Calling their Bluff
‘Heyes, you’re such a liar.’
Dark eyes twinkled in the Kid’s direction as a dimpled grin spread across his face.
‘Aw, thanks, Kid, but I’m older than you. I’ve had more practice.’
The Kid dropped his head to stifle a chortle as he watched the matronly figure recede down the wooden sidewalk. ‘A lawyer? You?’
Heyes shrugged. ‘It’s the best way to find someone. Especially if you put the word out that they may be in line for an inheritance. They’ll find you. I gotta be seen to be lookin’ for her and middle-aged women in small towns love to talk about things like that. It’ll be all over town in an hour.’
The Kid smiled at his partner, crisp and smart in his neatly pressed suit.
‘So...? How does it help Dorothy Murtry for you to put the word about town that she’s an heiress? I thought we were after Stubby Potts?’
‘He romanced her out of nearly two hundred dollars and he’s gonna be back when he finds out that there’s a lot more where that came from. He’s gonna pay Kyle’s sister back with interest. No one messes with the Devils’ Hole gang and Kyle’s real upset that she’s been made such a fool of.’
‘Feel like letting me in on it?’ queried the Kid. ‘You clearly got a plan.’
Heyes’ eyebrows arched heavenwards as his eyes twinkled mischievously.
‘Ooh, Kid. You’re a big part of it. You’re gonna call his bluff... as his love rival.’
The Kid’s face did more than drop, it fell heavily.
‘No way, she looks like Kyle in a frock,’ he jabbed a finger into his partner’s chest. ‘Besides it ain't right to court a friend’s sister. There’s a code of honor, you know.’
‘Aw come on, Kid. She’ll know it’s all an act. You want to help don’t you?’
‘Get someone else to do it. What about Wheat...? Or Preacher?’
‘They’re his friends too. What happened to this code of yours? It’s gotta be you Kid. Someone might know Wheat ‘cos he’s Kyle’s close friend and Preacher...? I just can’t see him as the romancing type.’ Heyes shook his head and started to beam engagingly. ‘It’s gotta look real and we need him desperate enough to act fast. An expensive engagement ring should cover the cost for her. He ain’t gonna do that unless his rival’s real handsome. You’re the only one who fits that description, Kid.’
The Kid’s jaw firmed determinedly refusing to get sucked in by flattery.
‘I ain’t doin’ it, got that? That’s my final word on it!’
Dorothy Murtry’s blue eyes glittered up at the Kid as she watched him wince yet again at another leaden stomp to his toes. ‘Ooooh, Mr. Curry, this is marvellous. I took dancin’ lessons from my pa ‘specially for this.’
‘Really?’ incredulity swarmed all over his face. ‘You used to be worse than this?’
The Kid twirled her round the dance floor watching the suspicious glare from Stubby Potts from the sidelines.
‘He’s watchin’ us. It’s workin’,’ Dorothy’s prominent teeth protruded through her open-mouthed smile. ‘I don’t think he can believe that I got a man as handsome as you.’
The Kid’s heart softened as he smiled at her. There was way more than a touch of the desperate about this homeliest of homely old maids. That was how Potts had managed to worm his way into her life’s savings and those of her father’s, thinking that they were investing in her husband-to-be’s future. As soon as he had his hands on the cash he had dropped her like a hot potato, leaving her both destitute and mortified by his public pronouncement that he could never share a bed with such an ugly old hag. There was really no need to add that extra touch of cruelty. The man deserved a Hannibal Heyes plan.
‘You’re a lovely person, Miss Murtry and you deserve so much better than the way he treated you,’ he twinkled straight into her heart. ‘And it’s an honor to dance with you.’
‘Oooh, Mr...,’she paused as he let out a muttered curse and pulled his foot out from under her’s yet again. ‘Sorry, should we sit down?’
‘I think that’d be a good idea. How about some lemonade?’
‘Oh, yes please.’
The Kid wandered over to the trestle table and deliberately stood next the short, mono-browed, neckless Neanderthal who had been actively glaring at him while he had been dragged around behind the beat of the music. He smiled at the troglodyte. ‘Evenin’. Good barn dance. Ain’t it?’
