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 Friends And Foes - Part 3

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Silverkelpie

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

PostSubject: Friends And Foes - Part 3   Sat Dec 31, 2016 12:59 pm

Friends and Foes


Part 3




“You sure we can still use the cabin, Pearl?”


“Yeah, Kid.  No one’s been near it since old man White died.  He left it to me.  I guess we helped to make his last years more, ‘comfortable’.”

“Great.  So, I hope all this didn’t disrupt the place too much.”  Heyes sat down and twinkled cheerily at her, preparing her for his next big favor.

“What do you want, Han?”  Pearl demanded.  “I can see your manipulation comin’ miles away.” 

He smiled the smile of the caught in the act.  “Can you see you way clear to takin’ Abigail back?”

Pearl’s alabaster face turned puce as she blustered at the very idea of entertaining anyone involved in law enforcement in her establishment.  “Are you mad?”

The Kid grinned at the stately madam’s affront as her feathered head dress trembled and danced in tandem with her blustering conniption fit.  “I’ve often wondered that myself when I end up listenin’ to Heyes, but in this case we got good reason.  We need someone in the place to find out about what could have happened to Bessie and Dora.”

“Nobody will speak to her if they think she’s investigating, but they’ll speak to a maid, a fellow employee.”  Heyes added.  “Especially if you tell them that she ran off after some man and he dumped her so that she had to come crawling back with her tail between her legs.  Make her look as pathetic as you want.  Get creative with it.”

“Ah, go on Pearl.   She’s free help and you don’t even need to be nice to her.  You can be as mean as you like,” chortled the Kid.  “You’ll love it.”

“Well, it’s a free pair of hands and the thought of gettin’ the law to empty all the chamber pots and clean the latrines is real temptin’.”  She sat back and mused.  “No.  She’ll use everythin’ she hears here.  I can’t do it.”  

“We’ll pay,” Heyes cut in.  “I’ve got another reason.  I need to know everyone she speaks to.  I want her watched.”

“In a brothel?”  Pearl guffawed.  “Have you any idea how many people come through here?  And how do they watch her without her knowin’.  This place is built for secrecy.  No, Han.  That ain’t gonna happen.  It ain’t possible.”

Heyes perched on the edge of the desk.  “Fine, what about offering fifty dollars to anyone who sees her talking to anyone not employed here.”

“How about takin’ your money and shovin’ it right up your...”

“Now, Pearl,” The Kid cut in, “that ain’t ladylike.”

“I’m only a lady in my spare time, and I don’t get a lot of that.”  Her chair creaked as she leaned back.  “I’ll have even less time if I play this dumb game and it’s worth a whole lot more than fifty stinkin’ dollars.  Go and find some other whore house to ask questions in.  This one’s special.”

“Aw, come on, Pearl.  Just a few weeks, at the most.”

“Two tops, and just do your best.”  Heyes smiled his most charming smile.  “We’re trying to find out what happened to Bessie and Dora.  Won’t your girls be pleased to think you’re doing something?”  Heyes walked around the desk and wrapped his arms around her thick waist and gave her a squeeze.  “Two and half and I’ll throw in a night with the Kid.”

Pearl pushed him away.  “Don’t be disgustin’.  He’s like my nephew.  Fine, two and half weeks but she works as hard as anyone else here and if I catch her usin’ anythin’ she learns here for anythin’ other than findin’ the girls I’ll skin her alive myself.”

Heyes kissed her cheek.  “You’re a star Pearl.  She’ll be good as gold and work like a slave.”

“I will not.  I have a job to do.”  They all turned towards the slight figure in the doorway dressed in a simple skirt and white blouse, her dark hair gathered in a bun.  “Not only that, I’m recovering from an injury.” 

“Deal’s off.  I ain’t havin’ a maid who talks back,” snorted Pearl.

The Kid turned.  “How long have you been there?”

Abigail ignored him and appealed directly to Pearl.  “Look, I need to get in here to get some background on the girls.  You don’t have to like me, you don’t even have to look at me, but I want to help that poor boy of Dora’s.  Can you imagine what it must be like growing up knowing that your mother has disappeared and no one cares enough to even look for her?”  Pearl gave small harrumph as Abigail continued.  “That damages a boy.  What kind of future do you think he’ll have with that kind of anger?  He could end up, well...” she flung an arm out towards Heyes and Curry, “like them.”

“Hey!” cried an indignant Kid.

Pearl bristled.  “He could do worse.”

“Sure, yes, look I don’t want to talk to your customers, just the staff.  They’ll know most about Bessie and Dora.”  She walked over and looked deeply into Pearl’s pale blue eyes.  “Please.  I’m asking you woman to woman.  What’s the worst that can happen?  If I don’t find out anything I’ll just walk away.  Nobody’s any worse off.”

Pearl let out a rasping sigh of impatience.  “Why does this matter to you?”

“I care about people.  You might not have seen that in the law before, but I’m not your usual sheriff, am I?”

“I can’t trust you.”

“Mrs. Du Bois, you can’t trust anyone here and you know it.  As soon as I learned the fake Devil’s Hole Gang were killers I prioritized them.  You know that.  You saw me do it.  If someone is killing women around here I can’t think of anything more urgent, can you?  We are both women after all.  Stealing matters, but not as much as murder.”  

Pearl simmered.  “You empty the all chamber pots, every mornin’.  You work the kitchens and the latrines.  Nowhere else.  If I see you anywhere else I’ll kick your bony ass outta here, and I got a kick like a mule.  Got that?”

oooOOOooo

“Did she hear us, Heyes?”

He shrugged.  “Dunno, Kid.  Probably.  She’s got ears like a bat, that one.”

“So she knows we’re watchin’ her.”  He leaned on the post and gazed out into the yard.  “Remind me why we ain’t ridin’ outta her and headin’ straight back to The Hole?”

“Because we owe Bessie and Dora?”

The Kid sighed heavily.  “Yeah.  That’s the kicker.  We always told Pearl we’d have her back if she needed us too.  This loyalty stuff ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

“I know.”  The dark eyes slid sideways.  “When folks have seen you at your worst, and still stick by you, you don’t let them go.  We owe Pearl, and the girls.”

“At their worst?” mused the Kid.  “You mean like covered in dried vomit, blood, and I don’t even want to think what else?  That’s about as bad as it gets.”

“I’m not talking about Abi.  I’m talking about the people who looked after us when we were cold and hungry.”

“I know you ain’t talkin’ about Abi.  That’s what worries me.”  The Kid turned and examined his cousin.  “She’s a challenge to you, and you can never resist a challenge.”

“She’s no challenge to me,” snorted Heyes.  “Women are good at getting gossip out of other women, and Pinkerton’s smart enough to use that.  There’s no reason why I can’t do the same.”

“Yeah, right...”  The Kid pushed himself upright, his gaze following the boy carrying the bucket of coal from the shed.  “This is me you’re talkin’ to.  I know you too well.  Hey, you!”  He called over to the lad.  “Do you work here?”

A pair of bright eyes looked their way, from a not-so-bright-face face covered in soot.  “Sure.  Can I help you, mister?  Clean your boots for you?”

“They probably need it, but no thanks.  What’s your name?”
     
“Archie.”

“I’m guessing you do odd jobs and polish boots, Huh?  Do you want to earn thirty dollars?”

The boy’s face lit up, his hazel eyes standing out dramatically in his soot-covered face.  “Thirty dollars?”  The head titled suspiciously.  “What d’ya want me to do?”

“You know that maid who came back today?  The one who ran away?”

“Abi?  She’s lucky the missus took her back.”

“Yeah,” the gunman pulled out a banknote.  “Well, I want you to watch her real close, and let me know if she passes a note to anyone or gets one delivered.  It might be done sneakily, so you’re gonna have to watch real close.  I can give you ten now, and the rest when you get me the information I want.  Give it to Pearl and tell her to contact Mr. Black urgently.  Have you got that?”  The urchin reached out a filthy hand, only for the note to be snatched just out of reach.  “What have you got to do? 

