he probably thinks you do, too.” She sat back. “What do you think? Can you help? I can offer you one hundred dollars each, plus bed and board, but the amount will remain the same, regardless of how long the job takes.” A crafty smile developed under the deceptively innocent blue eyes. “That way you have a vested interest to get this matter completed sooner, rather than later.


oooOOOooo


Horace Pakenham-Smythe’s lively, blue eyes gleamed with intelligence as he appraised the two men joining him and his daughter on the train. “So, brawn and brain?” He smiled widely at the Kid’s frowning face. “Nothing wrong with either; horses for courses, I always say. ‘The pen is mightier than the sword?’ Pah, poppycock! Have you ever tried to kill a man with a pen? Very messy – unless you hit exactly the right spot.”

Horace dropped his corpulent frame into the seat and sat observing the partners, his hands clasped in front of him, the fingertips meeting in a spire of judgement. “Ellie has done well; you two are certainly not run of the mill. You were recommended by the Governor of Wyoming? I take it you have been involved with law enforcement?”

Heyes folded his arms. “Many times, sir.”

Horace’s eyes narrowed to a mere glint and there was a long pause before he spoke again. “Have you ever dealt with forgeries before?”

Heyes shook his head. “I can’t say that I have. So this book, ‘The Subtlety of Witches,’ is a fake?”

Horace nodded. “Yes, the original is a book of alchemy, and they were very secretive, which is why it was written in code. This copy was allegedly once owned by Benjamin Franklin himself.” He smiled brightly at the partners. “Alchemists were looking for wildly impossible things, like the elixir of life, or how to turn base metal into gold. It was a very competitive field – hence the secrecy, and although much of it was nonsense, it laid the foundation for modern chemistry.” Horace sat back. “I have seen the British Library’s copy of this book, so I spotted it as fake very quickly. It’s a basic Vigenère cipher. Once I found the keyword, I was able to crack it very quickly. It’s a recipe book! I paid hundreds of dollars for a recipe book. There’s no way I’m going to let the forger get away with that.”

“So where are we headed?” the Kid asked.

“San Francisco, where the antiquarian from whom I bought the book is based,” Horace replied. “I recognise the hand of a famous forger here, one I helped to catch many years ago – a man called Robert Spring. He flooded the market with forged letters, and works by people like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and General Jackson. He’s the world’s most successful forger to date. He posed as a man representing a ‘Miss Fanny Jackson,’ the ‘daughter’ of General ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, selling her late father’s collection.”

Heyes brightened. “So you’ve dealt with him before? This should be fairly easy.”

Horace shook his grey head. “He died in Philadelphia in 1876. This is either a copycat version, or he wasn’t working alone.”

Heyes scratched his chin thoughtfully. “How do we know that this isn’t one of his earlier forgeries, and that it’s just been floating around for a few years?”

Horace gave Heyes a smile of appreciation. “I know because I sent the antiquarian a telegram. Three new batches of documents were sold to him six months ago. I bought one, he still has the other, and the third was sold to a local man.” Horace folded his arms, his smile spreading wider than his immaculately groomed moustache. “I know Spring’s work, and this new batch isn’t it. It uses a similar modus operandi, but the work itself is slightly different. There is a new forger on the loose and I’m going to catch him. The man who sold it to me has been most cooperative, and he’s expecting us. This could ruin his business if the forger isn’t caught.”

The Kid sat back, his eyes deliberately avoiding the dark-haired man in the shadows. “Sir, I want you to find some excuse to take a look at the man in the corner; grubby, pale hat, dark hair, late twenties, tied-down gun. Don’t let him know he’s been seen. He’s followin’ us.”

Horace’s face lit up. “Are you sure?”

“Never surer of anythin’ in my life.” The Kid turned to Elodie. “You too, ma’am. I want to know if either of you know him.”

“Excellent start, gentlemen! Horace beamed. He leaned forward and whispered sotto voce to his daughter, “Ellie, I think now would be a good time to bore you stupid with a lecture on how the carriages are coupled together. You’ve spent a lifetime rolling your eyes at me; now’s your chance to put all that practice into action.”

Father and daughter stood, Horace launching into his soliloquy, dragging his daughter down to the end of the carriage. The Kid picked up Elodie’s discarded book from the seat. “Joshua, have you seen what she’s readin’?” He held up a slim, dark-green volume bearing the words, ‘The Adventures of Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.’

Heyes stared at the dime novel and shrugged. “She translates them for a living. The man who wrote it probably never saw Heyes and Curry in his life.”

The Kid flicked the book open and started reading theatrically.

“ ‘Hannibal Heyes’ chiselled face was a picture of compassion. She gazed lovingly into his deep-blue eyes...’ ”

The Kid grinned into his partner’s positively umber versions before returning to the book.

