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 The Devil's Due - Chapter 21

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Silverkelpie

Silverkelpie

Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 58
Location : Over the rainbow

The Devil's Due - Chapter 21 Empty
PostSubject: The Devil's Due - Chapter 21   The Devil's Due - Chapter 21 EmptyWed Jun 22, 2016 2:24 pm

The carriage swayed wildly as the horses swung wide around the corner to avoid crashing into an overladen buckboard hurrying down the street without caution.  Heyes skillfully handled the team but the damage was done, Carlotta felt her stomach lurch as she briefly clamped shut her eyes and her hands clutched fistfuls of fabric, wrinkling the crisp cotton of her dress.  She felt as though she was going to be sick.  Her nerves were so on edge she couldn’t imagine surviving the next few minutes let alone the next hours.  A warm hand covered hers.

“Breathe, Lottie.   It’s gonna be all right.  You’ll do just fine and we’ll be right with you.”  Kid Curry smiled at her but he was worried, too.  They were taking an awful chance showing their faces in Denver.  He hoped Heyes knew what he was doing. After so many years on his own, he was still finding it hard to trust someone else’s judgment, but he had to admit Heyes had quite the imagination when it came to scheming.  Absentmindedly, he hooked a finger in the starched clerical collar he wore and craned his neck.  Damn it, Preacher’s black Sunday go-to-meeting suit was itchy as all get out.
 
Carlotta nodded tightly.  Assurances were lost on her as she saw her family estate looming ahead.  No longer her home and never a place of refuge, the Burdon mansion grew larger and more menacing as she was drawn inexorably towards the forbidding structure.  The butterflies in her stomach metamorphosed into screaming eagles, talons shredding her inside-out.  She had never before realized how miserable she’d been living a lie under this roof.  The last few months of freedom had changed her and she now viewed the ugly house as if it were her personal enemy.  Somehow that gave her courage.

The horses halted and stood patiently as Heyes set the brake and dismounted.  A liveried servant appeared from around the far corner of the building.  His pretentious dress amused her; it was so like Angelique to put on airs.  He must’ve been recently hired as she’d never seen him before.  Squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin, she accepted the man’s offered hand, alighting from the carriage gracefully.  Heyes and the Kid came around to flank her as she walked the flagstone path to the massive front door.  It opened as Heyes lifted his hand to sound the knocker.  Another new face greeted them.  Had James sacked the entire staff?

“Sirs, Madam, welcome to Burdon Hall, whom may I say is calling?”  The butler wore a severe expression and seemed every bit as unhappy with his stiff attire as the Kid was with the hot, woolen suit he wore. The man stepped back and ushered the visitors inside.

“Miss Carlotta Burdon, Mr. Jacob Corday, and the Reverend Robert Fielder to see Mr. and Mrs. Matheson,” said Heyes haughtily.

“Very good, sir.  You may wait in the parlor while I alert Monsieur and Madame of your arrival.”  The French addresses rolled off the butler’s tongue awkwardly due to a decidedly southern accent making it difficult for Carlotta to stifle a giggle until the man had left the room.

Heyes smiled at her.  “Better now?”

“Much,” replied Lottie allowing her mirth to escape.  She strolled over to the elaborately-carved mantle and stared at the family portrait above it.  What a sham her family had turned out to be.  “Monsieur and Madame; how ridiculous of my sister.  She’s turning into my mother.”  Carlotta wandered about the room, picking up an occasional object, examining it carefully before returning it to its resting place, all the while noting that many of her father’s favorite treasures had been removed.
 
Returning footsteps in the hallway caused the three visitors to turn in time to see an ungainly Angelique almost squeeze through the entrance to the parlor.  Carlotta hardly recognized her sister.  Gone was the soft yet pretty girl and before them stood a frowning, puffy-faced woman with a belly swollen to an alarming size.  Her sister’s weight had nearly doubled in pregnancy.  If James hadn’t been standing behind her, Lottie wasn’t sure she would have known who she was.

“How dare you show your face in my home, Carlotta?  You’ve brought nothing but shame on this house,” sniped a shrewish Angelique while ignoring the other two spectators.

