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 Patently True 2011/2012

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CD Roberts
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Posts : 114
Join date : 2013-09-23

20131012
PostPatently True 2011/2012




“That is positively painful to watch.”

“Yep.”

Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were seated in the club car of a moving train observing a poker game in progress at a nearby table. It wasn’t a particularly plush car, not one in which one would discover the elites of society, but it was comfortably furnished with the usual red Victorian decor of the period. Certainly, it was more than adequate for working types, and salesmen of the kind, who, unable to afford tailoring, wore cheap, detachable collars, wished to pass time on a weary journey.

Four players were seated around the table. A man in a pinstriped suit leaned against the wall behind the player possessing the lowest piles of chips; an ideal position if one desired a fine view of the player’s hand. Ostensibly, he paid scant interest in the game. Instead, he whistled to himself for amusement. However, when hands were dealt, cards discarded, cards replaced, and bets made to and by the man seated before him, this man displayed the most pronounced effort in scratching his nose, coughing, rubbing his eyes, and winking.

“This is too painful to watch.”

“You already said that, Heyes,” Curry muttered.

“I’m gonna get a drink. Mebbe that’ll ease the pain.”

Heyes stood and walked past the game to the bar at the far end of the car. After a few minutes he walked back. The man standing was vigorously rubbing his nose. Heyes looked at him with amused contempt. The next events occurred quickly, as events generally do when one action causes a second action or reaction, as in a law of physics, or like dominoes falling in a row. The train lurched gently as it hit a curve in the track; Hannibal Heyes smiled, and clumsily spilt some of his drink on the losing player. Heyes righted himself and his drink, smiling again as he eyed it, possibly because a good three-quarters of the drink remained. Jed Curry rolled his eyes.

The now slightly-wet, under performing gambler squirmed in his seat.

“I sure am sorry about your suit, mister,” Heyes said loudly, as he removed a handkerchief and wiped the stranger’s shirtfront. He leaned his face close to the man and whispered in his ear, “You don’t want to play with these fellows. They’re using signals and cheating.”

“No harm done,” the man said to Heyes. “It’s off the rack anyway.” He smiled and stood. “Gentlemen, I think I shall cash out while I still have some of my funds remaining. I’ve enjoyed playing with you immensely.”

He took Heyes by the arm and walked with him towards the Kid. “How were they cheating me? What were they doing? You must tell me,” he uttered eagerly. He pulled back a chair and sat next to Curry.

“Fellow behind you was keepin’ an eye on your hand and signalin’ his friends.”

“My friend, Thaddeus Jones,” Heyes introduced the Kid by a wave of his hand. “My name is Joshua Smith.”

“I am Bertram Volstead of The New York Daily.” Volstead warmly shook the hands of his new-found friends in turn. He turned to Curry. “Was that what he was doing? I am no fool, but then I don’t play poker often, can’t afford a decent game in New York, I’m no Vanderbilt, so I am not up on the tricks of the trade. I owe you my deepest gratitude. You must allow me to return the favor sometime. It would have been embarrassing if I had lost my entire advance. I would have had to wire the boss for more, and to top it off, I would have been the laughingstock of the entire corps.”

“The corps?” Curry asked skeptically. “You don’t look like a military man.”

Volstead chuckled. “Good lord, no one could conceivably make that error. The corps I am a member of is the press corps. I am a member of that noble institution that brings forth the brilliant beacon of truth to shine across our nation. I am, most humbly, the chief investigative reporter of The Daily.”

“You’re a reporter from New York? What are ya doin’ out here?”

“I have been sent forth to ferret out the truth in what can only be described as the most sensational story of the century, one that has created a surge of feelings, a foment of strong opinions, and, hopefully, enough material to provide an excellent income for a number of weeks.”

Heyes and Curry exchanged puzzled smiles.

Heyes, apparently intrigued, asked, “Ah, and that would be?”

“Merely the murder of Hiram Billingsworth.”

“Who?” asked the Kid.

“You haven’t heard of Hiram Billingsworth? The copper magnate? He only owns, that is owned, some of the biggest mines this side of the Mississippi. He was found dead in his study, crumpled over, features displaying the fearful agony of his last moments, in a most interesting and artistic manner, no doubt. And why was he murdered, you ask? For greed, that most venal of the seven deadly sins. Not his avarice, mind you, no, I refer to the greed of the well-known, patent medicinal maker, Rufus Barrymore, creator of Barrymore’s Cure for the overindulgence of alcohol, morphine, and other terrible substances that lure and trap the unwary into a life of degradation, and slavery to their basest natures. Poor man, Billingsworth, murdered by that which he believed would save him from the perdition of inebriation, etc. etc. Well, that is how it shall read in The Daily, at any rate.”

“Wait, I read in the newspapers out here about Billingsworth’s death,” interjected Heyes. “Isn’t calling it murder a bit of an exaggeration? No one actually broke into his home and shot or stabbed him, and to say he was poisoned stretches the point a bit. I mean hundreds of folks have taken Barrymore’s Cure without any ill effects, much less dropping down dead, at least according to The Denver Tribune. The Tribune may not be the New York Daily, but its pretty reliable. Maybe Billingsworth died from apoplexy or something.”

“Nonsense! The Denver Tribune, really. My dear man, you cannot place any credence in an unsophisticated rag like that. No, the owner of The Daily is adamantly of the opinion that Billingsworth was poisoned. A man must be able take medicine with entire and complete confidence that his health will be improved, much less that he is in no danger, otherwise he is as good as poisoned. The Daily must articulate to the average man the dangers of patent medicinals, and rouse the people to take action. We must awaken the powers that be; force the government to regulate these greedy abusers of a credulous populace…”

The Kid cut in, “Don’t you think people can figure out for themselves if this cure is gonna do them any good or not?”

