3. Chs 7 to 9

CHAPTER SEVEN

Friday 15th June 1883

Heyes and Curry waited till mid morning before calling to ask after Emerson.

“Doctor Bell stitched up the gash – and said there’s bound to be a concussion – but he thinks the skull has no actual fracture,” Meg told them.

“He come round at all?” asked Kid.

“For a few moments this morning.”

“He see who hit him?” said Kid, bluntly.

She looked at Kid, accepting the implication in the question. Then she shook her head.

“No and the Doctor says we’re not to ask. Not yet anyway. Even if he comes round again, he shouldn’t try to remember.” She drew in a deep breath, “But he did say – all things considered – we’re to hope for a full recovery.”

Meg led the partners into the sitting room.

“I’ve been doing some hard thinking about the sinister secrets in Oliver Carleton’s past,” she said, conspiratorially.

Heyes blinked, “What secrets?”

“I don’t know,” Meg said, adding reasonably, “They wouldn’t be secrets if I knew. But Carleton obviously thought Emerson was about to find out. So he must have something to hide.” She narrowed her eyes, “I should try and find out what it is. Do some real investigative journalism. After all – you could say it’s my professional duty.”

Kid spoke up sternly, “Meg – don’t go anywhere near Oliver Carleton.”

Meg smiled but said nothing.

Heyes frowned at her, “Thaddeus is right. The man’s dangerous. Don’t go interferin’.”

She looked back at him with the same bland smile.

“Are you hearin’ us?” asked Kid.

“Of course I am hearing you, Thaddeus. You’re standing less than four feet away.”

Heyes tried again, “Are you goin’ to stay away from Carleton?”

She thought carefully for several moments before answering.

“Yes,” she said.

Heyes realised his question had not covered all bases.

“An’ you won’t go pryin’ around, tryin’ to find if he’s hiding somethin’,” he continued.

She gazed back at him.

“How can I do that, Joshua, if I stay away?” she asked with eyes guilelessly wide. Before Heyes could reply, Meg moved quickly to the door.

“I’ll tell Kate who’s called,” she said. “I know she’ll want to see you.” As she turned the door handle, she paused as if struck by a sudden thought. “I don’t think you should frighten Kate by suggesting someone deliberately tried to kill Emerson. You don’t want her to worry more than she has to, do you? I think we should talk about something else.”

“Sure. Sure Meg,” said Kid, concerned.

Heyes looked long and hard at Meg. She met his eyes with bland innocence.

“Diversionary tactics,” thought Heyes.

Two or three minutes passed.

“Plenty of time to brief Kate,” reflected Heyes. Then he gave himself a mental shake – perhaps he was too suspicious.

The partners heard footsteps coming downstairs. Kate swept into the room.

“I’m so pleased you’re here. I wanted to see you so much,” she beamed. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am. You were both so brave. The Doctor says another five minutes in that smoke would have killed him.” Her eyes glowed from one to the other, “How can I ever repay you?”

Heyes gave her a self-deprecating shrug and a charming, dimpled, “It was nothing.” smile.

“And you were so very kind, Thaddeus. I never even said – ‘thank you’.”

Kid hunched one shoulder.

“Was nothin’,” he said gruffly.

“This is yours,” Kate said. She held out his handkerchief, washed and neatly ironed. Kid took it and looked at it lying in his palm. “I washed it with my own soap without thinking,” Kate apologised. “So I’m afraid it smells of lavender. But that’ll soon wear off.”

“It’d better. Cause Thaddeus usually tends to favour smellin’ of honeysuckle,” said Heyes, earning a frown from his partner, as the handkerchief was tucked – carefully – away in an inside pocket.

They sat down, Meg poured coffee.

Kid, conscious of his instructions to speak about ‘something else’, cleared his throat and asked, “How’s the book coming, Meg? Mary-Sue made her mind up yet?”

Meg pursed her lips thoughtfully, “At the moment she’s drawn to Kid Curry. But that’s only because I’ve already done two really good heroic scenes for him.”

Kid Curry gave her a, “Go on -” look.

Meg went on, “He’s overcome the villain’s sharp-shooting henchmen with an incredible display of nerve and skill. Surrounded by four sneering opponents – he draws – so fast the human eye sees nothing but a blur. Kid shoots off each holster. Then with his final bullet – he releases the knot suspending the trembling Mary-Sue from the rafters of the abandoned barn in which she is held. Leaping like a gazelle, Kid catches her into the safety of his arms before she hits the floor. Setting her gently down, with a caress to her damask cheek, he turns and renders each of the approaching heavies unconscious with a powerful blow.” Meg smiled at the real Kid Curry, “I was going to have an extra henchman, but I remembered what you told me about only loading five chambers. That was useful you see – because otherwise he’d have shot six bullets.”

“Yeah – you wouldn’t want the folk readin’ it getting all distracted. Thinkin’ – that’d never happen – over a little detail like that,” said Heyes.

Meg grinned at this, acknowledging a hit.

“That’s just Kid’s warm up scene,” she said, “Because I need a fast draw somewhere. His big scene comes at the cave in – in the gold mine.” She smiled happily, “Boulders and rocks fall into the mouth of the shaft – strong men flee in terror. But Kid is fearless. He darts forward – ignoring the warning cries around him. He disappears into the inky black maw of the shaft.

Time passes.

He must be dead!

But no!

Suddenly – out of the billowing dust and rubble – strides the heroic figure of Kid Curry. His jaw is set in a determined line. His blue eyes flash. His broad shoulders and narrow hips are silhouetted against the sky.

On and on he strides, carrying the limp but lovely form of Mary-Sue. Reaching a soft bank – strewn with daisies – Kid lays her down.

The cave in has torn the bodice from her creamy white shoulders, exposing curves so exquisite they would drive any man to distraction. Kid averts his chivalrous gaze. With a tenderly respectful hand he gently draws the silken covering back across the yet more silken flesh.”

Kate spoke up, “We decided that Kid Curry is always very chivalrous.” She screwed up her face in an effort to quote her friend’s words correctly. “No woman need ever fear in the company of pure-hearted Kid Curry. Never a word passed his lips, nor a glance went forth from his boyish blue eyes, nor did a thought cross his mind, which could raise a blush in the most modest of maidens.”

Kid tipped his head on one side and considered this, frowningly.

Then with a satisfied smile, he said, “Nice.”

Meg nodded, “We thought so. And having him very pure and clean living – it made a good contrast with Hannibal Heyes.”

Heyes, who had been taking a sip of coffee, choked.

“Hannibal Heyes has a murky past,” explained Kate.

“Figures,” said Kid.

“You see, when his wife died – “began Meg.

“His wife?” said Heyes.

“Mmm,” Meg filled in the blanks, “His child bride. He married her on his eighteenth birthday. She was just sixteen. They were both -” Meg paused, choosing her words carefully, “They were both spotless – like Romeo and Juliet.”

“Uh huh.”

“They spent only a year together. But it was a year in which every hour of every day was filled with the breathless bliss of perfect love.”

“Uh huh.”

“Then she died,” said Meg bluntly. “Tragically. That’s what causes the melancholy to steal across his handsome face.”

Kate took up the sad tale.

“Hannibal, made bitter by the cruelty of fate – turned to crime. AND to the hollow, meaningless, pleasures of dissipation, vice and debauchery.” She sipped her coffee. “He is besmirched,” she concluded, sadly.

Kid clicked his tongue in disapproval.

Meg hastened to reassure him, “He isn’t debauched now! The readers wouldn’t like that. Now he yearns to be washed clean by the love of a good woman. But – when he gazes into Mary-Sue’s pure eyes and considers how stainless a life she has led – he is struck dumb. How can he offer her an outlaw’s heart – tarnished by sin?”

Kid shook his head, “Certainly sounds like he oughta do the decent thing – step aside for the better man.”

Meg frowned. “Maybe,” she said doubtfully. “I’ll do a couple of heroic scenes for Hannibal – then decide.” She sipped her coffee, “I think Mary-Sue needs to be drawn to his darker, more-complex, nature. I want her to yearn to draw him to her bosom, nurse the scars of his broken-heart and help him turn away from vice forever. Then she will remember the simple, youthful honesty shining from Curry’s blue eyes – and be torn.”

“Why don’t you just write in another heroine?” asked Kate practically. “She’d only need a different name and hair colour. She could be tall and finely formed, rather than elfin and slender.”

Meg shook her head decidedly.

