16TH MARCH 1882
The dusty appearance of both the riders and their steadily plodding horses suggested this had been one long trail. One figure, the one wearing a battered silver-trimmed black hat, retained a relaxed jauntiness as he surveyed the – well, the nothing much surrounding him. The other fella, the one clad in a much mud-splattered sheepskin jacket, appeared the opposite of relaxed. His keen blue eyes constantly scanned the horizon, the scrubland through which they rode and – as he slewed round in the saddle – the trail over which he and his partner had just ridden.
“We won’t make San Francisco tonight. The sun’s getting pretty low. We oughta make camp soon, rest the horses. By my reckoning, we’ll be riding into the city afore noon tomorrow. Now I know we don’t exactly have what you’d call funds to enjoy any of the temptations ‘Frisco has to…”
As Heyes spoke, the other fella, once again, twisted through near 180 degrees to deliver a piercing stare at some harmless and scraggy bushes busy minding their own business in the distance. Under the black brim a pair of dark eyes rolled.
Wearily, “Uh huh?”
“D’you get the feelin’ we’re bein’ watched?”
“Or – or a feelin’ we’re bein’ followed?”
“Or any kinda feelin’ that somethin’ just ain’t right?”
“Well…” Heyes mused. “I am getting a touch of what some folks call day-jar voo…”
“The feeling I’m getting asked the same annoying questions over and over.” A glower from his partner. “Kid, you always feel like we’re being watched. But, look around. We’re in open country. It’s pancake flat and, without wanting to insult any part of California, it being one of my favourite States, the scenery here is pretty dang dull. There’s nowhere for anyone to hide…”
“I ‘preciate you watching our backs, Kid, you know I do. But, right now, do us both a favour, ease up on the hawk-eye act…”
“Try to relax. Try to…”
“HEYES! If you’d shaddup for five seconds you’d hear the same stuff I’m hearin’. Listen.”
Heyes reined in his horse and, with an expression of infinite patience, cupped his hand and placed it behind his ear. Exaggerated listening mime. “I don’t hear nothing.”
“I’m tellin’ you, someone is out there!”
“Kid, unless you’re counting that ornery racoon that came nosin’ round our saddle bags, it’s been four days since we last saw a living soul.”
Kid pointed to a spot beyond Heyes. “THERE! See it?”
Heyes slewed around. He scanned the area and saw – nothing, nada, zilch, zip. He turned slowly back to face Kid, a smile spreading across his face. “Kid, you wouldn’t have been keeping a secret stash of whiskey from your best friend in the whole wide world, would you? For the last time, there is no one followin’ us. There is no one around for miles… **! Where the Sam Hill did HE spring from?!” It was Heyes’ turn to point an astounded finger over the Kid’s shoulder.
“Are you messin’ with me? ‘Cos I stopped fallin’ for ‘made ya look’ when we were eight.”
Heyes finger continued to point, his eyes stuck at astonished, his silver tongue appeared to have been struck dumb.
Kid, with a sceptical ‘you-don’t-fool-me-none’ shrug deigned to turn around.
“**!” he agreed. “Where the Sam Hill did he come from?!”
For there, maybe two hundred yards away, was proof Heyes’ assertion there was no one around was wrong, utterly wrong. Nothing suggested Kid Curry had been correct about them being watched or followed either. Their unexpected companion had clearly not been following; he had made camp some time back. His horse grazed peacefully, his fire burned brightly, his billycan, if not actually bubbling merrily, managed to give the impression it was about to do so at any moment. As for HIM, he was comfortably seated, cross-legged, on a handy hummock. Small hammer in hand, he appeared to be mending his boot.
A frown creased Kid’s brow, “How did we miss seein’ him?”
“WE?! Who’s WE? YOU’RE the one been swivelling in his saddle like some kinda suspicious lighthouse! How did YOU miss seeing him?”
At this point the lone stranger – possibly hearing the sound of voices – spotted them. He stood up and gave them a cheery wave. The wave turned into a beckoning gesture. He trotted – or rather, since he still held one boot in his hand – hopped forward. The ex-outlaws exchanged a mute conversation; Kid’s hand rested, warily, on the butt of his gun – but only for a moment. The man may have apparently sprung from nowhere, but there seemed no immediate threat. No gun hung from his belt. No star flashed from his coat. There was one of him and two of them. He looked well into old age. He was skinny as a skinned rabbit and…
“He’s not what you’d call a tall fella, huh?” remarked Kid, in a low voice.
The little fella hopped closer. The boys rode forward until his voice became not just noise carried by the soft breeze but words.
“Fáilte. Is it joining me for a cup of tay and the craic, ye’ll be? Shure and Oi’ve enough for t’ree so Oi have.”
As well as words, an appetising aroma drifted towards the boys.
Kid Curry moistened his lips with the tip of a pink tongue and met Heyes’ eyes. “We were gonna make camp anyhow, huh?”
“Paddy McGinty’s the name.” A hand was held out towards Heyes. From a height of around five foot nothing – if that – green eyes under luxuriant tawny brows twinkled up.
“Joshua Smith and this here’s my partner, Thaddeus Jones.”
“Shure and ye’ll take a drop in your tay, so?”
McGinty had poured piping hot tea into tin mugs. Now he produced a bottle of something a mite more interesting. Appreciative murmurs from two ex-outlaws.
“Smit’ and Jones, ye say?” Gentle waves of disbelief from their vertically-challenged host.
“That’s right,” said Heyes. “There’s a lotta folks called Smith’n’Jones; we just happen to be two of them.”
“Shure and couldn’t Oi have sworn this fine fella,” the hand still holding the whiskey bottle pointed in Kid’s direction, “…Was after being Oirish! Couldn’t Oi have sworn you were a Connemara Curry? Aren’t ye after being the dead spit of Fiachra Curry the fastest fiddle in Connemara County?” A wide grin, “Shure! Wouldn’t Oi be knowing a Connemara Curry anywhere? Don’t I know the face of a Connemara Curry like Oi know the back of me own hand?”
A wary glance was exchanged. Did he know? Was he toying with them? Or did he really see a family resemblance?
“Sorry to disappoint you, but the name’s Jones.” Kid kept his tone real friendly.
“And – ye’re not after being Oirish?”
“No, sir. Kansan.”
“Uh huh?” McGinty dished out stew and topped up their mugs.
Murmurs of thanks, then silence. Or rather, murmurs of thanks, then chewing, slurping, swallowing, the odd subdued burp and other sounds natural to hurried and hungry masculine inhaling of meat, potatoes and gravy. The pace at which the spoons rose and fell eased. A contented sigh. Make that two contented sighs.
“Are ye two fellas after heading to San Francisco, so?”
A flicker of another wary glance. It seemed an innocent enough question.
“Uh huh,” nodded Heyes.
“Shure and aren’t Oi heading for the self-same place, so?” The smiling face grew grim, “Shure and isn’t there someone in San Frisco served me ill? Someone Oi’d like to get even with? That t’eiving villain…” He gathered himself and spat out the name, “Malone!”
“Uh huh?” Heyes took another sustaining swallow of tea-plus. “What’s Malone done to get your goat, McGinty?”
“That t’ieving Malone stole me gold! Me precious hoard! Me gold, Oi’m telling ye!”
The boys blinked. McGinty had transformed into near five foot of ginger-haired sheer fury.
“Years it took me to gather me hoard! Me precious, precious gold! Years!”
The little man seemed to expect some response.
“Did Malone jump your claim or some’n?” asked Kid. “Were you a forty-niner, McGinty?”
McGinty stared at Kid Curry. A little of the rage left his face. Heyes wondered if that were a calculating look in the green eyes? It was gone too quickly for him to be certain.
“Shure and weren’t there lots o’ t’ieves among the honest fellas in the Gold Rush?” Another flash of anger, “Aren’t there always t’ieves wanting to steal me precious gold?” The wrinkled old face worked, “Oi want phwhat Malone stole from me! Oi’m tellin’ ye, Oi won’t rest ’til Oi get me gold back, so!”
Once again, McGinty appeared to want a reaction.
“Tchah,” Heyes clicked his tongue sympathetically.
McGinty waited. Apparently he wanted more of a reaction than that. Since he had eaten the man’s food and drunk his whiskey Heyes stepped it up a notch.
“Sheesh,” slow shake of a sorrowful dark head, “…That’s a sad story.” He left the ‘and we have no idea why you’re telling it to us’ part unsaid.
McGinty topped up the mugs once more. “Let me tell you another. Not so sad this time.”
“It has a happy endin’?” asked Kid Curry.
“Not so much. But it has a happy middle, so.”
Blue eyes slid sideways to meet dark brown. Huh?
“It’s a tale of a fella who had somet’ing stolen. Somet’ing precious. Phwhat d’ye t’ink his name was?”
Pause. Two shrugs indicated, ‘we give up’.
“Shure and wasn’t his name McCreedy?”
