PROLOGUE – JANUARY 1st
Two figures, hunched against the biting, sleet-filled wind, ride past a rain-lashed – and kinda familiar – wooden sign, ‘Porterville, a lovely place to live’.
The fella in the brown hat, lifts his hands, blows on blue-tinged fingers and hunkers down further into a damp sheepskin coat.
“You do know this ain’t gonna do no good, Heyes?”
“Y’never know, Kid. This time tomorrow Lom could be sitting drinking the Governor’s best whiskey, listening to him say, ‘Hey, that Hannibal Heyes, he deserves his amnesty! He earned it. And, while my pen’s in the signing mood, I’ll throw one in for that other fella – whatshisname!'”
Half-hopeful tone from the Kid, “You really think so?” Pause. More pause. A sigh, “Me, neither.”
Collars pulled up, hats pulled down, eyes on the alert for any observers, our boys slink furtively around the back of the Sheriff’s office.
Kid Curry tries the door and… Locked.
A mute conversation. Heyes slides a knife from his boot, the deft fingers go to work and… Click. With a last wary glance around, the ex-outlaws ooze inside.
Lom Trevors, busy at his desk, hears a step on the stair behind him. He starts to his feet. His hand goes to his gun. A brace of familiar smiles meet his gaze.
“Howdy, Lom. Happy New Year.”
“How the Sam Hill did you two get in?”
“Lom, is that any way to greet old friends? Happy New Year!”
“Happy New Year. How the Sam Hill did you two get in?”
“Be fair, Lom. Kid’s warned you before ’bout locking that side door.”
“It WAS locke…” Lom meets the laughing brown eyes. Comprehension. “Heyes!”
Lom and the boys clutch steaming mugs of coffee. Heyes’ silver tongue is in full flow.
“…We’re still in the season of goodwill to all men. We thought, if you catch him in the right mood, the Governor might wanna – y’know – spread a little of that seasonal cheer around, tidy up a few loose ends, start the New Year with a few clean slates.”
“For you two?”
“Uh huh. It was the deal, Lom. We thought you could remind him.”
“You want me to go busting in on the Governor? Again! ‘Fore he even gets back to the office after the holidays – hollering ’bout your amnesty deal…”
“No, no, no, no, no!” deprecates Heyes. “No. No.” Pause. “But, there’d be no harm in simply – y’know – giving his memory a gentle nudge.”
“Friendly like,” chips in Kid.
“I dunno.” Lom’s earnest brow furrows. His dark eyes go from Kid to Heyes and back again. Two appealing smiles. Lom is torn. “Ten to one it won’t do no good.” Still with the smiles plus, puppy-dog eyes from Heyes. “I guess I could pay a visit. So long as you don’t go getting your hopes up.”
Lom is not exhilarated by their gratitude. His eyes continue to move from one ex-outlaw to the other. His shoulders droop. “Talk about starting off the New Year on the wrong foot.”
“Lom,” offended blink from Heyes, “…You’re gonna hafta work on your hospitality.”
“You’ll make us think we’re not welcome,” adds Kid.
“No offence.” Lom sighs. “Just, you two draw trouble the way horses draw horseflies. I kinda wish you’d go draw it someplace else.”
“Lom!” reassuring tone from Heyes. “We know how you feel ’bout us being ’round Porterville. Suppose you got our promise we won’t cause a mite of trouble ’til you come back?”
“What kinda promise’d that be?”
“A solemn promise,” says Kid.
“Well, I guess if you lay low at my place, so no one even knew you were here…”
A tap at the main office door. A familiar, and exceedingly perky, figure enters the room.
“May I speak with you, Sheri…?” Miss Porter sees the boys, who have sprung to their feet and swept off their hats. Overjoyed recognition. “Mister Smith! Mister Jones! How wonderful to see you again!” Turning to Lom, “Lom, you know Mister Smith and Mister Jones are high on my list of preferred acquaintances…”
Delightfully dimpled deprecating murmur from Heyes. Simper of smiling appreciation from the Kid. Both clearly find her quite as attractive as they did that first summer.
“…Why didn’t you tell me they were expected?”
Lom, brow furrowing again at this immediate failure of his ‘no one need even know they’re here’ plan, searches for a response.
“Don’t blame Lom,” says Heyes, “…Thaddeus and me, we had a – a sudden sociable impulse.”
“Whatchya call an unplanned visit,” clarifies Kid.
“He could hardly believe his eyes when we walked in. Could ya, Lom?”
“Sure couldn’t,” he confirms.
“Well! Wasn’t that a wonderful surprise, Sheriff?” gushes Miss Porter.
“Wonderful,” glooms Lom. “Can I help you with something, ma’am?”
“Oh yes. I came to ask if we could meet up tomorrow – about arrangements for the special Founder’s Day celebrations?”
“Founder’s Day?” dimples Heyes.
“Yes, Mister Smith. On January 5th it will be forty years to the day since my dear Grandpa Porter officially established our town – Porterville. On my father’s behalf, I am organising the anniversary celebrations and…” Dazzling smile. “…Lom is helping.”
“I’m real sorry, ma’am,” says Lom, “something unexpected’s come up.” A look is flashed at the boys. “Tomorrow I hafta take the 7:15 train to Cheyenne.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“Hard to say, ma’am. Maybe a day or two.”
“Oh!” Disappointed consternation. Sudden idea. “Lom, do you think we can prevail on Mister Smith and Mister Jones to help? After all – they are so skilled in so many ways. I’m sure the arrangements would be in good hands.”
“I reckon Mister Smith and Mister Jones have urgent business calling ’em…” begins Lom.
“Well, ma’am, anything Thaddeus and me can do to help a friend of Lom’s, and – a lady…!” overlays Heyes.
“Perhaps you could call on me at the bank in the morning and we could discuss it further?” suggests Miss Porter.
“Our pleasure, ma’am,” smoothes Heyes, ignoring Lom’s frown.
“Till tomorrow then.” With a final smile, she leaves.
A pause. Heyes, still clutching his hat to his chest, reacts to the look on Lom’s face. “What?”
In answer, a deep breath is exhaled through Lom’s nostrils.
NEXT MORNING – JANUARY 2nd
Heyes and Curry escort Lom to the train which has just chugged in to the small railway station.
“So long, Lom.” A tan leather glove claps the Sheriff on one shoulder.
“We’ll be waiting right here.” A dark brown leather glove claps the other shoulder.
“So long, Smith. So long, Jones. Now – stay outta any trouble till I get back.”
“Sure will, Lom.”
“Just like last time.”
Lom’s shoulders droop. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
Slim fingers caress the silver lettering spelling out ‘Brooker 606′ on a gleaming new safe. Heyesian eyes glitter.
“The very latest model!”enthuses an unfamiliar voice.
The boys turn to see a smart-looking young man, hair very neatly parted, silk necktie perfectly arranged.
“This is Mister Isa Livilan,” introduces Miss Porter. “Our new Deputy Manager. Mister Livilan, this is Mister Smith and Mister Jones. You will have heard me speak of them.”
“Oh, yes, Miss Porter. I’ve certainly heard that. Many times.” He continues before the full import of that registers. “The Brooker 606. The finest safe this side of the Mississippi. Not much chance of anyone breaking into that!”
“Not much,” echoes Heyes, wistfully.
Kid Curry clears his throat, meaningfully.
Miss Porter smiles, “Now, if you’ve seen enough to satisfy you Mister Smith, perhaps we can discuss Founder’s Day?”
Heyes is still gazing at the safe. His hand lingers on the dial.
“Huh?” No movement of the brown eyes.
“Joshua!” snaps Kid.
“Huh?” Heyes snaps out of it. “Oh yeah. Tell us ’bout Founder’s Day, ma’am.”
“Well, yesterday evening all I thought was – maybe you would stand in for Sheriff Trevors, organising everything to run smoothly, making sure no rough elements cause any trouble…”
In unison, “Go on, ma’am.”
“But last night, as I lay in bed thinking about you…”
A fleeting mute conversation at that image. Two almost imperceptible finger gestures indicate:
“Or – me?”
