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 Old Age and Treachery

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Silverkelpie

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Posts : 1409
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 57
Location : Over the rainbow

PostSubject: Old Age and Treachery   Thu Aug 29, 2013 6:52 am

Old Age and Treachery


“Old Matthews is dead.” Charles Clutterbuck put down his newspaper and stared at his wife over the table. “There’s an announcement in the paper.”

“Eric?” she asked.

“Yes. His funeral’s next week, Beryl.”

“How sad,” the man’s wife replied. “You never really got on with him, did you?”

The sunlight glistened off thick, white hair as the old man shook his head. “He wanted you Beryl. He never got over you.”

Heyes smiled sympathetically at the old man. “We’re happy to take you both in the wagon. I know that neither of you ride anymore.”

“If I could mount a horse I wouldn’t need to have you two here to fix the place up. I could have kept on top of the jobs myself. The most I can manage is my morning stroll into town.”

His wife clasped his wrinkled hand, her hair as grey as the ashes of a neglected fire. “Yes. We have a routine. First, we go past the school, where we first met. Then we go to the store and have a chat with Betty Hall. She gets lonely since her husband died,” she gave them a conspiratorial wink. “Although, one look at her and you can guess what from.”

Kid shot a look of confusion at Heyes, who simply grinned. They were still getting used to their employers’ peculiarities. Mr. Clutterbuck was given to periods of senile confusion, while his wife was eccentrically simple. But nature has a way of balancing things out. Her portrait on the wall showed that she had been a stunning redhead, with burning, green eyes and perfect bone structure. He clearly hadn’t married her for her conversational skills.

She lifted away the cups. “Charles tries to keep his mind active. He reads the newspaper, books, just about anything. He’s reading Shakespeare at the moment.”

“Shakespeare? Really?” Heyes gave them a look of real interest. “I like to read. Which one?”

“William,” she replied. “Are you finished with that plate?”


**********


“We’ll be social piranhas.”

Kid stared blankly at his etymologically challenged employer. “Huh?”

“Nobody will believe all that money just fell out of the hay loft,” the old lady shook her grey head, causing her round spectacles to drop to the end of her pert, little nose. “It nearly hit my Charles on the head. He might have got percussion.”

Heyes looked down at the leather bag stuffed with banknotes. “It’s obviously stolen. Someone stashed it here.”

“But who?” fluttered Mrs. Clutterbuck. “They’ll think it was us! Charles and I branded as felons at our age. I’ll never survive in prison.”

The outlaws exchanged a meaningful look. “I doubt if you’ll be the prime suspects,” Heyes ran a hand distractedly through his hair. “We need to hand this in to the authorities. They’ll know it was hidden here. Nobody would suspect you for a second.”

“But we’ll be incinerated!”

Charles Clutterbuck grinned fondly at his batty, little wife. “Beryl, the word is incarcerated and nobody is going to believe that you and I stole that money. We can hardly make it into town, let alone hold anybody up.” He frowned, the furrowed brow echoing his crinkly, white hair. “I’ve got no idea where it might have come from. There must be at least a thousand dollars here.”

“Has there been a robbery around here?” asked Kid.

“Not for at least fifteen years,” replied Charles. “Around the time I retired. It can’t be from that. There isn’t enough.”

“It could be someone’s share of the loot,” Heyes glanced at the hayloft. “When were you last up there?”

“Oooh, ten years or so. I haven’t been fit enough for a long time.”

The partners exchanged a glance, both understanding the same unspoken thought. These old folks lived hand to mouth. There was no way that they would live in such straightened circumstances if they knew they had access to this kind of money. They couldn’t even afford to pay them, but bed and board on a quiet, little homestead was a good way for two ex-outlaws to lie low for the winter while they did odd jobs, but two young men who suddenly appeared in the area would be prime suspects.  Neither man needed anyone getting curious about their pasts.

“So it could have been up there for a very long time,” murmured Heyes, reflectively.

