The View From Knightsgate
by Susanna Leslie
Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were on horseback and had been on the trail for nearly a week. Their timetable had been tight, but their journey was ending. They'd managed a small breakfast and a shave at a hamlet earlier that morning. It was a hot summer's day, but they felt the air cool as they came out through the mountain pass and found their way back to the open countryside.
Bean fields and strawberry fields began to dominate the landscape and they knew the soil must have suddenly changed.
They slowed down as they sighted the beginnings of a town.
A signpost that read "Welcome to Knightsgate" was anchored by the road next to a very large and very old Jacaranda tree. A few feet further, closer to the ground, was a poster sign that read "This year's host for the Kingston County Fair."
Knightsgate appeared to be a thriving agricultural community. They rode past open fields dotted with pitched tents and wagons, presumably housing visitors that had come for the fair.
"Sure is pretty country down here," Heyes said surveying the view. "Odd isn't? Those mountains over there just start from nowhere and end nowhere."
"Well, let's get it over with," Curry said. "I'm beat from the trip."
"Worth it though, huh?" Heyes smiled. "One thousand dollars a piece."
They left their horses at the livery and headed straight for the local bank. As they entered the bank they saw two teller lines and choose the second.
In the first line an attractive young woman was wrapping up her transaction. While waiting for the teller to return, she preoccupied herself by sorting her business papers. She looked up suddenly and saw Heyes smiling at her. She met his eyes but kept her face politely blank.
"Can I help you, gentlemen?" the second teller asked.
"Yes. We'd like to make a deposit," Curry said.
"And how much would you like to deposit?"
"Twenty thousand dollars," Curry answered. A quiet fell over the bank for a moment.
"In your name?" the teller asked.
"No, sir. In the name of Mr. Robert McKendricks," Heyes answered formally in his most serious and official voice. "Delivered by Mr. Joshua Smith and Mr. Thaddeus Jones."
"Ah, for Mr. McKendricks. Yes, we've been expecting you. May I see your deposit?"
Heyes and Curry each removed an envelope from their vest pocket and placed it on the counter.
"Give me a moment, gentlemen." The teller counted it all out.
"Yes. It's all here. Gentlemen, let me put this in the safe, and I'll be right back with your receipt."
They both nodded pleasantly at the teller. The young woman began to head toward the door and Heyes' eyes followed her out.
"You know, the scenery here just gets better and better. What do you say we stay a few days?" he asked.
"Have ourselves a little vacation?" Curry asked and winced.
"That tooth still bothering you?" Heyes asked.
Curry nodded. "Maybe I'll visit the doc while we're here. Let's settle in at the hotel."
They left the bank and started walking in the direction of the hotel. As they turned the corner they saw two young men arguing at the end of the street.
"Aww, you don't know what you're talking about. You're just shooting off your mouth again!"
"I know'd it was you and you're not getting away with it!"
"You better just cool down William or I'll cool you down myself!" an older man came out of the doctor's office and was addressing the second youth.
"Look, I don't have time to stand here arguing with you, I'm late as it is!" the first young man answered William.
"I'm warning you, I want it back!" William hollered at the first man, ignoring the third.
The first man started to turn his back on William.
"Don't you turn your back on me, Ben Andrews!" William pulled out his gun. A shot was heard and William fell to the ground clutching his arm.
The older man returned his gun to his holster. "Okay…fetch him in and I'll patch him up!"
Two more men watching the scene picked up William and started towards the doctor's office. Curry asked a man standing near them, "Is that the doctor?"
"Nope," the man replied. "The doc's over with the sheriff doing duty at the fair today. That's the dentist."
Heyes and Curry exchanged a look then continued heading toward the hotel.
"I am sorry gentlemen, but we're completely booked up, what with the fair going on and all. If you need us again, I recommend booking in advance," the hotel manager was saying to them.
"Knightsgate's growing faster than a weed, but this hotel isn't I'm afraid."
"Is there anything else around here we can try?" Curry longed for a nice soft bed.
"You say you work for Mr. McKendricks?" the man asked him.
