11. A Grizzly End

by Calico

THE MAYOR’S PLACE – EVENING

A log fire crackles. Before it, a familiar, dark-haired figure holds forth to three prosperous-looking young men.

“Thaddeus tried to tell me the tracks were two days old…”

“But, you knew better, Joshua?” This is from a suave individual, long legs stretched out before him and a fine cigar in one hand, Robert Parrish.

A smothered snigger from a second young fella, not nearly so suave, though trying hard with a flashy necktie and glinting watch chain. This one is Dennis West.

After eyeing him for a moment, Heyes clearly decides the snigger is not worth reacting to.

“I sure did. I didn’t get to be champeen tracker of Southern Utah without knowing when tracks are two hours fresh.”

The third young man, Andrew Harte, signals to a plump, older guy – Mayor Horace Yeats – who leans on the mantelpiece. With an obsequious simper, Yeats tops up Andrew’s glass, before doing the same for the rest of the group.

“No, sir! When a man hires Joshua Smith to clear his place of mountain lions, he can…”

Some distance from the fire, sits an equally familiar blond figure. Beside him is a grizzled old-timer, a certain practical intelligence stamped on his rugged features. This is Chuck Greene.

“Joshua sure can talk up a storm ’bout trackin’, huh?”

Curry, comfortable in a deep leather armchair, takes a swallow from a cut crystal tumbler. “Yup.” Tiny pause. “He can talk ’bout it.”

Eyes meet in something close to a mute conversation. We gather Kid Curry likes this fella.

From the fire, “Two hundred and forty pounds of howling, screaming, mountain cat flew straight at Thaddeus…”

Topping up Heyes’ glass empties the whiskey bottle. Yeats scurries over to where Curry sits with Chuck Greene.

“Chuck, fetch another couple of bottles from the cellar.”

From the tone, we gather Chuck Greene is his employee.

Yeats sits in the vacated seat, rubbing sweaty hands together in self-congratulation as he views the scene by the fireside. “Chuck’s pretty experienced guiding tourists from back East wanting a taste of the Wild West, Thaddeus, but I want these particular guests’ visit to be a guaranteed success.”

‘Uh huh’ head movement from Curry.

“When Sheriff Trevors recommended you two, he wrote you’d take care of any fancy shooting needed out hunting and Joshua would take care of spinning tall tales afterwards. If you shoot as well as he talks, I’d say Lom Trevors is one truthful man.”

Yeats is clearly happy. He is also kinda – hmm? The right word might be ‘oily’. Literally and metaphorically. Curry, very slightly, shifts away from the mouth oozing, confidingly, into his ear. While he may have warmed to Chuck Greene, he has not warmed to the boss.

Heyes: “Claws like razors hovered inches from Thaddeus’ throat. I had to act like lightning. I levelled my rifle and…”

Not sensitive to subtle body language, Horace Yeats edges yet closer to the Kid. He nods towards Andrew. “Andrew’s father bought out near all the mining interests around here and they say he has the ear of…”

Yeats leans in, murmurs a name. Curry’s reaction suggests this is not news.

“With that young man’s family connections, the Governor will be real grateful to anyone making his visit to Wyoming a success. Hypothetically, he’d probably give full backing to their campaign to be re-elected Mayor.” A conceited beam at Curry. Since no response is forthcoming, he prompts. “Don’t you agree?”

A blond ex-outlaw hoping for amnesty chooses his words carefully, “I reckon the Governor might dish out – or call in – a few favors to stay the right side of Andrew Harte Junior…” Pause. “…Mister Mayor.”

Over by Heyes, Andrew Harte drawls, “Do you think we’ll see any grizzlies tomorrow, Joshua?” His well-manicured finger flicks, indicatively, to The Habits and Habitat of the Grizzly Bear lying open beside him.

“If you do,” Horace Yeats smarms back to the main group, “You’ll be a match for them.” To Heyes, “Andrew’s a crack shot! Won the gold medal for his college rifle team. What do you think of that?”

“I don’t think Joshua heard you, Mayor Horace…” This is Dennis West. “…Your voice was muffled, what with your lips being pressed so hard up against Andrew’s rear end.”

Yeats’ ingratiating smile freezes, his eyes flick, nervously, from side to side.

“Doesn’t you calling Mayor Horace – or anyone – for kissing up border on the disingenuous, Dennis?” Andrew’s voice is expressionless, in fact his whole persona lacks – something. “Ever since you first latched onto Bob and me, your lips have pretty much set in a permanent pucker.”

Dennis West flushes bright red. Then, “Leastways I don’t do it for a living, like Bob has to! My family’s near enough rich as yours!”

Two ex-outlaws exchange a glance; a flicker of distaste at their company but also resignation.

The sang-froid of Robert Parrish never wavers. “Precisely, Dennis. Ever since admittance to the bar, I kiss up for a living – professionally. And, since the depth of my avarice is surpassed only by the breadth of my genius, I do it with far more style than your feeble efforts can ever muster.” He blows a perfect smoke ring.

Dennis scowls.

Seemingly reluctantly, Andrew half smiles. “No one can deny you have style, Bob.”

Robert smiles at Heyes. “Before the conversation veered, distressingly, off-track, Andrew asked our chances of setting eyes on a bear.”

“I don’t rule out bears laying eyes on us,” says Heyes. “I wouldn’t offer odds on them letting us lay eyes on them.”

“I’ll wager you’ve some stories about encounters with grizzlies out on the trail, huh, Joshua?” urges the Mayor, welcoming a return to civility.

“One time,” begins Heyes, affably enough, “while we were working the Chisum trail…”

Robert shoots a silent question at Andrew, who – almost imperceptibly – shakes his head.

“Why not save that one for another night, Joshua?” interrupts Robert, courteously enough. “You and Thaddeus must have preparations to make. You’ll want to get back to your hotel.”

Our boys can take a hint. They rise, reach for their hats.

“And…” This is Dennis. “…We wouldn’t want you shooting your entire anecdotal bolt so early in the week.” Snigger. “Joshua-arh.”

Hey, that was uncalled for. Curry directs a glare at Dennis, who flushes. Mayor Yeats fingers a sweat-limped collar. Heyes takes a moment to brush invisible lint from his pants before looking up. The dark gaze wipes the last of the smirk from Dennis’ face; but all Heyes says is, “We’ll set off around seven tomorrow – if that’s okay?”

-oooOOOooo-

YELLOW BIRD SALOON

“If he talks to you that way again, I’ll…” A swallow of beer saves Curry from having to supply a sufficiently impressive ending.

Heyes’ expression as he returns the fuming gaze is impassive, but also – perhaps – touched at his partner’s vicarious offense. “Dennis runs his mouth trying to impress the bigger boys in the gang. Different kinda gang – but nothing we’ve not seen before. Forget it.”

“You’re gonna stand for that jackass makin’ small of ya?”

“Kid, think about it, there’s a good reason why I’m letting that jackass bray at me.”

Silent, ‘Go on,’ from Curry.

“I’m being paid to.”

The Kid mulls on that. “For twenty dollars a day…”

“Each!”

“Each… Sticks and stones, huh?”

“Always knew you for a philosopher, Kid.”

Curry takes another pull at his beer. “Dunno how Chuck stands workin’ for Yeats.”

A look from Heyes.

“‘Cos he’s gettin’ paid, too,” supplies Kid. “Point taken.”

“Chuck said most Easterners Yeats has him guide for are real pleasant company. Dumb about hunting, maybe, but pleasant company.” Pause. “And good tippers.”

“All the same, Heyes, you gotta admit snails trail less slime than Mayor Yeats. I reckon he’d throw himself in the dirt for them rich boys to wipe their feet on if he thought it’d get the Governor owin’ him. Huh?”

“Uh huh,” Heyes sips his beer, thoughtfully. “What kinda man dances to the Governor’s tune just ‘cos he hopes, someday, he might get a favor in return?”

A slow, wry smile from Kid Curry. “Another point taken, Heyes.” He spots a pretty blonde making her way over. More cheerfully, under his breath, “I reckon I’m about to become even more apprec’ative of that twenty dollars a day.”

“Hello,” she smiles, “I’m Jen.”

“Thaddeus Jones. And this fella is…” Charming smile as he shifts so his back blocks out Heyes. “…No one important.”

-oooOOOooo-

NEXT DAY – OUT HUNTING

The expressions of two ex-outlaws suggest tempers being held in check – things are not going well.

“Couldn’t you have at least cleared a path?” grouses Dennis, as a slim branch whips into his chest.

“Wildlife knows to stay away from recent clearin’,” says Chuck. “You want to hunt game; you cut your own path.”

-oooOOOooo-

“Pronghorn,” hisses Kid Curry, signalling for hush and pointing.

“Well, let’s go get them!” shrills Dennis.

The Kid rolls his eyes as we hear the distant beat of disappearing hooves.

-oooOOOooo-

“Do you think we will see any bears today, Joshua?” asks Robert.

“Not unless they’re deaf.”

Chuck Greene turns to hide an appreciative grin.

-oooOOOooo-

Coffee brews on a campfire.

Curry looks down at a rifle lying on the grass between him and Andrew Harte. Admiration – maybe with a touch of leftover larceny – lights the blue eyes. Andrew follows his gaze.

“See that…” The Easterner lifts the gun to display the intricate whorls decorating the base of the butt and spiralling towards the barrels. “…Hand carved walnut inlaid with ivory.”

“Real fancy weapon you got there,” acknowledges Kid.

“Real fancy price, too,” says Robert. He catches Kid’s eye. “No offense, I couldn’t afford it, either. Andrew has exceptionally expensive tastes.”

-oooOOOooo-

“Slow down,” Heyes, in full stealth mode, leads the three Easterners in an elbow and hipbone slither through the undergrowth. His voice is low, “Find a spot – then wait. Let them come to you.”

Waiting. Waiting. A rustle in the grass. Waiting.

“Not yet…” warns Heyes.

Andrew leaps to his feet levelling the fancy rifle – BANG!

Again with the sound of retreating wildlife.

“I said – ‘Wait’!” Heyes snaps.

Curry has also scrambled to his feet and squints into the distance. “He didn’t have to. He got one.” He stares at the unmoved Andrew. His voice is reluctantly impressed, “That was some shot.”

-oooOOOooo-

EARLY EVENING

Horace Yeats scurries down the steps of his lavish townhouse as the hunting party turns onto the main street.

