HENRY BROOKER’S OFFICE
When Henry Brooker returned to his desk, after escorting Heyes to the drawing office, he found the thin, grey figure of Mr. Dawkins, his confidential secretary waiting.
“Anything on your mind, Dawkins?”
“Yes, Sir. You may wish me to make – guarded enquiries – to ensure there really is a Bannerman agent by the name of Carl Grant based at Fort Worth.”
Henry Brooker blinked. He had not thought of that. Of course, Dawkins did not realise it might be – a little late now.
“Quite right! That’s exactly what I want you to do,” he blustered.
“Anticipating your – natural caution – Sir, I have already set such enquiries in motion. We will have an answer shortly.”
“Good,” Brooker shifted in his seat. “Anything else …?”
“I have arranged for Mr. Briscoe and Mr. Grant to be – discreetly – followed, when they take their leave.” Mr. Dawkins smiled, “I hope – here too – I correctly interpreted your wishes?”
Some time later a departing Heyes and Harry paused, in the street outside the Brooker works. Heyes took a last survey of the building.
“Heyes… I mean – you,” began Harry.
“I didn’t say anything back there – because once you’d started it was too late anyway – but y’know you used the wrong name?”
Heyes gave Harry a long look. He set off walking, Harry scurried to catch up.
“You said Carl Grant. I thought now you were – Thaddeus Jones?”
“Harry,” said Heyes, with patience, “Don’t it occur to you, someone at Brooker’s might just check up there IS a Carl Grant?”
“Oh!” Harry thought for a moment. “But then – ”
“Why did we bother rebooking into a fresh hotel with you as Thaddeus Jones?”
“Because there’s no ‘might’ about that. I KNOW Pierce will check. His wife’ll remind him. And I got the impression – if either of us wants a fee from Pierce – we need to keep the lady happy.”
“Suppose they check with each other?” quibbled Harry.
“Pfffttt!” dismissed Heyes. “Did it sound to you as if Pierce and Brooker are meetin’ up for a friendly chat, anytime soon?”
Harry had to shake his head at this. It did seem unlikely. Like Humpty-Dumpty, he returned the conversation to the previous remark.
“And do you?”
“Do I – what?”
“Do you want a fee from him? I couldn’t help notice you droolin’ – I mean – interested – back there? Are you goin’ to do it?” asked Harry, hopefully, “Crack the safes?”
“Nope,” said Heyes, “Not the safes. A safe. Singular.” He grinned. “I’m tempted to go double or quits – but without Kid holdin’ me back – I kinda have to exercise self-control. Two would be showin’ off.” The grin widened, “I can’t have you thinkin’ I’m not a model of modest restraint – now can I, Harry?”
“Er… no,” Harry strode along, at the dark man’s side, for a minute in silence. “Which?” he asked, eventually. “Which one d’ya fancy, Heyes?”
“Have to admit – the Pierce an’ Hamilton is more of a challenge. BUT – I will be favourin’ the Brooker 606.”
“Because it’s easier? Or, to keep…” Harry gave a lop-sided grin, “…that pretty, little lady happy?”
He received a dark look from the ex-outlaw.
“Neither! It’s because Henry Brooker deserves it!”
“…So much for it not being a trap, huh, Harry?” He smiled, “Never mind, you were half right.”
Harry was frowning, anxiously.
“If Brooker means to double cross us if he can,” he said, “Ain’t it a bit – dangerous – to risk it? Maybe we should forget all about it?”
“No maybe about it, Harry. Course we should!” Heyes smiled again, “But that’d be just no fun at all!”
They strode on in silence, save for the hum of the crowded streets. After a minute, Harry began again.
“First we go back to the hotel. Then I shall be visitin’ the Merchant’s National Bank. You, Harry, will be doin’ a little shoppin’.”
“You’ll be buyin’ a few things I might need tonight.”
“If you lose your job over this Harry, you could always hire yourself out as a parrot.”
“Parrot?” Harry’s mouth hung open for a moment. With a little shake of his confused head, he went on, “I mean – tonight? You’re doin’ it tonight!”
“Y’know what they say, Harry. If it were done, when ’tis done, t’were well it were done quickly.”