“Differentiating a second heroine isn’t the problem,” she explained, “The problem is the villain. He already has a full time day job grinding the noses of poor but honest mineworkers. It’s all he can do to find time to repeatedly kidnap Mary-Sue – the last thing I need is another sappy girl who needs roping in front of every oncoming train.”

Kate sipped her coffee and spoke up, “I don’t mean to be critical, but the villain is already a problem. If he just left Mary-Sue alone and stopped briefing sneering henchmen, no-one would suspect him of a thing.”

Meg gave her friend a rueful glance.

“That -” she said, “- is only too depressingly true. But if the villain did the sensible thing – sat tight and kept his mouth shut – the plot would immediately grind to a halt. I think we have to accept his under-motivated persecution as a convention of the genre.”

She sprang up, saying, “Anyway – back to Hannibal. You remember my publisher sent me some background material?” She fetched a pile of papers from the desk by the window, “These are accounts of safe crackings. Hannibal’s warm up scene will be cracking a safe in a bank vault. Not to steal anything of course – to recover evidence that the villain has cheated Mary-Sue out of her rightful inheritance. The gold mine really belongs to her.”

“I’ve nearly finished the illustration,” said Kate. “I just need a good look at a safe.”

“There’d be a top of the range safe in the offices, out at the mine.” said Meg.

“Brooker 404,” confirmed Heyes, adding instinctively, “1880 model – has the upgrade on the sequencing.”

“Oh,” said Kate, “And I know Mr. Carleton has a safe in his study out at West Hill. Mr. McBride told me.”

“No!” said Kid firmly.

He was met with two blandly innocent faces.

“No – what, Thaddeus?” asked Meg, wide-eyed.

“Just no. There’s a safe in the hotel where Joshua and I are stayin’. Sure they’d let you make a sketch of that, ma-am.”

“Is it up-to-date?” asked Meg suspiciously.

“Ordinary Magna-Lock – ’bout nine years old,” said Heyes. “Does it matter?”

“I suppose not – not really. Whatever Kate draws I can still write that the most ingenious engineers in the world cannot devise a safe capable of defeating the labyrinthine mind of Hannibal Heyes.”

“The what mind, Meg?” asked Kid.

“Labyrinthine – twisted, tortuous, winding – like a maze,” translated Kate.

“Uh huh,” said Kid looking at his partner and committing it to memory for future use. “Figures.”

“Because actually – I mean even in real life – Hannibal Heyes must be very clever,” explained Meg. She tapped the paper lying uppermost on her background material, “This is an account of how he broke into a Pierce and Hamilton 78 in the Merchant’s Bank at Denver.”

Heyes set down his cup very carefully, to avoid it rattling in the saucer. He sat back and looked at Meg with mild quizzical interest.

“Uh huh?” he managed.

Meg went on cautiously, “My publisher has a friend, who knows a lawman, who worked on the case. Of course I can’t use it. He only sent it to stimulate ideas – you know, colour. He asked me to be discrete. So I’d better not tell you how it was done.” She looked back down at the account. A thought struck her. She looked eagerly from Heyes to Kid, “Unless you two already know – being experts in security?”

Heyes and Kid shifted in their seats and recrossed their legs in unison.

Heyes drew in a breath and answered her warily, “We mighta heard somethin’ Meg. But your publisher’s right – best to be discrete.”

She nodded rather regretfully, then went on, “In any case – it’s no use for the novel. Far too complicated. Hannibal will just turn tumblers.” Meg settled herself once more to composition.

“Mary-Sue will watch him. She will see his powerful mind at work. Beads of sweat bedew his brow – furrowed with the concentration required for his task.

Her glance will fall to his skilled hands – the muscles dancing beneath taut, tanned skin.

How can fingers so steely strong be capable of a touch so feather-light, so sensitive?

She will watch Hannibal stoke the dial. Unbidden thoughts of the same fingers brushing across her delicate skin will cause a flush to mount her rose-leaf cheek.”

With a satisfied smile, Heyes laced his hands together. He stretched them out in front of him, flexing back the joints.

“Nice.”

Kid rolled his eyes.

“And for Hannibal’s big scene -” went on Meg, turning to Kate, “- I will be doing the usual peeling off the shirt by the lake routine. You can either draw him poised at the edge of the water, finely sculptured and sinewy – tensed ready to dive. Or – better – he can be striding out of the lake, water streaming from his shimmering skin, releasing a cascade of crystal droplets as he tosses back his glistening dark hair.”

“Why is – what’s his name – divin’ into a lake?” asked Kid.

Meg looked at him surprised. Surely it was obvious.

“If he doesn’t dive into a lake – how can Kate draw him with his shirt off and soaking wet?”

“Can’t he just take a bath?” said Kid.

“What on earth would be heroic about that?” asked Meg, reasonably. “Besides – maidenly Mary-Sue is hardly going to stand there and watch whilst he climbs into a bath.”

“Can’t argue with that, Thaddeus,” said Heyes.

“I think what Thaddeus means, Meg,” said Kate, smiling kindly at Kid, “is what is Hannibal’s plot motivation?”

“Oh! The villain has wrapped documents revealing his sinister secrets in oilskin, secured in a watertight metal box, fastened with locks of Gordian complexity. He has this impenetrable strong box chained to the bottom of the lake. You know – shades of Rosanna Spearman in ‘The Moonstone’.”

“Why?” asked Kid. “I mean why chain it to the bottom of a lake?”

Meg gave an impatient sigh, but before she could reply, Heyes spoke up, “If the villain didn’t hide the impenetrable strongbox at the bottom of a lake what reason would Hannibal have for divin’ into the water and cracking a lock of – Gordian -?” He checked the word with Meg. She nodded. “- Gordian complexity? Keep up, Thaddeus,” finished Heyes, winning an appreciative grin from Meg.

“Can he see to work, underwater?” asked Kid.

“His fingertips are so incredibly sensitive – he doesn’t need to use his eyes,” supplied Meg, folding her arms with determination and staring back at Kid.

“Don’t he need to breath?” pursued Kid.

“His steely strength, coupled with his resolve to help lovely Mary-Sue, render his lung capacity beyond that of ordinary mortals,” said Meg firmly.

Kid gave it up. Seeing him surrender, Meg was happy enough to make a concession of her own.

“Of course it’s all nonsense. If he had any sense the villain would just keep his sinister secrets locked in his own safe and hire guards.”

She paused. A thoughtful expression came over her face. Heyes watched her suspiciously. She noticed him looking and gave him another bland smile.

Kate spoke up, “You see Thaddeus, Meg has to make the hero marvellous, so the heroine can gaze at him and think things like;

‘He is unlike any other man I ever met’ -”

“Naturally, since he can breath under water,” interrupted Meg.

“Or – ‘I am not worthy of him’ – ” continued Kate.

“Which is true – because she has the brain and backbone of a lettuce,” smiled Meg.

“Or – ‘could any woman ask for more from a man?'” went on Kate.

“Which shows the heroine is a fool – because I can thing of a whole list of things more to ask for from a man.” Meg looked at Kate, “I mean – they’re all very well – but I’m sure your wish list didn’t comprise of diving and being able to pick locks – did it?”

Kate smiled and with a rather wistful look towards the door leading to the stairs, shook her head.

“Neither does mine,” agreed Meg, standing to pour herself a second cup of coffee.

There was a brief silence. It was broken by Heyes.

“What’s on your wish list, Meg?”

Kid shot his partner a sharp look. Heyes’ voice had lost the teasing tone he’d used when speaking about Meg’s novel.

Meg sipped her coffee and moved to stare out of the window. Her brow puckered.

“A respectful courtship,” she offered, “Followed by a sensibly phrased, non-ambiguous, proposal of marriage.”

“Done properly, down on one knee,” put in Kate.

“Someone who truly cares about making me happy,” said Meg.

“Someone who is interested in your opinions – not just the way you look,” went on Kate.

“Well – to be fair, I don’t have to worry about that,” said Meg regretfully, before continuing, “Someone who treats you as an equal partner.”

“Honesty. Moral fibre. No silly jealous game playing,” contributed Kate.

“Lifelong mutual fidelity,” sighed Meg.

Kate nodded, then added; “Now before I met Emerson,” she smiled, “I also demanded ability to make good coffee. But I compromised on that one.”

Meg laughingly shook her head, clicking her tongue in disapproval.

“I could never compromise on that. Good coffee has to be a given.”

“Quite a list, Meg,” said Heyes, quietly.

She looked round from the window and grinned at him.

“Yes. I noticed back in Boston I never exactly had to force my way through a milling throng of eager, well-qualified, candidates.”

Kate stood up.