“How did you enjoy Wyoming’s wildlife?”

“What wildlife? Apart from Andrew picking off one lousy jackrabbit, all we’ve seen so far is Joshu-arh, our champion tracker of Southern Utah, bending double and identifying dung.” Again with the sarcasm from Dennis West.

Curry glowers. “Wildlife knows to stay away from noisy, dumb…” At a warning glance from Heyes, he bites back whatever insult he was about to use with a visible effort. “From noise. Keep it down; maybe you’ll bag somethin’ tomorrow.”

Mayor Yeats’ face has fallen at his important guests’ evident displeasure. Shooting a would-be fierce scowl at the ex-outlaws, followed by an unctuous smile at Andrew. “I’m sure Thaddeus is right. Tomorrow you’ll bag…”

He is interrupted by Dennis, “Now there’s something really worth bagging.” His mouth hangs open. He even forgets to snigger.

All heads turn. About a hundred yards away, an establishment bearing a sign announcing: Chez Amie. Taking the evening air on a first floor balcony stand two female figures clad in expensive silken drapery. As they laugh together we see their profiles; their faces are no less lovely than their figures.

Seven male faces register varying degrees of yearning. Even Andrew’s expressionless eyes take on a chill glitter of appreciation. After a moment, the Mayor tries to school his features into respectable disapproval. “Disgraceful!”

“Disgraceful AND expensive from the look of them, and from the look of the security,” says Robert. All eyes drop. In front of the building, two purposeful fellas sport tied-down guns and an air of relaxed swagger. Hey, do they sound like anyone?

A gulp from Dennis. The Mayor runs a finger inside his collar. A respectful mute conversation by our boys.

“You ain’t wrong about expensive,” confirms Chuck. “The nearest fifty dollars gets ya to a Chez Amie gal is catchin’ a waft as ya walk by.” Seeing his boss’s outraged expression, he clears his throat. “I’ll go get on, huh?”

Heyes and Curry step toward the house.

Andrew signals to Robert with a flicker of his chilly eyes.

“Why don’t you two take the evening off?” suggests Robert, pulling out his wallet and handing over what looks like a generous tip. “Go have dinner – somewhere else? We’ll make our own entertainment – save Joshua’s bear story for tomorrow, huh?”

He follows his friends into the house. Yeats, wringing his obsequious hands, brings up the rear.

“D’you think us hired hands can take the disappointment of not being invited to join the rich folk for dinner, Kid?”

“I reckon I can bear up, Heyes.”

-oooOOOooo-

AFTER DARK

Our boys exit a restaurant adjusting their hats. Curry points to the Yellow Bird saloon. A nod from Heyes. They stride over.

-oooOOOooo-

YELLOW BIRD SALOON

A beer before him, Kid Curry searches the jostling crowd.

“Looking for someone?” grunts the bar-keep.

“I was lookin’ for Jen.”

“She oughta be here. Must be with a customer. She’ll be down when she’s done.”

A trace of disappointment flickers across Curry’s face.

Heyes throws his partner an affectionately teasing look. “Never mind, Kid. Unlucky in love, lucky at cards, huh?” Brown eyes indicate they should join a poker table.

Rueful grin from Kid. He picks up his beer and follows Heyes.

-oooOOOooo-

NEXT MORNING

In the same restaurant as last night, Heyes and Curry apply themselves to ham and eggs.

Chuck Greene enters.

“We’re not late, are we?” Heyes checks the watch in his vest pocket; seven thirty. “We’re collecting them at eight, huh?”

Chuck briefly holds up a folded note in his hand. “Robert sent word they decided on an early ride. They’ll meet us out by the livery.”

“A ride before breakfast?! Them?” The Curry credulity is stretched.

“We waited forty minutes for them to drag themselves outta bed yesterday,” says Heyes. “What’s different today?”

“Guess the tale you spun ’em ’bout mornin’ bein’ best time o’ the day musta convinced ’em, Joshua,” Chuck’s tone is gently teasing. He exchanges a look with an appreciative Kid Curry. He pours himself a coffee and says, conversationally, “They musta been real early, ‘cos I saw them up by the creek, past the fork, not long after six.”

Heyes looks at him, curiously. “They weren’t the only ones up early, then?”

A faint flush rises to Chuck’s cheek. “Yeah, well. Best time o’ the day, huh?” He drains his mug. “I’d best get on.” He leaves.

-oooOOOooo-

LATER – HUNTING AGAIN

“You okay, Dennis?” checks Heyes.

Dennis seems downcast, nervous. Robert and Andrew seem their usual selves.

“He’s fine, aren’t you?” says Robert. “Just tired.”

Dennis flicks a glance at his friend. His tongue moistens his lips. “Sure, I’m fine.”

“At least we got us sight of a grizzly.” This is Chuck.

“Too far off for a shot,” remarks Andrew.

“Far off is where I prefer grizzlies,” says Heyes.

Chuck stoops to the ground, bending close to sniff. “Could be antelope’s been through here, trail’s ’bout one hour fresh. Whaddya reckon, Joshua?”

Heyes examines the spot, purses his lips. Judicious nodding. “Yup. Antelope.”

He sees Curry throw him a look clearly sceptical of the abilities of the self-proclaimed champeen tracker of Southern Utah.

“Though,” more wise musing, “might be two hours fresh.” He smiles, all innocence, at the cynic in the brown hat. “Keep it down everyone, let’s track us some antelope.” Stealthily, he sets off.

“Er…” Chuck Greene indicates a more westerly direction.

“Sure,” Heyes is unfazed. “I was thinking we’d circle in, but we can just follow their path.”

Curry rolls his eyes and follows Chuck and Heyes.

-oooOOOooo-

Chuck and Heyes are out in front, then the Easterners; Curry brings up the rear. Curry calls, “Takin’ a moment!” and moves into trees, propping his rifle against a trunk. We infer this is code for a call of nature.

We follow Chuck and Heyes. Rising and falling terrain makes us temporarily lose sight of the others, when…

The sound of something heavy crashing through the bushes. Screams. Yells. Roaring and the splintering of wood.

Chuck and Heyes spin. After a frozen moment they race back, Heyes easily outpacing the older man.

Back in the trees, Kid Curry also reacts. He grabs his rifle, runs forwards.

We see what the boys – from their different angles – see.

Seven hundred pounds of roaring grizzly has exploded from the dense cover.

Andrew and Robert are sprinting from the scene. Since both are in their early twenties and the peak of health, they are fast putting a decent distance between themselves and the bear. It is not chasing them.

Perhaps realising this, Andrew stops, wheels, and raises his rifle to his shoulder. His stance is steady and he narrows his eyes, coolly, as he takes aim.

The bear’s mighty paws are cuffing at – something. The – something – squeals as it flops through the air like a rag doll. Powerful jaws, saliva glinting on the razor incisors, close…

Kid Curry’s rifle is levelled but…

“Heyes! I can’t risk hittin’ Dennis! Take it from the back.”

Heyes’ rifle is also levelled. From behind the bear he fires – and again.

Simultaneously a bullet – and another – explode from Andrew’s gun.

The bear roars in pain and drops its prey.

A split second later, Kid Curry’s shot hits dead centre between its eyes – and again.

The massive body thuds to the earth.

-oooOOOooo-

The blood-soaked body is lifted onto a makeshift stretcher by Heyes and Curry. They move to take up the ends but Andrew speaks up.

“Let Bob and me carry him. After all, he was our friend.”

Our boys’ expressions register surprise at – well, at the decent gesture.

“Sure.” Curry lays a consoling hand on the Easterner’s shoulder.

Heyes’ eyes are watchful as, with an air of manly grief, Andrew and Robert lift the stretcher.

Chuck leading the way, the two young men set off with their burden, back the way the party came.

Kid Curry is about to follow when Heyes’ hand restrains him. In a low voice he asks, “Does anything about it strike you as – wrong – about what just happened?”

“Uh huh. What kinda dumb grizzly charges a noisy huntin’ party of six? A sow thinkin’ we’re after her cubs – maybe – but this is a boar.”

“Never woulda believed it unless I’d seen it,” agrees Heyes. “Surprised me we even caught a sight up on the hills this morning. Not as if we were much quieter’n yesterday, huh?”

Nod from Kid Curry. “Wouldn’t have expected it to do more’n get Dennis runnin’ even if it charged. That bear acted – I dunno – crazed. Or starvin’ – which he can’t be this time of year.”

“Something else, Kid, that spot Andrew shot from,” Heyes points. “Him and Robert sure covered some ground, huh?”

“A grizzly on your tail is kinda motivatin’, Heyes.”

“The point is – why hadn’t Dennis run? Our trail’s a ways from the cover – they heard the bear – why didn’t he? He isn’t older or fatter; his legs aren’t that much shorter. Bear mighta caught him – sure. But wouldn’t you expect him to be further over? Looks like he didn’t manage a single step.”

Curry’s eyes go from the bushes, to hulking beast body, to the spot from which Andrew fired. “What are you suggestin’, Heyes?”

“I don’t know, Kid. But, I’m thinking on it.”

A rueful shrug as Curry again judges the distances. “Carry on, Heyes, that’s what you’re good at.”

They set off after the stretcher.

-oooOOOooo-

BACK IN TOWN

“…It makes no sense,” Chuck follows Mayor Yeats to the body on the stretcher. “I ain’t never had a mite of trouble on a huntin’ trip. You know that, boss. And, I ain’t never seen a bear behave like that. An’ don’t be thinkin’ I wasn’t real careful with the…”

A sudden warning glower from the Mayor shuts him up. Heyes’ eyes narrow. What was Chuck real careful with?

“No one’s blaming you, Chuck,” says Yeats. “Who can doubt this was a tragic accident?” He repeats this a tad louder, throwing out one hand in a dramatic gesture to the townsfolk beginning to gather. “A tragic, TRAGIC accident!”

“Not that I got any argument with what he’s sayin’,” says the Kid, sotto voce, to his partner, “but who’s he think he’s gotta convince?”

A questioning look is exchanged.

“A fine young man, cut off in his prime in a tragic ACCIDENT. When I think of his poor, bereaved family…” A large white handkerchief is brought into play. “Tragic!” emerges from behind the linen. “Accident!”

