8. Chs 21 to 22

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Deke Simon’s disbelief in no way exceeded that of a stunned Ned Kingsley. Jarred by the recoil from his pistol, he stared, astounded, from its smoking barrel to the injured man, still gasping in pain.

Seeing Simons was truly going to draw on him, he had flinched, squeezed shut his eyes and almost involuntarily tightened his finger on the trigger.

Oliver Carleton, after a moment of incredulity, exploded in fury. Glowering at the open mouthed young boy, weapon now dangling loosely by his side, he levelled his own gun, purposefully.

“You stupid, interfering …”

His hand smashed back against the wall, the wrist hitting the edge of the door frame with a force that shook pain through his entire body. Carleton’s released gun was scooped up by Kid, so swiftly, it seemed a single smooth movement. Kid stepped forward, roughly shoving Carleton aside, then dragged the gag from his mouth with his free hand.

Levelling his purloined weapon at Caleb Williams, he snapped, “Let ’em go!”

Wide-eyed in fear, Caleb complied, then kept his hands high.

Kid turned squarely, to face Pat Galloway. He was still out of range, but running forward, full of confusion as to what had happened. Unseen by the young gunslinger, wholly diverted by the sudden shot, two figures – also drawn by the sound of gunfire – had rounded the turn behind him, into the far end of the alley.

Suddenly a voice rang out from above their heads.

“Hold it there, son. Gotta shotgun pointed right at ya! Don’t wanna hafta use it!”

Galloway halted and scanned the upper windows of the building. Kid looked up too. Zeb Daly, promised shotgun in his hands, was positioned almost directly opposite the now abandoned wagon. With unmingled relief Kid saw the weapon was trained firmly on Pat Galloway, who now threw down his gun and kicked it away. With more mixed feelings, he saw that the two figures fast approaching behind Galloway were now recognisable as the Sheriff and Deputy Baker.

“Ned,” called Kid, turning to cover the still armed, though seemingly thoroughly cowed, Caleb Williams. “Come untie him.” He nodded at Heyes, then walked over to confiscate Caleb’s gun. .

As Ned, rather shakily, freed the gag around Heyes mouth, the ex-outlaw informed him quietly, “You’ll find a knife in my boot – cut the cords.”

By now, the two lawmen had arrived on the scene.

Deputy Baker motioned Williams and Galloway together, by the wall and covered them. Heyes, after rubbing his bruised wrists, began to free Ellen’s hands. With a small, wry smile, he motioned Ned to do the same for Kate. The smile widened a fraction, as he noticed a short, familiar, capped figure slinking up toward them from the direction of the narrow back alleys, the same way as young Ned had come.

The Sheriff ruminatively surveyed the scene, looking from darting-eyed, furious Oliver Carleton, to injured Deke Simons, to the women, to still trembling Ned Kingsley.

He tilted back his head and called up to his man overlooking the alley.

“Zeb – you see what happened here?”

“Not all of it – but was in time to see the shot,” his deputy answered, “From here – looked, more or less like the boy, was lowerin’ his gun, when Simons drew. If I hafta make a call – I’d say it was fair self-defence – let alone any other provocation.” There was a pause. Deputy Daly added, admiringly, “That was some shot, son! Can hardly believe it.”

“Neither can I,” breathed the Sheriff under his breath. He raised his voice, “An’ you folks – anyone care to tell me what’s happenin’?”

Oliver Carleton, opened his mouth, but was silenced by a sharp barking command, “NOT you!” The Sheriff turned to Kate and in a much gentler voice, invited, “Mrs. Connor, ma-am?”

As soon as she was freed, Kate had run to help Deke Simons. Setting an upturned crate for him to sit upon and tearing strips from her petticoat, she had finished a makeshift bandage. Now she was pinning his jacket to hold the injured hand and issuing low voiced, instructions to “Keep it raised.”

Hearing her name, she turned.

“This man needs a Doctor, Sheriff.”

He gave a tiny nod, “I’ll see he gets one, ma-am. But first I’d like to know what happened.”

Kate pushed back a stray curl and took a breath.

“It all happened so fast,” she began, “-it’s hard to be exact.” She met the Sheriff’s eye squarely, “But I would agree, absolutely, with Deputy Daly – I truly believe Ned would have lowered his gun and never fired, if he hadn’t seen Mr. Simons about to shoot.”

“That’s kinda half a tale, ma-am,” he replied, “What started it?” He looked at the rent in her clothing, then averted his gaze. Gesturing at the tear, whilst keeping his eyes on her face, he asked, “Did Simons – threaten you – some way?”

Kate, glanced down. Newly discomfited, she flushed and tried to tuck the ripped material back into place.

