A plush office. On one side of a gleaming mahogany desk sits a prosperous-looking businessman, Miles Trent. Opposite him sits…
Hey, it’s him. It’s whatshisname. The guy who ran the Jockey Club when Soapy Saunders helped the boys run the wire swindle back in Mineral Springs! Black-Jack Gibbons!
Clearly the hook for a sting is in progress.
“Let me get this straight, you take my $20,000, you do your share dodge one more time and you bring me back $100,000?” An interrogative smoke tendril curls from Trent’s fine cigar.
“Guaranteed! But, we have to be quick. If the Illinois Steel Construction Board finds we’ve manipulated their stock, we’ll be dead in the water.”
Trent reaches down and lifts a plump leather grip onto the desk. Hesitation flickers over his face.
Black-Jack’s eyes rest on the grip. For a fleeting moment they gleam with a hungry look. We gather it holds the $20,000. Black-Jack is too fine a conman to show his eagerness for the money. Instead, he leans back and oozes affable credibility. “Think about it; a guaranteed minimum return of five hundred percent. No risk. No fuss.”
“It is! And your competitors will be mad as hornets when they find how much money you’ve made on the deal.”
“And, you’re willing to let me in?”
“First name on my list!” assures Black-Jack.
“Whew! $100,000 in one hit!”
“No questions asked!”
Trent’s brow furrows. “I have a question.”
“Shoot!” smiles Black-Jack, fully confident his catch is inches from being reeled in.
“Exactly where on my forehead does it say – sucker?”
A just perceptible tightening of Black-Jack’s posture. “I don’t follow.” Black-Jack keeps his smile, but it slowly acquires a frozen quality as Trent carries on.
“Then, let me explain.” Trent’s voice hardens. “You tell me about this great deal, a fella on the inside, guaranteed returns – and the rest. I give you $500; you give me $2500 back. You’re with me so far?”
No response from Black-Jack.
“I’ll take that as a yes. So far, I’m $2,000 up on the deal. You’re $2,000 down, but you hope that’s a good investment. Why? Because giving me $2,000 will convince me to give you more. Let’s call it – bait.”
It would be unfair to say Black-Jack blenches at this – all too accurate – summary. But, whatever his poker face does or does not show, inside, he is wincing.
“So, now I give you this bag full of money.” Trent’s hand slaps the grip. “Cash, of course. After all, I can trust you, can’t I? You’ve already made me money. Only this time – you disappear.” A pause. “What could go wrong?” There is now an undercurrent of threat in Trent’s voice.
Black-Jack deals with the collapsing scenario as well as he can. Radiating indignation, he gets to his feet.
“Mr. Trent, the deal’s off! Clearly you don’t trust me!”
“Oh! But – my money’s here!” Trent’s tone is mocking as he opens the grip, displaying neatly bound bundles of notes. “Please, take my money!”
“No! I’ll find someone who appreciates what I have to offer.”
Black-Jack heads for the door, but before he reaches it two Trent henchmen step inside. Both are taller, broader, meaner-looking than our conman. Both are armed. He is not.
At a nod from Trent, one heavy punches Black-Jack in the gut, doubling him over. The second grabs his hair, pulls him back to a standing position. A disturbingly competent fist rises…
A very self-satisfied Trent smiles as a punch lands.
Released, Black-Jack walks back to the desk, wiping a thin trickle of blood from his lip.
“Okay, look, you’re $2,000 up. Your boys have made your point, huh? Let’s leave things as they are.”
A pause. It lasts long enough to become menacing.
“No. Let’s NOT.” With a smug grin, Trent snaps his fingers. From behind a curtained alcove steps a tall, dour figure. Black-Jack’s eyes rest on the ominous silver star.
ESTABLISHING SHOT – BUSTLING CITY STREETS
CLOSE IN ON THE IMPOSING FAÇADE OF THE CHICAGO GRAND PACIFIC HOTEL
A pair of familiar figures, one in a brown suit and regrettable derby, one in light blue and equally regrettable – what IS that Curry hat style? – mount the steps of the hotel.
“What d’you think Soapy has in mind, Kid?”
A ‘search me’ shrug from Kid Curry.
“I’m thinking the job hasta be legal. Soapy knows how law-abiding we are these days.”
Curry pulls down the sleeve of his jacket to cover a frayed shirt cuff. “Law-abidin’s fine so far as it goes, but I’m kinda stuck on hopin’ for well paid.”
A rueful look is exchanged. Once again, our boys are not in funds.
“Strictly speaking,” muses Heyes, “the message Lom passed on didn’t mention a job.”
“Heyes, if all Soapy wanted was to be sociable – why Chicago? Why not ‘Frisco?”
The boys enter the lobby. Immediately Curry breaks into a grin and a wide beam dimples Heyes’ cheeks. The diminutive figure of Soapy Saunders scurries towards them.
“Boys! Boys!” Warm handshakes. Smiles wreathe the kindly old face as he gazes up, fondly, at the two ex-outlaws. “You remember Chuck Morgan?”
A tall, well-built – and, again, vaguely recognizable – fella steps forward.
“Sure,” smiles Heyes, acknowledging the old friend with a touch of his hat. “We read what happened to Black-Jack.”
“Bad business,” sympathizes Curry.
“That’s why I’m here,” says Soapy, “…Coming out of retirement to do one of my occasional favors for an old friend. After all, I did the same for you two boys.”
“That Trent fella who put Black-Jack away is one mean cuss.” Chuck Morgan’s brow darkens. “Okay, you get caught, you pay. Those are the rules. But the way he did it… We don’t mean to let it lie.”
“Is that why we’re here?”
Heyes’ question, and the demeanor of both boys, is wary. Are they about to be called on to repay old favors? Because, that’s close to ‘good deed’ territory and they’re going to need to think on that some!
“Black-Jack’s number two – number one, with him in jail – thought of you two right off!” says Chuck.
“Black-Jack’s number two…?” An enquiring Heyesian finger indicates the broad-shouldered fella in the dark suit.
“Not me,” disclaims Chuck. “I’m a dang good grifter, but I’m the first to admit I’m no hand at coming up with plans – prefer to follow ’em.”
From a deep wing chair, its back towards the boys, a figure emerges. An instantly recognizable – and exceedingly elegant – figure.
“Hannibal, Jedediah,” a slender hand clad in immaculate white kid is extended, “…It’s been far, far too long.” The excellently modulated voice lowers, “How would you feel if I made you a proposition? A dangerous proposition.”
The partners exchange a look.
A SHORT TIME LATER
ONE OF THE HOTEL’S LUXURIOUS LOUNGES
“So there I was in Mineral Springs, practically penniless…”
“No hard feelings, I hope, Grace,” interjects Heyes.
“None at all! After all,” a bewitching smile is directed at Kid Curry, “Jedediah has no hard feelings over the Hidalgo incident, do you, Jedediah?”
“Grudges are for folks with bad stomachs,” says Curry.
“Exactly,” concurs Grace, pouring coffee for the boys from a heavy silver pot. “So, I got to thinking – the crew running the Gentlemen’s Jockey Club was clearly endowed with both skill and discernment. Maybe they would appreciate my…” She searches, “My talents.”
“Which we sure did,” chips in Chuck Morgan.
The boys nod. They can see the logic. Grace Turner would be an asset – a risky asset maybe, but an asset – to any grifting crew.
“From what I recall,” says Heyes, “you admired Grace from the first time she walked into Mineral Springs.”
Chuck meets Heyes’ eyes squarely. “Anything wrong with that?”
“Nope. I reckon, if we include Soapy, that makes four of us.” To Grace, “How did you track them down?”
“Oh, Hannibal, I think I won’t answer that. After all, if I do, you may guess how I discovered you could be tracked through Sheriff Lom Trevors and,” a modest lowering of fine lashes, “a lady must have some secrets.”
“So,” Kid Curry looks enquiringly at Chuck and Soapy, “…That wasn’t either of you?”