“Tell Miss Pearl if Abi gets a note or leaves one for someone else.”

“And my name?”

“Mr. Black.”

“Good for you.”  The Kid arched his brows.  “There’ll be an extra twenty if you can find out the name of the person she’s passin’ notes to.  His name, description, and where he’s stayin’.  You know what that adds up to don’t you?”

The boy’s lips moved in tandem with his computation.  “Ten, then twenty, then another...that’s lots!  Wow.  Are you sure, mister?  There are ladies in there who are much prettier.  Lulu has great big lovely...”

“I’m sure,” the Kid cut in.

“...eyes,” Archie ploughed on. 

“It’s Abi,” the Kid asserted.  “I want to know anyone she speaks to outside this place.  Got that?”

“Sure,” Archie nodded furiously.  “You got it, mister.  Are you sure, Miss Pearl is alright with this?”

“Yup.  We’re very old friends.  In fact, I used to do your job here.”

“Yah, did?  It’s great here, innit?  I don’t know why you’d ever leave.”

A smile twitched at the Kid’s lips.  “Sometimes, I wonder that myself.  Good to meet you, Archie.”

“And you, Mr. Black,” Archie hauled his bucket of coal into the building.  “See ya.”

“Black?” Heyes queried.

The Kid shrugged.  “One of the aliases I use now and again.  I like to keep them simple.”

“Nah,” Heyes replied.  “I prefer something really complicated.  Common names always seem too false to me.  I want something that doesn’t sound like you could make it up on the spot.”              

oooOOOooo   

The distant mountains formed a jagged fortress of slate grey against the cerulean sky on the horizon, encircling the scabrous land with impenetrable spiked castellations like the armored tail of a giant encircling dragon.  The countryside below was too wide to be called a valley and lacked the expanse of a plain, but the scrubby, graveled land cut out by glaciers was vast enough to lose any number of homesteads among the many trees and rivers cutting through the scrubby, stony sod.  This was the haystack Heyes and Curry had to search for the missing needles, but where to start was a daunting question.

Bessie and Dora had travelled out here and simply disappeared along with a wagon and team of horses. 

They had poured over maps, garnering information from Pearl and her security man about the whereabouts of other known cabins in the area, some abandoned after their stakes failed to produce a living, let alone the fortunes in gold some dreamed of; while others were still inhabited by variously feral men still scratching a living.  That gave them about a tenth of the picture.  Two of Pearl’s security men took one half and they took the other.  None of them were sure they’d ever see Bessie or Dora again, but they had to try.

The sun was low when they loped into the tumbledown homestead.  A curious jackrabbit blinked at them from the edge of the clearing, the spoon like ears twitching at every unfamiliar sound in this normally peaceful area.  It clearly decided against the pleasure of their company and hopped off, bobbing its fluffy tail through the long grass until it disappeared into the shrubbery.

“This’ll have to be the last one for the day,” the Kid scanned the sky.  “We’ll lose light in a few hours.”

“We’ll search, then we might as well camp here for the night,” Heyes agreed.   “It shouldn’t take long.  It doesn’t look like anyone’s lived here for years.”

“Yeah,” the Kid sighed heavily, “or even been here.  They could have abandoned the roads and used the horses, I guess.”

“Why would two women do that?”  Heyes shook his head.  “No, we stick to places they could have taken a wagon.  If that doesn’t work we don’t even know where to start.”

“I guess so.  I’ll take the barn and the woodshed.  You take the back of the house.  If the place isn’t in too bad a way we could spend a night indoors.”   

Heyes paused.  “I think we’re looking for bodies now, Kid.”

The Kid turned to fix his partner with a stony stare.  “I’ve been lookin’ for bodies from the moment I left town.  Dora was never gonna leave her boy alone.  He was her whole world.”   

Heyes sighed and gave a joyless smile.  “You had a thing for her?”

“I liked her spirit and her humor.  She loved so fiercely it shone.”  He dropped his head.  “She always reminded me a bit of my ma.  Now she reminds me of her even more.”

“It’s been over a week.  We’ve come up with zero.”

“Yup,” the Kid kicked out at nothing in particular, “and I’ll be damned if I’ll see another woman’s murder go unrevenged.”   

A caustic grin played around Heyes’ lips.  “Unrevenged?  Is that a word?”

The gunman strode over to the barn calling over his shoulder.  “Dunno.  If it ain’t, it sure as hell should be.” 
 
oooOOOooo

 “She sure hates you.  What you done?”  The question came from the slim black woman who sat across the table from Abigail as they snatched a few minutes to drink their coffee at the kitchen table.

“I think I let her down when I ran off before.  I was lucky to get back.”

“Sure were.  She ain’t too forgivin’.  You must talk as smooth as toad’s belly.”

Abigail smiled at Seraphina’s expressive simile but saw an opportunity lurking in the background.  “Maybe, or she knows that a couple of regulars like me enough to keep asking for me and she’s hoping for a career change.  She’s short-handed now those other two girls ran off.”

Seraphina shuddered.  “Somethin’ bad happened to them.  They never ran off.  They’d never do that.”

“Really?  What?  What do you think happened?”

“I think it was natives, or outlaws, or maybe they had an enemy?”  The girl’s mind clearly ran with wild schemes picked up in dime novels.

“An enemy?  Did they have an enemy?  Are there natives around here?”

“Nooo.  That’s just me thinkin’ out loud.  Everyone loved them.”  She giggled. “Some more than others.  A couple in particular, loved them three or four times a week and twice on pay day.”

Abigail grinned.  “Maybe someone got jealous?”

“I doubt it.  Bessie was around for years.  She’d have gone off with anyone who wanted to make an honest woman of her.  Dora, she loved Ben Middleton, but he’s already married.”

“Maybe it was his wife.”  Abigail widened her eyes and tried to make it sound conspiratorial.  She knew that this was not a likely scenario but it was a technique she used often to get gossipy women to open up to her.

“What?” chortled Seraphina.  “Liz Middleton?  She weighs about eighty pounds soakin’ wet.  Dora would easily have flattened her, and Bessie could lay out a miner in a flight.”

Abigail nodded sagely, mentally noting that a slight build never stopped Helene Jegado who poisoned at least thirty six people before she was caught and executed in 1852.  “Do you think?  No.  It couldn’t be.  could it?”

“What?  What?”  Seraphina leaned forward eagerly as she was drawn in without even realizing it. 

Abigail’s voice dropped to a whisper as her eyes widened with mock horror.  “What if Ben Middleton did it?  Maybe his wife was giving him a hard time?”

Seraphina bellowed with laughter as she rocked back and forth.  “Ben?  Have you seen him?  He’s been blind this last three years.  Dora had a soft heart and looked after him.  There’s no way he could have gone out after a wagon and taken two women.  He can barely get about town.”

“Really?  How can he afford... well, Dora’s services?”

“He works as a musician.  Teaches and tunes pianos by day and plays the bars in the evenin’s.  His wife thought he was workin’ when he came here.”  She stretched her neck forward.  “Between you and me, I think Dora often did him for free.  I’d often catch them sneakin’ off together, or him comin’ out of her room at dawn.”

“Dora must have loved him.”

“I guess.  She was sweet, real sweet.”

“Abi!   Where are you, girl?”  Pearl’s voice could screech through every floor of the building when she put her mind to it and it had the cadence of finger nails on a blackboard.  “There you are.”  She appeared at the doorway in a black peignoir covering substantial, industrial-looking lingerie.  “We got a party comin’ in and there’s a whole sack of potatoes to be peeled.  Get to it.”

oooOOOooo

A weary Heyes dismounted and scanned the landscape of yet another tumble down cabin, the last on their list as they looped their way back to town after a fruitless search.  Their flagging spirits dropped as both men stopped and stared at the ground.