“I had the most wonderful idea.” Miss Porter’s hands clasp together in excitement. “You know – well, you don’t know, but I’m about to tell you – for the Founder’s Day celebration I’m directing a series of tableaux in the Church Hall…”
“…Short scenes to pay tribute to significant Porterville events over the last forty years. And, until now I’ve not been able to come up with a truly satisfactory finale. But your arrival has solved my dilemma!” Her face shines with eagerness.
A wary glance is exchanged.
“Our finale can be your wonderful heroism in saving the Porterville bank! It has drama! It has action! We can even work in an explosion…”
“Huh?” Kid Curry does not like the sound of that!
“Well, maybe just a tiny one – kind of a firework display! And you two gentlemen can play yourselves!” Deep breath, “Mister Smith, Mister Jones – I could certainly use you! In the show.”
“You mean – up on the stage? In front of folk?” Kid likes the sound of that even less than the explosion.
“Yes! Of course.” Businesslike voice, “How’s this; during the day you take on your old jobs in the bank, and, outside bank hours I pay you overtime to recreate your roles as my…” A blush. “I mean, as the town’s heroes! Isn’t that a good idea, Mister Livilan?”
“Ye.e.e.s,” he replies, slowly, with a thoughtful look. “I think that could be an excellent idea, ma’am. It has all kinds of possibilities.”
Kid Curry throws him a curious, considering look.
“You will agree?” asks Miss Porter, eagerly. “You’ll be the town’s heroes all over again?”
A delighted, dimpled grin. Unlike his partner, Heyes does like the sound of that. “We accept.”
“Now, hold on…” demurs Kid.
“Why not? I’m sure not too proud to help Miss Porter – and the town – out.”
A Curryesque hand rests, restrainingly, on Heyes’ shoulder. “Ma’am excuse us – we’re really gonna hafta talk this over… Between the two of us, if you don’t mind?”
“Not at all. I’m only thrilled you’ll consider helping me out – again. Could I possibly hope for an answer by lunchtime?”
“Oh, of course, ma’am. One way or another.” Kid pulls a reluctant Heyes away.
Our boys walk and talk.
“We told Lom we’d stay outta trouble.”
“Kid, we’re gonna be in the Church Hall, prob’ly surrounded by school-kids reciting verse and the Ladies Society serving lemonade. How much further outta trouble could we be?”
“That’s outside bank hours. What about durin’ the day.”
“Kid, if this bank gets MORE trouble after the double dose it already had, all I can say is, the laws o’ probability can’t apply ’round here.”
Acknowledging shrug from Kid. There is a lotta truth in there.
“And, we’d be getting paid. Real paid. Not the usual wages that never show up kinda paid. Always a plus.”
Kid’s face concedes there’s truth there too.
“And, you heard Miss Porter.” Heyes stops walking, his hand sketches out a non-existent vista of glory for his partner. “We’ll be up there as – heroes! After the show… No, scrub that. After every rehearsal, men’ll wanna be us! Women’ll wanna be with us!”
Kid blinks. That did sound good. Temptation flickers across his face. But…
“Yeah, but – but since when was us standing up in full view of crowds of gawping folk a good idea? Seems to me, fellas with prices on their heads oughta be a touch more bashful.”
Heyes turn to signal a mute concession that Kid has a point.
“And that Livilan fella, what’s making HIM so all-fired keen for us to say yes? What’s in it for him?”
Musing. A shrug from Heyes.
“Then, there’d be the constant temptation in the day job…”
“Kid! We’ve gone straight all this time. I reckon we can be in a bank without succumbing.”
“I wasn’t thinkin’ of the bank. I was thinking of you an’ Miss Porter.” Double-take from Heyes. Grin from Kid Curry. “I’m not sure you got the strength to resist.”
Heyes muses. Tiny – and adorable – movements of head and mouth indicate the weighing of pros and cons.
“Okay, Kid. We’ll tell Miss Porter – thanks but no thanks.”
Kid Curry stares. “Y’mean – I persuaded ya?”
“I…” (Heavy emphasis on ‘I’) “…persuaded YOU?” (Even heavier emphasis on ‘you.’)
Disbelief in two blue eyes. Then, those same eyes spot something across the town square. A jerk of the head instructs Heyes to look, too. Recognition. Wariness.
A very familiar tall, fair-haired deputy sits on the base of the Founder’s statue, gun drawn and resting – deceptively casually – across his knee.
“Thaddeus, how many times d’you reckon we walked past that without realising it was old Grandpa Porter up there with the rifle?”
The ‘look’ from Kid Curry.
“You’re thinking I oughta be more concerned ’bout the fella parked in front with the six-gun?”
“Howdy, boys,” calls the genial Deputy… Apologies! Rewind that!
“Howdy, boys,” calls the genial Acting-Sheriff Harker Wilkins.
Heyes and Curry touch their hats to him, in resignation.
The boys stand, hands on hips, facing Harker Wilkins in frustrated disbelief.
“…You’re telling us the Temporary Transients Act was never repealed?” fumes Heyes.
“And Lom came and gave you a fresh list o’ transients late last night?” checks Kid.
“Yup. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t a fresh list. Same list, same two names.”
A mute conversation.
“Ever get the feeling Lom still don’t exactly trust us?” mutters Heyes, sotto voce.
Harker hooks his thumbs in his belt. “On official orders from elected Sheriff Lom Trevors, according to article one of the Temporary Trans-ee-ants Act, and working from list of known trans-ee-ants placed in my jurisdiction to be enacted upon in his absence, you are directed to give me your…”
“Yeah, we remember the drill,” sighs Heyes. He unbuckles and hands over his gun belt.
“Thank you, kindly.” Wilkins holds out his hand to Kid Curry. “Your turn.”
“Ah, but…” Kid Curry pushes back his hat. “Way I figure it, the act don’t apply!”
Questioning look from Heyes and Harker Wilkins.
“Me and Joshua – we’re not transients. Not half an hour past we took back our old jobs at the bank, huh, Joshua?”
Heyes’ reaction of surprise is gone in a flash. “‘S’right, Thaddeus. And, you agreed, Deputy, once a transient takes a job, he isn’t a transient no more.”
Kid Curry sees the lawman still wavering and steps in. “AND, we’re taking part in the Founder’s Day celebrations.” He gestures to Heyes, indicating he should pick up and run with this particular ball.
“That sound like transients to you?” weighs in the silver-tongued one. “If’n Miss Porter’s got us playing in her history of Porterville tableaux – don’t that mean we kinda belong? If the Porter family can’t say who is and who isn’t part of this town – who can, huh?”
Musing. “I guess,” accepts Wilkins. He hands Heyes’ gun belt back. “Did ya know Miss Porter’s got me roped into these tab-lee-ows? I’m…” He adopts a pose reminiscent of the Founder’s statue.
“You’re playing Grandpa Porter?” deduces Heyes. Flattering tone, “The noble pioneer!”
The Deputy gives what in a smaller, less craggy, man would be a sheepish simper. “‘Course, for the real thing I’ll have me the cap and the rifle.”
Heyes shakes his head, ruefully. “We’re gonna have our work cut out, Thaddeus, following that.”
Heyes watches the elderly Mister Pincus rapidly count and then fasten with the traditional bank paper circlets pile after pile of dollar bills. Isa Livilan surveys the scene coolly.
“This pile contains a hundred REAL notes…” The tip of a Heyesian finger touches it, reverently. “Mister Smith, are you quite well?”
“Huh? Oh sure.”
“And THIS pile, contains one hundred fake notes. You see they have exactly the same dimensions and colour.”
“Miss Porter had the local newspaper office run them off for the show,” says Isa Livilan.
“Counterfeiting, huh?” teases Heyes. “Did you have them run a few hundred extra for you, Mister Pincus?”
The deeply respectable Mister Pincus is not amused. “As you will see, Mister Smith, while these notes would fool anyone from a distance, there is no risk of them being misused in the way you suggest.” He holds one up. Indeed, although an impressive pattern of greenback green etching has been achieved, the lettering clearly spells out ‘Founder’s Day Fake.’ This is ‘honest’ pretend money. “Nor, Mister Smith, do I find banking irregularities a fitting subject for levity.”
