2. Chs 4 to 6

CHAPTER FOUR

Wednesday 13th June 1883

Next evening, bathed, barber shaved and spruced up in freshly laundered shirts, Kid and Heyes presented themselves at the Connor house. The door was opened by a beaming Meg who ushered them into an airy sitting room. Kate, seated sketching at a sloping desk, positioned to catch the last of the evening’s sunlight, rose to shake hands and invited them to sit down.

“Emerson is still at the office. I’ve warned him not to be later than seven. Dinner is planned for seven thirty, so if – or should I say when – he forgets, we have a safety margin.”

Meg had moved to a sideboard bearing bottles and glassware.

“Can we offer you an aperitif?”

Kid blinked at the word, but relaxed as Meg carried on, “We’ve opened red wine to breath before dinner – would you like a glass now? Or there’s sherry, or perhaps a whiskey?”

“Whiskey’d be just fine, ma-am,” said Kid and Heyes nodded a ‘same here’.

“Meg, please.”

“And please, do call me Kate.”

Heyes raised his glass in a smiling salute.

“Meg, Kate, here’s to a pleasant evening.” His eyes swept around the room, “You sure have got things nice here, Kate. Kinda civilised and refined, but not so refined a man can’t relax.”

She smiled.

Meg poured both ladies a sherry. As she sat down she shifted a small pile of new dime novels from the chair and placed them on a low table.

Heyes glanced at them, “Changed your readin’ matter, Meg?”

She nodded, “Mmm. I wired my publisher yesterday from Helena, that a fair copy of the last fifty thousand words on the – frankly repetitive – romantic adventures of Robin Hood have been sent off to him in charge of the US mail.” She sipped her drink, “He wired back orders for my next assignment and he’d already sent a package of background material to this address.” She indicated a pile of papers lying on the table. “Since I’m not ashamed to say I need the money, I’m getting started.”

Heyes turned over the volumes on the table, “Deadwood Dick; Billy the Kid; Dynamite at Deadwood Pass -.”

“I picked up what I could from Brady’s mercantile across the way,” she said. “Since I’m out here soaking up the atmosphere, he’s signed me up to do six volumes with a Wild West theme. Still written to appeal to the female market though. Minimum of three love scenes per volume.”

Kate spoke up, “And four – count them, four – masterly etchings in glorious black and white depicting the heroes and heroines in dramatic situations.”

Meg grinned at her, “Kate is doing my illustrations. Just like the good old days before she dwindled into matrimony and Montana.” The girls exchanged a look and Kate laughed.

“In fact, Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones -” said Kate, then corrected herself with an appealing smile, “Joshua, Thaddeus, we wanted to ask your advice on one or two matters.”

Meg picked up the copy of ‘Billy the Kid, Showdown at Coyote Creek.’ and turned to a page marked with a folded down corner.

“It says here, his gun is tied down with a thin strip of rawhide. ‘Tied down’, just means -” she indicated Heyes’ weapon, “Like that. Doesn’t it?”

“Uh huh,” said Heyes cautiously.

“Why do you do that? I mean I know it’s supposed to make taking your gun out quicker… but how?”

Curry shifted in his seat, “It holds the holster in place, during a draw.” Kid explained. “An’ you adjust the position till it’s in the natural place for your hand to reach and cock in one movement. If you practice – tends to end kinda low an’ forward on the hip.”

Meg frowned, “Would you show me?”

Heyes saw Kid torn between reluctance to demonstrate a fast draw and unwillingness to appear churlish in the ladies’ eyes.

“Sure Meg,” he said, standing up himself. “Course, I’m not claimin’ to be fast like Billy the Kid. Him bein’ accounted fastest gun in the west,” he added, with the merest flick of his eye to catch Kid’s chagrined expression.

“Oh no! Please do it slowly so we catch it,” said Kate, pencil in hand.

“You’re not sketchin’ me, ma-am?”

“Only the angle of the gun – do you mind?”

“I don’t mind that. Just can’t bear having my likeness taken.”

“You understand with them features, he’s naturally kinda modest,” put in Kid, earning a flash of return annoyance from Heyes.

Meg readied a pencil and notebook, “Off you go.”

Heyes drew his gun, towards the unoccupied corner of the room. It was smooth, but Kid could see he’d slowed down to about a quarter of his usual speed.

Two pencils scribbled. One sketching lines of movement, one shorthand notes.

Heyes looked enquiringly at the ladies and seeing two smiles of thanks, sat down and picked up his glass.

Meg, put down her notebook and returned to another marked page in the dime novel.

“Later on, it talks about the sear of the gun having been filed, making Billy even more lethally quick.” She looked up, “What does that mean?”

Kid leaned forward, “I think it means that some folk – wantin’ an edge – create a ‘hair trigger’.”

Kid rose and laid his gun on the table before Meg. Rising from her desk, Kate came to join them. Kid squatted down to point at the weapon. Meg leaned forward and Kate knelt at Kid’s side, sketchbook in hand to peer closely at whatever he was about to show them.

Kid, conscious of the close attention of both girls and of a stray curl of Kate’s, nodding only inches from his fingers, began to explain.

“This catch holdin’ the hammer is called a sear….”

Kate touched his hand to interrupt. Kid looked at her. She was smiling, warmly, at him. She held out a spare pencil.

“Could I possibly ask you to point with this?” Another friendly smile, as he took it. She tucked the stray curl behind her ear. “Thank you, Thaddeus, this is wonderful,” she said.

As Kate leant forward, the curl escaped and Kid watched it brush her cheek, before bobbing again close to, but not touching his hand.

Concentrating hard on the gun, Kid continued, “This is the hammer. This catch holding it cocked, is called a sear. If you wanna give yourself a hair trigger, you file down the sear. See, that way – it takes less pull on the trigger to release the hammer.”

He paused and glanced from Meg to Kate. Both nodded and gave him ‘with you so far’ smiles of encouragement.

Realising he was still looking at Kate, after she’d returned her attention to the gun; Kid cleared his throat and went on, “Now you can’t see it, but inside the grip – ” Kid rested his pencil end lightly on the grip “- is a spring. As well as filing down the sear, a man might grind that spring. Makes cocking your weapon smoother and so, faster.”

Both girls leant in close to see the location of the invisible spring. The end of the nodding tendril brushed the fingers holding the pointing pencil. Kid withdrew his hand as if it had been scorched. Neither girl noticed, as their own pencils scribbled rapidly. Kid straightened himself up and stepped back.

Gruffly, he said, “Course this all has risks. ‘Cause if you file the trigger too light, sudden jolt – you might just shoot through your own foot.”

“That’s why an experienced gun only loads five chambers,” put in Heyes. “Tends to keep a spare twenty rolled up under the hammer.”

“Do you do that?” Meg asked Kid, fascinated.

“Don’t always have a twenty about me,” said Kid with a wry grin at Heyes. “An’ a nickel just isn’t the same.”

