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 Tiger By The Tail Chapter Chapter six

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Keays

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Posts : 1435
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Tiger By The Tail Chapter Chapter six   Wed Dec 04, 2013 2:13 am

Tiger by the Tail


Belle smiled at Hester as she tore open the envelope.  “Is it from Jesse?  Can we go home?”

Hester’s face gave nothing away as she scrutinized the contents of the telegram.  She raised her head.  “Maggie!!

The unconventionally mouthy housemaid strode into the hall, the tone telling her that Doctor Bentham was serious.  “Yes, Doctor?”

“I need you to go home.  We have to leave urgently.  I will give you a month’s pay, and you needn’t come back until we send for you.”

“Oh!” Maggie’s round face brightened at the prospect of paid time off.  “Do you know when you’ll be back?”

“No, Maggie, I don’t, but we will pay you for any time we don’t need you.   There’s no reason for you to lose out.”

“Very good, doctor.”  Maggie’s face split into a broad grin at the prospect of a paid sabbatical.  “I’ll finish up for the day.  That’s very kind of you.”

“No, I need to you go now.”  Hester ushered the maid towards the kitchen.  “We’re leaving right away.  Get your coat.”

“But the lunch dishes...”

“Never mind those, Maggie, I’m in a hurry.”  Hester’s tone became firm.  “I need you to go.”

Maggie toddled off, her loose bun shaking from side to side along with her head, as she muttered under her breath imitating her employer’s tone.  “I need you to go right away, just leave those, Maggie!  It won’t be that when I have to come back here in a month and they’re crusted dry.”  Belle and Hester shared a glance of amusement.  “It’ll be, ‘get those dishes washed; clear up that kitchen; do this; do that.  Why don’t you stick a broomstick up my...”

Hester folded her arms.  “Do you have something to say, Maggie?  Because if you do, I can always make sure that the local charity hospital makes use of the time for which I’m paying.”

Maggie’s eyes bulged, but her mouth snapped shut before she scuttled over to the coat hanging on the back door and pulled it on over her apron.  “Be sure and tell me when you need me again, doctor.”  She jammed a little bonnet covered in faded, droopy flowers on her hairdo and speared it ruthlessly with a glittering hatpin.  “Have a safe journey.”

They watched the door close behind her.  “Are we leaving now?” Belle asked, her eyes glowing with excitement.  
     
“Home?”  Beth gushed.  “Oh, that would be wonderful!  Not that you haven’t been very hospitable, Hester, but you know how it is – home’s best.”

Hester nodded.  “Unfortunately, I know exactly how it is.  Becky and J.J. are playing upstairs?”

Belle picked up on the tension in Hester’s tone.  “Yes, pirates, I think...”

Hester strode over to her desk.  “Can you handle a gun?”

Beth and Belle stared at her.  “We both can, why?”

“Good.  They know where you are.”  She handed out a handgun and Derringer to both women along with boxes of ammunition.  “Get the children and take them down to the cellar, then take food from the kitchen, to make sure we can manage until reinforcements get here.”

Beth’s eyes widened.  “They know?  Then we need to leave.”

“That’s the last thing we need to do.  We have cover here, and help’s coming,” Hester bustled over and locked the back door before making sure the windows were latched and the catches screwed shut.  “I’ll lock up and we’ll sit tight.  Abigail’s already sent for backup.”

“Why should we just sit here and do what she says?” Beth demanded.

Hester flicked stern eyes in her direction “Because she’s out there putting her life at risk for you, young woman,” her voice softened.  “I know you’ve had a frightening time, but I’m better trained in protecting people than most men you’ll meet.  We take cover and wait for help.  Please, just do as you’re told.”

Beth bit into her lip.  “What do I tell the children?”

“Tell them it’s a game; cavemen, or something, and bring board games.  They’ll drive us mad down there.”  Hester dragged the curtains closed.  “It’s getting dark; that’s a good thing.  When they come to get us out of here, it’ll be harder to find a target.”

Belle watched her daughter rush upstairs.  “I’ll get the food.”

Hester gave her a reassuring smile.  “It’ll be fine, Belle, truly.  Abi’s very good at what she does.  She’ll catch them”

“She teaches piano and French,” murmured Belle with a worried frown.  “For the last ten years, at least.  It’s been a long time...”

“You may have a point,” Hester nodded, a smile playing around her lips.  “Her piano could be better.  I always find her adagios slightly too fast.”  
 
 
 
Hester and Belle had dragged down mattresses, blankets, and cushions for comfort and once the door had been safely bolted from the inside the children enjoyed a picnic in the ‘cave’, lit by the oil lamp hung on the wall.  Dinner over, the children amused themselves by playing Parcheesi with Belle, whilst Beth and Hester read.  Beth dropped her book staring off into the dark corners of the cellar.

“You’ll be fine, Beth,” Hester murmured quietly.  “I promise you.”  She stretched out a comforting hand and patted her arm.  “You’ve had a very frightening time, but you have so many good people working for you.  We’ll keep you safe.”

“But what if you can’t?  Why does anybody hate me this much?  What have I done?”

Hester put her book on her lap.  “Beth, I think when we get to the bottom of all this, you’ll find that it’s not about you.  What could you have done?  Criminals use people, sweetheart, somebody’s trying to get to someone else by hurting you.  I won’t allow that to happen.”

“Who?”

“You’re father’s fairly well-off, it could be a way to get money from him, or it could be another reason.”

Beth frowned.  “What other reason?”

Hester paused, trying to assess how mature this young woman was.  “You might be keeping company with some people who have enemies.  Have you considered that?”

Beth shook her head.  “Nobody could hate Jed or Joshua that much.”

Hester glanced over at Belle, who had clearly decided to let her daughter hear a different perspective on the man she loved.  “They could, and very well may do – that’s why Abi,” she hesitated.  “It’s why she did what she did.” 
Hester glanced at the children.  “Come with me Beth.  I have some things to explain to you.”

“Where are you going, Aunt Hester?” asked Rebecca.

Hester led Beth towards some shelves at the other end of the cellar.  “We’re going to see if I have any ginger cordial down here.  Would you like a glass?”

“Oooh, yes!  You should taste it, J.J.  It’s wonderful.  Mama makes it.”  Rebecca leaped to her feet.  “Let me help.”

“It’s your turn, Becky,” Belle called, smiling at Hester.  “We’re all waiting.” 

Rebecca turned.  “Oh!  Right, I’m coming – I’m gonna win!”

“Oh, no you ain’t,” chortled J.J.  “I am.”

Hester led Beth to the shelves lining the wall at the far end of the cellar.  It had been roughly divided into two sections by a wooden partition with a flimsy door; one where coal was dumped down the chute, and the other which served as root cellar, storage, and sanctuary during storms.  Hester stopped when they were as far away from the children as possible.  “We need to keep our voices low, Beth.  You do understand how prolific they were, don’t you?”

“Of course, I read everything I could about them.”

Hester smiled patiently.  “When you read anything, anything at all, you need to bear in mind that every piece is written by a person – a person with human frailties, points of views, and agendas.  Sometimes the motive will be to sell the article, so they will put down whatever is going to sell the best.  One writer may want to glorify them, and another may wish to vilify them to galvanize the populace into action.”

“Of course I understand that,” Beth looked offended.  Who was this old woman to tell her about Jed; and why did she always wear what looked like men’s jackets?  Her mouth firmed into a line.  “You could say the same about anyone who tells stories about them.” 

Hester smiled, her eyes glittering strangely in the twilight.  “They were dangerous men, Beth.  To a fair degree, their success lay in the fear they engendered, in their enemies, competitors, and their victims.”

“People knew that they would never get hurt by them, as long as they did what they were told.  Everyone knows that.”

Hester nodded.  “Yes – and that has an obvious implication on what will happen if they don’t.  Have you ever been held at gunpoint and told to hand over anything you value?”

Beth folded her arms.  “Why are you helping if you hate them?”

“I don’t hate them, Beth – far from it.  They were also amongst the most humane and intelligent criminals I ever encountered, but please don’t think for a moment that they don’t have a dark side.  I applaud and support their decision to leave that behind, and to use their talents more constructively, but not everyone may share that view.  I like them enormously – I even trust them; now – but back then I would count my fingers after shaking their hands.  Not everyone may have moved on.  That’s what Abigail is investigating, as well as looking for any other motive.”

Beth picked up on the gentleness in Hester’s tone, moderating the harshness of her message.  “Do you think she’ll find them?”

“I have every confidence in her.  The fact that we are down here means that they have uncovered information.  She has found something.”  Hester looked deeply into Beth’s eyes.  “You don’t like Abigail, do you?”

Beth looked flustered, wrong footed by the question.   “I don’t know her.”

“That’s right, you don’t.  It’s alright not to like her, many women find her difficult.  She refuses to conform to the way society thinks women should behave, as do I.  Many find her shocking.  She is also highly trained in working in secret, and assuming roles.  People like that are trained to give out nothing of themselves – to form a blank page in the mind; and those they meet will fill in the gaps by themselves without even realising it.  It gives the agent a quick back story, because people are generally too lazy to find out the truth.  It’s a mental trick  used by spies for a very long time– I suspect you did the same, and labelled her as a woman who hurt Hannibal.”

“I...” Beth shrugged.  “As I said, I only really met her for a short time.”

“You’re loyal to your friends, and a very loving girl, Beth.  You and Jed are well suited.”

“Thank you.”

“Abigail and Hannibal’s eldest daughter was in her pram.  They were walking in the park when an old enemy of his drew his gun and fired at him.  It missed and hit the child.  She was ten months old.”

Beth blanched.  “Ten months?”

“Yes, Abigail then shot and killed him.  She was arrested for murder.”

“No!  But she was right.”  Beth let the information sink in.  “She clearly wasn’t convicted.”

“Hannibal wouldn’t leave her to stand trial without him, so she went on the run – just to get him to leave.  Everyone knew he’d be recognized, especially as the press were working themselves into a frenzy at the poor mother who killed at a moment of passion.  I had to work hard, and use all the influence I could, but I eventually managed to get the charges dismissed for her.”

“Good!”  Beth darted a look at the children, aware that her voice had carried in her vehemence.  She continued more quietly.  “She should never have been tried for that.”

“Well, technically it was a crime, but morally...”  Hester shrugged.  “They slept together, one last time before she disappeared.  That was how Becky was conceived.  When she found out she was pregnant she was terrified, and came to me for help.”

“Your help?  She wanted to get rid of it!?”

“Absolutely not; she would never do that.  Her family were already outraged at her becoming a detective, and at having an illegitimate child with a criminal.  The murder charge was all a step too far.  They disowned her.  She had nobody.  Nobody at all.”

“She could have contacted Jed and Hannibal.  They’d have helped her.”

“No, Beth.  She couldn’t – she was also terrified of losing her new baby to another of their enemies.  She was totally lost and alone.  Abigail may appear to be strong and independent, but she has her weaknesses just like anyone else.”

Beth paused processing this information.  “You’ve been a good friend to her.”

“And she has been a good friend to me - just as you have been to the boys, Beth, and we all need those.  She didn’t mean to hurt your friend, Beth.  She had a desperate choice to make.  I think I would have made the same decision.  Taking risks with a child’s life isn’t really a choice.”

“I don’t know what I would have done.”

“Your parents would have supported you, I’m sure if that.”  Hester smiled.  “Women are thrust into all kinds of difficult decisions because they cannot plan their families.  I know you are getting married soon.”

Beth smiled.  “Oh, I want a big family.  So does Jed.”

“And I’m sure you shall have it.  I can talk to you about some things you can do to have them come when you are ready,” Hester gave a discrete twinkle.  “The law prevents me from advising on it, but I get so angry when I see young women worn out from pregnancy, after pregnancy, with no time to recover in between.   Most good doctors would advise on spacing them out, and I can help you with that, if you are interested?  Have you heard of a womb veil?”

“No.  You can plan it?” gasped Beth.

“Oh, yes, dear.  Men generally disapprove, and think women should be left to the vagaries of nature,” she tutted dismissively.  “Trust me; they’re none too keen on nature running its course when they are affected by something.  Most of them are complete babies when it comes to pain.  If the Queen of England hadn’t insisted on pain medication for her confinements most doctors still wouldn’t consider it necessary.”  Hester grinned.  “She was the queen.  They couldn’t refuse her, in the same way they could a housewife.  She used cannabis, and a few other things, to relieve labour pains – and once she had it, everyone else did too.  You make sure you do the same, Beth.  Only an idiot suffers when they don’t have to.”   
    
“I don’t know what Jed would say if I talked about planning on spacing them out,” murmured Beth.

“The Jed Curry I l know would want his wife to be well and happy, with time to enjoy her baby before another one comes along.  I’m talking about planning a family, not preventing it.  You can also use pessaries containing alum or sulphate of zinc and iron.  It’s merely a choice, but I just wanted to let you know your options.”  Hester’s eyes darted up, tilting her head to listen to the night.  She picked up a bottle from the shelf.  “Here, ginger cordial.  Give this to the children, and keep them absolutely silent.  I think I just heard someone.  We’ll talk about this later.”

 
 
Beth and Belle clasped the children to them, huddled under the stairs to keep out of the range of any shots fired through the door.  Belle lifted the glass to J.J.’s lips, allowing him to sip the cordial.  He quickly picked up on his mother’s anxiety, clinging silently to her and staring at his big sister, the whites of his eyes catching the light.  Rebecca leaned over, patting the younger child’s hand.  “You’re being very brave, J.J.,” she whispered with a smile.  “A real man.  Auntie Hester says we need to be real quiet.”

Hester glanced at the children, but nodded at Rebecca.  She was vivacious, but read people well, and knew she had to be silent.  J.J. was an unknown quantity; the boy’s bottom lip was starting to quiver.  This was a danger; the poor child could burst into tears at any time.

The doctor sucked in a breath, following the miniscule sounds out to the area where the coal was dropped into the cellar.  She stood, staring up at the coal hatch.  Was that a twig snapping?  Was somebody there?  Hester raised her gun pointing at the hatch – it was bolted from the inside, so if anyone tried to get in that way they were likely to get their head blown off through the doors. 

She dropped her arm.  The sounds receded; or did they?  They were practically inaudible and Hester began to doubt if she had heard anything at all.  She walked back into the main part of the cellar.

“Was there...”  Beth asked anxiously, but she was quickly cut off by a piercing look from Hester. 

Beth began to suck in anxious breaths.  Were they here?  Had they come for her again?  Rebecca was quick to grasp her hand, clasping it to her chest.  Beth looked down at the child in surprise – the dark eyes no longer swirled with mischief; they seemed to transmit wisdom beyond the girl’s years.  Rebecca smiled, nodding gently before she pulled Beth’s hand up to her lips, kissing it softly and hugging her close.  Beth felt Rebecca’s breathing against her; calm, regular and even.  She either trusted her Aunt Hester or hadn’t grasped what was going on.  Beth closed her eyes and hoped beyond hope that she could trust her life to this strange, middle-aged woman too.  How she wished Jed was here.  Why hadn’t he stayed with her? 

Hester had changed focus.  Was that the sound of a door opening?  She had moved over to another area of the cellar and was aiming above their heads.  She was now holding the gun in a two handed grip, pointing straight up.  If anyone walked over the floor above them, they would be dispatched by a shot through the floorboards.  Beth hugged Rebecca to her and braced for the explosive shot.  Hester clearly believed that there was someone up there. 

Beth caught a breath at the squeak from a floor board above her head and her blood turned to ice water.  Somebody was up there.  There was no room for doubt any more, someone was walking in the hallway above them.  Beth screamed silently in her head –why didn’t Hester shoot?  He was there, creeping about.  Beth’s hand went up to her mouth, her teeth clamping into her knuckles and her stomach turning over in fear.  The door rattled and every nerve in Beth’s body jangled, alight with terror; memories flooding back of lying on the ground, drowning in her own blood.  Her breath came in great rasps of panic.  Why didn’t that mad woman shoot?       
 
 
The shadowy figure crept up to the rear of the townhouse in Topeka, taking care not to make any noise on the frozen roads made of the same hard, red bricks as the building.  He looked up waiting until the moon drifted behind a cloud, casting the shingles and cladding decorating the upper story of the building into deep, dark shadows.  He paused, listening hard.  This was as good a time as any to make his move.  He ghosted over to the entrance to the cellar, his fingers stopping before touching the lock.  He had second thoughts; this was not the best way into this building, it was probably best to go where an intruder would be least expected – in this house the entrance to the cellar could be booby trapped.  He nodded silently to himself and made for the front door.

It didn’t take long to manipulate the tumblers on the lock, so the front door creaked open easily.  He gave a snort of annoyance as it stopped suddenly.  Trust that damned woman to have a security chain on the door.  His fingers groped around in the dark, fiddling with the mechanism before releasing the chain, allowing the heavy wood-panelling to creak open, while he stood to the side, safely out of the way of any flying missiles.

Ten seconds seems like a lifetime when measured by the human heartbeat, but he waited that long before sidling carefully into the house.  He cocked his head, trying to gauge any sound in the house.  There was nothing.  They hadn’t left the house, he was sure of that.  Where would he hide women and children?  He glanced up the stairs, quickly dismissing the idea.  No way out from up there; most folks would head upstairs, and hide under beds and in wardrobes; but Hester Bentham was a Doctor – logical, methodical and analytical – she wouldn’t go where there wasn’t an alternative escape.  The cellar!  Yes, that’s where she’d have taken them. 

There was the regular entrance through the kitchen, and the coal chute he’d already investigated.  He crept forward, wincing at the creaking floorboard squawking his progress to anyone in the house.  This wouldn’t do!  That doctor was probably right underfoot and would shoot him through the floor if he wasn’t more careful.  He pulled at the door to the cellar.  Locked – bolted from the inside – in his mind’s eye he could see them now; women and children huddled in a corner under the staircase, where they couldn’t be easily shot through the door, but it was a cellar.  A bullet could ricochet and the doctor would know that.

“Hester!” he hissed.  “Open this damned door.  It’s me – Cage.”

He heard scuffling and creaking before bolts were dragged back and the door opened and the tentative face of Hester Bentham appeared through the gloom.

“Cage?”  Hester visibly heaved a sigh of relief in the candlelight.  “You came?”

The man nodded his blond head.  “Yup, Abi sent me a telegram – so did the Pinkerton Agency.  They even made a call on the telephone machine to the office.*  They’re takin’ this real serious.” 

“Can you get us out of here?  Is it safe?” Hester’s eyes darted down to the cellar.  “That poor young woman was already shot in the throat.  She’s terrified.”

Cage’s blue eyes widened.  “She’s been shot!?”

Hester stretched out a hand to pacify the Pinkerton.  “Was – months ago – she’s still scared though.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet she is.  We’ve got a team of ten on this, Hester.  We’ll get you out.  We’ve got an armoured wagon, and back up to make sure that nobody follows you.”

Hester peered over his shoulder.  “Where are they?”

Cage smiled, his blue eyes glittering in the candle light.  “Outside, Hester.  I came in alone because if you'd heard a troop of men clatter through here you’d have shot off their...”  He paused, mischief playing around his lips.  “You’d have shot them.”

She gave a grin of relief.  “Let me get them.”  She turned, calling down the stairs.  “We can go.  We’re fine, but you must all be very, very quiet.”  Hester walked out of the cellar, covering the windows while Cage ushered the group down the hallway, with Hester bringing up the rear. 

Belle gave a little yelp of surprise at the dark man hiding in the shadows by the front door, and clutched J.J. and Beth to her. 

“It’s fine,” whispered Hester.  “I know him – in fact, I helped train him.”

“Where are we going?” asked Belle.

“The Pinkerton offices in Topeka.  Once we get you there, they’ll never be able to track you.”

Beth’s big eyes gleamed through the night.  “Who are you?” she rasped.

The tall man didn’t look at her as he answered, fixing on the street and the shadows between the front door and their getaway vehicle.  “Cage Atwater, Miss Jordan.  I’m an old friend of Abi’s.  Just do as you’re told and you’ll be fine.”

“He’s Uncle Cage,” squeaked Rebecca.

Hester shot her a look of admonishment.  “Ssh!”

The little group were ushered into a covered wagon, surrounded by a fortress of armed men.

“Uncle Cage, aren’t you coming with us?” Rebecca asked.

The tall man laid a large hand on her arm.  “No, darlin’.  Go with Aunt Hester.  I’m gonna wait for your momma.  She’s gonna want to know where you’ve gone, won’t she?”

Rebecca beamed.  “Mama’s coming?  We’ll see her for Christmas?”

“Nothin’ get you down, does it, Becky?”  Cage darted a glance at Hester before he smiled at the child.  “I dunno, darlin’, but I’m sure she’ll come as fast as she can.”  He chucked her under the chin.  “She adores you, you know?  You’re all she lives for, so I’m gonna look after you for her.”  He rattled the door closed and fastened it in place.  “Now, get outta here!”