“Darling, we have guests,” admonished James, edging past his formidable wife and crossing to the two other men in the room.   “Gentlemen…” he began, only to be cut off by Carlotta’s calm voice. 

“It is you who should be ashamed, Angelique, turning your back on your own flesh and blood.”

“How dare you?  After everything James and I have done for you.  You ungrateful wretch!”

“Perhaps you can enlighten us as to what you have done for your sister other than steal her inheritance,” said Heyes with a cold, tight smile. 

Angelique furiously rounded on the interloper, “Who do you think you are?”

“Jacob M. Corday, Esquire, ma’am.  Please allow me to introduce the Reverend Fielding, your sisters’ spiritual advisor.”

Angelique’s scowl returned as she faced Carlotta.  “You’ve brought your lawyer and your pastor?  Whatever do you hope to accomplish?  Did you think we’d take you back?  Is that it?”  Her voice rose shrilly.

“Darling, please, calm down.  All this emotion cannot be good for the baby.”  James had noted in the past that the particular shade of puce his wife was now displaying usually preceded an unrestrained outburst.  He looked at his sister-in-law imploringly, but Carlotta was the picture of equanimity.  He had to admit she looked good, much prettier than he’d remembered.  He admired her trim figure allowing his gaze to linger a little too long.  His wife stamped her foot and he hastily retreated to the mantle.

“I will not calm down!  This…this…tramp thinks she can flounce in here and we will welcome her with open arms?” Angelique was yelling in a very un-ladylike manner.  “You nearly made fools of us.  If word had gotten out about what you and Charlotte were up to, we would’ve been ruined!”

“What do you think will happen if word gets around about what went on in this house while I lived here?” said Carlotta softly, knowing her words were powerful enough to silence her sister’s tirade.

“What?” Angelique went still.

“You heard me.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Oh, believe me, I would.”

“You’d be ruined right along with me,” blustered Angelique.  “Charlotte, too, what would she say?”

“Charlotte knows everything.  I told her.  She wanted to come with me and confront you, but this fight is between us.”

“What about my baby?  You would ruin an innocent child’s future?” A protective hand rubbed Angelique’s stomach.

“Your baby’s life is already destroyed with you and James as parents,” said Carlotta nastily.

With a deep-throated growl, Angelique launched her great bulk at her younger sister, but Carlotta easily side-stepped her lumbering sibling whose momentum sent her into the Kid’s arms.  He stumbled backwards as she hit but managed to keep them both upright.

“Ladies, please, I’m sure we can settle this amicably.  Perhaps we should pray to our good Lord for his guidance.”  Kid Curry released the pregnant woman and smiled piously her.  He cleared his throat as if to begin, but Heyes cut in before he had to muster a prayer.

“My client only wants her and her sister Charlotte’s shares of the inheritance.  Nothing more.  She is willing to let bygones be bygones if we can come to a reasonable agreement,” said Heyes.

“Get out of my house!” screamed Angelique. 

James hurried to her.  “Pull yourself together before you harm the child!”  His sharp tone surprised everyone, but he put a protective arm around his wife. “You can speak with our lawyer, Thomas Carmichael.  He will be an end to this nonsense.  It clearly states in the will that there is a morals clause.  You and Charlotte violated that clause when you lied to us and went gallivanting around the west on your own.” 

Carlotta started to reply, but Angelique steamrolled right over her.  “I have it on good authority that you were arrested for train robbery.  Robbery! What would Papa say?  He would’ve thrown you out of this house, too.  Why, you’re no better than those two filthy, murdering, low-lives he hated.”  Heyes and the Kid exchanged a glance as she continued.  “No one is going to believe a word you say about us.  You’ve already proven yourself a thief and a liar and I’ll make sure everyone knows what you are before you have a chance to harm us.  It’ll be an embarrassment to our good name but well worth the cost.  Get out of my house!  I never want to see you again!”  Having passed judgment, Angelique heavily stomped from the room.