“Possibly, but what would be the advantage to that? Where would be the story for The Daily?” Volstead responded with a wink.

Heyes smiled wryly. “What I’m hearing is that the owner of The Daily knows Barrymore’s Cure is a big successful business, and that a prominent and rich man died while he was taking that cure, and that if the medicine is implicated it makes big news.”

“Mister Smith, I find that attitude highly cynical. I approve. Do you know I believe I may be in a position to return your favor to me sooner than I imagined. As the most prominent writer for The Daily, I find that actual legwork on a job cuts in to the time I require to consult with my muse over a piece and produce the goods my employer, Godfrey Fields, requires. The creation process is entirely absorbing and takes hours. Generally, I hire others to perform the more menial tasks for me such as verifying the facts of a story. Looking at the two of you, and the, er, condition of your clothing, I think you may be open to the position of on-the-ground reporting.”

Curry looked down at his threadbare pants. “What’s the matter with our clothes?” he asked indignantly.

Volstead ignored the remark, and continued his dissertation eagerly. “Here is what I know. I think you will find it intriguing. Billingsworth owned half the town he lived in. He had hundreds of employees, was a huge philanthropist, a supporter of the arts--why he brought opera to Colorado. You remember the American debut of Miranda Cointreau? That amazing contralto and prima donna. Billingsworth was behind her performance in Denver. What a coup that was! To have the foremost voice of Europe launch her American tour in Denver before New York—what an accomplishment.”
Volstead paused, and let his head droop sadly. “And, what is more, he leaves a grieving widow, who, I have on good faith, is young and beautiful.” He sighed. “And, she is known to be a gentle soul, a true philanthropist, devoted to charitable concerns.” He mused dreamily, “Imagine the number of lady readers The Daily can draw in.”

The Kid’s countenance rapidly evolved from semi-disgusted to one of high interest, and concentration after the last sentence, and he leaned towards Volstead.

Volstead shook himself back to the matter at hand, as he could hardly ignore the eager appearance on Curry’s well-formed features. “Mister Jones, I believe you would do wonderfully as the lady’s questioner. Yes, indeed, I think Mrs. Billingsworth would be inclined to open up to you, so to speak.” Volstead shifted in his chair and continued. “She is apparently most distraught at the death of her husband. Her intention is to spread the news far and wide of the dangers of Barrymore’s Cure to prevent any future harm from its affects. The Daily definitely requires a first-hand interview with her for its readership. In addition, she is supposedly considering suing Barrymore for the wrongful death of her husband. The Daily could make great use of the facts of a story like that.”

“Suing him?” Heyes asked sharply.

“That is the rumor,” he replied to Heyes abruptly and turned his attention back to the Kid. “Our job for The Daily, Mister Jones, is to gather as much evidence as possible to stir up the pot of public opinion in favor of Mrs. Billingsworth, which should not be difficult, attract the widest possible audience, and by doing so, convince the people that Billingsworth’s death was indeed, an insidious form of murder, and thereby influence the government to be favorable to the regulation of patent medicinals.”

“I thought your job was to ‘bring forth the brilliant beacon of truth that shines across the nation,’” Heyes pointed out. “Sounds to me like The New York Daily has already made up its mind what the truth is. Well, what’s my job in all this?”

“Ah, your job, Mister Smith, is to sniff out the ingredients of Barrymore’s Cure so its safe efficacy can be attested to.”

“Huh? I thought you were presenting the case against Barrymore’s Cure.”

“For The New York Daily, yes indeed I am. However, I am also a freelance writer, the star writer in fact, if I may state in all modesty, for The New York Herald. The Herald’s position is a dry one. It is a progressive paper, one that supports the suffragette movement, unions, and prohibition of alcoholic beverages. For The Herald the story will be that Barrymore’s Cure did not kill Billingsworth, demon rum was the culprit. Unfortunately, the Cure was applied too late. Mrs. Billingsworth, in her deep grief, has deceived herself as to the extent of her husband’s failings, as any loyal wife would, and is instead casting blame on an entirely innocent party, in this instance, Barrymore.” Volstead reached into his jacket pocket. “Here’s your Cure, Mister Smith.” He held out a small brown bottle.

Heyes took the bottle. “That’s all I have to do? Find out what this is made of?”

“Yes, but it isn’t that simple. Barrymore keeps the contents of the Cure an industrial secret. No one has access to the knowledge except a privileged few. They cannot be bribed, entirely loyal, as they should be, as he certainly pays enough. I know; I’ve already tried offering a substantial amount of money.” He grinned.

The Kid snorted slightly as Heyes turned the bottle over in his hand. “I’ll manage it,” he responded confidently.

“Excellent! When I laid eyes on you, I felt you were up to the task. However, I do have one more job for you, Smith.”

“And that would be?”

“I have the distinct impression you are a significantly better poker player than I am. He is, is he not?” he asked Curry.

“He’s about the best poker player this side of the Mississippi,” the Kid answered, loyally.

“Good. I might as well make the most of my visit west to increase my savings. I think I would like to make an investment in your skills, as it is obvious I won’t make a success out of my own. I’ll pay you a commission out of the winnings. Fair?”

“Fair.”

“Wonderful! I must say all this talk has made me thirsty. I think I will make a small excursion to the bar. Would you men care for drinks? Courtesy of The New York Herald, of course.”
***

The two friends were in their hotel room, surrounded by a plethora of newspapers. Heyes was seated in a chair, one paper on his knees, holding another in his hands. The Kid was lying on the bed, and his voice came from under the paper he was starting to doze beneath.

“I like this job. No hard labor, food and board, and we even get new suits.”