“Somethin’ heavy’s been here,” the Kid crouched to examine the dual ruts cut into the soil. “And fairly recently.  It’s driven the grass into the soil.  Judgin’ by the fact the broken grass is real brown it’s been more’n a few days ago.”

They both looked over at the shabby building, the dilapidated wood as grey and dismal as the somber sky hung which over them like a pall.   “The house is doesn’t look like it’s been used for years.  The logs have even lost their most of their chinking.” 

Heyes strode over to the porch and mounted the steps, hesitating at the door.  It swung open with a grating creak and he stepped inside, engulfed in the darkness of the interior.  His eyes gradually adjusted to the poor light filtering in through the grimy windows, until he could see the details in the poor habitation.  And it had been very poor.  It didn’t even have a basic range; the chimney hooks and spit were straight out of the turn of the century.  He turned swiftly at a noise just in time to spot a little masked bandit of a raccoon make a dash for the door.  The place had no more than the skeletal remains of basic furniture and the faded fabric at the windows was rotten and faded.  His practiced eye told him the dust on the floorboards showed no sign of any of them being recently disturbed, so he quickly dismissed the idea of anything being hidden beneath them.  There was nothing else to see here, so he clunked over the rough planks to the door and walked back outside.

The Kid was just leaving what was left of the barn.  He met his partner’s questioning gaze with a negating shake of the head.  There was nothing in there either.

They met in the yard in front of the cabin there were no other buildings.  “Nothin’, Heyes.”

The dark eyes dropped to the ground, a frown creasing Heyes’ brow as he followed the ruts out to the perimeter with a sinking heart.  He stepped back down to ground level, wandering along the length of the tracks until they reached out to the circular, squat, stone wall.

“Heyes...”

“I know, Kid.”

“The well?  Oh, dear Lord.  Not the well.”   

“We have to check,” Heyes agreed, approaching the cover.  He paused, holding his tense cousin’s gaze with fearful eyes.  “We’ve got to check.” 

He reached out and pulled back the wooden cover and an ominous cloud of insects flew out, forming a hideous murmuration of necrosis, seemingly carrying the stench of rotting flesh which them as they spiraled and danced in mid air in a macabre whirl.  Heyes steeled himself to peer over the edge, down into the black, dank, darkness below.  The stench hit him full in the face and he spun around, grasping his guts as he vomited violently on the ground.

Knowing blue eyes melded anger and grief with an air of resignation.  “We gotta get help, Heyes.  They need a decent burial.  They need someone to do just one decent thing for them for one time in their whole miserable lives.”

Heyes straightened up, gulping away the acid and tears of his convulsion.  He nodded.  “We’ll tell the sheriff we work for Pearl.  And if that woman hasn’t got useful anything for us to go on we’ll get Pearl to ride her out of town on a rail.  She’s had long enough to meddle.  This isn’t a game.”  He glanced towards the well.  “Women shouldn’t be involved in this stuff.” 
                 
oooOOOooo

A soft, brown hand snaked delicately through the blond curls as Marisol caressed the man in a professional act of welcome.  He smiled, his eyes flowing over her golden skin, the color of running molasses, before he pulled himself back to the business at hand with an internal groan.  “Sorry, darlin’.  I want that one, Pearl.”  He pointed at Abigail who was loitering by the kitchen door.

She gave a little start of anxiety.  This was not the deal.  If it looked like she was turning tricks she would alienate the girls here and other men might start demanding her too.  She shook her head violently.  “No.  I’m a maid.   I’m not available.”

“I gotta insist, darlin’.  I got good money and I want her Pearl.  I’ll pay extra.  Double.”

His eyes burned into her trying to get her to understand how urgently he needed her to spend time alone with him.  The visit had to be made openly.  They all knew that there were no secrets in a place like this.  It was far better to be open but make the liaison look like something else entirely. 

Pearl paused, knowing the importance of the Kid’s visit.  “I think you should consider it, darlin’.  He’s good lookin’ and pays well.  If you were thinkin’ of startin’ out it’d be a good introduction.”  Her eyes narrowed, pressing home the point.  “In fact, if you want to stay here you’d better learn to do as you’re told.”

Abigail dropped her head, picking up on the subtext.  How could she do this without annoying the girls who were already eyeing her with hostile suspicion?  They were paid by the customer, like piece work, and a maid taking a well-paying client was taking the bread from their mouths.   “I’ll talk to him alone before I decide.”  She walked into one of the rooms with him, the assorted stares of the working girls penetrating her back like arrows.  As the door closed softly behind him she gave a snort of annoyance.  “This is really not helping.  Those girls hate me now.”

He strolled over to her as he pulled off his hat.  “I know, but we’ve found the bodies.  I had to let you know and we ain’t been able to get you on your own.  That black girl never leaves the kitchen.”

“No!   How did they die?”

The Kid shrugged.  “I dunno.  Does it matter?  They’re dead.  We found them in a well.”

“Of course it matters.  It can tell you a lot about who did it.  I need to see the bodies.”

“Abi, they’ve been in a well for over a week.  That ain’t a good idea.”

She fixed him with the patient smile of someone used to handling objections.  “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before, Mr. Curry.  I haven’t spent the last four years as a school teacher.”

He glanced down, still not happy that women should be involved in the sort of things his every instinct taught him to protect them from.  “This ain’t right, Abi.  You shouldn’t be in a place like this and you shouldn’t be lookin’ at things like that.  You’re a nice girl.”

Determined brown eyes burned into his.  “Thank you, but Dora was a nice girl.  She was also very unlucky.  She had no family, her husband died and she had to feed her son any way she could.  She didn’t deserve to die, Mr. Curry.

His face softened in way she hadn’t seen since she first regained consciousness in the cabin.  “My name is Jed.  If you won’t call me Kid, then call me Jed.”

She smiled, realizing that this was a turning point for a man who would have happily strangled her so recently.  “Jed, where are they now?”

“At the funeral parlor.  The doc’s gonna look at them tomorrow”

She nodded.  “I need to go there.  I want to see them.”

“Are you mad?   They stink.  Besides, it’s locked up.  I came here to ask what you’ve found out.”

“Of course they stink,” she stripped off her apron and thrust her head out of the window.  “At least we’re on the ground floor.  That helps.  And since when did a locked door stop you two?”

“I ain’t never broken into an undertaker’s.  Anyway, locks are Heyes’ department.”

She grinned at him as she swung a leg over the sill.  “Good job I’m here then.  Come on.  You can keep watch.”

“Abi, I came to talk to you...”

But she was already gone.

oooOOOooo

The Kid glanced around as Abigail pulled something from her hair and started prodding and probing around in the lock.  It wasn’t easy.  The back door to the undertakers was in deep, dark shadow so it was difficult to see what she was doing.  As she had guessed, it was a cheap, cursory security measure as most people did their level best to keep out of a funeral parlor, not break in.

“A hair pin?” the Kid muttered under his breath.   “Are you kiddin’.  You read too many dime novels.  It ain’t that easy.”

The whites of her eyes caught the poor light as she glanced up at him, still working on the door.  “I’ll get us in.”

She was not about to disclose to him that she always kept a small lock pick in her hair as the truce was only temporary and this information may jeopardize any future attempts to bring them in.  It had been missed at the cabin as Pearl had tended to her, mistaken for a hairpin in her innocence of the tools of housebreaking; well, as much as a madam in a brothel could ever be called innocent. 

The knob turned with a satisfying squeak as the Kid muttered in admiration under his breath.  “You’re wasted in the law, Abi.”

“Come on, and be quiet.”

“Why?  We ain’t gonna wake anyone up.”