“Ages,” agreed Mrs. Clutterbuck.

“Or, it could have been put there a few hours ago. We have no way of knowing,” Heyes gave the elderly couple a smile of reassurance. “In which case, we’d better get it to the local sheriff and make sure that everyone knows that we did, in case they come back for it.”

“They’ll come back?” gasped the elderly woman. “But we’ll be sitting ducks.”

Kid gave the woman a determined look. “Not with us around, you won’t.”

“I’m guessing it’s been there for a while, judging by the dust.” Heyes snapped the bag shut. “We’re always here when you two go for your walk every morning. It’s the only time you go out. Nobody’s had the opportunity recently.”

Mrs. Clutterbuck nodded. “Yes, the doctor says that Charles needs routine. We always go out at the same time and go to the same places. We watch the children playing in the schoolyard, then the store to see Mrs. Hall.”

“Well, we’d best get this to the sheriff,” Heyes paused, thoughts clearly running behind his dark eyes. “On second thoughts, why don’t I go to the sheriff and bring him here. That way he’s responsible for it. We don’t want it to be stolen on the way there. Thaddeus, can you make sure that the money’s kept safe?”

Kid gave a curt little nod to accompany the secret smile.

“Good idea,” announced Mrs. Clutterbuck. “But I don’t like Tommy Flanagan. He might be sheriff, but he has a face like a big toe, just like his father.”

“Huh?” snorted Kid.

Heyes folded his arms and chuckled. “You’ve been saying that a lot recently, Thaddeus.”

Kid scratched his head. “Yup, and I guess I’ll be sayin’ it a lot more before we leave here.”


**********


Heyes’ opened the door to the sheriff’s office, trying to ignore the fluttering trepidation in his belly while Mrs. Clutterbuck’s words rang in his ears, ‘He has a face like a big toe.’ Some descriptions could force a man to gawp like a form of hypnosis. It reminded him of that time the Kid warned him not to stare at a man’s bad wig. He instantly found he could look at nothing else.

He pulled himself together and dressed his face with his most innocent smile. “Sheriff Flanagan?”

“Can I help you?”

Heyes gave him a dimpled smile. “My name is Joshua Smith and I’m doing some work for the Clutterbucks. They have a place on the edge of town?”

The man nodded. “I know the Clutterbucks.”

“Well, he found a bag this morning. It’s full of money.”

The lawman gave an echoing laugh. “Really?”

“Yes,” Heyes replied. “It fell out of the hayloft. We thought we’d better report it, but I didn’t want to be responsible for carrying that much money around.”

“Maybe a kangaroo kicked it out?”

Heyes shook his head in confusion. “Sorry?”

The sheriff gave Heyes and apologetic grin. “I take it you haven’t known Charles Clutterbuck very long.”

“No. Only about two weeks. We’re fixing up his place for him.”

“Well, you need to know a few things about old man Clutterbuck. He’s kinda loco,” he pointed at his temple and rolled his eyes. “Mixed up, like. It was only a month ago he was in here reportin’ a kangaroo runnin’ wild on his place. I had to look it up in the library. They’re big animals from Australia that jump about on two legs and have pouches. Do you know how far away Australia is?”

Heyes arched his eyebrows. “I’m guessing a few thousand miles.”

“Nearly eight thousand miles. What do you think one of them would be doin’; leapin’ about the Clutterbuck place?”

“Did anyone else see it?”

The sheriff stood and approached the stove before raising his eyebrows questioningly as he held up a coffee pot. “What do you think? Coffee?”

Heyes nodded. “Please. Has he done anything else strange?”

“Too many to mention. Last summer he walked down the street wearin’ nothing but a smile. He thought he was a little kid again and was headin’ for the swimmin’ hole. It sure took the shine off old Matthews’ birthday party. Walked straight through it.”

“But I saw the money, Sheriff. My friend’s looking after it.”