“If you will excuse me – I think I should go back upstairs,” she said. She pressed the hands of each partner in turn, “Will we see you again, tomorrow? Come for lunch if you’re free.”

“Sure, Kate,” said Heyes. “‘Sides – we need Meg to tell us how Hannibal – an’ that other fella – foil the villain and get Mary-Sue her gold mine back. Got twenty four hours to work it out – should be more’n time enough.”

Kate smiled at this and moved to the door.

Meg called after her.

“Oh, I forgot to say, Doctor Bell said Mrs. Bell will come and sit with Emerson for an hour or so this afternoon. I’m under strict orders to make sure you have fresh air and exercise.”

“Goin’ out?” said a worried Kid.

“That’s where they keep the fresh air,” shot back Meg – deadpan – but with a sideways, laughing, glance at Heyes.

“Someone should go with you,” Kid persisted. Then, remembering Meg’s request ‘not to worry Kate’, he stopped.

“I think someone will go with us whether we like it or not,” Kate said, “Earlier, Meg fetched more linen for bandages from Brady’s mercantile. A Deputy Sheriff followed her. Another has been trying to melt into the background across from the house, all morning.”

Kate smiled reassuringly at Kid.

Meg then made him an offer.

“If it makes you happy, Thaddeus, I promise that when Kate takes her regulation hour of fresh air for ladies with child, we’ll put whichever lawman is discretely watching us, out of his misery. We’ll just hand over the reins and ask him to drive.”

—oooOOOooo—

CHAPTER EIGHT

That night, the partners, deciding to avoid the venue of last night’s altercation, patronised the second fanciest saloon in town. Kid Curry, his mind clearly elsewhere, left after a couple of beers, muttering something about cleaning his gun. Heyes let him go. If Kid needed to watch Deputy Baker watch the Connor house – so be it. Heyes thought as Carleton had left town the day before – presumably to be absent from the scene of any pre-arranged ‘incidents’ – he was probably not yet even aware that neither primary, nor back-up, plan had removed Emerson. In Heyes’ opinion, they had at least twenty-four hours before they had to fear further trouble.

With this in mind, the ex-outlaw found himself a friendly poker game and prepared to relax. Most of the players were young off-shift miners. Mr. Brady from the mercantile also took a hand. After an hour or so – as the pot was becoming interesting – an old-timer, bearded and grizzled, strode through the batwing doors.

“Room for one more?” he asked, affably?

“Long as ya brought ya money, Stubs,” answered one of the miners.

Glancing down, Heyes saw the reason behind the nickname. The digits on the man’s hands fell several short of the traditional ten.

As Stubs was dealt in, the same young miner asked, “How’s life out in the blastin’ supply cabin?”

The older man gave a ‘same old, same old’ shrug, then perked up.

“Had me a treat this afternoon. Had me a visit from that Mrs. Connor. Bit better’n lookin’ at your ugly mugs, huh?” he said, in the raised voice of one slightly deaf and accustomed to shouting over the noise of explosions.

There were a couple of appreciative chuckles.

Heyes looked up, suddenly wary.

“What she doin’ visitin’ a scrawny, chicken-necked old coot, like you, Stubs?” laughed a second miner.

“Got that friend of hers – that little Spencer gal – with her. Said she’s writin’ a noh-veel-la, ’bout a mine. Gonna do some account of a cave-in. Wanted to know ’bout blastin’ ‘n’ equipment ‘n’ such like.”

Heyes relaxed a little. After all, a cave-in did feature in Meg’s current work in progress.

The first miner opened for two dollars.

“Gal sure can talk,” said Stubs, “Things she told me! All that happens to this here, Mary-Sue, she’s writin’ ’bout. Don’t know how she thinks of it all.”

“Not far wrong there,” agreed Heyes, “Betcha thought dynamitin’ was a dangerous trade? Nothin’ compared to featurin’ as the heroine of a dime novel.”

He raised five dollars.

“Both real pleased to talk to me. One takin’ notes, one makin’ sketches. Big sheets of paper Mrs. Connor brung special, near two foot long. All rolled up loose in a grip – kept callin’ it an arteest’s portfolio – but looked plumb like a big ol’ grip to me.” Stubs had obviously enjoyed the novelty of a little feminine attention breaking up the working day. He went on. “Askin’ to see blastin’ caps, askin’ bout safety fuse. Wanted me to reach down a bottle o’ Nitro for ’em to look at.” Stubs, sucked at his remaining few teeth, before finally seeing Heyes’ five dollars. “Friendly as could be – pair of ’em,” Stubs said, “Course – the little Spencer gal – she ain’t exactly what you’d call a looker. Kinda skinny – nothin’ much in the way of – ” he made an indicative cupping gesture.

“Dunno, wouldn’t kick it outta bed! Not till mornin’ anyhow!” guffawed the first miner.

He became aware that sociable, easygoing, Joshua Smith had transformed into a somehow dangerous, still, presence at the table. Meeting a silent, steady, glower from dark eyes in a set expressionless face, the young man gulped.

“Don’t mean nuthin’. No offence.”

Stubs, intent on his cards and monologue, did not hear the exchange.

He went on, “Now Kate Connor – another matter. Coax an ant outta its anthill, that one.”

“Thought you were past noticin’, Stubs,” joshed Brady.

“Day I stop noticin’ her, you can nail down my coffin,” said Stubs, “Man don’t notice that walk past, ain’t old – he’s dead!”

Heyes met the old man’s eyes in a long look.

Stubs coughed.

“Don’t mean to imply she ain’t a real lady, ” he temporised, “Clever too. Both clever. For women.”

Heyes could not contain a smile, as he considered Meg’s probable reaction to such modified praise of her mental capacity.

Seeing this, Stubs relaxed and returned to monologue mode.

“Askin’ ’bout pumps too. They had me show ’em how a Bryant pump worked. Insisted on trying it out. Asked questions ’bout how long it’d take to create a vacuum in a shaft cavity. It’s not the kinda thing you expect females to take an interest in.”

Heyes face froze as this final item on Meg and Kate’s list of questions for the store man was revealed. It came as no surprise when Stubs finished.

“Then Mrs. Connor had me go outside to show her where the next blastin’s to be done. Wanted to sketch a rock face. The other little gal stayed behind; writin’ notes in them squiggles she calls shorthand.”

The ex-outlaw’s shoulders slumped as Mr. Brady of the mercantile spoke up.

“Might ask a lotta questions – bet they don’t understand the answers. Them two girls – just ain’t practical. They called at the mercantile on their way home. Said they wanted to re-putty a loose window. Told ’em – only need one tin o’ regular. I couldn’t make ’em see it. They took two large tins of red seal quick-dry. Three times the price! I mean – better for me, but just goes to show. Not practical.”

Heyes looked from the cards in his hand, to the pot. The notes crinkled at him, enticed him, called to him. Like a true hero, Hannibal Heyes made the ultimate sacrifice. Throwing in an aces over queens full house, he forced a smile.

“Too rich for me. I fold.” He stretched and went on, “It’s getting late. Might see you boys around.”

As he strode, seething, from the saloon; Heyes made himself a promise. As soon as he had done whatever it took to keep every hair on Meg’s head safe from harm – he was going to wring her silly neck.

oooOOOOOOOooo-

Heyes approached the Connor house. As predicted his partner was not back in their hotel room cleaning his gun. Curry was for the second time running in two days, voluntarily spending time in the company of a lawman. He leant on a boardwalk rail, in the companionable silence of naturally taciturn men, next to Deputy Sheriff Baker. They were about two hundred yards from the Connors’ front door.

Heyes forced himself to slow down from his angry pace and assumed a cheerful relaxed expression.

“Hi, Thaddeus. Deputy.” He exchanged nods with Baker, “Thaddeus, I left somethin’ behind at Kate’s. Just goin’ to call and get it back. Comin’?”

If Deputy Baker thought it was a bit late to rouse the ladies, he kept it to himself. After all, these two men had dragged Emerson Connor from the flames last night – presumably that earned them unlimited visiting rights. The Deputy nodded ‘See ya’ to Thaddeus Jones and returned to silent contemplation of the night sky around the roof of the house.

Kid kept quiet until out of earshot.

Then he asked in a low voice, “Whaddya wanna go an’ disturb Kate for, this time of night? Saw all the lights go out ’bout half an hour since.”

“Been watchin’ close, huh?” said his partner, with clearly false bonhomie, “See anythin’?”

Heyes also kept his voice low enough not to travel back to Baker.

“No one’s been near,” said Kid.

“You didn’t see any one slip out the back, huh?” his partner asked, still with an exaggerated affability.

