SPOILT FOR CHOICE
Two dusty, dishevelled riders rein to a halt. Drained blue and brown eyes scan a road sign: Red Rock – Ten Miles.
Weary men and mounts walk on.
The same scruffy pair enters the familiar saloon. The barkeep nods in recognition and jerks his head toward a corner table.
Heyes and Curry walk to where Big Mac and Pete Peterson are playing blackjack. Both boys eye the substantial pot, the tip of a pink tongue moistens Heyes’ lips. The genial banker greets them smilingly. The portly rancher does not so much as lift his eyes from his cards.
“We got your telegram,” says Heyes.
“Guess you did.” To Peterson, “Hit me.”
The ex-outlaws exchange a glance.
“This job you’ve got for us…”
Heyes is interrupted. “What job would that be?”
“The one paying $500.”
“Apiece,” adds Curry.
“Apiece,” agrees Heyes.
“Oh, that job. I found me someone else for that.”
“Your telegram said…”
“My telegram said I needed you before the seventeenth. What‘s today, Pete?”
“The eighteenth, all day.” Peterson chuckles at his own wit.
“We got held up,” says Curry.
“Held up? You two? Ain’t that what they call ironic?”
Big Mac meets a warning gaze from two blue eyes.
“Not held up – just held up.” Heyes visibly controls his temper. “We need a job, Mac.”
“A payin’ job,” clarifies Curry, eyes hungrily following a saloon gal, or, to be more precise, the steak dinner she carries.
“A paying job sure can help with eating, drinking and sleeping in a bed,” says Peterson, still wreathed in smiles as he deals a fresh hand.
Both ex-outlaw expressions indicate eating, drinking and sleeping in a bed are luxuries currently beyond their reach.
“Don’t let us keep you boys. “Big Mac picks up his cards. “You’ll wanna be on your way, looking for someone who’s hiring.” Pause. “Hit me.”
“Don’t tempt me,” mutters Curry. “Listen, Uncle Mac…”
He breaks off as a clerk scurries into the saloon. “Telegram for Mister McCreedy.”
The rancher opens the envelope, reads. Frowning. A swift appraising glance is thrown at the ex-outlaws. “Maybe I can help you out after all. How’d you like to do a little job for me over in Fairplay?”
“Fairplay?!” There is a gurgle of laughter from Peterson. “If it’s helping that other nephew of yours play politics, that isn’t a little job.”
“Nathan writes he’s having trouble with Hanner and needs more finance. I reckon that means the other side is bringing in muscle, offering bribes, or both. I’m thinking you boys have – have skills he can use.” His eyes flick to Curry’s tied down gun. “Two hundred dollars apiece. What d’you say?”
A mute conversation. Their expressions, not to mention their beat-up appearance, indicate two hundred dollars apiece is temptation indeed.
“We’re not gonna be the muscle you bring in to get votes,” says Curry. “We don’t do that.”
“Not for two hundred dollars apiece.” Heyes receives the look. “Not even then,” he concedes.
“Nothing like that! It’s just I promised my sister I’d always look out for her boy.”
“The way you promised your other sister you’d always look out for Thaddeus?” Heyes aims a quizzical smile at ‘Uncle’ Mac.
“Nathan isn’t like Thaddeus. He’s kinda…”
“Green as grass,” supplies Peterson.
“…Naïve,” amends Big Mac. “I‘d appreciate a couple of smart fellas like you looking out for him.”
“He don’t need looking out for. To get anywhere near the Lieutenant Governor’s office that Dudley Do-Good is gonna need a miracle.”
Big Mac ignores this. “What d’you say?”
“Five hundred dollars apiece,” says Heyes. “That’s what we rode here for.”
The eyes behind the round glasses twinkle. “No way. I know a buyer’s market. Two hundred plus expenses. Eating, drinking and sleeping in a bed all on me. Look out for him, that’s all. If you can think of ways of persuading folk to vote for him…” A glance at Curry, “Legal, decent, honest ways – that’s a bonus.”
“A bonus if he wins?” checks Heyes.
“Nah. I just meant…”
“Oh, I’m sure Mac’ll be happy to pay a $1000 bonus if Nathan gets to Austin.” The banker and the rancher exchange a look. A wily one.
“Sure,” agrees Big Mac.
“Like I said,” chortles Peterson, “it’ll take a miracle.”
“Miracles are all part of the service,” dimples Heyes.
“Legal, decent an’ honest ones?” checks Curry, sotto voce.
“Sure!” Heyes mulls, then adds, “Well, call it one out of three.”
A HARVEY STYLE RESTAURANT
SCENE STARTS IN LONG SHOT
Heyes and Curry, now spruced up in the familiar suits, sit at a central table. Around them prosperous-looking townsfolk, almost entirely ladies, engage in the eminently civilized activity known as afternoon tea. Spoons tinkle on fine china. A cellist scrapes quietly in one corner.
The body language makes it clear our boys know they are subject to much curious scrutiny.
“Why the Sam Hill didn’t we meet him in the saloon?” says Curry.
“His pick, Kid.”
A matron of forbidding aspect takes in first the wholly unfortunate hats resting upon the snowy tablecloth, then the undeniably regrettable blue and brown suits and, lastly, the gun strapped around Curry’s hips. She stares at our boys, receives two appealing smiles, sniffs disapprovingly and turns, pointedly, away. Heyes’ expressive face registers half-feigned hurt. The Kid eases loose his stiff collar with one finger.
An elegantly-tailored figure appears at the portico leading from lobby to restaurant. He stands, delightfully framed by the arch and backlit by a well-placed round window.
Feminine heads turn. A palpable change in atmosphere sweeps the restaurant. Conversation, china clinking and cello all cease. Scones pause halfway to parted lips. Teapots hover, untilted, above empty cups.
A shaft of sunlight through the circle of glass haloes the new arrival in a sudden, golden glow.
The combined draft from twenty soft sighs flutters our boys’ napkins to the floor. The bow of the cellist scrapes discordantly as a middle-aged musician involuntarily lets her instrument slide from between trembling knees.
Two ex-outlaws blink.
“Reckon that’s him?”
Despite its brevity, this exchange manages to convey both surprise and a soupcon of chagrin.
The figure steps forward, he scans the tables, sees Heyes and Curry. Raising his hand he sends a silent question across the room. Our boys half rise, and nod a tentative confirmation.
He weaves his way over, oblivious of both the smiles and occasional lace handkerchiefs ‘accidentally’ thrown in his direction.
We see, but do not hear the exchange of handshakes and greetings. He sits. The hum of conversation and thrum of cello resumes.
“Uncle Patrick has spoken of you, Joshua. He says it was thanks to you he met Aunt Carlotta, and finally made peace with Armendariz…”
A distractingly pretty waitress – well, she distracts Heyes and Curry – brings over a tray. Her eyes widen at the handsome Nathan. She flushes like a rose.
“Uncle Patrick’s been very good to my mother and me since we returned from back East.”
“And he wants you to go into politics?”
“Well,” Nathan seems hesitant. “He was surprised when I said I wanted to try for office. But, he says it can never hurt to have friends in the state capitol, pulling strings…” A gentle laugh as if the idea of Big Mac doing anything so devious as pull strings is a joke.
The waitress lays out cups and saucers. Heyes gives her his very best dimpled charm. She gives a wavering return smile – to Nathan.
“Of course, there’s no chance of me winning, even if the party does confirm my selection. But the better showing I make this time, the more likely the party bigwigs…”
The waitress puts down a heavy silver tea pot. Kid Curry by reaching for a cup contrives to brush her hand. He tries his finest boyish grin. Nothing. Unless you count the eyelash fluttering aimed squarely at McCreedy’s real nephew.
“…Are to offer me a winnable district next time. There’s a public meeting tonight – you’ll be able to hear me…”
The waitress walks away, with a wistful, backward glance at the oblivious, would-be politician. Two sets of ex-outlaw shoulders droop.
“…And the other candidate, Ted Hanner, speak. I’m not sure what Uncle Patrick has in mind, but any advice…”
With the feminine diversion removed, Heyes returns his wandering attention to the speaker. His brows snap together. Like Humpty-Dumpty he returns to the last remark but two.
“What do you mean, no chance of you winning?”
Nathan blinks. “Uncle Patrick must have told you. He says to think of this as an investment for the future. You see, the party tests out…”
“Big Mac expects you to lose this time, no matter what?” cuts in Curry.
“Well – yes.”
Two ex-outlaw expressions indicate both hopes of a $500 bonus and goodwill towards Big Mac have suffered a dip.
Curry takes a reviving swallow of… He grimaces. “Why the Sam Hill didn’t ya meet us at the saloon, like we suggested?”
“The party has me running on a temperance ticket.”
Two not-so-temperate faces react.