“ ‘Give me your hand, Adeline. I promise you that nobody will ever hurt you again.’ His sapphire eyes darted to the gold ring on her left hand. ‘You’re married!?’ Hannibal stepped back, disappointment robbing him of his smile, dropping her hand as though burned. ‘I will never break the sanctity of marriage – those are sacred vows.’ Adeline choked back a sob. How could she tell him that the marriage was a sham for his own protection?’ ”

The Kid shook his head, holding up the etching. “I gotta say, he doesn’t look too disappointed, he looks more like his underwear’s too tight, and she’s leanin’ back all awkward – with her head facin’ up, and the back of her hand on her forehead. They only do that in books. I ain’t seen a woman cry like that. They usually get red faces and runny noses.” He grinned, leaning forward, whispering in his ear. “And look at the size of his chest – it’s Hannibal’s head that’s huge? You’re right – nobody’d ever recognise you from this, not ole sapphire-eyed, upright, chiselled, Hannibal – man of morals.”

“Sapphire-eyed? See I told you nobody’d recognise us from that book.” Heyes reached out a snatching hand. “Gimme that. I want to see what they say about Kid Curry.”

Elodie and her father returned, shaking their heads discreetly. “We’ve never seen him before in our lives,” she whispered to her father. Her gaze landed on the novel in Heyes’ hand. “I’d have thought a dime novel would be beneath you, Mr. Smith.”

“Just looking, Mrs. Robertson. Your notes in the margins are interesting.” He gave the Kid a patronising pat. “Besides my partner was showing me the pictures; Thaddeus likes a book with pictures.”

The Kid glowered at Heyes before smiling at Elodie. “I find my partner very educational. Whenever he starts tryin’ to impress a woman, I feel like gettin’ real far away from him; and they say travel broadens the mind, don’t they, ma’am?”


oooOOOooo


Jasper Eberstadt raised his bald head. He thrust out an arm, proffering a handshake. “Mr. Pakenham–Smythe? I’ve been expecting you.” Jasper smiled graciously at the brown-suited man at Horace’s side, awaiting an introduction.

“This is Mr. Joshua Smith; he is assisting me in my investigations.”

Jasper nodded. “Anything I can do to help – anything at all. This is an honest and respectable establishment. Any suggestion that I have been handling fakes will destroy my business. I’ve bought back the other batch I sold. I simply can’t have anything like that emanating from my business.”

Horace rubbed his hands in anticipation. “Thank you; I believe the trail has to start at the point of sale. Can you show me other batches of documents?”

“Certainly; can I offer you some refreshments?” He raised his head, yelling through to the back shop. “Thurston!? Can you get these gentlemen a drink?” A handsome but dishevelled young man appeared, flicking dust from his clothes. “This is my son. He has no interest in my side of the business. He restores furniture. I allow him to use the back of my premises for his work.”

“What would you like?” Thurston asked with a smile, wiping his hands on a cloth. “I can promise you fairly sawdust-free coffee.”

Jasper scowled at his son. “Sherry, Thurston, and use the crystal glasses. We’ll be in the office,” he smiled at his guests. “Come and look over the sales ledger, and the documents supporting the book’s provenance.”

“Provenance?” asked Heyes.

Jasper smiled obligingly. “It’s an antique’s pedigree. It’s how we prove, say – in this instance – that it was owned by Benjamin Franklin. There’s an audit trail telling the story of an item’s history, or a chain of family ownership leading directly to a famous person. We call that provenance.”

Heyes nodded. “I see.”

Jasper’s mobile eyebrows arched into a question. “You are not an antiquarian, Mr. Smith?”

Heyes took the leather chair proffered by the shopkeeper. “No, Mr. Eberstadt, my skills lie in other areas, but I’m always willing to learn new things.” His gaze drifted over to the safe, keenly watching as Jasper’s fingers danced over the dial to open it. He turned, smiling at Thurston who held the tray out to him. “Thank you. May I see these documents, Mr. Eberstadt?”

“Certainly.” Jasper removed an accordion file from the safe and untied the cord holding it closed. He pulled out a stack of letters fastened by a pink ribbon. “These are alleged to have been love letters written by George Washington. The paper is the right age; we can confirm that by the watermark. Paper which is in circulation – being used and read, will show signs of wear and tear. Spring used to get that look by putting it his shoe. He would then colour it to the right shade.”

“So how do you know it’s a fake?” asked Heyes.

“George Washington always signed with two tiny dots, just under the ‘o’ on his name,” Horace explained. “Spring only put one.”

Heyes examined the first letter handed to him. “This has two.”

“The new forger has not made the same mistake, but it’s still a forgery.” Jasper pulled out another document. “This is a genuine document, for comparison.”

Horace nodded. “George Washington’s hand was quite free. He wrote with a lot of loops. This copy is a lot tighter.”

Heyes peered down at the two pages. They were right – the differences were miniscule – but they were there. The loops were smaller and narrower, the ‘t’s’ were slightly more slanted and the spaces between the lines were larger. He smiled. “I can see it. I couldn’t at first. These aren’t the same, but I wouldn’t know if I didn’t have a real one to compare it to.”

“Precisely.” Jasper’s grin spread. “We know it’s similar to Spring’s work, but something else tells us this is a recent fake. Rub the paper between your fingers – generate some heat.” He watched as Heyes applied some friction to the surface. “Now smell it.”

Heyes raised the missive to his nose, his brow furrowing in query. “Oranges? It’s very faint.”

Horace and Jasper spoke in unison. “Bergamot.”

“But why is that important?” Heyes asked.

