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 There's a Little Bad in Everyone by Calico

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royannahuggins
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Join date : 2013-10-13

20131026
PostThere's a Little Bad in Everyone by Calico

Starring Pete Duel and Ben Murphy




Seth Jenkins     Will Geer



Hannah Jenkins     Ellen Corby


George Bowen     John Fielder


Dr. Bergman     Dustin Hoffman


Sheriff Bill Fraser     Gene Hackman


Walter Lewis     F. Murray Abraham


George Bocastle     Adrien Brody


Manuel     Ignacio Serricchio


Theresa     Selma Hayak

Special Guest Star     Dame Edith Evans
as

Mrs. Stottlemeyer





A HOTEL ROOM – COSIER AND CLEANER THAN THE BOYS ARE USED TO.
THUNDER AND LIGHTENING – RAIN LASHES AGAINST THE WINDOW
YUP! “IT’S A DARK ‘’N’ STORMY NIGHT” OR AT ANY RATE – A DARK AND STORMY EVENING

“Kid – you’ve spent all day grumbling about being wet and cold. Now there’s a warm dry bed in front of you – and you get all proddy when I suggest you turn in.”

“Quit fussin’. It’s like havin’ an old woman cluckin’ round.”

Kid Curry was interrupted by a knock at the door. The ex-outlaws threw it a cautious glance. Heyes unfastened his holster before turning the key and opening the door just a crack to check out their visitor.
Mrs. Jenkins bustled past him. A red flannel bundle was clutched under her left arm. Setting down a brimming, steaming glass, she glanced sympathetically at the Kid. He rose to his feet at her entrance, but he moved as if every joint ached and kept one hand on the bedpost.

“I’ve come to cluck round, an’ do some fussin’.” She gave a motherly smile. “An’ since I AM an old woman an’ have brought up boys of my own, I won’t be takin’ the back chat you give your partner. That clear?”

“Yes ma'am,” said the Kid, then “I mean – it’s very kind, but no need to trouble. There isn’t nothin’ wrong with me – just him,” he nodded toward Heyes “…Always frettin’ over nothin’.”

“I’m not fretting,” shot back Heyes, “…Just don’t see why I have to listen to you snuffling all evening. I’d rather leave you up here.” Scanning his partner’s flushed face, he turned to Mrs. Jenkins. In a low voice he said. “The thing is, ma’am – he was laid up real bad last winter. Started with a cough and a fever, then he keeled over. He was out cold for nearly four days.”

She nodded, and placing a hand on the Kid’s shoulder, pressed him gently back down to sit on his bed. Her hand moved first to his forehead for a long moment, then she reached down and rested her fingers on his wrist to gauge his pulse.

Mrs. Jenkins smiled reassuringly at Heyes. “I don’t think there’s anythin’ a good nights’ sleep or two won’t cure. Mind, Doc Bergman’ll be in later if you’re real worried.”

Curry began to protest again, but she interrupted him, firmly. “There’s a hot water bottle wrapped in flannel for your bed. That there,“ indicating the glass, “is a shot of our best whiskey, in hot water, with honey and juice from one of the last lemons in my stockroom. So don’t waste it!”

“No ma'am.”

“Now get into bed. If I have to come back up here and make you – I’ll want to know the reason why. Is that clear?”

Kid Curry looked from her kindly face, to the crisp white pillow next to him. Since he’d wanted nothing more than to sink into it for the last half hour, he decided to abandon contrariness. “Yes ma'am. Real clear.”

As they left the room, Mrs. Jenkins was chatting on to Heyes. “Sorry he had to walk up the two flights of stairs, Mister Smith, but you did ask for a room with a view of the main street.”

“Just an old superstition, ma'am. And the extra climb’ll do me good, huh?”

“You see room number three, the one with the best view of the street on the first floor, was already taken…”


---oooOOOooo---


Heyes walked down to the bar of the hotel. He’d left his partner asleep and hoped for a little distraction; conversation, cards, or both. Seth Jenkins was behind the bar. A solitary guest looked up sharply at Heyes’ entrance, but then returned to the book he was reading.

“Whiskey or beer?” enquired Seth.

“I’ll start with a beer,” smiled Heyes. “Kinda quiet, huh?”

“Don’t think anyone’ll come in from the ranches in this,” replied the hotel owner, nodding at the window against which rain still hammered furiously. “’Course the townsfolk…” Seth broke off, as his wife’s voice called from the back. Setting down Heyes’ beer, with a “’Scuse me”, he hurried out.

Heyes sighed, then brightened, as his silent companion closed his book with a snap and a satisfied, “Mmmph!”

“Good read?” asked Heyes.

The man, a short, slight, nondescript fellow, maybe mid- thirties, thinning on top, looked round. Affably, he responded, “Certainly was. Perhaps not the best thing to read on a night like this – not if I want to sleep later.” He turned the volume and pushed it toward Heyes to show the title.

“Tales of the Imagination and…” read Heyes. Then with recognition, “Poe!”

“You like him, huh?”

“What I’ve read, sure.”

“Borrow it if you like. Long as you drop it back before I ride out tomorrow. Room number three.” A nod at the appalling weather outside, “IF I can ride out tomorrow that is!”

Heyes slipped the book into his jacket pocket. “Thanks.” “His expression asked the unspoken question.

“Bowen, George Bowen.”

“Joshua Smith.”

Bowen sipped his whiskey, then in a tone suggesting polite small talk, “just passing through?”

“Yup. Would have passed through without stopping if not for the storm.”

“Same here.” Bowen turned his head and watched the storm lash against the dark windows –then looked round the snug, welcoming room. “Still, can’t complain. The Jenkins are running a nice place here.”
Heyes nodded.

A female figure emerged from the kitchen. Not Mrs. Jenkins. This girl was, Heyes observed, a good thirty years younger, evidently Mexican and, the ex-outlaw straightened up in his seat and pushed back a straying lock of dark hair, utterly gorgeous.

“I think the place just got even better,” muttered Heyes, half under his breath.

Bowen nodded. The beginning of a middle-aged paunch was sucked in.

“Otra ronda de cerveza – beer -- senors? Or wheesky? Senor?” Theresa asked Heyes, blushing adorably at speaking to a stranger.

“Served with a smile that pretty, it won’t be beer – it’ll be nectar. The very ambrosia of the gods, Senorita,” silver- tongued Heyes, in his best deep velvety voice and full on dimpled charm.

Confusion in the lushly fringed dark eyes. Clearly, Heyes had wasted a line there.

“No comprende, senor. I speak leetle inglese.” A girlish giggle. “Pero soy Senora.” A hand displaying a wedding band was held out.

Two sets of male shoulders drooped slightly. Bowen gave up on the paunch sucking.

“Ah!” Heyes gave a mock rueful smile. “In that case, the beer will be a solace to my lonely and aching heart.”

Another furrow of puzzlement on the youthful brow.

“I will take a beer, please, Senora,” said Heyes. “AND, I will use it to toast your husband – who must be one of the luckiest men in the world.”

An earnest nod, although Heyes suspected only the ‘beer please, Senora’ had survived translation.

“Y tu,” Theresa turned to George Bowen, “Senor?”

The other hotel guest replied in fluent Spanish. Delighted smiles from Theresa. Fluent Spanish in return. Heyes watched the short, balding man get a far better response from the pretty girl than HE had managed. Since she was neither blushing, nor drawing backBowen was not saying anything flirtatious. All the same, Heyes decided he should take a leaf out of Harry Briscoe’s book and start learning a second language.

After another burst of Latin loquaciousness on both sides, Theresa served their drinks and disappeared.

“Sounds like you speak Spanish pretty well,” remarked Heyes.

“No real credit to me,” demurred Bowen. “My Ma passed on before I was three.” Sympathetic murmur from Heyes. “I was raised by a Spanish- speaking housekeeper. Grew up speaking Spanish as well as English.”

Seth came back into the bar. “The boss says, if you want supper there’s steak and hashed potatoes, or she can whip up some ham ‘n’ eggs.” He paused. “Or any combination,” he finished with a smile.

“Steak would be fine,” said Bowen.

“Same here. Thanks,” chimed in Heyes.

Seth’s head craned round the open door to shout through the order. Then, he made himself comfortable leaning on the bar. “I was sayin’, the townsfolk’ll probably still make it through the rain. It’s Wednesday, always quiet, a group of us have a regular Wednesday poker game. You’re welcome to join. ”

Heyes’ cheeks dimpled in acceptance. A smiling nod from Bowen. “Only friendly,” warned Seth. “We keep the stakes real low on purpose to KEEP it friendly.” A grin. “Well, to keep it friendly AND ‘cos none of us have enough cash to make it UNfriendly even if we wanted to!”

Heyes’ dimples did not waver at hearing the pot was unlikely to be of interest. It sounded like he was getting cards and a little conversation for the evening. Asking for more would be, kind of greedy, huh?
The sound of the storm suddenly whirled around the three men, as the door opened and was heaved shut again. The newcomer straining to push back the heavy wood against the force of the wind. A short figure shook itself, putting Heyes somewhat in mind of a terrier dog emerging from a river.

“Our first regular cardsharp!” grinned Seth. “Come on in, Doc! There’s a patient for you upstairs, though – before you get any of Hannah’s steak an’ hash…”


---oooOOOooo---


“What do you think, Doc?” asked Mrs. Jenkins, hovering outside the partners’ room.

“What do you think, Doc?” chimed Heyes, in unison. He was hovering right next to her, competing hard in the ‘who does the best impersonation of a mother hen’ stakes.

Doctor Bergman looked from the anxious brown eyes, to the motherly grey ones.

“I think Mister Smith won’t get much sleep listening to all that snoring,” he smiled. “Seriously, I’ve listened to his chest, gauged his temperature, felt his pulse, but, it’s my considered opinion that medical expertise is rarely more use than sleep – so – I’m not going to wake him up to examine him properly. I’ll pop back in the morning. I doubt it’s much more than a feverish cold. Though, Mister Smith’s right, the bad spell last year will make him susceptible to it settling in his lungs. I prescribe: twelve solid hours in bed, a cosy seat by the fire when he wakes up, plenty of hot drinks, taking it very easy for a while, staying out of this rain and one of your wonderful breakfasts, Hannah. No. No. Make that TWO of your wonderful breakfasts – always feed a cold!”

Heyes relaxed. Much of his anxiety had been assuaged once his partner had fallen – noisily – asleep in a clean, warm bed. Most of the rest was soothed by the doctor’s common sense prescription.

The doctor turned to Hannah Jenkins. “Any news from ‘Frisco?”

“Yes!” A smile wreathed the kindly face. “I’m a grandmother! Of a little girl, eight pounds five ounces, mother and baby doing well.” She glanced at Heyes. “My daughter,” she explained. “She and her husband moved away – for him to find work. Seth and I would love to visit,but…” A resigned shrug. “Not for a few years yet,” she finished, her eyes looking suspiciously bright.

“Money may not buy happiness,” sighed the Doctor. “But, it sure does help with train tickets.”


---oooOOOooo---


LATER THE SAME EVENING

“So, Mister Smith,” grunted a lean-faced man, graying at the temples, “just you against me.” An eyebrow rose. “In my trade, you get to learn when a man’s got somethin’ to hide. I think – you’re bluffin’!”
Heyes’ gaze wandered, involuntarily, to the star-shaped badge on the man’s chest. The smile on the dimpled face became – glassy. The brown eyes strayed to the not-very-exciting ‘friendly’ pot. Then, to the aces over queens full house in his hand.
“I fold,” decided Heyes.

Satisfaction creased the cheeks of Sheriff Bill Fraser, as he pulled the scanty winnings toward himself.

“Mister Smith,” reproved Walter Lewis, “Fancy fallin’ for Bill’s ‘you’re bluffin’ eyebrow’ trick! Even I know better ’n that! And in MY trade, the folk I meet never have nothin’ to hide!”

Heyes looked at the funereal black, declaring Walter to be the ‘undertaker’. “Guess not,” he said, affably enough. “Still,” the hint of a grin, “we can’t all be good at poker, huh?”

“Walter here runs the mercantile as well as the other trade,” George Boscastle, the town’s schoolteacher, put in. “I guess there’s not enough business in the gloomy trade in this town, huh?”

Walter twinkled, with a dry sense of humour, at Doctor Bergman. “I blame the Doc, here. Some folks have no consideration at all. Friday will be the first funeral in near on two months.”

“Oh, Mrs. Stottlemeyer,” nodded Seth Jenkins. All the locals bowed their heads for a second.

“Rest in peace,” said young Manuel, the lad who had stabled the partners’ horses in the livery earlier that day.

And, incidentally, the lovely Theresa’s husband. Turning to Heyes and the other visitor, George Bowen, he added, “She was real nice lady.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Heyes. “That she’s passed on I mean. Not that she was a nice lady.”

“Eighty-nine,” put in Doctor Bergman, with just a shade of defensiveness. “And, it was real quick at the end.
She was still tending her own vegetable garden last week. I don’t mean it’s not SAD – but,” he searched.

“To everything there is a season?” suggested George Bowen. This went down well with the townsfolk.

Approving nods. “My deal, I think?” Bowen’s hands, Heyes noted, shuffled the deck with practiced ease. He suspected this visitor, too, was used to richer games.

“So, Mister Smith,” grunted the Sheriff, “Where were you headed before the storm caught you?”

The usual wariness at being asked ANYTHING by a lawman flickered across Heyes’ face. However, the question seemed prompted by nothing other than a wish to make civil conversation.

“Er, Red Rock,” supplied Heyes, fanning his freshly dealt cards. Seeing one ace after another appear before his eyes had, notwithstanding the paucity of the pot, jolted him into an unvarnished truthful answer.

