SAN FRANCISCO – BUT NOT NOB HILL
It was late afternoon before a bedraggled…
Bedraggled because, during a session of nose in the air ‘storming off’, when her suggested short cut was rejected, she tripped over a tree root and fell down a steep bank.
It was a bank lushly carpeted with turf.
There was a particularly glutinous puddle at the base.
Her boots were not made for walking.
I think you know that one.
…and STILL bursting with energy…
You just cannot keep a true heroine down.
…announced to an ear-sore Kid.
“This is it…I’m home!”
“Uh huh?” grunted Kid.
At one point, he had thought Alice seemed unsure of her route. Mind you, at bottom a fair man, Kid had to admit she HAD been having a rough day. AND, since he had finally given in to a suggested short cut – they had reached the city limits, not to resort to a euphemism – lost. He glanced up at the substantial house. He had rather expected to be led to a mansion on Nob Hill and, was a shade closer to what Heyes referred to as ‘what the beautiful – wicked – city has to offer’, than he anticipated. Still, he could not deny, as Alice mounted the steps scrubbed to a dazzling cleanliness and rapped firmly on the highly polished brass knocker, it did look prosperous.
The door was opened by a young woman dressed as a maid, respectably bedecked in snowy cap and apron. She was, Kid could not help but notice – gorgeous. Deeply fringed, dark eyes widened at the dishevelled specimen standing on the top step.
“Er…Miss Alice?” she said, in completely understandable bewilderment. Then the ‘maid’ made a mistake. She inhaled. She heaved a smothered gasp of horror. Kid gave her a sympathetic little smile and touched his hat politely.
“Yes!” confirmed Alice. Remembering her lines, she added, “Is – is my aunt at home?”
A second complete stranger to Alice joined the ‘maid’ at the door. Kid noticed this expensively dressed lady, whilst quite clearly over forty, was also exceedingly handsome. At first glance, she confirmed every argument he had ever heard in favour of older women. He tipped his hat again and, despite being hot and tired, summoned up a charming smile.
“Alice?” cooed the owner of the delightful autumnal face, “Oh darling – we were beginning to think you’d never get here. She took in Alice’s state.” The face of Grace’s good friend from the PAST (capitals), took on an expression of unfeigned astonishment. “What’s happened to you?” She inhaled. A scent drenched lace handkerchief was clutched hastily to her nose. “Let’s get you inside – and into a good hot bath!”
“This,” said Alice, turning and gesturing to the bottom of the steps, “…is Mr. Thaddeus Jones, Aunt – er – Beatrice. He rescued me from two horrid, horrid men yesterday and lent me money … and looked after me … and brought me all the way home,” She threw Kid the most grateful look he had received since boarding the train, “I can never repay him!”
“Please,” gushed ‘Aunt Beatrice’, “…please come in Mr. Jones.” Kid did – come in. “How can we ever thank you for returning dear Alice to us?” She pressed his hand and gave him an enchanting smile.
“It was nothing, ma-am,” said Kid, politely. Not truthfully, certainly – but politely.
“You will stay for dinner?” pressed ‘Aunt Beatrice, “And – I don’t know what your plans are Mr. Jones – but can we offer you a room for the night?”
“Oh – no ma-am,” demurred Kid.
“But dinner?” repeated ‘Aunt Beatrice’. “Please, Mr. Jones – I know Alice’s father will want to thank you personally when he returns home. And,” she allowed her admiration to show, “…it would make ME so happy if you could stay.”
“Well, in that case, ma-am,” smiled Kid, “Sure. Thank you.”
“Alice,” said ‘Aunt Beatrice’. “Let Mary run you a bath.” With honest urgency, she added, “Now!” She glowed back at Kid, “Maybe – forgive me – you’d like a hot bath before dinner too, Mr. Jones?”
“Well,” hesitated Kid. He DID like a good hot tub. He grinned and nodded.
