1. Chapter 1

By Calico

PROLOGUE

SAN FRANCISCO 1881

Mrs. Theodore Pierce dropped a light kiss on her husband’s bald patch, before picking up the long spouted silver pot and pouring out his morning coffee. Without lifting his absorbed eyes from the paper propped before him, he grunted something inarticulate, which could be interpreted as thanks.

She took her own seat, arranging her light muslin skirt prettily, allowing one shapely, silk-clad, ankle, terminating in a frivolous embroidered satin slipper, to emerge and swing provocatively.

The small swaying foot caught Pierce’s attention. His – attention – travelled up his young wife’s figure, until her slanting eyes captured his gaze. She gave him a dazzling smile.

“Theo,” she began, in a warm, enticing voice, “- I was thinking, today, we could drive out to Pacific Heights, maybe pick the perfect spot for our new summer house.”

“Well, my dear,” he hesitated, “- I know we spoke about a summer residence, but – the business hasn’t been going well – and -”

She pouted, her eyes opening wide in entreaty.
“Oh, not ‘but’ Darling! You promised! It’ll be somewhere to retreat from the hustle and dust of the city!”

“You see, Darling…”

“You can’t want me to stay here, through the hottest summer months,” protested Mrs. Pierce, gesturing at the room as if it were an oppressive box, rather than an extensive, elegant chamber within one of the finest houses on Nob Hill. “I would stifle – it would bring on my headaches.” She smiled, appealingly, at her husband, “You don’t want me to have a headache – do you darling?” Her lashes fluttered, “Not when we could be walking – hand in hand – in the balmy evening air, watching the waves.” She allowed her fine bosom to heave, under its filmy drapery. Her eyes flickered up, with meaning, “I always feel so – romantic – when I hear lapping water.”

The foot, clad in a gossamer silk stocking, loosed its slipper and gently rubbed his calf.

Theodore Pierce gulped. Three months of marriage in no way lessened his desire to give his young wife anything she wanted, if it might make her feel – romantic.

Suddenly the door of the breakfast parlour burst open. In bounced the furious – pretty, but furious – figure of Alice Pierce.

“Daddy!” she exploded, “…Mary says there was a letter for me this morning and you kept it! How dare you intercept my post! Give it me at once!”

Mrs. Pierce sighed, as a thunderous frown descended on her husband’s brow. If she did not spend so much energy reconciling hot tempered father to mutinous daughter, the foundations of that elegant summer house would be dug by now; and her – already well stocked jewellery box – would be at least twice as heavy.

“Give me my letter!” repeated Alice, stamping her foot.

“Alice, dear,” reproved her stepmother, mildly, “there’s no need to shout.”

“If you mean this,” glowered her father, retrieving an envelope from the pile beside his plate, “I’ve no intention of giving it to you! I forbade you to have anything more to do with that – that nonentity!”

“He is not a nonentity! He is the cleverest, most wonderful man in the world! We’re going to be married – and there’s nothing you can do to stop it!”

“I certainly can do something to stop it, young lady! Do you think after the money I’ve spent having you brought up as fine as any lady in the land, I’m going to let you – my only child,” his voice softened a little, “- my little princess – throw yourself away on Jozef Kowalski? A – a -”

“A what?” challenged Alice, eyes flashing.

“A – nobody – from the wrong side of town. One of my own employees!”

“Not any more!” shot back Alice. “You thought you could get rid of him! All you did was lose the best engineer you’d ever had to Henry Brooker.”

Pierce’s glower deepened at this – all too true – statement.
“That sneaky snake in the grass! That skunk! Always copying our best ideas…” he began to growl.

“Doesn’t have to now, does he?” gloated his daughter. “Give me my letter!” Her hand shot out. Just in time her father whipped it out of reach.

Silk smooth, it was plucked from his grasp, by his wife. Tearing it open, she pulled out the single sheet.

“No!” protested Alice.

Her stepmother met her eyes.
“Better me than your father?” she asked.

“It may be – intimate!” flushed Alice.

“From Mr. Kowalski?” said Mrs. Pierce sceptically.

Alice considered this for a moment and, rather regretfully, accepted her stepmother was probably right.

“Would you rather it was burnt unread,” Mrs. Pierce offered, moving to the fire.

Alice slumped.
“No – read it,” she agreed.

Her stepmother scanned the letter, smiled, than read out loud.
“My dear Miss Pierce,
While cognisant of the honour you do me with your letter, I cannot consent to your request for an elopement…”

“He’s turning me down?” squeaked Alice, outraged.

“…Nor to a clandestine correspondence, so expressly forbidden by your father, while you are still under age. Therefore this letter is addressed openly to yourself, not – as you suggested, to your maid.”

Alice caught her father’s horrified, incredulous stare and, although she raised her chin defiantly – blushed.

“…Pray be assured, my feelings remain unchanged and will continue to do so. Upon the day you attain your majority, I will renew my offer of marriage, if your own sentiments have not, in the meantime, undergone a revision.
Yours respectfully… etc.”

Both father and daughter looked stunned by this.

“What a cold fish!” was Pierce’s, involuntary, comment.
“He won’t even write to me?” huffed Alice, in unison. “Doesn’t he WANT to marry me?”

“That’s not QUITE what it says, Alice,” smiled Mrs. Pierce.

“He expects me to wait until I’m twenty-one!”

“Unless your father changes his mind, so it seems.”

“That’s YEARS away!”

“Fourteen months, Alice. Not years.”

“It’s forever!” Alice whirled round and stared at her father. “Daddy, you HAVE to change your mind!” Her father’s last remark finally registered. Her flush deepened from wild rose, to peony. “AND – don’t you DARE call him a cold fish! He loves me passionately. PASSIONATELY! It’s just he’s…” she searched, “… he has a lot of old-fashioned ideas about honour and … and waiting. And he wants me to be absolutely sure of my feelings …But he’s wrong – I’ll never change my mind!” Again the foot stamped on the floor, “You have to give us permission to marry, Daddy! Because Jozef is so stubborn, I’ll never talk him into running away. The only time I visited his rooms, he just put on his hat and dragged me straight home. I told him – if he ruined my reputation you’d HAVE to let us get married – to stop the scandal. But he wouldn’t listen – he said I had no idea what I was talking about!”

Her father gaped, open-mouthed, at this.

“If you don’t let me marry Jozef, Daddy, I’ll, I’ll…” her tiny fists clenched and unclenched frantically as she sought a threat bad enough. Finally with a frustrated, high-pitched, puff of breath, she was forced to carry on “…Well, I don’t know WHAT I’ll do! But whatever it is – you’ll be sorry!”