“And, what takes you there, Mister Smith?” This time the question came from Mrs. Jenkins. She and Theresa had finished their kitchen chores and come to watch the game and relax with a glass or two of wine.

A slight drawing back from Heyes. But, Hannah Jenkins was so clearly only showing a motherly interest, AND, not a flicker on the poker face, but a certain brightening of the dark eyes as a fourth ace was fanned. “We had word from a rancher down there; he might have a job for Jones and me.” Heyes blinked at his own honesty. Maybe going straight was getting to be – natural.

Hannah Jenkins was no fool. She could see this young man, who had won her thorough approval by his evident concern for his sick friend, would rather not be asked any more questions. She turned to her second guest, George Bowen.

“What about you, Mister Bowen, what line of business are you in?” she enquired, chattily.

George Bowen, after muttering ‘dealer takes two’, settled happily into the role of chief speaker, and stayed there.

“I’m in insurance, ma'am. Mainly commercial – specializing in bank policies. You may have heard of my company, Whittaker, Whittaker an’.” On he went.

“Sounds real interesting, George,” lied Heyes. Just to prove to himself he hadn’t gone TOO straight. “I’ll see you – and raise you fifty cents, Doc.”

“It IS real interesting,” smiled Bowen. And, on he went again. “Consolidated funds… variable risk ratings… choice of most appropriate actuarial tables…”

Taking advantage of Mister Bowen pausing to take a pull from his beer glass, Mrs. Jenkins tried for a change of subject. “How’s Mary, Sheriff?” An explanatory glance at the two strangers. “Mary is Sheriff Fraser’s daughter. She suffers, with her lungs.”

“She’s, she’s doin’ well enough, ma'am. This” the Sheriff indicated the rain, still beating against the windows, “doesn’t help. She needs…” The Sheriff and the Doctor exchanged a rather despondent glance.

“Not much good me prescribing a dry climate and sea air when I can’t deliver it, is there?” The Doctor’s shoulders drooped.

The Sheriff squared his jaw. “Not your fault, Doc. You never know. We may get a real dry summer, huh?”

“Let’s hope so,” chimed in Hannah Jenkins. A short silence.

The Sheriff cleared his throat. “You were tellin’ us ‘bout your next job, Mister Bowen.”

George Bowen did not need inviting twice. Though, perhaps, the man realized the Sheriff was trying to return the atmosphere to cheerful.

“Well, I’ve been working in Sacramento. But, they’ve asked me to move. I’ve no family you see. Guess you could say I’m married to the job. They’re sending me to Saltillo; opening up a new branch there. I was heading to Laredo when the storm hit, to travel on to Saltillo from there.” On he went. And on. “Important job… I missed telegraphing back to the Phoenix office and onto Laredo today… the storm… need to keep in touch… not too serious… Do it tomorrow…”

A round of bets. And another. Eventually, Heyes’ moment came. “Four aces,” he said smugly, pulling the pot towards him.

“Sheesh – not often you see that!”

“You were dealt ‘em, too! Never took a card!”

“You ever see that before, Doc?”

“And he never so much as flickered! If I’da gotten me four aces – I’da been grinnin’ like a dang Cheshire cat!”
“We know YOU would, Seth!”

“What d’ya reckon the odds are, huh?”

“I think,” said Heyes, affably, “that makes it my round?” A smiling Theresa took the coins he offered and headed for the bar.

“Bet you wish a few of those dimes and quarters were twenties and fifties, huh, Mister Smith?” grinned Walter Lewis.

Heyes shrugged. There was a lot of truth in there. Still. “I guess it’d be nice to scoop a thousand dollar pot,” he acknowledged. “But,” he exchanged a knowing glance with the other visitor, “I reckon games with those kinda pots don’t come with such pleasant company. Certainly not with folk so cheerful to see someone else lay down four aces.”

“True enough,” nodded George Bowen.

“A thousand dollars,” repeated Walter Lewis, with relish. “What would we all DO if we won that? If I had a quarter of that – well.” A rueful grin. “I’ve three sons with young wives and growing families – all still in debt from that dreadful winter back in ‘81. The money wouldn’t go to waste! That’s all I know!”

From the indulgent smiles, Heyes gathered this was not the first time the regulars at the Wednesday poker game had indulged in a little ‘what if’. He saw the Sheriff look pensive and exchange a tight little smile with the Doctor. Heyes guessed he could tell what those two gentlemen would do with a windfall. Mrs. Jenkins looked wistful and blinked hard a few times. Seth reached over and squeezed his wife’s hand. Heyes reckoned he knew what their first use for extra money would be, too.

“After I’d got a new roof on that dang school-house,” suggested George Boscastle, “What I’d really like to do is pay the fees for young Zach Parton to go to medical school.”

“Good one,” agreed Doctor Bergman.

“Brightest pupil I’m likely to get in a life- time!” Boscastle informed Heyes. “And his folks are dirt poor, so he going to end up missing his chance!”

“What would you do with a thousand dollars, Manuel?” Heyes asked, quietly.

“Is easy,” grinned Manuel. “Theresa and me – we want real bad our own place. A leetle taverna.” The proud, nineteen year old husband translated for his young bride. Theresa, handing out the drinks bought by Heyes, gave an ‘if only’ shrug. “Is not that we do not like working for the Jenkinses,” Manuel hastened to explain. “but…”

“Manuel and Theresa both send a chunk of their earnings back to their folks,” said Seth, his eyes resting with warm approval on the couple. “It’ll be a long time before they can afford…”

Theresa’s musical voice interrupted.

“She says,” translated Manuel, his hand resting protectively on his wife’s belly for a moment, “our baby will be a grown man before we get our own place.”


---oooOOOooo---


THE NEXT MORNING - DOWNSTAIRS IN THE BAR OF THE HOTEL

“Now Mister Jones,” Hannah Jenkins placed a generously laden plate in front of Kid Curry, “you are to eat ALL that breakfast. That’s Doctor’s orders!”

“Yes, ma'am,” rasped the docile, and hungry, Kid.

“You’re to stay nice and warm by the stove,” clucked Mrs. Jenkins.

Curry glanced at the window. Still grey, miserable and pouring with rain.

“Not a problem, ma'am,” he accepted. He graciously allowed her to place a nice soft cushion behind his back.

A footstool was provided. And a rug to tuck around his legs. “Thank you, ma'am.”

Heyes, his attention divided between the less generous portion of ham and eggs on his own plate and the book propped open beside them, glanced over at this picture of his snug – or should that be smug? - partner thoroughly enjoying the fussing. A screen was moved to protect the Kid from the draft. The Kid’s coffee was poured. Heyes pushed forward his cup, hopefully. The pot was put down in front of him. Mrs. Jenkins was too busy buttering toast for the invalid to pour for the erstwhile leader of the Devil’s Hole gang.
Seth Jenkins, accompanied by Doctor Bergman, entered from outside. “Morning,” Seth greeted the two hotel guests, shaking the water from his hat before hanging it up.

Doctor Bergman walked over to Kid Curry. “How are you feeling today, Mister Jones?”

“This is the Doc,” explained Heyes. “He took a look at you last night, while you were malingering in bed and snoring loud enough to bust glass. Not a pretty sight. I had to buy him a shot of the best whiskey to make us even.”

Kid Curry gave his partner the ‘look’, before croaking, “I’m feeling a hundred times better, Doc.” A cough racked him.

“Uh huh,” grunted the Doctor. A hand was laid on the Kid’s brow. “Allow me…” An ear was placed against his chest. “Uh huh. Feeling a hundred times better – but that’s still pretty dang rough, huh?” An appraising look at the large dent Curry had made in his breakfast. “Does your food taste okay?”

“Better ’n okay,” came the hoarse voice, accompanied by an appreciative glance at Mrs. Jenkins.

“You’ll live.”

Seth Jenkins cleared his throat. “I guess you boys’ll be ridin’ out today?”

Heyes was a tad surprised. The tone was civil enough – but Seth did not seem quite the friendly host he had been last night. Was he eager to be rid of them?

“Seth,” Hannah Jenkins gave her husband a meaning look. “I don’t think Mister Jones is well enough to ride.”

“They won’t want to be late getting on to Red Rock,” said Seth – was it, nervously? “Not if they’ve a job waitin’. And, you just heard Mister Jones say, he feels better. You could ride, couldn’t you, son?”

Curry glanced at the pouring rain. He shivered. Clearly, being able to ride was not quite the same as wanting to.

“He shouldn’t ride all day in this, should he, Doctor?” persisted Mrs. Jenkins. Another look was directed at Seth. He blushed and hung his head.

Heyes was in no immediate hurry to leave for Red Rock. The offer of an unspecified job from Big Mac was always a mixed blessing anyhow. The dark-haired ex-outlaw glanced at the doctor. He was hesitating. Heyes’ brows drew together. He had the definite impression Doctor Bergman really wanted to say Kid Curry was absolutely fine. The Doctor exchanged a glance with Seth Jenkins. Did both men want the partners to leave? Why? A glance at Hannah. She too was not quite the same. She KNEW the men wanted the partners to leave – but WHY? She sympathized even, but was not willing to turn the Kid out in the rain.

“There’s nothing too seriously wrong with Jones, here,” began the Doctor. He took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders. “BUT,” he added, half-reluctantly, half-relieved he was living up to his medical oath, “If he was real sick last winter – the last thing he needs is to bring it on again. Better be sensible and rest up a day than risk being laid up for weeks.” He held Seth Jenkins’ eyes.

The nod from Seth was also half-reluctant, half-relieved.

Heyes shook his head. Nah! He was just imagining all that. Maybe these two fellas were just not morning people.

“I guess I’ll go get on with my rounds,” said the Doctor.

“And, I guess I’ll go give Manuel a hand in the stables,” put in Seth.

They left.

Mrs. Jenkins buttered another slice of toast for the Kid and gave a final plump to his cushion. “If you want anything else, just call,” the pampered invalid was told. “You’re to take it really, really easy.”

“I’ll try, ma'am,” came a brave little croak.

Heyes rolled his eyes and went back to his book, became engrossed.

Curry applied himself again to his breakfast. After all – it WAS Doctor’s orders. His gaze went from his partner, to the book, back to Heyes.

“You got a poker game last night, then?” Nothing. “Joshua!” Nothing. “JOSHUA!”

“Huh?” The dark eyes came up.

“You got a poker game last night?”

“Uh huh.” The brown gaze returned to the page.

“Win much?” Nothing. “Joshua!” Nothing. “JOSHUA!”pic7

“What?” This time the dark eyes looked annoyed as they were dragged from the printed word.

“Did you win much?”

“’Bout three dollars.” Eyes down. “I probably coulda made it three fifty if I’d stayed, but I took myself off for an early night. I wanted to read.” A meaning look. “In peace. Well, peace except for the wheezing coyote snorting in the next bed.”

Kid Curry wrapped himself around another mouthful of ham. He gazed at the rain. He gazed at his frustratingly absorbed partner. He sighed. The sigh brought on another racking cough. Heyes frowned at the disturbance but did not look up. The Kid’s eyes wandered, alighted on a newspaper on a shelf.

“Will you pass me that paper, Joshua?” Nothing. “Joshua!”

“Sheesh! What now?”

Suffering whisper, “Will you pass me that newspaper?”

Heyes looked from the shelf to the snuggly settled Kid, cutting into his third over-easy egg. “Why? Are your legs broke or something?”

A cough.

“Oh for Pete’s sake!” Heyes strode over, fetched the paper, dumped it in front of his partner. “There you go, Camille!” He went back to his book.

A short silence. Well – apart from the snuffling and sounds of ham and eggs being masticated by a brave little soldier who actually needed his mouth for breathing purposes.

“Sheesh!” exclaimed the Kid. “The mercantile bank at Dallas was robbed...” He checked the date on the paper. “Saturday. Clean as a whistle – didn’t use so much as a firecracker.”

“Uh huh.” No eye movement from Heyes.

“Got away with over $60,000.”

“Mmm.” Complete lack of attention. A tapered finger turned a final page.

Kid Curry rolled his eyes. Another (near) silence.

Heyes clapped the book shut with a satisfied, “Humph!” A smile dimpled his cheeks. A pause. The smile became a tad fixed. The brow furrowed. “The bank at Dallas was robbed?” he checked.

“Mmm?” his partner feigned complete absorption in his paper.

“That had a Pierce and Hamilton ‘78. Did you say no dynamite?”

Silence. Almost. Newsprint rustled. A final lick of egg yolk was mopped up with a hunk of bread.
“Thaddeus!”

“Uh huh?”

“Was the Pierce and Hamilton ‘78 cracked?”

“Huh?” Casual shrug. “Oh the safe? Yup, they cracked it.” Deadpan. “Why? Is it supposed to be difficult?”

“Kid!” hissed Heyes. “This could be serious…”

“Didn’t seem so serious a minute ago when YOU were busy reading,” snuffled Kid Curry into a damp handkerchief.

“Do they think it was …me?”

His partner ran a finger down the page, scanning. “Nope. Not so much as a mention of you, or the Devil’s Hole Gang. I reckon everybody’s forgotten all about you, Heyes,” he soothed. Innocent blue eyes looked up, “Good news, huh?”

Relief and chagrin warred on Heyes’ face. The Kid’s grin faded as he read on. “They opened the safe by persuading one of the managers to hand over the combination and persuading the other to do the same with the keys to the vault. Neither man had access to both. They also made sure no guard was on the duty roster that night.”

“Saves time if everyone cooperates,” admitted Heyes. “Persuading?” he queried.

“Both managers were family men. This gang had two young children as hostages. Oh!” Curry’s face registered an extra level of disgust. “Both hostages were found dead afterwards. The reporter guesses they must have seen their captors. They were dead all the time their fathers were – co-operating.”

Heyes grimaced, “At least no one will think THAT was us.”

