1. Chs 1 to 3

PROLOGUE 22nd February 1883 Butte

The winter sun failed to deliver any warmth to the railway platform. Cleared snow was heaped in muddy piles around the edge of a rough path leading to a waiting carriage. The stable hand, not wanting the horses to become chilled, led them back and forth a few hundred yards along the mud and stone street.

Four men, stamping their feet every so often in the cold, watched the train first steam into view, then slow to a prolonged halt. Two – railway employees – scurried forward to the baggage car. Further up the line a door opened. Out stepped a tall, broad shouldered, individual. He surveyed his reception party of two blandly, then smiled. The expression, on his still handsome face, was confident, but below the smile, lurked a hint of wily calculation. Turning, he reached up his hand to help down the slight figure of a woman, well swathed in furs to keep out the Montana cold.

The younger of the two men on the platform stepped up to her.

“Mrs. Carleton?” he confirmed, touching his hat, “My name is Christopher Lloyd, your brother’s partner. I hope, ma-am – I hope you received my wire?”

She looked up at him, cast a nervous glance at the man by her side, then nodded.

“May I offer you my condolences, ma-am?” he said.

“If only we could have been here just a few days sooner,” answered the assured tones of the new arrival, “I know Louis wanted so much to see my wife before – the end.” He shook his head sadly, “But travelling in winter – you understand – we were delayed.”

He looked enquiringly at the second man.

Christopher Lloyd spoke up, “This is Mr. Walford, from Helena.”

This man too, touched his hat.

“I represent the firm of Walford, Walford and McKeever, ma-am. Your family lawyers in Boston appointed us as proxies to handle your brother’s will – and now to transfer the estate.” A pause. “My condolences, too, Mrs. Carleton on your loss.”

A very small voice emerged from the fur hood.

“Thank you.”

“My wife is tired by the journey,” declared Carleton. “I’d like to get her home – to our new home that is – as soon as possible. You understand, she is in – a – a delicate situation.”

The woman lowered her eyes, shyly.

“Please accompany us, Mr. Walford;” went on Carleton, “I am sure I can help with anything you need to take care of – while Lydia rests.”

Taking her arm, he led the quiet woman, to the waiting carriage; followed by the lawyer, then – after a moments pause – by the uninvited Christopher Lloyd.

-oooOOOOOOOooo-

CHAPTER ONE Four months later – Monday 11th June 1883

Heyes and Curry, saddlebags swung across their shoulders, strode down the station platform. They scanned the crowded coaches, searching not only for unwanted familiar faces, but also for the best chance of empty window seats and enough quiet for one partner to indulge in a nap whilst the other watched for trouble.

At the conductor’s warning cry of “All Aboard”, the partners abandoned dwindling hopes for the luxury of solitude and swung aboard.

They moved slowly down the coach; patiently waiting as other passengers stowed bags and settled into their seats. Judging by appearances their fellow travellers boasted a high proportion of miners, a tiny minority accompanied by wife and children, a sprinkling of cowboys and the occasional suited clerk.

Heyes nudged Curry and directed his eyes towards a solitary young woman at the far end of the coach. The seats opposite her were empty of human occupation, but loaded with two valises and what at first glance seemed a jumble of about twenty dime novels. The woman herself, impervious to the buzz of movement around her, was scribbling fluently on sheet after sheet of thin foolscap. Occasionally, she paused, pencil lodged temporarily behind her ear, to consult a cheap novel folded open by her side.

Approaching her, Heyes gave a polite cough. No response.

“Ma-am,” A little louder, “Excuse us, ma-am.”

She looked up, surprised grey eyes under untidy mouse-brown bangs.

“These seats free, ma-am?” asked Kid.

She glanced up and down the car, suddenly aware how it had filled up over the last few stops. Her eyes returned guiltily to her belongings strewn opposite and she gave the partners an apologetic smile.

“Of course. I’m so sorry – I hadn’t realised. I practically had the car to myself when I set out.”

“Must have set out a good way back,” smiled Heyes.

She paused in the act of reaching to move the valises. Her eyes widened expressively and she gave an exaggerated shudder.

“It feels like weeks ago, though I suppose it was really only daybreak.” She smiled a “thank you” at Kid, as he took the valises from her and swung them into the overhead rack. “I’ve been travelling west for over a week now. Even when I’m in a hotel bed, I still hear the wheels going chu-chugga, chu-chugga, chu-chugga, chu-chugga.”

