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 A Bump in the Road

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Silverkelpie

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Posts : 1391
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 56
Location : Over the rainbow

PostSubject: A Bump in the Road   Sun Sep 01, 2013 9:21 am

A Bump in the Road - This was written as a VS episode


The Kid pushed his hat back on his head with a long forefinger. “Mystic? What kind of dumb name is that for a town?”

“Dunno, but it sounds better that some of the places we’ve passed through. Remember ‘Boring?’”

“It lived up to its name, as I remember it. What about ‘Butt End,’” the Kid snickered gently. “That lived down to it.”

Heyes dismounted and started leading his horse towards the stables. “Yup, and named by a preacher by all accounts. It just goes to show – you can be too innocent after all.”

“I can’t say that’ll ever be a problem for either of us.” The Kid gathered his reins in a gloved hand and followed Heyes to the stable door. “And I’m plannin’ a night to make that an even more distant memory. That saloon looks real invitin’, and the girls I saw through the door were real pretty.”

A grizzled, old stable hand greeted them with a yellowing, gap-filled smile. “Howdy. Stayin’ long, boys?”

“Just passing through.” Heyes fixed him with hopeful eyes. “Unless there are any jobs in the area?”

“What kind of work you lookin’ for?”

The Kid dragged his saddle from his mount’s back. “Almost anything, as long as it’s legal.”

The old man scratched his chin, his fingers rasping on the grey stubble peppering his chin. “You could try the church.”

“That isn’t usually our first stop in town,” grinned Heyes. “We normally have more luck at the saloon.”

“It’s just been built, but it still needs paintin’. All the pews need to be varnished too. It’d probably give you a couple of week’s work. Ned Clark was goin’ to do it, but he broke his leg.” He gave an impish smile. “So at least you know the roof’s finished. Dang fool, he was trying to save the money by doin’ it alone and went up a ladder without someone to foot it.”

The Kid smiled gratefully. “Thanks for the tip. An inside job would be a real nice change.”


oooOOOooo


“Some lemonade, gentlemen?”

The partners turned, both beaming charmingly at the pretty blonde bearing a tray. “Thank you, ma’am.” The Kid balanced his brush carefully on the lip of the bucket of distemper. “I guess a break of a few minutes won’t hurt.”

She scanned the wall with large, china-blue eyes. “You’re making good progress. I do hope the quilting bee didn’t disturb you too much. We’ve been desperate for a new church for so long, we’ve already started to use it for all kinds of meetings.”

The Kid and Heyes exchanged a glance. “No, ma’am. It sure was educational, though.”

She arched a slim eyebrow in surprise. “Really? You learned a lot about quilting?”

Heyes shook his head. “Not a thing, but we learned all about the men in this town.”

“And quite a few of the women,” the Kid added, before downing the last of his drink. “Very educational; I can’t wait to meet a certain friendly lady called Julia Benson.”

The blonde’s eyes narrowed just as a pencil-thin woman with a hooked nose placed the last chair in the circle she had created. “Julia! We need you here.”

“I’m just coming, Mrs. Keating,” the blonde replied, dishing out an especially icy glare for the Kid.

The Kid bit into his lip. “I heard she was real pretty,” he added, hastily. “Stunnin’, in fact.”

“Smooth,” Heyes murmured, watching Julia’s stiff back retreat.

“I didn’t think that was her! I can usually tell if a woman’s flighty. I didn’t get any signals.”

Heyes shook his head. “What’s your next move? Are you going to ask the preacher if the rumours about him and the Widow Carlson are true?”

“Don’t be stupid. We know all about him and Julia, and the school master and Julia, and the station master and Julia.” He darted a look at the preacher’s thin-faced, hook-nosed wife. “I ain’t sure about that rumour. Look at Mrs. Keating. A man with a wife like that would either be too scared to stray, or head for the hills.”

“Maybe she has money? Their house is next to the church and it’s about the same size as the mayor’s. You don’t see many preachers living like that.” Heyes smirked. “One thing’s for sure. There won’t be any Thaddeus and Julia. Not after that introduction.”

The Kid picked up his paintbrush and thrust it into the paint. “I thought this’d be an easy job, but all these gossipy women are a nightmare, it’s like bein’ back at the Hole between jobs, listenin’ to Wheat and Kyle.”

Heyes gave a gentle chuckle. “Yeah, that Mrs. Brown has a look of Wheat about her, smaller moustache though, but I can’t see Mrs. Keating as Kyle. With that nose she reminds me more of Preacher.”

Heyes returned to work, while the Kid stood for a few moments staring regretfully at the back of Julia’s blonde head. He gave a slight shrug and picked up his brush, working it around the baseboard, stiffening as a globule of cold paint slipped down the back of his neck.

“For cryin’ out loud, Joshua, how come I have to paint the bottom, while you paint the top? I’m gettin’ dripped on.”

“You’ve got a white shirt on. It doesn’t show.”

“It’s in my hair!”

“Quit griping. You’re blond... Almost.”

The Kid gave a huff of irritation and moved further along the wall out of harm’s way, ignoring the chattering group gathering behind them, scrapping the chair legs against the wooden floor and clattering teacups against the saucers.

The tall, slim woman stood. “Now, ladies – don’t forget about the rummage sale on Saturday. It’s a great opportunity to get rid of all those useless things you never use. Make sure you bring your husbands.” Mrs. Keating cleared her throat. “I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Robert Occardi. As you all know, Mayor Roth is a huge enthusiast of phrenology, as am I...”

Heyes glanced over at the dapper man with dark, plastered-down hair and large, bulbous eyes before he gave a harrumph from the back of his throat.

The woman continued pointing to the ceramic bust covered in copperplate writing. “I’m sure you all know the basics, but Mr. Occardi is going to take us through the science in more detail...”

Heyes rolled his eyes and sighed loudly.

Robert Occardi stood, rubbing his hands together and scanning the little group of women with relish. “Good afternoon, ladies, and thank you for inviting me to talk to your group. I have been an ardent student of phrenology for the last twenty-six years and I can honestly say that it has been both enriching and rewarding.”

“I’ll bet,” muttered Heyes.

Occardi’s dark eyes darted over to the heckling painter. “Do you have something to say, young man?”

Heyes turned and faced him. “I was agreeing with you. I’ll bet you’ve made a lot of money over the years peddling this brand of hooey. It’s been discredited for years.”

Occardi arched his black eyebrows. “Really? Just how much study have you managed to fit in between paint jobs?”

“You’d be surprised,” Heyes retorted, turning back to the wall. “Mark Twain is particularly outspoken on the matter. I went to a talk on it in San Francisco by a famous philosopher.”

Occardi pursed his lips, his colour rising. “A philosophy student? If only we’d known, you could have given a speech to the group.”

Heyes shrugged and turned back to the wall. “Don’t let me interrupt, sir. I enjoy fiction too.”

“Perhaps we could dispense with my ceramic model and I could use some real examples,” he smiled at the women. “Of course, I wouldn’t like to disturb any of your beautiful coiffeurs, ladies, so perhaps our casual labourers would oblige?”

“Keep me out of this.” Heyes splattered a well-laden brush on the wall and proceeded to smear it as far as the paint would go.

“Well, what about your friend? Would you care to indulge the ladies?”