Kid Curry nodded. “I mighta complained of the wait once or twice - but, I reckon I prefer to see safes cracked the slow way.” With a final shake of his head, he turned the page.

Heyes glanced at the rain. “It’s easing up a fraction,” he said. “I guess I should return this book. Bowen’ll probably want to ride out soon. After all” A glance at the reputed ‘fastest gun in the West’, currently tucking his rug, more cosily around his legs. “He’s travelling alone. Not dragging along 165 pounds of dead wood.”

“Hey!” Cough. Splutter.

Curry watched his partner stride away and run swiftly up the stairs.


---oooOOOooo---


Heyes tapped, lightly, on the door of Room #3. He had been mildly surprised that George Bowen had not yet come downstairs for breakfast. But, not all travellers shared the view of the old adage (and Kid Curry) on the paramount importance of that meal.

Nothing. He tapped again. Still nothing. “George,” he called. (He and Bowen had reached first name terms, during ‘book chat’ over last night’s supper.) “It’s Joshua – Joshua Smith.”

More nothing.

Heyes tried the door -- unlocked. His head peered round tentatively.

Much less tentatively, he stepped inside. Empty. Not just empty. Heyes blinked at the stripped bed, clean and dry jug and bowl on the washstand and complete absence of any signs of recent habitation. He checked the number on the door: Number 3.

The beginnings of a puzzled frown on his brow, Heyes made his way back downstairs.

He found his partner being greeted by a newly arrived Sheriff Bill Fraser.

“Good Morning.”

“Good mornin’,” responded Kid Curry, his gaze resting for a moment on the star-shaped badge.

“Morning,” chimed in Heyes.

“This must be Mister Jones?”

“Uh huh,” confirmed the Kid, cagily.

The Sheriff looked at the partners. “I’m real glad I caught you fellas” Almost imperceptible stiffening of two sets of ex-outlaw shoulders. “Last night’s storm damaged the bridge over the river. And, it’s too swollen to ford. I came to warn you not to ride south. Smith here,” a nod at Heyes, “says you’re heading for Red Rock. You’ll need to ride east for ten miles or so. Take the stone bridge near the old Fort…”

Manuel joined them from the direction of the kitchen.

“I’m tellin’ Smith and Jones here,” the Sheriff greeted him, “anyone headin’ due south will soon find themselves turnin’ round and doublin’ back. Leastways till we get the bridge fixed.”

“Appreciate the warning there, Sheriff,” smiled Heyes.

“Doctor Bergman – ‘e say Mister Jones is not to ride today any’ow,” said Manuel, glumly, before disappearing in the direction of the stables.

“You’ll be well enough to head out tomorrow though, Jones?” checked the Sheriff.

“I reckon so,” said Curry.

Heyes watched the Sheriff as he left. Unless he was much mistaken, the broad shoulders drooped slightly at this news that the strangers were not leaving town at once. Why?

“Kid, do you think that Sheriff wants us outta his town?”

His partner gave a ‘maybe’ shrug. “Wouldn’t be the first time, huh?”

“Guess not – but, ” Heyes frowned, “he seemed so friendly last night.” A quizzical look from his partner. “For a sheriff,” he grinned, ruefully.

“You didn’t give the book back.” Curry nodded at the volume still clasped in the tapering fingers.

“Huh? Oh,” said Heyes, “He wasn’t there.”

“Must have ridden out early,” said the Kid. Heyes’ eyes went to the window. His partner’s followed. The rain had eased to ‘miserably steady’, but both remembered the torrents of earlier. “Maybe,” he qualified.

“I oughta go check on our horses anyhow,” said Heyes.


---oooOOOooo---


“Mister Jenkins,” said Heyes, walking into the livery, “Which room is George in? I thought number three, but it’s empty.” A silence. “I have a book to give back to him.” The volume was held up.

Both Seth’s and Manuel’s hands ceased their steady sweeping of brushes over horses’ flanks. Both men looked at Heyes, seemingly struck dumb by his question. Then, two glances shifted to a spot over his shoulder. Heyes glanced back. The Sheriff was standing in the doorway.

A silence.

Heyes broke it. “Did I get the room wrong? Or, did he ride out already? Kinda an early start, huh, but I guess maybe he wanted to get on?”

Pause.

Seth Jenkins opened his mouth to answer. Manuel, his intelligent young face looking as if some rapid calculation was going on, interrupted. “The Sheriff’s come to tell you – the breedge is down, Senor Jenkins. Anyone riding south will ‘ave to double back.”

Seth’s brow furrowed. Thought was obviously in progress. Seth’s mouth shut. Whatever he was about to say before Manuel’s interjection, he had clearly changed his mind.

“You’re looking for…George?” Seth clarified, tentatively, as if the object sought were as unlikely to be found as
‘Atlantis’, ‘Camelot’, ‘Xanadu’.

“Uh huh. Just to give this back.” Once again the book was held aloft.

Another pause.

The Sheriff cleared his throat. “You could tell – George – Mister Smith still has his book, huh, Seth?”

“Er…”

“Won’t be a problem, telling George, huh?”

“Er…no.”

Heyes resisted the temptation to blink hard. This dialogue appeared to be pulling off the rare trick of being dull, repetitive and yet, still capable of setting his curiosity racing. What was NOT being said?


---oooOOOooo---


“Where do you think he is, Kid?”

“Who?”

“Are you not listening to me?”

“Nope,” a newspaper was hoisted a touch higher, “I’m readin’ and ignorin’ you. Annoyin’ habit, isn’t it?”

“I checked out the other rooms. He’s nowhere. Apart from the Jenkinses’ room – none of the others had even been slept in.”

A newspaper was lowered. “You snuck in the Jenkins’ room? Heyes! I thought we had some kinda agreement on breakin’ an’ entering! Like – We don’t! Not any more!”

“I thought we had some kinda agreement on thinking too, Kid, but you keep welching on THAT one.”
Curry gave his partner the ‘look’. Heyes did not stop pacing long enough to notice. “Where is he, Kid?”

“I THINK,” a break in the pacing, “you’re confusin’ me with someone who cares.” A glance was exchanged. This time, Heyes did get the benefit of the ‘look’. Pacing recommenced. The Kid watched his partner. “For Pete’s sake, Heyes! The man rode out early. He’s not worried by rain. He don’t care if he misses breakfast. He left his dang book behind. He left his room tidy! So what? None of those things are any kinda mystery. Except,” he temporized. “Missin’ breakfast. Even that’s not a big mystery, just means the man’s dumb, same as you! We settled that once before, too.”

“No, Kid! He DIDN’T ride out! He was heading for Laredo. That’s due south. IF he’d rode out, he’d be forced to turn around at the broken bridge. He’d be back here by now, dripping all over the floor. And THAT,” Heyes leant on the table in front of his partner, eyes wide to emphasise his point, “is what Manuel realized back in the stables. Seth Jenkins was about to say pretty much what you just said, without the ornery attitude of course, that he rode out. BUT, he CAN’T have ridden out. Where is he?”

For the first time the Kid looked faintly interested.

Once more, pacing was in progress. “I reckon that’s why they all suddenly wanted us outta town, Kid. BEFORE I noticed he’d gone. We were alone when he loaned me the book. No one would guess I might look for him. Maybe…”

The door of the hotel opened. “Mister Smith. Joshua,” called a friendly voice, as a lanky form strode inside,

“Seth says you’re anxious to give me my book back.” The Kid’s faint interest evaporated as a bony hand retrieved the book from the table.

Footsteps from the direction of the kitchen. Hannah Jenkins bustled in.

“Morning George,” she greeted the new arrival. A glance at the clock. “I won’t offer you coffee. I guess you need to be off.”

“Sure. Can’t have the teacher marking himself tardy,” he smiled. He held out his hand, to Kid Curry. “George Boscastle,” he introduced himself. “I’m guessing you must be Mister Jones. I hope you’re feeling a little better?”

“Uh huh,” confirmed the Kid.

“Did you enjoy it?” the schoolmaster asked Heyes, indicating the volume of short stories.

“You didn’t lend me that book,” said Heyes, bluntly. “It’s not yours.” He reached over and plucked the volume from the teacher’s grasp.

A short silence.

“Ah – perhaps you thought I meant you to keep it rather than borrow it, Mister Smith,” replied Boscastle, still trying for a friendly tone. “Maybe I wasn’t very clear. Tell you what, consider it a gift.”

“It was never yours.”

Curry flashed a glance at his partner. He couldn’t see any reason for Heyes’ abrupt tone.

“George Bowen gave me this book, not you. He was staying in room number three.”

“George…?” The schoolmaster’s face was a picture of non-recognition.

“No one stayed here last night, except you and Mister Jones,” put in Mrs. Jenkins.

“Sure they did, ma'am,” said Heyes. “He was a little fella. About five foot five. Mousey. Thinning on top…”

“Oh!” exclaimed Mrs. Jenkins, a smile wreathing her motherly face. “Mister Smith means Walter Lewis! You’re mixin’ up Walter with George, who sat next to him, Mister Smith. And, George here lodges at Number Three, Main Street. You musta thought he lodged at number three here!” Another happy smile from the kind hostess. George Boscastle smiled back, as if to say ‘that’s all cleared up’.

“Theresa!” called Mrs. Jenkins.

“I’m not mixing up anything!” protested Heyes. He saw that since the stunning Theresa had walked in carrying fresh coffee, he had lost his partner’s attention. The Kid was too busy straightening up, tucking the damp handkerchiefs out of sight and, instead of playing for Hannah Jenkins’ maternal sympathy vote with snuffles and the ‘big blue-eyed look’, was trying to radiate masculine health and – oh yeah – the versatile ‘big blue-eyed look’.

He was receiving a charming smile and blush, as Theresa shyly murmured, “More coffee, Senor?”

“Served with a smile that pretty, senorita…” The Kid’s own winning smile was at full twinkle.

“For Pete’s sake, give it up, Kid. She’s happily married,” muttered Heyes. “AND, that’s my line!”

Kid Curry slumped back down. “Thanks Senora,” he nodded briefly at Theresa, before digging out the handkerchief and having a good, though scarcely seductive, blow.

“I remember Boscastle here and Walter Lewis just fine,” said Heyes, returning to his point. “I’m talking about George Bowen.” He strode over to the table at which the game had taken place. “When the eight of us played last night, Lewis sat here,” a chair was touched. “Then Boscastle,” another chair back was slapped by the tapered fingers. “Then me, then,” Heyes tailed off. Kid Curry could see the problem. The cards were still on the table. So were glasses. Presumably the game had continued after the two ladies retired and no one had yet cleared. The chairs had the air of still being in the positions left by men pushing them back to stand up. But -- there were only seven chairs. The Kid did a quick count of the glasses. Seven.

“Theresa,” Heyes wheeled around to the young girl. “Last night – how many players?” Puzzlement puckered a velvety brow. The brown eyes began to stray to Mrs. Jenkins for help. “Don’t look at anyone else,” Heyes snapped. “Last night…” Heyes mimed dealing cards. “How many men? Cuánto?”

Comprehension. “Siete,” beamed Theresa. Seven fingers were held up to make sure.

“No!” Heyes could not believe his ears. “No! There were eight of us!”

“Eight…?” queried Mrs. Jenkins, her motherly face crumpled with concern. She bustled over and laid a hand on Heyes’ brow.

“Eight?” echoed Boscastle. A kindly smile, an even more kindly shake of the head. “I hope you’re not seeing ghosts, Mister Smith.”

“Are you calling me a liar?” snapped Heyes, the beginnings of a dangerous look in his eyes. George Boscastle took a step back.

“Hey,” reproved Curry, “No need to get nasty, Joshua. The man never said nothing like that.” He turned to the schoolmaster, allowing just a touch of warning to enter his own blue gaze. “You’re not suggesting my partner’s a liar – are you?”

“No,” said Boscastle, simply enough and without any evidence of shuffling. “I’m suggesting maybe he’s got quite a lively imagination. And, that sometimes a few drinks followed by a dark ’n ’stormy night spent wallowing in Edgar Allen Poe,” he pointed at the book in Heyes’ hand, “can work tricks on a lively imagination.”

“Edgar Allen Poe,” repeated Kid Curry. “Isn’t he the fella wrote that ‘Tell-Tale Heart’ story, you made me listen to once, Joshua?”

“Uh huh,” confirmed Heyes, reluctantly.

“Hafta admit, Joshua,” said the Kid, fairly. “I lay awake a few nights, listenin’ to beating noises that weren’t there and jumpin’ at the sound of my own pulse, after hearin’ that. AND, I reckon, next to yours, my imagination’s kinda on the lazy side.”


---oooOOOooo---


“Tell me again why you’re draggin’ me to the stables, Heyes?” grumbled Kid Curry, turning up his collar against the last of the drizzle, as the rain finally entered ‘stopping’ phase.

“I want to show you something that’ll make you believe George Bowen existed.” Heyes pointed, “Look there, what do you see?”

“An empty stall. Well, I’m convinced,” deadpanned the Kid.

“What I want you to do is think hard. Was it empty last night? You see, after I left the stables, I got to thinking…”

“That agreement we had, Heyes,” Kid Curry laid a mock-sympathetic hand on his partner’s shoulder, “We need to talk …”

“Our horses woulda been stalled next to whoever checked into the hotel just before us, so THAT,” another stab of Heyes’ finger at the empty space, “Musta been Bowen’s horse. I’m sure, SURE.” Heyes took a breath,

“Ninety-five percent sure, there was a horse in there last night. Think, Kid, am I right?”

Kid Curry did think. Hard, as instructed. “Can’t recall,” he finally decided. “Maybe.”

“For Pete’s sake, Kid! You’re supposed to be observant!”

“I was sick, Heyes!” Plaintive cough.

“Try again, Kid. Picture this stall last night. Picture the horse. What was it like?”