“Well…” she hesitated.

“Yes,” said Heyes, firmly.

The Sheriff looked at him and nodded to indicate he accepted the truth of this.

“Reckon I’d say he had it comin’ then ma-am!” he decided.

Seeing Kate still holding the top of her bodice in place, Kid had stepped toward her and made a move to take off his coat. Then, remembering the pocketed gun, he hesitated. Ned Kingsley saw the beginning of the gesture and darted to Kate’s side, tangling his arms in his haste to strip off his own jacket.

“W-would you like this, ma-am,” he said, holding it out.

He was rewarded with an eager, grateful nod. She waited while he pulled the sleeves back the right way out, then rather than take it from his outstretched hand, turned so he could hold it up and help her. As his hands went over her shoulders and released the collar into her grasp, she glanced back at him.

“Thank you, Mr. Kingsley,” she smiled, “- and not just for the jacket.”

Scarlet, he shuffled his feet.

“Was nuthin'” he grunted.

The Sheriff watched Ned, with unmixed fatherly approval, Then, he again scanned the company.

“So – before young Ned made this amazin’ shot – what was goin’ on?”

The partners exchanged a glance.

At a tiny nod from Heyes, Kid moved back toward Ellen Fraser and began, “This lady,” he indicated her, “- she has something to …”

Oliver Carleton took one pace nearer, a calculating look beginning to creep over his face.

“Sheriff,” he exclaimed loudly, “Do not listen to this man! In fact I demand you arrest him at once.” He advanced another pace, “He is a known criminal – this is Kid Curry!”

A beat.

The Sheriff’s eyes moved from one man to the other. Heyes believed he could guess at the mental process going on. ‘Never really was convinced by plain – ‘Smith ‘n’ Jones’! An’ do know he’s real fast. But – wouldn’t believe grass was green on that skunk’s say so!’

“THAT ain’t Kid Curry!” exploded Ned Kingsley. He pointed, firmly, at young Pat Galloway, still standing, covered by Deputy Baker. “THAT – that’s the one I was told to tell ya was Kid Curry!”

This was a fresh twist for the real Kid Curry. He blinked and risked a quick glance at his partner.

A diminutive, but supremely confident, addition to the cast stepped out from behind the stacked crates.

“YES!” it declared ringingly, “THAT,” also pointing at an astounded Pat Galloway, “- is Kid Curry.” She dropped the dramatic tones. “Isn’t it, Deputy Baker?” she asked with an appealing smile.

Deputy Baker hesitated.

“This is certainly the man you had Ned describe to us, earlier, ma-am,” he said carefully.

“I ain’t Kid Curry!” exploded Galloway.

“Well – obviously he’s going to deny it!” exclaimed Meg, reasonably, “But look at him – he matches the description! He’s blonde, he’s tall, he’s young-looking – and he’s hiring out as a gunslinger!” She drew breath, “I mean, Thaddeus isn’t even really fair-haired – he’s more – mousy. And – no offence Thaddeus – he’s a bit on the heavy side!” Again, she switched on a charming smile and peeped up from under the brim of her cap, “Isn’t that right, Deputy Baker?”

“Well, ma-am, you’re the one been studyin’ the wanted posters. Daresay you know better’n me,” he ventured.

“I AIN’T Kid Curry!” repeated Galloway, desperately.

“You’ll just have to hold him, until someone from Wyoming comes to confirm it, won’t you?” persisted Meg.

Carleton moved an inch or two closer to Ellen.

“This is ridiculous, Sheriff!” he said, “Can’t you see, she’s trying to draw attention away from the fact that Thaddeus Jones and Kid Curry are one and the same!”

“Oh Yes!” intoned Meg, in a voice heavy with sarcasm, “Of course they are! Notorious outlaws, like Kid Curry, are always being hired to escort payrolls of $80,000 and not stealing a nickel! And violent criminals, are often found, risking their own lives, to pull people out of burning buildings, with no hope of reward. And rather than actually offer to work for you, – Kid Curry would be bound to forego the money and expose you, – purely in the interests of justice.” She stared, wide-eyed at the Sheriff and shook her head, “Makes perfect sense doesn’t it? It’s not as if Mr. Carleton might be the one trying to divert your attention! Oh No!”

The Sheriff stared at Oliver Carleton, as he deliberated over what Meg had said.

Seeing she was making headway, Meg launched again into the fray.

With a tiny – and definitely rancorous glance – at Heyes, she stepped toward him and went on.

“I suppose if Thaddeus is Kid Curry, you think THIS – this is Hannibal Heyes?” She gave a scornful laugh.

“It is!” exclaimed Carleton, a little thrown by this tactic.

