8. Chapter 8

A QUIET BAR – NOT FAR FROM THE NOTORIOUS BARBARY COAST

“You understand,” stressed Harry Briscoe, to the two suited men facing him, “…this operation is to be kept discrete.” He adopted his best, serious, scowl and, pushing back the flaps of his jacket put his hands to his hips. “Discrete!” he barked, again. Two nods in response. “You see, Fields, Crowley…” began Harry, again, still in self-important mode, “…I sought you out – discretely – since we’ve worked together before. Knew I could trust you! BUT…” the narrow featured face scowled again, “…Nothing, not one word of this, is to be repeated at the ‘Frisco office! If the Denver office asks any questions – you know nothing! NOTHING! It is STRICTLY under-cover.” Harry spotted the two men he had been watching out for and raised a hand to bring them over.

Kid swallowed down the sick feeling walking up to a couple of detectives gave him, squared his shoulders and strode over. He had qualms over this. But, Harry was right in saying two experienced men, with local knowledge, would be invaluable in the narrow, treacherous alleys and notorious dens of the Barbary Coast. Jòzef had been in favour too, arguing a rescue that, if need be, could put on a good show of being a legitimate Bannerman operation would cow Henry Brooker. A twenty-thousand dollar reward on Heyes and Curry was not worth having if it resulted in a blaze of publicity from three – no make that just two – respectable Bannerman detectives caught up in his trap. Brooker had too much to lose. Kid was uncomfortable at the ‘mutually assured destruction’ argument. He and Heyes had twenty years to lose. Still, with all his foibles, Kid suspected Jòzef was pretty good at weighing odds. And, his own gut – despite the sick feeling – said, ‘Go for it!’

Fields and Crowley were both frowning at Kid.

“You look – familiar,” remarked Fields, thoughtfully. “Don’t tell me – I’ll place you in a minute.” Kid, trying to keep his face from freezing, hoped not. Light dawned on Agent Fields. “The Brimstone operation!” He shook his head, with a rueful grin. “We thought we’d got Kid Curry that time.” A sigh. “Still, all worked for the best in the end, huh?”

“Sure did,” agreed Harry, exchanging a glance with the ex-outlaw. “You’re right, Gaines here was in that operation. It’s his partner – Agent Grant – that’s been deep under-cover, infiltrating a smuggling ring down in the bay. Things have gone wrong – and, we need to get him out! So, if the low-lifes holdin’ him swear blind he’s some kinda criminal himself – ignore ’em. You’ll probably recognise him when you see him. He was at Brimstone too!”

“Are you one of us?” Crowley asked Jòzef. Then, “Where’s your gun, fella?”

Harry jumped in to forestall any dangerous truthfulness.

“Kowalski is what you might call a technical expert,” he barked, authoritatively. “Just called in for this one job.” He did not allow a beat for questions. “Gaines here has the location where Grant’s bein’ held…” Nothing. “Gaines,” repeated Harry, with a nudge to remind Kid of his third alias in twenty-four hours.

“He’s in the far cellar of the Barracuda Inn,” said Kid.

“The Barracuda!” Fields gave a reluctant shudder.

“The Barracuda!” Cowley gave a reluctant shiver.

A shiver being a slightly more rapid vibratory movement than a shudder.

“Is that – bad?” asked Jòzef, torn between apprehension and a certain boyish excitement.

Both of the men hardened to San Francisco’s most notorious sinks of vice and dens of depravity looked at the young engineer.

They shuddered. Or possibly – shivered.

-oooOOOooo-

THE SAME QUIET BAR – about two hours later

“Sheesh, Kid!” said Hannibal Heyes, taking a long pull at a cold glass of beer. “There was a moment back there!” He took another sip of fortification. “…Let’s just say, the floor plan of the Bank of Fort Worth flashed before my eyes! We’ve had some narrow escapes but …THAT!” He shook his head in disbelief. “That bullet you ricocheted off the…”

“Uh huh,” grunted an equally stunned Kid.