Two shaking heads indicate – no. The boys take in the full implications of Grace Turner’s tracking them unaided. They sip their coffee, thoughtfully.
“And you became Black-Jack’s number two?” asks Heyes.
“Talent, like cream,” Grace adds a lavish amount of the aforementioned dairy product to her coffee, “rises to the top.”
“It seems to me,” says Heyes, “with all that rising talent, you can handle Trent yourself. What d’you need us for?”
“Unless it’s for the gettin’ caught and slung in jail part of the plan,” suggests Curry.
“Hannibal! Jedediah! I’m hurt! You know how I feel about…” A flutter of lashes at each ex-outlaw in turn, so each can feel he is the object of her gaze. “…You. Maybe, I simply wanted to – see – you again.”
The boys try not to let all that feminine loveliness and subtle verb timing have any effect. Heyes clears his throat. Curry shifts in his seat and crosses his legs.
A silver spoon tinkles on fine china as Grace stirs her coffee. “And, I knew you’d want to help out Black-Jack…”
“After all,” this is Chuck Morgan, “he did the same for you. You wouldn’t turn down an old, old friend – would you?”
They might. They don’t feel too good about it, but – they might.
Kid Curry’s brow furrows. “The thing is, you fellas helped us out ‘cos Grace landed us in a whole heap of trouble. Now you’re askin’ us to pay you back by lettin’ her land us in a whole heap of fresh trouble.”
“He has a point, my dear,” says Soapy to Grace. “If Trent knows the way cons work well enough to get a real professional like Black-Jack put away, what makes you think you can take him on a second time? You have to appreciate these two boys are in a delicate position. They’re not looking at a twelve-month stretch for obtaining money with deception; they’re looking at twenty years.”
“Besides,” Heyes says, “I’m not denying I’d like to see this Trent guy bested, but revenge is for chumps. What good is that to Black-Jack?”
“Aside from making him feel pretty dang good when I visit and tell him?” Chuck asks.
“Point taken,” Heyes admits. “But, aside from the warm glow.”
“This is not just about getting even,” says Grace. “It’s about the money.”
“Why don’t that surprise me?” grunts Kid.
“Not money for me, Jedediah.”
A cynical Heyesian eyebrow is raised.
“All right, not ONLY for me. Miles Trent walked off with $2,000 of the crew’s money. Together with what we paid a fancy lawyer to try and keep the sentence down,” Grace flicks a swift and wry sideways smile at Kid Curry, “…Since I thought dynamiting the wall might not prove so efficacious in the Chicago Penitentiary,” Back to addressing the whole group, “…We’re pretty well cleaned out.”
“When Black-Jack’s done his time,” says Chuck, “we want him to come out to serious seed money. Y’know, get him back on his feet.”
“Call me petty, but I’d like it to be Trent’s money. Lots of it. And…” As Grace’s lashes rise, there is a clever glint in the fine eyes, “…There’s thousands there for the taking. I’d be very, very generous to any old friends who helped out.” She sips her coffee. “Not that I’d suggest for a moment that filthy lucre rather than friendship would persuade you.”
Heyes and Curry exchange a glance. It might.
“How much filthy lucre?” asks the more larcenous of the two.
Grace takes a notebook from her reticule, extracts a silver pencil from the spine, scribbles, tears out the page, folds it, hands it over.
Heyes flicks open the note. Poker face, but a hungry flicker in the brown eyes. He shows the figure to his partner. A pause.
“Each?” checks Curry.
“Dependent, of course, on a successful outcome to my plan,” she purrs.
Two slightly threadbare butts shift in their luxuriously upholstered chairs.
“I can’t deny that’s generous, Grace,” admits Heyes.
“So, you’re in?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Of course, if you’re worried Miles Trent is just too smart for you…” She lays a comforting hand on Heyes’ arm. “Mineral Springs was over a year ago. I daresay you’ve grown rusty…”
“I never said I COULDN’T beat Trent…”
“As a man gets older, he loses the taste for taking risks – amongst other faculties.”
“His reactions slow…” Grace’s smile at Heyes communicates her deep, womanly sympathy.
“Hey!” Apparently Heyes does not want Grace’s deep, womanly sympathy.
Kid Curry does not like the way this is developing one little bit.
“Heyes isn’t gonna fall for that, Grace!”
“Fall for what?” she radiates innocence.
“I could take Trent…”
“Shaddup, Heyes! He isn’t gonna fall for that ‘betcha can’t’ stuff.”
“It seems to be working from where I’m sitting,” twinkles Soapy.
“Hannibal, Jedediah,” Grace assumes her most appealing face. “Surely you’re not going to turn me down? I don’t even want to think about where else I might find serious seed money. Say – twenty thousand dollars.”
“Was that a threat?” An edge of danger in Heyes’ voice.
“A threat?” Grace remains her unruffled self. “That would hardly be ladylike.”
“Wouldn’t be smart neither.” Kid Curry’s voice is level. “Since, the last time you went up against us, you lost.”
“And the time before that, Jedediah, you lost. One all. Now, I am perfectly content with the score.” Grace calmly refills his cup and looks up into Curry’s face. “How about you? Do you wish to take the contest to best of three?”
A glance is exchanged. Nope. The partners have no wish to go up against Grace Turner unless cornered.
“All square suits us fine, Grace,” decides Heyes. “But, as for conning Trent…”
A mute conversation between Heyes and Curry. They could sure do with the money. Black-Jack is an old friend. Heyes would relish the challenge. But…
Heyes opens his mouth.
Grace’s expression indicates she fears a refusal is imminent. “Don’t decide yet.” A dazzling smile. “We can discuss it over dinner.”
Heyes shuts his mouth on what he was about to say, then, “Dinner?”
The Kid’s stomach gives a loud gurgle.
A persuasive flutter from Grace, “You won’t refuse to let me buy you dinner?”
“There’s never any harm talking things over,” a dark-haired and very hungry ex-outlaw decides.
“We don’t wanna be unsociable,” agrees Kid Curry.
THE NEXT MORNING
A HOTEL BEDROOM
Close up reveals a very tousled dark head is deeply embedded in a soft, linen-encased pillow. As sunlight creeps over the face, the closed eyes squeeze more tightly shut. The noise level outside rises: horses, carriages, voices. The dark head lifts, gingerly, a trail of drool dangling from that otherwise delightful mouth. A groan. The Heyesian head flumps back to its original position.
As the point of view pulls back we see Heyes only managed to get half undressed last night. Open rumpled shirt. Suit pants. One naked foot, one still in its boot. We also see a similarly comatose blond version of ‘the morning after’ sprawled over the adjacent bed.
“Did we let Grace talk us into that con?”
“We gave her our word?”
“‘Cos – after that second magnum of champagne, we were kinda…”
“All the same, Kid, we could still skip town.”
“Why not? ‘Cos we usually try and keep our word?”
“Nuhhg. ‘Cos…” Curry’s voice is muffled as he makes no attempt to raise his head. “Skippin’ town’d mean movin’.”
MUCH LATER THAT MORNING
Heyes and Curry are mobile, if a touch heavy-eyed. They, Soapy and Chuck Morgan are listening to Grace.
“…It seems Trent was conned once before. He was taken for $20,000. He recognized the sequence.” She pushes a photograph clipped from a newspaper over the table. “This is him. He made his fortune cheating folk out of their land for the railways. Now, he’s a property broker finding land for development. You must have seen the new buildings going up all over Chicago?”
“Uh huh,” nods Curry.
“What else do we know about him?” asks Heyes.
“He prides himself on always being one step ahead of the competition. The word is, he has files on all his opponents. He checks everything out, leaves nothing to chance.”
Heyes winces. Great.
“He’s mean, too,” says Chuck. “When a rival company snatched a parcel of land from under his nose, he fired half his staff. Not because it was their fault – just to cheer himself up. It was the day before Christmas Eve.”
The boys exchange a glance. Nasty.
“It was made worse when they uncovered a lost union payroll that had been on its way to Camp Douglas. Not only had he lost the land, he’d lost what was buried underneath.”