“Hannibal Heyes! Hannibal Heyes!” sneered Meg, “- And he gets himself trussed up like a turkey and has to be cut free, by a fifteen year old boy, after the danger had passed! I thought he was supposed to be master of clever escapes! And if he was Hannibal Heyes – wouldn’t he be talking his way out of this! Not just standing there! Useless! Like a spare part! Gaping like a cod fish!”

Heyes eyes began to take on a purposeful glitter. She glowered back at him.

Kate decided to earn her keep as Meg’s backup.

“I seem to remember, from the background material, ONE description of Hannibal Heyes mentioned a scar – two inches long – under the chin. Very noticeable. And a gold tooth.”

“And a squint,” declared Meg, “Makes him look shifty.”

The Sheriff blinked.

“Thought he was supposed to have charm?”

“CHARM!” sniffed Meg, “Pfffttt! You must have been reading Dime Novels! Kate and I have researched the REAL man – furtive, rodenty fellow! Puts people in mind of a rat!” She cast Heyes another glance, under her breath she added, “A lying rat!” Her eyes challenged him, “Isn’t that so, Joshua?”

However, he had realised Meg’s performance, impressive as it was, before her final swerve into abuse, never caught the attention of at least one member of her audience.

Oliver Carleton’s gaze constantly flicked in the direction of Ellen Fraser. As the Sheriff listened, partially swayed, to Meg – Carleton continued to edge inch by inch toward Ellen. His face wore a beseeching smile, belied by a cunning gleam in the eyes. She, when he caught her notice, displayed the same involuntary fascination with which a rabbit responds to a snake.

With another covert step, Carleton, drew closer. He half held out his hand, as if in a pleading, gesture. Heyes saw a slight distortion in the set of the sleeve, – familiar from years facing professional gamblers, – as the arm raised and twitched.

Both men sprang in an instant; Carleton toward the flinching Ellen, Heyes to strike up, then grab his hand.

A second gunshot echoed through the alleyway. Then Carleton snarled in fury as his arm was cruelly twisted behind his back. The object in his grasp clattered to the floor. Still gripping Carleton, Heyes swept it up and displayed it to the Sheriff.

“Derringer,” he stated, adding bluntly, “Reckon he meant to try and get away using a hostage.”

Something dark trickled down Heyes face.

“Joshua,” squealed Meg, “– you are hit!”

She scampered over. Kid, equally – thought not as noisily – concerned, beat her to it.

“Nothin’ but a graze,” dismissed Heyes, twitching away from his partner’s hand, but not for a moment relaxing his grip on Carleton.

Meg hopped in anxiety at Kid’s side, as he checked the wound.

“You’re right,” said Kid, his gruff tone, covering his relief. He bent down and picked up his partner’s hat, “Won’t even be a scar!”

A fluttering breath escaped from Meg. Then snapping her brows together, she once again glowered at Heyes.

“Pity!”

He blinked. Without exactly expecting to receive a ‘My Hero!’ – those ten seconds back in her good books did seem at little on the short side.

The Sheriff turned to the trembling Ellen Fraser. Noting her bruises, he cast a contemptuous look at the thwarted man in Heyes grasp.

“Did you have something you wanted to tell me, Mrs. Carleton?” he asked.

She nodded. In a small voice, she began, “That’s not who I am – “.

-oooOOOOOOOooo-

Less than an hour later, back in his office, the Sheriff surveyed the group before him.

Carleton and his men were in the cells. Carleton still – at intervals – loudly insisting on the immediate arrest of Heyes and Curry. The Doctor had left, after tending to Simons’ shattered hand. Despite protests from Heyes, firmly vetoed by Meg, he had also painfully cleaned up Heyes scratch with antiseptic. Doctor Bell insisted on taking Ellen – who had begun to shake with delayed shock – back to the surgery with him. She had the Sheriff’s assurance her baby, left in the care of the maids at West Hill, would be brought to her at first light.

The Sheriff looked from one face to the next. He paused at Ned Kingsley.

“You son,” he barked. “Go home!” Ned opened his mouth to protest. “Now!” insisted the Sheriff, adding more mildly, “If your Pa wants to talk to me – tell him I’ll call round tomorrow.”

Kate stood up, “May I call tomorrow too?” she asked, “To return your jacket.”

Gulping, he nodded.

“Please, NEVER do anything like that again!” she smiled, “But, oh Ned, you are a hero!” Leaning forward, she kissed him gently on the cheek, “Thank you.”

As the scarlet-faced youth somehow found his hat, the door, the handle and the step into the street, Heyes caught his partner’s eye and gave him a quizzical look.

“It WAS some shot, wasn’t it, Thaddeus?” he smiled.