On first seeing her, both Heyes and Curry thought her plain. However, her mobile little face had an appeal of its own as she spoke.

Heyes had been stacking the jumbled dime novels. Flipping through the titles before placing the pile on the one remaining free seat, he glanced up surprised.

“You’ve kinda got a taste for readin’ ’bout Robin Hood, ma-am?”

She smiled broadly and shook her head decidedly.

“Absolutely not. If I never read another word about those raucous and annoyingly merrie men, it’ll be too soon.” She patted the manuscript in her lap, “This is the last of a dozen I’m contracted for this year. Once it’s done my publisher has promised I can have a change.”

Kid blinked in surprise, “You write dime novels?”

She assumed an expression of mock affront, “Dime novels, sir! How dare you? Can’t you see the cover price is clearly given as twenty-five cents? These novellas are aimed at ladies craving a little romance, not adolescent boys.”

Heyes smiled.

Nodding at the illustrated cover topping the pile, he asked, “So you’re Rosamond Fayre – Maid of Sherwood?”

“When I’m doing medieval England. Sometimes I’m Mam’zelle Toinette, recounting the dashing adventures of seventeenth century swordsmen at the court of King Louis.”

“The Three Musketeers, huh?”

“Not Dumas’ Musketeers obviously. Three other fellows who just happen to bear a strong resemblance.”

This drew an appreciative laugh from Heyes.

“And just occasionally, as a special treat, I’m allowed into this century, onto this side of the Atlantic and can dispense with the love scenes as Allan Chevalier – celebrated New York detective.”

With a charming smile, Heyes asked, “And when you’re on a train heading up to Montana, with two gentlemen asking for the pleasure of an introduction?”

She held out her hand, “Margaret Spencer, Meg to my friends. How do you do?”

Heyes shook the proffered hand, with an inclination of his head.

“Joshua Smith an’ this is my partner, Thaddeus Jones.”

“Where are you both headed?” she asked.

“Far as Helena, then on to Butte. You know – the minin’ town not long sprung up,” said Kid.

A delighted smile wreathed Meg’s face, “That’s where I’m headed!”

The ex-outlaws exchanged surprised glances; and looked back at her curiously.

With a cough, Heyes said, “Butte’s likely to be pretty rough, ma-am. What takes you there?”

She drew herself up proudly, “I’m going to be assistant editor of the Butte Weekly Herald.”

She frowned at the disbelieving expressions facing her.

“What’s wrong with that?” she asked with dignity. “I write these – “her hand flapped the manuscript in her lap, “for the money. But really I’m an investigative journalist.”

Her travelling companions exchanged a look, which suggested she had not convinced them.

“I am,” she insisted. “I’ve worked on the Boston Weekly Enquirer for over two years!”

Heyes gazed at her.

“And some editor in Butte has offered you a job?” Heyes said, with a smile that was friendly, but still carried an implicit “Oh yeah?”

Kid was frowning in concern.

“Does he know that you’re a…. You’re…” he broke off.

“I’m what?” she asked, sitting yet straighter in her seat as she swelled in preparation for a burst of injured pride.

With an exasperated sigh, Kid abandoned his search for a tactful way to put it.

“For a start, does he know you’re a girl? An’ only ’bout, what – twenty three, twenty four?” Meg looked ready to explode with an angry retort, but Kid forestalled her, “An’ it’s not right for a lady on her own to be allowed anywhere near the lowlifes that’ll be swarmin’ in Butte.”

Meg turned from Kid, to the still smiling Heyes, who merely raised an enquiring eyebrow. Suddenly the affronted dignity left Meg’s face.

Leaning forward with a confiding smile, she said, “Well, maybe the way I put it isn’t quite the whole story. I am going to assist the editors of the Butte Weekly Herald, but they won’t exactly be paying me because it doesn’t exactly make enough money yet. So I don’t know if you’d count that as being offered a job?”

Heyes grinned, “I think we’d count that, ma-am. Thaddeus an’ I recall a few jobs which didn’t involve gettin’ paid.”

Kid chimed in, “Course – we didn’t usually plan it in advance, the way you have.”

