The Bounty Hunter
The Kid dropped his saddlebags on the bed and smiled at the mousey woman who smiled meekly at him through her little round spectacles.
“Do you like the room, Mr. Jones?” she asked, cautiously.
“It’s great, Miss Smith,” he grinned, and darted a look at Heyes who gave a nod of appreciation. “Better than the hotel, and cheaper too. I’m glad the hotel was full, but it’s sure gonna be confusin’ with two Smiths, ain’t it Joshua?”
She gave a little sniff. “I don’t see why, it’s a very common name. Thank you for the compliment, though, I do my best. I believe I offer a better service than the hotel, for a better price. The food is good too. It’s all home cooked.”
The Kid gave a sigh of satisfaction. “That sure sounds good. When’s dinner?”
Miss Smith headed towards the door. “In two hours.”
Heyes pulled off his hat. “Is there a bath, ma’am? We’ve been on the road for the last couple of days.”
“That’s one thing we can’t do like a hotel, Mr. Smith.” She smiled apologetically. “It’s just me and a maid, so we can’t go humping great bathtubs full of water to the room. I do have a washhouse out the back, you can fill the boiler from the pump and there will be enough in there to fill at least three baths. You’re welcome to use the bathtubs hanging on the wall in there, but you’ll have to do the hard work by yourselves. All I ask is that you leave the place as you find it.”
The partners exchanged a nod. “That sounds just fine. We’ll see you at dinner, ma’am.”
“Elizabeth!” The pretty maid dropped the awestruck, dark eyes which had scrutinized the two handsome strangers, and scuttled over with her tray to collect the empty dishes from the table. She paused, fluttering her black eyelashes at the blond man as she leaned close to him to collect his plate.
“You sure didn’t exaggerate, Miss Smith,” the Kid sat back contentedly in his chair. “That was a real good meal.”
Miss Smith collected the serving dishes from the centre of the table. “Why thank you, Mr. Jones.” She turned to the late arriving guest who walked into the dining room. “Mr. Jenkins, as you can see you have missed dinner, but I’ll be happy to plate you up some chicken pie and mashed potatoes.”
Jenkins gave the boarding house owner a grateful nod. “That would be swell.”
Miss Smith turned to Heyes and Curry. “Coffee? I can serve here, or in the lounge.”
“If you don’t mind, Miss Smith, we’d like to go over to the saloon,” Heyes smiled hopefully at the woman.
“Of course, I lock the door at eleven, gentlemen. Please bear that in mind.” She turned to Elizabeth. “I may be fairly late myself. Mrs Latimer is having a little get-together for us ladies before her wedding tomorrow.” The mousey-haired matron turned to the men. “I very rarely go out, but she’s old friend of mine and she’s been so happy since she met the new undertaker. She’s been very lonely since she was widowed.”
The Kid gave a mischievous chuckle. “Well, try to be back by eleven, ma’am – we don’t want to see you gettin’ tiddly and trying to climb in the windows after lockdown!”
Elizabeth and Miss Smith giggled at the very thought. “You clearly haven’t met Mrs. Latimer, Mr. Jones. I very much doubt there’ll be anything stronger than cordial served.”
The partners collected their hats and strode out into the street.
“Thaddeus?” Heyes murmured. “Does Jenkins look familiar to you?”
The Kid turned worried eyes on his cousin. “No. Do you know him?”
“I dunno,” Heyes shook his head. “There’s something... I’m just not sure. Let me drink on it.”
Two ex-outlaws crept quietly down the hallway towards their room, having resolved to spend the night and leave first thing in the morning. They still couldn’t place Jenkins but there was no point in taking chances.
The metallic clicking of a gun through the darkness made their stomachs sink.
“Hands up. I have a gun to the head of your curly headed friend here. One false move and he’s dead.”
The Kid gave a resigned sigh. “He’s tellin’ the truth Joshua. I can feel it on the back of my head.”
“Fine,” Heyes replied, calmly. “Just take it easy, huh?”
The Kid felt his weapon removed from the holster, and heard the clunk of Heyes’ gun dropping onto the runner on the hall floor.
“Walk,” hissed the voice behind them. “Into the dining room, just follow the light.”
They did exactly as they were told, cautiously entering the room. “Are you alright, Miss?” The Kid turned, glaring into the dark, scowling eyes of Jenkins who held a gun on them. “What have you do done to her? Why’s she tied up like that?”
Jenkins grinned at the weeping maid tied to the chair. “She’ll be fine as long as she does as she’s told. I just needed to keep her quiet.”
“What’s this all about?” Heyes demanded, not quite sure he wanted to hear the answer.
Jenkins gave an unsavoury grin. “Bounty.”
“Bounty?” Heyes did his best to sound incredulous.
“Yup, and there’s no point of arguing’ about it. I ain’t in the mood. Just do as your told, and don’t make me do this the hard way.” He tossed some ropes at the Kid and nodded towards Heyes. “Now tie up your friend, and make them knots good. I’ll be checkin’ and any ‘mistakes’ will mean some real pain to that little lady.”