“It might not give me long to plan. But it gives them the same problem. And they NEED more time than me. Because …” Heyes grinned, ” … to quote my new best friend, Theodore Pierce, – I’m the best!”
Harry chewed on this, for the length of a street. At the turn, he ventured,
“Er…you do realise this ain’t the way to the hotel?”
“It may not be THE way. It is A way. Just not a very direct way.”
“Remember what you told me yesterday – about Bannermen being trained by experts?”
“Does your expert trainin’ tell you anything now?” asked Heyes, pleasantly.
Harry thought for a moment. Shoulders drooping, he gave up.
“Such as – we are being followed,” said Heyes. Harry swivelled and scanned the busy street. “Eyes front, Harry!” ordered Heyes, “No need to let them know we know.”
“Who is it?” hissed Harry.
“No need for the conspiratorial hissing, Harry. He’s staying a good thirty yards back. Who? No idea. Who’s he workin’ for? Brooker.” Heyes paused, “Now – SHE…”
“She?” yelped Harry, only prevented from turning round again by Heyes’ fingers gripping his arm.
“Yup – SHE is making a far better job of staying out of sight. Even I didn’t realise she was with us, in more than spirit, until three streets back,” admired Heyes.
“And – you’re circling – to lose ’em?” asked Harry.
“Nah!” smiled Heyes. “I’m just messin’ with him! He can follow us to the hotel – won’t bother me. I can lose him later. Amateur!” He pulled Harry to a stop and wheeled around. “As for her – why would I want to lose her? I’m much happier knowin’ where she is!” He allowed an expression of recognition to sweep across his face. Taking off his derby, he waved it high in the air. “Hello!” he called out, causing many heads to turn, “Hello! Ma-am! It’s us! Ma-am!” he called again, still waving, beginning to stride through the carriages, wagons and horses. Harry scanned the street. She was not here. Heyes must be wrong. She was nowhere to be seen.
Wiping a chagrined expression off her face, Grace yielded to the inevitable. She detached herself from a pair of ladies, gazing with rapt attention at a display of embroidered silk shawls, in a store window and turned round.
“Mr. Jones,” she smiled, with distant politeness. “What a surprise!” Her eyes took in Harry, “Mr. Briscoe,” she nodded, yet more coolly.
Harry began to pay those little attentions so – appreciated – by the female sex.
“I see you’re window shoppin’, huh?” he said, sweeping off his hat and grinning widely, “Nothin’ pleases you ladies like shoppin’ for new clothes. Ain’t that a fact? Not that a pretty little lady like you needs clothes to look good. New clothes I mean – I didn’t mean – no clothes. I mean, you’d look good in any old thing, ma-am. Not that what you have on isn’t real fetchin’ – but even if you weren’t wearin’ anythin’ – I mean anythin’ in particular – I mean nothin’ special …” The icy look he was receiving from Grace, finally froze the words on Harry’s lips. He shut up.
“We’re stayin’ at the Stanwyck Hotel,” said Heyes, conversationally.
Since this was what she wanted to know, Grace should have looked more grateful for the information. But, the laughing look in Heyes’ eyes told her that he knew – that she knew – that he knew – that she had followed him to find out this very fact.
“Oh?” she remarked, with supreme and chilly indifference.
“Would you do Mr. Briscoe and me the very great honour of joining us for coffee there? Or, perhaps, even lunch?”
Grace considered her options. Snubbing Heyes would be a pleasure of the moment. But she was a dozen years older and wiser than Alice. So, after a short pause, she smiled and said, “How kind. I could spare time for a brief cup of coffee, Mr. Jones.”
“Oh!” Heyes struck his forehead, in a dramatic gesture of remembrance, “…I forgot! Mr. Briscoe WON’T be able to join us. He’ll have – urgent matters – to attend to in the city!”
Grace’s smile became a little less forced. Ignoring a smothered protest from Harry, she said, “How unfortunate!” and slipped her arm through that of her old, old friend.
BACK ON THAT FREIGHT TRAIN
The liquid, in which Alice sat, gradually seeped away through cracks between the hay-strewn planks making up the floor of the car. Scarlet with fury, she struggled to get up. Her heel was still caught and slid from under her on the slick wooden surface. She thumped back down.