“There HAD been rumors about the payroll, but Trent dismissed them,” says Grace.
“Can’t say I blame him,” admits Heyes, ruefully. A mute conversation. Our boys know from experience, just sometimes, those rumors can be true.
“Nor can I. But, it made him a laughing stock. At any rate, he thought it did.”
A pause. Soapy picks up the picture of Miles Trent. With a half-regretful sigh he says, “You might want to think again about taking him, my dear.”
Grace looks a question.
“When folks have been conned,” explains Heyes, “…They do research. They learn the moves. If he knew enough to take bait money from someone as good as Black-Jack, that’s what he’s done. He can’t be taken again.”
“Everyone has a weakness,” Grace argues.
An acknowledging shrug from Soapy. “Is he a gambler?”
“No,” she sighs. “That’s why Black-Jack wasn’t playing the wire.”
“Women?” suggests Kid Curry.
“I suspect,” says Heyes, “…If Trent’s weakness was beautiful women, Grace’d have it covered without hiring us.”
“Why, thank you, Hannibal,” she purrs.
Heyes leans forward, “The long con is a science. It’s about planning, covering all the angles.”
“Yes. But, it’s also about having the courage to take a chance.”
“Any chump can take a chance, Grace. A good con is about playing the odds. And, here, the odds are not on our side.”
“Isn’t a good con also about intuition? Resourcefulness? Daring? Thinking on your feet? Beating the odds?” She takes a deep breath, “Why do you think I’m asking you and Jedediah for this favor, Hannibal?”
Maybe this is simply one more ploy to get the boys on board. Maybe it was a burst of honesty. The partners are not sure – and neither are we.
“It would be a challenge, Heyes,” admits Soapy, “…To con the unconnable mark.”
Kid Curry looks from one face to another. Disbelief in his voice, he asks, “So, we’re actually gonna do this?”
Musing, then a dimpled grin from Heyes, “Looks like it, yeah.”
MAYBE FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER
Grace is explaining her plan.
“…I’m thinking the most important thing is to keep Trent away from the law.”
“Suits us,” puts in Curry.
“Most marks don’t report a con because they think they’ve done something illegal. Or, even better, because they never realize they’ve been conned in the first place. With Trent it’s all about reputation. Maybe that’s his weakness. He has to be seen as top dog. So, I’m thinking our play has to make him look stupid if he did go to the law.”
“And, you have an idea that’d do that?” asks Heyes.
“I do. I got the inspiration from the story Charles researched on Trent being furious when his rivals dug up that payroll. We sell him a piece of land, but we make him believe – there’s something under it.”
“I read about the new collection the Chicago Historical Society is displaying over in the Scammon Building. When the granite piers for the new Home Insurance Building were sunk…”
“That’s the place they’re calling a sky-scraper. The one they reckon is gonna be ten stories high?” checks Heyes.
Grace nods. Kid Curry gives an impressed whistle.
“…They found traces of a woodhenge, a pre-Columbian burial site. It held copper plates – you know, historical artifacts – nearly as remarkable as those at the Koster site.”
No one is impressed.
“As well as the copper plates, they found a horde of jewelry and ceremonial items.” She lowers her voice. “Some of it – gold!”
Okay. That is a shade more impressive.
“I did read about that,” admits Soapy.
Heyes nods, so did he. “The city officials held up the build.”
But, still the keynote of the silent waves emanating from Grace’s audience is ‘so what?’
Grace produces a photograph of artifacts. “The official theory is that the civilization that lived in these parts before the Algonquian peoples would have traded copper and furs for the gold. BUT, as the Illinois and Michigan canal wasn’t running its steamers the length of the Mississippi back then, there was some speculation the gold might have been mined locally…”
“Hold on.” Kid Curry’s face is a picture as he realizes where this is heading. “We’re gonna sell this man a gold mine?”
“Unless it’s moved.”
“A state that’s never had so much as a sniff of gold.”
“That,” Grace beams, “is the point. The more outrageous the con, the less Trent will see it coming.”
“There is a twisted logic to it, Kid,” admits Heyes. “Who’d be dumb enough to try and sell a fake gold mine in the middle of Chicago?”
His partner stares at him, incredulous. “Please tell me I ain’t lookin’ at him!”
ROOM WITH A SMALL PRINTING PRESS, RACKS OF METAL LETTERS, INK, NIBS, BRUSHES, STENCILS, MAGNIFYING GLASSES
Heyes and Soapy, sleeves rolled up, are painstakingly at work with paper, press and ink.
A voice-over from Grace explains what is happening.
“Trent will have read about the collection going to the Scammon Building at the time, but let’s remind him. We know he takes the Chicago Tribune, so I want a special edition just for him…”
NEWSTAND IN A BUSY CHICAGO STREET
Kid Curry, a brown paper parcel under one arm, strides towards the booth, overtaking Trent on the same mission. A dime is spun in the air to be caught by the vendor as Curry leans over to take a Chicago Tribune from the top of the pile.
Curry turns, walks away, as the obsequious newsvendor chirps, “Fine day, Mister Trent, sir,” as Trent picks up the slickly-deposited special edition.
Without breaking stride, a grinning Kid Curry screws up the now-empty brown paper and deposits it in a trash can.
Trent is reading an article headed: Ten-Stories Tall – But is Chicago Gold Mine a Tall Story Too Many? He purses his lips. Speculative smoke rises from his morning cigar.
LESS SALUBRIOUS PARTS – ON THE CITY EDGE
Chuck Morgan opens a rickety gate within a high board fence and strides across a dusty yard. An old-timer, rough clothes, Gabby Hayes beard, emerges from a semi-derelict shack. They speak, shake hands. Chuck goes inside.
Outside the gate, hands thrust into their pockets, stand Heyes and Curry.
“This is it?” grunts Curry.
“Yup. Grace found it,” says Heyes. “Fifteen thousand square feet and less than a mile from where the artifacts were found. The owner means to go join his daughter out West, so he’s willing to sell. The deal is, Chuck pays him when we find a buyer. Meanwhile, we put the old-timer up somewhere fancy at our expense, so he’s out of the way.”
A pause. Curry inhales, then pulls out a bandana to cover his nose.
“It used to be used for penning hogs,” explains Heyes. “But since the Union Stockyards took over, that’s pretty much died off.
A scurrying sound. Kid Curry points to the scaly tail of a rodent disappearing beneath a pile of discarded sacks. “It may not have hogs, but seems the place still got livestock.”
Both boys look glum. The scene is not enticing.
“Tell me this isn’t gonna be a disaster, Heyes.”
“I can’t, Kid.” Pause. “So, do we stick around? Or do we disappear? Let Grace and Soapy work her plan without us and maybe get caught?”
“She did break me out of jail, Heyes. I mean, I know she put me there first, but…”
A mute conversation. Whilst definitely putting their own skins first, neither ex-outlaw exactly wants to abandon Grace and Soapy.
They watch a second furry resident scurry across the mud. Then, an idea strikes Heyes. Internal cogs turn. “‘Course, Kid, if we added a little Hannibal Heyes plan magic to Grace’s rough outline, THEN it couldn’t fail.”
“Now I’m really worried,” deadpans Curry.
The team is back together. Grace is speaking. “I mean to sell Trent that piece of land for ten times what it’s worth.”
“But,” Curry frowns, “…How do we convince him about the gold?”
“We don’t even try.” Heyes leans forward, eagerly, “…We simply plant the seed and let it grow. Just enough to make him take a soil test and get a gold expert in to give an opinion. And, he, of course will be…” He indicates Soapy, who gives a modest salute.
Grace’s eyes glow as she sees Heyes’ growing enthusiasm for making her plan work. “Charles, you have an office ready?”
“I will have. Kid, can you come be my runner?”
“And,” Grace turns to Heyes, “…Hannibal, you’re set to go reel Trent in?”
A dimpled smile, “It’s what I do.”
