Whether being loquacious or just plain annoyin’, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry are about to find out The Importance of Being Earnest – A Calico-McCoy Production.
Pete Duel as Hannibal Heyes
And Ben Murphy as Kid Curry
Jon Walmsley as Jack
Mary McDonough as Cecily
Michelle Carey as Gwen
Slim Pickens as Sheriff Butler
Pernell Roberts as The Slicker
The Importance Of Being ErnestPROLOGUE – EARLY MORNING
A Calico-McCoy Production
The camera pans the street of an entirely nondescript town. Zooming in, it focuses on a small building announcing; Leadville Courier. The door opens. Out steps a slim, dark-haired young man. His serious dark eyes scan the street from behind wire-rimmed spectacles. We see what he sees, namely, a gingham-clad young woman heading towards the white-washed school house. He sets off at a run to intercept her.
Cecily turns. He joins her at the bottom of the school steps.
“Cecily, y’know the church picnic this Sunday – do you want to go?”
“I am going. I’m organising the children’s races.”
“I mean, may I – escort – you?”
“Oh, Jack, I don’t think so.”
His face falls.
“I shall be happy to see you there, of course,” she consoles him.
“But we’ve been keeping company for over a month. I thought we had an understanding.”
“That was before…” She glances down at a newspaper clipping she holds. She blushes. “Jack, you’re a good, good man, but...”
“A girl has ideals. And you’re not – ideal.”
“Well, who the Sam Hill is?”
Her blue eyes fall once again to the clipping. “Someone like – Ernest,” she murmurs, shyly.
Cecily unfurls a coiled rope and begins to toll the school bell, cutting off anything further Jack might have to say.
***LATER THAT DAY
Two dusty figures, hats drooping disconsolately, ride into town. Weary blue and – if possible – even wearier brown eyes scan the notice on the clap-board building declaring itself to be the sheriff’s office. They focus first on the town name: Leadville, then -- a hint of wariness added, alliteratively, to the weariness -- on the moniker of the local lawman: Lane Butler. A relieved glance is exchanged. We gather this Butler fella is a stranger.
As our boys dismount by the town horse trough, and pump cool water over sweat-drenched bandannas, a grizzled man emerges from the office and watches, thoughtfully. Kid Curry, with a barely perceptible head gesture, directs his partner’s attention to this fact – and to the star glinting on the watcher’s vest. Heyes, after mopping his neck, drapes a freshly drenched bandanna around his brow. He eyes the lawman, who is now coming over.
“Trouble?” asks Curry, quietly.
“Don’t think so. Just professional interest.”
“His isn’t a profession we like takin’ an interest in us, Heyes.”
The sotto voce conversation ceases as Lane Butler strides into earshot.
Unnoticed by our boys, they have a second observer. Jack – who we saw earlier being turned down like a bedspread by the schoolmarm – leans on the rail fronting the newspaper office and, with mild interest, surveys the unfolding scene. His brown eyes rest first on Kid Curry, then, narrowing a tad as his interest notches up from mild to moderate, on Heyes.
“Howdy, Sheriff,” Heyes greets the lawman.
“Howdy.” Butler nods at the horses quenching their thirst at the trough. “Looks like you’ve had a hot ride.”
“Sure have,” agrees Curry.
“What brings you to Leadville?”
“Just passin’ through.”
In the background, Jack’s lips purse, thoughtfully.
“We’re looking for work,” adds Heyes.
“What kinda work?” The sheriff’s eyes drop, noticeably, to the partners’ tied-down guns.
The scene’s single-member audience makes the same observation. Was that a nod? Maybe.
“The peaceable, law-abidin’ kind.” Kid Curry smiles the blue-eyed smile of the innocent.
His partner shoots him an annoyed look. “Any kind that pays real well and isn’t too hard on the back.”
A wry grin from the lawman. “I don’t reckon you’ll find that kinda work round Leadville. If you do, let me know, son, I’ll go sign up.”
An acknowledging shrug from Heyes.
“What about the ord’nary kind?” asks Curry. “Breakin’ sweat twelve hours a day for the price of room, board and a couple of beers. Anyone hirin’ for that?”
“Not in town. But the railroad’s working out in Eagle Vale – less’n five miles east of here. Could try there.”
The ex-outlaws exchange a mute conversation, redolent of their distaste for the whole business of hewing of wood, hauling of water and general getting of bread by the sweat of their brows. Shrugs and sighs indicate a familiar lack of choice.
“Thanks,” grunts Kid Curry, ungratefully.