They watched the lean silhouette of the tall man standing in the middle of the road recede as the vehicle creaked off into the night.

“What kind of name is ‘Cage?’” murmured Beth.

“It’s short for ‘Micajah,’” Hester replied, quietly.  “It’s a biblical name, I believe.”

Beth cuddled into her mother.  “Wow!  And I though Hannibal had a terrible name.  Wait until I tell him.”


Abigail fixed them with glittering eyes, the tears spilling over as she tried to blink them away.  “The Pinkertons have them.  They’re safe.”

The Kid looked down at the crumpled telegram in her tight, little hand and heaved a huge sigh, pulling off his hat and running his hand through is hair.  He cast his eyes skyward as though uttering a prayer.  “Thank God.”

Relief flooded over all three of them, washing away the stoical front. 

“How could I have been so stupid as to send them all to an address known to the prison?” Abigail murmured, wandering over to a bench on the railway platform.

“You weren’t stupid, sweetheart.  You were doin’ your best.  Most folk wouldn’t have come at all.”  The Kid stretched an arm around her shoulders and pulled her into a gentle hug.  “Thank God they knew which train we were on.  If they hadn’t caught us on the way there, I’d have been goin’ mad by the time we got to Topeka.”

“Where are they?” Heyes took the telegram from her hand.  “Does it say?”

“They’ll take them to the Pinkerton offices, and move them on from there,” Abigail sat down heavily.  “I don’t care where they are, as long as they’re safe.”

Heyes sat beside her, laying an arm along the back of the bench, regarding Abigail earnestly.  “You know, in all the years I’ve known you, I’ve seen you cry- what, two, maybe three times?  Yet, since you’ve been back, I’ve seen you in tears fairly easily.  Are you turning normal on me?”

She gave him a watery smile.  “I suppose I am.  I don’t have keep up the front of being an officer of the law anymore, and we’re all on the same side now too.”

“I’ll never see you as normal, Abi,” grinned the Kid.

Abigail turned indignant eyes on him.  “Why?”

“I’d never treat Beth, or any other woman, in the same way I’d treat you.”  He watched her dark eyes simmer with hurt and he started to chuckle.  “Don’t get me wrong, you’re real feminine, but I’d never pin Beth or Randa down in a horsebox.  You’re one of us.”  He darted innocent, blue eyes between Heyes and Abigail.  “What?  It’s a compliment.  I just meant she doesn’t seem like she’d break as easy as some girls.”

“Really?” Abigail snorted.  “Well, just bear in mind I owe you some reciprocal horse dung.” 

“See, that’s what I mean,” the Kid beamed.  “Can you imagine Belle threatenin’ me with that?  With Abi you know she really means it, once she finds one of those fancy horses.”

Heyes bit into his lip.  “Sorry to be practical.  This sounds like quite a big operation.  Who’s paying for this?” he asked, tentatively.  “I don’t have much in the way of savings.”  

“When it’s the family of an agent or ex-agent being threatened they’ll move heaven and earth, Mr. Heyes.  It could happen to any of us.  I’ve done it for another agent and there were no charges.  We look after our own.”  Abigail stood, watching the guard start to usher passengers back onto the train after the stop.  “They only had to get them out.  I expect that Hester will sort something from there.  I sent a telegram to Cage.  I know he’ll help.”

They started to walk back towards the train.  “Cage?  Who’s that?” asked Heyes.

Abigail smiled.  “He’s a Pinkerton.  His wife joined the agency at the same time as I did.  He’s the man we told the sheriff you’d report to in Topeka, as well as signing in at the Pinkerton offices.  Sheriff Jacobs was only happy to let you go when we told him you were going to see your estranged daughter, and that you’d be well supervised.  I think he’s determined to keep you on the straight and narrow.”

“Yeah, I’m glad the Pinkertons confirmed he’d do it, or I probably wouldn’t have been able to come, but I thought the name we gave was Micajah Atwater.”  Heyes held up a hand to help Abigail up into the railway carriage.

“He hates the name.  Everyone calls him Cage.”

“I can’t say I blame him,” the Kid chuckled.  “It makes ‘Hannibal’ sound as run-of-the-mill as ‘Bill,’ or ‘John.’”

“At least he can shorten it,” muttered Heyes.  “What have I got?  Han sounds like a girl’s name.”

Knowing that their loved ones were safe and well started to make them elated, their tension falling quickly. 

“Dunno, what else could we call you?” the Kid asked.  “Haniel?  Maybe something to do with elephants?” 

Abigail took a seat.  “I’ll stick with Mr. Heyes.  I don’t want to risk upsetting him.” 

“Since when have you been worried about that?”  Heyes sat down beside Abigail.  “So Anya won’t be there when we arrive?”   

“She’ll be somewhere safe, Mr. Heyes.  That has to be our priority.  Cage is meeting us at the station; he’ll give us more detail when we get there.”

“Beth must have been terrified,” murmured the Kid.  “We need to solve this.  We need to find Carson.  Have you thought of any reason why he’d hate you so much yet, Heyes?”

Heyes shook his head.  “Nope, not unless we robbed him and I can’t remember it; but I can’t see Carson owning a railway or a bank.  He sure seemed to have it in for me, but I thought it was just personal.  Going after Beth takes it to a whole new level.”  He glanced over at Abigail, recognizing that look in her eyes.  Her mind was buzzing with possibilities, searching every angle, and pitfall.  “I thought he was just a bully.  I did think it could be the hearing, but I’m not so sure anymore.”

“Neither am I, from what you’ve told me about him.”  Abigail frowned and looked aimlessly out of the window as the train pulled out of the station.  “For Harris to make two attempts, and risk being re-captured takes it beyond revenge for the hearing.  That’s persistent, and he must have had some kind of motivation beyond loyalty to Carson, otherwise, why not just disappear and enjoy his freedom.  Surely he was being paid?  We have no way of knowing that right now.  We don’t even know if he’s headed to Topeka.  Are we going in the right direction?  Could Carson be headed somewhere else?”

“If we’re makin’ sure they’re safe, we’re goin’ in the right direction,” the Kid stated firmly. 

“I have no doubt they are.  Hester and Cage will make sure they are safe.”  Abigail sat back against her seat.  “If he’s targeting your loved ones, we have to assume that Topeka’s the next place they’ll go.”

 
 The train steamed into Topeka, Abigail standing to stare out of the window before she suddenly started to shout excitedly.  “Cage!  Over here!”

The vehicle had barely come to a stop when she hurtled out of the door, running over to a towering blond man standing near the ticket office.  The cousins collected the bags and followed her.

“Cage, this is Hannibal Heyes... and this is Kid Curry.” 

They looked up at the imposing man who was at least three inches taller than either of them.  Cage looked down at them with glacial-blue eyes.  “I wish I could say it was a pleasure.”

Heyes and Curry exchanged a glance.  “Right back at ya,” muttered the Kid.

Cage stared at Heyes, looking him up and down.  “So, you’re in my custody?”

“No,” Heyes replied, coolly.  “You accompany me to vouch for my whereabouts and behaviour while I’m in Topeka.  I’m not under any kind of arrest.  I’m on parole.”

“Cage, where are they?” demanded Abigail, clutching at his arm.

The man’s eyes softened.  “They’re with Mayzee, Abi.  They’re safe, all of them.” 

The Kid nodded firmly.  “I’ve got to thank you, Mr. Atwater.  The Jordans mean a lot to us, and I’m engaged to Beth.  Where exactly does Mayzee live?”

Cage’s eyes frosted over again.  “Mayzee runs a school for girls in Kansas City, Mr. Curry.  Ain’t nobody gonna think of lookin’ for them there.  There ain’t any connection between you folks and that place.”

Heyes thrust out a hand.  “Thank you.  I owe you a lot.”

Cage coolly observed the gesture but ignored the proffered handshake.  “Yeah, you do.  Come on, we’ve got to get you to the Pinkerton offices to sign in.  That’s what was agreed with Sheriff Jacobs, and I’m makin’ sure you stick to it.” 
                                   
 
  “Mrs. Stewart!  I heard you’d been away – a family illness, I believe?”  Abigail turned, smiling at the red-haired woman who accosted her as she approached the steps to her home.  “And bringing all these handsome men?”  The matron’s eyes alighted on each man in turn, before turning back to Heyes.  “Now, you must be family, those dimples are just so familiar.”

Abigail immediately swung into good neighbour mode.  “Mrs. Adler, how good to see you.  You do look well.  Yes, an aunt had measles.  She’s much better now, thanks for asking.  I’m sorry I was away for so long, but she’s also elderly and I wanted to make sure she was quite well again, before I left.”

Mrs. Adler was not so easily diverted from her quest for knowledge.  She stared at Heyes, raising her eyebrows in enquiry.  “Are you a relation, Mr...?”

“Yes, on Anya... Becky’s side.”

“Oh, the pet name.  Of course you’re related.”  She paused, waiting for an answer before deciding that delicacy was getting her nowhere.  It was time to get direct.  “Who are you?”

Heyes smiled obstinately.  “Mr. Smith.  How nice to meet you, ma’am.”  He gestured to his companions, “and this is Mr. Jones, and Mr. Atwater.  Which is your house?”

Mrs. Adler gestured with a gloved hand towards a shingled house down the street.  “That one; with the hydrangea bush by the gate – not that you can tell at this time of year what it is.  We wrap it in burlap for the winter, but it’s such a pretty pink in the summer.  You should see it.”

Heyes gave her his most charming smile.  “I’m sure it’s very lovely.  We mustn’t keep you, that just wouldn’t be neighbourly in this cold weather,” he turned to go up the stairs, quickly followed by the rest of the group.  “We must catch up very soon.” 

Mrs. Adler started to walk away, turning to call up the steps to Abigail.  “I knew I had something to tell you.  I don’t think Doctor Bentham is there.  She went away in a wagon two nights ago with lots of men – very cloak and dagger.  I haven’t seen Becky, or any signs of life, since.”

Cage cleared his throat.  “We know, ma’am.  She was picked up by the Pinkertons to look after a victim of violence – she’s on retainer you know.”

Mrs. Adler took a step towards them.  “No, I didn’t know.  How exciting.  Is it very secret?”

Abigail decided that enough was enough.  “No, she’s told everyone.  I’m surprised you didn’t know.  She’s been called out to treat injured Pinkertons, and prisoners, at least fifteen times in the last year.  I thought everyone knows about her contract with them.  She doesn’t like it much. Dealing with all those ruffians, but female doctors must do what they can to make a living.  Didn’t Mrs. Ellingham tell you?”

Mrs. Adler pursed her lips and stared at the house across the road with the air of a nosey neighbour trumped.  “No.  She didn’t.  Where’s Becky?”

“With my wife, Mrs. Adler.  We thought Mrs. Stewart could get the house warmed up before we brought her home.”  Cage turned, striding up to the door and giving Abigail a meaningful look.  “Do you have your key?”

“Oh, and a man was looking for you.  A Mr. Adams?”

Abigail paused, her stomach turning over.  “Adams?  What did he look like?”

“Average height, dark brown hair, a moustache.  Does that ring any bells?”  Mrs. Adler clearly thought this was the least significant piece of information she had.

Abigail glanced at Heyes, who noticeably stiffened.  

Abigail “I can’t say that it does.  Did he say what he wanted?”

“No, he said he’d be in touch, though.”

“We must meet, very soon, Mrs. Adler,” Abigail smiled.  “I bet I’ve missed loads while I’ve been away.  Are you in tomorrow?”

“Why, yes.”

“Excellent, I’ll call on you then.  About two?  I’d love a good chat.  I’ll bake, and bring something, shall I?”
Mrs. Adler grinned widely; she was obviously going to be the first to get any news of the mysterious visitors and the incident with the Pinkertons.  Order had been restored in the neighbourhood.  “Absolutely.  You get settled in, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You surely don’t want to spend time with that old prattler, do you, Abi?” Heyes muttered as she turned the key in the lock. 

“Nope,” she opened the door and walked into the hallway, “but she’s one of the biggest gossips in town.  If a mouse sneezes within ten streets, she knows about it.  I need to talk to her.”

The men followed her into the house, Heyes gazing around the hall, drinking in the minutiae of Abigail’s life; the dull ticking of the hall clock, the aspidistra beside the coat-stand, and the doorways leading off to other rooms.  His daughter ran about this house, laughing, jumping, and living life to the full.  He took a deep breath, sucking in the smell and the feel of the place until it was pressed into his memory.

Abigail shivered.  “It’s cold in here.  Jed, can you make a fire in the living room, and I’ll get the range going?  Let’s get the curtains open too.  We need to show the world that it’s business as usual.”

The Kid looked over at the grate.  “It needs cleaning out first – it looks like they left in a hurry and left it to burn itself out.  Just point me in the right direction for all your equipment, and I’ll get a fire goin’.”

“Sure, in here.”  Abigail paused, touching Heyes gently on the shoulder.  “Are you alright?”

He shook himself back to reality.  “Yeah, just thinking – being here is strange.  I dreamed about this.”

“Is it what you thought?”

“No.  I thought it’d be a lot grander, and bigger.”  Heyes gave a little laugh.  “I like this better.  It’s friendly – comfortable.”

Abigail squeezed his hand.  “Thank you.  I’m glad you like it.  Her room is at the top of the stairs, if you want to see it.”

He turned, giving her a look which could be poured over a waffle.  “Really?”

“You can go up alone, or I can come with you, if you prefer?”

The Kid nodded, giving Heyes a smile of reassurance.  “Go on, go and see it.”

Heyes nodded.  “I’d like to see it alone,” he murmured.  He mounted the steps, climbing up the unlit staircase which led to the room where his both past and future played in the shadows.  “Thanks, Abi.”  
 
 
Cage had been reluctantly dispatched to buy steaks, egg, vegetables and dairy products, but he had returned quickly, having been ushered to the front of the queue in each shop, by the women who felt sorry for the man who had no woman to shop for him.

The house was now warm and more welcoming, with fires in the rooms, bedding aired, and the smells of cooking wafting though from the kitchen.  Heyes eventually opened the door to Anya’s room and looked down over the banisters.  This was his daughter’s life; light, warmth, and love.  A glow sparked to life in him.  He had had this, and it had been ripped away from him.  That would never happen to her – he’d do whatever he could to make sure of that. 

His fingers ran over the velvet surface of the floppy rabbit in his hand, and looked down at the ridiculously quizzical look on the embroidered face.  The loose threads and dangling eye betrayed years of pugnacious affection.  Did she miss this?  It had been lying on her bed.  He drew it up to his face and breathed deeply of his daughter’s essence; it smelled like Abigail, like apple pie – and something rather more questionable – but it was the most delicious smell he’d ever experienced in his life.  He balanced it, carefully arranging it in a sitting position, leaning against the newel post in a drunken, sideways slump.  
     
He walked downstairs, his heart light with a joy he hadn’t felt in years.  Is this where he’d live if this works out?  It was away from the Kid, but do-able, if he could build a life outside of jail, but what could he do?  The idea of him and Kid starting up their own detective agency would probably have to be vetoed if things worked out the way Heyes hoped they would.  Abigail was trying to keep Anya safe from ruffians, so Heyes starting up a business that would throw them into their midst would not go over well!

Heyes walked into the kitchen, Abigail turning to smile at him over a boiling pot.  “So?  What do you think of my little home?” she asked.

“It’s lovely,” he slipped an arm around her waist and nuzzled into her neck.  “Just like you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Heyes.  Dinner will be about ten minutes.”  She patted his hand and turned, dropping a light kiss on his cheek.  Can you get the table laid?”

“Sure.  Are we going to discuss our plans over dinner?”

She nodded.  “Yes.  I thought you needed time.”  A smile twitched at the right side of her generous lips.  “Did you find it interesting?”

His eyes glowed.  “She has lots of books.”

“Yes, and puzzles – she like puzzles.”

His face dimpled into a grin.  “I guess she takes after both of us.”

Abigail shook her head.  “Mostly you...” she shrugged off the wistful air and turned back to the stove.  “Now, the table – this is nearly ready.”
 
 
Heyes walked into the dining room to find the Kid laying the last of the silverware on the tablecloth, and Cage placing a jug of water in the centre of the table before sitting at the head, tapping his fingers.  Cage flicked up a pair of dark-blue eyes. 

“Seen everything now, Mr. Heyes?” he asked, coldly.

 Heyes narrowed his eyes before sitting at the other end of the table.  He smiled; but it was a calculating, challenging mask.  The Kid stood assessing both men.  Yup, Heyes was really getting back to his old self.  These two men seemed to be complete opposites.  Atwater was much fairer than the Kid, and with his chiselled features and high cheekbones, Kid guessed that many women found him attractive.  Atwater was now examining Heyes with a Germanic precision echoed in his looks, ready for a confrontation of some kind.  The Kid sat down between them, ready to support his partner. 

“You know Becky, Mr. Atwater?” Heyes enquired, casually.

“Since she was a babe, Mr. Heyes.  I can sure see you in her, but she’s mostly a good child.”

Heyes held the man’s cold, blue eyes defiantly.  “So, Abi’s told you?”  
 
Atwater tilted his blond head.  “Yup.  I always wondered what she saw in you.”  He sat back.  “Now I’ve met you, I wonder even more.”

“No accounting for taste,” Heyes replied.  “I hear someone married you.”

Atwater’s face remained impassive, refusing to rise to the jibe.  “I’m only doin’ this for Abi, and now it looks like Becky’s in danger she needs help even more.  Don’t push me, Heyes.”

“No ‘Mister’ this time?  I don’t mind.  All my friends call me Heyes, I don’t see why you shouldn’t too.”

The Kid’s eyes flicked back to Atwater, waiting for his response.

“I ain’t so sure, maybe I’ll go back to ‘mister?’  I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a friend.”

Heyes’ eyes glittered dangerously.  “I’ll leap to conclusions, Atwater.  It saves time; I’m sure I’d have decided you were no friend once I got to know you better anyway.”

The Kid decided that it was time to step in.  “You’re very protective of Abi, Mr. Atwater.”

“Given who she’s gotten involved with, she needs it, Curry.”

The Kid’s eyes gleamed.  “I ain’t on parole, Atwater.  Don’t push it.”

Cage leaned forward.  “Look, I don’t like you two.  I spent my life tryin’ to put the likes of you away, and now you’re not only hurtin’ a good friend, you’ve put innocent women and children in danger.  I’m here for Abi , Becky, and that poor family who you sucked in to feelin’ sorry for you.”

“Cage!” Abigail stood by the door, wiping her hands in her apron.  “A word, please.”

Cage kept his eyes fixed on the Kid.  “I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Now!”

“I said, I’d be there in a minute.”

She strode into the room, glaring at him.  “I said, ‘NOW,’ and I meant it.”

Cage reluctantly tore his eyes away from the standoff and stood, delivering a parting glower over his shoulder to both partners. 

“It’s all goin’ well so far,” muttered the Kid, gesturing towards the hallway where hushed voices could be heard arguing.

“I don’t suppose he has much reason to like us, Kid.  We’re going to have to put up with quite a lot of this as we settle down to a normal life.”

“You didn’t sound too repentant, Heyes,” the Kid grinned.  “It’s good to see you gettin’ back to normal.”

Heyes sat back, satisfaction warming his smile.  “It feels good, Kid.  I still have my moments, but I’m getting there.”

Cage tramped back into the dining room.  “I’ve been told to tell you I’m sorry.”

Heyes gave him a smirk.  “You’ve been told?”

The Kid shook his head and chuckled.  “Don’t be too hard on him, Heyes.  He probably is.  We’re all sorry when we’ve been told off by Abi.”

Cage smiled in spite of himself.  “She told me a bit of what went on in there, Heyes.  I don’t care what you did, I don’t hold with that sort of treatment.”  He sat back down.  “Don’t think that makes me happy about this, though.”

Heyes sat back in his seat.  “Well, I don’t suppose we have to be bosom buddies.  In my experience, some friends can be worse than enemies.” 

Cage shrugged.  “That depends on the company you keep, Heyes.”

Abigail walked in bearing a tray.  She placed it down on the table before placing serving dishes of baked potatoes, carrots and steaks in the centre of the table.  “Oh dear, I forgot the butter.  Can you pass out the warm plates while I get it?”

“Sure will, Abi,” the Kid replied, eyeing the largest steak.

“I take it neither of you say grace,” Cage asked.

The ex-outlaws paused.

“Will you give it a rest, Cage?” Abigail plunked the butter down in the table.  “The last time you uttered the word ‘Grace,’ was a when you said your sister’s full name.’”  She sat, frowning at Cage.  “What’s got into you?”

“Just teasin’,” Cage smiled.  “I don’t mean any harm.”

Heyes and Curry exchanged a knowing glance before the Kid reached out and stuck a fork in the steak of his dreams. 

“Yeah, Abi, we can take it.”  Heyes quickly nabbed the next biggest before passing the dish to Abigail, leaving the largest man of the group the last choice of steak.  “I’m sure Cage wouldn’t dish it out if he couldn’t take it.”