“But first,” smiled ‘Aunt Beatrice’, ‘Let me offer you a drink, Mr. Jones.” A beat. “Off you go, Alice. I’ll take good care of Mr. Jones.”
Kid smiled, the day was definitely picking up. He was not sure which words had been most welcome. ‘Hot bath’, ‘drink’, or …the most likely winner …’Off you go, Alice’.
INSIDE the Merchants’ National Bank, San Francisco A LOCATION so cunning, if I told you where it was – you would accuse me of making it up! an hour before closing.
Heyes settled down patiently, to await the quiet hours of the night. He had lost the men following him with a simple flick of the intellect. He had a half-finished copy of a weaving Wilkie Collins’ novel. The safety lamps amongst his carefully packed equipment meant he could read in comfort. And…he had a hot date with a Brooker 606 to look forward to.
Life was good.
THE HOUSE WE SAW KID ENTERING – BUT UPSTAIRS
Kid blinked and groaned. His head felt – thick. Thick and foggy. Still only semi-conscious he tried to rub his eyes. His arm jerked as he moved his right hand – it was caught in something. The ex-outlaw struggled to wake up thoroughly. This feeling was familiar. Was it a hangover? Surely not? He had only had a couple of glasses of fine Irish single malt. When had he felt like this before? Suddenly, as his brain cleared – he knew. Someone … No, not someone – warm and winning ‘Aunt Beatrice’, had slipped him a Mickey Finn.
Anger darted through him. He tried to sit up. Again his arm jerked. Twisting his head he saw he was firmly cuffed to a gleaming brass bedstead.
“Oh, don’t struggle,” came a concerned and liltingly lovely voice. “We really don’t want you to hurt yourself, Mr. Jones.”
Kid began to take in his surroundings. The first surrounding he focused on was the source of the enchanting voice.
A pair of vaguely familiar, melting brown eyes searched his face. He caught a delightful whiff of jasmine, as the owner of the eyes bent over him. Generously full ruby lips asked, “You don’t feel sick do you, Mr. Jones?” The lady he knew as ‘Aunt Beatrice’, went on, “I have a bowl in case. I could help you sit up.” She gently bathed his forehead with a cool cloth. “Some people do feel sick.”
Kid shook his head. He did not feel particularly sick. Confused – sure. Angry – certainly.
“Why are you holding me?” he asked.
“I’m being paid,” explained the warm and winning voice. “And,” continued the benevolent caressing tones of ‘Aunt Beatrice’, “…in case you think I’m purely mercenary, I am helping out a dear old friend.” A beat. “Not Alice,” she clarified, with a glance at the ethereal golden one, seated in a boudoir chair. Another beat. “I AM pretty mercenary as well,” she added, candidly.
“I’M not being paid,” gloated Alice, now clean, sparkling, also smelling faintly of jasmine and wrapped in an over-large dressing gown. “I’M one of the clients!”
Kid lifted his head to meet Alice’s eyes. He suddenly became aware of another part of his surroundings.
“Hey,” he said, squinting down at himself rather inadequately, though very sensuously, covered with a slithering and slippery satin sheet. He clutched this with his one free hand and glowered at Alice, torn between embarrassment and anger. “Did you…” despite himself, he blushed, “…did you undress me?”
“Pfffttt! You wish!” scoffed Alice.
“I undressed you,” smiled ‘Aunt Beatrice’. “Don’t worry, Mr. Jones. There was nothing I haven’t seen before.”
“I hid your clothes though,” crowed Alice. “You’re much less likely to make an escape stark naked except for a rose pink satin sheet! AND I – I was the bait!” She swelled with pride, “I was brilliant, wasn’t I Thaddeus? You fell for it all, just like we planned!” She swelled a little more, “You found me utterly irresistible, didn’t you Thaddeus?”
“No!” he protested.