She snickered through the gloom as she sought out a candle.  “Let’s hope not, eh?”

The Kid glanced around the room with a shudder.  He had seen death in so many guises but there was something about the way the bodies were laid out that made them appear as though they were sleeping when coupled with the blank, grey undertones which got under his skin.  His eyes fixed on an open coffin.  It was a little girl, aged about ten.  Her eyes were closed but her skin looked like smooth, white porcelain whilst the ordered, blond ringlets sat at either side of her face, carefully arranged under the pink ribbons in her hair.  The velvet dress had obviously been her Sunday best.  She looked perfect, as beautiful as the angel she had become.  There was not a mark on her, no sign of why she had died.  Her death appeared to be arbitrary and pointless, but the man understood how empty the life of her parents would be from this point and a sharp pain speared his already scarred heart. 

He felt Abigail’s warm hand slide into his, shaking him from his creeping nightmare as she spoke reassuringly and steadily beside him.  “Come on, Jed.  Don’t think too hard about this, that’s the trick here.”

“Hmmm.”

“I know.  It takes us all like this to start with, but the dead tell tales.  You just have to know how to read them.  That’s how we help them.”  He felt her give him a reassuring squeeze.  “It’s also how we help those they leave behind.”

He shook himself out of his trance and followed her into the back room.  “Whooa.”  He pulled back his head as the stench hit him like a wall.  His eyes started to water and, strangely, so did his mouth as his stomach started to turn over.

“Shhhh.”

“The smell.  How can you stand the smell?”

“You just get on with it.  It’ll pass.  I’m guessing they’re in here.”

She strode over and pulled back the sheet on the first body as a swollen, purple, red and green congested mass of rotting flesh came into view.  “Who was the tallest?  We’ll never identify them from facial features.”  She pulled back the other sheet and examining them, comparing the rotting cadavers.

The Kid winced.  “Bessie.” 

He glanced at the traces of the dyed red hair on the nearest body before he continued, staying as near the door as possible.

“Dora was blonde.”

Abigail nodded as she held the candle close, running her eyes over the bodies, examining the limbs, the engorged faces and the obvious bullet hole in the head of the larger woman.  It seemed to take forever before she was satisfied enough to drag the sheet back over to the cover the bodies.  “I’ve seen enough.”

“I saw enough half an hour ago.”

“Do you have a knife or something sharp I can use?”

Horror flashed over his face.  “You ain’t cuttin’ them open?”

She shook her head.  “No.  I think I can get some evidence.   I need some paper or something too.”  She glanced over at the desk just outside the door.  “There’s some out there.  Can you get me some?”  

She took the lock pick and scrapped under the nails, depositing the residue on the sheet of paper.  “They both fought hard.  I’d need a microscope to be sure but this looks like human skin,” she glanced up at the Kid.  “They fought for their lives, both of them.”

“They were scared?” the Kid’s voice chilled in anger.

“I’m afraid so.”

“So how does this help us?  This is even worse.”

“It means the murderer, or murderers, will be scarred for a little while where they were scratched,” Abigail replied.  “It helps, as long as we can get them quickly enough.  It’s evidence.”

She strode over to the sink and washed her hands thoroughly with coal tar soap, finally pouring pure alcohol over her fingers and rubbing it in.  She blew out the candle with a huff, snuffing out any more conversation and made her way to the back door.   

They closed the door behind them and crept into the alley where she paused.  “Can I come back to the cabin tonight? Right now?”

The Kid looked at her with suspicion swirling behind his eyes as his hand crept down to his gun.  “Why?”

She smiled softly at him, recognizing the gesture.  “Relax.  It’s not a trap.  I think I’ve found out everything I can at Pearl’s.  I need to take another tack and find out about the “respectable” people in this town.  I can’t do that in a brothel.”

He shrugged.  “Sure, but why right away?  What did you find out in there that meant you have to leave immediately?”

“The smell.  I can take the smell in there, but I can’t take another morning of emptying all the chamber pots at Pearl’s.  She can do that herself.”

“Well, Heyes wanted to know what you’d got.  I guess you can tell him yourself.”

oooOOOooo

Heyes’ eyebrows flicked up in surprise as they walked into the cabin.  “Abi?  What’s wrong?  Why are you back here?”

“I don’t want to stay at Pearl’s anymore.  I need to move on.”

The Kid closed the cabin door.  “She examined the bodies, Heyes; handled them and everything.  It don’t seem right to me.”

“Move on?  What do you mean move on?  You lost interest?  If you have, the truce is off.”

She gave a shrug of irritation as she hooked him with an angry glare.  “Do your worst.  Whilst you’re huffing and puffing I have some work to do.  Do you have any paper and ink?”

He narrowed his eyes as she sat down at the table.  “Sure, yes.  You looked at the bodies?  Why?”

“Bessie was shot in the head but Dora was strangled.  Double murders don’t usually use different methods unless there’s more than one killer.”  She slumped slightly and gazed off aimlessly.  “Poor Dora.  I think Bessie was killed quite quickly but Dora would have suffered.”

The men exchanged a glance.  “How could you tell Dora was strangled?”

“The ligature was still around her neck.  It was being covered by rotting flesh and adipocere.  It looked like a thin one, triple woven.  A really common type so that’s no help. “

Heyes frowned.  “Adi...what?”

“Adipocere.   The body can react with water to form a thick soapy substance, but that’s not important.  I think we could be looking for more than one killer, people acting together.  Bessie probably had to be killed quickly because I’ve heard she was really good at fighting.  I heard she once  laid out a miner with one punch.”   

“So?  More than one?”  The Kid thought back to the German boy with the twisted mouth, remembering the stocky, grizzled father who lurked in the background.

“Maybe.  You can’t assume anything.  Bessie could have been killed first to terrify and control Dora or simply to get her out of the way.  I’m keeping an open mind.  There might have been another reason to kill her by a different method.   To punish her perhaps?”

Heyes crossed his arms.  “If it’s too open you’ll never narrow anything down.”

“I know that.  That’s why I need the paper, to write it down and see what leaps out at me.  I also need to get a different perspective on them and find out more about the respectable people they had dealings with.”  She shrugged.  “I’ve never really understood why prostitutes are considered worse than the men who use them.  If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a hypocrite.”

oooOOOooo

Heyes stood over her and peered down at the scramble of notes.  “What the hell is that?”

She glanced up at him out of the corner of her eye with a smirk.  “It’s Gaelic, the Scottish language.  You didn’t think I was going to write in English did you?  I don’t want to let you get a grasp on how I work.  Not the way your mind works.  These notes are for me, you don’t need to see or understand them.”

He gave a grunt and strode over to the chair at the far side of the table and threw himself down.  “You really mean to bring us in, don’t you, Abi?”

She gave him a small, regretful shrug.  “You know that I do, Mr. Heyes.  It’s not personal.  It’s my job.” 

An intense look flickered over his face before his face dimpled into a cold smile.  “So, what have you found out?”

“Bessie was nearly fifty, or anything up to that, depending on her mood that day.  She was born in Louisville and her folks were dirt poor.  She was married years ago and he left her with two kids.  No one seems to know anything about them.  Her clientele has been dropping off lately and she was trying to get out, find a man.  She was having no luck; well, except for bad luck.  She had lots of that.”  She sighed and glanced down at her paper.  “Dora.  She was pretty; very pretty.  She was also fun, clever and desperate.  She came from Boston.  No one knows much about her folks, but it looks like she ran away from home to get married to Phil Benson.  They had a boy together, David, who’s now eight.  Her husband died in a mining accident three years ago and was driven to work at Pearl’s out of desperation.  She was doing better than Bessie and had a few regulars.”  She darted a meaningful look at the Kid before she continued.  “Her favorite seems to be a blind musician called Ben Middleton.   I haven’t found out much about him yet but as there was a shooting involved I think we can eliminate him acting on his own, but not if he was with someone else.”

