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 The Devil's Due - Chapter 20

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PostSubject: The Devil's Due - Chapter 20    The Devil's Due - Chapter 20  EmptyMon May 23, 2016 9:19 am

The Devil’s Due – Chapter 20

Thomas Carmichael turned the telegram over in his hands and sat back to ponder the implications.  The leather creaked on the tilting high-backed desk chair as he swung indolently and cast his distracted gaze around the office.  Women claiming to be Charlotte and Carlotta Burdon had escaped from jail in Bear Springs, Wyoming?  Were they the Burdon girls?  Why would they be in that god-forsaken backwater?  The sheriff had also told him that another fake identity had been foiled, so this was no more than a cursory check, but one thing bothered him, as he leaned back in his seat and tapped his fingers with the missive; they had talked of a family secret.  The secret? He thought he was the only one who knew, and that made him consider the possibility that the girls might just be who they said they were.  Were they related to Enid Dambis or her mother?  How could these mysterious women even know about her?  He had been going to play a longer game and be the woman’s savior as well as her suitor, but it was time to spring the trap just to be on the safe side.   


He shook himself back to the here and now, and his current duty.  It was clear to him he had to protect the family honor, so he quickly scribbled out a brief reply denying that the arrested women could possibly be Carlotta and Charlotte Burdon.  They were respectable ladies from a wealthy Denver family and added with a flourish that the very idea was preposterous.  It was a telegram, so too much detail was already curtailed by the medium, and that suited him just fine.  It wouldn’t do for a respected lawyer to be caught telling an outright lie so prevarication was best, accompanied by a fair degree of superior posturing.  That should be enough to put the sheriff of Bear Springs off the scent.  He stood and slipped an envelope into his breast pocket before he strode over to the door, grabbing his hat on the way.  He was going to take his time with the girl, but the possibility of the Burdon sisters having stumbled on this information meant it was time to bring things forward and show his hand as quickly as possible.  The clerk sitting outside of the office looked enquiringly up at his boss.


“I’m going out to send a telegram and then on to a meeting,” Carmichael announced.  “I won’t be back in the office today.  If anyone needs me, take a message.”


“Where can you be reached, sir?”


“I can’t,” Carmichael replied, clattering the door to the street behind him with enough force to make the windows rattle. 


oooOOOooo


Enid Dambis stared across the table at the Burdon family lawyer and toyed idly with her teacup.  Her stomach fluttered with excitement which lit her clear, blue eyes with anticipation.  “So, Thomas?  What is it?  You quite swept me off my feet.  You know that I’ll never be allowed back to my job after walking out on my duties like that.  I can’t simply go to a restaurant whenever I want, you know. ”


“I told you not to worry about that.  You’ll never have to worry about holding down a job again.”


“So you said, but you’d better be right.  A woman doesn’t begin again easily in her thirties.”  Her little rosebud lips tightened, as she nervously fingered the empty third finger of her left hand.  “You said you had something to tell me.  Don’t keep me in suspense like this.”


He reached a hand across the table and took her hand in his.  “Before I ask you the most obvious question, I want to tell you something.  Once I’ve told you everything you might not want to marry me.”


Her face fell in obvious disappointment.  “Tell me what?  We’ve been walking out for a year and half, Thomas.  I’m tired of sneaking around.  Are you ashamed of me?  Is it because I’m only a servant?  Aren’t I good enough for you?”  


He shook his head.  “No, of course you are.  If anything you are too good for me.  I knew the minute I saw you that you were something special.  I noticed you right away; your intelligence, your humor, your smile.”  His hand curled around her fingers.  “I’ve been, well…investigating you.”


She pulled her hand away as though burned, betrayal playing in her wounded eyes.  “What!  Why?  I’ve never done anything wrong in my life.”


“Because of something I found in Burdon’s papers when I was winding up the estate.  I saw regular payments to Mrs. Dagnija Dambis, right up to her death five years ago.”


The alabaster forehead crinkled.  “Mother?  Why was he paying my mother?  There must be some kind of mistake.  I only came to work for the Burdons after my mother died and I’m paid in cash.”


“Yes, because a friend of your family arranged a job for you, rather than leave you on your own, but it seems they were influenced by Mr. Burdon.  There’s no mistake, Enid.  I looked into the accounts and found that the regular transfer of funds was set up by my father before I took over the practice from him.  It’s been going on for years, so I looked further through the estate papers and sent a detective who came up with this,” he reached into his breast pocket and removed the envelope.  He laid it on the table.  “Open it.”


She stared dumbly down at the papers.  “What is it?”    


“Open it and find out.”   


Tentative fingers reached over and pulled out a folded document.  “What is it?”


“It’s an extract from the marriage register in Jefferson City, Missouri.”  The lawyer watched her lips part in a gasp.  “Yes.  It is pretty surprising.”


“Burdon?  My mother was married to Ernest Burdon?  The same Ernest Burdon?  My boss?”


“I can’t think of any other reason why he would be sending her fifty dollars a month since 1845.  Can you?”


“But…this doesn’t make any sense.”  She frowned.  “She always told me my father died and left her a pension.  Did she leave her husband to go with another man?”


