Posts : 1467 Join date : 2013-08-24 Age : 63 Location : Camano Island Washington
Subject: Another Long Chase Chapter four Wed Nov 27, 2013 9:36 pm
Another Long Chase
Harry Briscoe froze at the metallic sound of a rifle being cocked behind him.
“Hands up, where I can see them,” warned the female voice behind him.
“Abi, is that you?”
“Thank your lucky stars it is. Put your hands down, Harry. What are you doing creeping around behind me?”
He dropped his arms and swivelled around on his horse. “Heyes sent me. He wanted to come himself but he can’t just set off across country.” He scowled, “and I wasn’t creeping.”
Abigail lowered her weapon and strolled out from behind the trees. “Too right, you weren’t. Who taught you how to follow people? I spotted you an hour and a half ago.”
“I wasn’t trying to hide.” Harry raised his eyebrows at her male attire topped off by the long, brown, waxed coat. “I thought I was following a lady.”
Abigail narrowed her eyes. “At least I’m dressed sensibly for the job. You’re wearing a suit, and a fedora? Are you kidding me?”
Harry gave a harrumph of irritation. “I came to bring you back, not head off across country, and this is no job for a woman. I’ll go after this ‘Mitch’ character once I’ve gotten you back to the Double J.”
Abigail walked over to the trees and led her horse out of concealment. “I’m not going. Either come with me or go back, we’ve lost enough time.” She fixed him with a hard stare, “and I’ll decide whether or not I’m capable of doing something, not a man who knows nothing about me.”
“I’m not prepared to act as nursemaid to some dumb woman,” spluttered Harry.
Abigail swung herself into the saddle. “Dumb? I had a rifle pointed at your head five minutes ago. What does that make you?”
“Normal,” Harry retorted. “When I go off after a woman I don’t expect her to be a female Jesse James.”
She gave him a smile of amusement. “Try Micajah Atwater.”
“He’s a writer and a Pinkerton, Mr. Briscoe, he’s also a close friend. He’s generally considered to be rather good at his job.”
“A Pinkerton? I’m a Bannerman man, and proud of it.”
“Good for you.” Abigail kicked her horse into action. “Tell Mr. Heyes I’ll be in touch.”
Harry urged his mount forward and grabbed hold of her reins. “If you think I’m going to let you take off after a violent drifter, you’ve got another thing coming.”
“Remove your hand, or I’ll do it for you, Harry.”
“Look, little lady, you might think of yourself as some kind of hard nut, but I’ve had it up to here. You’re coming back and I won’t take no for an answer. This is a job for a professional.” Harry found himself staring into the business end of a colt and backed off, edging his horse away. “You’re completely loco! How the hell did Heyes and Curry meet you, in any case?”
“They met me when Allan Pinkerton assigned me to investigate a series of train robberies in the spring of 1874. The Devil’s Hole Gang had suddenly become a lot more prolific. How did you meet them, Harry?”
Harry’s jaw dropped open. “A Pinkerton... I heard he employed women, but I never met any.”
“Maybe you have, and didn’t know it? We were very good at adopting roles.”
Abigail nodded. “Yes, Robert Pinkerton got rid of all the women once he took over the agency in 1884. I was gone by then, of course, I had my family to look after.”
Harry’s brow crinkled in curiosity. “You got married? That makes sense, but where’s your husband, and why is he letting you go on this wild goose-chase?”
“He died. I know exactly what I’m doing, and I came here to help. I’m a trained professional who can use a gun as well as you can. Now, are you coming with me or going back? I won’t tolerate interference, or being talked down to. Got that?”
“I didn’t pack for a long trip,” Harry grumbled, “and you said yourself that I’m not dressed for it.”
“Fine,” Abigail nodded. “We can kit you up in the next town. We need to ask questions there anyway, but try to be subtle, eh, Harry?”
“I’m always subtle!”
“Sure you are, Harry. Just try to remember that I’ll treat you the way you treat me. If you want respect, you’d better give it.”
Harry twitched his moustache. “At least I know what kind of woman you are. You had me confused up until now.” Abigail bridled at him. “And what kind of woman would that be?”
“The kind who’d only be at lover’s leap to push someone off.” growled Harry, “You're unnatural but at least you’re on our side.”
Heyes sat by the wood stove in the living room, casually stroking the sleeping kitten on his lap and staring off into space. He was worried. He and Jesse had kept themselves busy all that afternoon with the chores around the barn yard; always plenty to do there. Sam had been out and helped with mucking stalls and doing some repairs, but had long since headed for home and supper. It was dark now, except for the reflective light caused by the freshly fallen snow. OH, yes—it had started to snow by early afternoon and by evening there was a good solid covering on the ground. Of course this was a personal insult against Heyes; the fates just giving him one more reason to worry.
Jesse came up on his friend unnoticed and tapped the younger man on the shoulder. Heyes jumped slightly and came back to the present.
“Here,” Jesse said, handing him a glass of brandy. “Help chase away the chill.”
Jesse sat down opposite his friend and studied him for a moment.
“You're worried about them aren't you?”
“Hmm? Oh yeah,” Heyes admitted. “Though I don't know why I bother. I can hear Abi already complaining; 'Don't insult me with such nonsense Mr. Heyes! I'm quite capable of looking after myself!'”
Jesse snorted. He was already well enough acquainted with Mrs. Stewart to be able to hear her tones in Heyes' words. Then he sighed and turned serious again.
“It's hard not to worry about the people we love.”
Heyes sent him a strange look; Was he still in love with Abi? He still cared about her, but did he still love her? He didn't know.
“Why does she still call you 'Mr. Heyes'?” Jesse asked, suddenly changing the subject; he needed a distraction from his worries as well. “Your relationship with her is obviously beyond the formal.”
It was Heyes' turn to snort. “Yeah well, she despises my given name. Absolutely refuses to use it.”
“Perhaps she could use your middle name.”
“Ellstrom!?” Heyes snorted again. “I'd shoot her myself if she started calling me that! Maybe—Joshua?”
Jesse nodded reflectively. “Hmm.”
“Yeah, but she never knew me as 'Joshua' though,” Heyes pointed out. “It wouldn't mean anything to her.” Heavy sigh. “Oh well, 'Mr. Heyes' it is, I suppose.”
The two men continued to sit in companionable silence for a few moments, both of them off in their own thoughts. Jesse was missing his wife and daughter, hoping, but not too optimistic that they would be home for Christmas. It seems that this was going to be another year of somebody being absent and missed during the holidays. It was supposed to have been a special holiday this time around. Now the family was splintered more than ever and worry of another kind had settled over the Jordan family.
“Five years ago,” Heyes mumbled quietly, almost to the point that Jesse wasn't sure he'd heard him.
“What was that?”
“Hmm? Oh. I was just thinking,” Heyes spoke up a little louder. “It was five years ago that I was sentenced to that....place.”
Jesse sighed but didn't respond. What could one say to that, after all? It had been five years of hell, Jesse knew it. It had been hard on everyone but not as hard as it had been on Heyes. Now others were gone and being missed.
“I'm sorry,” Heyes quietly spoke again.
“It's not your fault,” Jesse assured him. “and at least they're safe now.”
“No, I meant...oh well, yeah that too. But I meant about my behaviour while Abi was here,” Heyes clarified. “I don't mean to be such an ass, and I certainly don't mean to challenge you. Goodness knows you and Belle have done more for us than....” Heyes took another sip of brandy, feeling awkward but feeling the need to apologize none the less. “I just don't seem to be able to control myself very well these days—especially where Abi is concerned.”
“She does seem to bring out the 'outlaw' in you alright,” Jesse observed with a smile.
“Ha!” Heyes grinned and nodded. “Yeah, she does.” Then he became serious again. “I do care about her though—it's just bad timing. That seems to have been the problem right from the start, between me and her; bad timing.”
“Relationships don't often go the way we think they should,” Jesse observed. “I guess that's why when you do meet someone special—and the timing is right, then it's quite a wonderful thing.”
Heyes nodded and looked into his half empty glass, his other hand resting quietly on the sleeping kitten. “It seems it's not right for me and Miranda either. I had hoped, but.....too much baggage there I suppose.”
Jesse smiled. “Don't write it off that quickly Hannibal. Give it time to sort itself out. Goodness knows you've got enough to deal with already. The timing with Miranda may not be right for now, not for either one of you but six months from now....? Just give it time.”
Heyes nodded again. “David said, quite bluntly; that I should sleep alone until these nightmares ease off. Certainly don't want to go killing someone in my sleep. Wouldn't that be a fitting end to a life of crime—be hanged for killing someone in my sleep! Still, if I did that to someone I cared about then life wouldn't be worth living anyways.”
“You're being awfully melancholy tonight,” Jesse observed. “What's bothering you?”
Heyes glanced over at his friend, and then back into his drink. “Five years,” he repeated. “Five years—wasted.”
“No, they weren't wasted,” Jesse contradicted him. “They were hard years, I know. But not wasted.”
“How do you figure that?” Heyes questioned him. “What did I accomplish?”
“You survived,” Jesse stated bluntly.
“No,” Jesse remained firm. “Sometimes just surviving is accomplishing a lot. You've been through hell and high water, but you've come out the other end damaged but still fighting. You're going to be alright Hannibal. I know you doubt it sometimes, but I've told you before that you have strength in you that you're not even aware of and when all is said and done you are going to be a better man because of all this. “On top of all that, you've reconnected, although distantly, with your daughter and now, as well with her mother. Whether you end up spending your lives together or not, at least you have the opportunity now to mend some fences.”
“Hmm,” Heyes was sceptical. “If Abi will let me.”
“Again, give it time,” Jesse advised him. “You may come to know your daughter yet. And that might not have even had a chance of coming about if you hadn't gone to prison.”
“I think that it is also safe to say that you have a good friend in Mr. Reece as well,” Jesse continued. “You don't know where that could lead.”
Heyes let loose a deep sigh. “Yes alright!” he finally conceded. “I'm sure never going to forget Doc Morin either!” Then he actually laughed. “He and I had some good times together. I remember I hadn't even been there six months yet and we both got knee-walking drunk! Oh ho! Kenny was mad! Oh he let me have it too—big time! Never did that again!” Heyes released yet another sigh and smiled over at his companion. “Yeah, you're right. I suppose it wasn't a total waste of time. Sure a hard way to make friends though.”
“Often those are the best friends to have,” Jesse mused.
“Jed tells me you also developed an appreciation for classical music,” Jesse continued on. “I have to admit I was surprised by that one. And David says that you learned quite a lot about medicine working in the infirmary. All very positive things.”
Heyes snorted derogatorily. “Oh, I had no real talent as a medical man,” he admitted with some disappointment. “I was just cocky enough to think that all I had to do was read the books and learn the terms and then I could heal people. Ha! No—medicine is a gift. Doc Morin had it even though he'd never had any formal training. And David, ha—David; now there's a man who is truly gifted. I could never do what he does.”
Jesse smiled. “You think that because you can't be the best at something then that means that what you can do with it isn't valuable?”
Heyes shrugged. “I donno.”
“You have a brilliant mind Han, I envy you that,” Jesse told him. “But you can't expect to be the best at everything. You have to give the rest of us a chance you know.”
Heyes grinned and then nodded concession. “I guess I did just get used to things coming easily. I suppose humility was something else I learned in prison.” Then his expression became reflective. “Yeah, I learned that one really well.”
“A bit of humility is good for all of us,” Jesse pointed out. “You'll find your balance again Hannibal. You're already on the road towards it.”
Heyes smiled again then and stroked the kitten who stretched out a front leg and started to purr. “Yeah, I suppose. I hope so anyways.”
“You will,” Jesse finished off the last of his brandy. “Well, I'm off to bed. Are you going to wait up for them a while longer?”
“No,” Heyes conceded. “They're not coming back—at least not for some time. I knew that as soon as Harry went off after her. Once Abi's on the scent she doesn't turn aside; she'll stay on Mitch's trail until she runs him to ground. This could get dangerous.” He sighed again and finished his own brandy. “Oh well, Harry will be alright—Abi will look after him.”
Heyes yawned and stretched before closing the curtains against the swirling snow outside. It was really coming down now. He glanced at the dresser, the remembrance of this morning’s resolution to make sure he changed his clothes flashing through his mind. Yup, it had to be done, no matter how cold it was. He pulled the drawer open, his heart skipping a beat at the sight of a note lying on top of his neatly balled socks. The familiar copperplate handwriting bore the words, ‘Mr. Heyes.’ How the hell had she got that in here without waking him? He shook his head ruefully, was he losing all his skills?
He reached out tentatively and unfolded the sheet as he ambled over to the bed and sat down.
'My Dear Mr. Heyes,
Please accept my sincere apologies for any upset I have caused you. I had to keep my investigation into who might be trying to hurt Beth a secret, because I had no idea who was behind this. I could find absolutely no motive locally. She is a popular and respected young woman, and I’m sure that she and Jed will make a lovely match. I had no alternative other than to arrive unannounced when no ranch hands could see me. My presence in the area had to be covert until Beth was safely out of the way. That said, I had no idea that my arrival would affect you so badly. You had written to me for years, and I believed the letters, you see. I’m very sorry for that. Anyway, you’ll be relieved to know that I won’t bother you again. Please tell Jesse that I will send the horse back to him by rail freight. Please contact me when this is over and I will honour my promise to arrange a meeting with Anya. Hester can help to make sure you don’t have to meet me, as that is clearly distressing for you. In closing, I wish you all the very best for the future. I am sure you will find a lovely woman, and a happy life ahead, and I urge you to move on with your life in the secure knowledge that I intend to do all I can give you the fresh start you want and need.
My deepest love to you always, Abigail.’
He sat there, a caustic lump forming in the back of his throat, memories of sitting on his prison cot cherishing any contact from her coming to the forefront now and causing his eyes to sting. So, this was it? She was gone and he’d never see her again? He blinked hard, tears beginning to form. No... This couldn’t be it. Abigail had always been there in the background, something solid and reliable, like an old tune he’d known all his life. He crumpled the paper in his hand, releasing a rasping breath. The words, 'I believed the letters, you see. I’m very sorry for that,' rang in his head. Was she sorry for believing he’d loved her? Did she think he never had? What did she mean?
He stared aimlessly into the corner. He missed her already.
The following afternoon, Heyes and Sam took the buckboard into town to get supplies. The first snowfall of the season had not been too substantial but still enough to warrant making a special trip in to top up supplies before everyone got totally snowed in.
Sam pulled the draft horses up at the mercantile and both men jumped down into the snow.
“I'll be back in a minute Sam,” Heyes told the younger man. “I just want to check the telegraph office.”
“Sure thing Heyes,” Sam acknowledged him. “I'll get started here.”
Heyes made his way down the boardwalk towards the office, knocking the snow off his boots as he went. He was silently wishing—and not for the first time—that Kid would hurry up and get back. He must be close by now, unless he decided to stay on a few days. Oh but then he would have sent word so he must be on his way back. Heyes wondered fleetingly if he had met Anya, and if so; what had he thought of her? He felt jealousy and curiosity fighting for control over his emotions.
Heyes turned into the telegraph office, breathing warm air onto his cold hands.
“Hey Clayt,” Heyes greeted the telegrapher. “Anything for us?”
“Yeah actually,” Clayt went to his files and brought out some pieces of folder paper. “Two for you and one for Jesse.”
“Oh!” Heyes was surprised and relieved. “Two huh? Sounds promising. Thanks.”
Heyes stepped outside again and began to read while he was walking, almost bumping into a bundled up woman coming towards him.
“Good afternoon Hannibal,” came a familiar voice.
Heyes glanced up and felt a twinge of irritation. He didn't have time for this. “Good afternoon, Isabelle,” he returned her greeting and then quickly went back to his telegrams, totally oblivious to the look of daggers being shot back at him.
Heyes groaned and snarled to himself but then forced a smile onto his face as he stopped and looked back at the young woman.
“Are you planning on attending the Thanksgiving Day dance?”
Oh crap! “Ahh, I'm not sure. Maybe.”
Isabelle smiled. “Well, since you and Miranda aren't courting anymore, perhaps....”
“Yes! Perhaps I'll see you there!” Heyes quickly interjected. “Must be off. Good afternoon Isabelle.”
Then he turned on his heels and quickly made a bee line back to the safety of Sam's company. He could almost feel the frustrated vibes being directed his way, but he chose to ignore them and went back to his telegrams. He unfolded the first one and smiled. It was from Jed.
'H.H. All's well. Heading home. J.C.'
Oh good! Heyes was missing him. With all this stuff going on, he needed his friend back home with him again. It was also nice to know that everyone had arrived safe and sound in Topeka and hopefully they would remain that way. He then turned his attention to the second telegram addressed to him. This one was from Kenny and Heyes' heart skipped a beat. 'H. Yes. Complete description sent by train. Should arrive tomorrow a.m. K. R.'
YES! Heyes nearly laughed out loud. Yes! Harris did have a dagger tattoo on his arm! Yes!! OH!--damn! He had to let Abi know but he had no idea how to get hold of her! Dammit! With all their arguing back and forth they had never set up a way for them to stay in touch. And now, more than ever he wondered if she would even want to get in touch with him. Heyes clenched his jaw in anger; he hated this! He hated waiting! He felt almost as impotent as he had in prison—everybody else making the decisions for him and all he could do was sit there and take it—and wait!
Harry swirled the amber fluid in his glass and sat back to puff on his cigar. He leaned forward, opening his mouth to greet the tall, slim madam of the house, when a movement caught the corner of his eye. He groaned. Abigail was in the hallway, talking with a small mousey woman by the front door. What the hell was she doing here? Couldn’t a man even frequent a brothel without her turning up? Well, at least she was wearing a dress this time. He narrowed his eyes and strode over to the door.
“She ain’t on the payroll,” drawled a female voice behind him. The woman shrugged, looking Abigail up and down. “Not yet, anyways. Let me have a word.” Harry turned; the madam had followed him. Her coal-black hair stood out starkly against waxy skin and the scarlet lipstick was bleeding into the wrinkles around her unsavory gash of a mouth. “If you like ‘em beat up, Massie had a tough ‘un three days ago. She might fit the bill.”
“Why would I like anyone beat up?” Harry demanded. “What kind of man do you think I am?”