“Ha!” she scoffed, standing up and pointing. “What are you doing here then? HA!” Enjoying herself, she added another, “HA!” Finding this inadequate she raised her chin and uttered a line Kid thought was only found within the pages of dime novels. “Muhaha!” A beat. “I’ve wanted to do that since yesterday afternoon!” pronounced Alice, returning to her normal tones.
“Why?” asked the confused Kid.
“I suppose it’s just one of those things you read about and never think you’ll say in real life,” answered Alice, conversationally. “Muhaha!” she cackled, again.
“No! I mean why did you trap me?” Something else about his surroundings sank in. He looked at the handcuffs securing his right hand to the brass bedstead. They were – padded. He took in the exotic boudoir atmosphere, “An’ – what the Sam Hill is this place?”
“It USED to be what you think it is, Mr. Jones,” said ‘Aunt Beatrice’, carefully, with a wary look at an inquisitively interested – but naïve, Alice.
“As for why,” said Alice, “…I want your partner to do me – and a friend of mine – a little favour. You are going to be an incentive. Then,” she went on kindly, “…he can rescue you.”
“My – partner?” queried Kid, cautiously.
“Yes,” smiled Alice. “You remember who your partner is don’t you, Thaddeus?” Her eyes glittered, as he hesitated. Did she – did she know who he was? “YOU remember…Hee yis…” she started, drawing out the vowel indicatively. She knew all right! “He’s – Joshua Smith, WITHOUT a silent ‘P'” She cast a quick glance at ‘Aunt Beatrice’ and gave Kid a tiny shake of the head. ‘Aunt Beatrice’ he gathered, had NOT been briefed on the true identity of her prisoner. Kid blinked. “Once Mr. Smith does our little favour – you’ll be free to go,” finished Alice.
“You’ll be free to go after a night – two at the most – anyhow,” smiled ‘Aunt Beatrice’. “You’re quite safe.”
“Maybe,” glowered Alice.
“Definitely,” stated ‘Aunt Beatrice’, firmly. “Those are my instructions! No harm whatsoever to come to Mr. Jones. AND – as soon as Mr. Smith finds him – that means the job’s done. He can go.” Alice still glowered. “Come along Alice,” said ‘Aunt Beatrice’, “We’ll let the others take care of Mr. Jones for a while.” She went to the door and repeated, “I said – come along Alice!” They exited.
Kid’s mind was racing. What kind of favour did they want from Heyes? Was it a trap to double the bounty? Somehow, it did not feel like that. It seemed too – too elaborate. He again took stock of his surroundings as he tugged fruitlessly at the softly padded, but still very serviceable handcuff. Sure – he was a prisoner. But, it was a pretty comfortable cage. No. It did not feel like bounty hunters.
Suddenly Kid’s mind stopped racing over escape plans. The entrance of a familiar – and gorgeous – girl, distracted him. From the doorway, deeply fringed dark eyes met his. A long curling tendril of glossy dark hair – free now of the maid’s cap – tickled a rosy cheek as its owner smiled.
The girl he had heard referred to as ‘Mary’ cooed, “Hello, Mr. Jones. We’ve been told to make sure your stay is as comfortable as possible.”
“We?” queried Kid.
“Yes,” chimed in a second dove-soft voice. Kid saw a duplicate ‘Mary’ appear in the doorway. She gave him a smile, full of promise. “We.”
The two enchantresses came in and shut the door. Each perched on the bed – opposite sides of the tethered, naked, satin swathed ex-outlaw.
“Are you – are you twins?” Kid checked, “Or, am I seeing double?”
Two delightful giggles rippled over him.
“We’re twins, Mr. Jones, I’m Mary,” smiled the beauty on his left.
“And I’m Susan,” fluttered the one on the right. “But you can call me, Sue.”
“We’re being paid,” explained Mary, “Just to make your stay as pleasant as it can be.”
“Very well paid,” concurred Sue.
“And – we’re real good at pleasant,” fluttered Mary.
