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 3.14 Playing For Keeps by Leah Anders

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Join date : 2013-10-13

20150502
Post3.14 Playing For Keeps by Leah Anders

"I don't know how you're winning so much, but I'm starting to think it ain't just luck."

"You're right. It's not luck…friend. It's good poker playing…something you don't seem to be acquainted with."

Jeremy smiled tightly, but humor was not the emotion reflected in his eyes. "That's funny. You're a funny guy. But I don't think cheating is funny and I think you're cheating."


Starring

Pete Duel as Hannibal Heyes
Ben Murphy as Kid Curry


Guest Stars


Ann Sothern as Blackjack Jenny


Hank Azaria as Jeremy Beaumont



Playing For Keeps
by Leah Anders


Rain pinged noisily off the tin roof. Wind howled through tiny cracks in the rough-hewn walls. Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes sat at a small round table covered by a brightly checked, red and white cloth, plates of food on the table in front of them. Kid eagerly shoveled forkfuls of food into his mouth, relishing his lunch with typical enthusiasm. Between bites, he glanced over at his friend. Finally, he laid his fork down and asked, "Alright. What in tarnation is eating you?"

The dark-haired, dark-eyed cowboy sitting across the table from him was slouched low in his chair, hand fisted to his lips. His food sat untouched. His normally calm exterior was beginning to show signs of cracking. "Huh? Nothin'. Whaddaya mean?"

"Whaddaya mean, what do I mean? You been actin' strange every since we got into town last night. You're makin' me so nervous, I can barely eat."

Heyes smirked affectionately. "It don't seem like you're having any trouble to me." He pushed his body up straight in his chair, leaning slightly forward at the waist. "I don't know. I'm just feeling restless. Must be all this rain. The sun hasn't broke through for more'n two days. Not since we left that last town."

"Well, don't worry, Joshua. It'll be hot and sunny again before you know it. Say, I know how to take your mind off the rain. How 'bout we head over to the saloon and play a little poker after lunch?"

"Now you're talking. Let's go." Heyes dropped some money on the table and headed for the door, turning his collar up against the weather as he went.

Curry frowned, "I said after lunch. I ain't finished!" Getting no response from his determined partner, he started to stand, wolfing down the last bites of his lunch as he rose. As an afterthought, he grabbed the slice of bread that sat untouched on Heyes' plate and swallowed it down before following Heyes out into the rain.

* * * * *

The saloon was packed, men crowded at the bar and around the tables scattered throughout the room. Cowboys, ranchers, townsfolk, gunnies, and saloon girls mingled together. The rain had halted "life as usual" and driven men from all walks inside. Drunken laughter and conversation filled the air along with a heavy haze of smoke floating near the ceiling.

Heyes paused one step inside the doorframe. Shouts of "Shut the door" welcomed them to the saloon. Already, he looked more relaxed as a smile slowly spread across his ruggedly handsome face. "Awww…Look at this, Thaddeus. Whiskey, beautiful women, and poker. Now this is the place to be on a day like today." He took his hat off and hung it on the hook near the door, running his fingers through his rain-dampened hair. A few droplets of rain trickled down the back of his neck, kissing the soft skin behind his ears before tracking down inside his shirt collar.

Curry looked affectionately at his friend, glad to see his good spirits return. "I'm just glad to be back inside where it's dry. Whaddaya say we find a table?" Kid led the way as the pair started a slow circuit around the room, sizing up the players at the various tables and looking for a couple of open chairs.

Suddenly from behind them, a familiar voice rang out over the buzz of conversation in the room. "Boys! Well, my gosh! Boys!"

Heyes and the Kid stopped in their tracks, looking at each other in amazement, and spun around to locate the source of the voice beckoning them. Hurrying towards them from a room at the back of the saloon was a handsome older woman. Billowing, platinum blond curls surrounded her face. Her dress was shiny black satin; a matching black shawl concealed some, but not all, of her substantial bosom spilling out of the low-cut neckline.

It's obvious that the boys were delighted to see her. Their faces were lit up by broad smiles and loud laughter slipped past their lips. "Jenny! Ain't you a purdy sight." Heyes embraced the woman and planted a wet kiss on her cheek.

Kid pushed him aside, "My turn, Joshua." He hugged Jenny just as tightly, lifting her slightly off the ground. When he set her back down, he brushed his lips across her other cheek. "You look great, Jenny."

"Oh, my. You boys sure know how to take a girl's breath away. Too bad I've sworn off men, or you boys would be in trouble."

Laughing, Heyes said, "You swore off men? Doubtful." Turning serious, he continued, "Jenny, last we heard, they were still holding you for Kenneth Blake's killing. What happened?"

"When'd you get out, Jenny?"

"How long you been in town? Do you keep in touch with Louise?"

"One question at a time, boys. I ain't even recovered from that nice greeting yet. Let's go sit down somewhere a little quieter so I can catch my breath." She led the way to a table set off from the main room. This was apparently where she worked, dealing blackjack for the house.

"So tell us how you've been. What happened after the trial?"

Jenny looked down at her hands, fingers laced together on the table in front of her. The memories of the past months of her life since Billy's disappearance and murder reflected in her eyes. Glancing first at Heyes, then at Curry, she smiled softly. "I've done ok. Did you hear what happened at the trial?"

Heyes nodded.

"Well, then you know that thanks to Louise Carson's testimony, telling the jury how Kenneth Blake plotted that bank robbery and then killing Billy and Caleb, I ended up getting off pretty light. So I served my time and here I am."

"That's great, Jenny."

"Yeah. But I'll tell you right here, the only thing I cared about then, and now, was avenging Billy's death. I would have spent the rest of my natural life in jail if I had to." Tears glistened in her eyes as Jenny smiled a quivering smile.

"We know, Jenny. We're just glad you didn't have to." Heyes reached across the table and patted Jenny's arm with obvious affection.