AN EXCLUSIVE RESTAURANT
THE CLIENTELE ARE MAINLY BUSINESSMEN; THE ATMOSPHERE – RESPECTABLE
In one corner Heyes, mostly obscured by a newspaper, sips coffee. He discretely observes Miles Trent, who is at a nearby table holding forth to a bevy of fawning underlings.
“So I told that bleeding heart lawyer, no deal! I want that small time-loser sent down for the maximum sentence. He played, he lost, he pays the bill.”
Distaste flickers across Heyes’ face. Playing to win, fine. Rubbing a loser’s face in it, unnecessary. He turns a page of his paper.
Trent is still speaking. “You see what you want and you…”
“Go for it,” says Underling One, hoping for approval.
“No! You don’t go for it. You GET it! That site I needed on Monroe Street. Some silver-haired old widow was blocking the sale. She was worried,” his voice becomes mocking, “…If she moved, her little cat might not find its way home.”
“Sounds like something my Grandma might say,” toadies Underling Two.
“So, I hired me a Rottweiler with a taste for calicos, there was an unfortunate leash-breaking incident – and, she signed the place over to me within the week.”
Blinks from the underlings. Nervous obsequious laughter.
“You see what you want; you grab it by the horns!”
Heyes’ gaze moves over Trent; curled hat brim, silk cravat, cravat pin, fancy vest, watch chain, signet ring on little finger, thumbs thrust into vest pockets, sitting with legs wide apart. The dark eyes move to the plate: ham, fried potatoes, eggs over easy.
“Speaking of horns,” still Trent talking, “…Frank, are you ever going to quit puppy-eyeing that dang girl and do something?”
Underling Frank, who is trying to mold himself after his boss but cannot be much more than twenty-two years old, flushes. His eyes were indeed mooning in the direction of an extremely pretty waitress in an outfit reminiscent of the Harvey girls. He shifts in his seat, tries to look unconcerned. He mutters something indistinct in response.
Heyes has heard enough. He folds his newspaper and heads for the men’s room. Once there, a yank to curl his hat brim; his ribbon tie is pocketed, the handkerchief in his pocket swiftly transformed into a cravat; he gropes at the back of his neck – a collar stud becomes a cravat pin. First taking off his jacket Heyes unbuttons his plain vest, lined with fancy silk – it is reversed; his silver ring is shifted to signet finger; finally he slips into a stall, a sound of clanking metal, as he emerges a chain is being tucked across vest pockets; the thumbs stay lodged there as he strides out confidently and takes his place, legs akimbo, at the table neighboring Trent’s. A waitress bustles up.
“Ham, fried potatoes, eggs over easy. Thanks, ma’am.”
Heyes meets Trent’s eye, nods. Trent takes him in. The reaction is not warm, but… The mirroring has done its job. A return nod, not devoid of approval.
Heyes lets his gaze move to the pretty waitress. “The service here has its attractions, huh?” His tone is light-hearted ‘man-talk’ without tipping into crude.
“Frank here thinks so, but he’s too yellow to make a move,” says Trent.
Frank blushes again. “They’re nice girls here – and she’s wearing a ring. She’s probably engaged.”
“Only one way to find out,” dimples Heyes. “Ten dollars says I get something cozier than a verbal slap in the face.”
Frank does not much like this. But, under Trent’s mocking eye, he holds out his hand and says, “You’re on.”
“Wish me luck.”
Heyes heads for the waitress who is on the far side of the restaurant folding linen napkins. As his back is now turned on Trent, Frank and Underling Two, they cannot see that his expression and demeanor have utterly changed. All the bombast has gone and he wears the sweetest, shyest, most endearingly entreating smile imaginable.
“Ma’am, could I disturb you for a moment?”
“Yes, sir? Can I fetch you…?”
“No, no. I wanted to ask you something.”
From under the prim ‘Harvey-Girl’ cap frills and a cluster of dusky curls, a pair of lovely grey eyes gives first Heyes, then the head waitress, a wary look. From her demeanor, it is evident that the nice girls employed here simply do not countenance flirtation with a customer, however handsome.
“Oh, don’t worry – I’m not going to get fresh.” Indeed Heyes radiates unthreatening bashfulness.
She relaxes a touch.
“I guess I’m looking for some feminine advice. You see, my fiancée is arriving back in town next week after a long visit to her married sister…”
She relaxes completely at the mention of a fiancée. Whatever he wants – it is not flirtation.
“She must be around your age. She’s fair-haired though, and really pretty. Oh! Not that you’re not pretty…” Heyes breaks off, feigning realization that he might have been uncomplimentary to this glowing brunette.
“You were saying, your fiancée is returning to town?” she prompts, now all encouraging smiles.
“I’d like to buy her something. Something – y’know … I thought flowers or candy, but that’s kinda…” Another stop.
“They’re nice, but not real imaginative,” she helps him out.
“And, I kinda saw your ring and thought… Your young man… If he was buying something, what’d make you think…? I mean…”
“You want to know, what might be romantic?”
“Does your fiancée like to read? I’d be real happy if George gave me a book of romantic poems.”
“Sure!” she nods eagerly.
“That sounds like a fine idea. Do you have any ideas as to which…?”
In the background, Trent and company watch what, from their point of view, seems to be Heyes being a roaring success at overcoming respectable feminine reticence.
MEANWHILE – IN THE ‘FORGING’ ROOM
Soapy Saunders adds a final set of ruled grid lines to a ground plan adorned with believably technical notes. He folds it, straightens it out, then dips a sponge into what looks like cold tea and wipes over the paper, turning it from pristine white to pale sepia. It looks authentically old. The plan is held, carefully, up to a lamp to dry.
BACK IN THE RESTAURANT
The waitress, her bottom lip caught between her teeth with concentration, is writing something on a slip of paper for Heyes. Their heads are very, very close together. She is, of course, scribbling book titles, but the smug leer Heyes throws over his shoulder at the watching Trent table suggests it is, at the very least, her address, if not an assignation. By the time he turns face front, he is, once again, all innocent gratitude.
“He seems to be doing just fine,” observes Trent. A curl of the lip at the disgruntled Frank, “It could have been you.”
The girl’s final smile up at Heyes, as he presses her hand between both of his in gratitude, is utterly delightful.
By the time Heyes is back at the table, the bashful advice seeker is replaced with a gloating braggart who flaunts the slip of paper in front of Frank, kisses it half-mockingly and tucks it into an inside pocket.
“Ten, wasn’t it?” Heyes’ hand goes out.
“Pay the man!” barks Trent.
Ten dollars are handed over.
“D’you know what I always say, Frankie-Boy?” smugs Heyes, “If you see something you like, you go grab it by the horns!”
Approving waves from Trent.
Frank is not pleased. “I’d better be getting back to the office. Mister Trent?”
“No,” says Trent, after a glance at Heyes, “I think I’ll stay, have a coffee.”
Even less pleased, Frank moves off. Underling Two goes with him.
“Sheesh, don’t you hate a bad loser?” smiles Heyes.
“Sure do.” After a moment’s hesitation, this is NOT a warm man, he holds out his hand and nods at the vacated chair indicating Heyes should bring over his ham and eggs and join his table. “Miles Trent.”
“Joshua Smith,” supplies Heyes.
AGAIN WITH THE MEANWHILE
ESTABLISHING SHOT – THE SCAMMON BUILDING HOUSING THE COLLECTION OF THE CHICAGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY
In a studiously quiet antiquities room, Grace Turner studies the information card on the artifacts displayed. A quick glance around. A bored security guard is busy picking at his nails. Grace slips a tape measure from her reticule, takes the dimensions. The notebook and silver pencil are brought out.
BACK AT THE RESTAURANT
“So,” says Trent, “What do you do?”
“Property,” Heyes sends another forkful of ham south.
“Property?” Trent’s brows draw together.
“Uh huh. Development mostly. I find the land and my boss sells it to the highest bidder.”
“What’s the name of the company?”
“The De Vega Land Development Company. Have you heard of it?”
“Well, our principal office is based in Washington – D.C.”
A reaction, though swiftly hidden, not unlike that of Winford Fletcher at the mention of Washington.