Heyes and Curry shared a glance of resignation, nodding in reassurance to Elizabeth. “You’ll be fine, Elizabeth. He’s not here for you.” Heyes shot an angry glare at Jenkins. “She’s terrified! What have you done to her?”
“Nothin’, but I guess bein’ held at gun point by a stranger and tied up is scary for normal folks, huh, boys?” He gestured with his weapon. “Now, do as you’re told! Tie him up.”
The Kid muttered under his breath and picked up the rope. “Joshua, best do as he says.”
“Smart choice,” growled Jenkins.
The Kid worked until Heyes was thoroughly bound to the chair before being checked by the gunman. “Right, you sit over there and tie your feet together.” Jenkins watched, making sure the Kid followed his instructions. “Hands behind your back. I’m handing you a noose, put your wrists in it.”
The Kid did exactly what he was told, quickly feel the loop tighten. The rope was wrapped tightly around a couple of times before Jenkins felt comfortable enough to place his gun on the table and ensure that the job was completed to his satisfaction. He stood back eyeing his captives cautiously.
“So? What now?” Heyes demanded.
“We wait. Miss Smith ain’t back yet.” Jenkins took a seat in front of the door . “I want every member of this household here, and tied up, before I do anythin’.” He smirked, clearly pleased with his work so far. “Don’t want anyone wanderin’ in while I get the sheriff and untyin’ anyone else, do we?”
Heyes arched his eyebrows innocently. “Don’t we?”
Jenkins frowned. “No – we don’t.” His face changed, the penny visibly dropping in front of them. “I know,” He stared at Elizabeth, whose eyes widened in panic. “I’ll use her.”
“What for?” Elizabeth started to struggle and sob.
“Relax, little lady. I’m gonna send you to the sheriff, that’s all, as soon as Miss Smith gets here.”
Heyes twisted his hands behind his back. “You’ve made a mistake you know.”
Jenkins shook his head. “Nope. You know when you walk in somewhere and you think you recognise somebody; but when they’re here right in front of you, it can be hard to place where you first saw them?” He crossed one leg over the other. “But eventually it falls into place. I knew, and I’m certain.” He gave a puff of satisfaction. “All these years of scratchin’ around for a livin’. I’m on easy street now.”
“Not yet, you ain’t ,” muttered the Kid, ominously.
“Don’t threaten me, it ain’t gonna work. Just sit tight until the last piece falls into place, and the girl can go get the sheriff.” Jenkins chuckled to himself. “They’ll need to take real care with the locks though. Don’t wanna have any that’re too easy to pick, huh? I’m gonna warn the sheriff to take special care.”
“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about,” snapped Heyes.
“Do I look like a man who cares,” barked Jenkins. “Shut up!”
Heyes tugged at his wrists again, but it was futile. The Kid wasn’t going to take any risks with that young woman’s life. He’d tied the knots tight, just as he had been told. Heyes’ frustration grew, knowing that his whole life was about to trickle through another man’s hands like dust in the wind. They were trapped.
His dark eyes caught a movement, a tiny, insignificant glint on the brass of the handle. It was oval, so only the playing of the light over the scratches and dents betrayed the displacement of the gleam from the oil lamp, but it was moving – slowly, almost imperceptively – it was turning. Whoever was behind the door couldn’t be any worse than what was sitting right in front of him, so Heyes made a snap decision. It was time to distract Jenkins.
“Thaddeus, do you remember that time someone mistook us for bank robbers? Where was that?”
Kid’s eyes narrowed, picking up on Heyes look, rich with meaning. “San Francisco.” He darted a dismissive look at Jenkins. “Our lawyer sure made him pay. What did he call it? It wasn’t the same as kidnappin’, but it amounted to the same thing.”
“Yeah, what was it that lawyer called it?” Heyes fixed his gaze on the Kid, knowing that the keen blue eyes had spotted the door opening a tiny crack. They needed Jenkins to focus on them.
“There was a fancy word. Latin, wasn’t it?” queried Heyes.
“Latino?” The Kid shook his head. “Nah, he was German, wasn’t he? What was his name, Schwarz, Schwarmer – no wait.” A smile spread over the Kid’s face. “Schmidt. That was it. I don’t know why it was so hard to remember. It’s Smith in German. Just like your name, Joshua.”
Jenkins stirred irritably. “Why don’t you shut up?”
The door had now opened and their landlady was creeping into the room bearing the ugly bust of some bald, old Roman which had been sitting on the sideboard in the hall. It was made of some kind of polished stone, and what it lacked in attractiveness it made up for in weight. Jenkins had been stupid enough to sit with his back to the door, so he could keep an eye on the captives in the dining room.
“’Smith,’ Huh,” Heyes mused. “That has to be one of the commonest names in the world. After ‘Jones,’ that’s real common too.”
“Not as common as ‘Smith,’” the Kid countered. “That’s your name, it’s the landlady’s name – they even have it in other languages. What’s German for ‘Jones?’”
“I dunno?” snorted Heyes. “Doesn’t ‘Smith’ mean someone who makes something? What’s ‘a Jones?’”