Jenny sighed heavily. "Ain't a day goes by that I don't miss that boy. He was my whole life." Her eyes gazed over Kid's shoulder as, for a moment, her mind went somewhere else. After a bit, her eyes focused in on the two handsome cowboys sitting with her. "So you boys still going by the names Smith and Jones? Which is which again?"

"I'm Jones. Heyes is Smith."

"Still don't see how it makes much difference…How long you been in town, Smith and Jones?"

"Uh, we just got here last night. Supposed to start work on a cattle drive, but all this rain has set it back a few days."

"So now we just plan on playing some cards for a spell…to pass the time."

"Just between the three of us, you've picked the right place for it. A bunch of these lunks don't seem to know the difference between a pair of jacks and a royal flush. Course, we got some slicks in here too. You better watch out for them."

"Thanks for the advice, Jenny, but I think we know how to handle ourselves at a poker table."

"Uh, huh…I've seen you boys play poker. Heck, I probably taught you half of what you know. Even so, it ain't always pretty."

Heyes and Curry grinned wryly at her. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."

"Just try not to lose your shirts. It's cold outside," she laughed. "Come back and see me later. We'll talk some more."

* * * * *

The two men continued on their route through the saloon, eyeballing the tables and the players at each. In turn, they attracted the admiring glances of most of the working girls in the room, not to mention a few looks from the more observant men there. Finally, Heyes turned to the Kid, "What do you think, Thaddeus? That table there has a couple of chairs open. Think we should give it a try?"

Three men currently occupied the table in question. Two looked like average run-of-the-mill cowhands. The third man was more dandified. He looked like a man who hadn't yet learned the meaning of hard work, and he didn't appear in any danger of finding out that meaning any time soon. All three fellows were about the same age as Heyes and Curry.

"I don't know, Joshua. That fella looks like he might be a professional gambler. Think you can manage not to lose too much?"

"He looks like a gambler, but I've had my eye on him for a while and he don't play like a professional. I think I can manage. Heck, I think even you might be able to win some." Heyes smiled teasingly at Kid.

"Oh, that's just great. Thanks a lot!" Kid retorted.

"Shall we?" Heyes gestured for Kid to go ahead.

"After you," Kid returned.

"Howdy, gents. Room for a couple more?"

The dandy looked up from his hand and considered the two men standing in front of him. "If you've got the money, I'd be happy to relieve you of some of it," he said, motioning towards the empty chairs. "Sit."

"Much obliged. My name's Joshua Smith and this here's my partner, Thaddeus Jones."

"Well, Smith and Jones, these two ugly mutts sitting here with me are Ike and Ralph. My name's Jeremy."

The clock on the wall chimed two o'clock as Heyes and Curry sat down to play. By five o'clock the two saddle tramps at the table had been replaced by two similarly non-descript characters, the first Ike and Ralph having lost their chips, and their week's wages, to the other players.

Jeremy's pile of chips, sizably larger than anyone else's had diminished noticeably during the course of the afternoon. His good nature seemed to disappear at the same rate as his chips. Heyes was right. The dandy was no professional. It hadn't taken him long to get a handle on Jeremy's weaknesses and exploit them to his benefit. "Two pair, aces over eights," he said, laying his cards on the table.

Jeremy stared at the overturned hand and angrily threw his in. Heyes smiled gently and reached forward to rake in the pot. "Just a second, friend." Jeremy laid his hand on Heyes' arm. Kid, sensing trouble, cautiously pushed back from the table a few inches, ready to come to Heyes' defense if the need arose.

"I don't know how you're winning so much, but I'm starting to think it ain't just luck."

"You're right. It's not luck…friend. It's good poker playing…something you don't seem to be acquainted with."

Jeremy smiled tightly, but humor was not the emotion reflected in his eyes. "That's funny. You're a funny guy. But I don't think cheating is funny and I think you're cheating."

Heyes looked at the other men seated around the table. "Does anyone else here think I've been cheating?" After casting fearful glances towards Jeremy, the other two players shook their heads "No".

"There. See? Nobody else here thinks I'm cheating."

"Well, I do and that's all that counts."

"No-I don't think so. What really counts is the fact that you just aren't a very good poker player. And you sweat when you bluff."

Thaddeus stifled a laugh. "Let's be reasonable, Jeremy. Nobody else here thinks my friend is cheating. I can tell you from experience that he doesn't need to cheat. Maybe it's luck or maybe he's just a better player than the rest of us. Tell you what, if you don't want to play with him, why don't you pick up what's left of your chips and go to another table?"

"I got another idea. Why don't you take your smooth-talking friend and leave…before he gets hurt." Slowly Jeremy stood. Strapped to his leg, gunslinger-style, he wore a Colt .45. Curry and Heyes exchanged a "here we go again" look. "I'm calling your bluff, Smith. Stand up."

"Sit down, Jeremy. Let's talk this out like two gentlemen."

"Time for talking is done. Get up…unless you want me to shoot you where you sit."

Heyes started to stand, hands held in front of him, palms facing forward, ready for one more attempt at reconciliation. The Kid firmly laid a hand on his shoulder, forcing him back into his chair, while rising to his own feet.

"Listen, Jeremy. We aren't looking for any trouble here. If you don't want to move to another table, then we will."

"I told you, time for talking is passed. Since you seem determined to fight your friend's battles…you better be ready to draw."

The other men at the table and those nearby scrambled for cover. Heyes remained in his chair, looking up at Curry who stood near his shoulder. Seconds ticked off as Jeremy and the Kid appraised each other. Curry stared at the dandy, having no intention of making the first move. After what seemed like an eternity to the silent observers, Jeremy, with lightning speed, reached for his Colt. A split second later, Curry had his gun drawn. The barroom crowd let out an audible gasp as the gun flew out of Jeremy's hand.

"Like you said, the time for talking is done. Pick up what's left of your chips and move on."

Jeremy opened his mouth as if to speak again, thought better of it, closed his lips, and never taking his eyes off the Kid, reached forward with his uninjured hand, and scooped up his chips. Working up some false courage, he said, "You may think you've won, but be assured, this isn't over." With those words, Jeremy strode out of the saloon.