Another pause. This one had a different quality to it. Heyes took a careful sip of his tea. “And – what happened to this – er – Magriddy?”
“He hired two fellas name o’ Smit’n’Jones. This Smit’ fella, wasn’t he wily as a stoat? As for Jones, wasn’t he quick as a colleen’s ghillie in the light jig? These two fellas didn’t they fetch back phwhat’d been stolen? Even though the t’ief had it locked up safe as safe? Indeed and they did!”
“Uh huh?” Heyes’ response was the epitome of caution.
“It wasn’t after being stealing these Smit’n’Jones fellas were doing, ye understand? It was more,” a deep breath, “…Phwhat ye might call, restorative justice.”
“I’m guessin’ the other fella didn’t see it that way,” grunted Kid Curry.
“Shure and – which other fella?”
“Armend…” A Heyesian elbow made sharp, if subtly delivered, contact with the Curry ribs. Opposite the boys a pair of wily green eyes flashed. “…I mean, whoever it was had taken whatever it was from Mc – er – McClean.”
“Ye’ll be in the right of it there, Mister Jones. But McCreedy was after off’ring a mighty generous reward for returning of his property.”
Pause. Kid Curry decided to not to ask if McCreedy had then tried to cheat Smith and Jones out of the generous reward; he kept his mouth shut. So did Heyes.
McGinty beamed at the two ex-outlaws. “Now, phwhen Oi heard you two fellas were called Smit’n’Jones, and saw phwhat fine young men y’are, Oi t’ought to meself, McGinty, Oi t’ought, these fellas could be just phwhat ye’re looking for. These fellas could go get your precious gold back from that swindling t’ief, Malone! Ye see,” he leaned forward eagerly toward Heyes, “…Malone has me gold in a safe. Ye could crack it!”
Wide-eyed disbelief from dark brown eyes. Uncomprehending exclamation, “Me? ME? Crack a SAFE?”
“‘Tis only a Philedelphia Miller. ’71 Model. Ye could do it easy as winkin’.” A sudden look of pity; lowered sympathetic tone. “Unless of course ye’re after losin’ your touch. Age tells on a man, so.”
Kid’s turn to poke a discrete elbow in Heyes’ ribs. The dimpled one swallowed a hasty denial and wiped the split second of injured pride off his face.
“Oi’d make it wort’ your while, so.”
A dark and a blond head shook, though with expressions of civil regret.
Pause. The boys could sure use $500. All the same…
“It’s not the money, McGinty. It’s…”
A longer pause. Mute conversation.
“We’re sorry, McGinty, but the answer’s no,” said Heyes. “These Smith’n’Jones fellas who helped out McShady, they musta been a lot less timid than me and Thaddeus. We’d be nervous even being around stolen property. Us two, we like a quiet, peaceful life.”
“We’re real peaceable and real law-abiding,” chipped in Kid.
“Oi see Oi can’t appeal to your greed, so. Phwhat about if Oi appeal to your sympat’ies? To your better selves?”
A glance was exchanged.
“I think you might be over estimating exactly how much better those selves’d be,” said Heyes.
“‘Tis a dreadful t’ing to have somet’ing precious stolen, so.”
“You won’t hear us argue with that.”
“Put yeself in me place. How’d ye feel if somet’ing precious to you was stolen? It could happen, so. It could happen this very night!”
Something in McGinty’s tone drew the boys’ brows together.
“I doubt it.” Kid’s tone was cool.
“Mainly ‘cos we got nothing worth stealing,” added Heyes.
“Shure and Oi wouldn’t be so shure of that!”
Was he threatening them? He was smiling, but – all the same. Nah – surely not.
“Oi see Oi cannot persuade you at all, at all, at all. Never mind. Let’s turn in, so. G’night to ye.”
Without further waste of eloquence, McGinty gathered up his bedroll, trotted to a flat and grassy spot a few yards off and, whistling, began to prepare for the night.
The ex-outlaws moved over to their tethered mounts and unstrapped their own kit.
“Is it just me,” breathed Kid, “…Or did he threaten to take our stuff?”
“Dunno,” puzzled Heyes. “It’d be a pretty dumb threat. There’s two of us, we’re half his age and close on twice his size. Unless he’s hiding it well, he’s got no gun. Besides, like I said, what’ve we got worth taking?”
“Our horses? Our gear?” Kid’s turn to sound unconvinced. Somehow neither of the partners saw McGinty as a potential horse thief. If he HAD been hinting he might steal from them, their guts told them he had something less ordinary, something more personal in mind. IF he had been hinting. But had he…?
“Nah,” dismissed Heyes. “We’re getting twitchy over nothing much. Must be the whiskey.”
“It was good stuff.” A wistful note in Kid’s voice paid tribute to some of the finest single malt ever to come out of the Emerald Isle. His eyes met Heyes’. “Just in case it ain’t the whiskey and it ain’t our imaginations, we are takin’ turns to keep watch?”
Heyes’ gaze rested on their host, still preparing for the night at a few yards distance.
“Uh huh.” Yup. They were keeping watch.
“It can’t all be whiskey and imagination, Heyes. How the Sam Hill did he know about McCreedy?”
“I guess he coulda been in Red Rock. He mighta met Big Mac and Big Mac mighta talked. Could just be a real unlucky co-incidence we ran into him.” Heyes did not sound convinced.
“You don’t think…” Kid dipped his head so he could stare at McGinty under cover of his hat brim.
“I don’t think what?”
“I don’t know. What?”
“You don’t think he’s…”
The usually so confident fastest gun in the West seemed reluctant to spit out what was on his mind.
“You don’t think he’s…”
“Don’t think he’s WHAT? Got a brogue thicker than an Irish peat bog? Got magic saddle bags judging by the amount of mutton and potatoes crammed into that stew? Got an unhealthy obsession with shiny yellow metal – though, to be fair, I’m the last man to be pointing out the specks in other folks’ eyes on that one. What?”
“You don’t think he’s a…” Kid stalled again, then, nodding in McGinty’s direction, gave a still sotto voce explosion, “LOOK at him!” McGinty was sitting cross-legged polishing the already gleaming boots he had pulled off in preparation for climbing between his blankets. “Is it me or is he gettin’ shorter? And his hat…”
“What about his hat?”
“Was it that green when we rode up?”
“It was – I dunno – that kinda grey-brown-moss nothin’ colour.”
“It’s green now. Who has a green hat?”
“It’s a trick of the firelight, Kid. And keep your voice down, he’ll hear.”
“And his beard – it’s gettin’ redder.”
“Which bit of ‘trick of the firelight’ is giving you the problem?”
“You don’t think he’s a…?”
Seeing Heyes’ hands on hips, hat pushed back, face split by a wide, disbelieving smile, Kid stopped.
“Go on, Kid. I’m all ears here. I don’t think he’s a – what?”
Pointedly, Kid unfurled his bedroll.
“You reckon all those emigrant Irish brought a few of the little people over with ’em, huh?”
The warning ‘look’ was delivered by a pair of blue eyes. Heyes shut up.
“You take first watch,” grunted Kid, settling down.
“Not a problem.”
Heyes took another survey of the camp, eyes resting on McGinty, now curled up between his blankets. He may have teased Kid, but there sure was something odd about the little Irishman. He couldn’t be… Could he? Heyes gave himself a shake to clear the night-time ‘what-ifs’ from his head. Too much whiskey. That was half the problem. McGinty would probably seem normal enough in the morning.
THE NEXT MORNING – 17TH MARCH
Kid Curry flinched as hazy dawn sunlight penetrated his eyelids. Sheesh! Morning already? And – Dang! Sometime during the night, he must have had a hungry visitor. A fumbling hand delivered a good scratch to a tick bitten leg.
A gentle Heyesian snore sounded a few feet to the left. Kid turned his head and blinked at a familiar tuft of dark hair sticking up above a woollen blanket. He decided on another dang good scratch, this time working his hand inside the long johns. He stretched out again, maybe another half hour, huh? Then…
Kid shot bolt upright. Ow! He clutched his head; that kinda hurt! “Heyes! HEYES!”
“Wha’…?” A pair of sleepy brown eyes joined the tuft of hair above the blanket.
“How’s that ‘keeping watch’ going? Huh?”
“Heyes, WAKE UP! You were supposed to be on watch!”
A fist was rubbing at the dark eyes.
“No, it was your…Er… You musta dropped…Er…”
“You never woke me, Heyes.”
More blinking from the sleepy head.
“And, have you noticed? Something’s missing!”
Heyes sat up.
“McGinty,” he said. “He’s gone.” Indeed, there was no sign whatsoever the little Irishman had ever been there. “Has he – y’know…? I mean the horses, they’re – y’know…”
“Why ask me? You were the one on watch!”
“You’re the one thinks he’s – er… Didn’t you HEAR anything?”
By this time, Kid was on his feet and checking their bags. Clothes tumbled out. A balled sock hit Heyes on the head.
“Sorry. It slipped outta my hand. S’orright. Nothin’s missin’. No harm done.”