Heyes laughed. “Well, you could hardly interview the richest woman in town in rags, but I agree this is some job. The Daily and The Herald sure are generous. No wonder Volstead is happy to write whatever they want.” He scanned the paper, tossed it on the floor and picked up the one on his knees. “Looks like your Mrs. Billingsworth is highly admired around here for her charity and her interest in good causes. I have to admit she sounds like a real good lady. She even visits an ailing spinster, a Miss Lily Armagnac, weekly, to read psalms to her. You’ll enjoy that, if you get past the door, that is. For some reason I can’t picture her talking to you at all.”

“Funny, Heyes. I’ll manage. Ah’ll be the proper southern gentleman, that should do the trick.”

“You don’t mind if I come along, then? I could be your photographer. Volstead has a camera I can borrow.”

“Sure you can come, but whaddya know about takin’ pictures?”

“All I need to know. You stand the camera up and press the bulb.”

“You are not gonna get a picture doin’ that. You gotta know what you’re doin’.”

Heyes closed his eyes, and moaned. “Kid, I am not going with you to get real pictures. I want to meet this Mrs. Billingsworth and get some information for myself.”

“Well, you coulda said that to begin with. But I don’t see why you’d wanna do that. ‘Cause that’s not your job, is it? That’s my job.”

“Don’t worry. I don’t plan to make eyes at the lady. I just wanna get a feel for this whole case.”

“I wasn’t worryin’ about you makin’ eyes at her. When it comes to a woman choosin’ between you and me, there’s no question at all,” Curry said smugly. “So you can come along. But you leave the interviewin’, and Mrs. Billingsworth, to me.”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way, partner.” Heyes returned to the newspapers as the sound of snoring emanated from under the paper on Curry’s face.
***

“Mrs. Billingsworth does not wish to be disturbed.” The butler began to close the door to the Billingsworth house.

“Ah am sorry to hear that. Y’all see Ah’m representin’ The New York Daily. Ah’ve come all the way from New York to interview the lady of the house. Perhaps Ah could return later?”

“Walker, did the gentleman say interview?” an alto voice floated from the adjacent room, followed by a head peering around the corner with large eyes and fluttering eyelashes.

The remainder of the body completed the picture, and it must be said, it was an attractive one. Mrs. Billingsworth was in deepest mourning, in the latest fashion complete with a black ostrich feather in the hair, and a black lace handkerchief. Black set off her well-cinched figure, blonde hair, and almost child-like features. “Let the gentleman in, Walker.” She waved the silken object towards herself and her sitting room.

Mrs. Billingsworth sat in the parlor on a mahogany chair, and motioned for the men to seat themselves on the sofa. “You have come from the East? To interview me?” she asked breathlessly. “I can hardly imagine that my misfortune is known in the East.” She dabbed her eyes with the handkerchief. She turned to the Kid, and queried him in a delicate voice. “What paper are you from?” The eyes that gazed on Curry were wide and limpid.

The Kid’s jaw gaped open in a fish like manner as he stared at Mrs.Billingsworth. Heyes snickered, and the Kid recovered himself. “Ma’am, allow me to introduce mahself. Mah name is Thaddeus Jones and Ah’m from The New York Daily. Mah paper would like an exclusive interview with you, ma’am, iffn’ that would be no trouble to you, ma’am.” Belatedly he turned to Heyes and introduced him. “This heayh is mah photographer, Smith.”

“Your photographer! Oh, how exciting. No one has asked for my picture for the papers yet.”

“Why ma’am, as lovely as you are, Ah can’t imagine that. Smith, you get your camera all set up now and take the lady’s photograph for The Daily’s readers.”

Mrs. Billingsworth blushed, and then hid her face behind the bit of lace, sobbing appropriately.

Heyes began to fumble with the tripod and photographer’s plates, grimacing at the Kid.

“Mrs. Billingsworth, Ah should let you know that The Daily wishes to represent your best interests. The news of your tragedy and of your dear departed husband’s demise has just begun to be heard of, and people are shocked, shocked, if Ah may say so, ma’am.” The Kid dropped his head. “It touches theayh hearts, ma’am.

"And, ma’am, if theayh knew more of your story, from your own lips, ma’am, they would be in full support of you in your noble cause. And we would be spreadin’ the word, ma’am. Imagine the number of lives you would be protectin’ from similar harm.”

“Thank you, Mister Jones. I appreciate the sentiments,” she sniffed. “Oh, Mister Smith, not that side; let me turn my head. I have always been told my right side is my best.” She adjusted herself before Heyes pressed the bulb.

Picture completed appropriately, she stood and paced agitatedly. “Mister Jones, I do wish to see justice done for my husband and for any other innocents who have taken or may take Dr. Barrymore’s patent remedy. Although, you could hardly call it a remedy,” she sniffed again, “and that brute is certainly no doctor, I am certain of that!” She now fairly bristled with emotion, and broke down crying bitterly, again holding her handkerchief to her now drooping face.

“Now ma’am, you just tell me everythin’ that occurred as you remember it.”

She sat beside Curry on the sofa. “Oh yes, I must and I will. I will be brave.” She patted her face dry with the handkerchief. “I believe my misfortune is a sign that I have a cause to uphold, a banner to carry. You look as if you understand, Mister Jones. I cannot rest until I have told my story far and wide, to act as a, well to guide others.” She looked a bit befuddled as if she had lost her train of thought. “Oh Mister Jones, you will help me, will you not?”

“You tell me all about it, ma’am. Ah promise Ah will do justice to your story.”

Heyes positioned the camera again. Mrs. Billingsworth separated herself from the Kid, waited until he had pressed the bulb, repositioned herself even closer to Curry, and began.

“Poor Mister Billingsworth,” she said weepily, "he was everything a wife could ask for in a husband. He worked so very hard, and was an excellent provider. He took such care of me. As you see, I wanted for nothing in a material manner. But he was more that that to me. We were soul mates, each of us responding to the slightest nuance of emotion and thought of the other. Oh, how I do miss him.” She sighed.