The Kid turned. “I’d be happy to, but I’m not sure what you want me to do.”

“I feel bumps,” Occardi persisted. “I’m sure I can delight the group with a little help from you.”

The Kid frowned. “This is a church, and I don’t appreciate you talkin’ like that in front of the ladies.”

“No, I feel the human head. From the pattern of bumps I can tell which areas of the brain are the most developed. From that, I can define a man’s character,” he darted a glance at Heyes, “or lack of it.”

23 - ASJ Fan Fiction“Oh,” the Kid shrugged and dropped his brush into the bucket, before putting his hands on his head and prodding around in curiosity. “You feel my head? Sure, why not?”

“Because it’s complete bunkum, that’s why not,” muttered Heyes.

“Who cares? It’s just a bit of fun, Joshua.” The Kid strode over to the group and took a seat. “If the bumps mean your brain is developed in a certain area, can you change that by takin’ a hammer to it?”

“Don’t tempt me, Thaddeus,” chuckled Heyes.

Occardi ran his fingers through the Kid’s hair. “Such a free thinker – a very innovative and lively mind. Ah, just as I would have expected – you have a very developed concentrativeness. That coupled with your huge constructiveness means that you see the world in a highly original and creative way.” He sucked in a breath and stood back. “We have a genius here, ladies, a truly inventive and visionary mind. He sees the world differently to the rest of us and cuts right through to a solution.” Occardi flicked his eyes over to the bucket of paint. “Completely unharnessed, of course; I tell you, ladies, if this man had been educated he’d be doing incredible work.”

“Most of his work is already incredible.” All eyes turned to Heyes who stood with his arms folded, a smile dimpling his face. “That’s why there’s so much paint on the floor.”

Occardi’s jaw set in challenge. “Maybe you’d like to show the ladies your biggest assets?”

“Assets?” Heyes shook his head. “I prefer to stay in the background.” He gave a dazzling, dimpled smile. “I’m more the understated type.”

“Ah, come on, Joshua,” the Kid smiled, encouragingly. “Get your bumps out...for the ladies.”

“I don’t believe in it.”

“Well, if I get your character right it’ll settle the matter, won’t it?” replied Occardi, firmly.

The women raised a chorus of pleading, which rang through the unpainted timbers. Heyes reluctantly walked over to join the Kid. “Go on, then. I suppose I’m game for a laugh.”

Thick fingers ruffled through the dark hair, pausing to explore, probe and prod at various points of Heyes’ skull. Occardi let out a long slow breath. “This man’s primary attributions are amativeness, alimentiveness and combativeness.” He looked around at the confused faces peering up at him from the circle. “In short, it simply means that the man has base appetites. He is controlled by his need to eat, win, and...” Occardi hesitated, “I’m trying to find a way to put this delicately... he needs to...procreate.” A series of gasps punctuated the airy room before Occardi continued. “The man is a positively louche; he is a satyr. You all saw his need to challenge me when I stood. That stems from his need to be top dog and impress any of the females in the room. Sadly, he has no intellectual prowess to offset these weaknesses. He is a dull thinker, which sets him amongst the animals.”

Heyes’ eyes widened, his color rising. “I’ve never heard so much rubbish in my life!” He watched the women staring at him with a selection of expressions: apprehension, awe, intimidation, and most worrying of all from more than one formidable matron – reserved hunger. “I’m a perfect gentleman. Tell them, Thaddeus.”

The Kid’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “He’s a perfect gentleman,” he repeated, with absolutely no conviction.

“Don’t just repeat what I just said. This man’s ruining my good name.”

The Kid tilted his head, grinning widely. “It’s just a name. I’m sure you can find another one.”

Occardi nodded appreciatively. “You see, ladies? A truly original thinker – how many of us would have thought of choosing another name in a flash?” He laid a hand on the Kid’s shoulder. “You don’t meet many men like this. This man’s such a find to a man of science like myself, it’s like finding clay which can be molded into fine china.”


oooOOOooo

Heyes’ burning eyes betrayed his simmering irritation as much as his constant muttering – which flared none too quietly through hissed breath. He worked furiously at the wall, grousing with each stroke of the brush.

“Joshua, will you watch what you’re doin’ with that brush? You nearly hit me in the face!”

The bristles flicked in front of the Kid’s nose. “I know who I’d like to hit in the face.”

“So he told folks that you weren’t too bright. What difference does it make?” He dropped his voice. “It’s good cover. Who’d mistake a dullard for Hannibal Heyes?”

“I’m not dumb!”

“Sure you ain’t...” The Kid gave a twinkle of sapphire blue. “And I would know, bein’ a genius and all.”

“He made me out to be some kind of animal. He’s no better than a quack peddling snake oil.”

“Are you sure there’s no truth to it?” The Kid moved the bucket out of the way of Heyes’ foot. “It sounds like it makes a lot of sense to me.”

“I’m positive. I went to a lecture about it in San Francisco. Educated people haven’t given it any credence since the 1840s.”

The Kid shook his head ruefully. “But he got your character so well.”

“Give it a rest, will you.” Heyes darted a look at the huddle of women eyeing him nervously over an ambitious flower arrangement. “I’m fed up with everyone looking at me like I’m some kind of degenerate.”

The Kid nodded sagely. “Yeah, it must have been much easier before everyone knew.”

Heyes stopped work, alerted by grunting coming from the stiff, hook-nosed matron who grasped a heavy oak table and struggled towards the front of the church. He tossed down his brush. “Mrs. Keating, let me help you with that; it’s too heavy for you.”

She dropped her burden and turned cold, hard eyes on him. “Keep away from me. I’ve warned the committee to make sure that none of the women are left alone with you. I’m not about to fall for your malarkey.” She tilted her prominent chin at him. “I’m a married woman, and don’t you forget it.”

Heyes brows rose in outrage, eyeing the bony woman from the beady eyes staring out from behind her beak, to the long thin feet poking out from under her skirt. “Ma’am. You couldn’t be safer. I would never...not in a million years...” He bit into his lip as the woman turned puce with indignation. “That came out wrong. I didn’t mean you in particular... I mean any woman. I’m a gentleman.”

“Gentleman?!” she scoffed, hefting the table up until she could prop it on her hips. “You’re debauched. I’ve seen you, measuring up the women like a hungry jackal.”

“Mrs. Keating, please don’t put too much stock in that head bump thing. My cousin’s smart as a whip and real trustworthy.” The Kid darted a sympathetic glance at Heyes’ wounded eyes. “That looks real heavy. Can’t I help, ma’am?”

Mrs. Keating humped the cumbersome table into place. “It’s done. I’m stronger than I look, but thank you for the offer, Mr. Jones. I’m thin, but wiry.”

Heyes rolled his eyes and picked up his brush with a sigh. “Yup, a regular weasel,” murmured Heyes.

“Did you say something, Mr. Smith?” Mrs. Keating demanded.

He turned and gave her a charming smile. “I said, you could do with an easel. People giving talks could put up boards.”

She narrowed her eyes and harrumphed under her breath before she rooted around in a box and pulled out a table cloth.

“Mr. Jones,” one of the women called to the Kid. “Can you possibly help us put this vase up on that shelf? None of us can reach.”