Gradually, the saloon returned to normal, the confrontation between the two gunfighters quickly forgotten by all except the principal participants.

"You didn't need to do that, Thaddeus. I could have handled him by myself. I think he was just about to see reason."

"A simple 'thank you' would be fine, Joshua! You were about to get your head blowed off. If that's your attitude, maybe I should have let you."

"No. I could tell I was getting through to him at the end. Another minute---"

"Uh, huh. You just keep telling yourself that. C'mon. Let's go get a drink. This game is over anyways."

They grabbed a couple of drinks at the bar from a bartender who had recently developed a new, healthy respect for them. Taking the bottle with them, along with three glasses, they set off to find Jenny. She was at her table dealing blackjack to a couple of unshaven farm hands. When she saw Heyes and the Kid, she quickly closed the table. With motherly concern, she turned troubled eyes on the two handsome ex-outlaws smiling at her from the other side of the table.

"What are you looking so worried about, Jenny?" Curry asked.

"If you had any brains, you'd be worried too. You just bought yourself a world of trouble."

Heyes and the Kid looked at each other, then turned to stare at Jenny blankly. With a sigh of exasperation, she shook here head and said, "Don't you know who you just got into a drawing contest with?"

"Uh, he told us his name was Jeremy. Other than that, I just know he's a very bad gambler," Heyes smiled.

"That's right. His name is Jeremy. Jeremy Beaumont!" She looked at the boys expecting a reaction. They just looked at her with bewildered expressions. Kid shrugged his shoulders indifferently. With another impatient shake of her head, which sent blonde curls bouncing around her head, she repeated, "Beaumont!"

"Sorry, Jenny. It's not ringing any bells."

"Do you know what the name of the hotel you're staying at is? The restaurant across the street? Do you know what this whole town is called?"

"Uh, lemme guess…Beaumont?"

'Now you're getting it. That boy's grandpa built this town and his daddy owns half of it. He's used to pretty much doin' what he wants around here…and he don't like losing."

"We already know that."

"I can see I'm gonna have to spell it out for ya. That boy is dangerous. And he's a couple horses short of a full team…am I getting through to you?"

"Jenny, we appreciate your concern, but Kid and I can take care of ourselves. You don't have to worry."

"You don't know this fella. Maybe you ought to lie low for a while 'til that cattle drive starts. Maybe set up camp somewhere out of town for a couple days."

"I don't think so. You'll notice it's still raining pretty good out there. Why would we want to be out in that when we can have a nice warm hotel room right here in town? No, Kid and I can handle whatever Jeremy Beaumont comes up with."

"Lands, you are the most stubborn boys I ever met! There is just no talking to you."

"Joshua, whaddaya say we head over to the restaurant and get some supper."

"Sounds good. Jenny, care to join us?"

"No. I gotta work. But you boys think about what I told you. I still say you should get outa town fast."

* * * * *

Next morning, Curry was just waking up. He yawned widely and rubbed the sleep from his cornflower blue eyes before rolling over and looking at his friend, still asleep in the other bed. He could tell from the bright sunlight spilling in through the window that the rain had finally stopped, at least for now. "Heyes. Get up," he mumbled sleepily before closing his eyes for another moment's rest.

Heyes slept on. Opening one eye to look at him, Curry said again, "Heyes, rise and shine." Then he grabbed the feather pillow from his bed and flung it at his sleeping partner's head, easily hitting his mark.

"Huh! Wha--?" Heyes sat bolt upright, reaching for his side arm as he moved. Seeing the mischievous grin on Kid's face, he let go of the gun butt and scowled. "Whaddaya wanna go and do that for?"

Kid was sitting up in bed, blond curls tousled and unruly. "Look out the window."

"I'm looking…so?"

"Well, it ain't raining anymore. That means we might have to start that job today and I wanna make sure we have time for breakfast before we have to move out."

"Ahhh…I see your point…you know, Kid, I been thinking."

"Heyes, do you have to do that so early? Can't you at least wait 'til we get something to eat first?"

"Hold on. I think you'll like what I have to say. I was thinking that with all the money we took off those cowboys, and our good friend Jer, of course, we maybe wouldn't have to join that cattle drive after all.

A slow smile spread across Curry's boyish face. He laughed, "Now you're talkin', Heyes. I wasn't looking forward to spending long days eating dust and pushing that herd anyway."

Heyes laughed too. "Yeah, and seeing how close we came to being killed or caught on the last one, it's probably a good idea if we avoid another one too soon."

"Ok, so just how much money did we win last night?"

"Almost $2,000. With the money we started with, we have about $2,300 between us."

"So you think we ought to take Jenny's advice and move on somewhere safer?"

"Noooo…It has nothing to do with Jenny's advice. I think we ought to take our money and move on somewhere safer."

"Heyes, maybe the sun is gonna shine on us for a while more ways than one."

"Looks like it, Kid. Let's eat and then go tell Jenny we'll be moving on."

Both men got out of bed, Heyes in his white long johns and Kid in a matching pair, only red. Both of them managed to make long underwear look good. The top buttons of Heyes' shirt had come undone sometime during the night, revealing a soft tuft of dark curly hair that peeked out through the opening ever so coyly.

Kid was nearly dressed when he saw the piece of paper someone had slid under their door during the night. After tucking his shirttail into the waistline of his dungarees, he picked up the note and without reading it passed it to Heyes who was still shaving.

"Huh? What's this?"

Curry shrugged, "It was on the floor."

"You read it?"

Curry shook his head "No".

Heyes opened out the paper. Silently, he read the words scrawled on it. He looked unhappily at the Kid. "I don't think we're gonna have time for breakfast after all," he said handing the note to Kid. As Curry read the words written there, a bright flash of lightning streaked across the morning sky as the rain burst forth from the heavens again.

"So much for sunshine."