“Which bit of ‘can’t recall’ are you having trouble with?”

“I’m sure it wasn’t white, or paint, kinda dark.”

“Everything was dark when we rode in, Heyes. It was a dark ’n ’stormy night! Remember?”

“It wasn’t real big or small…”

“So,not a pony, or a Clydsdale, and definitely not an Arabian from the circus. That narrows it down, huh?”

“You see, Kid, if I can find this horse, I can prove – PROVE – Bowen checked in.”

“OR…nobody checked in and this horse, or rather, this empty space, belongs to one of the townsfolk and, here’s a thought, if there was a horse, they’re out riding it! It happens! Heyes, why do you CARE? You don’t know the man!”

“I care ‘cos,” Heyes paused to do a quick reckon up, “So far, seven people: the Doc, the Sheriff, the Schoolteacher, the Jenkinses, Manuel and the lovely Theresa – who all seemed real nice last night, who STILL seem real nice, have joined up to tell me a whopping big lie. Why? AND,” he went on, before his partner could open his mouth, “if it hadn’t been for you hamming it up with the invalid act.”

“HEY!”

“We’d have been helped up on our horses and waved off with a packed lunch before you could say ‘Not welcome here!’ They ALL want to see the back of us. Why?”

“I can see it in your case, Heyes. Maybe these seven real nice folk got tired of listening to you talk about the invisible man?”

“So,” said Heyes, his hands going to his hips, “You believe them, not me. You reckon I just make stuff up, huh?”

The Kid grinned. “Kinda shuttin’ the barn door after the horse on that one, Heyes. I KNOW you just make stuff up!” He saw the real frustration on his partner’s’ face. Without the joshing tone he checked, “You swear this isn’t some complicated joke you’re playin’ on me? ‘Cos – if it is, it ain’t funny!”

“Kid!”

“All right. I believe you. I still don’t see why you’re so interested. You don’t think all these nice folk, well, did somethin’ to him?”

“Y’know what? You’re right. I don’t. If they’re too nice to turn a mean old ex-outlaw like you out in the rain, what are they going to do to some meek little insurance clerk? Except – they must have done something!

Where is he? Where’s his horse?”

A pause.

“It wasn’t a rhetorical question, Kid.”

“Huh?”

“A rhetorical question is one that doesn’t need an answer.”

“Uh huh.” Kid Curry filed the definition away for the next ‘big-word’ day.

Another pause.

“So this one NOT being rhetorical is the other kind of question. The kind that does need an answer.”

A ‘look’. Again with the pause.

“Could…could…” The Kid was trying to come up with something. “Could it be me? He don’t know you – but he knows me from somewhere. First thing this morning, he recognized me – slipped straight back upstairs and climbed out the back. Now he’s hiding. Or, waiting to turn me in?”

Heyes looked impressed. Not surprising. Heyes was impressed. Yet another pause. Heyes thinking. “Nah,” he finally said, reluctantly. “Doesn’t explain why everyone else is joining in. If he’s on the wrong side of the law and wants to avoid you – he rides out. No one denies seeing him. If he’s an upright citizen going to the Sheriff – well, maybe, just maybe -- he tells everyone not to say a word until the Sheriff’s got you under lock and key. But… Nah! They’re not nervous around YOU. They’re not exactly nervous around ME – not in THAT way. AND, we’re NOT under lock and key. There’s been plenty of time – and that Sheriff’s no fool. Breakfast time would have been perfect. AND, I’ve been doing some MORE thinking…”

“Oh, Sheesh,” groaned the put upon partner.

“George Bowen told me – told us all – he was coming from Sacramento. But that means, he was heading in from the west – same as us. Can’t have been more than a few miles ahead if the same freak storm caught him in the same town.”

“Maybe. So?”

“So – why didn’t we see him?”

“Why would we? Do we see everyone?”

“The two most wanted outlaws in the West, travelling through wide open country.” Heyes pretended to think about it. “Yeah, you’re right. Why would we want to watch out for strangers? We just ride with our eyes shut.”

The Kid mulled on that. He did pride himself on his skill at spotting potential danger. “I was kinda sick, Heyes,” he reminded his partner.

“Would you have missed him?”

Kid Curry mulled some more as he followed Heyes out of the livery. He gave something between a shake of the head and a shrug, suggesting ‘probably not’.

“So HE was lying too! Why?”

“But,” A fresh fit of coughing interrupted the Kid’s hurry to get his thought out. “But,” Splutter. “But,if he’s lying about where he’s comin’ from…he could be lyin’ about where he’s headin’…” Cough. Rummage in pocket. Honking blow of nose.

“So?”

“So, he’s not headin’ south – he isn’t stopped by the bridge. He rode out.” Splutter. Honk.

Once again, Heyes looked impressed by his partner’s idea. Then, another shake of the dark head, as he pulled Kid Curry down the street. “Doesn’t tell us why everyone else is lying. Hurry up!”

“I’m sick, Heyes!” Cough. Disgruntled version of the ‘look’. “Besides where the Sam Hill are you draggin’ me to now?”

“To see the undertaker.”

Double-take from the Kid. “I could still recover, Heyes.”


---oooOOOooo---


Ten minutes later, the ex-outlaws were back out on the street, after a perfectly friendly – if apparently surprised -- Walter Lewis had responded to Heyes’ nonchalant circling reminiscences about last night’s game. Responded – unsatisfactorily. A not quite so nonchalant question about the number of players from an impatient Curry, was answered with a quick count on the undertaker’s fingers and a cheery, ‘Seven’. Then, Lewis, with the greatest civility, had indicated a coffin in the back and told them Mrs. Stottlemeyer was being buried that afternoon and he had to get on.

At the sight of a silver- haired and snowy-capped female profile, the partners swept off their hats for a moment and then departed.

“You don’t think…” The suggestion from the snuffling blond ex-outlaw was tentative. But, the folks in the town were SO nice, he had to ask, “You don’t think maybe you DID dream him, Heyes? You do have something of an imagination.”

“Kid,.” Heyes dropped his hands to his hips and pushed back his replaced hat. “I’m not saying I COULDN’T dream someone up. But, if I did, I’d be walking around swearing Theresa is one of a set of triplets and the others are single! No! She’d be a quadruplet – two for me! The two sisters who are ba-a-a—a-a-d girls! I wouldn’t waste my time dreaming up short, paunchy guys who like to run on ‘bout actuarial tables!”

The Kid had to admit he saw the logic of that.

“Where IS he? WHY are they all lying?”

“Still not a rhetorical question?” checked his partner.

“Nope. Why – you got another idea?”

Musing. Crinkling of blue eyes under a brown brim. Sniffling. A cough. Though, to be fair, the last two were pretty much incidental.

“Yup. Here’s the plan. We both play to our strengths. YOU go do the thinkin’ an’ pacin’. I go follow Doctor’s orders and cover nappin’ by the fire. You only wake me when you have something new. An’ that don’t include a new question. You clear on the plan, Heyes?”

A look was exchanged. Reluctantly, Heyes nodded. He trudged off through the mud to start the ‘pacing and thinking’. Kid Curry pulled up his collar a little more firmly against the last of the drizzle and trudged after his partner to put in a little hard napping.


---oooOOOooo---


A MORNING NAP, A HEARTY LUNCH, AN AFTERNOON NAP, HALF A DOZEN HANDKERCHIEVES, A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF SNORING AND AN AWFUL LOT OF PACING LATER BACK IN THE COMFY CHAIR, IN FRONT OF THE STOVE IN THE HOTEL BAR

Kid Curry smiled at Theresa as hot lemon tea with a little honey and a shot of whiskey was placed before him.
“Cómo está usted, Senor Jones?”

“Er, better, thanks,” he guessed.

Another smile for Mrs. Jenkins as a ‘little snack to keep his strength up ‘til supper’ was placed next to the drink.

“You’re lookin’ a lot better,” concurred Hannah Jenkins. A cool hand was laid on his forehead. The Kid suspected his temperature was back to normal and he had better make the most of this round of feminine fussing, as it might be the last. He gave a sniffle and a, not entirely genuine, cough. A maternally knowing eyebrow was raised. Yeah, he thought, the fussing was over.

“Dryin’ up nicely now,” Mrs. Jenkins observed, glancing out at the late afternoon sun trying to struggle through the clouds. “I reckon tomorrow will be a real fine day. Perfect for a nice easy ride to Red Rock – do you good.”

“Sure will,” agreed Seth, who was coming downstairs after changing out of the black suit he had donned for Mrs. Stottlemeyer’s funeral.

“Gentle exercise is the just the thing for a convalescent,” nodded Walter Lewis, who had come in for a coffee and warming shot of something after his duties.

“And fresh air. Nothing beats gentle exercise and fresh air,” chipped in George Boscastle. He was also indulging in a post-interment coffee.

“Mañana – adios,” beamed Theresa. “Better!”

Kid Curry suspected all these kindly folk were right and riding tomorrow would do him no harm at all. All the same, this mix of thoughtfulness AND scarcely concealed hurry to be rid of him – or rather, of Heyes – was odd.

Straightening up among his cushions and reaching for his snack, the blond ex-outlaw began to think about the missing poker player. Sure, he couldn’t get worked up the way Heyes had. Sheesh! Heyes found deducting a close runner up to safe cracking and odds calculation. Still, Curry munched on his sandwich, ruminatively, it was weird.

Right on cue, Seth asked, “Where did Mister Smith go?”

Once the Kid had taken care of his side of the plan – the napping – Heyes had decided to leave the invalid to watch his own back. The curiosity-tormented one had taken the pacing and thinking out into the fresh air, muttering something about checking the roads out of town and seeing if any horses looked familiar.

“Just stretchin’ his legs,” he said. “In fact,” less distinctly, as he finished off his sandwich, “I think you’re right about the gentle exercise and fresh air doing me good. Reckon I’ll go find him. Take a turn round the town before supper.”


---oooOOOooo---


A FEW MINUTES LATER – OUT IN THE FRESH AIR

Heyes was, indeed, stretching his legs. Those long, lean, booted limbs were currently stretched from a tilted back chair up to the rail outside the Sheriff’s office. The Sheriff’s boots were propped up to the left. Both men were smoking, if not a fine, at least a ‘serviceable’ cigar and were watching the sun, which had finally put in an appearance after all that rain, sink in the sky. The silence from the Sheriff was companionable enough. The silence from Heyes held a lingering frustration, without tipping into any ill will. Heyes had, almost, given up on any further direct, or indeed indirect, questioning about last night.

There seemed little point.

Everyone had their story straight, and…

The former leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang gave a shrug as he tipped his hat to Doctor Bergman tooling past in his gig from some visit to a patient, the legs of his all black horse splattered with mud. At a deferential distance, Heyes had observed Sheriff Bill Fraser and the Doctor mingle with their neighbours at Mrs. Stottlemeyer’s funeral earlier. Both were clearly, popular, respected; without being sappy about it – loved, even.

The Sheriff gave every impression of being a conscientious lawman serving a quiet town to finish off the final years of a worthy career dedicated to keeping the peace, before drawing his modest pension. The Doctor radiated honest dedication to his role as a healer. Heyes was finding it difficult to cling to his absolute certainty they and their friends were also liars. Heyes KNEW liars. These townsfolk were sure not regular liars.

Had he imagined an extra player last night? The mind COULD play tricks.

Almost prepared to believe himself wrong - well, maybe - Heyes raised a hand to his partner, smiling wickedly as he saw the Kid suppress a shudder at the pair, once again, mixing socially with a lawman.

Minutes later another pair of boots was propped on the rail. Kid Curry joined in the important masculine business of blowing smoke rings while supervising fading afternoon light and the dripping of spent rain from roofs. Silence. Apart from occasional nose blowing honks from the fastest gun in the West.
A subtle change in the nature of the silence. The partners noticed the Sheriff staring off to the east. They followed his eye-line. A rider was approaching. Steady trot.

“Stranger?” asked Heyes.

“Uh huh.”

“I guess you like to check out all visitors heading into town, huh?”

Kid Curry rolled his eyes. The would-be nonchalance from Heyes did not fool him. He suspected his partner meant to wheel around for a casual – ‘who else rode in during the storm?’ question.

“So yesterday, you would have checked out…” Heyes tailed off. The Sheriff was not listening. He was still squinting at the approaching rider. Though still distant, the stranger was close enough for them to see he looked, if not a city slicker, something close. Neither slowing, nor speeding up. Perfectly normal. Then, a dip in the road hid him. What was there about this to crease Bill Fraser’s forehead and darken his eyes? To make his whole frame slump?

“Seems dang quick…” murmured the Sheriff.

“What seems quick?” asked Heyes. A pair of wary eyes flicked to his face, as if recalling the presence of the partners. Was that anxiety on the Sheriff’s face? Or more than that, fear?

“Seems quick to be travelling after the storm,” said the Sheriff, his brow still knitting into furrows, as if trying to make up his mind about something. “Musta set off when it was still pelting down. The weather headin’ east the way it is.”

Heyes frowned. He was back to his first position. This man WAS lying. Or, at any rate, not telling the truth, which is not quite the same thing. That is NOT what Bill Fraser had meant by his involuntary comment of ‘seems dang quick’.

But, what had he meant?

Heyes broke the silence. “Wouldn’t surprise me if he was coming looking for someone.” Wide, bland smile from the ex-outlaw leader. “Would it surprise you, Sheriff?” The Kid shot his partner a warning glance. Heyes socializing with a lawman was one thing. Heyes going out of his way to annoy the fella was another.

Bill Fraser came to a decision. “I’m sorry to hafta do this, Mister Smith,” he said, with evident sincerity, as he stood up and drew his gun. “But you’re under arrest.”

“Huh?” protested Kid Curry, also rising to his feet. “The man only asked a question!”