“So?” Heyes sat back on his chair.  “You know all about the girls.  We already knew that stuff.”

“They set out about ten, had a reading with Amy Schmidt and the Schmidts claim they left about two to return.   They were never seen again until their bodies were found.  No sign of the wagon or horses though.”

Heyes put his hands behind his head and gave her a rueful look.  “That’s it?   That’s all you’ve got.  I’m not impressed.”

“This isn’t about impressing you, Mr. Heyes.  It’s not all about you.”  Abigail retorted, glancing over at him.  “Did you know that two different sets of people have been trying to adopt Dora’s son since he went into the Juvenile Asylum?  The man who works there says he’s never seen interest like it in just over a week.  It’s unprecedented.  I spoke to him tonight before the Kid came.  The woman kicked up quite the fuss about the boy already being allocated to someone else.  He gets collected next week.”

“Really?”  Both men sat up with a start.

“Yes.  That’s why I’m here.  I have a job for you if you’re up for it.  Bring him here, by force if necessary.  Someone wants that little boy very badly and I’m not sure they have his best interests at heart.”

The Kid shook his head.  “I can’t scare the kid, Abi.  He’s only eight.”

“You’ll find a way, Jed.  I know you will.”  She gave him a reassuring smile.  “You used to frighten me but there’s a side to you that’s really very gentle.”

Heyes stood up and fixed her with a wide grin.  “Miss MacKinnon, you wouldn’t be asking us to break the law would you?”

She tilted her chin in challenge.   “Nope.  I’m asking you to protect a child.  If you won’t do it, I will.”

He folded his arms.  “And what if he doesn’t want to come?”

“Persuade him, Mr. Heyes.”  She stared at him with frosty eyes.  “You’ll find a way through his resistance.  That’s your specialty as I remember.”  

“Give me one reason why we don’t get you driven out of town as an informant at a brothel,” Heyes demanded.  “All you’ve got is gossip and now you want us to break the law for you.”

“Gossip?  Or are they details you could never get?”  She stood.  “You think your way is the only one, Mr. Heyes?  Why do you think a man a smart as Alan Pinkerton would waste money on us if we didn’t get results?”

Heyes arched a brow.  “Men have all kinds of reasons for wanting women around, Abi.  It usually has nothing to do with their minds.”

“What exactly do you mean by that?” she demanded.       

“Oh, come on.  You can’t be that naive.  Men use women all the time.”  He paused.  “I’m not one of them.”
   
She bridled at him.  “Mr. Heyes, when you see me fall for that sort of treatment you will also see hell freeze over.  I refuse to pander to vanity or arrogance.  Are you reneging on your promise to help solve this?  Fine.  I’ll leave here and do this alone, but I’ll not forget how little your word is worth.”

The Kid strode over to the door.  “You’re not goin’ anywhere, Abi.  It’s past midnight and we’re miles from town.  It ain’t safe.   You take the bed and we’ll sleep on the floor.”  He eyed them both wearily.  “And no arguments.  Dealin’ with you two is like tryin’ to tie a knot in fog.  We all want the same thing, so why the Sam Hill are you feudin’ like hillbillies on moonshine?”  He pointed over at the bedstead.  “Bed.  Now!  We’ll discuss this in the mornin’.”   

“But...”

“No buts, Abi.  It’s time to turn in.  There’s no question about us helpin’, but we ain’t just at your beck and call.  We decide as a team or not at all.  I get that you ain’t used to that anymore than he is, but it’s about time you learned that teamwork ain’t just about bein’ smart and in charge all the time.  Got that?”

She bit into her lip.  “You’re right.  I’m not communicating with you as well as I should.”  She glanced over at Heyes.  “In the morning then.   I fully accept there are things you’re better at than me.  All I ask is that you give me the same credit.”

The Kid gave a gasp of exasperation.  “He ain’t saying you’re stupid, woman.  He’s scared for you and too dumb to tell you that outright.”

“Oh!” Abigail’s eyes widened, glancing at the outlaw leader who glared at his cousin.  “Well, there’s no need to be.”

The gunman rolled out his bedroll.  “It’s late.  You two can talk, or not, in the mornin’.  If you have any consideration at all you’ll do it when I’m not here.”

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


Last edited by Silverkelpie on Sat Dec 31, 2016 6:51 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Location : Over the rainbow

PostSubject: Re: Friends And Foes - Part 3   Sat Dec 31, 2016 1:01 pm

oooOOOooo

Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry watched the man and woman standing at the gate of the school yard.  They wore their business suits, crisply pressed and brushed down so they looked a million miles away from the members of the outlaw fraternity. 

“It’s a good job you really put your foot down with Abi this mornin’.”  The Kid tried to look casual as he watched the woman with the wide-brimmed straw bonnet nod and abruptly end her conversation.  “Otherwise she’d be the one followin’ these folks all the way from the orphanage to the school house in the freezin’ cold.”

“It made sense for us to do it,” Heyes scowled.  “She needs to know about Dora’s family from the townsfolk.  Gossip is something women do better than us.”

The Kid chuckled.  “Huh?  Have you ever sat in the bunkhouse when The Hole is snowed in?  It’s like a quiltin’ bee gone bad.  Really bad.”        

The woman walked through the gate, heading straight for the building and the teacher standing in the doorway, pausing only to slow down and stare at the blond boy practicing his pitching with his classmates.

“You go.  I’ll take him.”  The Kid muttered to Heyes, his blue eyes glinting coldly at the thin man loitering stiffly under the trees.

As he approached, Heyes could hear the woman remonstrating with the pretty schoolteacher.  “He has to come now.  The train leaves in half an hour.”

“The train, ma’am?  What train would that be?”

Both women turned to look at the handsome man with the smiling brown eyes who blocked the path.  The older woman answered, her sharp nose as good an indicator of her nature as her piercing eyes.  “I can’t see what business that is of yours, sir,” she turned away to address the teacher again but Heyes stepped forward.

“Ma’am.  I work for the Juvenile Asylum as an investigator.  I would like to know what your interest is in that boy.”

The woman took a heavy gulp and took in the authoritative stance and the stony face which brooked no argument.  “I...”

The teacher stepped into the void as the woman verbally floundered in front of them.  “She says she’s David’s aunt.”

His dark eyebrows flicked up in query.  “Really?  I happen to know that he had no family declared by his mother before she died, ma’am.  I think you best come with me so we can look into this more deeply.  We can’t allow children to go off with just anyone, can we?” 

“Since when?” the woman snorted.

“Handing them over to reputable local businessmen is one thing,” Heyes replied.  “Letting them go off with just anyone is another thing entirely.  The Gerry Society pay people like me to look after their welfare.”

“The Gerry Society?”

“You might know it better as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, ma’am.”  He threw an appealing look at the teacher.  “Can you make sure that the child stays here until we look into this?”

“Of course.”  The young teacher cast anxious eyes across the school yard.  “David Benson.  Come here immediately.”

The small blond boy dropped his ball, enormous cornflower blue eyes widening to enormous globes of hurt.  “Awww, Miss.  Do I have to?  I ain’t done nothin’ wrong.”

“Yes!”  She had barked with a harder edge than she intended as her fear for a child in her care hit her.  She bit the words back, shaking her head slightly with regret before she spoke softly with a welcoming smile which was clearly just pasted on to combat her anxiety.  “Come here, David.  I need a good boy to help me sort the chalks.”  Her eyes brightened.  “I have pie.  We could have some while you help me?”

“Apple?”

“Yes.  You can have a big piece,” she cast her gaze to an older boy in the yard.  “John Peterson!  I want you to make sure that no children leave this yard while I go inside.  Nobody should leave with anyone other than me or this gentleman.  It’s important.  Any adults demanding that a child leave should be challenged by all you big boys and someone must come and get me.  Am I clear?”