“If you marry without permission, it won’t be me that’ll be sorry. You won’t see a penny of my money – and you can tell Kowalski – neither will he!”

“Jozef doesn’t care about money! He’s too noble. Like the king of France – he would take me in my shift and count me the greatest of his treasures!” Alice shot back, triumphantly, if not with textual accuracy.

Taking a calm sip of coffee, Mrs. Pierce, put in fairly, “I must say, Darling, whatever other objections you may have to Mr. Kowalski – I don’t think he is a fortune hunter. In fact, all in all, HE appears to be behaving very well.”

Her husband glowered at his daughter.
“He’ll care about money fast enough, married to you, my girl. Do you really think you could survive a week on an Engineer’s salary?” Taking a knife, he began to slit open the next couple of letters on his pile of correspondence.

Alice drew herself up proudly.
“Fortune means nothing to me! What can wealth or grandeur have to do with happiness? I will embrace poverty with…”

She halted, as she saw her father’s trembling hand holding up a couple of documents. To Alice’s practised eye – his reaction told her all too clearly – bills!

“$500 for a horse!” he gasped, rising to his feet. “You’ve a fine saddle mare and two carriage horses already! What the Sam Hill have you bought another for?”

“Daddy! The grey mare is fine when I wear my cerulean blue riding habit. But my new habit came back from the dressmaker today. The most wonderful shade of amber. However, when I held it against Cloud, it looked – insipid. So, I gave a swatch of fabric to a very, very helpful gentleman at Perrington’s Stables – and he found me the most beautiful black gelding. He’ll set off the colour admirably.”

“You bought a $500 dollar thoroughbred with a fancy pedigree – just to match your dress?!”

“Not to match, Daddy! That would be – rather vulgar. I bought him to give a tasteful contrast.” She blinked, “It’s only $500. Oh – and $75 for a new saddle. I needed a slightly cooler shade of leather, to tone with the amber.”

Her father closed his eyes, searching for patience. Alice turned to her stepmother.
“What was I saying, before Daddy interrupted?”

“Something about – embracing poverty, dear.”

“Oh yes,” Alice took a breath and went on, “Keep your money, father – money means nothing to me…” Again she tailed off, seeing another suspicious document raised before her father’s, outraged, eyes.

“$200 for a dressing case!” he fumed, “What’s it made of? Solid gold?”

“Don’t be silly Daddy! Even the bottle lids aren’t gold. They’re silver. Only my initials are inlaid in gold.”

Watching her father’s fist crush the bill and descend with a thump, which set the breakfast china rattling, Alice whisked around, quickly.

“I’ll leave you to your letters, Daddy. We can talk about Jozef another time.” She left the room with – rapid – dignity, spoilt only by the fact that a laced flounce was caught in her haste to get away, forcing her to reopen the door to free it.

Mrs. Pierce watched her husband’s shoulders slump forward, as he retook his seat.

“Between the pair of you – and the lousy sales figures – I’ll be ruined!” he groaned. “All the money I spent developing the new model – wasted! Customers admire it. Say it’s leaps and bounds above what they have -but they don’t sign on the dotted line and buy it.”

“Never mind, darling!” she said soothingly, moving behind to massage his shoulders. His last speech brought a frown to her previously smooth brow. “Are the sales really bad, Theodore?”

“Down nearly 70 on last year.”

“That much!” exclaimed his wife, tone much sharper than before, “- what’s the capacity utilisation on the main press?”

“Less than 45 – stamping under 2 tons a day!” he sighed.

Her hands froze on his shoulders.
“But we need a throughput of at least 3.4 tons per day simply to cover fixed costs! Any less – we’re running at a loss,” she protested, her shrewd eyes displaying the rapid arithmetic going on in that lovely head.

His face swivelled up, surprised at this. She wiped off the calculating look, gave a helpless smile and batted her lashes.
“Have I got that right, Theo?” she simpered, “I do try so hard to take an interest in your business.” The blue eyes blinked at him admiringly, “But, I’ve no head for figures – not like you! You’re so clever, darling.”

She kissed his forehead.
“Humph,” he said, mollified. A smug smile replaced the look of gloom. “Actually, you’re right! Something I read in the paper this morning gave me an idea. How to make customers as keen to upgrade their equipment, as they were two years ago.”

Standing up, he drained his coffee cup and walked to the door. “If anyone enquires – I’ve gone over to the Bannerman offices. I’ll be at the works by eleven at the latest.” He turned, “See if you can do something to make Alice see reason. Why don’t you – take her out of the city for a while? A change of air – and company! Introduce her to someone more – more …” he gave up the search. “To someone else! I don’t know what she sees in him anyway!”

Mrs. Pierce, murmured, “Bannerman offices?” as she watched her husband depart. Sitting down, she picked up the paper he had been brooding over before becoming distracted by domestic matters. She read the article that had held his attention. Her eyes widened at a pair of familiar names. Warm memories made a delighted smile flash over her face. Her eyes sparkled. “Those two!” she breathed. Her quick mind worked. “So Theodore means to find …” she broke off, catching her bottom lip between the white teeth. “Oh but I don’t think this Bannerman detective will …” A musing expression was added to the smile. “Perhaps Alice and I should take a little trip after all. Do our part in bolstering the order book!” The smile widened. “I can renew my acquaintance with some – old, old friends.”

-oooOOOooo-

MEANWHILE – IN AN OFFICE IN ANOTHER PART OF THE CITY

Henry Brooker glowered at the figures in front of him, then transferred the glower to his bespectacled secretary.
“Still well down on last year, Dawkins,” he growled.

As this was not a question, Mr. Dawkins did not vouchsafe a reply.

“We projected ten times this many orders, by the end of last month,” went on Brooker, in an accusing tone.

Again there was no answer.

“I thought that new fellow you had me hire, was supposed to be so smart. Thought this new model was the greatest piece of engineering, we’d ever done. The best money could buy.” He frowned once more at the ledger. “So, how come the customers don’t agree?”

Mr. Dawkins coughed, deferentially.
“The problem is not with the new model, sir. All the tests, all the customer feedback from demonstrations, agree – it is excellent. A great improvement. The problem – if it can be so called – is with the previous model.”

“The previous model?” scowled Brooker.

“Yes, sir. It has proved – too reliable. No matter how excellent the technical advances offered – our customers simply do not see any real advantage in purchasing an upgrade.”