“You’re under arrest too, Mister Jones. For consorting with a known criminal. Namely – him.”

END OF PART ONE.
---oooOOOooo---

_________________
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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There's a Little Bad in Everyone by Calico :: Comments

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Re: There's a Little Bad in Everyone by Calico
Post on Sat 21 Mar 2015, 1:39 am by royannahuggins
Starring Pete Duel and Ben Murphy


Arkwright David Tennant


Bolsover Richard Armitage


Callow Mark Ramprakash


Dronfield Matt Dawson



Previously – on ‘There’s a Little Bad in Everyone’:
Caught by a violent storm on their way to Red Rock, Heyes and Curry take shelter in a hotel run by the hospitable Jenkinses .
The Kid takes to his bed with a severe case of “man-’flu”. Meanwhile, Heyes chats about Edgar Alan Poe with the hotel’s only other guest - mild mannered insurance clerk, George Bowen. Later Heyes and Bowen join the regulars in a friendly poker game.
But, next morning, all the likeable townsfolk, including the Sheriff, swear Heyes is imagining George Bowen. Was he a figment of Heyes’ lively imagination? Or…?
Later, as a stranger rides into town, Heyes and Curry find themselves suddenly under arrest.


And now - THERE’S A LITTLE BAD IN EVERYONE - Part 2

Hannibal Heyes gazed at the worried expression on Sheriff Bill Fraser’s face as they watched a stranger, still far in the distance, ride towards the town.

“Wouldn’t surprise me if he was coming looking’ for someone.” A wide, bland smile from the ex-outlaw leader. “Would it surprise you, Sheriff?”

Bill Fraser came to a decision. “I’m sorry to hafta do this, Mister Smith,” he said, with evident sincerity, as he stood up and drew his gun. “…But you’re under arrest, for…” he searched, “for passing seditious remarks liable to bring the law into disrepute.”

“Huh?” protested Kid Curry, also rising to his feet. “The man only asked a question!”

“You’re under arrest too, Mister Jones. Consorting with a known criminal. Namely – him.”

“WHAT?”

“You’re both sentenced to, say, between twelve to twenty-four hours in jail.”

“Or, until he leaves, huh?” said Heyes, quietly, nodding at the approaching rider in the distance. Another searching look at the lawman in front of him. The Sheriff opened his mouth to reply, changed his mind, shut it. He looked away, bit his lip.

“Would you hand over your gun please, Mister Smith?” A pause. Heyes’ and the Sheriff’s eyes met, held. Bill Fraser took another decision; he re-holstered his own weapon; then, held out his now empty hand. To his partner’s surprise, after a moment’s thought, Heyes did, indeed, hand over his gun. “And you too, please, Mister Jones.”

Curry looked from his partner to the Sheriff. He drew. The muzzle of the colt pointed at the lawman. No move from Bill Fraser. “Don’t, son,” he said, gently, “Please.” No fear. Just concern. Kid Curry had no doubt Sheriff Fraser was more worried about an upright citizen - 'Thaddeus Jones' - doing something to land himself in trouble with the law, than he was about the danger of getting shot. Heyes gave his partner an almost imperceptible nod. The Kid let the weapon twirl round his finger, so the handle was towards Bill Fraser. A fatherly hand patted his shoulder before it was taken. “Thanks, son,” came a gruff voice. “Let’s get you two locked up.”


---oooOOOooo---


“Now,” said the Sheriff, closing the cell door. “You make yourselves comfortable as you can.” He took the keys over to a safe in the far corner, hesitated and stuffed them into his pocket.

“Sheriff,” Heyes called the man back. “It’s a touch drafty in here. I’m not thinking of myself, but, Thaddeus here, he’s feeling kinda delicate.”

After giving his partner the ‘look’, the Kid did what he guessed Heyes wanted and summoned a cough. Plus a modified version of ‘the doleful big blue eyes’ he’d been using on the ministering ladies all day.

“Hmmm…” The lawman strode over to the hat rack and returned with… Curry blinked. Unknown to Bill Fraser, he’d been thrown in jail hundreds of times. This was the first occasion on which the arresting officer had handed over his own muffler. “I’ll have Mrs. Jenkins come by later with some hot supper and extra blankets. And, some decent pillows.”


“Oh, Sheriff.” This time Heyes waited until Fraser was halfway out of the office door before calling him back. “The Doc said Thaddeus is to take regular hot drinks. Could you…?”

Curry, dragging his gaze away from a pair of familiar wanted posters pinned prominently behind the Fraser’s desk, resisted the urge to roll his eyes and satisfied himself with another plaintive cough.

“Sure.” The Sheriff fetched over the coffee pot from the stove and two mugs, passing them through the bars. “I’ll brew up some fresh when I get back.”

Again, he reached the door before, “Oh, Sheriff.”

“For Pete’s sake, what now?!”

Hurt expression in a pair of deep brown eyes. “I was only gonna ask if Thaddeus could have the newspaper to read.”

The newspaper was plucked from the desk and thrust through the bars. The Sheriff finally departed, locking the office door behind him.

“Heyes!” hissed Kid Curry. “What the Sam Hill was all that about?!”

“Shush.”

Heyes was standing on his bunk, straining on his tiptoes. At full stretch, he could just see, through a sliver of window, the lawman take up a position in the street.

“I’m guessing ‘seditious remarks’ is code for – ‘yapping on about your imaginary friend until everyone’s ears bleed’ – and, like you once told me; nobody likes a nuisance…”

“Shush!”

The stranger whom they had watched approach, arrived. Still looking perfectly relaxed. A hat was touched, civilly. The gesture was returned. The Sheriff was being asked something. A gnarled finger pointed in the direction of the Jenkinses’ place. Heyes watched a fine chestnut amble towards the hotel. The Sheriff glanced back at his office. Then, the broad shoulders of the lawman slumped. Slowly, and keeping his distance, heplodded afterthe stranger.

“Shush! Is that all you’ve gotta say? You just got me arrested! Again! I admit, this time is one of most polite I’ve…”

“Nope.”

“Nope – WHAT?”

“Nope, ‘shush’ is not all I’ve got to say.”

A pause. A glint of something metallic dangling from one black-gloved finger. A grin.

“You snuck the key!”

An infuriatingly smug look on the dimpled face.

“But, he locked the office door, and, that key was on the same ring.”

The dimples deepened. As did the smugness.

“You snuck the ring the first time you called him back, took off the cell key. The second time, you snuck the rest of the bunch back into his pocket! Heyes!” The Kid toned down the admiration. “Mind you, sneaking the keys is my trick.”

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Kid.”

The two ex-outlaws exited the cell. Curry headed straight for the desk, slipped his colt back into its holster.

“Right. We slip round the back. Get our horses. Get outta here.”

“Nope.”

The Kid turned. The brown eyes were gazing, fondly, at the antiquated safe.

“Heyes! You’re not serious!”

Too late. Heyes was already kneeling beside the door.

“No way, Heyes! No way! Besides, what the Sam Hill do you expect to find?”

“I dunno, Kid. Maybe nothing’. But, there’s no bank. No safe deposit in the hotel. Nothing but a cash box at the mercantile. The only place to really lock anything away is right in there, with the keys to the cells. AND, the Sheriff DIDN’T want to put them in here.”

“Lock WHAT away? I know you said this George Whatisname was a little fella, but unless Mrs. Jenkins put him through the grinder, he’s not in there! Neither’s his dang horse!”

“He’s nowhere, Kid. I’ve been all over this town like a rash. And, know what? No one even tried to stop me.

They knew I wasn’t going to find anything.” The tapered fingers stroked the dial, lovingly. An ear was pressed to the door. Bliss illuminated Heyes’ face.

“No! Heyes! NO!”

Innocent brown eyes flashed reassurance. “Won’t take long, Kid. Only a Hamilton ’71 Basic.”

“Heyes!”

“Shush!” Listening. Sheer pleasure. “Ahhh!”

Yielding to the inevitable, the Kid took up his traditional position by the door. “Heyes, I’m gonna flatten you!”

“Relax, Kid. It’s…” Long sigh. A click. The safe door swung open. A silence as Heyes’ reacted to what he saw.

His partner glanced over. A modest leather grip. Heyes opened it. His face wavered. Satisfaction warred with, with disappointment and doubt.

Curry came to take a look. His voice was almost sad, as he asked, “Is that what you expected, Heyes?”

“Nope. Leastways, I dunno. I dunno what I expected, but something, something less ordinary.”

“Ordinary! You call this ordinary!”

“Well, y’know what I mean. The folk in this town all seem so, so decent. This is,” A troubled frown. “It STILL don’t make sense, Kid! It just don’t! They ARE decent. Whatever they’re bluffing about, it’s not THAT. I’m not saying I can ALWAYS tell when someone’s bluffing, just, I get pretty dang close.” More frowning. The Heyes’ brain at work. No definite conclusions being reached, but working.

A frustrated ‘can’t work it out’ sigh. Then, shutting the safe, “C’mon, Kid.”

“Right. NOW, we slip round the back. Get our horses…”

“Nope.”

“Heyes!”

“Now we slip round the back; go check out the visitor.”


---oooOOOooo---


SOONER THAN YOU’D THINK, BUT THEN HEYES WAS PRETTY SLICK WITH THAT SAFE BACK IN THE HOTEL
The partners had looped around the back. Entering via the pantry, they were, unobtrusively, listening in. The stranger seemed all politeness. Well-dressed, early thirties, his hat swept off courteously, as he talked to Mrs. Jenkins. However, Heyes thought he was, discreetly, checking out the occupants of the room, a calculating look behind the smile.

The ex-outlaws were aware that Seth, his wife, Lewis, Boscastle and the Sheriff were all tense.

Charm was being oozed at Mrs. Jenkins. “I wonder if you could help me, ma'am? I’m looking for someone. Grey suit. About five’ five”. He probably rode in yesterday. Black horse with a white blaze.”

Increased tension. But, thought Curry, not exactly surprise. At the first sight of a stranger, they had anticipated a question about the man who, according to them, never was.

“Yesterday?” Mrs. Jenkins was radiating honest puzzlement.

“I believe he may have taken shelter from the storm?”

“I’m sorry, no. No one answering that description came here.”

The suave new arrival searched the upright, motherly face.

“Maybe he came in while you were busy in the back, ma'am?” The civil stranger turned to Seth. “A fella with the same coloring as me. A couple of years older. Starting to thin on top. Did you see him?”

“Can’t say I did,” said Seth.

“Anyone else?,” checked Mister Suave. “You, sir?” This was to the undertaker, Walter Lewis. “Did you see any strangers around?”

“Nope,” slow shake of the funereal head. “No one like you’re describin’.”

“Sheriff? I guess you watch out for folk arriving. Did anyone ride in yesterday?”

A pause. Mute conversation between Heyes and Curry. Was the Sheriff going to deny their existence, too? Almost, an equivocation.

“Like Lewis here says,” grunted Bill Fraser, “No one like you’re describin’ came through.”

Heyes shook his head, still confused. The Sheriff sounded so – so honest. The straightforward tone was convincing the stranger. Nearly.

“Heyes,” hissed the Kid, sotto voce, “Why exactly are we hidin’ in the kitchen?”

“Where do you want to be, Kid? And don’t say riding out.”

“In that case -– Ridin’ out!” Silent fuming. “If you don’t wanna ride out and you don’t wanna sit quiet in jail, why aren’t you in there? It’s time for your big dramatic moment, Heyes!”

“Because, if I go next door, that slicker will ask me if I saw George Bowen.”

“And…?”

“I have only two cards, ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I’m kinda hoping to figure out what game this is before I pick which to play.”

“Heyes,”

“Uh huh?”

“This figurin’, you nearly done?”

A frustrated frown. The Kid thought he’d take that as a ‘No’.

Meanwhile, amongst the folk not ‘hiding’, Mister Suave opened his mouth to ask another question. Bill Fraser forestalled him. “This fella, maybe he got held up in Silver Springs. It’s about the nearest town.”

“No, sir,” replied Suave, “That’s where the rain trapped me last night.”

“You seem pretty sure he was headed this way. And, pretty keen to find him. He some business acquaintance of yours?”

“No.” Charming smile. “You’re right about me being keen to find him, though. He’s my brother.”
That was not the answer the Sheriff had been expecting. It was not the answer any of the townsfolk had been expecting. They had all anticipated ‘business acquaintance’. Shifting of feet. Squirming of butts on chairs. Exchanging of guilty looks.

If Heyes and Curry felt the change in the atmosphere, so did the stranger. There was a retreat from ‘nearly convinced by the denials’.

“Your brother,” repeated Mrs. Jenkins, a hand rising to cover her mouth.

“Yes, ma'am. Sure, we’re not much alike apart from the coloring. Ben always favored Ma. But, folks do say we both have the Gruber chin. See?”

They all leaned forward to study the chin for ‘family resemblance’, remembered they had never seen ‘Ben Gruber/George Bowen’, drew back, tried to keep the guilty looks off their faces, failed. Heyes shook his head as the Jenkinses, the Sheriff and the townsmen demonstrated the difficulties which amateur weavers have in sustaining a consistent ‘tangled web’.

“Ben Gruber?” queried the Sheriff, tentatively.

“Uh huh. Though, sir,” a sigh from the Suave One, “I think he’ll be using another name. I,” Body language suggesting someone trying to come to a difficult decision. A pair of eyes searched the lawman’s face. “May I, may I confide in you, Sheriff? As the lawyers say, without prejudice.”

“Er, I guess,” said Bill Fraser, confused.

“Ben’s not a bad man. He’s always been a good brother to me, looked out for me, protected me. Now, it’s my turn, because Ben’s made a big mistake. He, he’s embezzled money from his employer. I want to convince him to turn around, put it back. Maybe before anyone even finds out. Even if we’re too late for that, if Ben gives himself up, it’s bound to go easier for him.”