The madam scrutinized him with sooty eyes. “A detective,” she declared, coolly, “or a salesman; or maybe even a quack.” She folded her arms, causing her cleavage to wrinkle like crepe. “Somethin’ dodgy, anyways. I can spot ‘em, and I’ve now got enough experience to do it before I’m stupid enough to marry ‘em.”
“You can spot them, eh?”
“In a heartbeat. What brand of snake oil are you peddlin’?”
Harry shifted from one foot to the other. “I’m not selling, I’m buying,” he pulled, the woman aside into the corner for the hall. “Information on a man I believe to have passed this way.”
“The law? I knew it,” the woman sneered. “I could smell it, even without you all got up in new duds like some kind of shiny cowpoke. Straight out of the box, are we, sonny?”
“I was wearing a suit when I got a lead, so I had to head to the store today.” He thrust his hand into his pocket. “And I’m a private detective, this idiot beat his wife half to death.”
The woman shrugged a boney shoulder. “So? Men like that keep me staffed. Why should I care?”
“Her father’s rich, and very, very angry. He’s offered to pay a thousand dollars reward to anybody who gives information leading to his arrest.”
The smutty eyes smoldered with doubt and greed. “You ain’t wanderin’ around these parts carryin’ that sort of money.”
Harry nodded. “Of course I’m not. I can offer ten now, and the full thousand when we catch him. Five foot eight, light brown hair, dagger tattoo on his right arm and goes by the name of Mitch; does that ring any bells?”
“I tell you what honey, come back here with a thousand dollars, and I’ll ring your bell ‘till the clapper drops off. Now, pick yourself a woman, or leave.”
Harry simmered. “Twenty.”
“Bud!” the madam bellowed. “We got another one. Get him outta here.”
Harry felt himself grabbed by the collar, and hustled on tiptoe towards the front door, passing Abigail and the mousey woman on the way. The woman spoke to Abigail in a language he didn’t understand. They laughed, watching while he was tossed unceremoniously out onto the boardwalk.
Harry heard a gentle tap at his door. He scowled, tossing back the bedclothes. “Who’s there?”
The urgent whisper hissed through the door. “Abigail, let me in.”
He ambled over reluctantly and pulled the door open. “You!? Done laughing at me, are you?”
Abigail frowned. “Harry, we’re working to the same end, and we both do what we have to. It’s not competitive; sometimes you’ll do best, and sometimes I will. All that matters is that we get something. I was adopting a role, not laughing at you; between us we have it covered, you need to trust me.”
He frowned, gathering the quilt around his shoulders as he closed the door behind her. “Yeah? Well I got nowhere.”
“I hit lucky. That woman you saw me with came from Scotland, so she was dead keen to talk to somebody in her own language. I enjoyed it too.” Her eyes took on a wistful air, “I so rarely get to use it anymore.” She shook herself back to reality. “Mitch was here three days ago. He beat up a girl, accusing her of asking too many questions.”
“Yeah, the woman who ran the place told me about that,” murmured Harry, unwilling to admit he hadn’t linked the information to the man they were hunting.
“Great, we seem to be working together at last,” smiled Abigail. “Did you get a direction of travel?”
“No,” Harry admitted, ruefully. “She had me run out of there when she found out I wasn’t going to pay for a girl. That was as far as I got.”
“Yes,” grinned Abigail. “I did see that. I didn’t get one either. I’ll try the stables in the morning, maybe they saw where he headed after he picked up his horse.” She paused. “Or do you want to do it? I don’t want to cramp your style; we’re both here to investigate.”
“No, you do it. They’re more likely to feel sorry for a woman with a black eye. I’ll go see the sheriff. With my Bannerman identification he might tell us something we can use.”
Abigail touched the back of his hand lightly. “That sounds like a plan. I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t sure we would work well together, but we’re doing just fine, aren’t we?”
A smile twitched at Harry’s lips. “Yeah. We make a good team. I wasn’t sure about working with a woman, but I guess their natural nosiness is handy.”
“I’ll choose to take that as a compliment.”
He arched his brows. “You want a compliment, Abi? I can do that.” He lowered the quilt revealing his shoulders clad in his combination underwear.
Abigail sighed. “Harry, this is a job, nothing more. Don’t start complicating things.”
“It’s not complicated, Abi. You’re a woman, I’m a man, we’re together in a hotel room... surely you could have told me about Mitch in the morning?”
“Sure, but I could also ride right out of here on my own.” Abigail walked over to the door, shaking her head. “I’ve worked with men for years who think I’m easy because I carry a gun, or do things they think decent women shouldn’t do. Goodnight, Harry. If you’re feeling lonely, you know where the brothel is. I’ll see you at breakfast.”
Two friends who used to be outlaws rode side by side in companionable silence. One of them was no longer an outlaw because he had legitimacy paid his dues to the Territory of Wyoming and was considered to be a 'free' man. The other was by all intents and purposes—dead.
It was cold and every day was getting colder but it was a different kind of cold than these two men were accustomed to. The temperatures didn't drop down as low as they did in Wyoming, but it was damp with a dampness that went right down and into the bone. The dead man coughed a couple of times and pulled the collar of his winter coat tighter up around his throat. The free man sent a worried look over to his friend but hesitated to say anything, not wanting to suggest that the other man was weak or hindering them in any way. Another couple of dry coughs however, changed his mind.
“You doin' okay Wheat?” Kyle asked, trying to hide the worry in his tone.
“Yeah,” Wheat grumbled from behind his turned up collar. “Stop naggin' at me.”
“Wul, it's jest that, that cough is soundin' worse, an'...”
“I'm fine Kyle!” Wheat insisted and then coughed again. “It's only another five miles to that next town. I'll get warmed up there.”
“How much money we got left?” Kyle asked, again trying not to sound worried.
“Enough for tonight,” Wheat assured him. “Might even be able to order up a bath if we take it easy on the drinkin'.”
Kyle smiled in anticipation. “Yeah! Bath'd be nice. That'd warm ya' up, eh Wheat?”
Wheat coughed a couple of more times and shivered inside his coat. “I sure hope that lawyer friend of the Kid's forwarded that money, like he said he would,” the presumed dead man mumbled. “If he didn't it'll be the last warm meal and soft bed for some time to come.”
Kyle's usually happy expression dropped to a frown at the sound of that. They had been on the trail of Harris for quite some time now and had hoped to be able to catch up to him before the colder weather had set in. So much for hopes. If it hadn't been for the retainers that Steven Granger had been wiring to them over the last few months they would have had to give up the chase—or go back to robbin' banks in order to support themselves. Both Kid and Steven had been adamant that they refrain from doing that!
Their trek had been a challenging one to say the least. Harris did not stay in any one place for long and he seemed to manage to keep just far enough ahead of his pursuers to be elusive and to remain a free man. It wasn't clear to the two ex-outlaws if Harris was aware that he was being tracked or if he was just being cautious, knowing that he was a fugitive and that the law could still be looking for him.
Truth be known, the law had pretty much given up on Carl Harris. Though fliers and warnings had gone out right after his escape from the prison, within a week law officials had gotten tired of the chase and had given it up for more pressing matters. The reward posted for him wasn't enough to garner much attention from lawmen or bounty hunters so the only ones actively seeking him at this point were our two bedraggled heroes.
The initial supposition that Harris might have headed north to Canada was vetoed early on, as a quick jaunt in that direction yielded no clues or information to back it up. The boys then turned east, into the Dakota's and did finally pick up a hint or two from various towns that a rather mean-spirited transient had been through. Checking out the local brothels with the convenient excuse of seeking information not only provided some much appreciated entertainment but also confirmed many of those hints and rumours so the fellas knew they were on the right track.
Much to their relief, Harris seemed to be avoiding Wyoming; it would appear that none of them wanted to let their existence be known in that State. He kept up a southerly route and headed into Nebraska and then—disappeared. Wheat sent an enquiry to Kid asking if he wanted them to carry on with the manhunt, since Heyes was out of prison now, did finding Harris still matter? Kid's response was a definite 'Yes!'; there were other reasons now for them wanting to have words with Harris. Clearing Heyes of the accusation of murder had certainly been the main one, but finding out who had actually killed the Doc was still a priority so Wheat and Kyle were to stay at it.
Quite a bit of grumbling resulted from this response, but since it also included more money from the lawyer they decided that sniffing around to find Harris' trail again wouldn't be too much of an inconvenience. It was coming into summer and Wheat was finding the fresh air and warm temperatures healing to his spirit and battered body. Both men felt good and with the steady income they were receiving without actually having to risk their necks—yet, they carried on with the quest. They circled around Nebraska for most of the summer, not really too concerned about the fact that they weren't actually accomplishing anything.
Mid-August eventually rolled around and Wheat and Kyle were beginning to feel right at home in Nebraska. They would sit around the camp fire and talk about actually settling down in these parts, perhaps even start up a new gang and get things rolling again. Maybe they could both come up with their own alias's and that way Wheat could remain dead and Kyle could still be considered a free man in Wyoming. They could wear disguises! Yeah, that could be fun. Wheat could shave off his moustache!--oh no! That was going too far. Kyle thought it was a good idee!
By the end of August their dreams of starting up a new life got put on hold when they rode into a small town close to the Nebraska/Kansas border and found the place in a sombre state of mind. Riding down the main street towards the livery stable it didn't take much, even for two strangers to realize that something was amiss. The partners exchanged concerned glances as they carried on about their business and dismounted outside the stables.
“Howdy gents,” the livery man greeted them as he took hold of the bridles. Apparently he referred to all potential customers as 'gents' regardless of their attire. “Needin' ta' board these animals are ya'?”
“Yeah, just overnight,” Wheat told him. “How much?”
The liveryman shrugged. “Includes hay, grain, water and a rubbin' down. You don't think it's worth it then you can leave em' tied up outside the saloon all night if'en you'd rather. Might not be there in the mornin' though—if ya' knows what I mean.”
Wheat snorted. “Yeah, yeah,” he grumbled as he dug into a pocket. “Two bits per horse, per night. Sounds fair enough.”
“Shuddup Kyle!” Wheat suggested. “Rather pay the man four bits than have to come back here in the morning and pay em' $50.00 for new horses and tack.”
“That's sound thinkin',” the liveryman praised the deceased outlaw. “I can see you have a fine head for money matters.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Wheat handed over the money. “Just make sure they get hay and water and grain—and a rub down. AND they better be here in the morning!”
“Of course! I'm no thief!”
The honest business man received a derisive snort from both his customers at that comment. Then the two travel weary men untied their bedrolls and saddlebags and grabbed their rifles before turning and heading towards the hotel.
That welcomed establishment was only half a block away but even at that the two partners couldn't help but notice the solemn expressions and lowered eyes on many of the people who passed them by; something was amiss, that was for sure. They trotted up the stairs and into the lobby and then headed straight over to the counter in order to sign in and get settled before heading over to the saloon.
“Afternoon gents.” Seemed everyone was a gent in this town. “What can I do for you?”
“One room with two beds,” Wheat ordered. “You got that?”
“Yessir,” the clerk smiled graciously and then added with thinly veiled hope; “Shall I send you up a bath as well?”
“What you think Kyle?” Wheat asked his partner, forgetting all about the alias's they had agreed upon using. “You feelin' in need of a bath?”
“Wull, yeah...that'd be nice,” Kyle admitted. “Dang Wheat—we been on the trail fer about a week. A bath'd be a good idee!”
“Fine,” Wheat agreed, actually thinking that he wouldn't mind scraping off some of this trail dust himself. “Might as well get some clothes laundered too while we're at it.”
“Certainly sir!” came the appreciative response. “I'll make sure everything gets taken care of.”
“Fine,” Wheat mumbled as he took the key to their door. “Say—what's all the long faces about in town? Somebody die or something?”
“Oh, well—yes, actually,” the clerk suddenly looked remorseful. “One of the gals who works over at the saloon got beat up pretty bad the other night. I mean, that's no big deal—just a saloon gal, if ya' know what I mean. But that fool deputy we had here, well he was kinda sweet on that little trollop and he decided to confront the fella that beat her up. Now everybody with any sense could see that this fella was trouble and best to just leave him alone, but that young idiot went into the saloon all puffed up and challenging him and ended up getting a knife between his ribs. Died right there on the floor of the saloon.”
Wheat and Kyle exchanged a look.
“This fella locked up now?” Wheat asked the clerk.
“Ha! No sir,” the clerk informed them. “The sheriff weren't around and I suppose there were enough fellas in that saloon to take him down, but ya' know; that man was mean through and through, you could just see it. And him standing there holding the knife with blood all over 'em and that killin' lust in his eye, well that just kinda takes the 'hero' outa most folks.”
“Yeah, I suppose it might at that,” Wheat agreed. “He still in town then?”
“Oh no! Thank goodness!” came the response. “No, he done took off right after that. The sheriff, he went out after 'em but didn't have no luck. Just plum disappeared.”
“Hmm. Okay. Thanks.”
Once up in their room and behind closed doors, Kyle let his concerns be known.
“Wull, what are we gonna do, Wheat?” he asked a little anxiously. “Don't that sound like Harris to you?”
“Wull, don't cha' think we should git after 'em?”
“No, I don't.”
“But why not?”
“Cause the sheriff has gone and run him off scared!” Wheat explained. “Plus our horses are done in and I for one want a bath and a decent meal! Plus, we go spend some time down in that saloon we just might pick up a bit more information that could give us a better idea of which way to go!”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“We get a decent meal, a good night's sleep and we'll head out after 'em in the morning—if it's actually Harris who done this.”
Kyle gave a resigned sigh, though truth be known he was looking forward to food, bath and a bed too. “If you say so Wheat. I jest don't wanna be losin' 'em agin.”
Then a knock came to the bedroom door announcing the arrival of the tub.
A couple of hours later found our two protagonists actually looking and smelling the part of civilized gentlemen. A bath and shave, some clean clothes and a decent meal all combined to change mean and nasty to clean and contented. Sidling up to the bar at the local saloon, they ordered beers and then turned around to survey their environment.
It looked just like any of the other numerous saloons they had frequented over the months of travel and they both looked across the sea of faces hoping that something would stand out as significant. Wheat grunted; nothing was obvious. They both took a swig of their beers and checked out the one poker game that was in progress, but other than that there wasn't too much else going on. Kyle gave a toothy grin to a young, perky little gal who sashayed by them and he was actually getting serious about a proposition when Wheat suddenly elbowed him in the ribs.
“Hey! What ya' do that fer!?”
“Keepin' yer mind on the job is what fer!” Wheat reminded him. “Take a look over there.” He pointed his chin over towards the far corner of the saloon.
Kyle followed the gesture and saw what had gotten his partner's attention. A young saloon gal had walked out from behind a group of patrons and was heading towards the bar to fill an order and both men leaning up against the said bar watched her coming. She wasn't really all that spectacular in any way other than that she sported a black eye and a discoloured swollen lip. Then as she got closer it also became apparent that both her wrists were red and bruised along with an upper arm. Apparently Harris had held her pretty tightly while he beat on her.
She came up to the bar and ordered the round of drinks and waited for the bartender to get them ready. Wheat sidled down to stand beside her and took another swig from his own beer.
“That's some black eye you're sportin' there Missy,” he commented. “How about I buy ya' a drink and you tell us how ya' got it?”
She sent him a battle-weary glance. “I'm busy,” she brushed him off. “I already got customers. Maybe another time.”
“No listen,” Wheat wasn't ready to give up. “my partner and me are trailin' a fella that kinda fits in real nice with what happened to you. You finish up with your other customers and then come join us at that table over there. Just want to ask ya' some questions.”
“The sheriff already asked me questions,” she commented as she picked up the tray of newly filled beer glasses. “Why don't ya' go buy him a drink?”
“Cause I don't think the sheriff can give us the up close and personal details that you can,” Wheat continued to push. “We'll be sittin' right over there—with a bottle. You just come on over when ya' can.”
She sent him a bit of a smirk and then walked off with the tray of glasses, back towards the table that had ordered them. Wheat nudged Kyle in the direction of an empty table and then turned to the bar keep.
“What she like ta' drink?” Wheat asked him.
“Well, she does find it hard to say 'no' to a glass of bourbon.”
“Okay,” Wheat agreed. “So why don't you just bring us a bottle of bourbon and three glasses to that table over there.”
Wheat deposited some more coinage onto the counter top and then followed Kyle over to settle in at the table and await their appointment.
The two men finished their beers and were actually dipping into the bourbon when Annie finally put in an appearance. She wasn't looking too pleased about being there, but the sight of the bottle had caught her attention and she gradually talked herself into making the trip over to them. Kyle stood up and pulled out a chair for her and she sent him something that might have been considered a little bit of a smile as she sat down and waited for her drink. Wheat did not disappoint and he poured them all another round.
Annie took her glass and downed it in one shot and placed the glass on the table in anticipation of another. Kyle sent a lopsided grin over to his partner and Wheat again did not disappoint. She downed the second one and then seemed content with that, for now.
“So what'd ya' wanna know?” she finally asked. “Some bastard paid for sex and figured that beating me up was part of the deal—nothin' new there. Why you so interested in him?”
“We got business of our own with that particular gent,” Wheat informed her. “If he's the same man we're lookin' for.”
“Yeah? Well he already killed the deputy,” she stated and then a look of sadness drifted over her face which she tried to hide by taking another drink. “You want my advice you stay away from that ass-hole—whatever your reason for tryin' ta' find em', it ain't good enough.”
“Well, he done killed a friend a' ours over in Wyoming—if it's the same fella,” Wheat informed her. “I'd say that's good enough.”
Annie snorted and then looked over into Kyle's admiring blue eyes. “Look at you,” she sneered, but almost with a hint of sympathy in her voice. “You don't look like you got more 'n ten brain cells ta' rub together and you think you're gonna run down that bastard and live to tell of it?”
Kyle's smile dropped down to a frown, thinking for sure that he had been insulted, but her kind-ish tone of voice had made it difficult for him to figure it out. “Wull, we come real close a lot of times to catchin' 'em!” Kyle insisted in his own defence. “Ain't that right Wheat!? Come real close!”
“Yeah, well any closer and you'd both probably be dead by now.”
“That ain't new to me,” Wheat mumbled. “You just let us worry about that part of it—all we want from you is a little bit of information.”
Annie shrugged like it was nothin' to her and indicated her desire for another drink. Wheat did not disappoint.