“Owww!” yelped Alice. Then, feeling this to be inadequate, she threw back her head and sent up a howl of anguish.
Kid got to his feet. He strode over.
“Are you OK?” he asked.
“Of COURSE I’m not OK!” she yelled. “I am covered in …”
“I mean – apart from that?”
“APART from that! Apart from THAT! How can I be alright –” she dropped her voice and imitated his delivery, “- apart from that?! Uh huh?”
“I only meant – did you hurt yourself?” He squatted down and freed the tattered skirt, still caught fast on her heel. She glowered at him. He stood back up and held out a hand.
“I DON’T need any help!”
“C’mon! Let me get you on your feet. If you want – you can kick me again!”
Her eyes sparkled in momentary anticipation. Still she hesitated to accept his hand.
“Can’t sit there all day, Alice – castin’ your golden curls before swine!”
“It ISN’T funny!” she yelled. A certain fundamental honesty caused her to add, “Actually – THAT was quite good!” A beat. “For you!” she temporised. She wiped her hands clean on the front of her skirt, before allowing him to help her up.
“Oh Thaddeus,” she whined, twisting her head over her shoulder. “Just look at what I’m covered in!”
“Yup – sh…”
“Faeces! Porcine excreta!”
Kid nodded. It was not – quite – what he had been about to say, but he assumed that was simply a question of Alice’s – vocabulary.
“And I am SOAKED. Not content with subjecting me to ordeal by ordure, that revolting animal has deluged me in – in swinish urine!”
Kid blinked. But since he was in – mixed company – perhaps, it was better to let Alice handle the terminology.
“Even my drawers are wringing wet!” Kid clenched his lips together. He did want to keep a straight face.
“If you so much as snigger,” threatened Alice. “I will scoop up what fell off my skirt – fill your hat with it – and press down so hard – it’ll come out of the top of your boots!”
“Alice,” said Kid, “Believe me – I’m tryin’ my best!”
“Do I … stink?”
Kid shrugged – but was forced to nod.
“And – how long have we still got to go?” she asked.
“Well, if this was a passenger train, about two an’ a half, three hours.” Alice closed her eyes in agony. “But,” went on Kid, “Freight trains sometimes are a mite slower. We might even pull into a sidin’ – let the noontime passengers run through.” A shudder ran through besmirched girl. “There’s a trough of water for the pigs. We could clean up your hands and face – where you touched it.” A beat. “An’ – I’ve a comb. Once it’s dry we can use it to get the … the… stuff… outta your hair.”
She drew herself up. With an effort, she gave a nod.
Kid thought hard. Hesitantly he said, “Alice…what have you got on under your dress?”
She opened her eyes wide in surprise.
He hurried on.
“I mean – if you’re wearing petticoats, an’ somethin’ – fairly full – on top, you could just take it off. I’ll open the door a fraction – throw it out. You’d still be damp – but you wouldn’t be covered in … y’know.”
She considered. Turning around, she pulled forward her bodice and squinted down her front.
“The bottom half isn’t a problem, but my camisole’s a bit – flimsy,” she reported, after a brief inspection. “I can see my…I can see myself,” she finished carefully.
Kid thought for a moment more.
“You can have my Henley,” he offered. He grinned, “Can’t offer you the suit from outta my saddlebags, because I know you think that’s – what was it – hideous?”
“Heinous,” she corrected.
She thought about this for a second. She turned her back.
“Unhook me then – top two – I’ll trust you not to peek.” As he unfastened the top of her dress, she added, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” replied Kid. With a grin, he said, “Course – I trust you not to peek too – when I take my shirt off.”
“Pfffttt!” dismissed Alice, “You wish!”