* * * * *

After grabbing a cup of coffee and some fresh-baked biscuits at the restaurant, the boys got their horses and headed north out of town. Rain ponchos provided some scant protection from the pounding rain. As they rode, they discussed the contents of the note, speaking loudly to be able to hear each other over the downpour. "What do you think Jeremy has planned for Jenny, Heyes?"

"You read the note. I know the same thing you do…that he wants us to come out to his family ranch and if we don't do as he says, he'll kill Jenny."

"Do you believe him?"

"I don't think we have a choice. Jenny told us he was dangerous and she would know better than us."

"So do you have a plan?"

"Not yet. We're gonna have to see what he wants. Then I'll figure out what to do about it."

"I already know what he wants. He wants you, Heyes. For making him look bad at that poker game."

"Don't be so sure, Kid. Remember, you're the one who shot him. Ruined a perfectly functional Colt .45. He can't be happy about that."

"I guess you're right…but why Jenny? She didn't have anything to do with it."

"Except he probably saw how friendly we all are. Figured she'd be the bait to get us where he wants us."

"Hmmm…if that's true, we'd better be real careful from here on out. According to what the desk clerk said, the Beaumont ranch is just around the next bend."

Just then, from behind the curtain of rain they had just passed through, came a gruff voice, "Alright, that's far enough, gents. Take your guns out of their holsters real slow, two fingers, and hold 'em over your head. Don't turn around. Jase, go get their irons."

"Here we go, Thaddeus. Game on."

"OK, let's move. No sense staying out here in this rain any longer than we have to. Just make sure you don't try anything funny. I have no problem with shooting you in the back."

"I had a feeling you might say that."

* * * * *

Even through the deluge, the house before them was impressive-looking. "OK, get off your horses nice and slow. Remember, I still have you in my sights." Heyes and Curry eased cautiously off their mounts. "Jase, take the broomtails to the stables and get 'em dried off. I'll take care of these two myself."

"OK, boys. Move on up to the house. Mr. Beaumont is waitin' for you."

The gravel-voiced stranger prodded at Curry's back with his rifle. "OK, let's go. I told ya, Mr. Beaumont don't like to be kept waiting." As he moved past Heyes and Curry to get to the front door, they got their first look at him. He had the face of a sad bulldog. Heyes had a feeling that his unhappy countenance hid a mean and dangerous soul. He tapped on the heavy wooden door, four times slowly.

Within a few seconds, the door was opened by another rough-featured fellow. He was also holding a rifle. At the opposite end of the foyer stood yet another rifle-toting ruffian. In addition to the rifles, each man had a holster fastened to his thigh.

Kid Curry felt a few beads of perspiration break out across his forehead as he calculated the odds. They were definitely against him and Heyes and he was pretty sure they hadn't been "invited" here for a social call. His hand, with a mind of its own, drifted to his empty holster. The empty weightlessness of it only made him feel more vulnerable.

He didn't have long to ponder their predicament before pain as sharp as a saber sliced through his head. A few bright sparks of light dazzled his eyes momentarily, then darkness overtook him as he sank to the ground.

* * * * *

Heyes started to feel alarmed as soon as the front door of the expensive house opened before them. Although the foyer he stepped into was brightly lit and handsomely furnished, he didn't feel welcomed there. The three men holding rifles on him and Curry looked as mean as rabid badgers. Unarmed, he knew he and Kid were at their mercy for the time being.

Standing just inside the entry, rain still dripping from their wet clothes, his mind searched for a way out. He watched, from the corner of his eye, as the first man brought the butt of his rifle down hard against the back of Curry's head. He could hear, and almost feel, the crack of wood against his friend's skull as he watched Kid's eyes roll back in his head and he slumped lifelessly to the floor next to him.

An anguished "Kid!" burst from him before he could check himself. He lunged for him but before he could reach him, he was warned off by one of the other gunmen.

"You two. Get him picked up off the floor. Take him into the parlor and tie him up next to the other one." Gesturing with his rifle, he turned his attention back to Heyes. "You. Start walking." Heyes hadn't yet taken his eyes off the Kid, who hadn't moved since taking the hit. "Don't worry about him. He's not dead, just out cold. He'll be fine…at least as long as you do as you're told. So move!"

Heyes followed Curry's prone body down a long hallway. The parlor was as brightly lit as the rest of the house and just as foreboding. A poker table and chairs dominated the center of the room. Against the far wall stood two straight-backed wooden chairs. One of them was empty.

Heyes' blood ran colder when he saw what occupied the other chair. Jenny was there, dressed in a voluminous flowered flannel nightdress. Her head drooped forward in what was surely an uncomfortable position. She was unmistakably out cold, the same as Curry. Anger forced fear to the background of Heyes' thoughts. Sparks flew from his eyes as he turned on the thug holding the rifle. "What kind of people are you? Did you hit her with a rifle too? Have you no decency at all?"

"You best calm down, young fella. 'Course we didn't clunk her upside the head. We knocked her out with some chloroform, that's all. Last night, back at the hotel. She'll be comin' around shortly, I expect."

"Alright, this has gone far enough. You can't treat law-abiding citizens like this. The sheriff-"

"I wouldn't put too much stock in the sheriff, son. Mr. Beaumont-"

"Where is Beaumont? Get him in here. I wanna see him, now!"

"In due time…for now, you can just take a seat at the card table."

"No. I want to check on my-"

The gunman deliberately slid the pistol from his holster and leveled it at Heyes' chest, "I told you before that I wouldn't have any problem shooting you. That ain't changed. Sit!"

By this time, the other two had finished tying the Kid's hands and feet. He was still unconscious. "OK, Grif. This one isn't going anywhere. What do you want us to do now?" asked the rougher looking one.

"Yeah, you want me and Rube to tie the other one now?"

"No, Dodd. This one gets to stay loose, Mr. Beaumont's orders. You guys just stand over there and wait 'til the boss gets here."