“Exceptional,” chimed in Sue.
“You can have anything you like,” enticed Mary, running a finger down Kid’s chest.
“Except to go free,” demurred Sue, blowing gently in his ear.
Kid clutched at the slipping thin satin sheet. Two pairs of glowing dark eyes followed his hand. Kid blushed. Two sets of generous lips smiled in the satisfaction of a job well – started.
“Have you heard of parole, Mr. Jones?” breathed Mary.
“She means – in wartime. Not as part of the prison system,” clarified Sue.
“Er…?” hesitated Kid. This definitely still did not feel like bounty hunters. Not that his mind was any longer completely focused on escape. He was – distracted.
Mary snaked over sinuously to one of two connecting doors in the room. She opened it, revealing a luxuriously fitted bathroom. The gleaming porcelain bath was full of steaming water and lush foam.
“If you give us your word – your parole – not to try to escape,” smiled Mary, “Just for, say, an hour. We uncuff you – and you can have a bath. And a Cuban cigar to smoke in it.”
“Because,” cooed Sue, lashes quivering, “…the client is sure your word can be trusted.”
“How – how do I know it’s not a trap?” hesitated a sorely tempted Kid.
Mary wrinkled her velvety brow.
“How can you be more trapped – without the handcuffs on – in a bath, than cuffed to a bedstead?” she asked.
Kid thought. He thought some more. Nothing sprang to mind.
“You’d – you’d really take the cuffs off?” he said.
Sue smiled and nodded.
“For an hour – but we need your word first. That you’ll let us fasten you back up.”
“Unless,” purred Mary, into his ear, “…we don’t manage to finish scrubbing your back and doing anything else that makes you – comfortable, in an hour. Then – you can have another hour. But – you have to give your word.”
“If you DON’T give your word,” exhaled Sue, her hand travelling down a sensitive path on his inner arm, “…we just leave you fastened up. Where’s the sense in that?”
Kid felt two gentle nips – one on each earlobe. He gave up trying to retain the sheet as a bad job. He gulped.
“If I do let you – uncuff me – an’ give my parole,” this man of iron will checked, “… you won’t tell my partner… that I let you two girls fasten me back up?”
“Mr. Jones,” protested Mary, in a mildly offended tone, “…we are the very souls of discretion!”
“You can trust us not to let you down!” concurred Sue, earnestly.
“You can trust us not to disappoint you in any way,” purred Mary.
“Consider me – paroled,” capitulated Kid.
HENRY BROOKER’S OFFICE
“What do you mean – lost them!” thundered a purple faced Henry Brooker, “How could he lose them?”
“Not THEM, Sir,” temporised Mr. Dawkins. “Our man lost Carl Grant. We still have Harry Briscoe under observation. They split up.”
“Why the Sam Hill didn’t he stay with Grant?”
“He did, Sir,” explained Mr. Dawkins. “Despite that, he lost him. I suspect Mr. Grant’s Bannerman training alerted him to the fact he was being followed.” A beat. “My – guarded enquiries – did confirm there is indeed a Bannerman agent by the name of Carl Grant based at Fort Worth. He is not far past thirty. He is dark haired.”
“So – it is him – Carl Grant? Not Hannibal Heyes.”
“It could be,” answered the cautious Mr. Dawkins. He still had doubts. “Let us say – in the Scottish manner – ‘not proven’.” Another beat. “I have other information, Sir.”
“Good or bad,”
“Mixed,” replied Mr. Dawkins. “Yes, I think – mixed – is the fairest description.”
“Before we lost Mr. Grant, he was seen in brief conversation with Theodore Pierce,” intoned Mr. Dawkins.
“That sneaky skunk! That snake in the grass! That…” began Brooker.
“Quite, Sir!” interrupted Mr. Dawkins. He had heard this before. Often.
“OH!” exclaimed Brooker. “You think Grant is goin’ to double cross us somehow – with Pierce?”