A SEDATE HOTEL LOUNGE – SAN FRANCISCO
Grace smiled graciously at the waiter pouring coffee in the lounge of the Stanwyck Hotel. She glanced at the clock – around eleven thirty. Alice’s brief wire that morning had confirmed she and Kid Curry would catch the nine thirty train. That still gave Grace nearly two hours in which to abort her plans. She had left the house this morning – almost – convinced in her own mind to do so. She had always intended to remain firmly in the background. Now Heyes knew that Mrs. Theodore Pierce was an ‘old, old friend’ – she would be at the top of his list of suspects if and when his partner mysteriously – disappeared. Moreover, the fact that Heyes had been in consultation with her husband, planning a trip to the Brooker works, seemed to imply he needed no additional inducements to fall in with Harry Briscoe’s suggestion.
This second point surprised her. She did not – entirely – trust the evidence. Firstly, because she knew how serious was Heyes’ intent to go straight in his bid for amnesty. Was his seeming interest in the task a ruse? To deceive Theo? Maybe. To deceive – her? But, Heyes had had no idea she WAS Mrs. Theodore Pierce until last night. His astonishment could not have been fake. Or – could it? Grace knew him as one of the smoothest confidence tricksters of her – varied – experience.
Certainly, Grace underestimated the inherent attraction of the challenge offered, independent of payment, when considering whether Heyes would give one final farewell performance as a safecracker extraordinaire.
Other factors also made her hesitate to abort the kidnapping of Kid Curry. Alice was toying with incorporating some ‘provocative prodding for the too patient admirer’. Grace had both a fondness and a grudging admiration for the un-squashable stepdaughter. Alice could have scuppered her father’s marriage before it took place, or made Grace’s life extremely difficult afterwards. She had not. A certain genuine wish for her father’s happiness amidst all her adolescent bumptiousness brought out the best in Alice and Grace was – she almost blushed – grateful.
Grace herself was – for purely sportive reasons – reluctant to abandon her carefully laid plans. She had reeled Kid Curry into captivity once. She was sure – with the help of Alice and a dear friend from her PAST (capital letters) – she could do it again. A comfortable, nay, luxurious, safe, short captivity. It would show Jed Curry – he was still no match for her. AND, with Heyes’ partner held to ransom, at a location deposited in advance in the Merchants’ National Bank, what choice would Heyes have, but to crack the Brooker 606? She – Grace – would get a little of her own back. Without exactly holding any ill will against her ‘old, old friends’, Grace enjoyed the thought of evening the score.
She gave another gracious smile. Heyes and Harry Briscoe, who had excused themselves upon arrival at the hotel, re-entered the lounge.
“Er – goodbye ma-am,” said a subdued, but well briefed Harry. “Sorry I can’t join you.” He tried to look important, “Urgent business calls.”
“Got your list safe, Harry?” smiled Heyes.
“Er – sure,” said Harry, doubtfully. He did have a list of requirements and sources. What he did not have was any way of reading the word ‘nitro’, without coming out in a sweat. He braced himself, thought of the fee and headed back outside.
“Well,” said Heyes, sitting down and giving Grace a charming dimpled smile, “What an unexpected pleasure to run into an old, old friend.” She smiled, still the very picture of poise. “And, let me offer you belated congratulations, Mrs. Pierce,” went on Heyes. He sipped his coffee, “You appear very happily – settled.”
“Thank you,” smiled back Grace. “My – settlement – is such that I could no longer have any real interest whatsoever in…” she pretended to search, “… oh – in, purely hypothetically, handing in wanted men for a paltry $20,000.”
“Loose change, huh?” said Heyes.
“We…ell,” temporised Grace, “…It wouldn’t go far towards the plans for my simple little summer retreat.”
He shook his head, sadly.
“Grace…” he took her hand and gazed in her limpid eyes, “…I’m saddened by that mercenary attitude. Like I said once before, there are more important things than money…”
“Before you climb any further onto the moral high ground,” she forestalled him, “…just remind me what you used to do for a living Mr. Jones?”
Heyes gave an appreciative nod, acknowledging a hit. He retained hold of her hand.
“Do you ever remember our time together at Mineral Springs, Grace?” he charmed – with dimples.
“How could I forget?” asked Grace, “…such a delightful resort.” A beat. “Though, I seem to recall the stay worked out more expensive than I planned.”
“Do you remember how madly in love with you I fell?” Heyes tone was at its most caressing. She smiled. “I hope” he breathed “…you look back as fondly as I do?” A gracious inclination of the head indicated – ‘yes’. The deep voice began to purr seductively, “Perhaps…?”