Carmichael arched a brow.  “Not that I can find.  She went quietly back to live near her cousins and adopted another name.  I can find no sign of any marriage register for miles around bearing the name ‘Dambis’, and people who knew your mother say she never went further than a few towns away.  I did get someone to admit that she came home with a baby, having been deserted by her husband.   Look at the other page.”


The papers rustled as she pushed the first page to the back, her eyes widening as her hands began to shake.  “Oh!”


“The extract of your birth.  Ernest Burdon is named as your father.  You know what this means don’t you?”


“I don’t know what anything means anymore.  He was my father!?  Mother told me his name was Walter Dambis.  She said his people came from the same town in the old country as her.”  Her glittering eyes stared deeply into his.  “She told me he died of the grippe when I was a baby.  What’s going on, Thomas?”


He reached out once more and grasped bother her hands.  “Ernest Burdon was your father; your real father.  More than that, you were legitimate,” he shrugged, “even though you were born six months after the wedding.  It seems your parents had to get married.  I was unable to find dissolution of that marriage and that should have been fairly easy.  They don’t happen that often and it would only be in Wyoming or Missouri.  I can’t find one.”


“This is all too much to take in,” Enid waved away the waiter proffering a menu.  “Ernest Burdon was my father.  Why didn’t he ever tell me that?  Why didn’t my mother?”  


Thomas Carmichael steeled himself against betraying too much of his hand.  “Because it would seem that his marriage to Effie Burdon was bigamous; socially advantageous for an ambitious man who wanted to marry into money, but not in the least legal.  I know he went off to make his fortune, and did fairly well, but marrying money moved him into another league.  It would seem that once he married again, he found a way to buy your mother’s silence.  Maybe she never knew how wealthy he was and just accepted whatever was on offer on threat of him disappearing and giving her nothing.  I very much doubt she’d have been content with fifty dollars a month if she’d known he was as rich as he was.  She probably never knew a thing about the bank.  She was a simple woman making the best of things as far as I can find out.  She’d never associate her farm boy with the owner of a bank, even if they did have the same name.”


“Why bring me here to work for him?”  


Carmichael shrugged.  “Guilty conscience?”


“So, let me get this straight.  That man was as rich as Croesus, yet he had his wife and child living on the same money as any ordinary working man?”  Carmichael nodded as she continued.  “And when my mother died he had me cleaning out his fires and chamber pots!”


Carmichael nodded again, watching her color rise and knuckles whiten.  “And left me to deal with that animal of a son!  I wondered why I didn’t get fired when I crowned him with a chamber pot.  I was grateful, but now I am mad as hell.  That no-good, low-down, dirty…,” she trailed off.  “I just don’t have the words.” 


“I do,” he noticed her arch a brow, “but I’m not going to use them in your presence.”  His jaw firmed.  “I love and respect you, Enid.  I didn’t want you to accept a proposal of marriage without you having the full story.  You are a wealthy woman.  If you are marrying me for security, you don’t have to.”


Her brows gathered.  “Yes, I hadn’t even thought of that.  I get a share of the money along with the rest of them.”


“Oh, no,” Carmichael shook his head, hoping that she wouldn’t remember him dismissing her as a witness to Burdon’s will as he lay dying.  He had to protect her from any legal ambiguity because a witness cannot be a beneficiary.  It just made things a whole lot cleaner when he made moves to have the will set aside.  “The marriage was bigamous, so they are illegitimate.  You get everything, Enid.  The lot.”


oooOOOooo

Heyes was saddling his horse when he heard the rustle of dried leaves behind him.  Turning his head slightly, he saw Charlotte awkwardly standing a few yards away.  It was plain that she wanted something but was hesitant to ask.  


“Good morning, Charlotte.”


“Good morning, Mr. Heyes.  Do you have a moment?”


Heyes snugged up his cinch and looped it off before giving her his full attention.  “Not much more than a moment.  We need to stay ahead of the posse.”


“Posse?  Do you really think they sent a posse after us?”


“Far as that sheriff’s concerned, you stole a train and broke out of his jail.  There’s a good chance he’s coming after us.”


“Oh dear, we are wanted outlaws, aren’t we?”  Charlotte seemed more pleased by the thought than worried by it.  “Do you suppose he’s posted a reward for us?”


“Naw.  He’ll wait to hear from your family.  Do you think they’ll vouch for you?”


“No, and I don’t want any help from them.  Ever!” she snapped angrily.


“Carlotta told you,” said Heyes flatly.


“She did, but I won’t discuss my sister with you..”


“I don’t want to discuss her.  I want to get out of here.  Are we done?”


“We are not.”  Charlotte took a step closer.  “If you know about what my family did to Carlotta, you know that we’ll never return to Denver.  We want to go to Sweatless.”


“Sweatless?  Why?”


“Scarlet has been very good to us and she and Bill have been running and hiding in plain sight their entire lives.  I think they could help us learn to do the same.  Carlotta and I wish to sever our ties with the Burdon name and I think they’re just the people to help us accomplish that.”


“You do realize that taking in two wanted felons might be asking a lot of them?  Scarlet and Bill just got a second chance at a life together.  They won’t want to get crosswise with the law.”


“I agree.  That’s why I want you to make it worth their while.”  Charlotte lifted her chin and calmly assessed the dark eyes boring into her own.  


He no longer intimidated her and he could see it.  Somehow it made him happy.  “You want me to pay them to take you in.”