Heyes reached out a hand for his pants. Then…
“Kid. Did he clean…? I mean did he polish your…? These things!” He indicated the gleaming boot he was about to pull on.
Kid , cussing under his breath as he stubbed his toe on a rock, checked his own footwear. It was where he had left it, neatly beside his bedroll and it was as mirror bright as leather can be.
Puzzled looks were exchanged. That was odd to say the least. Unwilling to admit just HOW odd it was that someone could move his boots from right next to his ear, then break camp and ride out without him noticing a thing, Kid shrugged. “I guess if all he’s stolen is the dirt off our boots, we’ve nothin’ to complain about.” The blond ex-outlaw reached under the head of his bedroll for his colt, into his saddle bag for his oil and began his morning cleaning ritual. “Dang!”
“For Pete’s sake Kid! You got – er – that stuff… It’s all over my… This cotton thing. You button it…”
“Sorry, Heyes,” Kid moved to get a rag to clean up. “It slipped right outta my… OW!” Kid Curry had dropped his gun on his own stockinged foot. As he hopped, his foot flicked the Colt into a mud patch.
“You dropped your… The metal thing,” breathed Heyes.
Their eyes met. Kid never dropped his gun. Never.
“You’ve been clumsy as a… I dunno. All morning you’ve been… Y’know.”
Kid stared at his partner. A frown creased his brow. “Have you noticed somethin’ else, Heyes?”
The brown eyes signalled, ‘go on’.
“This mornin’, I don’t think I’ve heard you finish a sentence.”
“Try and prove me wrong.”
“Sheesh, Kid. Just ‘cos I’m feelin’… Y’know we did drink a few… Last night. I mean to say… That don’t mean I can’t string together a coherent… Whaddya call ’em… Start with a capital… Got one of them… At the end… Dotty things. Dots. At the end. A dot.” Pause. Stricken look. “You’re… Whaddya call it?”
“Right,” supplied Kid.
“Right,” echoed Heyes.
A long pause.
“Try drawing your… That thing,” said Heyes.
Kid strapped on his gun belt, pausing only to suck his thumb after driving the spike of his buckle under the nail. He dropped the Colt into the holster. He turned to face the rock that had attacked his foot. Hands held loosely to the side he gathered himself, reached and…
Heyes picked up the gun from where it had spun to earth and was about to hand it back when he thought better of it. Tenderly, he dropped it himself into his partner’s waiting holster.
Another long, long pause. Finally…
“Are you thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?” asked Kid.
“Are you thinking whatshisname – the Irish fella – he took…?” Heyes scowled in frustration at his own inarticulacy. “Y’know!”
“He took somethin’ real precious from us both after all,” supplied Kid. More pause. “He CAN’T have! How could anyone steal a fast draw and a silver tongue? We gotta be dreamin’ it!”
“Could be the whiskey?” suggested Heyes.
“Maybe. Heyes! That was a sentence! Only four words, but…” Kid laid a congratulatory hand on Heyes shoulder. “Let’s assume that whiskey was real good stuff an’ the only little people workin’ on us are the elves inside our skulls doin’ the hammerin’. Here’s the plan. We have breakfast. We have coffee. I make the coffee so we can drink the dang stuff. We ride into ‘Frisco, the fresh air doin’ us good the whole way. We get us a bath and a barber shave. We get us some lunch. We both feel fine.” Pause. “May not be up to Hannibal Heyes’ plan standard, but how’s it sound?”
Heyes opened his mouth; changed his mind and gave his partner a thumbs up.
LATER THAT DAY: A SALOON IN SAN FRANCISO
Kid Curry looked, not for the first time, from the twenty-five cards laid out on the bar, to his partner’s stricken face and back. Heyes’ deft fingers tried again…
“Spade; spade; club… Er, one of them pointy things… They sparkle…”
The barkeep heaved a sigh. “When this fella,” a bored nod indicated Kid, “bet me $5 you could make five pat hands, I kinda thought the deal was you did it today.”
“Not even three of a… Not even two- er… It’s another word for two…”
“Two pair,” grunted Kid.
“Not even two – er… What he said.”
Again, Heyes moved the cards. The frustration under the black hat brim deepened.
“Give it up, Joshua,” said Kid. Reluctantly, but ever the philosopher, Kid handed over their last five dollar bill. Or rather, to be strictly accurate, he pulled it from his vest pocket and Heyes scooped it from the floor, dusted off the sawdust and pressed it into the barkeep’s waiting palm.
“You two still want two beers? ‘Cos if ya do, it’s cash up front.”
Heyes searched his left pants pocket. A couple of coins hit the counter. He dug deep in the right pocket. One more. Kid joined in with pocket scouring of his own; four nickels joined the pile. Heyes stopped the stray dime spinning away into a corner with a swift boot stamp.
Giving up on the spoken word, he signalled ‘two beers’ by lifting the requisite number of digits and pointing at the tap.
A minute later, two ex-outlaws were seated in a quiet corner. The brunet drooped, disconsolate, over his drink. The blond, after mopping up what he had slopped on the table, attempted consolation.
“We always knew it don’t work every time, Heyes. Granted, I’ve never seen you fail to get a single pat hand. Seems the odds on that hafta be… All the same, it don’t mean…”
Heyes’ voice, when it came, was bleak. “He took it – er…”
“Kid. He took my – er…”
“Even if McGinty was a – that word I think it’s better we don’t even say…”
“Couldn’t if I tried,” sighed Heyes.
“And even if he stole your luck with the cards, hey,” a comforting hand was laid on Heyes’ shoulder, Heyes winced and straightened the hat Kid had knocked over one eye, “not having luck with cards isn’t the end of the world. Worse things happe…”
Kid Curry tailed off as a gorgeous red-head, gussied up in the tight satin outfit signifying ‘saloon gal’ and pouting invitingly, sashayed towards them. He rose from his seat and touched his hat, summoning up the full Curry blue-eyed smiling charm as he twinkled his, “Howdy, ma’am.”
Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zip.
Her skirts actually brushed his pants as she passed but, for all the notice she took, Kid Curry might not have existed. Her glorious green eyes looked straight through him as, hips swaying, she approached an ordinary looking Joe a couple of tables away.
A long pause during which the blue eyes narrowed questioningly, widened in sudden understanding and then filled with deepening horror.
“That little ginger-headed rat! He stole my luck with the ladies!”
Kid Curry sat down and slumped. He had been wrong. Worse things DON’T happen and, if it wasn’t the end of the world, it was pretty dang close. He joined Heyes for a spell of dejected, silent drooping over a beer.
“Lost somet’ing fellas?”
Deep-brown and steel-blue eyes shot up from contemplating their physically as well as metaphorically half-empty glasses. Where the Sam Hill had HE sprung from?
“Ye won’t mind if Oi join ye, so?”
Kid Curry, in a familiar gesture, pushed back a chair with one booted foot. Heyes set the chair back on its feet so McGinty, holding a bottle and three glasses, could sit down.
“McGinty,” Heyes leaned forward, then scowled as he again searched for words.
“Let me help ye out, so, Mister Smit’.” A bony hand was raised. A smart snap of gnarled fingers.
“McGinty, did you have anything to do with the state me and Thaddeus were in when we woke this morning?” Heyes blinked. A whole sentence. Maybe not Shakespeare, but it was streets ahead of anything else he had managed since dawn. And, at just a snap of his fingers…
“Phwhat state would that be, so?”
“I wasn’t talking so good…”
“That will have been the whiskey, so. Don’t ye sound fine to me now?”
“And Thaddeus, here, has been kinda ham-fisted.”
McGinty eyed the blond ex-outlaw for a moment, drew a quarter from his coat pocket and spun it high in the air. Kid Curry’s hand shot up like lightning and grabbed the coin.
“Shure and Oi’m not seeing that at all, at all.”
Kid shuffled in his seat, “There was somethin’ else…”
Once more the bony fingers snapped.
The saloon gal, as if her eyes were drawn by a magnet, turned to gaze over one creamy shoulder at Kid. Lashes fluttered. Lips were moistened by the tip of a pink tongue. “Hi, honey,” she purred.
“Ye were saying?” prompted McGinty.
“Nothin’,” decided Kid. He gathered himself, “McGinty, are you a…?”
“Am Oi a phwhat?” Kid Curry stared at McGinty. The man was definitely shorter. And more ginger. And more green around the hat area. In every way he was more like a…
“Nothin’,” decided Kid for the second time in five seconds. If no one said it, it wasn’t happening!
McGinty poured three tots of the good stuff.
“Oi was wond’ring, have ye had time to t’ink over me offer?”
“Remind us,” said Heyes.
“$1000 dollars apiece if you crack the safe of that, t’ief Malone to help me get me precious gold back.”
“And, if we say we’ve thought it over and our answer’s still the same as last night?”
“If that’s phwhat ye decide, phwhat can Oi do but leave?”