“Challenged?  Even with catapults?” John asked, hopefully.

“You cannot do anything without warnings, John.  But no children can leave.  None.”    

The boy’s face brightened and he waved over his partners in crime.  He had never had such power and he clearly intended to execute it robustly.  “Yes, Miss.  Nobody leaves.”

Heyes held the woman’s arm in an iron grip.  “Come with me, ma’am.  I have some questions I want to ask you.”

She began to pull back, imploring for help from the man who stood stock still beside the Kid. “Robert.  Robert!”

He didn’t answered, the unseen gun in his ribs a good clue to what would happen if he did.

“Why are you just standing there like that? Help me!”

Heyes started to drag her, she planted her feet firmly apart and tried to stand her ground but it was like trying to fight the wind, and before she knew it she was back outside the gate, face to face with the Kid and his new acquaintance.

“Ma’am.”  The Kid gave her a chilling smile and moved his jacket slightly to show the pistol he was holding on the stony faced man who stood silently beside him.  “It seems your friend is too afraid to talk.  Why don’t you try?”

She stood rooted to the ground, her eyes darting from her colleague to Heyes as she seemed to rally her courage.  “What!  Are you going to shoot me right here, outside a school?  Who are you?  You don’t work for a charity.”

“It doesn’t matter who we work for.  What do you want with that boy?” Heyes demanded.

“I’m his aunt.”

“The boy has no family,” Heyes reiterated.

“He does.  I’m his father’s sister.  I’m not going to let that boy end up in an orphanage just because his parents were too pig-headed to ask for help.”

Heyes and the Kid shared a look of uncertainty.  This woman was determined and standing up to them fairly fearlessly. 

“What’s your name?” asked Heyes.

“My name is Helena Hislop.  This is my husband Robert.  Philip Benson was my brother.  We’ve been looking on Dora from afar for many years, since Philip died.  She would take nothing from us.  She hated us and has done since my father disinherited Philip for marrying a scullery maid; for running off with her.”

Heyes let out a long breath.  “You can’t just take him, ma’am.”

“Why not?  We tried to adopt but they want to go through official channels and he’s in that place all the while.  Have you seen it?  Do you know what the inside of an orphanage is like?  It’s terrible.”

“And their response?”

“That he’s already been claimed by someone else and is going to him next week.  They offered me the pick of the rest, but that’s not the same as blood, is it?”

Heyes threw her a sympathetic smile.  “Ma’am, we can’t let you take him.  I’ll personally make sure that he’s well cared for.  Convince them that you want him and do it right.”

She glared at the Kid.  “Put that gun away.”

“Yes, ma’am, but I’d take my colleague’s advice if I were you.  This ain’t the way.  Do it properly.  Go to court.”

She sniffed and took out a fluttering lace edged handkerchief and dabbed at her red rimmed eyes.  “I loved my brother so much.  I miss him every day.  I would love to have given Dora and David a home but she was stubborn.  All I want now is to look after the boy.  Is that so terrible?”

Heyes released her arm.  “Go to court to force it through quickly if you want him, but we can’t let you steal a child.”

“Thank you,” she sniffed.  Mr...?”

“Smith,” the Kid replied with a knowing twinkle at his cousin.  “Smith and Black.”

They watched the receding backs of the pair as Heyes turned to the Kid.  “You believe that?”

His eyes hardened.  “Not one word.  I knew Dora and she’d have said something if anyone had tried to give her and her boy a home.  Do you think pride would have stopped her when she was driven to sellin’ herself?”

“Then why’d you let them go?”  Heyes demanded.

“What were we supposed to do?  Shoot them down in the street?”

“Should we follow them?”  Heyes paused, deciding against it.  “Nah.  They’ve seen us both and they might get the law involved.  The boy needs to be safe, that’s the main thing.”  He glared after the couple.  “I’ll see them again without taking stupid risks.”

oooOOOooo

Abigail slipped quietly into the room.  Sash windows were stupidly easy to open and she would never have them in her home when she had one.  Her existence was even more nomadic than the Devil’s Hole Gang at the moment.  At least they had a consistent base. 

She moved like a cat, creeping on her toes, carrying a bull’s eye lantern with shutters so that she could focus the light where needed or shut it out entirely if required.  These were commonly called dark lights and were an essential tool for the average night-time thief, but they were just as useful to the law.

She stopped at the large mahogany desk and placed the dark light down carefully before she started rummaging through the desk, the top drawer catching against the brass lock.  She caught her breath.  If the information she wanted was anywhere it was likely to be there. 

She stood upright to remove her picklock from her hair and froze as a hand clamped over her mouth and a strong arm snaked around her body.

“Abi,” Heyes voice hissed in her ear.  “I’m real disappointed in you.  You’re supposed to be an example to us criminal types.”  He released her mouth but continued to hold her against him as he whispered; his rich, dark brown voice drifting through her senses as her stomach did a little flip.  “You’ve got criminal tendencies.  Someone should take you in hand.  I’d be real gentle this time.”

She stiffened and shrugged him off, swirling round to face the wide smile caught the low beams from the dark light.  “What are you doing here?”

“Looking for the paperwork for David.   What are you doing here?”

“The same.”

He shook his head.  “Why didn’t you tell me? We could have come together, made an evening of it.  I’d have brought some flowers and maybe some wine...”

“Can we get on with the job in hand?”  Her brows knitted together.  “Do you think it’s in the safe?”

“Could be?  I haven’t had time to look.”

She nodded.  “You do the safe and I’ll do the drawers.”

The lights in his eyes switched from devilment to intrigue.  “Three of them are locked.”

She crooked an eyebrow at him.  “I’ll manage.”

A huge grin spread over his face.  “Oh, Abi.  I knew you were something special when I met you.  How about you do the safe and I’ll do the drawers?”

Uncertainty flashed over her face.  “I’ll do the drawers.”

He nodded a secret smile playing around his lips.  Another limit had been established, to be stored away in Heyes’ encyclopedic mind.  This could be useful in the future.

He turned as she pulled open the top drawer and dragged out a ledger.  “That was quick.”

“Was it?”  She replied innocently.  She flicked through the thick vellum pages.  “This is it.”  She hissed.  “Mr. and Mrs. Mellor, Boston.”

“Mellor.  She told me the name was Hislop.”

“And Mr. Andrew Burton.  I can’t read the address.”

“No problem,” he dragged the page from the book and slipped it into his shirt.  “We got all the time in the world now.”

“You can’t do that.  It’s theft.”

“Yeah?  You stand here after breaking in and try to lecture me?” he grasped her hand and pulled her towards the window.  “Out you go.  We’ll discuss this back at the cabin.”

oooOOOooo

“Where is he?”  Abigail stared around the cabin.  “I asked you to bring the boy here.”

The Kid stared down at her.  “I might be helpin’ you, but I ain’t about to leap into action simply because you had issue an order, Abi.  We ain’t got time to babysit.  He’s bein’ well-taken care of.”

“Who by?”

“Friends.  A real nice family.  They got two girls who are spoilin’ him to death.”

“He’d better not be at The Devil’s Hole.”

“He’d be safer there than anywhere in this town,” Heyes dropped into a seat.  “But he’s not.”

“And no one can find him?” Abigail looked vaguely mollified. 

“Can you?”  Heyes demanded in an open challenge.  “Feel free to start right now.”

She smiled.  “Good.  I need to go into town tomorrow.  I have an appointment to meet some of the local women to find out more about the Middletons and Dora’s past.  I’m sure she’s the key to this.”

“You really think they’ll mix with a woman who used to work in a brothel?  It ain’t gonna work.”

She flicked up an eyebrow.  “I’ll make it work, Jed.  I also need to send a telegram to get Dora and her husband’s past checked out in Boston for me.  Once I’ve done that there’s only one thing left to do.”