With a smile, Meg continued, “Kate Thornton – Kate Connor now – is my one of my best friends in the whole world. We roomed together in college. She married last year. Emerson, that’s her husband and I worked together on the Boston Enquirer. That’s how they met. They moved out West to set up and run their own paper.” She drew breath, “And when I say I’m an investigative journalist – I would be if I got a chance. Most of the time I have to report on weddings and social events and …” she shuddered, “… profiles of debutantes.” Meg settled back in her seat, “Emerson and Kate wrote saying could I help out, take over some of Kate’s work and be with her. She’s expecting a – a happy event in November.” Meg looked at Kid and gave a wry smile, “So, you can relax from that gallant worrying. I’ll be safely lodged with a respectable married woman to chaperone me.”

After a short pause, Meg looked from one partner to the other.

“What about you?” she asked. “What takes you to Butte? Are you miners?” She grinned mischievously, “Or do you plan to swarm amongst the lowlife?”

“Not miners, ma-am,” said Heyes, “That kinda work bein’ a little hard on the back. We’re in what you might call security work.”

She looked inquiringly from one to the other.

“Security?” she prompted.

In spite of his better judgment, Kid could not resist the wide questioning eyes.

In a low voice, he said, “The bank’s hired us to guard the company’s payroll out to the mine.”

“Guarding a payroll!” her voice rose with excitement.

Heyes shifted in his seat and glanced round, “A little louder, ma-am. I don’t think them three mean lookin’ fellas at the far end, heard you.”

She subsided, mouthing – “Sorry.”

Then leaning forward, she hissed conspiratorially, “If you’re guarding a payroll shouldn’t you stay with it – in the freight car, or somewhere?”

Heyes leant forward till his lips were only inches from her ear and breathed in return, “That’d probably be the best idea ma-am, but it’d be a mite premature. We don’t pick up the money till we reach the bank at Helena.”

“Oh!”

Gray eyes met deep brown. Meg realised she was gently being made fun of. She grinned ruefully and settled back. After a moment or two of silence, she began, once again to scribble at her story, nibbling at her pencil end when inspiration failed.

A thought struck her. Looking up she gave the partners an appealing look, “Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, if you are experts on security -?”

The partners exchanged a look, then, in unison, nodded for her to continue.

“Could you possibly help me with a few plot ideas?” She smiled persuasively, “It’d help pass the time and I’d be happy to buy you dinner in Helena to say ‘thank you’.”

Cautiously Kid asked, “What kinda thing you got in mind, ma-am?”

“Well,” she leaned forward and assumed a business like tone. “The sheriff has captured Will Scarlett and has him in a closely guarded cell deep beneath the castle. There’s a moat, barred gates and guards before you even reach the dungeons. Will is to be watched day and night.” Her eyes took on a hopeful look, “Any thoughts on a nice, innovative way for Robin to break his partner out of jail?”

Curry rolled his eyes as a broad grin lit up Heyes’ face. Watching his partner take a blank sheet of paper and the pencil from Meg’s fingers, Kid settled well back into his seat tipping his hat forward over his eyes.

Preparing to try for a nap, Kid heard Heyes’ voice.

“Let’s just sketch the layout, ma-am. We’ll consider any weak spots. Then we’ll think ’bout the routine of the guards – when they change, any habits that can be exploited. An’ you need to consider distraction tactics, drawin’ away attention from your real plan …”

—oooOOOooo—

CHAPTER TWO

Early morning, Tuesday 12th June 1883 – Helena

Next day, after a night at a Helena hotel, Heyes and Curry were holding onto their patience as Wilbur Beckett, a fussy, nervous, senior clerk in charge of the Butte copper mine account, went over their instructions.

“Now we have received excellent references for you gentlemen from,” he consulted a letter in his hand, “Mr. Porter of the Bank of Porterville, Wyoming. He states that you foiled a robbery attempt by a gang of six desperate outlaws. He goes on to say you fought to save the bank’s money ‘as if it were your own’. There is also a recommendation here from,” again Beckett peered at the document he held, “Elected Sheriff, Lom Trevors.”

Becket paused and peered over his spectacles at the partners standing before him. His eyes moved from Heyes, confident and relaxed, to Kid, gracefully leaning against the wall. The pair had behaved with the utmost civility since arriving at the bank, but Beckett caught an underlying sense of danger.

Clearing his throat, he went on, “Sheriff Trevors speaks most highly of your ability, initiative and capacity to predict the likely workings of the criminal mind.”

Heyes and Curry exchanged a wry glance at this and Heyes favoured Beckett with a self-deprecating smile.

