3. Chapter 3

THE HOTEL DEL MONTE – Breakfast time Thursday

Kid tapped lightly on Alice’s door.

“Alice – are you ready to go down?” No answer. He tapped louder, “Alice, it’s Thaddeus.” Still nothing.

The youth who had had the temerity to point out the absence of berries from the morning menu, appeared in the corridor, carrying a heavy tray for some guest breakfasting in bed.

“If you’re looking for Miss Psmith,” he offered, “She went downstairs some time ago, Sir.”

“You sure?” frowned Kid, “Didn’t expect her to be such an early riser.”

“Perfectly sure, Sir. Madam was kind enough to offer me some advice to pass on to the gardening staff on the correct tending of succulents. Apparently, the facilities of our cacti garden – though often admired – are not up to Madam’s standards. I believe, from something the breakfast waiter told me, Madam has also been offering her valuable guidance on the desirability of having not just honey – but lavender honey – for our guests.” A beat. “Am I right in thinking Miss Psmith checks out this morning?”

“Yup.”

The youth’s face brightened, as he continued down the corridor. The tray no longer seemed quite so heavy.

As he turned the bend of the stairs – Kid saw the ethereally beautiful, golden one. He could not hear what she was discussing with the English-accented desk clerk, but from the comfortable way she leant on the polished wood and from the comatose expression of the man, Kid suspected she had been in full flow for some time. The clerk’s face lit up as he saw Kid coming down the stairs to relieve him.

“Good morning, Thaddeus,” trilled Alice, looking fresh as a daisy in her obediently washed and ironed white muslin. “Please may I have some money?”

Kid blinked at her.

“Did you know this hotel has a heated pool? I thought we could go for a swim. But I need to run and buy a costume,” she went on, frowning slightly as his hands stayed loosely by his side rather than complying with her polite request for funds. A thought struck her. “Oh,” she smiled, “How thoughtless of me. Of course I’ll buy a costume for you too, Thaddeus.” A beat. With an edge to her voice, she said, “Hurry up, Thaddeus! We don’t have all morning.”

“We certainly don’t,” he agreed. “Have you forgotten we’re catching a train at 9.30? The only thing I plan on doing ‘tween now and then, is eat breakfast.”

Kid strode off in the direction of the dining room.

“But I’ve had MY breakfast!” she pouted, after him.

For a moment, Alice fumed at the retreating figure. Had HE really just had the temerity to turn his back on HER? Then she remembered she was supposed to be fluttering ‘grateful admiration’ at him all the way back to San Francisco, up the steps and through the door. She glanced at the clock; around five hours to go. With a sigh, she squared her shoulders. Much as it pained her – she supposed she would have to go through the motions of forgiving his self-absorbed, thoughtless behaviour.

Alice used the clerk behind the desk as sounding board.

“Do you think I should go after him?”

“Certainly, madam,” he responded. As he watched the slender, elfin form – lovely enough to delight the most jaded of eyes – bounce away, he added, under his breath, “Please…GO!”

-oooOOOooo-

Thirty minutes later, twenty-nine enlivened by sparkling feminine conversation – if grunted interjections of ‘Uh huh’ were enough to make conversation, rather than monologue, the correct term – Kid rose from the breakfast table. As well as some flattering remarks, about how lucky she had been to be rescued from her ordeal of yesterday, by such a – flutter – chivalrous man; he had also listened to anecdotes from Alice’s youth and a variety of kind advice over the best style in which to ask for one’s eggs (his favourite was wrong), how to hold a knife (his way was wrong), how to eat bread (wrong again – ‘tear it, don’t cut it!’), whether tea or coffee was the better drink for mornings (wrong) and the correct intervals at which to water cacti. As he had no cacti, Kid supposed she had simply failed to get everything she had to say on that subject off her chest to the hotel staff. Listening to the musical, silvery, lilting tones of this supremely opinionated woman, he did wonder whether he should take her out to a quiet stretch of the beach and see if she could show him where he had been going wrong on the fast-draw all these years. Let her shave off that tricky last fraction of a second.