‘Is it?’ he snapped.
The Kid looked deeply into his mud coloured eyes. ‘You been starin’ at me. Got a problem?’
The ape-like brow creased as the cogs visibly turned, assessing the prowess of his rival. ‘Dotty’s my girl!’
The Kid snorted. ‘You Stubby Potts? I heard about you. I understand that you threw her over, didn’t want her no more.’
‘You only want her for the money.’
‘Money?’ asked the Kid innocently.
‘Everybody in town knows about it. Her uncle died. Left her a fortune. Now you’re suddenly interested? Don’t make me laugh.’
‘I can’t guarantee that if we need to dance again,’ grinned the Kid. ‘But she’s callin’ the shots. Ask her out if you’re interested, it’ll be her decision. It ain’t my fault it all went wrong for you. I wasn’t even here.’
‘I’ve tried,’ snarled the simian. ‘She ain’t said a word to me for four days.’
‘Not a word for four days, eh? My grandpa would have told you that women like that are hard to find. Maybe she’s a keeper?’
Both men gazed over at Dorothy, her heavy jowls wobbling against the lank, mousey hair which framed her coarse features as she chatted and laughed with a gaggle of local women. The Kid could almost hear the greedy thoughts running through his companion’s head like ball bearings in a wooden maze as he turned back to the man. ‘Look, I ain’t engaged to her or anything but I think she’s a real nice girl. She’s fun and she’s a real good cook; a man could do a lot worse,’ a grin spread over his face. ‘I hadn’t heard she was rich too so I gotta thank you, stranger. Maybe I’ll get me a ring? A girl like that deserves a real expensive ring.’
‘I got your number, mister!’
‘Maybe I’ll take her out to dinner tomorrow night. Somewhere real fancy like, where they give you more than one set of cutlery and clean the tables,’ mused the Kid out loud.
‘You won’t get away with this,’ Potts growled.
‘Oooh, Miss Murtry!’ cooed the Kid across the dance floor. ‘How would you like to take a stroll in the moonlight? Just you and me?’
‘Where d’you want to stop?’
The Kid looked at her in utter confusion. ‘Stop, Miss Murtry? What so you mean, stop?’
She tried to flutter her eyelashes at him but the rapid blinking looked more like the onset of some kind of mild fit. ‘Surely you don’t just want to walk, Mr. Curry?’ her grip on his arm started to tighten as her guttural giggle made the hairs on the back of his neck start to rise. ‘There’s a nice private place right over there behind the bushes, real cosy?’
‘Miss Murtry,’ he spluttered as he pulled against her clasping hand. ‘That AIN’T what I’m here to do. You know that this is all a set up to get Stubby jealous.’
She turned and swung her clasped hands over his head until she started to pull him down towards her moist, pouting lips. ‘You know it’s gone further than that. Nobody ever treated me the way you do.’
He pulled back not wanting to be too rough with her, as the silver fingers of moonlight glinted off the hairs running across her cheeks.
‘No,’ he firmly gripped her arms and pushed her away and held her at arm’s length as hard, steely eyes glinted at her in the poor light. ‘This is all a bluff and you know it. Now, I’m gonna take you home and no more nonsense.’
‘You’re just like all the rest,’ she whimpered at his back as he strode ahead. ‘I thought you were different.’
The Kid let out a rasping breath of impatience and turned to face her. ‘I am different. I’m a complete fake who’s pretendin’ to court you. Maybe you forgot that, but I ain’t.’
‘But you were so nice to me.’
‘Yeah, just like I’m nice to any other woman I meet. There’s nothin’ more in it.’
Dorothy gave a little sob and dropped her head as a pang of sympathy cut through him.
‘Miss Murtry,’ he continued more gently. ‘I’m tryin’ to help you, that’s all. Let’s not confuse things.’