Heyes gives a suitably contrite murmur. Mister Pincus relaxes his frown in acceptance of the implied apology.
“I’ll be fastening enough of these fake piles to fill a safe. And, I will be setting aside enough spare bills to be suspended above the stage…”
“Miss Porter wants to recreate that moment when thousands of dollars fluttered down from the skies,” chips in Livilan. “Obviously it can’t be done with real money…”
Pause for agreement.
“Oh, obviously,” contributes Heyes, still surreptitiously stroking the genuine dollar pile.
“So the replica safe…”
Heyes looks around. Only one safe here and it looks pretty dang real.
“Miss Perkins, the schoolmarm, has some of her older pupils fixing up the replica safe.”
“I am offering her my advice to make it look realistic. Anything I can do to help Miss Porter’s Founders’ Day celebrations be really memorable.” Livilan radiates good citizenship.
“Ah?” Heyes adopts a suitably approving expression.
“Well, gentlemen, I’d better put THIS,” Mister Pincus reaches for the real money, “back in the genuine safe.”
He tries to lift the bundle.
“Mister Smith?” Heyes’ caressing fingers hold fast. A gentle tug. “Mister Smith?”
“Huh?” Heyes realises what he is doing. “Oh, yeah.” He lets go.
Wistful brown eyes follow the money as the – real – safe clangs shut.
THE CHURCH HALL
“Thaddeus, you’re blocking me.”
“It means you’re standing in the way of all the folks having a clear view.”
“A clear view of you?”
“That’s right.” A pause while an incredulous Kid Curry stares at Heyes’ smoothing his eyebrows into an even more perfect arch with a licked finger. Heyes realises his partner has not shifted. “So, to STOP blocking me, could ya…?” He gestures away with one hand. “…Hup-up-up.”
“If I move much further downstage, I’m gonna fall off!”
More Heyesian hand gestures, accompanied by more of the “Hup-up-up,” noises more commonly used on ornery cattle. Reluctantly, Kid Curry moves.
Heyes throws out an arm and declaims, dramatically, “Whatever the risks, when danger rears its ugly head…” Noble expression. Other hand clapped to his heart. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!”
Applause from Miss Porter, clutching her ‘Director’s notes’ at the back of the hall. She runs forward.
“That was wonderful, Mister Smith!”
A modest simper from Heyes.
“It was so kind of you to draft a script for us! You’re SO right! Tableaux don’t have to be silent.”
Another modest simper from the helpful one. Eye roll from Kid Curry.
“Thank you, ma’am. Er… If you’re free tonight, maybe you and I could get together for dinner?”
“…To discuss the show,” Heyes hastens to add.
She casts a half-hopeful glance at Kid Curry. Is she hoping for an alternative invitation? If so, she is hoping in vain.
“That would be delightful, Mister Smith,” she accepts.
THAT EVENING – THE RESTAURANT
Candlelight casts a gentle glow. A violinist circles playing soft mood music. A brown-eyed ex-outlaw radiates dimpled charm to the very best of his – considerable – ability. Despite all this, Miss Porter does not display the demeanour of a woman being successfully romanced. The best word to describe her might be – pre-occupied.
“…Pretty place, this.” Heyes nods, appreciatively at the violinist. “Got a real nice atmosphere, huh?”
“I feel he must have led such an interesting life,” says Miss Porter, dreamily.
“Who? The fiddle-player?”
“No, Thadd… I mean, Mister Jones.”
“The sudden and strange way he ended our evening together, last time you were in Porterville…” Her brow furrows, “He’s – enigmatic – isn’t he?”
“I guess enigmatic would be one word,” dismisses Heyes. “Let’s talk ’bout something more interesting.” Best dimpled smile, “You, for instance. What I can’t figure, ma’am, is why a lady so very lovely, isn’t spoken for. Seems to me the fellas in Porterville must be kinda slow off the mark.”
“My father says my trouble is, once I know for sure a man is – well, paying me attention – I lose all interest.” A considering frown, “…I think he’s right. I only find myself – romantically inclined – towards a man if HE is NOT pursuing me. Once he turns into what my father calls an assiduous suitor…” She shrugs, takes a sip of her wine, “…Nothing!”
Heyes muses on that. Disgruntled, he sends a forkful of chicken south.
Kid Curry, dressed in long johns and woolly winter socks, lies on the bed reading what looks suspiciously like a script. Not surprising, it IS a script. In one hand Kid holds a pencil with which he makes, scowl-accompanied, tally marks.
A sound outside. Warily, Kid Curry reaches toward the gun belt hanging from the bedpost. The door opens – only Heyes. Kid relaxes. Kid’s scowl – does not.
“Learning your lines?” Heyes nods at the script.
“Wouldn’t take me long, huh?”
Heyes walks over, looks at the pencil marks. “Kid! You’re not – counting? It don’t matter who gets to say most, y’know!”
“Fine. If’n it don’t matter, we’ll swap.”
“But…” Heyes searches, then adopts the tone of sweet reason. “What you hafta realise is – you get the plum role. The strong, silent man. The man of action, not mere words…”
Kid interrupts him. “Plum role? THIS?” An accusing finger stabs the page.
Heyes reads: “Wait for my signal, Thaddeus, my loyal and trusty sidekick…”
Heyes breaks off, meets Kid’s eyes. Ah.
“You’re loyal and trusty, Kid. It’s a compliment.”
“I’m a dang sidekick!”
“It’s dramatic license…”
“Heyes! You call me a sidekick up on that stage, I’ll flatten ya! With or without a license! That be dramatic enough for ya?”
“I guess I could do a few minor edits,” decides Heyes.
“I guess you could, too.”
Heyes pulls off his boots and stretches out beside Kid. More pause. Then…
“While you’re editin’, Heyes, y’know what this tableau really needs?”
“For the last time, Kid, I am NOT working in that dang walk-off story!”
Two ex-outlaws fume, mutely. Their eyes meet. Each looks pointedly away. Two expressions slowly register an internal realisation that this is kinda dumb. Two self-conscious wriggles.
Kid breaks the silence.
“You have a good evening?”
“I guess,” says Heyes. He lowers his eyes to hide a sudden calculating glint. “But, I think Miss Porter’s more interested in you, Kid.”
“Uh huh?” Kid is endearingly pleased. Doubt flickers. “Nah.”
“Sure! She talked ’bout you all evening. I reckon she’s only paying any attention to me ‘cos she’s still kinda sore ’bout that time you left her to walk herself home.”
“Yeah! If I were you, Kid. I’d try and make amends. Show her how sorry y’are. Y’know – be really attentive. What’s the word – assiduous? An assiduous suitor. That’s what the ladies want, huh?
Innocent brown eyes. “Trust me!”
JANUARY 3rd – VERY EARLY – STILL HALF-LIGHT
Six cold-looking figures ride into town and rein up. From under six damp hats, six pairs of eyes squint from six grimy and hirsute faces. The eyes move from the bank, to the adjacent Sheriff’s office, and back.
The shortest and grimiest of the sextet wriggles in the saddle and shifts a wad of chewing tobacco into one be-furred cheek. “I still don’t like it!”
The start of the working day. Heyes is removing his jacket, pulling on his teller’s sleeve-protectors. Miss Porter gives him a friendly smile as she comes over. She receives a cool nod in return.
“Mister Smith, I’d like to thank you again for a very pleasant din…”
“Excuse me, ma’am. I need to consult Thaddeus about bank security.”
Off he strides, without a backward glance. His expression is… Yup! That is definitely Heyes’ best enigmatic face!
Puzzled and a touch chagrined, Miss Porter watches the retreating back.
The bank is deserted apart from two ex-outlaws. Kid is propping up the far wall, apparently resting his eyelids. Heyes is behind his bank-teller’s counter, busily checking rows of figures, when…
“Don’t move an’ don’t holler – ‘cos this is a stick up.”
Eyes up and double-take from Heyes.
As there is no response, Wheat looks up and almost starts out of his skin. “Heyes? What the Sam Hill are you doin’ here? AGIN?”