“Givin’ the voters what they want, huh?” deadpans Curry.
An acknowledging laugh from Nathan. “Well, I guess there are arguments both sides. It’s not something I feel strongly about either way.”
“What do you feel strongly about?” asks Heyes.
“Oh… Er… I guess… Oh!” Inspiration. “Self-evident truths. Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness. And, er…” End of inspiration.
“Motherhood?” suggests Curry. “Apple pie?”
“Those too. Oh…” Rueful grin. “You’re making fun of me.”
“What I’m getting at,” says Heyes, “is what got you wanting a career in politics in the first place?”
“I thought it’d prove to Ne… To people that I don’t simply go along with the flow. I DO have serious opinions.”
“Serious opinions about…?” prompts Curry.
Our boys exchange a glance.
“One problem at a time…” Heyes is nothing if not resilient. “We get you off to a good start tonight, worry about the finishing line tomorrow, huh?”
Nathan gives a ‘fine with me’ smile.
“This is from your Uncle.” Heyes hands over an envelope.
“Want to fill us in on the trouble Ted Hanner’s givin’ you?” asks Curry.
“Mister Hanner’s not giving me any trouble. Why would he? He knows I can’t win.”
“Stop saying that,” interjects Heyes.
Nathan pulls the document from its envelope. “Why has Uncle Patrick sent me a letter of credit for…?” He gives a low whistle.
“Because you wired you needed more money.”
“Like you wired Hanner was makin’ trouble.”
Blue eyes blink bewilderment.
“Right here!” Heyes smoothes a crumpled telegram, lays it before Nathan.
SELECTION NOT CONFIRMED DUE LACK OF FINANCE. STOP.
EXPECT PROBLEMS – HANNER BOYS. STOP.
“You’re not sayin’ it wasn’t you sent it?” says Curry.
“Sure I sent it. Why…?” The puzzlement lifts. “It’s fiancée – not finance. The panel made it very clear they prefer married – or, worst case, soon-to-be married – candidates. Mrs. Boyce – she’s the mayor’s wife and chairwoman of the ladies’ committee – says it indicates respectability to the electorate, and gives the party two for the price of one.”
“And the problems with the Hanner…? Oh!” Light dawns for Heyes. “Mrs. Boyce. So it’s not Ted Hanner’s boys, it’s…”
“Hannah Boyce. The mayor’s daughter.”
Heyes rolls his eyes. “That dang Red Rock operator; it’s sous and Sioux all over again.”
A bewitching brunette accompanied by a ravishing redhead pass on their way out of the restaurant. All three men rise, bow civilly as they walk by. The smiles and murmured ‘good afternoons,’ to Nathan make it clear these ladies are acquainted with him. Their lingering looks, akin to starving cats eyeing herring, make it clear each wishes she were better acquainted.
“So,” Heyes takes an innocent sip of tea, “you want to propose to Hannah Boyce, but having no luck with the ladies, you’re scared she’ll laugh in your face.”
“Well, that’s not exactly…” Nathan realises Heyes is joshing.
“The problem is the boot’s on the other foot?” Curry helps him out.
Nathan flushes. “Er…”
“And on the foot of a match-making mama?”
“And you’re far too much of a gentleman to say?” suggests Heyes.
A sheepish grin segues almost immediately into a startled expression. A lady of a certain age and a pretty – if a tad overdressed – girl have entered the restaurant. Nathan gets to his feet as they approach.
“Mrs Boyce, Miss Boyce, may I introduce Mister Smith, Mister Jones? They’re – er…”
“Old friends of the family,” supplies Heyes.
Hannah smiles at all three men, finishing with Nathan, for whom she drops her lashes and raises her fan.
Her mother asks, “Are you staying long in Fairplay, Mister Smith?”
“Our plans aren’t fixed, ma’am.”
“You’ll be at the meeting tonight?”
“Wild horses…” says Curry, not meeting the look from his partner.
“If you’re still here Thursday, I hope you’ll attend my soiree.”
Our two boys make polite – if non-committal – noises.
“Of course you will come. As will Nathan.” Mrs Boyce is a handsome woman, but something about the steely purpose in her eye as she delivers these commands might give any man considering her as a future mother-in-law pause.
“And on Friday the party will confirm its final selection. Let us hope by then Nathan has proposed…” A significant hesitation. Hannah flutters. Nathan gulps. “…Some way of rendering his candidature even more eligible.” Pause. “I believe Hannah may still have space on her dance card.”
“In that case, ma’am,” Heyes dimples at Hannah before Nathan has time to draw breath, “may I request the pleasure?”
“Oh – er…” A tiny beribboned booklet is handed over, willingly enough, though hopeful eyes are still fixed on her chief prey.
“An’, ma’am, may I…?” Kid Curry is cut short.
“May he apologise for not asking you to dance? Last time Thaddeus cut a jig…” Heyes finishes with a sorrowful shake of the head.
For a split second Curry’s expression is a picture. He offers Hannah an apologetic shrug.
Two sets of female eyes turn expectantly to Nathan.
“And, may Nathan request a favour?” continues Heyes.
Questioning looks from the ladies. Even more questioning looks from Nathan and the Kid.
“May he bring his fiancée, introduce her to you?”
“His – his fiancée?”
“His fiancée?” echoes Curry.
Nathan fairly rocks back on his heels. “My fiancée?!”
“My sister,” says Heyes. “She’ll arrive any day now.”
“I have heard nothing of any engagement,” protests Mrs Boyce.
“Nathan finally worked up courage to propose and she’s accepted.” Heyes indicates the empty envelope still lying on the table. “I brought her reply myself.” He slaps Nathan on the back. “You can still hardly believe it, can you?”
Jaw hanging, Nathan shakes his head.
“You never so much as mentioned a – a Miss Smith,” says Mrs Boyce.
“Of course not.” Heyes oozes moral righteousness. “Until sure of her affections a gentleman does not bandy a lady’s name.”
Curry rolls his eyes.
“If you will excuse us, ladies… Until tonight.” Heyes leads a still reeling Nathan away.
All three men step into the street.
“Why d’ya stop me askin’ that girl for a dance?” frowns Curry.
“The mayor’s daughter and you? It’s not safe.”
“Never mind that!” explodes Nathan. “When we don’t produce your sister this Thursday, Mrs Boyce’ll think I lied to – to avoid her daughter. She’s like that…” Crossed fingers are raised. “…With important people in Austin. My name’ll be Mudd. And suppose Ne…” He stops himself. More carefully. “Suppose other people hear I’m engaged to your… Do you even have a sister?”
“Nope. But I do have a plan.”
“He always has a plan,” says Curry.
A smug smile from the dimpled one.
“The plan don’t always make sense…”
“We’ll say she broke her leg and can’t come,” suggests Nathan.
Heyes expression indicates ‘pathetic’. “She can come.” To his partner, “From Denver.”
A moment, then Curry grins. “Our best gal?”
“You reckon she’ll do it?”
“Sure. All it needs is a telegram…” Heyes nods at the office across the street.
Curry raises a cynical eyebrow.
“A telegram and an incentive,” amends Heyes. Mulling. “$100 to come, $250 bonus if he wins?”
Resigned shrug of agreement from the Kid.
“This girl…” Nathan bites his lip. “What’s she like?”
“Don’t worry, she’s a real looker,” says Curry. “Dark hair. Big brown eyes…”
“Ah. A believable family resemblance to Joshua…?”
“…And smart as they come,” finishes the Kid. Infinitesimal pause. “So – not so much.”
They arrive at the telegraph office. A card propped in the window reads: Called away – back 3.30.
Heyes checks his pocket watch. “Half an hour. Nathan, there’s no point you hanging around…”
Heyes lays a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
“Relax. Assume you’re definitely in the race. Now we think about the finishing line. What I want is a list of the – what d’you call them – voting blocks in the district. Rough numbers on each. Which ones will vote for you, which ones will vote Hanner. And why – what’s in it for them. Give me some facts to work with.”
“Best humor him,” says Curry. “We’ll see you back at the hotel.”
Reluctantly, the would-be district representative leaves.
“I think…” Rubbing his chin Heyes eyes a nearby red and white pole. “I might go get a barber shave.”
Curry rubs his own chin. “Good idea. But first…” He indicates a saloon opposite. “I need me a beer to wash away the taste of all that dang tea.”
ZOOM BACK – LONG SHOT – JAUNTY MUSIC
Heyes watches his partner stride into the saloon, then heads along the boardwalk. A skinny clerk, with tell-tale green visor and sleeve protectors, emerges from the pharmacy clutching a paper bag. Heyes and he almost collide. We see, but do not hear, a brief conversation. The clerk nods. Heyes follows him to the telegraph office. Both go inside.
Heyes emerges, thumbs hooked into vest pockets with the air of a job well done. He strides towards the barber shop, goes inside.