Kid opened his mouth. Realised he would not have seen anyone slip out the back. Closed his mouth again – confused.

The ex-outlaws reached the front door. Heyes rapped forcefully and at length. Then stepping back, hands on hips, he looked at the upstairs windows. A lamp was turned up. A feminine silhouette moved in the light. A curtain drew aside. Kate peered down. Seeing Heyes and Curry, she raised the window and leaned out. For the benefit of the Deputy, Heyes raised a friendly hand.

Fiercely he hissed, “Git down here! NOW!”

Kate blinked and shut the window.

Curry stared at his partner in surprise and rising anger.

“Whaddya think you’re doin’? Speakin’ to her like that?”

Heyes did not turn to meet his partner’s gaze. He was staring at the door, annoyance churning in his dark eyes.

Kate, swathed in a blush pink silk wrap, clutched over her nightdress, opened the door. Kid touched his hat, decided this was too casual and swept it off.

Heyes leant against the doorframe, arm above his head, legs casually crossed.

He too touched his hat – for the benefit of watching eyes – and growled, “Smile and nod. We’re dickering about whatever I left here earlier and askin’ after Emerson.”

Kate looked wary, but glancing down the street in understanding, nodded.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Where’s Meg?” said Heyes, with the same inflated affability he’d used to Kid.

“Meg?” replied Kate, flushing like a guilty rose, but opening her eyes innocently wide.

“Yeah – you remember her. Talks a lot. On the short side. Don’t listen to what she’s told. Meg!” said Heyes.

“Well -” temporised Kate, carefully. “- it must be around midnight. Surely any respectable young lady is in bed. Where else would Meg be?”

Heyes looked at her with grudging admiration. Natural mistress of diversionary tactics this afternoon and now, expertise in stalling techniques.

“Kate -” he said, “- you know a lotta long words, huh? Know what equivocation means?”

“Of course I know.”

“Good,” smiled Heyes. “So do I. Where’s Meg?”

Kate dropped her eyes.

“Meg might have gone out,” she admitted.

“Might she?” said Heyes. His face registered dramatic surprise. “Where might she have gone? West Hill? Or the mine offices?”

Kate bit her lip and stared at him defiantly.

“We both owe you more than we can repay, but that doesn’t mean you can tell us what we can and can’t do.”

Heyes smiled at her.

“Gonna tell me here? Or gonna invite me in to shake it out of you?”

Kid, rendered both confused and glowering by Heyes’ tone, moved forward.

“Lay so much as a finger on her, I’ll flatten you.”

Heyes rolled his eyes, but otherwise ignored chivalrous Kid Curry.

However, this intervention worked.

“Please, Thaddeus,” said Kate. She gave him a grateful smile; but stretched out a hand from its cocoon of pink silk, to touch his, in a gesture of restraint. “Joshua is quite right – he only wants Meg to be safe.” Looking back at Heyes, she answered, “West Hill.”

Heyes gave her a little nod of thanks.

“Now, -” he said “- go and fetch whatever I left, so Deputy Baker sees me collect somethin’.”

“What?”

Heyes heaved an exasperated sigh and exploded, “Anythin’ close. It’s not as if you don’t have imagination.”

Pulling her wrap round her, Kate disappeared into the hallway. Seconds later she re-appeared and handed what appeared to be a thick periodical to Heyes.

Heyes looked down at what lay in his hand. It was a lingerie catalogue. Heyes stared first at it, then at Kate, for several long moments.

“What the Sam Hill would I want with this?” he burst out. Then, “Even if I found me a use for this – would I be stupid enough to carry it with me visitin’? – Or careless enough to leave it behind? – Or brass-faced enough to come fetch it?!”

Kate exploded in turn, “For heavens sake! It’s dark! Roll it up! He isn’t going to see what it is! If it bother’s you that much, when you walk past, say – ” Here, Kate assumed an expression reminiscent of Heyes’ usual wide grin and dropping her voice in surprisingly good mimicry, “- Uh huh. Real glad I fetched me that copy o’ ‘Security Matters Monthly Gazette’, Thaddeus. Got me a real fascinatin’ article on the best kinda safes for haulin’ payroll. Reckon a man needs somethin’ relaxin’ to read over a final glass o’ whiskey ‘fore turnin’ in for the night.”

Heyes glared at her. But as Kate mimed pushing back a hat, straddled her legs apart, put her hands on her hips and dropped her head before slowly shaking it from side to side, the exasperation left him. A grin stole across his face. He pushed back his hat, dropped his head and slowly shook it, looking up at her with reluctant but appreciative laughter in his dark eyes.

“See ya later, Kate. That’s enough dickerin’. Nod us good-bye and go inside.”

She did.

Heyes grabbed his partner’s arm and dragged him away.

“Nice and relaxed past Baker,” he warned.

The ex-outlaws passed the Deputy. Heyes touched his hat. Still confused, Kid followed his partner’s lead.

“Reckon it’s ’bout time to turn in. Night, Deputy,” Heyes said.

Deputy Baker merely nodded.

“Keep it slow a while longer,” said Heyes, “Don’t want to raise suspicion. We don’t wanna get followed, where we’re goin’. Can’t let Meg land in jail.” He frowned menacingly, “Not ’til I’m done with her anyhow.”

Kid struggling to make sense of it all, sought clarification.

“So – Meg’s gone to Carleton’s place – out at West Hill?” he asked.

“Yup.”

“And we’re gonna fetch her back ‘fore she lands in any trouble?” Kid went on.

“Yup – just like the heroes we are,” said Heyes.

“Why?” his partner asked. “I mean – why’s Meg gone out there? Not – why are we are fetchin’ her back,” he spelt out carefully.

“She’s gone to find the villain’s sinister secrets,” explained Heyes, adding, “Try an’ keep up with the plot, Kid.”

Kid glowered at his partner.

They reached the livery to saddle up for the ride to West Hill.

“So – have we got a plan?” asked Kid, checking his gun.

“Got me one,” confirmed Heyes, lifting the saddle onto his horse.

Meeting his partner’s enquiring eyes, Heyes explained the plan.

“Gonna find Meg.

Wring her neck.

Drag her home by her hair.

Drag Kate down by her hair.

Knock their silly heads together.

Paddle ’em both till they can’t sit down for a week.”

Curry knew the chance of Heyes raising his hand to a woman was only marginally less than the chance he would do so himself.

Nevertheless, once again – just to make his position clear – he said, “Lay a hand on Kate, I flatten you.”

He thought for a moment. He’d grown fond of little Meg. With brotherly concern, Kid widened the threat.

“Lay so much as a finger on either of ’em, I flatten you.”

Heyes took hold of his reins. He looked at his partner and rolled his eyes.

“Guess I’ll just have to switch to my back-up plan,” he said simply.

“What’s the back-up plan?” asked Kid, suspiciously.

Swinging into the saddle, Heyes said, “Find Meg.

Lasso her so I don’t hafta make contact.

Drag her home.

Fetch Kate down at gunpoint.

Sit down with them -” he indicated the lingerie catalogue tucked into his saddlebag, “- drawings of ladies in their…” he searched, “…laces, ‘n’ ribbons ‘n’ fancy finery…” he decided, “…Find me some part of a woman’s body I can paddle without raising the wrath of pure-hearted, chivalrous Kid Curry.

Realise there ain’t one!

Flatten pure-hearted, chivalrous Kid Curry, for spoilin’ Plan ‘A’.

Roll up that dang catalogue.

Stand over ’em, make ’em paddle each other with it till they both can’t sit down for a week.

If that offends the modest Kid – he don’t have to watch.”

Curry thought this through.

“Don’t think you can do that either,” he finally decided.

“Sure I can,” Heyes replied, “Weren’t you listenin’ today? Hannibal’s debauched!”

—oooOOOooo—

CHAPTER NINE

Early hours, Saturday 16th June 1883 – West Hill

The partners tethered their horses amongst the trees about a third of a mile from West Hill and approached on foot. The moon was full and both men were uncomfortably aware of how visible they must be, crossing the open ground surrounding the house. Slinking the final few hundred yards past stables and outbuildings, they were alert for any sign of movement. All was quiet.

They circled the main house, searching for the study.

“I mighta found her,” came Kid’s low murmur.

He nodded, indicating one ground floor window emitting a faint glimmer of light from beneath a drawn blind.

From his boot, Heyes drew the slim knife he found ideal for opening window catches. He looked, stopped and gave a reluctant grin. If remaining unseen leaving the Connor house had been step one of her plan, Heyes guessed Meg could also tick off a successful step two.