“The thought did occur, Sir.”
“QUITE, Sir.” A beat. “The final piece of information our man brought back is more positive, Sir.”
“First, I must ask you to cast back your mind a week,” requested Mr. Dawkins.
Henry Brooker blinked. “Uh huh.”
“I offered to buy Mr. Briscoe a drink, after his meeting with you, Sir. As you will recall.”
“In fact, I bought him a lot of drinks. All the finest straight Kentucky corn whiskey. My hope was,” said Mr. Dawkins, “…this might, together with judicious flattery, encourage Mr. Briscoe to disclose more facts about Hannibal Heyes.”
“Didn’t though – did it?” grunted Brooker.
“No,” admitted Mr. Dawkins. “Even when – no longer sober – Mr. Briscoe took great care not to reveal anything about Hannibal Heyes.” He smiled, meaningfully. “However, he did, while – under the influence – and without realising he had done so – let slip something else.” A beat.
“Uh huh?” urged Brooker.
“A name. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say – an alias. Thaddeus Jones.”
“Is that Heyes’ alias?” enquired Brooker, hopefully.
Mr. Dawkins shook his head.
“No. I believe it to be the name used by his partner – Jedediah Curry.”
“Kid Curry?” checked Brooker.
“Even he,” affirmed Mr. Dawkins.
Henry Brooker frowned.
“You never told me!” he complained. Then, “Anyhow, why is that positive?”
“Because,” smiled Mr. Dawkins, “When our man checked the register of the Stanwyck Hotel, he saw that the latest guest to sign in, was a ‘Thaddeus Jones’.”
“Kid Curry?” repeated Brooker.
A cautious man, Mr. Dawkins pursed his lips.
“It seems the most probable explanation.”
“So…that means Heyes is here?” pressed Brooker.
“It makes it – probable.”
“So…the man we met isn’t Carl Grant – he’s Heyes?”
A long beat. Mr. Dawkins was thinking.
“Possibly,” he temporised. “Not proven,” he repeated, with the same Scottish legal intonation.
“So…?” Henry Brooker shifted in his seat. He was getting lost. “I pay you well for confidential advice Dawkins! Advise me!”
The thin, grey figure of Mr. Dawkins smiled.
“Sir, am I right in thinking your primary objective is to have the security of the Pierce and Hamilton 1880, Guardian B …and by implication their new product … called into question amongst the cognoscenti in the banking world?” A nod from Brooker. “And, to effect this, you wish the safe in the Wells Fargo Building to be cracked?” Another nod. “In that case, Sir, I suggest you increase the incentive for Hannibal Heyes.” Henry Brooker opened his mouth to object. Mr. Dawkins forestalled him. “NOT,” continued Mr. Dawkins, “…with mere money. I suggest you think of something Heyes would want MORE than money.” A beat. Henry Brooker still looked blank. Mr. Dawkins heaved a silent sigh. “Something important to him. Something, that if TAKEN AWAY,” he stressed, “…he’d want RETURNED.” Another beat. And another.
Inspiration struck Henry Brooker.
“I’ve had an idea, Dawkins!”
“Really, sir?” asked Mr. Dawkins with polite interest.
“You’re going to hire someone to kidnap Kid Curry! And,” triumphed Henry Brooker, “…I’ll have Harry Briscoe informed that if his friend Hannibal Heyes wants to see his partner alive again – he had better get on with cracking the Wells Fargo safe!”
“Brilliant, Sir!” marvelled Mr. Dawkins.
“Then,” continued Henry Brooker, “I’ll hand the pair of them in for the bounty!” He took a deep, refreshing pull on his cigar. “What do you say to THAT, Dawkins?”
“Once again – brilliant, Sir!”
“In that case Dawkins, make it so!” commanded Henry Brooker.
“At the earliest opportunity, Sir,” came Mr. Dawkins ever-civil tones.
“And Dawkins,” grinned Brooker.