Curry exits the saloon, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. He looks across the street, notes the now open door at the telegraph office. Blue eyes move to the barber shop, too distant to see inside. He heads that way.
Curry stares through the barber shop window. Heyes, jacket and collar removed, is draped in a towel, foam being scraped from his chin by the traditionally bald as a coot barber.
Curry catches his partner’s eye and mouths with inflated lip movement.
“Telegraph Office – Open.” He mimes tapping. Two hands swing open like a door.
Heyes, unable to nod, gives a thumbs up.
“I’ll Go Send Message.” The fingers mime walking. One palm becomes a notepad on which Curry simulates scribbling. An open handed ‘question’ gesture is accompanied by lifted eyebrows and enquiring forehead furrows.
Another thumbs up from Heyes. Curry wheels and strides toward the telegraph office.
REPLAY FROM HEYES P.O.V. (point of view)
Behind the barber chairs two old-timers play checkers maintaining a seamless duologue in the raised tones of the hard of hearing.
“I remember one time, I was workin’ the steam boats on the Mississippi…”
“Friend of yours?” asks the barber.
“Mizz Ippy? Who the Sam Hill is Mizz Ippy…”
Heyes, immobilised by the razor flashing before him, slides his eyes left to see Kid Curry at the window.
“Uh uh,” he confirms.
“Not Mizz Ippy – the Mississ…”
“She work at Trixie’s?”
Curry performs his first mouth’n’mime.
“O-ice o-en,” repeats he of restricted consonants. He gives the first thumbs up. “I ‘ow.”
“She don’t work nowhere…”
“Trixie – heh heh – I remember once she…”
“I’m talkin’ ‘bout the river, you deaf old coot…”
Curry’s second mime receives a second thumbs up. With a final flourish the last strip of foam is scraped. The razor is laid aside. A hot towel swathes Heyes from chin to forehead.
“Who you callin’ a deaf old coot?”
“I’m telling him; yup, I already sent…” Heyes’ audible relief at recovering use of his silver tongue is short lived. A second hot towel effectively gags him. “…Uh elly-am.” He subsides, shuts his eyes.
“No need to shout. I ain’t deaf…”
“I’m gonna huff ya.”
Heyes’ chest heaves in steamy contentment.
“Ya gonna what me?”
“Huff. On the dang board, you deaf old…”
The towel covering the mouth puffs out – sucks in.
“Who you callin’ deaf?”
Heyes’ head nods.
“Tough me? I’d like to see ya try.”
Curry enters. The bang of the door rouses Heyes. His eyes flicker open – and shut.
“Now, Trixie – she was tough…”
Curry unbuttons his jacket, removes his collar. “That’s that taken care of.”
Without opening his eyes Heyes nods.
“Will you play the dang game?”
Curry takes the second barber chair. A towel is around his shoulders before his butt hits base.
“Should get an answer back…” He splutters as he is foamed to the eyes. “…In a coupla…” The razor glints and descends. “…Aars.” Curry shuts up and settles back.
HOTEL ROOM – MUSIC SOUNDTRACK
Heyes and Nathan sit in deep discussion over the obediently drawn up list. Curry lies on the bed, hands folded behind his head. Brown eyes move from the document to Nathan in mute enquiry. The response is a hopeless shrug.
Curry yawns. His eyes close.
TELEGRAPH OFFICE – CLOCK INDICATES 5.30 PM
The clerk transcribes as the transmitter clicks.
ZOOM IN OVER CLERK’S SHOULDER
The form already carries the information:
Received at: FAIRPLAY, TEXAS
To: J. SMITH, T. JONES
The clerk’s lips move as his blunt pencil roughs out:
ARRIVE TOMORROW. MEET 4.30PM TRAIN. C
The hand freezes, waiting for more – nah, that’s it. The pencil slides to a final full stop. He scans the message. A thumb rubs at the smudged C. The clerk shrugs, folds the paper.
Heyes, shirt sleeves rolled up, paces deep in thought.
Nathan watches – half despondent, half hopeful. He checks his pocket watch. “Joshua, I have to go.”
Heyes starts. “Okay – we’ll see you there.”
Nathan nervously straightens his tie. “I hate speaking in public.”
“No you don’t.” Heyes is firm. “You welcome the opportunity of addressing this gathering because…”
“Because I am an eloquent, confident speaker whose silver-tongue could talk its way out of a tiger’s belly,” parrots Nathan. “But, Joshua…”
“But nothing. And whatever they ask – what’s the first thing you say?”
“I’m glad…” prompts Heyes.
“I’m glad you asked me that question.”
Nathan leaves. The ex-outlaw lifts the voter list from the desk, run his eye down it, sighs. He moves over to rouse his partner.
STREET – LONG SHOT
Spruced up townsfolk stroll towards a banner announcing: Public Meeting.
The telegraph clerk weaves in and out of the crowd. He mounts the steps of the hotel. A second later he emerges, scurries back towards his office.
The desk clerk, has one foot on the first stair as Curry comes down, shrugging on his jacket. Heyes follows a few paces behind still frowning over the list.
“Telegram, sir.” It is handed to the Kid.
Heyes waits – eyebrows lifted.
“She’ll be on the 4:30 train tomorrow.” Curry pockets the message.
The boys grin at each other, don their hats and stride out.
The clerk scurries in, lifts the coffee pot and is about to pour when his head jerks around to the transmitter. Over he goes to pull a fresh form from the pile.
Received at: FAIRPLAY, TEXAS
The pencil writes:
J. SMITH, T. JONES
The clerk’s head lifts in mild surprise.
ARRIVE TOMORROW. MEET 4.30PM TRAIN. G.
He scratches his head. Then, visibly dismissing the mystery from his mind, he folds the message. Checking the clock – almost six – he strips off his sleeve guards, replaces the visor with a hat, turns the sign from open to closed, pulls on his jacket and leaves.
Heyes and Curry enter and scan the room. Two ranks of chairs split by a centre aisle face a raised stage with two lecterns. In the centre a local dignitary is speaking. Blue ribbons flutter one side, red the other. Even without this color-coding, the split of potential voters is fairly clear.
At least half of those on the left are female. Other apt descriptors of this group might include: respectable, bourgeois and, most obvious of all, fewer.
The right hand side is predominantly men in working clothes. Every seat is full. Latecomers crowd at the back.
“Where’d they all come from?” says Curry.
“I’m guessing a dozen or so came over from Gulch Junction…”
Heyes taps the list. “It’s about three miles east. Inside the voting district but just outside the boundary so far as town ordinances about strong liquor and gambling go. It’s where you find the wine, women and song.”
“Has it got a hotel?”
“The rest’ll be from the camp…” Heyes sighs at a second unspoken question. “Slept well, huh? Hanner’s mine struck a real rich seam about a month back. He brought in extra labour. Transients.” Acknowledging lip twitch from the Kid. “…But they’ve been resident in the district over four weeks, that means they can vote.”
Several tough-looking fellas watch our boys settle in two of the many empty places at the back of Nathan’s supporters. Their tied down guns are noted. A few eyes narrow. A few gun-belts are hitched. Heyes and Curry discreetly return the scrutiny.
“Trouble?” murmurs Heyes.
Indeed, despite a certain rowdiness and mild heckling of the man droning on the stage, the general atmosphere on the right is pretty good-humored.
“I guess it’s like Nathan said, who needs trouble if their fella’s got it in the bag,” says Curry.
This pessimism earns a reproachful look.
[SOUND UP ON STAGE]
“…But that’s enough from me.”
Heckler1: “It was enough afore ya started, Boyce.”
Heckler2: “More’n enough!”
“It wasn’t me you came to listen to…”
Heckler1: “You got that dang straight!”
“So without further ado…”
Heckler2: “Ah-do if you do.”
“Please give a Fairplay welcome to the gentlemen here to take your questions – Mister Edward Hanner…”
Hearty applause, stomping of boots and a few whoops from the back as six foot two and two hundred and fifty pounds of middle-aged, beetle-browed affluence strides to the right lectern.
“Popular fella,” says Curry.
“Word is, he’s standing drinks and a steak dinner back at Gulch for everyone who shows up.”
“Guess there’s no harm givin’ democracy a helpin’ hand.”
“And…” Mayor Boyce gestures to quiet the crowd. “Mister Nathan Charmen.”
Out he comes – a vision to delight anyone possessed of both eyes and estrogen. A collective intake of breath followed by a yearning ‘Ahhhh’ from thirty feminine throats. Fervid female clapping. A few enthusiasts go so far as to squeak with excitement.
“Our fella’s got support, too,” says Heyes.
“You do know this ain’t Wyoming? They can’t vote.”
“First question from the floor,” invites Mayor Boyce.
A skinny fella among Nathan’s supporters rises. “Would the candidates please explain their plans on local revenue generation?”