“What can I tell ya' that ya' don't already know?” she asked him. “You're the one's been trailin' 'em.”
“We just want confirmation that we're still trailin' the right man,” Wheat explained. “So if you can just give us a description...”
Annie shrugged again, looking disinterested. “He was average,” she said. “Average height, average looking. I suppose his hair was brown, but not too dark. Straight and long, almost down to his shoulders. His eyes—I donno. Green or blue maybe. He was too busy beaten on me to get the colour. All I saw was mean.”
“That's it?” Wheat asked.
She shrugged again and sighed as she thought about it some more. “I think he had a tattoo or something on his arm. Can't tell ya' what it was of though. So. That sound like the man you're looking for?”
“Yeah could be,” Wheat nodded and poured her another drink. “Do ya' know which way he was headed when he left town?”
“South,” she stated matter of factly. “I know cause I watched him leave, just to be sure he kept on goin'!”
Bright and early the next morning the dead man and the free man were on the trail once again, headed south. They were able to follow his progress quite easily at first because once he stopped running scared from the sheriff, Harris went right back to his favourite pass time of indulging in brutal sex. Even Wheat and Kyle, who had pretty much seen all types of personalities during their years of outlawin' were often disgusted with the living carnage they were following in the wake of this man.
It was no wonder that he and Heyes didn't get along and that Kid was so adamant that they find him. Harris was real trouble and the partners didn't find it hard to believe at all that this bastard had been doin' hard time in the Wyoming Territorial. The fact that he had helped out with a prison escape and hadn't seemed to mind assisting with the assaults on various people fit in real well with the characteristics he was displaying now. The sooner this killer got sent back to prison the better off the general populace would be.
A few days out on the trail found them crossing over into Kansas and then they lost the trail again. All of a sudden the string of beaten up saloon gals dried up and all they received from their enquiries of Harris was just a lot of shrugged shoulders and wagging heads. Hmm, now what? The partners didn't think it wise to split up even though doing that would of course cut their search time in half, but the other problems that might cause did not make the separation worth the risks.
So, they stayed together and started riding in circles again seeing if they could pick up any hint of a brutal womanizer making the rounds.
And then the weather started to turn cold again and Wheat's cough had retaken its hold on his lungs. He tried to keep himself warm but then the rains came and he felt the chill go right through him and wrap itself around his bones until he didn't think it would be possible for him to ever warm up again. Kyle was worried and hoped that Wheat was right; that there would be some more money coming to them soon and then maybe they could hold up for a few days and give his friend a chance to re-group.
That five miles to the next town was about the longest that Kyle could remember ever having ridden. He himself could feel the dampness that came with the wind that never seemed to let up and he was just as healthy as he ever was. But Wheat? No, Wheat couldn't say the same though he'd challenge anyone to say different. But he just never did quite recover from that encounter with Marshall Morrison and with every bout of raking, dry cough that came his way he silently cursed that man who had stolen away his home, his health and the majority of his friends. His only comfort being that Wheat had done exactly the same thing to him—maybe even more so. Yeah, Wheat took some comfort from that.
Finally, finally they had reached that next town and the first thing they did before anything else, was to send another telegram to the Kid. Hopefully he would receive it quickly and they'd have an answer back by the morning. All they could do now was wait.
They headed over to the livery and got their horses taken care of and then followed the old routine of getting a room and trying to warm up. Wheat's cough was getting bad and Kyle took care of ordering up a tub and even spending more of their meagre funds on a bottle of whiskey in the hopes that it might help take off the chill. After a hot bath, a couple of shots of whiskey and some dry clothes both men did indeed feel better and though Wheat's cough stubbornly continued to linger he felt rejuvenated enough to head down to the cafe for some dinner.
After dinner they headed over to the saloon, not so much for another drink as for information. Harris liked his drink and his women and the best place to get both, for cheap was at the saloon so that was the best place to sniff out any tracks he left behind, if there were any to be found at all. Unfortunately they struck out again; nobody had seen anyone of that description and all the saloon gals appeared to be intact. Our boys called it an early night and headed back to the hotel in hopes that the morning might bring better news.
The next morning there was indeed a response to their enquiry but they were surprised to get that response from Heyes rather than Curry. Then on top of that, it was addressed to Kyle since Heyes wasn't permitted to have contact with any known criminals—even dead ones, so Wheat was being left out of the loop. The mustachioed apparition snarled over the apparent insult, but Kyle thought it was quite fine and beamed with his new sense of importance. That is until he looked at the telegram and remembered that he couldn't read. “Ahh, what's it say, Wheat?” Kyle asked his partner a little sheepishly.
Wheat snarled again and snatched the paper away from him. “Well, say's here to keep after 'em, no matter what.” Here Wheat snorted, thinking that was an easy thing for Heyes to say since he wasn't the one traipsing around out here in this damp, bone numbing cold looking for a brutal murderer. Then he took a page from Heyes' book and laughed a little sardonically as he read the next bit. “Yeah! Be careful! Could be real dangerous...” Wheat laughed again. “Yeah, no shit, Heyes!....” Then he turned serious again and nodded in approval. “Says here they're gonna wire us some more money. Should be at the bank tomorrow afternoon.”
“That's good news,” Kyle chirped in. “I'm runnin' outa chewin' tabacca!”
“Hmm,” Wheat obviously didn't care about Kyle's 'chewin' tabacca'. “I guess we're stuck here for a couple of days. Probably for the better—looks like it's gonna rain. Again.”
Unfortunately Wheat's weather forecast was wrong. It didn't rain—it snowed. Wheat could usually tell by the smell in the air when snow was on the way, but this climate was so different from what he was used to that even the snow down here was too wet to smell like snow. Hell! No wonder Heyes and the Kid had left this miserable State—or was it a territory? Whatever! Wheat didn't like it much and his damaged body liked it even less.
By that afternoon Wheat's head was pounding and by the time evening came upon them he skipped dinner altogether and went straight to his bed. By the next morning Wheat was sick as a dog and though he was conscious and aware, he was miserable. The coughing spells that attacked him racked his lungs and ripped apart his throat not to mention bringing such a pounding to his already aching head that he was sure his skull must explode from the pressure.
Kyle waited impatiently for the much needed funds to arrive so he could get the town doctor in to take a look at the sick man and hopefully give him something to help calm the coughing down. Wheat just grumbled with irritation. They didn't need to be wasting money on no damn saw bones! He was fine! He just needed a day or two in bed to get the chill outa his bones, that was all. Didn't need no damn doctor!
Fortunately by the time the money did arrive that afternoon, Wheat was so sick that he was barely able to acknowledge the doctor coming to examine him, let alone lay in a protest. Kyle stood awkwardly at the foot of the bed while the learned gentleman completed his exam. He listened quite extensively to his patient's lungs while at the same time taking note of the numerous scars pockmarking the man's chest but being a discretionary medical man he chose not to pass judgement.
Finally he sighed and put his stethoscope away. “Has this man had pneumonia before?” he finally asked the anxious friend.
“Wull yeah,” Kyle answered nervously. “Ain't we all?”
The Doc sent him a scrutinizing look from under his bushy white eye brows. “Not everyone,” he stated. “And this man's lungs have been very badly damaged,” he sent another glance over the numerous scars. “and not just from illness.”
Kyle shuffled his feet uncomfortably, not wanting to get into those particular details. “Wull—he's gonna be fine, ain't he?”
“I think we have caught it in time,” the doctor assured the friend. “as long as he stays warm and in bed and you get a spoonful of this into him every four hours or so. Think you can do that?”
Kyle grinned with relief as he took the offered bottle. “Yeah, sure Doc. I can do that.”
“Good.” The doc stood up with another sigh and this time sent the patient his scrutinizing look. “He's not a healthy man at the best of times,” he observed. “He's done serious damaged to those lungs and he can't afford to get hit with a bad bout of pneumonia—it would kill him sure as shootin'.” And then inwardly cringed at his poor choice of words. He quickly recovered however. “This climate is not going to do him any favours. You might suggest to him that he move someplace warmer and dryer—some place out west would be better for him, I'm sure.”
Kyle grinned. “Yeah Doc, thanks. I'll be sure ta' mention that to 'em.”
“Good!” the doctor seemed satisfied with that answer and started to head for the door. “You just make sure he stays warm and dry—and in bed! I'll come back tomorrow afternoon to check up on him.”
“Yeah Doc, I'll be sure ta' do that.”
Kyle closed the door behind the doctor and then going over to the dresser he got himself a fresh chaw of tobacco and popped it into his mouth then turned and smiled at his sleeping friend. He moved over to the one chair in the room and settled into with a contented sigh. Then, still chewing on his habit he again looked over at Wheat and the smile slowly dropped from his face. What the hell was he supposed to do now? For a man who couldn't read, nurse maiden' a sick friend didn't offer much up in the way of entertainment.
Heyes was getting bored, restless, snarky, frustrated, angry, irritated, then back to bored again then frustrated but in the end, irritated seemed to be winning the day. He was going after the piles of semi-frozen manure with a vengeance that many people, including Harris would have recognized. How had Kid put up with this!? Five bloody boring years of mucking stalls and mending fences! My God! How had he done it!?
Even inside the lined gloves Heyes' fingers were still feeling numb, especially after having to take an axe to the water troughs in order to break up the ice that had formed over night. Then he'd had to remove his gloves and fish out the pieces of floating ice with his bare hands in order to free up the water so the livestock could drink. He had done this job as quickly as he could but even after drying his red and freezing hands on some burlap and quickly nestling them inside his gloves again hadn't done much to warm them up.
Dammit! He hated this! He wanted out! He needed to move! Needed to be going, somewhere—anywhere! The conditions of his parole were starting to drive him looney bins. Kenny was right; Heyes was no rancher and he wondered how much longer he would be able to stand living like this!
The Thanksgiving dance had been a dismal failure! Well, actually no; that wasn't true. Heyes simply chose to see it that way. Abi was gone and had basically given him the boot though truth be known Heyes certainly had asked for it and he knew that. Of course knowing it though only proved to make him more angry and resentful and frustrated. He wanted to be with her so badly, why had he behaved like such as ass!?
And then there was Miranda at the dance wearing that very fine green satin dress. Oh my! What right did she have to look so beautiful? She had caught his eye from across the room and his heart had melted. Then she smiled at him and his heart broke. He wanted to be with her so badly! Why had he let her push him away? Why couldn't he take control and sweep her off her feet and make her love him, make her want him?
And then there was Abi.....
Posts : 1467 Join date : 2013-08-24 Age : 63 Location : Camano Island Washington
Subject: The Long Chase Wed Nov 27, 2013 9:39 pm
Heyes attacked the straw with the pitch fork, throwing it in heaps down from the loft and into the various stalls. He attacked the coarse stocks, cursing and grinding his teeth in his impotent anger. Before he knew it his hands had warmed up and he was actually sweating under his heavy winter clothing but he kept on attacking the barn chores and cursing his life until by chance he heard the jingling of horse's harnesses and the barking of the ranch dogs. Someone was here. Heyes grinned from dimple to dimple; he knew who it was—finally! And in that knowing his foul mood disappeared and he made a dash for the barn door.
Heyes was already out of the barn and up to the wagon, practically pulling Jed from the seat and giving him a quick bear hug and then a slap on the back. “Hey hey! Partner!” Heyes greeted him, practically jumping up and down in his excitement. “Finally! It's great to see ya'!”
“Yeah, I can tell Heyes,” Kid responded, but he was grinning himself and obviously just as pleased. “I kinda missed you too.”
“Yeah yeah,” Heyes was laughing, still holding onto his partner's arm. “I've been going crazy here Kid! Oh man! It is so good to see ya'!” Then he forced himself to calm down a little and his eyes turned serious. “Did everything go as planned? Is everyone alright?”
“Well, yeah...it's just...” Then he looked his cousin straight in the eye and Jed saw such a mixture of emotions there. “Did you see...her?”
Kid dropped his smile then and put a hand on Heyes' shoulder. “Yeah Heyes, I met her.” Then his blue eyes sparkled up again as he looked over at Jesse. “Let's get inside first okay? It's freezin' out here!” He gave his cousin's shoulder a reassuring pat. “Everything went fine Heyes.”
Heyes nodded and accepted that for the time being.
“It's good to have you back home again Jed,” Jesse told him. “Hannibal and I were starting to get on each other's nerves—just the two of us, and a cat—rattling around in a big empty ranch house. C'mon inside and warm up. There's a pretty good stew still simmering on the stove if you're hungry at all.”
Heyes laughed, still excited to have his cousin back home. “Kid's always hungry!”
“Yeah well, this time I gotta agree with ya' Heyes,” Kid acknowledged. “I am feelin' a might peckish.”
Sam got down from the wagon seat and moved up to the horses' heads, bringing Jed's carpet bag with him.
Jesse took the one piece of luggage from him and then smiled at the young man.
“Do you fancy a coffee and some stew yourself before you head back to town?”
Sam shrugged, looking around at the snowy landscape. “Sure, why not?” He then untied the lead shank from the near horse and led the team over to the hitching rail by the barn. It was cold out but not wet so they would be fine tethered there for half an hour or so.
Jesse gestured towards the house with his head. “Come into the kitchen, that’ll give this pair a chance to catch up.”
Once inside the house everyone helped themselves to a bowl of stew and some bread that Heyes had made the day before. It was nothing like Belle's delicious offerings but in times of hardship, one must make do. Everyone poured out a coffee for themselves and then true to his word, Jesse and Sam stayed to enjoy their lunch in the kitchen, allowing Heyes and Kid to settle in at the dinning table and talk in some privacy.
Heyes fixed the Kid with intense dark eyes. “So everyone’s safe?”
The Kid sat down wearily. “Yeah. I’m sure glad to be back though; that was a long journey, doing it round trip like that.”
Heyes took a seat opposite and bit into his lip. “Well, c'mon Kid. You said you saw her, right? Is she...well, I mean is she......?” Heyes got stuck for words, envy and jealousy struggling for dominance.
The Kid’s eyes softened. “Aw, Heyes, she’s a heart-breaker. Just the most beautiful little girl I ever laid eyes on.” He leaned forward. “I gave her a hug for you. I called her ‘Anya’ just before I left, and told her I was there when her pa chose that name for her. She knows her pa would love her and be the proudest man on earth. I made sure I told her that.” He sat back. “She was happy to know that, Heyes.”
Heyes gave a rasping sigh, and blinked back his emotions before he stared down at the floor. Now curiosity was battling for the top rung and it finally won out. “What’s she like?” he asked in an intense whisper. “Is she as clever as Abi said?”
“Sharp as a razor,” the Kid smiled. “I think I fell in love, which is a bit worryin’, because she’s so like you it’s scary.”
Heyes sat back, pensively. “She looked like Abi in the photograph, except for the dimples.”
The Kid shook his head. “She’s real dark like her ma, and her eyes are like Abi’s, but she’s got your nose, dimples and mouth; but that ain’t the half of it. Every movement and gesture is you. There’s no denyin’, the apple didn’t fall far from that tree.”
Heyes frowned. “She's got my nose?”
Jed smiled. “Yeah Heyes, but don't worry about it; on her it's cute—perky.”
Heyes' brows went up. “Perky?”
Jed grinned even more. “Yeah!” Then he laughed. “Who’d have thought your ugly mug would have made such a pretty girl? I suppose that face had to work somewhere.” The smile dropped from his expression then, his tone suddenly earnest. “I’m gonna speak to Abi, Heyes. I’m gonna make sure you meet Anya real soon. It’s only right.”
Heyes’ shoulders slumped hopelessly. “I think you’re going to find that more difficult than you imagine Kid.” Jed's brow furrowed and his eyes asked the question. Heyes sighed and then explained. “She’s gone – and she’s not coming back.”
The Kid’s brows knotted even further in consternation. “Gone? I thought the deal was that she'd stay and help out here. I was goin’ to come back and we'd all work together at figuring this thing out.”
“Things changed, Kid. It went bad.”
The Kid’s eyes narrowed, guessing that he was not going to be surprised by anything he was about to hear. “Bad?” he asked suspiciously. “How bad?”
Heyes gave a huge sigh and played with his stew for a few minutes. Jed waited patiently; it was coming. “I beat her real bad, Kid.” Heyes finally whispered. “She needed stitches.”
The Kid suppressed the involuntary gasp dancing around his lips. “What happened Heyes?” he asked quietly. “What did you do?”
“She came in on a nightmare. I didn’t know it was her, Kid. I half strangled her and punched her in the face.”
The Kid nodded; this he could relate to. “Abi’s not unreasonable, Heyes. She’ll understand once I tell her about your nightmares. I’ll go and talk to her.”
Heyes pushed his bowl away from him,sending it skidding towards the Kid. Jed put out a hand and stopped it from crashing to the floor and then looked back to his cousin. Heyes' jaw was tight, along with his throat, anger and regret smouldering in his dark eyes. “She already does know – she was great about it, but that doesn’t stop me feeling like a worm.” Then he looked a little sheepish—just a little “That’s not all, though,” he admitted.
“Yeah?” the Kid asked, cautiously. “What else happened Heyes?”
“Me!” Heyes declared , defensively. “Why does it always have to be me?” Then he looked down at the table and mumbled; “She poured gravy over my head!”
The Kid folded his arms trying to look reproachful but fighting to stifle a laugh all the same. “Why?” He was finally able to enquire.
“What do you mean; ‘why?” Heyes demanded. “I thought that would be obvious!”
“She swore to me she’d be on her best behaviour because you needed patience. From what I saw before I left, she was holdin’ to that.” The Kid tilted his head considering what he knew about both these confounding people. “You on the other hand... let’s just say she’d have needed to have patience. If you’d treated me the way I saw you treating her, I’d have socked you on the jaw, Heyes. What else did you do?”
Heyes’ dark eyes dropped again. This was proving to be difficult. It had all seemed so reasonable to him at the time, but to hear Kid say he’d have thrown a punch at him, brought him up sharply.
The Kid pressed on, knowing there was more to this little adventure than his cousin was letting on. “What did you do, Heyes?”
“I dunked her in the horse trough,” came the mumbled response.
The Kid sat back with a smile and a chuckle forming in his throat. “It must have been freezin’!”
“It was,” Heyes groaned. “She pulled me in after her.”