“You understand this is a very large amount of money being transported? $80,000.”

“You made that very clear, Mr. Beckett,” said Heyes.

“I will be accompanying you to take care of documenting receipt by the company and any administrative issues arising from its allocation to gang leaders and other employees. The job is not over when we reach the mine; only when the payroll is safely distributed. I hope that’s understood?”

“You expectin’ trouble at the other end?” asked Kid, with a glance at Heyes.

Beckett frowned, “I am not cogniscent of any anticipated difficulties. However, since Mr. Carleton insists on the bank’s retaining liability until after distribution and is prepared to pay the additional security and insurance costs incumbent upon that request, I can only assume that he does indeed -” the clerk met Kid’s eyes, ” – expect trouble at the other end.”

“Uh huh,” said Kid and again his eyes met those of his partner.

Heyes adopted his most persuasive tone, “Now, Mr. Beckett, that kinda changes the terms. We were hired to guard a payroll durin’ transportation. Sounds like there’s been what you might call, extras, added after transportation?”

“I don’t think the words ‘during transportation’ were specifically mentioned, Mr. Smith. The pay for the job is agreed at $400.”

Heyes smiled, but his eyes when they met Beckett’s held a challenging look.

“Seems to me, if this Mr. Carleton is payin’ for additional security, my partner and I can expect a share. Unless, of course, you want to find someone else to take over after transportation.”

Beckett eyed him with a certain admiration, “I am authorised to offer you a further $200 to reflect the extra duties required in Butte.”

“Apiece?” said Heyes.

“Really, Mr. Smith, I think that is not entirely reasona…”

“Apiece,” said Kid, firmly.

Beckett looked from Kid’s cool blue eyes, to the tied down gun resting so naturally in its scuffed holster.

“Apiece,” he agreed, with a gulp.

To recover his authority, Beckett began again to lecture the partners.

“You are responsible not only for the money, but for my personal safety as an employee of the Helena City Consolidated Territorial Bank of Montana. I hope that’s understood.”

Kid pushed back his hat and looked Beckett up and down.

“We kinda figure any thieves’ll prefer the cash, Mr. Beckett. But if they take a fancy to you instead, rest assured, we’ll do our level best to stop ’em.”

-oooOOOOOOOooo-

Later that morning, Heyes was leaning against the car set aside for the Hamilton & Lloyd Mine payroll. He was reviewing a map of the route, assessing likely points for any trouble. Curry was checking out the couplings and underside of the car for tampering and testing the firing angles he could achieve from each window. Finally, he practiced swinging himself out of the car and onto the roof.

Seeing Beckett’s astonished, but impressed, glance he said laconically, “Just in case!”

Heyes became aware of a minor disturbance further up the platform. The diminutive, but determined, Meg was arguing with a conductor.

“Told you twice already, ma-am. This ain’t a passenger service. It’s just takin’ blastin’ equipment out to the mine.”

A discrete man, he did not mention the payroll.

“But the scheduled train is a three day wait. I could be with my friends this afternoon!” She tried feminine wiles, “Surely you could find a tiny corner for little me? Please?”

She tried – and failed.

“Lady,” he said firmly. “I just blow the whistle. You wanna talk someone into lettin’ you ride perched on boxes o’ dynamite and nitro’ – go bother the mine engineer.” He nodded at a man supervising the loading of the freight cars, “He’ll say no – but go annoy him. Not me.”

Meg did not go to annoy the Engineer. Turning disconsolately away, she caught sight of Heyes and Curry. With a yelp of happiness, she scampered up the platform toward them.

“Hello again,” chirruped Meg. “Is this where you’re carrying the -?” having learnt her lesson yesterday, she finished the sentence with an exaggerated wink.

Heyes glanced behind him at the car. Kid was now swinging himself down from the roof, before checking – again – the bolts of the door.

“Hope so,” said Heyes. “Otherwise Thaddeus sure is wastin’ his time.”

“May I ride with you?” she asked.

Heyes looked at her.

Meg had fully intended to honour her promise of buying dinner for the partners last night, but they firmly insisted on paying. Kid, unbeknownst to her, had seen the girl worriedly study the room rates; count the contents of her purse; then ask for a reduction if she skipped breakfast. Heyes did not share Kid’s high level of instinctive chivalry. But he did not like to picture lively, sociable Meg, knowing not a soul in Helena, seeking a cheap boarding house to sit out three lonely days.