Carlotta was stunned by her sister’s vitriol.  She’d always known that Angelique resented her, but she’d had no idea how deeply her hatred went.  She was paralyzed by the bitter knowledge until she felt her own temper rising.  She was the victim here.  Her sister was the thief and she’d stolen Charlotte’s inheritance as well as hers.  Angelique and her parents had stolen her childhood and her peace of mind.  She’d be damned if she let anyone take one more thing from her.  She turned angry eyes to her milquetoast brother-in-law, challenging him to do the right thing.

James dithered for a moment, unsure of what he should do.  He began to stammer an apology, thought better of it, and said, “Carlotta, you’d better go,” before hurrying out of the room.

oooOOOooo

“I wish to see Mrs. Matheson.”

The doorman blinked in panic.  “Enid?  You can’t come in the front door.  You have use the back.  Go away.”

“Charlie?”  She peered at the man in the unfamiliar wig.  “What are you doing as head footman?  Where’s Phil?”

“The missus got rid of most of the staff.  Only me and Davy survived because we looked good and fitted the uniform.”  He shrugged.  “She says it ain’t for long though.  She says I’m too ‘pleb-eee-an’ whatever that means, but it’s a job.”

“Is it true?  Has Carlotta come back and told them she’s going to fight them for the money?”

Charlie smiled, revealing the even white teeth which were clearly a deciding feature in his selection to be front of house.  “Sure is.  Katie the maid says the missus done flung herself at Carlotta, despite her bein’ like the side of a barn and ready to drop.  It’s been real fun here today.  They’re fightin’ like a bag of cats.”

“Let me in, Charlie.  Now Carlotta’s here I can’t waste time.  They’ll only waste my money in a stupid court case.”

“Nuh, uh.  Round the back for ex-staff.  Only callers for the family this way.”  He shook his head before blinking, her words filtering through at last.  “Your money?” 

The man who had been paying the cab clattered up the steps.  “What’s going on?  Why won’t he let you in?”

“Oh, Mr. Carmichael.  I never saw you there.  Is she with you?”

“She certainly is,” Carmichael thrust the servant aside, “and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll never prevent this lady’s entrance to this house again.  She owns it.”

“Enid?  Owns this?  You come into money?”

“She has indeed.  A great deal of it.  Now go and tell your Master and Mistress that Thomas Carmichael and Miss Dambis are here to see them on a matter of great urgency.”

oooOOOOoo

Angelique swept into the room, her face rapidly turning the color of boiled ham.  “Enid?  What is the meaning of this?  I am told you are demanding to see me urgently.  You were paid up to date, despite leaving us in the lurch.  If you think you’re getting your job back you’re very much mistaken.”

James frowned at his wife.  “Please sit down.  I think you’re getting somewhat overwrought.  We have the baby to think of.  I can deal with this.”

“The lady of the house always deals with the servants, James.  This needs a woman’s touch.  She’ll only wheedle some extra money out of you.”

Enid pulled herself up to her full five foot two and a quarter inches.  “I shall do no such thing.  Please sit down and listen to what Mr. Carmichael has to say.”

Angelique arched a brow, looked her ex-servant up and down.  “You have the audacity to order me around in my own home?  You’re getting above yourself, even if someone has decided to buy you some fine new clothes.  You look ridiculous, got up like that.  Your lack of breeding shows through.”

Enid smiled coldly.  “I was about to say the same thing to you.  You’ll understand why in a minute.”

“Ladies,” Carmichael stepped in between them, “let’s get to business shall we?  Miss Dambis is here on business, or should I use her proper name and call her Miss Burdon?”

“Burdon?”  Angelique’s eyes popped.  “What are you saying?”  She paused as the penny started to drop.  “If you think that bringing one of my father’s bastards in here is going to get you any money, you couldn’t be more wrong.  We all know men have wild oats to sow, but everyone knows that the illegitimate aren’t entitled to a penny.”

“I’m glad we agree on that, Angelique,” Enid responded with an eerie calm.  “Thomas has some papers to show you.”

“Thomas?  Angelique?” she spluttered.  “Mind your station.  Get out of my house.”