An exasperated frown gathers on Robert’s brow as the Mayor plays to the crowd. He clears his throat. “Pull yourself together, Mayor. Andrew and I need to telegraph back East. If they’d be so kind, I’d like Thaddeus and Joshua to get Dennis’s body out of the street and to the doctor now.”

Another question is sent from blue eyes to brown – and back again.

“The Doc?” repeats Kid Curry. “Isn’t that kinda…?” He stops short as if wary of saying something tactless.

“A waste of time? In terms of helping Dennis, yes. But we’ll need to register the death.”

The two ex-outlaws register – well, not much.

“Surely even this far west, it is usual to observe the legal niceties and have a doctor issue a death certificate verifying the cause of death?” Robert sure is fluent!

“Sure,” says Heyes. “Any legal niceties – you’ll find me and Thaddeus observing ’em.”

“You might also,” the chilly voice of Andrew, “have the doctor verify none of our shots at the bear went awry.”

“Hardly necessary,” begins Robert. “Even if they had, it would not affect the accidental nature of…”

“Oblige me!”

A pause.

“In any case, you can have no objection to requesting a death certificate.” Robert is, as always, nothing but reasonable. “Meanwhile, Andrew and I will attempt to find the right phrasing for the sad telegrams.”

Mute conversation. Something about this is odd, but… Two facial shrugs. Kid Curry retrieves one end of the makeshift stretcher, Heyes grasps the other.

-oooOOOooo-

DOC’S PLACE

A greying man, clasping shining implements, hunches over a scrubbed table. Something unseen is the subject both of his concentrated study and the avid curiosity of Hannibal Heyes. Curry keeps his eyes firmly away. Whenever the conversation pulls his gaze in the table’s direction, he shudders and rapidly shifts his eye-line.

“Light!” barks the Doc, as Heyes cranes for a better view.

“Sorry.” Heyes moves his shadow elsewhere. “I’da thought it wouldn’t take more’n five minutes to give us a death certificate; cause of death: seven hundred pound bear. But, not you, huh? You sure are thorough.”

“Uh huh.” Something is placed in a metal dish and covered with a cotton square.

“If a thing’s worth doing…” admires Heyes. He lifts the edge of the cotton, “That’s…?”

“The stomach,” supplies the Doc. “I’ll be able to tell when he last ate from the state of the contents.”

“A formula for everything, huh?” Brown eyes bend closer, fascinated.

“Light!”

“Sorry.”

Kid Curry presses a hand to his own stomach. “We know when he last ate – we watched him. Doc, all we need to know is – the bear killed him. No stray bullet finished him off.”

“No bullets. He was killed by multiple traumas consistent with a bear attack. Now THAT, Mister Smith, is interesting. This man was starting a kidney stone – see? Not that it would bother him for a year or so.” The gruff face softens at Heyes’ spellbound expression. “It’s a pleasant change to have someone show intelligent interest at a dissection. Most folk around here are – how shall I put it? Close-minded?”

“You mean, they like their relatives buried in one piece?” hazards Curry.

“Post-mortem examination of the human body is necessary to any advances we are going to make in medical knowledge!” The doctor’s tone is passionate. To Heyes, more confidingly, “I don’t often get a chance like this. Ah! Excellent muscular development of the gluteus.”

“Beats me why Andrew even brought up a bullet,” remarks Curry. “It’d still be an accident, huh?”

“A tragic accident,” Heyes amends a la Mayor Yeats.

Both boys grin.

“Maybe he wants his own mind put at rest?” suggests Heyes. “‘Sorry, I shot your boy,’ is not a message you wanna send back home. Even Dennis must have someone who loves him.”

“Nasty!” This is the Doc.

Two guilty looks. “Sorry, Doc. Not the time or place, huh?” apologises Heyes. “We hardly knew him, y’see, and, while they do say never speak ill of the dead…”

“No! This! Nasty fracture.”

The Kid half turns, thinks better of it.

Heyes is instantly curious. “His knee?”

“Yes.”

“Hey – maybe that’s why he couldn’t run?” Curry deduces. Straight away, “Nah – wrong way round. If the grizzly broke his knee, it can’t be why he didn’t run.”

“No bear did this,” says the doctor. “This is a comminuted fracture of the patella. If it had happened during the attack there’d be more cartilage damage and tearing. This was caused by a powerful impact blow from something…Hmmm?” His eyes narrow, instruments probe. “Something rectangular with a corner edge, the narrowest side about three inches. He didn’t run, you say? No wonder – with this he couldn’t have stood, let alone take a step.”

“Could he have smashed his knee on a rock as he fell?” asks Heyes.

“Not with enough force to give this stellate pattern. And, you see the bruising – the loops?”

Heyes bends close. “Kinda – spirals?” Recognition dawns in the brown eyes.

“How many rocks come with evenly spaced swirls?”

“Swirls?” Curry’s eyes too, grow grave. “Can I see?”

“Certainly.” The Doc glances at the queasy young man. “Give me a moment.” A sheet is drawn from head down to mid-thigh. “Now look.”

Blue eyes meet brown.

“Those marks look like they’ve been made by a rifle butt to you?” asks Kid Curry.

“Yup. A pretty dang expensive rifle butt.”

“For two men who just made the equivalent of a successful diagnosis, you two don’t sound too happy.”

“We’re not,” sighs Curry. “We walked in for a certificate sayin’ tragic accident. Thanks to your bullet search bein’ so dang thorough, we’re walkin’ out with a case of murder. Not that I’m blamin’ you, Doc. Some folks are naturally dang inquisitive. It’s annoyin’, but that’s the way they’re made.” A look is shot at Heyes. “If I don’t know that, dunno who does!”

“Adding insult to injury,” puts in his partner, “we walked in earning twenty dollars a day and something tells me we’re walking out earning zip.”

“As far as murder goes,” says the Doc, “that’s not a medical judgment. I’d say someone deliberately crippled this man. If they did it within seconds of being surprised by a bear, all I can say is they take faster decisions than the normal run of humanity.”

A mute conversation. The Doc has a point.

“Unless…?” Heyes stops. Deep thinking. He starts to pace.

-oooOOOooo-

STREET – MEDIUM SHOT

Two familiar figures plus the doctor walk purposefully towards the sheriff’s office. At the step to the boardwalk our boys stop. In unison two sets of hands go on hips, two heads bend forward, two deep breaths are taken.

The Doc has raised his hand to knock before he realizes he is alone. In dumb show we see him beckon. A look is exchanged. Shoulders brace. Heyes and Curry step up – literally.

-oooOOOooo-

SHERIFF’S OFFICE

“…If this fella was downed by one of his friends breaking his knee, why’d they act so keen to have the Doc look the body over?”

The Sheriff, well into his fifties and apparently no fool, sits behind his desk; the threesome face him. Every so often either cornflower-blue or chocolate-brown eyes, or both, stray to the wall, a veritable mosaic of wanted posters. None appear to be THE posters – but, they cannot help but keep scanning.

As the scene starts, the Doc is doing the talking; our boys try to fade into the background. “They weren’t keen to have me look the body over. They were keen to get a death certificate confirming bear, not bullet.”

“They’d no way of knowing the Doc here is Wyoming’s answer to Victor Frankenstein,” puts in Heyes, not the best at staying quiet.

Blinks from the Sheriff and the Kid: who? Recognition and an anxious frown from the Doc.

“I only mean seeing dead bodies as – er – necessary for advancement in medical knowledge,” recalls Heyes. “No offense, Doc.”

“None taken.”

“Okay, they’d no way of knowing Doc’s a – an enthusiast,” the Sheriff chooses the word carefully. “But still, how’d it work? Seven hundred pounds of teeth and claws thundering toward you – who the Sam Hill has time to think: ‘Hey! Here’s a perfect opportunity to turn Dennis into bear bait’?”

“These boys believe the bear wasn’t a complete surprise. Those Easterners were waiting – on the alert,” says the Doc. “Take a look at this.” He passes over a jacket, torn and blood-stained. “More to the point, smell it.”

“The dead fella’s?” checks the Sheriff.

“Uh huh.”

The Sheriff does as he is asked, sniffs.

“Try around the hem,” suggests Heyes. Apologetic glance at Curry that he has again broken the unspoken ‘keep quiet’ agreement.

“Hey…” The Sheriff reacts to a bloodhound, face a mass of lugubrious wrinkles, as she rises from a sunny spot beneath the window, shakes her loose pelt and ambles over to nose at the jacket. “Reckon you can smell it better than me, can’t you, old girl?” To the threesome, “What is that? Molasses? Some kinda woman’s scent?”

“Mister Jones believes it is glycerin mixed with vanilla.”

“Bear lure,” simplifies Curry. His turn for an apologetic glance at his partner.

“Humans will not detect it unless they inhale deeply,” says the Doc. “Not even then out in the open. But a bear’s sense of smell far outstrips ours. Mister Smith believes use of this lure significantly increases the probability of encountering a grizzly.”

“Would these Eastern dudes even know ’bout bear lure?”

“Mister Smith has explained they researched the local wildlife and noted one of their books covered the topic of lures.”

The Sheriff scratches his head. “Seems pretty chancy; a bear might come – or not. If you want a fella dead, why not stage an ordinary hunting accident? Shoot him.”

“Mister Smith hypothesizes that may have been their back-up plan should the lure fail. However, he further surmises that given Andrew Harte’s reputation as a marksman, a shooting accident might arouse suspicion.”

Curry shoots a swift, silent rebuke at the source of all these explanations, notes, hypotheses and surmises.

“Staging a bear attack, while not foolproof, will likely be accepted as – as the fault of no human agency. As a murder method, it has attractions,” continues the Doc.

“Attractions?” The Sheriff is still sceptical. “Suppose the bear decides you look tastier than the bait, despite him being slathered in lure?”

A mute conversation. The boys get to their feet.

“Maybe you’re right, Sheriff,” says Heyes. “We’ve done our civic duty – brought our suspicions, well, the Doc’s suspicions, to your attention. If you decide those suspicions are ungrounded – so be it.”

“Sit down!” snaps the Doc.

Two backsides sink back to their seats.

“In my medical opinion, Dennis West was deliberately crippled – if these gentlemen are correct, by the butt of Andrew Harte’s rifle. You hold in your hand incontrovertible evidence that steps were taken to precipitate the attack which caused his death. Whatever questions remain – surely it is your duty to investigate further?” The doctor bristles with righteous indignation. “Or, am I to conclude your unwillingness to act derives from the fact that Harte Senior owns half the votes in this town and could buy up the other half any time he dang well chooses – ELECTED Sheriff?”