“He has a habit of hidin’ things about the place to keep them safe. He buried all his wife’s jewellery once and Beryl had half the town diggin’ up their place, lookin’ for it. About two years ago he took out every penny he had in the bank, sayin’ the staff would steal it. That’s probably the bag of money that you found.”

“But there’s about a thousand dollars in there!”

The sheriff shrugged. “He worked as a bank manager all his life. He used to be real smart. He could have easily that much money as his life’s savin’s,” he drained his coffee cup and put it down on the desk. “I’ll come over and look into it, but I don’t want to take the man’s own money from him. It wouldn’t be right.”

Heyes scratched his chin thoughtfully. “It’s not as simple as I first thought. Can you come by so that I know it’s all above board? Maybe I can persuade him to put it in the bank again?”

Tommy Flanagan proffered a handshake. “I’ll be glad to. I’m real glad to see Clutterbuck’s dealin’ with honest men. Do you know what a lot of people would do, meetin’ folks that vulnerable with a big bag of money? You’re a welcome addition to Greenville, Mr. Smith.” They shook hands and the sheriff ushered Heyes towards the door. “I’ll be there later. I need to go to the bank first and find out how much he drew out so we can compare the amounts.”


**********


Night was cloaking the little homestead in dusky, ashen tones, when the sheriff finally arrived and hammered at the door. The amber light from the windows seemed especially cheerful, viewed though the driving rain and the howling, February wind.

Mrs. Clutterbuck pulled the door open. “Sheriff Flanagan, welcome to our little commode.”

One of the sheriff’s little eyebrows curled upwards at the bizarre welcome. “I understand that you’ve found some money? I thought I’d drop by on my way home.”

“This is it sheriff,” Charles Clutterbuck pulled open the bag. “It has one thousand two hundred and twenty three dollars in it. I counted.”

The sheriff pulled out a slip of paper from his pocket. “The same amount as you drew out from the bank?”

“It’s not that money. I know it’s not!”

“Really! Tell me what happened today. Start right at the very beginning.”

Charles sat down, staring off into the middle distance. “Well, I got up. I had breakfast as normal. Then Beryl and I went to school...”

The lawman’s impatient voice cut him off. “I’ve heard enough! It’s your own money. Keep it, but if you’ve any sense you’ll put it back in the bank.”

“But..?”

“Mr. Clutterbuck, I’m a busy man. There hasn’t been a significant theft around here for years and it’s the same amount you took out from the bank. Keep it. I’ll file a report to say that you found your own money.”

“Are you sure?” demanded the old man.

“I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life!”

A grin spread over the old man’s face. “Well, if you’re sure – you two boys might have a lot more work to do. I can afford a lot more raw materials now.”

“Fine by us,” grinned Kid. “We’re lookin’ for honest work.”

“And we’re happy that the Clutterbucks have good folks about them,” smiled the sheriff, before he dropped his voice conspiratorially. “We ain’t had no ‘episodes’, as the doc calls them, since this.”


**********


“The Circus? You’re going to work with the Circus?” demanded Mr. Clutterbuck.

Heyes nodded. “Well, it’s May and the place is looking great. It’s about time we were moving on. They’re offering us jobs and we’re done here.”

“I’ll miss you. You’ve certainly made a difference around here.”

Heyes gave a wry smile. “Yup. Some might think a whole lot more than a thousand dollars has been spent.”

The old man’s blue eyes darted up to meet Heyes’ scrutiny. “You think?”

“I know so. We had to go into town to fetch the supplies and pay your debts, remember?”

“Well, I had a few savings of my own. I added to it.”

Heyes watched the man squirm uncomfortably under his gaze. “Hmm, enough to practically rebuild the place and pay off the mortgage? Your health seems to have improved too.”

A pair of shrewd blue eyes fixed on the ex-outlaw. “What’s your point, young man?”