He picked up his gun from the table and returned it to his holster. Kate rose and refilled the partners’ glasses, before returning to her desk.

Kid took another sip of whiskey; savouring how much better it tasted than saloon ‘regular’.

“So who are you plannin’ to have doin’ this fast draw, Meg? A free-riding cowboy? Heroic Texas Ranger?”

She shook her head.

“No,” she said. “The scenery may change, but I’m still on outlaws, sheriffs and jail breaks.”

A wave of foreboding swept over Heyes, as Meg went on, “I’m working on – ” she flicked back a page in her notes. “Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.”

Both partners kept poker faces, but their eyes took on a frozen glassy expression. Neither risked an exchanged glance. Grips tightened on the drinks clutched in their hands.

Interpreting the silence as non-recognition, Kate put in helpfully, “They rob banks.”

“And sometimes trains,” added Meg. She looked down at her book, “Hannibal Heyes opens safes.”

“Sometimes with dynamite. But sometimes he just turns the tumbles,” went on Kate.

“Tumblers,” corrected Meg.

“Tumblers,” agreed Kate. “Apparently they click. If you turn them right. And he’s supposed to work out complicated plans. And Kid Curry takes his gun out of its holster really, really, quickly.”

“A fast draw,” translated Meg, to show she’d now mastered the correct terminology.

Heyes’ and Curry’s eyes moved from one speaker to the other in unison. Both women continued to smile at the partners with uncomplicated friendliness.

Heyes forced himself to sit back in his chair, cross his legs and relax.

He sipped his drink and with a politely interested smile said, “You know, I think I read about them. Can’t believe ladies want to know about two ornery creatures like that.”

“Oh, apparently lots of readers fantasise about being swept away in the rough, manly embrace of an outlaw. Living a life of unbridled passion on the run. Offering up the love of a good woman,” said Meg.

Heyes resisted the temptation to ask if she had such a thing as a mailing list handy.

“Ridiculous isn’t it?” put in Kate, shaking her head in disbelief.

Kid’s shoulders drooped slightly in involuntary disappointment.

A brief silence fell. Schooled in the politeness of keeping pre-dinner chat flowing, Meg began again with, “I visited the Sheriff’s office, on the way back from the mercantile. Deputy Baker fished out the wanted posters, so Kate could get started on the first illustration.”

As this drew no response from her guests save for the return of a slightly glazed expression, Kate picked up the task of keeping the conversational ball in the air.

“Hannibal Heyes is your basic, ‘tall, dark and handsome’.”

“I’m going to give him a depth of expression in his brown brooding eyes that hints at a tragedy of lost love in his past. A certain indescribable melancholy will occasionally steal across his features, making the heroine yearn to reach the warm heart she knows still beats in his strongly muscled breast,” clarified Meg, in a matter of fact tone.

Heyes considered this. It did not seem to materially increase his risk of being recognised, he took a relieved sip of whiskey.

Kate shot her friend an amused look.

“Curry has blond curls. He’ll be boyishly appealing. Nice contrast,” she said.

“His smile will light up his youthful face, crinkling his sparkling blue eyes in a way no woman could resist,” expanded Meg. “When he throws back his head and laughs, sunlight catches the corn coloured hair, throwing out glints of gold. He will fling himself into the saddle with the easy grace natural to one of the perfectly formed athletes of ancient Greece.”

Curry couldn’t resist a grin of pleasure, “You got a real way with words, Meg.”

The two girls exchanged a glance.

“I can reel off that stuff by the yard,” said Meg. “It’s coming up with six different plots that hang together just enough to keep them reading for 50,000 words that I get paid hard cash for.”

Kate, who had continued to sketch at the large sheet mounted on her desk, put down her pencil.

“The first illustration’s nearly roughed out if you want to look.”

With a squeak of pleasure, Meg bounced over to stand behind her friend.

“Nice Hannibal Heyes,” she said appreciatively. A frown wrinkled her brow as she continued to gaze at the picture, “Don’t I recognise him from somewhere?”

Heyes felt his knuckles clench once again around his glass, until Meg blurted, “That’s the college chaplain who used to give appallingly dull sermons on women’s natural sphere.”

“Ask yourself though,” said Kate, leaning back to admire her own work. “Have you ever seen a man better sum up the phrase ‘tall, dark and handsome’?”

Meg pursed her lips and shook her head. Kid Curry could not help grinning at the mingled relief and vexation stamped on his partner’s face. Rising, he moved over to admire the sketch.

“Sure is one good lookin’ fella you’ve drawn,” he said reflectively. “But I never heard that larcenous rogue, Hannibal Heyes, is particularly easy on the eye.”

Heyes too, moved over to view the illustration.

“I can see Heyes is crackin’ a safe,” he said. “But this curly haired guy – what’s his name – what’s he doin’? Seems to be just wavin’ his gun at nothin’?”

“Don’t worry,” said Kate. “Once Meg comes up with a bit of plot, I’ll draw in something for him to aim at.”

Meg perked up, “He can shoot down the telegraph wires to prevent word from reaching the next town.

And when I do a train plot he can gallop up to the side of a runaway engine and with a single bullet push the brake into the on position, so it squeals to a halt inches from the lovely form of our heroine, Mary-Sue, who the villain has tied to the rails. Or he can shoot out six candles with six bullets plunging the room into darkness; allowing him to rescue Mary-Sue’s limp unconscious body, safely cradled in his powerful arms, from the villain’s leering henchmen. Or, from an incredible distance, his horse’s hooves thundering across the ground, he shoots through the fuse of the dynamite just before it causes a cave in to trap her underground; facing lingering death as the rising waters float her cloud of auburn curls about her heart-shaped face and her dewy violet eyes slowly close forever.”

Kid blinked, “Pretty fancy shootin’!” He mused for a moment, “Seems after doin’ all that he’ll get the girl. Can’t see – that other fella – standin’ a chance.”

Heyes was gazing at Meg, impressed, as he had been at dinner on Monday, at her fluency.

“This Mary-Sue, seems to get herself in some pretty tight spots.”

Meg grinned at him, “The plot is just a means to an end. I need to decide which man gets the heroine. Then at regular intervals she is pulled into his strong manly grasp. Her heart will pound within her soft bosom as she is crushed against the hard wall of his chest. Excitement floods through her yielding body. She would collapse save for the support offered by his steely arms.”

As Meg drew breath, Kate took over, “With a firm, but gentle, hand he will take her chin and raise her face to his. His eyes will pierce into her very soul, as he gazes longingly at her, then lowers his mouth first tenderly, then insistently, upon hers.”

Kate nodded at Meg, who without a break in the flow, continued, “His kiss will stun her senses, his caress awaken desires she can barely comprehend. Unable to resist, she will feel herself half swooning carried away on the tide of his mounting passion.”

She stopped.

Kid closed his mouth, which had begun to gape. He swallowed.

“Go on,” he urged hoarsely. “What’s next?”