“What’s that?” the Kid put the coffee pot on the stove.

“I need to go alone for a psychic reading with the Schmidts.”

The men exchanged a glance.  “I can’t allow that, Abi,” Heyes replied.

Her dark eyes gave an adversarial flash.  “You can’t stop me, Mr. Heyes.”

“Can’t I?  I’m not the best man to challenge, Abi.  The Kid’ll testify to that.”

Her stomach gave a little flutter as she realized that he was entirely serious.  “I need to experience what they did that day.  It’s the only way I can find out what the Schmidts had to do with it, if anything.”

“It’s too dangerous.   You going into town and asking questions is one thing, a stunt like this, off into the countryside on your own is another thing entirely.  Two women have already been killed doing exactly the same thing.”

Her generous lips pulled into caustic smile.  “I didn’t know you cared.”   She stood up and strode over to face him.  “It’s my job.  I’ve chosen to do it.”

“Yeah?  And do you think the murderers are gonna look after you like we did?”

She paused.  “That’s never happened before.”

“And if we hadn’t come along nothing would have ever happened again; except, maybe, your funeral.”  He leaned back on his chair and shook his head.  “Nope.  I won’t allow it.”

“So?  Have you never had a close shave?   This is a risky business.  When you’re no longer prepared to accept that it’s time to get out.”

His only answer was an impassive, hard stare.  

“Look.  You looked after me.  I know you did and I’m very grateful.  I’m doing this for you, as well as Bessie and Dora.  I need to thank you, but this isn’t your decision.  If I don’t go alone I won’t get the real story.”

“Don’t try to tell me what I can and can’t decide.”  His eyes glittered dangerously.  “I can promise you that you won’t win that way.”  He folded his arms and held her gaze.  “You can go to the Schmidts” place, but we’re comin’ with you.  You’re not doing this without back up and I won’t hear another word about it.”

“That’ll be pointless.  I can’t turn up with a pair of gunfighters.  I’ll learn nothing.”

“They won’t see us.  But we’re backing you up,” Heyes replied.

She turned to the Kid.  “My stars, how can you work with him?”  She huffed in exasperation. 

He narrowed his eyes with a gleam of hard flint.  “If he wasn’t goin’ to say it. I was.  I’m not about to let anyone take a risk like that either.  Not even him.  You’ve got a lot to learn about teamwork, Abi.”

She paused.  “You’re right, I suppose.  They usually send me in alone.  I’m not used to working with others, and when I do men often need convincing of my abilities.  It’s a battle I’ve fought for years, even before I became a Pinkerton.”  She looked from one to the other.  “I’ll trust you as long as no one sees I’ve brought back up.”

“They won’t.  We know what we’re doin’.”  The Kid looked down at her as though she were a particularly simply child.  “Maybe it’d help for you to know that there are lots of women on this side of the law, and none of us doubt they’re good at what they do.  We don’t work to the same rules.  Results count, nothin’ else.”

“Thanks.”  She rubbed her face in defeat.  “I’m turning in.  I have to get up early to get to town in the morning, if that’s alright with you two?”

“As long as you really are goin’ to town and not headin’ out to the Schmidts’ place, you can do what you want.”  The Kid’s brow furrowed.  “What’s the matter with you?  First you ride into the night after criminals on your own, and now you want to follow in the footsteps of two women who were murdered, and with even less back up than they had?  Are you mad?”

She stared back at him, mute and defiant, with eyes so dark he couldn’t even make out the pupils.  He frowned, sensing that he’d hit a nerve.  “Abi?  What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she pasted on a watery smile.  “I just don’t have any responsibilities; no family to worry about.  You’re right.  I need to be less impulsive.  Goodnight.” 

She stepped over to the brass bed and pulled over the blanket which had been rigged up to afford some measure of privacy. 

Heyes gestured with his head, inviting the Kid outside to the porch.  He waited until the door closed quietly behind him.  “What was all that about?”

“It’s like she doesn’t care about her own life.  It comes last to everythin’ else.   That’s a real deep hurt.  We know her pa was murdered, and now she says she ain’t got any family.”  The Kid leaned on the rail.  “Do you think somethin’ happened to her folks, somethin’ like ours?”

“That’s what I wondered, Kid.”  Heyes folded his arms and stared out into the night.  “And if we can believe her, she generally works alone.  That could be important to understanding how Pinkerton aims at bringing us in.”

“Yeah, there ain’t many women out there like that, completely on their own, that’s for sure.  They should be easy to spot; people with no connections.”  The blue eyes glittered through the night.  “Now I’ve just got to work out if it’s a strength or a weakness.”   

“It’s both, Kid.  It depends on the situation.  But now I know that, I can use it.”                     

oooOOOooo

She had left just before dawn and retrieved her trunk from the left luggage area of Bannen’s Railway station.  She needed privacy to change her appearance and she set off to the rail yard to find a quiet corner as the public rest rooms were little more than insanitary latrines. 

All of Abigail’s wigs were made of real human hair and were of the highest order.  They were virtually indistinguishable from a real coiffeured head and she held a good variety of them for use at the drop of a hat.  She had also trained with a theatrical make-up artist and had an infinite collection of prosthetics; noses, teeth, wrinkled neck skin which formed elderly dewlaps which when applied by her expert hand even her own mother wouldn’t recognize her.

When the train from Topeka pulled in at twelve minutes after eleven  no one paid any attention to the stout, middle aged woman dressed in a widow’s black dress carrying a carpet bag, following the porter who pushed ahead with her large trunk on a trolley.  Abigail knew how invisible unattractive middle-aged women were in society and she exploited this sad truth whenever it suited her purposes.  The women of Bannen would never associate her with the slim, curly haired maid who had worked at the brothel.

“Porter.”  Her tones rang out in a clear, perfect American accent.  All her Celtic vowels and rolled consonants were gone.  “Can you direct me to a respectable boarding house?”

oooOOOooo

“I’m hoping to try to find something out about the whereabouts of my son.  He fell out with his father many years ago and we became estranged.”  She took a sip of her tea from her flowered, china cup as she fixed the other woman with a pained expression.  “You know how men are, and we women can do little to move them when they make up their minds.  My David died six months ago and I decided that it was time to try to reach reconciliation.  I had heard that he and his wife were in this area.”

Mrs. Leyton gave her a sympathetic look.  “I do know.  We women just have to deal with it all.  What was is it?  Money?”

“Women.  He fell in love with one of the servants.  My David simply wouldn’t have it, so they ran away together.  David cut them off immediately.”

A pair of rheumy blue eyes opened in sympathy as the matron mentally noted that her new boarder had servants; plural.  How gracious?  How wealthy?  How pleased was she to have this interesting arrival in town in her establishment and to be in the vortex of the newly arising storm of gossip that was about to sweep through Bannen?  She leaned forward to get more details.  “What’s your son’s name?”

“Philip.  Philip Benson.  His wife was Dora; Dora Blythe as was.”

She watched as the landlady took a great gulp of air and put down her tea cup.  “I’m sorry, so sorry.”

“Why?

“I don’t know how to tell you this.  He did live here.”

“Has he left?  Do you know where?”

“Oh, Mrs. Benson.”

“What?”

“Your son is dead, and so is his wife.”

Abigail sat in total silence as she began to shake the cup in the saucer so violently that Mrs. Leyton gently removed them from her hands, concerned that she might chip her valued tea set.  “When?  How?   Was there some kind of dreadful accident?  Why did nobody tell us?”

“Your son was killed about three years ago.  There was an explosion in the mine he worked in.  Another man was left blinded in the accident but he survived.”

Abigail started to swoon and fan herself.  “That poor girl.  All on her own.”

“She had a son.  He was also called David.  He’s eight now.”

Mrs. Leyton watched as she dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief.  “He called him after his father.  Oh, where is he?  I must see him.”