“Sure. Flowers in the church? Is there a special occasion coming up? A weddin’?”

“A christening.” The older woman gave a watery smile of sympathy to her delicious companion. “One thing’s for sure, it’ll be a very long time before we hear any wedding bells for you, won’t it, Maureen?”

The Kid reached up, placing the display on the high shelf behind the pulpit. “No?” He twinkled his most beguiling smile at the extravagantly beautiful young woman with ebony hair and violet eyes. “What’s wrong with the men around here? They should be linin’ up for a lady like you.”

“Oh, they are, but none of them are good enough for her father.” The matron stepped back appraising the vase. “Can you move it just a smidge to the left?”

The Kid obligingly complied. “I can sure see why he’d think that, ma’am.”

Maureen gave a huff of irritation. “He’s a nightmare! He finds fault with every one of them.” She lowered her voice and continued sotto voce. “Even the preacher’s son wasn’t good enough, and my father dismissed him after he had his bumps felt. Raymond and I have known each other all our lives, but Mr. Occardi persuaded my father that he was lazy and unsuitable for me.” She shook her head, her wide eyes brimming with distress. “Raymond’s studying to become a doctor. He’s not lazy.” She threw a glance at Mrs. Keating. “I blame her, she’s obsessed with phrenology and she introduced my father to it.”

“Maureen’s father is Mayor Roth,” the matron explained.

“He uses phrenology to weed out your suitors?” Heyes asked incredulously. “But that’s nonsense. Everybody knows it’s utter bunkum. What does your mother say about that?”

“She’s dead,” murmured Maureen, sadly. “I’ve done my best, but he just won’t listen. It’s all about money with him. He’s so mean, and he’s determined that I’ll marry a wealthy man.”

“Have you thought of ordering a book debunking it for him?” asked Heyes.

Maureen shook her head. “He wouldn’t read it. I sometimes think I’ll end up eloping, but that’s not how I want to get married.”

The Kid’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Do you have somebody in mind, Miss Roth?”

“Me?” she replied, just a little too lightly. “Of course not. My father would be furious.”


oooOOOooo

The next day a tired and drawn-looking Mrs. Keating stood at the front of the table, trying to address the assembled women’s society, with little success. There was a general hubbub humming through the women of Mystic and the minutes of the last meeting were competing with salacious gossip on everyone’s lips. “I would like to open with a prayer for the mayor. We all know that he is very ill and out thoughts are with him at this terrible time.”

There was a murmur of assent before the group dropped their heads and joined Mrs. Keating in a short communion, while Heyes and Curry stopped painting and stood awkwardly on the sidelines with bowed heads.

“Amen.” Mrs. Keating raised her head and gave a weak smile. “My husband, our wonderful preacher, has met with the fundraising committee and it has been agreed that a bean supper will be held after our bring-and-buy sale to raise money for Mayor Roth’s favorite charity, the Orphan’s Mission in San Francisco where he found Maureen. Please make sure you all take time to attend.” Mrs. Keating frowned and shuffled her papers. “Ladies! Can I please have some attention? This is important.” She returned to her notes. “The welfare section has asked me to remind everyone that their members have cast off clothing of all kinds. They can be seen at the rear of Carter’s Mercantile, and can be used by anyone in serious need.”

“I think I’ll get myself down to Carter’s Mercantile when we’re finished here,” murmured the Kid under his breath. “Sounds real promisin’.”

“And I’m the one they’re all avoiding?” chuckled Heyes, intent on forcing paint into a crack.

“Mrs. Keating?” A young brunette raised her hand. “Has anyone heard how Mayor Roth is?”

The matron looked down her hawk-like nose. “I had saved it for later in the agenda.” She pulled her slight shoulders back and raised her pointed chin, “but as you all obviously know, he was shot last night and is gravely ill.”

Heyes and Curry paused and turned in surprise. “Shot?” asked Heyes. “Was it an accident?”

“Yes,” replied Mrs. Keating. “I’m sure it must have been. He had been working alone in his office and he was found by his daughter. Poor Maureen is distraught.”

The Kid’s brows knotted in concern. “Poor girl. She seemed real sweet.”

Mrs. Keating nodded. “She is, and he is a much beloved figure in Mystic. He was so charitable that when Reverend Keating and I got married, he paid for a year’s sabbatical for us.” She raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Sheriff Bates!?”

“I’m sorry, folks.” All heads turned to look at the man who had just burst into the church. The wiry, bushy eyebrows and long nose gave him the appearance of a terrier as he peered keenly at the congregation. “Mayor Roth has died. We’re lookin’ for his daughter. She’s disappeared. Does anyone here have any information on her whereabouts?”


oooOOOooo

The women formed little huddles throughout the church, chatting in hushed groups, but Heyes and Curry couldn’t help but overhear the conversation unfolding just a few feet away.

“Do you think she did it?” hissed the redhead.

“Maureen?” Her companion with the light brown hair bit into her lip. “Nora, how could you even think such a thing? She’s just not capable of violence.”

Nora was not so easily diverted from her theory. “But, Dorcas, you do know that she was seeing Samuel Welsh, don’t you?”

Dorcas’ eyes widened. “The schoolmaster? But I thought Julia...”

Nora leaned forward. “Everybody did, but I’ve seen them, Maureen and Samuel, walking, chatting, and... Well, you know.” her eyes glowed with the need to get this information out. “Her father wouldn’t have approved. He was insistent that she should marry a wealthy man.”

“No!” gasped Dorcas. “She said she wasn’t seeing anyone.”

Nora pouted. “Well she would, wouldn’t she? Her father was the mayor and the town pays the schoolmaster’s wages. If he’d gotten wind of a romance between them he’d have driven him out of town.”

Dorcas glanced at Julia, talking intently to Sheriff Bates. “What about Julia? Everyone knows she’s been seen sneaking out of Samuel‘s house at dawn.”

Nora gave a little moue of distaste. “There are women men marry, and then there are women who are just diversions. Julia is VERY diverting. Ask anyone.”

Dorcas nodded. “She presents a respectable front, but we all know how men are drawn to these experienced, merry widows.”

“It’s all the worse because Julia and Maureen are friends. They went to finishing school together.”

“Finishing school?” Dorcas’ brows gathered in a knot of curiosity. “What’s that?”

Nora twisted her mouth to the side, clearly pondering hard. “Remember she got sent East after we left the town school? She was sent to another special one, for fine ladies.”

“Why?” persisted Dorcas.

“To finish her, she told me her father thought it’d help her get a rich husband. Maybe she was a slower learner than we thought? She said they learned about manners, how to talk, and drawing – that kind of thing.”

Dorcas giggled. “Yeah, that’ll help her find a husband out here. How dumb do you have to be to forget how to talk and draw?”

Both women turned their heads and gave Julia a hard stare. The blonde had her back to them, sorting hymn books into neat stacks. “Where do you think Maureen is?” asked Dorcas.

Nora looked pensively off into nowhere. “I would start with Samuel Welsh. I bet he knows where she is.”

“Hmm...” Dorcas dropped her voice until it was almost a whisper. “I wonder how Julia’s husband died. It’s strange for a woman to move to a small town, hundreds of miles from any family, just after being widowed, isn’t it? Do you think he was shot too?”


oooOOOooo

“Mr. Jones?” The Kid looked into Julia Benson’s worried blue eyes. “A few of us were chatting – and your name came up. We wondered if you could put your wonderful mind to use to help us.”