Grif re-holstered his gun and went to stand in front of Curry and Jenny. He grabbed a handful of the Kid's blond curls and roughly pulled his head up. "Still out. That won't do. Rube, give me those smelling salts. Let's see if we can bring him around. Don't want him missing all the fun." After a couple of passes of the strongly vile liquid, the Kid's eyelids fluttered and he jerked his head away in protest to the fumes assaulting his nostrils. The sudden movement sent shockwaves of pain through his injured head and he cried out softly in his semi-conscious state. Another pass brought him around more fully. He tried to raise his hand to assess the damage and found his hands were bound behind him.

"Thaddeus, are you OK?" Heyes asked.

"Yeah…what happened? I feel like I got run over by a horse. What's going on?" Noticing Jenny next to him for the first time, he asked again, this time a little fearfully, "Joshua? What's going on?"

"I don't know, Thaddeus."

Grif was using the smelling salts on Jenny. "Wake up, pretty lady. Time to join the party." The salts had the desired results. Soon Jenny was roused.

"Oh, heck. My head is killing me. How much did I drink last night…? What...? Where am I? Who are you guys?" Noticing Heyes and Curry, she asked, "Boys? What's going on?"

"I'm sorry, Jenny. You were right about Beaumont. He is dangerous. He had these guys grab you to get back at us. Sorry we got you into this."

"Shut up, all of you. Mr. Beaumont is coming."

Jeremy Beaumont came into the room. He walked swiftly and authoritatively, but somehow on him, it ended up looking slightly effeminate. If their situation hadn't seemed so dire, Heyes might have smiled or even laughed outright at the image Jeremy projected. Instead, his face remained impassive, revealing none of the intense inner turmoil churning within him.

"Aw good. All my special guests have arrived. Now the party can begin."

"Party?" Heyes asked evenly.

"Yes…well… I had such a good time playing cards with you fellows in the saloon, I thought I'd invite you out here for a private game."

"You have a lot to learn about throwing a party, Jeremy," Heyes said pleasantly. He even managed a small smile, starting to understand that Jeremy might be even more dangerous than Jenny thought. Since he and his goons had the upper hand, Heyes knew he would need to play along for a while.

"So here's what we're going to do. We're gonna have ourselves a friendly game, just us two. And this time, the stakes are a little higher. You'll be playing for your friends' freedom."

"You can't be serious!"

"Oh, but I am, Mr. Smith."

"Why are you doing this?"

"That should be obvious…you and your gunhead friend humiliated me in town yesterday. Now it's my turn to get even."

Heyes wanted to scream at Jeremy and tell him he was insane, but he forced himself to remain silent. He couldn't afford to enflame his captor any further. "Rube and Dodd, you can go about your business. Grif and I have everything under control here."

As the others left, a young man entered the room. "I put their horses in the stable, Grif. Here are their guns. Where do you want 'em, Mr. Beaumont?"

"Oh, just put them over there," he said, waving his hand towards a low table near the wall.
"Do you think that's a good idea, sir?" Grif asked. "Maybe we should lock 'em up. Just to be safe."

"Oh, I don't think we need to worry. This one doesn't know how to shoot. He lets his friend fight his battles for him."

Heyes and Curry exchanged a look. They both knew this could be the break that would save them. Heyes might not be as quick on the draw as the Kid, but he made up for it with his intelligence and cunning.

"Shall we begin?" Jeremy flashed a brief smile. "How much cash did you bring with you, Mr. Smith?"

"Actually, Jer, all our money is locked in the safe at the hotel. All I have on me is a couple of dollars. Guess we're just going to have to call the whole thing off."

"Hmmm…No cash? What a pity…Well, I guess I'll just have to make you a loan. Very inconsiderate of you to be so unprepared, I must say." A large picture hung on the wall next to where the Kid and Jenny were tied. Jeremy released a latch on one side of the picture and it swung away from the wall to reveal a safe hidden behind it. As Heyes watched, Jeremy worked the combination. The door opened with a barely audible click. When he turned back around, Jeremy was holding five stacks of $100 bills.

"I prefer playing with real money rather than chips, don't you, Mr. Smith? So much more satisfying. I just love the feel of real money."

Heyes did not reply.

"So here's what I was thinking. I'll spot you $5,000. That's very generous, don't you think? All you have to do is win this $20,000," he waggled the remaining four stacks of bills before Heyes' eyes, "to secure the release of your two friends. Just $10,000 apiece."

If you play anything like you did yesterday, that shouldn't be a problem," Heyes said confidently. "We'll be on our way before noon."

"Yes, well, we shall see. We shall certainly see." Something in Jeremy's tone sent a shiver down Heyes' spine.

Jeremy sat down and picked up the deck of cards. He shuffled and said, "I'll deal." Antes were made, cards were dealt, Heyes drew two cards and bet a couple thousand, hoping to get done as quickly as possible. He was fairly confident that Jeremy had little to bet on but he raised anyway. By the time the hand was over, the pot had grown to $6,000. "Call."

Heyes showed his cards. "Two pair, aces over tens."

Grimly, Jeremy revealed his hand-a pair of queens. He waved in Grif's direction. The gunnie left his post near the door, approached the table, and without warning, slammed the back of his open hand viciously across Heyes' face, sending his head whipping sideways. Almost immediately, an angry red welt raised on his cheek. Startled and hurt, his fingers explored the area around his cheekbone. "What was that for?"

"Just trying to make the game a little more interesting. You see, this way, even if I lose, I win."

"So if I win…your goon smacks me around a little?"

"Something like that. Your deal."

The second hand played out pretty much like the first. Heyes had no trouble reading Jeremy and Jeremy bet wildly with little to back it up. Heyes won easily. As he raked in the pot, Grif swung at him again, this time hitting him across the mouth, splitting his lip. A thin trickle of blood ran from the corner of his mouth. Other than the cold, menacing anger that shone from his eyes, Heyes refused to give Jeremy the satisfaction of reacting to the pain. He knew he could withstand whatever physical punishment was thrown at him long enough to secure the release of his friends.

The next hand, Heyes had nothing. He folded early and let Jeremy have the small pot. He won the next hand and was steeling himself for the blow he knew was coming. This time, however, Grif ignored Heyes and walked over to where Curry and Jenny sat, still tied. He looked from one to the other, then he slammed his fist savagely into the Kid's stomach. Curry doubled over from the pain. When he sat upright again, his face had taken on an ashen hue.