The detective’s deep-blue eyes turned to Heyes.  “Cage?  Who gave you permission to use my first name?”

“It isn’t your first name,” grinned the Kid.  “That’s Micajah, ain’t it?” 

Heyes arched his eyebrows.  “We can call you Micajah if you prefer?”

“Mr. Atwater.  That’s what you can call me.”

“Nope, Cage it is.” Heyes helped himself to a potato.  “The way I see it, I’m here now, and we’ve reported to the local office.  It’s not my fault if you choose to walk out and decide not to accompany me.”

Cage narrowed his eyes.  “I’m stickin’ around for Abi.  You don’t get rid of me that easy.”

Abigail rolled her eyes, deciding to change the subject.  “Cage, thanks for looking after Anya and the Jordans.  I’ll never be able to thank you enough.”  She gave the partners a pointed look.  “We all have a lot to be grateful for.  Why did you get this job?  I got a message from Robert Pinkerton saying he’d assigned you and that there’d be no charge.”

Cage gave a rueful smile.  “I’m happy to do it, but I guess he’s got no other job to give me while I work out my notice.  He can’t really use me anymore, and it looks good for morale to assign someone free of charge to look after an ex-agent’s family.”  He glanced at the ex-outlaws.  “He also doesn’t want them blabbin’ about havin’ had a deal with Hannibal Heyes to hit our competitors’ customers over ours, in exchange for us not lookin’ too hard for them two.  It works for him” 

Abigail’s brows rose in surprise.  “Your notice?”

“I’ve gone back to writin’, Abi, and Robert Pinkerton ain’t too happy with me.  My new book lets out too many of his secrets, includin’ union breakin for big business, and vote riggin’.  He can’t use me, but he still has to pay me.  What else is he gonna do with an employee who hates the way he does business?  He’s too mean not to get somethin’ for his money, and he sure ain’t gonna pay me to sit at home writin’.”

“You write?” Heyes asked, incredulously.

“Yeah, Heyes, I do.  I had four books published before I became a Pinkerton.”  Cage sat back, appraising Heyes.  “I’ve got a strong accent, but I ain’t illiterate – and I ain’t stupid.  Let’s get that right out there.  My Pa was real hot on a good education, that’s why my sister runs a school.”

“I never said you were stupid,” Heyes replied.

“You didn’t have to.  Folks make assumptions on an accent, but I kinda figure that you’re real dumb if you pay more attention to how folk speak, than what they say.”

“No argument there, Cage,” Heyes’ eyes warmed to the man for the first time since their meeting.  “We probably have more in common than you’d think.  Can you get me any of your books?  I’d like to read them.”

Cage shrugged.  “Sure.  They’re all about catchin’ criminals though.  You might get nightmares.”

Heyes glanced at Abigail.  “Nah, I don’t think so.  I’ve done my time.  I’d like to read your methods though.”

“Speaking of which, what’s the plan?”  Abigail scanned the table.  “I don’t know anybody called Adams, and from Mr. Heyes’ reaction I’m guessing the description fits Carson.”

“It sure does,” Heyes agreed.  “If you ask me the best thing would be for Abi to go to Kansas City and stay with the families, and we stay here and stake out the place until he shows up.  There’s nobody at the Double J. for him, so this is the next obvious place.”

“Over my dead body,” Abigail declared.  “I’m staying.  Why would he come if there’s nobody here?  He needs to see life in the house, and comings and goings.”

Heyes’ face hardened.  “Abi, you are not staying here as bait.  I won’t allow it.”

She turned, staring him straight in the face.  “Two points, Mr. Heyes, first of all you don’t get to tell me what to do.  We come to an agreement based on good, old, common sense – secondly, if we don’t, we will never be able to rest as long as that man is free.  We do this; properly, professionally, and finally.  We end this matter, and get on with our lives.  If he’s here, we need to draw him out; otherwise he‘ll turn their attention back to the Jordans, and they’ll never be able to live in peace.  They can’t hide forever.  Neither can Anya.”

Heyes’ eyes flared with determination.  “You want common sense, Abi?  I’ve seen what that man can do first-hand.  It’ll be a cold day in hell before I let him do that to you.”

“He won’t get the chance, Mr. Heyes.  I have three of the best guns in the country to back me up, not to mention some of the most devious minds.  We outplay him, and draw him out – then we close the trap.  I spent years doing this kind of thing, and my life with Anya won’t be worth living if I don’t do it one more time.”

“It’s real risky, Abi,” murmured the Kid.  “There’s nowhere to hide at the front to watch who’s comin’ to the door.  We won’t know until we open it.”

She nodded.  “Sure, but we minimize the risk.  I have to be seen to be living a normal life, but I don’t go out unless I have to, and whenever I do, I’m covered.  There are four of us, and one of him.  He’s playing Parcheesi, but we’re playing chess.  He’s outnumbered, and outclassed.”

A silence settled over the table.  Everyone knew she was right.  If this house was seen to be unoccupied, he’d turn to the Double J. again - and the Jordans had to go home eventually.  The agreement was a silent, tacit one. 

The hush was broken by Cage.  “Abi, why do you still call him Mr. Heyes?  Is that some kind of act for me?”

Abigail gave a weak smile.  “Act?  No, Cage, I just hate his name.  ‘Hannibal?’  I just can’t call him that.  You can’t even shorten it to anything decent, like yours.”

“Is that all?  Surely you can come up with a nickname?”

Her lopsided smile warmed her eyes.  “What?  Like Mayzee?  Poor girl; your mother really had a knack with names, didn’t she?”

Curiosity swarmed over Heyes’ face.  “Why?  What’s her real name?”

“Never mind,” muttered Cage defensively.

“No, go on, tell us,” The Kid pushed.

“It’s Amazing Grace,” Abigail sat back with a chuckle. 

“What?  The whole thing?  Like the hymn?”

“It was my ma’s favourite,” Cage leaned on the table, obviously embarrassed.  “She loved it.”

“Amazing Grace!?” laughed Heyes.  “Why didn’t they just call her Grace for short?”

“Because she liked the name so much, my older sister was already called that,” Cage sat back, folding his arms.  “She just had to get it in there again, so ‘Amazing Grace’ it was – Mayzee for short.”

Laughter rolled around the room, uniting the company at last. 

“Man – and I thought my folks gave kids a bad name,” chortled Heyes.
 
 
Cage handed over a thin, rectangular parcel to Abigail and dropped his hat on the kitchen table.  “Here you go, Abi, compliments of Robert Pinkerton.  I’ve also dropped in orders for deliveries of fresh food to be brought.  You ain’t shoppin’.  Visitin’ a neighbour and openin’ the door will be enough for Carson to get the idea you’re home.”

Abigail frowned at him.  “Cage, don’t start.  I told Mr. Heyes at dinner last night that I wouldn’t be bossed around and I meant it.  I don’t work for the Pinkerton Agency anymore, and you’re not my senior officer now.”

Cage folded his arms.  “You only have three men lookin’ out for you, Abi.  Speakin’ to the gossip’s a good idea, but I’d be happier if she was comin’ here.”

“Me too,” the Kid stood in the doorway, his hands placed determinedly on his hips.

“The makes three of us.” Heyes added.  “Why doesn’t one of us tell her you’ve sprained your ankle, and invite her here?” 

“Because I’d be branded a fallen woman if she thought I was here alone with three single men.”  Abigail gazed at them in turn.  “I know you’re not used to me caring about what people think, but this is Anya’s home, and these things have a way of impacting on children – especially girls.  You three were supposed to have left last night, that’s why I made Cage use the back door.”

Heyes gave her a gentle smile.  “You’re right, we’re not used to you caring about what people think, but we’ll be quiet.  She’ll never know we’re here.”

“I’ll go and drop a note through her door,” Cage stood.  “We can’t send these two because Carson might know them.  Does she know your writing?”

Abigail nodded.  “Possibly, from Christmas cards.  What’ll you say if she catches you?”

Cage shrugged.  “Anya left somethin’ behind and I dropped it off.  Get that card written and I’ll deliver it.  It’ll give me a chance to have another look around the area and see if there’s any sign of him.”

Abigail sighed.  “I suppose so, but you’d all better make yourselves scarce while she’s here – and keep silent.”   
             
“Once the door’s safely closed, I promise, Abi.”  Heyes smiled at Cage.  “You were her boss?  Tough break, huh?”

Cage shrugged.  “I worked with her a few times, and I was in charge of the operations.  She was real professional.”
“But challenging?”

Cage watched Abigail disappear up the stairs with the parcel.  “She had her own ideas on how things should be done, but I gotta admit; She was usually right.”

“Do you mind if I ask?” Heyes sat down in an easy chair.  “You said Anya and the Jordans were at your sister’s school, but you told the neighbour that they were with your wife.  Is Kansas City your home?  Does your wife run the school too?”

Cage shook his head.  “Nope.  I ain’t got a home at the moment, which is why I’m givin’ up bein’ a Pinkerton.  I’ve gotta look after my son.”

Heyes’ brows gathered in curiosity.  “You have a son and no home?”

Cage’s normally guarded eyes clouded with sorrow.  “My wife died two years ago, givin’ birth.  I couldn’t look after a babe, so my sister took him until I got sorted.  It’s time.  I need to make a move for him.”

Heyes and Curry exchanged a look. 

“I’m real sorry to hear that, Cage.  Abi, said she was a friend of your wife, but she didn’t say she’d died,” murmured the Kid.

Heyes dropped his head before he looked Cage full in the eyes.  “I made a crack last night  about someone having the bad taste to marry you.  I’m sorry.  I didn’t know.  I was out of order saying that.”

Cage moved uneasily in his chair.  “He’s been doin’ fine with Mayzee, but he’s walkin’ now, and gettin’ to the age where he needs a pa around more often than visits between jobs.  I gotta leave, and do somethin’ else.”  He stood, striding off towards the kitchen.  “I need a cup of coffee.”

The Kid’s eyes followed Cage from the room.  “I guess he ain’t the kind to talk about things.”

Heyes nodded.  “And even if he was, I doubt we’d be the kind of folks he’d choose, huh?”

“I guess,” the Kid sat back, examining Heyes.  “It explains one thing though.”

“What?”

The Kid’s blue eyes glittered with inquisitiveness.  “Why he’s much harder on you than me.”  He watched Heyes frown.  “I didn’t attach much to it when I thought Abi was a friend of his wife, but hearin’ he’s a widower kinda puts a different slant on things, don’t it?”

Heyes arched an eyebrow.  “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“My guess is that he’s gonna do everything he can to make you look bad in front of Abi.  You only just got back together, and you don’t need that.  I’m gonna suggest that we split into two groups to keep watch, me and Cage on one, and you and Abi on another.  That’ll limit his chance to drip poison in her ears.”

Heyes smiled at his partner.  “Thanks, you’re always watching my back, Kid.  It’s a good idea, and it makes sense for sleeping too.  I’ll go and tell Cage, but I’m guessing he’ll want to work with Abi.”

The Kid shook his head and grinned.  “It doesn’t make sense to have all that Pinkerton trainin’ on the one shift, and none on the other, does it?  Best to split it - and no point on puttin’ you with Cage, not if he doesn’t like you.”  
   
Heyes' face dimpled into a smile.  “You seem to have thought this through, except he doesn’t like you either.”

“Who cares?”  The Kid smiled broadly.  “Like you said last night, you’re on the way, but you still have your moments.  I’ve got your back until you’re your old self again.”
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Keays

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Posts : 1435
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Tiger By The Tail   Wed Dec 04, 2013 2:35 am

Abigail came down wearing a skirt and blouse, covered in a voluminous knitted jacket. 

“Cold?” asked Heyes, his eyebrows rising in curiosity.

“No,” Abigail glanced around at the three men in her sitting room.  “Not any more.  I have a protection under here.  That keeps the chills away.” 

Heyes gave knowing nod.  “You’re wearing a gun?”

She pulled the cardigan back to show a derringer.  “Underarm.  I’m taking all the help and gadgets the Pinkerton agency have to offer.  I’m wearing one of their new, silk bodices, so it’s all fairly unobtrusive.”  Abigail glanced at Cage.  “Did you deliver the note?”

“Yup, and she nabbed me, just like you said.”

Abigail nodded.  “I’d best get the teakettle on then, she’ll be here in a minute.”

As if on cue, the doorbell jangled noisily in the hallway.  Abigail’s eyes widened before she composed herself.  “Well, here goes.  Let’s hope it’s not a man with a gun, huh?”

Heyes pulled his weapon from his holster, fixing her with worried eyes.  “You don’t have to do this, Abi.”

“I do.  We’ve already been through this.  There’s no other way.”  She steeled herself and strode towards the door, pulling her Derringer from under the knitted jacket.  Her fingers were steady as she released the door catch and turned the door handle.  Kid slid against the wall just inside the dining room; Heyes took up position on the staircase, and Cage was concealed behind the kitchen door.

The door swung open – revealing the plump, smiling face of Mrs. Adler.  “Mrs. Stewart!  You’ve hurt your ankle?”

Abigail leaned against the door, using it to conceal half her body as she slipped her weapon back into the holster under her arm.  “Mrs. Adler, you came?  How lovely,” Abigail limped into the hallway.  “Let me put the kettle on.”

Mrs. Adler pushed passed her, heading for the kitchen.  “Don’t you worry, I’ll do it.”  She paused staring up at the staircase.  “What was that?”

Abigail shrugged.  “What was what?  We’re the only ones here.  Anya’s out and Hester’s working.  I didn’t hear anything.”    
 
“I thought I saw movement,” Mrs. Adler shook her head.  “I guess not.  Right, you go and sit down and I’ll get the tea.”

“And scones,” Abigail added.  “I made scones.  They’re under the cake cover on the table, along with strawberry jam.”
    
Mrs. Adler tilted her head, her eyes warming.  “You made scones with a twisted ankle?  For me?  Well, just sit yourself down and let yourself be pampered.”

She strolled into the kitchen, failing to notice the tall man ghosting into the cellar, or one of the most notorious gunmen in the West slowly closing the door to the dining room.
 
 
 “I thought she’d never go,” muttered the Kid.  “Three hours in that dining room, with nothin’ to do, except listen to her prattle on about such and such’s new hat, or folks comin’ from poor stock.  What’s wrong with that?”

Abigail shook her head.  “Nothing, Jed.  I come from poor farmers myself, but to her it seems more romantic because they dug in Scottish soil, rather than a homestead out here.  I don’t get it either.”

“Well, I think we can be fairly certain that somebody fitting Carson’s description has been asking for you, and tried to find out what school Anya went to.”  Heyes' fist tightened until the knuckles turned white.  “My blood runs cold at the very thought.”  He fixed Cage with intense dark eyes while he clutched at Abigail’s hand.  “I can’t thank you enough.  What if anything had happened to her?”

Cage stared at Abigail.  “I’m not going to let anything happen to her.  I give you my word, Abi.”

She sat like a statue, stiff and pale on the chair, staring aimlessly into the corner.  Only the movement of her heaving chest betrayed the suppressed emotion.  “He could have got her.  We only just got them out in time...”
Heyes stomach sank at the fragility in her voice.  “Abi, we got to her in time.  She’s safe.  We’ll do whatever we have to.  Hell, we’ll leave the country if we have to!”

“Not while I’m lookin’ after you, you won’t,” barked Cage.

She closed her eyes slowly, the wraith she had become after Becky’s funeral haunting her dark eyes.  “I’ll do whatever I have to – even if I have to give her up.”

“It’ll never come to that, darlin’,” the Kid crouched down, trying to engage with her lost, haunted eyes.  “We’re here for you, just like I promised you.”

Abigail sucked in a deep breath.  “I know.”  Her fingers tightened around the hands of both men.  “It just took me back there for a moment.”  She stood, raising her head.  “I can’t think about what might have happened.  Madness lies there... it’s not a place to visit.”  She rubbed her temples, forcing a smile.  “Dinner, anyone?  I made a chicken and ham pie.”

 
 
Dinner was a subdued affair, but everyone did their best to keep the conversation light and airy, despite Abigail just playing with her food.  The Kid’s sharp, blue eyes were quick to notice the frigid rawness in Cage’s dark-blue eyes every time he looked at Heyes.  A deep mistrust still simmered between the two men, but they needed every gun they could get.  The Kid reached for another slice of pie.  They needed more men, faces unknown to Carson who could be out on the street ready for him before he approached the house.  He glanced out of the window – it was dark.  He could wander around the alleys at the back of the houses; it would be like casing a bank.  He made his mind up – after dinner that was what he would do.  If Carson was hanging around, he’d find him. 

Heyes stared at Abigail with worry swimming in his heart.  One glimpse of serious danger to Anya had revealed the vulnerabilities in a woman who had let the world see her as hard and invincible.  She needed him.  She had done this alone for too long.  He knew what it was like to have fear stalk you; dogging every footstep until it robbed your life of meaning.  He had to make this right.  He had thought it was easy for her, out there, living life with Anya, but he had been wrong.  He had lived a nightmare and had friends to bring him out of it when it ended.  Abigail had lived a nightmare which still haunted her.  He wasn’t going back to prison – he knew that now, but she never escaped hers.  That sleeping giant was always there.  
 
What was it she had said in one of her letters?  It had stuck with him and had played on his mind at difficult times.  'There will be a future where you will be able to walk in the sunshine and feel the warmth of a soft hand [/i]slipped into yours. I promise you that the small joys will be yours again'. Did these words resonate for him because she had identified what she had needed for so long?  He could have found her and his daughter, if he’d put his mind to it.  Why the hell hadn’t he done that?  He didn’t like the answer which came ringing back from his own conscience – he’d only been concerned with himself and his own anger. 

He reached out a hand and clutched hers.  “Abi, I’m going to make this right, for you and Anya.  You’re not on your own now.”

“Darn right she’s not,” growled Cage.  “I ain’t leavin’ this until they’re all safe.”

Abigail sighed.  “Thank you.  Now it’s time to close the curtains in the front room.”

Heyes frowned, his face suddenly falling as he realized the implications of the simple pronouncement.  “Abi, you can’t walk up to a window facing a darkened street with the light behind you.  You’ll be a sitting duck!”

“That’s the idea, isn’t it?” she looked straight ahead, staring at the wall as she stood.  “Best get it over with.”

They followed her into the hallway.  “Wait!”  The Kid started pulling on his jacket.  “Let me go out there and check out the streets before you do this.”

She shook her head.  “You can’t.  Carson would know you because you went to the prison.  One glimpse of you and the game would be up – neither the Jordans, nor Anya and I, could ever rest again.”

Heyes and the Kid shared a desperate look.  “Then let me sneak down the side of the house from the back – I’ll be able to see where any shot comes from at the very least,” the Kid persisted.

Cage fixed her with determined blue eyes.  “That’s a good idea, Abi.”

She bit her lip.  “Yes.  Do that, Jed.  We’ll have a chance at getting him then.”

The Kid nodded.  “Give me five minutes.”

Heyes watched her stand at the door to the sitting room, her fingers twisting in the fabric of her skirt.  “You don’t have to do this, Abi.” Heyes murmured.  “If he’s around he’ll know you’re in.  He’ll have found out from the shops and the neighbours.”

“I do.  He has to see me himself.”

Heyes fixed Cage with desperate eyes.  “Tell her, Cage.  This could be suicide.”

Cage reached out and gently stroked her arm.  “I hate to say it, but he’s right.  It might take longer, but it’ll be a lot safer.”

She glanced at Cage.  “Yes, but I want this over and done with.  I want to push him, Cage.  I want him to think that this is his chance – he won’t want to be hanging around here for days if he doesn’t have to.  Not in these temperatures.”

Heyes simmered beside her.  “Why?  Abi, this doesn’t have to be fast.”

She stared ahead.  “We can’t have him think that this is too much bother and move on.  We have to draw him out.  He has to think this’ll be easy.”

Heyes clenched his fists in frustration.  “Cage, why don’t we just grab her?  This is a stupid thing to do!”

Cage gave a withering laugh.  “Yeah, that’s your answer to everythin’, ain’t it, Heyes?  Brute force to get your way?”

Heyes felt his anger spiral.  “For God’s sake, man.  This isn’t the time to score cheap points.  She could be killed!”  He turned back to Abigail.  “Stop staring at that door.  Why won’t you so much as look at me?”

He felt her hand slide into his, her head fixed ahead.  “Because if I look at you, I’ll chicken out, and I can’t.  Not for the Jordans, and not for Anya.”  She pulled up his hand and kissed the knuckles gently.  “Jed will be in place by now.”  She dropped his hand.  “I’ll be back in a minute.”

Cage and Heyes stood in the doorway and watched her stride into the room.  The oil lamps were lit, casting a golden glow over the room, making it look deceptively cozy.  She walked over to the window, looking out into the dark, unlit street.

“Abi, just close the curtains and get away from there – stop looking out!” hissed Heyes.