The chuckle grew into a snort of hilarity. “Good for her! You two act like that all the time though,” Jed reasoned. “she’ll get over it.”
Heyes reached into his pocket and pulled out Abigail’s letter. “She’s gone and she’s not coming back. She met Randa, and she knows.”
The Kid reached over and took the proffered letter. “So? You were seein’ a woman. That ain’t a crime. You haven’t seen Abi for ten years.”
Heyes nodded and gave a regretful sigh. “That’s what she said.”
The Kid’s brow wrinkled in curiosity. “So, she forgave you for hittin’ her, and she said it was fine for you to see Randa – what’s the problem?”
“Read the letter, Kid.”
Heyes sat in silence watching his partner digest the contents of Abigail’s letter, fidgeting distractedly until a pair of contemplative blue eyes looked into his.
“She’s givin’ you permission to get on with your life. I’d say this was written by a woman tryin’ to give you the easy way out.” The Kid tapped his fingers absently on the arm of the chair. “She didn’t mean to hurt you, Heyes. She dropped in unexpectedly on a man who’d been writin’ to her for years. I really don’t think she’d have come if she’d known how you’d react. She’s smart enough to find another way.”
“I know that,” Heyes ran his hand through his hair.
“So she’s left the way clear for Randa. What’s the problem?”
Just then Jesse and Sam put in an appearance and made their way towards the front door and coat rack. “I'm going to head into town with Sam,” Jesse informed them. “Help him with supplies. Can you boys make sure the horses get brought in for the night?”
“Sure Jesse, no problem,” came the unified response.
“Good,” Jesse and Sam headed out the door. “See you in a few hours!”
Heyes and Jed locked eyes for a second; they both knew that Jesse was only heading in to town in order to give them some more time to talk. They both smiled. Jed got up and went into the kitchen, returning momentarily with the coffee pot. He replenished both their cups, took the pot back to simmer on the stove top and returned to sit down again. Heyes avoided his eyes, tracing his finger along an invisible figure eight on the table.
“So,” Jed reiterated, bringing his cousin's attention back to him. “what's the problem Heyes? You like Miranda don't you?”
“Randa decided to put things on hold. She could see there was unfinished business with Abi.”
The Kid arched his eyebrows. “Hmm, so basically both of them have backed off. One has told you to make up your mind, and the other thinks you already have, and headed for the hills.”
“That’s about the size of it, Kid.”
Jed laughed again, even though he knew this was hard on his friend. “Nothin's easy with you is it Heyes?” Then he shook his head and sobering up, sat quietly and contemplated the man sitting across from him. “So? What about you?” he finally asked. “What do you want? If it’s Randa, the way’s clear. Go to her, tell her.” The Kid watched his cousin nervously pick away at some scratch on the table. “What’s stoppin’ you?”
Heyes fixed the Kid with swirling eyes. “I don’t know. I just don’t know! Why does everything have to be so hard? Why can’t everybody just let me get on with my life!?”
The Kid watched his cousin struggle with his anger and frustration and then he gently reached out and placed a hand on top of Heyes' fidgeting one, calming him. Heyes looked up at him with dark eyes full of anguish. “Heyes, let’s just try to make this a bit more simple, huh? It seems to me that if you wanted Randa, you’d ride into town and tell her, so there’s something stoppin’ you.”
“There is,” Heyes whispered.
“So what is that, Heyes? You’re trying to juggle too many questions at once. You used to be real good at that, and you will be again; but right now you’ve got to think in straight lines – just until you’re yourself again. Think of the answer to that one question – what’s stoppin’ you goin’ to Randa and takin’ her in your arms like a man who’s been in prison for five years?”
Heyes sat back, breathing heavily, staring into space.
“Talk to me, Heyes. I think you know the answer, but you’re scared of it.”
Heyes shook his head. “All that time... It’s been ten years, Kid.”
The Kid drew his chair closer to Heyes’,staring straight into his eyes. “What are you scared of? Just say it.”
Heyes swallowed nervously, pursing his lips and then finally he forced himself to voice that inner fear. “She hurt me so badly, Kid. I just couldn’t take that, not now. Not when I’m like this.”
“So all of that – ignorin’ her, bein’ so angry – that was because you were afraid of bein’ hurt again?”
“I guess,” muttered Heyes and he looked away from the Kid's gaze, almost feeling ashamed of himself.
The Kid gave a heavy sigh. “Heyes, forget about all the fear, the complications, and the doubts. You must have had a dream of how your life would look when you got out. What did that look like to you?”
Heyes let out a rasping breath. He didn’t want to put his mind back in that place, but Kid wasn’t going to tolerate any of the behaviour he’d unleashed on Abigail. He forced himself to focus on the dark corners he only visited in nightmares. “Family,” he rasped. “Being a father to Anya, and living a proper life with Abi. I never loved anyone like I loved her... but that was only a dream. I don't even know if I'm capable of living that kind of life.”
The Kid nodded thoughtfully. “Maybe, maybe not. But that dream kept you goin’, Heyes. I think we can both see now why she did what she did; you two are hard to control – and you know as well as I do that you’d never have stayed away if you’d known where they were. What if Anya had been caught up in it when we were arrested?” The Kid laid a comforting hand on Heyes’ arm. “She lives a happy, normal life, Heyes – no stigma, no danger, and no complications. She’s blossomin’. If that’s what you want, you need to go for it. Abi didn’t toss you out because she hated you, she was protectin’ Anya. There’s no need for that anymore.”
“It seems to me like everybody has left you to make up your mind.”
“She was pushing me at Randa,” Heyes pointed out with a touch of anger. “She covered for me and tried to make out there was nothing between us. She wouldn’t do that if she wanted me.”
“Wouldn’t she?” Jed demanded. “I saw how you were with her. She’s a proud woman – do you really think she’d throw herself at a man who was behavin’ like he couldn’t stand the sight of her?”
Heyes rubbed his face with both hands. “She’s gone. She’s not coming back. Oh, God, Kid, I’ve really messed everything up. She came to help, and I pitched her into a horse trough before I beat her senseless!” Then he stopped and stared off into empty space. “Randa said she didn't want me to commit to her if I had any doubts. That she didn't want me to be wondering if I could have made it work with someone else, if only I had tried that one last time. And she was right. I’ll always wonder if Abi and I really could have made it work if I could just give it that one last try—I'll wonder about it for the rest of my days.”
“Then maybe ya' need to give it that one last try.” Then Kid patted Heyes’ arm and chuckled lightly. “I wish I’d seen her pull you in, I really do!” He stood decisively. “Where is she? Has she gone home?”
Heyes shook his head. “No, she’s gone off after a man called ‘Mitch,’ and I have no idea where she is. Harry went after her to bring her back, and nobody’s seen hide nor hair of him since. You know what she’s like when she gets an idea in her head, she won’t let up. He’s probably stuck with her.”
“Why this ‘Mitch? What makes her think it’s him?’” asked The Kid.
“Instinct, I guess. I’m worried though, this ‘Mitch’ fits Harris’ description perfectly, right down to the tattoo of a dagger on his right arm.”
“Harris? The prisoner from the jailbreak?” the Kid demanded.
“Yup, I’m sure it’s him.”
“But why?” The Kid shook his head in confusion. “Why would he want to harm Beth?”
“I have no idea, but he’d kill a woman as quick as look at her. I’m worried sick, but I have no way of even getting in touch.”
The Kid wandered over to the window, staring out aimlessly at the snow. “I wouldn't worry too much about that Heyes,” he assured his partner. “Steven and I hired Kyle and Wheat to track down Harris shortly after he escaped from the prison.”
“Ya' did?” Heyes was confused. “Why?”
“It started out us wanting to get evidence that you didn't kill Doc Morin,” Jed explained. “Harris was the only one who could clear ya'.”
“Oh,” Heyes nodded his understanding.
“Then when you got your parole, well there was still some question as to who had murdered the doctor so I told Wheat and Kyle to stay on him.” Jed sighed and folding his arms he turned back to face his cousin again. “Now if you're right and Mitch and Harris are one and the same—then—oh geesh! We really do have to find him! That man is dangerous!”
Heyes nodded emphatically. “You got that right! And you sent Wheat and Kyle after him?”
“Well...” Kid shrugged in his own defence. “just to track him Heyes. Not to try and capture him.”
“Oh good,” Heyes was relieved. “Do you know where they are?”
“Last I heard they had tracked him into Nebraska and then were heading into Kansas,” Kid informed him.
Heyes nodded. “That would make sense,” he said. “Abi had received information that Mitch was heading for Missouri so that's where she and Harry headed. Dammit!!” And he slapped the table in frustration. “Why couldn't she leave me a way to get in touch with her!?”
Jed shook his head, waving Heyes' concerns away. “Harry’ll be in touch, at the very least, and the next time Wheat gets in touch I'll let them know to be on the look out for them. We also know where Abi lives. If she's in that area she's bound to go home eventually and then I’ll talk to her.” Kid hesitated at this point, almost scared to ask the next question, but knowing that he had to. “Do you think that bullet was meant for you?”
Heyes gave a heavy sigh. “I sure hope so. I want you and Beth to have a happy life. I owe you that. I don’t know how I would have survived without you.”
Kid turned. “They’re safe now, and we’ll get to the bottom of this. Think hard on what you want, Heyes. If you want to give it another go with Abi, she needs to know it, and I’ll be happy to help. She’s a good detective, but even she could be forgiven for not pickin’ up on the clues you were givin’ her.”
Heyes laughed despite himself and then nodded in agreement. He had behaved like such a fool—a scared, lonely and defensive fool. Then he sobered again and stared down at his hands that were resting on the table.
“Kid?” he finally asked. “How'd ya' do it?”
“Do what Heyes?”
“Almost five years.” Brown eyes full of sadness met blue eyes full of wonder. “You were living a prison term just a surely as I was, but you did it voluntarily. How'd ya' do it Kid?”
Jed came back to the table and sat down. “I had a mission Heyes, and besides that, it wasn't all that hard for me to stay put,” he admitted. “I was always the one who wanted to settle down on some land, be part of a family again—you know that.” Heyes nodded. Jed sighed and thought about his situation. “I love Beth, I really do,” he smiled with reminiscence. “Who would have thought that scrawny little tomboy would end up takin' hold 'a my heart like that?' Then he turned serious again and looked solemnly into his cousin's eyes. “I want to settle down with her, have some land and build on that. I want to have children with her. Is that such a bad thing to want Heyes?”
“No!” Heyes was quick to assure. “I envy you that. I'm not sure I can do that. I'm in love with two different women and I don't even know if I'm capable of settling down with either one of them! I just...I know I want to! But the last six or seven months I've been trapped here—Ohhh Kid, I'm starting to go nuts! It scares me.”
Jed furrowed his brow. “It scares ya'? Why?”
“It's like I'm not able to settle anywhere,” Heyes said softly. “You know me, I always have to be going somewhere—I always have to be challenging something! I don't think that's normal. Do you think that's normal?”
Kid laughed, but quickly stifled it, knowing that Heyes was being serious and that he was indeed, scared. “It's normal for you Heyes,” Jed finally pointed out. “You know, I think one of the reasons you're feeling restless is because you haven't been able to find anything that matters enough to you to make you want to settle down.” Heyes just sat, looking into space and Jed realized that he needed to elaborate. “Heyes, you got so many things goin' on inside of ya' right now. Why do you feel that you have to solve all of them in this instance? One thing at a time, ya' know? Even your brain can't handle all these things at once. You're not trapped here on the ranch.”
Heyes snorted. “Yeah, I may as well be. I can't go anywhere without permission! I may as well be back in prison!”
Jed sat back and sent his cousin a reprimanding look. “There is no way you are going to convince me that living here is the same as being in prison! C'mon Heyes!” Kid was suddenly on his feet again and pacing but he still had Heyes locked down in a gaze that wouldn't waver. “Stop being so cynical, alright? Sure you got some restrictions on ya' but they're livable! And nobody's whippin' on ya'! You got people here who care about ya' Heyes—and you know that!”
“Yeah, yeah—alright!” Heyes figured out pretty quickly that he wasn't going to get away with that self-pitying drivel with his cousin. “I guess I just don't know what I want,” he finally admitted. “I envy you Kid, that's all. You know what you want in your life now, and you know who you want to spend it with,” he shrugged, shaking his head. “I just feel lost and so....indecisive.”
Jed was back in his chair again, running both hands through his curls. A heavy sigh escaped him.
“One thing at a time Heyes. I've had five years to figure all this stuff out, you've just begun,” Jed reiterated. “Let me talk to Abi, let me explain some of this to her.” Heyes frowned, looking like he was about to refuse. “Just—let me see if she'll come back just to talk to ya'! No demands, no expectations—just talk! Maybe it'll help ya' to clear some things up in your own mind, help ya' find yourself again—to be able to decide.”
Heyes hesitated again, but his tightened jaw softened as he considered the Kid's words and then finally his stance relaxed. He looked up at his friend, meeting his eyes and then he nodded.
“Yeah Kid, alright.”
Two hunched figures rode into the wind, the snow mixing with hard pellets of hail which stung the skin, and made the riders pull down their hats and cover their faces with bandanas. The taller one pointed, yelling against the swirling blizzard. “There’s a homestead over there! We’ve got to take cover. We can’t go on in this!”
The smaller of the pair nodded, tugging her reins to turn in the direction of the building. The storm intensified, greying out the visibility until they became mere shadows in the frozen, pallid landscape.
Abigail hammered at the door, her brows gathering in consternation at the lack of response. She paused, listening hard against the door before. “Is there anybody there?” she yelled. She wandered over to the window, and glanced in, sucking in a breath at what she saw. She darted a look at the barn, where Harry was tending to the horses, making a snap decision. No, this couldn’t wait. She drew her gun and strode over to the door, standing to the side as she released the latch, allowing the door to swing open. She waited with baited breath before swinging into the little building, and stood with her back to the wall, scanning every corner for danger.
The place was in total disarray. Seats were toppled over, pots and dishes were strewn on the floor, but Abigail’s eyes were drawn the body on the floor. Congealed blood pooled around the man’s head from the gash in his throat. His gaping mouth was still open in his last rictus scream, but the opaque, sunken eyes spoke volumes of how long he had lain there. About two days, Abigail’s educated guess told her, now she’d had a closer look.
She holstered her gun, glancing at the woman on the bed, the pulled up dress revealing the nature of her intimate attack. She strode over, gently rearranging the woman’s clothing. The least she deserved was some dignity after this horror. Abigail clutched the fabric of her cheap dress, dragging it down to protect her from prying eyes, and looked down at her pale, waxen face, understanding the brutality she had suffered. The woman’s hands were bound to the bed frame and she looked very young; no more than twenty.
Abigail guessed the murdered man was her husband, killed first to allow whoever did this to take his time with her. She cursed her worst Gaelic oath under her breath and reached out a hand, stroking the woman’s cheek, stopping stock-still. She wasn’t cold! Yes, sure, she wasn’t warm, but she didn’t have that marble-cold chill of a cadaver. Abigail leaned over, testing for the weak breath, and stood up in shock. This woman must have lain here for at least as long as the dead man; Abigail scanned her for injury and quickly identified the stab wound to her upper abdomen. Some bastard had left her to die a slow, agonizing death.
She sliced through the ropes and bustled over to the range. Water the woman needed water – and morphine. Was there any? An abdominal injury? No, she couldn’t give her water – perhaps just moisten her mouth.
“What the hell!?” Harry stood at the door like a statue.
“Sorry, I didn’t have time to fetch you. I saw the blood and went in. She’s still alive – just.”
“You went in? What if he’d still been in here?”
“Then he’d be dead, Harry. I’ve done this before, remember?” Abigail was pouring water into a cup and into a bowl. “Can you get rid of the body?”
“An outhouse, a barn – anywhere but here.” Abigail dripped water gently over the woman’s lips before cradling her head. “She’s been raped and left to die, poor love. Search the place; please bring me anything to kill pain. She needs it.
The man’s body had been shifted to the lean-to where logs and various tools were stored – the barn was deemed unsuitable so as not to disturb the animals – which had been frantic for food and fresh water. The floor had been scrubbed of its gore, and Abigail had washed the injured woman and then dressed her in clean clothes, but the place still had a depressing air. The woman was beyond help, especially as it was twenty miles to the nearest town in a terrible snowstorm. Both Abigail and Harry knew that it was only a matter of time, and that was running out fast.
The family Bible had told them she was called Sarah Winters. The water had been reviving, and the laudanum numbed the pain. She had moments where she saw her husband waiting for her, beckoning her; and as that gave her comfort, neither Harry nor Abigail saw fit to disabuse her of that notion.
The woman clutched weakly Abigail’s hand. “One more Christmas…” She sucked in a rasping breath. “We were looking forward… our first married Christmas.”
Abigail smiled softly. “How did you meet?”
“At school,” Sarah’s eyes flickered closed, “I’ve known Jeff all my life.”
Abigail tucked Sarah’s arm under the blanket, gulping down the knot in her throat. “You’re tired, try to rest.”
“Don’t go!” Sarah whispered, desperately.
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here with you, Sarah. You’re not alone.”
Sarah gave a little nod and let her painful, laboured breathing become her only movement. The muscles around her throat stood out whenever her chest rose, her body desperately gulping in air. The gaps in between the breaths gradually widened, and Sarah slipped deeper and deeper into unconsciousness, the air sometimes catching the vocal cords like a murmur of despair.
Abigail sat with her until the end. It was about three o’clock in the morning when she finally stood up and gently pulled the sheet over Sarah’s face.
Harry stirred on his bedroll. “She’s gone?”
“Yes,” Abigail sighed. “We’ve got to find him, Harry. I reckon we’re closing in, but he’s still about two days ahead of us.”
“All for a fresh horse,” muttered Harry, glancing over to the covered form on the bed.
“At least she was able to describe him. We’ll leave the bodies with the law in the next town. I don’t think there’s any doubt he was the man who was after Beth, now. We just have to put a stop to this and find out why.”
“We’ll get him, Abi.” Harry lay back down and turned on his side. “Get some sleep. We have to get on once this storm drops.”
It was a good ten days before Wheat was well enough for the doctor to give permission for them to head out onto the trail again. And then it was only granted with strict instructions for the patient to keep taking his medicine and to make sure he stayed warm and dry. Yeah, right. Good luck with that in this miserable climate!