Heyes started to rise, but before he could get to his feet, Grif had whirled around, gun in hand. Heyes reluctantly settled back into his chair. "Are you alright, Thaddeus?"

Jeremy laughed cruelly. "Finally, a chink in your armor…"

"Don't worry about me, Joshua. I've taken harder punches from old ladies. You just keep doing what you have to do."

That's right, Joshua. You keep it up. Maybe next time, Grif will show the lovely lady what happens," Jeremy smirked cruelly.

Heyes felt panicked. He needed time to think. He knew he could take whatever Grif threw his way, but he found it harder to watch his friends suffer. Curry was one of the toughest men he knew but, as his friend, Heyes did not like to see suffering come his way. And as for Jenny, hurting women was against everything Heyes stood for. He wasn't sure if he could sit back and allow it to happen, let alone be the cause of it. On the other hand, if he didn't win their release, there was no telling what Jeremy would do to them. To buy time, he decided to bet small and fold early, letting Jeremy take the pots while they are small.

Eventually though, he realized he was going to have to start winning again. The next hand, he was dealt three kings and knew it was time to bet big. He had an idea that he hoped would spare Jenny too much pain. He drew two more cards and was dealt the fourth king.

"You won again, Mr. Smith. Too bad for your lady friend." Grif approached Jenny.

She looked up at him defiantly. "Go ahead, you big ape. What are you waiting for?"

"Nuthin'." He grinned malevolently and slapped her across the face, though not quite as viciously as he might have. Tears sprang to her eyes from the stinging pain, but she was too proud and too strong to shed a tear. Instead, she stared him down until he walked away.

Heyes gritted his teeth and tried to remain calm. He would have liked to lunge at Jeremy and strangle him with his bare hands, but he knew he had to keep a cool head if he was going to help his friends. And now he had a plan to at least remove Jenny from further harm.

"Jeremy, you said I would need $10,000 to win the freedom of each of my friends, a total of $20,000, right?"

"Sure. That's the deal. $10,000 each."

"Well, I have about $15,000 here in front of me now, not counting the $5,000 you spotted me. I want you to release one of my friends now."

"You need $20,000."

"No. I need $20,000 for both. I want you to release one now and then we'll play some more."

"I suppose you want me to set Mr. Jones loose. You must think I'm stupid if you expect me to do that."

"Uh…well…that is what I was thinking…but if you aren't willing, I guess I'll take Jenny."

"Hmmm…I'm not sure."

"C'mon. You said $10,000 for each. I've been playing by your rules. You should too."

Jeremy considered this. "Grif, untie the woman. Bring her over here to the table where we can watch her. Any funny business, we tie her up again. Understand?"

While Jeremy was talking and Grif was untying Jenny, Heyes and Curry were staring at each other, conversing with their eyes. Curry glanced at their guns still sitting, forgotten, on the table. Heyes was certain he knew what Curry was trying to tell him.

Heyes managed to look nonchalant as the next hand started but his insides were taut and coiled, ready to act as soon as an opportunity presented itself. He had nothing to play with so he folded quickly and the pot went to Jeremy. The next two hands went the same way.

Jeremy was enjoying his rare winning streak. "Maybe you aren't as good a player as I thought, Smith. Seems the cards aren't going your way any more. Too bad for your hot-headed friend over there."

After the next deal, Heyes was holding a straight flush. He bet conservatively, hoping he wouldn't need the full $10,000 to end this game and put an end to Jeremy's game as well.

Jeremy was playing confidently and raised, forcing Heyes to risk more of his stake. "Call." Jeremy laid his cards on the table, revealing a full house. When Heyes turned up his straight flush, Jeremy's face turned the color of the Queen of Diamonds. With a cry of frustration and rage, he sprang from the table like someone had lit a firecracker under his chair, scattering money and cards everywhere.

He called Grif off Curry and strode angrily towards the Kid, arm already upraised and ready to strike out savagely. Heyes knew that this was the time to act and he prayed that Kid was ready.

Jeremy brought his arm around hard, in a wide arc. Quick as lightning, Curry's forearm flew up to block the blow that was about to find its mark. Jeremy's eyes widened even more in shock and surprise as Curry delivered a forceful hit to his midsection. "Let's see how you like it." Curry's wrists were raw and bleeding, but he had finally managed to work loose the knots that had bound him.

As soon as Heyes saw the Kid make his move, he made one of his own. He jumped from his chair and in one fluid motion ran to where the guns were lying, grabbed them up, whirled around, and tossed one to his partner. Curry caught it effortlessly just as Jeremy was collapsing from the blow Kid landed. He lay on the floor like an empty gunnysack, all bravado gone.

Grif reached for his gun and had it halfway out of his holster before Curry turned his pistol on him. Defeated, he returned the gun to its resting place and raised his hands in the air.

Heyes had his gun sight trained on Jeremy who was still lying on the floor with his legs drawn up, moaning. His hand holding the gun shook with barely contained rage, his other arm hung rigidly at his side, hand clenched so tightly his knuckles were white. "Don't, Joshua. It's not worth it." Heyes didn't appear to hear. His eyes didn't even blink. He couldn't remember ever feeling so much hatred for another human being.

Just then, Jeremy put his hands over his face and started to sob. This broke the trance Heyes was in. "You're right, Thaddeus. He isn't worth it. Let's go."

"You don't have to tell me twice."

"Wait. Let's tie them up first so we have time to get away."

With Jeremy and Grif securely bound and gagged, maybe a little more tightly than really necessary, the three quietly left to retrieve their horses and ride back to town.

It was not yet noon.

* * * * *

In their hotel room, after seeing Jenny safely back to her place, Heyes paced in agitation. The right side of his face bore evidence of the violence he and his friends had endured. His cheekbone was bruised and his lip was swollen, but his injuries did nothing to camouflage the anger and frustration he felt.