Heyes answered hopefully. "That's right."
"Well, you might try Knightsgate Inn. It's just a few miles west of here. Miss Fowler owns it. It's kind of an inn and a boarding house."
"Miss Fowler?" Heyes asked.
"Yes. Amanda Fowler. Just go straight through town and keep on the main road. You'll see it."
Heyes and Curry finished riding up a small hill. Curry smiled in relief and pointed. Heyes nodded. They rode through an open gate and followed the path.
Lines of linen were billowing on a clothesline off the side yard of a large, well-kept inn. Jessie, a young woman of about eighteen, was bending over a laundry basket.
Curry called out to her. "Excuse me! Good afternoon! Would you tell me where we can find Miss Amanda Fowler?"
"And who would like to know?" Jessie called back.
"Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith."
"That would be me," a voice answered.
The same young woman from the bank raised a sheet to reveal herself. She was a lovely, graceful woman of about twenty-six. She had a relaxed air of authority. As the proprietress, she had grown to know people and in learning about people she knew herself very well.
Amanda walked over to them. "How can I help you, gentlemen?"
Curry dismounted. "Miss Fowler. I'm Thaddeus Jones and this is my associate Joshua Smith. We were told you had rooms we might be able to rent for a short spell. It seems the local hotel is full up, what with everyone coming in for the fair."
Amanda answered regretfully. "I'm afraid you were told wrong." She paused to think. "How long did you need to stay?"
Heyes had been contemplating Amanda. He was surprised and pleased to recognize her from the bank. He answered from his horse. "Oh, only a few days, ma'am. Then we'll be moving on. We have business we'll be needing to attend to in Stockton."
"You say John Owens sent you to me?"
"If Mr. Owens is the hotel manager, than yes ma'am, that's correct." Curry answered.
"Well, I have one room available with two beds. But it's reserved for my long-term tenants who should be coming back by the end of next week. We'd have to renegotiate once they arrived, if you decided to stay longer. All my borders pay by the week in advance …even if you weren't to stay that long…. breakfast and dinner included."
"That would be fine, ma'am," Curry said.
"All right then. You can leave your horses at the stable. Then come back to the house and we'll settle up." She added firmly,
"Gentlemen, I do have one house rule: no firearms in the house. You'll meet Matthew…Mr. Dodd...down at the stable. He'll take your guns and lock them up. They'll be perfectly safe. Anytime you're headed out anywhere and need them, just let one of us know and we'll return them to you."
"Thank you, ma'am. We'll see you in a few minutes," Curry said.
Heyes and Curry walked their horses toward the stable. Matthew Dodd, a Negro in his early thirties, had momentarily put aside his task of mending a saddle and was leaning on the fence rail watching as they approached. He stood six feet tall with strong, clean features and a lean and muscular build.
"Mr. Dodd?" Curry called out to him.
"Yes sir. And who am I addressing?"
"Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith," Curry answered.
Matthew gave them a wry smile. "You don't say? Well, welcome."
He noticed their guns straight away. "I guess Miss Amanda told you about the house rules?"
"Yes she did," Heyes spoke up.
Matthew nodded at them. "Then I'll be taking your guns now, if it's all the same to you."
Heyes and Curry looked at each other and nodded. They each took their gun from its holster and handed it to him.
"Well, Mr. Jones…Mr. Smith…I hope you enjoy your stay."
Amanda was seated at her desk in the study. Curry was counting out a week's rent to her while Heyes signed the guestbook. Jessie looked in once to consult about dinner, and a friendly game of cribbage could be heard from the main parlor.
"Well then, that's it." She put the guestbook and the cashbox in a drawer and locked it. "Breakfast's at eight o'clock, and dinner's at five. Except Sundays. We serve breakfast at ten o'clock on Sundays."
"Thanks again, ma'am. You may not see us for awhile. All I want is a bath and about two days' sleep. We've been on the road for quite some time," Curry said.
Amanda nodded. "I'll show you both to your room."
"Don't trouble yourself, Miss Fowler. We'll find it," Heyes said.