A deep sigh from the lawman. “Doc, if I wasn’t cautious about throwing accusations at the son of the man who practically owns this town – I’d be a dang fool. You know I believe you arriving back when this place was nothing but mud, tents and a couple of liquor and tail joints mining the miners, was one of the best things ever happened to this town; BUT, we both know what any fancy lawyer’ll dredge up once you start giving that medical opinion of yours in court.”

Doc scowls, but in acknowledging frustration, not anger.

In answer to curious glances from our boys, the Doc says, “I have seven undischarged sentences for grave-robbing back East. I’m not ashamed of it – dissection of the human body is…”

“Yeah, medical knowledge. We got it, Doc,” interrupts the Sheriff.

“However, it does make my position – precarious.”

Fascinated, Heyes leans in to the Kid and murmurs, “Who’da thought it?”

A shrug from Curry. “Me for one,” he deadpans, sotto voce.

The Sheriff shifts in his seat. The impression given is of a decent enough fella, struggling with the eternal struggle between the right and the expedient path.

“Too many unanswered questions, huh, Sheriff?” sympathises Heyes. The boys again rise to their feet. “You know best. We’ll leave you to…”

“Sit!”

Sheesh! That Doc is strict! They sit.

“I reckon the least I can do is find out where that lure came from.” The Sheriff’s sense of duty is winning out. He hauls himself to his feet, reaches for his hat. “C’mere, Nancy.” The jacket of the dead man is held to the greying muzzle of the venerable bloodhound.

-oooOOOooo-

OUTSIDE THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE

Our boys have hung back and lean on the porch rail watching the Sheriff and the Doc. They, in turn, watch Nancy snuffle back and forth across the street.

“D’you think we’ll ever get used to walking into a Sheriff’s office, Kid? Voluntarily I mean, without a gun at our back?”

“Nope. An’ I sure won’t ever get used to that.” Curry nods at the tin star now adorning Heyes’ chest. Heyes’ eyes drop to an identical star worn by the Kid; he shudders.

“Us being deputized wasn’t voluntary, Kid. The Sheriff didn’t offer any option. But that first walk into his office; d’you think it counts as a good deed? Risking the law’s attention – all in the interests of justice? And justice for DENNIS of all people.”

“Heyes, we did it in the int’rests of not havin’ the Doc draw the law’s attention to those fellas Smith and Jones refusin’ point blank.”

Acknowledging shrug from Heyes.

“‘Course,” continues Curry, “we coulda ridden out.”

“And have the Governor think we were mixed up in – in whatever this is?”

“Is that any worse’n us bein’ mixed up in gettin’ the fella he wants us lickin’ the boots of accused of murder?”

A rueful look is exchanged. They turn their eyes back to the street. The Sheriff is beckoning them, impatiently.

“Hey!” Curry straightens. “Is that Chuck’s place Nancy’s headin’ to?”

-oooOOOooo-

CHUCK’S PLACE

“I make my own lures,” a defensive Chuck is telling the Sheriff. “Is that a crime?”

“Not unless you used it for one.”

“These Eastern boys paid good money for a taste of huntin’ out west. My boss knows with the lure, I can near guarantee a bear sightin’. He came over real early this mornin’, told me to use it. He wanted them to have – y’know – the whole experience.”

“Did the whole experience include putting bear lure on Dennis?” asks Heyes.

“No! No way! Early this mornin’ I dabbed some on the trees up in the hills away from the trail – where we got the first sightin’ – and made sure we stayed well away. You fellas know a grizzly ain’t gonna charge a group if it can head the other way. I only wanted ’em to see somethin’.” Chuck takes a deep breath. “I’m real sorry ’bout what happened, but it wasn’t my fault.”

Another mute conversation – our boys believe him.

-oooOOOooo-

SHERIFF’S OFFICE

The Sheriff examines the butt of Andrew’s fancy rifle. The Easterners look on, impassively.

“Do you know who this is?!” the Mayor blusters.

“Yup,” grunts the Sheriff. “He’s the fella owns this rifle the Doc says crippled Dennis West.”

“You’re going to regret this!”

“I’m regretting it already,” mutters the Sheriff. Louder, to Andrew, “D’you have any explanation how come the butt of your weapon shattered the dead guy’s knee?”

“None, save the obvious. IF it did so, perhaps, in the initial panic of the bear’s attack, as I ran, my rifle swung back, and Dennis fell forward onto it.”

“Is that what you say happened?” asks Heyes, watching him closely. Talk about poker-faces, Andrew is a blank sheet.

“No.” It is Robert who answers; he meets the ex-outlaw’s gaze squarely. “Andrew is saying IF Dennis’s knee injury was caused by the rifle butt – a point on which the good doctor may be honestly mistaken – he has no idea what happened. He offers a speculative explanation as a hypothesis only. For both of us, the whole grizzly incident – no pun intended – is a blur.”

The Sheriff blinks at the young lawyer’s fluency.

“Bob,” the half-smile lifting Andrew’s cheek never warms his chill eyes, “you express it so much better than I ever could.”

“Either of you got a speculative explanation how come Dennis was smothered in bear lure?” asks Heyes.

“Bear lure?” Robert repeats the words as one speaking a foreign language.

“It lures bears,” Curry’s tone is terse; his eyes bore into those of the young lawyer.

“What would we two city-bred dudes know about bear lure?”

“Probably what you read in chapter seven of this.” Heyes pushes over The Habits and Habitat of the Grizzly Bear with one slim forefinger. His voice too holds an edge of danger.

“Ah, holiday reading,” Robert shakes his head in self-reproach. “How often one packs a book and then fails utterly to make the time to open it.”

“If – I repeat IF – some of the lure showed up on Dennis, he must have brushed against the trees Chuck daubed,” protests the Mayor.

“Nope, Chuck made sure he kept us away,” says Heyes. “I think you lifted some lure when you visited him real early this morning and passed it on to these fellas.”

While the Mayor blusters and fumes with exaggerated offense, Robert gives the classic start of a man struck by an unwelcome idea.

“Surely, Joshua, you and the Sheriff are not suggesting either Andrew or I were somehow complicit in Dennis’s death? What possible motive could we have?”

A mute conversation. Good question. And, Heyes and Curry may not exactly like Robert – but, give him his due. Neither ex-outlaw has ruffled his sang-froid one iota.

The Sheriff’s expression indicates he thinks it a good question, too. Nevertheless he braces himself. To Andrew, “You’re under arrest – suspicion of murder.”

Robert raises a hand to silence the Mayor’s explosive bluster. “You’ll have no objection to me staying to consult with my client in private?”

“Guess not – that’s the law.”

“Nor to me telegraphing for advice.”

The Sheriff does not like that but – we can see he likes the thought of not being legally straight down the line with these powerful folk even less.

“Suppose that’s okay.”

Robert is writing rapidly on a notepad drawn from an inner pocket. “If you would initially send this, Horace…” He looks up at the Sheriff. “I take it the Mayor is not also under arrest?”

“Since he was nowhere near when it happened – guess not,” says the Sheriff. “Not yet, anyhow.”

Splutters of affront from the Mayor at the pointed postscript.

“In that case, Horace,” Robert ignores the spluttering, “please send this.”

Heyes’ quick fingers take the slip of folded paper before the Mayor’s clammy fist can close around it. He flicks it open.

“Feel free,” smiles Robert.

Heyes looks up. “You’re pretty smart, huh? But just maybe the Doc knows a little Latin, too?”

“I’m sure the doctor knows a good deal of Latin.” Quizzical look at Heyes. “How would that help with a message sent in Greek?” A smile at the annoyance on the ex-outlaw’s face. “And to think some people argue the practicality of a classical education.”

-oooOOOooo-

In dumb-show we see the Sheriff call in a Deputy waiting outside. This young fella has his ankle in a cast (which the Doc observes with a satisfied nod) and walks with a crutch. Analytical readers (So – you? Of course!) may perhaps discern this is one reason the lawman was keen to deputise Heyes and Curry. The limping Deputy takes up position at the desk, rifle in hand.

As he speaks, the Sheriff gestures at Andrew in the cell, at Robert, sitting beside him and – through the window – at the telegraph office. The gist of the situation is being explained. The Deputy nods, settles back.

-oooOOOooo-

OUTSIDE

The Sheriff, Doc and our boys stride, rapidly, down the street. Yeats, looking fit to implode, though whether from outrage or fear is impossible to tell, trots – sweatily – behind.

“Search my house!? MY house?! I have never been so insulted in my life!” To Heyes and Curry, “You two – you’re fired!” To the Sheriff, “As for you, you’ll be out of office so quick; it’ll make your head spin!”

“Horace, you go gather the town council, get ’em to vote on my dismissal,” retorts the Sheriff. “Until then, this fella’s Pa may own the town, but he don’t own me. So long as I’m the law around here, I’m gonna at least try to do what seems right.”

The Doc claps the Sheriff on the back. Our boys’ expressions hold a half-reluctant admiration.

“You’ll be handing in your badge before…”

-oooOOOooo-

THE MAYOR’S PLACE

A luxuriously furnished bedroom. Kid Curry rifles through drawers. Heyes scans papers on the desk.

“You fellas got any idea what the Sam Hill we’re looking for?” grunts the Sheriff. “‘Cos I sure don’t. Not unless one o’ them papers says; you slather him in lure, I’ll crack his knee…”

“We’re looking for an answer to a dang good question – what possible motive they coulda had for wanting Dennis dead.” Heyes looks up; his frown deepens at what he sees through the window. “If that fella IS a murderer, wouldn’t you think he’d be pacing his cell worrying over what we might find, not keeping his lawyer scribbling fit to beat Mark Twain and making the Mayor wear a rut in the dirt running between them and the telegraph office?”

The others join Heyes at the window. The perspiring figure is indeed scuttling back to the jail, paper in hand.

“Who’d’ya think they’re wirin’?” wonders Curry.

“Whoever it is – I’m guessing they’re not suggesting we get rehired any time soon.”

“And I’m guessing they’re not recommending me for another term as Sheriff.” The lawman’s shoulders slump. “We’re not gonna find nothing. This place has been scrubbed clean as a whistle.”