“More’n welcome.” The sheriff touches his hat and strides away.
The boys watch Butler return to his office. As the door closes behind the sheriff the shoulders of the two ex-outlaws noticeably relax.
“Did I just say we were gonna take railway jobs?” says Curry. “Because – that don’t sound like us.”
“Nah, you never said that. You might have given him that impression – but you never said it.” Pause. “’Course we could go take railway jobs.”
A look from Curry.
“I’m not saying we should. Just saying we could.”
“I’m not saying it sounds good – but it might beat wearing dust, sleeping on the ground and wondering what grass tastes like.”
And still more look.
“I’m not saying it’s not a close call, Kid…”
“For someone not sayin’ stuff, you sure are…”
“Loquacious?” finishes Heyes.
“I was goin’ for annoyin’.” Ignoring the chagrin on Heyes’ face, Curry pushes back his hat and stares at a set of batwing doors. “I’m gonna get me a cold beer. And a hot meal. And don’t tell me we can’t afford both.” Without waiting for an answer he strides towards the saloon.
Heyes rummages deep in first his vest, then his pants’ pocket and looks at the pitiably small number of pitiably small coins this search yields.
“We can’t afford neither,” he mutters, as he follows.
Their inconspicuous observer, Jack, peels himself off the rail and also heads toward the saloon.
A be-whiskered barkeep surveys the trail-begrimed Kid Curry. He removes dust the ex-outlaw has deposited on his well-polished counter with a flick of his cloth.
“Beers are ten cents apiece.”
“Upfront. Hey, fella!” The barkeep’s attention switches to Heyes.
Heyes’ innocent brown eyes blink. His not-so-innocent slim fingers cease their entry into a jar of hard boiled eggs.
“Those are for paying customers.”
“I wasn’t going to eat…”
Heyes’ practised introduction to his egg-balance ploy is interrupted by a cry from the far end of the bar. It is Jack, who watched the boys out in the street. He points at the dark-eyed ex-outlaw, radiating eager recognition.
Heyes and Curry freeze. They radiate… Well. Of all the reactions they can encounter, it is pretty clear ‘eager recognition’ is close to bottom of the list.
“It is, isn’t it? I know who you are.” To the barkeep. “D’you know who this is?!”
Curry unobtrusively pushes back his jacket, gun hand hovering.
“You might have me confused with…” Heyes obtrusively limbers up the silver tongue.
Ignoring the protests, Jack approaches, arms outstretched in welcome, utter delight wreathing his youthful features in a wide smile. The gush of cordiality gives both ex-outlaws pause. At any rate it gives the silver tongue pause.
An affable hand lands on Heyes’ shoulder. “Everyone – listen up! This here is…”
Heyes’ eyes widen.
Curry’s fingers twitch.
A ripple of excitement runs through the saloon. More than a ripple of confusion runs through two ex-outlaws.
At only a single table – way back in a dimly lit corner – is the excitement other than joyful. A slicker in a fancy vest and a fella who might as well be wearing the label ‘sidekick’ react to the name. They exchange a mute conversation. Ernest?
Back at the bar Heyes’ hand is thoroughly pumped. “Don’t pretend you don’t recognise me.” To the crowd: “It’d be something if Ernest didn’t recognise Jack Werthen, huh?!”
Amused laughter. Admiring looks at Heyes. Friendly hands reach to pat his back. Folk gather.
“I told everyone about what you did, Ernest.”
Heyes exchanges a look with Curry: ‘What the heck?’ and risks a smile at Jack.
“You’re a hero, Ernest,” pipes up an old-timer. “I’d like to shake your hand.”
His wish is granted by a bemused Heyes. “You might be mixing me up with…”
“I’d like to buy you a drink, Ernest,” interrupts one fella, elbowing aside Curry to take a turn on the hand shaking.
“I’d like to buy you dinner, Ernest,” tops a second.
Heyes shuts up.
“No one hasta buy Ernest anything!” beams the barkeep, handing Heyes a foaming beer. “Anything for him is on the house!” To his aproned assistant: “Bill, make up the best room in the house for Ernest. And tell Mollie to get a steak dinner with all the trimmings out here.”
“Ernest,” Heyes meets the dewy, adoring gaze of a lovely redhead. “What you did…” Her bosom heaves. Heyes drags his gaze back to her face. “I think you’re the most wonderful man in the whole world.”
“Oh, I dunno,” says Heyes. “It was nothing.”