“Pahlease continue, ma’am.”

“I think the stress of his work is what cause his untimely visit to the next world.”

“Mrs. Billingsworth, you don’t mean to say that his work caused his death.”

“Oh no, indeed! But his business cares weighed on him; they would on such a responsible man as he was, and he--he possibly drank more than he should. Not so that anyone but me knew, mind you, but I could see that he drank enough to cause himself grief. Only I knew that he felt the effects, and only I knew that he decided to take action. Since he wasn’t a drunkard, he merely required slight assistance, and, oh it was my fault, I mentioned the large advertisement for Barrymore’s Cure I had seen posted at the mercantile, complete with testimonials, pricing, and mailing address with full instructions on purchasing.” Again she broke down sobbing. She leaned ever so slightly towards the Kid.

“There, there, ma’am,” he said comfortingly. “You take your time, dry your eyes,” Heyes rolled his and raised his eyebrows, “and continue when you feel able.”

Mrs. Billingsworth spent several moments dabbing her eyes, and ended the performance with a delicate blowing of her nose, if, that is, blowing on one’s nose could ever be considered delicate. She shivered slightly, and continued her story.

“Mister Billingsworth sent for the Cure by mail order, cash on delivery, of course. He found its effects excellent, or so he said, and he came to rely on Dr. Barrymore’s elixir and instructions, completely, like a small child to his father’s instructions, with entire confidence. And I must say, the Cure seemed to do much good for him initially. It brought color back to his face, and a revived interest in life and his work. He appeared much less haggard. He took it daily as prescribed, and followed the daily regimen prescribed in the supplemental brochure that was contained in the package from the Barrymore Company, as cited in the advertisement.

“But then, that awful evening, he complained of feeling unwell after supper; later I found him in his study, seated in his chair, head back…the bottle of elixir was on his desk opened, with a spoon beside it…” Here she broke down again, so dreadfully, and at such an incline towards the Kid, that the former outlaw found himself comforting her with “now, nows,” and “deahr, deahrs.” Presently her head found its way onto his arm, snuggling downwards into the nook his elbow created. She exhaled a slight sigh, and the Kid stroked her gently with his free hand, looking down on her with a most concerned expression.

Heyes grunted at the sight. “Mrs. Billingsworth, perhaps you could escort Mister Jones to the study, and show him where you found your husband. I’d like to take some photographs of the house, if you don’t mind, and I’ll catch up with both of you in a few minutes.”

Seeing the two off to the study, the lady listing against the Kid, Heyes strode into the kitchen, lugging the camera and tripod with him.

“Hello.” He smiled pleasantly at the cook. She glanced back at this strange man suspiciously.

“I’m with The New York Daily. My name is Joshua Smith.”

“We’ve had enough paper men here, thank you,” the cook said shortly, and turned her attention to the pots and pans on her stove.

“You probably have. But you don’t mind if I say that smells wonderful, do you? I haven’t smelled such an excellent Sauce Béchamel, in years, not even at Delmonico’s.”

The cook wiped her hands on her apron and smiled. “That’s real kind of you, sir. There’s not many around here that could recognize what I was cooking, much less appreciate it.”

Heyes sighed. “I suppose a talent like yours is wasted in the West.”

“Here, you take a taste of this, sir, and tell me what you think.”

“Amazing! Pure ambrosia, Mrs.?”

“Bailey, Mister Smith.” She shook his hand. “No, I couldn’t say that my talents is wasted here. Mister Billingsworth was a fine man for the food, and he appreciated my cooking. The Mrs. has some idea of fine foods, too, though I can’t say it’s the same now the Mister is gone.” Some tears fell down her cheeks, and she wiped them with her apron.

“I’m sorry for your loss of such a good employer,” Heyes said sympathetically.

“Thank you. It was a shock, I can say. Oh, not that it should have been that much a surprise; we all knew he had a ‘faulty ticker,’ as he would say. Often enough he would say to me, ‘Bailey, I’m living on borrowed time.’ But when it actually happens, it is a shock, isn’t it?”

“Mister Billingsworth had a bad heart? We heard it was Barrymore’s Cure that killed him.”

“Oh, good gracious no, not in my opinion. If anything, the Cure made him feel better. Perked him up, and made him more comfortable he said.”

“How long had he taken it?”

“Well, let me think now. I’d say about three months. Just between you and me, he didn’t really need it for the drinking. Oh, he drank, but no more than a man of business like him would. He did it for Mrs. Billingsworth. She’s the one wanted him to take it. He’d do anything for her, he loved her so. He doted on her. And since it did make him more comfortable, he kept taking it. I suppose that it was a blessing that her way of taking care of him made her feel useful, and that his last days were a happy time for them both.”

“She blames the Cure, doesn’t she?”

“Yes, the poor dear lamb. You’re not married, are you? If you were, you would understand. She just can’t accept that he is gone.”

“She can’t?” asked Heyes somewhat dubiously, looking back towards the study.

After pretending to take a photograph of Mrs. Bailey, Heyes returned to the study where he found Mrs. Billingsworth and the Kid seated so close they appeared to be nearly glued together, occupied with staring into each other’s eyes. The Kid jumped up on hearing Heyes clear his throat.

“Edith, er, Mrs. Billingsworth has, er, shown me everythin’ Ah think we can see heayh, Smith.”

“That’s fine. I guess we had better be going, Mister Jones. You have a story to write, and a deadline to meet.” Heyes smiled at Mrs. Billingsworth.

She, in turn, ignored him and instead glanced tenderly at the Kid. “You will send me a copy; will you not, Mister Jones?”

“Yes, ma’am; and Ah think you will be pleased with it. With everythin’ you have been through, you deserve to have your story told, most favorably, ma’am, and Ah’ll see to it that…”

“Mister Jones, we really must be on our way.” Heyes shooed his partner out of the study and in the direction of the front door.