Kid Curry eyes the door, longingly.
With a gesture, Hanner invites Nathan to go first.
Heyes leans forward, lips mouthing along with the first – well-rehearsed – phrase.
“I’m glad you asked me that question…”
A hoot from one of the hecklers is quelled by a gimlet glare from Hanner.
“It is an issue central to…”
[FADE DOWN SOUND ON STAGE]
Curry folds his arms, closes his eyes.
“…Equitable contributions to civic projects.”
Heyes joins the polite clapping as Nathan finishes. The movement rouses Curry.
“I’ve heard worse speakers,” says Heyes, the determined optimist.
From the platform, Hanner sweeps the crowd with a commanding eye. Silence falls. A voice worthy of the Shakespearean stage intones, “Read my lips; No More Taxes!”
Wild applause. Cheers.
“An’ now you’ve heard better,” says Curry.
Heyes’ shoulders slump.
STREET SCENE – LONG SHOT
The crowd spills from the meeting hall into the street. The transient element heads for a row of wagons which drive away about a dozen cheerful men at a time.
“They’re headin’ for Gulch Junction, huh?” says Curry.
“Uh huh. What we need…”
“Where the wine, women an’ song are at?”
“Uh huh. Is to get back to the hotel…”
“An’, so long as you sat through that meetin’ it’s all on Hanner?”
“Uh huh. And think of a way of overturning a 100 vote majority.”
“You do that, Heyes. I’ll go scout out the mood among these fellas.”
Without further ado, Curry strides to the front vehicle and is hauled inside by a couple of Joes whose mood appears a mix of hospitality and thirst. He touches his hat to his partner as the wagons roll.
Heyes snaps shut his hanging jaw, rolls his eyes and heads back toward the hotel.
Heyes enters. “…Scout out the mood, my dang foot!”
The desk clerk pops his head out of the office. Seeing Heyes, he comes into the lobby and takes a folded message from a pigeon hole. “Telegram, sir.”
Heyes unfolds it, reads. Puzzled frown. “You already gave us…” He looks up. The clerk has disappeared back into the back office. Shrugging, Heyes stuffs it into his pocket and runs upstairs.
NEXT DAY – HOTEL ROOM – CLOCK SHOWS A LITTLE AFTER FOUR
Echoing the earlier scene, a shirt-sleeved Heyes paces. Curry lies, hands behind head, on the bed.
“Face it, Heyes, we’re never gonna earn that bonus. Even you can’t make a 100 vote majority just disappear. Concentrate on makin’ sure Nathan the soon-to-be-married-man comes outta this a plucky loser these committee folk think deserves another chance, and let’s enjoy the eatin’, drinkin’ and sleepin’ in bed while it lasts.”
Sighing, Curry checks the clock, swings himself off the bed, pulls on his jacket.
Heyes continues to pace.
“You’re not comin’ to meet the train?”
“I thought you approved of the division of labor? I’m thinking.”
“Carry on, Heyes. That’s what you’re good at.”
Kid Curry scans the windows of the arriving train. A wide grin of recognition splitting his face, he jogs forward, gaining on the second car as the train slows.
By the time the engine halts, a diminutive brunette leans out of the carriage, waving cheerily. A second later, Curry flings open the door and she is caught up in strong arms to be first lifted skywards and then swung – laughing – to the platform.
“Hey, Clem,” grins the Kid, reaching for her bag. “It’s been too long.”
Clem rises on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. “Far too long. So,” she tucks her arm confidingly through his, “tell me about the job.”
“You’re gonna love it…” starts Curry.
They stroll forwards out of shot.
The flurry of passengers is thinning fast. The platform empties. Or – does it? As a cloud of steam disperses, a solitary female figure is revealed at the far end.
Her dark eyes scan the platform eagerly. Her smile fades. Her shoulders slump.
“Sheesh, after begging me to come, you’d think they’d at least be here to meet me!” huffs Georgette, picking up her grip with a forcefulness that suggests she wishes it were someone’s neck.
The Kid and Clem approach the desk. A sotto voce disagreement is in progress.
“…You gotta be reasonable, Clem.”
“I am reasonable, Thaddeus. What I am not, is a pushover.”
“Ah,” says the clerk. “This must be Miss Smith. Welcome to Fairplay, ma’am.” He turns the register toward her.
“Ah surely am Miss Smith,” flutters Clem, signing with a flourish. “Where is mah deah brother, Joshua?”
The clerk blinks.
Curry leans in close. “We’re not doin’ the accent this time.”
“Ah-hem,” Clem clears her throat daintily. “Where is Joshua?”
“Up in his room, ma’am. And…” A key is handed over. “You’re right next door in number three.
Kid Curry and Clem head for the stairs, the clerk watches them round the corner then pulls a dime novel from under the desk.
The main door swings. The dime novel returns smoothly to its hiding place. A handsome brunette – specifically, an annoyed handsome brunette – approaches.
“Good afternoon, ma’am. Welcome to Fairplay.”
“Here she is,” calls Curry, opening the door, “Our best gal!”
Heyes, seated at the desk, turns, face wreathed in smiles. He sees Clem. The smile freezes.
“Joshua!” Clem scurries over, sits on his knee and kisses him. “Dear, dear brother!” She pulls back, pouts. “There’s no need to look so shocked. I’m just getting into character.”
Heyes continues to stare at her.
“And, though I’ll happily play either of you boys’ sister for old times’ sake – and modest expenses, as I was just telling Thaddeus, if you want me to make up to some stuffy, dull old politician – that’s different.”
“She wants $200,” glooms Curry.
“And a $500 bonus if your man wins,” confirms Clem.
“I told her we just don’t have it.”
“And I told Thaddeus, if you don’t meet my terms,” Clem smiles winningly and stands up, “I guess you’ll just have to find someone else.”
“C’mon, Clem, where are we gonna find another beautiful, smart, talented girl like you?”
As the Kid spreads flattery butter, Heyes, as subtly as he can, shakes his head to signal a warning.
“…Someone who knows and loves us, and is just the wrong side crooked.” Curry appeals to his partner. “Help me out here, Heyes.” A frown. “Heyes, you okay? What’s with the silent act? Not that I’m exactly complainin’…”
Footsteps. The door is opened. Curry turns, his jaw drops.
“Thaddeus, Joshua! Where were you?” demands Georgette.
She sees Clem. The girls take each other in from top to toe. Two sets of brown eyes first widen, then narrow, menacingly.
In unison: “Who’s SHE?!”
A FEW MINUTES LATER
Clem and Georgette, chins raised at full warning tilt, hands belligerently on shapely hips, face each other in the centre of the floor. Our boys, off to one side, watch warily.
Georgette: “I’m telling you, I’VE known them longer than anyone!”
Clem: “And I’m telling YOU, you’re talking through your over-trimmed hat!”
Curry (sotto voce): “Don’tcha think we oughta – y’know – try and stop ‘em.”
Heyes (ditto): “Nope. Think about it, Kid. So long as they’re busy being mad at each other they’re not being mad at us. As soon as they stop…”
Curry shudders. “Got it.”
Clem: “I’VE known them since I was fourteen years old.”
Georgette: “Well, I’VE known them since I was fourteen years old.”
Clem: “Then I apologise. You clearly have known them years – YEARS – longer then I have.”
Georgette makes a sound which might be effectively duplicated by treading on a cat’s tail while simultaneously having the same cat inhale helium.
Curry winces. Heyes snirts.
The snirt is not silent. Georgette and Clem both turn and stare at the boys. Their respective brows draw together, ruminating. Heyes and Curry gulp. They try their very best conciliatory smiles.
“Let me get this straight,” begins Georgette, “all the time I’ve known you two, you’ve known Clem.”
“Pretty much,” admits Curry.
“And you’ve never so much as mentioned me to her.”
“Or Georgette to me?” chimes in Clem.
“What you gotta appreciate is…” Heyes is forestalled.
“You let us both think we’re the woman you’re closest to in the whole world.”
“You are!” protests Heyes. “You know how we feel. You’re both the women we’re closest to in the whole world.”
“Besides,” chips in Curry, “You always say you don’t wanna pick between us two.”
“Who says?” demands Clem.
“You do. And…” Curry indicates Georgette. “So do you. You both say it.”
“It seems to me,” Clementine audibly inhales patience. “That whenever you want to chump a girl into one of your dumb plans, you simply pick whichever one of us happens to be most convenient.”
“You been treating us as substitutes for years.”
“Whichever one of us happens to fit the schedule, she gets the call.”
A pause. The boys exchange a guilty look.
“No!” protests Curry. “No, no, no. No.”
“Well, I’m convinced,” deadpans Clem.
“Me too,” sniffs Georgette. “Anything a man denies five times can’t be true.”