“One thing I STILL ain’t doing is getting robbed! Put that gun away!”
“For Pete’s sake! Can’t a fella walk into a dang bank without findin’ you sittin’ there?” Sudden thought. “I’m bettin’ if’n we turn ’round, we’re gonna find Kid Curry watchin’ us – AGIN – ain’t we?”
Confirmatory eyebrow twitch from Heyes.
Six outlaws turn. Kid Curry, indeed, leans against the wall, bank security badge on his chest, gun in hand. He touches his hat, “Howdy, boys.”
Wheat’s shoulders droop. He turns back.
“Heyes, what’s that fancy word when ya get the feelin’ everythin’s happ’nin’ all over agin?”
“Déjà vu,” supplies Heyes. “Me and the Kid have been kinda wading through it ever since New Year’s.” Heyes leans forward. “Wheat, what the Sam Hill are you all doin’?”
“Robbin’ the bank,” says Wheat. “On account of this bein’ where the money’s kept.”
“I mean,” Heyes hangs onto his patience, “…What are you doing in THIS bank? Didn’t we have some kinda agreement ’bout staying outta Porterville? You’re gonna get spotted. The folk ’round here SAW ya last time. They’ll remember.”
“It bein’ kinda a mem’rable occasion,” agrees Kid.
“Yeah, but, we done got us a disguise,” says Kyle. Grinning, he tugs at his copious facial hair, dislodging what looks like a scrap of breakfast bacon. “Our winter beards!” Kyle treats Heyes to a crooked smile.
“Wheat, you really think those are gonna be enough?” Heyes scans the group. His face wavers. Actually, it IS kinda hard to work out who’s behind all that fur and food debris.
Wheat’s turn to lean in. “Look Heyes, I know comin’ to Porterville ain’t exactly… But, I’m gonna level with ya, we’re kinda desperate. We were hurrahin’ over in Salt River and… Well…” He is searching for the right words.
“Some other gang took us for ev’rythin’ we had,” finishes Kyle. “We’re busted.”
Wheat glares at him. He turns back to Heyes. “This is ’bout the only place we could reach. Our horses are pretty near stove in. We weren’t meanin’ to clear out the bank. Not with it bein’ Lom’s town and all. We figured we’d get hold of a day or two’s takin’s. Just enough to get us supplies. Enough to get back to the Hole…”
“Uh huh?” Heyes is not exactly unsympathetic. He is not exactly falling for another of Wheat’s hard luck stories either.
Mute conversation between Heyes and Curry.
Kid Curry speaks up. “Boys, I suggest you all wait outside while Heyes and I talk to Wheat there…”
Before this can go any further, Miss Porter comes into the bank.
“Mister Smith, Mister Jones…” Miss Porter breaks off as she sees the motley crew making her nice, clean bank all untidy. She stares at Wheat’s carefully averted profile, then at Kyle’s dopey ‘it’s-a-gal’ grin. Her brows draw together. “…Could I have a private word?”
The threesome retires to the far corner behind the counter.
“Those men – what do they want?”
“Just looking for work, ma’am,” says Heyes.
She tilts her head on one side, studying one outlaw after another. “Something about them seems very familiar…”
The ‘look’ is exchanged.
Wheat and the boys, seeing Miss Porter still staring, shuffle, nervously. Wheat’s hand hovers near his gun, he catches Heyes’ eye, moves it.
“You think those men look familiar, ma’am?” Heyes suppresses a gulp and moves into silver-tongue mode. “You think you recognise them, ma’am?” This is said good and loud so Wheat and the boys can hear. Consternation. “I’m real happy to hear you say that…”
Double-take from Kid Curry. Huh?
“…Real happy. Come, let me introduce you.”
Somewhat reluctantly, Miss Porter is led over to where the Devil’s Hole Gang have clustered. They, some of the fellas’ needing a nudge from a more civil neighbour, remove their hats and mutter variations on, “Howdy, ma’am.” Simultaneously they turn aside, make shuffling efforts to sink lower into their collars, cover their faces with hands scratching at noses and ears and attempt to melt, unobtrusively, into the walls.
Heyes indicates Wheat, “This is – er – Mister Hotchkiss. And this here…” His finger moves to Kyle. “Is Mister Rembecker. And these others are Grant, Gaines, Balfour and…” He has run out.
“Another Balfour,” improvises Kid. “Cousins.”
“Good afternoon,” says Miss Porter, still clearly wary of the disreputable looking crew. “I’m afraid it’ll take me a while to remember which name goes with which – er – gentleman.”
“Don’t worry, ma’am,” says Kid. “These fellas won’t mind a speck if’n you mix up their names, huh, boys?”
Deprecating murmurs indicating – no, they won’t mind.
“Sheesh, ma’am. I’m guessin’ you cain’t mix ’em up more’n we’re gonna,” puts in Kyle, with his best smile. “Ow!” He rubs his ankle as if someone next to him had delivered a discreet kick.
Heyes continues before Miss Porter can express her confusion at Kyle’s remark. “Hotchkiss, Rembecker and the rest of the boys are old acquaintances of Thaddeus and mine, isn’t that right, Thaddeus?”
Very warily Kid nods. Where is Heyes going with this?
“This morning, they rode into Porterville, looking for work… That’s right, isn’t it, Mister Hotchkiss? You’d like a little extra money? Just enough to tide you over for a few weeks?”
“Me?” mouths Wheat, silently.
A nod from Heyes.
“Er…That’s right, ma’am.”
“And, first I thought – maybe a coupla these fellas could help out with security, y’know, manning the door on the night of the show – keeping an eye on the saloon in case any young bucks have a little too much to drink and think it’d be fun to pull any stunts…”
Miss Porter takes another look at the six sorry figures. Her expression is not keen.
“But, THEN – I had me a better idea. Take a real close look at Hotchkiss, here.”
She does. Wheat runs a finger ’round his collar. A bead of sweat tracks through the dirt on his forehead.
“Don’t he remind you of someone? Don’t he have a look of one of them lawless outlaws that dynamited your safe?”
Kid Curry’s face is frozen. Heyes!
Wheat double-takes and scowls fit to stop a clock.
“See! See how mean he can look when he tries! Keep scowling, Mister Hotchkiss. Now, ma’am, imagine him without the beard. Don’t he favour the fella who robbed your bank?”
“Yes!” Delighted agreement from Miss Porter. “You all do! THAT’S why you seemed so familiar.”
“That’s what I thought!” exclaims Heyes. “So, I told these boys to go make themselves look as much like outlaws as they could. Y’know, mess up their clothes, rub on a little dirt…”
“So, these outfits are – costuming? Ah!” Relief warms Miss Porter’s smile. “They are wonderful! I could really believe you’d crawled from some human cesspit swarming with lowlifes!” She sniffs. “Even the aroma is convincing!”
Chagrin on Wheat’s face. None on Kyle’s. Maybe both ‘cesspit’ and ‘aroma’ cleared his head by a safe margin, huh?
“I see you’re thinking what I thought, ma’am!” smugs Heyes. “Why not ask Hotchkiss if he would be our First Bandit? And see if we can prevail on a few of his friends to be his henchmen?”
Comprehension floods Miss Porter’s face. “Oh, Mister Hotchkiss! You would be a wonderful First Bandit…” Qualm. “…That wouldn’t make you nervous would it?”
“Nervous? Who’s nervous?” A tic works at the eyelid of a sweating and thoroughly confused outlaw leader. “I ain’t nervous!”
“No, ma’am,” chips in Kyle, supportively. “He’s done bin First Bandit afore. Ow!” Kyle steps a kick-length away from Wheat.
“You’ve been on the stage, Mister Hotchkiss?” A delighted Miss Porter asks Wheat.
“Er…” Of course, Wheat still has no idea what this is all about. “I ain’t bin on a stage for – must be nigh on two years, ma’am.”
“Even so!” She clasps her hands together, happily.
Heyes cuts in, “Boys, I suggest you all wait for Thaddeus and me in the saloon while we talk over arrangements with Miss Porter.”
“I’m sure we can agree on suitable remuneration…” smiles Miss Porter.