Henry Brooker, still scowling at his secretary, mused on that, then, reluctantly nodded. He pulled, deeply, on the fine Cuban cigar held between his fingers. Watching his secretary’s eyes, he said, “Any ideas? Out with it, Dawkins. I know that look.”

Mr. Dawkins gave a modest smile.
“Not exactly an idea, Sir. But I did notice an article in today’s paper, worthy of attention. In the section transcribing items of interest from small town journals.”

He handed a folded newspaper to his employer, pointing with one bony finger.

“What price justice? Today in Hadleyburg, the answer to this oft repeated question is $30,000!” read Brooker. He looked up at Mr. Dawkins and shrugged, “So?”

“Read on, sir,” smiled his secretary. “There are two familiar names involved. Two names we have not encountered for some time. Two names we used to dread hearing. But now – I think we realise – they actually served us very well, in delivering a certain level of – product obsolescence.” As he watched Brooker read, he added, “You might also give the list of witnesses some scrutiny. It suggests – possibilities.”

Brooker finished the article. For several minutes he silently stared at the wall, wrapped in thought. Slow smoke rings rose to the ceiling. Then, he met the other man’s eyes.
“Dawkins, get me an appointment with the head man of the Bannerman office here in San Francisco. Any time in the next hour will do!”

“Bravo, sir!” smiled Mr. Dawkins, “What an excellent idea!”

-oooOOOooo-

CHAPTER ONE

ABOUT A WEEK LATER – A small coastal town south of San Francisco. Wednesday

Hannibal Heyes, breakfast pushed aside, frowned out at the quiet main street. He sighed. His partner, Kid Curry, breakfast not pushed aside followed his partner’s frown. In his opinion, the view of a pretty – if sedate – resort town, had nothing about it, deserving such disapproval. With a shrug, Kid decided to ignore the cloud on Heyes’ brow and concentrate on the ham and eggs in front of him.

Heyes turned away from the window. His fingers drummed. His booted foot swung in time with the drumming – gently kicking the table leg. Kid watched the drumming fingers, shook his head at his own impulse to speak and took another mouthful of ham. Heyes picked up a knife and began to tap it. With another sigh, he moved it to the edge of the table, laid it flat and began to twang it.

Kid threw down his fork.
“What the Sam Hill is wrong with you?”

Heyes blinked at his partner, he assumed an injured expression.
“Why should anything be wrong? I never said a word!”

“That’s one reason for a start,” Kid picked up his fork, to attack his third egg. “You not saying a word!”

“Only yesterday, you complained ’bout never getting any peace an’ quiet at breakfast,” protested Heyes.

“Complain ’bout that most days,” sniffed Kid. “You’re not tellin’ me I’ve succeeded in shuttin’ you up after all these years.” He looked at his partner’s plate. “Are you not eatin’ that?”

Heyes shook his head. Kid swapped his empty plate for Heyes’ full one.

“I’ve been thinkin’ Kid…”

“Knew it was too good to last!” grinned his partner.

Heyes scowled and continued, “Been thinkin’ – this town’s kinda slow!”

Once again Kid’s fork clattered down.
“Sheesh, Heyes. You picked this town! ‘It’s nice an’ quiet, Kid,’ you said. ‘It’s just what we need,’ you said. ‘Let the interest the Hadleyburg trial whipped up, die down’, you said. ‘We can do a little fishin’ – just makin’ sure no one’s listenin’ this time,’ you said.” He grabbed the fork and began to dissect Heyes’ ham with undiminished appetite. “We’ve only been here two nights, Heyes – and here you are climbin’ the walls!”

Heyes waited a moment.
“You done?” he checked.

“Uh huh.” A beat. “OK, Heyes, – out with it.”

“Been thinking – about ‘Frisco – less than five hours by train, Kid!”

For the third time, Kid’s cutlery slammed into the tabletop.
“You were yakkin’ ’bout ‘Frisco last night. ‘Probably better not to risk it,’ you said. ‘Never know who might recognise us,’ you said.”

“Just… for once we actually came out ahead. We have us a little stake left over from those winnings at the Silver Palace … even after,” Heyes gave a little shiver at the memory, “- even after doin’ around $30,000 worth of good in Hadleyburg.”

“And the money you wired the Tapscotts,” Kid growled, “- I’ve got that marked as your second good deed, Heyes!”

“Thought I better not leave it to you, Kid. You bein’ so soft, these days … you mighta sent ’em the shirts off our backs!” Heyes grinned, seeing his partner scowl. “Just seems – since we have a stake – we might wanna find us a nice rich – big city – poker game or two. Win us enough to winter south of the border. You never know – by the time the spring comes – the governor might justa found time to get around to our amnesty.”

“Pfffttt!” snorted Kid, “Which spring are you thinkin’ of, Heyes? Besides, only last night you were sayin’ big city poker games are never worth the risk. Always a chance some professional gambler might know you.”

“We could visit Silky,” suggested Heyes.

“Are you forgettin’ what he said, after that business at Red Rock,” protested Kid! “Might as well just walk up to the desk at the main police station and hand ourselves in – save Silky the walk!”

“We’re always welcome at Soapy Saunders’ place. Couldn’t you manage a few days of luxury up there on Nob Hill? A few nights sampling all that beautiful – wicked – big city has to offer?”

Pushing back his second empty plate, Kid swung his chair round and, with a grin, stretched out his legs.
“Sure,” he nodded. “Wasn’t me spent last night comin’ up with all the reasons to stay away.” Pouring out a fresh cup of coffee, he added, “But – we’ve wired Lom now. Gotta wait for his reply. Make sure the Governor’s been filled in with the real story ’bout Colorado Springs an’ that jail break.” He noticed his partner, not for the first time, check his vest pocket. “Out with it Heyes. What’s got you itchin’ to go to ‘Frisco?”

With studied nonchalance, Heyes replied.
“Nothin’ – just thinkin’ if – if we were to go to ‘Frisco, we might just look in on this. Only if we happened to be passin’, of course. Not suggestin’ we make the trip special, nor nothin'” He handed over a much-fingered cutting, from a San Francisco newspaper.

Kid took it, smoothed it out and studied it.
“Exhibition of innovation – showcasing the best in modern manufacturin’. Trade days – Open to the general public…” he blinked. He turned it over to make sure he was reading the right side. Shaking his head, Kid frowned, “Heyes – if this is what you meant when you talked about sampling what the beautiful – wicked – city has to offer – I’m happy enough stickin’ to the blameless life I’d planned livin’ here for a week or so.”