“Not my decision, Meg,” he answered. With a nod towards the bank clerk, he went on, “Go ask Mr. Beckett, there. Tell him it’s fine with us – don’t make gettin’ robbed any more likely.”

The ex-outlaw listened to Meg going once more through her plea.

“… a three day wait. I could be with Kate, – with friends in Butte, today.”

Heyes watched Meg’s shoulders droop as she was again turned down.

“I suppose I should wire Emerson, that I’ll be three more days,” she sighed.

“Emerson?” repeated Beckett. “Emerson Connor?”

Meg nodded, beginning to hope.

“So, Kate, the friend who would come to meet you – is Mrs. Emerson Connor?”

Another eager nod.

“I had the pleasure, once, of helping Mrs. Connor with a small banking transaction,” said Beckett and smoothed down his hair, trying to cover the bald spot.

Meg gave this an ‘how interesting’ smile.

“What a nice lady. So refined. It would be a pleasure to do a favour,” Beckett bowed, “for a friend of hers.”

He straightened his tie and adjusted his cuffs, polishing the silver links.

“Under the circumstances, I will allow you to travel under my escort,” concluded Beckett.

“Oh, thank you.” said Meg. “I’ll go wire her to expect me. And tell her, it’s all thanks to you, Mr. Beckett,” she added diplomatically.

Beckett smiled graciously. An idea occurred.

“Allow me to wire your expected arrival time to Mrs. Connor. I’ll take the liberty of sending my respectful compliments with it.” In an undertone to himself, as he scurried away, he added, “I wonder if I could borrow a clothes brush…”

Heyes stared at Meg.

“What’s this friend of yours got, that makes mentionin’ her name so all-fired persuasive?” he asked.

Meg gave a shrug, then wry smile.

“I suppose you could say, she’s quite pretty,” she offered.

Heyes watched the sudden spring in Beckett’s step, as he rounded the corner to the telegraph office.

“If she gets that reaction, just by visitin’ a bank, Meg,” he said, “I suspect ‘quite pretty’ isn’t a description up to your usual standard.”

-oooOOOOOOOooo-

The journey to Butte was completed without incident.

Curry helped Meg step down from the car. Both partners were still on the alert for danger. Meg looked round. With a cry of pleasure, she sprinted over to be caught up and swung off her feet, by a tall, lanky, sandy-haired man.

“It’s so good to see you! The office just hasn’t been the same! You look so well! Where is she? Where’s Kate?” she babbled.

“Just coming. She waited in the rig until the train pulled in,” he replied. Then, “Here she is.”

With another squeak of joy, Meg ran to the approaching young woman, hugged her, then began to pull over her old friends to be introduced to her new ones.

Tactfully, Meg started her introduction of Wilbur Beckett with – “Of course you’ll remember Mr. Beckett. You met him at the bank in Helena…”

Heyes watched Kate Connor, shake hands and smilingly thank the bank clerk. He had to excuse the man’s Adam’s apple bobbing, as he stammered, how happy he was to meet Mrs. Connor again.

Meg had definitely suffered a temporary dip in her descriptive powers, in calling her friend ‘quite pretty’.

“… And this is Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones, who were so kind as to keep me company yesterday and buy me dinner…”

Heyes smiled as his partner shook hands, first – slightly open-mouthed – with Kate, then with Emerson. Curry looked from Kate – wide generous mouth with a delightful lift at one corner, dimple showing like a dent in cream, whenever she spoke or smiled, smoky dark eyes; to Emerson’s beaky, bony face. As his partner was a man of few words, Heyes thought he could sum up Curry’s mental comments as; “Wow!” followed by, “Sheesh!”

Introductions over, Meg was looking curiously at the man, shirtsleeves rolled up, authoritatively supervising the unloading and onward transport of blasting equipment.

“That’s Chris Lloyd,” said Wilbur Beckett, deferentially. “As in ‘Hamilton & Lloyd’ mine company. He likes to stay involved on the practical side.”

“Hamilton was one of the few Easterners to make a fortune in Deadwood,” explained Emerson. “He had a lucky strike in the Black Hills back in ’76. Teamed up with Lloyd as the operation grew.”

“Mr. Lloyd is one of the cleverest trained engineers in the country,” Kate continued.

“What he doesn’t know about the technical side of mining, isn’t worth knowing,” agreed her husband. “Hamilton made him a junior partner on the strength of it. Together they raised capital to develop a silver mine here, two years ago.”