Meg and Kate exchanged a glance.

Meg cleared her throat, “Next is a row of dots. Then we move forward about two hours in the plot.”…

-oooOOOOOOOooo-

Two hours later Emerson was explaining to his guests the iniquitous conditions imposed by mine owners upon their employees.

“The company treats them as human machines. Nothing but strong arms and backs, put onto this earth to harvest ore for the stamping mills.”

“Uh huh,” said Kid.

Back in Kate’s welcoming sitting room, the curtains were now drawn against the night. Oil lamps cast a rosy glow on his hostess lovely face and set lights winking from the tumbler in his hand. The Connors had supplied the best meal he had tasted in many long weeks; and kept his whiskey glass hospitably full. Kid felt listening to his host’s flow of reforming zeal was a small price to pay. In fact, he felt a reluctant liking for the man and had shifted, just slightly, from his, “What did she ever see in him?” starting position.

“Life in the tunnels is hard, dangerous and monotonous,” went on Emerson. “Miners labour amidst the reek of blasting powder, unclean bodies, rotten timber and human waste.”

“Uh huh.”

“As the cutting machines drill lower the temperature in the shaft rises. The men pour with sweat; and the deeper the shaft the greater the risk of collapse or flooding.”

“Guess so,” responded Heyes, taking his share of the conversational burden from Kid.

“Few miners have a stable domestic life to offer them respite. Most of the workforce is young, mobile, single.”

“Transients, huh?” put in Kid, causing Heyes to choke on the sip of whiskey he was taking.

“Transients. The very word, Mr. Jones. I couldn’t have put it better myself. Is it any wonder that these – transients – after labouring nine, or ten, or twelve hours in a man-made hell of dark, dirt, danger and degradation; straining every sinew to hew the cruel copper from the belly of the earth – ”

Heyes began to appreciate what lay behind Emerson and Meg’s friendship.

Emerson lost his thread and blinked at his wife.

“Is it any wonder…? ” she prompted.

“Is it any wonder that, with no wives to provide the comforts of home, men squander their earnings and precious free time in the saloons? Turning for comfort to the hollow pleasures of drink, gambling and – ” he glanced at the ladies before leaning forward and concluding in a low tone to his male guests, “- unfortunate women of a certain profession!”

Heyes clicked his tongue in disapproval; swallowing a laugh as he saw Meg and Kate hide indulgent smiles at Emerson’s careful wording.

“Thing’s were bad enough when Louis Hamilton was in charge. But now!” Emerson shook his head at the miners’ plight, “Thing’s are becoming intolerable since Carleton inherited. This latest ploy of his, to pay men with company credit – in my eyes the man is nothing more than a thief.”

“Must say – didn’t seem right,” said Kid, “The labourer is worthy of his hire – isn’t that what the good book says.”

“The labourer is worthy of his hire. Indeed, he is Mr. Jones. That is the very sentiment I intend to convey in my next editorial – nay -” the Easterner swelled out his chest before continuing; “it will not be a mere editorial – that is too tame a word – I will publish a diatribe, a DIATRIBE, Mr. Jones against this great wrong being perpetrated in our community.” Emerson nodded his head with determination, “I hope I’m a charitable man, Mr. Jones – but – this week, I intend to be ruthless. Oliver Carleton won’t know what hit him!”

Kid couldn’t help a wry grin at Emerson’s belief that a man like Oliver Carleton would be floored by a piece in the local paper.

“Not too long, darling,” put in Kate mildly. “Remember Meg or I have to edit it down to half a page.”

“How come Carleton inherited from this fella, Hamilton?” asked Heyes quickly, seeing Emerson open his mouth to continue planning his next article. “He a relation?”

“Mmmm. Brother-in-law,” said Emerson, again refilling the glasses.

“Strictly it’s his wife – Lydia Hamilton, that was – who inherits her brother’s mine. I think she was the only family he had,” explained Kate.

“People say,” said Emerson, “Hamilton thought the world of his younger sister, but never trusted Carleton as far as he could throw him. Thought marrying him was the biggest mistake Lydia ever made.”

“Of course ‘people will say’ anything,” said Kate, fairly. “But I do believe the whole capital is tied up in a trust for any children.”

Heyes looked an enquiry. Meg spoke up, from the chair where she sat, her feet curled beneath her.

“Even though married women have, in theory, had some control of their own property for over twenty years, the reality is there is little the law will do, unaided, to stop a husband managing and disposing of it,” she explained, her expression showing quite clearly what she thought of this state of affairs. “So, when a girl comes from a well-off family they might tie up at least part of her marriage settlement. She – and of course, her husband can spend the income – but can’t touch the capital, ” she continued.

“Carleton gets the revenues from the mine,” put in Emerson. “But he can’t sell. Not unless whoever Hamilton appointed as trustees for his sister agrees.”

“It’s common practice. Especially if you suspect a man to be a fortune-hunting wastrel,” said Meg. Looking at Emerson, a teasing smile playing across her face, she went on. “Kate’s step-mother was so disgusted when she accepted a penniless journalist, with – as she said – ‘no family background at all’; she had all Kate’s money tied up in an entail so tight that every other member of the human race is named to inherit before him.” She took a sip of her coffee. “Except me, of course. Because I introduced them.”

Kate smilingly shook her head, then twinkled up at her husband.

“Of course, I made sure he didn’t find out until after the wedding. Other wise he’d have left me at the alter,” she said.

“Too true!” exclaimed Emerson. “Can’t cook, can’t sew and bone idle. I strongly suspect you haven’t so much as started the ‘Man behind the Mine’ retrospective I asked for.” He was standing behind his wife’s chair leaning over her. She smiled fondly up at him and held up a hand. He clasped it, bringing the palm briefly to his lips, before dropping a light kiss on the top of her head.

“What would a man want with you, if not your money?” he asked teasingly.

“Don’t worry, Darling,” she smiled, gently rubbing his hand against her cheek before releasing it, “Any day now I intend to run away and leave you. As soon as I save enough from the housekeeping for train fare.”

Kid’s eyes widened at Emerson’s first words. Then he realised the banter echoed that between himself and Heyes. The gentle prodding was safe because each partner knew real affection lay behind the teasing, never doubting the other’s loyalty.

Seeing the glow in Kate’s eyes as she looked up at Emerson, Kid dropped his gaze. A pang for the chances he had forgone in choosing an outlaw’s life gave him a sudden, hollow, lonely feeling. He became aware that Heyes was looking at him. Meeting his partner’s eyes, Kid gave a tight little smile. Heyes might never settle. But Heyes knew what made Curry ache so for amnesty. However much Kid loved life on the trail with his partner; he also – now – yearned for this. Home, wife, looking forward with joy to the birth of a child.

Giving himself a mental shake, Kid realised Meg was speaking.