“Yes.  I do believe you’ve recently come into quite a bit of money,” she said teasingly.


“Why would I do that?  Why wouldn’t I just leave you and your sister right here and ride away?”


“Because that is not the sort of man you are, Mr. Heyes.”


“And what sort of man do you think I am?  I’m an outlaw.”


“I don’t care what you say you are.  You’re a better man than my father and brother ever were.   You did everything in your power to keep us safe from harm.  That’s more than either of them ever did for us.”


“I’ve also ruined your reputations.”   Heyes felt an unfamiliar pang of remorse.  He wished it hadn’t come to that.


“We both understand the position we put you in when we drew your portraits.  You and Mr. Curry are wanted men, primarily as a result of the vendetta my father pursued when he couldn’t face the truth about William.  You had to find a way to neutralize us and our drawings so you made us out to be liars and thieves.  I find that preferable to being killed.”


Heyes had no answer to that and he flinched slightly as Charlotte placed a light hand on his crossed forearms.  


“Do you really think you ruined our reputations?”  Charlotte laughed cynically.  “We were ruined the minute we decided to prance around the West under aliases without a chaperone.  Society has very strict rules for unmarried women.  Once those old biddies in Denver learned we were missing, you can bet the gossip flew about town and I’m sure Angelina fed the scandal.  The last thing she wants is for us to return home and claim our share of the estate.  She was hoping you’d kill us when she refused to pay your ransom; that was obvious to both of us.  But you didn’t, you found a way to set us free.  Free from the lies we’ve been forced to live.  No, Mr. Heyes, you are not the man you’d like us to believe you are and that’s why you’ll help us.”


This girl had come a long way from the terrified child he’d first met and Heyes couldn’t help admiring her nerve and her wits.  He smiled.  “All right, I’ll take you to Sweatless and I’ll do what I can with Bill and Scarlet, but I’m not making you any promises.  Got it?”


Charlotte stood on her tiptoes and grazed his cheek with her lips.  “Got it.” 


oooOOOooo


Enid paced back and forth across the elaborate rug, her grey skirts swishing in her wake at every turn.  The trust accounts lay scattered across the lawyer’s desk.  She paused and flipped open a ledger, tracing down the column with a forefinger reddened and callused by years of hard work.  “Is this everything?”


Carmichael shook his head.  “I am one of the trustees for the girls’ trust fund.  This is only their money.  I don’t have access to the bank and the profits that generates.”


“Who gets that?”


“You do,” a smile twitched at Carmichael’s lips.  “At the moment it gets fed into the trust fund to replace the money they draw out, but they largely draw out the interest and leave the capital intact.  The trust has a life of ten years, after that all beneficiaries can share in the estate on condition they haven’t been excluded by the morality clause of the trust.  There is a question over whether Carlotta and Charlotte are to fall foul of that.”


She fixed him with questioning blue eyes.  “There is?”


“They appear to have lied about going to study the arts.  We don’t quite know where they are, but it doesn’t look like they have behaved with propriety.”


Enid’s face broke into a wide smile.  “Good for them.”


“You’re not serious,” exclaimed Carmichael.  “It’s madness.  They could be ruined socially.”


“Oh, poop!” laughed Enid.  “They’re having some fun, and why shouldn’t they?  I intend to as soon as I get my hands on some of that money.  I want to travel and see the world.  New York, Paris, Rome…where did they go?”


“We’re not sure.  Maybe San Francisco, perhaps Wyoming.”


“Wyoming?  Why would they go there?”  She shook her head ruefully.  “All that money and no imagination.”


“I suspect they had a very good imagination.   That’s why they’re in this fix.”


Enid started pacing again.  “This trust and the morality clause; how does it affect me?”


“We can argue that it should never have been set up, but as my firm helped to frame it, it’s pretty watertight.  It may be that it’ll have to run its course and then you collect everything in ten years.  I did make sure that the document referred to his daughters, and did not name specific people, so the worst case scenario is that you will share the trust until you can claim the lot when it expires.”


Enid’s brows knotted.  “You made sure it was vague, Thomas?  Why?  How long have you known I was really a Burdon?”


“I…well, I suspected when Burdon was ill and he had me look at the will and the trust.”  Carmichael talked fast, thinking on his feet.  “That’s when I started investigating the payments to your mother.  I didn’t want to say anything to you until I was sure.  As soon as the investigator got back to me I came to get you.”


Suspicion glittered in her eyes.  “It wouldn’t be the case that you thought you’d marry the Burdon heir before you told me everything, would it?  After all, we’ve been walking out in secret for nearly two years now.  Why has it taken you so long to get to this point?”


“Why?  Because of our differences.  I’m a successful lawyer and you were the servant of one of my clients.  It could have cost me my practice if word got around that I was seeing you.”  His jaw jutted impressively.  “It didn’t stop me, did it?  I didn’t tell you what I suspected in case I was barking up the wrong tree, but my father built the trust, and wrote everything.  I only amended it, and I’d been seeing you a long time before Burdon got ill.”


“Hmmm,” she nodded, apparently accepting his tale.  “So, what is the next step?  How do we challenge this?”


“My first question is who is going to represent you?  If you want me to do it, I need to resign as the Burdon Family lawyer.  I can’t represent both of you.”