“… We’ve just opened a Chicago office,” finishes Heyes.
“And – how’s business?”
“It’s okay.” Heyes is keeping his answers very relaxed, letting Trent drive. “So, who do you work for?”
Pointedly, “I work for me.”
“Oh,” Heyes chews ruefully. “That’s my dream. I’d love to tell De Vega, from now on, he can run his own dang errands.”
“James De Vega. You’ll know him soon enough. He’s going to blow away the competition, so he says.”
“Really?” Trent drips skepticism.
“Uh huh. Biggest in Chicago in two years by his reckoning. Anyhow, it’s time I got back.” He prepares to leave. Then, as if it’s an afterthought. “Would you like…? Nah.”
“Just wondering if you wanted to come over – see our offices? You could meet the boss.”
A pause. But, Trent did warm to Heyes. And, it makes sense to meet new competition in town.
OUTSIDE IN THE STREET
Heyes signals to Kid Curry with a discrete finger brush to the side of his nose. Curry signals back. Without seeming to, Heyes follows his partner. Curry stoops to brush a little dust from his boots outside an office building, then walks away.
“Here it is,” says Heyes. He enters, and surreptitiously scans the floor. He spots a tiny chalked arrow pointing left. Confidently, he strides down the corridor until he sees a shiny and impressive sign announcing: James De Vega. He taps, then throws open the door.
Behind the desk sits Chuck Morgan – the more dangerous version of Chuck. This man we can easily believe once rode alongside Heyes in the Plummer Gang.
“You’re late!” he snaps at Heyes.
“Sorry, boss. I – er – brought someone to meet you.”
“This is my boss, James De Vega. Sir, this is Miles Trent.”
Trent holds out his hand. Somewhat reluctantly, Chuck shakes it.
“So, you’re Trent?”
“You’ve heard of me then?”
Chuck does not respond straight away. Instead he turns to Heyes and barks, “Harrison is due here in ten minutes! We’ll need his file!”
“I’ll go get it.” Displaying just enough affront to hint he does not appreciate the way he is treated, Heyes leaves the office.
“Miles Trent is about all I have heard since I hit Chicago,” says Chuck.
“That’s because this is my city.”
Chuck lets out a derisive snort.
“There’s not a patch of undeveloped land in Chicago that I don’t know about and have right of first refusal on,” growls Trent.
“If that’s true, I guess I’m wasting my time here.”
“Is that what you came to tell me?”
The two men stare at each other.
Chuck shrugs, “Actually, I doubt we’re in competition.”
“You buy and sell land, so do I.”
“Yeah. But mine’s more specialized.”
“Specialized?” Trent’s tone is dismissive.
“Uh huh.” For the first time, Chuck’s eyes land on a file lying on the desk. It is marked ‘Brandon Yard’ and stamped with a large, red ‘Strictly Confidential’. He flicks a wary look at his visitor.
Trent’s eyes follow Chuck’s to the file. Chuck slides it into a drawer saying, “So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m busy.” He closes the drawer, stands up. “I’ll get Joshua to show you out.” He leaves.
Trent steps around to the drawer, opens it, leafs though the file. Photographs of artifacts. A photograph of the antiquaries’ room in which Grace did her measuring. Newspaper clippings. Soapy’s ground plans. Type-written reports. In short – bait!
Under his breath Trent mutters from an official-looking letter, “To all concerned… MUST acquire Brandon property… MUST be kept strictly confidential…”
Footsteps. Through the frosted glass in the upper part of the door we see, in silhouette, and partially hear, Chuck berating an apologetic Heyes. Chuck raises his voice, “Harrison’s file, my desk, NOW!”
Miles Trent slams shut the drawer and slips hastily back into his chair as the door opens.
“Show Mister Trent out,” orders Chuck. “And next time,” he throws Trent an offhand look, “make an appointment.”
Outside in the corridor, Trent grunts, “Your boss, he’s not exactly a friendly fella, huh?”
Heyes shrugs apologetically.
Trent’s face indicates musing as they walk.
When Heyes opens the outer door for him he grunts, “Smith, are you likely to lunch in the same place tomorrow?”
“Er – I guess I can…”
“Don’t guess.” He strides away.
Heyes smiles as Trent disappears around the corner. He returns to the office, taps, calls, “He’s gone.”
Chuck emerges, the file tucked under one arm. Heyes unpeels the ‘James De Vega’ nameplate revealing: ‘Office For Rent – Furnished’.
Grace is on her porch, pacing and talking. Kid Curry is with her, not pacing – leaning on the rail watching non-existent traffic go by on this very quiet street.
“The way I see it, the next move is up to Trent… Hannibal’s sure he’s hooked. He must be hooked. After all, he’s greedy – and there’s not much to beat simply digging money out of the ground. Is there?” Pause. “My plan will work, won’t it?” She looks at Curry for a response.
“Have you nothing to say?”
“Uh huh. Quit pacin’. You’re nervous as a canary with a cat in its cage. ‘S’worse’n watchin’ Heyes. Though,” a grin, “…I hafta admit you’re much easier on the eye.”
She smiles and joins him, leaning on the rail, they are very close.
“Jed?” serious tone.
“Do you ever think of that final evening – before we reached Laredo?”
A pause. Kid Curry meets her eyes. Half-reluctantly, “Uh huh.”
“So do I.” Pause. “You’re very quiet.”
Swiftly, Curry takes her into his arms and kisses her.
When he breaks away, he breathes, “I guess I’m still more of a man for action than for words.”
They kiss again, deeply. Then, Grace places her hands on his shirtfront and gently pushes him away. She is still in his arms, but now looking up into his face.
“Falling in love with you all over again isn’t part of the plan, Jed.”
“Does everything have to be part of the plan?”
“Until we’ve banked Trent’s money – yes. Afterwards…”
She simply smiles. A smile which could mean – anything.
“Grace?” Something is playing on Curry’s mind. “Y’know you and Heyes? While you were together in Mineral Springs…?”
He cannot think of a delicate way to ask. “Never mind.”
He releases her. They go back to leaning on the rail, side by side.
“What do you think of my plan?”
“Your plan to con Trent or your plan to chump me and Heyes into bein’ part of it?”
A reproachful look, “My plan to con Trent.”
Curry takes in a deep breath of evening air. He lets it out, purses his lips. Grace waits, and…
“I think if it had any more holes, I could use it for panhandlin’.” An affronted Grace is about to explode when Curry forestalls her, “The one to chump Heyes and me, that plan’s near genius.”
THE ANTIQUITIES ROOM – SCAMMON BUILDING
Grace Turner sits on a visitor’s bench. Kid Curry enters, strides past, giving her the discrete nose stroke signal. He exits by the opposite door. Grace rises, retrieving a file hidden by a fold of her skirt. She moves over to a glass case of ancient artifacts, a few of the smaller pieces – gold. From her file she takes a card identical in size and lettering to that marking the display. A dexterous switch. The wording now refers directly to speculation over the gold being mined locally. From the pocket of her depressingly sensible serge skirt Grace takes a pair of spectacles and perches them on her nose. It cannot be said she looks plain, but the white shirt, starched high collar, pinned-on watch and severely pulled back hairstyle are definitely shrieking ‘book-learned-lady’.
Miles Trent enters the antiquities room, looks around, heads for the artifacts.
After giving Trent time to read the card, stare at the gold and ponder, Grace circles the display to stand beside him.
“These finds are magnificent, aren’t they?” she asks.
Trent glances at her, then at the ‘Chicago Historical Society – Fundraising Committee’ displayed on the file in her arms. He nods towards it. “You’re a member of the Society, ma’am?”
“Yes. I helped – only in a small way, of course – in identifying some of the ceremonial items. I’ve always been fascinated by the pre-Columbian period. To me, these items are our finest exhibits.” A sigh, “What a pity the Society can’t afford to keep them all. The best will have to be sold to museums back East.”
Trent’s interest in this is minimal at best. He is staring again at the display card. “It seems a little far-fetched there’s a gold mine in Chicago.”