An ex-outlaw glance was exchanged. That sounded too good to be true. At any rate, it sounded too good to be the whole truth. It was.
“To be shure, Oi might be taking a couple of t’ings with me, so.” The little man sipped his whiskey. “The luck of the Oirish. The gift of the blarney. T’ings like that.”
“Let me get this straight,” said Heyes. “If we help you out, we get to keep our luck and our – our gifts…”
“Aren’t ye putting words in me mouth now?” But, a bony hand raised a glass in salute to Heyes signifying – yes.
“And, we get $1000 apiece.”
“To be shure.”
Another mute conversation: ‘Time to fold?’ ‘Uh huh.’
“I have to admit,” said Heyes, “…You make a persuasive argument, McGinty.”
“One condition. It has to be – today, so.”
” Today!” protested Heyes.
“Today!” repeated McGinty. “The seventeenth of March is,” his tone lowered, reverently, “..’Tis the only day Oi can be shure of getting phwhat Oi want from that dang t’ieving Malone.”
“But, today is half over! Cracking a safe is an art. It takes planning. It takes preparation. It takes,” Heyes gathered himself, “…It takes finesse!”
“Mister Smit’,” McGinty topped up the glasses and laid a hand on Heyes’ shoulder, “…Let me tell ye a story. ‘Tis a story of one of our grandest Oirish saints, Saint Kevin. One day Saint Kevin was praying by the shore, his arms stretched out – so.” McGinty demonstrated the stretching out of the arms. “While he stood, a bird flew down from the sky and perched on his hand. And did that bird not lay an egg in the palm of his hand? Indeed and it did! D’ye believe that? And, Saint Kevin, he stood, with the egg in his hand, until it hatched. And the chick that came from that egg, did it not start to sing? A fine old Oirish hymn, to be shure!”
“Was it ‘Hail, glorious Saint Patrick?” Heyes eyebrows rose in innocent enquiry.
A fierce frown from McGinty, “‘T’was a miracle! Ye do believe in miracles, Mister Smit’?”
“Believe in ’em?” said Kid. “He even worked one himself!”
“Oi’m telling ye this story, because it has a moral, so!”
A pause. Two ex-outlaws sipped their drinks.
“Phwhat d’ye t’ink is the moral of this story, Mister Smit’?”
A shrug, “I reckon you’re about to tell me.”
“The moral is, don’t ye be wasting time standing around like Saint Kevin. Go crack Malone’s safe and get me back me gold! Today! Before midnight! Or your luck’ll be as cracked as that egg! D’ye understand?”
A pause. An exchange of glances. Reluctant nods
McGinty gave a genial smile. “Like Oi told you last night, ’tis only a Miller safe and ’tis right here in the city. Ye’ll find a locked box inside it. Bring me that box before the clock strikes twelve. ‘Tis not stealing ye’ll be doing. Sure and the only t’ieving has been done by that villain, Malone. Do phwhat Oi say and ye’ll have the luck and the gifts and $1,000 apiece.”
Heyes spoke, “So, McGinty, where do we find this Malone fella?”
“Oi’m t’inking ye’ll find Malone without me help.”
Kid Curry drew back his head. “San Francisco’s a pretty big ci… WHERE THE SAM HILL DID HE GO?!”
Somehow, in the split second Kid’s eyes flicked to the table as he set down his drink, McGinty had melted into … The boys looked at each other. He couldn’t have. Could he?
He must have melted into the crowd. Except, there was no crowd. Presumably, being a big bit on the little side, he had managed to melt between, beneath and behind the few gathered customers and out into the street.
Heyes drained his glass. “C’mon Kid. If we’ve gotta find an Irishman called Malone, find his safe, come up with a Hannibal Heyes’ plan to crack it and all before midnight, we’d better get started…”
By now the two ex-outlaws were striding through the batwing doors.
“I guess we could split up. You go East, I go West, we meet back here at…”
“Or maybe, we oughta take a more logical approach. I guess we could go to City Hall, take a look at the electoral roll…”
The black hat tipped back. Leather gloved hands rested on the slim hips. “What about taking a sideways approach? We know he has a Miller safe. We telegraph the Miller head office and …”
“Nah, you’re right. They’d keep their client records confide…”
“HEYES!” The brown hat joined the black in being pushed back. “Sheesh! I’m beginnin’ to think I preferred you tongue-tied!”
An affronted blink.
“Will you stop yappin’ and take a look at what’s in front of your dang nose? Where’d you expect to find McGinty’s gold? Huh?”
Kid Curry’s finger indicated an emerald-green and shamrock embellished sign fronting a fancy hotel across the street.
“The Rainbow’s End,” read Heyes. He squinted to decipher the smaller print below. “Proprietor: M. Malone.” A pause. Heyes’ met Kid’s triumphant look. Grudging concession, “I guess it might be worth checking out.” A Heyesian adjustment took place. The dark eyes radiated mild reproach, “Good thing I saw that, Kid. We coulda wasted a lot of time.”
A Curry mouth opened to object, but even with his lightningreactions back in place, he was not quick enough to forestall the freshly minted silver tongue.
“Here’s the plan: we got my luck back so we go find a saloon with hard boiled eggs and a deck of cards, win us a little seed money. Then we get spruced up and go book rooms at the Rainbow’s End.”
SOME HOURS LATER
Bathed, barber-shaved, buttoned into fresh shirts, carpet bags at their side, two eminently respectable citizens – well, on the outside, huh? – strode into the Rainbow’s End hotel.
Behind the empty reception desk, the door to the back office stood an inch or two ajar. After a quick glance to check none of the folk taking coffee in the lounge were paying them any mind, Heyes sidled around the counter and softly tapped with one knuckle. Nothing. Kid moved so his body shielded his partner from anyone casually looking that way. Heyes pushed the door open a few more inches. Dark eyes scanned inside. Then he stepped back the right side of the desk.
“It’s there. Back wall. A basic Philedelphia Miller ’71.”
“You can open it?” checked Kid.
A subdued snirt from Heyes. “Blindfold and wearing baseball gloves. This is going to be easy, Kid. We wait until everyone’s turned in for the night…”
A frozen look appeared on Kid’s face. “Heyes…”
“Not too late, ‘cos we have to be done before midnight. We have you divert Malone…”
“Heyes, this isn’t going to be so easy.”
An encouraging hand was laid on Kid’s shoulder. “You can do it, Kid. Get him to tell you his life story over a…Oh.” Heyes followed the direction of the blue eyes. A pause.
There, proudly displayed right in front of them, was a poster.
‘Grand Saint Patrick’s Day Ceileh
Rainbow’s End Hotel 8.00 ’til Midnight’
And, above that, in flaunting italics, the name of the organisation holding this promised treat.
‘The San Francisco Police Department.’
“Heyes, how many of the ‘Frisco police d’you reckon are Irish, huh?”
“Can’t be more’n – say – 90%,” said Heyes, bleakly, “…95% tops.” Brightening, “I ran into one who was second-generation Dutch not two years back.”
“Can I help you?” A skinny fellow in shirt sleeves, ‘desk clerk’ written all over him, had trotted out of the lounge. He stepped behind the counter. “You were looking for a room?”
The usual rituals of booking in proceeded.
“I have valuables I’d like to deposit in the hotel safe,” said Heyes, removing a slim package from his jacket. “Could you take care of that for me?”
“I’m afraid only the owner has access to the safe, sir.”
“In that case, may I speak to Mister Malone?”
“Well, not exactly…”
A husky voice purred behind the boys, “There is no Mister Malone, gentlemen. This is my hotel.”
They turned to see what is generally termed a fine figure of a woman, of what is usually referred to as a certain age, descending the stairs.
“The name’s Molly Malone.”
She moved behind the reception desk. A well manicured hand turned around the register.
“Mister Smith and Mister Jones.” A pair of clever, hazel eyes scanned them. First Heyes; an appreciative lift of one finely arched brow. Then Kid… Hey – did she just lick her lips?
To Heyes; “You had something to deposit, sir?”
The package was handed over, a receipt issued, Molly Malone disappeared into the back office with a swish of silk skirts, the safe opened, a Heyesian breath was held, dark eyes strained to see through that substantial fine figure of a woman, dark eyes failed, the safe clanged shut, the dial spun, a Heyesian breath exhaled, that fine figure of a woman returned, closing the office door behind her.
“Now, gentlemen, if there is anything – anything – I can do to make your stay more enjoyable,” her eyes had travelled down the length of Curry’s body, now they travelled back up and held his gaze, meaningfully, “anything at all…”
The Kid resisted a sudden urge to run a loosening finger inside his collar.
“Don’t hesitate to ask. Day or…” the lashes fluttered, the husky voice dropped, “…Night.”
“Er-hem,” Heyes cleared his throat.
Molly blinked and peeled her eyes off Kid Curry. For a moment anyhow.
“The hotel has a function tonight. You’ll have seen the poster, gentlemen?”