“It has, hasn’t it?” nods Heyes. He kneels, draws a hand across the well-scoured floorboards, examines his fingertips. Zip. He lifts the corner of a rug. Spotless, but… “Still damp from being washed. Makes you wonder why, huh?”

A four-way look is exchanged.

“Keep looking,” says Heyes.

-oooOOOooo-

Heyes and Curry, noses almost to the floor, slither forward on their bellies inch by inch. The Doc is at the closet, emptying pockets, examining linings. The Sheriff is stripping back sheets.

“Hey! Look at this.” Curry has lifted one of the tiles under the pot-bellied stove. He directs his partner’s gaze to the stained stone base beneath. The Doc grabs a hand-towel, dampens it with water from the bedside jug, rubs the stone, examines the cloth. “Blood,” he says. “Maybe a day or so old.”

Heyes stares at the stain. “Musta been quite a lot of blood.”

“They cleaned up the floor and the rug,” says Curry, “but never knew this tile was loose.”

“The question is, whose blood?” Heyes puzzles.

“Maybe,” a note of triumph in the Sheriff’s voice, “it’s from whoever owned this!” From the depths of the pristine linen sheets he has retrieved an equally snowy linen handkerchief.

Heyes comes over and examines the dainty, feminine square trimmed with a deep lace edging. He takes a sniff and reacts. “Reckon you may be right. Those fellas dress pretty dang fancy – but not THAT fancy!” His finger traces the fine white on white embroidery, initials nestling among flowers. “JG – and that perfume smells expensive – any ideas?”

Mulling by the Sheriff and the Doc.

The Doc speaks first. “My money’d be on Joanie Gowan, one of the girls at the Chez Amie.” He looks again at the bloodstain, face set, “Nice girl.”

-oooOOOooo-

SHERIFF’S OFFICE

Andrew’s expressionless face grows more and more inscrutable as he regards the ex-outlaws. Mayor Yeats is sweating and fear shows in his eyes.

Robert’s suavity is unaffected. “Blood you say? Perhaps Dennis cut himself shaving.”

“By the stove?” grunts Curry.

“Perhaps he was feeling chilly?”

“The stove in HIS room?” Heyes indicates Andrew.

“Perhaps he was feeling sociable?”

“And this?” Heyes holds up the handkerchief. “You gonna claim this belonged to Dennis and perhaps he was feeling a cold coming on?”

If Andrew’s face looked fixed before, he now looks frozen. The Mayor gobbles like a turkey.

It is still Robert who answers. “No, that clearly belongs to a woman.” Steady grey eyes meet Heyes’ brown ones. “I expect it belongs to Joanie Gowan who was hired to visit last night.”

Heyes keeps his poker face, but a flicker shows this tactic surprises him. It surprises the Mayor, too, who stammers out incoherent denials.

Robert interrupts the oily panic. “For a young, single man to occasionally hire the services of a prostitute may be reprehensible, but it is certainly not illegal. Nor do I see how it is a logical precursor to a bear attack.” To Heyes, “Do you?”

“Nope,” says Heyes. Pause. Pointedly, “Not yet.”

An eyebrow lift from Robert acknowledges the challenge of a worthy adversary. To the Mayor he says, “Relax, Horace. I am sure if the Sheriff and his new deputies make enquiries at Chez Amie, they’ll be informed Miss Gowan returned safe and well.”

“I’m sure of that, too,” grunts the Sheriff. “Since the Mayor here holds the deeds of the place and this fella…” A nod at Andrew. “…Could buy the Madame’s word on any dang thing twenty times over.”

“And, I’m sure whatever they say – we won’t see Joanie! Not safe and well, anyhow,” explodes the Doc.

“If she has since quit the Chez Amie…” Robert shrugs. “What can I say? She works in an unstable profession.”

-oooOOOooo-

STREET

“Why are you following us?” The Sheriff’s tone betrays his annoyance that the Mayor still scuttles after him and the boys.

“I’m as free to walk the streets as you.”

“You’re not free to impede me questioning Maddie Whittaker – even if you do take a cut over and above your rent to keep the council sweet ’bout her business.”

Under his breath the Mayor mutters, “We’ll see.” His eyes are on the professional gunslingers outside the Chez Amie. Hey! Did he just send some kind of signal? Whether it was this, or the purposeful pace of the five men in their direction, or their shrewd observation of the tied-down guns worn by Heyes and the Kid; the pair exchange a fleeting look and step down from the boardwalk. One glances back. There is a transitory suggestion of flicker from one of the fine lace nets at the lower windows.

Our boys’ eyes narrow, they too share a mute conversation suspecting observation from inside.

The gunnies, watchfully, touch their hats. Pearl-Handled Colt greets the familiar faces. “Mister Mayor, Doc,” Slight pause, “Sheriff. Can we help you with some’n?”

“I’d like…”

Yeats jumps in. “The Sheriff wants to speak to Mrs. Whittaker. I insist on seeing her first.”

“So you can cook up a story of where this Joanie’s gone?” scathes Heyes.

“Nothing of the sort! I don’t want Mrs. Whittaker – er – startled by the Sheriff’s sudden appearance in what is, after all, her home. She has all the sensibilities of the weaker sex. I’m a familiar face and…”

“Weaker sex?! No one runs a cathouse this swanky and hires guns this fancy…” Heyes indicates Pearl-Handle and Silver-Trim Schofield. “…Without being strong as tooled steel. I never met Mrs. Whittaker, but I lay odds whatever sensibilities she’s got, they’re not of the weaker dang anything!” He sees the gunslingers exchange a considering – and potentially bristling – mute conversation. “No offense, fellas.” He steps forward, “C’mon, Sheriff.”

The leather-clad hand of Pearl-Handle stops him. “The Sheriff – him being the law in the town – can visit on official business, AFTER the Mayor gives Mrs. Whittaker a heads up, like he says. As for the Doc, since he looks after the gals, I reckon he’s always welcome. But you and your friend here…” A nod at Curry. “…Won’t be going anywhere.”

“The only guys go in wearin’ guns,” says Silver-Trim, pulling off his right glove and tucking it into his belt, “is us.”

“Is that so?” says Curry.

“No offense.” Indeed, Pearl-Handle is perfectly civil in tone. “Just doin’ the job we’re hired for.” He summons the Mayor with a head gesture.

Heyes moves to block Yeats’ path. The expression in the dark eyes is enough to stop the man and bring out a fresh smear of perspiration on his brow.

“The job I’m hired for is all I’m trying to do, too, Brad,” says the Sheriff to Pearl-Handle. “As for these fellas, they’re legally appointed deputies and…” He braces himself, not relishing standing up to hired muscle one iota. “…They’re coming inside with me. Now.” He steps forward, so do the boys.

“No, they’re not – and you’re not.” Silver-Trim’s hand hovers over his holster. His eyes lock with the Kid’s.

“You heard the Sheriff,” says Curry. “He’s just doin’ his job – and we’re backin’ him.”

“The problem is,” Pearl-Handle explains, “the Sheriff doin’ what he sees as HIS job and US doin’ what we see as ours are kinda – incompatible.”

“That does sum it up,” concurs Heyes.

“Someone’s gonna hafta back down.”

“Seems so.”

“And,” Pearl-Handle is still all sweet reason, “seems someone backing down before any gunplay beats backing down after, huh?”

“Sure won’t find us arguing with that,” says Heyes.

“The other problem is, Jack here…” He indicates Silver-Trim. “…Never backs down. Thinks it means losin’ face. Nice fella in lots of ways – but, stubborn as a mule. I’ve tried to reason with him – but…” An apologetic shrug.

“That IS a problem,” agrees Heyes.

“So,” Silver-Trim to Kid Curry, “why don’t you, your friend here and the Sheriff, head back to his office – and our boss’ll come see you when she’s good and ready?”

“Sorry,” says Curry. “The Sheriff’s good and ready now.” He moves forward.

Silver-Trim reaches…

Curry’s gun leaps into his hand…

Silver-Trim stares, incredulous, as his fancy Schofield – shot from his grasp – spins in the dust.

Almost simultaneously, Heyes has drawn on Pearl-Handle, whose weapon is half out of his holster. “Leave it!” he snaps.

Pearl-Handle raises his hands.

The Sheriff, meanwhile, scoops the Schofield out of the dust. He eyes Kid Curry, a mix of disbelief and growing curiosity on his face.

Heyes takes Pearl-Handle’s gun, tucks it into the back of his pants. “Problem solved.”

-oooOOOooo-

INSIDE THE CHEZ AMIE

Yeats is in both a muck sweat and a full babble. The object of his nervous gibbering, a vision of unruffled elegance, sits upon a scarlet velvet chaise-longue. Her icy gaze takes in one man after another. One by one they straighten up, twitch their collars, shift their feet. If first impressions are true, she is the toughest person in the room by a considerable margin.

“The Sheriff was fixed on seeing you right away and insisting Smith and Jones come with him and…” He tails off under the basilisk stare.

“And Mister Jones thought a vulgar fracas in the street was the best way of summoning me to open the door?” Well-groomed eyebrows lift sardonically in the Kid’s direction. “Has knocking gone out of fashion?”

“The thing is, Madeleine,” jabbers the Mayor, “they want to talk to Joanie. And I thought it might be better… I thought… I know that might be a…” His eyes plead. What is he trying to tell her?

“Joanie? I fail to see why the Sheriff wishing to talk to Joanie has robbed you of an ability to finish your sentences, Horace.” With a swish of silken skirts, she moves to the wall and touches one of several ornately tasselled bell-pulls.

A pause.

“I’m guessing we wait a couple of minutes,” says Heyes, “you go look for this Joanie, then we settle back for the ‘oh, where can she be?’ act, huh?”

A stunning blonde walks into the room.

“Or,” Madeleine turns the raised eyebrows of disdain on Heyes, “we settle back because – here she is.”

All five men register different levels of surprise, but Heyes’ eyes flick to the Mayor whose jaw has – literally – dropped. His dark brows draw together.

“You’re Joanie Gowan?” he checks. Though – she is. The reactions of the Sheriff and the Doc tell him that.

“Uh huh.” A half-nervous glance at her Madame.

“This is yours?” Heyes holds out the handkerchief.

“Er – sure. Where did…? Is something wrong?”

“You left it at the Mayor’s place. While you were paying a call on his fancy guests.”

Joanie looks…

It is hard to tell. Confused? Maybe. Scared? Sure – a little.

She opens her mouth to speak, changes her mind, shuts it again.