“Won’t they complain about you removing evidence?”


“It’s nothing I couldn’t have accessed anyway, Enid.”  He walked over to her and went down on one knee on the Persian rug.  “I have another question.  Will you marry me?”


“Oh, things are all moving so fast, Thomas.  My whole world has been turned upside down.  Is this really the time to make rash decisions?”


“Rash?”  His face fell.  “We’ve been seeing one another for years now.  We’ve talked about marriage and everything.”


“Yes, we have.  I just feel rather rushed.  There’s been a lot to take in.”


“You don’t want me?”  He stood, his face falling with distress.  “Really, Enid?  After everything I’ve done for you?  I wanted to be by your side to fight this for you.  The Burdons aren’t going to give this up without a fight.  It could take years to get any money.  I wanted to support you through this, but if there’s someone else….”  He climbed to his feet. 


“No,” she reached out to grab his hand.  “There’s nobody else.  I’m just in a spin.  I need to take things more slowly.”


“You’re right.  I’ve been thoughtless,” he threw up his hands.  “I thought this news would be good for us, I didn’t give a thought to how confusing it must be for you.  Can you forgive me?”


“Of course,” she smiled.  “And it is good news.  I just need time to understand it all.”


“I see,” Carmichael took her hand, bringing it up to his lips to kiss it gently.  “Will you allow me to be your rock?  Let me help you.  First things first, we need to find you somewhere respectable to live.  You can’t stay at the Burdon place, and it would be improper for you to stay with me.  Let’s find you a nice little boarding house.  There’s one around the corner.  Shall we go and have a look?  Then we can get a message boy to send your resignation to your employer.”


“What about your resignation, Thomas?  I would like you to handle this for me.”


A smile spread over his face.  “Oh, that.  I prefer to do that in person, but let’s just hold off on that.  There may be things I have yet to find out.  Let’s see if we’re fighting all the Burdon women, or just Angelique.”


“Don’t I just inherit everything if I’m the only legitimate heir?”


“In theory, yes, but these cases are never that easy and things can get very dirty when rich people are protecting a fortune.  They’ll sling all kinds of mud.  If I was representing them I’d claim that the marriage wasn’t legal, looking for a mistake in the processes or the paperwork.  Then I’d look for divorce, although it’s really up to them to find that.  After that I’d claim the marriage split up because your mother cheated and that you aren’t actually his blood.  They may even pay someone to lie and back that up.  Rich people fight worse than anyone you ever met, Enid.  This won’t be a walk in the park, but I’m confident you will win.


“Oh, my!” She slumped down into a chair.  “Then I am extremely grateful to have you on my side, Thomas.”    


oooOOOooo
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PostSubject: Re: The Devil's Due - Chapter 20    The Devil's Due - Chapter 20  EmptyMon May 23, 2016 9:20 am

It took four days to reach Sweatless and Heyes decided to send the rest of the gang back to the hole to kick back and relax after the robbery.  Getting rid of a pair of inconvenient ex-prisoners had already impacted on the gang enough and, now that they had time to check out the town from the hill above, they knew the law hadn’t beaten them here.  Carlotta watched the outlaws disappear over the horizon with worried blue.  


“What do you have in mind now, Mr. Heyes?” 


“Exactly what I told you,” his cheeks pitted with reassuring dimples.  “We’re taking you to Scarlet and her husband.”


Her brow crinkled with suspicion.  “Why don‘t I trust you?”  


“Probably because I’m a wanted criminal, Carlotta, but I’m at my best when I’m at my worst,” Heyes grinned.  “You can go on your own if you want.  You don’t need us to hold your hand.”


The sisters exchanged a glance of trepidation.  “I think we might need your help, if you don’t mind,” Charlotte implored.  “We have very little money, and nowhere to go.  Mrs. McGinty has a kernel of kindness, but I can’t help but feel it blossoms mostly for her own loved ones.  I’m not ashamed to say I’m scared, Mr. Heyes.  If she won’t help us we’re left high and dry.”  She glanced anxiously at Carlotta.  “You can be very charming when you want to be.  Can’t we prevail on you to use that for us, just to make sure we never need to be a worry to you again?”
         

“As I remember it she has a thing for blonds,” Heyes chuckled.  “It’s the Kid you need to work on if you want to charm her.”


“Huh?” snorted the gunman.  “Ain’t gonna happen, Bill’ll shoot me right through the heart.  You’ve got the silver tongue.  Use it.”


“Oh, my silver tongue doesn’t beat your golden hair and sapphire eyes,” said the outlaw leader, sarcastically, “leastways, not with Scarlet.  Where there’s smooth talking to be done, it has to be delivered in the best way to distract the mark.  You know that as well as I do.”


“Scarlet ain’t nobody’s mark,” growled the Kid.  “Tryin’ to flim flam her would be like a salmon tryin’ to reason with a hungry bear.  It’s best to come right out with it.  She loves Gabe and I’ve got the feelin’ he’ll be real happy with the situation.  She’ll make it work.”


Charlotte cast a glance of concern at her older sister.  She was obviously worrying about being a spare wheel and, true to her nature; she was nursing her worries until they thrived.  She turned in her saddle to reassure her sibling.  “It’ll be fine, Lottie.  I need you.  Nobody has ever looked after me like you.”