“No,” said Grace.
“Is love to be caged by outdated constrai…?”
“Yes, it is,” she interrupted, bluntly. “I may have married for money, but I’m keeping my side of the bargain. Besides…tempting though your proposition is…” Again – she almost blushed. Almost. “I’m – I’m fond of Theo.”
Heyes released her hand, sat back and returned to his normal tones.
“No offence?” he checked.
“None at all,” she confirmed. She sipped her coffee. “I was wondering, Mr. Jones?”
“What are your – alternative – plans for the rest of today?”
“Oh…something will turn up,” smiled Heyes. “I thought – this afternoon – I might do a little sight-seeing. I believe San Francisco has some of the finest buildings in the country?”
“The – the Merchants’ National Bank is much admired,” remarked Grace.
“Uh huh?” grunted Heyes, not a flicker of interest disturbed his poker face.
“And, I believe the interior is most impressive,” persisted Grace. “If you are interested in banks, Mr. Jones?”
Heyes shrugged. Grace was not so uncontrolled as to scowl, but her lips did press together in impatience. Heyes relented, slightly.
“If YOU have business at the bank, ma-am, it would be my pleasure to escort you,”
“Er…” hesitated Grace. She would need to call on a friend from her PAST (still capitalised) first. If Heyes already planned to…? But, did he?
“Grace,” smiled Heyes, leaning forward again. “Is there anythin’ you want to ask me?”
She decided to quit fencing. She too leaned forward, confidentially.
“Are you going to…?”
“Hello, Darling,” came a sudden and distinctly suspicious voice. It added, in a tone so chilly it could freeze warm, British beer, “Jones!” Theodore Pierce switched his gaze back to his wife. “I thought you were spending the morning shopping, Darling?”
“I am,” she smiled back. “I ran into Mr. Jones in Union Square. He offered me coffee.”
“Uh huh?” said her husband, another wary glance was cast at the handsome young man who had – not to put too fine a point on it – gawped at his wife, last night.
“And,” continued Grace, unruffled, “…he has offered to escort me. Isn’t that kind?”
“Too kind!” grunted Pierce. “Haven’t you got things to be getting on with, Jones?”
“Well…” began Heyes, unruffled as Grace. Sheesh! They were only drinking coffee!
“I’LL escort my wife wherever she wants to go,” declared Pierce, “No need for you to trouble!”
“Darling!” fluttered Grace. Delight swept across her lovely face. Her eyes shone with such flattering anticipation, no man could help but be gratified. She stood up and took her husband’s arm, kissing his cheek. “You’re going to forget work and spend the whole day with me! You spoil me!”
“Nonsense,” demurred a much mollified Theodore Pierce.
“How lovely!” sighed Grace, giving up any thoughts of aborting the plans centred on Kid Curry. She would just have to free him tomorrow. “Let’s visit that place I told you about that fits luxury bathrooms.” She gave Heyes a civil nod, “Goodbye, Mr. Jones. Thank you for the coffee.”
“Darling!” Heyes’ sharp ears heard, as the pair walked away, “…you’re too innocent – too untouched by the world – too trusting! That man was – was trying to charm his way into your affections. I could tell!”
“No!” breathed Grace, “…surely not!”
ONCE MORE UNTO THE TRAIN DEAR FRIENDS …
Three hours had passed in the second car of a certain freight train bound for San Francisco. It seemed longer to a disconsolate and – frankly – malodorous Alice. Despite Kid having tossed her bespattered dress to the four winds, she was still exuding the natural pungency of one over whom a pig has emptied his aching bladder. Or rather, two hours and fifty minutes ago, when still damp, she had been exuding natural pungency. Now she had dried out and thoroughly heated through in the hot car, the aroma she gave off was anything but ‘natural’. It verged on ‘unbelievable’.
If the journey seemed long to Alice, it was never ending to Kid. The smell and the heat he bore stoically enough. The problem was Alice. She was not a girl to suffer in silence. Well, to be fair, she was not a girl to enjoy herself in silence, either. Her articulate, fluent lamentation harrowed Kid. If he had been of a philosophical bent, he could have profited by the morning’s journey to reflect on the nature of eternity and the concept of time being an infinite plane rather than a line.