***

“She sure is a pretty lady, ain’t she? How long do you think we can make this job last, Heyes?”

“As to how long we can make it last, two—mebbe three weeks, I suppose. I sure would like to make a nice commission in poker before we move on. Along with what we’re getting paid, we would be pretty darn comfortable for awhile.

“But,” and here Heyes changed the subject, “the way you were acting, I’d think you really believed everything that Mrs. Billingsworth told you.” Heyes smirked, as he sat down and removed his boots. “I swear, a couple of pretty eyes, and you fall all over yourself. Lucky for you, you have me around to keep you out of trouble.”

“Very funny, Heyes. Edi-Mrs. Billingsworth’s has been through a lot. You shoulda heard what she told me when we were alone. So, yeah, I do believe her.”

“Hate to tell you, but Billingsworth had a bad heart. He was on Barrymore’s Cure for three months. It’s hardly likely the medicine killed him,” Heyes said dryly.

“Well, she believes it did. So she’s not intentionally tryin’ to do any harm to anyone.”

“No, not intentionally. So I guess that means you think it’s okay if she creates enough publicity that Barrymore is driven out of business, maybe ruined? And by the way, I checked, she’s started that lawsuit against Barrymore.”

“Well, I didn’t think of that, but Barrymore is a man, he can take care of himself. She’s a lady who's just been made a widow, and she’s all alone.”

“I wouldn’t say she’s all alone; she’s got you.” Heyes grinned. “And, she’s got lots of money to keep her company.”

“You really are a cynic like Volstead said. Edith is a fine lady, and I happen to be takin’ her on a picnic in a couple of days.”

“I’m impressed. You do work fast.”

“Well, she’s a nice lady, and she needs a rest from it all. That’s all. It’s not like I’m tryin’ to get close to her or anythin'.”

“Oh no, not you. I’m sure you and Edith will have a fine platonic time together.”

“Huh? Pla…”

“I mean you’ll be just like brother and sister, right?”

“As a matter of fact, that is right. I said Edith is a lady, and she is. For your information, after the picnic she is goin’ over to that Miss Armagnac’s house. The two of them spend every weekend together, prayin’ and such.”

“That is a relief. Since praying isn’t exactly your favorite pastime, I don’t have to worry about you and Edith getting too close.”
***

Heyes and the Kid squinted at the morning sun and came to a stop in front of the local druggist. A large sign over the entry to the shop read in bright red paint: “Veleno” and under that in smaller letters: “Doctor of Medicines,” and beneath that in even smaller letters: “Medications Compounded Here.” Inside, a thin, gangly man stood behind the counter that bisected the room from one wall to another. Behind him were shelves filled with jars and bottles, and on the counter before him, packages wrapped in brown paper that he was untying, and that apparently contained supplies he was sorting through to stock his shelves.

Heyes hemmed, and the chemist looked up from his work.

“May I assist you?”

“What do you make of this?” Heyes held out the bottle of Barrymore’s Cure.

“Ah, Dr. Barrymore’s patent medicine. It is considered an effectual remedy for inebriation. Safe, and relatively effectual, that is. Although, sometimes the belief that a medicine cures an ailment often helps more than the medicine itself. My understanding is that it is not one-hundred percent effective. Is there anything in particular you would wish to know about it?”

“You don’t keep any in stock?” questioned Heyes as he scanned the shelves.

“No. Barrymore’s is something of a trade secret, you see. And it is pricey. I only order it on request.”

“Do you know what’s in it?”

Veleno frowned as he studied the bottle. “I’ve never been asked that before. No, I don’t. Like I said, it is a trade secret, heavily guarded.”

“But—you could figure out what’s in it, couldn’t you?”

“I could analyze it, but why bother, either it works or it doesn’t. If I spent my time analyzing patent cures, I wouldn’t have time to run my business.” He put the bottle down on the counter.

“What if you were paid to analyze it?”

“That is a different story.” Veleno picked up the bottle with one hand, and rubbed his chin with the other. He held the bottle up to the light, and eyeballed it. “I could attempt that. You must know though, that it is not so easy to breakdown a medicine as it is to compound one.”

“But you could do it?”

“I could get close. But it would take some time. Perhaps a week.”

“Only a week?” Heyes asked in a disappointed voice.

“Couldn’t you make it two weeks, maybe three?” requested the Kid.

“You want me to take longer?”

“Ah, yes, what my friend is saying is we want you to do this carefully. We want you to take as much time as you need.”

Veleno shrugged. “Two weeks, then.”

Curry stared coolly at Veleno. “I think you need three weeks.”

Veleno looked at the man across the counter from him. He swallowed. “I believe you are correct. I need three weeks.”

***

Heyes and Volstead were in Volstead’s room. Volstead was seated behind a correspondence desk busily writing. Heyes sat, reading, periodically glancing up to observe the ‘star’ reporter.

Volstead stopped, and rubbed his writing hand. “I knew your friend would be perfect for an interview with the lady. Good story here, too. I can write it up with a considerable degree of sympathy but without being too maudlin.”

“It doesn’t bother you that Billingsworth probably died from heart trouble, not Barrymore’s Cure?”

“I am not being paid for heart trouble by The Daily, Smith. And honestly, I cannot say it bothers me one whit. Even if Barrymore’s Cure is safe, it’s got to be a phony. Tell me. Does it bother you that he is making money hand over fist from a patent medicine that probably does no good at all?”

“We don’t know if that is true. I don’t have that analysis yet.” Heyes paused as if in thought for a few moments, and then answered Volstead’s question with good humor. “I can’t say that it bothers me that Barrymore makes his money that way. Pretty clever, if you ask me. I admire a man who is clever about making money. And anyway, he isn’t hurting anyone, is he?”