“Look,” Heyes glances at the clock. “Let’s take it as read you two gals have more to say about all this. Fair enough. Can we save it for another time, ‘cos Nathan’s going to be here any minute expecting to meet my ‘sister’…”
“Huh?” from Georgette.
“We’re Joshua Smith’s younger sister,” explains Clem, adding under her breath, “or possibly in your case, older sister. They’re paying $200 and a $500 bonus if this Nathan Charmen fella gets elected district representative.”
“$200 apiece?” checks Georgette.
“No,” says Heyes. “You see WE’RE only getting…”
“Apiece,” say both ladies, firmly.
The boys exchange a mute conversation. A resigned shrug from Curry.
“Apiece,” concedes Heyes. “Anyhow Nathan’s coming to meet his fiancée…”
“Huh?” Georgette again.
“He’s pretending to be engaged to my sister partly to keep the Mayor’s daughter off his back, and partly to please the family values crowd,” speed summarises Heyes. “Keep up, George!”
Her hands go to her hips. “I’m sorry! SOME of us didn’t get met at the station, so SOME of us are a little behind on the plot!”
“But now what we have is a fiancée and a spare…” Heyes sees this hasn’t gone down well. “A beautiful, talented spare. An embarrassment of riches, you might say. Now, Nathan can’t be engaged to two ladies – however lovely – this being Texas not Utah. So I’m thinking one of you is Mrs Thaddeus Jones…”
“Think again, I took my turn,” puts in Curry.
“One of you is Mrs Joshua Smith. You’ve come to chaperone your sister-in-law…”
“One of us gets to be your wife?” checks Clem.
“Can she be your very ticked off wife who gets to complain about all your faults?” asks Georgette.
“She can make my ears bleed, so long she plays along with the other girl being engaged to Nathan. So, who wants Nathan and who wants me?”
Clem and Georgette in unison: “I’ll be Mrs Joshua Smith.”
They scowl at each other.
“You do know he’s Smith, I’m Jones?” checks Curry. He receives the look from his partner.
“First come, first served!” says Clem. “You take the other fella.”
“Nice try, but we arrived on the same train. I call Heyes. YOU can have whatshisname.”
“Ladies, l’m flattered, but there’s only one of me.”
“Why d’ya even care?” protests Curry. “He’s no catch.”
“Because, at least being Mrs Joshua Smith I know what I’m getting – warts and all,” says Clem.
“There’s no nasty surprises – I already know the worst,” explains Georgette.
Heyes’ face is a picture of chagrin.
Clem: “For all I know, this Nathan Charmen only comes up to my shoulder…”
Georgette: “Which’d have him only coming up to MY ribs!”
Clem: “He’s likely balding.”
“With sweaty hands. Or one of those moles with a hair in it that waggles when he talks. Or…” Georgette is on a roll.
Meanwhile Curry, closest to the window, raises his hand in greeting to someone in the street. Clem follows his eye line. She sees Nathan. A mute question to the Kid. He nods. Clem’s expression makes her reaction to the Alcade seem apathetic.
“One of those moustaches that gets food caught in it. Or…”
“It’s silly to quarrel,” interrupts Clem, her gaze riveted. “You be Mrs Joshua Smith, Georgette. After all, you had to carry your own bag from the station. It’s only fair.”
“Oh,” says Georgette. “Well, that’s very civil of you…” She tails off as she notices Clem’s rapt expression. She steps over to the window. Her mouth falls open. Reverently she breathes, “Is that him?”
“Yeah, it is.” Curry notes the complete distraction of the two ladies. “What’s he got that I don’t?”
In unison: “How long have you got?”
FIVE MINUTES LATER
Once more Georgette and Clem face off, hands on hips, in the centre of the room. However, this time three – not two – men watch them, heads turning from girl to girl as the quarrel progresses.
Clem: “You’re being ridiculous! All I said was you’d carry off the role of the married chaperone better than me. I meant it as a compliment to your air of – of womanly maturity…”
Georgette: “And all I said was since the whole point is for Nathan to be SEEN to have a fiancée, it would make sense to pick someone who doesn’t need to stand on a box for that to happen!”
The Kid flinches.
Clem: “I am not short!”
Georgette: “You’re a good five inches shorter than me!”
Clem: “Not to mention a good five years younger.”
Georgette: “Does that explain why you’re still carrying puppy-fat?”
Nathan’s eyes widen in horror.
Heyes: “Ladies, ladies, there’s only one civilized way to settle this…”
“Of course,” agrees Georgette. She directs a smile of dazzling sweetness at Nathan. Her voice lowers, huskily. “You’ll have to choose, Nathan.”
If Georgette’s smile is dazzling, Clem’s is positively radiant. “Yes, Nathan…” Her eyes hold his, meltingly. “I’m happy to leave the choice in your…” Flutter. “…Capable hands.”
“Er…” stammers Nathan. His eyes dart from Clem, to Georgette – to the door.
“Askin’ the poor fella to pick one isn’t what I’d call civilized,” protests Curry.
“I agree,” says Heyes. “I actually meant a coin toss.”
Clem and Georgette both consider this for a second. In unison: “Whose coin?!”
Mayor Boyce, his wife and young Hannah Boyce, all spruced up to the nines, stand at the entrance to their plush reception room greeting a stream of guests entering from their equally plush hallway.
“Mayor Boyce, Mrs Boyce…” Heyes beams affably. “May I introduce my sister?”
He turns, revealing Clem, clutching Nathan’s arm like a triumphant limpet. Behind them a scowling Georgette brings up the rear with Kid Curry.
“Miss Clementine Smith.”
“Soon to be Mrs. Nathan Charmen,” Clem clarifies. “We’re engaged. Aren’t we, darling?”
“Congratulations.” Mayor Boyce smiles appreciatively at Clem. “You’re a lucky man.”
His wife and daughter sniff. Clem raises her chin and presses herself against Nathan as if taking stance for a three-legged race.
“He certainly is,” echoes a deep voice. “Congratulations, Charmen.”
Our group turn. Clem’s free hand is taken and respectfully kissed by the portly, if immaculately tailored, Ted Hanner.
“Mister Hanner,” says Nathan. “I didn’t realise you’d be here tonight.”
“Even though Mayor Boyce and I don’t agree on politics, I hope we can maintain civil relations. I’m staying in Fairplay tonight to be bright and early for the stump speeches. The mayor was kind enough to invite me along to save me from an evening of my own company. And tomorrow may the best man win.” He holds out a friendly hand. Clem has no intention of releasing her grip on Nathan’s right arm, so after a gentle tug he responds to Hanner with his left.
“Oh, I know you’ll wi…” Nathan catches Heyes’ warning glance. “I mean, sure. May the best man win.”
“I don’t believe I know this lovely lady.”
“This is my wife. Georgette, my love, may I introduce our – our worthy opponent, Edward Hanner?” It is Georgette’s turn to have her hand reverentially kissed. She simpers, the epitome of feminine appreciation. “And this is our host, Mayor Boyce.”
Heyes lays an affectionate hand on Georgette’s waist to draw her forward. She smacks it away with her fan and hisses, “Please don’t touch me, Joshua. Ever!” The scowl is replaced by a charming smile as she shakes hands with first the mayor, then his wife. “What a beautiful home you have, Mrs Boyce. It must be wonderful to have a successful husband, a man who has achieved something, a man you can be proud of.”
Ted Hanner’s beetle brows rise. He looks thoughtful as he watches Nathan escort both ladies to the buffet table.
“Your wife is a very beautiful woman, Mister Smith. You’re a lucky man.”
“Aren’t I just?” says Heyes through gritted teeth, as Georgette smilingly accepts an invitation to dance from some handsome young buck and throws a scornful glance in his direction.
“Marriage is a wonderful institution, don’t you agree?”
“Sure is.” Annoyed brown eyes follow Hanner as he too strolls over to the buffet. “But who wants to live in an institution?”
A MOONLIT FERN-FILLED CONSERVATORY
“Come on,” Clem urges, pulling a nervous Nathan after her.
“Look, there’s a love seat beneath those orange blossoms. We could sit there and…”
“And what? Clem, there are party officials here; I’m supposed to be mingling.”
He is pushed, firmly, into the love seat. A determined Clem sits beside him and lifts her face, lips pouting hopefully. Closer. Closer. Nathan seems about to yield then pulls back.
“I’m pretty sure Mayor Boyce’ll be looking for me…”
“And where will he expect to find a man newly engaged to his one true love?”
“Won’t he expect you to sneak away to a romantic nook? Won’t he expect to find us…” Clem’s lips move closer again. “Spooning?”
“Oh! You want to convince him we’re really engaged.”
“Yes.” Preparatory puckering.
“Just in case he has any suspicions.”
“Because if he suspects this is only an act it could hurt his daughter’s feelings.”