“My station is right here, in the home I inherit from my legitimate birth,” Enid declared.  “You and your sisters are the bastards, Angelique.  My father was legally married to my mother before he ever met yours.  They never divorced, so therefore the marriage of your parents was bigamous.”  Enid smiled in triumph and pointed at her former mistress.  “You are the bastard, Angelique.  You and all your sisters, although I’m sure that you are aware that most people already thought your late brother was one of the biggest bastards in this town.”

“What nonsense.”  Angelique waddled over to the door.  “Charles! Bring some of the footmen.  I want you to throw some riff-raff out onto the street.”

“You might want to cancel the servants, Angelique.  You don’t want an audience,” Carmichael gave her husband a curious look.  “You’re very quiet, James.  You knew about this didn’t you?”

“Do you have paperwork to support this?” the banker asked, strangely subdued.

Thomas’ eyes glinted with chariness.  “You know I do.  Did Burdon tell you?  This isn’t the reaction I suspected from you.”

“I suspected something from the payments going out of his account.”  James crossed over to the door and raised a blocking hand to the assembling staff before waving them away.  “There’s been a misunderstanding.  Return to your duties.”  He glanced at his wife whose jaw had dropped open in a combination of outrage and incredulity.  “He was paying money to Mrs. Dambis all the time I worked for him.  Sit down, Angelique.  Stop this fuss now.  I won’t have it.  Not only are the servants listening, but it’s bad for the baby.”  She dropped into a seat in amazement at this sudden display of masterfulness, but the gleam in her china blue eyes told the world she didn’t like it.  “I asked him about it and he told me he had another daughter,” James flicked a glance at his wife, “I guessed she wasn’t just your usual indiscretion because she got regular payments.  The rest just got paid off.”

“There are others?” Enid scowled.

“Mere throwaways.”  James waves a dismissive hand.  “Those women shouldn’t have got involved with a man if they weren’t prepared to deal with the consequences.  I knew Enid was different.”  He deliberately avoided the ex-maid’s glance.  “That doesn’t mean that I know anything about this supposed marriage, or that I’m conceding anything.  It just means that Burdon said he fathered her.  He said that about at least three others I know of.”  

There was a long pause as the two women examined one another before Enid tilted her the chin which was so like her half-sister’s.  “I am the only legitimate child, and I intend to take what is legally mine.  I suggest you inform your sisters that you will all be fighting over nothing.  I also intend to get the trust set aside.  You need to get yourself a lawyer.”

The married couple exchanged a glance.  “Thomas?” Angelique asked.  “What does she mean?”

“She means that I have come here to resign, Angelique.  I have thoroughly investigated the evidence and it seems that her claim is very good.  I have to be on the side of justice.  It’s the right thing to do, when you consider that your father had her working here as a servant.  There was no need for him to do something like that, even if she was illegitimate.  It’s appalling.  How would you feel if he had done that to you?”

“Me?  A servant?”  Angelique suddenly blanched.  “That’s just stupid.”

“Is it?” snapped Enid.  “He married my mother before yours.  I am legitimate, yet he had me working here.  You had far more opportunity than me, and for no good reason.  I intend to get every penny due to me.  He owes that to me at the very least.  I’m coming forward now so you don’t waste money from the trust contesting Carlotta and Charlotte’s right to anything.  None of you have a right to the money.”

The pregnant women propped herself up awkwardly on one arm, trembling with emotion.  “I’ll fight you every step of the way.  You’ll not see one red cent.”

“She will, Angelique.”  Carmichael stared down at his one-time employee.  “You know how thorough I am.  If you’re sensible, you’ll do business instead of fighting.  She’ll need someone to run the bank so James can at least keep his job.”

Angelique clutched at her belly, her face contorted with pain.  “Get out!”

Enid stepped over to her, genuine concern informing her frown.  “I’m not here to make you ill or to make you suffer.  Are you in pain?”

“I told you to get out.”  Angelique slumped back on a pile of cushions, puffing and huffing.  “I can’t do this.”

“Call the doctor,” Enid ordered.  “She needs help.”

James nodded, rushing over to his wife.  “I will, but you’d better go.”