The Kid glanced at Heyes, his blue eyes narrowing at the mischievous smile he saw twitching over Heyes’ lips. “Yes, Thaddeus, let the ladies use your magnificent intellect. What do you need, Mrs. Benson? Some accounts doing? How about reading to the sick?”

The Kid placed himself between Heyes and Julia. “Of course I’ll help.”

“We are so worried about poor Maureen. Do you think she’s thrown herself off a cliff or something? She must be mad with grief.”

The Kid tilted his head. “In my experience, folks don’t generally go mad with grief before they know someone’s died. She disappeared while he was still alive, didn’t she?”

Mrs. Keating bit into her lip, flitting about just behind the little group. “Oh, I do hope she’s all right. I’m so worried about her.”

Heyes gave a light frown, reading the nervous energy in the woman shifting rapidly from foot to foot. “You’re very fond of her, aren’t you?”

Mrs. Keating nodded. “Why, yes... I’ve known her all her life. Sarah Roth couldn’t have children so I helped her select Maureen from the orphanage. She was such a glorious little thing – the whole town adored her, especially my son, Raymond. They went to school together and I thought they would have become quite an item, but it wasn’t to be.”

“She was seeing your son?” asked Heyes. “I suppose you would have liked to have somebody you cared for as a daughter-in-law.”

“I love her, but she’s just not compatible with Raymond. She’s too flighty – he needs a woman who’ll drive him on. Phrenology proved it.”

Heyes sighed. “You can’t believe that. It’s been systematically disproved for decades, ma’am. Truly it has.”

Mrs. Keating set her chin in challenge. “I’m sorry, but I live by it. In fact, I’m the one who introduced Mr. Occardi to Mayor Roth and convinced him of the truth in it.” She gave the wall behind Heyes a long hard look. “You’ve missed a bit. Get on with it.”


oooOOOooo

“We need men for a search party.” The sheriff hooked Heyes and Curry with an appraising stare.

“If there’s a lady missin’ we’d like to help,” smiled the Kid.

Sheriff Bates looked thoughtfully over to the women’s charitable committee. “They want to help too, but it don’t seem right, havin’ women rakin’ through barns and hedges. What if they were to find a body? It ain’t right for a decent woman to see some things.” He shook his head ruefully. “Lord preserve me from meddlin’ women. They’re eager enough, but they’re sure gettin’ in the way.”

“Ain’t there anythin’ you can get them to do?” asked the Kid. “Refreshments or maybe search inside each of the houses or somethin’?”

“I’ll arrange that, Sheriff,” Mrs. Keating cut in quickly as she passed. “I’ll draw up a roster of ladies to search every building in Mystic.”

A short, plump woman tapped the preacher’s wife on the shoulder. “Oh, before I forget, Mrs. Keating, I brought your delivery from the pharmacy.” She handed over a package. “William says that you really must watch how much you use, you’ve been going through a lot of morphine recently.”

Mrs. Keating nodded. “I will, Rachel, thank you. I’ve been such a martyr to my back. I twisted it two weeks ago and I’m suffering so much. I can hardly move without twinges cutting through me like a knife.”

She turned back to the men. “My husband and I will do our home first so we can get on with preparing the meal for the search party.”

“Now I see why they’re callin’ you ‘the genius;’ I ain’t never seen her so helpful,” chucked the sheriff. “Yeah, I’ll get them to make sure every house is searched. It should keep them out of the way, and that ain’t where a corpse is likely to be found.”

Heyes and Curry exchanged a glance. “Do you think we’re looking for a corpse?”

“I truly hope not, but nobody saw her leave town. There’s one road in, one road out, and a railway station. She definitely didn’t get on a train, no horses are missin’, and the servant confirmed she didn’t even take a coat.” The sheriff regarded the partners in turn with grave, grey eyes. “I think she either shot her pa, and then killed herself, or she was protectin’ whoever did, and they’ve done away with her. Nobody else in town is missin’. I think we have to face the fact that she may be dead.”

Heyes crossed his arms. “Sheriff Bates, how well did you know Mayor Roth?”

“Real well. We grew up together.”

Heyes’ dark eyes glittered thoughtfully. “Did he have any enemies? Someone who might have wanted him dead?”

“No.”

“But he was a politician,” the Kid cut in. “Surely he rubbed someone the wrong way?”

Bates gave a wry smile. “This is Mystic – not San Francisco. We’ve only just built a church larger than a barn. There ain’t great power at stake with the title of Mayor of Mystic.”

“So who do you think shot him?” asked Heyes.

“I have no idea.”

Heyes looked off into nowhere. “I’m sorry to ask this, but could he have taken his own life?”

“Absolutely not.” Sheriff Bates shook his head resolutely. “He was shot in the chest from across the room. No powder burns, you see, and the wound wasn’t the right shape for the gun bein’ close.” He tapped the side of his nose with a long finger. “I know my gunshot wounds. I fought in the war.”

Heyes shared a look with the Kid. “I’ve got to say, Sheriff, a man who gets shot to death doesn’t sound like a man without enemies to me. What kind of man was he?”

“He was real clever, always had been,” Sheriff Bates nodded towards the Kid, “just like your friend here.”

Heyes rolled his eyes, but pressed on. “But his daughter told me he was using phrenology to weed out her suitors.”

Bates frowned. “Yeah, he got into that all of a sudden, about two years ago, but folks can get ideas into their heads sometimes. He was always a stubborn, ole...”

“All of a sudden? Two years ago?” queried Heyes.

The sheriff nodded. “Yeah, Occardi first visited then, and that was it. He must’ve been a real sweet talker, ‘cos one visit was all it took. I can’t say he ever managed to persuade me of anythin’. I wouldn’t have believed that rattler if he’d told me today was Tuesday.”

“It’s Wednesday, Sheriff,” grinned the Kid.

Bates gave the Kid a playful punch on the shoulder. “See! That’s why they all think he’s so clever around here.”

“I like Thaddeus as well as anybody, but all he did was tell you what day it is.” Heyes rubbed his temples. “Where do you think she is? Could she have run away with a lover?”

“Maureen?” The sheriff screwed up his face. “I seriously doubt it. She’s kinda shy, and I saw her after she found her pa. She was so shocked she couldn’t speak. Follow me, boys. We’d best get started.”

“Sheriff?” Heyes laid a hand on the man’s arm. “Just what did she say happened?”

“Nothing. She never said a word. She was dumbstruck – barely functionin’. The doc gave her somethin’ to sleep, and he and his wife stayed at the Roth place for the night to tend to the mayor. They left her sleepin’ off the drugs, but when they checked her in the mornin’ she had simply up and disappeared.”

The Kid dropped his voice as they both followed the sheriff out of the church. “You know, Joshua. It strikes me that she might be kinda shocked if she’d just shot her pa in a fight over him meddlin’ in her love life.”

“Yeah, Thaddeus. The same thought struck me too.”


oooOOOooo

Heyes prodded at the hedge with a billhook, pulling back the drying autumn branches to check the scrubby ground underneath. The Kid leaned on his, holding it upright in both hands. “I’ve had a thought, Heyes.”