Wilbur Beckett was torn, whether to keep his eyes on Kate, or cast them enviously towards one of his bank’s most valued customers.

“They never struck a main silver vein,” he explained. “But last year, Lloyd hit one of the largest copper deposits ever discovered. The mine’s already shifted nearly 5,000 tons.”

“So he’s what you might call rich,” said Heyes.

“Very, rich. Very, very, rich.” Beckett breathed. “And he only owns fifteen percent.”

“We likely to see this fella, Hamilton, around too?” asked Kid.

“‘Cause we’d like to be warned in advance, so as not to choke on the dust kicked up by the bowing and scraping,” Heyes added, raising a giggle from Meg.

“He died last winter,” said Beckett. “Mr. Carleton is now the major shareholder and runs the mine. He came out from Chicago. Used to be in the meat packing trade there. You’ll meet him soon.” His expression suggested, this was not something to look forward to. “In fact….” he indicated a suited clerk, accompanied by two armed men, clearly waiting to speak to him.

“Of course, you have business to attend to,” said Emerson, preparing to leave with the ladies. “Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, will you dine with us tomorrow night? I’d like to thank you, for your kindness to Meg.”

The partners exchanged a silent conversation. That left tonight for the poker, whiskey and saloon company, which usually followed getting paid for a job – and tomorrow to sleep it off. As a contrast, a civilised evening, in the home of friendly people, who wanted nothing from them, sounded good too.

“Mr. Connor, it’ll be a real pleasure,” said Heyes.

-oooOOOooo-

CHAPTER THREE

Late afternoon, Tuesday 12th June 1883 – Butte

Trestle tables were set up to the left of the open door. The laid out ledgers had their pages clipped to prevent leaves turning in the breeze as it carried the dust and acrid fumes from the shafts across the hillside. Pens stood ready by filled inkwells.

Wilbur Beckett sat behind one of the ledgers. Two bookkeepers, employees of the Hamilton & Lloyd mine, flanked him. Secured metal boxes stood before each of the men. Beckett glanced up nervously at the forty or so gang leaders lining up beyond the gates of the compound in which the mine offices stood. The murmur of men’s voices reached him, the words indecipherable, but the discontent they conveyed only too apparent.

The mine had provided its own security – including Joe and Caleb who had met the payroll at the station. Becket drew no comfort from this. The sight of armed men about to open the compound gates and guards positioned around the trestles, frightened the little man. The key trembled in his hand as he tried to release the lock of the first security box.

Heyes and Curry stood before his table. They appeared relaxed, but Beckett never doubted they were fully alert, ready to react to any threat. He opened the lid of the first box, it slipped through his damp grasp, its sharp edge thumping into the wood beneath. Curry turned. Beckett tried for a brave face, but Kid saw the nervous tick work at the corner of the man’s mouth. Curry had known fear well enough himself, over the years; and he had his skill and the unfailing nerve of Heyes, to depend upon. Beckett had nothing, but two hired strangers.

Kid gave Beckett a reassuring smile.

“Don’t worry. We’ve two hundred apiece ridin’ on you getting safe an’ sound back to Helena. If the devil himself, an’ all his minions, came through them gates to raze this mine to the ground with fire an’ brimstone; Joshua an’ I would still carry you over the rubble to meet that train!”

From inside the office, a lean, hollow cheeked, man emerged. From under hooded lids, hawk-bright eyes scanned the compound.

The ex-outlaws took covert stock of this new arrival. His clothes were dandified and sleek, but the scuffed and softened holster slung low on the left thigh, gun carried butt forward**, rivalled that of the Kid’s in signalling hard repeated use. This man carried life and living on his hip.

Joe, positioned near the partners, breathed, “That’s Deke Simons. Carleton hired him on as personal bodyguard – $60 a day’s what I heard.”

Heyes raised an eyebrow – good money.

“Fast as a snake. Mean too. He don’t believe in givin’ a man much of a chance to back down. Less’n they grovel real fast, real hard.” Joe spat into the dirt, “Don’t believe in warnin’ shots neither.”

Simons moved, with an easy grace, to take up a central position. This placed him around two feet from Curry.