Curry watched his friend with concern. Rarely did the emotions that Heyes carried within bubble to the surface with such intensity and when they did, there was no telling what his friend was capable of doing. He knew that Heyes was looking to get revenge on Jeremy. He wanted revenge too but he didn't want to see anyone hurt anymore and he didn't want Heyes to blow his chance for amnesty by acting rashly. This was one of those times when Kid knew he would have to keep the calmer head.

"Heyes, you need to forget about it. It's over."

"I can't, Kid. Jeremy was playing for keeps. I think he would have killed us all if you hadn't managed to get loose when you did. You saw him...he was crazed."

"I know…but there's nothing we can do about it. Even if we could go to the sheriff…which we can't…it wouldn't do any good. You heard what Jenny said. Beaumont has the law in his pocket. Besides, if he is really crazy, that's an even better reason to stay away from him."

"I know you're right, Kid, but I have to do something." He paced some more. When pacing did no good, he lay down on his bed, fully clothed, and lay there staring at the ceiling. His breathing was slow and even but this did not fool Kid, he knew that Heyes was anything but relaxed.

Curry watched silently. After a long while, he stood. "I need some air." He didn't expect a response from Heyes so he wasn't disappointed when he got none.

Kid walked out into afternoon sunshine. It looked like the rain was finally done. The air smelled fresh and clean. After wandering the streets for a few minutes, he made his way over to Jenny's hotel room. When she finally opened the door to him, she looked as nervous as a cat on a tin roof. She had deep shadows under her eyes that hadn't been there just yesterday. "Jenny, are you ok? Me and Joshua are worried about you." This was only a small lie because he knew that if Heyes wasn't so wrapped up in a figuring out a plan to get back at Jeremy, Jenny would be first and foremost on his mind, too.

Jenny pulled Kid into the room and hastily shut the door. He noticed that she took a moment to turn the key. Turning to him, she tried to put on a brave face, "Oh, you know me, Kid. I've been through lots worse things than this. I'll be just fine. Just need to get a little rest, is all. The only thing that really bothers me is being dragged out of here wearing that awful nightdress. I been meaning to get rid of that old rag."

Kid smiled sadly at Jenny's attempt at humor. He knew that she was just trying to cover the pain and fear she was really feeling, but she was a tough cookie if there ever was one and he knew that she was telling the truth when she said she would be alright. It would just take a little time.

"Well, you know that Joshua and I will always be here for you if you need us."

"Heck, yeah, honey. You boys and me, we're almost like family, aren't we? Now git out of here so I can rest a spell."

"OK, you rest and we'll stop by in the morning and see you. And Jenny? Don't worry too much about Jeremy, I don't think he'll be bothering you again."

Kid walked around the town for a while longer with no particular destination in mind, avoiding the saloon and another possible encounter with Jeremy. When he finally returned to the room, he was surprised and a little bemused to see Heyes up and about, whistling a tuneless tune.

"You're in a better mood."

"Why shouldn't I be? Everything is going to work out just fine. Is it still raining?"

"No. What's going to be fine? Have you decided to forget what happened? After all, we still have over $2,000. We can go some-"

"Oh, we're gonna leave alright, but not right away. We have some unfinished business to take care of first."

"Unfinished business? Heyes, I hope you're not thinkin' what I think you're thinkin'."

"You don't have to worry, Kid. I don't plan on hurting anyone. I was just laying here thinking…"

"Here we go," Kid sighed.

Heyes shot him a warning glance. "Like I was saying…with that last hand, I won almost $25,000 today. I won it and now I aim to go back and get it. Tonight."

"Are you nuts? Did your brains get rattled around too hard? We can't go back there, especially not this soon. If we so much as set one foot on that place, every one of Beaumont's men will be on us like bees on honey."

"I'm gonna have to take that chance, Kid. You can either come with me or stay here and wait for me." Heyes smiled calmly.

Curry knew there would be no talking his partner out of going back for the money now that his mind was made up. With an irritated sigh, he said, "Course I can't let you go out there by yourself. You'd end up getting yourself killed for sure."

* * * * *

Once darkness claimed the day, they made their way back to the Beaumont place. Supper hour had passed and the ranch was quiet. They left their horses tied to a stand of trees and, staying in the shadows, moved closer to the big house. The night was clear; no clouds remained in the evening sky. Lights shone from several rooms on the second floor but the main floor appeared dark. "Looks like everyone has gone to their rooms already. This is gonna be easier than I thought."

"Heyes, I wish you wouldn't say things like that. You're just askin' to run into trouble."

Heyes wasn't listening. "Shhh…let's go." Moving stealthily through the still-damp grass, they crouch-ran until they stood outside the window of the room where they had been held against their wills that very morning.

Curry stood watch, gun at the ready, as Heyes tested the window. As expected, it didn't budge. Undeterred, he reached inside his coat pocket and drew out a long, thin strip of metal. Within seconds, he had disengaged the latch. At the familiar click of a lock being rendered useless, he smiled at Curry, satisfaction lighting his face. Curry returned the smile with obvious admiration.

One after the other, they slipped through the now open window. Once inside they paused, listening. The house was silent. The room looked much the same as it did when they made their escape earlier in the day. Cards and chips still lay scattered across the floor and the two chairs where Kid and Jenny were tied still sat against the wall near the safe, the ropes that bound them lying discarded nearby. Undoubtedly, Jeremy and Grif had been discovered and released by someone hours ago.

Heyes' eyes found the picture that concealed the safe behind its painted surface. It was gently illuminated by the moonlight shining through the open window. The door from the parlor into the hallway was slightly ajar. Curry peeked through the opening and seeing no one, silently pulled the door shut, then moved back to stand next to Heyes.

"This shouldn't take long. I was able to catch a couple of the numbers when he got the money out of the safe earlier."

"Well, work fast. I wanna get out of here before someone catches us."