“Oh well,” shrugged Heyes, with a display of unconcern, “It was only an idea.” He stared casually out of the window. “Just thought, if we did happen to drop by, I might take a look at stand 12. Or 17. Maybe both. If we had time.”

Kid held the cutting out and pulling back his head, scanned the small print.
“Stand 12 – Demonstration model of the new Brooker 808 safe – a revolution in security. Stand 17 – Pierce an’ …” He broke off and stared, torn between incredulity and amusement. “You wanna go stand in line to gawp an’ drool over a coupla safes? Haven’t you seen enough safes to last you a life time, Heyes?”

Abandoning his pretended indifference, Heyes leaned forward, eyes alight with excitement. Pushing back his hair, he smiled persuasively at Kid.
“These aren’t just safes, Kid. This Pierce an’ Hamilton ’81: Model Centurion A – it’s made of high tungsten content tool steel, got a four axis bolting system, closure to within 10 microns…”

“Heyes.”

“-and there’s an inner skin of pressure fused maraging steel. The tumblers self randomise if two consecutive errors in the numberin…”

“Heyes – you have remembered – we’re straight now! Don’t matter if its made o’ tar paper and only fastened with a soft-boiled carrot – makes no difference to us.” He stared at his partner’s eager face. “Does it Heyes?”

With a boyish grin, Heyes said, “Only wanted to take a look, Kid. I promise I won’t – drool. I’ll be cool as a cucumber. I’ll stifle a yawn. If anyone speaks to me, I’ll feign ignorance – ask what the dial on the front is for.”

Kid shook his head, grinning at this.
“Like I say – gotta wait to hear from Lom. Probably won’t be more’n a day or two.” Draining his cup, he went on, “Tell you what – you run on up to ‘Frisco – knock yourself out, gaspin’, ‘Will ya take a look at the tumblers on that!’ an’ groanin’ when they let you finger the hinges – I’ll join you at Soapy’s once the telegram comes in.”

Heyes looked concerned.
“You don’t mind?”

“Mind missin’ some exhibition full of dull men working ’emselves up over cogs an’ levers? I’ll get over it, Heyes.” A pair of pretty young girls, in shady seaside hats, entered the small restaurant. Catching the appreciative eye of the handsome blond customer, they hid giggles behind their gloved hands. Kid nodded to them, then grinned at his partner. “I kinda like this slow town – daresay I can amuse myself for a day or so.”

-oooOOOooo-

A STATION PLATFORM

Later that day, ticket in vest pocket, Heyes watched the train destined for the northward journey to San Francisco shunt into a siding. Railway employees shovelled coal into the tender, while an incoming locomotive, from the city, disgorged passengers onto the platform.

From force of habit, Heyes tipped down his hat and averted his face from the unknown strangers, wary of any sudden cry of recognition. Then, a familiar nattily dressed figure, carrying a small carpetbag, caught his eye. With a smooth movement, Heyes strode over, caught the surprised man by the elbow and hustled him to a quiet spot, out of sight.

This turned both men’s backs to two elegant, veiled, ladies stepping down from the far end of the train. Neither man gave them a glance. The women, busy adjusting flounces, gloves and summoning a porter did not notice two swift stepping figures disappear behind the waiting room.

“Harry,” Heyes said, with an edge to his voice, “What the Sam Hill are you doing here?” He frowned, “Are you followin’ us? Did you pick up our trail from Hadleyburg?” The shifty look on Harry’s face at this question answered it clearly enough. “What is it Harry? ‘Cause Kid an’ I – we kinda feel we’ve done enough favours for the Bannerman agency for one month!”

The conductor began to slam doors on the southbound train, preparatory to departure. The two ladies had, with the remainder of the disembarking arrivals, left the platform.

“I’m not here on Bannerman business, Heyes,” soothed Harry. “Fact is – the boss was so pleased with how the business out at Colorado Springs went – when I asked for a week or two of leave – he agreed. I’m here…” he avoided Heyes’ eyes, “- I’m here on a little business of my own. Kinda – a favour.” His voice took on an unconvincing persuasiveness. “A favour for – for a friend.”

The whistle blew. An engine picked up steam and ground slowly away from the platform.

Harry gave an ingratiating smile, “You know – I can always be relied on to do a favour for a friend, Heyes. After all, what are friends for?”

“Uh huh,” said Heyes, hands on hips. “This kindness, you’re planning on doin’ this friend of yours – it don’t involve me an’ Kid?”

“No! No, no,” protested Harry, unconvincingly. Under his breath, he added, “Not you AND Kid, no.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Heyes saw levers being heaved into place to change the points. The driver was ambling over towards the northbound train.

“Well Harry,” Heyes smiled, “I’d love to stay an’ chat – but I’ve got a train to catch. Hope this – friend – appreciates you the way Kid an’ I do.”

Harry looked around, as if noticing for the first time; he was one outlaw short of the full two barrels.
“Speakin’ of Kid – where is he?”

“Back in the town,” Heyes grinned, “We’re not joined at the hip y’know, Harry.”

Harry, however, was now frowning from Heyes, to the train and back again.
“You’re catchin’ that train?”

“Plannin’ to,” nodded Heyes, moving off.

Harry bustled after him.
“But – that’s the San Francisco train.”

“Just as well – since that’s where I’m headed.”

Harry thought about this.
“You’re about to leave for San Francisco?” he clarified.

“Can’t beat you Bannermen when it comes to deductin’, Harry,” Heyes swung himself into one of the cars. “You don’t have a problem with me visitin’ ‘Frisco, do you?”

“No!” protested Harry. He grinned, “NO! Not at all! No!” The grin broadened, “In fact, I think I’ll join you!”

Heyes stared at him, as he pulled himself onto the train.
“But …” he protested, “-you musta just come from there?”

“It’s a big place, Heyes. Can stand bein’ visited twice.” Harry settled himself back into a seat. “YOU don’t have a problem with ME goin’ to ‘Frisco, do you?”

Heyes frowned and then shrugged, “Suppose it IS a big city. Room for both of us.”

Harry shifted, as the ex-outlaw’s dark eyes rested on him, musingly. He knew well enough, Heyes brain was working on the puzzle of what he, Harry Briscoe, was up to.

-oooOOOooo-

THE LOBBY OF PALMER’S HOTEL – in the same quiet resort town

The elder of the two ladies from the station, tinged the bell, on the third hotel counter that afternoon. A desk clerk appeared, smiling obsequiously, at the sight of two such obviously wealthy potential customers.

“I wonder if you could help me?” smiled the beautiful, auburn-haired woman. After a glance at the empty lounge, she lifted her veil. “I believe an acquaintance of mine is currently in town – a Mr. Joshua Smith. Is he, perhaps, staying here?”