Kyle tended to hover like an old mother hen and Wheat tended to grumble like an old bear but they still managed to get on the road and put some miles between themselves and that town that had given them nothing but headaches. They'd even managed to get some more money out of that lawyer fella and they didn't even have to lie about why they needed it!
Unfortunately, just as when they had headed into that town, when they finally headed out again the weather wasn't the only thing that was still cold. Harris had completely disappeared and the two friends were back to riding in circles in the hopes of finding some lead to follow.
Trotting into yet another cold, damp and discoloured town somewhere inside the heart of Kansas, the fellas' spirits were feeling just as damp and unfortunate as the town that surrounded them. They dismounted stiff and slowly in front of the livery stable in the hopes of getting the horses tended to and then get some hot food into themselves. Unfortunately as is so often the case, things did not go as planned and a soft bed and the anticipated hot meal was going to come to them at a price.
The two men stood around for a few moments, stamping their cold feet and looking around for the hostler but that fine businessman was no where to be seen. The horses stomped and snorted their warm breath into the cold air while Wheat tightened up the collar around his throat and began to cough and then curse the fact that he was coughing again.
“Where the hell is that lazy, no good....don't he know he's got a business to run?”
“Mebee he's gone off ta' git his dinner too,” Kyle suggested, always willing to give the other fella the benefit of the doubt.
Wheat just snorted. “Here,” he said as he handed Kyle the reins to his horse. “You wait here and I'll go send that telegram to Kid to let 'em know where we are.”
“Yeah, okay Wheat.”
Wheat stomped his feet one more time and coughed into his hands and then with a disgruntled sniff, headed across the street towards the telegraph office. Kyle gave a dejected sigh as he watched his friend walking away. He stomped his own feet and began to pace around in a circle with his hands, still holding onto the double sets of reins, tucked into his arm pits in the hopes of warming them up at least a little bit. The two horses stood patiently, both of them sitting down on a back hoof and playing with their bits.
Kyle began to search the street, up and down the block hoping to catch sight of the livery man but wasn't having too much luck with that. He took note of some of the other people who were out and about on this damp and chilly afternoon but none of them stood out as being of any importance to him and he basically dismissed them. It was then when he took his attention away from the far distance to focus on things in closer proximity that he locked eyes with the very man who had been so elusive up until this instant.
Harris had been trotting his horse up to the entrance to the livery barn when he found himself staring into the startled blue eyes of a very familiar face. He pulled his horse up in surprise and did a quick scan of the street himself before he faced forward again and acknowledged the former convict.
“Hey Murtry,” Harris greeted him, though it came out as a snarl. “Sure didn't expect to see you in these parts.”
“Oh yeah...hi'ya Harris,” Kyle was looking nervous, he didn't care much for confronting Harris all on his lonesome. “How ya' doin'?”
Harris was suspicious, taking note of the two horses that Kyle was holding onto and knowing that where Murtry stood Carlson probably wasn't far away.
“What you doin' around these parts, Murtry?” Harris asked him. “And where's your partner?”
“Oh, we's just on a job down here fer some lawyer fella,” Kyle never was good at lying so he tended to simply fall back on some semblance of the truth. “Wheat's just over there, sendin' 'em a telegram.”
“Oh yeah?” Harris responded, though his attention was no longer on the little man; he was looking around and over his shoulder, not wanting to give Carlson the opportunity to come up on him from behind. He pulled on the reins of his horse, getting the animal to start backing up away from the livery and out into the street again. “See ya' around Murtry.”
“Yeah, ah—take care a' yerself.”
Harris reached the street, turned his horse's head north and nudged him into a trot. Kyle breathed a sigh of relief and began to search in the direction of the telegraph office in hopes of seeing Wheat returning. Suddenly the cold trail had become very hot.
Then Kyle had just enough time to catch a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye when he heard the thumping of horses hooves coming at a run through snow and then onto wood and a loud crack and a flash of fire grabbed his senses. A bullet slammed into the wooden door right behind the ex-convict and Kyle ducked and clutching his head he dashed forward to get in between the two now dancing horses.
Another rifle shot quickly followed upon the echo of the first and the already nervous and blowing horses began to rear backwards and tried to pull away but Kyle stayed with them, hoping to use them for cover. This plan began to backfire however as the horses panicked even more and Kyle found himself in real danger of being trampled. Then Harris' horse was on top of them, plunging headlong into Kyle's little bay and knocking the animal off it's feet.
Kyle went sprawling into the muddy snow, just barely making it out from under the falling animal and saving himself from being crushed. Suddenly the air was filled with panicked equine screams and thrashing hooves scrambling for a foothold in the slippery muck. Wheat's horse pulled away from Kyle's grasp and rearing up, it over balanced and with it's hind feet sliding out from under him, he toppled over backwards and hitting the ground so hard he managed to break the tree of his saddle, rendering it useless.
Harris pulled his own horse out from the fray and then bringing his rifle to bear he took aim at the little man scrambling to get to his feet and draw his own hand gun. Fortunately for Kyle, Wheat had heard the ruckus and was coming at the run with his own revolver in hand and taking aim at the largest object in his sights. He pulled the trigger and Harris' horse let out a quiet snorting squeal and instantly ducked away from the burning pain caused by the bullet nicking him across the top of his neck.
The action wasn't much but it was enough to spoil Harris' aim and he had to scramble simply to bring his injured horse back under control. By that time Kyle had his revolver out and was taking pot shots in Harris' general direction, so that along with Wheat also coming at him made the fugitive decide to head for some other parts. He pulled his horse around, and taking a shot at Wheat to slow him down, he spurred his frantic animal into a gallop and headed for the outskirts of town.
Wheat carried on across the street, cursing under his breath as he came up on his partner and pulled him the rest of the way to his feet.
“Dammit Kyle!” Wheat reprimanded him. “Why'd ya' let 'em see ya'!”
“Wull—I didn't know he was there Wheat!” Kyle tried to defend himself. “He come up on me afore I knowed he was there!”
“Now he knows we're after 'em!” Wheat stated the obvious. “Dammit! C'mon! Stop wasting time—let's go!”
And Kyle kinda gestured towards the two horses that were standing in the middle of the street looking rather woebegone. Both horses were wet and covered in mud while Wheat's chestnut was favouring his right foreleg with the broken saddle still strapped to his back. Neither of them looked inclined to go for a gallop anywhere. Then, wouldn't you know it; the crowd of curious citizens who were gathered around the two horses parted down the middle to make way for the angry scowl sporting a tin badge who had his sights set on the two bedraggled transients.
“What in tarnation is goin' on here!?” came the snarling clipped accent of the man behind the badge.
Kyle started to shift uncomfortably. “Wull....ahhmm....”
Wheat started to cough.
“No sir Sheriff!—cough cough cough—we were hired to track that man and the longer you keep us here jawin' about it the more of a head start yer given' 'em!”
The sheriff sat back in his chair and scrutinized these two vagabonds standing before him. “Really Mr. Johnston,” he commented sceptically. “So you're bounty hunters.”
“No sir—cough cough—we ain't no stinkin' bounty hunters!” Wheat looked truly disgusted. “That man is an escaped convict from Wyoming and we've been hired to track 'em down cause ya' see he's also wanted fer questioning in some other matters.”
Kyle grinned and smiled through the mud, hopefully giving emphasis to his partner's words.
The sheriff looked from one man to the other and practically snorted in disbelief. “You got any proof of this?”
“Well, ah—not on us,” Wheat was scrambling. “Ah but if ya' send a telegram to that lawyer fella who hired us, I'm sure he'll back it up. But still ya' know the longer you hold us here the less chance we got of catchin' up with 'em....”
“Yeah, well you just hold your horses,” the sheriff told him. “cause I'm gonna check out your story and you ain't leavin' town until I get down to the bottom of this. You're both damn lucky that none of our citizens here got hit with any of those stray bullets! As it is the livery is gonna need some repair work done and if this lawyer fella don't back ya' up—and even more to the point; send money to cover the costs then you fellas will be guests of the jailhouse here until you can work off the debt!”
The smile on Kyle's face dropped to an open mouthed frown as the thought of being stuck here in a jail cell sunk in.
“Oh, well now sheriff, there ain't no call fer that!” Wheat was feeling flustered. “We got enough money on us to pay fer any repairs—there weren't none that was too bad! Ain't no call fer us to be stickin' around town now, you just tell us what you need and we can be on our way.”
“Ahh huh,” the sheriff sounded sceptical. “Fine. I will ask Cecil how much he reckones it'll cost and I'll let yea' know. But in the mean time you fellas ain't goin' nowhere's until I can substantiate your story.”
“Oh now, Sheriff, there ain't.....”
“NOWHERE'S!” the sheriff reiterated. “Yer horses ain't fit for travel and if I get wind of you tryin' to buy new ones from Cecil then I'll be throwin' ya both into a cell for the duration! Do I make myself clear!?”
The partners exchanged looks and Wheat started to grumble and then cough, but they couldn't think of no other way outa this. If they pushed the sheriff too hard then he just might do some real digging and find out that Mr. Johnston held an uncanny resemblance to a wanted highwayman who was actually suppose to be dead! The fact that they were in the heart of Kansas where chances were good that no one had even heard of Wheat Carlson did not help the deceased outlaw feel any less anxious.
“Yessir Sheriff,” Wheat finally relented. “We'll just get us a room at the hotel and wait to hear from you to tell us we can go.”
“Fine,” the sheriff seemed content with that. “I will send a telegram to your lawyer friend and we'll see what he has to say.”
Wet snow was starting to come down from a slate grey sky as the partners grumpily made their way over to the hotel to get settled in for the night.
“What are we gonna do, Wheat?” Kyle whined. “This is the closest we come to Harris all year and now we's gonna lose 'em again!”
“Don't ya' think I know that!?” Cough cough. Wheat snarked. “There's nothin' we can do about it! If our horses were fit we could just leave tonight, but as it stands—well I don't think Kid would want us stealin' horses, so we're just gonna havta wait.”
“Ya' okay,” Kyle accepted that. “I guess a night or two in town won't be too bad....” and his sentence trailed off as he sent a sidelong glance over to his partner, thinking how pale he was lookin' and how that cough was startin' ta get bad again.
Meanwhile Wheat had walked on ahead, mumbling to himself “....damn, Kid don't seem to want us to steal nothin' no more...just cause he's up and got his precious 'amnesty', he thinks we all need ta live by his rules.....” Grumble grumble grumble.
Posts : 1467 Join date : 2013-08-24 Age : 63 Location : Camano Island Washington
Subject: Another Long Chase Wed Nov 27, 2013 10:01 pm
Harris was in a foul mood! What the hell was Carlson and Murtry doin' followin' him half way across the goddamn country!? Can't a man go about his own business without having to put up with unwelcome company?
Dammit—what the hell was all that about! Betcha Heyes is behind this somehow—that arrogant bastard always did have it in for him. Made his life a misery in prison and here he was doin' the same thing now that they were both out. What the hell was his problem anyway!? Damned busy body!
And a traitor too—now that he thought about it! Makin' friends with that damn guard and gettin' all chummy with the prison doctor. When push came to shove every inmate in that hell hole knew which side Heyes was on—yeah! Sidin' with the law, damn him! He probably was a spy all along just like Boeman had said, and again Harris cursed the bad aim when he'd ended up hitting Heyes' horse rather than Heyes himself! That would have been one less damn thorn to worry about!
Oh it had been so tempting when he had that whole cozy little picnic in his sights and he could have taken Heyes out right then and there. But 'no', he'd been hired to take out the woman so he'd had to let his own desires take a step back and do what he'd been paid to do. Harris then grinned with malicious satisfaction; it had been a good clean shot—there was no way that little beauty could have survived it. It was a shame in a way; a little thing that pretty, Harris would have really enjoyed takin' that little beauty and forcing his way into her. She probably wasn't still a maiden considering she was with Jed Curry, and maidens were the best, still nice and tight. And most of them fought like hellcats! Yeah—he liked it when they fought back, it made the ride all that more exciting!
Dammit—now he was gettin' all aroused! Even with this perpetual wet cold snow coming down and his persistence in keeping his tired horse moving at a steady clip through the slush, he was feeling his need take hold. Just thinking about what he would have liked to have done to that pretty little Jordan girl before he'd had to kill her was makin' him feel mean. Yeah, he'd just put some miles between himself and those pesky outlaw has beens and he'd find himself a pretty little blonde haired trollop and relieve himself with her! That just might make up for some of this crap!
A day and half later, the sheriff was finally satisfied that the two transients had been telling the truth and even more of a surprise; that lawyer fella had actually wired enough money to their local bank to cover the cost of a new barn door. Cecil couldn't have been happier—it was gonna be an even better barn door than he'd had in the first place!
Then, considering that Cecil was now in a good mood he ended up selling those two fellas a couple a fairly nice horses, fully tacked out, for quite a bit lower than he would have otherwise have accepted. Of course he still made sure that he received a tiddy profit from the exchange—wouldn't be no kind of business man if he didn't! But everyone parted happy and the partners headed out of town, still feeling somewhat frustrated by the enforced delay, but over all, fairly optimistic, especially since it weren't snowing at that particular point in time!!
That first day they pushed the horses fairly hard, knowing that they had a lot of ground to make up. Harris was running scared—or mad—or both, cause he sure wasn't doing much to cover his tracks. Heyes had always maintained that Harris was none too bright. He was mean but he needed someone to point him in the right direction to be of any use. When left to his own devices he tended to make mistakes and our two hero's hoped that this tendency would be his undoing!
That night was spent out on the trail, but though the wind was chilly and the air was damp, no precipitation of any kind fell upon them and with their nice new ground sheet and bedrolls, they were able to spend a relatively comfortable night. Next morning they saddled up at first light and hit the trail again, following Harris' tracks with very little trouble and only twice having to circle back and reestablish the route.
By mid-morning they found themselves in yet another little town but this time the whole place was in an uproar! Apparently some drifter showed up the night before and after some drinks and a little poker had paid for the sexual rights to a pretty little blonde haired saloon gal. Well, she used to be pretty. Nobody really cared too much about the whore but afterwards, that bastard had gone out and found himself someone else to abuse. Apparently once hadn't been enough to satisfy his needs.
If he had just stayed with using the saloon gals (I mean, that's what they were for, after all) it wouldn't have mattered so much, but he just had to push the envelope. He had made his way out to one of the finest houses on the outskirts of town, found out which bedroom window would give him access to the fourteen year old girl who slept there and then at the right time, crept in and knocked her out while she was still asleep.
He didn't make any kind of a run for it—he saw no need. He jammed a chair up against the door, bound that pretty little thing hand and foot to the bed, gagged her nice and snugly and then striped her naked. Then he sat down on the other chair in the room and he waited, admiring her pretty little adolescent body. He waited until she was awake. She had to be awake after all. How else was she going to appreciate everything he planned on doing to her?
He was gone before the first light of dawn bled across the horizon. Gone before he could hear the mother's anguished screams and the father's enraged cursing. Gone before her blood spattered little body was even cold.
This outraged town is what Wheat and Kyle rode in upon. They didn't even hang around to get details, they knew enough to know that they were on the right track and that they were closing in on him. The law in this town obviously wasn't the greatest and Harris had taken the time to hide his trail well enough to get their little posse heading off in the absolute wrong direction.
Wheat snorted with disgust when they came across the simple ruse that had confused the posse, and he and Kyle just booted their horses onwards. Both men could feel the anticipation now; they knew they had Harris on the run and today would be the day that they'd get 'em!
They'd left that town where they'd had the previous run in with Harris too soon. They were so anxious to get after their quarry that they hadn't even thought to check the telegraph office again so they missed the warning from the Kid to not try and apprehend Harris. Nor did they know that Abi and a Bannerman man were also on the hunt. But truth be known, even if they had received that warning, after what they'd heard in that last town neither one of them seemed inclined to just sit back and watch from a distance. They both wanted to get that bastard—and no damn telegram would have done much to stop them!
Jed was walking out of the telegraph office, reading the new message from Kenny that for some reason caused him a certain amount of consternation.
By now he should know that walking and reading at the same time is not a healthy practice because he almost always ended up bumping into someone and this time was no exception.
“JED!” “OH! I'm sorry.” Jed looked up into Miranda's dark blue eyes and instantly felt guilty, although why he would feel guilty he wasn't quite sure.
Miranda smiled at his embarrassment. “That's quite alright. No harm done.”
Jed smiled, trying to relax. “How are you? It's been awhile.”
“Yes, I thought it best to stay away,” she admitted, feeling a little awkward herself now. “How is he? I worry about him you know.”
“Yeah, join the club,” Jed mumbled but then sent her a friendlier smile. “He's alright Randa, just—still feeling a little uncertain about things.”
“Oh,” Miranda frowned in mild confusion. “I thought Mrs. Stewert had left. I thought perhaps....there had been some resolution.”
Jed sighed; there was no sidestepping this. Miranda wasn't going to let him. “Not yet,” he admitted and Miranda's face fell. “Abi has tried to end it only because she thought that you and Heyes were together. Then you ended it because you thought she and Heyes were together. Now neither of you want to see him until he makes up his mind and he's just not able to do that right now.”
“Oh,” Randa perked up and smiled, albeit a little sadly. “Actually, in a way that's good news.”
“It is?” Jed was confused.
“Well yes,” Randa took Jed's arm and they continued on walking together. “I knew that Abigail had left so I thought that meant things were over between them, but when Hannibal didn't come calling—well then I thought that he didn't want to be with me even if he and Abi had called it quits. But now, obviously he just simply hasn't made up his mind; so there's still hope.”
“Oh,” Jed was silent for a moment, trying to digest feminine logic. But then it did kinda actually make sense. “Have you been seeing anyone?”
Randa sighed regretfully. “No,” she admitted. “Not that there hasn't been offers—I'm just not interested in really getting involved with anyone yet. Hannibal caught me by surprise!”
Jed laughed. “Yeah! He has a way of doing that!”
The pair continued to walk on in silence for a few more minutes. It felt a little strained so Randa brought up a new topic.
“Have Belle and Beth returned home yet?” she asked, simply to have something to talk about since she was sure Trisha or David would have mentioned it if they had.
“No, not yet.”