Horace took the letter and sniffed it. “Earl Grey.”

Heyes shrugged in confusion. “Who?”

Horace waved a long finger. “Not who – what,” he smiled benignly at Heyes’ befuddlement. “Earl Grey is a blend of tea. The citrus note is bergamot. The fact that you can still smell it at all shows how recent it is. It’s been soaked in tea to give an appearance of age.”

Heyes pensively scratched his chin. “May I ask how someone as knowledgeable as you bought these faked papers?”

Jasper cast a look of gentle admonishment at an embarrassed-looking Thurston. “I didn’t. I was out of town on business for a few days and Thurston bought them. It’s not his area of expertise. Now furniture...nobody could get anything past him in that area.”

“Can you describe him?” asked Horace.

“He said his name was Brown. He was average height, brown hair, a moustache...” Thurston gave an untidy shrug. “I feel like a fool, but they were so cheap, and he said he was clearing out a house after his grandfather died. He gave the impression of not knowing the value, but I now know he cheated.”

Heyes looked down at the papers again. “And you’ve never seen him before or since?”

Thurston shook his head. “Nope, and I’m sorry I ever did. I paid him cash, too.”

Horace stood. “You’ve been very helpful. I suppose we have to contact other antiquarians to see if ‘Mr. Brown’ visited them.”

Heyes leaned back in his chair. “Thurston, how much did you pay him?”

Thurston shifted uncomfortably, eyeing the wronged customer uneasily. “A hundred and fifty dollars for the lot. It seemed like a bargain.”

Heyes arched his brows and glanced at Horace. “And you sold him one book for hundreds of dollars. This is quite a business. It’s going to be hard to spot the crooks, kinda like not being able to see the forest for the trees.”

The smile dropped from Jasper’s face, his intense eyes staring into Heyes’. “We buy as cheaply as we can negotiate and sell to the highest bidder, Mr. Smith. That’s business – it’s not a crime.”


oooOOOooo


Meanwhile, the Kid dropped back into the shadows, watching the feminine figure ahead of him. Elodie smiled graciously at the shopkeeper and added her parcel to the many she had. The door tinkled merrily as she left and strolled down a sunny Kearney Street, examining the shop windows bearing all kinds of colourful gewgaws. “Why do I get all the borin’ jobs?” he muttered to himself, using the reflection in the shop window to adjust his hat and pick a speck from the shoulder of his grey suit.

The Kid’s bright eyes scanned the street, suddenly spotting the young man, who looked much smarter than he had on the train. He was wearing a crisp, charcoal-coloured suit, and his grey eyes slid between the quirky ladies’ hats in the shop window and Elodie Robertson, who was now perusing the haberdashery two doors down. The Kid walked over to stand beside her, staring at the kaleidoscopic display of buttons. “Ma’am, don’t look at me, but the man from the train is followin’ you. Get back to the hotel, and stay there. I’ll follow him and see where he’s stayin’. Maybe we can find out a bit more about him.”

“But I have I have an appointment with my publisher about my translations.”

“Then send a message from the hotel. You’re indisposed.”

Elodie bit into her lip. “Hasn’t he recognised you from the train?”

“I don’t think so, but we’ve got to try, ma’am.”

The Kid crossed the road and looked into another shop window, his hard stare showing that what he saw genuinely held his interest. The reflected image of the stranger gave a clear view of his head rising in interest, before he turned on his heel and followed Elodie – all with the Kid’s back discreetly turned. The Kid scratched his chin and chuckled quietly to himself.

“Is there something funny, young man?”

The Kid suddenly realized he was the only man anywhere near this shop. He blinked, noticing the array of corsets for the first time, and that he was right in front of an enormous, industrial–looking version, obviously meant for the more generously upholstered individual. “No... I’m sorry, ma’am. I was miles away.” The woman’s glare was more than enough to make him take a step back. “I was just thinkin’ of somethin’ my cousin said this mornin’.”

“Probably something indecent,” she sniffed.

“No, ma’am. He was just sayin’ how hard it is to find folks who’re smart enough to do a good job.”

The matron tilted her chin at him. “I suspect that’s because American manhood is too busy staring at women’s unmentionables.”

The Kid doffed his hat, shaking his head furiously. “No, ma’am. I wasn’t even lookin’.”

“A likely story!”

The Kid raised his hands in appeasement. “I’ll be movin’ right along...” He turned on his heel and strode off, her words echoing in his ears.

“You’d better be... Bluebeard!”


oooOOOooo


Heyes’ jaw firmed, looking up at the sign of the backstreet, shabby hotel. “This looks like the kind of place we usually stay in.”

The Kid gave a light chuckle. “Yeah, Pakenham-Smyth doesn’t like to slum it. Ours is a real nice place.”

A frown of concern furrowed Heyes’ brow. “So why is he following Elodie? I’d have thought her father would’ve been a more likely target, unless...”

“The same thought occurred to me,” the Kid nodded. “She warned us how dangerous these criminals can be, and if British Intelligence got involved, this must be real big – even international. Pakenham-Smyth might be gettin’ close, so they could be targetin’ his daughter to make him back off.”

“Where is she now?” Heyes asked.