“Shootin’ off six gun belts before they’d even…”

“Uh huh.”

“Swingin’ upside down from that…”

“Uh huh.”

A beat.

“Mind you, Kid,” continued Heyes, in a less serious tone, “…I woulda escaped soon enough anyhow!”

Kid threw his partner ‘the look’.

“Uh huh?” heavy scepticism.

“That tale I was spinnin’ ’em … It was workin’ Kid!” argued Heyes. “I was talkin’ up a storm about the…”

“Uh huh.” It had, Kid admitted, been an exceptionally silver-tongued performance.

“And that contraption I’d rigged up usin’ nothing but a loose brick, a spoon and a discarded fishing-net. Designed to be triggered by….”

“Uh huh,” acknowledged Kid. Now that – that had been clever, even for Heyes.

A beer sipping beat.

“Kid…” said Heyes, “…you haven’t told me, yet, how you cracked the safe in the Wells Fargo vault.”

“Haven’t I?” asked his partner. A beat. He took another long pull at his beer. And another. Kid settled back in his chair and propped his booted feet on the seat opposite. He flicked a speck of dust off his jeans. He drank beer. A smug grin wreathed his face, as waves of Heyesian curiosity washed over him .

-oooOOOooo-

THE PIERCE AND HAMILTON OFFICES

Heyes and Harry Briscoe waited in Theodore Pierce’s outer office. Not long. In less than a minute, they were ushered into his inner sanctum.

“I had a very worrying communication from the Merchants’ National Bank this morning,” the businessman beamed. “Apparently, last night, there was a major breach of security!” Heyes clicked his tongue in mock disapproval. “Shocking, isn’t it?” agreed Theodore Pierce, unconvincingly. “It’s made them want to upgrade the safe – immediately! Not only here in ‘Frisco – but in the Los Angeles and Seattle branches too.”

“It’s an ill wind,” remarked Heyes. To his and Harry’s immense satisfaction the manufacturer was already opening his own safe and removing a pile of currency that looked delightfully like a pre-prepared $5,000 fee.

“Before I hand this over…” hesitated Mr. Pierce, “…may I ask a question?”

“I think a man about to hand over cash … may ask,” smiled Heyes. “Though – perhaps you should make it a hypothetical question, huh?”

“Er … sure!” said the manufacturer. “…Hypothetically – could anyone other than Hannibal Heyes have cracked that safe?”

Heyes considered Jòzef’s input to last night’s success.

“Hypothetically – EVEN Hannibal Heyes could not have cracked that safe with only a day’s notice. Not without help!”

“Are you…” Theodore Pierce dropped his voice, “…HIM? I mean, I suspected it. Even after checking out Carl Grant … I suspected it. You fit the description and…”
Heyes exchanged a glance with a nervous looking Harry Briscoe.

“Mr. Pierce…” he began, “…if – just hypothetically – I were that ornery critter, Hannibal Heyes – would I be likely to say? And – think carefully – would you want me to? Questions might be raised about last night’s events. People may be asked if they’ve met a notorious outlaw – and not handed him over to the law. Don’t you want to put your hand on your heart and say – I have never, to my knowledge, met Hannibal Heyes. I have no idea what went on in the vault of the Merchants’ National Bank…?” Heyes met Pierce’s eyes. “Do we understand each other? Hypothetically?” he finished.

“Er… sure!” agreed Pierce. He handed over the fee. “Sure!” Another satisfied beam. He shook Heyes’ hand. “If Hannibal Heyes DID crack that safe – he must be a pretty honest fellow! Not so much as a single dollar was missing! IF Hannibal Heyes ever wants an honest job – I hope he’ll consider applying to Hamilton and Pierce! Hypothetically!”

Harry cast a glance at Heyes. Heyes’ face was never easy to read but, Harry thought the ex-outlaw looked rather – touched.

-oooOOOooo-

LUNCH WITH THE LADIES – A DISCRETE TABLE IN AN EXPENSIVE RESTAURANT

“This is extremely kind,” smiled Grace.