Just when he had abandoned hope of ever ceasing to hear both the rattle of the train and the rattle of the ethereal golden one – he did. The train slowed and squealed gently to a halt. So – miraculo dicto – did Alice. She stared wide-eyed at Kid. Her perspiring face lit up with eager hope.
“Are we – there?” she breathed.
Kid hoisted himself up to peer through the grill above the sliding door of the car. His shoulders drooped.
“Oooooh!” wailed Alice. “Why are we stopping, then?”
“Dunno,” shrugged Kid, reseating himself by his saddlebags. “Maybe takin’ on water.”
The door rattled. Kid got to his feet, gun leaping to his hand. The door opened. An elderly man, evidently an employee of the railroad, stood blinking at them. He took in first the bedraggled Alice in petticoats and an overlarge Henley, then Kid. His eyes fell to the gun. He gulped.
“Er – I just came to give the livestock a breath of air while we take on water,” he said.
“Uh huh,” acknowledged Kid. As the newcomer was clearly unarmed, he returned his gun to its holster. The man relaxed a little.
“But…” the railway employee continued, tentatively.
“But – here’s where we get off, huh?” sighed Kid. It was a risk when hopping a train. “How far are we from ‘Frisco?”
“Less’n five miles walking cross country. Mite longer if you follow the line,” came the reply. With a would be reassuring smile, the man added, “Could be a lot worse! If it were up to me – I’d let you ride. But if they see you leave come ‘Frisco, they’ll know I found you and said nothin’! I could lose my job!” An avuncular eye went from Kid to Alice. “Runaway couple, huh?”
“NO!” exclaimed Kid, horrified.
“NO!” squealed a lyric coloratura soprano, rising impressively in revulsion. Alice, after checking the floor to prevent further mishap, stamped her foot. “I’m NOT walking five miles!” She scowled at the mild-mannered, silvery haired, lovable grandfather in the doorway. Her gaze shifted imperiously to Kid. “Use your gun, Thaddeus! Threaten to shoot him!”
“HUH?” demanded Kid.
“Er – I don’t want no trouble!” protested the old man.
“You don’t have to ACTUALLY shoot him!” temporised Alice, ever a model of maidenly reasonableness. “Just do whatever it takes so we can stay on the train.” Her face lit with inspiration, “You could tie him up. Use your bandana as a gag!”
“Usin’ my bandana as a gag?” he mused, thoughtfully, eyes firmly on Alice’s delightfully sculpted lips. “Wish I’d thought of that a coupla hours ago!” He grinned, “Still – I can bear it in mind now you’ve suggested it!” He jumped down from the car. “C’mon Alice! A brisk stroll will do you good!”
“No!” she stamped. “I WON’T!”
“Er…” put in their discoverer. “The guard might just let the young LADY ride. If’n that’s any use to you?”
“Whaddya say, Alice?” asked a hopeful Kid. “Say goodbye now?”
Alice blinked. She recalled her instructions. With admirable fortitude and determination, she was by Kid’s side in a moment. The kindly old man reeled back, as she passed.
“Certainly not, Thaddeus,” she said, clutching his arm and summoning up a radiant smile. “A promise is a promise. You see me all the way home – and get repaid and rewarded.”
“Forget the money,” attempted Kid, “If you wanna ride on alone…?” He was forestalled.
“I would not DREAM of abandoning you, Thaddeus.” Seeing him about to protest again, Alice placed a dainty finger against his lips. “Not another word,” she smiled, coquettishly. “I am NOT so selfish! I could not bear to think of you suffering that long walk without me there to keep up your spirits!”
“Uh huh?” said Kid, flummoxed. He could not help being rather touched. Poor Alice. Despite everything, she clearly wanted to cling to him until the last possible moment. Maybe the scornfulness earlier was just an act, to rouse his interest. He gently removed her hand from his arm. “Fine, Alice,” he said, kindly, “But – if you wanna walk arm in arm – any chance you could go on the left? It’s more downwind.”