Heyes does not hand over the handkerchief, he tucks it away. “You don’t deny that’s where you were last night?”

“Er…” She glances, nervously, at Madeleine Whittaker. “Sure, I was there.”

“Is that usual – home visits?”

“Not usual,” says Mrs. Whittaker, smoothly. “But not unheard of.”

“Anything for a price, huh?”

“Not quite anything, Mister Smith. But home visits, yes, for a very considerable price.”

“Did anyone hurt you last night, Joanie?” This is the Doc.

“Hurt me? No. Why?”

He moves closer, positioning himself so he blocks Mrs. Whittaker’s view. “Are you sure?”

“Sure I’m not hurt? Yes! You can check if you like, Doc, there’s not a mark on me.” She stares at the Doc, seeing his concern. “Why? What happened?”

“You just told us nothin’ happened,” says the Kid.

“Nothing – untoward – anyhow,” adds Heyes, choosing his words tactfully.

“She told you correctly,” agrees Mrs. Whittaker. “She returned here, safe and well, exactly when expected, and leaving – I am sure – a client fully satisfied by the Chez Amie service. Nothing untoward at all. Isn’t that right, Joanie?”

Joanie shoots another half-scared look at her Madame. She nods. As the Madame looks away we – and the boys – see her bite her lip.

-oooOOOooo-

STREET

“I told you you’d find Joanie alive and well!” The Mayor runs a finger round his wilting collar. “Perhaps next time, Sheriff, you’ll listen to me and not waste everyone’s time! NOT that there’ll be a next time for you; not in office, anyhow.”

He stalks off. The others watch him go.

“He never told us we’d find Joanie alive and well,” remarks Heyes, thoughtfully.

“So what?” grunts the Sheriff. “Point is, we did. Which leaves us pretty much where we were an hour ago. That blood isn’t hers and her visiting had nothing to do with them wanting Dennis dead.”

Heyes’ brow furrows. “Yeah, but – WHY didn’t he tell us she was alive and well? Why all the shaking and sweating up front?”

-oooOOOooo-

SHERIFF’S OFFICE

Heyes is pacing. From the body language and expressions of those watching – we gather Heyes has been pacing some time.

“Thaddeus – d’you recall something odd ’bout what Chuck told us?” He – and the others – keep their voices down, presumably so the occupants of the cell in the back do not hear.

“‘Bout the lure?”

“No, before that – at breakfast.”

The Kid thinks, remembrance dawns. “‘Bout seeing all three of ’em – Andrew, Robert AND Dennis – up past the fork, real early.”

“Then he realized that let out HE’D been up in the hills – we now know baiting the trees like the Mayor wanted – so he shut up real quick. What I’m wondering is…?”

“What took ’em up to the fork at the crack of dawn?” finishes Curry.

“You got any ideas?” asks the Sheriff.

“I got one. Let me an’ Thaddeus ride up there…”

At this, the Sheriff’s gaze rests, thoughtfully, first on the Kid’s face, then on the gun resting on his hip. Both Curry and Heyes are aware of this.

“Just you two, huh?”

“Someone needs to keep an eye on Yeats and that slick lawyer. Oughta be you, Sheriff.”

“You two are gonna ride out – look around for anything suspicious.”

“Uh huh,” confirms Heyes.

“Then, you’re gonna come back – tell us what you found?”

Yup. There is definitely a note of scepticism in the lawman’s voice. A look passes between the ex-outlaws.

“That’s right,” says Curry.

“Sheriff,” Heyes this time, “d’you have any problem letting us borrow Nancy?”

Whatever the Sheriff thought Heyes was about to say – it wasn’t that. He looks over at the bloodhound, back in her favorite sunny spot. Hearing her name, she raises her head. A mighty, wrinkle-wobbling yawn. The head goes back down. The Sheriff looks back at Heyes. “She’s an old lady.”

“We’ll take good care of her.”

The Sheriff searches Heyes’ face. “I guess you will.”

-oooOOOooo-

IN THE HILLS

“Looks like they tethered their horses here, Heyes.”

The self-proclaimed champeen tracker takes a look. “Uh huh.” Curry watches as Heyes gently holds a very feminine handkerchief over Nancy’s nose. “Smell it, girl…” Not so much as a whisker flicker.

“Is she even awake?”

“Shhh! Smell it, Nancy. Smell it! Now this.”

“Is that a twenty dollar bill?”

“Uh huh.”

“That your plan to get her attention? She ain’t you, Heyes.”

A look. “It’s the one Robert tipped me last night – should still have some of his scent on it. Smell it, girl. Where’d he go? Huh?”

Unhurriedly, Nancy gets to her feet. A gargantuan yawn. A rear paw delivers a good scratch behind the left ear. She sits back down. Heyes lifts her rear end and gives her a soft push. She looks back at him. “Go on, girl,” he urges. Nose snuffling the ground, she pads away. Slowly.

-oooOOOooo-

SHERIFF’S OFFICE

The Sheriff is alone at his desk, two piles of wanted posters before him. He takes one from the taller left pile, scans it, gives a slight shake of the head, places it on the smaller – but growing – pile to the right.

-oooOOOooo-

BACK IN THE HILLS

Nancy is still snuffling. The boys, while keeping an eye on her progress, scout around for signs of – whatever.

“Kid, you do realize showing off your fast draw back there got the Sheriff thinking?”

“Uh huh.”

“He’s wond’ring if we’ll use coming up here as a chance to ride outta the mess we’ve found ourselves in.”

“I was wond’rin’ that too, Heyes.”

A mute conversation. Then…

Nancy picks up the pace from padding to trotting to…

“Heyes – that’s practically a canter. Reckon she’s got a scent?”

Heyes, who is much closer, strides in the direction of the *****. She comes to a halt. Her head goes back to deliver a mournful howl. Heyes breaks into a run. He looks at what Nancy has found. He moves – something – with the toe of one boot. He covers his mouth with his hand.

“She found somethin’?” Curry is running over to join his partner.

“She’s found part of something,” hiccups Heyes.

Kid Curry reaches the spot. He looks down and – reacts.

-oooOOOooo-

SHERIFF’S OFFICE

The Sheriff lifts another flyer from the now much smaller left pile. He studies it. He picks up the next poster with the other hand, lays them both before him on the desk. The point of view draws closer – yup; it is THE two wanted posters. His expression grows grave. He purses his lips, deep in thought.

-oooOOOooo-

DOC’S PLACE

Heyes is with the Doc, who once more hunches over something unseen on the scrubbed table.

“Me and Thaddeus’d lay odds they baited the bod…” Heyes breaks off with a hiccup, turns his head away. “Another twelve hours and I reckon there’d have been next to nothing left.”

“Much of the viscera and soft parts missing,” confirms the Doc, “as well as the absent limb. Animal activity – well, you don’t need me to tell you that.”

The door opens; it is Kid Curry and the Sheriff.

“Like I said, Sheriff,” Curry is explaining, “we brought it – I mean, her – straight to the Doc. Then I ran to fetch ya.”

“I was starting to wonder if you’d ridden out,” the Sheriff gives Curry a considering look.

The Kid meets his eyes. He realizes well enough something about the Sheriff’s manner is altered.

“Dennis gettin’ killed was one thing. This… This is diff’rent. This is – wrong.”

The Sheriff searches the ex-outlaw’s face. His expression changes from wariness to understanding. Slowly, he nods. His eyes move to the table; he blanches. ” ** !” Turning away, he takes a gulp of air. “Who – who is it?”

“Some poor girl who once had a face.” Righteous anger throbs in the Doc’s voice. “From the blood spotting in the remaining eye – I’d say strangulation. Maybe. With all the post-mortem tearing around the throat area…” He shakes his head in frustration.

“Sheriff, I reckon we oughta go get that slippery worm of a Mayor,” Heyes’ tone, too, now has an underlying edge of danger.

“Horace Yeats may be a worm, but no way did he…”

Heyes cuts short the Sheriff’s protest. “Yeats is a worm we can scare the truth outta if he thinks it’ll save his slimy skin. We’ll never get anything outta that slick pair they don’t choose to tell us.”

The Sheriff mulls a moment, sees the sense of that. “Okay, let’s go.”

-oooOOOooo-

As the Sheriff and the boys step out from the Doc’s place something across the street catches Curry’s attention. Blue eyes narrow. “You go ahead. I wanna check somethin’ out.”

-oooOOOooo-

YELLOW BIRD SALOON

Over at the bar, Joanie is talking, anxiously, to a seemingly annoyed barkeep.

“I told ya! I ain’t seen her! An’ if she’s got any sense, she’d better have a good story when she shows – IF she shows, ‘cos Pete’s pretty dang riled ’bout her runnin’ out on him.”

Kid walks up behind Joanie. “Isn’t the Yellow Bird kinda downmarket for you Chez Amie gals?”

She starts at his voice, turns.

Grim toned, he continues, “Lookin’ for someone?”

She searches his face. What she reads there draws a gasp of distress. Her hand flies to cover her mouth.

-oooOOOooo-

THE MAYOR’S PLACE

Yeats is brought in, protesting loudly, by the Sheriff. He stops, looks at the grim-faced doctor, then jumps as Heyes steps out from an angle in the room behind him.

“It’s all over, Yeats!” snaps Heyes, in full dark, dangerous mode.

“What is this?”

“The end of the line – for you! We know everything about the murder!”

“Murder?” Turning, “Sheriff, it was a bear attack! A tragic accide…”

“I’M handling this, Yeats!” Heyes is every inch the dangerous outlaw leader. “Not Dennis! We know you murdered that poor girl!”

Fresh panic bedews the Mayor’s face. “She… It was natural causes! Anyhow, I had nothing to do with it!”

“So, you do know who we’re talking about?”

“No… It…” Amidst the fear and guilt, frustration at his own gaff twists the Mayor’s oily face

-oooOOOooo-

YELLOW BIRD SALOON – A QUIET CORNER

“Jen and me were friends back in our kid days. I’d asked her to take my place; lent her my dress, my – things, so she’d look the part,” a red-eyed and still sniffing Joanie tells Kid Curry. “I knew the John asked for a blonde – so the other Chez Amie girls wouldn’t fit. Besides, if you’re smart, when Mrs. Whittaker gives an order – you don’t let her know if you plan any swapping and changing.”