“The least we could do,” said Heyes. “I gather you and…” he raised his glass to the ethereal, golden one, “…Alice here, did Kid quite a favour in the diversionary tactics line, while he took his own sweet time cracking a simple little safe down in the vault.” Ignoring the look thrown at him by his partner, Heyes carried on, “…Besides, Harry’s payin’! He’s feelin’ flush! Isn’t that right, Harry?”

Harry considered arguing for a moment and then gave a resigned shrug. The share of the fee allocated to him by the ex-outlaws was not so high as he had originally planned when understating the figure to Heyes. But, it was still enough to make him feel comfortably – flush!

He was, however, not relaxed.

“Don’t know about you boys, but, I’d like to get outta ‘Frisco as soon as possible!”

“That’s not very gracious, Harry,” rebuked Heyes. “Mrs. Pierce will think you don’t appreciate her company.”

“No offence, ma-am,” said Harry, with a would-be ingratiating smile. “It’s just – too many people seem to know too much about this pair! No point waitin’ around for word to spread!”

“Lotta truth in there,” mused Kid.

“Kid!” reproached Heyes, “…Don’t you want a little payback for Henry Brooker?”

“Nope,” replied his partner, “All I want is to eat lunch and take the next train out of here!”

“Jed!” squeaked an outraged Alice. “You can’t leave yet!”

For a moment, Kid’s brow creased in confusion. Then, he remembered his reluctantly given promise of that morning.

“Oh, sheesh!” he groaned.

“That’s right, darling!” smiled Alice, capturing his hand, “We’re engaged! And – you’d like to ask Daddy for his blessing, wouldn’t you?” Harry and Heyes both blinked. “He’s just shy!” explained Alice, as Kid’s head fell forward in anguish. She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Darling,” she said, loudly, “…What’s that? You want to be married at once? Your passionate ardour can’t wait?”

“For Pete’s sake, Alice!” despaired Kid, “…People are listening!”

“Is there something you need to tell me, partner?” teased Heyes, catching on fast. “He’s plumb crazy about you, Alice,” the dark haired ex-outlaw stated aloud. “Talks about nothing else! Even in his sleep!” His partner’s glower threatened dire retribution. Heyes gave him a bland smile and patted his shoulder. “Poor fella,” he sympathised, kindly. “He’s got it bad!”

“Oh, Grace!” trilled Kid’s chief tormentor, giving her ringing coloratura soprano exercise, “…Isn’t he naughty? He wants to smother me in kisses from my golden head to my rosy-tipped toes!” She tapped Kid’s hand, playfully. “You mustn’t talk so in front of my stepmother, Darling!” Under her breath, she hissed, “I WANT people to listen. Do you see that lady in the bay window? DON’T look! SHE’S one of the worst gossips in San Francisco! Daddy will know all about this before the day is out!”

“Never mind Violet Cholmondley!” said Grace, under her breath, “Look who else just walked in!”

Alice swivelled round in her seat. Her face lit up as she turned back to the table!

“Perfect!”

The three men glanced over at the door. Nothing in the appearance of the two bracket-faced, supercilious looking women entering the dining room explained Alice’s pleasure to them.

“Who is it?” Heyes asked Grace.

“The younger one is Mrs. Henry Brooker,” smiled Grace, discretely, “…The elder is his mother-in-law. It’s a close run thing which has the most venomous tongue in the City.” Grace dropped her eyes, “… They’ve spotted us! They’re coming over!”

“Good!” breathed Alice. Out loud, to the beleaguered Kid. “What’s that? My beauty inflames your raging male desire beyond all reason! Oh…Darling! How can you SAY such things?”

“Without moving his lips, evidently,” murmured Grace.

“Oh! I can’t wait for you to ask Daddy for my hand!” declared Alice. “…I’m sure he’ll love you as much as I do! After all – what does lack of social position, or – or lack of education matter?”