Kid Curry blinks as he is jostled away from his partner, by folk overcome by admiration at Heyes’ modesty. The piano player strikes up with ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’ and a dozen throats take up the tune as a dark-haired ex-outlaw is physically raised aloft by a host of adoring arms.
As Curry watches Heyes hailed as the hero of the hour, his reaction is… Well, suffice it to say, with two possible exceptions, he is the least jubilant customer in the place.
The raucously singing barkeep notes Curry’s silent glower. He breaks off, to ask, pointedly, “You got some problem, fella?”
“Er – no.” Decisively: “I’m with Ernest!”
“Is that right?” To Heyes: “Hey, Ernest! Is this other fella with you?”
“Huh? Which other fella?” Peering through the admiring throng, Heyes scans Curry, consideringly.
The Kid glowers, then – as he notes the crowd’s reaction to an ‘Ernest’-directed scowl – schools his features into a smile. “Fo-or he’s a jolly good…”
Cheshire cat satisfaction dimples Heyes’ cheeks. “Him – oh, yeah, that’s Thaddeus. He’s with me.”
“Tell everyone how you did it, Ernest,” begs the enamoured redhead. She sits foremost among the group around Hannibal Heyes, watching, adoringly, as he shovels a forkful of potatoes into his mouth. All eyes are on their hero.
“Yeah, tell us how you did it,” Curry encourages as, across from his friend, he saws a chunk off his steak. He is rewarded with a glare from Heyes.
“Well,” Heyes puts down his silverware and makes eye contact with Jack. “It happened a while back…”
“It was only Thursday,” comments a young cowboy.
Curry eyes his partner. A brow lifts.
“Yes, but…” Heyes pauses, ostensibly to add a touch more mustard to his plate. “It started a while back. Thursday was only the – the…” Chewing.
“Culmination?” suggests Jack.
“Exactly! The culmination.”
“Yeah, Algy!” The barkeep glowers at the young cowboy. “What happened this week was only the … You don’t think it just happened do ya?”
“I only meant…”
“Hush up!” The youngster is shushed by Jack. “Let Ernest talk! After all, he can’t stay long in Leadville.”
“No, I…” Heyes blinks. “I can’t?”
“An important man like Ernest – he has places to be.”
Heyes opens his mouth as if to protest, but is forestalled by the rapt redhead edging her chair even closer.
“Do you really have to leave, Ernest?”
“Well, Gwen…” begins Heyes, squeezing her hand.
“I think you’re the bravest man I ever met.” Tawny lashes flutter.
“Aww. What I did – it was nothing, really…”
Murmurs of protest. Curry rolls his eyes.
“Like I said, it started a while back in - er…”
“In Bunbury Falls,” Jack supplies.
“In Bunbury Falls,” Heyes confirms and the gathered crowd nods. “I – er …”
“Found out what that snake was plannin’ for Leadville!” spits one fella.
“He was gonna rob us blind!”
“That snake! That – that…” Gwen cannot find the words.
Heyes can. “Snake! He was gonna rob you – you good folk, you fine folk, you honest folk. I wasn’t about to let that happen.”
“Then when you found out ‘bout the orphanage,” the barkeep interjects.
“That was the last straw! Who wouldn’t want to do something when they found out about the orphanage?” Heyes asks.
Heads nod. Muttered agreements.
“So of course I had to do something.”
“Because it would have closed if you hadn’t,” Bill reminds everyone as he removes Heyes’ empty plate and sets a piece of pie in front of him. “And them not gonna get a penny piece for the land!”
“I couldn’t let them close the orphanage,” says Heyes, solemnly. “There comes a time when a man has to step forward. Stand up. Make himself known. Rise above others.”
Curry rolls his eyes and scoops up a spoonful of pie.
Heyes thrusts out his chest and grasps the lapel of his jacket an uncanny echo of a presidential portrait on the wall. “A man has to do what a man has to do. And I did it.”
“You sure did.” Gwen flutters her lashes at him.
“I sure did.”
“I just wish I could think of some way to thank you.” She leans forward on the table, letting her emerald boa fall aside to give him an idea of the extent of her – gratitude.
Heyes returns her smile enjoying the view.
“How did you find out what ol’ Oscar was doin’?” Bill asks.
Heyes ponders this. How did he find out? “That’s a good question.”
“You must have done some real good investigating,” the barkeep surmises.
“I did. I knew…” His voice trembles with emotion. “For the sake of those poor little orphans I had to find out what ol’ Oscar was up to…” Angry face. “That snake!”
“And you did!”
“And I did.”
“Didn’t take no for an answer.”
“No sir, not me.”
“Not Ernest!” Shouts of approval.