“Guess I don’t need this,” he breathed to his partner. “Seems Meg knows the same trick.”

With great stealth, Heyes raised the sash. The panel ran silently on its cords. Kid quietly held up the blind and the partners peered in.

Meg was seated on a rug, feet curled beneath her, in the corner of the panelled room. Her back was to the window. At floor level, one panel of wood had been slid back to reveal a concealed cavity. She had passed step three on her plan – she had found the safe.

Heyes surveyed the novice at work with grudging admiration. Her equipment was neatly laid out, the corked bottle of nitro placed far enough away to be at no risk of an accidental knock and she had remembered to bring a safety lamp to work by. This was currently illuminating a list in large, clear, block capitals, propped on a chair against the panelled wall. Heyes assumed, rightly, that the girls had transcribed; “how the Merchant’s Bank at Denver safe was blown” and remembered to make it readable in a dim light. Meg was frowning, studying her instructions in deep concentration, whilst simultaneously levering the lid from a tin of red seal quick-dry putty with what looked like a butter knife. That is, it would look like a butter knife to the common herd of humanity. Meg, like Heyes, would correctly categorise it as ‘a flat, slim-bladed, flexible knife, ideal for levering catches on windows’.

Heyes oozed himself through the sash; trod, cat-like, over the thick rug toward Meg and crouched. Fast as lightening, his black-gloved hand clamped tight across her mouth. Jerked from absorption in her task, every muscle in Meg’s body stiffened in fright. Her eyes stared, stretched wide in terror, at the arm holding her.

“The trouble with this plan, Meg -” breathed Heyes, into her ear, “- is you forgot a vital element. You forgot to bring a look-out!”

Meg first relaxed in overwhelming relief at recognising his familiar, deep voice; stiffened again in chagrined defiance; then finally slumped, limp in Heyes grip, in frustrated surrender. Ruefully, she glanced back at the window. Curry, now sitting on the sill – continuing to watch for movement outside, smilingly touched his hat to her. Twisting her head round, Meg looked up to meet her captor’s gaze. Heyes held the forefinger of his other hand to his lips. His eyes silently commanded her to be quiet. Heaving a sigh, Meg nodded, resigned.

Heyes released her.

“How did you know?” she whispered.

“I sat in on a poker game with that poor dupe of a store man.”

Meg sighed and shrugged at this answer. One could never plan for all eventualities.

After a pause, Heyes said gravely, “Thought Zeb Daly was goin’ to drive you today? You promised, Meg.”

“Deputy Daly did drive us,” said Meg affronted, “He just stayed outside the stores with the rig. When he offered to carry the bag, we pretended to make a lot of feminine fuss about being so careful with Kate’s sketches – needing to handle them so delicately – and -” Meg had the grace to blush at the next part, “- and I said he might crush them by mistake – having such firm, powerful, hands and not knowing his own strength. So he backed off.”

“Uh huh?” said Heyes, grinning despite himself.

From the window, Kid looked at the kit Meg had brought.

“You carried all this, includin’ that bottle of nitro, near four miles?” he breathed in disbelief. He added, even more incredulously, “An’ Kate – Kate was in on it all?”

“Of course she was!” huffed Meg, “Kate loves Emerson body and soul.” She stared challengingly at Kid, “And next to her, he’s the best friend I’ve ever had. Do you think we’ll just sit home, winding bandages, when someone’s tried to kill him? We want to find out why – and stop it from happening again.”

“And you didn’t heft all this four miles, did you?” put in Heyes. Still in a low voice, he said affably, “Shall I fill Thaddeus in?”

Put out to think her scheming might be more transparent than she’d hoped, but interested, Meg nodded.

“I think you had Zeb Daly stop somewhere close, on the drive home. Probably at the edge of the trees – just before the river bend. One of you drew poor Daly away. The other unloaded the gear. Hid it ‘mongst the bushes to pick up later. You didn’t carry it much more’n – what, three, four hundred yards – did you?”

Meg shook her head.

“And I made two trips. Carried just the nitro first – so I could be extra careful.” she whispered back.

“How did you entice Daly away from the rig, Meg? More feminine fuss?” asked Heyes.

“Nothing very bad,” she said, “We cooed about how lovely the tall irises were, down by the river. I offered to pick some for the house. Kate said the heat was getting too much for her, you know – ‘Oh I’ll wait here – with the rig – in the shade of the trees. But you must go with Meg, Deputy’. And I said – ‘Oh yes, Deputy, you must come help me. Because I’ll need to go right into the water’s edge to gather the best flowers – and I might slip.'” Again, Meg flushed slightly, “When I got down to the edge, I decided to take my shoes and stockings off to wade. So, he had to turn his back and I made sure I placed myself so his back was toward the rig. Then he had to hold my hand while I stretched over. And of course, I made sure I did keep slipping and having to grab his other hand. Then I got all confused about what to dry my feet on – and he offered me his bandana. Then he had to turn his back again.” Meg bit her lip to stop an involuntary laugh, “Oh Joshua, that poor man! I behaved like the silliest woman who ever drew breath. And I talked and talked at him, non-stop, all the time -”

“Figures,” said Kid, dryly, from the window.

Meg grinned at this and finished, “It does Zeb Daly great credit that he didn’t just pick me up and toss me in the water.”

Heyes gazed at her.

“All that plannin’ -” he breathed, “- and you forget a simple thing like a lookout!” He shook his head at her.

“I didn’t forget!” breathed back an indignant Meg, “Kate can’t leave Emerson whilst he’s sick unless someone takes over. And she can’t exactly ask Mrs. Bell – ‘Please sit with my husband for a couple of hours tonight. I’ve got a safe to crack.’ – can she?”

“Guess not,” acknowledged Heyes.

“Besides – ” whispered Meg, to both partners, “- we talked it over and decided Kate had a more important role than look-out.” She drew herself up and added with great consequence, “Kate’s my back-up!”

“Back-up?” asked Kid, confused.

“She’s got to break me out of jail if this all goes wrong!”

Kid stared at Meg for a long moment. He opened his mouth to ask another question, then shut it firmly. He did not want to know.

Meg looked thoughtfully from Kid to Heyes.

“Now you’re here -” she whispered enticingly, “- you can be my lookout.”

Heyes gave her a wide smile, but shook his head.

“Pack up, Meg. We’re takin’ you home.”

He straightened up, then pulled Meg to her feet.

Meg got up, but she tugged her hand away and said, “No! You can’t make me!”

“Wanna wager on that?”

Meg glowered at him. She suspected the odds of that wager were not in her favour, but was not ready to fold just yet.

Heyes took a deep breath and decided to try reasoning, before resorting to force.

“Look Meg. That – ” he pointed at the safe “- isn’t a Pierce & Hamilton ’78. Nothing like it. It’s a plain old Miller Safe, made in Philadelphia. Create a vacuum in that an’ set off ten ounces of Nitro – you won’t just blow the door off! Probably – ” he made an exploding gesture with both arms and an appropriate, though soft, sound effect, “- take the wall out. You with it! Have you any idea how dangerous this stuff is?”

Meg looked doubtfully at the corked bottle, but still rallied.

“I wasn’t going to use the full ten ounces. I didn’t know in advance what kind of safe I’d find – so I brought a measure to work out how much nitro I’d need.” She pointed, not without pride in her forethought, at a tape measure, neatly rolled next to a kitchen funnel, “This safe has roughly three fifths the cubic capacity of a Pierce & Hamilton ’78. So I was going to use six ounces of nitro.” Looking up, anxious for approval, Meg added, “What do you think?”

“I think you’re in the wrong line of work, Meg!” said Heyes, with genuine respect, “But it’s not just a question of cubic capacity. The Pierce & Hamilton is made of tool steel.” Seeing her frown, he added, “It’s a high grade alloy. That – ” he again pointed at the safe “- That’s plain carbon steel. Nothing like as strong.”

Meg’s shoulders slumped.

“Well, I didn’t know any of that.” She looked up at Heyes, torn between admiration and annoyance, “If you hadn’t been so stuffy this afternoon, I’d have consulted you. Together we’d have come up with a ‘Plan B’.”

“‘Guess that’s the way it goes Meg,” smiled Heyes, “Afraid I’m just no fun at all!”

Meg drooped in surrender. She gazed longingly at the Philadelphia Miller. With childlike simplicity, she slid her hand into that of Heyes and looked up at him.

“Oh but, Joshua – ” her eyes moved back, lingering over the smooth metal surface, “- when you look at it. All closed and – ” she gave a little shiver, “- and secure and secret. Don’t you long to open it? I do. I can hear whatever is inside, whispering, ‘find me…find me!’.”