“Why swap?” Still with a touch of grimness, though somewhat softened by the evidently sincere tears. “Bad feelin’ ’bout the customer?”

“No! NO! Young, rich, on vacation – why expect trouble? Why expect anything except an easy enough trick and a real fine tip – which Jen would have kept along with the twenty I gave her! She’s saving real hard to…” Her shoulders droop. “It don’t matter now.”

“To try a fresh start in ‘Frisco,” finishes Curry. “I know.” Pause. “She told me.”

“I wanted to go see my little boy, which is another thing you don’t tell Mrs. Whittaker if you’re smart,” confides Joanie. “I got him fostered on a farm real close. Once he’s old enough, I’ll have money saved for a real fancy school back east. He’ll be better off not knowing his soiled dove mother, huh?” Her voice quivers. “I oughta stay away, but he’s been sick and I guess I’m dumb.”

“Dumb isn’t the word I’d pick,” says Kid, softly.

“Dunno why not. The woman looks after him beats me at being a nurse – beats me at all the stuff a ma oughta do – any day of the week. He was fine.”

“Good.”

A grateful smile. “When the Sheriff came ’round, I didn’t want Mrs. Whittaker to know I’d… If she finds out…” She shudders. Curry’s expression shows he understands. “She’ll find out, anyhow, huh?” says Joanie. “‘Cos you want justice for Jen.” Questioning – maybe pleading – look at Kid Curry.

“I guess I do.”

“Which shows you’ve a decent streak – for a john. I mean that. Thing is, when – if – you get it, Jen’ll still be dead. It makes no difference to her. To me…” Her teeth rattle against the glass as she takes a shaky sip of whiskey. “Ignore me. I guess my little boy don’t hafta have a lousy coward for a mother, along with all the rest.”

Curry’s face does not flicker, but warring emotions play in his eyes.

-oooOOOooo-

THE MAYOR’S PLACE

Heyes and the Sheriff – mainly Heyes – are giving Mayor Yeats as hard a time as they can without laying a finger on him. He writhes like the worm he is.

“They wanted – y’know – feminine company. I arranged for Joanie to come around. Andrew didn’t want to visit… Look! It may have been wrong but it’s not illegal. Young men will be young men. I – I left.”

“They told you to make yourself scarce, huh?” interprets Heyes.

“When I got back, they told me Joanie had had some kinda fit…”

“The Doc says she was strangled.”

“I wasn’t there! I never even saw her…!”

“Uh huh,” Heyes’ nod indicates he believes this. “But you never really bought what they told you ’bout natural causes, did you?”

“All I did was help out, them not wanting the – the embarrassment arising from a soiled dove dying on their hands.”

“And them being well able to afford any price charged by the Chez Amie for non-return of goods,” Heyes’ distaste shows in his voice. “You suggested a handy spot where the body might be hidden – or, even better – get dragged away. And, you fetched some of Chuck’s lure for them to make that even more likely. And, you had Chuck out baiting the trees not too far off – partly so you’d have a reason to visit him real early, partly to shorten the odds on a few hungry creatures prowling the right spot later.”

“Moving a body isn’t a crime!” protests the Mayor. “I looked it up.”

“Covering up a murder’s a crime, alright,” counters the Sheriff. “I’m charging you with accessory after the fact.”

-oooOOOooo-

SHERIFF’S OFFICE

Curry has rejoined his partner. Together with the Sheriff they confront the two Easterners and a very nervous – but not yet defeated – Mayor Yeats.

“Let me get this straight, gentlemen,” says the Sheriff, “you’re implicating a dead man?”

“Correct,” Robert’s suavity is unshaken.

“Dennis killed her?” Heyes’ voice drips disbelief.

“If the good doctor says she was strangled, it’s the only explanation. We helped move the poor girl – believing she had succumbed to a fit – but that’s all. Reprehensible, but we wanted to help an old friend. Afterwards – when Dennis was killed – we kept silence. What kind of men would we be to malign a dead friend’s reputation?”

“You’re malignin’ it now,” points out Curry.

“After the revelations the Mayor has already made…” A shrug finishes the sentence.

Yeats hangs his head.

“And Dennis getting killed – you’re sticking to ‘tragic accident’?” asks the Sheriff.

“Pure coincidence. Unless,” Andrew’s chilly voice, “you prefer; ‘the Hand of Providence meting out divine justice’?”

“We’d prefer the truth,” says Heyes.

“Really?” Andrew meets Heyes’ eyes. “The whole truth or merely a partial revelation?”

Andrew is… Well, something about the man is fingernails on a chalkboard.

Heyes does not drop his gaze, but he shifts slightly in his seat.

“You see, we can’t believe the person benefitting from a very lovely – and very expensive – visitor, was Dennis. We believe it was you.” A slim finger points at Andrew.

“Me?”

“You call the shots,” says Curry. “Dennis was a hanger-on.”

“Not even hanger-on in chief. He was number three. Nope…” Heyes gets into his stride. “Dennis was so far down the pecking order he must have dreamt of being number three. No way was he enjoying the company of the lovely Jen alias Joannie. Dennis was doing whatever he’d been told – probably keeping out of the way in the company of Robert here – while YOU, for some reason I don’t even wanna think about, killed that poor girl.”

“If Dennis had simply stuck with doing what he was told,” glooms the Mayor. “Who’d have thought…?” Oops. He shuts up and shoots an apologetic glance at a justifiably exasperated Robert.

“Who’d have thought – what?” prompts Heyes.

A pause. Robert opens his mouth, but Andrew forestalls him.

“Who’d have thought Dennis, who as you say was the most insignificant of hangers-on, would ever grow a conscience? No, Bob!” He gestures his friend to stay silent. “I’m bored fencing. I may continue to postpone the inevitable, but I will not cower from Providence – which will, one day, strike me down. If this is the day – so be it.”

Even the suave Robert’s face flickers a certain apprehensive response to this speech. Fingernails on a chalk-board is now an understatement of Andrew’s effect.

As for Heyes and the Kid, they share a wary look. This guy is simply not normal.

-oooOOOooo-

SEGUE TO FLASHBACK – THE MAYOR’S PLACE – NIGHT

The tawny glow of oil lamps illuminates the landing outside the closed bedroom.

Andrew in voice-over: “The girl died for a reason which seemed so clear, so compelling at the time, but – as so often happens – looking back, the explanation eludes me. Save that I am what I am – a sinner without hope of redemption.”

The bedroom door opens. Andrew, very pale, emerges. He gazes back over one shoulder. He closes his eyes, a shiver runs through him – though whether of fear or of warped gratification is impossible to tell. “Bob!”

Quick footsteps sound on the stairs. Robert arrives on the scene, stares at his friend still clutching the edge of the door. Robert steps past, flinging the door wide – his broad shoulders block the view. He turns to face Andrew, for once, genuinely shaken, “What have you done?!”

Very quietly, “What have I done, Bob?”

A pause. Robert collects himself. “Something very, very expensive.”

Voice-over: “Of course Bob, as always, offered to help me avoid the annoying consequences of my – my errant tastes…”

-oooOOOooo-

STILL IN FLASHBACK – THE HILLS

Voice-over: “We thought it better to tell Dennis the girl had simply – died. Suddenly. He’d go along with anything we said. Or, so we thought.”

The three Easterners carry a limp object, wrapped in a blanket, to the creek. The chosen spot is hidden by the angle of the rocks and surrounding trees. The blanket is removed. One pale – very young looking – hand flops to the grass beside Dennis; he flinches away. Unmoved, Robert squats, draws a jar from his pocket and removes the lid. He dabs a pale unguent onto the unseen body – the bear lure.

Andrew strides away to the waiting horses. Dennis, shaken, touches Robert’s sleeve to detain him.

“We should tell someone.”

“Don’t be a fool – we agreed…”

Dennis glances back, “I hadn’t seen her then. It wasn’t… SHE wasn’t real. Look, if she just died…”

Sharply, Robert interrupts, “Of course she just died. Even young people do simply – die, sometimes. She died in the wrong place – that’s all.”

“So – we should tell someone. This – this is wrong. She might have – family.” Pause. Dennis wriggles, uncomfortable at any disagreement with one of the two friends he admires. “Maybe not, huh? I guess we did decide…”

This wavering does not reassure Robert, who examines the smaller man, contemplatively.

Andrew’s voice-over: “When Bob told me, I saw at once I had to get rid of Dennis…”

“No,” Robert interrupts Dennis, “you’re right. Even soiled doves deserve better than this. But, listen, if we take her back to town now we’ll be seen. The scandal will be worst of all for Andrew as it’ll hit his father hard. Don’t make it a bolt from the blue. Let Andrew telegraph his father today – so at least he first hears the news from his own son – then we’ll tell. How’s that?”

Dennis, when this – so much more than he expected – sinks in, nods and trots towards Andrew and the horses. Robert watches him go and, over the distance, catches Andrew’s eye. He shakes his head.

-oooOOOooo-

BACK TO PRESENT

“Bob wanted me to shoot him, make it to look like a hunting accident. But I said let that be our fall-back plan. Luring the bear was a risk, it might not have worked – but, it did…!”

“You didn’t just risk it not working,” says Heyes. “Even with the lure, you risked the bear deciding you looked like the tastier meal.”

Andrew’s eyes, usually so glassy, sparkle with enthusiasm. “That was the point! Not to cower from Providence! If the bear had killed me – what a delicious irony it would have been. Hoist with my own petard. Divine justice served by a mighty force of nature.”

Another mute – uncomfortable – conversation between the boys. Nope. Not normal.

“Instead,” grunts the Sheriff, “you’ll have to put up with ordinary human justice served by a not-so-mighty length of rope.”

“I think not,” says Robert, back to his urbane self.

“What d’ya mean – you think not?” Kid Curry indicates Andrew, “He just dang well confessed!”

“No he didn’t.” Robert picks an invisible piece of lint from a well-tailored trouser leg.

“No, I didn’t,” agrees Andrew.

“At any rate, he will deny making a confession, I will deny hearing it – and you cannot prove the contrary.”

“Can’t prove it?” The Sheriff cannot believe his ears. “He confessed in front of…” Quick count; himself, Doc, Mayor, Joshua, Thaddeus. “…Five dang witnesses.”

“Witnesses who will stand up in court?” The lawyer smiles, “Again – I think not.”

“What are you getting at?”