She was still exceptionally easy on the eye, but Kid liked a little peace and quiet over breakfast. Or maybe, he thought fairly, it was the absence of romantic candlelight and flowing champagne, which made her seem – a natural gentleman, he hesitated over the word – annoying!

Alice was still trilling, cheerfully, as Kid walked up to his room, collected his bags, went back down and eyed the desk clerk.

“Your bills, Sir,” the man responded, to Kid’s unspoken request. Two folded slips were pushed toward him. Kid opened the first – his own. Pretty reasonable, given the fancy surroundings. He opened Alice’s bill. A stillness came over him. He met the desk clerk’s eyes. The man picked up on the air of danger, his gaze flicked quickly to the tied down gun. Clearing his throat, he said, “Sir will recall, Madam asked for a balcony suite with sea view, for several items to be purchased, for an overnight laundry service and her breakfast necessitated a member of staff to make an unscheduled visit to the fruitier.”

Kid paid.

“Receipt, please,” he snapped. He comforted himself with the thought that – however bumptious – Alice WAS a damsel in distress. AND, judging by his observations, she was the spoilt child of someone genuinely rich – so he should get his money back.

Alice was also beginning to feel chagrined. Very few men had been privileged enough to receive so much of her undivided attention.

“You’d think,” she silently huffed, to herself, “he’d look a bit more – well – as if he realises how lucky he is!” She gave herself a little shake, maybe he was just worried whether he would ever see her again after today. Alice treated Kid to her kindest smile, as he counted out his money. Poor fellow – hiding his aching heart under that boyish scowl!

-oooOOOooo-

“Thaddeus, please may I have some money?” cooed Alice, pausing at a shop window.

“Nope.”

“You don’t even know what I want to buy!”

“Unless it’s a coupla train tickets, I don’t care. I can’t afford it. I’m about cleaned out.” Kid continued to stride in the direction of the railway station. A scampering, small, white figure caught up to him.

At the station, Alice tugged at his sleeve.

“Thaddeus,” an entreating glance, from an apologetic face, “- I know you’ve been more than generous already, but –” hands behind back, one high arched foot tracing a small semi-circle in the dust, eyes peeping up from a head hanging in shame, “- would you mind VERY much, if I sent another telegram.”

Kid’s heart smote him. What a grouch he must be! The girl looked almost scared to ask. What kind of man was he – put out of humour by a little friendly chatter over breakfast and a couple of bills for things he had offered to buy of his own free will?

“Of course, Alice,” he said, very gently. “You go wire your father you’ll be home, safe and sound, by lunch time. Put his mind at rest.” He raised the drooping chin with one finger, “And Alice – I’m sorry I snapped. My partner says I’m always proddy in the mornings. Forgive me?”

“You’ll still stay with me all the way home?” The same, plaintive, little voice.

“Just like I promised,” he smiled, handing over his last twenty. “Tell you what – you buy our tickets too.” He nodded at the rest room, “I’ll just be a moment.”

A few minutes later, Kid was seated on a bench on the platform, legs stretched before him, enjoying the morning sun and waiting for Alice. A few more minutes passed. And a few more. She was taking her time. Mind – considered Kid – she was probably chatting.

A slender white figure emerging from the office, caught his eye. A beaming Alice skipped up. Kid sat up straight and smiled back. He held out his hand. Opening a paper bag and dipping in for a piece of candy, Alice stared at it.

“What do you want, Thaddeus?”

“Tickets. And the change,” he prompted. Remembering his resolve not to be proddy, he added, “- Please.”

Eyes opening a little, in affront, Alice said, “There’s your change.” Kid stared in disbelief at the single dollar, with a few dimes and nickels placed on his palm. “I didn’t have enough for the tickets. You’ll have to run and get them now.”

“I gave you twenty!”

“I sent a telegram.”

“What the Sam Hill was in it – the Gettysburg Address?”

“There’s no need to be sarcastic, Thaddeus. Besides – that is a poor choice of analogy, as the Gettysburg Address was actually notable for its comparative brevity. It would be more effective to ask, ‘What was in it – a novel by Dickens?’ or some other piece of text, signifying greater than average length.” She sucked on her candy stick composedly as he stared at her, outraged. “Well – are you going to buy the tickets, or just sit there?”

