2b. A Little Bad In Everyone – Ch2

CHAPTER TWO

“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 draughty 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 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 and was straining up and around. 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 – ‘yakking 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. He mooched after the 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!” protested Kid. “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 mincer, he’s not in there! Nor’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 scullery, 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 flash.”

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 colouring 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 -– Rridin’ 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 colouring. Ben always favoured Ma. But, folks do say we both have the Gruber chin. See?”

They all leant 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. “Can I – can 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 tardes, 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 bien 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 shrub-land… Do you see anything?”

Heyes’ eyes crinkled in turn. “Nope… Leastways…” 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 grip 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 misdemeanour to me,” said Kid.

“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 colour 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 – being hidden.”

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

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

Kid 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 pin, Thaddeus?”

“Not in a haystack, in a pin-cushion with all the other pins,” 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 flock wadding.”

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 stakes 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. “An aortic aneurism. Can happen to anyone, any age, no warning — though it’s pretty rare. 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 gear 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 was bilingual. 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 bilingual 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 Kid, “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 taken a little wobble off the straight and narrow,” 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 flash’.” 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 tooling right past me in a gig 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 apologise 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 – witterin’ 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, 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 biting the cushions, huh?”

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

“Una jarra de 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. 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 an, 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. Kid 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, 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 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 put him to work as a draft excluder.”

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 smelt 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, frustratedly, concluding 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 doesn’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 leveling 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 tidily 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, 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 enquired, deadpan.

As Arkwright stared at the impassive face and the colt in the brown-gloved hand, he heard a click from the shadows on his other side. He glanced back. Sheriff Fraser was levelling a rifle. “Let the lady go and, don’t even think about trying any other move.”

—oooOOOooo—

EPILOGUE – THE NEXT DAY

Once again 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!!” scathed Heyes.

“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 lingered 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 to…”

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

“We may change our plans,” said Kid. “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 true, huh? Then, if those lowlifes you have locked up ARE still labouring 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

Advertisements

One thought on “2b. A Little Bad In Everyone – Ch2

  1. Really good story, did not get beaten or anything. Only once again not a penny to their name. enjoyed. keep up the good work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s