There was a stiff, pregnant pause.  “Dora is also dead.  She became...” the woman groped for a sensitive way to tell this woman that her daughter-in-law had been driven into prostitution by poverty.  “A working woman, a soiled dove, a fallen angel.  She recently went missing, and they found her body just the other day.”

Abigail blew her nose loudly on her handkerchief, trying not to laugh at the woman’s purple prose.  When she had contained herself she spoke in a voice cracking with amusement which was easily mistaken for emotion.  “The child?  What happened to the child?”

“He went missing after being put into care.”

“The poor baby.  What are the authorities doing?”

“I’m not sure?”

A hard edge crept into her voice.  “Well.  That’s about to change.  What kind of town is this where people are killed and children disappear and no one cares?”

“It’s a very nice town, Mrs. Benson.  I’m sure the sheriff will help you.”

“I’m sure of it too.  He’ll deal with this or I’ll have his badge.”

oooOOOooo 

Kid Curry’s eyes narrowed as he approached the stables in the optimistically named town of Paris.  It shared little with its namesake.  It was not a bustling cultural centre, a Mecca for the gourmands and certainly did not support the arts.  It did have a whole street dedicated to whores, brothels and the more prosaic pursuits and whilst it looked nothing like the Rue St Denis it certainly had women performing the Can Can, although they were more likely to dance to a jangling piano or a banjo than the Gallop from Jacques Offenbachs Orpheus in the Under World.

Business was done here, in this bright place full of shady people, and if anyone wanted to sell stolen horses after a murder this was the most likely place within fifty miles of Bannen.  Not many would dare to ask questions in a place like this but Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were not easily intimidated.

A large bear of a man was busy sorting tack when the two young men walked in.  He quickly assessed them as being in their late twenties, with eyes older than their faces.  Their tied down guns and their deliberate measured body language told him all he thought he needed to know about whether he was dealing with a couple of green horns he could take for a ride.  “Howdy boys?  How can I help?”

Heyes fixed him with a smile.  “I’m lookin’ for some information.  I’m ready to pay.”

“Don’t do information, just horseflesh.”

“This relates to horseflesh.  One paint, one sorrel about two weeks ago.  I want to know who sold them.  I’m not interested in getting them back or in any charges relating to stolen horses.  I just want a description or a name.”

The man flicked up a pair of dark, bushy eyebrows and looked from one to the other.  “I can’t help.”

The Kid shot a glance to Heyes before he spoke.  “We were told that you could.”

The man turned his back and continued to work.  “Who told you a dumb thing like that?”

“Jess Schofield, he’s a business associate of ours.  Maybe you want to tell him that he’s dumb?” asked the Kid.

The man turned at the name.  “You the law?”

The Kid let out a small laugh.  “Do we look like the law?”

“You don’t, but your friend here...”

Heyes cut in.  “We’re not the law.”

“Look, we need to find out who sold those horses.  We ain’t interested in what you might have done with them.  We just want to know who sold them.”

The man wiped his fleshy face and gave them a considered look.  “You said you were ready to pay?”

“Sure.  We got fifty dollars.”

The man pocketed the money and led them to a stall at the back of the stables.  A black and white horse stood there, idly munching on hay as it stared aimlessly ahead.  “The other one’s been sold.”

“Who brought them in?” Heyes demanded.

The man smirked malignantly.  “I got no idea.  I weren’t here.”

The shadows in the dimple echoed the shadows in the dark eyes.   “You might want to think harder about that answer.  You took our money.  We want an answer.”

“Too late, boys.  Maybe you can look on this as a lesson?  Find out what you’re payin’ for first.”

“Don’t want teachin’.  We want information.”  The Kid’s calm tone also held a warning.  His posture had changed.  He stood more erect and one arm grabbed the other across his body, a precursor to him action to anyone who knew him, but the man carried on blithely unaware.  “Look, boys.  I suggest you move on.  You got all you’re gonna get here.”

The Kid fixed him with ice-blue eyes.  “We ain’t goin’ anywhere until you give us the answer we’re lookin for, mister.”

The man’s hand crept down to his gun as he glared at the young men; a self-satisfied smirk on his face.  A muscle flexed on the gunman’s jaw and the eyes narrowed to stilettos of ice.  “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.  I don’t want to draw but if you go for that gun I’ll have to go for mine.”

“I don’t need advice from the likes of you, sonny.  Now get outta my place.”

“My partner told you that we’re not going anywhere until you we get the truth.  Now just tell us what we want to know and we’ll be on our way.”

The stableman’s face reddened.  “I don’t like bein’ called a liar, boy.  Get outta here now, while the goin’s good.”

“No, sir.  The Kid replied with the simple crispness of new snow.

The man’s plump stubby fingers started to move towards his gun as Heyes groaned silently to himself.  Would people never learn?  Why did they always want to do things the hard way?

“What the...?” 

The gun seemed to leap into the Kid’s hand before the man’s clumsy fist had moved more than a few inches.

Heyes’ smile was sweet reason itself.  “Now, why don’t you tell my friend what he wants to know?”

“I ain’t never seen anythin’ like it.”  The man’s mouth gaped open, displaying a fine set of discolored teeth. 

“You ain’t seen anythin' yet,” growled the Kid.  “Tell us what we want to know.”

“There’s only one man who can draw like that.  You must be him...”

Blue ice skewered the stableman.  “I came here askin’ questions, not answerin’ them.  The name.”

“I ain’t got a name, just a description.”

“That’s a start,” Heyes replied.

“Young lad.  Blond, blue eyes.”

“German?  Simple boy?  What age?” demanded Heyes.

“Nope, sharp as a tack and American.  About nineteen.”  The man started to relax.  “I didn’t realize that it was you two.  I would’ve told you straight off if you’d told me who you were.”

 The Kid holstered his gun but kept the man pinned with his flint-like gaze.  “We still ain’t told you who are.”

“I been around enough.  I can guess.  I ain’t got a name but the boy sells horses here regular.  I’ll get you a name, but I ain’t got it now.  I’m always happy to do business with the likes of you.”

“We’d appreciate that.  When do you expect him back?” asked Heyes.

“Dunno,  whenever he’s got somethin’ to sell.”

“We’ll be back.”

They turned to walk out as a call made them turn.  “There was somethin’ else.  The boy had a scar on his mouth, a kind of a cleft lip.”

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Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb
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Stepha3nie

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PostSubject: Re: Friends And Foes - Part 3   Mon Jan 02, 2017 12:45 pm

I'm completely hooked, SK. What have you thought up? First it was just a rival gang that needed sorting out, then there was the question what to do about Abi, but now it has become a true mystery. What is going on? Why is the boy so important? Why were the girls killed? By now I doubt it was as simple as the other outlaws trying to take revenge on Heyes.

I really enjoy the development of the relationship between Abi and the boys, Heyes in particular. Abi is a woman of many talents - lots of them useful on the other side of the law as well. I particularly enjoyed the break-in scene with her and Heyes. It fit in so well with the challenge story about the gift from TOF - Ghosts.

It's interesting how law enforcer and outlaws come together to solve a crime. We have seen (and know from the series) that the boys have scruples and there are certain things they simply are not willing to do. It remains to be seen if Abi is the same. How far will she go in pursuit of her goal to bring the boys in?

The last sentence has me wondering about the German boy. Was it really the original Schmidt family the boys met?

Please post the next bit soon.

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For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
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Silverkelpie

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PostSubject: Re: Friends And Foes - Part 3   Mon Jan 02, 2017 4:15 pm

Thanks for your kind comments, Stepha3nie.  This was the first mystery, and first story, I did.  It remains unaltered, other than editing, so people who've read them before may remember whodunit.  Prose and punctuation are all that's really changed as I've learned more.  It is a lot better edited.

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