He was followed moments later by a broad shouldered, powerful man of around forty-five. The man oozed prosperity and the air of one used to gaining and keeping the upper hand. He strode out and stood, legs astride, in the open doorway. The murmured, ‘Good morning Mr. Carleton, Sir’s, hat tipping and general bootlicking from bookkeepers and guards, made his identity clear.

The gates clanged open and miners began to move forward into the compound. Last to enter were the two Chinese headmen, collecting for the teams of labourers hired not to work in the shafts, but to dump cars, remove surface rubble, cook and wash laundry.

Beckett cleared his throat, “Wages due over the past seven weeks have been calculated by Mr. Pinker and Mr. Dawkins, here.” He nodded at the bookkeepers, readying the first payment and nervously pushing the pens closer to the ledgers for receipt to be signed, “If those collecting for teams working in the East shaft would like to step forward first – orderly lines please, gentlemen – we can start.”

Perhaps correctly, Joe thought Beckett’s thin voice was unlikely to carry across the compound.

“East shaft,” he bellowed, “Zeke, Hal, rest of ya… git up here. One at a time. Let’s move!”

Hal McBride stepped up to the trestle. His intelligent grey eyes scanned the three men behind the table as he gave his name. He was older than most of the men there. A seasoned skilled worker, face roughened by years of dust, hands crisscrossed with the scars of his trade. McBride’s intelligent grey eyes scanned the three men behind the table.

Mr. Pinker’s finger ran down his ledger.

“McBride’s team. Twelve men, two boys. Shifted 13 tons in May, 9 tons so far this month. Two fines for – ” Pinker squinted at the ledger “- foul and abusive language used to a member of the supervisory staff, by a team member on company property.”

McBride’s eyes narrowed at that, but he made no objection.

“Fifteen additional payments for team -” again quoting from the book in front of him. ” – team continuing to work for a period exceeding eleven hours, without interruption, following an instruction to do so by a member of the supervisory staff.”

Pinker’s eyes met those of the miner enquiringly. McBride nodded. Their figures tallied so far.

“$4060 payment due,” continued the bookkeeper. Hal McBride pursed his lips then gave a shrug. Clearly the total was within spitting distance of his own calculation and he wasn’t a man to nitpick over the rounding.”

Pinker took a gulp and the partners sensed tension mounting in his colleague sitting to the other side of Beckett and in the guard at the trestle. With a deep breath, Pinker gabbled to a conclusion.

“To be paid $2030 in currency; the remainder tobeallocatedascreditatdesignatedcompanyestablishe mentsaccessibletoteammembersasperthedivisiontheyre quest. Pay this man $2,030 please Mr. Beckett.”

“WHAT?!”

McBride’s eyes flew first to Pinker, who was scarlet and keeping his eyes firmly down on the ledger. Then he turned to Carleton, who thumbs hooked into his vest, returned the stare coolly.

“What the hell do you mean $2,030 in cash?” he said, the disgust cold in his voice, “What crooked stunt are you tryin’ to pull, you thievin’ skunk?”

Kid saw that as Hal McBride spoke, Deke Simons slowly peeled the glove from his left hand, tucking it into his waist. Casually, as if just easing his weight from one leg to the other, Kid moved half a pace closer to Simons, hand relaxed by his side.

Carleton spoke clearly so the whole compound could hear, “Half the money due will be allocated as credit at designated company establishments accessible to team members as per the division they request.”

Heyes turned sharply to look questioningly at the bank clerk behind him. Wilbur Beckett looked astounded – he had not known in advance.

Carleton held up a hand to silence the angry buzz beginning to rise from the men.

“Goods and provisions from my mercantile. Lodging in company houses; or rent on a company shack. Whiskey ‘n’ tail at my saloons.” He smiled, as if making a reasonable argument, “All things you boys would spend your pay on anyway. This way, we cut the money we need to bring in from Helena. Lot less risk all round.” He paused, exchanged a glance with Deke Simons, then added coolly, “Anyone have a problem with that?”

One of the younger men, not much past twenty, strode forward, purple with rage, voice shaking with anger.

“I gotta problem with that! I gotta problem sweatin’ my guts out for a lyin’, connivin’, low-down -” The young man’s hand was reaching inside his jacket.

Simons went for his gun. A snarl of astonishment swept across his face. His holster was empty! Wheeling, Simons saw Kid level his own weapon at the young hothead.

Voices amidst the crowd began to gasp.

“See that?!”

“Didn’t just beat Simons – took his gun!”

“Did ya see it?!”

“Ain’t no one that fast!”