“Now,” said the Sheriff, gazing thoughtfully at the two ex-outlaws, “You two!”

“You cannot possibly be taking Mr. Carleton’s accusations seriously?” protested Kate.

“Must agree, ma-am, can’t say I like where the information’s comin’ from.”

“Quite!” declared Kate, “We KNOW he’s a liar. As Meg pointed out – if Joshua and Thaddeus were outlaws – why not steal the payroll last week? Nothing could have been easier for them.”

“That is true,” mused the Sheriff, still scanning the two poker faces in front of him, “Come to think of it – ain’t heard of Heyes an’ Curry pullin’ a job for –” he pursed his lips, “– for more’n two years!”

“I expect they’re down in Mexico! That’s why there’s been no news of them,” exclaimed Meg, confidently, “Or even – Bolivia! Isn’t that where outlaws go when they’re running from the law?”

The Sheriff shrugged, eyes still on the partners.

“Sometimes happens, ma-am,” he acknowledged. He stared hard at Heyes, “Might be another explanation.”

A beat.

Heyes, eyes innocent, finally managed, “Uh huh?”

The Sheriff shifted in his seat.

“‘Fore I came here, I was in Wyoming. Sheriff down in Powell – Park County. Knew a fella called – Billy Brewster. You boys ever hear of him?”

Heyes was about to shake his head, then stopped. He creased his brow as he tried to remember where he had heard the name before.

The Sheriff smiled.

“Rings a bell, huh? The governor granted this Billy Brewster amnesty – after he managed to keep outta trouble for a year or two. I was just wonderin’ – mebbe Heyes an’ Curry have a similar kinda deal. Mebbe they’re tryin’ to play it straight? Whaddya think?”

A beat.

Heyes crossed his legs and raised his eyebrows as if considering it.

“Anything’s possible.”

Kid risked a sideways glance at Kate. The look he received back was so expressive of glowing approval, he dropped his eyes, hoping the warmth in his cheeks was not too obvious.

“Hmm,” said the Sheriff. Walking over to his desk he grunted, “Well – Monday’ll do fine to look into that. Ain’t plannin’ to waste a day o’ rest on it! NOT that I ever get a day o’ rest to waste anyhow.”

The partners exchanged a mute conversation. The Sheriff was well aware they were leaving soon after dawn on Monday, escorting a shipment to Duluth.

“Mrs. Connor,” called the Sheriff, shuffling a document or two, “- can I just settle one or two final details with you?”

Kate joined him, at the desk.

In a low voice Meg said, “It’s hard to believe they’ve gone straight! Well – not so much Kid Curry. But Hannibal Heyes! Never!”

Deputy Baker overheard this.

“Why him in particular, ma-am?”

She opened her eyes very wide.

“Have you never heard the rumours about him? His moral sense was blunted, years ago, by an addiction to opium. And he drinks – like a fish. And –”

Heyes stood up.

“Why don’t we wait for Kate outside, ma-am? Get you a breath of fresh air.”

Ignoring her squeak of protest, he gripped her arm and dragged her out onto the boardwalk. Releasing her, he placed his hands on his hips, pushed back his hat and glared down at the fuming figure in front of him.

“Meg,” he declared, “- assumin’ it was you cut Thaddeus free and slipped him a gun – you have been – amazing! And the way you talked up a storm, for the Sheriff – back in the alley – superb. NOT that I’d expect anything less! But do you think you can stop elaboratin’ on the Heyes detail now? Haven’t you heard – when it comes to description – less is more? What else are you planning for him? A wart? A hump? A peg-leg?”

“NO!” she scowled, “That would conflict too obviously with the posters. I thought – halitosis!” Her eyes narrowed, musingly, “AND – a report that he’s inadequate!”

“Why? Has he spent time with you? Looking like a boiled lobster, sweatin’ like a navvy – and dressed like a scarecrow, in those stupid breeches! That’d be enough to make any man inadequate! Sure works for me!”

For a second she looked furious.

Then, “Rubbish!” She held up her chin and stared at him defiantly, “Deputy Baker thinks I look cute as a button dressed like this! And I agree!”

He glared back. His face became suddenly serious.

“So do I!” The deep brown eyes searched hers, “What have I done, Meg? Why are you so angry?”

“Because – because –” she clenched her fists, determined not to let him see she was hurt, as well as enraged, “- because it was all a lie! The very first words you said to me, on the train – were a lie!”

“Meg,” he said quietly, “– if worse comes to worst and you get dragged into court, asked – ‘Who did you believe this man to be?’ – what can you say?”

She stared at him for a moment, then understood.

“I can say, ‘He always told me, his name was Joshua Smith.'” she answered, quietly, “And I cannot be accused of knowingly allowing a criminal to escape arrest.”