Blank expressions. Kyle’s face falls. “Re-mune-er-ay-shun… That sounds like a hangin’ oh-fence!”
“No, no. It just means – pay,” reassures Miss Porter.
The blank expressions light up.
“Okay.” Wheat is still wary, but relieved this is all over. “We’ll just be waitin’ over in the saloon.”
The Devil’s Hole Gang leave, favouring Miss Porter with civil – if dentally challenged – smiles.
A SHORT WHILE LATER – TOWN SQUARE
In the background, a sharp-eyed observer will spot Acting-Sheriff Harker Wilkins beside the Founder’s statue, frowningly making repeated attempts at recreating the exact pose.
In the foreground, any observer, sharp-eyed or not, will see our two boys striding across the square towards the saloon.
“…All I’m saying is THIS way, anyone else thinks Wheat and the boys seem familiar, we have the perfect explanation. They seem familiar ‘cos they’re TRYING to look like the outlaws who blew the safe. Kinda a – a double bluff. You can’t deny it’s creative, Kid.”
“Bein’ creative don’t stop it havin’ one big problem… No, make that six, big, dumb problems. All of ’em hangin’ ’round town.”
“Where’s your sense of – of loyalty? Huh? Dontcha wanna do your old friends a favour? ‘Specially ’round this season of goodwill?”
“Goodwill was the week afore last, Heyes.”
“Kid!” Heyes halts to turn and face his partner with a reproachful look fit to wring pity from Herod. (Not that Herod was noted for celebrating the season of goodwill in the right spirit, huh?)
A sceptical stare from Kid Curry. Tone utterly belying the words, he says, “Y’know Heyes – you got a real big heart.”
“Y’know, Kid,” Heyes pushes back his hat and drops his hands to his hips, “…You’re losing your trustin’ nature.”
“Uh huh? An’ – how trustin’ d’ya think Lom’s gonna feel when he gets back and finds we set the Devil’s Hole Gang runnin’ loose in his town?”
Heyes’ reaction conveys that Kid has a dang good point there. Still, the silver-tongued one is never struck dumb for long. “Kid, you gotta have…”
Heyes breaks off. A twitch of the head. Kid Curry follows his partner’s eye line. Isa Livilan and Miss Porter are heading their way.
“Mister Smith! Mister Jones!” trills the familiar feminine voice. “Wait!”
“Something wrong, ma’am?” asks Kid.
“Not wrong exactly. More a question of – too much of a good thing.”
“It seems Mister Livilan here has also been thinking about security on the night of the show.”
The quizzical expressions turn to the slick Deputy Manager.
“Not being aware that Miss Porter had already made arrangements to hire men capable of subduing any – er – rowdy elements, I have also sought suitable candidates. Naturally, I told them that the final decision rests with Miss Porter, but…” A smile and shrug from Livilan. “…I guess I’d feel bad about raising the hopes of a couple of men looking for work, then letting them down. They were working over at the Two-Ewe place, but they’ve been letting hands go through the winter.”
He glances back at the bank. There in the distance stand two figures, saddlebags slung over their shoulders, bedrolls still strapped to the horses loosely fastened to a rail beside them. Their hats are pulled down and collars pulled up against the January cold. One fella lifts his hands, blows on them. A flicker of empathy crosses the faces of Heyes and Curry. That could be them. A mute conversation.
“‘Course it’s up to you, Miss Porter,” says Heyes, “But, if the budget’ll stretch, I don’t think having eight fellas cover security and being up on stage making a convincing show of a robbery’ll be too many.”
“Good!” she beams. “That’s my opinion too, but, I thought I ought to check with you before saying ‘yes’.”
“Thank you, Mister Smith,” smooths Livilan. One well-manicured hand beckons. The two waiting fellas come over and…
Recognition – and dang unpleasant recognition at that – dawns in blue and deep-brown eyes belonging to a pair of ex-outlaws.
Simultaneously recognition – and sudden wariness – dawns in another set of blue and deep-brown eyes belonging to the approaching cowboys.
It is Shields and Kane! The walk-offs!
Livilan gives a sharp glance from one duo to another. “Do you fellas know each other?”
“We – we mighta met,” admits Shields.
Kane, the shorter guy, shuffles his feet.
Silence. Tense silence. Tense silence with Kid Curry giving Shields one of his best icy stares.
“Is there some kinda history between you fellas? Because…” Livilan levels a piercing stare at Shields. “…If you two have somehow offended Mister Smith and Mister Jones, this might be a good time to make your peace and apologise.” Pause. “You want to apologise, don’t you, Shields?”
The voice no longer seems to belong to a Deputy Manager of a small town bank. Heyes shoots a curious, calculating look at the man who has suddenly transformed into a fella with a steely confidence in his ability to command obedience by sheer force of will.
“That’s right. I’d like to apologise ’bout that – that misunderstandin’,” says Shields. “I – I got a big mouth. Both of us…” he indicates Kane, “…We both apologise.”
Kane nods, eagerly.
The Kid is still returning an icy stare to Shields’ would-be ingratiating grin.
Kane pipes up, “You got the best of us anyhow, huh?”
“So,” Shields keeps up the smile, “…If’n you go holdin’ a grudge, after you already made us eat our words, that don’t hardly seem fair.”
Kid draws back his head, thinking. A tiny shrug indicates that Shields has a point there. “Grudges are for folks with bad stomachs,” he agrees.
The atmosphere eases.
“So,” checks Livilan, “…You fellas can get along?”
“Sure won’t find us starting nothing,” says Heyes.
“Us neither. No, sir!”
Sheesh. If Shields were any more obsequious he’d be licking the boys’ boots. Again, a flicker of curiosity crosses Heyes’ face as he glances from the two fawning cowboys to the smooth Isa Livilan – why?
“Good!” says the banker. “Come along, fellas. I’ll show you the layout of the Church Hall.”
He, Shields and Kane depart on this innocent-sounding errand.
“Good!” agrees Miss Porter, who has followed the back and forth of the preceding scene rather like a confused tennis spectator. “I’d better get to the bank.”
“By the way, ma’am,” Kid Curry has swept off his hat and is treating her to his most charming smile, “…I’d like to make amends for leavin’ you kinda sudden that last time I took you out to dinner. How’s about another try at you and me doing the town?”
Almost involuntarily Miss Porter steals a glance at Heyes. Is he jealous? Nope. Not a flicker. In fact, Heyes has pulled out a script from his pocket and is, frowningly, making notes.
“What do you say, Miss Porter? Do I get a second chance?”
With a tiny sigh, she turns back to the Kid. “Of course, Mister Jones. I’d love to.”
Same candlelight. Same circling violinist. But this time it is a blue-eyed ex-outlaw not doing too well at keeping the attention of the lady opposite.
“…This is a real nice tune, huh, ma’am?”
“Just as I began to think I understand him – I find I don’t,” says Miss Porter.
A forehead furrows under blond curls. “Who? The fiddle-player?”
“No, Joshu… I mean, Mister Smith.”
“Oh, him.” Pause. “You know, ma’am, I’m real happy to have a chance to make up for walkin’ off that last time…” His best smile. Wasted. Miss Porter is not even looking at him.
“He’s – he’s enigmatic,” she sighs.
Pause. Curry applies himself to his steak.
“Would you describe him as enigmatic?”
“Mister Smith. Would you describe him as enigmatic?”
“I doubt I’d describe anyone as enigmatic, ma’am. I’ve never been one for fancy words.” Sudden inspiration, trying to get Miss Porter’s attention focussed back where it should be. “I’m – I’m more the strong, silent man of action…”
Laughing customers leave the town’s restaurant, the ladies adjusting their headgear. Last of the couples to emerge is Miss Porter followed by a spruced up Kid Curry. As she arranges her shawl, something across the street catches Kid’s eye. He narrows his eyes, moves forward to peer through the dimly lit darkness. His thumbs go into his vest pockets.
We follow his eye-line. He is watching two familiar figures sneaking around a building that proclaims itself to be the schoolhouse.
Miss Porter finishes fussing with her shawl and turns to Kid with a wide smile. Wiping the frown off his face, he smiles back.