23 - ASJ Fan Fiction“Yeah? And once it stopped echoing around in there, what did you come up with?”

The Kid’s mouth firmed into a line. “Very funny.”

“What d’you expect? You manage to come up with the day of the week and they all look at you as if you’d delivered a new set of commandments.”

“Maybe it’s about time folks treated me with a bit of respect. I like it.”

Heyes pulled the billhook out of the shrubbery and stretched his back. “I don’t blame you, but why does it have to come at my expense?”

“Probably because you were dumb enough to care more about bein’ right than you were about annoyin’ Occardi.” The Kid shook his head slowly. “You never learn, do you, Heyes? If you’d just kept your mouth shut he’d probably have come up with somethin’ completely different.”

Heyes’ eyes lit up triumphantly. “So, you admit that he made it up?”

“Of course he did. You ain’t dumb, and I ain’t a genius. He was gettin’ revenge, pure and simple.” The Kid prodded half-heartedly at some more foliage. “We ain’t gonna find her in a ditch, Heyes. You know that, don’t you? If she had seen somebody kill her pa, they’d never have let her see the sheriff at all. She made off when she heard he’d died.”

“I don’t know, Kid. It sounds logical enough, but I’ve got the feeling we’re missing something big. Take Occardi, for instance. Why would a hard-nosed, logical businessman suddenly start believing in something like phrenology, let alone start controlling his daughter’s life with it? It doesn’t add up.”

The Kid shrugged. “Nobody else seems to find it that unlikely, and they knew him.”

“Sheriff Bates didn’t understand it, but maybe he ignored it because it was none of his business.” Heyes pushed his hat to the back of his head. “Perhaps a lot of other folks did too.”

“So? What’s your point?”

Heyes paused, pensively. “I don’t know yet. Maybe Occardi had something on Roth and wants to marry his daughter. She’s sure beautiful enough to make a man do stupid things. Or, maybe it’s just plain, old-fashioned blackmail.”

“So she found out and shot him?”

Heyes gave a grimace of uncertainty. “Everyone says she was very close to her father. She might be mad at him, but mad enough to kill? I’d have been more likely to go after Occardi with a gun, if I’d been in her shoes.”

“Yeah, he is kinda creepy lookin’,” the Kid nodded, “but she didn’t strike me as the type to go after anyone with a gun. I think it was all in the heat of the moment when she shot her pa.”

“Kid,” Heyes arched his eyebrows, “I think you should go and see Occardi.”

“Why?”

“Because I want to find out more about him. He’s an important factor in this. I’m certain of that.”

The Kid frowned. “So? You go and see him.”

Heyes shook his head. “I can’t. He hates me, and he wouldn’t talk to me because he knows I think he’s a sham. He likes you, Kid. Tell him you want to find out more about phrenology.”

“This is none of our business and for the first time in years, nobody’s pointin’ the finger at us when somethin’ goes wrong.”

“Aren’t you curious?” Heyes’ face dimpled into a smile. “Isn’t there just one little bit of you that wants to know what’s going on here? Besides, just think how grateful Maureen will be if you clear her.”

The Kid fixed Heyes with a hard stare. “And you think he’s goin’ to tell me all about it if he did shoot Roth?”

Heyes chuckled. “No, but let’s see what he does say. I’ll be interested in finding out where he was that night so we can check it out.”

“Why? What’s in it for us?”

“Apart from a real grateful, beautiful girl, I can’t think of anything,” Heyes replied, casually.

The Kid narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “You’ve got it in for Occardi, haven’t you? You hope it’s him.”

Heyes eyes widened with faux innocence. “I don’t really care one way or another.”

The Kid snorted. “Yeah, right! I know how you get when someone rubs you up the wrong way,” he paused, “but it would be nice to help Maureen, if she’s innocent.”

A cynical smile played over Heyes’ lips. “So? There’s something in it for both of us. What do you say, partner?”

“What will you be doin’ while I’m with that bug-eyed blowhard?”

A twinkling smile dimpled across Heyes’ face. “I’ll be searching his room while you distract him.”


oooOOOooo

Dark eyes darted from side to side, glancing up and down the corridor, as the pick worked rapidly in the lock. They crinkled at the corners, signifying the smile of satisfaction spreading over Heyes’ face at the gladdening click of achievement, before the handle turned in his gloved hand. He was in.

Occardi was a fastidious man. His silver vanity set lay on the dresser, laid out in precise military lines beside the bowl and jug and his leather suitcase sat on the floor, along with a carpet bag. This was only a rented room, but Occardi had quickly placed his organizational stamp on it.

Heyes pulled open the drawer, his practiced fingers feeling for any documents or items concealed in the neatly folded clothing...


oooOOOooo

The Kid shrank back behind the aspidistra plant placed decorously beside the pillar in the hotel lobby, his keen eyes fixed on the blonde who stood up and walked away from the table. He easily recognized the man she had dined with. The prominent eyes and dark hair belonged to the unmistakable features of Robert Occardi.

Julia Benson strode into the lobby, before disappearing into the caustic November sun shining in through the doorway to the street.

The Kid stepped out from his concealment, a pensive look playing over his face as he strolled casually over to the table and cleared his throat. “Was that Julia Benson? You sure are lucky havin’ lunch with her. Quite a looker.”

Robert Occardi’s hooded dark eyes drifted up to the man who stood by his table. A smile spread his wide mouth even further and the light glistened off the hair smoothed down with macassar oil. “Yes, indeed. A most attractive luncheon guest. Mr...? I’m sorry, I do remember you from the church, but I don’t believe I know your name.”

“Thaddeus. Thaddeus Jones.”

“Well, Mr. Jones, why don’t you take a seat?”

The Kid slid into a chair and smiled engagingly at the swarthy man. “I just wanted to thank you for what you said at the church yesterday. All my life folks have told me I was kinda dumb.”

Occardi raised a dismissive hand. “Pssht! I only told the truth.”

The Kid arched his eyebrows. “People have been treatin’ me real well around here ever since. I might even stay.”

“I’m glad to hear that. This town needs folks to settle here to be a success. I aim to do the same.”

The Kid glanced over his shoulder. “I thought you were just vistin’. How long have you known Mrs. Benson?”

“I don’t; she’s very interested in phrenology and she’d like a private consultation.” Occardi gave a salacious grin. “I can’t wait to get my fingers on her. I think she’s likely to be a fascinating subject.”

The Kid shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Yeah... Do you read many women?”

Occardi nodded. “Most of my clients are women. I travel a lot. I try to match it with my other interest, horse racing. There’s a big race in the state capital in a week, I’m headed there next.”

The Kid sat up in surprise. “You race?”

Occardi gave a twinkle of mischief. “No, Mr. Jones, I bet – professionally.”

“So phrenology’s a sideline?”

Occardi sat back in his seat. “Yes, it’s a great way to meet women, but I make my living from gambling. I study form, going, pace, jockeys – you name it. If there’s an aid to predicting in a horse’s performance, I’ll use it.”

“Now that you mention it, I can see you as the type of man I’ve seen hangin’ around race courses.” The Kid’s eyes drifted over Occardi’s sharp suit, extravagant cravat and glittering cufflinks. “The more prosperous type, of course.”