“He was, madam.”

“Was?” an enquiring lift to the finely arched brow.

“He checked out, about two hours ago, madam.”

The younger lady, let out a muffled ‘Oh!’ of frustration. “We’re too late” she exclaimed, pretty brow wrinkling. Her foot was gently pressed and she said no more.

Her companion gave the clerk a charming smile, “Do you happen to know where he has gone?”

“I really couldn’t say, madam,” was the discrete reply. Both ladies in unison treated him to dazzling smiles. Two sets of lovely eyes appealed to him. Lashes fluttered. The clerk coughed and ran a finger round the inside of his collar. Very discretely, the first lady allowed her hand, resting lightly on the counter, to shift, showing the golden eagle held ready as a tip. “But,” went on the clerk, “-as Mr. Smith – to my knowledge – neither hired nor purchased a horse – and there is no stage through town – he can only have gone by train. If I were hazarding a guess – I would say he left for San Francisco.”

Again, there was a smothered squeak of vexation from the rosy lips of the young girl. Again, at a glance, she subsided.

The elder lady moved to hand over the golden coin, then hesitated, as if struck by a sudden thought.
“I suppose Mr. Jones – Mr. Thaddeus Jones – accompanied Mr. Smith?”

“No, madam. Mr. Jones is still in residence.”

“Still here?”

“Yes, madam. May I give him a message upon his return?”

“No!” realising this had come out too sharply, she smiled, then repeated more calmly, “No, thank you. You understand – we’d like to surprise Mr. Jones. He has no idea an old, old friend is in town.”

-oooOOOooo-

OUTSIDE IN THE STREET

Outside in the street Mrs. Pierce pulled her protesting stepdaughter along.
“Not here, Alice! We can’t risk Mr. – Mr. Jones seeing us together.”

“But if Hannibal Heyes -,” at a meaning glance from her stepmother, she corrected herself, “- I mean, Joshua Smith, has already left for San Francisco – that detective must have persuaded him! Maybe you were wrong. Maybe we don’t need to do anything after all. All that preparation – making that deposit in the safe – was wasted.” Scampering, to keep up with the taller woman’s rapid strides, she furrowed her brow. “Of course -although in one way, that’s good news – in another it’s a dreadful shame. Because it was fun. I was looking forward to seeing if we could manage it. And – you know – you did promise, if I could think of a way of working on Daddy, over my marriage – you’d let me add it in to the plan!”

Once they had rounded the corner from the hotel, Mrs. Pierce slowed her pace, to an elegant saunter. Releasing Alice’s elbow, she unfurled her blush coloured sunshade and held it to shield her face from any passing ex-outlaws.

“Let me think,” she said. A beat. “This Mr. Briscoe cannot possibly have had time to persuade Joshua…”

“Why do you call him that, even when we’re alone, when his name is really…”

“Because,” interrupted her stepmother, decidedly, “It isn’t safe to use their real names. And it isn’t -” she almost blushed, at saying something verging on the sentimental. Almost. “It isn’t – fair. We may be planning to – to use them. But we’re not planning to land them in jail for twenty years.”

“I can’t see it matters. As long as they finish the job first,” said Alice, bluntly.

“It DOES matter!” came the firm response. “Even when plotting and scheming – there is a certain etiquette to be followed. One may deceive and manipulate – but if we allowed Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones to come to serious harm, well …” she paused, “…well – it’s really not done, Alice.” She frowned, “Where was I? Mr. Briscoe cannot have persuaded Joshua. In the first place – there simply wasn’t time. Joshua must have left by the noon train. In the second place – well – I just happened to – overhear – the meeting between Briscoe and your father. He couldn’t talk anyone – let alone a man like Joshua – into anything.”

“Well, he wouldn’t be using the power of persuasion, would he?” argued Alice, “So that wouldn’t matter. Daddy will be paying.”

“Joshua won’t be bribed into this – not with money, anyhow.”

Alice looked at her incredulously.
“Why on earth not? He’s a thief!” She frowned, “What do you mean – a man like him? I thought it was the other one -Ki…” she caught the other woman’s eye, “…I mean, Thaddeus Jones, who you knew by sight. Because you were a passenger, on a train he robbed. And then you saw him again – using the alias ‘Jones’.”

Her stepmother blinked. She thought carefully before answering, slowly, “Yes – but from what he said about his partner -,”

“What he said!” squeaked Alice. “You mean you spoke to him?” An idea struck her. “Oh! Is that why you want me to do the – the enticing? Because you think he may remember you? I see. I wondered about that. No doubt, I CAN. I mean -” she laughed, with unaffected, simple complacency, “- OBVIOUSLY I’ll be able to get Thaddeus Jones to do as I suggest. Why wouldn’t he want to spend time with – well – with someone as lovely as me? Any man would jump at the chance. But …” she drew breath and went on, “But, I have to say Grace, you could do it perfectly well, yourself.” She smiled at her stepmother. “You are very, very good-looking too! Even though you are quite old.”

Mrs. Pierce swallowed a retort at this.

Alice continued, “It’s because you’re so beautiful that, my Aunt Matty hates you; and Laura Collingwood. Always saying you’re too young for Daddy. And that they suspect you have a past! I mean not just a past being the widow of a respectable businessman. A PAST! And that you only married Daddy for his money. Well -,” she twirled her sunshade and bestowed a bewitching smile and flutter, on an approaching young man, causing him to gaze yearningly at her, as he walked into a hitching post, “- I think you married Daddy for his money too. In fact, you’ve never really tried to pretend anything else to me. But…” she gave her stepmother a genuinely warm look, “- you make him happy. And – I know he’ll miss me, when I marry. So I’m glad he’s found someone, to be happy with.”

Mrs. Pierce looked a little disconcerted at this. Again, she almost blushed. Almost.

“Anyway,” went on Alice, “it’s ridiculous of Laura Collingwood to snipe about you. Because, everyone knows, she tried for years to get Daddy to pop the question! And – if I were a rich man – going to settle a fortune on my wife – I’d do what he did. Pick someone beautiful, clever and amusing, who flattered me and made me feel young again. I wouldn’t pick HER – always boring on about her family background – and good society – and,” she scowled, “- telling me my daughter is a flighty, extravagant, spoilt minx!” With a shake of her curls, she finished, “She’s only jealous of you.”

Her stepmother smiled.
“I had – just about – managed to work that out, Alice. But,” the smile widened, “I am, of course, glad to have my judgement confirmed, by such an – impartial – observer.”