“We will, but you need to have a look at these documents and take them to your new lawyer.”  Carmichael dropped a sheath of papers on the table.  “I think you’ll find the case fireproof.”

“You’re a snake in the grass,” hissed the woman writhing on the sofa.  “Get out of my sight.  How could you do this to us?”

“I’m sorry.  I really am.  I’ll get a doorman to go for the doctor right away,” Enid allowed herself to be pulled out of the door by the lawyer.  “I won’t call again.  This is too bad a time for you.  You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.” 

The door closed firmly behind her, shutting out the intruders.  Angelique suddenly stopped moaning and nodded to her husband.  “Have they gone?  Go and check.” 

“I will.  Are you alright?” 

“I’m fine,” she wriggled her arms and legs impotently, unable to raise her swollen frame upright.  “Help me up.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m certain, James.”  She hooked him with an accusing glare.  “You knew about that woman.”

“I knew he was paying a daughter.  I didn’t know he married her damned mother.”  He shuffled through the papers left by the lawyer.  “These look real, and I bet Carmichael will have checked everything.”  He fixed his still-flailing wife with a look of sheer desperation.  “What are we going to do, sweetness?  We’ll be poor; well, not penniless, but certainly a whole lot worse off than we are.”  A look of horror flashed over his face.  “Where will we live?  We’ll have to move in with my mama and papa.”  James was struck by a new thought and failed to hide his dismay, but his wife didn’t notice.  Would his parents take them in if they knew his wife was illegitimate?  He moaned dramatically.  “This is a nightmare!”

“We’re doing no such thing.  Ooomph!  Help me up, will you?”

James strode over and hooked an arm around his wriggling wife.  “We’ll fight it, of course.  I’ll go and see papa and get his lawyer to look into this.  He’ll have a plan.  Of course, that will mean telling his pater the whole sordid truth.”

“Yes, we’ll do all that, but in the meantime you’re going to do something else for me.”

He gently stroked her hair.  “Of course, sweetie.  What is it?  Some tea?  A snack?”

Her hands formed into little fists of determination.  “First Carlotta, now this witch?  The world’s gone mad, and we have a child to support.  I’m not going to just sit back and take this.  We’re going to get in there first.”

“First?”

Her blue eyes glittered with obstinacy.   “Yes.  I had already been thinking about this after Carlotta’s visit, but this makes it urgent.  You’re going to rob the bank, James.  Nobody will suspect you.  You’re going to empty the place of any ready cash and we’ll put it away.  Once the bank goes down they won’t fight as hard.  It simply won’t be worth it.”

James’ mouth dropped open.  “Rob the bank?”

“Yes,” she struggled to her feet, abdomen thrust forward.  “Let the rest of them fight over the ashes of a ruined bank.  We’ll have enough to start over and buy a new place.  One without all these bad memories.  One where our child will grow up respected and admired.” 

“But sweetness….”

She patted her tummy, waving away his objections.  “It’ll be fine.  You have the key for every safe and nobody can question you being on the premises.  We’ll find someone to blame it on.  Someone like those outlaws my father hated.  What were their names again?”  She paused deep in thought before turning back to her husband.  “Heyes and the something Kid?  They’ll do.”  She tapped her fingers absently on her swollen belly.  “It must be done tonight.  Did you mention a snack?”

oooOOOooo

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

Silverkelpie

Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 58
Location : Over the rainbow

The Devil's Due - Chapter 21 Empty
PostSubject: Re: The Devil's Due - Chapter 21   The Devil's Due - Chapter 21 EmptyWed Jun 22, 2016 2:24 pm

The sound of shattering crockery caused Kid Curry to cross the sitting room and tap on the adjoining bedroom door.  “Lottie, you all right?” 

“I’m fine!” she responded in a muffled, guttural growl.

Shaking his head, he returned to his seat on the comfortable couch.  Heyes was sprawled sideways in a heavily stuffed loveseat with his feet dangling off the arm, a newspaper leaning against his upturned legs.