With a lover's touch, Heyes grazed his fingers across the surface of the safe. After removing his hat, he brought his head close and began manipulating the dial. The safe proved to be more difficult for him to crack than he had anticipated. Several minutes passed as his frustration grew. A thin film of sweat broke out on his forehead. Kid barely managed to contain his impatience as he stood watch. "Heyes. What's taking you so-?"

His sentence was cut short by the sound of angry footsteps approaching in the hall. They could hear raised voices from behind the closed door. "But, Dad…"

"No buts, Jeremy. Not this time! You've embarrassed me-and yourself-too many times already. I told you to let this drop now and I mean it. I'm an important man in this town and we have a certain reputation to maintain. So when I say no more gambling, you better believe I mean it!"

Heyes and Curry watched as the doorknob wobbled and started to turn. In a moment, the two Mr. Beaumonts were going to catch them. Wildly, they looked around for someplace to hide. Heyes returned the picture to its original position as quietly as possible and both men scurried to hide. At the last second, Kid grabbed Heyes' hat off the floor and tossed it to his partner. The door opened a couple of inches just as they found a dark corner behind a wall of cabinets.

Just then another voice joined in. "Mr. Beaumont, the foreman needs to see you right away. One of the horses has gone lame and he wants to know what you want him to do about it."

"Huh. What? All right. I guess this will have to wait, Jeremy, but as soon as I'm done outside, we need to discuss this some more." The door was pulled shut again. The men walked away, Mr. Beaumont talking as he left, "Land sakes, what would your dear sainted mother say if she could see what you've been up to here? I'm about at my wit's end with you, boy."

Heyes and Kid looked at each other. "That was too close," Kid hissed under his breath. "I'm gonna give you five more minutes. If you can't open the safe by then, we need to just forget the whole thing."

"OK. Don't worry. I just about had it before they showed up." Working the combination again he gently pulled the handle, and this time the door swung free. Heyes and Curry looked into the safe. "Apparently, Mr. Beaumont, the elder, doesn't believe in banks." They both reached in and drew out stacks and stacks of $100 bills, just like the ones Heyes had been forced to play with earlier.

"Heyes, would you look at all this money? There must be at least a couple hundred thousand dollars here."

"I think so, Kid. And if there ever was a man who deserved robbing, it would be our friend, Jer, wouldn't it?" Heyes looked at Curry, begging to be convinced of the error of his thinking.

"We could live a very long time in South America with that money."

"Uh, huh. We could." Finally, Heyes' eyes cleared and reality reasserted itself. "No. We came here for the $20,000 and that's what we'll leave here with, right, Kid?"

"Heyes, I know you're right. But it would be so easy…"

"I know, but we've worked too hard and too long to get our amnesty to blow it all away now." With a final longing look, they put all the money back in the safe-all but $20,000, that is. Heyes carefully closed the door and gave the dial a final spin before returning the painting to its original position. With the money safely tucked in their pockets, they left the way they had come and rode back to town without any further problems.

* * * * *

The next morning, after the hearty and leisurely breakfast they had missed the day before, they went to see Jenny. She let them in, but not before she made sure who it was at her door. On her bed, sitting open and half filled, were three large suitcases.

"Going somewhere, Jenny?" the Kid asked.

"Smart boy. How'd you figure that out so quick?"

"So you're leaving then? Why?"

"I just thought, after yesterday, maybe this town isn't so safe for me anymore."

"Awww, Jenny. I'm sure sorry we got you involved in all that," Heyes said apologetically. "Are you OK?"

"No permanent damage. My old grandpa could hit harder than that." She winced ever so slightly as her fingertips explored her cheekbone where Grif had slapped her. "Anyway, I've decided I'm through with dealing. I have a little money saved up. I think I'll head down to Yuma. Louise is there, you know. We stay in touch with letters and she's become almost like a daughter to me. She doesn't have any other family, either, except for that sister of hers. Anyway, she's been talking about opening up a little dress shop down there once she can afford it. Thought I might see if she'd like a partner. I do know quite a bit about fashion, after all. 'Bout time I turn legit."

"Jenny, that's just great." Curry looked thoughtful for a moment. "Heyes, what if-" he began.

"Uh, uh."

"C'mon Heyes. It's the right thing to do."

"How's that again?"

"Well, Jenny wouldn't be needing to get out of the business if we hadn't caused her all this trouble."

Heyes looked at Curry unhappily. "All of it?"

"I think so."

"Not the $2,000 I won the first day, too?"

"No, we can keep that."

"The rest?"

"Yep."

"All $20,000?"

Curry nodded. Jenny watched their conversation with interest and curiosity, her eyes shifting back and forth between the two former outlaws.

Slowly, Heyes extracted an envelope from his jacket pocket. As though wrestling with his inner demons, he extended the packet towards Jenny. "What's this?" she asked.

"Just a little gift…something to help you and Louise get that dress shop started proper," Curry answered.

Jenny reached to take it from Heyes' hand but couldn't quite wrench it from his rigid fingers until the Kid gave it an extra hard tug and pulled it from his grasp. "Huh? Oh, yeah. Consider it a gift…we want you to have it. You deserve it."

Jenny peeked at the contents of the envelope. With an experienced eye, she figured, "Why, there must be $20,000 in here. Where'd you get it?"

"Now that doesn't matter. It was ours and now it's yours."

"Boys, you don't know what this means to me. No one has ever done anything like this for me before." Happy tears glistened in here eyes as she planted a kiss on each handsome face. "Now get out of here so I can finish my packing. But before you go, tell me that you will come see an old friend off this afternoon at the train depot."

"Wouldn't miss it for anything."

* * * * *

EPILOGUE:

The train whistle blew, signaling its readiness to depart. "I guess this is it. You boys take care of yourselves, you hear?"

"We will, Jenny. You too, and take care of Louise too. Tell her hello for us."

"I will. And I know she'd love to see you again if you ever get down to Yuma. I know I would too."

"Maybe someday, Jenny. You better get on the train now though. It's about to pull out." After one final embrace, Jenny got on the train. All three waved as it chugged away from the station.
.

_________________
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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