Heyes casually played with the frayed end of a rope. “I got talking to some locals in town over a few poker games. You were the local bank manager and the man who died; Matthews, wasn’t it? Matthews, was the head of security.”

“So?”

“You two never got on and he put the word out that you robbed your own bank just before you retired. Folks thought it was jealousy, because of Beryl. They saw you were poor, and quickly got poorer.”

“I never stole anything. Until I found that bag of money I was poor as a church mouse. He had a grudge because of Beryl.”

“Yes, it would be hard to spend it, especially after Matthews repeatedly threatened to ruin you if he so much as saw you living well. The last time was publicly, in the street – right before you ruined his birthday party.” Heyes smiled gently, “and Beryl wouldn’t move. Your son’s grave is here.”

Clutterbuck rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “That’s quite the imagination, you got there. Maybe it’s best you move on?”

“I agree. Just about everyone else around here has forgotten old Matthews’ accusations. I expect it’s all coincidence. Especially since Matthews had a heart attack the time you took all your money out of the bank. He survived. If he hadn’t, you would have had a big bag of money to spend two years ago and nobody would have been able to say exactly how much you were spending. Not even the bank. Just like this time.”

“Why would I fake being weak in the head?”

“Oh, Sir. You’re not faking. You do have periods of forgetfulness, but you’re not as bad as people think. You found out quite quickly that you could do just about anything you wanted to by acting a bit strangely. It’s just that Matthews lived a lot longer than you thought he would and you had to wait before you could ‘find’ the bag and spend the money. It was a long plan, but it all took a lot longer than you anticipated. He had a bad heart, after all.”

“Young man, if you repeat any of that to anyone else, I’ll...”

Heyes arched his eyebrows. “You’ll what? Cause a fuss? Remind everyone of the theft of ten thousand dollars when you retired? Is that really a good idea? The statute of limitations ran out on that theft a long time ago. Nobody’s looking for whoever did it and you made sure that the sheriff would testify that the bag of money was yours. You’re in the clear. You even had the town thinking your mind had gone in case anyone found out what you were up to. They’d never lock you up.”

Clutterbuck sucked in a breath. “What do you want? Money?”

Heyes gave a little chuckle. “Of course not. I’ve haven’t even mentioned this to my partner. We’ll be going, but be a bit more careful about how you spend the money. If I’ve noticed, then you can be sure that someone else might. I’d hate to think how Mrs. Clutterbuck could manage without you. I just wanted to warn you. I like you.”

“Beryl always had expensive tastes, and I love her so much. I prayed for more money, but God doesn’t work that way, so I stole it and prayed for forgiveness. How’d you know?”

“I suspected something was wrong when you suddenly found money somewhere you hadn’t been able to get to for ten years. The sheriff made me wonder why you’d take all the money out of the bank, but when I spoke to the folks in the bar all the old rumours came together.”

“I’m glad it’s out. It’s a relief. I think that I faked the senility so long that it started to affect me. I’ve started seeing things”

Heyes chuckled. “A kangaroo?”

The white head nodded solemnly.

“I think I can help you with that. I spoke to the circus folks.”

“Circus folks?”

Heyes grinned. “Yeah. They’ve got a boxing kangaroo. They were touring on the other side of those hills when it escaped in January. Did you know that they can cover tremendous distances and can reach speeds of about fifteen miles an hour? It took them two days to get it back.”

“I knew I’d seen one!” declared Clutterbuck, triumphantly. “I was beginning to think I had gone soft in the head. It was right there in my barn.”

“You? Soft in the head? Dumb as a fox, more like. You remind me of something an old friend of mine from San Francisco used to say.”

“Yeah? What was that?”

“Old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill. Apparently some wise, old Greek used to say it.”

The old man grinned. “And a wise, young man in Wyoming too. I’d have to get up real early in the morning to get one over on you, Mr. Smith,” cornflower blue eyes gleamed with intelligence as they held Heyes’ gaze, “or whatever your name really is?”
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