“She says she’s fine.  Don’t sound like it to me; sounds to me like we’ll be payin’ a lot more for this suite than we planned on.”  The Kid poured himself another shot of whiskey and topped off his partner’s glass.  “Can’t stand listenin’ to an angry woman; makes my skin crawl.”

“At least she ain’t pissed off at you.”  Heyes turned the page.  He swung his legs off the chair and sat upright.  “Hey, listen to this:  ‘Burdon Bank--Denver’s finest banking establishment for all your financial needs.”

“Yeah, so?  We already know her daddy owned the bank.”

“We’re here to help Carlotta take revenge on her family, right?”

“Yeah, and that didn’t go so well.”

“The bank’s not part of her trust fund.”

“What’re you gettin’ at, Heyes?”

“Well, what’s the harm in us making a little money on the side?”

“Are you sayin’ what I think you’re sayin’?  You want to rob the damn bank?!”   The Kid jumps to his feet.  “Are you nuts?  I thought the plan was keepin’ a low profile.  Robbin’ the bank ain’t exactly layin’ low!”

“Shush, keep your voice down.  I don’t want Carlotta to hear you.”

“You’re plannin’ on robbin’ her daddy’s bank and you don’t want her to know?  How’s that helpin’ her with her plan?”

“If we pull it off, we’ll share the cash, after expenses, of course, with her and Charlotte; enough to help them start over without their inheritance.  You heard her sister--she’s not getting one thin dime from them.  This way, she and Charlotte won’t be destitute.”

Curry considered the idea and then smiled as he sat back down.  “You may have a point, Heyes.  That sister of hers sure was something, wasn’t she?”

Heyes smirked, “Something.  Just not something good.”

oooOOOooo

Her fury spent, Carlotta had flung herself on the bed.  She could hear Heyes and the Kid talking in the next room but she couldn’t make out what they were saying.  They were probably laughing at her and her impotent plot to get her inheritance.  She could hardly believe how easily Angelique had manipulated the situation.  Anger ate at her, but it was nothing compared to the pain of being abused and rejected by her own flesh and blood.  How dare Angelique? She could see her sister refusing to help her, but Charlotte?  Charlotte, who had never been anything but sweet and obedient, was now going to suffer the same fate as she will and all because she loved and supported the wrong sister.  Carlotta dreaded the thought of returning to Sweatless and breaking the news to Charlotte.  She had to do something, but what? 

Her eyes widened as the realization hit her that there was most definitely something she could do, but did she dare?  She stood, pacing back and forth thinking through every possible problem.  Would her sister dare to prosecute her?  Would the shame be worth it? Would Angelique even be able to find her under an assumed name?  Yes, it was most definitely worth the risk.  She grabbed her jacket and reticule from the chair and strode out into the sitting room where Heyes and Curry were deep in conversation.  Heyes sat up on the love seat, his forearm propped on his thigh, and frowned.  “Where are you going?”

“To the bank.  My father’s bank.”

The men exchanged a wary glance.  “Why?”

“Both Charlotte and I have accounts there.  They don’t have much in them, but I’m going to transfer them using Wells Fargo.  I don’t want Angelique or James seizing them.”

Heyes paused, examining her intently.  “You’re up to something.  Out with it.  What are you really going to do?”

She glanced away fiddling with her little bag, but Heyes pressed on.  “I know dishonesty when I see it.  I make my living that way.  Where are you really going?”

“To the bank.”

The Kid lifted his holster and started strapping it on.  “Fine, then we’ll go with you.”

“No!”  She blushed at her unintended sharpness before proceeding more calmly.  “There might be someone there who knows you, and that might get in the way.”

Heyes arched a brow.  “Get in the way of what, Carlotta?  If we’re going to work together we need to be completely open and honest with each other,” he studiously ignored the Kid’s amused blue eyes silently accusing him of hypocrisy.  “How can we help you if we don’t know what you’re doing?”

She fingered her folded gloves nervously, breathing heavily.  “Fine.  I’m going to steal.  Is that all right with you?”

The Kid shook his head.  “Carlotta.  We can’t break you out of jail again.  You ain’t going.”