“Which part of ‘I’m about cleaned out’ didn’t you understand?” he said, only prevented from yelling by the other passengers beginning to arrive on the platform. “That was my LAST twenty!”

“You didn’t say THAT!”

“I SAID – ‘I’m about cleaned out!'”

“Well, how was I supposed to know you meant it? I thought you were just grumbling – like Daddy does.” She took another pink tongued lick at her most recent purchase, “Last night you told me you were flush!”

“Last night I WAS flush! Till you started eatin’ fit to raise Cain and drinkin’ the best champagne. Woulda been cheaper just to feed you a coupla fifty dollar bills between two slices of bread!”

“I hope you’re not suggesting this is my fault?” she challenged. Suddenly she abandoned the affronted dignity and said in a matter of fact tone, “Have you really run out of money?”

“Uh huh!”

“What shall we do?”

“Stay there,” he ordered. “Don’t move! I’ll go sound out the possibilities. And don’t get chatting to anyone! I don’t want you drawing attention to yourself!”

Kid walked off in the direction of a couple of labourers, moving crates at the far end of the platform. Alice watched him speak to them for a few minutes, then disappear from view completely into what looked like a yard full of wagons, spares and odd pieces of machinery.

The 9.30 train chugged in, right on time. Alice watched passengers alighting or climbing aboard. A minute or two ticked by. She scanned the far end of the platform, hoping to see Kid return. She started as his voice sounded close to her ear, from the other direction.

“C’mon, let’s get away from here, while there are still other people millin’ around. We’re gonna hop a train! Be a nice adventure for you to tell ’em about, back home.”

“This train?” she asked, moving toward it.

“Nope. The next one.”

“The noon train?”

“Nope – the one in-between.”

“There isn’t a train in-between. I know the time-table, Thaddeus!”

“It’s not on the time-table. A freight train. This line probably don’t do a lot of freight business – but knew there was bound to be some! All that fancy food an’ drink folk are wrapping themselves around, back there at the hotels an’ restaurants – it’s gotta be coming in from somewhere. And the line owners won’t fancy sending the cars back empty. I thought there’s bound to be somethin’ being hauled on the return journey.” Seeing her blink, he added, kindly, “Much easier to hide on a freight train, Alice.”

“Oh,” she thought for a moment, then smiled up at him, “That was clever!” She tucked her arm through his and gave a little skip, “Hopping a train! What fun!”

Kid looked down at her.

“The novelty soon wears off,” he warned her. But, he smiled back. An excited, happy Alice was, after all – VERY easy on the eye.

-oooOOOooo-

An hour later secreted in the siding, Alice and Kid watched the activity of a freight train steaming in, some cars already in place, labourers shunting other cars from the sidings, checking couplings, loading crates, taking on water.

“When do we go?” said Alice, above the clatter and clang of movement and the hissing of the engine.

“About two seconds after it moves.”

“Moving!”

“It’ll be barely moving. Just beginning to inch along. You’ll be fine. I’ll lift you – trust me!”

Alice looked at him. She supposed – being a train robber – he must have jumped a hundred moving trains. He must know what he was talking about. At times, during the past 17 hours, she had forgotten he was actually a dangerous criminal. She did – trust him.

Kid went on, “I’m going for the second car back. It was already in place when the train arrived. Nobody got out – so nobody’s with whatever’s in there. And its got a simple hook and slide door. Grills above too – so it won’t be TOO hot – and there’ll be some light.

More clanging of metal on metal. Raised voices shouting instructions. A whistle. The engine began to pick up steam. The wheels inched.

“Go,” hissed Kid. Bending low, he pulled her toward the car. Leaping up, he slid back the door and, with one hand gripping the car’s edge reached and caught her round the waist with one smooth movement. “On three,” he instructed, “one, two …” Alice felt herself lifted effortlessly through the air as the train began to move more rapidly. Her feet flew out as she swung into the car. One-handed, Kid slammed it shut. They heard the catch click. His other arm was still wrapped tight round Alice. He placed her gently down, enjoying the pounding of her heart as she clung to him.