“Oh, no. Not really. After all, these are not hundreds, but thousands of years old. The landscape was very different back then. When the Wisconsinan Glaciation carved out the modern basin of Lake Michigan…” Grace trails off, as Trent’s expression turns blank. “I’m sorry. It’s a pet subject. My father – he’s on the Society Board – is a Professor of Geology and is writing a thesis on the possibility of these artifacts coming from a local ore source. I type up his notes for him.”
“Could I meet your father?”
Grace blinks at him in, not affront exactly, but mild surprise.
Trent remembers the ‘fundraising’ note on her file. “As one of Chicago’s leading businessmen, I’d sure like to do my bit to help support the Society’s efforts.”
“Oh…” Grace positively flutters. “I’m sure Papa would love to meet you. Now, how…? Perhaps I could…? Maybe…?”
“Perhaps you could let me have his address, ma’am?”
“Yes. Yes. I have a visiting card somewhere.” She is searching one pocket, then the other. “Papa will certainly be at home this afternoon.”
“It says here,” Trent gestures at the wording on the display, “the original mine’d be worth near on a million dollars.”
“Oh, indeed,” Grace is still rooting in her pocket. “I doubt what you see is more than a drop in the ocean of what was there. But, the original site is bound to have been built on by now – so, we’ll never know. Ah! Here it is!” She hands over the address.
A BOOK-LINED STUDY
Leather bound volumes fill every shelf and surface. Geological samples abound. Behind a desk piled high with learned papers sits a silver-haired gentleman in a velvet smoking jacket. No one could ever doubt this was an eminent and distinguished academic – except of course, for the discriminating reader who will recognize him as Soapy Saunders.
Soapy is in full flow. “It is widely believed that most gold deposits, particularly of the volcanic and sedimentary variety, were formed from circulating waters driven up by magma. Of course the gold could also be expelled from the magma itself as it cooled…”
Trent breaks in, “And – this could happen in Chicago?”
Soapy purses his lips. “I see no real reason why not. Although, geologically speaking, conditions aren’t ideal. Now, in California…”
Trent is not interested in California. “But, in Chicago, it’s possible?”
“Oh, yes. There are residues which have been around for thousands of years.” The mild blue eyes shine with enthusiasm.
“If a fella thought he had land that might have gold in it, how’d he find out?”
Soapy steeples his fingers. “A multitude of ways. Personally, I favor a simple soil test.”
“So, I bring you some soil and you can say if there’s gold underground?”
Soapy makes a deprecating gesture, “…I’d have to do further tests for that. I could determine if the possibility of gold is there.”
“And, what’d the odds be on the soil test being right?”
“Well…” Hesitating, “…It depends on the size of the deposit. Eighty – ninety percent?” He gives Trent a considering look. “Do you hold such a piece of land?”
“No.” More quietly, “Not yet.” A pause. “Would you be prepared to do such a test for me, Professor?”
Soapy thinks for a moment. “I cannot see the Society could have any objection. Yes, Mister Trent, I’d be happy to help.”
Heyes enters the familiar restaurant to see Trent at a quiet table. He gestures to Heyes to join him.
“You remember Frank?”
“The bad loser? Uh huh.”
“He doesn’t know it yet, but his job’s about to become vacant.”
“I thought you might be interested. I’m sure I could beat whatever salary De Vega pays.”
“The only problem is, Joshua, I’m not sure you’re right for it.”
“No. There’s another problem, Mister Trent. I’m not sure I want to work for you.”
“Don’t take offense. The question is, what deals are you used to handling? With De Vega, what are the biggest deals you’re doing right now?”
Heyes leans back in his chair. “Do I look as if I’ll let you chump me?”
“You’re just trying to steal De Vega’s clients.” Heyes holds Trent’s eyes.
Trent gives a rueful laugh. “You can’t blame a fella for trying. Okay. Run me through one of your deals. De Vega was talking about one yesterday. What was it? Er…” He feigns trying to recall. “Brandon Yard.”
Heyes’ face freezes. Glancing around to check there are no eavesdroppers, he leans forward, “You know about that?”
“A little. So, what is it?”
Heyes lowers his voice, “All I know – ALL I know – is we’ve been hired to buy a parcel of land regardless of price.”
“Hired by whom
“That I don’t know. De Vega’s playing his cards very close to his chest on this one.”
“Do you know where the land is?”
Trent and Heyes are outside the fence gazing through firmly chained and locked gate railings at the yard and semi-derelict shack. It is still neither a pretty sight nor a pretty site.
“We’ve offered the hick that owns it five times what it’s worth – cash – but he’s still thinking it over,” glooms Heyes.
“Cash?” queries Trent.
“Uh huh. He’s got a real grudge against banks.”
Trent’s eyes wander over the mud, weeds and debris. “It’s a dump.”
“Sure is. I don’t understand why De Vega’s so keen to pay way over the market value. Okay, I guess businesses will come out this far one day. It’s not too far from where that fancy new Home Insurance Building is going up, but you’d hardly fit half a decent-sized set of offices in here.”
Trent rattles the chain locking shut the gate. Clearly, there is no easy entry without arranging it up front.
“Can you get me a meeting with the owner?”
Heyes meets his gaze. “What’s in it for me?”
“That job we talked about.”
Heyes thinks about it. “Not enough. I don’t know what this is all about, but I smell money. Cut me in and then maybe I’ll get you that meeting.”
Trent’s turn to think about it. “Okay. I’ll cut you in. You have my word on it.”
Heyes smiles, “That’s good enough for me.”
They turn to leave. Casually, Trent asks, “What was De Vega’s latest offer?”
“I think it was $25,000.”
“HOW much?” Another disbelieving stare at the rat sanctuary. “That’s insane! I can buy land around here for a tenth of that price.”
“Insane is the word,” Heyes agrees. “As for why – search me.”
Grace is, once again, on her porch in the quiet, quiet street, waiting. She spots Heyes coming back from his meeting with Trent. He joins her.
“We’re on – four thirty!” says Heyes.
Grace throws her arms around him in genuine delight, “Oh, Hannibal! I knew you could do it! Thank you!”
She realizes she is embracing him, becomes self-conscious, draws back a touch. Heyes, who is more than happy with his current position, folds his arms around her, pulls her back close.
“Do you ever think of – that evening – in Mineral Springs?”
Heyes hesitates a moment. He kisses her, very lightly, and searches her face, questioningly, to see if it was welcome. It was. He kisses her again, deeply.
“I guess that answered that question,” she murmurs. “Do you realize what we’re doing – again?”
“I have a pretty good idea.” Another kiss.
Grace places her hands on his shirtfront and gently pushes him away.
“We have to go get Trent’s money. And then…”
“And then…?” asks Heyes.
She smiles. A smile which could mean – well – it could mean nothing.
“Y’know you and the Kid? While you were traveling through Mexico…?”
A sigh. “Never mind.”
He releases her. A pause.
“Yes, Hannibal?” Soft tone, she is expecting more romance.
“You do know, you need a back-up plan.”
An offended look, partly at this swift return to business.
“My plan’s working perfectly,” Grace protests. What could go wrong?”
“Where shall I start?”
She raises her chin. “You just don’t like the fact that I’ve set up the con to con the unconnable mark.”
“Yes, you have, Grace. But, there’s a big difference between setting up a con and walking away clean.” He lays his hand over hers and meets her eyes. “You need a back-up plan.”
She bites her lip. “Al right. I’ll give it some thought.”
Heyes spots something, raises his hand in salute. Kid Curry has turned the corner into the quiet street. He raises his hand in response – he is carrying a telegram.
Grace, Heyes and Curry join Soapy and Chuck, who are inside, waiting for news.
“Hannibal has set us up for four thirty,” says Grace.
“And this,” Kid Curry hands the telegram to Soapy, “…Arrived for the good professor. I reckon you’re invited, Soapy.”
Soapy opens it. “Me AND my daughter,” he says, looking worried.
“Why does he want me there?” asks Grace.