“…gross calumny!” she was saying, “I’ll have you know Kate and I worked on ‘The Man behind the Mine’ this very morning! We put on our best bonnets and visited Mrs. Carleton to ask for background on her brother. ‘Early years of the entrepreneur.’ ‘The boy that became the man.’ That kind of thing.”

“We explained it was a tribute piece, marking the anniversary of the day they struck copper. But she didn’t want to talk about him. Nor about how she met Carleton,” said Kate.

Meg bounced into a more upright position, “I never met such a monosyllabic woman. You’d think we were asking about some terrible secret,” she exclaimed.

“Maybe she’s just shy,” excused Kate, kindly, “She was chatty enough when the maid brought in the baby.”

“Oh yes!” said Meg, “The pair of you were like a mother’s meeting! But we weren’t there to hear about how much little Oliver weighed when he was born; and how she’s sure he has his father’s chin!”

“She certainly can’t be drawn on anything to do with the past. Doesn’t want to talk about Boston, nor her time in Chicago,” agreed Kate, “I suppose from her point of view, it’s none of our business. Never mind,” Kate went on to Emerson, “Last week, I wired Jimmy back at the Boston Enquirer. He’ll hunt through the archives and send on any background he finds on Hamilton or Carleton.”

Emerson smiled at both girls.

“Lydia Carleton has never been sociable,” he said. “At first everyone put it down to grief over her brother. After travelling so far to be at his sickbed, she arrived just too late. But that was four months ago. And it’s not as if they’d seen each other often since her marriage. Carleton bought into the meat packing business and they’d lived in Chicago for years.”

Kate’s brow creased. “I feel sorry for the woman,” she put in, “She has no friends. I sent my condolences on her brother’s death and visited two or three times – but she never repaid the compliment. I did take a little gift when baby Oliver was born. She hardly ever comes into town – not even to church. She spends all day, every day, sitting in that great barracks of a house up on West Hill. And everyone knows her husband spends hardly any time there.”

Suddenly they heard a visitor knock at the front door. Meg went out into the hallway to answer it.

Returning a moment later she said, “It’s Mr. Carleton to see you, Emerson.” She cast a worried look behind her; “Two other men are with him.”

Sensing trouble, Heyes and Curry caught each others eye and moved quietly to a position outside the immediate line of vision of anyone entering the room.

Kate moved forward to receive the visitors casting a surprised look at her husband.

“Speak of the devil,” she mouthed, then, “He’s never called before. What can he want at this hour?”

Her husband responded with a puzzled shrug.

“Mrs. Connor, always a pleasure to see you, ” declared the confident tones of Oliver Carleton striding in. He was followed by Joe and Caleb.

The visitor at once turned to Emerson, “I dare say you’re surprised to see me. The thing is, I know you struggle to get that newspaper of yours to turn a decent profit. Now, I can see potential there – I could turn it round. So I’m making you an offer for the business. $4,000. You go back East with a nice little stake to set you up somewhere where folks are educated enough to appreciate your writing. I get me a nice little commercial venture.”

“$4,000?” exclaimed Emerson. “That’s very generous. The business can’t be worth half that.”

A smug smile settled on Carleton’s face.

“I can afford to pay for what I want.” he said.

“Very generous,” repeated Emerson. “But I can’t possibly accept. I’m determined to make a success of the paper.”

“That’s real disappointing,” Carleton said, “But I’m a reasonable man. Suppose I say $8,000?” A hard look came into his eyes, “Think again. Move back east.”

“I’m sorry,” said Emerson firmly, “It is out of the question. I’ve no wish to be discourteous to any guest in my home, but I believe there’s a moral obligation to print the truth about conditions at the mine and the unethical tactics you use to swell your profits.”

Carleton smiled coldly at the Easterner. His eyes indicated his companions, “I brought a couple of my men along. Wondered if they could persuade you – friendly like – this place is too rough for a Boston raised greenhorn.”

Joe looked uncomfortable at this.

But Caleb, eyes moving over Kate’s body, added, “You must worry ’bout your wife. Kinda dangerous here for such a lovely lady.” He turned to Emerson, hand resting noticeably on his holster.

Kid strode forward, eyes beginning to glower dangerously. Heyes followed, touching his partner’s arm lightly with a restraining hand.

Heyes coughed and looked at Kate.

She responded at once, “I believe you already know Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. They were kind enough to dine with us tonight.”

Startled, Carleton looked appraisingly at the ex-outlaws. He felt the intangible air of suppressed danger. He met Heyes’ gaze, receiving a bland smile, which did not reach the dark challenging eyes. Shifting his attention to Kid, he met a steely blue stare, which again sent a chill down his spine.

“Howdy boys,” said Heyes to Joe and Caleb, “Looks like we’ve all called on Mrs. Connor on the same evening.” His eyes flashed a warning, “Isn’t that sociable?”

Caleb looked from him to the still glowering Kid and shifted his feet awkwardly. Clearly, the odds were no longer as expected.

Oliver Carleton took another long deliberating look at the partners. It was clear to Heyes and the Kid he had decided, for the present, discretion was the better part of valour. He smoothed the scowl, which marred his otherwise handsome face, with an effort.

“Bear my offer in mind,” he said turning to leave. “Of course,” he paused for effect, “I can’t promise to hold the price.”

Heyes noticed that Joe laid his hat on the sideboard as he left. Seconds later he returned ostensibly to retrieve it.

“Jones,” he hissed, beckoning to Kid.

Kid frowned, but stepped closer.

“It ain’t me that told ya,” began Joe, “but Deke Simons’ been trawlin’ the saloons lookin’ for ya. That’s why he ain’t with Carleton tonight. Take my advice – get outta town.” He saw Kid’s reaction to this and added, “If’n you’re too damn ornery – leastways watch your back.”

Kid met the man’s eyes.

“Thanks,” he said briefly.

The Connors blinked at each other as the last man left.

Turning to Heyes, Emerson spoke seriously, “Maybe I’m too suspicious – but I think he meant to threaten me.”

As Kid rolled his eyes, Heyes looked at Emerson, eyes wide with assumed disbelief.

“You reckon?”

“The question is,” said Kate astutely, “if he’s ignored everything our paper said about him for the last four months – why suddenly threaten us now?”

-oooOOOooo-

CHAPTER FIVE

Thursday 14th June 1883

Heyes spent the next day playing poker with off-shift miners who did not understand the odds of helping two pair.

Kid, feeling restless, preferred to spend a fine summer day outdoors. The ex-outlaws had purchased horses and gear for their stay in Butte, first agreeing with the horse-trader terms should they wish to resell. Curry told his partner he intended to ride out – do some thinking.

That evening, the pair were walking from their hotel, to the town’s fanciest saloon. Across the street they saw Emerson, locking up the newspaper office, preparatory to returning home. Strolling over, they invited him to join them for a drink.

Emerson hesitated, tempted, but checking his watch anxiously, “I really shouldn’t but – well – I don’t suppose one would hurt – I’m sure Kate wouldn’t mind – just for half an hour -” As he walked along, he said jokingly, “Do you thank heaven you’re still free and single when you see me – a poor hen-pecked husband – worrying what the wife will say if I’m late for dinner?”