“Get Ernest another beer!”
“And one for – er – his friend, whatshisname.”
The Kid smiles.
Unnoticed above the hubbub, the non-delighted slicker and his non-delighted sidekick exchange a knowing glance. The slicker angles his head towards the door. In unison they drain their glasses and leave.
***VERY EARLY NEXT MORNING
An ex-outlaw shaped lump beneath a patchwork quilt rises and falls, rhythmically. A mop of blond curls on the pillow allows easy identification. The second bed in the room is empty. The door creaks open. Like lightning, the Colt is drawn from a holster hung on the bedpost and points at… A barefoot Hannibal Heyes, boots in hand, tell-tale emerald feather caught in his rumpled hair, tiptoes into view. Kid Curry grunts, holsters his gun and burrows back under the quilt.
***A LITTLE LATER
“Sure is a nice town.” Curry leans back on the bed, places his hands behind his head and settles back against the pillow.
“Generous too.” Heyes pours water into the wash stand and picks up his shaving brush.
“Very generous.” Curry grins at a smudged cupid’s bow of lip rouge adorning his partner’s cheek.
Heyes beginning to lather his face in the mirror, sees it, blushes and smothers it in soap. “I wonder what Ernest actually did,” he ponders.
“I wonder who Ernest actually is.”
“The man who stopped the folk of Leadville being robbed blind.” The razor makes its first swipe. “And saved the orphanage.”
“You should feel real proud of yourself.”
“No, Kid. Ernest is always humble.” Heyes voice muffles as he tackles that tricky area under the nose. “Which isn’t always easy…” Scrape of razor very carefully. “What with me….” Careful. Careful. “…I mean him – being a genius, having nerves of steel and not knowing the meaning of fear.”
Blue eyes focus on the smooth-jawed man. Blue eyes roll.
Heyes and Curry leave the town café. They pat their bellies that are evidently replete both with good food and further admiration from the motherly proprietor and her pretty waitress. Both ladies escort Heyes out the door and linger to watch him stroll along the boardwalk. Heyes brims with self-importance and Curry appears happy to fill the role of man-who-knows-someone-famous. The stroll is slowed by Heyes having to stop and glad-hand passing town folk. He receives several pats on the back and even the gift of a cigar.
From his position outside the newspaper office Jack Werthen watches this progress. He squints up at the sun, high in the sky. He checks his pocket watch – past noon. His lips press together in frustration. He gazes down the street, reacts. The slicker and his sidekick from yesterday are still there, also watching our boys. Except… A quick count. There are now four! And the new additions – they look mean. They are not doing anything, but, everything about them suggests ‘biding our time’. Jack’s dark eyes drop to the tied-down guns of the newly-arrived heavies; his brow knots.
***TEN MINUTES LATER
Out of earshot Heyes is regaling a fascinated couple with his humbleness. In earshot – unfortunately for him – Kid Curry is forced to listen.
The couple leaves. Our boys are finally alone in the street. Unnoticed by them, in the background the slicker straightens; his companions set their shoulders.
“Ernest! Ernest!” Jack Werthen hurries towards Heyes, accompanied by Cecily clutching a sheaf of paper.
The slicker stops his henchmen with a glance.
Heyes and Curry tip their hats to Cecily. There is a pause, they look enquiringly from the primly dressed schoolmarm to Jack. Cecily nudges Jack.
“This is Miss Cecily Steadman, our schoolteacher,” he says. “Cecily, this is Thaddeus Jones and this…” Half reluctant; “This is Ernest Fairfax.”
“I hope it’s not too much of a liberty,” begins Cecily, “but I asked Jack to introduce me. Mister Fairfax, would you – could you – talk to my class?”
“Only if you can spare the time,” says Jack. The hint of an emphasis. “…Before you ride out.”
“Oh, Mister Fairfax, if you only could spare the time,” gushes the schoolmarm. “I’ve been gathering all your articles for the class. We’ve been studying them – see?”
She holds out the clippings she carries. Heyes takes the top one and reads:
‘Fraud allegations scupper railway plans in Leadville.’
He hands it to Curry who scans the headline. And the next:
‘Were the title deeds forged? Magnate denies accusations.’
‘Who will speak for the orphans?’
‘”Please don’t evict us, Mean Mister Railway-Man”’ lisps lovable little Annie.’
Both Jack and our boys have the taste to look a tad queasy at that last one. Heyes hands the rest to his partner who gives each a quick glance.
Heyes focuses on the by-line: Ernest Fairfax. “I wrote these?? I mean – I wrote these.”