‘But nuthin’.’ He thrust his hands into his pockets and squared his shoulders. ‘I’ve spent the last few days treatin’ you like a lady, that’s all. Now I’m takin’ you home and tomorrow we go into town to stir up Potts even further like we planned, but it doesn’t mean a thing. Got that? This is how men should have been treatin' you all along.’
‘Why are you all so mean to me? It ain’t my fault I look like this!’ she sobbed. ‘Do you know how bad old maids get treated? You outnumber us ten to one around here so there’s gotta be somethin’ real wrong with a woman who can’t get a man... any man; not even for half an hour.’ The Kid paused at the pain in her voice as she continued. ‘All I want is the same as everyone else, but what do I get? Ignored, used and abused. Ugly men still get a choice don’t they? They get a life. They can have families.’
‘Miss Murtry,’ the Kid began.
‘Ooh save it! I’ve heard it all before. This is all about what my brother wants; stupid family honor. We ain’t got no honor. My brother’s a thief and my pa’s a mangy old beer hound. What good is two hundred dollars to me? I’ll still be alone. It don’t buy me a life.’
‘Where the hell is she, Kid?’ demanded Heyes.
‘I dunno,’ the Kid muttered, looking away from Heyes’ disapproving glare. ‘I took her home last night. Ask her Pa. I delivered her back, safe and sound.’
Heyes stepped back from the closed door, eyeing it impatiently. ‘Well, there’s no one here now. Where do you think they’ve gone?’
Heyes gave a hiss of irritation, he liked to run things when he was scamming anyone but Dorothy Murtry seemed to have as much focus as a bumble bee in a field of cornflowers. She had been a liability, wandering off, talking too much and too loudly and exercising her first taste of feminine power in a town where she had been seen as a bit of a laughing stock.
‘When did you say that you’d see her again?’
The Kid shrugged. ‘Just like you told me to, we were goin’ to pick her up and go into town.’
They turned to see Stubby Potts striding over the dry, baked earth, its filigree of tiny cracks crumbling against his hard, percussive heels as he stomped towards them. ‘What you want?’
Heyes nodded in welcome. ‘I’m her lawyer.’
‘And I’m here to take her out,’ the Kid replied, raising a suspicious eyebrow. ‘And you?’
Potts folded his arms as a superior smirk spread over his face. ‘I’ve come to take my fiancé into town. We’re gonna choose a ring; a real big one. I saw her come back last night and I waited till you’d gone. I got her. You lost, stranger.’
‘Engaged?’ Heyes glowered at both men. ‘I’m going to have to advise her against making rash decisions like that. After all, she’s bound to be a target for fortune-hunters.’
‘I ain’t after her money,’ cried the Kid indignantly, slipping quickly into his role.
‘Not much you ain’t!, muttered Potts. ‘Anyway it’s too late. She taken.’
‘No she ain’t. You said it yourself, you ain’t got a ring yet.’
Stubbs gave a treacherous smirk. ‘Nope, but she got my late mother’s pearls. That should hold her until I get a marriage certificate signed.’
‘Yup, gotta be worth at least three hundred dollars. I had to show her I was serious. I’m gettin the weddin’ booked today, spoke to the preacher last night after I left here.’
Heyes threw the Kid a meaningful look. The value of the pearls coupled with the public declaration of his intention was enough to assuage the Murtry family pride. Get him to book the wedding and they were home and dry; more than that, getting Dorothy to stand him up at the church was all the revenge anyone could have wanted.
‘I’m gonna beat you there Potts. It ain’t over until those church bells chime,’ the Kid declared walking towards his horse.’
‘You just want her for her money,’ sniped Potts.
‘And you don’t?’ demanded the Kid sceptically, throwing a long leg over his horse.
‘No, it’s love. Sometimes you don’t know what you had till it’s gone.’
The Kid’s blue eyes glinted like flint. ‘Yeah? Well, remember that when you don’t get those pearls back.’
‘What is goin’ on here?’ Dorothy Murtry looked around her family home in horror. It bore more than a passing resemblance to the Devil’s Hole, given that most of the gang were draped over various items of furniture none too decoratively.