“Miss Porter, I hate to do this to ya again, but, I’m kinda beat. Can you get home by yourself?”
“Well, you know I usually do, but…”
“Then, I’ll be saying goodnight.” He tips his hat. “…I’m sorry, ma’am.”
And – off he strides.
Miss Porter is left alone on the porch of the restaurant. “That’s it! I’m giving up on men and buying a cat!” she pouts.
THE SCHOOL HOUSE
Kid Curry slinks around the side of the school house. A window is open – just a crack – a muddy boot print on the sill. A dim light can be seen inside. Our hero – well, one of ’em – raises the window sash and oozes with the stealth of long (mal)practice inside.
He looks over at the source of the light. By the glow of a couple of oil lamps Shields and Kane are hunched over… Kid’s brow creases. What ARE they hunched over? He steps forward, less stealthily.
“Who’s that?” Shields squints through the dark room.
“Me.” Kid steps out of the shadows.
The two cowboys straighten up.
“What d’ya want?” asks Shields. Kane nudges him. A mute conversation. Much more ingratiating tone, “I mean – what d’ya want, Mister Jones, sir?”
Kid’s eyes go to their hands. Is that a hammer and nails Kane is clutching? And Shields – is that a paintbrush?
“Anythin’ we can do for ya, sir?” oils Kane.
“Yeah. You can tell me what the Sam Hill you’re doin’ here?”
“Well, it’s kinda this way – Mister Livilan asked if’n we could help out Mizz Perkins with the replica safe for the show…”
Curry examines the object over which the cowboys were hunched. Actually, yeah, if it was set the right way up that would kinda look like a flimsy model of a Brooker safe.
“And we got kinda tied up at the Church Hall earlier… And we didn’t wanna let Mizz Perkins down…”
“‘S’true!” Kane is reacting to the disbelief etched on Kid’s face. “You ask Mizz Perkins in the mornin’!”
“Didn’t Mister Livilan say he was gonna help with the replica safe?” says Shields.
We watch first recollection, then doubt on the ex-outlaw’s face. Actually, yes, he did.
“Yeah, but, if’n you’re here official-like, why the Sam Hill d’ya climb in the back?”
“‘Cos… ‘Cos…” Shields is searching.
“‘Cos we forgot to go collect the key offen Mizz Perkins,” chips in Kane, eagerly.
Shields; “That’s right! We was s’posed to go get the key, but we kinda thought – hey, let’s get a beer first – and…”
Kane; “It got kinda late. Too late to be goin’ disturbin’ a lady…?”
Shields; “So, we thought, why not slip in through the window.”
“Sounds kinda dumb, huh?” Another ingratiating smile from Kane.
“Kinda,” agrees Kid.
“Yeah, but, we ARE dumb!” triumphs Shields. “You said it yerself. Me an’ him – we’re walk-offs.”
Kid’s head goes back a tad at that. That IS a point.
“Besides,” an echo of Shield’s original cockiness returns, “…If’n you don’t think we’re helpin’ out on the props for the show – what DO you think we’re doing here with hammers an’ brushes an’ a pint o’nails an’ a quart o’ whitewash?”
“‘T’ain’t like there’s nothin’ to steal nor nothin’,” chips in Kane.
Furrowing of a Curryesque brow. THAT is even more of a point. He goes a step or two nearer, takes a closer look. Nothing suspicious. Well, nothing except two lowlifes like Shields and Kane’s helping out with the props for a small town show.
“None of us want any trouble, do we – Jones?” says Shields.
Kid looks at him searchingly. It was not a threat. Maybe there was just a hint of Shields’ knowing ‘Jones’ is not real, but still – not a threat.
“Sure don’t,” agrees Kid, mildly enough.
“What we ALL want is a quiet few days and to pick up our pay at the end, huh?”
Musing from Kid. He’s still suspicious, but – yup.
“Won’t find me arguin’ with that,” he concedes.
Another scan at the work in progress. Nothing.
“Night, boys,” tipping his hat, he heads for the window.
“Night, Mister Jones.”
Kid slips back out into the alley, closing the window behind him. For a moment he stands and listens – nothing. Then – hammering. Shrugging and shaking his head in confusion, he heads back to the main street.
“That story they told ya – you reckon it was true?” asks Heyes, from his position on the bed.
“Dunno,” grunts Curry, who is in the chair, pulling off a recalcitrant boot. “I didn’t, but… If’n they’re lyin’ – what are they lyin’ for? I found ’em in the school-house hammerin’ and paintin’. Not like I found ’em – I dunno – in the backroom of the saloon with a coupla spades, diggin’ a tunnel, huh?”
“…So, they actually WERE working on the replica safe?”
“It don’t make sense,” frowns Heyes. “No more’n Livilan practically makin’ ’em lick your boots today…”
“You reckon he’s got some hold over ’em?”
Kid Curry mulls on that. “Me too.” More mulling. “You any ideas ’bout how come.”
Heyes’ turn with the mulling. “Nope,” he finally admits, “but, I’m working on it.”
JANUARY 4th – MORNING
Heyes and Curry stand in the doorway of the bank. Following their eye-line we see Shields and Kane, one carrying a hammer and paintbrush, the other carrying the books and lunch-pail of a woman with ‘schoolmarm’ written all over her. As she unlocks the schoolhouse the two cowboys smilingly touch their hats to the watching ex-outlaws. Heyes and Curry return the gesture. Shields and Kane follow the schoolmarm inside.
Heyes turns, flicks his eyes to direct Curry’s gaze to what he has noticed. From the bank window Isa Livilan is also watching his hirelings enter the schoolhouse. An approving smile lifts one corner of Livilan’s mouth. He moves away from the window.
“You figured this out yet, Heyes?”
The Kid claps him on the back, “Keep thinkin’, Heyes. That’s what you’re good at.”
The clock on the wall shows ten minutes before twelve. Heyes, from his position at the counter, watches Mister Pincus in the back office meticulously stacking layer after layer of fake money bundles stacked in a large packing case. Heyes glances over at Isa Livilan. The Deputy Manager is also watching the fussy old clerk, that same smile playing around his lips. The lid of the case is tacked down.
“Thank you, Mister Pincus. Mister Smith,” Isa Livilan’s tone is perfectly civil, “…Would you give me a hand to carry this into the manager’s office, please? I don’t want it getting in your or Mister Pincus’ way back here all afternoon.”
A pause. Busy brain at work behind the brown eyes. Nothing.
“Sure,” sighs Heyes.
Mister Pincus checks the clock. Twelve-thirty. He screws the cap on his pen, lays it tidily on his ledger, moves over to collect his hat. Almost in unison Miss Porter emerges from the manager’s office, tying her bonnet strings and adjusting her shawl. “I’ll take first lunch with Mister Pincus if that is alright with you, Mister Livilan?”
“Certainly, Miss Porter.”
She leaves, Mister Pincus politely holding the door, then following her out.
Heyes and Curry watch. From their expressions we gather this is normal routine.
Isa Livilan hardly raised his eyes to answer Miss Porter; he is busy scribbling away at a ledger behind the counter. Heyes, after eyeing him for a moment, goes back to his own calculations.
The clock ticks. Then tocks. And ticks again. The tension is – well, practically non-existent.
An elderly customer comes in. Curry tips his hat as she bustles past. Heyes greets her, civilly, and watches, patiently, as she begins to count out small bills from her reticule.
Livilan makes a pleased sound indicative of a satisfactorily balanced account. He closes the ledger with a snap, steps out from behind the counter and strides into the manager’s office, closing the door behind him. A minute or two later, he emerges, without the ledger.
“Let me get the door for you,” he says to Heyes’ customer who has now completed her business. He opens the main door, bowing politely, “If this weather holds, we’ll have a fine, crisp day for the Founder’s Show, won’t we, ma’am?”
Kid Curry raises a questioning eyebrow.
Shoulders drooping, Heyes shrugs and shakes his head.