“Yes!” Admiration shines from Cecily’s blue eyes. “You stood up to power. You demonstrated what the freedom of the press can mean when wielded by a brave and persistent man.” She lowers her lashes. “I’ve told the children that a dedicated investigative journalist…”
“Investigative journalist,” repeats Heyes, committing it to memory.
“Impervious to corruption through bribery. Indifferent to mere money no matter what sum he is offered…”
Larcenous brown eyes flicker. Heyes avoids his partner’s glance.
“…Can truly be said to be one of the heroes of our great nation.”
A self-deprecating dimpled shrug from the humble one.
“So, will you talk to the children, Mister Fairfax?”
“Please – call me, Ernest.”
Her voice is reverent as she uses the hallowed name; “Ernest, will you visit the school?”
“Well, I don’t really like to talk about myself…”
Curry double takes. The schoolmarm’s face falls.
“But, if it’s for the children…”
The focus pulls back to show Heyes and Curry following Miss Steadman up the steps to the school.
Heyes is in full flow. The clock behind him shows 1.30pm.
“Of course it was dangerous, but an – an investigative journalist can’t let a little thing like a ravenous cougar keep him from a story…”
Heyes, perched on the edge of the teacher’s desk has a captive audience.
A far from fascinated Kid Curry shifts in his inadequately sized chair. He glances at the clock, sighs. We can tell from his disposition that less time than he hoped has passed.
Jack, leaning against the wall on one side of the school room also checks the clock. He looks out onto the street. The slicker and his worrying companions are still there, engaged in conversation.
The slicker speaks, nodding toward the school house. Heavy #1 pats the gun on his hip in reply. Heavy #2 picks up a straw to chew.
‘Ernest’ is still talking.
“I remember another time I was held prisoner by a notorious outlaw…”
Curry’s head snaps up.
“Who was it?” a freckled faced boy gasps.
“Black Heart Curry.”
Two blue eyes narrow on Heyes.
“He was the most dangerous man in the territory. I‘d been riding in the hills hoping to meet up with a mountain man friend of mine who taught me tracking skills. Back then I was Champeen tracker of all southern Utah. But, I don’t like to talk about that…”
Jack Werthen slips unobtrusively from the schoolroom.
There is a momentary show of interest from the slicker and heavies as a slim, dark-haired figure runs down the school-house steps. Then – recognition. It is only Jack Werthen. They return to ‘biding’ mode. Jack crosses the street and enters the telegraph office.
The clock now shows 2.15pm.
“What happened when Black Heart Curry took ya captive?” a thin young boy queries.
“I knew I had to get away, couldn’t let him take me back to his hideout. Although, being the investigative journalist I am, I knew there’d be a story in it if he did…”
A resigned Kid Curry stretches out his legs, crosses his ankles and tries to make himself comfortable.
The telegraph clerk – identifiable by the traditional green eye-shade and black sleeve protectors – scurries across from his office to that of the sheriff.
The shrewd eyes of the observant slicker follow him with mild interest. The eyes of the two heavies follow with almost zip interest. The gaze of Heavy #1 – our Gun-Patter - lingers on the sign saying ‘sheriff’. His lips move – slowly. He grimaces, then spits a Kyle-reminiscent gloop of chaw tobacco into the street.
The clock shows 2.30 pm.
Heyes drones on to the wide-eyed youngsters and their seemingly love-struck teacher.
“Anyway, I thought real hard; I’d studied that desperado Black Heart Curry’s every move and knew I had to be ready when the opportunity showed itself…”
A low, rumbling sound interrupts him. He stops talking. The children turn in their seats to the source of the noise. In the back row we see Kid Curry seated, arms folded across his chest, hat low over his eyes, asleep.
***FIVE MINUTES LATER
Two ex-outlaws descend the school-house steps.
“I can’t believe you fell asleep,” Heyes grumbles.
“I can’t believe I stayed awake that long.”
Down the street Slicker reacts to the emergence of the boys. He moves, followed by his henchmen, to intercept Heyes and Curry.
“Are you Ernest?” asks Slicker.
“I sure am,” beams Heyes, holding out one gloved hand. “Glad to shake your…” He tails off as no returning hand is offered.
Our boys’ expressions show they realise these are not more admiring citizens of Leadville keen to pat ‘Ernest’ on the back.
“We’d like you to come for a – a ride with us, Ernest.”
“We wanna talk to you,” growls Gun-Patter.
“Talk about what?”
“Oh, just a friendly conversation,” says Slicker. “About things you’ve been saying.”