The outlaws arched their brows and shared a conversation in a glance, both deciding it was best not to point out the dangers Carlotta had strewn in her sister’s path.  Not now.  Not so near the end. 


Carlotta sighed.  “Let’s just establish a life somewhere and I’ll find something.  Maybe I can get a job as a teacher, or a nurse, or…,” she paused, the lack of opportunities suddenly dramatically underscored.  “I’ll find something.”


“And you will, Lottie.  You’re the smartest woman I know.  You’ll always make me proud.  Let’s just get this step out of the way first.”


Carlotta’s attention shifted to the dark-haired man next to her sister and she scowled, “Let’s get this over with, shall we?”


“Not so fast.  It will be better for me to talk to Scarlet before we spring you on her,” said Heyes.  “Kid, why don’t you stay here with the girls and let me sneak into town and see if we’re gonna receive as warm a welcome as we’re hoping for.”


“Aren’t you worried you’ll be recognized from your last visit, Mr. Heyes?” asked Charlotte.


“That’s why I’ll go in alone.  I can get to the hotel without being seen and, if Bill and Scarlet aren’t happy to see me, I can get out easier on my own.”


“I’ll take the girls in closer.  If there’s shootin', I can provide cover.”  The grim set of Curry’s jaw warned his partner not to argue.  


“You think they’ll shoot you for asking them to take us in?”  Charlotte was aghast.


“Not them.  It’s the rest of the good townsfolks we have to worry about.  Beauregard knows it was Heyes who busted Kyle out.  Who knows who he blabbed to?  Someone, who might’ve seen us hightailin’ it outta here, could recognize him.  Ain’t enough strangers wanderin’ into this little sh.., I mean, town to make it easy to forget a face.  


“Be careful.  We couldn’t bear it if you were harmed because of us,” said Charlotte sincerely.


Lottie simply snorted.  


oooOOOooo



Heyes came in from the alleyway creeping towards the burned-out remains of the smokehouse.  An acrid odor still rose from the charred timbers.  Construction of a new one had begun and a simple frame was being erected next to the old one using wood salvaged from the original.  Only a solitary wall of the first smokehouse stood standing.  The back door to the hotel’s kitchen stood open and Heyes ducked behind the ruined structure to wait for the workman’s return.  He didn’t wait long.  Bill came out wiping his forehead with his shirtsleeve and carrying a mug.  He paused at the top of the stairs and took a long, thirsty drink then placed the empty mug on the railing and came down the stairs.  A moment later, Gabe appeared behind him.  


The two men picked up their tools and started working again.  Heyes watched until he was sure they were engrossed in their task then he stepped out from behind the blackened building with a broad, friendly smile on his face.  “Mornin’, Bill, Gabe.”


Bill spun around, a hammer clasped in his clenched fist.  Gabe slowly straightened and stood unsmiling.  “Heyes, what the hell’re you doin’ here?” growled Bill, not happy to see him.


“Sorry to drop in on you unexpected, but I’ve got some unfinished business with your wife.”


“What kind of business?”


“The female kind.  Me and the Kid have the girls with us and they need a place to stay.”


“Miz Charlotte’s here?”  Gabe face shone with pleasure.  “Where is she?”


Heyes held up a hand as the younger man took a step forward.  “Hold on now, Gabe.  Your folks and me have a few things to discuss before you see Charlotte.”


“About what?  I thought you said your plan was gonna work.”


“Well, Bill, it did, but what I didn’t know was that the girls had no place to go.  They can’t go home.  It’d be dangerous for them.  Let’s just say, there were a few things they were keeping from me.”


“What kind of things?” asked Gabe. 


“The kind of things they’re gonna have to tell you themselves if they want to.”  Heyes saw that Bill got his drift.   


The older man nodded curtly.  “Gabe, you finish up here.  Heyes, c’mon, Scarlet’s inside with the best peach pie west of the Mississippi.”


Heyes followed Bill through the kitchen door.  Scarlet was washing dishes in the sink.  With her back to them, she said, “Don’t you two be lookin’ for seconds.  I already washed your plates.”


“Darlin’, we’ve got a visitor.”


The faded beauty turned, drying her hands on her apron.  Her eyes widened when she saw Heyes and her mouth curved upwards despite her tone, “Heyes!  We thought we’d seen the last of your ornery hide.”


Heyes gave her a peck on her cheek and his best smile.  “Miz Scarlet, I thought you had, too, but the girls have got a problem and I’m hoping you can help me with it.” 


Scarlet’s face hardened.  “I thought we was through helpin’ you.  I ain’t lookin’ for more nursemaidin’ duties.  Me and Bill are makin’ plans for our future.” 


“Sweetness, I’ll leave you two to hash this out.  I’ve got work to do.”  Bill went out, closing the door behind him.


“Well, don’t just stand there, sit down.  You want some pie?”  Not waiting for a response, Scarlet crossed to the pie shelf and cut a generous portion of the cooling pastry.  She was angry at his intrusion and struggling to contain it.   She put the plate and a fork in front of a sitting Heyes and poured them each a cup of coffee from the pot on the stove.  Pulling out the chair opposite her guest, she sat.  “All right then.  Let’s have it.  What d’you want?”