“Back at the hotel. I told her to stay there until I got back.”

Heyes nodded. “Do you have a room number?”

“Nope. I was hopin’ your silver tongue could find that out for us. All I know is he’s on the second floor.”


oooOOOOoo


Heyes strode confidently up to the desk and smiled at the pencil-thin, moustachioed man.

“Can I help you?”

Heyes pulled out a wallet, opening it to display the contents. “I found this earlier today, but I was late for a business meeting, so when the owner disappeared around a corner I just didn’t have time to chase him.” He started to spread the contents on the desk. “As you can see, there’s no identification, just some cash and the name and address of this hotel scribbled on a piece of paper.”

The clerk nodded. “If you leave it with me, sir, I’ll check with the guests and see if I can find the owner.

Heyes whipped it back off the desk. “Nuh-uh. I saw the man who dropped it, and I know where. If you can’t tell me who that might be, I’ll take it to the police station.” He hooked the clerk with a knowing smile. “We wouldn’t want it to go missing, would we? You haven’t even asked what he looks like.”

The young man gave a snort. “Fine. Got a description?”

“Charcoal-coloured suit, dark hair, probably early thirties – late twenties.”

“And where did you find it, sir?”

The smile dimpled further. “Why don’t I get the person claiming it to tell me that?” Heyes tilted his head. “Just to prove he lost it. Wouldn’t it be sensible to tell me who fits that description?”

The clerk idly waggled his pen and his eyes seemed to scan the ceiling as though taking a mental inventory of the hotel’s occupants. “There are three, maybe four guests,” he shrugged. “I’m going on the hair colour and age. I don’t check folk’s wardrobes.”

Heyes tapped his fingers impatiently. “Any chance you could actually give me the names and room numbers? I don’t think they’ll mind somebody bringing them back their wallet.”

The pen was dropped on the desk with a clatter. “I guess, but there’s nothing in it for me.”

Heyes sighed heavily. “Suppose I just walk into that dining room, and tell everyone that I’m trying to return a lost wallet to one of the guests, but the desk clerk won’t help me because there’s nothing in it for him? It’s lunchtime, so it’s real busy. Your guests aren’t going to be pleased with you.” He glanced around, his gaze landing on the plaque on the door of a nearby office. “Not to mention your manager.”

The clerk scowled, before examining the ledger. “There’s Harrison in Room 28, Glasson in 36, Murray in 4, and Rebhorn in 43. Rebhorn and his pa just went into the dining room. They’re sharing.”

Heyes headed over to the dining room and glanced in, before heading for the stairs. He turned back to the clerk as he passed. “Not the Rebhorns, thanks. I’ll leave a note for the others.”

Heyes reached the first landing and gave a discreet nod to his partner. Kid Curry climbed the stairs unnoticed by the clerk, and joined the dark-haired man who was waiting at the top. “Rebhorn, there are two of them. Room 43. They’re in the dining room, so I’ve got a chance to search it. I need you to keep watch.”


oooOOOooo


Heyes and Curry strolled back into their own hotel. The Palace Hotel was five storeys high, arranged in a square around an impressive, central courtyard, large enough to take carriages, and even host a circus. It was pulled together by a glittering glass roof, a masterpiece of Victorian engineering, covered in panes of glass held together by great iron arches; forming an intricate industrial filigree which drenched the place in bright, natural light. The design was modern, confident, and airy.

They stopped in the arched walkway running along the edge of the plaza, watching the comings and goings. Heyes sighed. “The Rebhorns’ room was too clean. We either missed something or they’re real careful.” He stared pensively around. “But there was a camera, and they don’t look like photographers.” He rubbed his chin. “It doesn’t fit, and a note from ‘J.R,’ telling them it was ‘now urgent, see me tonight.’”

The Kid leaned against a pillar. “You saw them in the dining room. Did they look like father and son?”

“Yeah, could be. They were a similar size and colouring.” Heyes stared beyond the Kid, a frown creeping over his face before he reached out and dragged his partner behind a potted palm. “Judge for yourself. He’s there, by the main entrance.”

The Kid’s gaze was drawn to the doormen trying to contain a kerfuffle. A ragged, gaunt man was trying to enter, but the liveried staff had clearly judged him persona non grata in this establishment. The stranger raised raptorial eyes and peered over his beak-like nose, his wizened face ending in a crêpey wattle of sallow skin which hung in loose wrinkles about his long neck. “That’s him? Why’s he trying to get in here?” The Kid’s eyes followed the older man’s eyes. “Elodie! He’s followed her in here. Where’s she been?”

Heyes frowned. “I thought you told her to stay put.”

The Kid gave a snort of impatience. “I didn’t chain her to the bed – that’s kinda frowned upon. What am I supposed to do if she won’t listen!?”

Heyes shook his head in frustration. “These people hire us to protect them, and then go their own sweet way... I give up! Wait. Thurston’s with her.”

“Who?” hissed the Kid.

“Jasper’s son.”

The Kid scowled. “Heyes, who the Sam Hill is ‘Jasper?’”

“The antiquarian who sold the papers to Horace. I told you about him, Kid.”