Heyes smiled. His Meg was never slow on the uptake. He took her hand.

“Last night in the woods,” he looked down at her, “- I told you I couldn’t stay. I said I wasn’t near good enough for you.”

“You were right!” she shot back. Her face softened a little. “Yes, you did,” she acknowledged. Her expression wavered. “But that’s not it!” she exploded, snatching her hand away, “I thought – I was special. I thought – if only you had a steady job – you would stay.” Her face twisted, “Alright – that wasn’t your fault. That was just me being so – STUPID. But you let me carry on – working on my book. You encouraged me to let you hear it!” Her voice wobbled, as she asked, “Have you enjoyed it – laughing at me? Making fun? Good joke was it?”

She turned away.

“I’m going back in,” she said dully, “Don’t worry, I won’t say another word about Heyes or Curry.”

He caught her wrist and pulled her back to him.

“Listen you,” he said gruffly, “– don’t think for a moment I fell for any of that! You know perfectly well – you ARE special. Don’t you?”

Nose buried in his shirtfront, she shrugged.

“Don’t you?” he repeated.

A nod.

“As for enjoying laughing at you. I thought I was laughing with you. And yes – I enjoyed that. I love – I love laughing with you. Do you really think I’d be leaving tomorrow, if I had a choice?”

A shrug.

“For someone knowing such a lot of big words – you’ve gone awful quiet.”

A beat.

“Are you gonna make me talk to the top of that stupid cap all night?”

Silence.

“C’mon, Meg,” he said, “It’s sounds like being back in school, but can’t we be friends again. Before we have to go back in.”

After a moment, he felt the small hands pressed flat against his chest, slip round to hug him close. She tilted up her chin to give him a shaky little smile.

-oooOOOooo-

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Shortly after dawn – Monday 18th June 1883

In the misty early morning light, Heyes leant against the ticket depot. He watched the last of 400 tons of copper to be transported to Helena, then East, being loaded, onto the freight cars of the waiting train. His partner was repeating the routine gone through with the payroll car; testing the couplings, checking the firing angles, practising levering himself from the windows – ‘just in case’.

A few heads amongst the working labourers turned. Heyes looked round to see what had caught their attention. It was Meg and Kate, obviously here to wave the partners off. Heyes face lit up with a wide, dimpled grin. He walked over to meet them. Kate kissed him on the cheek; from Meg he merely got a rather sheepish smile.

Kid spotted them too and also grinned. Jumping gracefully down, he strode over. He swept his hat off, as he reached the ladies.

“Mornin’ Meg,” he said, “Kate. Didn’t expect you to make it this early.”

“We couldn’t possibly let you leave without saying goodbye,” Kate answered, smiling, “Though I must admit, that’s not EXACTLY what I said when Meg shook me awake at five! It’s all right for her,” she added, glancing at her friend, “she never seems to need sleep!”

Kid smiled back, with a sideways glance at Heyes.

“That can be annoyin’ – I know.”

“Meg,” said Heyes, conversationally, “there’s a bank round back of the depot, smothered in bitterroot. Real pretty. Walk round with me – I’ll show you.”

She blinked at him.

“Why would you want to waste the last ten minutes before you leave looking at flowers.” Seeing Kid roll his eyes and Kate hide a smile, the light dawned.

“OH!” she exclaimed, “Did you think if we were alone, you could kiss me goodbye?”

Several heads turned.

“A little louder – just for the fellas at the far end, stockin’ the tender,” suggested Heyes.

Meg lowered her voice – a shade – but carried on without a pause, a teasing smile beginning to play around her mouth.

“As we’ll never see each other again, you were going to catch me in your strong grasp, rain kisses over my face, finally pressing your lips to mine, in a farewell which leaves my senses stunned, my pulse racing? A soaring moment of heady tenderness, I will treasure in my heart forever?”

“No pressure, Josh.” said Kid, deadpan, “Sure the peck on the cheek you had in mind’ll do fine!”

A beat.

Heyes squinted off towards the direction of the rising sun.

“You comin’ or not?” he asked, without looking at her.

Suddenly shy, in a small voice, she said, “Alright.”

He began to move away. Realising she was still standing stock-still, he turned. She stared at him, outraged.

“You don’t, for one minute, think I’m going to just FOLLOW you?” she exploded, “THAT’s not romantic at all. The very LEAST you could do is sweep me off my feet! Bear me away, helpless, in your sinewy arms!”

Hands on hips, Heyes looked at her. Pushing back his hat, he let his head fall forward and slowly shook it, grinning in spite of himself. Straightening up, he strode purposefully over. Meg turned a little to her right, raised her arms slightly, ready to throw them around his neck as she was swept up and closed her eyes in anticipation.