Alice caught her breath and smiled up in genuine admiration. Then, a loud ‘oink’ behind her and a certain pungent quality to the air, wiped the appreciation off her face.

“Thaddeus!” she yelped, looking round, “You … STUPID man! This car is full of pigs! Get me out of here!”

-oooOOOooo-

MEANWHILE – IN HENRY BROOKER’S OFFICE

“…So, Mr. Brooker, Briscoe here will follow his leads on Heyes. BUT, if in the meantime, I come up with a method of cracking the Pierce and Hamilton 1880, Guardian B – we’re agreed, the fee is for the task, not the man.”

Henry Brooker removed his cigar and slowly exhaled. Smoke rose toward the high ceiling. He gazed at Heyes, across the polished expanse of desk.

“That pretty much sums it up, Grant.”

A beat.

“From my observations over the years, Mr. Brooker, the latest Pierce and Hamilton often has some – innovations – strikingly similar to the newest Brooker model,” said Heyes, blandly.

A heavy scowl creased the manufacturer’s brow.

“Some!” he barked. “Try – MOST!” the voice lowered to a rumbling growl, “That skunk Pierce… stealing all our best ideas …trying to make out he’s at the cutting edge … man’s nothing but a common thief!”

“Uh huh,” went on Heyes, “So – this 1880 – has a few things in common with your Model 606, released around the same time?”

Pulling his thoughts away from the iniquities of his business rival, Henry Brooker considered this.

“I suppose – a few,” he agreed.

Heyes let the silence stretch out. Seeing Harry about to butt in, he cast a swift warning glance, which had the Bannerman bite back his words. After a minute, what Heyes wanted to happen – did happen. Henry Brooker came up with the right idea himself.

“I suppose – one of our engineers could take you through the shared features.”

Harry nearly gave this an effusive agreement, but decided to stick with following Heyes’ lead. The ex-outlaw, far from enthusing over the chance for an in depth study of the Brooker 606, glanced – with evident reluctance – at the clock.

“Now?” he hesitated.

Henry Brooker, used to having staff, jump to it, at his slightest word, bridled.

“Do you have something more important to do, Mr. Grant?” he growled, champing on the cigar.

Heyes appeared to take the hint. Eyes widening at the tone, he shook his head.

“No, no! Now is fine!” seeing Brooker evidently waiting for just a little extra, he added, “You’re the client, Mr. Brooker.”

“That’s right!” snapped Brooker. Any lingering reluctance, over the examining of a 606 model, was lost in the satisfaction of seeing this self-assured young man realise just who it was in charge around here. “Cadogen!” he bellowed, to the outer office. The sound of a scraping chair, hurried footsteps and sweaty palmed fumbling at the handle. A youthful, nervous clerk appeared. “Have one of the design office show these gentlemen – one of the demonstration models of the 606,” ordered Henry Brooker. Cadogen stood aside, to let Harry pass. As Heyes followed, Brooker shifted in the throne-like leather chair. “Go on ahead, with Mr. Briscoe. I’ll show Grant here up myself – in a moment.” Harry shot Heyes a glance, reminiscent of rabbit realising the shadow above it is a fox; but having very little choice, he allowed himself to be led away.

-oooOOOooo-

Cadogen relaxed, once out of shouting distance of his boss. His boots clattered on the wrought iron steps leading to the third floor, where skylights flooded the drawing boards with illumination.

“I’d usually ask Jòzef to show any special guests of Mr. Brooker’s what they need,” he remarked chattily, “but he’s been called away. A telegram came for him not half an hour ago. I suppose some – family – problem. I didn’t ask. One look at his face was enough for anyone to see it must be bad news.”

Harry made no answer. He had already spent a couple of hours earlier, staring at safes, back at the Pierce and Hamilton works. He was pretty sure whoever explained them – he would NEVER grasp what made Heyes and the engineers sparkle with enthusiasm, as terms like ‘compression strength’, ‘diamond grit bit heads’ and ‘self lubricating carbon seals’ floated past his bored ears. In truth, Harry was far too busy worrying over what Henry Brooker might be doing with Heyes, to even listen to Mr. Cadogen.