“Oh. It's getting awfully close to Christmas,” she observed. “are they likely to be home for the holidays?”
“So it's just going to be you three 'grass-widowers' alone during the festivities?”
Jed shrugged. “I guess. I haven't heard anything about Bridget and Steven coming out. The weather is so unpredictable this time of year and I know that until we get to the bottom of all this, Jesse would prefer they stay away. Especially with little Rosa. I think it's going to be a rather quiet Christmas this year.”
“Oh no! You can't have that!” Miranda was adamant. “I know David and Trich often come out to the Double J for Christmas, why don't we make it a definite! Trich and I can put on a really nice spread for you fellas!”
“Ohh, I don't know,” Jed was hesitant of agreeing to that, wondering how Heyes would feel having Miranda there. “I think David and Trich were going to spend Christmas day over with her folks this year.”
“Plans can change,” Miranda pointed out, but then she noticed Jed's discomfort and guessed quite easily where it was coming from. “Why don't you ask Hannibal if it's alright with him. If not, we won't come, but if he's okay with it there's no reason why the three of you should spend that day alone. It would be rather depressing, don't you think?”
“Yeah, probably would,” Jed had to agree to that. He for one was disappointed at the timing of all this. Like Jesse he had hoped that this Christmas would finally find them all together again. “I'll ask him.”
“Good,” Randa patted his arm. “and assure him that there's no pressure from me for him to make up his mind. It would just be nice to spend Christmas with people you like, especially if the ones you love can't be there.”
Jed smiled. “Yeah alright,” he agreed. “I'll discuss it with him and I will give him your assurances.”
“Good!” Miranda exclaimed. “Now, I must be off. I didn't come into town just to talk you, you know!”
“Ha ha!” Jed laughed and kissed her hand. “It was still a pleasure!”
“Oh you men!” Miranda teased kindheartedly. “You all love to flirt!”
“Yes ma'am!” Jed saw no reason to deny the accusation.
“I'll see you later Jed,” Miranda bid him adieu. “Let me know what he says.”
At which point Miranda carried on in the direction that they had been going in and Jed turned and went back towards the telegraph office since that was where Gov was parked and patiently waiting for him. When he got to his horse he gave the youngster a rub on the forehead and then opened the telegram to read it again and decide if he should be worried about it or not.
'C and H. Carson fired from Arz. Ter. Prison. Suspected of beating an inmate to death. He's disappeared. K.R.'
Just as he was finishing up reading this for the second time, he felt the presence of another horse coming up beside Gov and he glanced up to be met by Karma's dark red face. He smiled and looked up even more to see his partner just in the process of dismounting.
“Hey Heyes,” he greeted his friend with a smile. “Did ya' have a good visit?”
Heyes shook his head, looking regretful. “No.”
“Why? What happened?”
Heyes sighed. “I just couldn't do it Kid,” he admitted. “I got as far as the front gate to the cemetery and I just couldn't go any further.”
“Oh. Well, maybe you're just not ready yet Heyes,” Jed tried to reassure him. “You got time; I don't think he's goin' anywhere.”
Heyes gave a halfhearted smile. “No, I don't suppose so.”
“Here, what do ya' think of this?” Jed asked him as he handed over the telegram.
Heyes took it and his face darkened as he read through the short note. Then his jaw tightened in anger. “That bastard! Doc said he'd do it again. Dammit!” Then he sighed deeply, shaking his head with regret. “I don't suppose there's much I can do about it though—not with all these damned restrictions on me.”
Jed smiled slightly, having gotten used to his partner referring to the deceased doctor as though he were still a living, breathing entity. “Kenny doesn't even know where he is,” he pointed out. “and it would be foolhardy to go trying to find him this time of year.”
Heyes looked his cousin in the eye and then nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I know. It's just—dammit!”
Jed put a reassuring hand on his cousin's shoulder. “I know,” he consoled him. “C'mon Heyes, let's go home. I was just talkin' to a mutual friend and I got something else to discuss with ya'.”
“You saw Miranda?” Heyes asked as he tried to pull the knife out of his heart.
“Well yeah Heyes. It's not that surprising. She does live here ya' know.”
“Yeah I suppose,” Heyes mumbled as Karma picked her way along the rather icy road. “I haven't seen her since Thanksgiving. And then she danced with everyone but me!”
“She was just trying to give ya' room Heyes,” Jed pointed out. “She's been worryin' about ya'. Just asked how you were doin'.”
“Oh,” Heyes' tone turned cynical. “And then invited herself out for Christmas dinner.”
Jed sighed, getting frustrated with Heyes' attitude. “She just offered that they all come out, hoping to make the day a little more festive for us. She did say that if you weren't comfortable with it, they wouldn't come.”
“Personally I was kinda hoping that David and Trich would come out,” Jed commented. “It would be nice to have something other than stew for Christmas dinner.”
Heyes scowled. “Jeez! First ya' tell me to give Abi another try, practically force me into it! And now you're pushing Miranda at me! Just who's side are you on Kid?! Who you rootin' for?!”
“I'M ROOTIN' FOR YOU HEYES!” Jed yelled back at him, really get fed up with his attitude now. “I just want you to stop hiding your head in the sand! How are ya' gonna make up your mind if ya' keep on avoiding them!?”
“WELL MAYBE I DON'T WANT TO MAKE UP MY MIND! Heyes yelled back, causing Karma to start a little in surprise and anxiety; she didn't like it when her human got angry. “Maybe I don't want either one of them! DID YA' EVER THINK OF THAT!?”
Then booting Karma forward, a little harder than he really needed to, the pair of them took off down the icy road at a cautious gallop, leaving the Kid behind while he held Gov back not wanting to risk his legs on the slippery surface.
“Aww jeez Heyes,” he mumbled to himself as he watched the mare and his partner disappear down the road. At least he was heading towards the ranch and not taking off across country. Jed sigh and gave his dancing gelding a reassuring pat on the neck. “This is going to be one hell of a Christmas.”
By the time Jed arrived back at the ranch himself, Heyes had had time to not only cool Karma down from the slippery gallop home, but time to cool himself down as well. Kid came trotting up to the barn just as Heyes was leading his mare out of that structure towards the field and the two men stopped and stared at each other for a moment.
“Yeah Heyes I know,” Jed responded with a touch of exasperation as he swung his leg over and stepped down from his saddle. “you're sorry.”
“Yeah,” Heyes did indeed look contrite. “I know you're tryin' to walk a fine line here and everybody's bending over backwards to help me adjust! I suppose that's what's so frustrating; everybody's trying to be so nice. Even Miranda, she's just trying to be supportive even though it would probably be hard on her to come out here for Christmas she still offered to do it to try and make the day a little nicer for us.”
“Yeah,” Jed nodded. “I think that's all she was trying to do Heyes. She did say that if you weren't okay with it then she wouldn't come out. I don't think she's tryin' ta' pressure ya'.”
Heyes sighed. “I know! Like I said; that's what's so frustrating!”
Kid just looked at him, his eyes asking the question.
Heyes frowned and shook his head. “Miranda is just so nice. If she was being petty and manipulative it would make all this so much easier. But she's being so nice. She knows I've got history with Abi and yet she still offers to come out to make dinner for us. Why couldn't she be mean and irritating? Why does she have to be so nice?”
Kid smiled. “Yeah, I can see why mean and irritating might be preferable.” Heyes' shoulders slumped, he looked retched. Kid clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Aww, c'mon Heyes—cheer up! It's not every man who has two beautiful women in love with him.”
Heyes groaned. “You're not helping Kid.”
“Sure I am,” Kid countered him. “And one day you'll be forever grateful, on top of all the other debts you owe me!”
“You're gonna get insufferable about this aren't you?”
Jed's smile turned into a full grin. “How often do I have you in my debt?” he asked innocently as he started to lead Gov into the barn. “I just might start making a list of all the things I've done for you over the years; like harassing the governor—or should I say; governors. Not to mention taking the train to Wyoming every month—sometimes twice a month! Oh and we can't forget.....” And so on and so on as Jed and Gov disappeared into the barn and Jed's voice faded away.
Heyes sighed and turned to look at his mare. Karma stood and looked back at him.
“You have my permission to kick him,” he informed her. “any time ya' like.”
Karma swished her tail and flicking an ear, thought about that for a moment. She wasn't really sure that she wanted to kick the other human. They hadn't always seen eye to eye but lately they've been getting along fine, and besides that she rather liked Gov and he might take exception to her kicking his human. No, she thought; she didn't really want to kick him.
Heyes sighed as he turned and continued to lead her towards the field. “Yeah, I suppose you're right,” he agreed. “He'd never let me live that one down.”
“Yesterday?” Harry’s moustache echoed his spreading smile, giving Abigail a meaningful nod. “He left here yesterday? So we’re right on his tail?”
“Yes, spent a night in the cells for fightin’. Damn! Why didn’t I hold onto him for longer?” The sheriff darted a look at Abigail before he scratched pensively at his chin. “Sorry about the language, ma’am, but why were you folks after this guy?”
“He’s suspected of attempting to kill a young woman in another state. I was brought in by her family to track him down.” Harry gazed over the road towards the undertaker’s office. “The description Mrs. Winters gave was an exact match for the man we’ve been tracking.”
The sheriff sighed and glanced at Abigail. “It ain’t usual to bring a woman on a job like this. I will have to check out that identification, Mr. Brisco.”
“He’ll check out,” Abigail nodded. “I agree it’s not that usual to bring a woman, Sheriff Andrews, but I’m an expert shot, at least as good as you are; and I have a vested interest. Mr. Brisco didn’t want me around, but as a private detective he had no choice. It was a good job I was there. Mrs. Winters needed a woman’s touch.”
“I couldn’t agree more, ma’am. God forbid anything like that should happen to any of my womenfolk, but I’d like to think there’d be a gentle hand to help them if it did.” He stood looking out at the street, full of bustling activity and chattering groups. “Bringin’ in something like this has set the town afire. My deputy is gettin’ a posse together. You’re welcome to join us, Mr. Brisco – provided the Bannerman agency confirms your identity.”
Abigail stiffened. “And me?”
“The law’s on his trail now, ma’am. You can stay here – or leave on the next train. You’re free to go. You’re not a suspect.”
Her eyes narrowed, sensing there was little point in arguing. She gave a curt nod and turned on her heel, striding out into the street.
She heard clattering footsteps behind her on the sidewalk. “Where are you going?” Harry demanded.
“To get my horse. I’m going after him.”
“Abi, there’s no need. The law’s on his trail now. We’ll get him.”
“Yes, and they’ll want to know all about the Winters; he won’t be questioned about why he was after Beth. Nobody’ll care, because this double murder is a hanging offense. We’ll never know why he was after Beth, or even if it was him at all. I need to get to him first.”
“I’ll stay with the posse, Abi. I’ll question him,” Harry persisted. “I’ll find out.”
She cast thoughtful eyes down to the ground. “Yes, that’s probably a good idea. People are really angry. They could kill him on the spot.”
“You can’t be seriously thinking about going after this animal alone?” Harry spluttered, incredulously. “Go back to the Double J. Wait for me to tell you what he says when I’ve questioned him.”
“I have no reason to go back there.”
Harry frowned, sensing a deeper meaning behind the bleakness lacing her words. “But what if something needs to be followed up after we get him?”
“Then I’ll do it. There’s no need to go all the way back there before I do.”
Harry laid a hand on Abigail’s arm. “What happened between you and the boys? Why are you here if they’re so hostile towards you?”
Abigail gave his hand a pat. “I’m here for the Jordans, Harry. I know how it feels to lose your daughter to a criminal, and I’ll do whatever I can to prevent that happening to anyone else.” She gave him a watery smile, watching his face register the gravity of her words, “and if that means I have to put up with a bit of attitude from Hannibal Heyes; then I’ll swallow it down, and carry right on.” She clattered off down the sidewalk, turning to give Harry a reassuring nod. “I’ll see you on the trail. I’m sure you’ll catch me up.”
“I can’t let you go on alone.”
She shrugged. “It’s not your call, Harry. It’s best that you stick with the posse, so you can be part of the questioning if they get to him first. We need that, because they won’t just lynch him if there’s a Bannerman there. We’re lost if that happens.”
“What kind of man would I be if I let you ride out of here on your own?”
“A professional one. The posse will soon catch up with me, we both know that – and the only way I can stay involved is if it’s too much bother for them to take me back. Go with them, Harry, I’ll be fine. If we get split up, send a telegram to the Bannerman agency and tell them to let me know where I can find you. We’ve been tracking Mitch for the last twelve days, even using trains when we’ve had to; we can’t fail at the last hurdle.”
“Abi,” Harry called. “did you tell Heyes and Jesse how to stay in touch with you?”
She stopped at the corner and shook her head. “Nope. I’m done there. You can do that. There’s no point in both of us doing the same thing. Heyes and Curry didn’t invite me here, and we both know I wasn’t welcomed by our resident ex-outlaw. ‘Bye, Harry! See you soon… hopefully.”
It was cold and damp as usual for this god-forsaken State. No new snow had fallen but the snow that was there was insisting on hanging around, turning the ground into a slushy mushy mess. The cold breeze that kept up a constant fluttering all around didn't help to make the scene any more pleasant or endurable. Indeed the only good thing about this situation is that Harris' tracks were plain as day to those who knew how to read them and Wheat and Kyle not only knew how, but knew they were catching up.
By early afternoon they spotted the speck in the distance moving away from them at a steady pace and Wheat took his spy glass out from his saddlebag and zeroed in on the gradually diminishing object. They had thought they had caught up with him before only to find that it was some deer or stray cow and they didn't want to get their hopes or their adrenaline up before they knew for sure. The land out here was so flat they could see for miles and it was an easy enough thing to mistake one moving object for another.
Sure enough, as Wheat focused in on that speck in the distance, this time it developed into a man and horse, who by the casual way they were moving, had not realized yet that they were being scrutinized.
Wheat lowered the spy glass and smiled. “Yup, it's him.”
Kyle grinned while he continued to chew and then he spit out some of the brown juice. “So what's the plan Wheat? We can't exactly sneak up on 'em.”
“You got that right,” Wheat agreed. “Why don't we just hang back here a bit—wait and see what he does. If he don't spot us, maybe we can come up on 'em when he's makin' camp.”
Kyle grinned even wider. “Yeah.”
Again, things do not always go as planned and twenty minutes into the slow motion chase the two pursuers noticed the speck make a slight change in direction and then turning back onto it's original course, started to move off again. Since the speck was moving directly away from our boys and since the ground was mud and snow rather than dirt it took a moment for them to realize that their quarry had obviously spotted them and was on the run.
Once that fact had been ascertained all need for discretion was gone and they roused their horses from the casual jog and booted them up into a gallop. They knew they were on fresher horses and probably better ones as well so it didn't surprise them to find the distance between pursued and pursuers quickly diminishing. Their blood was up and the excitement of the chase was taking hold to the point where even Wheat wasn't feeling the cold anymore and they encouraged their horses to run faster and the lead that Harris had became shorter.
Then Harris turned abruptly to the right and headed at full speed towards a copse of trees such as they were in this bleak landscape, obviously hoping for some cover. This instantly put a little more pressure on our heroes to pick up the pace if they could; if Harris made it to cover then he could turn and start taking pot shots at them and there they would be stuck out in the open.
They started to push their horses with earnest now but even then they knew that Harris was going to make the trees before they could catch up with him. They kept at him in a straight line until he did indeed plunge in amongst the trees and though they could see him inside the sparse branches, he still had the advantage for cover. They saw him dismount and get ready to make his stand so the partners instantly split up in order to come at him from either side rather than straight on.
Wheat had an eery feeling of deja vue only from the opposite side of things as he remembered Morrison and his posse attempting to trap Wheat in this very same type of manoeuvre. Hopefully he and Kyle would be more successful than that posse had been. Then his musings were cut short as Harris' rifle barked from the cover and Wheat experienced that knot of anticipation of a bullet hitting home. But Harris missed his shot and Wheat's horse kept going, and then they were into the trees themselves.
Harris turned to attempt to bring Kyle down on his other side but he was too late as that horse also jumped over some dead-fall and then disappeared into the jumble. Harris cursed and quickly made a run for his horse. He could hear them coming, one on either side and if he'd been smart he would have stayed where he was because at least there he would be able to see them and he had some cover. But as we all know Harris was not all that smart. He panicked.
Wheat had drawn his revolver right after he had entered the woods, not wanting to bother with his rifle in such close quarters so he was ready as soon as he had a target. It didn't take much of weaving in and out between the sparsely spaced tress before he caught sight of movement just up ahead of him and he levelled his revolver and fired. He didn't hit his mark as a tree branch got in the way, but he did succeed at spooking the horse and that animal lunged backwards and tried to get away from the brutal human who was holding on to him.
Harris became so preoccupied with trying to hang on to his horse and level his rifle to get a shot off at Wheat that he totally forgot about Kyle coming up on him from the other side. Kyle didn't bother with any of his firearms as the quarters they were in were too close now and he didn't want to take the chance of hitting Wheat by accident. He aimed his horse straight at Harris and just as the fugitive heard him coming and spun to face him, Kyle's horse hit him full force with its chest and sent the man sprawling into the cold wet mud.
Harris had the wind knocked out of him but he still tried to scramble to his feet and having dropped his rifle, went for his handgun instead. Kyle spun his horse around again and basically ran the fugitive over and probably would have done some damage if it wasn't for the mud cushioning him. Harris tried to push himself up and out of the mire, coughing muck out of his mouth but by that time Wheat had jumped down from his horse, and running over to the barely recognizable Harris, kicked him in the ribs and sent him rolling onto his back.
Harris started to curse as best he could while still spiting out mud, but before he had a chance to recover Wheat was standing over him with a cocked revolver staring him in the face. Harris stared back up at him and snarled.
“What the hell you doin'!?” he garbled up at the previous leader of the Devil's Hole gang. “What are you doin' comin' after me!?”
Wheat grabbed him by his shirt front and hauled him to his feet. “Shuddup!” Wheat was disgusted with all the carnage this man had left in his wake and was in no mood to be genial. “Tie 'em up Kyle!”
Kyle grinned with malicious pleasure; finally seeing this brutal bastard at a disadvantage was making his day. “You betcha'!” And he hurried forward with the leather straps they'd had on them just for this eventuality and was quick to get Harris' hands pulled behind his back and tied together.