Heyes responded with a light laugh. But Curry realised his involuntary, “No,” sounded too curt as soon as it left his mouth. The hint of a flush on his cheek, he strode ahead through the batwing doors.

Before all three glasses were filled, the partners became aware of a ripple of tension and a thinning of the crowd around them. Deke Simons had entered the saloon, Caleb following close behind. Simons swaggered up to the bar.

“Followed you in here, Connor – wanted a word,” he said. His hooded eyes flicked toward Kid. It was unspoken – but the message was, “You too, Jones.”

Emerson merely raised a polite eyebrow waiting for more.

“Mr. Carelton wants to know if you’ve reconsidered his offer?”

Emerson shook his head.

“No,” he replied. Short but civil.

“He’ll be real disappointed when I tell him. Anythin’ I can say to change your mind?”

“I think it’s unlikely,” said Emerson.

Simons stared at the lanky Easterner. A beat. Then he held out his hand to Caleb, palm uppermost. Caleb laid his own gun on Simons’ hand. Holding it by the barrel, Deke Simons placed the gun on the bar, beside Emerson.

“Know you don’t carry a gun, Connor. So just puttin’ that there. Case anythin’ I say makes you feel like reachin’.”

Heyes and Curry stiffened. Simons meant to provoke Emerson into giving him a tenable excuse to kill.

Emerson looked at the gun in front of him for a long moment, then slowly raised his eyes back to Simons.

“I don’t think that’s likely either,” he said.

The partners had to give the man credit – his tone was still calm.

Deke Simons continued to stare at Emerson. The saloon clock ticked. Then, suddenly, Simons shifted his weight and pushed back his hat.

“Dare say you’re right. Dare say you are,” he said in a falsely affable tone with an underlying hint of menace, “After all – not as if I’m goin’ to say anythin’ a reasonable man could take offence at. Was goin’ to say how much I admire you, Connor. I admire a man who knows his own limitations.”

A beat.

Emerson met his eyes, waiting.

“I mean – you’re a sensible man,” went on Deke Simons, “You know a scrawny, skinny, Miss Nancy like you can’t hope to satisfy that pretty wife of yourn. So when a coupla young bucks come sniffin’ round – ” Simons’ eyes swept over the two ex-outlaws, “- do you object? No! You invite ’em round. Give ’em dinner. You stand here – lettin’ em buy you whiskey.”

Heyes felt Curry tense. He laid a light, restraining, hand on Kid’s arm. With a tiny shake of the head, Heyes sent a silent message to his partner, “Don’t let him push you.”

Emerson was no longer meeting Simons’ eye. He focused on a spot on the floor about ten yards away, his mouth clenched tight with misery at the tactics the gunslinger was using. Simons’ paused, giving his intended victim a chance to respond.

Then he continued, “Course she’s already spread her legs for Jones here. Caleb saw ’em today. Down at the river. Together. Pretty as a picture. Ain’t that right, Caleb?”

Caleb shuffled his weight from foot to foot. He glanced at Kid, licked his lips nervously and said nothing.

Deke Simons’ eyes flicked again to Kid, his secondary target, “Ain’t that right, Jones?”

Heyes glanced at the flush on his partner’s cheek. He realised Simons was telling that most dangerous kind of lie. One with a tiny grain of truth.

Receiving no answer, the hired gun went on, “We was both wonderin’ – since she’s started givin’ it away – what’s a fella gotta do to get in line?”

There was a smothered, dirty, snigger from one of the listening customers.

Simon’s raised his voice, “Ain’t you listenin’ to me, Connor. Tellin’ you your wife’s a w-. Ain’t you got nothin’ to say to me?”

Emerson met the man’s eyes for a beat.

“No,” he said simply, neither raising nor lowering his voice. “Everyone here already knows you’re a liar. I don’t have to say it.”

There was silence in the saloon. It was broken by Deke Simons’ voice – now cold and menacing.

“Call me a liar again – I’ll kill you where you stand whether you’ve the guts to reach for that gun or not.”

To his horror, Heyes saw Emerson’s mouth open ready to repeat the word and his partner tense to draw in the man’s defence. He pressed his boot down on the Easterner’s foot, caught his eye and flashed a warning – “Don’t.”

Emerson subsided.

Another beat.

Then with a sneer, Simons turned to the Kid.

“What about you, Jones. Feel like drawin’? Or weren’t she worth it, spite of them invitin’, $20 a trick, bordello eyes?”

Before Simons finished, Heyes began to laugh. Holding up his hands, open-palmed, to his shoulders, he walked toward the gunslinger. Shaking his head, he kept his voice light.

“Think you got the wrong idea about my partner, Mr. Simons. He’s not the kinda man who fights over somethin’ so unprofitable as high-falutin’ notions about a lady’s good name.” Heyes reached Deke Simons, who like his boss, dismissed him as just Kid’s smart-mouthed partner.

“He just isn’t that kinda man,” Heyes repeated.

The smile dropped from his face. His eyes became dark and dangerous.

“But I am!”

As soon as the words left his mouth, his knee slammed into Simons’ groin. As the gunslinger doubled in agony, Heyes’ punch to the gut knocked the breath from his body. A double-handed, chopping, blow to one temple knocked the man to the floor and the ex-outlaw’s kick to the other knocked him out.

With his boot Heyes gave an exploratory rough nudge to the ribs to confirm Simons was unconscious. Then he rested his sole briefly on the man’s chest to check he still breathed.

Looking up, he issued a silent challenge to Simons’ companion. Caleb gaped from the still body on the floor, to Heyes warning eyes. Without recovering his gun, still lying on the bar, he turned and scurried out into the street.

Heyes strode to the bar. He did not look back. Without meeting the eyes of either Curry or Emerson, he drained his glass.

Then, to the wide-eyed barkeep, he said, “You’ve trash needs cleanin’ off the floor.”

The hum of excited conversation rose around the saloon. Two men took an arm each and bore the slumped form of Deke Simons away to the town Doc.

Kid put out a hand to pull Emerson away from Heyes.

“Leave him!” Kid snapped.

“But – ”

“Leave him! It’s me gotta thank him, not you. Knew if I had to draw – ‘gainst a man earnin’ $60 a day for bein’ fast – mighta had no choice but to kill him. Give him a minute.”

Kid turned the whiskey in his hand, but did not drink. Heyes talked his way out of trouble not because he was scared of a fight – but because he hated the ferocity it released from him. That final move – checking if the opponent was dead before walking away – was not done for effect. Heyes knew once he tapped the cold fury needed to win, clean and quick, he was capable of killing. Worse – he was capable of wanting to. Heyes had risked facing his violent shadow for one reason only. To save his partner from dragging the burden of another life taken. If Curry yearned for amnesty to settle; he knew Heyes’ nightmare was that it might not come before the dangers the partners faced turned him from a potential to an actual killer.