-oooOOOooo-

What Mr. Brooker was doing, was staring meditatively at the dark-eyed young man seated – on a strategically lower chair – before him. Heyes kept his face deliberately bland. He waited for the older man to say whatever was on his mind.

“It strikes me, Grant – you don’t have much in common with Briscoe.” A beat. “Except maybe, dissatisfaction with the sufficiency of your salaries.”

Heyes allowed a small smile at that.

“Let’s say – a willingness to supplement them, Mr. Brooker.”

Smoke from the cigar rose into the air.

“That Briscoe – didn’t impress me much.” A beat. ” I hired him – sure – because he has certain knowledge, about this man – Heyes – who I could use.” The manufacturer’s eyes held those of his visitor. “It was knowledge he refused to share. Not for sale – he said.”

Heyes shrugged.

“Perhaps the price wasn’t right, Mr. Brooker.”

Henry Brooker was clearly trying to read the poker face. He thought he had succeeded.

“If I thought Briscoe was a sensible man – I’d agree. But I think he’s a fool.” He watched Heyes. Heyes gave a – ‘maybe’ – smile and shrug. Satisfied, Henry Brooker went on, “A fool – with a lot of sentimental ideas. Not enough conscience to keep him straight. Just enough – to cause a lot of trouble.” A beat. “Now you – I suspect you ARE a sensible man, Grant. Am I right?”

Heyes let a little edge show in his voice.

“What’s on your mind, Mr. Brooker?” he said, brusquely.

“If Briscoe does track down Heyes – mind you, I’m not exactly holding my breath – I’ve no intention of handing over $5,000 to an outlaw. Not when I could be collecting ten, once he’s performed. Twenty if he’s still partnered with Curry. But, after the safe’s cracked, I’d need to know where to pick up Heyes. There’s not much Briscoe can do about it after the event. Not without losing his job. All I need is someone, sensible, who knows – how to negotiate a price.” There was a pause. The cold grey gaze continued to hold the deep brown eyes. “Do we understand each other?”

Heyes gave the manufacturer a knowing smile.

“Oh, I think you’ve made yourself – perfectly clear, Mr. Brooker. I’ve found our conversation,” his smile widened, “real – profitable.” He stood up. “Since we both – have doubts – over Mr. Briscoe’s ability to bring Heyes within reach, perhaps I’d better get thinkin’ about methods, now. In case we have to put up with just cracking the Pierce and Hamilton, without getting a bounty or two thrown in as a bonus.”

…oooOOOooo…

BACK ON THE FREIGHT TRAIN

“I REFUSE to travel with p-p-pigs!” squealed Alice, stamping her foot.

“Week, Wee-eek, Wee-eek!” squealed one of the smaller pigs, trotter scraping on the floor, as she snuffled a wet pink snout through the make shift pen holding her away from the door.

Kid grinned.

“Do you think that was – “What she said!” – in pig?” he asked. “Maybe she’s not so keen on her company either, huh, Alice?”

Alice fumed at him.

“This is NOT funny!” she yelped. The full meaning of what he had said sunk in. “And I did not squeal like a pig!” she squeaked. Seeing Kid smirk, she took a steadying breath and repeated in a voice a tone lower than usual, “I do not – squeal. My natural – lyric coloratura soprano – merely rises slightly when I am excited!”

“Your – which – rises?”

“I have a high voice!” translated Alice. She tilted up her chin defiantly, “Most discerning people describe it as – silvery!”

“That’s before they hafta listen to it yakkin’ non-stop, is it?”

“At least I have – the – the…” her chin rose triumphantly, “the faculty of articulating my ideas with assured fluency, Thaddeus.”

“Still ‘big word’ day, huh? I thought that was yesterday?”

“Some of us have vocabularies, Thaddeus. I realise the concept may be foreign to you – but there ARE people who do not consider repeated grunts of ‘Uh huh’ to be all that is required as a contribution to conversation at the breakfast table.”

Kid ran this through his Alice translator.

“Uh huh?” he said, with another grin.

“That was NOT funny!” she huffed.

“Wee-eek!” squealed the pig.

“She appreciated it,” pointed out Kid.

“Well – SHE probably also shares some of your table habits!”