‘You,’ she pointed at Lobo who had lounged back on her father’s bed. ‘get off, right now. ’
‘Dotty,’ Kyle strode over to embrace his sister. ‘I got the boys here to look for you, you’ve been gone nearly a week. We’ve been worried sick.’
She snorted in annoyance, striding over and thumping at the booted feet propped up on her kitchen table until they were rapidly withdrawn. ‘I sent pa a telegram. Didn’t he tell you?’
Kyle shook his vacant head. ‘Pa? He ain’t made no sense for at least three days. Been on a bender.’
‘That useless, no good, son of a...,’ her voice drifted off as she fixed the Kid with a mean look. ‘You. Why didn’t you look after him?’
The Kid looked irritated. ‘That ain’t my job.’
‘Mind tellin’ us where you’ve been, Miss Murtry?’ demanded Heyes, folding his arms.
She flicked up hirsute eyebrows. ‘I had enough of bein’ treated like some kind of prize heifer bein’ sold to the highest bidder. Why you still here?’
‘We never got your message, Miss Murtry.’ Heyes voice adopted the dangerous calm that the Kid recognised as a sign that he was losing his temper. ‘I don’t like people wasting my time. We came here to help you and you just up and break that deal? Folks’ve been worried and you’ve wasted a lot of my time. ’
‘Deal? You call it a deal that I get paraded around town attractin’ all the lowlifes who want to be kept? How does that help me after what happened? I gotta live with all that after they find out I was never rich. I just look even more stupid.’
‘You agreed to the plan, Miss Murtry.’
She glowered at Heyes. ‘I agreed to punish Potts and get my money back. I never thought it through cos I was hurt. Why couldn’t you just pull a gun on him, for god’s sake? You’re the Devil’s Hole Gang! Why did it all have to get so twisted? Shown’ off that brain of yours; swollen-headed if you ask me.’
‘So where did you go? We had Potts right where we wanted him. He was goin’ to marry you, even gave you his mother’s pearls. We were winning,’ declared Heyes.
‘You were winnin’. I was losing as usual. It was all just a game to you. This is my life, but I guess that don’t matter when a woman ain’t pretty,’ Dorothy threw herself down on the rocking chair and furiously threw herself back and forth.
Heyes shook his head defensively and bit back his annoyance. ‘That’s not true, we came to help but it was a complete waste of my time.’
There was a gentle knock at the door and a grey haired man popped a head like a pickled walnut around the door. ‘Dotty?’ he nervously eyed the eclectic array of vagabonds in the cabin before he continued. ‘Are you comin’?
She threw him a gentle smile. ‘Yes, Immanuel, I am. I came to speak to my pa but he ain’t here so I guess we should just go home.’
‘Home?’ demanded Kyle. ‘You are home.’
‘No, Kyle, I ain’t. This is my husband, Immanuel Weiss.’
‘Husband?’ Kyle’s jaw dropped, revealing semi-liquid, chewed-up tobacco.
‘Yes,’ Immanuel announced, recognising the family resemblance and shaking Kyle firmly by the hand. ‘You must be her brother? We got married three days ago.’
Heyes’ colour started to rise. ‘If you were getting married all the time then what the hell was all that about? Why did I bother?’
Immanuel shook his head and smiled softly at his new bride. ‘Married? Oh no, sir! I only asked her to marry me the day after the barn dance.’ He walked over and proffered his arm to Dorothy. ‘I’m an unprepossessing widower and I’m sure that you’ve noticed that I’m at least thirty years older than Dotty. I’ve liked her for a long time, as friends. She’s a lovely, kind person but it never occurred to me to get married again until all this nonsense. I didn’t want her to walk away with any of those bums who were just after her money. I realised that I was jealous. The rest, as they say, is history.’
‘You’re just after her money too,’ yelled Kyle.
‘Money? She ain’t got no money? She told me the truth.’
Dorothy stood up and walked over to her husband with a broad grin on her face.
‘He’s the one with the money. He’s got three general stores and I got me a lovely husband,’ as she approached the door she grinned at Heyes. ‘Your bluff worked just not in the way you wanted it to.’