She reached over, tugging at the burgundy velvet across the window, before stretching to grasp its partner.  The rings caught on the rail, causing her to jerk at the fabric in frustration. 

“Come on....” Heyes muttered.  “Just get it done.”

Abigail gave one last wrench and the curtain cleared from the jam and rolled over the rail to close firmly beside the other. 

She dropped like a stone, keeping her head below the line of the window sill, and crawled back over to the door.  She smiled up at the men, still on all fours as she reached the doorway.  “Don’t want to get shot after all that, do I?”  She climbed to her feet.  “Well, if he’s out there he’ll have seen that, and think I’m alone.”  She gave a rasping sigh, rubbing her face.  “I don’t think I’m going to do that again.”

“You don’t think..!?” snapped Heyes.  “I just aged ten years”

She stared into his eyes.  “Yes, and I think I aged about twenty.”  She reached out and caressed his angry face.  “I hope you like older women.”

His eyes narrowed.  “Come with me, we need to talk.”  He grabbed her hand dragging her into the dining room and locking the door behind him.  “What the hell do you think you’re doing!?  We’re supposed to be partners.  Partners don’t make life and death decisions without consulting the other.”

“They do if it’s for their own good.”

Cage hammered on the door.  “Abi, are you alright?  Do I have to smash this door in?”

Abigail’s eyebrows arched.  “Cage, this is my home.  Don’t you dare smash in my door!”

“Don’t talk to him, look at me,” Heyes demanded.

“Mr. Heyes,” she hooked him with a firm stare.  “I’m sorry, but can you look me in the eye and tell me that you never did anything like that to Jed?”

“Yeah, I can!”

“Let me re-phrase that,” she reached out and took his tight, angry hand, stroking it gently, bringing it up to her lips.  “Can you tell me you never put your safety at risk to meet an objective, when you know Jed would object?”

“You’re twisting things now.”

She smiled, worming her little finger into his hard fist before enclosing it with the rest of her hand.  “Mr. Heyes, we are parents.  We have to do all kinds of things to give them a life.  She can’t live like this.  I have to do whatever I have to – this has to end.”

He glowered at her in challenge.  “And just how do you help a child by robbing her of her mother?  I know how that feels – you don’t.”

She paused.  “You’re right.  I’m sorry, but I do have special underwear on.”

“Don’t try to distract me!  This is important.”

The Kid hammered on the door.  “Heyes, what’s goin’ on?”

Abigail shook off Heyes' grasp and unlocked the door.  “We’re fine, he’s just annoyed at me for taking risks without his permission.”

“Yeah?  Well, for what it’s worth, he’s quite right, Abi.”  The Kid flashed a look at Heyes.  “And now you know how it feels!”

Abigail opened her mouth to give Heyes a retort but was cut off by a sharp, loud rap at the door.  One look at her face told them Abigail wasn’t expecting anyone.

The dissent was forgotten; they swung into action.  Heyes stayed further up the stairwell, just out of view of the door.  The Kid swerved into the kitchen, for no other reason than it was the nearest door, and Cage stepped into the sitting room.  Abigail hoped nobody saw her gulp and headed for the door, pulling her Derringer out from her under-arm holster.  She looked around, everyone was in place. 

She stood to the side of the door.  “Who’s there?”

“Ma’am, my name is Adams.  I need to speak to Mrs. Stewart on a matter which is to her advantage.”

“Really?” called Abigail.  “I’m sorry, but I’m alone in the house with my daughter.  Can you come back tomorrow when there will be staff in the house?”

“Sorry, ma’am, but I have to leave town.  I need to check if you are related to a man to see if you are in line for an inheritance.”

“What man?” Abigail demanded, keeping in character.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t shout that in the street.  I trace relatives of unclaimed inheritances for commission.  There might be others who want the information I have.”

Abigail glanced into the hallway, shrugging at Heyes peeking around the corner from the stairwell, and placed her hand on the latch.  She unfastened it before turning the knob, her Derringer still in her right hand.  The door opened and a man gave her a moustachioed smile.  “Mrs. Abigail Stewart?”

“Yes,” Abigail nodded, raising her weapon behind the door.

He smiled.  “I’ve been waiting for you.”  He raised his right arm. 

Abigail was quick to react to the weapon, but she was not fast enough.  He fired, hitting her square in the chest.  The force lifted her off her feet until her body slammed back on the floor, down the hallway.  She laid there, her head lolling back, as he stepped into the house.

“Carson!  You, bastard!” Heyes yelled, swinging out of the stairwell.  He strode towards the hated figure, firing straight at him. 

Carson ducked, the bullet smashing into the wall behind his head.  Carson fired twice more in rapid succession, driving Heyes and Cage back to their cover before he fled into the darkness.

Heyes glanced down at Abigail’s body in the hallway, the red mist engulfing all reason as he ran into the night.  Carson was going to die. 



 Heyes could hear Cage yelling at him, calling his name and then the Kid's demanding shout joining in on the chorus, but Heyes blocked them out; he only had one thing on his mind.  He didn't care about his parole, he didn't care about staying hidden or undercover—he didn't care what the neighbours thought.  All he saw was the image of his lover being thrown back against the wall and crumpling down onto the floor and all he felt was anguish!  Anguish and burning hatred!

 Lamps were starting to come on from the neighbouring townhouses, doors and windows opening despite the chill of the winter's night, the occupants having been attracted by the terrifying yet thrilling sound of gunfire! Heads were bobbing and tongues wagging as Heyes ran through the layer of frozen snow out into the street.

 He got there just in time to see the tail end of Carson's horse sliding around a corner at the far end of the street and then disappearing into the night.  Heyes was frantic!  He can't get away from them!  Not now—not after what he'd just done!  Heyes' throat caught and he was suddenly strangled by a sob rising up and bursting forth.  He choked it back down and frantically looked around him—looking for anything that he could use to his advantage.

 A horse sent by providence was suddenly blocking his way, nearly knocking him to the frozen ground and he yelled in frustration.  The rider yelled back at him but Heyes was too far gone in his own frenzy to acknowledge or even hear what he was saying.  He couldn't even hear the Kid anymore, he'd actually forgotten all about him.

 He'd forgotten all about everything except getting Carson into his clutches—that's all that mattered to him now.
 He reached up and grabbed the horseman who was blocking his way and gave a violent heave backwards.  The man yelled in surprise and anger as he felt himself being pulled off his horse and sent sprawling onto the hard cold roadway.  The horse spooked, his eyes rolling white as he jumped away from this crazed human.  But his shod hooves slipped on the icy surface, and as his four feet scrambled to find their footing again, the madman had grabbed up the dangling reins and was up in the saddle before the horse had a chance to snort out it's indignation.

 The instant the human's hands made contact with the equine mouth, the horse knew to accept him as the leader.  The solid pressure on the bit steadied the animal's fears and the man's strong embrace with his legs around the horse's barrel balanced him out so that he found his footing, found his direction and found his purpose.
 A touch of the man's heel and the horse dug his hind feet into the icy road and powered himself up to a slippery gallop that sent chips flying into the face of the enraged previous owner!

 Jed had instantly come running out the front door after Heyes, bringing his partners black hat and blue gray brown coat with him.  But he was just that instant too late.

 “HEYES!  STOP!  WAIT!”  Jed was yelling at the top of his lungs but to no avail.  Heyes simply didn't hear him.  “HEYES COME BACK!”  But even Jed knew it was no use at this point and he began to curse and swear and threw Heyes' coat down onto the ground in a show of angry frustration.  The black hat soon followed.  “GODDAMITT HEYES!”

 “Where's that fella goin' with my horse!?”  Jed was suddenly faced with the angry horseless equestrian.  “I'll damn well get the law after him!  He can't go taken another man's horse like that...!”

 “Listen, mister; we'll get your damn horse back for ya'!  Don't worry about it.”  Kid was seething himself and it was all he could do to not sock this guy right in the kisser.  “And if not that horse, we'll buy ya' an even better one!”

 “Well that's not the point!  That's my horse!  Officer!  Officer, did ya' see that fella just ride off on ole' Nick?  You gotta get after him!”

 “I think we got more pressing matters than your damn horse Harold!”  the police officer grumbled as he and the town doctor strode purposely past them on they're way to the townhouse.  Nothing like the sound of gunshots to get the officials showing up at your door.

 Jed scooped up his partners scapegoat belongings and was just about to head to the livery when that same officer suddenly turned and grabbed him by the arm.

 “Where to ya' think you're goin' young fella!?”

 “Listen, you don't understand.”  Jed was frantic.  “I gotta get after my partner—he's gonna get himself killed!”

 “No sir, you're not,”  the policeman informed him.  “You are coming right back into the house until we get all this sorted out.”

 “There's no time....!”

 “Doc!”  Cage's voice bellowed from the front door of Abi's house.  “Doc!  C'mon!  You're needed in here—now!”
 “Keep yer shirt on young fella!”  the town doctor advised him.  “Won't do nobody no good if I slip and break my leg on this blasted ice, now would it?”

 “C'MON!!”

 The officer was distracted by this verbal altercation only for an instant, but that instant was enough for Kid Curry to take full advantage of an opportunity given to him.  He rushed forward, ploughing into the lawman and sending him sprawling on the ice with his feet desperately scrambling to keep his body upright.  Kid jumped away, breaking the tenuous hold the lawman had on him and instantly made a slippery dash towards another convenient horse that was tethered a couple of doors down.

 Kid reached the blowing animal and snapped the reins loose from their mooring just as the policeman got back to his feet and fired a couple of warning shots into the air.  The Kid ducked, but in so doing, lost his hold on the reins and the horse lounged away from him, slipping on the frozen road, but still managing to keep it's distance.

 “STOP!”  the officer yelled after him and fired another shot in the air.

 People screamed and ducked for cover and the lawman took aim and fired another shot, this time for real after the fleeing culprit.  Either the Kid was too good at swerving or the lawman just wasn't that good a shot, but whatever the reason, Jed managed to avoid injury and he scooted down a side street and then like the experienced outlaw that he was, disappeared into the cold shadows.

 Heyes didn't even feel the cold as he pushed the anxious horse along the icy road in pursuit of his quarry.  He could tell that Carson had come this way by the complaints and indignant body language of the numerous people who were still out on the streets that evening.  Nobody was too happy about the rude intrusion of the manic on horseback and many did not hold back in their loud accusations and shaking fists directed at the second insurgent charging through their midst.  Heyes had a fleeting impression of a young man assisting a woman back to her feet, and of a couple of the town dogs charging out and yapping at the heels of his horse before he had awkwardly galloped passed this group and headed onwards to deal with the next.

 He pushed the horse to move faster, but the animal was unsure of its footing and resisted the pressure from the rider's legs.  Too be fair, the horse was trying his best to comply, but Karma-Lou he was not and his feet slipped and slid around him with every step of his gallop and he was snorting with distress upon every stride he took.

 The only good thing about all this was that hopefully Carson's horse was having the same difficulty and Heyes stubbornly pushed on.  His eyes and nose were watering from the cold air that even this slow gallop was generating.  He could feel his lungs aching with the sub zero temperatures being drawn into them, but he still kept going.  Nothing short of the horse breaking a leg was going to stop him—nothing else mattered.

He pushed the horse onwards and they galloped down the street with Heyes constantly wiping the tears from his eyes so that he could see not only where they were going, but where Carson was going.  More than once Heyes felt desperation take hold when he thought that he had lost his quarry and that Carson managed to disappear into the darkness and the night.  But then irritated pedestrians would catch his eye, or a dog barking indignantly down a side street would put the ex-outlaw onto the man's trail again.

 Down side streets, around corners, through back alleys; Heyes was getting frustrated at how big this town—or city really was and he wondered if they were ever going to get out of the busy residential and small business areas.  On the other hand, the well lit street lamps, plus the reflected light from the snow gave him more visibility than he would be getting from the quieter back streets, so he thanked the powers that be for small blessings and pushed onwards.

 He knew he was catching up to Carson!  When this chase began he was having to depend on reactions from other people (and dogs) to keep on track but now, as he peered ahead he could make out another horse no more than a block ahead of him. That animal was struggling more than Heyes' horse was with the slippery and treacherous conditions of the  roadway.  Heyes could see it scrambling, see it's hind legs slip out from under him every time he manoeuvred around a corner.

 Carson was making the mistake of pushing the animal too hard, trying to get more speed out of it than was physically possible under these conditions.  The horse was trying desperately to  move faster, to get away from the gouging spurs and the whip of the reins lashing against it's rump, but the harder the animal tried to power away from the abuse, the more his feet scrambled on the ice and the slower he actually covered the ground.
 Heyes kept steady pressure with his legs and a consistent hold on the reins, encouraging his horse to move fast, but also supporting him and helping him to stay on his feet so that they could actually begin to close the gap between pursued and pursuer.

Then they were leaving the busier sections of the town behind them and the footing became more snow than ice and both horses were able to pick up some speed.  The street lamps were becoming fewer and further between, but the snow stole away the darkness of the night and Heyes had a clear view of Carson riding ahead of him.
 They were catching up, he knew it—just a little bit longer, a little bit more speed....

 They came around another corner and suddenly all was quiet.  No Carson.  Heyes reluctantly pulled up in order to get a more accurate scan of the area, and to listen for anything, any sound at all that would give him a direction to go in.  Snow had started to fall and it brought with it a quiet muffling of any sounds that might have been coming his way.  He sat his horse waiting, stock still and listening into the silence of the night and through the veil of the snowflakes.

 The horse was sweating from the exertion, steam rising from his body into the cold night air.  He was  breathing heavily, great puffs of warm exhausted breath blowing from his nostrils to mingle with the steam and rise up into the night sky.  Heyes could also see his own breath in front of him, but despite the exertion, he wasn't sweating.  He was shivering with the cold and his hands were going numb to the point where he could hardly hold the reins, but he didn't care.  His teeth chattered a little bit but he remained still and silent, listening for anything at all.

 Finally he pulled his gun from its holster and nudged the horse forward at a walk, scanning the ground in front of him for hoof prints in the snow.  Unfortunately the snow wasn't deep enough to hold much of a print especially in this failing light and now with more snow falling visibility was getting difficult.  Heyes felt a desperation come over him!  He couldn't lose him now...he had to be here—somewhere!

 He kept moving forward, listening and hearing nothing, until all of a sudden he was hearing too much!  To his right—from that side alley—a horse grunting!  Then the soft scrambling of hooves trying to make purchase in the snow!  Heyes turned his horse towards the sound and brought his gun up to aim in that direction, but he was too late!  He caught a quick glimpse of Carson's grinning face and the white rimmed eyes of the horse coming at them and then they collided!

 Heyes felt his own horse grunt and then shudder under the impact!  The collision was hard, hitting his horse full on in the chest and he felt the animal rear up and then the hind legs slip out from under him.  There was nothing Heyes could do as he felt his horse land hard on it's rump and then begin to fall over backwards!  He tried to jump out of the way so as not to get crushed beneath the animal but then Carson's horse was jumping over them and all Heyes saw was a pair of equine knees coming at him! He felt the impact, hitting him mostly in the chest and right shoulder, knocking the wind out of him, but also knocking him away from his own falling horse so that he ended up landing hard on his back in the layer of snow.

 He was winded and non-responsive for half a moment, hearing his own horse crashing down beside him and then frantically scrambling to it's feet, sending a shower of snow and ice crystals over top of it's previous rider.  Heyes told himself he had to move!  He had to get on his feet—and where the hell did his gun go!?  He got to his knees and turned just in time to make a frantic leap out of the way as Carson's horse came galloping back at him!  He sprawled face first into the snow and then rolled and was on his feet in an instant and turning to face his adversary.

 Carson was in the process of stopping and then turning his anxious horse and despite the animal slipping with every kick, they were coming at Heyes again, as fast as the conditions would allow.  Heyes didn't wait for them but took off at a run, straight towards them and then just as Heyes and the horse were about to collide, Heyes jumped up, taking hold of the bridle with one hand and a fistful of mane with the other!  He tucked his knees and then with all his weight, he dropped down, pulling the horse's head around and down with him.

 Under normal circumstances the weight of a man would be nothing compared to the strength of a horse's neck, but having been caught by surprise and then along with the slippery conditions underfoot, the horse's front feet went out from under him and he over-balanced, causing him to topple over and come crashing to the ground with an indignant grunt.

 Heyes landed on his feet and got out of the way of the wreck.  Carson hit hard with his right leg getting caught underneath the horse as it pitched onto it's side.  Carson cursed, batting at the horse to get off of him and the horse, not really needing any encouragement, quickly scrambled to it's feet and got the hell out of there.  Enough was enough, already!!

 Carson was on his feet in an instant, but Heyes was onto him just as fast grabbing for his throat and cursing him as a cowardly murderer!  But unlike Harris, Carson was no fool and he had been trained as a prison guard to be able to handle himself in close quarters; he understood hand to hand combat.  His arm was up in an instant and it shot out like a pile driver, hitting Heyes in the face with the bottom of his palm.  He'd been aiming to break Heyes' nose but even though he missed that target, the blow was enough to stop Heyes in his tracks and send him sprawling backwards.  Heyes managed to stay upright and then he stood, his feet planted far apart and bending over with his hands on his knees.  He was breathing heavily, taking in great gulps of cold air and sending out more warm mist from his lungs.  Blood was starting to seep from his right nostril but his eyes were fixed on the hated man who was standing there, grinning at him; his intent clear.

 Carson continued to grin at him, but it came off more like a snarl.  “What's the matter Heyes?”  he goaded the other man.  “You've been waiting five years for this.  Don't tell me you're a coward after all.”

 Heyes was getting his breath back and he stood up straight, his dark eyes still fixed upon his enemy.  He didn't say anything, there was no need to; both men knew this was it—there was a fight coming and slowly they began to circle one another.  Both of them were looking for a weakness, a way in past the others' defences.  Heyes noted that Carson was favouring his right leg—probably not broken, but still badly bruised from the horse landing on it.  Carson noted that Heyes was shivering, numb from the cold and possibly his reaction time might be slowed down because of it.  They continued to circle.

 “C'mon Heyes!  Make your move.  What the hell are you waiting for!?”

 Again Heyes didn't answer him, but held him down in his gaze and continued to circle.  Then Carson slipped and cursed as pain shot up his injured leg and that was when Heyes charged him.  They crashed together and went down, Heyes' hands around Carson's throat, his lips pulled back in his own snarl as he sought to wring the life out of his enemy.  Carson was bigger than Heyes, both taller and heavier—and stronger!  He got one hand up under Heyes' chin and began to push him back and then with his other hand he landed a stunning blow to the side of the ex-convicts head.

 Heyes grunted and lost his hold. Carson pushed him off to the side and was on his feet again in an instant, then he kicked at Heyes and landed a solid blow to his midriff.  Heyes gasped and clutching his torso, tried to scramble to his knees to avoid getting kicked again but then Carson lost his balance and almost went down himself when his injured leg refused to support him.  He grabbed hold of the hitching rail in order to remain on his feet which gave Heyes enough time for himself to get upright again.

 And there they stood once more; hearts pounding, respiration's soaring, eyes full of hatred, glaring at each other.

 “You fucking bastard....”  Heyes finally cursed him in a strained whisper.  “You killed her...why...!?  His voice caught for an instant and Carson grinned.  Heyes saw it and refusing to let him win, forced himself to regain control.  “Why?  Was it just to get back at me?  All of this bullshit...was it just to get back at me?”

 Carson laughed in his face.  “What an ego you have!”  he accused his antagonist.  “Everything's gotta be all about you, doesn't it?”

 Heyes looked confused.  “THEN WHY!?  You hired Harris to kill Beth Jordan.  Ya' arranged that whole prison break just to get rid of me and Kenny!  Ya' killed Doc too didn't ya'--you bastard!”

 Carson sneered and shook his head in disgust.  “That Harris—what a momma's boy!  I knew he'd crack under the pressure.  But like I said Heyes; it ain't about you.  I didn't hire anyone to do anything.  Harris doesn't have a clue who hired him; keep these bloody idiots in the dark, that's what I say.  For all your efforts, Harris gave you bad information.  He doesn't know a thing.”

 “Then who?  Who's behind all this?”

 Carson shook his head.  “Oh no.  You're not gonna crack me like you did Harris.  What did ya' do Heyes?
Threaten to hang him from the ceiling?  That was a fun day, wasn't it?”

 Heyes' lip tightened over his teeth, it was all he could do to stay in control.  Carson saw him struggling and with a malicious smile, raised his hands and motioned to Heyes to come to him.

 “C'mon Heyes,”  he said, beckoning him forward.  “show me what ya' got.”

 Heyes roared and charged!  He was onto Carson in an instant, but he bent low, grabbed Carson's good leg and heaved him up and over the hitching rail.  Carson flipped over and landed hard on his back and then Heyes ducked down under the railing and was on top of him, reigning blow after blow onto his face.  Carson bellowed in anger and then heaved himself up and once again, bowled Heyes over and off of him.