Kid, hearing this, glanced first at her, then – with trepidation at Heyes. He acquitted Meg of deliberately using feminine wiles. But, he had to hand it to her. He’d seen many women throw out lures to his partner over the years. They might have ten times Meg’s looks and a hundred times her experience with men. However, Kid had never once heard a single one come up with a line more likely to succeed in seducing Hannibal Heyes.

Heyes looked at the safe. He looked at the, rather grubby, hand slipped into his. Finally, he looked at Meg’s grey eyes looking up at him, her short upper lip a little lifted in simple entreaty.

Kid groaned inwardly, as he heard his partner breathe, “Well – as you’ve got this far. An’ since it all seems quiet….”

Meg squeezed her eyes shut in ecstasy. Letting go of Heyes’ hand, she hugged herself in joy. Opening her eyes wide, she beamed at him.

“Joshua, I could kiss you.”

Kid saw a rather sheepish grin spread over Heyes face. He suspected his partner would raise no complaints if Meg followed through on this statement. She did not. She reached out for the tin of quick-dry putty.

“No,” said Heyes, firmly.

She looked up at him.

“Like I said – not safe to use nitro,” continued Heyes, “Why not try the tumblers?”

Meg frowned.

“Could we?” she wondered, “The thing about the pump method is – whilst Hannibal Heyes must have been awfully clever to think it up – once you have the instructions, anyone can try it.” She looked doubtfully at the safe, “Turning tumblers – surely that takes practice?”

“It can’t hurt to try,” enticed Heyes, “Nothin’ to lose. Give it an hour. If we get nowhere – we pack up an’ go home.”

Meg bit her lip and considered. Then, like a schoolgirl, she flung up one hand.

Still remembering to whisper she said, “I call turning tumblers.” Looking at the partners, she added, “That leaves one of you to be lookout and I think one should help listen and note down numbers.”

Heyes gazed at Kid, “Whaddya say, Thaddeus. You goin’ to come over here? Help Meg count the turns?”

Curry glowered back at his partner.

Every inch of him longed to call Heyes’ bluff.

But.

With Meg, Heyes and Kate, (Kate!), all taking an active hand in writing the plot – could he cope with adding to the twists.

Kid decided to stick to his scripted role.

“No. I call lookout,” he said, deadpan.

Curry went to the study door. Opened it. Listened carefully – nothing. He locked the door. Then he propped a sturdy chair under the handle to give them a few extra seconds if disturbed from that direction.

He drew his gun, checked it and kept it – raised – in his hand. Then he positioned himself so he could see outside without letting more than a faint glimmer of light show through the window. He nodded ‘Ready’ at his partner.

Meg was impressed.

“He’s good isn’t he?” she breathed at Heyes.

Heyes sniffed. “Likes to think so,” he answered. Turning back, he said, “I think we’re ready, Meg. Want to get started?”

Meg prepared for her attempt to crack the safe. Sitting sideways on, knees tucked up to her chest, she took hold of the dial in her right hand and placed her left – fingers splayed – against the door. Pressing her cheek and ear to the metal, she slowly began to turn the dial.

Crouching beside her, Heyes waited a minute, then breathed, “Hear anything?”

“Clicking – and something else – it’s hard to be sure.” She frowned, moving her hand across the surface, “Something inside. Like touching the side of pianola – a sort of vibration.”

“Mind if I try?”

Without waiting for an answer, Heyes tucked his gloves into his waist and moved to sit behind Meg. He pulled up close, so his belly and chest pressed against the curve of her spine. Feet flat to the floor; his bent legs clasped her narrow hips.

“Feel anything now?” he whispered, his breath lifting the curl above her ear.

She nodded, rapt with concentration on the safe. Heyes placed his left hand lightly on hers, interweaving their fingers.

“There?” he asked.

“Not sure,” said Meg.

“Keep your touch real light, Meg. Just fingertips. A little lower.”

Heyes gently moved Meg’s fingers to the perfect spot.

“I feel something,” she breathed.

Still holding her left hand in place, Heyes brought his right arm round her and placed his right hand over Meg’s, on the dial.

“Try turning it to left.” To hear the tumblers, Heyes had brought his face so close his lips stirred the soft hairs on the back of her neck. “Keep it real slow, Meg – just kinda stroke it – gently, gently.”

“Oh!” Meg gave a smothered gasp of joy, “I heard something!”

“Think that was the first tumbler?” asked Heyes.

“Maybe,” she breathed. Her brow furrowed with sudden distress, “But I forgot to count!”

“Eight left,” whispered Heyes. “Try it to the right now. Real slow – don’t rush.”

The couple continued with their task.

From time to time Kid heard soft murmurs from Meg and an occasional throaty “Ahhh” from Heyes, indicating another number found.

Glancing over, from the lookout point at the window, Curry shook his head in disbelief. Heyes was wrapped so tightly round Meg; Kid doubted he could slide a greased nickel between them. His face had that slightly open-mouthed, hungry, look of anticipated pleasure he always wore when close to the climax of cracking a safe.

Kid rolled his eyes and muttered to himself.

“Sheesh, Heyes! An’ it’s not even your birthday!”

Suddenly Heyes’ body tensed. His eyes closed. His throat rasped as he drew in a deep breath. Taking Meg’s hand with his, he grasped the handle and pushed it down with a single, firm, thrust. Heyes’ eyes flew open. A flush of rapture swept over his face. With a smothered gasp of delight, he fell back from Meg. Arms out behind to support his weight, he threw back his head and could not restrain a deep gurgle of pure pleasure.

The safe was open.

Moving forward and swivelling around to face Heyes, Meg glowed with satisfaction.

“It worked! I did it!”

Heyes smiled back at her and nodded, “You did it, Meg.”

oooOOOOOOOooo-

The safecrackers contemplated the open door, sharing a moment of mutual fulfilment.

Heyes whispered, “You realise – there’s very little chance of finding anything useful?”

“What kinda thing you expectin’, Meg?” said Kid in a low voice from his lookout point.

She looked rather sheepish.

“Well, in my books the villain often keeps a private diary. He records his evil machinations, beginning with a gloating message to posterity – ‘None of the fools around me realise I am a Napoleon of crime. From my earliest years, I schemed for the absolute power, which can only be grasped by a brilliant man working outside the law. My impregnable mask of respectability hid my sinister secret.’ Then he spells out whatever his sinister secret is, in simple language, so Allan Chevalier – celebrated New York detective – can move on with the plot and unmask him.”

She looked at Kid’s sceptical face.

“I’m not expecting that in real life, obviously,” she said, “But you never know! We could find a birth certificate proving that Emerson is really Louis Hamilton’s son by a secret marriage and the true owner of the mine.

Or, we could find the title deeds – and see that they’re forgeries.

Maybe, Oliver Carleton didn’t really part own a meat packing business in Chicago before coming here. He was running opium; and still owns a network of dens, where those who have lost all hope seek escape in delirium.

Perhaps we’ll discover that on first seeing Kate’s matchless beauty – Carleton was struck by an insurmountable ardour and for months has planned to murder her husband as the first step in assuaging a guilty, but irresistible, passion.”

Kid shifted his gaze to Heyes and rolled his eyes.

Heyes grinned, but contented himself with saying practically, “Well! Guess if we’ve got to find all that – better get started.” He lifted the lamp to illuminate the interior of the safe, “What’s in there, Meg?”

“The top shelf is nothing but money – thousands and thousands of dollars,” she said, rather disappointed. She flashed a mischievous smile, “Shame we’re not thieves!”

“WE? WE’re not thieves!” shot back Heyes, letting his eyes rest meaningfully on the stolen Bryant pump.

“Oh! I was going to take that back!” breathed Meg, “It’s valuable and the store man might get into trouble when they realise one is missing. Kate and I know that’s not fair.” Her eyes moved from the pump, to the rest of the gear, “We thought we’d salve our conscience on the nitro and other consumables by donating the value to the miner’s hospital fund.”

A thought struck Meg. Turning back to the safe, she drew out a bundle of notes.

“Perhaps it’s fake!” she breathed. “Do you think that’s it? He’s counterfeiting money – using the mine operation to circulate it!”

Heyes took the money. He delicately felt the texture of the top note between thumb and forefinger, then raised the bundle to his face and inhaled deeply. Lowering it, he whispered, reverently, “Nope, genuine.”

Meg stared. “Can you really tell – by the smell?”

“HE can,” said Kid.