“I don’t want anything, but the girls could sure use your help.”  Heyes took a bite of the pie and moaned with pleasure.  


“Good, ain’t it?  My ma taught me how to make it like that.  It’s the spices that make it special.”


“Yes ma’am, best I’ve ever had.”  Heyes took another, larger bite.


“Well, get on with it, but I’m warnin’ you, I ain’t listenin’ to any of your blarney.  Tell me the truth of it, you hear?” Scarlet settled back in her chair both hands cupped around her mug and waited.  As Heyes wrestled with how to begin, tightness grew in her chest.


Heyes had already decided she needed to hear the truth and he’d known he’d never be able to say what needed to be said with Charlotte and Carlotta present, but he hadn’t realized how hard it would be for him to get the words out. The story of Carlotta’s horrific childhood had dredged up ugly memories of the atrocities inflicted on his family during the war and his emotions were in turmoil.  Scarlet could see that whatever the boy had to say, it was paining him.  Softening, she reached out and laid her hand over his.  Her kind, grey eyes encouraged him to begin.  So he did.


Scarlet sat and listened without interrupting.  Her coffee and her soul grew cold as he spoke.  When he’d finished, she stood up without speaking, picked up their mugs, and emptied them at the sink.  Refilling both, she poured generous cream and sugar into each mug.  Her mama used to say sweetened coffee could lessen a shock.  Well, she was shocked and she could tell Heyes was, too.  She sat back down and slid a mug over to the young outlaw.  The silence stretched out as they both drank.


“It’ll be good to have someone to pass that peach pie recipe onto,” Scarlet finally said, “and Gabe will be pleased to have Charlotte here.  Lord knows, that boy’s been moonin’ over her somethin’ terrible.” 


“You’ll let them stay until they get on their feet?” 


“Hell, I couldn’t live with myself if’n I turned those two strays away.  They can stay as long as they want.”  Scarlet smiled.  “Where’re they?”


“The Kid’s got ‘em nearby.  I’ll fetch them now if that’s all right with you.”  


“Go get ‘em,” Scarlet stood.  “I’ll fix their room up and I guess I’d better let Bill and Gabe know we’re addin’ to the family.”


oooOOOooo


Heyes and Curry swiftly escorted the girls into town up a sleepy side street with their hats pulled low and their collars turned up to hide their faces.  The foursome turned the corner onto the hotel’s street.  As if on cue, a loud hoot of delight cut through the air, causing both men’s heads to click onto the originator and cringe at the attention he drew.  It was Gabe, running at full tilt down the dirt street towards them.  “Charlotte!  Miz Charlotte.  I thought I’d never see you again.”


The huge feet pounded the earth until he drew level with Charlotte’s gelding.  He paused, the chiseled jaw dropped in amazement as he stared at her in disbelief with glistening eyes.  He flicked a dismissive look at Heyes and Curry before seizing her around the waist and dragging her into an enveloping bear hug.  “You’re back.  I can’t believe you’re back.”


Her feet dangled almost a foot from the ground.  “Ooomph!  Put me down.”


“You’re safe.”  He paused, putting her down to examine her at arm’s length.  “You are safe, ain’t ya?  These fellas never did anythin’ to ya?”  He turned to glare at the outlaws, ignoring the Kid’s outraged blue eyes.  “Ma and pa spoke up for them, but if they hurt you gals, I swear….”


“Gabe, we’re fine.  It’s over and they’re letting us go.  We asked them to bring us here.”


“You did?”  His face fell.  “I guess you just wanted to collect your stuff.”


Charlotte’s eyes twinkled.  “No, Gabe.  We wanted to come back here.  We want to stay here.”  She paused.  “And I wanted to see you again.  You were so brave the way you tried to defend us.  I had to come and thank you personally.”


“And we wondered if we could stay here,” Carlotta cut in.  “I know it’s a lot to ask, but we need to put that right out there to start with.”


The brown eyes rolled.  “Yeah, lead into it gently, Carlotta.  That’ll help.”


“He needs to know the truth.”


“He needs to think you ain’t usin’ him,” sniped the Kid.  “Look, Gabe.  We took the long way around but the ladies have agreed to stop drawin’ pictures of us so we let them go.  They wanted to come here.  They like you and your ma.”

  
“They do?”  Gabe beamed.  “Look, I don’t care what brings you here.  All I care about is what makes you stay.”  He turned and started dragging Charlotte back towards the hotel.

  
The little party watched the petite woman towed in the wake of the excited man, bouncing and buffeting as she struggled to keep up with his enormous strides.  “Come on,” the Kid nudged his horse into motion.  “Maybe we’ll be invited to the wedding.”


“I wouldn’t bank on that, Kid.  Cupid carries a bow and arrow, not a Colt.45.”   


oooOOOooo



Carlotta bustled back from the outhouse, pushing open the back door to the kitchen and walking through into the empty hotel dining room.  She paused, relishing the solitude.  It suddenly hit her that she had hardly been on her own for months.  A rare smile lit up her face as she lingered in the dining room, savoring her moment of isolation.  It would be fine.  They were poor, but were a whole lot more liberated than they’d ever been in their lives.  There was no need to be chaperoned everywhere, and she could be almost anything she wanted to be as long as she worked hard enough.  Nobody would tell her she wasn’t good enough, or that a man was more entitled to her life unless she actually failed.  Nobody would stop her from trying and that lit an ember of excitement she hadn’t felt for years.  She loitered there, allowing herself to look forward instead of back, when a voice drifted from the reception area…    


Scarlet sat back and sighed.  “Well, who’da thought I’d be havin’ two more at my age?”