Throughout all of this Harris was cursing and snarling but still not taking his eyes off the gun in Wheat's hand. He was a bully and a half when he had the advantage but he still preferred to do his fightin' from behind and certainly not when he was outnumbered.
“You fxxxing bastards!” he continued to curse. “What are ya' doin'!? I thought we were all on the same side here!”
“I ain't never gonna be on the same side as a man who'll treat a lady the way you do!” Wheat snarled at him.
Kyle snickered as he gathered up the three horses and got them secured. “Yeah. You got some s'plainen' ta' do.”
Harris glanced from one then back to the other again. The sneer wasn't leaving his muddy face. “What are you talkin' about? What's that to you?”
“Well, ya' see....” Wheat explained, like he was talking to a child. “we got some friends up Colorado way who really wanna have a word with you.”
“Colorado?” Harris repeated, but even through the mud they could see the blood leave his face. “I ain't been near Colorado.”
“Well whether you have or you ain't is no mind to me,” Wheat continued. “but there are still certain people who want to have a word with you about some things that happened at that prison in Wyoming. Yeah,” Wheat smiled. “they're real interested in havin' a few words with you.”
Harris shifted a little nervously on the fallen tree they had him perched on. “You don't know what yer talkin' about. You got nothin' on me!”
“Hell, that don't matter none,” Wheat told him. “We ain't the law—we don't need nothin'. All we need is you, and that's what we got, ain't it.”
Harris snarled again and made a lounge for his captor. Wheat got his hands up to block him and Kyle made a grab at his arms before he'd even taken one step.
“You bastards!” Harris yelled at them again as he was unceremoniously shoved back down onto his perch. “What the hell game are you playin'!? Heyes put you up ta' this didn't he!? That fxxxin' sanctimonious bastard! I shoulda kilt him when I had the chance....”
Harris didn't even see the blow that thudded into the side of his head, momentarily stunning him.
“Who you callin' a bastard—you bastard!!” Wheat had him by the front of his shirt, shaking him in his anger. “We seen what you done to those ladies! And we heard about worse...so don't you go callin' Heyes a bastard! And for yer information you never had no chance ta' kill 'em—you don't have the brains ta' get the better of Hannibal Heyes!”
“Yeah!?” Harris challenged as soon as his head stopped spinning. “I tell ya' I had that son-of-bitch in my sights more'n once! I ever get him there again—I'LL KILL 'EM!”
“Big talk for someone in your situation,” Wheat growled at him. “If I was you I'd start given' some serious thought to answerin' whatever question are put to ya' if you have any desire to be seein' daylight again. You just think on that!”
“I ain't tellin' you nothin'!” Harris snarled back and then spit at his captor.
Wheat stepped out of the way but then landed another blow to the other side of his head, nearly knocking him to the ground. Kyle was starting to get a little worried that his partner was becoming to wrapped up in his role.
“Hey Wheat....” Kyle started, a little hesitantly. “don't ya' think you should stop hittin' 'em so's he can answer the questions?”
Wheat snarled over at his partner but then snorted and backed off. Kyle was right; Wheat had been gettin' ready to beat the living daylights outa this snake and then he'd be no good for nothin'. Harris smirked, thinking that these two worthless outlaws were no match for him. This was going to turn into a waiting game; sooner or later they'd slip up and he would slit their throats. Everything was going to be alright.....
Abigail picked her way carefully through the undergrowth. She had been told that a man matching Mitch’s description had been in the town of Joplin, and he had left, heading east, on the main road out of town. There had been numerous tracks in the snow, coming and going, but they had diminished as she had gotten further from town. In the end there had been only the track of a wagon, heading towards town, and the tracks of three horses, heading east.
Alarm bells were ringing in her head. Three men? She was confident she could take on Mitch, but if he now had confederates, things were a lot more complicated. Where the hell was that posse? She knew any group was only as strong as its weakest member, and that the ground they covered would be dictated by the horses and men more used to working fields than tracking felons. Finding him, and leading the posse to him, might have to suffice if he now had back up.
She crept further forward, stalking more cautiously now she could hear the murmur of voices on the copse of trees. She moved like a cat, until she could peer through the branches of a service-berry bush. It was stiff in its winter armour, with prickly, harsh stems now devoid of leaves, but it would give her cover if she remained still and didn’t draw the eye; which was why she wore an ashen brown coat – it melded into rocks and shrubbery so well. What she saw surprised her. A smile twitched at her lips. She knew two of these men – and they knew her.
“What we gonna do, Wheat?” the smallest of the group kept his rifle, held in the crook of his elbow, in the direction of the man sitting on a rock. “We were told to find him, but that lawyer fella never said what to do when we got him.”
“We’re gonna contact him, see what he wants us to do,” the largest one replied.
“So, one of us goes back to Joplin and sends a telegram, but we’re gonna have to keep going back to town to check.” The smallest man shook his head ruefully. “You ain’t fit to be campin’ out in this weather, Wheat. How are we gonna fix this?”
Abigail stood, making her way into the clearing. “Maybe I can help?”
Wheat and Kyle turned, their weapons pointing straight at her. “Hands up,” barked Wheat.
Abigail gave him a reassuring smile and raised her hands. “Don’t you remember me? We’ve met before. I brought a group into…” she glanced cagily at ‘Mitch.’ “Well, let’s not give too much away to him. Remember that place you used to live?”
Kyle’s eyes narrowed as his toothy mouth widened. “Wheat? Ain’t she that Pinkerton who came to The Hole?” He squinted at her, aiming the rifle firmly at the interloper before glancing around. “Who’ve you got with you?”
“A Pinkerton?” Harris shuffled anxiously.
“You, keep still!” Wheat roared at his prisoner, he eyed Abigail cautiously. “Yeah, it is her… not that you’d know it in those clothes. What’ve you done to yourself? Why’re you done up like some kinda buckaroo? You can get shot real easy, got up like that, and wanderin’ into a man’s sights.”
“You need to watch him, he’ll stab people just for fun. Have you searched him well?
“Sure have.” Kyle chewed lazily at a gob of tobacco. “And we got no worries about him knowin’ who we are, ma’am. We were in prison together, ain’t that right, Harris? He knows me real well.”
Abigail’s eyes widened. “Harris? So you were in prison with Mr. Heyes?”
“And he broke right out of there too, ma’am,” Kyle spat messily onto the snow. “He’s wanted.”
“Why’re you here, and who’s with you,” Wheat demanded. “I can’t believe you’re dumb enough to waltz in here alone.”
“I guess I am that dumb. I really am here alone.”
“You don’t expect me to be stupid enough to believe that, do you?” growled Wheat, before breaking into a gut wrenching cough.
Posts : 1467 Join date : 2013-08-24 Age : 63 Location : Camano Island Washington
Subject: The Long Chase Wed Nov 27, 2013 10:11 pm
Abigail walked forward slowly, her arms still raised. “I’m here alone because they wouldn’t let a woman join the posse. They’re behind me, but I don’t know how far away they are. We’ve been looking for a violent man called, ‘Mitch,’ who’s suspected of taking a shot at Beth Jordan. On the trail we came across the body of a man he killed, and his dying wife.” She stared at Harris. “You raped her, didn’t you? It took her days to die.”
Kyle’s eyebrows flew up. “What do you think you’re doin’, settin’ off after an animal like this alone? You’re just plumb loco!”
Abigail gave Harris a cold stare. “So you’re Harris, and you were in jail with Mr. Heyes. Why would you shoot Beth Jordan?”
“Go to hell, you slut!” Harris snarled at her. “You got nothin'!”
Kyle stepped forward and cracked Harris on the jaw with the butt of his rifle. “Don’t talk to her like that! D’you hear me, Harris!”
Harris fell to the ground, muttering oaths and obscenities all the way down.
Wheat glanced uneasily at Abigail. “How far ahead of that posse were you?”
“Relax, Mr. Carlson. I have no interest in turning you in, and I believe I can help you hand this piece of trash over to the law without exposing yourself to the risk of arrest.”
“He might be able to say what really happened when Doc Morin was killed in prison.” Kyle pushed back his hat. “That’s why a lawyer fella was payin’ us to find him.”
Abigail nodded. “You seem to be around a lot of violent incidents, Harris, and you have a whole lot of questions to answer. I’ll let your lawyer friend know he’s been caught, so he has the chance to ask the questions he needs to.”
Wheat lowered his gun, gesturing for her to drop her hands. “Just what are you proposin’, ma’am?”
“I had intended to track him down and make sure I led the posse to him, but now you’ve got him, I’d be better taking him their way, or to the sheriff in Joplin; whichever comes first.”
Wheat shook his head. “Nuh-uh, you ain’t goin’ anywhere alone with him.”
“I can handle a gun, Mr. Carlson. Tie him to his horse, and I’ll be just fine.”
“I don’t care, ma’am. I ain’t lettin’ no woman go off on her own with a murderin’ rapist.” Wheat narrowed his eyes. “Even if she is the law.”
Abigail gave a wry smile. “Aw, Mr. Carlson, but you were prepared to see me dead the last time we met.”
“Dead!” Wheat spluttered. “I never laid a finger on you.”
“No, but when I was seized by an armed man, you told him it made no difference to you if he shot me.”
“I was callin’ his bluff! I ain’t never hurt a woman in my life,” Wheat blustered. “And never will, neither.”
Abigail smiled. “I’m teasing you. Look, if you don’t want to hand him over, ride with me. If we meet the posse, you can head off as soon as we see them. I’ll cover for you.”
“I can’t trust you,” Wheat simmered.
“You can. I’m not a Pinkerton anymore, and in any case, Hannibal Heyes did a deal with the Pinkerton agency to lay off The Devil’s Hole Gang as long as they hit properties protected by their competitors, remember?”
“Heyes did arrange a truce, Wheat. Remember that nun? She was a Pinkerton too, and told us about that deal - in Howden?”
Wheat’s eyes glittered suspiciously. “Do you think I was made by a finger? You ain’t a Pinkerton no more, you just said so – so the deal won’t stand if you’re workin’ for somebody else.”
“Mr. Carlson, I have no reason to turn you in. It’s not why I’m here and it’s none of my business. I’m no longer a detective.”
Wheat coughed again. “Then why are you followin’ a man like Harris on your own, if you ain’t the law.”
“Because I’m helping the Jordans. Their daughter was shot in the throat! She’s engaged to Jed Curry, you know.”
Wheat and Kyle exchanged a glance. “He shot Kid’s fee-on-cee in the throat?” growled Kyle, rolling the word ‘fiancé’ around his mouth like hot marbles. “He killed her?”
“She lived. But I need to know why he did it.”
“Like hell she lived!” rumbled Harris. “That was a clean shot!”
All three of his captors looked over at the prisoner.
“Well nice ta' meet ya' there, 'Mitch'!” Wheat sneered at him. What an idiot!
Harris scowled, suddenly realizing that he had just admitted his guilt.
Kyle grinned but then they all quickly got back down to the business at hand.
“If’n there wasn’t a posse on the way, I’d make him talk,” grumbled Wheat. “But helpin’ her to hand him over’s our best chance.” He fixed Abigail with a glare. “You’d better be tellin’ us the truth lady, or I’ll make sure I get the chance to get away – no matter who’s in the way.”
“Such a suspicious mind, Mr. Carlson. Stay like that, and you should stay ahead of the law.” Abigail nodded towards Harris. “He’s a violent moron, and you’re so much better than the likes of him. Let’s go. I give you my word that I won’t turn you in.”
Wheat stiffened at the sight of the posse cresting the brow of the hill.
“I made you a promise, Mr. Carlson, and I meant it.” Abigail darted a look at Harris, his hands bound to the pommel of the saddle. “Get out of here. The posse’s in view. I’ll be fine from here.”
“If you’re sure…” muttered Wheat doubtfully.
Abigail fixed Harris with a determined gaze. “If you so much as try anything, I’ll shoot your horse out from under you. Got that?” Harris stared out towards the approaching posse with a look of resignation on his face, but remained silent. Abigail turned back to Kyle and Wheat. “Go, and good luck to you both.”
Kyle tipped the brim of his hat. “’Bye, ma’am. Give Kid our regards.”
“I won’t see him again, but I will make sure your message is passed on to those who will. I’m sure he’d wish you the same.”
Kyle nodded and tugged at his horse’s reins, following Wheat into the trees.
Abigail led Harris’ horse up the hillside, towards the posse. They rode for about ten minutes before Harris let out a yell, kicking into his horse as hard as he could. The startled animal took off, Harris using his legs to steer her straight into Abigail’s mount. Her gelding reared, throwing her to the ground, before thundering off the way they had come. The fall knocked the breath out of her, and she lay winded on the cold, hard ground, cursing under her breath and damning herself for not being better prepared. All those years living a soft life – she was clearly losing her touch.
She garnered her shattered nerves and reached for her gun; she didn’t want to shoot a healthy horse, but she could not allow Harris to get away. She sat up and aimed, pausing in surprise; two horsemen were galloping out of the trees, heading straight for Harris. Abigail smiled in relief; Wheat and Kyle – they had stuck around after all. She lowered her gun, in no doubt that the riders powering towards the criminal would soon catch him. Riders had broken off from the posse, and were quickly battering towards her.
Harris did well, considering he was not able to use his hands, but Wheat’s much larger horse was closing fast. The convict was clearly desperate to remain free; he leaned forward, into the wind, his horse’s ears flattened back as the hooves threw up dirty snow behind the flowing tail. Wheat’s horse was almost upon him when Harris suddenly changed direction, whirling around back towards Abigail – but Harris hadn’t counted on Kyle.
Years of running from the law had taught him a thing or two about evasion, and he had already been bringing pincer movement around to head him off. Harris had played into their hands, he suddenly saw Kyle heading straight for him, he tried to turn yet again, but it was too tight a turn, and the animal stumbled, falling onto the snow with a squeal. Kyle leaped down, calming the struggling beast as she desperately tried to get to her feet and released the leather thong binding the convict’s hands to the pommel before he was dragged away by his panicked mount.
“On yer feet,” bellowed Wheat, his gun pointed firmly at Harris’ head.
Hooves thudded to a halt beside Abigail. “You!” She looked up into the angry grey eyes of the sheriff of Joplin.
“Sheriff Andrews. You’re here,” she gave him a conciliatory smile, realizing that there was nothing she could say which would make her seem anything other than a bumbling idiot, especially after Harris’ escape attempt.
“What do you think you’re doin’, comin’ all the way out here on your own?”
“I decided I couldn’t wait,” she replied, amiably.
“I take it that’s the man we’re after. Have you any idea what he could have done to you!?”
She climbed to her feet dusting off the snow. “I told you; I have a vested interest in catching this man.”
“That’s not an answer!”
Abigail clenched her jaw. “You know damned well I’m aware of what that man has done. Don’t ask stupid questions, unless you want a stupid answer.”
Andrews narrowed his eyes. “Lord preserve me from meddlin’ women.” He turned. “Duke, Bishop! Go get him.”
He glared at Abigail. “Lady, unless you do as you’re told around here, you’ll be treated the same as him, and you’ll end up in my jail. I’m in charge around here; got that?”
She nodded meekly. They needed to keep this man on their side if Harry was to have access for questioning. “Yes, I’ve got it. It’s just that I need that man to be caught more than I need to stay alive. Can you understand that?”
Andrews’ eyes mellowed. “Just leave this to us, will you?” He raised his face to look at the man struggling between two deputies. “He ain’t too impressive.” He gave a heavy sigh. “You’re under arrest for the murder of Sarah and Jeffrey Winters. You ain’t worth the dirt they spent their life diggin’ in.”
“He also needs to be questioned about two attempts on the life of Beth Jordan, and the murder of a Doctor Morin,” Abigail cut in. “There’s a lawyer who needs to interview him, as well as my detective. There are issues in other states we need him to answer to. The governor needs to be informed.”
“Your detective?” chuckled Harry. “Since when was I ‘yours?’”
“Arrest them,” yelled Harris. “That’s Wheat Carlson and Kyle Murtry from The Devil’s Hole Gang. Wheat’s alive, and he’s still wanted; Murtry’s breakin’ his parole by bein’ with a criminal. Arrest them!”
Sheriff Andrews’ grey eyes surveyed the two strangers closely.
Abigail was quick to leap to their defense. “Nonsense! They’re miners who just happen to be in the area; they did everything they could to help me. Why would The Devil’s Hole Gang do that?”
“Don’t listen to her,” Harris cried. “She’s a Pinkerton! I heard them talkin’ – they have a deal where the Pinkertons don’t arrest them.”
“A Pinkerton?” Andrews gave Abigail an appraising look. “I have heard that they hired female detectives. Real professional too. That would explain why you headed out here on your own…”
“Would it explain why I hired a Bannerman agent?” Abigail started talking, and she talked fast. “You checked him out yourself. Why would I need to hire a detective from the Pinkerton’s biggest rivals? You saw him get away from me- did that look like a professional at work?” She cast out a hand towards Harris. “He’s trying to inconvenience good men who helped bring him in. Are you going to lock up half the posse next? That’s a great reward for these men for having a civic conscience.”
Andrews paused before nodding towards Wheat and Kyle. “Yeah, she’s right. You can go, and thanks for helpin’ out, fellas.”
Wheat threw Abigail an almost imperceptible smile, coupled with a toothy grin from Kyle. “Much obliged.” Wheat touched the brim of his hat. “You take care, ma’am.”
Abigail smiled at both outlaws. “You too. You’ve done a good thing today and I’m very grateful.”
Wheat gave her one last enigmatic look and tugged at his reins, before riding back into the trees with Kyle.
Abigail looked up from her book, her brows gathering in curiosity. Who was knocking on her hotel room door? Harry was over at the jail, trying to get the chance to question Harris, as he had been every day this week. “Who is it?”
She dropped her book in surprise, scooting off the bed before turning the handle. “Jed!? What are you doing here?”
He smiled, dropping a light kiss on her cheek. “I came to see you. We’ve been worried about you. We didn’t even know how to get in touch until Harry sent a telegram.” He held her face in his hands, searching for any trace of the injuries he’d been told about, flinching slightly at the newly-healed scar on her eyebrow. “How have you been? Did it all go smoothly?”
She glanced out into the hallway. “You’re alone?”