“Will you two shut up!?” bellowed Jenkins. “Who cares what ‘a Jones’ is? We all know that ‘Smith’ is a fake name for an outlaw! One with a bounty waitin’ to be collected.”
Miss Smith sucked in a silent breath. She was now creeping up behind the man holding her guests and maid at gunpoint.
“I’m no outlaw,” Heyes said, defensively. “I’m a security consultant.”
“Smith? That’s just a lazy alias.”
“No argument there, Jenkins,” smiled Heyes. “It’s not an alias I’d have thought up. I’d have come up with something like Studemeyer or Lopez.” He cast his eyes to the ceiling. “No, a French name. That would work. Everyone would spell it wrong, so there’d be a dozen versions.”
Miss Smith brought her blunt instrument down on the back of Jenkins head with a sickening thunk. He crumpled, toppling to the floor, his gun falling from his grasp. Heyes gave the spinster a grateful smile. “Thank you! He seemed to have the mad idea he could collect a bounty.”
She bit into her lip, searching in the sideboard for a steak knife before releasing them from their bonds. “I’m so sorry for this. We’ve NEVER had anything like this happen before.”
Heyes stood, making sure he collected Jenkins’ weapon. “I don’t doubt that, ma’am. We’re real sorry.”
She frowned. “You’re sorry?”
“Yes, I’ve no idea who he thought we were.”
She sliced through the ropes binding the boy’s hands. “Really?” she chuckled. “It wouldn’t be that he thought you were Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry?”
Blue eyes met brown in a look of consternation. “Why would he think that, Miss Smith?”
She shook her head ruefully. “Because that’s who you really are. We’ve met before, a long time ago.”
The Kid glanced at Heyes. “I think you’ve made a mistake, ma’am.”
“Nope, my real name is Betty Barclay, the sister of Jim and Bob Barclay.”
Heyes’ jaw dropped open. “Betty Barclay? The female outlaw who used to crack safes for the Barclay Boys?”
“Yup,” she nodded. “I saw you through the window of the cabin about twelve years ago when The Devil’s Hole Gang took shelter at Robber’s Roost at the same time as us. My brothers wouldn’t let me meet any of you because they were worried about a woman amongst all those different outlaws.” She narrowed her eyes. “If only their protective instincts had extended to not dragging a sixteen year old girl out on robberies because she could open safes!”
“But we heard she was blonde, and real pretty,” stammered the Kid, suddenly realizing that he’d called the woman plain.
Miss Smith pulled off her glasses. “How kind, but I have changed my appearance quite deliberately. I’ve been living a quiet life, taking in boarders and doing some specialist dressmaking.” She stared sadly down at the unconscious man on the floor. “I was the only one of the family who studied under my father to learn his trade as a locksmith, and my brothers used me until I got enough the confidence to walk away from them. That’s where I got my alias. It was short for ‘locksmith.’ I also thought it’d be so common a name that nobody would question it.” She smiled at Heyes. “I guess you thought much the same.”
“Kid, get him tied up before he comes round,” Heyes gestured towards Jenkins. “I think the question is, which ‘Smith’ did he recognize? You or me?”
“My thoughts exactly,” the woman nodded, sadly. “I’d settled in so well here. I was happy, but now I have no choice. I’ll have to leave – right away.”
“Heyes, what about her?” the Kid looked cautiously over to the maid wiping tears away from her pale face.
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about Elizabeth. You’ve always known who I really am, haven’t you? She can be trusted.”
The girl nodded. “We’ve always known this could happen.” She sniffed emotionally. “We’ll have to go into our plan, won’t we?”
Miss Smith gave Elizabeth a reassuring smile. “You’ll be fine. Just give us until morning, and then get help. Rub your wrists to make it took like you just got out of the ropes, and get the sheriff. We should be clean away by then.”
Two rough-looking men and a raggedy boy huddled in the third class compartment of the train, talking in hushed tones.
“So where will you head, Betty?” Heyes asked, quietly.
“East, I think. I’ll be less likely to bump into anyone from my past there, and I can make a fresh start.”
“It’s a cryin’ shame that you have to leave your home behind you. You’ve lost everythin’,” muttered the Kid.
“Not necessarily,” Betty smiled, discretely. “I have everything in my daughter’s name. She’ll sell up and meet me when I get somewhere safe. Didn’t you guess that Elizabeth is my daughter? Betty is short for Elizabeth.”
The partners exchanged a smile. “Nope, we never guessed. I reckon you’ve got a better plan for livin’ an honest life than we have,” the Kid replied.
“I might go back to lock Smithing. Nobody in the east will associate me with Betty Barclay, and I can go blonde again, and have a last chance at looking pretty before I’m too old. Where will you boys go?”
“Anywhere the wind blows us, Betty,” Heyes murmured.
She nodded. “Well, you could always head east too. Folks always need a locksmith, Heyes.”
Heyes shook his head. “Nah, I can’t see me shut up in a shop every day, Betty, I think we’ll just keep going the way we have been. Our whole life has been a lie. I guess we’ve just got to find a way of telling better lies. Maybe if we keep pretending to be better men, we’ll eventually end up that way.”