“Huh?” Heyes followed her gaze and read. “Well, ma’am, I guess there’s no one more deserving of a night’s relaxation than the city’s fine police force. Where would all we honest, law-abiding folk be without them?”
“As residents of the hotel you’d be welcome to attend. It should be a fine craic, so.”
“That’s very kind of you, ma’am.”
“Sure and we’ve hired the finest fiddle players this side of the Atlantic ocean.” A hopeful pause. The hazel eyes were once again lingering on Kid’s – attributes. “Are you a dancing man, Mister Jones?”
“Me, ma’am? Nah. Two left feet.”
“Don’t listen to him, ma’am, he’s just being modest,” dimpled Heyes. “I’ve watched a whole saloon stop drinking and gather round just to watch this fella do an Irish jig.” Guileless brown eyes met scowling blue, “C’mon, Thaddeus. You can’t deny that’s the truth, huh?”
“In that case, Mister Jones,” a wide, inviting smile, “I will hope for an invitation to join you on the floor.”
How Molly Malone managed to make THAT sound suggestive – who knows. But, she did. Kid Curry maintained his civil expression, but, an Adam’s apple bobbed.
TING! Molly Malone’s hand smacked smartly onto the gleaming brass bell.
“Danny,” the desk clerk scuttled forward, “…Take Mister Smith and Mister Jones’ bags to their rooms. Room #7 for Mister Smith. You can put Mister Jones,” flutter, flutter, “…In room #1.”
“The room next to yours, Mrs. Malone?”
“Is it? Yes, I suppose it is.”
Danny scampered away carrying bags. With a final lingering look at Kid Curry’s gun belt, or just possibly what the belt was resting on, Molly disappeared into the back office.
“Well!” murmured Heyes, “…At least you’ll have no trouble keeping Malone diverted all evening, Kid.” Perfectly timed pause. “So long as you pace yourself.”
“She’s old enough to be my mother, Heyes!”
“So? We all know which fiddles play the best tunes.” Heyes stared at his seemingly reluctant partner. “What’s wrong? She’s still a fine handsome woman. You were expecting to be diverting some balding old Irishman full of the blarney all evening. Surely this is a bonus?”
“She’s,” Kid spat out what was eating him, “…She’s taller’n me!”
“Half an inch – probably less than that if she slips outta her shoes. Which I’ve no doubt she will.”
Disinclination was still stamped all over the Curry features.
“For Pete’s sake, Kid! You can stand on your tiptoes at vital moments. Okay, I’m not denying she’s a big lady, but you hafta admit, all her curves are perfectly proportioned! I’d call her…” he searched, “…Impressive.”
“The curves on cougars and grizzlies are perfectly proportioned and impressive too, Heyes! Sure you can admire ’em, but you prefer it to be from a distance, huh? She was so…” Kid’s turn to search. The right word failed to come. “The way she looked at me! It just wasn’t decent!”
“It sure wasn’t! I reckon when McGinty gave you back your luck with the ladies, he handed over my share too! Still,” a reassuring hand was laid on Kid’s shoulder as the partners headed up the stairs, “…Look on the bright side, Kid. If she turns out to be more than you can handle tonight, you can always call a policeman.”
A dark figure slinked down the alley beside the Rainbow End. It drew a blade from a boot and levered up the sash window to the back office. As the slim form oozed over the sill, it gave the spruced up blue-eyed blond standing watch at the corner a thumbs up sign. Kid Curry set his shoulders firmly and strode back into the hotel through the front entrance. There was a big job ahead of him, but a man hasta do what… Well, you know the rest.
Soft-footed as a cat, Heyes padded over to the office door, peeped through the keyhole to see little Danny in reception, cheerfully greeting off-duty police officers, handing them a welcoming glass of champagne and directing them to the spacious lounge cleared for dancing and drinking. Heyes drew a set of picklocks from the other boot and locked himself in. He turned to the safe, feeling the familiar itch in his fingertips.
“I was expecting to meet Mrs. Malone here in reception,” confided Kid to Danny.
“Here I am, so,” Molly swept down the stairs, a vision in emerald satin, her chestnut curls secured by combs of glittering jet.
“This is – er…Y’know. For you.” Whether Kid was acting bashful, or was genuinely nervous, who knows? It certainly worked. The curly haired younger man, one booted foot on the bottom step, shyly holding out a corsage, would have charmed the pants off a dozen Molly Malones. Assuming she wore pants, that is.
“An Irish rose!” she beamed. A flutter, “Will you pin it on for me, Mister Jones?”
“Sure thing, ma’am.”
Kid’s hand hovered, hesitantly, above one of the most magnificent cleavages he had ever seen, seeking out a safe spot for a little flower arrangement.
Back in the office, a tender caress was delivered to a smooth metallic flank. “Hey, Gorgeous. Let’s be gentle with each other, huh?”
“I left the ledger out in the office. I should just go put it away, Mister Jones…”
“No, no.” Kid caught Molly’s hand. “No business tonight…”
“For one thing, I am not waiting another minute before I walk into that room with the most lovely woman in San Francisco…”
“Are you after giving me the blarney, so?”
“For another thing, I’m the only fella here not wearing shamrock. I need some kind lady to fix my button hole…”
Wow. Kid reckoned he was fast but her hands were on his shirt front like greased lightening.
“I guess my ledger is safe enough. There must be at least sixty police here, so.”
Feels more like a hundred, thought Kid, walking into the main function room with Molly on his arm. In one corner fiddlers were already striking up a tune.
A nervous finger tweaked at his ribbon necktie as he glanced around at the lawmen slapping each other on the back and calling out greetings in all directions. Sheesh. This was like the Brimstone train all over again. Only with a brogue.
“Aaaaaaah! Did that feel as good for you as it did for me, Gorgeous?” purred Heyes as he heard the first tumbler click into place.
“Mister Jones, as a Saint Patrick’s day favour, would you call me, Molly?”
“Sure, ma’am.” A sheepish grin. “I mean, Molly.”
“And,” she leaned closer, “…May I, dare I, call you Thaddeus?” The generous lips pouted, provocatively, as she pronounced the name.
“I reckon you dare all kinds of things, ma’am. I mean – Molly.”
Heyes’ brows snapped together. That had NOT been a click from the Miller ’71. THAT had come from the door. Swiftly and silently he slid away from the safe. Another click from the door. It swung open.
A pair of dark eyes looked up from the paperwork covering the office desk. The finely tapered fingers holding the pen ceased writing.
“Can I help you, sir?” enquired Heyes.
A freckled and youthful face beamed at him. “Hello! Hic!”
“Are you sure you’ve no Irish in you, Thaddeus?”
“No, ma’am. Kansan through and through.”
“Because, if I were looking at you…” If? IF? If she looked any harder her eyes would leave a bruise! “…I’d say you had the look of a Connemara Curry.”
Kid’s fingers tightened around his glass. Again!
“Enough about me,” he leaned forward, gave her a touch of Connemara Curry charm. “I want to hear all about you, Molly.”
“That door,” beamed Freckle-Face (who from now on, we will call Kevin Riley, that being his name), “…That door was locked. Hic.”
“I know,” cool tone from Heyes, “…I locked it because I was busy and didn’t want to be disturbed.”
Hey, no need to weave a tangled web if the truth will do just fine, huh?
“I opened it!”
“So I saw.”
“I opened it, but, here’s the clever bit.” Kevin came forward, leaned over the desk. Heyes caught a strong whiff of whiskey. The voice dropped to confiding level. “…I didn’t have a key!”
“I used these!” A set of pick locks, almost identical to those Heyes had used to secure the door, was held aloft. “D’you know what these are?”
A questioning – or at any rate equivocal – eyebrow lift from Heyes.
“These are pick locks! Why d’you think I used pick locks?”
“‘Cos you didn’t have a key?”
“Nah! Well, yeah . But the real reason I used ’em was…” Kevin leaned closer still, Heyes edged back, “…To see if I could! I waited until the fella on the desk was in the main room serving, then I picked the lock!”
“So, before you emigrated, you were in the fish trade?”
“Sure ’twas no wonder,” purred Molly in Kid’s ear, “…For so were my father and mother before.”
“I don’t want ya to think I picked the lock ‘cos I’m gonna steal somethin’…” Kevin was becoming more and more confiding. “I’m not a thief.”
“In fact, the opposite.” A badge was flashed. “I’m a police officer.”
No great surprise, but all the same Heyes had to repress a shudder.
“I joined the police last month! On my birthday!”
Molly Malone had backed her quarry into a quiet corner – no easy feat when the entire floor space was covered with increasingly raucous off-duty Irish officers. She gazed, hungrily, at Kid Curry over the rim of her glass. She leaned in until her breath stirred the blond curls over his ear.
The ex-outlaw blinked. “You admire a man with firm WHAT-els and muscles, ma’am?”
“You’re probably wondering why I’m not in uniform?”
“Because you’re off duty and at a party?”