Halting in front of her, Heyes glanced at his partner. Then, he grasped Meg firmly by the waist and tossed her high over one shoulder, like a sack of meal. Gripping her backside there with one hand, his other kept a firm hold of her legs to stop her kicking against his chest and stomach, as he marched away.

The last thing heard, before the couple disappeared from view, was a red-faced Meg, fuming, “Set me down! NOW! Just you wait, Joshua! So help me – I’ll show you! I will be BOILING mad!”

Kate and Kid exchanged a glance.

“He won’t – lay a finger on her,” said Kid. Realising in view of what they had just witnessed, this was blatantly untrue, he grinned, “Well – you know what I mean.”

“I know what you mean,” she smiled back. After a pause, she went on, “Thaddeus.”

“Uh huh?”

“I didn’t realise until I talked it over with Meg, afterwards. I have even more to thank you for than I knew, don’t I? It was you who made the shot to disable Mr. Simons? With the gun Meg gave you?”

Kid hunched a shoulder, awkwardly.

“It was nothin'” he shrugged. “The real thanks oughta go to Meg, for slippin’ me a weapon.”

“And the pair of you let dear Ned have all the credit!” smiled Kate.

“He deserved it! The way he tried to stand up for you!” said Kid, “I’m not sayin’ it wasn’t a stupid thing to do. But showed he’s made of the right stuff.” He shrugged again, “Besides,” he met her eyes rather ruefully, “- I don’t exactly try to draw attention to it when I’ve made a fancy shot!” He lowered his gaze, “Just do what you can to make sure the boy doesn’t start thinking being good with a gun is something to be real proud of. It’s not. I was around his age when -” He stopped. “Kate,” he began again, uncomfortably, “I want you to know – .” He stopped again.

Kate gave his hand a kindly squeeze.

“I think I already know. You suspect the rumour about Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry going straight is true,” she smiled at him. “I do believe you may be right, Thaddeus! Perhaps Meg’s book is more accurate than we thought – they have renounced sin for ever!”

“I dunno about that!” He gave a wry grin, “Probably just knew safes were getting better, sheriffs were getting smarter. Knew it was only a matter of time before they got caught – maybe killed.”

“Well,” mused Kate, “That could be part of it. But they have a reputation for never shooting anyone during a robbery. I like to think they realised – if they wanted to keep it that way, they needed to stop.”

Kid blinked at her. He and Heyes had never put it into words – but there was a lot of truth there.

“AND,” went on Kate, “- they are supposed to be VERY loyal friends. Rather like you and Joshua. I have a sneaking suspicion Kid Curry worries even more about Heyes getting caught, or killed, than about his own safety. And vice versa. So -” she looked, enquiringly, up at him, “- that would make even the self-preservation motive a little more noble than you implied. Wouldn’t it?”

Kid opened his mouth to reply, then shut it. After a pause, he said, more lightly, “Well, Kate. If you can find something nice to say ’bout them two ornery critters, I suppose there’s hope for ’em yet!”

She smiled back.

They stood in silence, watching the final loads being hefted onto the cars.

“When do you expect to have to sell up an’ move?” asked Kid.

She looked up at him surprised.

“Haven’t you heard?” she asked, “Didn’t Mr. Lloyd tell you?”

“Tell us what?” replied Kid, moving his eyes down the platform, to where Chris Lloyd was checking documentation with one of the bookkeepers.

“Well,” said Kate, taking a deep breath, “- the Sheriff told Mr. Lloyd that, in his opinion, despite all the fancy talk flyin’ around, SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE, owed SOMEONE – $20,000. And since Mr. Lloyd was five times richer than he had been yesterday – it really should be him.”

“An’ he agreed?” asked Kid, incredulously.

“Well – with provisos. He called round yesterday evening and asked what Emerson, Meg and I would do with $20,000 if it was offered. Emerson went first, he asked for…”

“A printing press!” smiled Kid.

She smiled back, “No! I thought you knew him better than that! For a start, that’s only three words! He asked for the money to be spent on,” she screwed up her eyes to remember accurately, “The introduction of any and all well-defined and established appliances for the preservation of life, health and limbs of all mine employees. The most perfect system of ventilation and drainage available, to have the shafts and tunnels rendered as free from water and impure air and poisonous gases, as possible. A plentiful supply of suitable timber, for supporting the roof and walls. Establishing, as speedily as possible and forever, the right to receive pay, for labour performed, in lawful money and to rid miners from the iniquitous system of spending their wages wherever their employers see fit to designate.”

She opened her eyes.

“Uh huh?” grinned Kid, “Not exactly into what you’d call – selfish fritterin’ – is he?”