“It doesn’t bother you that he is essentially stealing from others?”

At this interesting moment, the Kid’s timely appearance changed the subject, and saved Heyes from responding.

“How was your picnic?”

“Great, Edi-Mrs. Billingsworth sure has a good cook. I gotta say that was one good meal.”

“Were the two of you alone?” asked Volstead.

“Nope, her maid and butler were there. Why?”

“That’s too bad. She might have opened up more to you if you were alone with her. Given you more details. Could have improved the story.”

Heyes spoke up. “Could have been the other way around. You could have opened up to her.” He frowned. “Probably better no one opened up to anyone.”

“What do you mean by that?” Volstead laughed.

Heyes had returned to Volstead’s writings he held and seemed preoccupied in reading them. “Oh, nothing, just being funny, I…” Heyes stopped short. “You fellows don’t mind if I leave you, do you? I have some business to attend to.”

“Wait there, what about your nightly poker game? You have been doing so well. I should miss that extra income if you don’t return in time for it,” protested Volstead.

“My friend here is almost as good as me. He’ll play for you tonight. Gotta go.”

After Heyes left, Volstead looked at Curry. “What was that about?”

“I have no idea. He gets that way sometimes. I guess I didn’t warn you. He can be a little weird. Of course, he’s a genius, least he says he is. I guess a genius can be like that.”

Volstead stared at the Kid. “There’s something about him…about you…I feel like I should have heard about you two. You seem to be, well, exceptional, one could say. I feel like there is a story in you two somewhere.”

“Who us? Nah, there’s lots of fellas in the west like us. You’ll find ‘em everywhere.”

“Is that a fact?”
***

The two former outlaw friends walked side by side towards the pharmacy.

“Heyes, you’ve been sendin’ a lot of telegrams these past few weeks. What’s all that about?”

“I guess I’m taking my job seriously. I’m doing some research.”

“On what? What do you expect to find out?”

“That’s just it. I don’t expect to find out anything for certain. That’s why I’m asking questions and researching things. I think that’s actually the way the job is supposed to be done.”

“Huh? What job?”

“News. You research first, find out the facts, and then make a conclusion. Hasn’t it ever struck you that Bertram Volstead is going about it backwards?”

“It’s his business. I figure he knows what he is doin’. Anyway, he was right about Edith. She is as wonderful as he figured she was. She’s a genuinely good lady.”

“How long have you known her? Two weeks? What do you actually know about her?”

“I know enough. She loved her husband and is all broken up about him. She’s wrong about the medicine I suppose, but she don’t mean no harm.”

“Really?” Heyes asked innocently. “For someone who is all broken up about her husband, she sure seems to have fallen for you awfully fast from the way you talk.”

“She’s young,” the Kid answered defensively. “You can’t expect someone her age to mourn forever. She says she really likes havin’ me around. That don’t mean she’s fast. She just needs a man around to rely on. She’s all alone. You know what? I think you’re jealous.”

“Me? Never. You’re my friend. If you two were to get together I’d be the first to congratulate you. And, I guess that if she’s falling for you the way you’re falling for her, she’s as good a judge of character as you are. So I suppose you two are made for each other.”

The Kid looked at Heyes suspiciously. “Do you really mean that?”

“Absolutely. By the way, have you told her you’re a wanted outlaw with a $10,000 bounty on your head yet?”

The Kid glared at Heyes. They reached the druggist shop and Heyes held the door open for Curry.

“Good morning, gentlemen.”

“Mornin’,” greeted Curry.

Heyes asked the druggist, “Well, what do you have for us?”

“What do I have for you? Mostly water, but that is not surprising. 20% alcohol, but that is not surprising either. If you read the label, alcohol is the only ingredient the company deigned to list.”

“What else?”

“Nothing dramatic. It has some glycerin, some willow bark, ginger, hops, coca, maybe aloes, I think some atropine, perhaps a little strychnia, apomorphine…mmm I think that is all.”

“What would all that do?”

“The alcohol and the coca and apomorphine; they would make you feel good, comfortable. Small doses of atropine, strychnia, um, they are good for the heart. They help the heart beat correctly. The willow bark, that is good for fevers. The rest would smell like medicine, add taste, glycerin would make it smooth to swallow.”

“Anything dangerous?”

“In these amounts, no. Would this cure an inebriate? If he believed it would cure him, possibly. Otherwise, not a bad little drink.”

“Thanks. How much do we owe you?”

“More than I expected. I had to send it to a friend of mine with a better laboratory.”

“Guess you’d better settle up, partner. Then we can give Volstead the news.” Curry frowned to himself. “Guess it’s good news for The Herald, bad for The Daily.”

“Actually, Thaddeus, after we talk with Volstead, he may just agree it is good news for both papers.”
***

Heyes tossed the little bottle down to Volstead, who was propped on two pillows, reading in bed.

“It’s safe, Bertram.”

“I was afraid you’d say that as far as The Daily is concerned. Good news for The Herald, though. However, I believe I am prepared for that information as regards both papers. Even if it is safe, I imagine it would not cure a drunk?”

“Probably not, nope. The druggist says it might if you believed it worked.” The Kid walked to the window and gazed out at the street below.

“Then the conclusion for The Daily will have to be that it killed by not being effective, with a slight indication that it may be dangerous, to titillate the readers. By the time someone else has the stuff analyzed it will be old news and The Daily will be well out of it and safe.”

“And Barrymore would possibly be ruined. He won’t be safe.” Heyes looked at the Kid.

“Barrymore is an entrepreneur. It is a risk he takes.”

Heyes pulled a chair beside the bed, and leaned towards Volstead with a Cheshire cat grin. “There’s something I forgot to tell you the other day.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“Billingsworth wasn’t an inebriate. His cook can verify that, and even Mrs. Billingsworth said he really didn’t drink that much.”

