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 The Devil's Due Part 5

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Silverkelpie

Silverkelpie

Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 58
Location : Over the rainbow

The Devil's Due Part 5 Empty
PostSubject: The Devil's Due Part 5   The Devil's Due Part 5 EmptySat Jan 03, 2015 3:08 pm


Heyes glanced dubiously at his cousin, just as he had at every stop the hired carriage had made. Jed had exploded with anger and despair when they had been stopped at the station by one of Soapy’s faithful accomplices and given the grisly news. The journey back had been one of silent contemplation; each man mired in his personal memories and coping with the pain of loss. When the last passenger disembarked and they could finally speak freely, Heyes smiled weakly at the man whose anger had already hardened into a glacial core. “How’re you doin’, Jed?”


The blue eyes narrowed to a stiletto, noting that Heyes was more shaken than he was showing by reverting back to his childhood dialect. “How d’ya think? Jen is dead. Murdered!”


“Yeah...” The sentence drifted off, along with the dark eyes which stared aimlessly out of the window. “I still can’t believe it. It doesn’t seem real.”


The carriage juddered to a halt at Soapy’s rented accommodation. “We’re here,” was the assistant’s redundant reply as the doors were pulled open and they were ushered inside. The building was abuzz with bustling felons and weeping wrongdoers packing and stacking bags ready to make a quick getaway. Soapy stood at the end of the hallway and gestured for them to join him in the study.


“I’m glad we caught you in time.” Soapy scanned their faces to gauge their reactions. “This is an emergency and the Hales need you. I hope our last discussion won’t stop you from stepping up?”


“Of course not. What do you take us for?” Jed growled. “Is it true? Who did it? I’ll kill the bastard.”


“I’m afraid so,” Soapy sighed, “and we don’t know.”


“How did it happen?” Heyes asked.


“She was at the Ball and seems to have decided it was time to go. The doorman left her waiting on the front steps to call a cab while her father finished up with the mark. That was the last anyone saw of her until they found her body.”


“And...?” Heyes pressed.


Soapy’s lids flickered, betraying the emotion beneath the business-like front. “Her throat was slit.”


Both men shuddered at the news, but the change in Jed’s breathing betrayed his simmering fury. His eyes narrowed. “Are you sure? They must have some kind of idea who did it.”


“Don’t be a damned fool. Do you think anyone here would protect the man who did this?” Soapy snapped. “We don’t know and now the law’s involved. It’s not going to help Jen if anyone ends up in jail, so right now it’s all about damage limitation. I sent Harold to bring Hale back and I want you two to escort them both to safety. I’m heading out of town, too, and everyone in my organization has been ordered to lie low for at least six months.”


Heyes and Curry exchanged a look of concern. “Both?” Jed murmured. “Clem knows?”


Soapy nodded. “She’s upstairs. She’s locked herself in her room. Nobody can get in. I’m worried about her, but I’m not ready to have the door put in just yet. Let’s see if her father can get her to open up first.”


Heyes shook his head. “I’ll take care of it. He’s got his plate full as it is.”


“She won’t open it, Heyes.”


“Then I will.” Heyes rubbed his chin pensively. “She shouldn’t be alone right now.”


“This is a damned mess. That poor lovely girl. She was so young and clever. She had everything to live for – everything,” Soapy sighed, “and now it’s all gone. I blame myself. If I’d never gotten her involved in this Burdon job she’d still be alive.”


“Burdon!?” Both partners exclaimed together.


“You were conning Burdon?” Heyes’ eyes intensified. “So were we.”


Soapy’s eyes gleamed with anger. “You were what!?”


“Burdon. We did the Spanish Prisoner on William Burdon,” Heyes fixed his old mentor with haunted eyes. “What were you doing to him?”


“William?” Soapy folded his arms. “We were doing the Rip Deal with Ernest Burdon, his father.”


Heyes ran his hands through his hair in a familiar expression of frustration. “Great, just great, we were conning the son while you were working the father.”


Soapy glowered at them. “If Burdon realizes they’ve been targeted every which way he’s likely to take action.”


“William doesn’t know he’s been conned yet. We got away clean,” said Heyes.