Heyes was still staring at the money in his hand.

“Joshua,” hissed Kid. No reaction. “Joshua!”

“Huh?” said Heyes, eyes still fixed. He gave a start and met his partner’s stare.

Kid pointedly moved his eyes from the money, back to the safe. He gave an insistent jerk of his head. Heyes gave the money a last lingering caress. Averting his gaze, he placed it firmly back in the safe.

Meg was studying the contents of the bottom shelf.

“These – these look like legal documents and family records,” she said.

Heyes took the pile and straightened up. Taking the safety lamp, he walked over to the desk. He settled down in the chair. Meg scurried after him and reached for the top document. Heyes gently caught her hand.

Meeting her eyes, he warned, “Got to go back in the same order.” He looked at her hands, “And you might not wanna get dirt all over ’em.”

Meg nodded apologetically.

“Sorry,” she breathed, “I got a bit dusty slithering away from the house.” She moved to read over Heyes’ shoulder, whilst rather ineffectually trying to clean her hands with spit and the edge of her skirt. “What’s first?” she breathed.

“Certificate of birth,” whispered back Heyes, “Issued here in Butte. Oliver Hamilton Carleton. Born Wednesday 23rd May 1883.”

As if on cue, the stillness of the night was broken. A shrill squalling was heard. It sounded distant in the large house. The three interlopers swivelled their heads in unison. Meg clasped her hands over her mouth, gulping down a yelp of terror. Kid slid from the window and padded silently to the door. Ear to the crack, he listened intently. The insistent cries continued, muffled by intervening walls, and the ceiling. Meg strained every sinew to listen. She thought she heard an upstairs door opening, but then decided it was her own imagination creating the expected sound. The cries subsided. Meg mentally conjured maternal hushing noises – but nothing reached her ears.

There was dead quiet in the study.

It seemed to Meg that hours passed. The study clock more accurately told her that just fifteen minutes went by before Kid caught his partner’s eye, nodded for him to continue and returned to his first lookout spot.

Meg let out a long fluttering gasp.

“Actually -” she breathed, “- if it sounds as quiet as that, I bet they’re all the way up on the second floor. Because it makes a frightful racket. Mrs. Carleton had it brought down when Kate and I visited Wednesday morning. It kept squawking then.”

Kid looked over from the window, with a frown, “‘He’, Meg. Not ‘it’ – ‘he’.”

She looked at him, thoughtfully, for a moment.

“You sound just like Emerson,” she decided. “He gets broodier every day.”

She turned back to Heyes. He was turning over the next document.

“What’s next?” Meg asked.

“Will. Lydia Carleton, nee Hamilton. Made five years ago – Chicago lawyers. Codicil added ten days ago. Looks like a lawyer from Helena came in to draw it up.”

“What’s it say?” she breathed, clasping his shoulders and leaning over to peer at the close writing.

Heyes looked up at her.

“Meg?” he said.

“Yes?”

Heyes glanced at the equipment still laid out on the floor.

“Amongst all this gear – did you bring anything useful? Like a pencil, to make some notes?”

“Of course!” Meg stared at him, wide-eyed at his lack of faith, “I ALWAYS carry a notebook and pencil. I even keep them by me in the bath – in case I suddenly think of something exciting for a plot!” She handed them over. “What’s the will say?” she asked.

“Everythin’ not held in trust goes to her husband. Codicil is about the trust property – as specified by the will of the late Louis Hamilton – passing to the baby, if she dies. Firm of lawyers in Boston to control the capital till he’s twenty-one. This attorney in Helena is their authorised proxy.”

Meg frowned, “Doesn’t sound sinister. Unless -” she narrowed her eyes “- unless the secret concerns the baby. Perhaps Mrs. Carleton never was pregnant. Just pretending – you know, with cushions. But her husband was desperate for an heir – to inherit the mine. So they smuggled in a baby – like James II and the old pretender.” Meg thought for a moment, then leaned in to breathe, “Though probably not in a warming pan – because I can’t believe that would work. I mean – warming pans aren’t that big nowadays.”

“Uh huh,” grunted Heyes, not raising his eyes from the notes he was making.

“Probably bribed some poor destitute woman. Shivering with hunger and fear for the future. Persuaded her that the poor innocent babe would be better off raised as the son of wealthy parents.” Meg quickly sketched in some background colour.

“Uh huh.”

Heyes turned over the next document, without looking up, “This one’s a will too. Louis Hamilton. Made 1881. Supersedes all previous wills. Few bequests to servants. Ten thousand to the miner’s hospital here – to be named after him. Holdings back in Dakota Territory go to Chris Lloyd – calls him ‘his most valued partner and friend’. Residual – all to be held in trust for his sister. Same firm of Boston Lawyers are trustees. Passes to any ‘heirs male of her body’. Girls only inherit if no boys come along. If she died childless – the whole lot to revert to Chris Lloyd. Nothing for Carleton.”

Meg leaned in close again.

“See – he did need an heir!” she whispered.

“No. Not saying he might not see an heir as an insurance for the future,” said Heyes, fair-mindedly, “Short-term, he just needs his wife stayin’ put, doin’ as she’s told. From what I’ve heard – he’s got that covered.”

“So you don’t think he smuggled in a baby?” Meg asked, rather deflated.

“I think Doc Bell mighta noticed durin’ the delivery,” said Heyes, deadpan.

Meg frowned over this, then inspiration struck, “Doctor Bell could have been bribed. Or – ” her hands gripped Heyes shoulders, “- he’s working with Carleton in the opium business. For all we know he came to Butte at the same time. His medical practice is a cover for a web of drugs – trading in the oblivion offered by narcotics.”

“Uh huh.” Again, Heyes kept his eyes on the notes he was making.

Kid glanced over.

“This’d be the same Doc Bell we met Friday?” he clarified, “Elderly gentleman. Real pleasant manner. Told me he was from Wisconsin?”

Meg straightened up and shrugged, “I don’t really believe anything bad about Doctor Bell. I’m just thinking out loud, Thaddeus. It’s part of a creative process.”

Heyes turned over the next document.

“What’s this one?” Meg breathed.

“Blackmail letter -” whispered Heyes, “- starts off. Be afraid, Carleton, I know your sinister secret…”

“No!”

“No,” agreed Heyes, “Just joinin’ in on the creative front. It’s the title deeds to the mine.”

“Is it a forgery?”

“Doubt it,” said Heyes. He went on, “More title deeds. This house. Land in Anaconda. Oh…!”

“What?” breathed Meg, excited.

“Title deeds of properties purchased this spring. Three houses on Mercury Street, no less!”

There was a smothered snort of laughter from Kid.

“Bet they really ARE a gold mine!” he said.

“Why?” asked Meg. “What do you mean?” Seeing Heyes again absorbed in reading, she went over to Kid. “Tell me Thaddeus. Why did you laugh? What’s special about Mercury Street?”

Kid shifted uncomfortably and felt his cheeks grow hot, under Meg’s wide-eyed, enquiring gaze.

“Well, it’s -” he stopped.

“It’s what?”

“It’s where -”

“Where what?” prompted Meg.

Kid adopted a firm tone, “See here, Meg. It isn’t good practice to disturb the lookout. I need to stay alert, here.” He turned his shoulder and frowned intently out into the night.

Meg returned to the desk.

“Why would a house on Mercury Street be a gold mine?” she asked Heyes.

“Because it’s more’n likely a den of vice,” he replied, in a matter of fact tone, eyes still scanning the documents in front of him.

“Opium?” gasped Meg.

Heyes looked up, exasperated, “What is it with you and opium? You got it on the brain or what? No! Ordinary vice. Run of the mill vice. Common or garden vice.” He spelt it out, “Brothels.”

“Oh!” said Meg. She brightened, “Well surely that’s a shameful secret! Emerson could have found out and be going to tell people.”

“Tell who – who would care?”

“Carleton’s employees,” suggested Meg.

“Well since he’s grantin’ credit there in lieu of wages, I kinda think they already know,” said Heyes.

“Oh!” said Meg. She thought again, “His wife?”

Heyes shrugged.

“Maybe,” he temporised. He returned to the documents on the desk.

Meg bent back to her position over his shoulder.

“What’s next?” she whispered.

“Two – no three – next papers are certified copies of death records.”

“Whose?”

Heyes finger ran over the paper in front of him.

“First is, some woman – Mary Rourke. Death registered here in Butte 30th November 1882. Cause of death – pneumonia,” he read.

“Why’s that with the others?” wondered Meg, “Ohhh! I know! She was secretly married to Louis Hamilton. The mine really belongs to her.”