“Yes.” Closer still.
“I don’t think Mayor Boyce suspects a thing.”
“You can’t be too careful.” A small but insistent hand clamps itself to the back of Nathan’s neck to halt his gradual retreat.
“You want him to find us actually kissing?”
“Clem, however much you want to help Joshua help me, I couldn’t possibly expect you to…”
“Nothing’s too much trouble for my oldest friends!”
Clem clings on like a clam in heat.
“WHAT do you two think you’re doing?” An irate Georgette strides through the ferns.
“What do you want?” scowls Clem, releasing her prey and blowing a wayward curl out of her eyes. “You lost the toss, remember?”
“I’m your chaperone, remember.”
“We were only talking,” protests Nathan.
“Yes, we were,” confirms Clem with a sigh. “Don’t you want to kiss me? Don’t you find me attractive?”
“It’d be perfectly understandable if you didn’t,” encourages Georgette.
“Of course I find you attractive, Clem. I find you both attractive. I’m not blind, you’re beautiful women.” A deep breath. “The thing is…”
“What are you doing in here?” demands Heyes, striding in, Curry at his heels. “You’re supposed to be mingling.”
“Be quiet, Joshua,” snaps Georgette.
“You do recall we’re not really married? You don’t have to nag when no one’s around.”
“Shush. Nathan’s saying how beautiful I am.”
“You do recall this one’s mine. That one…” A slim finger indicates Clem. “…Called heads.”
“He says I’m beautiful, too,” says Clem. “Go on, Nathan.”
“Not that I’m complainin’ at you finally comin’ outta your shell,” deadpans Curry, “but when you’ve two gals on the go, a smart man keeps ‘em in separate rooms.”
“What are you doing in here?” Mayor Boyce walks in. “I’ve been looking for you. Ah!” He beams affably at Clem who retrieves a fern leaf from her neckline. “Well, in the circumstances, I suppose I can forgive you finding a romantic nook.”
“Nook,” mutters Clem. “Try goldfish bowl!”
“About the stump speeches. I’ve had word that a delegation from AWSA plans to attend.”
“Huh?” says Curry.
“So there’s likely to be questions about Nathan’s views on extending the franchise?” frowns Heyes.
“Thaddeus,” Heyes turns on his partner. “Have you listened to one dang thing Nathan and I have said about this vote since we arrived?”
Curry mulls. “Nope. And…” To Nathan. “No offence, but I intend keepin’ it this way. See you back at the buffet.” Off he strolls.
The mayor glances at Heyes. “Mister Smith is your agent – is that right?”
“Er…” hesitates Nathan.
“I’m advising Nathan on his campaign,” says Heyes. “I’m an old friend of the family.”
Nathan blinks, then beams. So far as he is concerned that is nothing but the truth.
Mayor Boyce puts a confiding hand on Heyes’ shoulder. “Any questions about extending the franchise have to be carefully handled. Most of the party is firmly against, but some powerful folk take the opposite view. Ideally we’d prefer Charmen not to take a stand of any kind. If pressed, best fall back on ‘the time is not right – at a suitable point we will review all the arguments’…”
“You want him to sit on the fence?” clarifies Heyes.
“You could put it that way.”
“I guess the human rear end was designed the way it is for a reason, huh?”
“What the party would prefer,” the mayor is now speaking to his candidate, “is for you to say nothing incisive, divisive or decisive. Ideally, express no firm opinions whatsoever. Understand?”
“No problem at all,” Heyes forestalls Nathan. Dimpling cheerfully, “I reckon that’s pretty much what he had in mind anyhow.”
LATE EVENING – BACK IN THE HOTEL ROOM
Nathan and Curry are seated. Heyes, Georgette and Clem pace. Clem is in full flow.
“Even Joshua’s silver tongue, let alone Nathan’s – no offence – won’t talk more than a handful of folk into voting for him, because he’s running to ban hard liquor, loose women and gambling outside the town boundary as well as in.”
“Not sure I could talk even me into voting for that,” agrees Heyes. “We can’t buy any transient votes, because…”
“That’s illegal!” protests Nathan.
He is met with three brown-eyed frowns. He pipes down.
“Because…” Heyes continues with dignity. “Aside from bribery being illegal…”
“We can’t afford it,” glooms Georgette. Pace.
“So the only way Nathan can possibly win tomorrow is if we somehow persuade Hanner to withdraw,” mulls Clem.
“That’s not going to happen,” says Nathan. “Besides, I don’t mind losing. I’ll be happy so long as I don’t make a fool of myself.”
“Which part of us only earning a bonus if you win are you having trouble with?” asks Georgette.
“You want my advice, Nate?” Curry settles himself more comfortably into his chair, stretching out his legs and folding his hands behind his head. “Leave ‘em to it.”
“We can’t dig up dirt to scare Hanner off, because – aside from being tough as old boots – the word is he’s straighter than most,” says Heyes. “We probably can’t con him, because…”
“Because you can’t con an honest man,” finishes Clem. Pace. Pace.
“Just because a man is financially honest, that doesn’t mean he can’t be tempted. Other things than money can – tempt – a man,” suggests Georgette.
“You’re thinking badger?” Heyes is unsure.
“I don’t think you’ll be able to badger him into giving up,” says Nathan.
Two ex-outlaws and their two not-too-honest best gals, all experienced in running con games, gaze at the picture of innocence in their midst.
“Bless,” coos Georgette.
“You are SO sweet,” smiles Clem.
“You’re really not cut out for this, are you?” sighs Heyes.
“Coulda told ya that five seconds after we met him,” says Curry.
Heyes shakes his head gently at the shining honesty confronting him. “Nathan, I reckon it’s time you turned in. Go get a good night’s sleep; it’s a busy day tomorrow.”
“Okay. Good night, Clem. Good night, Georgette.” He leaves.
Heyes turns to Georgette. As if the interruption had never taken place, “You’re thinking badger?”
“Oh!” exclaims Clem. “Is that why you told everyone marrying Joshua was the biggest mistake of your life and insulted him behind his back all evening. You were planning ahead.”
“Clever!” acknowledges Curry.
Heyes blinks at the revelation.
“No,” says Georgette. “That was just me yanking his chain. BUT, it does play into our hands. I could tell Hanner found me attractive…”
“He found ME attractive too!”
“For Pete’s sake,” groans Curry. “Watchin’ you fight over Prince Charmen is one thing. If you start arguin’ over Ted Hanner, that’s just sad.”
“I did see him looking at you, Georgette,” admits Clem. “He’s staying in this very hotel…”
“But,” continues Georgette, “his wife’s back in their house at Gulch Junction because she doesn’t sleep well without her own sheets.”
Two ex-outlaws blink.
“How the Sam Hill do you know that?” asks Heyes.
“You told us to mingle. So…?”
Heyes shrugs. “Worth a try. What’s the plan?”
FADE DOWN SOUND
The foursome gather into a plotting huddle.
Georgette fluffs her hair before the mirror, moistens her lips and leaves.
ANOTHER HOTEL ROOM
Hanner sits at the desk writing. The jacket he wore earlier has been replaced by a purple silk robe, a fine cigar rests in a marble ashtray, a glass of brandy sits before him.
A tap at the door. One beetle brow rises. Hanner goes over, opens the door. There stands the very picture of a damsel in distress, specifically in delightfully low-cut distress. Up goes the second eyebrow.
“Oh, Mister Tanner,” Georgette bravely stifles a sob. “Whatever must you think of me, coming to your room at this hour?”
“What could I think, Mrs Smith, other than what an – almost – completely unexpected pleasure?”
Georgette shoots him a wary look under cover of dabbing her eyes with a dainty handkerchief. However, Tanner’s smile seems to convey nothing but genial admiration.
“I shouldn’t have come, but when we talked this evening you seemed so – so wise and – and understanding – and I wondered if – if… Oh!” This time the sob is not stifled. Her lip wobbles. Her eyes swim with diamond brightness. The brave struggle is lost. She flings her arms around Hanner’s neck, buries her face on his not inconsiderable chest and gives way to weeping.
“There, there,” Hanner consoles her with – possibly fatherly – pats. “Why don’t you come in and tell me all about it?”
THE BOYS’ HOTEL ROOM
“Hanner’s no fool. He’ll be suspicious. Georgette needs to make him believe that for some reason a woman married to me – ME – might not be entirely happy.” Heyes’ brow furrows at the complexity of the problem.
“I think she can handle it.” Clem, leafing through a periodical, does not raise her head.
“I dunno. It’ll have to be pretty convincing…”
“Heyes,” Curry eyes his partner. “She’ll cope. You concentrate on makin’ the outraged husband act ring true.”
“And remember the stroke of midnight.” Clem moistens her finger and flicks a page with a shudder. “I hate it when the bursting in runs late.”