Alice grinned at this. “At first, even I was a little envious of your looks. BUT, once I’d had a chance to think it over I realised that you being tall, handsome and – queenly, with red -,”

“Titian!” snapped her stepmother.

“With – titian hair,” corrected Alice, cheerfully, “Is a perfect foil for my ethereal, golden loveliness.” She twirled her sunshade, with perfect serenity. “Side by side,” she stated, simply, “We make a perfect picture!” There was a brief lull in the conversation. “So – am I right?” prompted Alice.

“About what in particular, dear? You said so much.”

“About Thaddeus Jones. You think he’ll remember you?”

“I don’t THINK so, Alice. I’m absolutely SURE of it!”

Alice opened her eyes at the hint of a purr in her stepmother’s voice. “Grace! Did – something happen with Ki-, – with Thaddeus Jones that you haven’t told me about?” With a certain bounce of excitement in her step, she breathed, “He didn’t – didn’t ravish you, did he? Like Captain Lovelace √ the gentleman highwayman? Galloping away with you across his saddlebow, to seduce you beneath the stars, ignoring your cries of protest as he crushed you to his chest! Overcoming your resistance, with the fiery passion of his searing kisses?”

Grace blinked. “What on earth have you been reading, Alice?” Thinking for a moment, keen to deviate from the truth as little as possible – as a certain verisimilitude always makes a story easier to remember, she said, “Mr. Jones’ treatment of me – was everything that could be desired.” Less equivocally, she went on, “I am sure he would never ignore any woman’s cries of protest. You’ll be perfectly safe, Alice.” With a smile, she added, “Unless of course – you choose otherwise.”

Alice didn’t respond immediately. A well-dressed gentleman was watching the ladies pass. He received such a winning glance, from a pair of innocently wide, cornflower blue eyes, accompanied by a guileless smile from the tempting pouting roseleaf lips, that the match he was holding to his cigar burnt down unheeded. He gave a yelp, shaking his singed fingers.

“Alice,” protested Grace, “Stop it!”

“I’m only practising!”

“You don’t need to practice – you’re a natural.”

Alice grinned again, “Is he very handsome – Thaddeus Jones?”

“I thought you were in love? What do you care?”

“I’m only asking!” pouted Alice, “And yes – I AM in love. Oh, Grace – do you think Daddy will change his mind?”

“Well,” said her stepmother, carefully, “I certainly think, if you married, he’d soon change his mind about cutting you off without a penny.” She gave Alice a very straight look. “Your father adores you, Alice. Deep down – he only wants you to be happy. You do know that?”

Alice sighed. “I know. But he thinks marrying Charles Hamilton Webley III, will make me happier than marrying Jozef Kowalski.” She mused for a moment. “Do you think if Jozef thought I was about to succumb to the charms of a startlingly handsome and passionately enamoured outlaw – it might,” she sighed, again, “- might make him a bit keener to do something now, rather than wait until I’m twenty-one.”

Grace shrugged, “Maybe. For now – just worry about the plan.” She stopped, biting her lip, “As everything is moving a little faster than we expected, I’d better head back by the evening train.” She eyed her stepdaughter, doubtfully. “Don’t forget, Alice, – your role is grateful, admiring damsel in distress. Stay with that. But don’t lay it on too thick. Thaddeus is – susceptible – but he’s no fool. And remember – men like to do most of the talking.”

“Are you suggesting I talk too much?” huffed Alice.

“Yes,” said Grace, bluntly, “Far too much.”

-oooOOOooo-

STILL OUTSIDE IN THE STREET – BUT LATER

Kid walked out of the telegraph office, with a cheerful sparkle in his blue eyes. He has spent the day down by the seafront. Partly watching out for any attractive girls visiting the charming little resort town. But mostly observing the fishing boats, bobbing into the small harbour, to unload their catch. There is little more soothing to watch than people messing about on tranquil, sunlit waters, nor more soothing to listen to than the lapping of waves on a calm day. Even the ever-alert Kid Curry had not been able to help relaxing during his long, lazy afternoon. Now, as a bonus, Lom’s wire had come in earlier than expected. It was brief and necessarily guarded. But – it was – as far as it went, positive. ‘Their mutual friend’ – the governor – ‘now understood circumstances of past few weeks. No change to previous arrangement. Continuing to press for early answer.’

The ex-outlaw smiled to himself as he folded the telegram and tucked it into a pocket. For once, he had enough money to look forward to a deep, hot tub, a prime steak dinner, a few drinks, a cigar, perhaps a little friendly poker, followed by a comfortable bed in – if not the fanciest hotel in town – a place several rungs up from the cheap rooms the partners had become only too used to. This, coupled with the expectation of a few days of luxury in San Francisco, made a pleasant change to the past year’s usual drifting from town to town, often on their last dollar.

About to stride off, Kid heard a muffled sob. In fact – several muffled sobs. He followed the direction of the sound, down a narrow passageway between telegraph office and the neighbouring mercantile.

“Ma-am,” he said, “Is something wrong?”

The small, white clad figure, leaning against the clapboard wall, head in hands, did not respond. Except to give another plaintive sob.

Kid took another step forward.

“Anything I can do, ma-am?” he tried again.

The tiny hands, tipped with nails buffed to a rosy shine, were lowered. A beseeching, flower-like face, gazed up timorously at Kid. The ex-outlaw’s mouth did not precisely drop open, but he felt – if it had, he could be excused. She was – lovely. The appeal in those wide eyes, blue as his own, was enchanting. The curling lashes were bedewed with sparkling, unshed tears. Those lashes, now demurely lowered under Kid’s admiring gaze, were of a much deeper honey colour than the pale blonde hair. This was simply swept up; with fragile, waving tendrils nodding around the slender white neck and caressing the peach bloom flush on the cheeks. The rosy lips parted, to breathe a modest, ‘Oh’, of surprise at being overheard. She blushed and lowered her head, peeping up at him bashfully, before with a deepening flush, fixing her eyes shyly on the toes of her dainty kid boots.

Curry swept off his hat.

“Anything I can do, ma-am?” he repeated, glad the ‘Wow!’ echoing in his head had stayed there – and not blurted out at his first view of this – ethereal, golden loveliness.

She shook her head.

“Oh no,” she whispered, “I couldn’t possibly trouble you.” But the modest words were belied by a certain, imploring look in the girl’s eyes.

“No trouble at all, ma-am,” he said. He took a step forward. Like a nervous fawn, she stepped back, trembling. Kid halted. He withdrew a pace. Very gently he asked, “Has someone frightened you, ma-am?”