“There’s some questions our boss wants answerin’,” chips in Sidekick.
“Yeah, like who’s been flappin’ their mouths to ya!” contributes Gun-Patter.
He receives a version of the ‘look’ from the shrewd Slicker. “Like I say, just some friendly questions.” More menacingly. “Out of town.” Still more menacingly. “Now.”
“Thanks for the invite – it being so friendly-like, but, I’ll pass.” Though Heyes smiles, his eyes are cool. “I’m kinda busy.”
“We ain’t askin’ ya. We’re tellin’ ya!” snaps Gun-Patter.
“And he’s tellin’ you – he’s busy.” Curry’s blue eyes hold those of Gun-Patter, steadily.
“Guess I’ll hafta persuade him then – and you!” Gun-Patter’s hand hovers.
The Kid’s hand hovers.
Heyes’ eyes flick to his partner with the classic mix of concern and pride.
Gun-Patter narrows his eyes… His fingers tense… And…
“Mister Fairfax!” An authoritative voice breaks the stand-off. The sheriff strides over, clearly on a mission.
Slicker visibly braces for confrontation, then partially relaxes as it becomes clear the lawman is heading straight for Heyes. He backs off to the boardwalk with seeming casualness.
Gun-Patter backs away more slowly. “I’ll be talkin’ to you – to both of ya – later.” He glowers at the Kid who returns his gaze, coolly.
Curry turns to the approaching sheriff. He and Heyes react with some surprise and more wariness as they too realise they, alone, are Lane Butler’s target.
Heyes smiles, “Afternoon, Sheriff.”
“Somethin’ we can help you with?” Curry asks.
The sheriff clears his throat. “I’m sorry Mister Fairfax, but I’m gonna have to lock you up.”
The cell door clangs shut and the sheriff turns the key. He returns to his desk, leaving Curry facing his friend through the metal bars.
The eyes of both men linger for a moment on the wall behind the sheriff’s head where the traditional mosaic of wanted posters is displayed. A tad frayed at the edges, though still prominently placed are two very familiar notices indeed. A mute – wary – conversation.
Heyes shakes his head. “I can’t believe this.”
“You gettin’ locked up ain’t exactly new, Heyes.”
“It was going so well.” Heyes is genuinely confused. “Everybody loved me.” He grabs hold of the bars and rests his head against them. “What went wrong?”
Curry turns to the sheriff. “You wanna tell us again what they say he did?”
“Accused him of libel.” The lawman does not look up from his ledger.
“Liable for what?” Curry presses.
The pen is put down. The sheriff sits back in his chair and looks at both men. “Means someone don’t like what Ernest wrote. Means they think he wrote lies.”
“Who?” Heyes asks.
“Probably ol’ Oscar. Won’t know for sure ‘til the official paperwork comes over from Bunbury Falls.”
“What did the telegram say about me?”
“Just what I told you. Hold Ernest Fairfax on a charge of libel until further notice. Came from Sheriff Moncrieff. He’s a good man. If he says to hold you, that’s what I’ll do. Must say, though, it don’t sit too well with me, you saving so many Leadville folk from being swindled. Even saving the orphanage an’ all. I sure hope it’s just a misunderstanding.”
“Yeah, me too.” Heyes sits down on the bunk.
Curry looks at his friend. “Well, seein’ as you ain’t goin’ anywhere I reckon I’ll go get me somethin’ to eat.”
Heyes is swiftly on his feet. “I’m locked up in jail and all you can think about is food?”
“No. I was thinkin’ about havin’ a beer too.” The Kid smiles. Heyes doesn’t. “Might say hello to Gwen, seein’ as her hero’s in jail.” Curry’s grin widens. “The poor girl’s bound to need – comfortin’.”
As Curry strides toward the saloon, Cecily Steadman hurries toward him.
“Ma’am,” he tips his hat.
“I just heard what happened to Ernest. Isn’t it terrible?” She clutches his sleeve and looks up into his eyes.
Curry gazes back at the, undoubtedly charming, flushed face looking up at him. “Huh? Oh, yeah – terrible.”
“What do they say he did?”
“Said he was liable to be lyin’.”
“Someone in Bunbury Falls accused him of tellin’ lies.”
Realisation hits Cecily. “They’ve accused him of libel!”
“Maybe if I hadn’t delayed him at the school, he’d have ridden out before… I feel so guilty.” She lets her head rest on Curry’s shirt front. Her bosom heaves.
Curry pulls her – and her bosom – a little closer. He wraps his arms around her, pats her gently on the back. “Hey, you can’t blame yourself.”
“How can the sheriff believe such accusations? Ernest is so clearly the – the soul of integrity.” Her lip quivers. “I’m sure Ernest couldn’t lie if his life depended on it, could he, Thaddeus?”
“Er… You can’t blame yourself,” Curry repeats, diplomatically. “Besides. Libel – that’s not too serious, is it?”
“Not too serious?!” Cecily draws back. “It could ruin his journalistic career!”
“His career? Well that don’t…” Kid Curry sees dawning reproach on that lovely face. He draws Cecily close again. “That’s terrible.”
Her voice muffled, Cecily adds, “To say nothing of the possible two year prison term…”
“That’s terrible…” murmurs Curry into the chestnut curls tickling his nose. A blink as her words sink in. His turn to draw back. “Two…? That’s terrible! I…” He hears footsteps behind him, turns.
Jack Werthen is hurrying over. As the Kid moves Jack visibly registers the lovely school teacher held in his arms. “Cecily!” His tone acquires a shade of jealously. “I see Thaddeus has already told you Ernest’s in jail.”
Cecily and Curry step apart. She blushes.
“Mollie told me. But, Thaddeus and I were discussing it, yes.”
“Looked like a pretty in-depth discussion.”
“We were saying how terrible it all is.” Cecily clasps her hands. “Surely, there must be something we can do to free Ernest? Can you think of anything, Thaddeus?”
“Well, breakin’ him outta jail is gonna be kinda risky…” Curry tails off as he notes their expressions.
“I think Cecily was thinking more along the lines of organising a legal defence.”
“Yeah…” The Kid clears his throat. “That’s what I meant. Breakin’ him out the law abidin’ way, with a – a legal defence.”
Jack looks at the ex-outlaw, thoughtfully, a crease forming between his brows.
Curry returns the look steadily. “I guess you know ‘Ernest’ pretty well, Jack? After all…” With meaning. “You’re the only man in Leadville who recognised him back in the saloon.”
A flicker in Jack’s eyes shows he takes Curry’s point.
“What kinda defence might work? I was thinkin’…” Curry chooses his words carefully. “Suppose the fella in jail wasn’t Ernest. Suppose he was someone else all along – an’ you’d made a mistake?”
***MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE
“…The thing is, sheriff, there’s been a mistake. Me and my friend were looking for work, just like we said. He’s saving to get married to his sweetheart back in Red Rock. She’s the mayor’s daughter, a lovely girl. When everyone here started treating me like a hero, I guess I couldn’t resist going along with it. But, believe me, I’m no hero…” The sheriff pours two mugs of coffee and hands one to Heyes through the bars. He is listening, he still seems friendly, but… His expression suggests he doesn’t credit a word of this modest denial. “My name’s not really Ernest, it’s Joshua. Joshua Smith.”
“Well, I guess everyone knew you weren’t really called Ernest …”
Heyes’ face lights up with hope.
***AND BACK ON THE STREET
“… Suppose I told you my friend’s name isn’t Ernest?” asks Curry.
“We know that." Cecily is underwhelmed. “It’s only his nom de plume.”
***AND BACK IN THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE
“We know Ernest’s only a pen name…” says the sheriff.
“We know Ernest is using an alias,” translates Jack. As Kid Curry still looks confounded, Jack explains further. “A false name.”
“I know what a dang alias is!” snaps Kid Curry. His brow knits.
Heyes’ brow is also knitting. “So you know I’m using a – a…”
“An alias? Sure.” The sheriff sips his coffee. “Don’t stop you bein’ Ernest.”
Heyes leans folded arms on the bars and lets his head fall forward in – temporary – defeat.
“So, Jack, when you…” Curry’s voice holds a hint of danger. “…Recognised ‘Ernest’, did you guess shoutin’ his name around might get him locked up?”
“Of course he didn’t!” protests Cecily. “How can you even ask such a thing?”
Both men look at the listening school teacher. Their frustrated expressions indicate she is very much in the way of what they want to say to each other. A mute conversation is held.
Tiny head gesture from Jack: ‘You tell her’
Eye lift from Curry: ‘After you’
“Yes, Jack?” Cecily smiles, eagerly.
“I need to discuss Ernest’s defence with Thaddeus…”
“Of course…” But she doesn’t move.
Jack tries again; “Man to man…”
“Yes, I think…” begins Cecily.
The Kid spits it out, “He means – without you.”
Her smile switches off.