“It’ll be worth it, honey,” Bill gave his wife a wry smile.  “Gabe seems as stuck on her as I was on you.”


“Was?”  Scarlet’s steely grey eyes leveled on her husband. 


“Easy there, Bill.  It looks like you’re on thin ice,” chuckled the Kid.  


The older man stretched out his long legs and mirrored his wife’s indolent posture on the couch.  “I like ‘em ornery.  Who wants a borin’ wife?  They say you should never go to bed angry, but those fools don’t know what they’re missin’.”


“Great, you can deal with Carlotta, she was so sullen she hardly said a word,” sniffed Scarlet.  


“Oh, hush now, Scarlet.  There’ve been plenty of times you could be accused of that yourself.”


“Of not talkin’?  Are you drunk?”


Bill’s face split into a smile.  “Of bein’ cantankerous.  They’ve lost their trust fund and got nowhere to go.  She’s takin’ it hard.  She just needs to find her feet.”


Heyes and Curry exchanged a long look with Scarlet before the outlaw leader spoke.  “She’s the independent type.  I think she’ll do much better out here in the West where women aren’t so restricted.


“Yeah, when I met her I thought she was quite the frosty madam.  If you kicked her in the heart you’d break a leg.”  Scarlet shrugged.  “Who knew what was goin’ to happen, huh…”  She stopped short at a huge metallic clatter which rang through air.  “What was that?”


Heyes darted forward and was just in time to see the door to the kitchen flapping in the wake of some unseen fugitive.  “I thought you said we were the only ones here.”


“We are,” Bill frowned.  “Beau left when I came back to Sweatless with Scarlet, and there ain’t no guests.”  He stood and strode over to the dining room, thrusting open the door to the kitchen.  A large tray lay on the floor in the gangway.  “That wasn’t there earlier.  It must’ve been knocked over.”


“The back door’s open,” the Kid walked over and looked out.  “Nobody’s there.”


“Where’s Carlotta?” asked Heyes.


“She went to use the outhouse,” Scarlet replied as the group exchanged a glance.  


The Kid folded his arms across his body.  “So that could’ve been her coming back?”


Scarlet shrugged.  “Yeah, so?”


Heyes arched a brow.  “She just heard what you said about her.”


Scarlet thrust out her bowsprit bosom.  “I never said anythin’ I wouldn’t say to her face.  I didn’t mean no harm.”


“You never said anythin’ too good either, my little rattler,” Bill stretched an affectionate arm around her waist.  “Some folks are real sensitive.”


The Kid’s brows met in a frown and he and Heyes exchanged glances.  “That’s because some folks have been cut to the quick.”  Heyes scratched his chin.  “I’ll be honest; I’m not sure what all of this has done to her state of mind.  She’s gone right into herself, and that’s not a very happy place to live.  It wouldn’t take much to push her over the edge.”


“Come on,” the Kid held open the back door.  “She can’t have got far.  Let’s go find her.”     


oooOOOooo


Carlotta sat high on the hill, the salty tears stinging her eyes and rasping in her heaving chest.  She had reacted like a cornered animal and headed for cover.  She didn’t know why; reason hadn’t kicked in, she just acted on instinct and ran, and ran, and ran…until she ended up here.  Maybe it was having the rug pulled out from under her just as hope started to dawn, or perhaps it was the realization that life had left her unfit to be welcomed in any company; all she knew was that nobody really wanted her.  Sure, Charlotte was loyal, but she’d seen the lights of love in her sister’s eyes every time she looked at the handsome lumberjack, and it wouldn’t be long before the older sibling would be no more than an inconvenient maiden aunt being ignored like the specter at the feast.  

    
The realization was growing that it was time to stop living life as a fragment of someone else’s family, and that she had to forge her own way.  She could never be happy until she took control of her own life and drove some kind of positive action of her own.  


She stared out at the town below her vantage point on the hill.  The wooden buildings were scattered across the landscape like toys, seeming trivial and impermanent against the jagged encircling fortress of mountains.  It seemed arrogant and presumptuous of people to think they could conquer such wild majesty, but maybe that was the kind of stretch she had to make to leave her past behind.  Was she brave enough?  Did she have what it took to go it alone?  Her pert lips firmed into a line as she pondered the alternatives available to a rejected rich woman.   


A crack to her right made her jump and jangled her already frayed nerves.  She leaped to her feet and blinked wide blue eyes in the direction of the sound, her sharp little nails biting into her palms at the rustling from the bushes coming nearer and nearer before a figure emerged.  She let out a long breath of relief.  “Oh, it’s you.”


The older woman fixed Carlotta with intense grey eyes and nodded.  “Who did you expect?”


Carlotta shrugged and slumped down onto a fallen log.  “Nobody.  A bear, maybe?”


“Didn’t you think we’d be worried?  That we’d come to find you?”


She shook her head sullenly.  “I wasn’t thinking.  I just went.”


“Yeah, the town drunk saw you headin’ up here.” Scarlet sighed and walked over to join her on the log.  “You heard me, huh?”