 Then the tables were turned and it was Carson who was on top, punching at Heyes' face.  But Heyes got his arms up, protecting his head and began to squirm and twist in an effort to dislodge his assailant. It didn't look like Heyes was going to have much luck in getting away from the blows, but Carson's injured leg wasn't doing him any favours and the constant battering it was taking from Heyes' bucking began to loosen its hold.

 Heyes was finally able to get Carson off balance and then twisting one more time, he sat up and sent a right hook into Carson's jaw.  The ex-guard was knocked over to the side and Heyes made a grab for his throat again but again Carson blocked him and shoved him away.  Both men scrambled to their feet but Heyes didn't hesitate this time and came at him again, pushing him up against the wall of the abandoned building.

 Carson fought him, the two men then locked in a silent battle for supremacy, each one struggling desperately for the upper hand.  Heyes got his arm across Carson's throat and started to lean into it, putting all his weight behind it and Carson really began to struggle then as the air was blocked from getting to his lungs.  Then his right hand came up and he started hitting Heyes across the face and was finally able to push himself back up off the wall.  He went at Heyes, his face a picture of rage and Heyes scrambled backwards until he was up against the hitching rail and couldn't go any further.

 He swung out desperately, catching Carson a stunning blow across the head.  Carson staggered and backed up a step or two, shaking his head to try and clear the ringing.  Heyes took the opportunity to ducked back under the rail again, getting himself on the other side of it and taking a moment to catch his breath.  Carson straightened up and then stood and glared over at Heyes, but both men were winded and neither one made a move for the other just yet.

 “Ya' killed Doc, didn't ya'?”  Heyes just finally had to ask between gasps.  “Didn't ya'?”

  Carson sneered at him. “The record clearly states that Boeman killed Dr. Morin.”

 “Don't give me that bullshit!”  Heyes spit blood.  “You did it!”

 Carson stood silently for a moment and then a wicked smile spread across his face.  “Yeah, why not?”  he agreed.  “There's nobody else around to hear this, so yeah Heyes; I killed him.  You feel better now?”

 “You bastard!  YOU BASTARD! I'll see you hang for that!”

 “No you won't Heyes,”  Carson snarked at him.  “You got no proof and nobody's gonna just take your word for it.  You've been pushing too hard to get people to believe ya' simply based on your own delusions! They're sure not gonna believe ya' now.”

 Heyes was breathing heavy with emotion, his anger and hurt rising up and threatening to choke him.  “Why!?”  he asked again.  “Why would you do that!?”

 Carson's grin broadened.  “Because it felt good,”  he admitted.  “You should have seen him Heyes; laying on the floor in his own blood.  He knew.  He knew as soon as he saw me that he was gonna die right there in his own infirmary.  I grabbed that pillow and walked over to him and the fear in his eyes was beautiful.  He actually started begging with me to spare his miserable life.  Ha!  He didn't mind calling me every nasty name in the book when he thought he had the upper hand but as soon as the tables were turned, he actually begged me to show mercy!  Oh, it felt good Heyes.  It felt so good to push that pillow down over his foul mouth and suffocate the life out of him.  What a shame you missed it.”

 “You bastard!”  Heyes was gasping for air, almost sobbing with his rage.  “You'll pay for it!  One way or another!  I might not be able to prove that you killed Doc, but there were three witnesses here tonight who saw you shoot Abi!  You'll hang for that Carson—you bastard!!  YOU'LL HANG FOR THAT!”

 “Yeah,”  Carson nodded quietly.  “I'm afraid you're right Heyes.  If they catch me, that is.  I have no intentions of being caught.”

 “You got no choice,”  Heyes spit at him.  “I've got friends coming—they'll be here any minute, and there's no way I'm letting you leave.”

 Carson sighed, feigning regret.  “I'm afraid you're right about your friends.  I expect they will be along shortly so enough of this bullshit.  I didn't want to do this before, since the noise would attract unwanted attention, but seeing as how time is running short....”  Carson unsnapped his gun from it's holster and quickly drew the weapon.  He cocked the hammer and aimed the muzzle straight at Heyes.  “....the sound of a gunshot at this point is hardly going to matter.”

 Heyes froze, a chill settling over him that had nothing to do with the temperatures.

 Carson sneered at him.  “Say 'hello' to the Doc for me.”  And he squeezed the trigger.

 The gun clicked on empty.

 The two men sent surprised glances at each other over top of the weapon then Heyes was on the move!  He charged, doubled over and scrambling under the hitching rail one more time, he tackled Carson with a vengeance!  Carson raised the hand gun in preparation of bringing it down on Heyes' skull but Heyes got in under his defences and the battle was on for possession!

 Heyes grabbed at Carson's right hand, trying to break his grip on the weapon, but the guard hung onto it for all he was worth!  They struggled silently, every muscle straining for control when finally Carson broke the stalemate and twisted himself free from Heyes' grasp.  Then in one fluid motion, he changed the direction of his twist and brought the gun down against Heyes' head.

 Heyes gasped and staggered backwards, holding his head where the hard metal had split the skin and blood was starting to pour forth.  He turned and ran out into the street, clutching his head and trying desperately to stay on his feet.  He could see blood dripping down into the snow, looking like black ink drops that splattered and then spread out into the whiteness and creating strange blotted patterns that Heyes fleetingly thought must have some significant meaning.

 Then he felt himself being shoved from behind and he staggered forward and ended up sprawling face first into the snow.  He rolled over onto his back just in time to see Carson aim the gun again and pull the trigger.  This time the hammer hit a loaded chamber and the gun went off with a flash and a loud report but Heyes twisted over just in time and the bullet hit right next to his face, sending up a shower of snow and ice and causing Heyes' ears to ring.

 Then he was on his feet and charging at Carson, he doubled over again, but this time it was to grab a handful of snow and throw it into his adversary's face before that man had a chance to get off another shot!  They were locked into another silent, physical struggle to get possession of the gun. It seemed as though both men had their hands on it, but neither one could get it away from the other.  Heyes didn't even know which way the muzzle was pointing, he couldn't see it, he could just feel it—the cold hard metal in his hands competing with the warmer, soft flesh of his nemesis; both of them fighting, desperate to win out.

 Heyes could feel Carson's hot breath against his face, feel his heart beating, his blood pumping and then wondered inside himself if it was actually his own heart beating that he could feel, his own blood pumping.  He grunted with the strain, determined to not relinquish his hold.  It appeared that the two men were again in a stalemate; neither one prepared to back down, neither one giving in to the other.

 Then Heyes felt the hammer of the gun pressing painfully into the soft palm of his right hand.  It was digging into the flesh, but he refused to give it up.  Instead he pushed his palm into the hammer even harder and didn't allow his brain to acknowledge the pain of it digging in deeper.  He still didn't know which way the muzzle was pointing, but he was beyond caring; his lover, the mother of his children was dead and if he couldn't bring her killer to justice then he was more than willing to die in the effort!

 Finally, through the haze of pain he felt the hammer click back and he prayed that there was just one more bullet left in the chamber—just one more to end this struggle one way or another.

 Carson knew what Heyes was up to and fought all the harder to get the weapon back under his control but Heyes would not relinquish it and he held on like a madman.  He could no longer feel the pain, no longer taste the blood.  The cold of the night had turned into the heat of battle and he fought like the devil himself to get his finger around the trigger.
 
 And then the gun went off.


 “CURRY!  CURRY, WAIT!  WILL YOU STOP!?”

 Jed snarled to himself, but reluctantly pulled his 'borrowed' horse to a halt and turned him around to face his persistent pursuer.

 “I CAN'T WAIT!”  he shouted back to the approaching horseman.  “Heyes could be in trouble!  Actually, knowing him; he is in trouble!”

 “Just...hold up a minute!”  Cage pulled up beside him, breathing heavily with the exertion of trying to catch up with the stubborn horseman.  “Abi's not dead!”

 Jed's mouth dropped open as he stared incredulous eyes at the Pinkerton man.  “What do ya' mean; she's not dead!?  I saw her get hit full in the chest!  YOU saw her!  How could she still be alive!?”

 “She was wearing bullet proof clothing under her dress,”  Cage explained.  “She's hurt; the bullet caused a lot of bruising, maybe even broke a rib.  But she's alive Curry.  She's alive!”

 “Bullet proof clothing!?”  Jed repeated as though Cage had just told him that horses could fly.  “You have such a thing!?”

 “Yeah,”  Cage informed him.  “It's pretty effective too.  Not very comfortable, but effective.”

 “Geesh,”  Jed shook his head.  “We sure coulda used that in our previous professions.”

 Cage smiled.  “Yeah, well that's why they were kept secret—to keep them out of the hands of people in your 'previous profession!”

 Jed slumped against his saddle horn in relief.  “Abi's alive,”  he repeated as though he still couldn't quite believe it.  Then his face tightened and he straightened up again, his horse tensing with the changing of his mood.  “All the more reason that I havta' find Heyes!”

 “Wait for re-reinforcements Curry!  You don't know.....”

 But Jed had pulled his horse around and pushed him back up to a tentative gallop not being in the mood to hang around and wait for anybody.

 “Oh crap!”  Cage cursed, and then pushed his own horse back into the gallop and followed in the ex-outlaw's wake.
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Keays

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Posts : 1435
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Tiger By The Tail   Wed Dec 04, 2013 2:49 am

Jed galloped on into the cold night, keeping himself to the middle of the streets where there seemed to be more snow than ice that gave his horse a little bit better footing.  He really didn't know where he was going or even if he was on the right track, but this is the direction Heyes was going in when Kid last saw him, so until indicated otherwise, this was the direction he went.

 He noticed people on the boardwalks, talking in groups and some shaking their heads and to Jed this was a strong clue that his partner and Carson had passed this way.  Kid pushed his horse onwards until they came to an intersection and there was nothing to hint at which direction they had gone.  He pulled the horse up and angled over to a group of gentlemen walking along the boardwalk.

 “Excuse me!”  he called over to them.  “Did you folks see a rider gallop past here?  Maybe two?”

 The gentlemen all looked around at one another, shaking their heads and shrugging.  “No.  Anyone would be a fool to gallop a horse on these roads!”

 Jed slumped in disappointment.  “So none of ya' saw anyone?”

 “That's right son,”  said one of the older gentlemen.  “Nobody like that.”

 “I did!”  came a small voice from behind the group.

 The men all looked around and then parted the way to expose a couple of ragamuffins who had just finished picking the pockets of the gentlemen standing in front of them.  The gentlemen were totally oblivious—for the time being.  Jed smiled knowingly.  Then got down to the business at hand.

 “You boys saw a couple of riders go by here—at a fast gallop?”

 “Sure did!”  piped up the older of the two.  “Not a fast gallop though, but you could still tell they was both in a hurry.”

 “Which way did they go?”

 “How much's it worth to ya'?”

 Jed smiled, despite his urgency and digging into his pocket he pulled out a fifty cent piece.  The eyes belonging to both boys lit up with disbelief.  “Is that enough for ya'?”

 “Yessir!”  the oldest boy stepped forward, holding out his hand.

 “Ah ah,”  Jed shook his head and held the coin up, out of reach.  “Which way.”

 Both boys instantly pointed down the right hand street and then the eldest held out his hand again.  Jed nudged his horse closer and placed the coin in his up stretched palm.

 “There ya' go,”  he said.  “Careful how ya' spend it.”

 “Yessir!”

 “Thank you, sir!”

 And they scurried off down the boardwalk with their absconded with wallets and their honest coin.

 Curry was pulling his horse's head around just as Cage caught up with him.  They locked eyes for an instant and then without a word they both pushed up to a slippery gallop again and headed off to the right.

 Jed was getting more and more anxious as time went on.  They hadn't heard any gunshots, nothing to indicate that Heyes had caught up with Carson, so how far was this chase going to lead them?  Was Heyes galloping himself right into a trap?  Jed couldn't help but remember the last time Heyes had taken off on his own after a killer and how he'd almost paid for it with his life.  Now here he had gone and done it again!  Dammit!  Didn't Heyes know he was suppose to wait for Kid?  How was Jed gonna watch his back if he kept on insisting on galloping away half cocked and not waiting for his partner to be there for him?  

 Heyes just wasn't thinking right these days!  Right after he got out of that prison he was afraid to make any move at all—afraid to make any decisions for himself.  Now he was just acting on impulse' grabbing the bull by the horns and not caring where the chips would fall!  He was going to get himself killed doing stuff like this!  But then Heyes thought Abi was dead, so maybe he didn't care if he got himself killed.  Oh dammit!  Kid pushed his stressed out horse even harder and they galloped on.

 Then it began to snow.  Just lightly at first, as is usually the case but then the flakes became bigger and heavier and the two men pushed on through white softness drifting down around them.  They came to another intersection and another decision to make.  The streets were quiet now, actually peaceful with the snow coming down but Jed and Cage pulled up and stood, just as Heyes had done; stood still and listened for anything to come to them.

 Both horses were breathing heavily and steam was rising off their bodies and all of them peered into the whiteness of the night and listened.  Then the ears of the horses pricked up and Cage's animal sent out a loud whinny, it's whole body vibrating with the intensity of it.  The two men followed the gazes of the two horses down one of the side streets and they listened, trying to pick up anything on the cold night air.

 Then they heard it.  Muffled and distant with the snow, but definitely the jingle of a horse's bit and the squeak of saddle leather.  Then finally out of the flurry of snowflakes, a riderless horse emerged from the shadows, and with a snort of relief, trotted over to join up with his like kind.

 The two men exchanged relieved glances and again, without a word pushed the horses down the side street and carried on.  The riderless horse, though not pleased about returning to the scene of the battle did so anyways in order to stay with the group.  Then Jed cursed and his horse reared in surprise as another riderless animal came galloping and sliding into their midst and then skidded into the group!

 Both Jed and Cage had their hands full for a moment, getting their own horses under control and trying to stay out of the way of the two skittish loose ones.  The second horse snorted and tried to pivot around this group, wanting to get as far away from his abusive handler as he could.  He forgot about the slippery footing though and his feet whisked out from under him and for the second time that evening, he went down in a crashing, indignant heap!

 Cage cursed as he pulled his own horse around in an effort to get away from the thrashing hooves of the downed animal while at the same time, his horse was doing his level best to also avoid being kicked.  He jumped to the side and then slipped himself and went down to his knees.  Cage managed to stay in the saddle though, and the horse quickly righted himself and blew indignant mist into the cold air as he got himself back in form.

 Carson's horse scrambled to it's feet and without a backwards glance dug in his hind hooves and took off at an awkward gallop back towards the main part of town.  Heyes' borrowed animal, now given the option of having company going in the direction he really wanted to go in, also turned tail and took off after his new found buddy.

 Jed and Cage didn't even bother to exchange looks this time, but got their horses in order and headed down the side street as quickly as conditions allowed.  They carried on this way for about another ten minutes and were beginning to get worried again that they had lost the scent.  They both scanned the road ahead of them but with the snow coming down, any tracks that might have been there from the fleeing horses were quickly being covered up by the darkness of night and the blanket of white.

 They both pulled up again, stopping and listening and hearing nothing.

 And then the gun went off.

 All four of them jumped at the sudden sound and then Jed cursed and forgetting all caution, booted his horse forward as fast as he could make it go.  Cage was right on his heels, getting ready for anything and peering ahead of them, straining to catch sight of movement in the swirling mist.  Then out of the dancing snowflakes, Jed saw him.  A shadowy figure of a man staggering towards them, falling to his knees then getting up again and continuing on.

 Cage came up level with the Kid and pulled his gun.  Jed reached out and grabbed his arm.

 “NO, put it away!”  he yelled at the Pinkerton man.  “It's Heyes!”

 “How can you tell!?  We can barely see him!”

 Jed sent him an exasperated look as he quickly dismounted.  “He's my cousin!  I can tell!!”

 Jed ran towards the staggering man, the features of his cousin becoming more and more defined through the snowflakes as he got closer.

 “Heyes!  Heyes!”  Jed called out to him as he approached.  “It's me; The Kid.”

 “Kid....?”  came the muffled whisper.

 “Yeah Heyes,”  Jed confirmed quietly, taking his cousin by the shoulders and peering into his clouded eyes.  “It's me Heyes.”

 “I got 'em Kid,”  Heyes informed him.  “I got Carson....”

  Jed looked over Heyes' shoulder to the prone form laying on the ground, the snow gradually putting down a blanket of white over top of it.  “Yeah, I can see that Heyes.  You got him alright.”  Then Jed turned back to the Pinkerton man.  “Bring me his jacket Cage!  He's freezing!”

 “He admitted it Kid...”  Heyes mumbled, almost as though he were fighting sleep.

 “What?”

 “He admitted to killing the Doc,”  Heyes' voice broke in a sob and though he fought to control it, his eyes were full of anguish as he turned them towards the Kid.  “If only they'd listened to me....if they'd listened to me and stopped him sooner, then Abi would still be.....”

 “No, Heyes...”  Kid squeezed his shoulders.  “Abi's alive!”

 The anguish in Heyes' eyes was suddenly mixed with disbelief.  “What...?'

 “That's right Heyes,”  Cage confirmed it as he approached the pair and threw Heyes' coat across his shoulders and then put his black hat onto his head. Heyes cringed slightly at the pain these actions caused him.  “She's battered and bruised, but she's alive.  The doctor is staying with her for now.”

 “But...”  Heyes looked from one to the other of them.  “How...?  I saw her get shot.”

 “She was wearin' some new fangled contraption,”  Kid explained.  “Some kind 'a bullet proof underwear or somethin'!  I ain't never heard of such a thing.”

 Heyes swayed but still stared at the Kid with his mouth open and a confused look to his dazed eyes and then he turned the look over to Cage.  Cage smiled and nodded affirmation.

 “We've had them for sometime now,”  he confirmed.  “Still working out some of the kinks, but usually they'll stop a bullet in it's tracks.”

 “Geesh.”

 Jed laughed.  “Yeah, that's what I said.”  And he gave his cousin a pat on the chest.

 Heyes sucked his teeth and tensed up.

 “What?”  Jed asked, suddenly concerned.  “You hurt Heyes, you get shot?”

 “No, not shot,”  Heyes slurred.  “Carson and I were...fighting, trying to get control of the gun.  I was right up against it when it went off.  I think I got burned.”

 “Ah jeez, Heyes....”

 Jed took a closer look at his cousin then and he noticed that a patch on the front of his shirt was burned away and what appeared to be powder burns were singed along his upper chest and throat.  Jed sucked in a breath and went to touch the injuries, but then thought better of it; they were probably sore enough.

 “C'mon Heyes, let's get you back so the Doc can have a look at ya'.”

 “Okay.”

 But then, just as they were about to head back to the horses, those same horses suddenly spooked and jumped forward, their eyes showing white and their nostrils blowing.  Out of the snow they heard and then almost immediately saw four horsemen coming at them and looking like they meant business.  Even through the falling snow Jed could see badges indicating law enforcement and guns were being drawn and orders were being thrown out at them.

 “Hold it right there!”  

 “Don't anybody move!  Get your hands up!”

 Jed briefly thought about pointing out that they couldn't possibly put their hands up if they weren't allowed to move, but then just as quickly vetoed that.  This was not the time to get smart.  Then he felt Heyes tense up beside him, and his cousin started to back up.

 “No....”  Heyes whispered.  “No...I can't go back....”

 “Heyes, wait!”  Jed quickly grabbed his arm, stopping him in his tracks.  “Heyes, stop.  It's alright.”

 Heyes turned terrified eyes towards the approaching lawmen and shook his head.  “I can't go back to prison...I can't....”

 “It's alright Heyes,”  Jed repeated.  “You haven't done anything wrong.”

 “I'll be the judge of that!”  the inspector informed them as he approached the group.  “What in the world is going on here?”  Then he recognized Jed.  “And you!  What's the big idea of assaulting a police officer!?  The whole lot of ya' are under arrest!  And what's that lump over there, under the snow?”

 “Officer, there's been a misunderstanding,”  Cage put in.

 The inspector sent him an incredulous look as his juniors headed over to inspect the battle ground.  “Really?”  he sniped.  “How do you figure that?”

 “My name is Micajah Atwater....”

 “Micajah!?  What the hell kind of a name is that!?”  the inspector was incredulous.

 Cage's jaw tightened with irritation, but he got over it.  “Please stay focused Inspector.”

 The inspector put his hands on his hips and was about to give this young arrogant little...a piece of his mind and he didn't care how big he was.  But Cage's next words stopped him in his tracks.

 “I'm an agent with Pinkertons,”  Cage informed him.  “I'm sure you've heard of us.”

 “Of course,”  the inspector was indignant.  “But let's see ya' prove it!”

 “That won't be a problem,”  Cage assured him.  “If I may take out my wallet, I'll be quite happy to show you my credentials.”