“Because…” Jack jumps in. “We need you to talk to all the folk in town who might be able to help. Form a – a fund-raising committee. In case we need to hire a lawyer for Ernest.” Persuasively, “You’re so good at organising. And having such a well-respected professional head the committee can only help Ernest. Will you do it, Cecily?”
The smile returns. “Sure, Jack.” Off she goes.
“You think on your feet pretty fast, huh?” says Curry.
A self-deprecating shrug from Jack.
“Got a way with words too. You remind me of…” Curry breaks off as he eyes the slim, dark-haired, brown haired young man in front of him. Visible light dawning. “OR did ‘Ernest’ remind you of someone?”
“Let’s go get a drink,” suggests Jack, striding off toward the saloon. “I reckon I owe you one.”
“Reckon you owe me more’n one,” grunts Curry, following.
Curry sits with Jack in a quiet corner. Leastways it would be quiet if…
“On the house!” beams Bill, placing a laden plate before the Kid. “An’ you should see all the goodies Mollie’s bakin’ for poor ol’ Ernest! An’ Sam’s put a bottle of twenty-year old malt whiskey in the basket.”
“I’m takin’ it all over later,” adds Gwen, bending over to place two foaming tankards on the table. “Maybe Sheriff Butler’ll let me sit with him awhile. I reckon if they put a hero like Ernest in jail, the least this town can do is let him have a few home comforts.”
Curry drags his eyes away from Gwen’s – comforts. He removes a stray tendril of emerald feather from his lip.
Bill and Gwen leave.
“Jack,” the Kid picks a sandwich from the generous selection in front of him. “Did you know Joshua – that’s the fella sittin’ in jail – was gonna get locked up?” The sandwich disappears into Curry’s mouth where it receives a thorough chewing.
“Not yesterday,” says Jack. “After I sent the telegram to make it happen today, then I had a pretty good idea.”
The chewing stops. Kid Curry stares at Jack. A finger points, questioningly.
“I guess you want to know why I did that.”
“Got it in one.”
“Maybe I thought ‘Ernest’ would be safer in jail. Not out on the street getting beat on – or even shot at – by those fellas giving him trouble until the sheriff pulled him away.”
Curry thinks on that. “Lotta truth in there.” Chewing recommences. “You reckon they work for this Oscar fella?”
“I’d say that’s a given.”
“Who’s a major shareholder in the railroad?”
“An’ all riled up ‘cos ‘Ernest’ printed a bunch of lies ‘bout him…”
“Nope,” says Jack. “He’s riled because a bunch of truth got printed.”
An accepting head jerk from Curry as he takes another sandwich. “Sayin’ how he’d forged land claims to cheat folk outta the money the railroad owed ‘em by rights? An’ how he was even gonna turn defenceless orphans out into the snow?”
“Leaving aside that it don’t usually snow around here before October – you’ve got the gist.”
“An’ these stories – they caused his investors to back off, an’ cost him thousands?”
“Pretty much. Not that he’ll miss it. Old Oscar’s near as rich as Leland Stanford.”
“Yeah, but rich folk don’t get that way through bein’ good losers where money’s concerned.” A third sandwich heads south. “You know that. That’s why you needed a – a decoy Ernest. ‘Cos…” Curry leans in, drops his already low voice still further. “He’s you!”
Nothing from the other side of the table. Jack merely sips his beer.
Curry frowns, frustrated. “Jack, you are Ernest, aren’t ya?”
“Yes, I’m completely serious,” deadpans Jack.
He receives the look.
“Sorry,” Jack grins. “I couldn’t resist that one.” Leaning forward himself, “Thaddeus, the identity of Ernest is secret. Can you keep a secret?”
Jack beckons him still closer, until the ex-outlaw’s ear is within inches of his lips. “So can I.”
Curry straightens. Again with the look.
“But,” says Jack, “if I were – just hypothetically – the man who penned all those articles, I’d admit I owe it to Joshua Smith to try and help him out of trouble.”
“After droppin’ him in trouble to save your own skin.”
“And the skins of the folk over in Bunbury Falls who helped Ernest get his facts. Since – whoever Ernest is or is not - the newspaper office is the first place Oscar’s men’d look for him. And I work there.” He sips his beer. “I’m not much use with my fists, Thaddeus, and I don’t carry a gun. Just because Ernest was willing to risk getting hurt to save the folks of Leadville and those orphans – it doesn’t mean he wants to get hurt. You and Joshua looked – well, likely to at least come out of a fight in one piece.”
Curry thinks on that. “Okay. But how are you plannin’ to help Joshua now?”
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.