“Do you dabble, Mr. Jones?”

The Kid shook his head. “Just a few dollars here and there. So you spend your life travellin’ from town to town? Where do you call home?”

Occardi’s prominent eyes fixed excitedly on the Kid. “Nowhere up ‘til now,” he dropped his voice conspiratorially. “I’ve decided to settle down and move to Mystic. I’m going to run for mayor. This town is going to grow real fast. There’ll be a lot of opportunities here for a smart man – men like you and me.”

The Kid leaned forward, glancing around the room surreptitiously. “Grow?”

“Yes. We’re a day’s travel from the state capital.” Occardi laid a greasy hand on the Kid’s arm. “Mystic has a great future. I’ve been buying up land here for two years; it’s going to be a little goldmine.”

The Kid’s eyes widened. “There’s gold?”

A mysterious smile played around Occardi’s thin lips. “Have you heard of oil?”

“Sure I have,” offence darkened the Kid’s eyes. “We use it all the time, in lamps and things.”

“Well, this place is sitting on a lake of the stuff. We live in exciting times and everything is becoming increasingly mechanised. The more machinery there is, the more they’ll need lubrication. It’s a new industry, but it’s a growing one. We’re finding new ways to get it out of the ground all the time.” Occardi drummed his fingers on the table as he became more animated. “It’s no secret in town that I’m going to open a refinery to produce kerosene; I was in talks with Mayor Roth about it, and we had just finalised the deal. I’ll be looking for good men to employ, if you’re interested.”

The Kid frowned. “I know nothin’ about oil.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to. It’s a brand new industry.” Occardi sat back and flicked up a black eyebrow. “If I’m going to settle down, I want it to be in a place with prospects, and Mystic has it all.”

The Kid leaned his chin on his hand. “Mayor Roth wasn’t a friend, then? You don’t seem too upset at his death.”

The man shrugged. “Mrs. Keating introduced me to him a couple of years back. I’ve only met him a few times. It’s tragic, but I can’t start wailing and gnashing my teeth for a man I barely knew.”

“Have you met his daughter? A real beauty. Did you ever do a readin’ for her?”

Occardi’s eyes glittered. “Oh, I met her, yes, but I never did a reading, she wouldn’t let me. She said she didn’t believe in it.”

The Kid jolted upright. “Didn’t? She’s missin’, not dead. Do you know somethin’ we don’t?”

Occardi bit into his lip. “Pardon me, I misspoke. I just meant the last time I saw her, and that was some months ago.”

The Kid stood. “Are you joinin’ the next search party?”

“Sorry, but I have some business to complete before I leave town. I’m afraid I don’t have time.”

“Is the sheriff fine with that? Ain’t you a suspect like anyone else who knew him?” The Kid arched his eyebrows. “My friend and I were in the saloon that night, so we’re in the clear.”

Occardi gave an unsavoury grin. “I was in Mary’s Sporting House where I spent the night with a real cute, little girl, there. She’s my alibi.” He frowned. “Surely it was the mayor’s daughter? She was the one to find him. Why else would she run away?”


oooOOOooo

Heyes sighed and looked around the room with an air of resignation. He had been through every obvious hiding place. Nothing – not a crumb.

He sat heavily on the bed, drumming his fingers on the bedstead, re-examining every nook and cranny from this new angle. Dark eyes drifted, gazing at the well-searched sideboard from top to bottom, sliding over to the suitcase before landing on the bag. He frowned and turned his head to the side, before his mouth opened slightly. “Of course!” he muttered to himself. “I must be getting rusty.”

He strode over, snapping the bag open and slipping his hand inside until it reached the bottom, while the other matched it all the way down the outside. There was a good four inches of bag under the base he had found inside. The contents were carefully removed until Heyes’ prying fingers detected a spring catch with a laugh of triumph. “Gottcha.” Heyes carefully removed the contents of the compartment, transferring them into a sack he produced from his pocket – the papers, the vials of clear liquid, the white powder, and the dried leaves.


oooOOOooo

Heyes stared into the rich, amber whiskey in his glass. “So, Mystic’s a backwater, but it’s about to explode as a new industry takes off – and Occardi’s going to run for mayor. Roth’s death suddenly appears to be very convenient for him.”

The Kid signalled to the barkeeper for a refill. “Yeah, but everything he told me is already out there. The refinery has been planned for a year. Foundations have been dug at a site just outside town. He’s not exactly workin’ in secret.”

“He’s part of a betting cartel and he dopes horses, so he sure is keeping secrets. I found enough in his room to take out the whole Kentucky Derby for weeks.” Heyes took a sip of his drink. “Do they know he’s planning on jumping into Roth’s shoes so quickly? To have a craving for political power in an up and coming town sounds like a powerful motive to me. Roth was real popular here, so Occardi’s strongest opposition has now been removed, and as mayor he can run his new business any way he sees fit. Maybe Roth knew he was a flim flammer?”

The Kid shrugged. “Then why get into phrenology? It sure seems like Occardi and him shared common ground on somethin’.” The Kid paused. “What if it’s not horses he’s druggin’? What if he’s got Maureen Roth stashed somewhere?”

Heyes gave the Kid a worried look. “If he has, I’ve taken his stock, so she’ll wake up soon.”

The Kid bit into his lip. “That ain’t necessarily a good thing, Heyes.”

Heyes rubbed his chin distractedly. “Did Occardi tell you where he was when Roth was shot?”

“Sure. He was with a saloon girl. An alibi – but not a great one. Most of them would say anythin’ for the right price.”

Heyes’ dark eyes slid sideways and fixed on the Kid. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

The Kid leaned heavily on the bar. “I doubt it. It’s Saturday night, we have a day off tomorrow, and all you can talk about is the death of a man you never met. Has it occurred to you that there are all kinds of things we could be doin’, and thinkin’ about Occardi will just kill the mood?”

“Kid, how do you fancy a night with a pretty girl?”

The Kid’s eyes brightened. “I thought you’d never ask.”

“You mentioned the saloon. Why don’t we go and check out Occardi’s alibi?”

The Kid drained his glass. “I’ve got a better idea, why don’t you check out his alibi, while I do somethin’ more a lot more interestin’. The girls there ain’t employed for their conversational skills.” He shook his head ruefully. “Now I see why they all think you’re the dumb one.”

Heyes gave a wicked twinkle. “Am I? How do you think I’m going to get the information, Kid?”


oooOOOooo

The next day, the Kid and Heyes strolled contentedly down the street and took a seat on the bench opposite the church to enjoy the low autumnal sun. They paused for a few moments, watching the congregation mill about outside as they left after Sunday services.

“That was one of our better nights,” sighed the Kid. “There’s somethin’ to be said about earnin’ your weekend.”

“She’s no prettier after a week’s work than she would have been after a robbery, Kid,” murmured Heyes, keenly watching the congregation leave the church, forming into chatting knots of friends and neighbours. Julia Benson stood out, her golden hair catching the sunlight as she dropped her head, darting a surreptitious look at a handsome blond man before making her way around the crowd, stopping at almost every male. Heyes stared at her smiling, flirting and laying a gentle hand on her victims at every opportunity – flicking away imaginary specks of dust or adjusting their ties. The angry glares of the wives did nothing to dampen her enthusiasm for the male form, no matter how pigeon-chested, short or flabby. Heyes tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. “I guess the fair man’s Samuel Welsh, the schoolteacher.”