 The inspector nodded.  “Fine, but do it slow.  If I see anything that looks like a gun coming outa there you'll be the one in trouble.  You understand?”

 Cage smiled and nodded.  He carefully opened up his coat and reached inside and then retracting his hand again, he handed over the leather wallet to the policeman.  That individual took it and opening it up carefully examined the contents.  Finally he nodded and handed the case back to its owner.

 “Fine,”  he conceded.  “You're Pinkertons.  So how about you explain what's going on here?  You can begin with why I shouldn't arrest HIM for assaulting an officer, and HIM for stealin' a horse...”   he glanced over Heyes' shoulder as his men uncovered and rolled over a dead body.  “....and perhaps one or two other things.”

 Heyes groaned as he swayed.  Jed kept hold of his arm to keep him upright just as much as to keep him from running.

 “That man over there,”  Cage pointed over to the lump of carrion that had formally been known as Carson.  “was a suspect in a murder up in Wyoming among others and he attempted to kill one of my agents just this evening.  You were there, Inspector, you heard the shots.”  The officer nodded.  “These men only did what they had to do in the performance of their duty.  We could not let that man get away from us—not at any cost.  He was very dangerous.  They did nothing that you yourself would not have done in an effort to apprehend a suspect in a murder case.”

 “Well....” the inspector considered this.  “I suppose.”

 “Indeed,”   Cage continued, warming to his subject. “Instead of arresting these two gentlemen, you should be thanking them!  That corpse used to be a very dangerous man and my associate here risked his own life in order to apprehend him.  He should be awarded for his bravery and his selflessness instead of being treated like some common bank robber.”

 Kid sent Cage a warning look with that last statement.  Let's not push our luck here.  Cage ignored him.

 “Well, I suppose that does make sense,”  the inspector acquiesced.  “But I still want a complete report from all of ya' before you leave town.  Understand?”

 “By all means, Inspector,”  Cage agreed.

 “Yessir officer,”  Jed echoed.

 Heyes just stood and swayed, looking totally bewildered.  First Abi was dead, then she's not.  Then he was going to be arrested and taken back to prison, but now he's up for an award?  None of this made any sense!  Then his mind latched onto one of the things that did make sense.

 “I lost my gun,”  he mumbled.

 “What?”  Jed was taken by surprise.  He was still trying to wrap his brain around what had just happened.

 “I lost my gun,”  Heyes repeated and then gave a wobbly wave that encompassed the whole battle field.  “in the snow.”

 “Oh,”  Jed looked at the blanket of white covering the ground and his heart sank.  “I'd say chances aren't too good of finding it before spring.”

 “Oh,”  Heyes sounded disappointed.

 Then a yell went up from one of the junior officers as he turned his ankle on some hard object that had been covered up and completely hidden beneath the white carpet.  

 “Goddammit!”  he cursed and reaching down, he picked up Heyes' hand gun.

 Jed smiled.  “But, then again....”

 “Kid?”  Heyes breathed a whisper.

 “Yeah Heyes?”

 “I think I'm gonna pass out now.”

 And then without further adieu, Heyes' legs melted out from under him and he dropped down into the snow despite Jed and Cage's attempts to catch his fall.


 Black canopy with white specks drifting down and swirling around.  Nose is cold.  Breathing in; freshness to the air.  Soft and wet landing on eyelids, causing them to blink.  So peaceful.  Maybe he could just stay here, so soft and comforting.  Then, of course; a whiff of pain seeped into his consciousness and slowly it began to grow until  his mind was filled with it and then it started to ooze out and to encompass every aspect of his body.  It moved in ever increasing waves down from his shoulders, into his arms and to his fingertips.  Then through his torso and into his legs and then all he felt was cold.

 Jed's worried face put in an appearance, those blue eyes gazing down at him, blocking out the black night and whirling white.  Heyes blinked again and licked his dry cold lips.

 “Heyes?”  Jed's voice made its way through the thick blanket.  “You awake Heyes?”

 He tried to speak but nothing came out, so he just nodded.  It was an automatic response really since he wasn't sure if he was awake.  Jed's worried eyes took on a relieved glow and he smiled a sigh of relief.

 “Thank goodness,”  he said.  “You had me real worried there.  How the hell were we gonna get ya' back to Abi's place?”

 Heyes tried to speak again, coughed and wet his lips and tried one more time.  “Abi?”

 “Yeah,”  Kid confirmed, then took hold of Heyes' arm and pulled him up to a sitting position, Heyes felt his head spin.  “Let's get you back to Abi's.  Hopefully the Doc is still there.”  Then Jed looked concerned again as he saw his partner's eyes swoon.  “You sure you're alright Heyes?  Think you can ride?”

 “Ride?”

 “Yeah, you know; on a horse.”

 “Oh.  Ahh....”

 “I mean I'll be with ya',”  Jed assured him.  “Not gonna let ya' ride alone.  We just need to get ya' mounted up, okay?”

 “Oh.  Okay.”

 “Hey, Cage help me will ya'?”

 “Yeah, sure.”

 Cage came over and grabbed Heyes' other arm and together they easily pulled Heyes to his shaky feet.  They let him stand there and sway for a moment, allowing him time to find his equilibrium and then slowly encouraged him over to the side of Kid's temporary horse.  This animal was much smaller than Karma was but it was still too high for Heyes to get his foot in the stirrup.  He gave it a valiant effort, but in the end Cage hooked his arm under Heyes' knee and brought the leg up high enough for him to then manoeuvre the foot into the appropriate slot.

 Heyes reached out and grabbed the saddle horn, but then he was stuck.  Next thing he knew, Cage had him by the belt and too easily boosted him up to the point where Heyes was sure he was going to go ass over teakettle and end up on the ground on the other side.  But Cage still had hold of him and pulled his torso around so that he ended up with a face full of mane instead of snow.  Kid had grabbed his right leg and swung it around and over the cantle so Heyes finally found himself seated in the saddle and actually facing the right way.

 “Ya' alright Heyes?”  Kid asked him again.

 “Yeah,”  Heyes mumbled.  “Just hurting.”

 “Where ya' hurtin'?”

 “Everywhere.”

 “Uh huh.  Well, let's make it easier.  Where are ya' not hurtin'?”

 Heyes sat silently for a moment and really had to think about that.  “My feet,”  he finally decided.  “They're just cold.  Real cold.”

 “Well, we'll get ya' down in front of the fire at Abi's place as soon as we can,”  Jed assured him.  “In the mean time, how about moving your cold foot from the stirrup so's I can mount up?”

 Again, Heyes had to think about it.  Do what with his what foot?  Kid tapped his ankle to see if his cousin would respond.  It helped and Heyes focused on that foot and slipped it out of the stirrup.  Kid grabbed the horn, stepped into the stirrup himself and swung aboard, behind his cousin.  He gathered up the reins and looked down at Cage.

 “You comin'?”

 “No,”  Cage answered with a concerned look over to the police officers making a mess of the 'crime scene'.  “I think I'll stay here and protect our interests.  I'll see you back at Abi's in a couple of hours.”

 Kid nodded.  “Okay.”

 Jed turned the horse's head back the way they had come and gave the animal a nudge.  If Curry had been worried about finding his way back in this strange town, he needn't have wasted the energy because the horse knew exactly where he was going.  With ears up and head down the equine lengthened it's walk as much as he dared under current weather conditions and made a direct bee line for home.  Heyes and Kid were just along for the ride.

 It was so quiet and peaceful now.  It was getting late and most of the citizens had gone home for the night so the streets were basically empty of traffic and pedestrians.  The snow continued to fall lightly and made interesting patterns in the upside down cones of light being spread out by the street lamps.  It wasn't as cold as it had been earlier either and the snowflakes were large and soft and muffled all sound to the point where they couldn't even hear their own horse's footsteps.

 “You doin' alright there Heyes?”  Jed asked quietly, though even at that his own voice sounded like an intrusion.  “You still with me?”

 “Yeah, I'm okay Kid,”  Heyes answered just as quietly.  “Just hurtin'.  I gotta stop getting into fights.”

 “Well if ya'd just waited for me, like you're suppose ta'...”

 “I know, I know,”  Heyes mumbled. “I just...wasn't thinkin'.”

 “Again.”

 Heavy sigh from the man up front.  “We almost there?  I'm tired.”

 Jed looked around, getting his bearings.  “Yeah, I think so,”  he said.  “Abi's is the next block over.”

 “Good.”

 At this point Jed and the horse had a minor disagreement when Jed tried to turn it's head towards Abi's place, but the horse wanted to keep on going towards his own stable.  A little persistence from the rider and a sharp kick in the ribs convinced the mode of transportation to comply with the driver and he reluctantly followed his orders.

 Then as they approached the steps leading up to Abi's front door, a man stepped out from the alcove and the horse again pricked his ears and sent out a welcoming nicker.  Kid pulled up at the foot of the steps, even though the horse had every intentions of stopping there anyways, and he slid off and turned to help his partner get down.
 The gentleman on the porch came forward and took the bridle of the horse and patted the animal affectionately.

 “About time you got back!”  he groused.  “What's the idea of taking a man's horse right out of his own stable!?”

 “Oh,”  Kid actually did look contrite.  “Sorry mister, but as you can see it was kinda an emergency.”

 Heyes slid down to the ground and actually managed to stay on his feet, but mainly because he had the horse there to lean against.  The owner of the horse took one look at Heyes in the porch light and paled slightly and swallowed.

 “Oh yeah,”  he mumbled.

 “Here,”  Kid dug into his pocket for the second time that evening and pulled out a fifty cent piece, geesh he was going through a lot of money this evening.  “For the use of your horse and to cover any...inconveniences.”

 “Yeah, well he better not be injured!”  the man griped again but he still accepted the money.  “He's a good horse....”  and he continued to mumbled his complaints to the night as he pulled his horse around and lead him off towards his own stable.  The horse himself looked quite pleased to be going that way.

 Kid got a shoulder under his partner's arm and helped him up the stairs.  He was just about to open the front door when it quite suddenly was opened for him and Abi's nosey neighbour was staring him in the face.

 “OH!  Ah, Mrs. Adler!”  Kid almost back stepped off the porch.  “I didn't realize you'd stopped by.”

 “Well somebody needed to help dear Abigail!”  she insisted.  “I know the doctor is here, but sometimes there's nothing like a woman's touch...oh my!”  This after her first glance at Heyes.

 “Yeah,”  Kid mumbled.  “So the doctor still here?”

 “Of course he is!”

 “Good,”  Kid and Heyes continued to stand on the threshold while Mrs. Adler continued to stare at Heyes' condition.  “Do ya' think you could go get him?”  Kid finally suggested to the dimwit.

 “Oh, well fine!”  she responded haughtily.  “There's no need to be rude young man!”

 She turned on her heels then and headed upstairs towards Abi's room to presumably get the doctor.  Heyes and Jed both chuckled over the lady's obvious obtuseness.

 “Takes all kinds,”  Kid mumbled.

 “Hmm.”

 Kid helped Heyes over towards the kitchen where the stove was lit and would therefore be about the warmest room in the house.  They had just got there when the door opened behind them again and the doctor came into the room.  One look at Heyes and his eyes popped open in surprise.

 “OH!  My goodness!”  he exclaimed.  “Is all that blood yours?”

 “All what blood?”  Heyes asked him.

 Jed and the doctor exchanged looks.  “Ah, ya' are kind of a mess Heyes,”  Jed informed him as he picked a red, meaty clump from his cousin's hair.  Then he grimaced in disgust and flicked the object into the stove.  “Eeww, yuk!  I don't even wanna know what that was!”

 The doctor shook his head and then set his bag on the table and began to remove certain items from it.  Then without turning around he started talking to apparently no one
.
 “I know you're listening at the door Mrs. Alder so you may as well come in and help!”

 “OH!”  came the surprised little yelp from the other side of the door and then it opened and the neighbour lady put in an appearance.  “Really Dr. Miser!  I was just on my why in to offer to help.”

 “Hmmm hm,”  came the unconvinced response.  “Since you're here will you please put some water on to boil.  Alright young man, take a seat here.  Ah, could you help him get his jacket off?”

 Jed nodded and gave Heyes a hand with that task and then both Jed and the Doc sucked in quiet gasps at the sight of Heyes' chest and neck.

 “Oh my,”  Dr. Miser commiserated.  “Are those flash burns from a gun?”

 “Yeah.”

“Hmm.  Well I've seen worse, but still those must be very painful and I'm going to have to clean them.  It'll hurt.”

 Heyes just nodded.

 “Not much left of that shirt,”  the doctor observed.  “May as well just throw it out.  Do you have another?”

 “Yeah,”  Heyes confirmed.

 Then the Doc reached over and gently lifted Heyes' hat off his head.  His hair was all sticky and matted with blood, a lot of which had run down onto his face.  How much was his and how much was Carson's was anyone's guess.  The Doc stepped forward and began a gentle but thorough examination of Heyes' scalp, with Heyes grimacing whenever he got too close to the spot where Carson had whacked him with the gun.

 “Okay.  Just that one injury here,”  the Doc finally announced.  “Head wounds always bleed a lot, so they look worse than they really are. I'm going to have to shave that area though to get it cleaned out and treated.”

 Heyes instantly tensed up.  “Shaved?!” he asked defensively.  “My head!?”

 The Doc furrowed his brows, wondering at the extreme reaction.  “Just that one area.  Don't worry it will grow back, and your hair is so thick anyways you can probably cover up the area with a bit of creative combing.  Nothing to worry about.”

 “I don't really want ya' shaving my head, Doc.”

 Dr. Miser sent an imploring look over to Jed; perhaps the man's friend could help allay his fears.

 “Ah yeah,”  Jed  squatted down in front of his cousin.  “Listen Heyes, the Doc's gotta see what he's lookin' at in order to clean it, ya' know?”

 “Yeah, I know.  But....”

 “It's not like he's gonna shave your whole head.”  He dropped his voice to a whisper.  “It's not gonna be like at the prison.  It'll just be that one area.  You'll be able to cover it up with your hat.”

 “Yeah...”  Heyes still sounded dubious.

 “C'mon, it'll be alright.”

 “Yeah, okay—I suppose so.  Just that one area though, right?”

 “Yes,”  the doctor confirmed.  

 “Yeah, okay.”

 “Good,”  Dr. Miser nodded then turned to Mrs. Adler again.  “Is that water ready yet?  We'll need to wash his hair before we go any further.”

 “Just in time Doctor,”  she told him as she poured some of the steaming liquid into a basin.  “Here it is.  Not too hot though.”

 “Fine.  Thank you.  Keep the rest of it warm, we'll be needing it.”

 “Of course!”  and she rolled her eyes and shook her head as though resenting the doctors apparent opinion that she was an idiot!

 And so it went.  They got Heyes' hair washed and then the doctor took a pair of scissors and carefully began clipping away the strands of hair that were covering the wound, and then he lathered a bit of soap over the area and gently shaved the spot bald.  Throughout this whole preparation Heyes sat rock still, with his bruised and split knuckles turning white while he clutched the chair arms.  Jed stood close by, keeping a hand on his cousin's shoulder, feeling the man's stress but not knowing what else he could do to relieve it.

 Finally the Doc put the straight edge down, gently wiped away the excess soap and hair and took a close look at the injury.

 “Hmm okay,”  he commented.  “It's not too bad.  A couple of stitches ought to take care of it.  I want you to stay resting for a couple of days though alright?  Stay off your feet and that also means no riding of horses or driving of wagons—got that?”

 “Yeah.”

 “Good!”  the Doc grumbled.  “Too many fellas try to find the loop holes to 'staying off your feet'!  I just want to make sure you understand what I mean!”

 Heyes couldn't help but smile despite his discomfort.  “I understand, Doc.”

 “Good.  Alright, Mrs. Alder.  Some fresh hot water please, let's get the rest of this blood off of him.  But don't touch those burns!  I'll deal with those myself.”

 Then while Jed and Mrs. Adler proceeded to clean the patient up, Dr. Miser prepared a suturing needle and some thread and quickly inserted the two stitches before Heyes could get himself all worked up about it.  Heyes did end up clenching his teeth and gripping the chair arms, but he handled it like a man and didn't cry.  Jed was proud of him.

 Ten minutes later Heyes was looking more like his old self again, except for the soon to be black eye, the split lip the bruised cheekbones and the slightly squashed, but thankfully not broken nose.  And he was still feeling the chill.  Everyone else was sweating from the heat in the kitchen, but Heyes was chilled to the bone and just couldn't seem to warm up.  Jed had grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around his cousin's shoulders while the Doc proceeded to clean the burn area.

 He was very gentle about it; squeezing warm water over the area to wash away any dirt or gun powder that might still be lingering, but still Heyes clenched at the chair arms and grimaced in pain throughout the whole procedure.  Finally the Doc straightened up and put the cloth away.

 “As I said; I've seen worse,”  he reiterated.  “But that is going to be very painful for the next few days.  I can put some gauze on it so that your clothing won't rub against it, but the more you can leave it open to the air, the better.  I'll leave you some morphine as well, so you can sleep.  Alright?”

 “Yeah, thanks Doc.”

 “Okay,”  Doc gave a big sigh and started to return his equipment to his bag.  “I think I'm done here for tonight.  What you all need now is rest.”

 “Is Abi going to be alright, Doc?”  Heyes asked hopefully.

 “Oh yes,”  he assured his second patient.  “She's got quite a bruising to her chest, but a good night's sleep will do wonders.  I'm sure she'll be feeling much better in the morning.”

 Heyes smiled with relief; he was still finding it hard to believe that she was actually still alive. “Good.”

 “And I will be back in the morning to check on you,” the doctor informed him.  “In the mean time I suggest you take a dose of morphine and go to bed.”

 “Yes, I will.”

 “Fine.  Goodnight.”  The Doc gathered up his supplies and let himself out the front door.

 Jed turned expectant eyes to Mrs. Alder.  She sent him a haughty gaze back.

 “Thank you for your assistance, Mrs. Alder,”  Kid said diplomatically. “But I'm sure we can manage on our own now.”

 “WHAT!?”  came the thoroughly indignant response.  “If you think that I am leaving Mrs Stewart alone in her home with two—no THREE men, none of whom are her husband then you do not know me very well at all!!”

 Heyes and Kid exchanged a look.

 “We appreciate you concern Mrs. Alder,”  Heyes placated her.  “But I can assure you that no harm will come to Mrs. Stewart.  We're all friends here.”

 “I don't care!”  she threw back at him.  “Friends indeed!  You may very well be related to Becky, but I've never seen you before!  And all this yelling and fighting and....and....”  She looked Heyes up and down.  “...bloodshed!  And where is Mr. Atwater!?  At least him I know!”

 “He'll be along shortly Ma'am,”  Kid assured her then added hopefully.  “So when he gets here, will you go home then?”

 “I will not!!”  came the retort.  “He shows far too much interest in Mrs. Stewart to be trusted with her alone—especially with her so vulnerable! No indeed!”

 “Well he won't be alone with her,”  Kid pointed out with a smile.  “We'll be here.”

 Mrs. Alder was stopped in her tracks by the Kid's logic.

 “Well, yes I know....but that still doesn't seem quite right....”

 “No, no it'll be fine,”  Kid started to push his advantage and stepping forward, he took the lady by the arm and began to steer her towards the front door.  “You can be assured that we will keep our eyes on Mr. Atwater.”

 “No no, but I'm sure this is still wrong....”

 “Everything's fine,”  Kid assured her as he grabbed her wrap from the coat rack and draped it around her shoulders.  “You just go on home now and rest assured that you did a fine job here.  Mrs. Stewart could not be in better hands.”

 “Yes, but....are you sure...?”

 “Quite sure.  Goodnight.”

 “Yes, goodnight....”

 And the door was closed.  And bolted.

 Jed leaned back against it with a sigh of relief, then he pushed himself forward and headed back into the kitchen.

 “You want me to help you up to Hester's room?”  he asked Heyes.  “Me and Cage will camp out in the living room.”

 “Oh.  Yeah okay,”  Heyes agreed.  “I guess I am kinda tired.”

 “C'mon.”  Jed helped him to his feet and they headed for the staircase.

 Heyes actually felt a bit stronger now that he'd been cleaned up and had had a chance to rest and  finally start to warm up.  He was still looking awfully pale though so Kid didn't relinquish his hold as they started up the stairs.  That's all they'd need is for Heyes to lose his balance and take a tumble now.  They made it up to the second floor without incident however and started to walk down the hall towards Hester's room.

 But then, not surprising to the Kid, as they came up to Abi's room Heyes stopped and looked at the closed door and then over to the Kid.

 “Do you mind if I just go in to see her for a moment?”  he asked hopefully.

 “No, I don't mind Heyes,”  Jed assured him.  “Ya' don't need my permission.”

 Heyes smiled, self-consciously.  “Oh yeah.”