Kate smiled.

She went on, “Mr. Lloyd just interrupted him and said he was pretty much planning on all that anyway. So – was there anything else? Emerson then asked for a maximum working day of eight hours. Mr. Lloyd told him it was a shame the crack on the head hadn’t knocked any sense into him and said he hoped we ladies had something more practical to request.”

“And did you?” prompted Kid.

“I asked for a printing press,” she confirmed, “Being selfish. And for the office to be rebuilt and restocked. Meg is having the very latest Remington typewriter and a de-luxe soldier’s knife. We thought Ned might like one of those too.” A rather innocent expression came over Kate’s face, “I also remember something about a dozen cases of vintage champagne.”

“Still wouldn’t take $20,000!”

“I did suggest you and Joshua deserved a reward – but Mr. Lloyd said he was paying you well enough already and that the Sheriff might explode if he heard!” She looked up at Kid apologetically, “I think he plans to have a bonus paid you, at the end of the delivery, though.”

Kid shrugged, “Better’n nothing. A LOT better than what we usually end up with!”

“I’m sure you’ll be more than happy with what the rest is to be used for,” smiled Kate.

“Uh huh?”

“First of all – to retain an excellent lawyer to represent Ellen. Because she will have to face trial as an accessory.”

Kid looked concerned, “She’s not gonna be held in jail till then?”

“No. The Sheriff is prepared to release her – theoretically into my jurisdiction – until the case comes to court. She and the baby will stay with us.” Kate grinned, “I signed a document which I think made me some kind of deputy.”

“Can’t have!” said Kid firmly. “I can look at you without getting cold shivers!”

Kate laughed at this.

“We think she will escape a custodial sentence – but if worse comes to worst – Emerson and I will take good care of little Oliver until she’s freed. Then she’ll go and start a new life, somewhere back East. We’ve asked Mr. Lloyd to put the balance of the money in two trust funds, one for her, one for the baby. He was fine with that.”

She looked up at Kid.

A beat.

“What are you staring at? Have I got a smut on my face or something?”

He shifted his eyes, “No, it’s just – nothing.” He glanced at her, “That’s real nice to know, Kate. You’re right. Me an’ Joshua will be more’n happy with that.”

The train whistle blew. Doors were slammed and the labourers moved away from the edge of the track.

“Time to go,” said Kid.

She put a hand on his shoulder and kissed his cheek.

“Goodbye. Thank you for everything. I know you probably WON’T ever come back – but if things work out so you can, remember where we are.”

“Gonna remember anyhow,” he responded, gruffly.

She looked round, “Do you think you need to hurry Joshua?”

“Nope!” stated Kid bluntly, “Never misses a train.” He grinned, “‘Course sometimes they’re movin’ before he gets on!”

He walked over and climbed into the last car, Kate following him to the edge of the makeshift platform.

At the far end of the train, Chris Lloyd was scowling past Kid, looking for his missing guard.

With a squeal of releasing brakes and clouds of steam, the train began to inch forward. Gradually, it picked up speed. Kate anxiously scanned the meadow beyond the station for a sign of her absent friend and Heyes.

Two swift running figures, rounded the corner of the depot, hand in hand. Releasing Meg, Heyes chased the accelerating train and with the help of a much practicised grip from his partner, leapt – to be pulled safely aboard. The door of the car banged shut behind him.

The two girls waved at the train until it steamed around a bend out of view.

Kate turned to the still breathless Meg.

“Well?” she demanded.

“Well what?”

“Did he…stun your senses? Give you a moment to treasure forever?”

Slowly, a wide, satisfied smirk spread over Meg’s face.

-oooOOOOOOOooo-

EPILOGUE Two months later August 1883, Colorado

Kid Curry, hot, tired and hungry after a long ten hours in the saddle, pushed open the hotel room door and strode in. He and Heyes had split up several days ago to take separate jobs, arranging to meet here in Northglenn. The desk clerk informed him that Mr. Smith had checked in that morning and – to the best of his knowledge – was in.

Heyes was indeed in; stretched out on one of the beds, looking annoyingly cool and well rested. One arm was tucked behind his head, a folded back cheap novel was held aloft in the other. He did not look up as his partner entered.

Kid dumped his saddlebags noisily on the dresser.

“I made it,” he grunted.

“Uh huh.”

“Have you checked out the town?”

“Uh huh.”

“No one we know?”

Heyes shook his head without peeling his eyes from the page.

Kid scowled at him. Since his partner wasn’t looking – it was wasted.

“You gonna ask me how I got on?” he said.

A shrug, still not looking at Kid, “Mmm?”