“Hey!” protested Kid. He definitely remembered getting an education! “Ow!” he added, as a small boot connected sharply with his anklebone.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Pierce,” iced the younger of the bracket-faced ladies, “Good afternoon…” the coolness of the greeting dipped into arctic zones, “…Miss Pierce!”

“How do you do?” sunshined Alice, cheerily, as the three men at the table rose to their feet. “Mrs. Brooker, Mrs. ffoulkes-Simons, may I introduce – Mr. Harry Briscoe, Mr. Thaddeus Jones and…” she clutched the arm of the fair-haired man and gazed at him worshipfully, “…THIS … this is my fiancé – Mr. Joshua Psmith! Silent ‘P’.” She stood on tiptoe and kissed his ungrateful cheek. The two ladies bridled in frigid disapproval at Alice’s forwardness. Harry and Heyes gave polite nods and murmured a greeting. The ladies allowed their eyes to travel slowly over Kid – or rather his suit. He was treated to two sneers. Then Harry and Heyes were examined and, judging by the sour expressions, found equally wanting.

“This engagement must be very recent, Miss Pierce,” sniffed Mrs. Brooker, “…I thought you were carrying on with that – that …” her voice dripped with contempt, “…that Pole!” She gave a humourless and scornful laugh. “Even YOUR father had enough sense to object to that! And, one could hardly accuse HIM of being particular as to who marries into his family.” A venomous and scathing look was cast at Grace. “As his own choice demonstrated!”

Kid felt Alice’s grip tighten, as her fingers clenched at this disparagement to Jòzef. Glancing down he had to admire the dramatic ability that kept the smile on her face. Although, he glanced again, the cornflower blue eyes held a decidedly dangerous glitter.

“Oh! All my girlish fancies are forgotten now I’ve met Joshua!” she trilled. “His manly passion has swept me off my feet!”

“Do you reside here in San Francisco, Mr. …Psmith?” asked the scornful Mrs. ffoulkes-Simons. Kid had never realised just how much scorn could be poured into the simple surname – ‘Psmith’. Even with a silent ‘P’.

“No!” forestalled Alice, hastily, unwilling to trust her brand new fiancé with an unscripted speaking role. “Joshua doesn’t live anywhere! He’s a – a …”

“Transient!” offered Heyes, ever helpful.

“Yes,” accepted Alice, firmly. “We’re going to live a life on the trail…scorning convention. Making love with fervid abandon, nightly, under the stars! Our only home – each other’s caressing arms!” Kid closed his eyes in agony and wished hard for the ground to swallow him up. Alas – wishes are so seldom granted.

“Really!” bridled Mrs. Brooker.

“Really!” bridled Mrs. ffoulkes-Simons.

“Yes, really!” declared the shameless Alice. “And – if Daddy doesn’t give his permission – we won’t even be getting married first! We shall simply run away and – and live in sin! Lots of sin! So there!”

Two appalled ladies turned their backs on Alice and the even more appalled Kid.

“Let us lunch elsewhere, mama. I have never heard anything SO vulgar!”

“Be fair, my dear! What chance does the girl have with that – that …” a shudder, “…that WOMAN as a stepmother?”

Noses in the air, they took their departure. Over in the bay window a wide-eyed eavesdropper abandoned her crème brulee and made haste to leave. There was gossip to spread.

“Alice!” reproved her stepmother, “…That was NOT proper behaviour, dear!”

“I don’t care! How DARE she speak about Jòzef like that! And she was rude to you, Grace, for no reason at all! AND…” Alice gave Kid’s arm a sisterly squeeze, “…however heinous Jed’s suit – that ghastly woman has no call to sneer at him.” A flushed, little face looked up at the ex-outlaw. “Never mind, Jed! You’re more of a natural gentleman than her horrid husband could be in a hundred years!”

A sneer from two complete strangers had scarcely troubled Kid. Still, he could not help being rather disarmed by this tribute. True to form, Alice tempered her support with a fresh burst of criticism.