Conscious of Kate’s husband silent beside him, Curry twisted but did not raise his glass. Uncomfortably, without looking around, he said in a low voice, “What Simons said – I mean about the river – was nothin’ – I don’t want you to think – ”

Fear that anything he said might make matters worse had held him silent during the gunslinger’s prodding. The same embarrassment brought him to a halt now.

Emerson helped Kid out by completing his sentence.

“You don’t want me to think my wife’s been unfaithful with you.” He took a calm sip of his drink, “I don’t. I think this morning you met her coming out of the mercantile, got off your horse to say ‘hello’ and offered to walk her home. I think since it was a glorious day the pair of you – at her suggestion – strolled on as far as the river and sat for a while in broad daylight in full view of anyone who might go past on the main road. You believed – quite reasonably – that since we’d had what could be called a threatening visit the evening before, she might not feel comfortable walking alone – and were being a perfect gentleman.”

Emerson took another sip of whiskey.

Obviously, husband and wife had met up at some time during the afternoon.

Kid gave an awkward smile, but something compelled him to carry on.

“She never gave me so much as a glance – I mean not in a way that might make a man think – ”

“Thaddeus. – ” Emerson gently tried to stop him.

“- And I wouldn’t – wouldn’t even think of -”

“Thaddeus -” Emerson tried again.

“- I mean – ”

By this time, Heyes had had his minute. He turned back to his companions and listened to his partner flounder again to a stop. Heyes met Emerson’s eyes and was not a little impressed at the understanding they held.

“Thaddeus – ” Emerson paused, searching for the best way to express what he wanted to say. He remembered Kid’s biblical quotation from the previous evening, “- when the patriarchs handed down the tenth commandment, I believe they meant to warn us against indulging in brooding, resentful, jealousy. I don’t think they had in mind involuntary, fleeting, wistful, “if onlys”, watching a woman skim stones off the water.”

Kid mulled this over. Very slowly he relaxed.

“Know what I think Emerson? Think you’ve been holdin’ out on us.” Kid gave a wry smile, “That was too d-n accurate. No way are you a real newspaperman.”

At that point, the barkeep approached, glass and towel in hand. With a nod he indicated a figure standing in the open doorway of a private back room.

“Mr. Lloyd,” he said, “wonders if you can spare him a minute?”

-oooOOOOOOOooo-

Chris Lloyd ushered the three men into the backroom. To their surprise, they saw Hal already seated at the table.

Lloyd offered them a seat, a drink – the good stuff – then took a chair.

“We saw what happened just now,” he began. He looked intently at Emerson, “Carleton’s hired gun tried to provoke you into a fight, Connor. Even if he’d managed to prod you into reaching – he risked the law calling it murder. So he must have been d- well paid.” Lloyd paused, then went on, “The question is – how did you offend Oliver Carleton so much he’s willing to pay Simons the kind of money he’d need to kill and then disappear?”

“It isn’t the first attempt,” put in Heyes. “Yesterday, the man offered him $8,000 to get outta town.”

Four pairs of eyes looked enquiringly at Emerson.

He shrugged, shook his head and then ventured, “I suppose my paper’s been fairly scathing recently.” He turned to McBride, “Carleton refuses to recognize the Miners Protective Association. I try to offer Hal here an outlet for his arguments. Perhaps it hasn’t gone down too well. Perhaps Carleton thinks it’ll stir up opposition to his methods.”

Chris Lloyd gave a short bark of laughter.

Shaking his head, he said, “Look! If you and McBride believe the men hang on your prose week after week and don’t turn straight to advertisements, personals and items for sale – that’s your privilege. But, I don’t think Oliver Carleton’s decided to have you shot because you’re about to raise the masses with a curtly chosen adjective!” Sitting forward, hands clasped on the table, Lloyd continued, “You’re not the only one he’s tried to buy off. Couple of times now he’s offered for my fifteen percent – good offers. And he’s made it pretty clear he’d expect me to leave if I accepted.”

“Why don’t you?” asked Heyes bluntly.

Lloyd swirled the whiskey in his glass for a long moment before replying.

“No two ways about it, I went into mining to make money. My partner and I were in the Black Hills to get rich. We came here to get richer.” He sipped his drink, “But that’s not all of it. It’s my profession. I’m good at it. D- good. I can judge where to sink a shaft – when to dig – when to blast.” Lloyd grinned as if he knew what he was about to say was fanciful, “When I look at a piece of rock, Mr. Smith, the metal inside sings – come get me!”

Heyes thought of an unopened safe – and understood.

Lloyd sipped his drink and went on, “This is one of the largest copper strikes ever. Worked properly the seams will take decades to play out. We’re sending thousands of tons back east – and that’s just the beginning. Copper from Montana will help take electricity from one side of this country to the other. Europe too. Houses and streets lit by it. Factories powered by it. It’ll change ordinary people’s lives. I found that seam. I want to be part of that change.” He looked at Emerson, “Guess you’re surprised to see McBride and me sitting down together? After all – we’re on what you might call, opposite sides of the fence.”

Emerson shrugged and nodded.

“It’s a case of – ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. We’ve been talking over that business with the payroll yesterday.” McBride explained. “Wondering what lay behind it?”

This was the equivalent of pressing Emerson’s ‘start’ button.

“What lies behind it is a selfish drive to squeeze more profit from those with nothing but the labour of their backs to sell. To engender an even more absolute dependency on the employer for housing and other necessaries of life. To unfairly inflate the price of those necessaries for mere gain. A wanton disregard for…”

Hal McBride held up a hand to stop him, “No. Really behind it. What’s causin’ the way Carleton’s behavin’?”

Lloyd coughed and said, “You see, I plead guilty to a selfish drive to squeeze profits out of that mine. Like I said, went into it to make money. But -”

McBride finished for him, “But you wouldn’t pull a stunt like yesterday. Nor would Hamilton. We used to be able to discuss hours, terms. Didn’t agree ’bout ’em. But worked somethin’.” He took a sip of his drink, “An’ the way he mines – just plain wrong.”

Lloyd nodded, “One thing we didn’t argue about. Hamilton left all the technical side to me. McBride there’ll back me up. We might argue about wages. Not about air vents. Not about taking the time to shore up the walls. Not about using properly seasoned wood for the props.” He frowned, “Dangerous enough without that.”

Heyes gave both men an appraising look.

“So – you’re agreed – Carleton’s a skunk. But – this askin’ what’s behind it?” Heyes nodded toward Emerson. “Don’t think I can say it like he did – but I got the gist. Isn’t he just doin’ it all to make more money.”

“He won’t!” exploded Lloyd. “Might make it faster for a month or two – but it’s a fool’s way. Won’t make more – he’ll make less.”

McBride went on, “Refuse to discuss basic issues and you’ll find gangs driven desperate, retaliatin’ with rifles and dynamite….seen it before.”