“You’d better hope so. There’s a very good reason why we work the way we do and you’ve come within a hairbreadth of messing up four month’s work and getting the law after us.” Soapy strode over to his desk and pulled out a wad of cash. “Thank your lucky stars that our job was called off at the last minute. We won’t be taking the overdraft Hale arranged tonight. He has to be a grief-ridden visitor who can’t bear to stay in the town where his daughter was cruelly murdered,” he rolled his eyes, “and, God knows, that’s true enough. Get Clem ready to go as soon as Hale gets here. They have to get out of town fast. Get out of my sight, the pair of you.”


OOOOOOOOOO


“C’mon Clem, open the door. It’s us,” said Jed for the fourth time.


Heyes shook his head and pulled out his lock picks. After a brief apprenticeship with a locksmith years ago, he was never without them. He practiced constantly and had opened nearly every lock in Soapy’s house, including this one. Inserting the torsion wrench into the keyhole, he delicately manipulated his hook pick. A loud click signaled success.


He slowly turned the knob and eased the door open poking his head inside the darkened room. The heavy curtains were drawn closed and only a small candle flickered on the night table, providing dim light. A soft sobbing was issuing from the tangle of bedclothes gathered around Clem’s slim form.


Jed and Heyes crept in and quietly sat on either side of her, saying nothing, not knowing what could be said that would help. They simply sat for a long time until the covers stirred and two small hands reached out and gripped theirs tightly.


Choking back tears and wiping her eyes, Clem sat up. Her face was a ruddy red and puffy from crying. Two strong arms slipped about her shoulders and she found herself nestled between her friends which brought on another bout of tears and remorse.


“I’m sorry…I can’t…I…” she murmured.


“Shhh, ain’t nothin’ for you to be sorry for,” said Jed.


She stiffened and reared her head back scowling at both of them. “Yes, there is! I’ve been such a fool. I had the most wonderful sister in the whole world and all I did was act spiteful and jealous of her. How could I have been so stupid?”


“You weren’t stupid, Clem. You were acting like a kid sister,” said Heyes. “All kids compete with each other. It’s normal.”


“Do you really think so?” she asked timidly, wanting with all her heart to believe him.


“I do.”


“Jen told me last night that she’d been jealous of me. I thought she just said that to make me feel better. She was so kind; we talked; I told her everything. All the ugliness I had been feeling and you know what? She laughed at me and told me she loved me and wanted us to go away together. I said all those hurtful things and now she’s gone!” wailed Clementine.


Jed looked at Heyes over her head. His desperate eyes begged for help, but Heyes wasn’t at all sure that they could help. Still, he would try.


“Be thankful that you had the chance to speak honestly with her. She knew you loved her or you never would’ve told her what you were feeling.” Heyes felt a pang of regret that he’d lost his family before he’d been old enough to tell them how much they meant to him.


“Do you believe that?”


“We do,” said Jed, squeezing her hand gently.


“Clem, you need to pull yourself together. Your father will be here soon and he’s going to need you. Can you do that for him?” asked Heyes.


Clementine’s hands flew to her dishevelled hair. “Oh dear, I’m such a mess. I can’t let Father see me like this. He’s heartbroken enough without my adding to it.” She threw off the covers and jumped from the bed. Pouring a measure of water into her wash basin, she splashed her face and patted it dry. “Is that better?”


Jed looked at the red-rimmed eyes, the swollen nose, and flushed skin of his young, bereaved friend and smiled softly, “Much better.”


A chill ran through Clem and she looked down in dismay at the nightgown she was wearing. Embarrassment further darkened her complexion. “I need to change. Could you wait for me in the hall? I don’t want to go downstairs alone.”


“We’ll wait,” said Heyes, opening the door to leave. “Take your time.”


Jed followed him into the hallway. “Damn! I hate this.”


“Shh,” said Heyes, signaling Jed to follow him down the hall. He stopped in front of a linen closet. “We aren’t leaving town. We’ll let everyone think we are, but we’re staying. We’re gonna figure out who killed Jen and we’re gonna make him pay.”


“You know, Heyes, for once I like the way you’re thinkin’.”


0000000000


The building fell silent as the mute, devastated wraith that was Victor Albert Hale drifted into the chaos of the frantic preparations. Mouths dropped open and unuttered words of comfort withered on the lips, already seen as desperately inadequate. A maid came forward and stared into his eyes until she found a shred of the broken man in their darkness.


“Vic?” She reached out a hand and stroked his hand. “I’m so sorry.”