“Heyes! You’re not layin’ there with your nose in that all night. Soon as I’ve had me a bath, I plan on finding us two steak dinners, a coupla cold beers and a little friendly poker,” Kid exploded.

Without reacting, his partner calmly turned a page.

A beat.

Kid threw himself into a chair and glowered at the figure on the bed, “What is it you’re reading anyhow?”

Sighing at the interruption, Heyes flicked back to the lurid cover page and held it up to let his partner see for himself.

“Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry in ‘The Golden Tunnels of Peril’,” Kid recited, “- a thrilling romance by ‘Mountain Rose – The fair maid of Montana’.”

Heyes folded back the novella and continued to read. Kid thought for a moment. Suddenly he started upright.

“That isn’t Meg’s book?”

Heyes grinned and nodded. He turned another page.

“What’s it like?” asked Kid.

His partner actually tore his eyes away for a moment, to scan the ceiling in thought.

“Diverting,” he finally decided and went back to reading.

Kid watched him for a few moments, then shifted in his seat.

With studied casualness he asked, “Which one of us does Mary-Sue pick in the end?” He sniffed, “If there’s any justice – oughta be Kid Curry, since he pulled her outta that cave-in. Not that it matters.”

A beat.

Kid snapped, “Heyes – does Kid Curry get the girl?”

The grin on Heyes face grew wider, “Nope!”

“She don’t pick you!” protested his partner, “Far as I recall, you did nothing, except dive in a lake an’ treat some good-time gal, called Yasmeena, kinda off-hand!”

“Nope!” said Heyes again, still grinning from ear to ear. He added, “Lovely Mary-Sue waves off both heroes, in a touching farewell and rides off into the sunset, with an upright young Sheriff.”

“With the Sheriff!” exclaimed Kid in disgust. He stared at Heyes, “Can’t see what there is in that for YOU to look so all-fired smug about!”

“Oh, I don’t know,” mused Heyes, “He sounds a decent sort of fella. Listen, ‘His dark hair fell forward over his handsome brow, in a way that made Mary-Sue yearn to softly stroke it back. The brown eyes were warm with humour and intelligence. When she looked into their intense depths, Mary-Sue felt he could read her very soul. His smile – his smile could light up a room. Deep dimples appeared in his smooth tanned cheeks and his head would be thrown back with the joy of radiant vital life, before his rich, deep laughter rang out. When he kissed her, Mary-Sue thought she could never have imagined a man of such sinewy strength, to have a touch so gentle – so tender.'”

Heyes threw his partner a satisfied glance, “This Sheriff – he goes by the name, ‘Joshua Smith'”

FINIS

-oooOOOooo-

End notes:

(It goes without saying that the mine owners in the story are pure fiction – no resemblance to the real ‘Copper Kings’ is intended, except in the location and timing of the piece. Likewise any resemblance to the real Dumas brothel is not only unintentional – but extremely lucky! Most of the facts scattered thinly through the text come from – “The Oxford History of the American West”. NOT that it ended up having much to do with copper mining – whatever my original intention may have been. This one really morphed!)

The so called ‘Copper Kings’ of Butte, Montana, made millions of dollars through Butte’s rich mineral deposits.

One, a formerly penniless Irish immigrant Marcus Daly came to Butte, Montana from California to investigate the silver mines. Armed with mining venture capital, Daly began operations, only to discover in 1882 that his mine had little silver but contained one of the largest copper deposits ever discovered.

He began construction of his giant Copper Smelter 26 miles west in 1883 and connected it to Butte by rail. The town of Anaconda grew up around this new smelter.

The advent of electricity caused a soaring demand for copper. Butte became one of the most prosperous cities in the country and was often called “the Richest Hill on Earth”.

The influx of miners gave Butte the reputation as a wide-open town where any vice was obtainable. The city’s famous saloon and red-light district, called the “Line”, was centred on Mercury Street, where the elegant bordellos included the famous Dumas Brothel, regarded as the longest-running house of prostitution in the U.S. In the brick alley behind the brothel was the equally famous Venus Alley, where women plied their trade in small cubicles called “cribs”.

The Anaconda Copper Mining Company engaged in questionable business practices and at one point even resorted to gunning down strikers in the Anaconda Road Massacre.

The Miners’ Protective Association (of which the fictional Hal McBride is an active member) sought higher wages, shorter hours and better working conditions, “bead and butter unionism.” Later – in the early 1890s – the Western Federation of Miners made Butte the “Gibraltar of Unionism”

However, the demands we hear Emerson Connor quoted as supporting in the final chapter, actually come from the United Mine Workers of America in the preamble to their constitution, adopted in Indianapolis on January 25, 1890. This is technically too late for my purposes – but the context made it fairly clear the constitution consolidated earlier union demands.

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