Pause.

“Do you think I’m doing the right thing, Sheriff?”

Pause.

Bill Fraser cleared his throat. “Sure do.” Longer pause. Knitting of the lawman’s brow. Gruff voice, “Wish I could help, but, like you heard, no one rode in yesterday.”

Another charming smile from Suave, alias Gruber Junior. “Maybe Ben got held up before Silver Springs. Maybe I took a shorter route, overtook him without realizing. Maybe he’ll still show up here, all I have to do is wait.” No response. To Mrs. Jenkins, “I’ll take a room with a good view of the main road, ma'am.”

Light footsteps out on the porch. The door opened. It was Theresa. Suave Stranger took a moment to pull his shoulders back and summoned up a smile so charming it made his previous efforts look half-hearted. “Good evening, ma'am.”

A shy, “Buenas noches, senor,” from Theresa. Then, turning to Mrs. Jenkins, “Perdone, Senora, lo siento,” a stream of apologetic Spanish as she hung up her shawl. Curry saw Heyes eyes narrow as the dark gaze stayed fixed on the stranger.

“Senorita,” slicked the slicker, speaking slow and a shade louder than usual, “Did you see any strangers yesterday?”

“No hablo Ingles, Senor,” fluttered the gorgeous one.

“C’mon, Kid,” said Heyes, as Theresa moved towards the kitchen. “Let’s get back to our cosy cell. I think that’s where the Sheriff wanted us to stay, huh?”

“Heyes,” said the Kid, seeing a familiar satisfaction on his partner’s face, “Did you just pick a card?”

“Uh huh.”

“Because of something you just heard?”

“Uh huh. Something Theresa said.”

“Theresa? But, you don’t even speak Spanish.”

“Nope.” Smugness dimpled the tanned cheeks. “I don’t.”

Kid Curry rolled his eyes. “Are you gonna fill me in?”

“Yup.” The partners were still slinking back towards the Sheriff’s office. The Kid waited. A brown-eyed glance
sparkled.

“Heyes!”

“Well, I’m not gonna do it NOW, Kid. Then, I’d have to repeat it all when I fill the Sheriff in. Where’s your sense of dramatic timing?” Heyes received the ‘look’. “Besides,” the former outlaw leader admitted, “I’m still kinda winging it on the details.”

“Heyes!” A completely different tone. The blue eyes had suddenly narrowed. His partner reacted at once; followed the Kid’s eye line. Curry nodded at the now empty road along which the stranger had ridden. Two keen gazes scanned the horizon. Brows drew together under the black and brown brims. The Kid turned to stare up the road to the west. A quick glance at Heyes. “Up there in the grassland, do you see anything?”

Heyes’ eyes crinkled in turn. “Nope. Not a…” Was that a flash? In the fading light it was hard to be sure. More scanning. A grimace. “Just ’cos I don’t see it, don’t mean it’s not there, Kid. Did YOU see something?” A glance was exchanged. A ‘not sure’ shrug. Despite any occasional joshing, Heyes trusted his partner’s instincts.
The blond ex-outlaw tried to shake the last of his weakness. Even when feeling in top form, he could not always follow Heyes’ mind. What WAS Heyes suspecting?

Heyes drew in his breath. He didn’t KNOW what he was suspecting either. But, his face was serious as he stared first west, then east. “This isn’t good, Kid.”


---oooOOOooo---


NOT MEANWHILE – A LITTLE LATER

Bill Fraser, two goose-feather pillows tucked under one arm, blankets draped over the other, unlocked his office and strode in.

Kid Curry, positioned behind the door, pushed it shut with a booted foot, touched his hat and smiled.
“Howdy, Sheriff,” Heyes greeted him, from the chair behind the desk. “I decided to save you a job.” He reached over and took the pot from the stove. “I already made the fresh coffee.”

The lawman’s eyes went from the open cell door, to the guns once again strapped against the former prisoners’ thighs and, finally, to the leather wallet placed centrally on the desk.

“You two broke jail,” he said.

“Strictly speaking, we’re still here. Does being the wrong side of the bars count as ‘breaking jail’, Thaddeus?”

Mock musing look, followed by a shake of the head from the Kid.

“You cracked my safe.”

“Uh huh. ‘Cept it’s not cracked, I mean, not damaged. Just open. Nothing’s been taken. I don’t think that counts as a felony. Would that count as a felony, Thaddeus?”

“Don’t even sound like a misdemeanor to me,” said his partner.

“Who are you two fellas? No. No. Don’t answer that. You cracked that safe without so much as a firecracker.
You,” the far from dumb eyes settled on the Kid “when you drew on me, it was one of the slickest things I’ve ever seen. I reckon, you weren’t even trying. And you, ” to Heyes, “you’ve been tryin’ to trip us up all up all day. You coulda turned mean, scared something outta Seth, or Boscastle, or even one of the ladies. Don’t need to be a genius to see you’re tough enough to do it if you wanted. But, you didn’t. You’ve been nice as pie. The pair of you let me lock you up meek as lambs. So DON’T tell me who you are. I don’t wanna know. Instead, tell me why you’re still here instead of ridin’ out like normal, sensible jail-breakers.”

Curry threw Heyes the ‘look’ at this remark.

“Why is THAT,” a nod at the grip, “Still here?”

“THAT is still here, because it don’t belong to us, so taking it wouldn’t be law-abiding,” said Heyes, with a straight look. “We’re real law-abiding. We’re still here because YOU, Sheriff, have a big problem.”
“What you mean is,” a dull color flushed the Sheriff’s cheeks, “It don’t belong to me neither and I have a problem ‘cos I’m not so law-abiding.”

“Uh huh.” Heyes opened the grip and removed one of the wads of money. “Do you all know how much is in here?”

A shake of the grizzled head. “Nope. We could see,” the man paused. Thinking. “I mean I,” he emphasised the singular pronoun, “I could see it was a lot when I locked it away. But, what with you being so all-fired curious and showing up like a bad penny whenever I turned round, I haven’t had chance to count it.”

“I counted it. $60,000.”

The size of the sum clearly astounded Bill Fraser. “Can’t be!”

“Uh huh. Under the top layer of twenties, it’s practically all hundred dollar bills.” A pause. “And, now your guilty conscience is making you even keener to hand it over to that slicker over at the hotel, isn’t it? So he can go do the honourable thing. Do his best to clear his family name.”

“You were listening in,” deduced the Sheriff.

“But you can’t, because, if you hand over the money, he’ll ask ‘Where’s my brother?’ And, you really don’t want to answer that, do you?”

The Sheriff opened his mouth, failed to find anything to say, shut it again.

“This George Bowen, or Ben Gruber,” asked Curry. “Have you worked out where he’s hidin’, Joshua?”

“I’m pretty sure I have,” nodded Heyes. “Though, he’s not exactly ‘hiding’. More like being hidden.”

“So you reckon he’s,” the Kid lowered his voice a shade, “dead?”

“Oh, he’s dead all right,” said Heyes.

Curry was not much surprised at the answer. He’d suspected as much once he saw the stash of money in the grip. What DID surprise him was Heyes’ certainty.

“And, you know where the body is?”

“I think so.”

A stricken look from the Sheriff. He searched Heyes’ face.

“Where’s the best place to hide a needle, Thaddeus?”

“Not in a haystack, in a pin-cushion with all the other pins and needles ,” responded the Kid.

“So, where’s the best place to hide a dead body?” Heyes allowed his eyes to gaze out of the window. It was almost dark now, but a tapered finger pointed in the direction of the graveyard.

“But,” his partner blinked, “but, you watched the funeral. If they’d buried two bodies you’d have …”

“Folk don’t bury loose bodies, Thaddeus. They bury coffins. Nice, tidy, nailed down wooden boxes.”

“But we saw the coffin while it was still open. We SAW the old lady’s body.”

“Sure we did. I think Walter Lewis meant us to. We were hardly likely to lift her up and look underneath were we?”

The Kid’s eyes opened wide. But, a glance at the Sheriff’s face was enough to show Heyes had guessed right.

“No need to look quite so shocked, Thaddeus,” said Heyes. “You can’t hurt the dead. You can’t even make them uncomfortable. It makes no difference to Mrs. Stottlemeyer if she’s a little crowded in there and what’s under the velvet isn’t the usual cotton stuffing.”

Curry turned to Bill Fraser. “Did you?”

“NO! No!” The guilty eyes turned to Heyes. “We, I didn’t do nothing to hurt him. You do believe me?”

“I reckon I do believe you,” said Heyes. “What happened?”

“It was after you’d gone up to bed. The game carried on. Bowen, or Gruber, was losing. Not that it bothered him. I guess we all knew the game was chicken feed to you two strangers. But, he ran out of money. Went upstairs to fetch more. And, never came down. We went up to check on him and,” a pause, “he was stretched out on the bed. The Doc said it was probably an,” the lined face screwed up with a memory effort, “apoplexy Can happen to anyone, any age, no warning.,It’s quick. The Doc says it’s a real good way to go, though, you’d like it to be when a fella’s a sight older than …” He tailed off. “He’d told us all he’d no family. Well, you heard him, I guess he meant no wife and children, since he HAS got kin. We thought if we checked his bags, we might find an address for his office. I’d ride over to Silver Springs, send a telegraph. Instead I found,” he pointed, “That.”

A pause. More heavily, the Sheriff grunted, “I guess you despise me, huh?”

“Thaddeus and I aren’t really in a position to despise anyone for being tempted. Not even for giving in,” said Heyes, simply. “We like to think there’s a little bad in everyone. And,” his eyes were understanding, “you weren’t exactly planning to spend it on wine, women and song, were you?”

“Mary might not make it through another winter here,” sighed the lean-faced father. “The Doc says she needs sea air, sunshine.” A pause. “I could see him thinkin’ pretty much the same as me when we opened that grip. Seth and Hannah too. And Walter. The banks pretty much own his sons after ’81. And, we wouldn’t leave the youngsters out. Plenty for everyone.” A pause. “None of us thought it was $60,000, or anything like that. I reckon it just felt as if our ‘what could we all do with a couple of thousand dollars’ wish had come true. Maybe it was the beer, but it simply didn’t feel like real stealing. It didn’t feel…mean.” A longer pause. “Don’t make it right, does it?”

“Nope,” said Heyes. “But, it eases the conscience to think you’re hurting no one, huh? I’m guessing you thought the money belonged to the insurance firm. Or, to one of their banker clients. Do insurers miss a few thousand dollars? Do banks? Do they hesitate in wringing money out of poor folk when they get a chance? Might not be the RIGHT way to think, but, I reckon Thaddeus and I can sure understand it.”

There was sympathy in Heyes’ tone; the Sheriff shot him a grateful look.

“Bowen had told us he telegraphed his offices regularly. You reckoned someone was bound to come looking. You all decided the easiest thing would be to say you’d never seen him. You hid him. You hid his horse. You didn’t know I’d be looking to give a book back; no one saw him lend it to me. You didn’t know the bridge would come down, so, I couldn’t just assume he’d ridden out. You were all too dang nice to throw us two outta town. Then, much quicker than you expected, someone comes searching. You lock me up to keep me outta sight. Only, it’s not some rich banker type who don’t really need the money, ‘cos it’s not his personal money anyhow. It’s a loving brother wanting to do the best thing by his kin. He does need the money if his brother’s to escape being shamed. And, he’ll want a body to bury and a grave to mourn over. Preferably without being handed a shovel and told if he wants to bury his kin decent, he’ll have to dig him up first.”

The Sheriff flushed deeply. “Are you gonna go tell him? Your friend here’s far too quick for me to stop you. Even if I wanted to, and, I ain’t exactly made my mind up if I do.” An earnest look, “If you’re gonna turn me in, there’s no need to involve anyone else. It’s my fault. No need to even mention the others.”

The ex-outlaws exchanged a glance. The Kid’s expression softened further. He guessed Heyes was right, this fella had sure been bluffing about a few things, but, being decent wasn’t one of them.

“Nope. I’m not going to go talk to Ben Gruber’s brother. For one very good reason. That slicker back there is NOT his brother. He’s lying. And, like our late, lamented friend of last night, he’s one of the best liars I’ve ever seen, which is saying something.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I know something about George Ben Gruber-Bowen, that you don’t know and that CAN’T have been a lie. Can’t have been all a lie, anyhow. He spoke two languages. Spoke Spanish like a native, ‘cos he was brought up by a Spanish lady since being so high. Stands to reason, his brother, real close in age, ought to be able to too. Yet, our new visitor speaks Spanish pretty much the same as me and most Americans. He does it by making the English slower and louder. He’s no kin to the man you buried. AND, he can’t be legitimately looking for his work colleague in insurance, ‘cos why lie? AND, he can’t be the law chasing down embezzled money, ‘cos, again, why lie? ‘Specially to another lawman.”

“Who is he?” asked the Sheriff. “Do you know?”

“Know? Nah. I’m guessing, but, I reckon the odds are I’m right.”

“I’d say you’re pretty dang good at reckoning odds,” grunted Bill Fraser. “Who do you guess he is?”

“Not he, them,” corrected Heyes.

The Sheriff’s grey eyebrows rose. He frowned.

“We reckon you have unannounced visitors watching both roads outta town,” explained Curry. “Probably they’re waiting for the first fella to give them a signal before ridin’ in. OR, they’ve agreed to give him a few hours to see if he can find Gruber.”

“We said we’re still here ‘cos you have a big problem,” said Heyes. “And, that’s partly true, ‘cos, we kinda like the folk we’ve met in this town, including you, Sheriff. BUT, if we’re honest…”

“Which we are,” put in Curry, “Honest AND law-abidin’.”