She shook her head, frantically, setting the burnished curls dancing in the sunlight. Then, with a tentative glance into his eyes, she gave a tiny nod and wiped away a diamond bright tear.

She gazed at him, lower lip caught between her teeth, as if determining whether to trust him. Then she moved toward him.

Looking up, she gulped, “Oh, I’ve been stupid! Everyone will be so cross with me. And…” as if overcome by her feelings, she grasped the edges of Kid’s vest and rested her smooth forehead on his shirtfront. With a fresh sob, she went on, “…I don’t know what to do!”

-oooOOOooo-

Three minutes later, she was sitting with Kid, on a low wall, with a view of the sea. She leant against him, a strong comforting arm around her shoulders. The remains of her tears were being tenderly wiped away with a corner of his bandana. Gazing up, eyes full of grateful admiration; she was met with a reassuring smile.

“So you got off the train …?” he prompted.

“Just to stretch my legs,” she nodded. “When she saw me off, my aunt warned me not to leave the carriage – and not to talk to strangers. But -” she dropped her eyes shamefaced, “- it was so hot in the train. I knew there was a twenty-minute stop. I thought – I’d step out for a breath of air. And the gentlemen seemed so kind – at first. They just remarked how sultry it was – and wouldn’t I rather sit for a moment in the shade – and perhaps bathe my wrists in cool water.” She hung her head, “And I let one of them offer me his arm. But, once we were away from the platform…” she swallowed.

“They stopped being kind?” said Kid, very gently.

She nodded.

“They didn’t – hurt you, did they?” he asked, eyes taking on a dangerous glint for a moment.

“Not really – no. They took my purse – and my watch. Then one of them tried to kiss me. I was so frightened. I broke away – and ran – and hid. I don’t THINK they followed me – but suppose they did? Suppose they’re watching now – waiting for you to go?”

“I’m not plannin’ on goin’ anywhere,” smiled Kid, wiping away one last tear from a velvet soft cheek.

“Even so,” she sighed, “-what am I to do? All my luggage went on without me to San Francisco. The servant will come to meet me at the station – and I won’t be there. Daddy will be so worried.” She looked up, earnestly, “That’s why I found the telegraph office – I thought I’d send a wire saying I was safe and well and not to worry.”

“Sounds like a good plan,” approved Kid.

“But I haven’t a single cent to pay for it!” she finished. “Let alone enough for a hotel room. Nor a ticket for tomorrow’s train!”

“No need to worry about that,” smiled the ex-outlaw. “If you’ll allow me, ma-am?”

“Oh, how kind you are, Mr…” she lowered her lashes, shyly, “I don’t even know your name.”

“Jones, ma-am. Thaddeus Jones.”

“How kind you are – Mr. Jones.”

“Just – Thaddeus.”

“How kind you are -” he received an admiring, modest flutter, “- Thaddeus.”

“It’s my pleasure -?” he raised an enquiring eyebrow.

“Alice,” she breathed. “Alice Pi-Smith,” she faltered, frowning at her own slip.

“It’s my pleasure, Alice Persmith,” he smiled.

“Just – Smith,” she corrected. With a sudden, dazzling smile, she improvised, “- Psmith. The ‘p’ is silent in speech. As in ‘psalm’, or,” she could not resist a mischievous grin, “- pseudonym!”

“Uh huh?” said Kid, a little thrown by this. He cleared his throat. Reluctantly, but conscious it was the right thing to do, he said, “You should report this to the Sheriff, ma-am.”

“Oh no!” she gasped, clutching one of his large hands in her two tiny ones, “I’d be so embarrassed! Please…” she squeezed his hand and gazed up with wide-eyed distress, “Please, Mr. Jones – Thaddeus, please don’t make me go to the Sheriff! I couldn’t bear it! Please.”

Since Kid had not the smallest desire to go near the Sheriff, even without the forget-me-not pleading look, he would have been easy enough to persuade.

“Not if it upsets you, ma-am,” he said.

“Oh, thank you! How good you are!” A surprised Kid, received a gentle kiss on the cheek, “I think you must be the most wonderful man in the world!” She smiled up at him, worshipfully, “In fact – you are so kind – I wonder -” she laid a soft hand on his shirtfront, “- May I ask you to do something else for me?”

“What did you have in mind, ma-am?”

The smile took on an enchanting, entreating quality, “Would you escort me to my home in San Francisco tomorrow? I’d feel – frightened – travelling alone.”

Kid blinked. The suspicion she may be a bounty hunter flitted across his mind. He dismissed it. She had just turned down a chance to walk into a Sheriff’s Office with him – a perfect opportunity to hand him over to the law, if that was her aim. Besides, thought Kid, searching the angelic face gazing up at him with such trust, such – a certain smug expression settled on Kid’s features – admiration; who could believe anything bad of this lovely – perfect – girl.

Alice searched his face.
“AND,” she continued, tilting her head appealing, “…then my father will be able to repay you for my ticket and night’s lodging! And I’m sure he’ll want to reward you!”

With a self-deprecating shrug, Kid said, “Pleasure of your company will be reward enough!”

Alice – there is no other word for it – simpered, before replying, “Oh – Daddy will insist, I know him.” After a brief pause, she added, “Daddy is very rich.” Kid made no further protest. “So,” checked Alice, “-you agree?”

“Was plannin’ on leaving for ‘Frisco tomorrow anyway, ma-am.”

“And – you’ll escort me until I’m safely home.”

“Sure will!”

“I have your word on that?”

Kid frowned, at the sudden sharpening in her tone. “Thought I already gave that, ma-am.”

She switched the dazzling smile back on, “I’m sorry – it’s just such a comfort to have you to – to rely on, Thaddeus! Shall we go and send my telegram now?”

“Good idea, ma-am,” he said, helping her to her feet.

“Please,” she fluttered, holding his hand for longer than was strictly necessary, “Please, call me Alice.”

“Good idea – Alice,” Kid smiled.

…oooOOOooo…

Alice emerged from the telegraph office, skipped up to Kid, who was leaning against the white painted wall and tucked her arm confidingly through his.

“All done,” she trilled, “Shall we go and book my room now?”

“Sure,” smiled Kid, “And I hope – Alice – you’ll allow me to buy you dinner tonight?”

“Oh yes, Thaddeus. That would be wonderful!”

Kid turned to head down the street containing the modest hotel at which he was staying. Alice stopped dead. His armed jerked. The ex-outlaw looked down enquiringly.

“Where are you going, Thaddeus?”