“The pleasure of your company?” suggests Heyes.
“You didn’t see me in those spectacles!”
“Grace,” Soapy leans forward, “…Trust your instinct. If you have a change of mind, now’s the time to say so.”
Grace bites her lip. “My plan’s worked perfectly so far…” She catches Heyes’ skeptical eye, remembers his warning. Her chin lifts defiantly. “No. We’re going to give Miles Trent the full treatment!”
AROUND THE CORNER FROM ‘BRANDON’S YARD’
Soapy and Grace, in their professor and blue-stocking daughter kit, sit beside each other in a modest gig. Heyes and Chuck Morgan stand beside this equipage. Chuck checks a derringer, then tucks it into a holster beneath his jacket.
“You stay out of sight,” warns Grace.
“I know,” he says. “If it starts to go wrong – I come in, I top Trent’s offer and call off the deal. I only pull the gun as the very last resort, ‘cos – that means we’ve not only lost, we’re in big trouble.”
“Let’s hope we don’t need you at all,” says Soapy.
Grace sees Heyes’ dubious face. “What? You said we needed a back-up plan, I made a back-up plan.”
Heyes is still looking unimpressed. She rolls her eyes at his lack of enthusiasm and checks the watch pinned to her prim shirt front.
“Boys, get to your positions.”
Heyes strolls around the corner to the derelict yard. The gate is no longer locked. He opens it and walks over to the shack. Sitting on the porch, chair tilted back, mud-splattered boots resting on the rail, is a heavily bearded, but still recognizable, Kid Curry. Suspenders hang loose over work pants and his faded red Henley is sweat-stained and grubby. A shotgun rests beside him.
Heyes checks his pocket watch. “It’s time,” he breathes.
Then, a closed carriage rolls up. Miles Trent climbs out, carrying a leather grip. One of the two burly henchmen who originally cornered Black-Jack follows him. The second jumps down from the driver’s seat.
Concern flickers over the partners’ faces. This does not feel right. Summoning up his best smile, Heyes goes over.
“Mister Trent.” He glances at the armed henchmen with an enquiring smile.
“I thought I’d better bring some security.” Trent slaps the grip. “There’s a lot of money in here.”
“Very wise,” Heyes nods. He calls over to the shack. “Hey, Mister Brandon, come meet the man who wants to buy your holding and make you rich.”
Kid Curry picks up the shotgun which he carries, butt safely broken from the barrels, and slings it over one shoulder as he steps down into the yard. He is chewing tobacco, Kyle style.
Trent glances at the shotgun. “Mister Brandon, you look like a man who likes to drive a hard bargain.”
“It’s fer rats,” drawls Curry. He stares at Trent. A wet glop of tobacco juice is projected beside the businessman’s gleaming boot. Chewing resumes. Curry finally shakes the proffered hand. He jerks his head at Heyes. “This fella sez you’re willin’ to beat that other slicker’s offer?”
“That’s right – I’ve a contract here,” Trent pats his jacket pocket, “…And the money’s in here. Cash. I hear you don’t like banks.”
“Bunch o’ slicker swindlers.”
“I reckon there’s some truth in that, Mister Brandon.”
Curry points at the grip, “How much ya got in there?”
“Thirty thousand dollars.”
The money is displayed. A pair of deep-brown eyes drop to hide a sudden avaricious gleam. The grip clicks shut.
“So,” Heyes smiles at Trent, “do we have a deal?”
Trent glances over his shoulder. Right on schedule, the gig carrying Soapy and Grace trots into view.
“Sure,” he agrees. “There’s just one condition. I want a soil test.”
“Soil test?” Heyes feigns incomprehension.
“It’s company policy.” Trent’s stare hardens, “My company. My policy.” He goes to help Grace step down from the gig. She carries a large wooden frame, which Trent takes, then hands back to her.
“Watch your step there, ma’am. Professor, thank you for coming.”
“Who are they?” Heyes is radiating confusion.
“This is Professor Sylvester. He’ll carry out my soil test.”
Curry moves over, directing a belligerent scowl first at Heyes, then Trent. “What the Sam Hill IS this? No one said nuthin’ ’bout no go’dang tests!”
Grace lets out a subdued ladylike gasp at the profanity.
“No soil test, no deal,” says Trent. His and Curry’s eyes lock.
A tense pause. Another glop of tobacco is spat beside Trent’s boot. Curry turns to Soapy, “Ya better ged on with it. I ain’t got all day.”
Soapy holds up something closely resembling a large doctor’s bag. “I have everything I need right here.”
“It shouldn’t take long,” adds Grace.
Trent sketches a civil bow. “In your own time, Professor, ma’am.”
Soapy and Grace move off. The wooden frame turns out to be a simple folding table, rather like a card table. From his capacious bag, Soapy extracts convincing-looking vials, bottles, a small oil-burner, a magnifying glass.
Heyes moves over to Trent. “I don’t get it. What exactly are you looking for?”
A cold stare. “You’ll see.”
Chuck Morgan’s point of view. Although they cannot see him, he can see the group in the yard. His eyes move from the henchmen, to the dour figure of Trent, to the closed carriage. His reaction is the same as Heyes and Curry – this does not feel right.
Watched at a short distance by a stony-faced Miles Trent, Soapy, with a pair of long tongs, holds aloft a vial. He swirls soil in a watery solution above the flame of the now lit oil-burner. Grace, also using tongs, dips in a strip of what looks like litmus paper. They exchange a delighted glance. An exclamation of, “Great merciful heavens!” is heard from Soapy. Excitement lighting up his genial old face, he beckons to Trent. They move aside out of Heyes’ and Curry’s hearing.
“Well?” asks Trent.
Soapy nods, beaming.
“Are you sure?”
“There are definite traces of gold. It’s my belief there was an underground stream here at some point, skirting the main source and bringing the particles up to the surface.”
Trent walks back to Heyes.
“So,” Heyes is the perfect mix of confusion over the mysterious test and eagerness to get down to business, “…Do we have a deal?”
“It would seem so. Just one more bridge to cross.” Trent nods at Henchman One who strides over to the carriage.
“What bridge? Mister Trent,” Heyes’ hands go to his hips, “if you’re wasting my time…” He trails off, as the carriage door opens.
Back to Chuck Morgan. He watches as two more men climb from the carriage and enter the yard. These are not additional muscle. One is skinny as a rail, the other a plump little fella; neither looks as if they’d be much use in a fight. They carry bags and frames which look a little like Soapy and Grace’s except… Except theirs look more convincing.
As the two new arrivals set up their folding table and open their impressive bags, Trent offers Heyes a deceptively friendly explanation.
“You see, Joshua, it occurred to me this might all be part of some elaborate con.”
“Con?” wavers Grace.
“Surely you’ve heard of a confidence trick, ma’am? Suppose you were all part of the same gang? How would I know?”
Grace looks pole axed.
Brown eyes slide sideways to meet cornflower blue.
Trent turns back to Heyes. “I haven’t met any of you until this week. And, for me to part with $30,000 to folk I’ve known for less than a week’d be pretty dumb, huh?”
Grace shoots an imploring glance at Heyes. His face is expressionless.
“And I’m not. Dumb that is. So I thought I’d better get me some insurance. You see, Joshua, the good professor and his clever daughter have just told me there are gold deposits here…”
“Gold?” Heyes’ astonished exclamation is perfect, but Trent does not buy it.
“That’s right! Your boss Mister De Vega was very secretive, wasn’t he? Although, you knew where the site was and exactly how high his last offer had been.”
There is not much to say in response to that logic. So, perhaps wisely, no one tries.
“So, I hired these gentlemen, the best mineral and ore experts money can buy.”
Trent nods over at the distressingly competent-looking pair who are creating a square grid in the ground with pegs and gleaming white cord.
A swift mute conversation flickers between our boys. Something tells them they won’t be as lucky as they were with August Binford’s diamond field expert.
“They’re going to do some more soil tests. And, if they find nothing, five minutes after the Professor and his daughter assured me there’s gold, I’ll have to assume, Joshua, you were about to con me.”