“We’re also still here, ‘cos we think anyone trying to ride out will soon find themselves stopped for a few words with the fellas watching the town.” Heyes pulled a section of newspaper from his vest pocket. “Given the dead man was real keen to make out he was coming from the west, not the east and, given we’ve $60,000 in front of us, I’m putting my money on them being the gang who robbed the bank out at Dallas a few days back.”

“And, Gruber probably did himself a favour dyin’ last night,” chimed in Curry, “’cos, if he’s made off with the haul, which is what it looks like, I can’t see the rest of the gang planning anything so quick and painless, once they caught up.”

Heyes watched the Sheriff’s brow knit as he read the report. “These fellas killed child hostages,” he read. “They wouldn’t have much compunction with the folks at the hotel. If they take a hostage, we can’t trust ‘em to release him or her, even if we do as we’re told.”

“Uh huh.”

“Even if I wanted to, I can’t just hand over the money and send ‘em on their way, ‘cos I said I hadn’t seen it. If I change my mind they’ll guess I’ve worked something out. If I know, they’ll know the others know. They won’t be safe. And, they’ll guess I’m…” Again, a dull colour filled his lean cheeks.

“They’ll guess you’re crooked. And, you don’t want a gang like this trying to use you as they might try to use a crooked Sheriff.” Heyes saw the fresh misery in the man’s face. “’Specially when you’re not really crooked. Just wandered off the straight and narrow a little,” he added.

“Did we convince him, back there? Suppose we just stick to, ‘we never saw him.’”

“You didn’t convince him. You almost convinced him, then, he appealed to your better natures. Since there were quite a few pretty good natures in that room, it worked. He’s not SURE you’re lying. He’s not sure WHO’S lying. Doubt he realizes it’s all of you. He’s sticking with the nice guy act while he thinks. Once it’s light, he’ll think AND look around, same as I did. He’ll look for something to prove someone’s lying. Unlike me, he’ll remember what whatisname’s horse looked like. You’ve hidden the horse. But, he’ll find it. He’s smart.”

A pause.

“I know he’ll find it, ‘cos, since I heard him describe it, I found it. Leastways, I know where it is. Thaddeus, where’s the best place to hide something real big, like a horse?”

“Well, I’d say ‘in a herd’, but there isn’t one. So…” The blue eyes crinkled thoughtfully.

“In plain…” prompted Heyes.

“Hidden in plain sight,” finished Kid.

“The slicker will be looking for – and I quote, ‘a black horse with a white blaze’.” Heyes opened his eyes wide at Bill Fraser. “Sheriff, if I took a damp cloth and rubbed hard on the muzzle of the all-black horse, that Doc Bergman’s been riding right past me in a carriage all day, what might I see?”

Another flush and a wry smile from the Sheriff. “You might see an ink-stained damp cloth,” he admitted. “Which brings me back to, what am I gonna do?” A pause. “Any ideas?”

Musing from Heyes. “We know something about this gang. Apart from the fact they’re mean and at least two of them are dang smart. We know Gruber betrayed the others. We can guess they’re feeling real suspicious, and, not just about the folk here.”

“Uh huh,” nodded Kid, “they’re gonna be jumpy about each other.” He met Heyes’ eyes. “You’re thinking’ we can work on that?”

A smile dimpled Heyes’ cheeks.


---oooOOOooo---


A VERY SHORT TIME LATER

The Sheriff watched Heyes, oil lamp in hand, signal through the dimming light along the road down which the new stranger had ridden.

“Are you sure someone’s out there?” he grunted, squinting.

“Thaddeus is almost sure. That’s good enough for me.”

“’S’that Morse you usin’?”

“Uh huh. I’m sending ‘ride in’.”

“How d’you know that’s the signal? How d’you know THEY even read Morse?”

“I don’t. This is almost certainly the wrong signal. BUT, it is A signal. He’s bound to think it’s from the first fella. He’ll think he’s seeing it wrong, or the other guy’s sending it wrong, or something’s gone wrong. Won’t matter. It’s a signal. He’ll dither, then he’ll ride in to make sure.”


---oooOOOooo---


MEANWHILE, INSIDE THE HOTEL

Aaron Arkwright (the man who, up to now, has been referred to as ‘the Suave Stranger’ or ‘that Slicker) sat beside the window in the Jenkinses’ clean and comfortable ‘room #3’. He had, as requested, a good view of anyone approaching or exiting the front of the hotel. The finely tailored jacket hung, neatly, on the chair back. Arkwright was checking his gun, a fancy pearl handled affair, which he habitually wore not low and tied down, but strapped under that aforementioned jacket.

As well as cleaning his gun, he was thinking. Thinking hard.

A tap on the door.

Sharp, intelligent eyes looked around, narrowed. The gun slid back into its holster and the jacket was shrugged back over the broad shoulders.

Arkwright unlocked and opened the door. Hannah Jenkins stood, motherly smile in place, her arms full of snowy bed linen. A few feet away Theresa was busy with a dustpan and brush at the top of the stairs.

“Yes, ma'am?” Still all charm. Arkwright was a firm believer that you catch more flies with honey, and so, the ‘nice guy’ act stayed in place until definitely and unequivocally surplus to requirement.

“Mister Gruber, I can’t apologize enough, but, I got to thinkin’, the sheets here haven’t been aired. You see, I usually rent out Rooms #1 and #2 first, so I air them like clockwork every Monday, but you wanted the best view of the street, and Room #1 does HAVE a view, but, this room IS the best, and I tend to air this room AFTER Room #2 is filled.” A self-deprecating smile. “Listen to me, natterin’ on an’ on. Would it be all right if I changed the bed?”

The quick-seeing gaze was summing up the sheets. Mrs. Jenkins gave them a shake, settled them more comfortably over her sturdy forearm. Sheets. Nothing suspicious. “Not a problem, ma'am,” he smiled.

“Why don’t you have a quick beer? I won’t be five minutes. Theresa…”

The shapely one straightened up. A lock of straying, dark hair was tucked behind a perfect ear. A pair of glorious deep brown eyes widened, enquiringly. Soft hands smoothed an apron over deliciously curved hips.
All this was utterly innocent, by the way. Theresa, modestly, and Manuel, vehemently, had refused point blank a suggestion that the young wife go ‘bat her eyelashes’. Heyes had sighed, but asked if she’d be willing to go clean something near his door and bring him a drink IF she could do so acting, as she always did to customers, like a thoroughly respectable married woman. The gorgeous one, once this was translated had nodded, ‘Muy bien,’ she had blushed.

Once the couple was out of earshot, the Kid had queried if that would be enough.

“Worked on us two,” pointed out Heyes. “Probably just as well she’s shy and a real nice girl. If she ever DID bat her lashes, we’d be in a mess of trouble, huh?”

“Theresa, could you leave that for a moment? Go fetch a beer. cerveza, for Senor Gruber.”

“Una cerveza, Senor?” echoed Theresa. Full lips parted in a shy, but eager- to-please smile.

Arkwright smiled back. He followed. He liked beer. He liked the view. He’d be in the bar with a clear sight of the door.

The Suave One tried a line, probably a good one, on the way down.

“No entiendo,” murmured Theresa, truthfully. “But ees,” the ring was displayed, “Senora.”


---oooOOOooo---


MEANWHILE, OUTSIDE THE HOTEL

Kid Curry, who for the second time that day had slipped through the shadows and looped around the back of the hotel, wondered why HE, who was still (disgruntled sniffle) sick, was the one waiting to swarm up and around the outside of the building, while clutching a bulky leather grip; while Heyes, who was (a cross, though discreet, nose blow) fine, got to do the restful stuff with an oil lamp.

A pillowcase waved from an upper window. The Kid braced himself, levered himself onto the first ledge and prepared, as always, to excel at the action stuff.


---oooOOOooo---


A SHORT TIME LATER - BACK INSIDE THE HOTEL BAR

A second stranger strode into the Jenkinses’ place. Tall, lean, grim-faced. None of the charm of Arkwright. Tied down gun in a worn looking holster.

“Can I help you?” smiled Mrs. Jenkins, bustling forward.

“I’m looking for a friend of mine. Rode in about an hour ago. Tall fella. Kinda dandified.”

“Oh! You mean Mister Gruber. He’s in his brother’s room. Room #3.”

“We told him we were sure his brother would be back soon,” chipped in Seth. “Guess Ben wanted to stretch his legs after being cooped up by all that rain, huh? Mister Gruber said he’d wait up there.”

“Uh huh?” Bolsover, alias ‘Second Stranger’, processed this. It sounded feasible.

“You any objections if I go up, ma'am?” The gloved hand just moved a touch, hardly noticeable, closer to the low-slung gun.

“You’re more than welcome. Straight up the stairs. The number’s on the door.”

The hand relaxed. After a glance round at the wholly unthreatening occupants of the bar, Bolsover did walk up.


---oooOOOooo---


TEN SECONDS LATER – INSIDE ROOM #3

“I saw you ride in. I told you to wait for my signal.”

“There WAS a signal. Anyhow, I ain’t so good at just waiting. Where’s Gruber?”

“All the folks here are swearing they’ve never seen him. No strangers rode in at all. And,” Arkwright shrugged, a frown on his face, “I almost believe them. I’ll take a real good look round tomorrow, but, maybe we need to split up. One double back, one ride on. You and…”

From the moment Bolsover heard Arkwright claim that Hannah and Seth Jenkins were denying having ever seen Ben Gruber, his brow began to darken. The grim face became grimmer with each word. He strode over to the closet, flung open the door. There sat a familiar leather grip.

“You lyin’ b*****d!” Bolsover spun round dumping the grip on the bed, opened it. Empty. “Where is it, you double-crossing…” Bolsover reached for his gun. He was fast. Not ‘Kid Curry’ fast, but dang close.


---oooOOOooo---


MEANWHILE – OUTSIDE AGAIN

Heyes again slipped back into the shadows after signalling for the second time along the road, this time to the west at the other ‘invisible but there’ gang members.

“So, they’ll ride in, too?” grunted Bill Fraser.

“That’s the plan.”

“And,” this was Manuel, who had joined Heyes, Kid and the Sheriff, “you theenk the first two gringos, they fight by now?”

“If I know anything about outlaws,” The former leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang caught the Sheriff’s eye, “which I don’t. ‘Cept, like I said, I’ve kinda taken an interest in what the papers print over the years. Each’ll be real suspicious the other is lying to trick ‘em outta their share. Let’s go see.”

Heyes and Kid crouched low and slunk to where they could sneak and, unobserved, look into the hotel.
“From the quality of the lying, the Slicker and our mild-mannered friend of yesterday were the brains of the outfit. What I’m hoping is, this new fella, he looked fast, huh, will put the Slicker out of action. If they lose the brains it just leaves mean guys good with a gun. Simple.”

Manuel and Fraser looked doubtful it would be all that simple. Still, there was some truth in there.
The quiet of the darkening evening was shattered by the explosive sound of a gunshot.

“So,” said the Sheriff, “You‘re hoping that shot was the gunslinger taking out the Slicker?”

Two pairs of deep brown, a pair of cornflower blue and a pair of wary, wrinkle-surrounded grey eyes peered over the sill of the window. They saw the dead body of Bolsover, the assumed gunslinger, crash through the upper banister and thud, limbs in an ugly tangle, to the floor beneath.

Heyes exchanged a glance with his companions. He sighed. “I reckon we still have to contend with the brains of this gang, huh? I guess anything else was too much to hope for. The odds are always on the side of the clever fella. Still,” a rueful shrug, “one down.”

Hoof beats from the West. Horses galloping in.

“Manuel, I think you’re on. Act reluctant, then give in. Sheriff, you’re with Manuel. I need to get in place for my next scene. Mister Jones, you know what you hafta do?”

A nod from his partner.

Heyes slipped away down the street. Curry slunk, once again, around the back of the hotel. Fraser and Manuel hurried, with the appearance of men reacting to an unexpected gunshot, into the hotel.


…oooOOOooo---


AGAIN MEANWHILE – AGAIN INSIDE THE HOTEL BAR

Arkwright strode downstairs, gun in one hand, open and empty leather grip in the other.

“I’m afraid I’ve stained your hall rug and broken your banister, ma'am. Do not hesitate to add the cost of a replacement and, the hire of a carpenter to my bill. And now,…” The grip was tossed onto the table. Theresa was grabbed by a whip-quick hand and dragged to Arkwright’s side. “See this bag? You all have until,” the cold eyes checked the clock, “Let’s stick with tradition. You have until midnight to replace what’s missing, or, I ruin another rug by blowing this pretty lady’s innards all over it. I also want you to produce Ben Gruber. I’ll do you a favour there, ma'am. Shoot him in the gutter where he belongs to save on your cleaning bill.”


…oooOOOooo---


MEANWHILE OUT IN THE STREET

The two galloping riders, pulled up outside the hotel, swung from their saddles. Both gave the impression of meeting Heyes’ prediction: ‘mean guys good with a gun’. The guns were checked before they ran up the hotel steps.


…oooOOOooo---


BACK IN THE HOTEL BAR

“Where’s the money?” demanded Arkwright.

Silence. A shocked, frightened silence rather than any kind of stubborn refusal. Arkwright knew this. He gave a second for the gulps and blinks to subside.

The door banged open in the silence. Callow and Dronfield (Strangers
Three and Four, respectively) burst into the room. A smothered scream from Hannah Jenkins.

“Perfect timing, boys. These folks are about to tell us where the money is.”

“Should we signal to Bolsover?” asked Callow.

Still keeping a tight hold on Theresa, Arkwright took a calm step to one side revealing the broken dead body behind him.

“Feel free. Though, he’s not going to be much use. Unless, of course, you want to lay him across the foot of the door to keep out the draft. It does get chilly once the sun’s gone down, huh?”

Dronfield moved to the corpse. “He’s shot in the back!” The harsh face showed a mix of suspicion and just a trace fear.