“You don’t understand…”

“We understand perfectly.  How are you goin’ to rob a bank that size on your own?”  The Kid wrapped his arms across his body and stubbornly blocked the door.  “Ain’t you learned anything in the last few months?  You can’t go flyin’ off to carry out whatever half-baked scheme you’ve got in your head.  It’s dumb.”

“Dumb?”  Her rosebud lips pouted.  “You don’t even know what I’m planning.  All my mother’s most valuable jewelry is in a safety deposit box in there, and each of us girls has a copy of the key in case we want to wear it.  I can’t see any reason why I shouldn’t go in and take it to compensate for them keeping my trust fund.  Can you?”

Heyes eyes gleamed.  “Jewelry?”

“Yes.  Her tiara from Russia, her grandmother’s pearls, her rings; there’s quite a lot there, unless Angelique’s emptied it.  It’s worth a small fortune.”

“That’s my favorite kinda fortune, right after a great big one,” the Kid grinned.  “Don’t you think your sister will have changed things?”

“Maybe,” Carlotta shrugged, “but there’s only one way to find out, and she won’t have been wearing them.  They’re dress jewels, and pregnant women don’t attend balls.  She might have overlooked them completely.”

“What if the staff stops you?” asked Heyes.

“Then I walk away empty-handed,” Carlotta replied.  “I’m perfectly entitled to go into that safety deposit box.  I’m not doing anything illegal, even if it is opportunistic.  It’s worth a try.  The one thing I have on Angelique is her pride.  She won’t want to share anything with the staff, so there’s a good chance she hasn’t told anyone at the bank.”

Heyes sat back on the love seat and pondered deeply.  “We can’t go with you.  Like you already said, someone might recognize us.”

She nodded curtly and headed over to the door.  “I also have some shopping to do. Just a few ladies’ things for Charlotte and me in our new lives.  I’ll do that first and go to the bank just before closing time.  That’ll give the staff less time to send a message to James or to question me.  I’ll see you later.”

They watched the door close behind her.  “Smart thinkin’ about leavin’ the visit until just before they close.  Folks are always less willin’ to question things when they’re about to go home after a hard day’s work.  It looks like she’s learnin’ a few things from us.”

Heyes draped his leg over the side of the seat.  “Yeah.  That’s what worries me.  I think we’d better pull this job tonight and get outta her outta here tomorrow.”

oooOOOooo

“Can you leave that there?”  Carlotta searched in her purse for a few coins to tip the delivery man as the assistant manager stood the receive one of the founder’s daughters into his office while eying the massive trunk with unconcealed surprise.  “Oh, that?  My sister, Charlotte, and I are relocating and I have been tasked with taking her some of her things.  She getting married you know.  To a prominent hotelier in San Francisco.  She’s made such a good match.  If I didn’t adore her so much I’d be quite green with envy.”    

“I wasn’t aware,” the man replied, walking over to the chest.  “Please give her my congratulations.”

“I will, Mr. Guthrie.  We are leaving in the morning.  I have told my people that they can collect this chest from your office to take it to the railway station when the bank opens.  There really is no point in my dragging this around anymore than necessary.”

“That huge thing?”  Guthrie eyed the chest with disdain.  “In my office?”

“Ooh, don’t give it a thought, Guthrie,” Carlotta waved a dismissive hand.  “You’re going home soon, and it’ll be collected first thing in the morning.  I want to leave it somewhere safe, and where’s safer than the bank which bears my own name?”  She hooked him with a challenging glare, her smile widening as she measured potential success gathering pace.  “I couldn’t leave all my shopping in a strange street cab.  Do you really expect me to get it carried back out again, get a cab halfway across town, pay someone to carry up to my room, only to reverse the whole process tomorrow?  I’ll pick it up on my way to the station first thing in the morning.  It’ll be much easier.” 

Guthrie’s shoulders sagged in surrender.  “Quite.  So, you are here to deal with both accounts?  We don’t usually allow other people to do that, but as you are a Burdon, how can I refuse?”

“You always know where to find me if there’s anything amiss, don’t you?” Carlotta giggled.  “I’m hardly likely to go on the run.”