HANNER’S HOTEL ROOM
Georgette and Hanner sit on a small sofa. Her thigh is pressed against his – make that a very small sofa – and she gazes up confidingly.
“You see, Joshua doesn’t – he doesn’t…”
“He doesn’t understand you?”
“How did you know?”
“A lucky guess, my dear.”
“And – and he doesn’t…” She turns aside, putting a finger to her lips as if to stop herself.
“There’s something else you want to tell me?”
“I can’t – it’s too… I can’t…” She braces herself, leans in very close, and whispers in his ear, with enough sensuous sibilance to visibly stir the silvered hair. Up go the eyebrows. Georgette pulls back just enough to meet his gaze, but not so far as to peel her – ahem – curves away from his chest.
“That is a problem,” admits Hanner. “Especially for a lady as…” His eyes run over her charms. “As vibrant as you, Mrs. Smith.”
“Do you think perhaps it’s my fault?” A moist eyelash flutter. Huskily, “And please, call me Georgette.”
The charm checking is completed. “No. I don’t see how that could possibly be your fault – Georgette.”
“I don’t know why I’m telling you this…” The eyelashes lower, modestly. “Ted.”
“Because I’m an experienced man-of-the-world?”
“Because you’re hoping I may be able to help some way with your – your understandable frustration?”
“Oh, yes…” In she leans.
“I’m not sure I trust myself to help you, Georgette.”
Georgette glances swiftly at the clock. Ten minutes to midnight. She leans closer.
“I trust you, Ted.”
“You shouldn’t.” With surprising litheness for a heavy-set man, Hanner loosens himself from the soft arms twined around him and stands up. “Georgette, may I be entirely frank with you?”
The abandoned woman (pun intended) on the sofa is clearly jolted both physically and metaphorically by his sudden action.
“Of course. You tell me anything, Ted.” Georgette straightens up, adjusting both her slipping shoulder strap and slipping grasp on the situation.
“The reason I don’t think I’m able to help is that unhappy marriages are not my area of expertise. Martha and I have scarcely had a cross word in our thirty years together. I love my wife more today, than I did the day I carried her over the threshold. I’ve never had eyes for anyone else and I never will. That’s the truth.”
His expression is entirely sincere.
Georgette’s shoulders slump.
Heyes checks his pocket watch. Thirty seconds to midnight. He checks a slip of paper in the same vest pocket as his watch. He strides down the corridor to room six, braces himself and busts open the lock.
“Take your hands off my wife!” he growls, menacingly, as the door slams back on its hinges.
HANNER’S HOTEL ROOM
“Martha looks…” Georgette is studying a framed photograph. “She looks a real nice lady.”
“I wanted to be honest with you, Georgette,” says Hanner. Up goes the eyebrow, “After you’ve been so honest with me.”
Anxiety flickers momentarily behind Georgette’s eyes at this remark, she lowers her lashes. “I think I’d better be going, Ted.”
“I won’t badger you – but you might as well stay until your husband comes to fetch you.”
Ah. Georgette’s shoulders slump.
“Have a brandy,” he offers.
“Thanks. I think I need one.”
BACK TO HEYES
Heyes blinks. Before him is a double bed, beneath the covers of which two mounds writhe rhythmically.
“Sheesh, George,” he mutters, sotto voce. “Talk about going beyond the call of duty!” Out loud: “You heartless Jezebel! How could you do this to me?!”
Two hands appear above the cover. Then up pops the head of a complete stranger. A nondescript, young fella blinks at the five foot eleven of square-shouldered fury framed in the doorway.
Two more hands are followed by a second head, this time a rumpled strawberry blonde.
Heyes’ eyes sweeps the room. Wedding dress hung over the screen. Flowers in the buttonhole of a dressy jacket. ‘Just married’ sticker pasted across a suitcase. He treats the couple to his very best dimpled smile. “I didn’t make it to the ceremony, but I couldn’t let the day go by without coming to offer my best wishes. Congratulations, I hope you’ll both be very happy.”
They goggle at him.
“I’d best be going. Leave you to carry on with… With whatever.”
Heyes backs out, closing the door behind him. He retrieves the slip of paper from his vest pocket rotates it through one eighty degrees turning the six into a nine. He heads for the stairs.
From behind the door we hear.
“Lily – who the Sam Hill WAS he?”
“I shoulda listened to my mother. She was right about you.”
OUTSIDE ROOM NINE
With palpable déjà vu, Heyes busts open a second door.
“Take your hands off my wife!”
“As you can see, Mister Smith, I have my hands on no one.”
Indeed, Georgette and Hanner sit either side of a small table, playing blackjack, a glass of fine brandy poured for each.
“Hit me, my dear.” Hanner glances from his cards to the clock. “Aren’t you a little late, Mister Smith? I rather expected you at midnight.” He eyes the disgruntled ex-outlaw. “Please don’t blame your lovely wife for this – situation – she did her best.”
“Decent employer, honest man and faithful husband,” sighs Georgette. “It happens. Not often, but, it does happen.”
“Er, Hanner,” begins Heyes, “not that I’m saying my wife’s visit had any ulterior motive…”
“Perish the thought.”
“But Nathan had nothing to do with any of it. Not that I’m saying there was anything.”
“I’d worked that one out.” Up goes one of the beetle brows. “No hard feelings?”
“I guess not,” sighs Heyes.
“May the best man – or, since I have the highest opinion of Charmen’s morals – may the best politician win.”
“I reckon he will.” To Georgette, “Come along, darling.”
“If you ever want another campaigning job come look me up. I’m one of the good guys. Seriously.”
An acknowledging head tilt from Heyes. He opens the door to leave. Then, he turns. “Put my mind at rest, Hanner. I can take being beaten fair and square. I can take you being straight. But, the thing is, I like to think there’s a little bad in everyone. That stuff you said on the platform, the ‘no more taxes’ line. That part HAD to be a lie, huh? Come on, give me something.”
“I couldn’t possibly comment, but…” A smoke ring is blown. Hanner meets Heyes’ gaze with a twinkle. He nods.
Heyes ushers Georgette out. They have taken the first step down the corridor when the door reopens and Hanner’s head pokes out.
“Oh, Mister Smith,”
“Your little problem. If I were you, I’d go talk with Doc Wilson. Don’t let embarrassment – however natural – stop you putting things right.” The door re-closes.
Heyes stares at Georgette. “What little problem?”
“I told him you were…” She stops.
“Told him I was what?”
“You told him…?! WHY?!”
“You said to make him believe I was unhappily married. That’d make me unhappy.”
NEXT MORNING – HOTEL RESTAURANT
Curry, ingesting ham and eggs, watches morosely as the waitress serving coffee ignores his own friendly smile and splashes the cloth, unable to tear her eyes from Nathan. Heyes leans over the oblivious girl-bait, as he reads from a sheet of paper.
“At a more suitable time…”
“No. What do we always say first?”
“I’m glad you asked me that question. At a more suitable time, I will review all the arguments both for and against…” Nathan frowns. “Joshua, this doesn’t SAY anything.”
Heyes dimples, smugly. “Thank you.”
“I don’t think he meant it as a compliment,” chews Curry.
“How about – you will thoroughly review?”
Before Nathan can answer Georgette and Clem walk into the restaurant. Ever the gentleman, he rises.
“Good morning Joshua, Thaddeus,” beams Clem. “Good morning, darling.” Rising on tiptoe she kisses Nathan’s cheek.
“Good morning – er – darling,” he responds, flushing.
“Good morning Joshua, Thaddeus,” chimes in Georgette. “Good morning, brother-in-law to be.” Nathan’s other cheek is kissed under the disapproving stare of his fiancée.
He flushes deeper. The ladies each pick up a chair and move it to sit closer beside the bashful kissee.
The Kid rolls his eyes.
“Good morning, Clem,” says Heyes. “Coffee?”
She accepts with a nod. He pours. Georgette holds out her cup. Heyes pointedly turns his shoulder. Shrugging she serves herself.
Nathan leans in to Clem. Sotto voce, “Is there a problem?”
“Joshua’s sulking because Georgette told someone he’s…” She whispers.
“Oh, Joshua…” Nathan throws Heyes a glance of genuine sympathy.
“You told Clem!” Heyes accuses Georgette.
“Clem and me shared a room last night. There was bound to be girl talk.”
“Did it have to be about – that?”
“About what?” asks Curry.
“Girls do swap secrets, Joshua,” says Clem.
“It isn’t a secret. I mean…”
“What isn’t a secret?” demands the Kid.
Nathan’s tone is compassionate, “You really should go see Doctor Wilson. He’d be the soul of discretion.”
“Discretion ‘bout WHAT?”
To Heyes’ horror, Georgette whispers to his partner.
“What’s the point of the doc being discreet if these two blab to anyone who’ll listen?”