“TRY and look more enthusiastic about our being fervently in love though, Jed,” urged his temporary fiancée. “When I say we’re going to give rein to our surging physical desires in the moonlight I want you to look more…” she searched, her eyes fell on Harry Briscoe, “…That’s perfect, Mr. Briscoe!” admired the ethereal golden one. “Well done! Jed – look at Mr. Briscoe. Why can’t you look more like that? Sort of… panting and… hungry …and drooling?” A beat. “That’ll do, thank you, Mr. Briscoe,” she said, kindly. “I’m sure Jed’s got the idea now. You can stop gawping at me.”

Harry was utterly confused by Kid’s sudden acquisition of a breathtakingly gorgeous bride-to-be. Alice had pretty much had his undivided attention since she uttered the words ‘passionate ardour’. However, he made an effort to tone down the – gawping.

“While Kid works on summoning more enthusiasm for his good luck,” said Heyes, ignoring the glower this earned him. “May I ask a question? I can see Alice here rubbing a woman like Mrs. Brooker up the wrong way…but what makes her drip venom over our polite and gracious Mrs. Pierce?”

“She chooses to believe – completely erroneously – I have some interest in her husband,” said Grace, coolly.

“Oooohh?” breathed Alice. “I never knew that! What gave her that idea? I mean – he’s nothing to look at. And…you can’t want his money. You’ve already got Daddy’s?”

“I suspect HE gave her that idea, in self defence, after an evening party two months ago,” explained Grace, dryly. “She walked in on me …fending him off!” She sipped her coffee, “Successfully fending him off, I hasten to add.” She gave a little smile, “…Henry Brooker looked so scared of his wife, I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.”

“So …as well as being a snake… Henry Brooker has a roving eye,” mused Heyes.

Kid watched his partner’s face. A wicked expression dawned. The dark eyes sparkled.

“No, Heyes!” he groaned.

“I never said a word,” protested Heyes.

“You were thinkin’ a word!” said Kid, “…You were thinkin’ – payback!”

“No!” Heyes said, with dignity. “I was thinking about that old friend of Grace’s, whose girls kept you under such good control last night, Kid. For a fee.” Once again Heyes ignored his partner’s glower. “I was thinking – thanks to Mr. Pierce, we have a stake again. We can afford a fee. I was thinking – ‘roving eye’. I was thinking about Jòzef’s friend Tom and all that interesting stuff Jòzef told me about cameras. I was thinking about stand 12 at the Exhibition, with it’s beautiful – empty – demonstration model Brooker 808. I was thinking…” Heyes allowed himself a dramatic pause, “…poetic justice!”

With a lift of his eyebrows, Kid turned to Alice.

“OK, Alice. My helpmeet! You’re the one with the vocabulary. What’s the difference between ‘poetic justice’ and plain old ‘payback’?”

Alice gave him a mischievous grin.

“In this context – just the number of syllables!”

Kid shook his head, ruefully.

“Is it really worth it, Heyes?

“Kid!” reproached Heyes, “…now you’re settled as an almost married man, you’re no fun at all! Of COURSE it’s worth it!”

-oooOOOooo-

THE EXHIBITION OF INNOVATION – TRADE DAY – THAT AFTERNOON

Jòzef and his dear old friend, looked up from a deep and, frankly, geeky conversation. A shadow had fallen across the stand of the Eastman Dry Plate Company.

“Hello,” Jòzef greeted Hannibal Heyes. “This is Tom Forbes, I was telling you about his work on delayed triggering of mechanical shutters…” Jòzef tailed off. His dear friend was not looking at the dark haired ex-outlaw, nor responding to the proffered hand. Young Mr. Forbes had his eyes riveted to something even more fascinating than a concealed camera.

“This is Mrs. Beatrice Laplume,” introduced Heyes. “Mr. Forbes. Mr. Kowalski.”