“Yes.  If you kicked me in the heart you’d break a leg.  Very funny.”  The flat, dour delivery signaled Carlotta’s disdain.  “Yes, I know it’s how people see me.  It’s not true, you know. I care, maybe too deeply.  I just don’t show it.”


“I shouldn’t have said it.  It’s just an Irish sayin’.  I didn’t mean no harm, but you come across like that before people get to know you.” 


Carlotta’s eyes brimmed with salty tears.  “I’m not hard.  Everyone thinks I am, but I’m not.”  She stood wiping the tears from her reddened face.  “I can’t stay here.”


“Of course you can, darlin’.  We want you.  Us poor folk are so used to livin’ all squashed together we know every quirk. There ain’t no surprises for us, but rich folk are different.  They got the space to build themselves up each mornin’ and put up a front, and the privacy to break that down when they need to.  All you got here is the space to mend.  It might sound hard, but it takes less energy to build yourself instead of those walls.”  Scarlet tilted her head to fix the younger woman with unusually gentle scrutiny.  “That’s why a lot of people head for the West.  You can be anythin’ you want out here.  Reinvent yourself.  Hell, I’ve been a different woman for every alias Bill ever had.  It can be fun you know.”


“I thought that for a bit, but I realized I was still living a lie.  All I can see ahead is loneliness.  There are people around, but they’re just not seeing the same things as me.  I feel like I’m at the bottom of a well in the dark, listening to people having fun up in the sunlight.”  She dropped her head into her hands.  “There’s no way out.  No matter where I look all I can see is blackness.”


A whisper of a frown flashed across Scarlet’s brow before she reached out a beefy arm and drew the crying girl to her.  “Aw, darlin’.  You need to look up.  There’s the sun, the moon, and the stars.”


“Not for me.”


“Carlotta, come home.  Charlotte’s worried about you.  Things’ll be different from now on.  We ain’t like your folks, we don’t give a damn what anyone thinks about us, and scratchy folks fit right in.  Hell, I call the shots.”  She stared at the younger woman backhanding away her tears, “and nobody hurts my family.  No one.  We all know that Gabe and Charlotte are headed for a quick marriage, and that makes you my family, too.  We ain’t got much, but we got each other.”     


“You’ve got the money from the robbery,” Carlotta countered.  “You don’t need us or Heyes’ money.”


“Yeah, we don’t need his money,” grinned the Matron, “and that oughta tell you we really want you, but we are takin’ it.  We’re gonna use it to move and make a fresh start.  For all of us.  I’m sellin’ up as soon as I can find a buyer and we’re headin’ west.  We gotta find somewhere better to raise little ‘uns.  Sweatless ain’t no kinda place for that.  We need somewhere with a future.  The share of the robbery’ll help even though it won’t buy anythin’ as big as we got here, but I ain’t scared of some hard work.  We’ll build something great with your help.  You’ll be part of that; part of buildin’ a future.”


Carlotta paused, narrowing her puffy eyes.  “Help?”


“Sure.  You’re educated in a way I ain’t.  We could aim higher, maybe try to attract a few richer folks?”


“Richer folks,” mused Carlotta.  “I’ve been thinking about the people richer than me.  In fact, all the time I’ve been sitting up here, I’ve thought of little else.”


“Your family?” asked Scarlet.


“Why should they get all the money?” she exploded.  “Why should I sit back and let them walk all over me?  William did some terrible things and there was never any morality clause attached to his inheritance!”


“Life ain’t fair, Lottie.  Tough things happen all the time.  It’s what you do about ‘em that counts.”


“I know.”  Carlotta stood.  “And it’s exactly why I’m going home to make sure I get what’s coming to me.   I want to start again, and I need that money more than they do.  I’m leaving for Denver on the next coach and I’ve decided I’m not coming back empty-handed.  I’ll bring you that money for a new hotel, Mrs. McGinty.  I’ll bring it back even if I’ve got to lay out my older sister in front of every dignitary in the town.  I know you might not think it’s a good idea, but I’m going to Denver and I’m not coming back until I’ve got what I’m due. ”


The avaricious lights eyes danced in Scarlet’s eyes.  “Not a good idea?  I ain’t a church mouse.   When two wrongs don’t make a right, I’ll try three.  Hell, they say the best revenge is livin’ well, but I always think it’s way better when your enemies are ground in the dirt behind you.  Maybe we’d better have a family talk?  This might be too much for you to do on your own, and we’ve got a couple of fellas down there who’ve got a lot ridin’ on all of us being content and happy enough with life to keep our mouths shut.  Let’s make sure they lend a hand, huh?”
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Keays

Keays

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The Devil's Due - Chapter 20  Empty
PostSubject: Re: The Devil's Due - Chapter 20    The Devil's Due - Chapter 20  EmptyThu May 26, 2016 5:39 pm

Ohh, we're heading into a conclusion here, and it's sounding like it's going to be a good one! Looks like a change in the family fortune is in the wind, and the tables are going to get turned. That's always fun. Looking forward to the next chapter.
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The Devil's Due - Chapter 20  Empty
PostSubject: Re: The Devil's Due - Chapter 20    The Devil's Due - Chapter 20  Empty

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The Devil's Due - Chapter 20
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