The clock now stands at twenty after two. Heyes and Curry are both at the bank window. Outside, under supervision of the schoolmarm, Shields is carrying a completed replica safe – which looks like exactly what it is, a school project made from packing cases, cardboard and silver paper – over to the Church Hall. Kane follows with an equally unconvincing – though perfectly adequate for purpose – replica of the bank doors. Behind them trot schoolchildren carrying chairs.
Under Kid’s breath, “Heyes, you…?”
The outer bank door opens. A deprecating throat clearance. “Erm…Er-hem.” Shields and Kane stand on the threshold. Touching their hats to Miss Porter, “We’ve come to collect the fake money for the show, ma’am.”
“Certainly. It’s in Father’s office. Mister Smith, Mister Jones – could you?”
Heyes and Curry go into the Manager’s office. Normal office. Imposing desk. Wooden floor, a rug covering the centre. Impressive leather trunk used as a table and covered in ledgers. More stacks of ledgers on shelves covering one wall. Slap in the middle of the rug, the packing case previously filled by Mister Pincus.
Our boys heft the packing case out of the office, to the outer door. Shields and Kane take it.
“Whew,” Kane gives a cheery whistle. “Feel the weight o’ that!”
A glower from Shields immediately replaced with the ingratiating smile. “Surprisin’ how heavy just paper can be, huh?”
“I guess,” says Kid Curry.
The walk-offs – true to their billing – walk off.
From the steps outside the bank, Heyes and Curry watch them go. Kid Curry glances at his partner. The same frustrated puzzlement as earlier. Then, a familiar glint lights the brown eyes. Smug waves radiate from the dimpled one.
“You just worked out what they’re up to, didn’t ya?”
“Uh huh.” Frown. “Leastways – maybe. We need to check it out.”
An oil lamp lights the scene. In tight close up we see Heyes, ear pressed against a metallic surface. Beside the profile of that tip-tilted nose, gleaming silver lettering spells out ‘Brooker 606.’ Heyes’ fingers caress a dial.
Switch to a close-up on Curry, seated in classic lookout pose, watching his partner.
Back to Heyes. “Takes you back to the old days, huh, Kid?” he breathes, face segueing into safegasm mode. “Whaddya think Lom’d say if he could see me now?”
“Dunno. Maybe – ‘Why the Sam Hill is Heyes actin’ the goat with a packin’ crate?'”
The focus pulls back, revealing that Heyes is, indeed, NOT in the bank cracking the real Brooker 606. He is in the Church Hall getting up close and personal with the replica.
“You gonna open that thing? Or…” Kid grins, “…D’you want me to step outside? Give the two of ya a little private time?”
“You got no sense of occasion, Kid. You know that?” Heyes stands and flips open the hinged doors of the replica safe. Kid Curry moves to stand beside him. They look inside. Nothing but the very obviously fake money.
Curry frowns. “Maybe you were wrong, Heyes?”
“Nah.” Heyes inhales deeply. His eyes close in bliss. “Smell it, Kid.” He plunges a hand deep into the replica safe and pulls up a fistful of… “Under that front layer it’s all hundreds and fifties,” he breathes, in an awed tone. “There must be thousands here. Thousands and…”
“Heyes,” Kid sees his partner’s larcenous streak showing through, “…You do remember we went straight?”
SAME SCENE – ABOUT TEN MINUTES LATER
Our boys sit side by side on the edge of the stage. Two sets of shoulders droop. They are not happy.
“Heyes,” puzzles Kid, “if this Livilan fella wants to rob the bank, why don’t he just rob it? Why all the – the…?” he searches.
“The plot complications?” hazards Heyes.
“Well, be fair, Kid. Breaking into banks isn’t that easy, huh? I mean, even we were starting to find it kinda a strain – and we were the best.”
“Livilan don’t hafta break in though. He walks in every mornin’.”
“Walks IN, sure. He can’t exactly walk OUT carryin’ a stack of money near on four foot square, can he? This way, a quick swap with a stash he’d already hidden in that trunk in the office and he can hire two fellas to heft a fortune down the street right in front of our noses.”
Acknowledging shrug from Kid Curry. That is a point.
“And,” continues Heyes, “…This is one quick hit. If he cooks the books the slow way, he risks Pincus’ finding the safe light by a few thousand at one of his regular audits. If the safe’s light and the bank hasn’t been busted into, who’s gonna be top of Lom’s suspect list?”
Mulling from Kid Curry. “Us.”
Heyes blinks at that. “I was gonna say – the bank staff.”
More mulling from Kid Curry. “If’n we weren’t here – sure. As it is, I’m stickin’ with us.”
“Surely Lom wouldn’t think that we’d…” Seeing Kid’s cynical expression, Heyes breaks off. “I reckon we can’t blame him,” he admits.
“Seeing how we DID try and rob the bank last time we were here, I reckon we can’t,” agrees Kid.
“Even if Lom didn’t suspect US, there’d be a lot of law sniffing around after a big robbery,” glooms Heyes. “If we aren’t here – won’t take them long to be sniffing after Smith and Jones.”
“An’ if we stay…” Kid trails off.
A mute conversation. They will not be staying while the law sniffs around.
“The way I see it, we got five options,” says Heyes.
“Honest options?” checks Kid.
“The way I see it, we got three options,” restarts Heyes. “One, we go tell Harker Wilkins what we know. Now, the downside is…”
“He won’t believe a single dang word.”
“Aside from that, Shields knows who you are. I’m figuring that means there’s a chance Livilan knows who you are too. Now, if I’m right, they’re saying nothing partly ‘cos Shields don’t want to go up against Kid Curry and partly ‘cos Livilan is thinking a $10,000 reward is small change next to what he’s planning on getting away with, AND…” Frowning. “Maybe he’s figuring when the theft gets discovered – THEN ‘ud be the time to have someone recognise you. IF we go to the law…”
“He’s got no reason to keep quiet.”
“What’s option two?”
“Option two is – we break into the bank and put back the real …”
“We break into the bank?”
“Uh huh. I figure we could…”
“What’s option three?”
“No, listen.” The brown eyes sparkle. “I’ve been thinking ’bout how we could get through…”
“Heyes, bustin’ into the bank and gettin’ caught with a stack of stolen money isn’t an option.”
“We don’t get caught! Besides, we’d be putting it back, not taking it out…”
“Heyes, even your silver tongue won’t sell that!”
“But…” Heyes’ shoulders droop. “Okay, option three – I hafta come up with some way of catching Livilan red-handed. With witnesses.”
Musing. A slow nod. “I like that, Heyes. What’s the plan?”
A look… No. Make that THE ‘look’ is thrown Curry-wards.
“Which bit of – ‘I hafta come up with it’ – are you having trouble with?”
“Keep thinkin’, Heyes. That’s what you’re good at.”
Silence. Heyes searches the skies – or, since they are inside, the ceiling – for inspiration. His eyes fix on something above his head. A twinkle. A dimple.
Kid Curry sees the smug look. “You got an idea, don’t ya?”
A smug smile. The Kid’s eyes follow the direction of Heyes’ gaze.
“This idea, Heyes. I ain’t gonna like it – am I?”
AND ANOTHER TEN MINUTES LATER
Heyes is again crouched before the fake safe. Then…
The eyes of both ex-outlaws flick to the door. What was that? A mute conversation. Quick as quick Heyes flips shut the safe doors as Curry extinguishes the lamp. Darkness.
“Is someone there?” calls a deep voice. Deputy Harker Wilkins enters, holding aloft a lantern of his own. “If’n I catch any o’ you young fellas messin’ with the props, there’s gonna be trouble!” He stares into the shadows – nothing. Stepping over to the wall he turns up the nearest gas lamp lighting – although still dimly – the room. He looks towards the corner of the makeshift stage where stands the replica safe. His eyes narrow, suspiciously, peering closer. One hand cautiously on the butt of his gun, over he goes, up the steps onto the stage. Still nothing. Or, is there? He tenses. With an impressively swift movement for a man no longer in the first flush of youth, the Deputy darts across the stage and twitches aside the heavy calico curtain concealing the wings. Zilch. Zip. “Hmmm?” A burly hand pushes back his hat and scratches the grizzled head. “Maybe I’m hearing things?” A thought strikes him. Another glance around – this time sheepish rather than suspicious. He steps centre stage and strikes the pose of the Founder’s statue. “I name this place – Porterville!” he booms out, impressively, with his very best stern frown. A shake of the head. Another try. “I name this place – Porterville.” He holds the pose – and holds it – and… “Hmmm!” A satisfied smile creases the Deputy’s genial face.