“What are you getting at?”

“Simply this. Billingsworth didn’t die from the Cure and he didn’t die from drink. He had a bad heart. Bailey, the cook, told me that, and his doctor verified it. It was only a matter of time with him, and he knew it.”

“You spoke to his doctor?”

“Certainly. Isn’t that what I am supposed to do? Ferret out the facts for you?”

“Some facts are better left ‘unferretted’,” Volstead said glumly. “You realize that if this came out I wouldn’t have any story at all?”

“But you would have the truth.” The Kid pointed out that uncomfortable fact.

Volstead turned on him. “What good would that do me? That is not going to sell any papers!”

“Now, don’t jump to any conclusions. I mean, don’t jump to any more conclusions, Volstead. I like you. I wouldn’t leave you without a story.” Heyes started removing his gloves one finger at a time.

“But there’s no murder!”

“Nope, no murder.”

“And no death from alcohol!”

“Nope, none of that either.”

“Then what could you possibly have for me?”

“There’s always crime,” Heyes stated plainly, “and scandal.”

“Crime? What crime?”

“Well, I suppose if anyone could recognize crime, it would be you, partner,” the Kid interjected.

Heyes wrinkled his brow, as Curry shrugged. Bertram Volstead had risen from the bed and was agitatedly pacing the room. Oblivious to the Kid’s comment, he repeated, “What crime? Even better, what scandal? That would do; the readers love a good scandal.”

Heyes, now glove-less, reached into his jacket pocket and produced a small number of telegrams. “Ah, here is the one I want. Did you know that Doctor Barrymore’s sales manager is a man named Albert Armagnac?”

Immediately, the Kid looked puzzled. “Armagnac? I’ve heard that name before but I don’t remember where.”

“Like most sales managers, he’s a busy man. Travels a lot.”

Curry meandered back towards the window muttering the name Armagnac repeatedly, as if saying it over and over again would reveal to him where he had heard it before.

“What’s that have to do with anything at all?” Volstead sounded exasperated.

Heyes grinned even more widely, if that was possible. “Research, Bertram, research. I’ve researched his train travels. Since they are for sales and he is reimbursed for the expense, the company kept a record of them. Like the papers do for you when you travel.”

“So? What does that mean? What good will that do?”

“It means we have some business tonight. Unfortunately, it's not poker. But the payoff should be even better.”
***

The three men hid behind some bushes beside a gate. The gate opened onto a drive leading to a rather grand house. This provided them with cover, and with a superb view of the comings and goings of the house, which was brilliantly lit against the murky dark.

Volstead took his watch out of his pocket and held it up, trying to get the light from a lantern on the gate to reflect on it. “I believe we’ve been here three hours, and nothing has happened.”

“Patience, Bertram. In my line of work I’ve learned that patience is a virtue.”

“Your line of work, Smith? You know, when this is all done I’d like to interview the two of you. I told Jones I smell a story in you.”

Heyes laughed. “If you smell a story in us, you need to have your nose checked. No, we’re just two ordinary, honest, fellows.”

“How come you’re moving about? How come you looked broke when I met you? You two seem capable enough. Something here doesn’t make sense.”

“You startin’ that interview now, Volstead?” growled Curry. “’Cause we’re supposed to be busy with your other stories. And if you’re wonderin’ why we looked so poorly, maybe you heard about the Depression? ‘Cause we ain’t the only ones travelin’ around lookin’ for work nowadays.”

“Shh,” warned Heyes. He motioned for his two companions to redirect their attention to the house. The lights upstairs were dimmed. The Kid shifted his body. The entry door opened, and a man and a woman walked out into the drive. They stood under the moonlight and kissed passionately.

“Nice show,” Volstead muttered, “but is it ever going to end?”

The two lovers eventually disengaged from each other's arms and walked slowly, hand-in-hand, towards the gate.

“Albert, you do not have to walk back to town. I can have Joseph ready the carriage and drive you to the hotel.”

Curry’s head popped up and Heyes pushed it back down. “That’s,” began the Kid only to have his mouth smothered with Volstead’s hand.

“That will not be necessary, my dearest. It’s a lovely night, and walking back will allow me to think of you without disturbance from others.”

Volstead whistled under his breath.

“That’s odd.” The lady stopped.

“What is odd, darling?” Albert turned to her and held both her hands.

“I thought I heard something.”

“I heard nothing. I swear you have the loveliest imagination conceivable. You aren’t worried, are you?”

She laughed. “Worried? Oh my dear, no. Everything is going beautifully. I suppose I am affected by all this secrecy. But soon we can be together in public. That will be wonderful.” She threw her arms around the man and kissed him repeatedly.

Now it was his turn to chuckle. “Not too soon. We have to wait the proper period of time. I wouldn’t have your lovely name sullied.”

They continued towards the gate and Albert opened it.

Heyes stood up. “Howdy, Mrs. Billingsworth. Mister Armagnac, I believe?”

Curry and Bertram Volstead joined Heyes.

“What are you doing here? You are trespassing. I’ll call the law on you.”

“Now Armagnac, you can’t say we’re tresspassin’. We’re not on your side of the gate,” the Kid said in a reasonable but steady tone.

“You? What are you doing here?” the lady asked irately.

“I think my friend could ask you the same thing, Mrs. Billingsworth. I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we all go in the house, join Miss Armagnac, and talk this all over.” Heyes smiled infuriatingly.

“I don’t have any intention of inviting you into my sister’s home. So why don’t you leave?”

“Well, we could do that, I suppose. We could pay a visit to the sheriff, instead.”
***

They walked into the home of Miss Lily Armagnac, and, after introductions to the lady, were seated before the fireplace in her parlor.

“So let me get this straight,” said Volstead. “Lily Armagnac is the sister of Albert Armagnac, the head of sales for Barrymore and his Cure.”