“Nah! Well, yeah. But that’s not all. It’s ‘cos, one day, I mean to be…” A set of youthful shoulders were squared. “…A detective!” Back to confiding, leaning close. “That’s why I’m practising picking locks. I reckon it might come in useful. What d’ya think? Do you think being able to pick a lock’ll be useful?”
“Can’t say I’ve ever thought about it.” Oh, Heyes.
A shadow fell over Kid Curry. No, strike that. He was already in the shadow of an amorous hotel owner. A SECOND shadow fell over Kid Curry.
The love birds had company.
“Sergeant Jimmy Hoolihan!” exclaimed Molly.
“‘T’is meself, so. And, who would this fella be?”
Kid Curry looked up – and up – and up – to see a huge lawman towering over him. Towering and scowling. Scowling suspiciously. Involuntarily, Kid’s eyes flicked to the door. It seemed a long way away and there were an inordinate number of police between him and it. He summoned a smile and held out his hand, “Thaddeus Jones. Happy Saint Patrick’s day, Sergeant.”
“So, I know what I’m doing here. I’m practisin’ bein’ a detective. Hic. What are you doing here?”
“I’m the manager. I’m doing the accounts.”
“Aunt Molly never mentioned she’d hired a new manager.”
Inwardly, Heyes groaned.
Kevin, who was certainly drunk, but not yet THAT drunk, knitted his brow. He was thinking. So was Heyes. Heyes thought quicker. He decided the unsatisfactory level of Kevin’s inebriation could usefully be adjusted. He swung open Molly’s private drinks cabinet.
“Can I offer you a…?”
“It’s not like Aunt Molly not to tell my Ma…Oooh! Is that whiskey really fifteen years old like it says on the bottle?”
Kid Curry was no longer being scowled at, suspiciously, by a huge police sergeant. Not a single huge police sergeant anyhow. Two further officers, both on the lofty and large side had ambled over.
“Who’s this young fella sitting with your girl, Jimmy?”
“He calls himself Jones, so, Padraig.”
“That’s right , Donal. Jones.”
Kid blinked at this new plot complication. He guessed at least the suspicion in the lawman’s eyes was not outlaw related, it was garden variety jealousy. All the same, did he really want to make six foot seven of burly, massive fisted, police officer, who had the look of a man who might tie knots in steel bars for a relaxation, jealous? The answer was no. When the Irish Othello was supported by two glowering friends both of whom could have lifted Kid overhead and spun him without breaking sweat, the answer changed from no to NO. Kid’s eyes flicked to the clock. What was keeping Heyes?
“I love you, Joshua Smith. D’you know that? I do. I love you.”
Young Kevin Riley draped an arm around the shoulder of his new best friend. His new best friend poured him another drink. Kevin’s free hand indicated Heyes had to top up his own glass too. With an inward sigh, Heyes did so. As soon as Kevin’s eyes shifted, he tipped his whiskey into the already soaked soil around a handy potted shamrock.
“I mean it. I love you. I know we only met today. In fact we only met – er…”
“Ten minutes ago.”
“Is that all?”
“Well, I still love you, Joshua.”
“One of those first sight things, huh?”
Pouring of drinks. Further wetting of shamrock.
“I don’t mean nothin’ – y’know…”
“No, no, I get that. You love me like a long lost brother.”
“The very words. Like a brother. A long one. I mean a lost one. Hic.”
“I am NOT your girl, Jimmy Hoolihan!” protested Molly Malone. She turned to Kid, “Jimmy and I are just – old, old friends,Thaddeus.”
“Well,” declared newcomer one, pulling up chairs, “…If Jimmy is an old, old friend, you won’t mind him – and us – joining you, so?” He stared at Kid, “The name’s Sergeant Padraig O’Connor. This is Sergeant Donal Daley. You don’t mind our company, do you, Jones?”
“No,” lied Kid.
The three Irishmen sat down. Molly Malone threw an impatient look at the gooseberries. “Do you not want to go fetch yourselves drinks, Jimmy?”
“We’re not thirsty,” said Donal Daley, “…What brings you to the Rainbow’s End, Jones?”
“Just passing through, Sergeant.” Kid, never happy when scrutinised by the forces of justice, shifted in his seat under the hostile stares.
“Y’know, Kevin. It sounds like a great party you’re missing.”
“It does. It sounds a great party. Hic.”
“Why not go back to it?”
“To the great party you’re missing.”
“I couldn’t do that, Joshua. D’you know why?”
“Is it ‘cos you love me?”
“It is! It is ‘cos I love you. Hic. Could I enjoy that party while you’re stuck in here, Joshua? Could I enjoy that party while you’re in here slaving over… What is it you’re doin’ again?”
“The accounts. Could I enjoy myself while you’re in here, slavin’ over the accounts, Joshua?”
“You could try. Please try.”
“Jones, ye say? Padraig, if you were asked to wager on this fella’s name, would Jones be the one ye’d pick?”
“Indeed and it wouldn’t. He has the look of a Connemara Curry, so.”
“Ye took the words right outta me mouth, Donal. This fella has the look of a Connemara Curry.”
Right! That was it! Tomorrow he started growing back the moustache!
“The Curries always were ones for the ladies, so.”
“True enough. Wasn’t it one of the Curries gave me sister a slip on the shoulder back in Fifty-t’ree.” A sizeable fist curled and uncurled. “Didn’t me and me seven brothers do for him, so?”
“The name’s Jones,” insisted Kid.
“Did you not promise me a jig, Thaddeus?” said Molly. “After your friend telling me what a fine dancer y’are.”
“Joshua was joshin’ you, ma’am…”
“Joshua – Joshing! What a wit it is y’are, so!”
“Huh?” The Kid decided to let that one go. “I’m no dancer.”
“Don’t be shy, Thaddeus!”
She tapped his cheek, playfully. Waves of resentment from the trio of observers.
Molly grabbed his hand and pulled him to his feet.
Since she had an inch and ten pounds on Kid Curry, he – literally – could not refuse.
“So long as you hafta stay in here, missing the party, I stay with you, Joshua. ‘Cos that’s what men do. They stick together.”
“They stick together. And they drink together.”
Heyes poured. One tot went into an appreciative Kevin. The other into a distinctly ungrateful shamrock. The good stuff, too. What a waste.
“D’you know what else we oughta do? As well as drinking together?”
A shake of the dark head.
“We oughta sing.”
“When men drink, they sing. Hic. D’ you want to hear me sing, Joshua?”
“Do I get a choice?”
“It’s the truth you were telling me, Thaddeus. Sure and you’re no dancer at all! Ow!”
Molly, who was light as a feather on her substantial feet, pouted and rubbed her squished toe. Kid gathered his light had dimmed a touch in her eyes.
“May I cut in?” A curly headed fellow with a roguish grin tapped Kid on the shoulder.
“You can indeed!” exclaimed Molly. “Aren’t you after having the fleetest feet in the room, so, Michael?” She spun away without a backward glance.
“D’you know what I’m gonna do, Joshua? I’m gonna sing to you, while you do your accounts.”
“Have another drink first.”
“I will.” He did. Then, “I’ll take you home again, Kathleen,
Across the ocean wild and wide…”
Oh, Kevin was well gone. A glance at the clock. Time was slipping by. Like Cinderella, Heyes was on a deadline. He decided to risk it.
“D’you know what I’m gonna do, Kevin, while you sing?”
“The accounts. Hic.”
“Uh huh. BUT, I’m also gonna re-lock the door. ‘Cos we don’t want anyone coming in, do we? You’re gonna sing. I’m gonna listen. We’re both gonna have a few more drinks – just the two of us.”
“‘Cos we don’t need no one else coming in, do we Joshua? We want it to be just the two of us.”
“‘Cos we’re like brothers!”
Heyes relocked the door. Kevin watched him, a beatific beam on his honest freckled face.
“I’ll take you home again, Kathle-e-e-ee-e-en,
Across the ocean wild and wi-iyi-iy-iy-iy-ide…”
Another drink was poured. And drunk. A protesting glug from the sodden soil around the shamrock.
“…To where your heart has ever bee-e-e-e-een
Since first you were my bonnie bride!”
“I’ve finished these accounts, Kevin. I’m gonna put the ledger away in the safe. You keep singing.”
“…The roses all have left your cheek.
I’ve watched them fade away and d-i-i-i-i-i-i-ie. Hic. Shall I hold the lamp so you can see the dial better, Joshua?”
“That’d help,” said Heyes, truthfully.
Kevin settled himself, a touch of wobble on the way down, cross-legged next to the safe and held up an oil-lamp.
“I’ll help you open the safe. Then we can BOTH sing.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Heyes pressed his ear on the metal and took the dial in his fingers.
Half relieved, half chagrined at being dropped like a hot potato – no, make that dropped like a tepid, left-footed potato – Kid turned to find Jimmy Hoolihan close at hand.
“Any fella who plays the double on Molly Malone will have me to answer to, Jones.”