“There’s nothing wrong with the way I eat, Alice…”

“Ye…” she began.

Kid spoke over her, forcefully, “And even if there is – a REAL lady would be too polite to draw attention to it! Especially in public.”

She blinked at this.

“We…” she began again, the tone a shade – just a shade – chastened.

“AND,” continued Kid, voice still loud enough to drown out a coloratura soprano – however lyric, “- as pigs are actually charming, intelligent creatures – and quite clean in their own habitat – I think that’s a bad…” With a scowl, he realised he had forgotten the term.

“Analogy,” supplied Alice, in a matter of fact tone.

“Analogy,” he finished. “Thank you,” he added, as an afterthought.

“You’re welcome,” replied Alice.

A beat.

“I should not have criticised your table etiquette in public, Thaddeus. You are quite right – that was rude. I’m sorry.”

If Kid had not already settled himself down against the far wall of the car, he might have fallen over in surprise. There was no fluttering or girlish smiling, just a plain – and astonishing – apology.

“You have betrayed me to mine own reproof,” explained Alice.

Kid blinked.

“Uh huh?” he managed. Realising this could be taken as further provocation, he rushed on, “Sorry – I mean – not ‘uh huh’. Just – no problem.” With a smile he added, “I’m sure it was all the right advice for good society. Certainly wouldn’t have got into that lobster without you.”

“Of course it was RIGHT,” she agreed, “I am nearly ALWAYS right. But that’s not the point.”

“Forget it, Alice.”

She resumed the frown.

“I am still – FURIOUS – with you! And while – now you come to mention it – I have read that pigs are highly intelligent; I think the term ‘charming’ has to be a matter of opinion.”

Kid shrugged.

“It REEKS in here!” she went on, voice again rising.

“Nah!” dismissed Kid. “This isn’t too bad! I bet they’d only been in here about an hour – maybe less – when we hopped on.” He lifted one arm and placed his flat palm high on the wood of the door. “We still have over an hour to go until midday,” he said, “It’s not even warm in here yet!”

“You mean it’s going to get – WORSE,” she squealed. Seeing him shrug again, she stamped her foot. “You have to DO something!” He stared at her. “Change cars!” she ordered.

“Pfffttt!” he replied, succinctly.

“Can’t we … climb over the roofs,” she suggested. “Or… something!” she added, losing a little of her vaunted fluency.

“Who the Sam Hill do you think I am? Deadwood Dick?”

Alice glowered. She could, of course, tell him exactly who she thought he was. She did not.

“I expect it only requires – nerve. And the ability to judge – jumping distances,” she fumed.

“Tell you what,” offered Kid, “You’re always right. You go on ahead – come back and fetch me when you’ve found a car carryin’ nothing but cushions and plates full of profreet…profleet…”

“Profiteroles?”

“Yup. They’re the ones.” Kid folded his arms and tipped his hat forward over his eyes, ignoring the swelling, indignant figure in front of him. The indignant figure did not relish being ignored. It drew back its foot and delivered a sharp kick to the sole of his boot. “Still here?” said Kid, “Need a leg up onto the roof?”

“Oooohhh!” seethed Alice. She aimed another kick, but Kid was too quick for her. His hand shot out, catching the little foot in its soft, buttoned boot.

“Do that again – I’ll tip you over,” he warned.

“Take your hands off me!” she demanded, with as much dignity as she could muster, while grabbing his shoulder to remain upright.

“Promise to stop kicking.”

“Let me go!” she yelped, trying to wriggle free.

“Promise?”

Her free hand boxed his ear. Smarting, Kid used his own free hand to gather up both of her small ones. Alice wobbled precariously on her one free limb, but still darted defiance from her eyes.

“Stop kicking and stop hitting!” said Kid. Two arms and one leg tugged with all their might.

Alice fell over.

“Let me go!” came a squeal from somewhere around his armpit. Finding a writhing furious blonde on top of him, skirts wildly askew, Kid was forced, in decency, to let go.

The ethereal golden one, now looking distinctly hot and bothered, struggled to her feet. She shot Kid a triumphant look, but had evidently decided to quit the wrestling bouts while still, technically, on a draw.

“You know what you said yesterday?” breathed Kid. “When we first met in the alley.”

“What?” asked Alice, abandoning her wrath, as she tried to recall her story.

“About – everyone being really, really angry with you – for missing your train; and for talking to strangers.”

“Yes,” she confirmed, cautiously. She had said that.

“Is there any chance at all,” went on Kid, “That when I get you home – anyone – is going to give you a really good spanking?”

“No of course there isn’t!”

“Not even if I tell them – just how you’ve been behaving?”

“I’m not a child! Besides – Daddy never laid a finger on me in his life!” protested Alice.

“Figures,” said Kid.

“They’ll just – lecture me.”

“Pity!” Kid shook his head.

“In fact – Daddy will be so delighted to see me home safe, he won’t even do that! He’ll be – overwhelmed with joy!”

“Uh huh?”

“And of course – he’ll be so grateful to you Thaddeus!”

“I’m kinda beginnin’ to doubt that Alice,” he said.

“Doubt what?” Alice’s throat tightened in sudden alarm at this remark. She swallowed.

“Doubt anyone will be grateful for getting you back!”

Alice drew herself up to her full height, such as it was.

“I –” she began, with great dignity, “I – shall sit over there with the pigs! Their company is preferable to yours, Thaddeus.”

From under his hat, Kid watched her go and perch on the makeshift wooden rail. A curious snout nuzzled her bottom. She wriggled along.

“Any man who can speak to a lady like that – let alone – drag her down to a vulgar embrace on the floor – is quite clearly, below the beasts of the field!” she remarked to the air.

“You stay with the beasts then,” said Kid, “Suits me. Course – it’s kinda hard on them!”

“I was not speaking to you Thaddeus!”

“Oh?”

“In fact, I am NOT speaking to you – again!”

“Also suits me!”

“I would merely remark that your whole behaviour this morning….”

“Er, Alice…”

“From your surliness at the breakfast table…”

“Alice…”

“Don’t try and apologise, Thaddeus! I am not speaking to you! To the way you ran your finger down that bill as if you were going to – to quibble …”

“Come back over here, Alice…”

She smiled. She knew he would want to win her round.

“No! I think I made it perfectly clear that for the rest of the journey – we travel in silence. I will not be spe…”

Alice’s eyes narrowed, then jerked wide open, as she felt something hit her back. Not hard – rather like a child’s ball being thrown. And again. And again. She looked around. A pig was defecating in the rapid, ejaculatory style natural to the younger males of the species. Another lump of moist, reeking effluent landed on her previously pristine white muslin behind. It clung for a moment, then plopped to the floor, leaving a nice wet green-brown patch to form a pattern with the previous three. With a final spurt, the young porker voided the rest of his bowel contents on a trembling, open mouthed, horrified Alice. Her hands as well as the back of her skirt were splattered. Gasping for air and purpling with rage, she leapt out of range. Too quickly. The heel of her boot caught in the hem of her skirt. With the sound of rending material, Alice slid heavily to the floor. A wet warmth spread around her. Having emptied his bowel, her preferred companion was – not surprisingly – carrying out the same service for his bladder. Finding herself sitting in a steaming yellow pool, Alice screeched. She also did something Kid thought only really happened in novels – she clutched her hair in despair. A fraction of a second later she realised what a terrible mistake this was! Kid winced, impressed at the painful heights to which a truly motivated coloratura soprano could soar. An accusatory finger flung itself at Kid. A small lump of – ordure – flew off the pointing digit.

“This is ALL your fault!” howled Alice.

“I tried to tel…”

“I HATE you!” Kid decided not to argue back any more. “THIS is the WORST thing that has EVER happened to me!” Alice corrected her understatement, “This is BEYOND – the worst. This is a …” Kid waited. “… A CATACLYSM!” she howled, “A CATASTROPHE! This is – ABYSMAL! APPALLING! I have plummeted the depths! Reached the Nadir! Touched the void!” She gaped, “I’m – I’m speechless!” she finished.

“Clearly not,” thought Kid, impressed despite himself. He would have had to fall back on – cussing!

-oooOOOooo-

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