Lloyd nodded in agreement, “Told him a dozen times. I went to his place last night. Only second time I’ve been there – never invited – didn’t get past the hall. All but threw me out. I saw his wife watch me leave from behind the curtain. Looked scared stiff.”

McBride continued, “Skimpin’ on the props; rushing the blast. Goin’ to be a real bad accident soon. Not just someone losin’ use of a hand or a foot – ”

The partners winced at what constituted an accident unworthy to be considered ‘real bad’.

“- but a real disaster,” McBride finished.

“Won’t cost him only lives,” said Lloyd. “It costs us more to reopen shafts caved in, than it would to mine them right first time.”

“See,” McBride said, “It’s as if he wants to make money real fast – then get out. Made us think he’s got reason not to stay. Somethin’ to hide.”

Chris Lloyd looked at Emerson, “Then we see his hired gun try to run a journalist out of town. Wondered if you’d found something out?”

Emerson furrowed his brow, but shook his head.

“Have you been asking around about something? Researching anything? Wiring out questions?”

The newspaperman again pondered hard, “I don’t recall anything. Nothing unusual.”

Lloyd sighed, disappointed, “If anything does occur to you – will you let me know?”

Emerson glanced at his friend Hal McBride, then said, “I’ll do that Mr. Lloyd.”

McBride gave him a serious look, “Watch your back.”

Emerson rose.

With a smile he said, “If I don’t leave now Carleton won’t have to hire anyone else to kill me – Kate will take care of it. Goodnight Mr. Lloyd. Hal, Joshua, Thaddeus.”

They watched him leave.

Chris Lloyd spoke, “Mister Smith, Mister Jones – I liked the way you handled yourselves out there. Liked the way McBride here says you handled things yesterday.”

The partners glanced at each other and waited for more.

Lloyd continued, “Hear you turned down an offer to work for Carleton. Would you consider an offer from me? For a ‘reputable security job’.”

“Need to know what it is before we can consider it,” said Heyes blandly.

“I’ve 400 tons of copper to be transported to Helena, then East, leaving next week. It’ll need guards.”

Heyes smiled, “Sounds reputable. What’s it pay?”

Lloyd mentioned a rate. A good one.

The ex-outlaws held a silent conversation.

“Expectin’ any extras for that, Mr. Lloyd?” asked Curry.

“Just one – I don’t think you’ll object.”

Curry raised his eyebrow enquiringly.

It was Hal McBride that answered, “Watch Emerson Connor’s back. Case he forgets.”

-oooOOOooo-

CHAPTER SIX

Early hours – Friday 15th June 1883

Heyes and Curry returned to their hotel sometime after midnight. Before they had taken off their boots a shout from the street brought them to the window.

“Fire!”

“At the newspaper office – fire!”

The partners rushed out into the night, running towards the office. Smoke billowed from beneath the closed door and behind the dark windows bright flames licked the glass, guttering shafts of light and shadow into the street. Townsfolk were beginning to stumble out, rubbing the effects of sleep or whiskey from their eyes. Deputy Baker had emerged from the Sheriff’s office and begun to organise a bucket line from the standpipe.

Suddenly Heyes heard a shrill shriek. Turning, he saw two running figures coming from the direction of the Connor house. Way in front, sprinting like a heavily shod hare in the boots she’d dragged on beneath her nightdress, was Meg. Kate, heavier and not so used to running, lagged behind. The partners saw her stumble flat into the rough dust of the street, before clumsily pulling herself back upright.

Heyes could not catch what Meg was screaming. Then as she drew close words reached him.

“….. In there. Emerson. Came back….working late … setting racks…..he’s in there….”

To his horror she flew past him. She meant to rush headlong inside. Heyes caught her bodily around the waist, swung her off her feet and thrust her into Curry’s arms, where she kicked frantically to be set down.

“Hold her. I’ll go.”

Heyes plucked from Meg the shawl she had caught up to wrap round herself. Dunking it swiftly in a trough of water, he swathed it around head and shoulders, swung open the door releasing a wave of searing heat and dropping low, plunged into the flames.

Voices called after him.

“Come back. Too hot.”

“Roof’s goin’ to come in.”

“You’ll be killed.”

Curry shook the hysterical Meg hard. And again.

“Get a hold of yourself,” he yelled over the hubbub, his voice harsh to jolt her, “If I put you down – you goin’ to stay put?”

Meg took a huge sobbing gulp, trying her best to regain some self-control. She nodded and found herself dumped unceremoniously in the dirt.

Curry stripped off his jacket, soaking it in the trough. Holding it over his head he braced himself, then dipping down, went into the heat after his partner.

The smoke almost blinded him and choked his throat. He crawled just a foot or so along the floor. A clutching hand caught his arm. Heyes! Heyes had dragged the deadweight of Emerson’s body this far, he gestured desperately for his partner to take it. Curry rose to his knees and swung the man’s body round his shoulders. Taking care not to breathe, not to inhale, he squeezed shut his eyes, staggered to his feet and plunged back out to the street. He set down the body on the boardwalk, far enough to be out of further danger from the fire and away from the bucket line. The town doctor, pants crookedly pulled over his nightshirt, was already scurrying toward him. Curry turned to go back for Heyes, but to his relief saw his partner wriggle out of the door. He was on his belly to keep below the smoke, dragging himself awkwardly forward on his elbows, but he was safe.

Heyes pulled himself half upright and began to blindly stumble down the side of the street. His body jerked painfully as he was racked by a fit of coughing.

Meg ran up to him.

“Joshua. You got him out. You and Thaddeus. It’s the bravest thing I ever saw. Are you alright? Are you hurt?”

Heyes was still doubled over, holding onto a rail with both hands. He was shaking his head at Meg. As the coughing turned to a rasping retching in his scorched throat he tried to push her away. Too late. With a final heave he brought up the mess of smoke, smuts and ash he’d breathed in and swallowed in the fire. It spattered to the floor – in a pool of bile, stale whiskey and half digested food and splashed up over Meg’s already mud stained nightdress.

Heyes closed his streaming eyes in pain and embarrassment as he continued to retch dryly. Meg did not even recoil. She crouched down and held his head till the worst of the paroxysm was over. Then, with a corner of the wet shawl still wrapped round him, she wiped the saliva from his chin. Dragging his arm round her shoulders, she helped him over to the standpipe to swill out his mouth and ease his throat with a long drink of cold water.

This done Heyes found a quiet spot and sat on the boardwalk. Meg plumped down beside him.

His breath returning to normal he rasped, “Sorry Meg.”

Without looking up from the floor, he went on, “Don’t suppose Hannibal Heyes ever threw up over Mary-Sue, even if he carried her out of a dozen burning buildings?”

“That’s because my Hannibal Heyes is fiction. A silly made-up cog to turn an even sillier plot. You’re real, Joshua. I think you’re a hero.”