“Naturally he is shot in the back. He’s twice as fast as I am. Am I likely to face him and draw? That’d be just dumb.”

“You tricked him, somehow.”

“Yup. Good news, huh? Now we’re only sharing $60,000 between three. I like that math. Much simpler. Even you could do that, huh, Callow? If you took a boot off to use your toes as well as your fingers. Now,” the piercing gaze swept from face to face, “back to the plot. I’ll speak slowly so you sodbusters understand. Where’s the money?” A muzzle pressed deeper into Theresa’s breast.

“Don’t hurt her!” yelled Manuel, darting forward. Seth and Lewis caught one arm each and held him back.
“Not until midnight,” confirmed Arkwright. “But,” another glance at the clock, “Tick, tock, tick, tock. I’ll ask again. Where’s the money?”

His eyes locked on his wife, Manuel bit his lip. “It’s in the safe in the Sheriff’s office,” he blurted.
Bill Fraser darted an apparently furious look at the young husband.

A smug smile from Arkwright at meeting, yet another, greedy lawman. “Sheriff, these boys will take you back to your office and invite you, civilly, to open your safe. We’ll see if Romeo-Mex here is telling the truth, or, is as much of a liar as the rest of you. And, remember,” A wide, gleaming white, smile,“Tick, tock, tick, tock.”


---oooOOOooo---


OVER AT THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE

Bill Fraser, at gunpoint, his own gun already confiscated, unlocked the office. Callow, staying close, accompanied him to the desk. Dronfield, leaving a sliver of door open for a view of the street, took up classic ‘lookout’ position.

“What’s happening?” The question came from a disreputably dishevelled dark-haired, bleary-eyed fella, swinging from his bunk to come peer through the bars of his cell.

“Who’s he?” asked Callow, taking a step toward the cell, while keeping his gun aimed squarely at the Sheriff.

“Just some drifter callin’ himself Smith. Drunk an’ disorderly. If you call annoyin’ loud singin’, cussin’ an’ breakin’ stuff by fallin’ over it ‘disorderly’.”

Callow drew back sharply. Sheesh! Smith not only smelled as if he’d bathed in stale whiskey, he smelled like he used horse p*ss as cologne.

Turning back fully to the Sheriff, Callow gestured with his colt. “Open the safe.”

Bill Fraser dropped his hands to his hips. “No!”

Callow blinked. “Tick, tock, tick tock,” he tried to capture some of the menace Arkwright managed to get into the words.

“What do I care about some Mexican piece of tail?” challenged Fraser. “I stall. Your boss comes looking for you, AFTER having had time to think over how simple the math is dividing $60,000 by 1. I offer to open the safe for HIM for say, $10,000. He’s $30,000 up on the deal.”

The drifter in the cells, chirped up. “There’s $60,000 in that safe?”

“Butt out!” snapped Callow to the drunk. To the Sheriff he said, “He AIN’T our boss! We’re a team!”

“You’re outlaws!” deduced the drifter. A pair of dimples showed beneath the dirt.

“Butt out!” Again to the Sheriff, “Open the safe!” The muzzle of the gun pressed into Fraser’s temple.

“NO! You blow my brains out and you NEVER get in there. If you think you’ll find any dynamite in this two-bit town, think again.” A pause. Both Callow and Dronfield were processing this and, frustrated, concluded there was a lotta truth in there. “Or, YOU give me $10,000 to open it. One of you stand behind the door; when your boss does show up, shoot him in the back. It’s what he’s gonna do to you, once he finishes the math. Then, YOU’RE both $5,000 up on the deal.”

A longer pause. Frowning from the two outlaws.

“Do you need a pencil and paper?” offered the Sheriff.

A voice chirped from the cells. “I used to be an outlaw. I used to be a great outlaw. I can open it!”

“BUTT OUT!” Callow turned the gun from the Sheriff to the smelly individual behind the bars. “Open the dang safe, NOW, or, I blow HIS brains out.”

The Sheriff adopted a puzzled expression. “And, this is bad news for me, how?”
“I can open it! I’ll do it for free if you let me join your gang. You’d want me in your gang. You would! Before the drinking, I used to be Hanni…”

“You gotta smart mouth, Sheriff,” fumed Callow, ignoring the annoyance from behind him. A gloved hand slapped Bill Fraser, hard across the jaw. To his horror, the lawman collapsed, apparently unconscious to the floor. He stayed there.

“What do think you’re doin’?!” protested Dronfield, from the door.

“I’m beatin’ the combination outta him! Whaddya think I’m doin’?”

“He’s an old man! Did you need to hit him so hard?”

“Since when did you care about hittin’ old men?”

“Since you knocked him out cold! Now we CAN’T beat the combination outta him. And, I reckon he’s tellin’ the truth about there bein’ no dynamite in this two-bit town.”

“I can open it,” chirped an eager voice from the cell. “I used to be Hannibal Heyes. I mean, I AM Hannibal Heyes.”

Callow and Dronfield examined the scruffy, stinking loser behind the bars. As one man they let out a scornful,

“Pffffttttt!”

“Read the poster!

They followed the pointing finger and did read the tatty, evidently a few years old, poster.

Another appraising look at the jailed drifter. “Pfffftttt! Could be anyone. Could be Dronfield here. Could be Arkwright back at the hotel.”

“Let me out. I‘ll prove it! I’ll open the safe. What have you gotta lose?” Heyes indicated the prone Sheriff.

“He’s not coming round anytime soon.”

Callow pulled up Fraser by his shirtfront, slapped his face. Nothing. And again, nothing. He let go. The Sheriff’s head dropped with a thud to the floor. Wince from Heyes. No reaction from Fraser, unless you count a slight bounce.

Callow’s shoulders drooped, despondently. He exchanged a glance with the man at the door. A half-reluctant nod from Dronfield. Callow pulled the keys from the Sheriff’s belt and let Heyes out. “No tricks,” he warned.
“Just the safe opening trick,” grinned the former leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang, kneeling down and caressing the dial.

“You see,” he went on, pressing his ear to the metal and closing his eyes, “The reason you’ve heard nothing about me for a couple of years is I kinda got pushed out of the Devil’s Hole Gang.” A hiccough indicated the probable reason for this. “But, I still got it. All I need is to get back into a gang that has vision. I still got ideas too.”

The look out, Dronfield, was beginning to lose concentration watching the drifter manipulate the dial, react to the tiniest clicks. Even over by the door he could smell the stale whiskey. “You can’t really be Heyes? Sheesh! If you are, you really went downhill.”

“Just keep your eyes on my hands. They’ll prove it. Any minute now.”

Both outlaws were keeping their eyes on Heyes’ hands. Dronfield took a step forward, watching closely.

A sigh from Heyes. The safe swung open. Bills spilled, abundantly, onto the floor.

“Whoo-hooo!”

“It’s there!”

Jubilant grins split the faces of two outlaws. Dronfield came completely forward to squat beside Callow and join him in scooping up notes.

“He IS Heyes! He did it! Is it all here?”

“Can I join your gang?” bleated Heyes. “Am I in?”

A frown began to gather on Callow’s forehead. “It don’t really prove he’s Heyes. It was too dang quick.” More frowning. “I’m thinking, suppose he knew the combination. Suppose that old Sheriff AIN’T out cold at all. I’m thinking, it could be a trick.”

“Hey,” smiled Heyes, admiringly. “You’re not as dumb as you look. You should think more often. You should practice, make yourself faster. You’re right! Opening that safe didn’t really prove I’m Hannibal Heyes. I don’t think I CAN prove I’m Hannibal Heyes. But, I can probably prove HE’S Kid Curry.”

A dark head nodded at the unwatched doorway. The outlaws froze as, from behind them, came the sound of a hammer clicking. Two wary pairs of eyes turned.

“Easy boys,” smiled the Kid, coolly levelling his colt at the two men crouching amidst the scattered bills. “You know the drill. Guns tossed towards me. Two fingers of the left hand, nice ’n ’slow.”


---oooOOOooo


A FEW MINUTES LATER.

Sheriff Bill Fraser locked the cell door on Callow and Dronfield. Both were stripped to their long johns, handcuffed to the bars and had their legs firmly trussed. After seeing how easily ‘Smith and Jones’ got out, he was taking no chances.

Behind him, George Boscastle and Doc Bergman were pulling on the outlaws’ discarded jackets, pants and hats.

“Nicely played, Sheriff,” admired Heyes, who was now washed, combed, shirt neatly tucked in, and sporting a deputy badge. Seeing the man rub his head, he asked sympathetically, “How’s the bump?”

“Enormous and throbbing,” grunted Fraser, “But, I’ll live.”


---oooOOOooo---


A FEW MORE MINUTES LATER – INSIDE THE HOTEL

On the surface, Aaron Arkwright was retaining his cool demeanour. Only the frequent flicking of his hard gaze to the clock and a tightness in the lines around his mouth betrayed growing strain as time passed.

A gunshot sliced through the tension.

Jumps and yelps from the townsfolk in the hotel. Arkwright’s eyes showed the rapid calculations of possibilities running through that clever brain.

The door of the hotel crashed open. A dark-haired deputy, looking both startled and, not to put too fine a point on it, kinda dim-witted, burst in.

Before he so much as registered a dandified stranger holding a gun on Theresa, the deputy (adopting his very best, tried and tested, ‘dumb deppity’ accent) yelped, “Someone shot Sheriff Fraser! An’ there are two fellas I never seen afore ‘bout to ride hell for leather outta town!”

Doubt, suspicion, then cold fury chased across Arkwright’s face. Dragging Theresa as cover, he shoved the gaping deputy aside and raced outside. Down the moonlit street, two men, one tall and lanky, one short and stocky, backs to him, wearing all too familiar coats and hats, on equally familiar mounts, carrying suspiciously well-stuffed saddlebags, were digging their heels into their horses’ flanks. Galloping off.

“You pair of double crossing…!” Without releasing Theresa, Arkwright removed the gun from her side and took aim at what he assumed to be Callow.

Once again (and in the best tradition), a shot rang out.

Arkwright gazed in disbelief at his gun, which had spun clean out of his hand and landed in the dirt five feet away.

Kid Curry stepped out from the dark alley beside the hotel. “Drop something?” he inquired, deadpan.
As Arkwright stared at the impassive face and the colt in the tan-gloved hand, he heard a click from the shadows on his other side. He glanced back. Sheriff Fraser was leveling a rifle. “Let the lady go and, don’t even think about trying any other move.”


---oooOOOooo---


EPILOGUE - THE NEXT DAY

Relaxing on the porch outside the Sheriff’s office, boots propped up on the rail, Heyes and Curry watched a cheerful-looking Bill Fraser ride back into town.

“You sent the telegram to Dallas?” asked Heyes, as the lawman dismounted.

“Uh huh.”

“Get an answer?”

“Uh huh. A Federal Marshall and a whole team of deputies are coming to collect both them and the money. AND – good news! There’s a reward, $8,000!”

“Only $8000, for all three? Pffffttt!!” Heyes scoffed.

“Four,” corrected the Kid. “Wanted dead or alive, remember. They scooped one off the hotel rug.”

“Even worse,” sniffed his partner. “What’s wrong with those tightwads at the Bank of Dallas?” He took a deep pull on his cigar. “Could you make it five outlaws handed in?” he wondered. “So long as it’s dead or alive, OR, so very, very, very dead they had to be dug up in order to claim. How much for the one you buried?”

“That could raise embarrassing questions with the reverend,” pointed out Sheriff Fraser. “I think everyone will be perfectly satisfied with $8,000 divided ten ways. It’s not as if we caught us some real expensive outlaws, like the Heyes and Curry fellas you two pretended to be.” A knowing glance met the suddenly still gazes of the two boys. “Don’t want to get greedy do we?” smiled the lawman.

A mute conversation. A pause.

Heyes broke the silence. “Ten ways?” he queried.

“Er, I suppose you fellas really deserve a bigger share.” The Sheriff looked embarrassed. “Are we being mean?
Is that what you were thinking?”

Heyes and Curry exchanged another glance. And, a grin.

“Nope,” smiled the Kid. “We weren’t thinking that.”

“We’re happy enough with a two tenths share of $8,000,” confirmed Heyes. “More’n we expected.”

“A lot more’n we usually ride outta anywhere with,” mused Curry, blowing a smoke ring.

“And, real simple math,” beamed the dimpled one.

“Marshall Renahen will bring the reward when he rides in. With luck, that’ll be around five this afternoon. He’s takin’ the train as far as…”

Recognition of the name and ‘not again’ resignation swept the cheerfulness from two ex-outlaw faces.

“Actually, Sheriff,” interrupted Heyes, rising to his feet and stubbing out his cigar, “Mister Jones and I have hung around too long already. We have a real urgent appointment to keep.”

“If you let me have your address at Red Rock,” offered Fraser, “I could have it forwarded.”

Another mute conversation. Two former members of the Devil’s Hole Gang swung themselves into their saddles.

“We may change our plans,” said Curry. “Go somewhere else. You folks can split the reward eight ways. Even easier math.”

“If he asks,” chipped in Heyes, “Tell the Marshall, you’ve no idea where Smith ’n ’Jones went. Be honest, huh?
Then, if those lowlifes you have locked up ARE still laboring under the delusion that we WEREN’T just pretending, it won’t matter.”

“Now, Sheriff, none of you folks are gonna be tempted to stray from the straight and narrow again?” checked Kid Curry.

“Nah! We’re gonna stay as law-abidin’ as you two boys,” smiled Fraser.

Heyes and Curry met the Sheriff’s wise old eyes. They grinned and touched their hats, before galloping out of town.

THE END
 

There's a Little Bad in Everyone by Calico

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Stories: Alias Smith and Jones  :: Virtual Season :: Virtual Season 2008/2009-
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