Two ex-outlaws slip, with cat-like stealth, down the passageway beside the Church Hall. They melt into the walls as the burly shadow of Deputy Harker Wilkins exits and passes them.
“That plan of yours,” breaths the Kid.
“Told ya I wouldn’t like it.”
A crisp day – around noon. Bunting and banners proclaiming ‘Porterville 40th Anniversary’ and ‘Founder’s Day Celebrations’ flutter around the church hall. Respectable citizens, well-wrapped up in their winter Sunday best are gathering, greeting each other and making their way inside.
In the foreground our boys stand with Wheat. The Devil’s Hole Gang is lined up behind them, perched on a handy rail.
“This is what we want ya to do…” begins Heyes.
Five pairs of outlaw eyes swivel right, fasten on Heyes. A crooked-toothed mouth drops open, because… Well, because Kyle listens better that way.
A wagon rumbles past, obscuring our view and drowning out the rest of Heyes’ speech.
The same five pairs of outlaw eyes swivel left, to Wheat.
Wheat puts on his best ‘I’m-not-gonna-be-bossed-by-Heyes’ face and hooks thumbs into his belt with a swagger. “An’, ya think me an’ the boys are gonna do what YOU say – because…?”
Heyes and Curry exchange a glance.
“…’Cos you’re gettin’ paid,” Curry reminds Wheat.
A chagrined flicker crosses Wheat’s face. That’s right. They are.
Deputy Wilkins strides past towards the Church Hall. “Mornin’ Mister Hotchkiss. Mornin’ – er – ha! – outlaws,” he says, with a cheery laugh at his little joke.
Eyes riveted on the star on his chest. Wheat and the others touch their hats. Their Adam’s apples bob, nervously.
“Smith, Jones – isn’t it ’bout time you made your way over?”
“Sure,” says Heyes. “So – just like we rehearsed, Hotchkiss.”
Obsequious nods from Wheat and the gang, their attention still fixed on the Deputy’s badge.
Heyes and Curry follow Harker Wilkins to the Church Hall.
Wheat turns back to the gang. “Right. You know what we hafta do. Until our part of the show, we’re just gonna mingle with the crowd. So, we’re all gonna walk in there looking innocent and normal…” His gaze moves from one grimy unshaven face to next. Chewing. Squinting. Villainous. Vacant… “Well anyway we’re all gonna walk in – and I’m gonna go first…”
The Devil’s Hole Gang enters the Church Hall with careful civility, making way for older folk, hats clutched to their chests, ingratiating smiles to the ladies.
“After you, Mister Gaines,” says Merkle, stepping aside for Lobo.
“I’m Grant, you’re Gaines!”
The show is well underway. Heyes is in the wings, concealed from the audience by the calico curtain. On stage a cute, freckle-faced tyke is winding up his scene.
“Figurin’ he’d put the brains in later…”
Heyes glances over to the other wing. Kid Curry and Miss Porter stand there. She has her hands clasped together, happily, as she watches. He, a broad smile on his face, is mouthing along.
“…And they upped an’ walked off!”
Warm applause from the audience. Warmer applause from Miss Porter. Appreciative boot-stomping and whistle from a blond ex-outlaw. Heyes rolls his eyes.
“My evil tunnellin’ plan is workin’!” triumphs Wheat, twirling his moustache and favouring the audience with an arch-villain’s stare. “Muhahah!” he ad libs.
In the wings Heyes blinks. Hey! He has competition. What a ham!
“We’re gonna blow that sky safe-high!” fluffs Kyle.
Visibly tugged by strings the front of the replica safe opens. In unison, a set of firecrackers explodes, noisily, over the stage.
At the back of the Church Hall a tall figure enters, quietly, so as not to disturb the show. Lom. He flinches at the sudden explosions. He stares at the stage – Wheat Carlson, Kyle… A frown of suspicious confusion. Or maybe, confused suspicion. Harker Wilkins, in Grandpa Porter gear, spots the Sheriff, catches his eye and touches his cap. Lom manages only a blink in reply.
More firecrackers. And more.
“Sheesh, Kyle,” hisses Kid Curry from the corner of his mouth, as he steps, gingerly, onto the exploding stage, gun twirling, to do his heroics, “…How many dang firecrackers did ya use?”
“All of ’em.”
“All of ’em?”
“Ah ha!” yells Heyes, leaping in his turn upon the stage, two – count ’em, two – guns twirling, “Your fiendish plot is foiled, foul felons!”
“There’ll be no robbery in THIS town. Not while Joshua Smith and his trusty sideki… His trusty partner, Thaddeus Jones are here to stop it!”
“Curses!” howls Wheat, battling it out with Heyes for who can get furthest upstage while avoiding firecrackers. “I am undone!”
“A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!” declaims Heyes.
Backstage, Miss Porter and Miss Perkins tug on strings… Green paper flutters from the rafters.
At the back, Lom watches the cascade, still frowning.
In the wings, Miss Porter prinks her hair, ready to step onto the stage.
“Any man that touches that Porterville money’ll have to get past Joshua Smith first!” swaggers Heyes.
“And Thaddeus Jones!” adds the Kid.
“Our heroes!” declaims Miss Porter, entering stage left. “You have saved the…”
“Hey!” A sudden exclamation from a red-headed youth in the second row. “This money is real!”
Lom’s brows snap together at he hears that.
Other folk are catching the flying money. Excited murmurs. Miss Porter catches a floating note – her face dissolves into confusion.
“What the…?” Fury on his face, Shields has sprung from his seat and is reaching for his gun.
“Hold it right there, fella,” Lobo Riggs and Whatshisname (alias Balfour #1), who were on mingling duty, has him covered.
“You too, friend,” Merkle and TheotherBalfourFella are covering Kane.
“And – boys,” warns Heyes, mildly, from the stage.
Sheepishly the mingling Devils’ Hole Gang open their clenched fists, allowing grasped dollars to fall to the floor.
“Wha…?” An incensed Isa Livilan has leapt to his feet in the front row. He stares from the fake safe to the ceiling where the cascading money bundles were fastened and back again. Then, his eyes go the exceedingly smug dark-haired ex-outlaw standing centre stage. “You! You changed the money in the safe for the money in the rafters!”
A pause. Miss Porter absorbs this. Lom Trevors absorbs this. On both faces – confusion, but also the first glimmers of comprehension.
“And, how exactly do you know there was real money in this safe, Mister Livilan?” asks Heyes, with the utmost friendly civility.
More pause. A foiled thief searches for something to say – and fails.
“I may not know what’s been going on here over the last few days, but, THAT,” decides Lom, striding forward, “is a very good question, Mister Livilan.”
LATER – THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE
“They were wonderful!” gushes Miss Porter. “They saved the bank again! Just like it was their very own money!”
“Uh huh,” acknowledges Lom, scanning the two ‘butter-wouldn’t-melt’ expressions facing him.
“Guess doing the right thing is becoming a habit, Lom,” says Heyes.
“I guess so.”
“And – doing the right thing, wouldn’t you say that deserves some kinda reward?”
“Oh, I’m sure my father will want me to reward you! And Mister Hotchkiss and – er – the rest,” beams Miss Porter.
But the boys have another kind of reward in mind. Both Heyes and Kid stare questioningly –and hopefully – at Lom.
His expression is apologetic. “You know what they say about rewards? Like all good things – they come to those who wait.”
Two sets of broad shoulders droop.
“Wait, huh?” checks Kid Curry.
“Just a while longer,” confirms Lom.
“And – that’s a good deal?” shrugs Hannibal Heyes.
Our boys ride out of town.
“So, Kid, this new year, the West’s two most wanted men are gonna continue to lead model lives of temperance, moderation, tranquili…”
“You’re not on stage now, so – quit the narrator act.”
THE END – AND, HAPPY ANNIVERSARY