"All right then." She walked them out into the hall. "Up the stairs and the second room to your left." She added with some pride. "I hope you like it. The Baxleys always ask for that room whenever they come. It has a lovely view of the ridge."
The men said their thanks and headed for the staircase. Heyes looked back at her for one more glimpse and smiled.
Curry and Heyes rode into the front yard of the inn. They had just returned from town with supplies and Heyes had a small parcel hanging from one side of his saddle. He slowed his horse as he spied Mrs. Cosgrove, a flirtatious and older widow, at the stable waiting as Matthew readied a buggy for her.
"Kid, do you mind taking my horse back for me?" he asked.
"Now Heyes, there's no reason to be shy. Especially after the way you threw yourself at the poor woman last night."
"All I did was offer to fetch her shawl!"
Mrs. Cosgrove was obviously delighted to see the men and waved at them from the stable. They both waved back. She waved once more to Heyes.
"She's sure sweet on you, isn't she?" Curry grinned.
They heard a woman's laugh coming from the direction of the house. Amanda had just moved outside to the front porch and was sitting on the swing. Mr. Rollin, a salesman, was standing near her. He was very animated and appeared to be relating a story.
Heyes reacted with annoyance. "And what do you suppose they're talking about?"
"Something that's none of our business."
"I swear Kid, I'm gonna need a short fuse and a blasting cap to pry him off of her! I couldn't get near her at the dinner table last night!"
"You do have your problems," Curry replied with mock sympathy.
"I'll take your horse."
Heyes got down off his horse. He untied the parcel from his saddle and walked the path to the house. Curry led both their horses to the stable, nodding pleasantly to Mrs. Cosgrove as she passed by him in the buggy.
Matthew was unloading some bales of hay off a wagon when Curry approached.
Curry dismounted and Matthew tossed the bale he was lifting into a corner. He was about to lead Heyes' horse into the stable when they both heard a sound like an angry rattle. They exchanged silent looks and walked cautiously towards the noise. Disturbed from its rest, a rattlesnake was coiled in the corner next to the hay bale ready to strike. The two men saw the snake in the same instant and drew on it. Only one loud shot was heard but both guns were smoking. They turned and looked at each other in surprise. Each eyed the other's gun and then met the other's stare.
Matthew broke the silence. "Well one thing's for sure…"
Curry asked cautiously. "And what's that?"
"That snake is dead."
Amanda had started walking toward the stable with concern, but Matthew waved her back. Heyes glanced briefly from an upstairs window and saw that Curry was all right.
Matthew walked over to the corpse and inspected it. "Yes sir. I never saw a snake living that didn't have a head."
He turned back to Curry. "Excuse me." He reached for a pitchfork and removed the corpse. He disappeared for a few minutes behind the building.
Curry moved to the spot and inspected the wall. Then he unsaddled the horses himself. He led his mare to its stall and took a brush to her.
Matthew returned and leaned against the stable wall, studying Curry. "Where'd you learn to shoot like that?"
Curry shrugged. "Just a lucky shot."
Matthew smiled at the lie.
"And you?" Curry asked trying to conceal his own burning curiosity.
"Practice. Lots of practice. Since I was about…15. I was the youngest of six brothers, always tagging after…always coming up last. Made up my mind I was going to be the best at something. You know what I mean?"
Curry nodded understanding all too well.
Matthew continued. "Never wanted a reputation. I don't need to prove it. I just need to know I can use it when I have it. Makes a man walk tall from the inside…when he knows that about himself." He cocked his head at Curry. "But now you…What's it like being such a lucky man?" he asked and took the saddles into the tack room.
Curry called after him. "I don't get bothered by too many snakes, slithering or the two legged kind." He heard Matthew laughing from inside the tack room.
He returned and led Heyes' horse into the stall next to Curry. "Are you about through with your gun?" he asked.
Curry removed his gun from its holster and handed it to him. Matthew slowly took it from him and nodded. He put the gun into a storage room and locked the door.
"Would you like to join me for a drink, Mr. Jones?"
"As a matter of fact, Mr. Dodd, I would."