“I guess so.” The Kid nodded towards the dark, pale, earnest young man following the preacher and his wife. “And I reckon that’s the preacher’s boy, Raymond.”

“How did he get a woman like Maureen to fall in love with him?” Heyes shook his head. “The school teacher I can see – he’s a fine-looking man, but Raymond? He looks too bookish.”

The Kid turned amused blue eyes on his cousin. “Is the pot considerin’ the kettle, and findin’ it a shade too dark?”

Heyes ignored him. “The sheriff’s coming, and he’s brought a deputy. By the way he’s walking, I think he’s got business in mind.”

They watched him stride up to Julia. “Mrs. Julia Benson? I am arresting you for the murder of Mayor Benuel Roth on the sixteenth of November.”

There were gasps and mutterings from the crowd as Julia’s eyes widened in horror and she shook her head from side to side in denial. “NO! I didn’t... I could never!”

Samuel Welsh pushed his way urgently through the onlookers. “No!! She didn’t do it. She was with me at the time.”

“Nonsense!” Mrs. Keating stood on the steps of the church. “I heard her and Mayor Roth arguing as I passed his house that night. I went to the sheriff with it because I could not hold my tongue and sleep with a sound conscience.”

Julia’s face reddened, her voice becoming hysterical. “I didn’t! I wasn’t there. I’ve never killed anyone in my life.”

Heyes stood, dropping his voice to a whisper. “Kid, I’ve got something I need you to do. I’ve had enough of all this.”


oooOOOooo

The sheriff’s hirsute brows gathered in scorn. “Smith, get outta my way. I’ve got a prisoner to take in.”

Heyes projected his voice, drawing in as many townsfolk as possible. “Please, just give me ten minutes.” He gave a reassuring nod to Julia. “She’s not going anywhere, so what’s the harm? It may vindicate her and save you from a very embarrassing mistake. What do you say?”

“I say that you take him to jail right alongside her for trying to interfere in a lawful arrest,” barked Mrs. Keating.

Heyes gave her a cold smile. “Afraid of what I might be about to say, Mrs. Keating?”

She looked down her long nose at him. “Of course not.”

“Then there’s no harm in hearing what I’ve got to say, is there?” Heyes glanced about, doing his best to garner support. “Do you want to get this matter closed? Ten minutes is all I ask.”

“I can’t see the harm in it,” the deputy said, with a shrug. “He seems real keen on tellin’ us somethin’.”

“Fine, you got ten minutes,” the sheriff snapped a handcuff on Julia’s wrist before attaching the other end to his own. “This’d better be good, but I’d be much happier if the smart one was doin’ the talkin’.”


oooOOOooo

Heyes took up position at the front of the church, the congregation’s curiosity manifesting in shuffling, murmuring and elbow jabbing. “Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for indulging me, but I hope to prevent a miscarriage of justice. I don’t believe for a moment that Mrs. Benson killed Mayor Roth. I believe I know who did.”

“Just what could you possibly know? You’ve just arrived in town and you never even met the mayor.”

23 - ASJ Fan Fiction“I’ve never heard so much gossip in my life as I have in this town. Most of it was complete rubbish, but if you sift through it, there are nuggets of truth.” Heyes stretched out appeasing hands to his disgruntled audience. “I’m not saying people talk rubbish here, just that some folks have deliberately set out to mislead – take Mrs. Benson, she’s been lying to you all.”

Sheriff Bates scowled. “We know; that’s why I arrested her.”

Heyes smiled. “Yup, a real liar. I watched you, Mrs, Benson. You flirt outrageously, but only when there’s an outraged wife to see what you’re doing.” There was a hubbub of disapproval, but Heyes’ pushed up the volume to make sure his voice carried over it. “Now, there’s one thing most men are real good at, and that’s at picking up signals from women who’re available. My partner commented that he didn’t get any of those from you, Mrs. Benson, and neither did I.” Heyes fixed her with a determined stare. “Would you care to tell us why that is, in the light of your arrest?”

Julia gave a quiet sob and glanced down at her handcuffed wrist. “I never killed anyone...”

Heyes sighed. “The trick to all of this is unravelling the series of lies. I’m going to start with Mrs. Benson. We know she went to school with Maureen. Some of you wondered why a widow would come to live hundreds of miles from her home and family to start a new life. All I could come up with was that she had run away from something and needed the support of an old friend.”

All eyes turned to Julia’s worried face.

Heyes arched his brows. “Still not going to talk?” He looked over at the schoolmaster. “How about you, Mr. Welsh? Surely you’re not going to hang your wife out to dry, especially when she been so loyal to you?”

Gasps echoed around the timbers of the church as the blond schoolmaster slowly stood. “How did you know?”

Heyes folded his arms. “Your wife’s a bad liar, and that’s to her credit. She didn’t flirt with men – she truly isn’t interested. That got me to wondering why everyone had such a low opinion of her, until I saw her operate outside the church. She suddenly made advances on every man in town, right in front of their wives – except for two. The one her best friend is reputed to be stuck on and the single schoolmaster whose house she’s been seen sneaking out of at dawn. Why keep that secret? You’re both single and you’re not cheating on anybody.” Heyes perched on the table at the front of the church hall. “Yet you wanted everyone to believe you were hitting on almost every other man in town? There could be only one reason for that. Classic misdirection – in one glance I could see that she’s besotted with you, Mr. Welsh – or should I say, Mr. Benson. She then worked as hard as she could to make sure nobody knew you were linked to her. It almost worked. Just what are you hiding from? Is it worth seeing your wife stand trial for murder?”

The schoolmaster hung his head. “I owe money, to some pretty nasty people, so I had to disappear. I knew they’d be looking for a couple. Julia pretended to be a widow to throw them off the track and came here to be near her old friend. It just wasn’t fair for her to be too alone. We soon picked up on gossip that she was sweet on me, so she did her best to throw them off the track.” He cast despairing eyes around the room. “That’s not a crime, is it? She was with her lawfully married husband the night Roth was killed. The only thing she’s been guilty of is trying to support her no-good gambler of a husband. I’d swear to that on a stack of Bibles and if you check with the sheriff in Beyerberg, he’ll confirm everything I’ve said.”

Sheriff Bates gave a firm nod. “I will, Mr. Benson. I’m afraid you’ll have to come along too until this is confirmed, but it does cast doubt on the allegation of a lovers tiff between your wife and the mayor.”

Heyes gave a thin smile. “Would you care to name the people you owe money to?”

“It’s a betting syndicate. Occardi is their boss.”

“Robert Occardi?” demanded Reverend Keating.

“The very same.” The schoolmaster shook his head ruefully. “When we saw him arrive in town we panicked, but Julia went to see him under the pretence of phrenology reading. He had no idea who she was and didn’t demand money. We were in the clear as long as he didn’t see me.”

Heyes flicked a look at Mrs. Keating. “Nice friends.” He stood and started to pace, watching the room. “So, now we know why Julia was behaving the way she was, and why Maureen was seen having long conversations with him according to some of the gossip we overheard. She was talking to the husband of an old friend. Pretty innocent, I’d say, despite the way some people here interpreted it when they saw her walking with him. Now that’s cleared up, it’s time to turn to you, Mrs. Keating.”