Kid watched the impressive figure in the emerald satin hitch up her skirts and pirouette like a top without her feet once failing to keep the complex rhythm.
“Any fella who plays the double on Mrs. Malone’d hafta be a braver man than me, Sergeant Hoolihan.”
“I’ve courted Molly for four years now, so.”
Kid contented himself with a mild ‘oh yes’ smile.
“Leastways, I was courting her four years back and I’m courting her now, so. I had to stop courting her in the middle years. Her being married to her sixth and all.”
“Uh huh. He was about your age – maybe a year or so younger – all smiles and curls and baby blue eyes, smelling of fancy cologne. He had the gift of the blarney. And the gift of the jigging feet, so.” Brooding pause. ” I never had the blarney.” A scowl, “…You wouldn’t be the kinda fella who’d use ye good looks and the blarney to entice a defenceless widow into matrimony, just ‘cos she was rich, would you, Jones?”
Actually, marrying a rich widow WAS on Kid’s ‘possibilities-for-post-amnesty’ list. However, becoming the utterly non-defenceless Molly Malone’s seventh husband was not in his plans. Six husbands already. SIX?! Sheesh! What was she doing to wear ’em out? Or – gulp – was she eating ’em the way spider’s do?!
“…Your voice is sad when e’er you speak
And tears bedim your loving eyes – eyes – eyes…”
Heyes winced as Kevin experimented with a variety of alternative notes. A tumbler clicked.
“Shure, it’s always been a mystery where Molly got the money to buy this place, so. Some folks reckon she musta struck gold!”
“Nah, she…Er-Hem!” Kid realised what he was about to say and shut up. “Frog in my throat.”
” Oh! I will take you back, Kathleen
To where your heart will feel no pa-ay-ay-ay-in… Hic. It’s taking you a while to open that safe, Joshua.”
Sheesh! Everyone’s a critic!
“I’m pacing myself so I get to hear all the verses.” Another click.
Kevin’s eyes grew misty. “Is that the truth? Is it? I love you for saying that, Joshua. We’re like brothers, huh? I love you.”
“Yeah, you said.”
“Oh, I will take you back, Kathleen
To where your heart will feel no pa-ay-ay-ay-in… Hic.
Joshua?” Sudden narrowing of the eyes.
“Uh huh?” Warily.
“That potted shamrock sure looks sickly.”
Hey! Maybe Kevin was going to be a detective after all.
Resentful eyes followed the whirling Michael and Molly showing the entire room how a jig should be danced. One by one, other couples melted to the side to form an admiring audience.
“That Michael Flatley is too full of himself altogether,” glowered Hoolihan. “Pfftt! What is it that women see in fellas who can dance, so?”
As not only Molly, but most of the other female guests were cooing over Michael as his legs flew up and his boots clickety-clacked faster and faster, Kid found himself in some sympathy with Hoolihan’s point of view.
Then, more quietly, “I love that woman, so.” Despite himself, Kid was touched. “I could see ye were no dancer, Jones.” Kid gave a rueful grin. “Sure, I’ve two left feet meself.” A pause. “Jones,” a huge, hairy hand slapped Kid on the back. “Will I buy ye a drink, so?”
It did not look to the Kid as if Molly Malone planned on leaving the dance floor and heading for her office anytime soon. And, he reckoned he could watch her perfectly well from the bar.
“You’ll buy me a drink, Hoolihan, then I’ll buy you one. As for women – who needs ’em, huh?”
The safe door swung open.
“There! The ledger’s put away all safe and sound…”
“Safe!” A guffaw from Kevin. His hand flapped onto Heyes’ shoulder. “Safe! D’you get it, Joshua! You said, it’s SAFE in a SAFE!” Splutter. Honk.
“Uh huh. Now you pour us another drink, Kevin, ‘cos I’m all finished…”
Kevin shuffled over on his bottom toward the bottle and did as he was bid.
“And, while you’re doing that…” Heyes’ eyes and fingers searched rapidly. Ah! Got it! “…I’ll shut the safe.” He did so, one handed. The other hand covered a small locked box with a handy silver-trimmed hat.
“We can go.”
“You and me, Joshua? Sticking together.”
“You and me, Kevin, sticking together.”
“I’ll tell Aunt Molly… Hic. I’ll tell her hirin’ you was the best thing she ever… Hic. I’ll tell her I helped. Helped with the safe. ‘Cos – ‘cos I love you.”
Heyes eyed the young man, appraisingly, “…Let’s have one more drink before we join the party.”
Heyes poured what he judged to be the perfect measure. It was drunk.
“You lead the way,” he told Kevin.
Kevin stood up. He swayed. He made for the door. He stopped. He corrected his direction, made for the middle one out of three wavering doors. Another step. A hiccup. He reached for the handle. Then, his slim body following a graceful zigzag, he crumpled to the floor. Heyes gathered his hat, McGinty’s box and made for the window. Then, struck by a qualm, the ex-outlaw paused. He fetched a cushion from an overstuffed armchair and, tenderly, tucked the cushion under the tawny head.
“Molly won’t look at me, T’addeus. She says I cannot do the sweet talk, so. And she says…” A heavy sigh shook the burly frame of the lovelorn Sergeant Hoolihan.
“Jimmy, Jimmy,” Padraig O’Connor’s huge hand slapped his friend, heavily, on the shoulder. Kid, who was in the path of that huge hand, flinched back sharply. “…Isn’t T’addeus in the right of it? Women! Who needs ’em?!”
“Sure and don’t a man’s troubles start the day he takes him a wife?” concurred Donal Daley.
“‘Tis true enough,” agreed O’Malley.
“‘Tis so,” chimed in O’Reilly.
“‘Tis in the right of it ye are,” echoed O’Shaughnessy.
Astute readers will gather that Kid Curry was now in the centre of half a dozen lawman. Three more than fifteen minutes previously. Six more than he wanted.
Hoolihan stared, gloomily, at his glass. “I wish I had the jigging feet.”
“Let’s have another drink, so,” decided O’Connor, signalling the barkeep. “Ye’ll take a drop more, T’addeus?” A pause. “T’addeus? Is it still with us ye are, T’addeus?”
The blue eyes had spotted a familiar slim figure at the far of the room, trying to catch his attention. The crowd moved, Kid lost him, then… A brief but decisive glimpse of a triumphant, dimpled grin. Heyes had done it!
“Fellas, I hafta be goin’…”
“Sure ye cannot go, T’addeus!”
“Not at all!
“Isn’t it my round, so?”
Kid found himself forcibly, though exceeding amiably, detained by a dozen affectionate and well-muscled arms.
A minute later, an impatient Heyes – buffeted by having to push his way though swaying groups of his least favourite profession while avoiding whirling jig-dancers – reached Kid’s side.
“C’mon, Kid! What are you waiting for? It’s half past eleven! Didn’t you see me give you the nod…?”
“Who’s this, T’addeus?”
“Phwhat’s ye name, fella?”
“Will ye take a drop with us?”
“Are ye not going to introduce us, T’addues?”
“Have a drink, so!”
A sad hand dropped on Heyes’ shoulder, he dropped inches with the weight of it. “Sure and there’s no pleasing women at all, at all.”
A mute query from Heyes at the last greeting. A silent ‘never mind’ from Kid.
“This is Joshua Smith,” he said. “We hafta be going, fellas.”
“Sure, he cannot go without taking a drop with us?”
“Phwhat kinda fella don’t join in the craic on Saint Paddy’s day?”
“He cannot be going without raising a toast to dear old Ireland!”
“He cannot be going at all!”
Apparently, since Heyes is now in the midst of a circle of insistent six foot plus police officers, he cannot be going. Nor can Kid.
TEN MINUTES LATER
“Right!” Heyes and Kid had eluded the Jimmy Hoolihan support club and were within inches of the door. “We need to get outta here. The last time I was near this many lawmen, I woke up screaming and in a cold sweat .” His eyes flicked to where Molly Malone was letting a curly-haired stranger murmur sweet nothings into her ear. “Your luck with the ladies ran out, huh?”
“Yup. Whatever McGinty gave back, it still don’t reach below the ankles. Speakin’ of McGinty…”Kid’s eyes flicked to the clock.
“I reckon we go back where we last saw him, let him find us, Kid.”
“You got his box?”
“Uh huh. And, you’ll never guess what’s in…”
“Joshua! There y’are! ” Kid watched as, on the very brink of escape, his partner was folded into an unsteady embrace by a youth beaming all over his freckled face.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” exclaimed Heyes. “You were out cold!”
“Hic! I lost you! I fell asleep! And, I woke up and you weren’t there.” Kevin turned to Kid Curry. “I lost him! I lost Joshua. He was doing – doing ‘counts. We were drinking. He was shutting the safe… Hic. The safe…”
Kevin was getting louder. A curious head turned at the word ‘safe’.
“Ssssshhhh!” hissed Heyes.