Matthew lived in a cottage on a small hill at the very back of the property allowing him a bird's eye view of all comings and goings. Curry was surprised by the size of it once he was inside. There was a kitchen, a large parlor, a study and a bedroom. The furnishings were of rich mahogany and he poured them each a drink from a crystal decanter that matched their glasses.
"You live very well." Curry observed as they took their drinks in the study.
"Not what you expected?"
"You continue to surprise me."
"Well, I think I could say the same of you, Mr. Jones. You peak my curiosity."
"How long have you been here…been doing this?"
"From the beginning, three years ago. I designed this cottage and I built it." He offered Curry a cigar. "It's not standard knowledge but I'm a little more than a farm hand here. I'm Miss Amanda's business partner." Then he turned his complete attention to Curry. "I heard mention that you knew Mr. McKendricks?"
"How long have you known him?"
"A couple of years," Curry knew he'd better offer more. "We did a very difficult job for him down in Mexico almost a year ago now. Seemed his son's killer had left the country and was living down there. Joshua and I brought her back to stand trial."
"Humm…I heard about that."
"Fortunately, this last job's been a bit more pleasant. And how'd you meet Miss Fowler?"
"Through a mutual acquaintance." Matthew smiled. "Mr. Stanton, Miss Amanda's uncle, introduced us. Mr. Stanton had taken a risk on me once before and liked the results. He's responsible for my first business venture…I own the livery here and the one in Queensburgh. When Miss Amanda needed help building up this property…things just started falling into place."
"You own the livery in both towns? When do you find time to run them?"
"I don't anymore," he grinned. "I just have time to own them."
"What makes a man buy a livery?"
"I don't know about any man, but I know about me." Matthew paused. "I loved my father. When I was sixteen years old he was hung."
"…Because he was a Negro?" Curry asked without malice.
"No," Matthew shook his head, "because he was a horse thief. That's the plain and simple truth of it." He sighed. "I made up my mind to live very differently. I buy horses, trade horses, sell horses, all honestly. I do it for myself and I do it for my father's memory."
Curry regarded him for a moment. He couldn't help but feel a rising admiration for the man. He raised his glass. "To the sins of the father."
Matthew raised his. "And to ties that bind."
It was nearing dinnertime when Curry left Matthew's cottage. He was feeling hungry as he entered their room. Heyes was lying on the bed reading and looked up at him.
"I heard a shot before, what happened?"
"Had a little run in with Mr. Dodd."
Heyes looked worried. "What kind of little run in?"
"We both drew on a very unhappy rattler. You heard two shots being fired."
Heyes put down his book. "He's that fast?"
Curry nodded. "I checked. Two bullet holes in the wall…right next to each other." He sat down in the armchair. "Funny thing, Heyes. I always wondered what would happen when I met someone…someday… who could match me. But I actually like the man."
Heyes paused for a long moment, thinking. "Does he like you?"
"Yes. I think so."
"Well, that's good." Heyes grinned.
Curry put his hand up to the side of his face and gritted his teeth.
"Kid, we gotta get you to the dentist!"
"Not that dentist!"
Heyes nodded, seeing his point. "Well, what about Queensburgh? That's a sizable town, too. Bound to have a dentist over there."
Curry agreed. "Found out from Dodd the sheriff's name is Tucker. We don't know a Tucker, do we?"
Heyes shook his head. "No…doesn't sound familiar. Why don't we do that tomorrow? Ride over to Queensburgh and check it out. Bound to have a little poker over there, too!"
Amanda entered the kitchen and picked up the coffee pot from the stove. Matthew was sitting at the table reading the paper and eating his dinner. She noticed his cup was empty and put a hand on his shoulder as she refilled his cup. She started to return to the dinner table and her guests.
"He's a very good shot…Mr. Jones," he said without looking up.
Amanda turned back. "Is that a problem?"
He looked up at her. "I'm not sure…there's something…" he shook his head.
"Well…they do travel with very large sums of money. One of them had better be good with a gun."
"How long are they staying?"
"Oh, just a couple more days, I think."
"Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith."
They both looked amused.
Matthew picked up a fork and took a bite of dinner. He thought it over. "I don't think there's a problem," he finally said.
Heyes studied the cards in his hand and then, with his usual deadpan, rearranged his hand which now held a straight flush. He took a sip from his drink and put it down again.
"Five dollars, and I'll raise you five," he bid casually.
He'd been in the saloon for over two hours and had won nearly three hundred dollars. He was waiting for Curry after finally convincing him to see the dentist.
"That's it for me…I'm out," one of the players was saying.
"Who's going to raise me? Anyone?" Heyes asked.
"Nobody's going to raise you, mister…but I'll call you," a second man said.
Heyes revealed his hand and the other men folded. He collected his winnings and rose from the table. He had spotted Curry at the bar and made his excuses to the others.
"How's your mouth? Doc treat you all right?" Heyes greeted Curry.
"A regular angel of mercy," Curry grumbled nursing his drink.
"Done better if I'd taken my chances in Knightsgate. How'd you make out?"
Heyes grinned at him.
"Well, it's nice to be making a little money for a change, isn't it? Let's see how long we can hold onto it this time," he sighed. Heyes could tell he was tired.
One of the men from Heyes' game had made his excuses also. He was standing at the end of the bar looking at Heyes and Heyes could tell he wasn't happy.
Watching him out of the corner of his eye, he said under his breath to Curry, "Looks like I got a very sore loser on my hands. Oh fine, and here comes the sheriff." Heyes had spotted him in the bar mirror and he was making his way over to them.
The man staring at Heyes was about to approach him when he too saw the sheriff and changed his mind.
"Hello, Sheriff," Heyes said pleasantly.
"Hello, boys." He turned to Heyes. "I just heard you did very well for yourself at the poker table." Heyes nodded and the sheriff continued, "You're not from around here, are you?"
"No. We're staying in Knightsgate, Sheriff. Just came over to visit the dentist." He motioned to Curry.
Curry said with some difficulty, "Heard you had a great dentist."
"Where are you staying in Knightsgate…the hotel?"
"No we're staying over at the inn."
"Miss Fowler's place?" The sheriff considered this.
"Came over for the fair?" the sheriff asked.
"Uh, no. Just wrapped up some business we did for Mr. McKendricks," Heyes said carefully, hoping this would end their conversation quickly.
The man watching Heyes had finished his drink and had decided not to wait for him. He passed the three men and walked out of the saloon.
"I see. Well, we have to be careful. We're not keen on professional gamblers in our town. We run some nice, friendly games here. Enjoy your stay, boys."
"Thanks, Sheriff," they both nodded at him as he headed towards the main room.
Curry set down his drink on the bar. "I've enjoyed my stay. What do you say we leave?"
Queensburgh and Knightsgate were neighboring towns with less than twelve miles between them. The two men had been riding for about an hour and were approaching the main road that led back to Knightsgate.
Heyes had been watching a buggy in the distance going in the opposite direction below them on a side road. Now it made a sharp turn towards the ridge. He cupped his eyes to cut the sun's glare and was able to make out the driver. It was a woman and she was traveling alone.
"Hey, that's Miss Fowler. Fair grounds aren't out that way…Where do you suppose she's headed?"
"Somewhere that's none of our business," Curry said.
Heyes turned to him and grinned. "I think I'll find out if the lady wants some company." He gave Curry a friendly slap on the back. "See you later," he said as he rode away.
Heyes had been following Amanda from a concealed distance and now she stopped. They were about two miles outside Knightsgate. The grass was high and blowing. There was a hillside at her back, a small lake about a quarter mile in front of her and she faced out toward Knightsgate Ridge. She got out and leaned against the buggy, entranced with the view and deep in thought.
He waited a couple of minutes and then rode up and called out to her. "Miss Fowler! Why that is you, what a pleasant surprise."
Startled from her thoughts, Amanda turned towards Heyes. "Why hello, Mr. Smith. What are you doing here?" she asked pleasantly.
"I'm working, actually," he lied and looked around. "This certainly is a beautiful part of the country. I'm doing some surveying."
"I don't understand."
"Well, I think I may have a buyer for this land."
"A buyer?" Amanda was not happy with his answer.
"Yes. It's quite possible. But I need to do some more research first, of course." Heyes covered himself. "Beautiful lake. Would you like to take a walk?"
"No thank you, Mr. Smith. I hate to be rude, but what I'd really like is some solitude."
"I see," he said, a bit confused by her response. He made one last attempt. "But I'd still feel better if I could escort you back to town, when you're ready."
"Thank you, but it just isn't necessary. I come out here all the time. And…" she lifted a revolver from the buggy. "I can use this if I need to. Thank you, all the same." She was waiting for him to leave.
"Well, I guess I'll come back another time. Excuse me," he said, puzzled and annoyed by her sudden coldness.
Dinner began promptly at five o'clock every evening. Curry descended the staircase and headed for the dining room. Heyes hadn't come back that afternoon. Now Curry spotted him walking up the path.
"Where've you been? What happened between you and Miss Fowler?" Curry asked him.
"Moodiest woman I ever met!" Heyes growled. He tore off his gloves and hat and left them on the hall table.
Curry was rubbing his cheek. "Think I'm going to stick to sweet potatoes and pudding this evening," he said.
Lively conversation could be heard from the dining room. Mr. and Mrs. Edgeware, an elderly couple visiting from the east, were recounting their day's adventure at the fair to Amanda as she filled the water goblets. Mrs. Cosgrove and her traveling companion, Miss Bartel, were also enjoying a discussion about the fair with Mr. Hopper, a new boarder who had arrived late that morning.
Heyes eyed the dining room table and noticed the one free seat next to Amanda's usual place was still empty. He, Curry and Rollin appeared to be the last ones to be seated. Mr. Edgeware was already seated at Amanda's right.
Heyes saw Rollin coming in from the sun porch and headed quickly for the empty seat. Amanda had just sat down and Mr. Rollin was right behind Heyes, looking confused.
Amanda turned to Heyes. "Uh, Mr. Smith…Mr. Rollin usually sits there."
"Yes, I know," Heyes agreed taking the seat. "Mr. Edgeware, I heard you went to the fair today…how was it?"
Amanda looked slightly annoyed with Heyes and waited for the other men to be seated.
Rollin, still displaced, looked at Curry who shrugged back at him. The two men sat down; Curry next to Heyes and Rollin at the end of the table.
Grace was said and the guests began eating. Jessie came in and out from the kitchen with the serving trays and Amanda helped her with the side dishes and the beverages.
"Miss Fowler, I'm afraid my coffee is cold," Heyes said and offered his cup to her.
"Mr. Smith, I don't understand, I just made a fresh pot."
"It's still cold I'm afraid," he insisted.
"Certainly, Mr. Smith," she said doubtfully. "I'll refill your cup." She left momentarily for the kitchen.
She returned with a fresh cup and set it down in front of him.
Heyes took a sip.
"Better?" she asked.
"It's a bit weak, but at least it's hot," he replied not looking up.
"My coffee tastes delicious, ma'am… so do my potatoes," Curry called to her.
"Thank you, Mr. Jones. I hope your tooth is feeling better…How's the chicken, Mr. Smith?" she asked hopefully.
Heyes shook his head sadly. "Cold."
Amanda gave up and sat down again. She turned her attentions toward Mr. Hopper. Hopper was explaining about the expansion plans he would be supervising for the local bank over the next few months.
"Uh, Miss Fowler, any chance of getting some fresh towels once before we leave?" Heyes asked her.
"Mr. Smith, you can have fresh towels every day, every hour if it pleases you," she sighed and turned back to Mr. Edgeware and Mr. Hopper.
Heyes started to reach for the sweet potatoes and Amanda deliberately picked up the bowl and offered it to Mr. Edgeware.
"What do you suppose she's thinking right now?" Curry muttered to Heyes.