“That I do, Miss Burdon.  That I do.  Let me just get your paperwork.”  He headed for the door.  “I’ll just be a minute.”

oooOOOooo  

Guthrie laid the papers on the desk.  “Can you sign here, and here, and here.  Just down there, and at the bottom.  And once again here and here and here.  Now sign there, there, there, and at the top.  And over there.  And once more at the bottom, and that line there….”  He shuffled the paperwork.  “And just a couple more down here.”

Carlotta dutifully signed the forms in triplicate before blowing on her inky signature to dry it and returning the pen to its stand on the green leather blotter.  “Now, Mr. Guthrie.  I would like to access our safety deposit box.”  She smiled with a warmth she did not feel in her fluttering stomach.  Did he know?  She would soon find out.  

He paused, pulling out his pocket watch and sighing.  “We close in ten minutes.  Can’t you do it when you pick up your bag tomorrow?”  

She frowned.  “I wasn’t planning on picking it up personally.  I was going to send a man.  As you said, we close in ten minutes.  But we are not closed yet.  I want to see my box please.” 

She could swear that even his bristly sideburns drooped.  “Very well.  Follow me.”  He walked over to the coat hanging on the stand and produced a large bunch of keys.  “Please don’t be long.”

She followed him out of the office to the back of the building where a barred gate blocked the way.  “This part of the building has cast iron plate built into the walls,” his keys rattled in the lock.  “It’s impregnable.”  The safety deposit boxes lined the walls of the vault, with the enormous main safe at the end of the room.  “Box 372, I believe?”

“Yes.”  Carlotta produced her own key, the box requiring both the banks and the customer’s keys to open the personal safety deposit box.  The flap opened and the box slipped easily out into their hands.  Carlotta smiled at the assistant manager as she laid it on the table.  “Do you mind?  This is private.”

“Oh, no.  Not at all.”  Guthrie huffed.  “I’ll leave you to it.  I’ll see you in five minutes.”  He walked over to the door.  “We close soon,” he added, pointedly.  “I’ll send in my assistant to lock the box up.  I need to oversee the tellers for closing up.”

oooOOOooo    

Matthew Guthrie watched the tellers line up with their reconciled drawers to be stored in the safe.  Their numbered trays were stacked, counted in and out by the supervisors in their crisp white collars.  He frowned.  “Where did Miss Burdon go?”

“She just left,” squeaked a young man.  “I locked up the box like you said.  She can’t have gone far.”

Guthrie gave a guttural harrumph, watching the staff march back out of the vault before locking it up behind them.  “I shall see you all in the morning.  Make sure you are on time.”  He turned the keys on the vault and strode back towards his office to put his keys back in his coat pocket.  “Has everyone left, Brian?  Time to make sure we are all locked up,” he called over his shoulder.

“Yessir, everyone’s gone.”

The men walked the bank together, checking the handle on every door and the latch on every window.  “Everything looks fine, sir,” peeped the assistant manager in his grating falsetto. 

“Yes, let me just grab my coat and we can lock the side door.”  Guthrie looked over at the assistant,”  “I’m just about to set the alarm.  Have you got your key in the door?”

The young man nodded, theatrically showing his compliance, as he did every evening. 

“Good.”  Guthrie flicked the switch on the contraption looking a bit like a telegraph machine with a huge bell on it.  “Now.  Lock up.  Quick!”

They both stepped outside and watched as the keys rattled in the lock.  The assistant dropped them into his coat pocket.  “What will we ever do if someone realizes that this side door isn’t wired up to the alarm, Mr. Guthrie?  I always wonder that.”

“They might get in, but they won’t get very far, Brian.  The vault is fully alarmed with a state of the art system and that’s where the money is kept.”  He gave a smile to his assistant as they paused at the corner to part ways.  “I’m not worried about it unless someone plans to steal a few pens.  If anyone gets through the lock to the vault the alarm will sound as soon as the door moves, and we’re right across the road from the sheriff’s office.  We’re the first bank in Denver to have the Holmes Electric Protective Company alarm.  That’s why we’re the best bank in town.”

_________________
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 21
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