“So his son’s here, with Elodie? How does he know her?” the Kid turned to watch the glowering stranger ejected back into the street.

“Only one way to find out. C’mon.”


oooOOOoooo


“Mrs. Robertson, I told you to stay in your room,” groaned an exasperated Kid Curry. “How am I supposed to protect you if you don’t do as you’re told?”

Thurston frowned. “Who are you?”

Heyes strode up to the group. “He’s my partner, Thurston, and he’s talking a lot of sense, Mrs. Robertson. You were the one who told us how dangerous these forgers can be, and you already know you’re being followed. Why did you leave the hotel?”

Thurston frowned at Elodie. “You’re being followed? By whom?”

“Two men; and the doormen have just stopped one of them from getting into this hotel because he was too scruffy.” Heyes gave her an uncompromising stare. “Don’t think he’s going to make that mistake again. When are you going to listen to us?”

“I didn’t think there was any harm,” Elodie pouted. “Mr. Jones was already following him.”

“Well, we’ve since found out he’s got a partner,” the Kid retorted, “which is a whole lot more than you knew. What you don’t know can be very dangerous.”

Thurston bristled. “Hey! Leave her alone.”

“How do you know her?” Heyes demanded. “She wasn’t with us this morning.”

Elodie sniffed. “I come here on business. My publisher is in San Francisco. I often visit Eberstadt’s shop to see if there’s anything which might interest my father.” She turned, strolling off towards the staircase, the tip of her furled lace parasol clicking on the tiled floor as she walked. “I’ll be in my room.”

The Kid let out a sigh. “Wait, I’ll come with you.”

Elodie’s face reddened. “You’ll do no such thing! I don’t have strange men in my room.”

The Kid fixed her with a determined stare. “Are you sure of that? We know one of them got thrown out of the hotel, but we don’t know where the other one is – and he was dressed smart enough to get past the doormen. Are you willing to risk it, or are you gonna be sensible and let me check the place first?”

Elodie bit into her lip, cobwebs of fear shrouding the brightness of her china-blue eyes. “Well, maybe, but...”

The Kid gave a short nod. “C’mon. I’ve got other things to do. Stay in there this time, will ya?”

Heyes watched them disappear up the staircase together and turned back to Thurston. “So? Does your father know how close you are to Elodie Robertson?”

Thurston stiffened. “Who said we were close? And even if we were, what business is it of yours?”

“She only got here last night. She must have contacted you almost right away.”

Thurston shuffled from foot to foot. “She hasn’t contacted me. I didn’t know she was here until her father walked into the shop today.”

“How did you know where she was staying?”

The young man scowled in irritation. “What is this, and why do you think I’m just going to stand here and be interrogated? Mrs. Robertson is an extremely attractive woman, and I try to see her when she’s in town. What’s wrong with that?” His face swarmed with suspicion. “Are you attracted to her?”

Heyes gave him a smile of reassurance. “My interest is purely professional, Thurston. Do me a favour, and don’t encourage her to go outside the hotel, will you? She’s been followed twice now and we don’t know why.” He cast his hand around the expansive hotel lobby. “There are three restaurants in this place, and a Tea Salon. Take her to one of those, will you?”


oooOOOooo


Heyes waited while Rebhorns walked towards him, leaning insouciantly on the wall of the building across the road from their run-down hotel. He held eye contact as they walked towards him, staring them down. The younger one glanced at him, his eyes narrowing as he whispered something to his older companion. Heyes pulled on his most charming smile and drew himself upright, targeting them with an intense stare. “Gentlemen, may I have a moment of your time?”

The older one hunched down into his scruffy jacket by thrusting his neck forward like the vulture he so resembled. “We’re busy.”

“Yeah, you’re busy following a young woman; and much as I appreciate your excellent taste, I want to know who you are, and why you’re prepared to follow her from town to town?”

The older man fixed Heyes with a mean, dark glower over his beak-like nose. “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”

“Save it. I’ve seen you.” Heyes folded his arms. “Now why don’t you tell me who you are the easy way, so we can all get on with our day?”

The strangers smiled at one another before the younger man spoke. “Are you some kind of fool?” He cast out an arm. “It’s early morning, and there ain’t nobody about. The way I see it, it’s two to one.” The pair strode towards Heyes, thrusting a hand under each of his arms. “And he was stupid enough to stand right in front of this alley. Amateur!”

Heyes felt the back of his heels drag against the gritty earth, each arm pinned in the firm grip of hard hands, but he threw in a few kicks as his opponents pulled him deeper and deeper into the shadows of a nearby alley. They thrust him roughly against a wall, knocking the breath from his body. “So,” hissed the older man, “ya didn’t bargain on this, ya dang fool – bargin’ in outnumbered! Who’re you workin’ for?”

There was a metallic click behind them and the Kid stepped out of the shadows. “Hands up, and keep them there. You alright, Joshua?”

Heyes tugged his shirt back into a reasonable order with a grin. “Yup, amateurs, huh? You two were stupid enough to be tricked into an alley, with your hands too full to get near a gun. You live and learn, boys.” He gave the older man a look of derision. “But I guess some folks just live.” He stepped forward, patting them down for weapons, thrusting their guns into his own belt. “So, let’s have a look at what’s in your pockets, shall we?”