Kid continued to level his weapon at the lad, but kept his voice deliberately unthreatening as he said, “Just makin’ sure no one gets hurt.”

Heyes, also now holding a drawn weapon, had moved, quick as a whip, to the young man’s side. Holding his barrel upwards, he gave the youth a sympathetic look.

“Hand it over.”

The lad held open his jacket. Heyes reached in and took an old 1849 colt pocket pistol, from inside. Emptying it, he handed the gun back, saying mildly, “Find a better way to deal with things, son. This way’s gonna get you killed, without changin’ anything.”

Hal McBride had watched Heyes with a certain admiration. Now he returned his gaze to Carleton.

“Can’t expect us to lie down an’ take this,” he said.

“If you prefer your fancy union principles – leave with nothing,” snapped Carleton.

“Can’t expect us just to surrender,” McBride said, “A man has to have principles. Gotta believe some things are just plain wrong.”

“Can’t leave with nothin’, Hal,” called out a voice. “We need that money. Payroll’s three weeks late as it is.”

“Got me two married men in my team.” agreed another man. “Families to feed. Runnin’ up debt. I can’t ask ’em to wait.”

McBride was clearly torn.

Heyes, cleared his throat.

“Well, Mr. Beckett from the bank here is kinda a neutral party. And since me an’ my partner are just seein’ him safe from Helena, guess you could say we’re neutral too.”

He looked at McBride; two pairs of intelligent eyes met.

“Seems to me,” said Heyes, “you might wanna take time to regroup. Lotta difference between surrendering, an’ regroupin’.”

McBride was listening.

“It also strikes me,” continued Heyes, “you aren’t always going to hit on the best way of dealing with a problem straight off. Not with everyone all riled up an’ jumpy. The best plans take time. Course,” Heyes frowned as if considering, “I’ve not had charge of a gang the way you have,”

Curry shot his partner a glance.

“But seems you might wanna consult your men. Listen to what they have to say, before deciding something right out.”

McBride gave Heyes an almost imperceptible nod of agreement, strode forward to the trestle, picked up the $2030 counted out ready and scrawled his signature on the ledger.

“Don’t think this is over, Carleton,” he said coldly, before returning to the crowd.

The payroll distribution continued, resentfully, but peaceably.

As soon as it was clear no further incidents would occur. Curry turned to Deke Simons and held out the butt of Simons’ gun for him to take. Simons scowled at Kid, fury darting from his eyes. Not only outdrawn and cheated of a kill – he had been made to look a fool!

“Gotta apologise for what happened there. I musta reached for the wrong holster by mistake,” said Kid. “Have to practice more.” He kept his tone civil, though his eyes held a challenge, as he went on, “It worked out the same in any case. Sure you could see there was no need to hurt the boy. Just a young hothead.”

Simons snatched his gun and strode away with a snarl.

When all of the miners and company guards had left the compound Carleton walked over to Kid.

“You’re fast,” Carleton told Curry.

Kid made no answer.

“Lose your smart mouthed partner and I could use a man like you,” he went on.

Carleton shot a resentful look at Heyes. If there was to be a showdown with the men, he wanted it on his own terms. The ex-outlaw’s calming of the situation had not pleased him.

Kid looked coolly at the mine owner.

“Kinda like havin’ his smart mouth around; specially when he’s talkin’ folk outta trouble,” he said. “An’ I doubt you’d find much use for me, Mr. Carleton. I don’t know much about minin’.”

“I wasn’t thinking mining.” responded Carleton. “Thinking of your other skills. The pay would be good. Real good.”

“A reputable security job’s one thing,” said Heyes, “But he don’t hire out his gun.”

Carleton sniffed dismissively.

“Can’t you speak for yourself?” he asked Kid.

Kid stared at the man for a long moment.

“Sure,” answered Kid.

“Well?”

Kid again let the silence stretch between himself and Carleton. Carleton felt a chill as he looked back into those icy blue eyes. Then Kid nodded at Heyes.

“Like he said,” were his only words.

Letting out his breath in an angry snort, Carleton wheeled around and strode back into the office.

A glowering Deke Simons watched this exchange. He continued to scowl at Curry until a relieved Mr. Beckett, after gratefully paying the partners, had them escort him to the return train to Helena.

—oooOOOooo—

[Chapter note: ** – That is, in the style favoured by “Wild Bill” Hickok.]

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