A delighted grin lights Kid Curry’s features.
“Not one WORD,” Heyes warns him. “Can we please change the subject? Nathan, maybe you can’t win today, but you can get the party big-wigs to recommend you for another town…”
Nathan nods earnestly.
“You never know, that might just make your Uncle Mac feel generous.”
A dismissive snirt from Curry.
“Nathan making the best impression he can can’t be anything but good news for us, Thaddeus.”
“I’m sure Nathan’s gonna rise to the occasion,” says Curry. Perfectly timed pause. “Unlike Joshua.”
“One more word and I’ll flatten you.”
“During breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
“Okay, I’m done.” Curry waits until his partner turns away then adds, “I’d no idea it was so impo’tent.”
LATER – THE STREET
[SOUND OFF – MUSIC PLAYS]
A sign announces ‘Polling Starts: Noon Today’. Beneath it suited men busily shuffle blank ballot papers and move slotted boxes into place.
[CAMERA PANS LEFT]
To one side of a temporary platform Heyes stands beside a nervous Nathan, speaking earnestly to him. Their eyes dwell first on the mayor and his wife, standing with not only Curry, Clem and Georgette, but a trio of stout gentlemen whose suits suggest ‘party big-wigs’. A movement in the crowd catches Heyes’ attention. Brown eyes watch a tall woman of a certain age, her face determined and intelligent, a striking sash bearing the letters AWSA worn diagonally across her crisp white blouse, lead a small party of similarly be-sashed ladies through the overwhelmingly male crowd. The men, most recognizable from the evening at the meeting hall, move aside affably enough, but the nudges, pointing fingers, masculine grins and exasperated eye-roll from the stony faced woman suggest a certain amount of joshing is in progress.
Heyes directs Nathan’s gaze to the ladies, silver tongue still in full instruction-giving mode, but their attention is immediately diverted by a cheer going up. From the opposite direction Ted Hanner, amidst much back-slapping, is also making his way through the crowd.
As both candidates mount opposite ends of the platform, Heyes is tapped on the shoulder. He turns to see a black-suited fella carrying a doctors’ bag. The ex-outlaw bends his head to listen to what the much shorter man has to say. The doctor’s expression suggests earnest, if evidently low-voiced advice. Heyes’ expression suggests growing fury. Straightening, he directs a glower at, in turn, his partner, Clem and Georgette. All three meet his gaze with apparent limpid innocence. However, a careful observer might observe that their shoulders gently shake.
ABOUT FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER
“…The lady accuses me of believing a woman’s place is in the home as if that’s a bad thing!” Ted Hanner, impressive as ever, is in full flow. “It isn’t! The finest work a woman can do IS in the home.”
“Raising children to be fine citizens. Helping her husband became a better man than he could ever be without her to nurture him, his hearth and his home. I’m not ashamed to say I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the best wife who ever wore shoe leather behind me every step of the way.”
“Do I believe a woman’s place is ONLY in the home? No!”
No applause. A few puzzled frowns.
“No one could see the fine work our lady teachers do in school rooms all across our state, or the dedication of the nurses in our hospitals and believe that!”
Relief. Renewed applause.
“BUT wherever a woman’s place is, I know where it is NOT. It is NOT in the legislature. It is NOT in the State Capitol. ‘A perfect Woman is nobly planned, to warm, to comfort, and command’…”
The faces of the campaigning ladies towards the front of crowd express all the frustration one might expect upon hearing this old chestnut being rolled out.
“Her place is NOT at the polls! She is too – too fine for that!”
Hearty applause. Kid Curry joins in until he notices three sets of brown eyes, one Heyesian, two feminine, fixed on him. He desists with an apologetic shrug.
“And what is YOUR opinion, Mister Charmen,” asks the lead campaigner, “do you support extending the franchise, or do you also believe almost half the citizens of this state are ‘too fine’ to vote?”
Heyes mouths along silently while Nathan begins, “I’m glad you asked me that question.”
As Nathan looks at his questioner, one of her party, a much shorter girl, moves out from behind the older woman, pushes back her bonnet, and stares up at the platform, challengingly.
Nathan’s jaw drops.
“Er… I’m glad you asked me that question.”
“What’s wrong?” mutters the mayor to Heyes. “I thought you rehearsed him?”
“I’m real glad you asked me that question.”
“In that case, Mister Charmen,” the older lady persists, “perhaps we can have an answer.”
“Do you think women ought to be able to vote?” adds the younger girl.
“At a more suitable time…” Heyes endeavors to transmit the words by telepathy.
“Yes!” says Nathan, firmly. “Yes, they should. It’s only fair.”
The three party big-wigs stare in outrage at the mayor. The mayor stares in outrage at Heyes. It is the turn of Heyes’ jaw to drop.
“You folk shouldn’t vote for me,” says Nathan, “Because I know nothing about most of the questions you’ve been asking. All I’ve been doing up here is saying what the party want me to say. And I’ve not even done that real well. Some of it I agree with. Some of it seems pretty dumb. Most of it I don’t understand why anyone even cares…”
The party big-wigs march away, disgusted.
“There goes any chance of Big Mac feelin’ generous,” sighs Curry.
“Mister Hanner’s the representative you need. He wants what’s best for this town and I reckon he’s mostly right about what that is. BUT, no offense, sir – you’re wrong about women voting. You’re wrong about them not belonging in the legislature. That girl down there…” He points. “I wanted her to give up her career, forget her ambitions, marry me instead. She turned me down…”
Georgette and Clem blink. They are not the only feminine voices repeating both in unison and in disbelief: “Turned HIM down?”
“…She was right. Because she’d be make a better district representative than me any day of the week. More than that, one day she’ll be the best governor any state could ever have!”
The shining eyes and clasped hands of the girl in the crowd suggest a second and immediate proposal of – well, of any dang thing – from Nathan would not meet with a second refusal.
“D’you want a piece of non-political advice, son?” grins Hanner. “Go get your gal.”
Nathan takes the advice. Despising the dull route via the steps he jumps down from the platform, sweeps up the girl in his arms and kisses her. Or just possibly she is the sweeper and kisser. The end result is the same.
Heyes’ expression is a picture of chagrin. Curry slaps a consoling hand on his shoulder. “At least he isn’t still sittin’ on the fence.”
EPILOGUE – THE STATION
The campaigning ladies, Nathan’s lady-love glowing amongst them, are at one end of the platform, travelling bags beside them.
Our boys, their two best gals and Nathan stand a little apart.
“I’m sorry I let you down, Joshua,” says Nathan. “I know you really wanted me to win.”
“He had his reasons,” says Curry.
“A thousand of them,” sighs Heyes.
“I’ll write Uncle Patrick you did all you could. Besides, I still intend to be involved in a successful political career, it just won’t be mine. Maybe he’ll understand and still pay your…” He tails off in face of the cynical expression on two ex-outlaws’ faces. “Maybe not.”
“Guess you had your reasons too,” shrugs Curry. “All’s fair, huh?”
“I owe you an apology too, Clem, for…” Nathan searches.
“Jilting me in public?”
“You were only pretending, Nathan,” consoles Georgette. “Don’t let it worry you.”
Clem eyes her. “That’s real forgiving of you.” To Nathan, “So you and – whatshername…”
“Nellie,” supplies Nathan.
“…Are going to live in Wyoming?”
“I’m sure we all hope you’ll be very happy together,” Clem’s tone is not convincing.
“I wish you’d told us you were only getting involved in politics to try and impress this girl.”
“I couldn’t do that, Joshua. As a wise man once told me, until sure of her affections a gentleman does not bandy a lady’s name. Well, thanks again.” Nathan moves out of earshot, joins the campaigners.
Clem and Georgette watch him go stand, adoringly, by the side of his new fiancée.
“I don’t know what he sees in her,” sighs Clem.
“He must like his women really short,” laments Georgette. To the boys: “Well, go on, you two.”
“Go on – what?” asks Heyes.
“Go introduce yourself to Nellie. Make nice.”
“Why?” Curry this time.
“Weren’t you listening?” asks Clem. “They’re going to Wyoming.”
“And Nathan believes one day she’ll be the best governor any state could wish for.”
“So? OH!” Heyes’ brow furrows in thought.
“Exactly. You’re always saying you’ve no idea how many years the amnesty might take.”
“Smart thinkin’,” says Curry. “Kinda long term, but smart.”
“Of course, it’s smart thinking,” says Georgette.
“We’re not your TWO best gals for nothing.”
“C’mon, Heyes. Let’s go make friends.”
Heyes dimples, wryly, “Just you, me and the – future – Governor.”
[Notes: A ‘Nellie’ DID become the first female governor of Wyoming in 1925. Not this one, because even with ASJ elastic time lines it wouldn’t fit. Her name’s just a little in joke. ]