“Yup.” He watched her carefully. “Were you expectin’ Heyes?”
Her eyes became more guarded. “No. Not at all. You’ve just arrived? You must be hungry after that journey.” “I sure am. I’ve just checked in here. You fancy joinin’ me for lunch?”
She smiled. “Of course, let me get my jacket.
They sat facing one another over the red-chequered table cloth, The Kid observing her with a careful scrutiny before he poured them both a glass of water. “How have you been, Abi?”
She shrugged, giving him a smile. “Fine. Wheat and Kyle send their regards.”
“You saw them?”
She nodded. “They were a big help. They’d found Harris, and were debating the best way to hand him over to the law when I came across them. They were very sweet – they wouldn’t leave me alone with him, and only headed off when the posse was nearly on us.” She sipped at her water. “They even came back, because Harris made a break for it. Wheat really put himself in danger to look after me. He had to meet the sheriff. I owe him.”
Kid smiled. “I’m glad to hear it, Abi. Wheat would hate a man like Harris.” He frowned. “I read about the Winters family in the newspapers. Terrible…”
“It was,” Abigail replied. “It took nearly three days for that poor woman to die.” She sighed heavily. “Let’s talk about something more cheerful. You met Anya?”
Kid grinned. “She’s beautiful. A real special little girl.” He paused. “I did want to talk to you about her. Heyes needs to meet her.”
She nodded. “We’ve spoken about that. I’ve told Mr. Heyes that I will make arrangements when all this is over. It shouldn’t be long now – not now we have Harris.”
“Yeah, I read your letter. Heyes showed me.” The Kid sat back waiting for her to respond, but she merely smiled benignly at him. He eventually gave in. She was as stubborn as Heyes, and if he didn’t break the silence, they could sit here all afternoon. “It was a real sad letter.”
“It was a real sad meeting,” she replied, paraphrasing him with precise attention. “I truly regret going to the Double J.”
Kid reached out a hand, clasping hers. “He’s sorry, Abi.”
“That makes two of us.”
She pulled her hand away as the waitress brought their meals over and deposited them in front of them. “Do you folks need anything else?”
Abigail shook her head. “Not for me. This all looks great, thanks. Jed?”
“Nothin’ else for me, ma’am.” They watched the waitress bustle away. “I don’t think you understand what I mean, Abi. He’s sorry he treated you so badly. Really sorry.”
“That’s kind of him; tell him I’m sorry too.” Abigail prodded idly at her fried chicken. “I don’t know how long it will take for Harry to get the chance to interview Harris. He’s been trying for the last three days.”
“Don’t change the subject, Abi. You know what I want to talk to you about.”
She flicked up dark eyes, fixing him with a hard stare. “I don’t want to fall out with you too, Jed, but there’s nothing to talk about.”
“I don’t agree. I made the point of coming all the way out here to see you about this. He’s been confused. He was completely broken down in that place. His head just wasn’t in the right place, and seeing you took him right back to the last moment he saw you. He regrets that, and wants to see you again.”
“I accepted his apology, and I told him I was sorry too. I can’t see that there’s anything else to be said on the matter.”
“You used to confuse him, even when he was at his best, Abi. He never really knew where he was with you.”
“Where he was with me? I had exactly the same problem. We were both drawn to one another, but we had to back off because we were on different sides of the law. We’d get close because we couldn’t resist, but we had to walk away because it had the potential to destroy us all. It happened over and over again, but when that started to affect a child it had to end – he simply can’t forgive me for that.”
The Kid picked up his cutlery, deciding on taking another tack. “If that’s how you feel, Abi. I always thought you two were made for one another, and he does forgive you.”
“He was a fully-fledged criminal when I knew him. He knew that I couldn’t live life on the run, yet during that time he made no effort to break down that last barrier. There was no talk of amnesty then, and he didn’t do anything to build a life with me for my own sake – and now he blames me for ending that? It couldn’t go on. It was torture for me - it was torture for both of us; but I couldn’t let it harm Anya.”
“Prison focused his mind on what he wanted in life, and you had a lot to do with us going for amnesty.”
“Really!?” She gave a snort. “He seems to think I was especially hard on him.”
“You were the law, and he was a criminal. Other folks were hard on him too, and managed to stay friends. He’s close to Kenny the warden.”
“I suspect the nature of our relationship was different, Jed.”
The Kid grinned. “No argument there. Kenny’s married.”
Abigail fixed him with resigned eyes. “What do you want, Jed?”
“I want you to come back with me. Heyes has now gotten his head together and he wants to see you. There are a lot of things he needs to tell you.”
“I’m not going back, Jed. I’m sorry you’ve had a wasted journey.”
“Abi, you have unfinished business.”
“My business with Mr. Heyes is about as finished as anything can be.”
“No, it’s not, Abi. You have a child together. That’s a lifetime commitment.”
She toyed idly with her food. “I know, and I’ve dealt with the relationship with his daughter, but he wasn’t interested in me. I’ll go further than that – he was positively hostile. My way ahead is very clear now.”
The Kid tapped his fingers on the table. “Yeah, he told me about the horse trough. I’d have given anything to see that.” His eyes glittered with laughter before he turned serious. “He told me he’s never loved anyone the way he’s loved you. He thinks he went on the attack because he couldn’t take losing you again.”
“That makes no sense at all! Are you telling me he drove me away to save himself the pain of losing me? Besides, all his feelings are in the past – he’s moved on.”
“He wasn’t thinking straight, Abi. You may have noticed that when you walked in on his nightmare.” His gaze wandered over her face. “You’ve healed well.”
“I had the stitches removed a few days ago.” She dropped her eyes. “Jed, please leave this or I’ll walk out. He’s found someone else. He may deal with the idea of me, but when I’m there he can’t stand the sight of me. Has anyone thought about the effect all this has had on me? I can’t take any more.”
“I have, Abigail. You lost your daughter in the worst possible circumstances, but then you went on the run because Heyes wasn’t about to leave you to stand trial alone. That put you in a lot of danger – you weren’t to know it’d all work out. You could have ended up in jail for a long, long time – just to save Heyes.”
“He wouldn’t have gone. I had to do something,” she murmured. “If there’d been a trial, he’d have stayed – and he’d have been locked up.”
“Yup, and you made sure that didn’t happen by runnin’ off. I appreciate that, Abi. Not everyone in your position would have cared.” He reached out his hand and clutched at hers. “And you’ve killed, Abi. I know how that feels. I know what that does to you.” He looked into her eyes pushing home his message. “That’s easy for some folks, but it isn’t for you. I understand that.” The Kid sighed. “We now both understand why you sent him away when you had Anya. You were right, it was best for her.” His long fingers curled around her hand. “How are the dreams?”
She gave a gasp of exasperation. “Are there no secrets between you two?”
The Kid gave her hand a pat. “Some, but he told me you helped… he also told me how low you got. Abi… I’d have helped. You could have found me if you’d wanted to.”
“You come as a pair… then I found out I was pregnant again. Contacting either of you wouldn’t have helped. It would have made things worse.”
He looked deeply into her eyes, willing her to understand. “Abi, you were so alone you tried to kill yourself, for God’s sake! I didn’t know you were so desperate. Didn’t you think we’d look after you at your lowest point?”
She looked down at the tablecloth, her lashes forming perfect crescents against her pale skin. “No…” She tugged at her hand, but he held firm. “You look after him. I’m on my own. I know that now more than ever.”
The Kid groaned. “You’re not, Abi. You can ask us for anything.”
Abigail dragged her hand away and stood. “As long as he doesn’t have to lay eyes on me?” She shook her head. “He’ll meet his daughter, and I’ll keep my side of the deal.” She tossed down her napkin. “Seeing him told me that it wasn’t about me anymore; in fact it probably never was. I was just another challenge to him. I’ll see you around, Jed…”
The Kid watched her stalk from the restaurant. Heyes had been right; this wasn’t going to be as easy as he’d hoped. Why had he made that promise to Heyes?
Great puffs of steam blasted out from the train, obscuring Abigail’s skirts as she walked along the platform. She looked sharply up at the whistle, its shrill scream grating on her psyche. The murky, opaque cloud faded, gradually revealing the long legs and sheepskin jacket of the Kid. He smiled, bright blue eyes cutting through the grey vestiges of vapour before it dissipated into the cold winter air.
“Harry told me I’d find you here.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I was shipping Jesse’s horse back to him. I’ve just signed the manifest.”
“Berry? He’s a real nice, little colt. Is he all settled in? That’s a long journey for him.”
“He’s fine. I just made sure he had plenty of fresh straw and oats. He’ll be checked when they get to the next stop in about five hours. There are two other horses in there too, so he has some company.”
The Kid smiled. “Can I see him?”
“The train’s due off any moment.”
The Kid scanned the platform. “Most of the doors are still open, we got time. Show me.”
They strolled along, passed the wagon and freight cars until they reached an open car. “He’s in here.” Abigail made a nickering sound before calling out to the animal. “Berry, we’ve come to say goodbye again.”
A pair of big, brown eyes followed the velvet nose out of the stall, puffing in excitement, and flicking his ears forward. Two humans? Maybe he was getting out for a ride?
The Kid walked in, stroking the nose before stretching over and patting Berry’s neck. “Good boy, you’ll be alright for the journey.” He looked around at the two other heads reaching out to see why their new friend was getting so much attention.
“Aw, look, they want some fuss too,” Abigail murmured, rubbing her face on the nearest muzzle. “He should be fine. He’s got company.”
“Yeah,” the Kid wandered further into the car, looking around. “It’s not good to be lonely. Is there another horse to come? The stall at the end is empty.”
“I very much doubt it. The train’s off any moment.” As if to confirm her words, the voice of the conductor echoed around on the platform, followed by the shrill blare of his whistle. The sounds of doors slamming shut reverberated through the train. “We’d better get off. It’s leaving.”
The Kid nodded. “Yeah, it is.”
She looked up at him, standing between her and door. “Seriously, we need to go.”
The Kid gave a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry about this, Abi.”
She arched her eyebrows in surprise. “Sorry about what?”
He strode forward and wrapped an arm around her, lifting her off her feet while clamping his other hand firmly over her mouth. He quickly dragged her into the end stall, falling on top her, pinning her to the ground. She fought, overcome with disbelief and shock, but she was no match for the strength of a man who had at least fifty pounds on her.
“Sshh!” the Kid hissed in her ear.
She heard the conductor at the door of the carriage and kicked out, only to find the Kid clamping her into immobility with his legs. She frantically tried to scream, but the muffled cry was lost against the face full of straw, the gloved hand, and the excitement of the horses who reached over their stalls trying to assess if the humans were playing or fighting. Should they be worried about this turn of events? In the face of no actual confirmation, they decided to snort and roll their eyes, their hooves clopping and banging on the wooden floor, ready to flee if things took a turn for the worse. Her muffled cries were completely lost in the excitement.
“Clear,” someone shouted, before the door was slid firmly shut.
She struggled harder. What the hell was he doing? This train was about to leave. “Mmnnuugh!”
“Wriggly little thing, ain’t you,” chuckled the Kid. “I’ll let you go in a minute, once we’ve got goin’.”
She squawked in frustration, but the train had started to move, chugging slowly out of the station. The Kid relaxed his hold, still keeping his hand firmly clasped over her mouth. “Not long now, Abi. We just need to get up to full speed. We’ll be well out of the station, then you can scream your head off as much as you like. Nobody will hear you.”
He felt her groan in vexation, hearing the station slip further and further out of earshot. The rhythm and throb of the engine grew until it maintained an even throb. He released her, and sat back against the wall of the stall, waiting for the inevitable explosion. She climbed to her knees, blasting the hay from her mouth and picking pieces from her dishevelled hair.
She stared into the eyes glittering amusement, her hands clenching into little fists of anger. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE PLAYING AT!?”
“You wouldn’t talk to me, Abi. I need to speak to you somewhere where you can’t scuttle out in a huff.”
“Scuttle!? Huff!? This is kidnapping.”
He tilted his head. “Yeah, I guess I’m gonna have to throw myself on your mercy there.” He gave her his most glittering smile. “I’m not as good with words as Heyes, I’m more of a doer. This way, we’ve got five hours with nothin’ else to do but talk. If you’d have been Heyes I’d have cracked him on the jaw; I can’t do that to you.”
She sniffed. “What did you push me into!? Urgh,” she looked around as the reality of the situation sank in and slumped down into the hay, the jagged elbows of her folded arms levelled at him like gun barrels. “What are you thinking!?”
“You’ll have regrets for the rest of your life if you don’t talk to him.” He raised his eyebrows to echo his smile of appeasement. “One talk – one chance. He’d be here himself, but the terms of parole make that hard for him.” He gave her his most innocent look but the underlying glint of humor shone through. “Abi, I’d never have done that to you if it wasn’t important, but you need to give it one last try. How can I persuade you? Doesn’t it show how desperate I am?”
“Desperate!?” she dropped her head into her hands. “There are some things you can’t force. You know that.”
“Abi, I only want to talk. At the next stop, we’ll go wherever you want to go. I’ll make sure you’re safe, and I give you my word of honor I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”
“You, of all people - I trusted you, Jed.”
“And you still can, Abi.” He rested his arm on his crooked knee. “Can you honestly say you wouldn’t have regrets, in the wee small hours of the morning, if you don’t give it one last try? You’re free to do that now, for the first time in your lives.”
Abigail fixed him with anguished, dark eyes. “He’s moved on, Jed. I won’t go back to be humiliated. Why won’t you listen to me? It’s over.”
His eyes softened. “Abi, he and Randa have called it a day. They both knew he had unfinished business with you.”
Her brow knotted in curiosity. “She finished it, I know she did – he didn’t.”
The Kid nodded. “Yeah, but before he could, she beat him to it. It seems everyone can see this but you.”
“Me? All I saw was a man who could barely bring himself to look at me. He talked briefly, but only after he was hit by the shock of beating me.”
The Kid pulled off his hat. “Abi, I had a long talk with him. He wants to see if he can make it work with you. He’s confused, about you, Randa, prison - even about why you’d encourage him to see another woman.”
“He’s moved on, Jed. I tried to make that alright for him. I was trying to get out of this with some dignity.” She tugged at her hairdo, lopsided and full of straw. “You just don’t seem to want that to happen, so you?”
“Dignity?” The Kid sighed. “It only takes a few minutes to say goodbye to someone, but it takes the rest of your life to try to forget them. Where’s the dignity in regret? I’ve never found any, and God knows; I have enough regrets to build my own jail cell.”
“I know all about regrets, and the one thing I don’t want to do is add to them. I don’t want a man I have to chase and fight for attention.” She let her head drop back against the wall and closed her eyes. “I don’t have the energy for this anymore. Why can’t I just have a normal life; like any other woman!?”
The Kid moved over to sit beside her. “Because you’re not like any other woman, darlin’. You don’t fit into the peg holes life gave you, so you went out and made your own. So did Heyes… and he wants to see you.” He looked over at her. Trails of tears where running over her pale skin and her chest heaved in silent sobs. He watched her, noticing for the first time that her defences were crumbling; she was always so guarded, so emotionally reserved; but that was breaking down before his eyes. Was she weakening, or had her relationship with him changed along with their circumstances. The Kid reached over and stretched a comforting arm around her. “What are you scared of, Abi? You can tell me.”
Abigail dropped her head, taking in gulps of air, hesitating to vocalize her worst fear.
“Abi, you’re as bad as Heyes. You’re too scared of bein’ hurt to open up, so you’re hidin’ from life. Stop it. Haven’t you learned that doesn’t work?” He gently brushed away a tear. “You know, for real smart folks, you two have a way of reinventin’ dumb.”
She spoke, but was unable to hold the Kid’s gaze. “I’m afraid I’ll find out that it never mattered at all… if I don’t go back, I’ll at least have that…”
“Aw, darlin’, is that all?” The Kid held her close, rocking her gently in time to the motion of the train. He smiled softly. “I can promise you that’ll never happen. I wish Heyes had asked me for something so easy to deliver. He asked for you.”
To Be Continued
Posts : 5114 Join date : 2014-07-12 Age : 52 Location : Scotland
Subject: Re: Another Long Chase Chapter four Wed Jul 30, 2014 9:21 am
Another great chapter. The chase is truly on with different parties converging on the fugitive. Nice how you painted a picture of the growing working relationship between Harry and Abi. Thank you for not using Harry solely as comic relief, but also showing that he has his merits. And I love your Kyle and Wheat. You managed to achieve something I never thought I would say: Wheat is my new hero! You have me really worried for him, though. I hope he gets to see a doctor who can do something for his poor lungs. Hmmm, maybe David could turn into the private physician for all ex-Devil's Hole residents? Loved the way you referred to the two as "the dead man and the free man". Now, wouldn't that be a good title for something? Harris sure is a nasty piece of work - hopefully he has everything he deserves coming to him. Maybe Kenny could be persuaded to provide certain tools in this case? As for Heyes - poor man, all his self esteem eroded away, he is still a victim of his turbulent emotions. No wonder he finds it hard to make up his mind. How could he with so much fear, guilt, anger etc. clouding his once so brilliant mind. Good job he has Jed to talk some sense into him and play Cupid (even though I never heard of Cupid using box cars as a tool before). Abi is taking the high road (understandably) by setting Heyes free. But her self sacrifice is not going to help anyone out of this love triangle. And it also rings for me a little bit of Heyes deciding to commit suicide to set his friends free. Kudos, you do manage to put a lot into this second series. I think I have not mentioned it before, but I admire the way you weave all the different strands of the story together. That looks like no easy feat.
_________________ "I can resist everything - except temptation" Oscar Wilde For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
Kattayl likes this post
Posts : 1467 Join date : 2013-08-24 Age : 63 Location : Camano Island Washington
Subject: Re: Another Long Chase Chapter four Wed Jul 30, 2014 10:35 am
This chapter was a challenge to write but has turned out to be one of my favorites.
I intentionally wrote Wheat as a more competent individual than the character in the series thought I tried to keep his basic personality the same. It just didn't seem likely that Heyes would have kept Wheat on if he were a complete idiot. He resented Heyes and didn't mind showing it, but he could be relied on to do his job.
Funny how some characters will take over and start writing themselves. Harris was definitely one of those characters. He really did turn out to be a mean SOB didn't he?