The dinner dishes were stacked and ready to be washed. As Amanda filled the kitchen sink with water she looked through the window. The men were just leaving toward town for Saturday night poker. Rollin, Hopper, and Heyes were all inside the wagon. Curry was riding on top with Matthew.
They were nearing the main road and Heyes was watching for it.
As soon as he saw it he asked Matthew to stop the wagon.
Curry turned around. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing," Heyes answered him. Then he called out, "I'm getting out, Mr. Dodd."
"What!" Curry whispered hoarsely.
Heyes leaned toward him. "I just can't get enough of Mrs. Cosgrove's singing," he said so only Curry could hear and got out of the wagon.
Matthew asked, "Changed your mind then, Mr. Smith?"
"You'll be missing the big money games tonight."
"Well, I guess poker isn't your game. Good-night." And the wagon started moving.
Heyes waved as a bewildered Curry looked back at him.
Amanda had started washing the dinner dishes and turned as she heard the kitchen door open behind her. Heyes entered looking at her quietly, thoughtfully.
"Mr. Smith!" she was quite surprised to see him.
"Miss Fowler. I overheard you giving Jessie the night off and I thought you could use some help."
"Oh no, Mr. Smith! Sir, I really prefer the guests remain in the main areas of the…."
Heyes cut her off. "Please don't call me sir…" he said with genuine humility, "because I don't deserve it. Tonight I was rude, disagreeable and completely unappreciative of your sincere attempts at hospitality."
He paused for her reaction. She appeared to relax a little.
Heyes continued. "I'd really like to make up for it…" it was almost a question. He paused again waiting for her reply.
"Well, it wasn't just you, Mr. Smith. I'm afraid I was very disappointed this afternoon when you mentioned you had a buyer for the lake property. I'm hoping to buy it soon myself. Maybe dinner was a little cold in more ways than one."
"Don't worry about that property," he reassured her. "No…there's been a change of plan. That property's just a little too south of Stockton to be worth the investment."
"Oh." Amanda was obviously pleased to hear this. "You're missing Saturday night poker…they may not deal you into the game later."
Her voice had softened as she warmed to him.
He smiled and in reply, picked up a dishtowel from the counter and slung it over his shoulder. She turned back to the sink, also smiling. He walked over and picked up a plate to dry.
Amanda rinsed off a serving tray. "What exactly does a land speculator do?"
"Well, we investigate potential properties that our principals are interested in buying. We take the first look. Do the legwork. Report back to our principals. Thaddeus and I've been all over."
"How do you find your 'principals'?"
"Mostly through independent referrals."
"Like Mr. McKendricks?"
"So you did recognize me from the bank…"
She turned her attention to a baking dish. "It came to me…"
"Uh-huh. We work for him now and again."
"You like all that traveling?"
"Sometimes." He was watching as she intently scrubbed a stubborn spot on the dish.
Amanda glanced back at him. "I like this part of the country. It's very different from Chicago. That's where I grew up. Where are you from?"
He looked at her and wanted to tell her the truth. "Kansas."
"Is that where your family is?"
"Everyone from my immediate family--are all dead."
Amanda turned and looked at him with concern. "I'm sorry."
"It happened during the war…but…Thaddeus is like family. We've been together a long time."
"Mr. Jones seems like a nice gentleman."
"Yes. But right now I'm pretty worried about him," he said gravely. Then he looked at her mischievously, "He's a lousy poker player!"
Amanda laughed and handed him the dish to dry. She looked at the clock. It was half past six. "Oh, I need to go. We'll lose the light by eight o'clock. Uh…I have another dinner guest waiting."
Now Heyes looked surprised. "Another guest?"
"Yes. I need to take a little walk towards the ridge. Would you like to join me?"
"Should I bring my gun?" Heyes asked.
"Oh no. We won't need that," she said opening a cupboard. She took out a small wrapped package and headed for the back door.
Inside the parlor the piano was being played. A moment later, Mrs. Cosgrove began singing her rendition of 'Beautiful Dreamer.' Amanda tried hard not to laugh as Heyes plugged his ears.
"Ever wonder what Mr. Cosgrove died from? Yes," he nodded and followed her outside.
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.