The men started to shuffle uneasily. “You can turn around,” drawled the Kid, “but keep your hands high.”

Heyes flicked open the older man’s wallet. “Don’t worry, I’m not interested in your money. It’s not that kind of ambush.” He pulled out a card. “E Rebhorn and Son, consulting detectives and investigators – discretion assured. What does the ‘E’ stand for?”

“Emmet.”

Heyes turned the younger man. “And you?”

“Howard. He’s my pa.”

“So? Who’s hired you, and why?”

“We ain’t gonna tell you that. Our lives wouldn’t be worth much if we did,” snapped the older man.

The Kid’s eyes chilled as much as his voice. “Really? I’m holdin’ a gun on you, but you’re more worried about somebody who ain’t here? Dumb, real dumb.”

“You ain’t gonna use it!” snapped Emmet. “It’ll be heard.”

“I guess we’ll have to beat it outta you then,” the Kid replied, coolly. “The fallback plan, Joshua? Why waste time?”

Howard started to shuffle. “Fallback plan?”

Heyes ignored him. “I think you’re right, Thaddeus.” He pulled pieces of rope out of his pocket. “The man said his life wouldn’t be worth much, so there’s no point in prolonging this. Hands behind your back, Howard.”

Howard bit into his bottom lip. “What’re you gonna do?”

“Oh, the bare minimum here.” Heyes spoke casually, tugging at the knot to make sure it was firm. “We’ll take you where we’ve got time – and lots of privacy.” He moved over to Emmet. “Gimme your hands, Emmet. You said your life wouldn’t be worth much, and we like to take a man at his word.” He gave Emmet’s bonds an extra pull. “The question is, do you want to continue protecting whoever it is that hired you, or protect your own son?"

The gaunt man stiffened. “Howard? No! You can’t do anything to Howard.” His voice started to rise, “Leave him be! What’s goin’ on? You ain’t detectives!?”

The Kid holstered his gun. “We ain’t detectives at all, Emmet.”

Emmet’s voice started to spiral. “Then who are you?”

“Friends of Elodie Robertson.” The Kid narrowed his eyes. “We ain’t doing this for money, so we can’t just call this a bad job and walk away. It’s like lookin’ after your kin. You know how that is, Emmet.”

“Pa,” Howard pleaded with his father. “TELL ‘EM! They’re serious.”

“Howard, they’re probably callin’ our bluff.”

Howard’s eyes bulged in anger. “Pa, this is a ten-cent divorce job. I ain’t riskin’ my life for that old miser. He thinks he’s some big shot, and throws his weight around for the sake of it!”

“Divorce? Robertson? Elodie’s married name?” Heyes’ eyes gleamed. “He’s after his wife!?”

“Yeah, James Robertson. He’s been stayin’ in the O’Farrell Hotel in Union Square for the last six months to make sure he’s entitled to a divorce in California.” Howard’s upper lip was beaded with sweat and his breath was coming in great rasps of panic. “He wants a divorce. Real quick.”

Heyes brow furrowed. “So? Just ask Eldoie for one. She can’t stand him.”

“It ain’t that simple,” muttered Emmet. “He wants to marry an heiress. He can’t be at fault, or her folks won’t let him marry her. He’s set a date for the weddin’ – so the job’s urgent.”

“So?” the Kid demanded. “She ain’t seein’ anyone, and her pa took her away to live with him when her husband beat her. That’s a respectable woman in anyone’s book. Her husband will just have to swallow down the fact that she’s not at fault – he is.”

Emmet sighed. “Fine, we give up. There’s always another job; this one ain’t worth it. He can get someone else. He always pays late anyways. Untie us and we’ll leave.”

“What exactly was Robertson paying you to do to get this divorce?” Heyes demanded.

Emmet gave an unsavoury smirk. “We were goin’ to take her. All the husband needs is a photograph of her in bed with any man. They say the picture never lies, but it don’t tell you there’s a gun being held on her, to keep her sittin’ there.”

The Kid stepped forward, uttering oaths under his breath. “Take her!? You...”

Emmet raised worried eyes, realising he’d gone too far. “We don’t do nothin’ indecent! The court needs the evidence if she won’t admit to anything. It’s only a picture.”

“Elodie won’t admit to it, because she’s done nothing wrong.” Heyes laid a restraining hand on the Kid’s chest. “That explains the camera I found in your room.”

“You were in our room?” Howard demanded.

Heyes’ eyes darkened, his panther-like demeanour suddenly way more dangerous than the gunman. “Are you sure he’s in the O’Farrell Hotel?” He flicked the business card casually between his fingers. “Because if he’s not, we know where you live.”


oooOOOooo


The partners strolled back to The Palace Hotel, the early morning sun casting long-legged shadows on the ground behind them.

“She’d have been terrified,” the Kid growled. “What kind of man beats a woman, even when her pa’s in the same home as them, and then tries to blacken her name with a cheap trick like that?”

“An ingenious one?” ventured Heyes.

Kid Curry stopped and turned outraged blue eyes on Heyes. “What!?”