“Precisely,” answered Heyes. “He and Edith, here,” Edith Barrymore glared at him, “met when he made sales trips here. He stayed with Miss Lily and she introduced them. I suppose you and Edith had been friends for some time.”

“Yes,” responded the spinster, “Edith has been my friend ever since I moved here, and she came for tea and a good gossip frequently. I find it amusing that people thought she was visiting me out of sympathy and that we read prayers together. Good lord, I can hardly imagine anything duller than that. It was only natural that she and Albert meet at some point. Although I honestly did not predict they would fall in love. But they did, and I allowed them to meet here.”

“You sure ain’t the religious spinster they all talk about in town. You think it’s only natural that they fell in love, and she cheated on her husband?”

Edith turned on the Kid with her most superior manner. “I think it more natural than your accent. What did become of that? Did you forget it, and leave it behind, Mister Jones? And you are certainly one to talk. You did not disapprove of me flirting, as long as it was with you, if I recall.”

Heyes snorted before the Kid could respond.

“So Albert and Edith had an interest in Billingsworth’s death. The love angle. What a story this is going to produce!” Volstead rubbed his hands in delight. “In addition, I imagine Albert here was getting tired of playing second fiddle to his boss and was getting eager to start out with his own Cure-all business. Did you need funding? Is that why the two of you murdered Billingsworth and blamed Barrymore?”

“What! How dare you insult me and Edith?! How dare you accuse us of murder?!”

“Calm down. No one is accusing you and ‘the lady’ of murder. Bertram, I warned you about jumping to conclusions.”

“Well, if it isn’t murder, Smith, what is it? You did promise me a crime in addition to a scandal.”

“If you think you are going to drag our names through the press…” Armagnac was in a fury.

“Count yourself lucky, Albert. At least with me here you aren’t going to be railroaded for Billingsworth’s death. You could get hanged for that, even if the papers did have it wrong.” Heyes looked extraordinarily self-satisfied. He continued to explain, “Edith and Albert didn’t murder Billingsworth. Billingsworth was a dying man; it was a matter of time. All they had to do was wait it out. And they’re not entirely evil, you know, I think Edith here was actually fond of her husband, in a way.”

“Of course I was fond of Hiram. And I did love him, until I met Albert. Then, I fell out of love with Hiram, but I would never have murdered him,” she replied, almost nonchalantly.

Heyes continued, “But you weren’t above using his death. After he died, you decided to stir up public opinion. You and Albert wanted to ruin Barrymore to remove the competition. I don’t think the two of you had planned any of that in advance. The opportunity came up and you took it.

My guess is the only criminal thing either of you had done before that, was when Albert stole Barrymore’s formula. He’s even sold a few bottles of it already under his own name; he’s registered a company, but it isn’t producing yet. Not enough money to build a laboratory. So it was just a matter of changing the label. I know,” Heyes grinned. “I bought one. I bet the two you were planning to use some of Billingsworth’s money to fund Albert’s new business. Planning to tell him you were giving large sums to charities, am I right?”

“That’s the crime, Smith? I’m disappointed. That isn’t much for me to work with,” lamented Volstead.

“Oh, there’s more than that to the story. You really gotta learn to do your research. Billingsworth was broke.”

“What!”

“He’d overspent for years. Like that big coup of his with the lady singer. Cost him a huge amount to get her to come to Denver. Anyway, I figure Edith found out after he was dead that there wasn’t going to be much in the will, so now she had to sue Barrymore for wrongful death to get the money to fund Albert. Last I heard, deliberate slander and libel were crimes, and in a case like this, accusing someone of wrongful death when you knew it wasn’t, well, that sure isn’t going to look good.”

“You can’t prove that. For all we knew, that Cure had killed him. Edith was justified in suing Barrymore.”

“Albert, that hurt. Please, next time try to use your brain and think logically. The patent medicine you sell under your name is the same as Barrymore’s. Are you actually going to claim it killed someone?”

“You don’t know that. You can’t prove my medicine is the same as Barrymore’s. No one knows what is in them.”

“Uh, we do. We had Barrymore’s analyzed,” Curry said

“And I had Albert’s analyzed.”

“You did, partner?” The Kid smiled at his friend.

“Yep, had a bottle sent directly to Veleno’s pharmacist friend. They’re the same stuff. No question about that. And remember, since Albert here doesn’t have a laboratory yet, he could only have produced medicine to sell by using someone else’s under his name. The conclusion is that the only way he could be selling the same medicine as Barrymore would be by stealing it from his boss.”

“Are you going to tell the local sheriff that?” asked Mrs. Billingsworth disdainfully. “I hardly think a sheriff will arrest us for that, even if they do understand what you are talking about, Mister Smith.”

“There is no need to go to the law, Mrs. Billingsworth.” Volstead stood and oozed with his own importance. “I work for the two most prominent papers in the United States, The New York Daily News and The New York Herald. I can promise you, Mrs. Billingsworth, and you, Armagnac, more publicity than you can possibly dream of. Unfortunately, it will all be negative. I defer to those whose profession is the law, the decision to take any further action. But, I can assure you, there is a worse punishment than going to jail.”
***

“Let’s finish packing and get going, partner. We don’t wanna be late for the train.”

“I’m about ready, Heyes. Too bad we gotta leave so quick. I like it here.”

“Me too, but, I think we can agree it’s better if we leave while Volstead is still busy writing his big story. He’s been sniffing about us with that nose for news of his. That’s too close for comfort for me.”

“I suppose so. But he is wrong, you know.”

“About us?”

“Nope.” The Kid smiled. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s wrong about there being a worse punishment than goin’ to jail.”

The two men picked up their saddlebags, and strode rapidly out the door.


Last edited by CD Roberts on Sun 13 Oct 2013, 9:50 pm; edited 1 time in total
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