“What he’s getting at, Sheriff,” explodes the Mayor who has writhed wetly through the revelations, “is that this man…” He indicates Andrew. “…Being the son of who he is, for the sake of us all, cannot be convicted. The nature of the crime is not the point, nor are the details – no matter how offensive they may be – the point is the family interest, the TOWN’S interest, requires special treatment. We need to face up to that like men – and not get steamrollered by the alternative…”

“Which is what?” asks the Doc, regarding the Mayor as one might an uninvited rodent.

“Which is the family getting mad they’re not getting treated special and replacing those of us who don’t, with those that will.”

“He murdered an innocent young girl.”

“He murdered a cheap who… Don’t look at me like that, Doc! No one cares!” The Mayor gets a hold of himself. “Okay – let’s say, whatever she was – we should care. I’ll give you that. So what? Harte’s son doesn’t get convicted of any crime in any court convened by humans. He’ll buy the judge and if he can’t buy him, he’ll buy the jury and the witnesses – that’s if he don’t hire muscle to start into killing!”

A silence.

“Is that pretty much what you were getting at?” Heyes asks Robert, a hint of danger in his dark eyes.

They are met, squarely, by a cool grey gaze. “I might have wrapped it up in more polished language, but the Mayor has certainly captured the gist. Even if the Sheriff did have five witnesses, under the circumstances, the chances of a conviction are infinitesimally small…”

Heyes; “And, in any case, he don’t have five witnesses ‘cos you’re gonna buy us off.”

“Precisely.”

“What makes you so dang sure we’re all for sale?” Curry’s voice is even, but his eyes bore into those of Jen’s murderer.

Another of those unnerving half-smiles from Andrew. “There is a faint chance you won’t be bought. Again, the confession I never made opens an opportunity for – Providence.”

“What about you?” Heyes asks Robert. “Something tells me you’re not so keen on leaving these opportunities for ‘Providence’ to reach out and catch you. What makes YOU so sure we’re all for sale?”

Robert answers him with the courtesy of one addressing a worthy opponent. “Five witnesses. Let us take them one at a time. You will, I am sure, agree that the Mayor being for sale is hardly at issue…”

“Granted,” agrees Heyes.

“Which leaves four. Next, the good doctor.”

The Sheriff’s eyes meet those of the Doc. The medical man shifts in his seat.

“Communications received tell of certain incidents in his past. Incidents resultant from a thirst for scientific knowledge, no doubt. Perhaps brought on by the urgent need to discover new ways in which to piece together bullet-torn young bodies. However, experiments acceptable in the heat of war become – irrationally, I admit – distasteful in times of peace.” A tactful pause.

“These boys know,” says the Doc.

“If the doctor took the stand back in Cheyenne – or any major city – it may be at the cost of his liberty. Certainly, he would have to vacate his practice here and start again. Now, I sincerely believe he might surrender himself for even the sliver of a chance of justice for Jen. However, it is not just himself would be sacrificed. He currently has four patients with major injuries under his care. The dangers of a mining town being what they are – there will soon be more. He believes – surely legitimate pride, not vanity – the lives of his patients are safer in his hands than any other. To sum up, I believe the good doctor can be bought with the chance to go on being of real use.”

“If the Doc thinks not getting on the witness stand ‘ud save lives – he’d be right,” admits the Sheriff. “If he thinks helping the living beats helping Jen who’s past help – well, who can rightly argue with that? Especially if you’re looking at it as he must – having taken an oath to save lives, not avenge ’em.”

The Doc throws the Sheriff a grateful glance.

“Alright, we’re down to three witnesses.” Heyes’ voice is warmer as he adds, to the Doc, “And you won’t catch either of us arguing with that.”

“Then there’s you and Thaddeus,” continues Robert, smoothly. “You won’t wish to take the stand in a well-publicized and important trial, amidst gathered agents of law enforcement and – almost certainly – photographers.” Pointedly, “Will you?”

Mute conversation. Okay. He knows something.

“Say we won’t…” begins Heyes, cautiously.

“He just did!” snaps Andrew. “We want to hear YOU say it!”

Silence.

Heyes cuts to the chase, “What’s your point?”

“My point is,” says Robert, “the sight of Dennis being torn apart by a bear does not render us deaf. We heard what Thaddeus called you in the heat of the moment. Your name isn’t Smith and his name isn’t Jones. Communications receiv…”

“Spare me the long speech hinting they’re Hannibal Heyes ‘n’ Kid Curry,” says the Sheriff, enjoying his one brief moment of taking Robert by surprise. “I’ve known that since I saw him draw.”

Two ex-outlaw butts shift, uncomfortably.

“Something else I don’t KNOW, but I’ve guessed. You two boys arrived on a job for the Governor and didn’t ride out even after the trouble started. I reckon you’ve the same kinda deal as Billy Brewster. You’re going straight – hoping for amnesty.”

“If we were Heyes ‘n’ Curry, that wouldn’t be something we’d be at liberty to talk about, Sheriff,” hedges Heyes, “with all due respect.”

“So,” back to Robert, “the Mayor can be bought with staying Mayor to keep milking the town’s money. The doctor can be bought with the chance to go on saving lives in peace. We believe you two can be bought with twenty years of your lives. Perhaps it would be more generous to say we believe Heyes can be bought with twenty years of Kid Curry’s life and Curry with twenty years of Hannibal Heyes’ life.”

A pause. Neither confirmation nor denial from our boys. Their expressions suggest, much as they’d hate to admit it – he is probably right. Even without the generous spin – he was possibly right.

“What of the Sheriff, our sole remaining witness? Not there when Dennis died, nor when Jen was found – a lone voice with nothing but hearsay evidence to stand against our two testimonies. He knows better than anyone how futile that will be. He’d ruin the doctor’s chance of staying here and your chances of amnesty – let alone his own place in this town – for what? For nothing.”

“Joanie, too,” chips in the Mayor. “Her switch’d come out. Mrs. Whittaker would… Well, the Chez Amie has rules.”

Disquiet flickers across Curry’s face. He does not like the sound of that.

Andrew sees Curry’s concern. He leans forward and sneers, “Such chivalry, Mister Jones. Will your gallantry towards one soiled dove wipe out your worry over another? It should. After all, Jen was nothing but a cheap harlot. Which galls me, since I’d specifically paid for a very, very expensive…”

The Kid leaps up and, seizing the front of Andrew’s shirt, drags him to his feet. His other hand draws back to deliver a well-deserved left hook. A swift movement, cleverly catching and using the momentum of the punch, whips Curry’s legs from under him. He finds himself, incandescent with fury, staring at the ceiling as Andrew’s knee pins down his chest and his left hand is twisted back.

“You didn’t really think I’d let you hit me?” To Heyes who has sprung to his feet. “Stay where you are or I snap his wrist.”

We see what Heyes sees; the unnatural angle to which Curry’s hand is bent has bones and veins straining, agonisingly, against the stretched skin. There is no doubt Andrew could make good his threat. Heyes stays put.

Andrew: “I seem to have the upper hand, Mister Curry.”

“Uh huh?” Kid’s right hand is free. He draws. Even from the prone position, it is pretty dang fast. “How about now?”

Andrew’s eyes slide sideways to the gun. He releases Kid’s left hand.

“You two are pretty persuasive ’bout how no court is gonna convict ya. Sure convinced me. But after bein’ so clever workin’ out who we were, didn’t ya stop an’ think, bein’ who we are, maybe we don’t rely on the courts for justice? What’s to stop me blowin’ a hole in ya – an’ thinkin’ no more of it than I would shootin’ a rabid dog loose in the streets?”

Pause. Two sets of blue eyes lock.

Heyes’ face tenses as he watches his partner. He swallows.

Then, the perverse half-smile lifts Andrew’s cheek. “But I did stop and think of that, Mister Curry. Please – do it! End it now!” He flings his arms wide and actually moves his chest more centrally over the barrel of the Colt. “Let yours be the hand of Providence. I dare you!” Again, so wildly that Kid is clearly rattled. “I DARE YOU!”

Tense silence.

“All it will cost you is your chance at amnesty. Worth it surely to bring a murderer to justice?”

Temptation and indecision play over Curry’s face.

“Shoot me now – last chance!”

-oooOOOooo-

LATER – OUSIDE

Andrew is already inside a fancy-looking private stage.

Focus switches to the middle-distance. Well back on the balcony of the Chez Amie, not visible from the stage, stands Joanie, a mix of guilt and relief on her face. She half raises her hand to Kid Curry. A tiny movement of his head acknowledges her. She goes inside.

Grim-faced, our boys and the Sheriff watch Robert run down the steps from the Mayor’s place, a grip in his hand.

“Well,” he says to Heyes, “despite the final element of – all rather unnecessary – intensity in the Sheriff’s Office, I think we all understand one another.”

“I think we do.”

“I won’t offer to shake your hand – saving you from having to resort to the predictable cliché of dignified refusal.”

Heyes moves closer to speak to Robert unheard by the others. “You do realize you’re using all those brains you were gifted with to protect a madman…” A nod toward the stage.

“I do. But do feel free to state the obvious if it helps you through this.”

“He’ll do it again.”

“And we’re both – BOTH, Mister Heyes – going to let him.”

Heyes’ expression is sour – but he does not argue. “Every man has his price, huh?”

“Indeed they do. It’s a treacherously narrow strip of moral high ground from which you look down upon me, Mister Heyes.” He turns on his heel and climbs into the stage.

-oooOOOooo-

LATER STILL – OUTSIDE THE LIVERY

A distinctly downcast Heyes and Curry tighten girths and check saddlebags, preparatory to leaving town. Heyes is first to swing himself into the saddle.

A freckled youth runs up, “Mister Smith and Mister Jones?”

“Uh huh?”

“Mayor Yeats sent me to give ya these.” He hands over two envelopes. “From those slickers that just left. Said it was the wages owed ya.” He leaves.

Curry opens his. Money. A lot of money. A lot. His face twists. He tosses it aside in the dirt, prepares to mount.

“Us riding out with nothing won’t alter the fact they bought us, Kid,” says Heyes, quietly.

Curry swings into the saddle without a word.

“They won’t even know – let alone care – about your grand gesture.”

Grim-faced and silent, Curry gathers his reins; his heels touch the flanks of his horse. He canters away.

Heyes looks at the money in his own hand. He sighs. Decision. He too throws it aside. Without a backward glance, he rides after his partner.

-oooOOOooo-

THE END

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