“How do you do?” The enchanting, older woman smiled warmly at the two young engineers. She held out her hand graciously to the gangly Mr. Forbes. He wiped his palm rapidly on his tweeds and took it. “Mr. Forbes,” purred ‘Aunt Beatrice’ winningly, “…I’ve heard SO much about you from Mr. Smith here.”

Tom, unused to feminine interest, felt his Adam’s apple bob convulsively. Jòzef noted, conscientiously, that in Mrs. Laplume’s presence the ex-outlaw had switched back to HIS original alias.

“I am – utterly enthralled – by photography!” enthused ‘Aunt Beatrice’.

“Gur…gur…mmmpht,” gurgled Tom, fluently.

“Mr. Smith said…if I asked very, very nicely, you and Mr. Kowalski…” a dazzling smile was given to Jòzef. Despite having eyes only for Alice, Jòzef involuntarily straightened his shoulders, tie and hair – in that order. “…might explain these new cameras to me? Of course…” ‘Aunt Beatrice’ pressed her hands together as she gazed, appealingly, at Tom’s reddening face. “…you’d have to explain it very simply – for me. I know you’re both SO clever!”

“Gug …gug…huh…” contributed Tom.

“It’d be a pleasure, ma-am,” said Jòzef, sticking to – English.

“Is it true…” ‘Aunt Beatrice’ touched Tom lightly on the arm. He nodded, sappily, without waiting for the question. “…there’s a mobile dark room here?”

“Gug …Uh huh!” managed Tom, nodding again.

“After you’ve taken me through cameras and your – marvellous – shutters, would I be imposing TOO much if I asked you to show me how to develop a plate?”

The head stopped nodding. It shook instead.

“No!” gulped Tom. “I m-mean – no you wouldn’t be imposing. It’d be…a …a …”

“A pleasure, ma-am,” supplied Jòzef.

“A pleasure, ma-am,” agreed Tom. Another gulp. “This – this is one of our latest models, ma-am. Shall I – explain how it works?”

“Oh, please!” cooed ‘Aunt Beatrice’, as if life held no greater treat. She moved a little aside with the shy young engineer.

Heyes, who had begun to worry Tom’s bashful inarticulacy might stand in the way of his plan, relaxed at this evidence he could string together a coherent sentence. He held Jòzef back from following his friend.

“I may be wrong…” Heyes said, “…but, I think someone wants a word.” He nodded over to where a solid figure, having concluded its inspection of Stand 17 was walking toward them.

“Good afternoon, Jones,” said Theodore Pierce. After a tiny pause, he added, civilly enough, “Afternoon, Kowalski.”

“Good afternoon, Sir,” responded Jòzef, also – civil.

Theodore Pierce, still in excellent humour, at the news from the Merchants’ National Bank, began, “I hear you and the Brooker organisation have parted company, Kowalski,” he remarked. “Is that so?”

“Yes,” replied Jòzef, with a frown.

Theodore Pierce waited, hoping hard the best engineer he had ever employed would ask, humbly, for his old job back. Nothing. Pierce cleared his throat.

“I guess you regret ever leaving, Pierce and Hamilton? Now!” He held up a hand to forestall the non-existent response. “I’m a reasonable man. I can forgive mistakes! I’ll put it down to the foolishness of youth, huh? If you give me your word to forget all this nonsense with my daughter, you can have your old job back, on the old terms! What do you say?”

Heyes cast a glance at Jòzef. The young man looked distinctly under whelmed by this offer.

“No,” he responded, bluntly.

“What do you mean – ‘No’?” blustered Pierce.

“I think,” Heyes ventured, “Jòzef’s a mite too polite to give you the long version. But – if you want my opinion – as a…” he grinned, “…security expert. I reckon I’d be a bit more persuasive, Mr. Pierce. I’ve seen him in action and you don’t want to lose…”

“In action?!” repeated Theodore Pierce. “You don’t mean … last night…? When you said you’d needed …help?” He stared, with increasing admiration at Jòzef.

“Hypothetically, of course,” smiled Heyes, ignoring Jòzef’s ‘Shut up!’ signals.