 Jed opened the door and led them into the darkened room.  The light coming in from the still lit lamps in the hallway gave them enough to see the layout and Kid helped Heyes over to the armchair that was positioned by the bed—presumably placed there by the Doc to use and then later, Mrs. Alder.  Heyes sat down, his eyes fixed on the hidden form laying in the bed.  Jed went over to the dresser and turned up the lamp there just a bit; just to give them enough light to see by.

 Heyes leaned forward and took Abi's hand in his and gently stroked her face.

 “Ahh listen,”  Jed commented, feeling like an intruder.  “I'll go downstairs and get your morphine ready and I'll put it in your room.  Just, let me know when you're finished here.”

 “Yeah okay Kid,”  Heyes agreed, but he didn't take his eyes away from his lover's face.

 Jed stepped quietly from the room and leaving the door open, he headed back downstairs to wait until he was needed again.

 Heyes sat quietly, holding Abi's hand and drinking in every contour of her face.  She was laying on her back with her head turned slightly away from him but he could still see enough of her features to be comforted.  She was breathing softly, gently; sound asleep and totally unaware of his presence.  Heyes lifted her hand to his lips and gently kissed her.

 “I love you so much Abi,”  he whispered.  “You scared me to death, ya' know that?  You can be so stubborn.”

 He smiled, even though it hurt and gently stroked her hair.  He wanted to lean over to kiss her mouth but he knew it would hurt too much so he contented himself with kissing her hand again instead and he held it up against his face and closed his eyes.

 “I love you so much.”

 An hour later Jed came up to find him in that same position; his elbows resting on the bed, and him holding her hand up against his face.  His eyes were closed and Jed wondered if he were actually sleeping like that.  He came stealthily into the room and laid a hand on Heyes' shoulder.

 “Heyes?”  he whispered.  “You awake?”

 Heyes sighed and opened his eyes to slits.  “Yeah.”

 “You should get some sleep,”  he advised.  “Abi'll still be here in the morning.”  He smiled.  “She'll probably be awake then too.”

 “Yeah.”

 “C'mon.  Up ya' get.”

 And Jed took his arm and lifted him to his feet, then led him out the room and down the hall to Hester's bedroom.  He sat his cousin on the bed, pulled off his boots, striped off what was left of his clothing, gave him his medicine and then tucked him in as though he were a five year old child who had stayed up way past his bedtime.  Heyes accepted it all and settled into the soft comfortable bed with a deep contented sigh.

 “Goodnight Heyes.  See ya' in the morning.”

 “Yeah.  Goodnight Kid.”


 The next morning—late, Heyes woke up to bright sunshine coming in through opened curtains in the room.  Had those curtains been open all night or had someone snuck in and pulled them open in order to encourage him to WAKE UP!  No, couldn't be that Heyes surmised with a yawn, they knew he'd had a rough night and had taken a sleeping draft.  Surely they wouldn't do that.  He glanced over to the dresser and spied a neat pile of his clean clothes setting there, waiting for him.  Hmm someone had been in his room—maybe they would do that.

 He lay in the warm comfy bed, looking up at a ceiling that he could see and he smiled.  He knew they were still a long ways from the truth of all this, but Abi was alive, and Carson had admitted to killing Doc Morin.  Heyes couldn't believe the weight the other man's confession had taken off his shoulders.

 Carson had thrown that confession into Heyes' face thinking that it would hurt him, hoping it would enrage him, trying to goad him into mindlessly attacking.  To some extent Carson's ploy had worked; Heyes had become enraged, but he hadn't attacked blindly, he had kept his wits about  him and now in this moment in time, all he felt was peace.

 “There ya' go Doc,”  he whispered up to the ceiling.  “I've still got a ways to go before I can rest, but I hope you're satisfied now.  Carson admitted to it, and now he's paid the price.  The only thing sweeter would have been for him to wind up in prison.”  Heyes smiled.  “Yeah, the Wyoming Territorial Prison to be precise.  That would have been sweet.  But then that would have been simple revenge, not justice and we're not suppose to seek revenge are we Doc?”  Heyes sighed.  “Sometimes I think your version of Heaven takes away all the fun in life.”  

He lay there for a few more minutes, his thoughts far away and his morphine laden body comfortable and content just to stay where it was. But gradually a slightly disconcerting expression clouded  his eyes and he frowned as some new recollections came to him.

 “Funny thing,”  he again commented to the ceiling.  “Carson admitted that he used a pillow to suffocate you, and—I mean, I know that's what you said, but.....”  Heavy sigh.  Deep thinking.  “Just when I get comfortable with the explanation that those nightmares were just my subconscious mind trying to tell me that I knew something that I didn't know I knew, I get hit with something like this.  There is no way I could have known myself that Carson killed you with a pillow—I wasn't even there.  I only knew it because that is what you showed me in my nightmares....”  Another sigh, a pursing of lips. Ouch!  That hurt.  “So, did you really come to me Doc?  Are there such things as ghosts?  Or were they just nightmares after all, but if they were just nightmares, then how could I....Oh, this is giving me a headache!”  And he absently put his hand up to the side of his head, where the headache was beginning to throb.  “Oww!  Damn!  I forgot about that.  Eww, that hurt.”  He tentatively felt around the scalp wound, his fingertips getting gently pricked by the stitches.  He brought his hand away and sighed again, this time reflectively.  “I've gotta stop doing this to myself.  I'm going to wind up with brain damage if I'm not careful....”

 Then he stopped talking to his friend and frowned, listening intently; there were voices coming from downstairs.

 Two different deep rumbles—must be Kid and Cage.  Then the higher tinkle of a woman laughing—Abi!  Heyes' heart was instantly in his throat!  Abi was downstairs with Cage!  Oh no!  Sure, Kid was there to protect Heyes' interests but still—Heyes suddenly decided it was time to get up.

 Ohhh...what a mistake.  The room was spinning!  And who opened those damn curtains!?

 THU....THUMP!
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Keays

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Posts : 1435
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Tiger By The Tail   Wed Dec 04, 2013 3:11 am

Silence down in the living room, then the 'thump thump thump' of someone running up the stairs.  Within seconds Abigail—without even knocking first—burst into the bedroom to find a dishevelled Mr. Heyes sprawled out on the floor and doing his best to crawl back to the bed.

 “ABI!”  Heyes yelled indignantly.  “For God's sakes woman—I don't have any clothes on!”

 “Oh so what!?”  she threw back at him as she entered the room and then came over to him and grabbing an arm, attempted to help him back onto the bed.  “What did you think you were doing, getting out of bed with that dose of morphine still in your system?!”

 “ABIGAIL!”  Cage stood at the threshold looking totally outraged. Jed stood behind him, trying hard not to laugh.  “Wait downstairs—for decency's sake!”

 “Oh Cage, really!”  Abi humphed as she helped Heyes to sit up on the bed.  He quickly grabbed the comforter and pulled it over himself.  “You know darn well that he's the father of my children—do you really think that I haven't seen his....”

 “Abi please!”  Heyes was mortified, his face the same colour as the burns on his chest.

 Abi turned to give him a scolding too, but as her eyes met his her expression softened and she gave him a gentle smile.  “Oh my, Mr. Heyes you do look a mess,”  she told him.  She patted him affectionately on the leg and gave him a kiss on his burning cheek (the one on his face, ladies). “Alright,”  she agreed.  “To protect the fragile male ego I will go and wait for you to get dressed and come downstairs.  The coffee is on and Jed can make you some flapjacks if you want.”

 “Hello!!”  came Mrs. Adler's voice from the front door.  “Anyone at home!?”

 Four sets of shoulders slumped, followed by groans all around.

 Jed quickly nipped into the bedroom so that she wouldn't see him.  “Ah, I'll let you two handle her,”  he offered diplomatically.  “I can help Heyes get dressed.”

 Abi was on her feet and heading for the bedroom door.  “How chivalrous of you Jedidiah.”

 “Uh huh,”  Jed smiled at the look Cage gave him as that gentleman also passed him on his way out the door and into the hallway.

 “We'll be right down Mrs. Alder!”  Abi called from the bannister, and then Jed closed the door on them and turned to his still embarrassed cousin.

 “Don't say it!”  Heyes warned him.  “Don't say a word!”

 “What?”  Jed's blue eyes dripped with innocence.  “You got to see her last night.  It's only fair that she get to see...YOU...this morning.”

 Heyes snarled.  “JUST.....GET MY CLOTHES!”

 It took a good half hour for Jed to help Heyes with his morning toiletries.  Shaving was the most awkward as any moving or stretching of the skin on his neck caused immense pain to shear into him.  So no, shaving did not receive its usual attention that morning.  Long johns, pants and woollen socks were no problem, but the henley?  No way!  Just the thought of anything rubbing against his skin made him cringe with apprehension.  Jed helped him to put a shirt on but Heyes would only allow him to button it up half way.

 Jed stood back and surveyed him.  “Hmm,”  he scrutinized.  “Well, normally I would say that you're not really dressed decently for company, but after saying 'good morning' to the whole household in your birthday suit....”

 “You're just not gonna let that go, are ya'?”

 Jed grinned.  “Nope.”  Then he did a quick survey of the room to see if he had missed anything.  “I suppose there's no point in asking if you want your sweater.”

 “No,”  Heyes agreed.  “I'll take that blanket down with me.  If I get cold I can wrap up in that.”

 “Okay.  You ready for a cup of coffee?”

 “Oh yeah!”

 The two cousins made their way downstairs and settled in at the dinning room table where Cage was enjoying another cup of coffee himself.  Feminine voices could be heard drifting out to them from the kitchen area.


 “Well, I just didn't know what else to do!”  came Mrs. Adler's indignant declaration.  “It's just not proper to leave a young woman alone with two strange men!  Especially a young woman who was in as vulnerable a state as you were last night!  But that curly haired man was just so rude!” Jed grinned over at his partner.  Heyes smirked.  “I just didn't know what else to do.  Thank goodness you're alright!”

“Of course I'm alright Mrs. Adler,” came Abi's patient reply. “You already know Mr. Atwater and the other two gentlemen are relatives on my husband's side of the family. You know that.”

“Oh I know...but still...”  Mrs. Adler set her chin in determination.  "An armed man forced his way into your home and assaulted you.  None of us are safe in our own beds any more!  What was he after?"  She blushed furiously.  "He could have...  Oh, Abigail, you could have suffered a fate worse than death!  And who could be next?  I only live a few doors away."

Abigail patted the matron's hand with barely concealed tolerance.  "I'm sure you're completely safe in your bed.  I have no doubt you will remain unmolested."

The men sitting out around the dinning table smirked quietly, putting hands up to their mouths to stifle their laughter.  If they could hear the two ladies speaking in the kitchen then they would certainly have no trouble hearing the fellas laughing in the dinning room!  

"We can only hope so," Mrs. Adler sighed.

"I'm sure of it," Abigail smiled.  "Your inviolability is assured."

"But what did he want?  I think we should all go down to the police station and demand an officer for this street twenty four hours a day."

Abigail's mouth set into a line.  "There's no need for that, Mrs. Adler."

"There's every need.  We're terrified here."

"Mrs. Adler, this was a one-off incident."

The neighbour's eyes widened.  "How can you be so sure?"

Abigail paused.  "Because this was a specific threat."

Horror and inquisitiveness competed for space on the woman's moon-shaped face.  "He was after you?" she snooped.

"There was some information which the Pinkertons received... it reflected a specific threat to Anya and me.  That is why she and Hester are in hiding."

Mrs. Adler's jaw dropped.  "They were after you!?  But why?"

"I agreed to help draw him out, so Anya and I could live in peace.  My husband's cousins also agreed to help, to make sure I was safe, and Robert Pinkerton himself posted Agent Atwater to guard me."

"Mr. Atwater's an agent?  But why would anyone want to harm you?"

Abigail always found it more believable to look someone straight in the eye when she was lying.  "I think it's revenge for something my late husband solved when he was a Pinkerton.  He and Mr. Atwater were friends, so Mr. Pinkerton thought it wouldn't be odd for him to be seen at my home, especially as his late wife was very dear to me too."  She leaned forward, clutching at Mrs. Adler's hand.  "I wouldn't tell just anyone this, but I know I can rely on your discretion.  If anyone is afraid they may be next, I'm sure you can reassure them; but please don't share this information with anyone." 

"My lips are sealed," the matron gasped.  "But you stayed deliberately."

Abigail nodded.  "You know what mothers are, when their children are at risk, Mrs. Adler.  I'm sure you'd do the same."

Mrs. Adler's chewing on her bottom lip provided a mute answer. 

"Anyway," Abigail's tone turned light.  "I have family around me, a personal guard, and you now know that you are in no danger.  He's been killed, and the matter is over.  We just have to recover now." 

   And then the three gentlemen at the table quickly put on their casual morning faces as the kitchen door opened and the two ladies in question joined them in the dinning room.  Abi was carrying the coffee pot and another cup for Heyes.  She smiled a good morning to him, poured him a steaming cup and offered everyone else a replenish.  Mrs. Adler was stopped short in her continued protestations when she spied Heyes' exposed chest.

“OH MY!”  she exclaimed and tried to cover Abi's eyes with her hand.  “But that's just not decent....!”

 “Mrs. Adler!”  Abi pushed her hand away with a flash of irritation.  “Surely even you can see that he has suffered burns to his neck and chest!  Dr. Miser told him to leave that area open to the air.  Would you have him go against doctor's orders?”

 “Well...no, of course not,”  she conceded.  “But, but....well he could at least show enough courtesy to remain confined to his room while there are ladies present!”

 “Mrs. Adler, I am sitting right here,”  Heyes pointed out to her.  He already wasn't feeling well and this busybody was getting on his nerves.  “And as for staying confined to my room, I was invited to be here by my dear cousin, Mrs. Stewart, which is more than what can be said for you.  So if my bare chest offends you then might I suggest that you confine yourself back in your own house and leave us in peace.”

 Mrs. Adler's mouth popped open as though to suggest that she had never, in all her born days, been spoken to in such a manner.  “Well!  I never!”

 “Then it's about time that you did,”  Heyes snarked.  “Good morning.”

 “But I....”

 Abi stifled a laugh and then stepped forward to take Mrs. Adler's arm in a conciliatory manner and direct her towards the front door.

 “Yes, yes I know, Mrs. Adler,”  Abi confided in her.  “As you can clearly see, my cousin is not feeling well today so perhaps it would be best if we humoured him for now.”

 “If you ask me, he's being very rude!”

 “I know.  But you know what men are like when they're not feeling well—they become such babies.”

 Then both ladies started to laugh.

 “Oh yes!”  Mrs. Adler agreed.  “You're quite right there Dear!  And here you are having to put up with that nonsense with you not feeling your best either!”

 “Yes, well it is a woman's lot,”  Abi gave a self-suffering sigh.  Heyes rolled his eyes.  “But you would make things so much easier for me to deal with him if you could just condescend to give us some quiet time.”

 “Oh well yes, of course my Dear,”  Mrs. Adler patted her hand in sympathy.  “Any way I can help out—you know that!”

 “Yes, of course.  Thank you!  Have a good day!”

 Abi closed the front door on her neighbour and just as Jed had done the evening before, she leaned back against it and the whole room gave out a sigh.  Cage and Jed were grinning from ear to ear with Abi's solution to the problem but Heyes was still scowling, not in the mood at all to being 'condescended' to.

 “Oh!  Finally!”  Abi breathed with relief.  “I know she means well, but....”

 She was interrupted by a knock at the door.  Everyone froze.

 “Oh for goodness sakes...”  Abi swung around and pulled open the door all prepared to do battle, but then stopped in mid attack.  “...Oh!  Dr. Miser.”

 “Mrs. Stewart,”  he greeted her.  “You seem to have recovered well.”

 “Oh yes.  Please come in,”  she opened the door wider for him.  “Would you like some coffee?”

 “No no that's fine,”  he declined as he made his way over to the group at the table.  “Just came to check up on my two patients.”  He set his satchel on the table with a sigh and then smiled at Abi. “Seriously now, how are you this morning.  Feeling better?”

 “Yes,”  Abi assured him.  “Still sore, but much better since last night.”

 “Good!”  the doctor smiled.  “And I'm sure you're all feeling better now that you've sent the major pain in the posterior out the door.”

  Everyone smiled at that.

 “Oh!  That woman is such a busybody!”  Abi exclaimed as she came over and sat down at the table herself.  “I hope she got the hint and stays away for the rest of the day!”

 “I'll drink to that,”  Heyes mumbled.

 The doctor smiled over at his next patient.  “It's good to see you up and about, Mr....?”

 “Ah Smith,”  Heyes answered out of habit.  “Joshua Smith.”

 “Mr. Smith.”  Miser smiled.  “Well, how are you feeling this morning, 'Mr. Smith'?”

 “Still kinda sore, Doc.”

 “Mmm hmm.  Did you sleep alright?”

 “Yeah.  The morphine helped a lot.”

 “I'm sure it did.  You think those burns hurt now, believe me, you would find them a lot worse without the morphine.”

 Heyes smiled.  “I'd rather not find out how much worse Doc, if you don't mind.”

 “Don't worry about that,”  Miser assured him.  “I'll leave you some more.  It's a beautiful sunny day out there, but with all that fresh snow we got overnight, you'd be better off staying put for a few days anyway.”

 “My plan exactly,”  Heyes agreed.

 “How's your head?”

 Heyes sighed.  “Aching.”

 “Do you have a headache now?”

 “Yeah.”

 “Okay.”  Doc moved in closer and carefully taking Heyes' chin in one hand, he held up the finger of his other hand and moved it back and forth in front of Heyes' eyes.  “Follow my finger.  No, just with your eyes.  Keep your head still.”

 “Oh yeah, sorry.  I should know that one.”

 The Doc completed his exam and then smiled.  “Okay.  Looks good.  What you need the most is rest, so again; stay off your feet.”

 Jed grinned but was wise enough not to make any cracks about that.  Abi sent him a warning look.

“Yeah, don't worry Doc,”  Heyes assured him.  “I'll be taking it easy.  I'm not planning on going anywhere.”

 “Good!  Now, if your headache becomes worse or you start to vomit, you send someone to get me, right away.  You hear?”

 “Yeah.”

 The Doc looked around the room at everyone.  “That goes for all of you.  Keep an eye on him.  Head injuries are nothing to laugh about, even if they appear to be minor.”

 “Yeah, we'll watch him Doc,”  Kid assured him, all sincere now.

 “Hmm,”  was all Cage had to say about that.

 “Fine,”  the Doc seemed satisfied.  “Well, I'll be off.  Here's some more morphine.  For you too Mrs. Stewart—just take some at night to help you sleep.”

 “Yes Doctor.  Thank you.”

 Abi showed the doctor out and then returned to the table.

 “Well, now that that's done, are you hungry?”  she asked Heyes. “I know it's nearer lunch time now than breakfast, but would you like some flapjacks.”

 “Oh no Abi,”  Heyes groaned.  “I'm really not that hungry.”

 “More coffee then?”

 “You know, I think I would like a cup of tea.”

 Abi smiled.  “Actually that does sound nice.  I could do with a cup of tea as well.  But still, you should have something to eat.  How about some warm bread with preserves?  How does that sound?”

 Heyes nodded even though he really wasn't all that interested.  On the other hand, even though they'd both already had a full breakfast, Cage and Jed exchanged looks and grinned.  That actually did sound pretty good.
 Ten minutes later Abi and Jed had the table laid out for a quick and simple lunch and everyone settled in to warm bread and preserves along with some cheeses and pickles and hot sweet tea.

 As they were drawing to an end of their meal, Cage scrutinized Heyes and then opted the question.

 “How you feeling Heyes?”  he asked simply.


 Heyes frowned, wondering why Cage would care and then shrugged.  “I'm alright.”
 “Okay, good.  Cause I need to ask you some questions about what happened last night,”  Cage informed him.  “before I go over to the police station to give them my report.”

 Heyes' shoulders slumped.  “Oh.”

 Abi gave Heyes a reassuring squeeze on the arm and then went to the kitchen to replenish the tea pot.  Cage pulled out his notebook, pen and a jar of ink in order to be able to make notes of anything of importance that Heyes opted to tell him. Heyes sent a quick look over to his cousin and Jed simply smiled and shrugged.  There was no getting out of this one.

 “So,”  Cage began.  “I just need your statement of what you think happened last night.”

 “Well you know the first part,”  Heyes griped.  “Carson tricked his way into the house and shot Abi!”

 “Yes I know,”  Cage confirmed this as he dipped his pen.  “What I need is your version of it.”

 Heyes gave a long suffering sigh.  Was he never going to get away from these officials!?

 “Okay,”  he began.  “Carson came to the front door claiming that he had a message for Abi and then when she opened the door for him, he shot her.  Are we agreed so far?”

 “Yes.”

 “Okay.  I didn't know that Abi was wearing some new fangled contraption.”  He rolled his eyes.  “I should have guessed it though!  She's always up to something like that!  Have you noticed that too Kid?  She can never just stay out of things, she's always got to be right in the middle of it all and scare everybody half to death....”