Heyes shrugged. “Don’t get me wrong, he’s lower that the dirt under a worm’s belly, but a good idea is a good idea – even if it’s from a grubby, no-good, low-down mongrel.” His face dimpled into a grin. “I think we’d better go and see Elodie’s father. He needs to know what’s been going on. I’m sure he’ll want to hear a little plan I have to put this thing to an end once and for all. If I was Horace Pakenham-Smythe, I’d be real upset at my son-in-law.”


oooOOOooo


James Robertson’s prim mouth puckered in lemon-sucking shock at the gun barrel pressed against his forehead. His bulging eyes stared into the glacial-blue eyes of the man holding the gun as he walked backwards into the room. “I haven’t any money,” he stammered, looking in confusion at the stout, veiled matron and dark-eyed man who followed the gunman inside before closing and locking the door.

The dark-eyed man put down a bag, giving a dimpled smile to the confused Easterner.

“Sit down, Mr. Robertson.”


oooOOOooo


Elodie opened the door to her hotel room, her mouth dropping open in surprise. “Father? What happened to your moustache?”

Horace strolled into Elodie’s room, followed by Heyes and Curry. “I shaved it off for some photographs, Ellie. Sit down. We have come to tell you urgently that you must divorce James immediately.”

“Why?” she demanded. “I leave him alone, and he leaves me alone. That’s the deal.”

Heyes rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “This ‘deal?’ It’s an unspoken one, I take it?”

“Well, yes. I haven’t seen him since father locked him in the wine cellar and we ran away. I doubt he even knows where I am.”

The Kid leaned against the dresser. “Oh, he knows, ma’am. In fact, he sent the men who were followin’ you.”

Elodie dropped heavily down on the bed. “Really!?”

“Yup, and he planned on gettin’ the men to force you into bein’ photographed to give him evidence to divorce you.”

Elodie blanched. “Force me? To do what?”

“I think they’d call it a compromising position, Mrs. Robertson,” Heyes replied, gently. “There’s no need to be afraid, we’ve prevented it. You’ve lived in California for more than six months so you can file for a divorce from him. It’s best to get him off your back.”

“But I have no evidence.”

The men exchanged a sly smile. “You have, Ellie,” grinned Horace. “These good gentlemen and myself have worked together to provide some compromising pictures of him.” He dropped a large folder on the bed.

Elodie’s mouth turned down in a moue of distaste. “I don’t want to see them.”

Horace grinned. “I think you should, Ellie.” He reached over and pulled one out.

She turned her head away, but her eyes were reluctantly drawn back to the sepia-tinted print. “Urgh! I can’t believe he’d be drawn to a woman like that.”

“That’s the whole point, Ellie. We can’t allow him to get out of this with any dignity at all.” Her father sat down beside her, drawing her to him with a protective hug. “Look closer.”

She cast her eyes over at the picture again, suddenly blinking in disbelief. “Father? Is that you!?”

Horace started to laugh. “Heavily made up, but yes. You do know that I adore my little theatrics. I was a leading light in the Hampstead Amateur Dramatic Society.” He beamed at the partners. “My Bottom had glorious reviews!”

“Huh?” the Kid grunted.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Horace nodded with distant recollection in his eyes. “What a wonderful production.”

“But didn’t James recognise you, Father?”

The Kid grinned. “We drugged him, and your father was veiled until it took effect. All he knows is that we’ve got pictures of him with someone dressed as a woman, who may, or may not, appear to be kinda manly. He ain’t gonna contest this and risk the publicity or the newspapers lookin’ too closely at these. He’d be ruined.”

“You’re free of him, Mrs. Robertson.” Heyes leaned on the end of the brass bedstead and crossed his legs at the ankle. “Free to remarry. I’m sure Thurtson will be pleased.”

Elodie flushed. “Thurston? What does this have to do with him?”

Heyes’ dark eyes glistened with meaning. “He has a fancy for you, and you know it, Mrs. Robertson. Do you remember the terms of our deal?”

Elodie nodded. “Yes; one hundred dollars each, regardless of how long the job lasts. Why?”

Heyes tilted his head. “My first thought was that you were trying to string us along for a long job, for the least possible money, but you’d best get your money ready, Mrs. Robertson, because I’ve solved this case.”

She sat bolt upright. “You have? How?”

Heyes arched an eyebrow. “Does that matter?”

“So, Mr. Smith? Who is this miscreant?” asked Horace.

“I went to the library to read up on Spring. The Subtlety of Witches used all of his methods but it was produced by a different hand, and Eberstadt’s Emporium conveniently sold them on. The forger hadn’t planned on one of the first buyers being an expert on Spring, and on him getting right on their trail.”

“That much is obvious to anyone,” Elodie replied with a frown. “What have you found out?”

“That you and Thurston have been seeing one another for some time.” Heyes folded his arms. “So we have Mrs. Robertson: one of the very few who’s studied Spring’s work intimately, with a self-professed eye for detail; who’s been seeing the man who bought the documents from one of the most non-descript, vague characters I’ve ever heard of in my life – who’s father conveniently sells these things on at quite a profit. The whole chain is there from production to sale.”

Horace frowned. “Young man, I certainly hope you're not accusing...”