Heyes is silent.
“No one leaves,” Trent orders his henchmen. They nod, hands hovering near the butts of their guns. He walks over to consult with his hired experts in a low voice.
Grace’s brow furrows as she watches the calm maneuvers of the genuine geologists carrying out a genuine soil test.
“What now?” she hisses at Heyes and Curry.
“Well…” Heyes steps closer and Grace leans in to hear his wise advice. “…When they don’t find gold, I’ve a hunch Trent and his boys’ll be pretty riled. So, if you tell us which way you plan to run – Kid and me’ll make sure we don’t bump into you. How’s that?” He flashes her a bland smile.
She glowers at them. “It’s NOT funny! What are we going to do?”
Chuck can see the new arrivals dickering with Trent, but of course has no idea what is happening. He half sets off to go be back-up. He changes his mind – will that make it worse? Should he? Shouldn’t he? “**!” That about sums it up
Kid Curry walks over to where Trent is talking to the mineral experts, who have now finished marking the ground and are taking instruments from their bags.
“What’s all this?” he grunts.
Trent looks him up and down. “It won’t take long.”
With no warning, like lightning, Curry loads and closes the shotgun. Both barrels are emptied into the ground before anyone realizes what is happening. Everyone starts. Grace screams. The henchmen draw, realize Curry now has a harmless empty weapon and that no one is injured or even threatened. At a signal from Trent, confused, if still wary, they holster their guns.
Chuck is as startled as anyone by the sudden shot. It makes up his mind. He sets off at a run for the yard.
Trent stares, astounded at Kid Curry. “What the…?”
Curry, perfectly calm, strides over and lifts a dead rat from a patch of weeds behind the pegged-out piece of ground.
“Vermin!” A glop of tobacco juice is expectorated.
Trent blinks in disbelief. “Have you quite finished?”
“Nope.” The rat is held aloft, swinging by its tail. Grace recoils. “Ya hafta burn ’em.”
Chuck, in his James De Vega persona, strides in, feigning wrathful confusion. Pointing at the experts, now taking soil samples from the marked area, he explodes at Heyes. “What the Sam Hill is happening here?”
A laugh from Trent. “Mister De Vega! I was wondering if you’d show up.”
Chuck keeps his attention on Heyes, ratcheting up his anger. “Smith. You’ll pay for this! This is MY deal! You’ve no idea what you’re doing!”
“Mister Trent has topped your offer. It’s been accepted.” Heyes’ eyes challenge Chuck’s. “Live with it, De Vega!”
Trent snorts, cynically, at Chuck Morgan. “You just happened to be passing, huh?”
“No. My assistant told me Smith was here. I reckoned he might be about to double-cross me…”
“You’re too late,” cuts in Heyes. “We’ve done the deal.”
“I’m here to make another offer. Ah, Mister Brandon,” Chuck faces Kid Curry, “I’ve a better offer for you to consider…”
Then, from the mineral experts working away, quietly, in the background. “Mister Trent!”
Trent curls his lip at the gang and walks over to the mild-mannered fella holding a glass vial.
Grace stares after him, distraught. The moment of discovery is at hand. “Soapy and I told him there was gold. They’re about to tell him we lied. He’ll know it’s a con. What are we going to do?”
Trent, after a low-voiced conversation with his experts, turns, frowning. He comes back. His henchmen are still on the alert, their hands resting on their guns. Trent strides straight up to Kid Curry. “It seems you have yourself a deal, Mister Brandon.” He holds out his hand. After a stunned pause, Curry shakes it. “Let’s go sign that contract.”
Trent puts an arm around Curry’s shoulder, they head for the shack.
A bewildered silence.
“What happened?” stammers Grace.
Heyes nods at the mineral experts, now packing away their kit. “They found gold.”
Grace’s mouth falls open.
“I guess that pre-Columbian mine had to be somewhere,” shrugs Heyes.
Trent and Curry emerge. Curry is holding the grip full of money. Trent is tucking a signed contract into the inside pocket of his jacket.
To Chuck: “Looks like you’ve been beaten to the punch, De Vega. I’d give up on Chicago if I were you.”
To Soapy and Grace: “My apologies, ma’am, Professor. But, you never know who to trust, huh?”
To Heyes: “Oh, Joshua…”
Heyes perks up.
“…About that job – I decided to keep Frank on. Sorry!”
“But – you gave me your word!”
“What has anybody’s word got to do with it? This is business.”
Miles Trent, his henchmen and his hired experts, climb back into their carriage. They leave.
More stunned silence.
Grace literally sways on her feet. “This place could be worth over a million dollars – and we just sold it for thirty thousand!”
“You win some, you lose some,” shrugs Heyes.
She goggles at him.
“Boys,” smiles Soapy, “when the con’s over, where should a good grifter always be?”
“Anywhere but here,” says Curry. “Let’s go.” He offers Grace an arm. On her other side, so does Heyes.
She takes them both and, still dazed, lets the boys lead her away.
The team has arrived back.
“How can you be so cheerful?” Grace is still stunned. “We just lost a gold mine…”
“No we didn’t,” says Heyes.
“There was no gold.”
“But, those experts…” objects Chuck Morgan.
“You remember Kid firing his gun…?”
Grace nods. Yes, she remembers Kid Curry firing the shotgun into the earth.
“He didn’t actually shoot a rat.”
Grace blinks. She SAW the defunct rodent dangled in front of Trent’s eyes.
“So, the rat died of fright?” She sinks down onto a chair. “It has my sympathy, because I know how it felt!”
“I shot that rat an hour before Trent arrived,” says Curry.
“What?” gasps Grace.
“What?” in unison from Chuck Morgan.
“Kid simply fired into the ground,” smiles Soapy.
Grace looks from Soapy to Kid and finally, to Heyes.
Heyes explains. “Kid filled the cartridges with gold dust. All he had to do was aim at the spot Trent’s experts were about to take a sample from, peppering the soil with – gold.”
“So, there is no gold?”
“Nope,” grins Kid.
“Only what we put there as back-up. Because a good back-up plan is what turns a plan into a Hannibal Heyes plan – and it takes a Hannibal Heyes plan to con the unconnable mark!”
“And…” Grace turns to Soapy, “…You knew?”
“Your plan had touches of genius, but you still have a few tricks to learn.” He twinkles at her, “It’s not your fault, my dear, unlike Heyes, you never had the best teacher. Me!”
“For you, Jedediah…” Grace hands over a bundle of money. “…And, for you, Hannibal.” Another.
She lifts the grip containing the remainder of Trent’s money and swings aside a picture revealing a wall safe. She is about to open the safe when Heyes, who has been quickly riffling through the notes, takes her wrist.
He holds up a bundle of bills. “This is short.”
“Short?” Innocent wide eyes.
“Short,” concurs Kid Curry, dryly.
“The figure we’d agreed was…”
Grace interrupts Heyes, “…Was dependent on a successful outcome to my plan.”
Kid Curry nods at the money-filled grip in Grace’s hands, “I’d call $30,000 a pretty successful outcome!”
“But – it wasn’t MY plan.”
Both ex-outlaws blink.
“Hannibal just spent nearly an hour gloating it was HIS plan!” A dazzling smile, “I couldn’t insult him with the full fee. That would suggest it was, after all, mostly MY plan that conned the unconnable mark. It would suggest I deserve most of the credit.” She moves to try again to lock up the money.
Heyes does not let go of her wrist. Curry, gently, but firmly, takes the grip.
“You insult Heyes as much as you like, Grace,” says Curry.
“I can take it,” agrees Heyes.
She sighs, but capitulates as they open the grip and count out their original fee. It is then returned to her to be stashed away in the safe.
She nods at the money in their hands, “Can you spare enough to buy a girl dinner?”
A glance is exchanged. Heyes offers her one arm, Kid Curry the other, Grace links in with both.
“You do know,” she asks, as they leave the room, “I fell as much in love with you as ever?”
In unison: “That makes three of us.”