 “Heyes,”  Cage interrupted him.  “We all know what Abi's like, just....give me your account of what happened.”

 “Oh, yeah.  Alright,”  Heyes capitulated.  “Ahh...I guess I just lost it...”  Jed snorted, Heyes sent him a look.  “...well, it was Carson!  That fucking bastard!  As far as I was concerned he's the one who had killed Dr. Morin and now he'd just killed the woman I love—the mother of my daughter!” Cage shifted a little uncomfortably with that statement.  “I sure as hell wasn't going to let him get away with it again!  Not if I could help it.  So, like I said; I just lost it and I went after him.”

 “A dangerous man for you to be going after all on your own, don't you think?”

 “Yeah!”  Curry agreed whole heartedly with that query.  

 “Yes, okay!”  Heyes grumbled.  “I know, but....I just couldn't let him get away this time!  So I borrowed a horse and ran him down.  He caught me by surprise though and ended up ramming me.  He knocked my horse of it's feet and I lost my gun.  He could have shot me right then and there, but he didn't.  He said it was because he didn't want the noise of it to attract attention, but I think he just wanted to play games; he wanted to torment me, and that was his mistake.
 “We ended up fighting and he told me that Harris had given us the wrong information.  Carson was quite happy to admit to being a part of it all, but that he wasn't the one behind it.   He wouldn't say who was.  So, with that I kinda regret killing him because he had that information and now,”  Heyes shrugged.  “it's like we're back a square one again.  We still don't know who was behind all this, and why.  I mean, how could Doc Morin's murder have any connection to the attempts on Beth's life?  Unless it was all just about that Hearing, but that seems an awful lot of trouble to go to just because of some disagreements over prison policy.”

  At this point Abigail returned with the teapot and topped up everyone's cups. She also managed to bring in some cherry pie for dessert but it tended to get ignored.  She sat back down beside Heyes  giving him another supportive squeeze and then settled in to drink her tea and listen.

 “It's better if you don't start speculating at this point Heyes,”  Cage suggested as he noted Abi's affectionate caress given to the parolee.  “Often the motives don't become clear until we have gathered up all the information and as far as I can tell there are still a lot of blank spaces and empty seats in this little mystery.  So, you got into an altercation with Carson and he admitted to being involved with the attempts on Miss Jordan's life...”

 “Yes.”

 “Then what?”

 “Well, we fought some more,”  Heyes admitted.  “I accused him of killing the Doc...”


 “The Doc...?”

 “Okay.  You have to be specific,”  Cage told him.  “Remember, the police don't know any of these people.”

 Heyes sighed and nodded.  “Yeah.  So I accused him of killing the...ah, Dr. Morin and I guess in order to taunt me he admitted to it.  Actually described it in some detail, just to rub it in.”  Again, he looked over at his cousin and Jed was watching him with a mixture of sadness and concern in his eyes.  He knew what a good friend the Doc had been to Heyes, but he also knew that Heyes had never killed anyone before and Jed was worried about how that was going to affect his partner.
 “I told him he was going to pay for Morin's death, but he just laughed at me,”  Heyes continued.  “said it couldn't be proven.  And he was right.  But then I told him he was going to hang for killing Abi and he had no defence for that.  I told him that there was no way I was going to let him get away and that my friends would be along any minute.  He agreed with that and so decided that he had nothing to lose by shooting me at that point, so he pulled his gun and aimed it at me.  I thought I was a goner but I guess, I donno, maybe because of the cold or something, the gun misfired and nothing happened.  I didn't need a second invite and I went at him.  That's when I got this dandy knot on my noggin.  He shot at me again, but missed and then we were in close quarters, practically in a bear hug, with that gun trapped in between us.
 “I didn't know which way the muzzle was pointing and I suppose at that point I didn't care.  I got the hammer pulled back and though, I sure don't remember getting my finger around the trigger, I guess I did because the gun went off.  I thought I'd been the one who got hit at first because it felt like my chest had been blown apart but then I continued to stand there and breathe so I figured it couldn't have been me.  Then Carson just dropped like a sack of potatoes.  I don't know where the bullet hit him, but obviously it killed him, and that was it.  Next thing I know, Jed's talking to me and I'm trying to figure out how he'd been able to emerge out of nowhere's like that.”

 Heyes then sat silently, watching Cage as he wrote down the last of his notes.  “So,”  Heyes finally asked, a little tentatively.  “would it be considered uncouth to ask where Carson got shot?”

 Cage looked up at Heyes and then put a finger under his own chin.  “The bullet went in here and came out the top of his head, kinda towards the back.  Killed him instantly.”

 “Oh.”

 Cage snapped his notebook closed, eyeing Heyes cautiously.  “Well, everything you’ve told me matches the evidence, and sits with reasonable force for a man trying to kill you.   Direct pursuit for a man you’d just seen shoot a woman in the chest  is also acceptable, even if you ain’t an officer of the law,” he leaned back, his voice hardening.  “There’s just the parole to complicate things.”

Heyes’ blood turned to ice.  “What do you mean?”

“Cage!” Abigail snapped, drinking in the pallor creeping over Heyes’ face.  “Stop this right now.  We both know you’re going to protect the identities of ‘two covert officers,’ and we also know that it’s routinely done for straightforward cases.”  She walked over to Heyes’ chair and propped herself on the arm, draping a protective arm around his shoulders.  “You will take the police to the Pinkerton offices, and show them the files on Carson, and on the prison escape,” her angry, dark eyes pushed home each point as surely as a prod to the shoulder.  “and the murder of the prison doctor!  You will tell them he was a corrupt public official, and you will show them my file, so they think this was driven by revenge against myself.”

“Is that allowed, Abi?  Is it even possible? ” Heyes whispered, hoarsely.  

“It’s not allowed, but things like that are done all the time.”  She turned back to Cage.  “And you will support me, or I will no longer consider you a friend.”

“Abi, I...”

She cut him off.  “I’m serious, Cage.  You’ve been niggling at him since he arrived, and I’ve had it up to here.” She raised her hand to her hairline.  “I won’t allow it, especially when he is in such pain.  He’s been through enough.”

“Abi, I’m only foolin’.”

“The only person you’re fooling is yourself, Cage.  It will break my heart to lose you, but I will,” her eyes filled with pain.  “Why can’t you just be happy for me?  He’s done his time, and paid a higher price than the law dictates.  I can’t be a friend to someone who hurts my man.  I’ve already asked nicely.  I won’t ask again.”

Heyes clutched her hand, his heart warming at being described as ‘her man’ for the first time, but the niggling worry still remained.  Could Cage be trusted?

Cage sighed heavily.  “I’m sorry, Abi.  I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he raised sheepish, blue eyes to meet hers.  “I wouldn’t say you asked nicely, though.  You very nearly ripped my face off.”

She gave a watery smile.  “Please Cage.  You don’t need to like him, just stop needling at him.”

“Fine, if that’s what it takes.”  He nodded towards the Kid.  “Curry, get your suit on.  You’re comin’ with me to the police station.”

“Me?” the Kid’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Yup,” he nodded towards Heyes.  “If anyone asks, he’s drugged and sleepin’ it off.  Keep your mouth shut, and let me do the talkin’.”  He shook his head ruefully.  “If anyone at the Pinkerton offices ever finds out that I took Kid Curry on a guided tour, I’ll be tarred and feathered.” 

Abigail walked over to Cage and dropped a kiss on the top of his head.  “Thank you.  I know you’re only looking out for me, but we do love one another,” she glanced over at Heyes, “and he’s never been a bad man; just a thief, a liar... a cheat...”

Heyes smiled, picking up on the irony.  “Thanks, Abi.  I’m glad you’re on my side.”

Cage flicked up an eyebrow.  “I ain’t his biggest fan, but what I do know is, he’s better than that bottom feeder we left on the slab.  He hurt people,” Cage touched Abigail lightly on the arm, “good people; folks I care about, and you ain’t never been that sort of man... and if this hadn’t been a setup, he was goin’ for little Becky.  He was lookin’ straight up the stairs after he shot Abi.  I saw that.”  Cage stood.  “I’d best get changed too, and give the grand tour of the Pinkerton offices.  They can come back here and take your statement, Abi.”  He nodded towards Heyes.  “They’ll have a copy of yours already, Heyes.  I’ll get a typewriter to type all of ours up for them.  The statements will need signin’.  Do it when they come to the house.”

Heyes stood slowly, and thrust out a hand towards Cage.  “Thanks.  I realize this goes against everything you’ve lived by, but I’m straight now; we both are.  I give you my word I’ll never hurt her.  I’ll do what it takes.”

Cage reluctantly took his hand.  He gave it a firm shake, but retained a glint to his gaze.  “I saw that last night.  Make sure you look after her, Heyes.  You don’t want to make an enemy of me.”

“None of us do, Cage, but we’re all on the same side,” Heyes gave a gaunt, dimpled grin.  “Hopefully you’ll get that soon.  I need to ask, do you really think they’ll buy it?  Our identities, I mean.”

“Heyes, the way I saw those amateurs mess up that crime scene last night, they’d buy just about anythin’.  If they got any dumber, they’d need to be watered twice a week.”  Cage gave Heyes a curt nod.  “We’ll sort it – between us.”  
 
Abigail watched the two men leave the room and took a seat on the sofa, patting the cushion beside her.  “Come and sit by me, we both need to rest.”

Heyes pushed the large footstool over to her with his foot, grimacing as the tightening burns stiffened and protested against every movement.  As it approached, Abigail leaned over and pulled it to her, sharing similar moue as pain sheared through her own chest. 

“Leave it, Abi.  You shouldn’t be doing that,” Heyes chided.  “You were shot in the chest last night.”

“So were you,” she protested, “and you weren’t wearing protective clothing, sit with me, Mr. Heyes.  Let’s just be still for a while.”

They snuggled together under his blanket, arranging the cushions as comfortably as they could, sharing the footstool. He clutched at her hand and settled back with a sigh.  “When I get better I’m gonna strangle you, Abi.”

“Ever the romantic.  Do you mind if I ask why?”

“You didn’t tell me about that protective vest, and I thought you were dead,” he turned, fixing her with anguished eyes. “I really did, Abi, don’t ever do that to me again.”

She looked off, staring at everything and nothing.  “I won’t Mr. Heyes, but I didn’t tell you for a reason – quite simply, we weren’t sure if it would work.  It’s more of a prototype really.  This one has thirty layers of silk.  They’ve trialled all kinds, with metal in the layers, but the metal shattered and pierced vital organs.”

Heyes groaned.  “You didn’t know and you still did it!?”

“Anya needs this brought to an end.”

His fingers tightened around her hand.  “She also needs her mother,” he gave a rasp of exasperation.  “Abi, you can’t live like you used to.  She needs the stability only you can give.”

“I know, but I was desperate to draw him out.  I had to for her sake.”  She drew up his hand and kissed it.  “And she has Hester... and you.  She has a father now.”

He sucked in a breath.  “She’s never even met me, Abi.  She thinks her pa is dead.”

“I know, and I’m not being cavalier with my life, but I’ll do anything to make her safer,”  she continued softly, “no matter what it costs.  That’s normal for a mother; ask Belle what she would give to save her children.”  Abigail turned, holding his gaze.  “In case anything happened to me, I lodged documents in my bank, naming you as her true father, and giving you custody.  It’s all legally framed, and you should have no problem in caring for your daughter.  I also wrote her numerous letters, explaining who you are, and how much you have always loved her... and telling her that I was sorry to leave her.”

Heyes sat silently, allowing her words to soak into his soul.  He was gradually becoming a father – a proper parent.  The realization hit him that it was easier to become one, than to be one.  He leaned back, closing his eyes, understanding how hard he would have to work to deserve his daughter’s love.  A smile twitched at his lips; the idea didn’t daunt him, it was a calculation, one which would have to start gently, through the veil of a soft light.  She would have to come to him in her own time – just as Abigail had said.  “I want you by my side, Abi.  Please... don’t do that again.”

She laid her head on his shoulder.  “Right back at ya, Mr. Heyes,” she replied, mimicking his accent.  Don’t just take off on your own like that again; wait for backup.  She needs at least one of us,” she gave a heavy sigh.  “Cage went to the morgue with the body.  He found a telegram in Carson’s pocket.”

Heyes turned serious eyes on Abigail.  “Yeah?  Saying what?”

“It was sent from Missouri, and signed ‘M.’  It said, ‘Wired money.  H idiot.  Birds flown J.J.  Do this quick.'

Heyes felt the hairs prickle on the back of his neck.  “Missouri?”

She nodded.  “Yes, Cage has agents looking into who sent it.  If we’re lucky we can track it through the cash.  There was also a hotel room key, so hopefully there’ll be documents to collect the cash – the trail can be picked up from there.”

“’M,’ in Missouri?”  Heyes scratched distractedly at his forehead.

“Yes,” Abigail had sensed him stiffen beside her, “I take it you have an idea who that might be?”

“I’m afraid I might.”  His forehead creased in a frown, “So if we can’t trace the cash to a bank, we can try showing a photograph to the clerk.”

“Who do you think it is?”

“Mitchell, the warden of the prison; he went back to Missouri when Kenny got his job.”

Abigail sat upright.  “The warden?  Why would he hate you enough to do all this?”  She shook her head, “And why target Beth?  It doesn’t make any sense.”

Heyes pulled her to him.  “Nothing much has made sense for a very long time, Abi.  We need to rest, because I get the feeling there’s still a lot more to find out.”    
           
   
To Be Continued

(Historical note – 1879 - The first telephone switchboard used in Topeka.)
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Stepha3nie

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PostSubject: Re: Tiger By The Tail Chapter Chapter six   Thu Jul 31, 2014 12:46 am

Major plot development in this chapter, where all active threads converged on Abi's house.

Thank you for letting Hester have some words with Beth who still has a tendency to get on my nerves with her annoying immaturity. How old is she supposed to be? To me she still seems to be behaving like a 15-year old most of the time. Sorry if this seems harsh, I am not saying "she is...", I am just voicing my personal opinion. But I do appreciate her love, her tenacity in fighting for Heyes, her loyalty to both boys.
Interesting new character Cage. When he first made an appearance, I was quite sure it would not be Carson, it just had to be an ally. You sure did have fun with names in this chapter. I shudder to think what a third sister of his might be called. Nice snarking with the boys, but he stays true to them when it counts.
I greatly enjoyed Mrs. Adler. Was she fun to write? That is exactly the kind of role that is fun to play in stage productions... Loved the different ways she was driven from the house. And the snarking price goes to...Heyes!
The action scenes were gripping, you had me really scared several times. All very vividly described, it felt almost like watching it on TV. Interesting that Heyes, who used to be the intellectual planner in total control of his actions still gets reduced to animalistic, intuitive, instinctive reactions under stress (or when goaded by enemies). While his actions are very understandable (I doubt there is a single reader out there who would not happily have strangled that f****** b******) Heyes still needs to relearn more self control, especially if he wants to be around his daughter.
And at last warden Mitchel rears his ugly head. But I am beginning to doubt that the plot against Heyes originated with him. There are just too many chapters left. ;-) So, I am curious where you will take the story.
I think my favourite sentence is: "He turned, giving her a look which could be poured over a waffle." What a delicious description. I can just see it. Yummie.
And I never thought that a simple "THU....THUMP!" could be so eloquent and funny.
But what happened here: "...and gave him a kiss on his burning cheek (the one on his face, ladies)"?
Ok, I can see your point, but it has been a while since you addressed your readers so directly. It felt a little bit out of place - but I can fully understand the temptation to put it there. And who am I to tell people to stand up to temptation?   ;-)

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For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
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PostSubject: Re: Tiger By The Tail Chapter Chapter six   Thu Jul 31, 2014 1:33 am

Ha ha! Yes a lot of the little aside addresses to the reader will probably be edited out when I re-write this as a stand alone story ie; not fanfiction.

Abi and Cage are both from Silverkelpie's vivid imagination as is the line about waffles! Great, isn't it? Mrs. Adler is also one of her's.

Beth is still acting immature at this stage (I forget at what age I had her at this point but a quick calculation has her at about twenty-one). Almost without my planning it, she does mature as the story continues and comes in to her own. I saw Beth as being very protected by her family but also as being quite headstrong and fearless when it comes to going after something she wants. She has courage but not the experience or maturity yet to know how to direct or control it.

Jed comes to see in her a loving companion and loyal friend who will stick by the cause through thick and thin. Considering his background, Jed finds those traits particularly attractive, especially when brought to light against a rather selfish and manipulating Isabelle. Beth is honest in her affections, loving Jed right from the moment of their first meeting and isn't interested in simply 'conquering' the outlaw. She fell in love with the man; who he used to be or what his monetary value might be was of no concern to her.

Forty-three years ago, when Peter died, like many of us I was totally devastated. I couldn't imagine Hannibal Heyes continuing on without Peter, so in my imagination Heyes died as well. The dream Jed had on the train after he assaulted the saloon girl was how I had actually ended Hannibal's life and it was my way of expressing the hurt, the anger and the total frustration of that loss.

One of the best things for me in finding these fanfiction sites three (or four?) years ago was that they allowed me to bring Hannibal back to life again and it was surprising even to myself at how wonderful that was. Anyway, as I said, initially Hannibal was dead; shot in the back by a posse. Jed was released and given his amnesty and ended up working as a private consultant for the banks etc. He re-connected with the Jordans' and married Beth. That's just the way it was.

So for me, it wasn't a new idea but for the readers of TOF I suppose it came as a bit of a shock!

It's interesting that some readers (at first) could not get past Beth as a young teenager and rebelled against seeing her as a young adult. They resented her relationship with Jed and felt that it was 'inappropriate'. But as the story continues, the relationship became more and more accepted and now at the end of 'The Lineage' most readers are rooting for her and Jed and want to see them happy together.
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PostSubject: Re: Tiger By The Tail Chapter Chapter six   Thu Jul 31, 2014 5:25 am

Thanks for your kind words, Stepha3nie. Yes, Mrs. Adler was fun to write as was Hester. The dreadful names? I had to dig deep in this story. I am particularly proud of Mayzee, but that is based on an internet search of the worst possible names. Can you believe that some poor soul in the USA is actually called that? Some parents shouldn't be allowed to name children!

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PostSubject: Re: Tiger By The Tail Chapter Chapter six   Thu Jul 31, 2014 6:28 am

Keays: I don't think I am against the idea of Kid and Beth finding happiness and marrying eventually. In the beginning I was even hoping for Bridget marrying Heyes. But I guess one ex-outlaw as an inlaw is enough for one family. I can see Beth's good qualities and why Jed would be drawn to her. But I guess I initially dislike almost any female character who threatens to split the boys up. Their partnership and closeness is just so very precious to me. It then always depends on how the stories are written, and so far all authors could win me over.
I have noticed that in the next chapter Beth does some growing up. If she continues in this way, I am sure I won't find her annoying any more. And of course it must be more fun to write a character who is growing, developing, "coming into their own".
Thank you for sharing your idea of Heyes dying together with Peter. It makes the scene with Kids truly horrific nightmare very special. I guess in a way I am lucky that I did not learn of Pete's death back then. In Germany they only showed the first 2 series (and not all episodes) in 1973/4 due to dubbing everything in Germany. Then it was a very long time (late 80ies) until some re-runs on some very obscure channel which I only learned about a few weeks ago. So I was spared all this sorrow, anger and frustration. For me the boys rode on forever together, until my memories dimmed.


Silverkelpie: Amazing Grace is really a mouthful. I agree about your "some parents" remark. Some seem to find it more important to get into the news than what they are doing to their child.
I guess I was lucky with my parents. If they had followed a family tradition I could have ended up with the moniker "Friederike Wopkeline" from my female ancestors. I much prefer Stepha3nie! ;-)

Something else: Do you have a list of all the lovely Gaelic expressions Abi uses (plus translation)? I would really like to know what she is saying. Some I could translate online, but not all.

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PostSubject: Re: Tiger By The Tail Chapter Chapter six   Thu Jul 31, 2014 6:44 am

Oh, Stephanie. I've used so many. Let me know which ones and I will happily translate.
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Keays

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PostSubject: Re: Tiger By The Tail Chapter Chapter six   Thu Jul 31, 2014 12:07 pm

It would have been interesting if both boys had married into the family, but as I said previously in my mind Hannibal was dead so Bridget married someone else. The character of Steven had not been developed then so I can't even remember if she married a lawyer or just 'someone else'! In TOF obviously I chose to go with the original 'fantasy' and kept Hannibal and Bridget just as good friends.

I know what you mean about not wanted a love interest to split the boys up. I've tried to do the opposite here, with their relationship remaining intact but with it all expanding into an extended family. Part of that scene where Jed is feeling guilty about having such a close friendship with David but then realizing that just because he is developing new alliances, it doesn't mean that his relationship with Heyes is being diminished.
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Tiger By The Tail Chapter Chapter six
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