“Nope,” Heyes replied to the Kid’s accompanying groans. “Did she tell you that we weren’t hired to help you find this forger, that she hired us to mislead you? Now I know why. She didn’t want anyone looking into this. We might as well put a stop to this now, because I don’t think you’ll like what you find at the end of the trail, sir.”

Horace gave his daughter an unblinking stare. “Ellie?”

“It was for your own safety, father! I was worried about you.”

Heyes snorted. “Really, Mrs Robertson? The Governor sent us because we can take care of ourselves. You tried to keep us off the forger’s trail. I hope this’ll be your last foray into crime, Mrs. Robertson, because you’re going to be a bit too easy to catch.”

Elodie stood. “This is absolute balderdash, and I won’t tolerate any more of this! You have no proof.”

The Kid dropped his head into his hands. “Oh, Joshua. We were doin’ so well.”

“You want proof, Mrs. Robertson?” Heyes faced the angry woman. “We could compare your writing to the letters and books in Eberstadt’s Emporium.”

Elodie stamped her foot. “That’s enough. Get out!”

“We want our money first, ma’am.” Heyes replied, coolly.

“You’re fired. You were supposed to keep my father away from danger, not start throwing wild accusations about!”

Heyes stood his ground. “I want to be paid, ma’am.”

“If you are not out of here in ten minutes, I’ll get security to throw you out!” Elodie snapped.

“I’ll see them out, Ellie.” Horace stood, fixing Heyes and Curry with a glare. “Gentlemen, come with me.” The man’s corpulent frame ushered the partners to the door. “You realise you won’t be paid for this,” he growled. He pulled the door shut behind him with a snap, dropping his voice and whispering conspiratorially, “But you will be paid for your assistance in the divorce.” He counted out a wad of notes and thrust it into Heyes’ hand. “Now get out of here, will you? It’s going to take me days to calm her down.”

“What about the forgery?”

The Kid gave a snort. “For cryin’ out loud, Joshua. Do we care?”

Horace gave the boys a look pregnant with unspoken suspicions. “Let me worry about that, Mr. Smith. Let’s just say I don’t think I’ll need protection anymore.”

Heyes and Curry strode off towards their room. “Heyes, did you know, or were you guessin’?”

Heyes grinned. “She did it, Kid. She doodled George Washington’s signature over and over in the margin of that dime novel you showed me on the train, and I saw it. I was curious, but didn’t attach much importance to it until I saw the other batch of forged letters in Eberstadt’s Emporium. I wasn’t going to be strung along for months to save her skin, but at least this way he’s not sure and she’s had a big enough fright to live honestly. Come on, l need a drink.”

“That dime novel? The one I read? I didn’t see that.” The Kid pushed open his hotel room door.

“But I did, Kid, and I’ve got it in my pocket in case I needed it.”

“I guess we’ve gotta find somewhere cheaper. Couldn’t you have done this tomorrow, after dinner and a good night’s sleep?”

“We have to get out of here fast. She’s real smart, and she’d have retaliated in some way.” Heyes thrust a shirt into his bag. “She was prepared to face you down right at the start, remember? How many scared women would do that?” Heyes shook his head. “I knew we had to be careful of her from the start.”

“When will you learn that life is simpler when you plough around the stumps, Heyes?”

“I guess when the stumps stop thinking they’re smarter than me, Kid.” He tossed the dime novel across the bed. “Here, something to read for the journey.” He grinned, “And I can’t wait to see your face when it gets to your bit – ‘Dumplin’.”



Historical Notes

The British Museum contains three books, written entirely in cipher. One is ‘The Subtlety of Witches,’ written by Ben Ezra Aseph in 1657, an alchemist. The cipher fascinates devotees of the science of code-breaking as to date nobody has managed to decipher the book.

Robert Spring (1813 – 1876) forged documents from Horatio Nelson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin. His method was to trace signatures from original documents put between two panes of glass and illuminated from behind. He would use paper from the correct time period and age it using the method described in the story, using either tea or coffee grounds. He moved to the US in 1858. He was caught because his method reproduced vast quantities of documents which were all the same, but in which only the names were changed. He was the most prolific and successful forger of his time. When arrested the first time, he skipped bail and went to Canada, finally being caught in Philadelphia in 1869, after an international manhunt.

Forgery was the impetus for the first secret service department to be created in the USA, driven by the large amount of forged currency floating around after the Civil War. The department then started collecting domestic intelligence, which evolved into a department in its own right.

Defensive Counterintelligence – which deals with gathering information on bodies, governments, or agencies which may be a threat to the State – was, surprisingly, not a high priority in the USA until the start of WWII. Horace Pakenham-Smythe, retiring after a long career, having dealt with, and collated information on, various types of international criminals and political movements for a lifetime, would have had no American equivalent in the 1880s.



(Writers love feedback! You can let Sarah Whymnet know how you enjoyed the story with a quick comment. Just Post Reply - bottom right corner - to the Comments for The Subtlety of Witches thread below the story. You don't have to sign in and you can be anonymous.)

_________________
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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The Subtelty of Witches by Sarah Whyment :: Comments

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The Subtelty of Witches by Sarah Whyment

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