-oooOOOOOOOooo-

Meanwhile Kid Curry stayed by the unconscious Emerson. Kate joined him, still gasping from her run and from the agonised sobs shaking her. She saw a dark stain on Curry’s shirt. Terrified she touched the back of her husband’s head and drew her hand away, wet with blood. Unable to catch enough breath to speak, she held up her palm to show the doctor, now hurrying up to the injured man.

“Don’t lift him again. Keep him flat,” the doctor instructed. Then to two townsfolk waiting to help, “Fetch the stretcher from the surgery – we’ll get him back on that.” He laid his ear to Emerson’s chest; gingerly touched the edge of the head wound and pulled back an eyelid, “Breathed in a lot of smoke and a real nasty gash.” He shook his head, “Have to see. Get him home. Get some light.”

Kid looked down at Kate, kneeling in the dirt. She did not have any unnatural ability to cry prettily. Her skin was mottled with red patches, her eyes puffy, her nose pink, swollen and damp, her mouth contorted out of shape. One gleaming dark hank of hair trailed its curling end in a puddle. Curry clenched his fist so tight to stop himself reaching down to tuck it back over her shoulder that his nails cut into the flesh. Her distress caught at his throat more than the smoke.

Kate was feeling fruitlessly at the sleeves of her nightdress. Giving up she wiped her nose with her hand. Since her fall had sprawled her forward into the dust, this left streaks of wet and dirt across her face. Kid felt in his pocket and drew out a handkerchief. He pushed it into her hand. Without looking up, she took it, blew her nose hard and mopped herself up as best she could. Taking deep, deep, breaths – Kate pulled herself together. The blotches on her face faded from crimson, to rose, to blush. As the stretcher was lifted, she stood up beside it.

Watching her move away, Kid noticed her limp with every step. Looking down he saw one foot shod in inadequate soft velvet and one naked and muddy. Dashing out of the house, Kate had lost a slipper in her run through the dirt and cruelly sharp stones, which made up the surface of the street. Kid stepped forward and caught her up in his arms. Holding her awkwardly low, so her weight pulled painfully at the muscles under his arms, he ensured she could continue to hold her husband’s lifeless hand between both of hers. With a crab-like, sideways step, Kid carried her silently along the slow careful walk home.

Reaching the house, he set her down in the hall. Kid stood and watched Kate walk upstairs behind the stretcher. She did not look back. Kid Curry turned on his heel and went back down the street to join the bucket line as it extinguished the last of the fire and damped down the surrounding buildings.

oooOOOOOOOooo-

Once the risk of a surviving spark restarting the conflagration passed, most townsfolk dispersed back to their beds. At this point, Heyes saw something he only remembered happening once before. His partner, the notorious outlaw, Kid Curry, walked slam bang up to the town Sheriff, deep in conversation with one of his deputies and tapped him firmly on the shoulder. Swallowing down a fresh wave of nausea, this time the familiar sort brought on by proximity to star shaped badges, Heyes walked over to hear what Kid was saying. Meg, damp with both sweat and water splashes, from the heaving of bucket after bucket, trotted after him.

“…. saying that fire wasn’t no accident! Askin’ – what are you goin’ to do about it?”

Heyes heard his partner finish.

The Sheriff gave Kid a long appraising look.

Heyes was surprised to hear no hostility, only genuine – though brusque – enquiry, in his tone when he replied, “Got anythin’ to back that up, fella?”

Kid opened his mouth to reply. Closed it again. Scowled with frustration.

Then said, “No! But it’s true!”

The Sheriff sucked in his breath, “Hot weather – everythin’ dry as tinder. Lotta paper about in there – oil on the machines – burn real easy. Man was tappin’ in letter sets – metal on metal. Only takes a spark.”

“Man wasn’t overcome by the smoke!” exploded Curry again. “The back of his head’s stove in – someone knocked him out.”

Meg gasped in distress.

The Sheriff again gave Kid a long look.

“Hafta talk to the Doc ’bout that. But seems he coulda passed out – cracked his skull ‘gainst the press on the way down.”

“You don’t believe that,” said Heyes quietly.

“Need me a reason ‘fore I believe anythin’ else.” A beat. “Official like.”

The Sheriff’s eyes met those of Heyes. They understood one another.

Kid was still pushing.

“Suppose you heard – that snake Carleton sent a hired gun to kill him? Tryin’ to tell me this is a co-incidence?”

“What?” cried Meg, “Who tried to kill him? What happened?”

The Sheriff answered Kid carefully, “Heard ’bout the trouble with Deke Simons earlier. Don’t have me evidence he was sent by anyone. Do you?”

The silence was answer enough.

“Can’t be Simons set the fire -” the Sheriff glanced at Heyes, “- hear he ain’t stood up agin, yet! And Carleton left town for the smelting works in Anaconda today. Not back till Monday.”

Meg was tugging at Heyes’ sleeve.

“Oliver Carleton sent someone to kill Emerson? He never told us. Why? What happened? Why would anyone want to hurt Emerson? It doesn’t make any sense. Why would Mr. Carleton want Emerson out of the way?”

The Sheriff looked at the little figure of Meg, jigging from foot to foot as she shook Heyes arm.

“Now that, ma-am – that – is a very good question.” He gazed at the two ex-outlaws, “Either of you two boys got an answer?”

Heyes met his eyes and shook his head.

The Sheriff sniffed, “That case – ” he turned – “Baker – see Miss Spencer safe home. An’, ” he looked intently at his Deputy, “- stay an’ watch the house. Make sure nothin’ disturbs the ladies for the rest of the night. I’ll send Zeb Daly out to relieve you come mornin’.”

As Meg walked away, the Sheriff looked again at the partners.

“Need me a real good reason ‘fore I could question a man as powerful as Mr. Carleton. Sure you understand. Don’t need no reason just to change where I post deputies to watch for trouble – casual like.”

Kid still scowled, but Heyes gave the man a nod of understanding.

The Sheriff shifted his feet, “You two fellas both did real well tonight.”

The partners did not respond. The Sheriff looked at Kid, “Ain’t you the one took Deke Simons’ gun? Must be pretty fast.”

A beat.

Then Kid said, “Just lucky. He weren’t expectin’ it – couldn’t do it twice.”

“Payroll guards, huh?” the Sheriff asked.

“Uh huh,” in unison.

“Smith ‘n’ Jones?” a hint of cynicism in the Sheriff’s voice.

“Uh huh.”

“Stayin’ long?”

“Not long. Guardin’ the next shipment out,” said Heyes.

“Comin’ back?”

“No reason to.”

“That case – doubt I’ll have time to get to know much more ’bout you two,” said the Sheriff.

A beat. The ex-outlaws did not risk exchanging a glance.

“Like I say. You two boys did real well tonight. An’ anyone gets one over Deke Simons – fine by me.” He gave them a final appraising look before turning to leave.

The unspoken message was clear.

“I don’t wanna know – don’t do anything makes me have to find out!”

—oooOOOooo—

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