Theodore Pierce drew a deep breath.

“I always liked you, Jòzef!” he said, simply, patting the younger man’s shoulder. Then, “Sheesh! No wonder Brooker fired you!”

“The only person who ever fired me, is you, Mr. Pierce,” responded Jòzef, coolly. “I resigned from Brooker’s.” He moved his shoulder out of reach. “Any promise to relinquish my interest in Miss Pierce is out of the question. I am honour bound unless and until she, herself, breaks the betrothal. You already have my word I will neither marry, nor engage in clandestine meetings with an under-age girl without her parent’s consent. I have no intention of repeating it. Good day, Sir.”

Theodore Pierce caught the arm of the younger man. He made a big effort and swallowed his pride.

“I was wrong to fire you. It wasn’t fair. I’m sorry,” he managed, jerkily. “Will you come back?”

A beat. Once again Heyes reflected Grace had, on the whole, not done too badly for herself.

The manufacturer went on, “Sheesh, Jòzef! Do you want me to grovel? Alice is my – my little girl! I guess I …”

Jòzef flushed and interrupted him.

“Of course not, Sir! I’d be happy to come back.” He met the older man’s eyes. “Thank you.”

Theodore Pierce gave a rueful smile.

“And…I’ve been thinking. Arguing with Alice is never easy, anyhow. When we argue over what to look for in a husband – well…” he dropped his eyes, “…I’ve been listening to myself, and…I’m not sure I like what I hear. Maybe I should just admit – when it comes to spotting a good man, Alice has more sense than her father.”He held out his hand. Looking rather stunned, Jòzef shook it. “What do you say, I take you home for dinner? Let Alice and Grace start planning a wedding?” He turned to Heyes. “Care to join us, Mr. Jones?”

“Er…sure,” said Heyes. The arrangements for his expensive – but ‘worth it’ – poetic justice were pretty much made. The reason for his hesitation was a feeling he OUGHT to run ahead to inform Alice and Kid that no additional incentives were needed for Alice’s father to appreciate Jòzef’s qualities as a son-in-law. That, considered Heyes, would be the right – the gentlemanly – the partnerly – thing to do. He shook his head, slowly. Strange how doing the ‘right thing’ seemed – no fun at all.

He decided to do the – second best – thing.

“Mr. Pierce, Jòzef…” he began, as they left the exhibition hall, “…when we get back, you may find Alice has – changed her mind.”

“What?!” blurted Jòzef.

“Woman’s privilege,” said Heyes. “Mr. Pierce may find your rival – waiting for a word alone in the study.” He pursed his lips, “Just my intuition.”

“Rival?” blustered Theodore Pierce. “Who? When?”

“My partner,” supplied Heyes. “A whirlwind romance from what he told me. You might say, Alice – captured him!” He shot a meaningful look at Jòzef, who began to understand.

“YOUR partner?” repeated Mr. Pierce. A look of horror crossed his face. “You mean…” he cast a cautious glance at Jòzef and, instead of saying a name, mimed a quick draw.

“Uh huh,” nodded Heyes. “Hypothetically,” he added. “Alice is SURE you’ll approve! You’ll compare the eligibility of my partner to Jòzef here and – approve.” He gave Jòzef a dimpled smile. “You get the picture?”

The young Engineer looked distinctly annoyed.

“Alice is – a shade impatient,” he said, carefully. “She doesn’t believe in just – waiting for things to happen.”

Light dawned more slowly on Theodore Pierce, but, it dawned. He fumed.

“Why can’t that dang girl just – behave?!”

Heyes saw a figure, vaguely familiar from a restaurant bay window, spot and bustle toward Theodore Pierce.

“I reckon a rumour of your daughter’s latest beau is about to reach you,” he said. “Brace yourself… Alice wasn’t what you’d call discrete!”

Heyes watched the two men receive the supposedly sympathetic relaying of gossip. ‘Distinctly annoyed’ became a distinct – understatement.

-oooOOOooo-

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