“Even though she died first?” queried Heyes.

“Oh! But there could still have been a secret wedding. Perhaps there was a child – and Carleton’s got him hidden in an orphanage.”

“Says she was housekeeper here,” said Heyes, “Probably got no kin, near. I suppose Hamilton just kept this for a while in case any family got in touch.”

“Even if she was his housekeeper – they could still have been secretly married,” Meg persisted.

“Age – 67,” finished Heyes, “Bit old for him. What was he? Mid forties?”

“She could have been a temptress whom age could not wither. Like Cleopatra.”

“Bit wasted keepin’ house out in Butte then,” Heyes concluded. He turned to the next record, “This one’s another servant. Lady’s maid. A lot younger – 32. Name of Ellen Fraser. She died Wednesday 14th Feb 1883. Cause of death – trauma to the head – following a fall. Death registered in Medora, Billings County. That’s Dakota territory.”

“She must have been Mrs. Carleton’s maid,” said Meg.

“I suppose,” agreed Heyes, “It looks like she never finished the journey from Chicago.”

“A fall!” breathed Meg, “Carleton pushed her out of a window. Because she’d found out – whatever it is! Maybe it was a fake pregnancy after all. If this Ellen Fraser were Mrs. Carleton’s maid – she’d know! So they had to kill her. OR – she found out that Carleton owned dens of vice. Not opium – the other kind. She threatened to tell his wife – so he threw her down the stairs.”

“Or indeed, out of a window,” murmured Heyes, “Of course the stairs might look more natural!” He turned to the last death record, “This one’s Louis Hamilton. Died Monday 19th Feb 1883. Death registered here in Butte. Says – Uremia?”

Heyes looked questioningly at Meg.

“I think that means a problem with your kidneys. Toxins build up in your system,” she said, hesitatingly. More confidently, “Of course, Oliver Carleton could have poisoned him with something that mimicked the symptoms.”

“I thought he didn’t arrive here till after Hamilton was dead?” pointed out Heyes.

“He could have sent the poison by post,” shot back Meg.

“What – from the meat packing house in Chicago? Would you eat it?” asked Heyes.

“Poison doesn’t have to be in food. It can be in something you wear – to absorb through the skin. In Elizabethan times, people were sometimes killed with poisoned gloves,” said Meg.

“Really?”

“Well – in books. I think once in real life. And wasn’t Hercules poisoned with a shirt? Of course – he was a myth. But it still must mean it’s not impossible.” Meg smiled at Heyes.

“Uh huh.”

Heyes began to read the final document from the safe.

“Certified copy of a marriage license,” Heyes said, “Boston. August 1872. Lydia Hamilton, Spinster, 23. Oliver Carleton, Bachelor – ”

“I bet he wasn’t -” breathed Meg, “- I bet he’s a bigamist. Then he wouldn’t be entitled to any income from the mine. His real wife is shut up in a lunatic asylum. Do you think that’s it? Not the bit about the lunatic asylum necessarily – but do you think he’s a bigamist?”

Heyes shrugged, “Compared to most of the options I’ve been offered – sounds almost possible.”

Kid spoke up from the window, “Married eleven years and this baby’s her first. No wonder she wants to show him off to visitors!”

Meg looked at him, then leaned back to Heyes, “He’s right you know. That’s a good point.” She thought for a moment, then breathed, “If their secret does concern the baby – there’s something more likely than a fake pregnancy. Suppose Oliver Carleton isn’t the father. He’d want to keep that secret.”

“Suppose his wife would too – mainly from him. How’s he know?” asked Heyes, making a note of the details on the marriage license.

She leaned in even closer.

“He could be – well – inadequate,” she breathed.

Heyes gave his head a little shake, “Meg. How am I supposed to concentrate with you blowin’ in my ear every two seconds?”

She blinked.

“I am not blowing in your ear. I am hissing conspiratorially!” she hissed, conspiratorially. Conspiratorially and with dignity

“Well, go hiss at Thaddeus – you’re distractin’ me.”

With an offended, “Humph!” Meg went over to Kid, “Thaddeus, do you think Oliver Carleton might be – inadequate?”

Kid had not picked up on all the conspiratorial hissing.

“Whaddya mean – inadequate?” he asked.

Meg failed to think of a second euphemism.

“Impotent,” she said baldly.

“What?”

“It means -”

“I know what it means!” hissed Kid. Not conspiratorially.

“Because then he’d know – that he wasn’t the baby’s real father. And it could be that he wants to keep secret. Tomorrow,” went on Meg, “We should make a list of possibilities to follow up on. You could follow up on that.”

Kid just stared at her.

“Well I can’t, can I?” whispered Meg. “It’s not a fit subject for mixed company.”

Kid continued to stare, open-mouthed.

“I know I’m in mixed company now -” said Meg, “- but it doesn’t seem to count when you’re collaborating on a break-in.”

Kid’s stare seemed frozen to his face.

“You could get him talking – over a drink. Lead the conversation in the right direction,” persisted Meg.

“Dunno, Thaddeus,” came Heyes voice from the desk, “You didn’t exactly part on the best of terms. Might wanna pick a different ice-breaker.”

Kid closed his mouth. Then he closed his eyes.

“Meg,” he said quietly.

“Yes?”

“Can you stop yakkin’ for two minutes together?” asked Kid.

Meg’s eager expression fell. She thought hard.

“No!” she said honestly and apologetically. “When I’m excited I think out loud.” She shrugged, “In print, I think it’s called ‘stream of consciousness’ – but ‘yakking’ covers it too.” Meg smiled, ruefully, up at him, “Of course – if you joined in with the thinking out loud – I wouldn’t have so many gaps to fill,” she offered, as a compromise.

An involuntary laugh broke from Kid. With a helpless shrug, he smiled back at Meg.

“Do you think its possible baby Oliver, upstairs – isn’t Carleton’s?” asked Meg.

“Anything’s possible. Why’d that make him set a gun on Emerson Connor, or have him knocked over the head?”

Meg gave Kid an encouraging smile at this evidence of willingness to ‘join in’.

“Could Emerson have found out?” she prompted.

“Don’t see how,” said Kid, “Less of course – he’s the father.”

Kid regretted this, the instant it left his mouth. Too late, he realised that rapid ‘thinking out loud’ requires the ability not to be embarrassed after expressing one of the large proportion of ideas which are dismissed in seconds.

“Ohhhh!” breathed Meg, momentarily entranced by this looping plot twist, “A wish for silence AND revenge prompted by jealous rage.” Reality took over. “Oh no!” she decided, “Not Emerson. I’ve known him for years. It’s not the kind of thing he’d ever talk to me about – but I’m sure he’s – well – spotless. I can’t believe he’s lived a secret life of dissipation!” She mused, then went on, “I’ve always assumed his marriage is really happy – in that area. I know it is for Kate – because I asked her – and she told me she’s blissfully happy – in that way.” Meg looked questioningly at Kid, “So – that must mean he’s contented too?” Or doesn’t it follow?”

Kid silently took a vow never to be tempted into thinking out loud again.

“Besides – ” continued Meg, “- Lydia Carleton’s not hideous or anything. She looks – more or less – like an expensively dressed, older, worried, version of me. Only quiet. But, if I were a man and had someone like Kate at home, waiting to be made blissfully happy – I don’t think I’d risk making an enemy of Oliver Carleton, just to run after someone like that. Would you?”

Heyes was now replacing the documents in the safe.

“Careful, Thaddeus,” he smiled. “There’s a trick in that question!”

Meg was waiting for an answer. Kid thought – silently – before he spoke.

“No,” he said. He thought some more, “I mean, yes.” He decided to expand, “If I was married – no matter how pretty or not my wife was, I wouldn’t run after other women. But if I did – them not looking any better than you, wouldn’t be a problem.”

“Smooth!” Heyes admired, winning a glare from his partner. “See, Meg! Thaddeus has done you a favour. Next time you need something romantic for one of your heroes – you got a speech ready.”

Heyes shut and locked the safe and turned to face them.

“Now – will the pair of you both quit yakkin’? Can’t either of you count?”

Meg looked confused.

“The baby was born May,” said Heyes, “Where was Lydia Carleton back in September?”

“Still living in Chicago,” said Meg.

“And where was Emerson Connor?” he continued.

“Still living in Boston. Preparing to move to Montana,” said Meg, “Oh.”

“Yes. ‘Oh.’ Take more than a secret life of dissipation. Take a geographical miracle,” Heyes said, “Pack up. Time to leave.”

—oooOOOooo—

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s