“Joshua’s my friend,” confided Kevin. An even sappier beam, “He’s wonderful. I love him. Like a lost long… Like a long lost… Like that.”
“Uh huh,” grunted Kid. “No accounting for taste.”
“Shall we go say hello to my Aunt Molly? I’m gonna tell her what a great manager y’are. I’m gonna tell her all ’bout how I helped you with the safe.”
“Nah. Me and Thaddeus have to go, Kevin.”
The fledgling police officer was using Heyes as a handy aid to staying upright. His arms circled the ex-outlaw in a manner evocative of an affectionate octopus. Sure, the boys could prise him off, but not without attracting attention.
“T’addeus! Joshua! There y’are, so!”
“Where did ye get to at all?”
“We cannot let ye go!”
“Not without another toast! To Saint Paddy!”
“Is that young Kevin Riley with ye?”
“Come join us, Kevin!”
“We’ll be having a fine craic, so!”
“And, we’ll not be letting these fellas leave this side of midnight!”
“Not at all!”
ANOTHER TEN MINUTES LATER
“…And it’s no, nay, never!”
The whole room shook as dozens of heavy boots stamped out the traditional four beats mid-chorus.
“…No, nay, never, no more,
Will I pla.a.a. the wild rover. No never no more!”
Kid, sandwiched firmly by two huge Sergeants, felt his feet swing inches clear of the floor as they swayed with the song.
“…I went to an alehouse I used to frequent,
and I told the landlady me money was spent.”
Yards away, Heyes, also squished between over-hospitable lawmen, bobbed like a cork in water, his hat falling over one eye.
Then… They were free! They were back on their feet. They were even in the closest thing to a quiet spot that rollicking room held. And, right in front of them…
“Shure and have ye done phwhat Oi asked, fellas?”
“Where the Sam Hill did you spring from, McGinty?”
“‘Tis nearly midnight. Phwhere else would Oi be? Did ye get it?”
Heyes drew a tin box from his jacket. Pretty small, thought Kid. Maybe – maybe the deeds to a gold mine? Nah. A key to a safe deposit box? Hmm.
“Did ye open it?”
“Uh huh,” nodded Heyes.
“Open it again now, so.”
Heyes opened the box. Kid blinked. There, small and lonely, lay a four leaf clover. So… So… McGinty WAS a…
“Phwhat Oi want ye to do now, Mister Smit’, is to tear that t’ing up.”
“I tear this up; you get your gold back? Is that it?”
“That’d be the way of it, right enough.”
“Why don’t you do it?”
Heyes held out the box. McGinty flinched.
“McGinty,” Heyes drew a deep breath, “…I cannot believe I’m asking this, but since this whole set up cannot get any more crazy, I’m gonna go with the flow; IF I don’t tear this up, if I keep it and use it – do I get three wishes?”
“Shure and is it mad y’are? Phwhat d’ye t’ink Oi am?”
“I do, don’t I?”
A silence. Then, “Oi wouldn’t recommend it, Mister Smit’. If ye know phwhat’s good for ye, ye’ll do as Oi say.”
“Is that a threat?” asked Kid.
McGinty met the famous Kid Curry icy stare, squarely. “Not at all. Call it fair warning, so.” Pause. Almost gently, “Oi like ye fine, boys. T’ink hard and stay lucky.”
They did think hard. They thought about all the stories they had ever read or been told about getting wishes granted. Most, however clever the wish-maker, ended badly. They thought about their state that morning. They thought about luck. They often complained about their luck but… Nah, on the whole, they didn’t do so bad. Questioning eyebrow raise from Heyes. Kid, his face grave, gave a slight shake of the head. Don’t play against him. Fold.
With a rueful grin, Heyes tore the clover leaf to shreds.
“‘T’is a wise man y’are, Mister Smit’. And now, Oi pay me dues!”
“Our $1,000 apiece?” Kid kept the surprise out of his voice. They were getting paid; this day grew stranger by the minute!
“To be shure, your t’ousand dollars apiece. Never let it be said Paddy McGinty is not a man of his word.”
Two bags were drawn from McGinty’s pockets and handed over. After testing the weight, Heyes peeped inside. Glinting coin.
“You’re paying us in gold?”
“Is that a problem to ye, boys?”
“Suits us fine. McGinty…” Heyes held out his hand, it was taken in a gnarled grip, “…I wish I could say it’s been a pleasure. Now, if it’s all the same to you, Thaddeus and me’ll be on our way.”
“‘T’is not all the same to me, so.” The gnarled grip grew tighter. “Now it’s flush y’are, Oi’ve somet’ing ye might like to spend ye new found wealt’ on.”
“We kinda doubt that, McGinty.”
The diminutive Irishman drew rolled papers from inside his jacket.
“Oi t’ought ye might like to buy these. The price is $1000 apiece.”
With a sinking feeling, the ex-outlaws watched him unfurl two very familiar wanted posters.
“To be shure, if ye don’t want ’em y’selves, Oi’ll see if that fella over there is int’rested.”
He nodded at an impressively bewhiskered gentleman watching the festivities with a benevolent air.
“Is that…?” Heyes gave an involuntary gulp.
“Shure, ‘t’is Chief Patrick Crowley himself, so.”
Crowley looked as clever as his reputation. And as competent. Worse than that, both he and the senior officers either side of him looked distressingly sober. The boys’ shoulders drooped.
“Play fair, McGinty,” protested Heyes. “We kept our side of the bargain…”
“So did Oi, Joshua. Ye did the job. Oi paid ye. That bargain’s done. This here’s a new bargain, so.”
A mute conversation. The money was handed back. Still, at least THIS part felt like an ordinary day!
“Oi’m sorry, boys. It’s me precious, precious gold d’ye see? Will Oi part with a single piece of me hoard? Indeed and I will not! But, Oi’m wishing ye the luck of the Oirisih for the rest of ye days, so Oi am. And, now, Oi’ll be leaving ye…”
An idea struck Kid Curry. He touched the little fella’s arm to detain him. “McGinty. I get that you warned us off trying – y’know – the three wishes. But if we asked for something for someone else and it had nothin’ to do with your gold…? Is there any harm in that?”
McGinty pursed his lips, thinking. “Shure and there’s no harm in asking, so.”
“See that fella? The big guy.” Kid nodded at the burly figure of Sergeant Jimmy Hoolihan, drooping over an untouched glass of whiskey and following Molly Malone’s every move with yearning puppy-dog eyes. “Could you do somethin’ for him?”
“A touch of the blarney? A little luck of the Irish with the ladies? And – and…” Trying, half-sheepishly, to avoid Heyes’ disbelieving eyes, he leaned in, “…The jiggin’ feet?”
“Ye do realise that soon enough, that t’ieving Malone might not be quite as rich as she is today? It might be an ill-turn ye’re doing the man.”
Kid glanced at the lovelorn Sergeant. “I don’t think he cares about her money, McGinty.”
The wrinkled old face split with a wide grin. “‘T’is a soft heart ye have there, T’addeus.” The gnarled fingers snapped. Then…
“Where the SAM HILL did he go?” McGinty had melted into the crowd.
The partners watched sudden confidence flood Jimmy Hoolihan’s face. He squared his shoulders and strode over to Molly Malone, turning her away from the roguishly grinning Michael. He bent to whisper in her ear. Whatever blarney he was spinning, it worked. She – she was simpering. Her hand went to his shoulder. His hand went around her waist. They whirled onto the floor. Hoolihan had a touch of magic in his dancing feet!
“They look good together, huh?” said Kid. “Kinda, in proportion?”
Heyes rolled his eyes. “I hate to interrupt the matchmaking, Kid, but we gotta get outta here.”
They turned for the door, when…
“Joshua! T’addeus! There y’are! Ye cannot go, so!”
Not again! Huge, affectionate hands caught the two reluctant ex-outlaws and dragged them back to the bar.
“Will we let ye leave? Indeed and we will not!”
“Where did ye get to at all?”
“Ye’ll take another drop!”
“Joshua! Hic! I found you!” Heyes was circled by the flailing limbs of brotherly affection. “I love you, Joshua.” An inclusive arm reached over, grabbed a blue shirt sleeve. “I love you, too, Thaddeus. Hic.”
“Come back for the craic.”
“The night is young, so!”
“Has anyone ever told ye, T’addeus, ye have the look of a Connemara…?”
FIVE MINUTES LATER
The boots of a trapped Hannibal Heyes swang clear of the floor. The hat of the fastest gun in the West spun in the air and landed crazily over one ear.
From their positions bobbing like Halloween apples between multiple epitomes of Irish hospitality, a mute conversation. Could they ever get outta there?
The crowd roared the answer: “…And it’s no, nay, never!”
STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!
“…No, nay, never, no more!”
Not until morning anyhow. Two rueful grins. Time to fold. Time to go with the flow
Heyes threw back his head and let rip. “I’ve been a wild rover for many’s the year…”
“And I spent all me money on whiskey and beer…” bellowed back Kid.
THE END – AND HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY.