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 The Devil's Due - Chapter 15

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Silverkelpie

Silverkelpie

Posts : 1438
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 58
Location : Over the rainbow

PostSubject: The Devil's Due - Chapter 15   Fri Jan 15, 2016 8:43 pm

“Sure was lucky we ran into Rita and Buelah last month,” said the Kid.  “What’re the odds I’d run into those two little gals so far from Texas?   As I recall, Rita surely hated the cold.  Strange she’d end up in Laramie.”  His horse jogged along quietly next to Heyes’ sorrel.  They were nearly back at the Hole and Curry knew things were going to heat up once they arrived.  Heyes had a plan.


“Lucky for us they did.”


“You really think they’ll be able to pull this off?  I’m pretty surprised they’re even willin’ to help.”


“They have to pull it off, we’re out of options.  Besides, they’re motivated.  They want out of their lives and we’ll get them out if this all goes well.”


“Well, if it don’t, we’ll be wintering in sunny South America ‘cause I sure as hell ain’t about to let anything bad happen to our guests,” warned Curry.


“It’ll work,” growled Heyes trying convince himself as well as his partner.


oooOOOooo


Heyes rubbed his chin pensively and stared down at Charlotte.  The livid bruise on the girl’s cheek was spreading down to her jaw.  It looked appalling and, if he’d seen that on the face of a female prisoner in any other circumstances, he’d have strung up the man responsible.  She was a fairly timid girl, sheltered and naive, but he could see glimpses of a bubbly and generous spirit under all that apprehension. 


“So, nobody knows where you really are?”  A brow rose in query.  “Not even your older sister and her husband?”


“No,” she sniffed and turned great blue globes of fear on him.  “Are you going to kill me now?”


Self-revulsion hit the pit of his stomach.  He smiled as reassuringly as he could.  “No, I’m going to do my best to keep you safe right along with me and my friend.  The more I know, the more I can work out how.”


She shook her head vehemently, her blonde curls bouncing with the movement.  “I’ll never draw again, not ever.  I promise.”


He sighed deeply.  “You’re very good at it.  That’d be a shame.  I’m sorry, I really am.”  He walked over to the door, picking up the burlap sack from the table.  “I need to speak to your sister now, so you need to cover your head while Kyle takes you back to the cabin.” 


He watched her blindly led back to the leader’s cabin before he started striding back and forth in the little hut.  It would be interesting to see if her sister told the same tale.  He had deliberately chosen to interrogate the girls in another building to avoid them overhearing what the other had told him.  It did seem that the Burdons had nobody left to come after him once he’d dealt with this pair, but that was a long way off.  They could have put their heads together to concoct a story, but he doubted it.  They’d have come up with something way better than this sorry tale.


“Here ya go, Miz Carlotta,” Kyle ushered the hooded woman into the building.  “Mind as you go in.  Don’t trip on that bit of wood.”

        
She stumbled into the building and was guided to the seat.  As Heyes pulled off the blindfold he already knew that this interview was going to be different from the last one.  Her large blue eyes blinked up at him before they settled in a challenging glower.  “Is that bag really necessary?  I’ve already seen you.”


“It’s to stop you drawing a map of the Hole, not to mention anyone else you haven’t seen up until now.”  He sat across the table from her and leaned forward.  “So, you lied to your sister and her husband?  She thinks you’re in San Francisco?”  He smiled.  “There’s not a soul in the world who knows you’re here.”


“Gabe and his mother know.”  She frowned.  “Are you going to kill them, too?”


He ignored the question.  “So how do we contact your family?  Are you still in the same house?”


“Contact them?  Why?”  Alarm flickered in her face as the implications sunk in.  “How do you know where I live?” 


Heyes noted her reaction with amusement.  Carlotta seemed more afraid of her sister being contacted than the threat of being murdered by outlaws.  “You’re here to answer the questions, not ask them.  Who’s running things?  The bank, the family?  The day to day affairs--who’s in charge?”


She shook her head in frustration.  “That’ll be Angelique, but it’s in the name of her husband, James Matheson.  She runs him from behind like a puppet.”

          
“So what will she do to get you out of this, do you think?”  Heyes sat back and casually watched her reaction.  It was not the same as her credulous sister’s.  Carlotta clearly didn’t trust her older sister at all.  Her downcast eyes darted from side to side and her tightening knuckles whitened to pearl. 


“Well?” asked Heyes.


“She’ll raid our trust fund to pay you off and we’ll be completely dependent on her forever.”  She dropped her head into her hands.  “This is such a mess.”


“I agree.  What would you do in my shoes?” 


The question wasn’t as casual as it sounded.  It was a way to measure her cunning, morals, and see what she thought was likely; but she didn’t answer.  She simply sat facing him, blinking back the tears.


“No solutions?  If I had my time over I’d not only have avoided your family completely, I’d also have made sure that I never used my real name, but that’s just a dream.  They’d be hunting some mythical crook by now and arrest warrants wouldn’t be in my own name.  You wouldn’t have known who to look for, but it’s too late for that.”  He rested his chin on his hand, elbow on the table.  “Yes, if you’re ever arrested, take my advice and use a false name.  You won’t even really have a criminal record that way, at least not one they can easily attach to you.”


“I very much doubt that I’ll be in that position, Mr. Heyes.”


“Yeah, probably not.  You’d have to get out of here first.”  His dimples deepened.  “Surely there’s a man ready to tear the country apart looking for you?”


“The only man left is James and he can hardly find his own socks.  I can’t think of a way out of this at all...,” her voice broke with emotion.  “It’s hopeless unless you trust us.”


“Trust?  That’s not going to happen.  No lovers or fiancés?”


“No.  Charlotte has a few suitors, she’s very popular, but there’s nobody serious.”


“But not you?”  He tilted his head to appraise her.  She was just as pretty as her sister, but in a more sophisticated way.  The older sister had chic, sleek, blonde hair, but a distant demeanor; in contrast to Charlotte’s bouncy curls and appealing effervescence.  That was no barrier in his mind, many men loved to see an ice-maiden melt.  He smiled.  “Why not?  You’re every bit as attractive as her.”


“Men aren’t too keen on me.  I’m too stubborn and opinionated.”


He nodded.  “Yes, I could see that.”


She stiffened as though stung.  “I’m none too keen on them either.  They talk to me like I’m a fool.”


Amusement glittered in his eyes.  “So you make a habit of idiotic ideas like this one?”


“No!  I...oh, never mind.”       


So both women had confirmed that there was nobody behind them waiting to continue the vendetta.  Could he believe this?


“How old are you?” he asked.


“Twenty-two.”


“You look younger,” his brows gathered.  “What chance did you think you’d have of bringing us in?  Honestly.”


“Paying the reward would have wiped out our trust fund.  I wanted to make sure that we got the money, and nobody else.  I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life as my sister’s unpaid servant.”  She paused.  “It was really stupid.”


“Yes, you were as mentally agile as the average soap dish when you came up with this.  How did you think it was going to work?”


She blushed.  “I thought if I put out the wanted posters I could at least claim a proportion of the money back,” she shrugged, “maybe even all of it if we told the law where you were.”


“Hmm, it’s all about the money for you, isn’t it?


She firmed her lips in challenge.  “And it isn’t for you?”


“Not all about the money, no.  It’s often how easy it is to get at for a start.”  He stared at her with an intensity she was unable to meet.  She looked away, pouting prettily as he continued.  “Then there’s the stuff money buys.  I suppose it’s basically the things you’ve enjoyed all your life, without even thinking about it.”


“Really, like art and music?  Maybe you enjoy good poetry?” she snapped.  “What do you know about fine things?” 


She was getting uppity; it was time to put her in her place.  “Do you want to talk about what I enjoy, Miss Burdon?  Not all of it’s what people might consider wholesome, but you brought it up.”  He placed both hands palm-down on the table and stared at her in direct challenge.  “Do you want to go there?”


She gulped and sat back on the chair, the point made.  “No, I can imagine.  What do you want?  What is the point in this?  You haven’t killed us, so I’m guessing you don’t want us dead.  What else?  Money?  Ransom?”   


“It has been suggested, but I always think it’s a dumb crime.  It’s stupidly hard to collect the ransom without getting caught.  It also wouldn’t stop you from releasing the pictures once you were home.”  He shook his head.  “No, that’s not an option.  Besides, my partner is dead set against ransoming you.  He just wants to let you go.  He says he’ll ride out of here if I go down that route, but I need him.  He’s the best there is with a gun.”


“Your partner?” she asked.


“Kid Curry,” he replied.  “He’s not the animal you’ve been led to believe.  Your brother drew first, but the Kid was faster.  The whole thing happened in front of the law which is why there were no warrants issued for him.  Your brother killed that girl, and she was the closest thing to a sister we had.  If it was up to the Kid you’d be released and we’d be gone.”  He tapped his tapered fingers on the table.  “It’s a pity for you he’s not the one in charge around here; he’s real soft around women.  I’m not so generous.  I’ve had years of being hunted by the men your father sent and I still bear the scars.”  His brow furrowed.  “Lots of them.  I thought this was over when he died, and now you show up.”  


“Scars?”


“Yes, my back is covered with them since your pa sent someone after me with a bullwhip.  I was supposed to die from that beating.  At the time, I wished I had.”


“But you killed our brother.”


He shook his head.  “Nope, your brother killed our friend.  He took a carving knife from the buffet table and slit her throat after he raped her.”  His face hardened at the memory.  “She was just a little younger than you at the time.  She was clever, funny and beautiful.  She was at the ball with her pa, and she’d stepped out to ask the doorman to fetch them a cab.  Nobody ever saw her alive again.”  He shrugged.  “Nobody but your brother, that is.”


He watched her gulp as he continued.


“Sure we were conning your family out of some money at the time, but she never deserved that.  Nobody does, which is why you aren’t in the same boat.”


“He’d never…I just find it so hard to believe William would do something like that.”


His eyes burned into her soul.  “Do you?  Really?  The man I knew treated women like dirt.  I can’t see him being much better to a little sister.  Did he spend a lot of time with you or see you as a complete waste of his time?”


The flicker in her eyes told him he’d struck a nerve, so he pressed on.  “We were quite prepared to face the law to bring him in.  The law was there the night we tracked him down, but William had to try to shoot his way out.  That’s the dumbest thing you can do when the Kid is around.  It seems dumb runs in the family.”                           


Carlotta slumped heavily in her chair; his words had a ring of truth she couldn’t deny.  “Maybe it does.  Nobody ever told me any of this, and it does explain why Father had to send men after you when the law wouldn’t.”  She bit into her lip.  “There’s only one option.  You let Charlotte go and keep me to make sure she never draws again.”


He sat back, caught by surprise and more than slightly intrigued.  “Go on.”


“Well, she’d never do anything to harm me.  You’ve talked to her; she doesn’t have it in her.  Let her go and you’ll still be able to control everything she says or does.”


“And you?  What about you?”  Her stared at her, but she looked away, unable to meet his gaze.  “What happens to you, Miss Burdon?”


“It’s my fault she’s in this situation.  She can get on with her life.”


“You’re serious, aren’t you?”  His brows gathered.  “You mean this.”


“Yes, I do.  I’ve ruined her life with this stupid idea,” she held his scrutiny at long last.  “It was all about me.  Our money is held in trust until we marry, so I was never going to be able to live my own life unless I could access it.  You’ve met her, Charlotte has lots of suitors and she’ll move on soon.  She can still be happy.  Let her go.  Please...”


He was intrigued.  “You can marry too.  What’s stopping you from having your own life?”


“Me?  I’m not the marrying kind.  I’ll be stuck with my older sister as the spinster housekeeper for the rest of my life, or a man who expects pretty much the same.  It’s not much to look forward to.”


“Yeah?  So if you stay here, what am I supposed to do with you?”


She threw up her hands in frustration.  “I don’t know.  Kill me?  Use me?  Sell me?  Do whatever you’re planning to do, just get it over with.  Do you expect me to believe you don’t have a plan?  Just keep Charlotte out of this.  I’ll cooperate in anything that keeps her safe.  What did you bring me in here to tell you?  That I’ll pay you a fortune and be your whore?  Well, yes; if it keeps my sister safe.  I’ll do what it takes.  If not, you’d better kill me, because you’ll never know when I’ll get you if you hurt Charlotte.  You’ll never be able to sleep soundly when I’m around.”


He fought back the angry urge to laugh in her face.  Instead he simply shook his head.  “Do you think I want this, having women getting in my way?  You read far too many dime novels, Miss Burdon.  I suggest you think again.  If I want female company I can get it any time I want.  There are some things real men don’t steal.  Do you think I’m like your brother?  There’s something very wrong with the men in your family if you think that’s normal.  I’ve no intention of keeping you, but I am going to stop you drawing.”


She sucked in a breath.  “How?  You’re going to injure us?”


He stood, lifting her hood.  “Well, at least this has been informative.  It seems that there’s a spark of decency in the Burdon family after all, even if it is twisted; but that just makes my decision even harder.  Kyle!  Take Miss Burdon back to her sister.”


He watched them go, mulling over what he’d learned.  The Burdon women were different to the men.  They stuck together and looked after one another.  The younger sister was an uncomplicated and kind soul, but the older girl was as frustrated and trapped by circumstances as he was.  At least he now knew nobody else was ready to step in after the women.  Was it possible to be so unhappy in a life where you were well-fed and comfortable?  Was the risk Carlotta had taken proportionate?  The nearest equivalent of running away from a warm bed and food he had was Valparaiso, but surely life as a rich woman controlled by her family couldn’t be that bad?  He shook himself back to the here and now.  It was time to act now that he had a better idea what he was dealing with.       


oooOOOooo


The Kid dragged the hood from Gabe’s head.  “We’re well out of the Hole now.  You’re allowed to see where you’re goin’.”


He blinked away the caustic sunlight and shifted uncomfortably in his saddle.  His arms were bound behind him causing an ache in his shoulders.  “I don’t want to go anywhere!  I want to stay with the girls.  They need a man around.”


“They’ve got a whole bunch of men back there,” the Kid replied.  “They’re fine.”


“They’re the men they need to be protected from,” snapped Gabe.  “They need me.”


Heyes shook his head.  “Gabe, they had you when Ike took you, all by himself.  What good do you think you are unarmed, and on your own, facing a gang?  They’re doing just great without you.  Your ma is with them.  I’d don’t know about you, but I’d rather face the US Cavalry than try to take advantage when she’s in charge.”


“My ma ain’t gotta gun and there’s a whole rat’s nest of outlaws down there,” growled Gabe.  “I only left because she practically begged me.  She said it was for the best but I ain’t so sure.” 


The Kid smiled.  “Gabe, I promise you on all I hold dear, ain’t nobody goin’ to lay a finger on the girls or your ma.  Don’t you think we’d have done it by now if we were so inclined?  The only reason they’re in there at all is because they wanted to spread wanted posters of us all over the West.”


“That’s what worries me.  How’re you plannin’ on stopping them?  What’re you gonna do?”


“By makin’ people think they’re stone-cold liars, Gabe, and we need you to help us.  If a couple of blondes are tourin’ the country sayin’ they’re the Durbins, they couldn’t have been held at the Hole, could they?”  Heyes cast out a hand at the horizon.  “It’s all I can think of, in any case.  I need to keep them until I pull one more job to give us the money to lie low and get out of the country.  It’ll help if the posters look like the invention of a couple of over-imaginative girls so they won’t be worth the printing costs.  It buys us time to get across the border.  After that, it won’t matter.”


“So I’ve got to ride about the country with these gals and say they’re the Durbins?”


“You got that right.”  The Kid grinned.  “It helps the girls because folks’ll think they’re flighty and kinda dumb.  The girls I’ve picked to play them fit the bill perfectly.”


“Go to hell.  You’re the ones who’re kinda dumb.  It’ll never work.”


“Gabe, you promised you’d help,” Heyes’ eyes narrowed.  “If that’s a lie we’ll take you straight back to the Hole and you can explain that to your ma.” 


“What other option do we have?  We don’t want to hurt them, but you ain’t makin’ that easy,” the Kid rested his hand on the saddle horn.  “What’s she gonna say when you turn up down there again?  She ain’t goin’ to be pleased with you.”


“I ain’t scared of my ma.  What age d’ya think I am?”


“Let me make this easier for you, Gabe,” Heyes hard eyes belied his glittering smile.  “We don’t want to hurt anyone, but the girls are making that harder and harder to stick to.  Now you can either help us make folk think they’ve been romancing about meeting outlaws so they ignore their drawings, or we can take you back to the Hole and we can do the only other thing left to us.  Which is it to be?”


Gabe’s face reddened.  “And what’s that?  What’ll you do?”


“Well now, Heyes,” the Kid cut in.  “That ain’t exactly fair.  There’s more’n one thing a man can do with a couple of gals like them.  Maybe he’s forgettin’ the danger they’re in.”


Heyes nodded.  “Well, yeah, but I’m trying to focus Gabe on his worst options, Kid.”


“He sure seems to have a bad memory, Heyes.  Or is it a lack of imagination?  In any case he needs to realize what’s likely to happen if he rules out this option.”


“What?  What will you do if I refuse,” Gabe demanded.  “If you lay a finger on Char…,” he paused, “on any of them; I’ll kill ya.  If it takes to my dyin’ day, I’ll get even.”      


“Charlotte and you are a thing?”  Heyes nodded.  “Yeah, you look good together.  She’s kinda well-to-do-though.  I doubt her folks’ll be happy about it.  We’re all a bit low on the social scale for them.”


“Not so much as an improper word has passed between Miz Charlotte and me.  I’ve treated her with respect,” Gabe retorted.


“She’ll like you even better if you help get her outta this mess, Gabe.”  The Kid nodded, “there’s somethin’ about a hero that get’s a gal where it counts.  It helps to win over a family too.”


“Not that we’d know,” Heyes muttered.  “We’re more the ‘stick-em-up’ types.  You have to sleep with one eye open around the kind of women that attracts.”


“Mizz Charlotte ain’t the type to go sleepin’ with men.  You take that back!”


“Easy, Gabe.  I never said she was.  I meant that she’s head and shoulders above the kind of women outlaws attract,” Heyes shrugged.  “There’s no reason why we can’t be a little envious at you attracting a woman like that though.  I think you helping her out of there’ll go a long way to helping her family get over the whole ‘having no money’ problem.”


“Ya think?”  Gabe’s horse shuffled and shifted as it got bored of standing.


“Gabe, there ain’t a reason in the world why we’d send you to do this unless it helped sort things.” Earnest blue eyes fixed on the young man.  “We’re desperate here.  We don’t want to hurt them, but this is all we’ve got.  If you ain’t gonna help us we’re gonna have to take you back to the Hole and do somethin’ more drastic.”


“Yeah, and we’ll have to tell them who forced us into it too.”  Heyes shared a look with his partner.  “That’s gonna look real bad when we…well, do what we have to do,”

                
“I dunno what the girls are gonna think of him when they find out he refused to help,” mused the Kid.  “I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes when we line them up to do what we have to do, and we tell them that Gabe left us no option….”


Gabe was fit burst.  “Do what!?”


“Well that’s up to you, Gabe,” Heyes replied.  “It could be that we tell them you’re cooperating to get them out.  On the other hand we might have to tell them that you didn’t even try….”  


“I’m not sure….”      
 

“We don’t need you to be sure, we just need you to act.  We’ve got it all in hand.  You go with the Kid to Elk Lick where he’ll introduce you to a couple of girls we know.   You tell Beauregard not to worry by telegraph, and you head out to the towns we tell you, in the order we say.  You telegraph our contact when you arrive and leave each town.”  Heyes raised a pointed finger to punctuate his orders.  “As soon as I find out you haven’t, I’ll have to assume the deal’s off.  Don’t think I won’t know if you fail to telegraph.”


“And if’n I don’t?” Gabe demanded.


Hannibal Heyes pulled himself up to his full height, his demeanor switching from riding buddy to outlaw leader in stature, bearing, and presence.  “There’ll be consequences, Gabe.  None of us want that.  Just do what I ask and it’ll all be fine.  If we have to resort to being tough with them, it’ll be your fault.  Make no mistake about that.  I’ll have to make sure they can’t draw ever again.  And I mean every word I say.”

_________________
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb
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Silverkelpie

Silverkelpie

Posts : 1438
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 58
Location : Over the rainbow

PostSubject: Re: The Devil's Due - Chapter 15   Fri Jan 15, 2016 8:44 pm

oooOOOooo


Heyes reined up at the fork in the trail and dismounted, stretching his back and waiting for his partner and their ‘guest’ to catch up to him after they had fallen behind on the last steep pitch.  Leading a horse with an uncooperative rider could slow a man down considerably.  He scanned the meadow below for any sign of activity as he worked out his kinks. 


When the two men arrived, Curry swung out of his saddle and tied both his horse and Gabe’s to a small spruce tree.  The horses began to nibble on the needles.  “Wait here.  I need to talk to Heyes.”


“I ain’t going nowhere,” mumbled Gabe.  His horse was tied and so was he.


 The Kid joined his partner and the two outlaws wandered further down the trail out of earshot.  “You feelin’ as dirty as I am, Heyes?”


“C’mon, we both agreed we need to keep the upper hand and the only way to do that is to keep everyone believing we’re a danger to them; even if you and I know we’re not.”


“That don’t mean I have to like it.  This plan of yours better work.”


“It will, but it’s going to take time and it’s got to be set up just right.” Heyes slapped him on the back and smiled.   “Give my regards to the ladies.”


At the thought of the sultry Rita and lovely Beulah, a happy smile lit Kid Curry’s face.  “See you in a few days, partner.”


oooOOOooo 


Heyes’ horse cantered due east.  He was content in the knowledge that the Kid was escorting Gabe to Elk Lick where Rita and Beulah would not only stand in for the Durbins, they would keep Gabe in check.  In fact, given their appetites it was unlikely they’d allow the love-sick man to dwell on his lady for too long.  He was going to have his hands full.  Now Heyes was content that one part of his plan was in action, it was time to turn his attention to the next link in the chain; he had to send a telegram of his own.  He was riding away from the Devil’s Hole because he had a special place where he could do just that undisturbed and unobserved; and that place was a point where railway lines crossed out in the middle of nowhere.  It was called Useless Loop by the railway staff due to its remoteness.  They failed to see why they had to make this diversion just to get to the water tower, but they lacked the bigger picture of the railway company who planned to extend south west as soon as they knew which of the competing small towns was successful enough to make it worth their while.  


Heyes pulled his mare to a stop, tethering her to the water tower, and removed a small package from his saddlebag.  He raised a hand to protect his eyes as he looked up into the cerulean sky, picking out the fine slash of black across the cloudless blue with satisfaction.  There it was; the telegraph wire.  They mostly ran alongside the railway tracks in a symbiotic relationship because it was easier than independently negotiating with all the landowners for miles around for both tracks and telegraph poles. 


He took the steps to the water tower three at a time, grasping the small sack in his fist.  He stopped at the top and unfastened the bag, taking out a length of copper wire with a small lead weight at one end.  The gloved hand swung the weighted end around until it gained enough momentum to be thrown high into the air.  It soared before dropping to the ground, but not before snagging on the wire.


“Gotcha,” Heyes murmured, dragging the lead weight back over towards himself by the string attached to it.  The copper wire sparked off the naked iron of the telegraph wire proving that the required conductivity had been achieved. 

He reached into the bag once more and pulled out a couple of contraptions.  One was a Gove battery to make sure there was power to generate the signal he needed to send, the other was a Canton Linesman’s set which allowed engineers to tap into the system anywhere along the length of the wire.  All they needed was a knowledge of the Morse code and how to use the equipment to send, receive, or listen into telegraph messages.  This was the same equipment used by spies during the Civil War to surveil the enemy, but it was handy for an outlaw to send messages to confederates without the need to travel too far or explain the cryptic messages to a clerk. 


Deft fingers quickly connected the wires and mechanism before he grasped the knob between his thumb and the first two fingers of his right hand and began to tap out his message to Soapy in San Francisco in the code he had been taught to use since he fell in with the gang in his teens.  Once translated it would read:


‘Carlotta and Charlotte Burdon arrived at DH to bring us in.  Using SP for real.  Please tell family we want $20,000.   True location must be confidential, use SF.  Need to make fake skycers dupes.
Regards
HH


He stood, coiling back the wire before replacing the equipment in the sack.  That would set the cat among the pigeons.  Let the family think that their erstwhile relatives were in the hands of a pair of useless, feckless, sponging, boyfriends; a sentiment so neatly wrapped in the criminal slang for the type, ‘skycer’.  ‘SP’ stood for the old con game of ‘Spanish Prisoner’; the one they had played on William Burdon, and which would tell Soapy that Heyes wanted a ransom.  Soapy would know to ensure the family would be certain the girls were in the hands of cheap criminals in San Francisco, while a pair of blondes would provide evidence that the ‘Durbin sisters’ would be seen by many people, who in turn would testify the Burdons were not the women who toured the area.  The waters were being muddied further, and who knew?  There might just be some money in it if he could figure out how to collect it without getting caught.        


He might have said he had no intention of asking for a ransom, but he wasn’t going to let everyone in on his plans.  That would just be plain dumb – and Hannibal Heyes was determined to prove to the world that he was far from dim.  


He clattered down the steps of the water tower and walked purposefully back to his horse.  He had to get back to the Hole.  With the Kid out of the way, he had to think about the fact that he’d left women in the hands of a gang of venal, corrupt, down-right-dirty, outlaws.  There was no telling what Scarlet McGinty might do to them. 


oooOOOooo


Elk Lick was, even by Wyoming standards, a less than one-horse town.   It was more of a wide spot in the trail that led northwest but it did have one redeeming feature:  a nearly abandoned casino hotel.  Located five miles north of the more genteel town of Elk Mountain, Elk Lick had originally drawn its clientele from the former stage stop along the Overland Trail but as the flood of emigrants had dried up due to the completion of the transcontinental railroad, so had the fortunes of both towns.  Fewer visitors frequented the gilded gambling hall nowadays, but enough to keep the doors open, and Rita and Beulah liked that just fine.  It was perfect for their rendezvous with the Kid.


Beulah was splayed across the faded satin settee in their drawing room, her robe askew, while Rita stood sentinel at the window.  The Kid had said he’d be here today and they were both eager to see the handsome gunslinger again.  They’d spent a lot of time together in Yuma back in the day and had recently run into him and his new partner one night in Laramie.  The two men had surprised them with a job proposition that was too lucrative to pass on even if it did mean leaving the big city to tour the piss-hole towns of Wyoming.  Sighing, Beulah was disappointed Heyes wasn’t coming to Elk Lick.  She’d surely loved those deep dimples and his other healthy attributes.  What a time they’d had! 


Standing up, Beulah pulled her robe closed before crossing to peer out the window next to her friend.   Slipping an arm around Rita’s trim waist, she smiled and leaned her head upon her shoulder.  The two girls could’ve been sisters, they looked so much alike, and they may as well have been as close as they were, but Beulah hailed from Mississippi and Rita had been born in California.  It was their profession that had brought them together.  Beulah was slightly older, not that she ever revealed her age, not even to Rita.  She’d taken the younger girl under her wing when the scrawny fourteen year old had straggled off one of the steamboats plying the Colorado River and ended up at Madame Beaurie’s Emporium of Delight in Yuma looking for work. 


Rita had been the second daughter of a forty-niner so taken with his new home that he’d given his blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter a Spanish name, Margherita.  Unfortunately, he’d been less taken with the numerous children his paramour had continued to produce.  When his luck changed for the worst, he’d disappeared from her life.  Her mother went back to her former profession of ‘entertainer’ in the camps trying to keep food on the table, but after cholera ravaged the family, Rita was the only survivor.  She’d been eleven; old enough by most miners’ standards.  Her unspoiled beauty and sunny nature had been popular in the camps and it wasn’t long before one of the wealthier miners staked his claim on her and moved her into his San Francisco townhouse. 


The next few years had been easy enough until the newly-made millionaire’s wife had decided it was time to join him in the golden state.   When Rita had learned she was being cast aside, she’d stolen what could be carried and fled south on a ship to San Diego.  It hadn’t taken her long to run through the money.  She’d tried to find another sponsor, but her youth made her a target among the older, more desperate women in the growing seaside community.  Their vicious attacks made her pack her bags and drift eastward to Yuma where Beulah had taken an instant liking to the toughened girl.  Years of shared adversity had firmly cemented their friendship.  They were family now. 


“Where is he?”  Rita was dying of curiosity.  “I hope he hasn’t changed his mind.  Do you think he has?”


“He’ll be along shortly, dear.  You’re just anxious to see him again, aren’t you?”


“I like him just fine, but it’s that cold, hard cash I’m excited over.  Can you believe it, Beulah?  After this job, we’ll be able to get out of the life.  He’s already bought off Snead’s interest in us.  All we need is a stake to start fresh.”  Eager eyes scanned the street as she spoke.  Her body was stiff with anticipation.


“Now don’t you go counting your chickens before they hatch, Rita.  We’re still a long way from being paid.  We’ve got to make this plan work and it’s a tall order for us to parade around like proper rich ladies.”  Beulah squeezed her waist and let go.  “The good Lord knows, I’ve forgotten more than I ever knew about etiquette and deportment.”  Her thoughts were skimming back over the years to her family’s small estate outside of Rodney and the day Calvin Mann and his forty troops launched his surprise raid across the state seeking to take the Mobile and Ohio Railroad in Alabama.  She could still picture the burning wreck of a house after the Yankees had plundered what little they had.  The loss of their home had killed her widowed mother and put her ten year old self on the path to degradation.


“He’s here!”  Rita jumped up and down with joy.  “Look, Beulah, here he comes.”  She pointed out the window as her friend leaned over to peer outside.


“My, he’s brought us another handsome one, hasn’t he?” purred the older gal assessing the new man.  Gabe was wearing a frown but it couldn’t hide his good looks.  “This job’s looking better and better.”


Mindful of their new roles, the two girls quickly donned the demure outfits they’d chosen for this meeting.  They’d just finished adjusting their appearance when a knock sounded at the door.  Rita hurried over to open it, but stopped herself at the last minute and pasted a bored look on her face.  It wouldn’t do to appear too eager.  She turned the handles and stepped back as Kid Curry roughly pushed a reluctant Gabe through the opening.  “Mr. Curry, it’s so good to see you again.”


“Miss Durbin.”  It had already been agreed that they would assume the names Carlotta and Charlotte Durbin from this point forward in order to safeguard their anonymity and prevent any errors on Gabe’s part.  “Charlotte, I like to introduce Gabe Sorenson.  Gabe, this is Miss Charlotte Durbin and her sister, Carlotta,” the Kid said with a firm warning in his voice. 


Gabe nodded sullenly, “Ma’ams.”


Beulah took him by the elbow and slipped her arm through his, batting her eyes up at him.  “Oh please do call me Carlotta.  There’s no need to stand on formality.  We’re going to be good friends.  Aren’t we?”  Her smile was genuine.  This job would be a pleasure.


Gabe felt a thaw as he looked into her smile.  She was a cutie.  “Yes, ma’am…er…Carlotta, I guess we are.”  She sure was friendlier than the real Carlotta.  He smiled back at her and she squeezed his arm with approval.   Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad.


‘Charlotte’ came over and slipped her hand through his other arm.  “Yes, we are so looking forward to our adventure and Mr. Curry assures us you are the perfect guide for our purposes.”  That wasn’t so hard.  She sounded just like a real lady.  Happy with herself and their new guide, she preened.  It was going to be hard to keep her hands off this one.


“Charlotte, perhaps you can show Mr. Sorenson the sights while Mr. Curry and I finalize our plans?”  Beulah released Gabe’s arm and nodded towards the door indicating it was time to get down to business.


“Why of course, dear sister.  Shall we, Mr. Sorenson?”


“Yes, ma’am,” grinned Gabe.  “I mean Miss Charlotte.  You can call me, Gabe, ma’am.”  He allowed himself to be steered out the door by the small dynamo clutching his arm.  The Kid closed it firmly behind him.


“So do you have the cash?” asked Beulah.


“A thousand up front for expenses; another grand when the job is done.”  Curry reached into his jacket and pulled out an envelope passing it to her.  She tore it open, did a quick scan of the contents, and tucked it into her roomy bodice, smiling at her friend who asked, “You know what to do?”


“Yes, I do.  We parade ourselves around with that handsome hunk making ourselves seen at every backwater, dumpy little town Heyes told us to.  I’ve got his list and I’ll see to it he gets his telegrams for each and every one of them.”


“Remember, you need to be seen sketchin’.  People need to be convinced you’re the real Durbin girls.” 


“I haven’t forgotten.  I’ve got our supplies and a few drawings I had a friend make up for me.  Rita and I can’t draw a lick.”


“Good thinkin’,” praised Curry.  “you’ll do just fine.”  He crossed to the door and paused.  “We’re countin’on you.  Heyes said if this all goes well, you’ll get a cut of the profits on top of the grand.”


“Don’t worry, Darling.  We’ll make sure it goes perfectly.”  She closed the door as he left and leaned her back against it.  While she couldn’t help wondering what those two rogues were up to, she knew it was safer for her not to know. If there was one thing she understood it was men.   And those two men, for all their charms and smiles, could be dangerous enemies.


oooOOOooo 


Beauregard was sweeping the front steps of the hotel trying to battle the brisk wind that had kicked up that morning swirled leaves from the old elm shading the south end of the building.  The clouds were moving in and there was a definite change in the air.  He paused in his exertions and leaned on his broom looking at nothing.  It wasn’t Sweatless today.  The wind was hot and unsettling, and his shirt was plastered to his chest.  He tugged at the fabric, peeling it from his skin.  For the third time that morning, he pulled out the telegram he’d received from Gabe and read it again.


In Elk Lick…Stop…next Medicine Bow…Stop…All good…Stop…Ma with friends…Stop…Gabe…Stop


Nothing had changed.  Scarlet had obviously caught up with Gabe and there was no mention of that low-down weasel, Schmidt, so he could stop worrying.  Or could he?  Something was odd, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.  Maybe it was Scarlet’s decision to go visiting.  It wasn’t like her to leave the hotel indefinitely on a whim.  Hell, it wasn’t like her to have friends.  She tended to keep to herself.  In all the years he’d known her she’d never had a visitor of her own. 


He sure wished Gabe had been a little less parsimonious in his words.  Crumpling the worthless message in his fist, he tossed it into the small pile of leaves at his feet while a shadow crept over him and extended across the warped boards of the porch.  He turned quickly.  Facing him was a very tall, gaunt man dressed in black; like an undertaker ‘cept for the two hog-legs he sported.  Beau took an involuntary step backward and gulped nervously.


“You Beauregard?” growled the stranger.  His blue eyes held no warmth and the silver blond hair framing his face added to the icy effect.


Beauregard felt a chill despite the heat of the day.  Angered by his visceral reaction, he added a false bluster to his answer, “Who’s asking?”


A lop-sided grin tugged at the corner of the man’s mouth, “That ain’t no way to greet a payin’ customer.”


“Hotel’s full,” blurted Beau before he had a chance to think about what he was saying.  It was plain to see that it was unoccupied.  The doors were wide open and not a soul stirred inside.  The man’s grin disappeared along with the sun while the breeze noisily scattered the leaves.


“Don’t look full to me.  Where’s Mary?”


“Who?” 


Beau had barely uttered the word when the man seized him by his damp shirt and pulled him in close grinding out his next words, “I ain’t playin’ ‘round no more.  Where’s my wife?  Where’s Scarlet?”


Eyes as big as saucers, Beauregard pulled away from the stranger and stammered.  “Miz McGinty’s your wife?  She told me she was between husbands.”  Realizing how that might’ve sounded to an actual husband, he backed further away.  “Not that we are that close or nothing.  She’s a fine lady, sir.  I would never presume upon her, I assure you.”


The man chuckled, a deep ugly sound rising from the bowels of his throat, “I bet you wouldn’t.  A woman like Scarlet would eat you alive. Now, where is she?”


“She’s not here.”


“Not here?  Is that like the hotel bein’ full?”


“N…n…no sir.  She’s gone.  Went after her boy, Gabe.”  Beau saw a glint of recognition and the stranger’s tight smile returned.


“Gabe, huh?  How’s my boy doin’ these days?”


“Gabe’s your son?”  His head swimming with all the revelations, Beauregard stooped to pick up and hold out the discarded telegram.  “He’s in Elk Lick, Mr. Sorenson.  I don’t know where Miz Scarlet is…see?”


“The name’s Brown, Bill Brown.”  The frightening man snatched the telegram and read it quickly before tucking it away in his suit jacket.  “Visitin’ friends, huh?  Any ideas just who these friends are or where they might live?”


“No, sir.  I was pondering that myself when you startled me.”


“So, far as you know, Scarlet’s just up and disappeared?”


“Yes sir,” squeaked Beau.


“Why don’t you set down in this here chair and tell me what it is you do know.  Start at the beginning.  The last time you saw my wife.”  Brown shoved Beauregard into the wicker chair and loomed over him.


“Well, that was right after Gabe left town with the Durbin girls.  Miz Scarlet saw one of our customers follow him and she took off on his trail.”


“Hold on a minute.  Who are the Durbin girls?  And why was she worried about this fella?”


“Oh, yes, sorry.  The Durbins are our best customers; two lovely young ladies touring the state, drawing the scenery, and seeing the sights.  They hired Gabe as their guide.”


“That don’t sound like trouble to me.  What about this fella followin’ ‘em?”


“Ike Schmidt.  I didn’t like him from the moment I laid eyes on him.  Miz Scarlet didn’t neither.  Not after that run-in we had with Hannibal Heyes.”


“Who’s Heyes?”


“Hannibal Heyes.  He’s an outlaw, sir.  Runs the Devil’s Hole gang now that Big Jim Santana’s in prison.”


“Big Jim’s in jail?” grunted the stranger.


“You know him?”  An interested gleam sprang into Beau’s eyes.


“Know of him.  Not the same thing,” snapped the man.  “Get on with it.  What about Heyes?”


“Well, we had one of his men locked in the smokehouse.  It’s a long story, sir, but the upshot is that Miz Scarlet thought Schmidt might be another one of Heyes’ men so she followed him.  But you can see by the telegram, everything’s fine.”


“That’s if’n this telegram even came from Gabe.  It ain’t hard to say you’re someone you’re not.”


“No sir, I guess it’s not.”  Beauregard swallowed hard.  “Is there anything else, sir?”


“Yeah, what direction did she head?”


Stretching out his arm dramatically, Beau intoned, “She went thataway, sir.”


“All right, Bow-ree-gard.  See that you keep the place up while Scarlet’s gone.  I’ll fetch her home soon as I find her and she’s fussy about her things.   Guess I don’t have to tell you that.”


“No sir.  I’ll do a good job, sir.”


“See that you do.”  With a grim nod, the stranger stepped off the porch and crossed to his horse, a black, like his clothes.  Beauregard watched him swing lithely into the saddle and take off up the street at a slow gallop.  Wiping the sweat that had beaded on his forehead, Beau returned to his sweeping; his gut churning with nerves.  One thing he was sure of; his infatuation with Scarlet had just come to abrupt end.  He pitied the poor man who got between that man and his wife.

_________________
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb
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The Devil's Due - Chapter 15
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