The matron gave a snort and stood abruptly. “I don’t think so!”

Heyes arched his eyebrows. “Sit down! There can be only one reason why you wanted to set Julia Benson up for the murder of Mayor Roth – you killed him. It would be your word against the town hussy – except she wasn’t, was she?”

Mrs. Keating’s mouth dropped open. “Never in all my born days...!”

“No!?” Heyes’ chin set in challenge. “You’ve been blackmailing Roth for years; I’ve never seen a preacher’s family live like yours. It’s a guess, but if we check the mayor’s bank account I think we’ll see regular transfers of money to you. I’ll lay good odds that he got tired of being milked and he stopped payment recently.”

“I’ve heard enough.” Mrs. Keating pushed back her chair, the legs screeching as they scraped on the floorboards. “I’m leaving.”

Sheriff Bates nodded to the deputy to block her way. “I’ll be checking those accounts, Mrs. Keating. I want you to stay.”

She stopped, staring intently at the sheriff with harsh beady eyes before she dropped into a seat.

“My mother wouldn’t do anything like that!” Raymond Keating stood, ire burning in his intelligent, pale blue eyes.

Heyes gave him a conciliatory smile. “Your mother didn’t kill anyone deliberately. I’m sure of that. It was an argument that got out of hand.”

“I’ve never killed anyone,” exclaimed Mrs. Keating.

Heyes tilted his head. “Ah, well... Maybe I need to explain my theory. Mayor Roth was notoriously mean, yet he paid for you to have a year’s sabbatical as a honeymoon? Why did you decide to marry Reverend Keating when you found out you were pregnant by Roth? Was it a financial arrangement?”

The woman’s eyes started to bulge in indignation. “I’ve heard enough!”

Heyes shook his head. “You haven’t said a true word in decades. You’re like a telegraph stuck on transmit. You’ve done enough damage. Your son deserves the truth.”

The preacher started to his feet at last, a small, uncertain figure with a thin voice. “My wife would never kill anyone.”

Heyes folded his arms. “You made four mistakes, ma’am, apart from trying to blame an innocent woman. Firstly, you were dead against Maureen and Raymond getting married. Why? You said you love her. Secondly, you told me that a notoriously mean man paid for you to disappear for a while, yet he adopted a child you brought back from the mission. Thirdly, you and Roth would do whatever you could to stop those two from getting married – even going so far as to using phrenology as an excuse. The real reason was that they were half siblings and you didn’t want to tell them the awful truth.”

Raymond Keating stood, his confused eyes swirling with emotion. “Mother? Father? Tell him he’s wrong!”

Heyes sighed. “They can’t, son. Maureen is your sister. There can never be anything between you.”

“But...”

“I guessed you were secretly seeing her. You need to know the truth,” Heyes said.

The pale man seemed to blanch to parchment. “It all makes sense. The phrenology never did.” He fixed his parents with accusing eyes. “WHY? You should have told me!”

“You can’t prove any of this!” barked Mrs. Keating.

Heyes’ eyes darted to the door of the church where the Kid stood, silhouetted in the low winter sun, an unconscious Maureen Roth in his arms. The Kid nodded, indicating that the woman was alive and well.

“Your fourth mistake was in leaving a witness. I’m guessing that Maureen didn’t just stumble onto her father after he’d been shot; I think she overheard the row between you and Roth, and she wasn’t just shocked and confused by the shooting. The woman she had just found out was her birth mother had shot her father. Maureen knew what happened, but you just couldn’t kill her, could you Mrs. Keating? She’s your daughter... and you love her. She crept out of the house to see you, looking for an explanation when she started to make sense of the whole thing, and you saw your chance. You knew you could stand trial for murder. Alternatively – you could drug her and take time to work on her to tell a different version of events.”

Heyes pointed at the solid table. “The pharmacist’s wife was concerned about the amount of morphine you were using and you claimed you injured your back weeks ago, yet you hefted that thing all by yourself. I can spot a liar, Mrs. Keating. The one thing I can say is that you’re not a cold blooded killer.” Heyes smiled at his partner. “Thaddeus, where was she?”

The Kid strolled down the aisle of the church, Maureen’s trailing skirts dragging on the seat backs. “On a mattress in the root cellar of the Keating’s place. She’s out of it, but she seems fine...”

Heyes fixed the preacher’s wife a hard stare. “Still want to deny it all, Mrs. Keating? Maureen’s going to come round sometime soon.”


oooOOOoo


Sheriff Bates stretched out an arm to proffer a handshake. “Are you sure you two boys want to leave? You’ve been real popular here in Mystic.”

The Kid nodded. “Yeah, we’re drifters by nature. We get kinda restless if we stay in one place for too long.”

“We’ll always think well of this town.” Heyes patted his breast pocket appreciatively. “Who knows? We may be back this way sometime.”

“That was real smart the way you figured all that out, just from listenin’ to the women folks.” Bates folded his arms. “Maybe I should do that more often...” He seemed to muse on the point for a moment before shaking his head. “Nah, who am I the kiddin’. They’d drive me mad within half an hour.”

“I’ve got to say, some of them were just downright borin’, but there were worse ways to earn a buck,” chuckled the Kid.

Heyes threw a leg over his horse as he mounted. “Shame it wasn’t Occardi; he made my skin crawl, but at least we put an end to his political ambitions.”

“Yup, real clever,” Bates winked at Heyes, “and you’ve got a good friend there, lettin’ you take the credit for all his thinkin’.”

Heyes’ mouth dropped open. “What do you mean? I worked it out.”

The sheriff gave Heyes a knowing smile. “Nah, I saw you two, watching the church empty. The minute I arrested Mrs. Benson, Thaddeus strode off towards the Keating place. He was full of business – a man with a mission. He’d worked it out and asked you to stall for him, Joshua. I know he did.”

Heyes let out an exasperated sigh. “I’m speechless...”

The Kid kicked his horse into motion with a grin. “Speechless, Joshua? You? Sheriff, you’re the one who’s some kind of genius.”



Historical Notes

Phrenology was a science of character divination which came from the theories of Franz Joseph Gall (1758 -1828), the main tenets of which were that the brain is composed of multiple, distinct, innate faculties, and that the skull shape is determined by the development of the organ beneath. It rapidly gained popularity, with people holding parties to uncover the truth about themselves, and adopting its methodology, focussing on self-improvement. Supporters of phrenology argued its value in selecting marriage partners, career choices, the hiring of employees, child rearing, as well as criminal detection and rehabilitation. It was also used to profile the traits of various races. It was bad science, only seeking evidence to confirm the hypothesis, and was discredited as scientific methodology improved. By the 1840s it was largely dismissed, but was still practiced right into the twentieth century.

Here is a link to an analysis and career advice for a young girl in 1912:
http://www.historyofphrenology.org.uk/hatfield.html

Performance-enhancing drugs have been used for as long as competitive sports have existed, but alien to our concepts, drugs which enhanced performance for animals or athletes were perfectly acceptable right into the early twentieth century. What was not permissible were drugs which ‘nobbled’ the opposition. Soporifics were commonly used to make the animals too drowsy to perform, and cannabis was very
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