“To Palmer’s – that’s where I’m stay…”

Alice interrupted, “I thought I’d be staying at the Hotel del Monte – that’s the best hotel in town.”

“Yeah, but – it’s a little price…” he stopped himself, “That is, I thought you might feel – safer – booked into the same hotel as me.”

“Of course I would Thaddeus. You can book into the Hotel del Monte too. Palmer’s won’t mind – as long as you’ve already paid for the room there.”

Kid hesitated in the face of that trusting, expectant smile. Then, he smiled back. After all, for once he was not down to his last dollar. What was money for, if not spending? And, what better to spend it on than a girl as beautiful – and sweet – as Alice?

The couple mounted the steps to the spacious lobby. Kid approached the desk. A supercilious clerk, with an English accent, which was doubtless reflected appropriately in the room rate, raised an expressively disdainful eyebrow.

“Yes -” A beat, “- Sir?”

“We need a room – just for the one night,” said Kid.

“AAA…room, Sir?” the clerk repeated, emphasising the singular and allowing his eyes to rest significantly on Alice’s ring free fingers. She bridled at the disdainful look. Her eyes began to glitter.

“Apiece,” added Kid, hurriedly, with an embarrassed glance at the girl beside him. “A room apiece. One each – so – two roo…”

Again, he was cut off mid word.

“No!” said Alice, firmly.

Kid swivelled his head to stare at her. For a moment – hope sprang eternal. Or rather, non-eternal hope sprang – for a moment.

“A room – and a suite,” Alice instructed the clerk. With a smiling glance and return of the soft, feminine voice, she turned to Kid. “You understand, Thaddeus, I like to have a separate sitting room to relax in – before retiring.” The authoritative tone back in place, her eyes returned to the clerk. “I will require fresh fruit in my suite. NO apples. And cut flowers, naturally. Please make certain the water in the vases is fresh. One of my friends stayed here last month and the violets on her dressing table had wilted.”

The desk clerk blinked. He looked Alice – who had dishevelled herself just enough to lend credence to her story – up and down.

“I shall ensure a check is made,” he said, with a hint of sarcasm. He was fixed with a basilisk stare. Alice waited. A beat. “I shall ensure a check is made, – madam,” he corrected, without the sarcasm.

“Good!” said Alice. “See that you do! Please have one of the maids purchase a nightgown – silk – not cotton; and a toothbrush – and hairbrush, because as you can see – I have lost my luggage! Place it all on the bill. This gown will require laundering and ironing dry overnight. Ensure it is collected when I retire.”

“Yes, madam,” replied the clerk. “Will madam require a sea view?” He glanced at Kid, “- there is a supplement for a view, Sir.”

“Certainly a view!” confirmed Alice. Again, a girlish smile was thrown to Kid, as an interlude to the orders, “I love to watch the waves, Thaddeus, don’t you? It’s so – romantic?” She turned back to the clerk, “And a balcony!”

“Of course, madam.” The clerk turned the guest book toward Alice. “May I ask you to register, Miss -?”

“Smith!” she supplied. Signing with a flourish and a swirling capitalisation, she added, “The ‘P’ is silent, naturally.”

The clerk turned the book towards Kid.

“Jones,” said Kid, “With a ‘J’.”

“Does Sir have any particular requirements?”

“Nope. Any room with a bed’s fine by me.”

Kid would never have believed that booking into a hotel with such a vision of loveliness as Alice on his arm, he could receive a pitying look from another man. But he did.

-oooOOOooo-

MEANWHILE, ON THE TRAIN TO SAN FRANCISCO

Heyes, a copy of ‘No Name’, to which he had treated himself, from one of the town’s well-stocked stores, in his hand, frowned. The unspeaking – though not exactly silent – Harry Briscoe opposite was spoiling his enjoyment of the battle of wits between the silver-tongued rogue, Captain Wragge and his wily opponent, Mrs. Lecount.

Harry shifted in his seat. He leant forward. He cleared his throat. He straightened up. With a sigh, he placed both hands on his knees and leant forward again. Changing his mind, he folded his arms, crossed his legs and threw himself back, staring from under his brows at the steadily reading figure opposite.

Heyes did not look up from his page, but a frown gathered on his brow.
“Will you stop it, Harry!”

“Stop what, He…” he received a whip quick, dark look. “Stop what, Joshua?” Heyes, shifted his eyes back to his book and turned a page.

“Stop watchin’ me like a cat waitin’ by a mouse hole. Don’t know quite what you’re expectin’, but these days, what you’re seeing is pretty much all I do on a train. Unless I feel like takin’ a nap – this is about as exciting as it’s gonna get.”

“He ..Hey, Joshua,”

“Yup?”

“I was wonderin’…” Harry paused.

“Yup. Kinda picked up on that, Harry. I can hear the wheels turnin’.” The dark eyes continued to absorb the account of an accomplished confidence trickster plying his trade.

Again, the Bannerman detective placed both hands on his knees and leant forward. With a would-be discrete glance at the nearest passengers for any obvious eavesdropping, he brought his face close to Heyes.

In a furtive whisper he hissed, “Don’t ya sometimes miss it, Joshua?”

Heyes turned another page.

“Miss what?” he said, deadpan, “- Napping?”

Harry’s face scowled in frustration.

“NO!” Seeing a head or two, twitch in his direction, he dropped his voice and leant in closer. “No. Don’t ya miss – the excitement?” He dropped his voice still lower and moved so close Heyes was forced to draw back his head. “Don’t ya miss,” again the close set eyes swivelled to check for listening ears, “-the thrill of crackin’ safes?”

Heyes did not look up, but his eyes ceased to follow the text.

“Harry,” he remarked, in a quiet tone.

“Yeah?”

“If you want to carry on this conversation – we’ll step outta the carriage, get us a breath of fresh air on the vestibule.”

“Sure,” grinned the detective, beginning to rise.

“But,” continued Heyes, in the same quiet tone, “I feel it only polite to let you know – only one of us will be comin’ back.”

Harry subsided into his seat, swallowing. Heyes returned to his perusal of Collins’ novel. For a minute silence reigned. Then, Harry spoke up.

“Need to talk to you, Joshua.”

“Kinda picked up on that, Harry.”

“When we get to ‘Frisco – can we find somewhere quiet – have a drink together?”

“Long as you’re buyin’.” Heyes gave a wry grin, “Course – only fair to warn you – I’ve got a feelin’ I’m not gonna want to hear it.”

Harry shifted uncomfortably. He had the same feeling.

-oooOOOooo-

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