Soapy watched carefully from the doorway of the study. Mary was gregarious but had a world of experience when it came to suffering. If anyone knew how to deal with this man it would be her.


“This is just the cruellest thing,” Mary murmured, “but when there’s nothing to say all that’s left is to do.” She opened her arms. “Come here.” Hale pulled back but he found himself drawn into the warmth of her bosom. “No, come with me to the kitchen. Just let it flow, Vic. Nobody needs to be brave with Mary.”


He pushed the woman aside, but the glittering eyes filled and a silent tear traced its way down man’s cheek. He tugged at his collar. “I’m thirsty...”


Mary nodded. “It’s been a shock. Come with me, I’ll get you something,” she glanced around at the staring eyes, “You need some privacy. Get your head in order before you see Clem.”


“Clem?” The eyes filled with anguish. “Oh, my Clem. I must go to her.”


“Yeah, honey,” Mary put an arm about his shoulder, “you must. How about you help me make a hot drink we can take up with you? Five minutes won’t do any harm, especially with someone you don’t need to be brave with.” She reached out a hand and curled it around his. “She’s with Jed and Hannibal.”


He numbly allowed himself to be led into the kitchen, away from the prying eyes and irritating consoling nods, and slumped into a ladder-back chair. The balding pate glinted in the lamplight as he slumped forward onto his hands. “Oh, Mary, I’ve killed her; my beautiful daughter. If I’d never brought her here, if I’d settled down to a real job and let her stay at home like a normal girl...”


“She is...” Mary clattered the teakettle onto the metal stove and paused to correct herself with a gulp of regret, “was... a normal girl. She was clever too, Vic. She knew what she was doing and could have left whenever she wanted.” She reached out and grasped his hand in her strong, coarse fingers. “You have nothing to blame yourself for.”


“She was the image of her mother.” His eyes brimmed with pain before streams of tears rolled down his cheeks. “I never thought I’d get over her loss, how do I deal with this?”


“You lived for your daughters, and you can do it again.” Mary stood to attend to the coffee. “Clem needs you. Carry on for her. Be her father.” She peered into the vacant eyes and placed a cup in front of him. “God knows I’ve everything to thank for finding Soapy. I chose between this and the rough end of a bordello, but if I could cut it in the respectable world I would. I like a drink, and Soapy puts up with that as long as I don’t as I don’t burn down the house or drop anything valuable. But you, you got options and a future with your smarts. Go away; take lots of time.”


“Without Jen. How?”


Mary pushed a cup into his hands. “You have a beautiful, loving daughter in Clem. That’s more than most people have. Your loss is terrible, but your line goes on along with your job, Vic.” Deep blue eyes glittered with the regret of the solitary soul. “You have the comfort of one another.”


She jumped at the crashing of the teacup as Hale hurled it against the wall before his head dropped. “Can I be strong enough for this?” His eyes slowly closed, masking the pain. “I can’t make this right. I wish it had been me. I keep playing it over and over again in my head. If I’d stopped trying to pretend to read all that small print; if I’d just joined her out on the steps; if I’d led an honest life. If, if, if!” Mary watched him pace back and forth in silence. “I’ll kill the bastard. I will. With my own two hands...”


“You want another cup?”


“I’m not thirsty.”


A gentle twinkle accompanied the proffered chinaware. “I meant to throw.”


He turned, a painful smile cutting across a face alight with tears. His hands clasped in futile balls of misery. “I’m sorry.”


“Don’t be. I never liked them. Have a plate and while you’re at it; there’s a whole stack of them in the sink I haven’t washed yet. Do me a favor and smash them before the clean ones.” Mary’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Clem’ll give you a way ahead the minute you see her. The way forward will all make sense, Vic. I promise you.”


He nodded. “I need to see her.”


Mary picked up another cup. “Sure you do. I’ll follow you with a tray. You both need to try and eat before you leave here. Who knows when you’ll get the chance to eat again. You’ve got a long journey ahead from what Soapy told me.”


“F*** Soapy!” barked Hale. “I’ve had enough of his plans. It’s time I did some planning.”


OOOOOOOOOO


Clem turned glittering chocolate eyes on the door. “Father!?” She dashed over and threw her arms and legs around him in an infantilized leap. She dropped her head and nuzzled damp sobs amid a tumble of nightclothes and ringlets. “Daddy, my daddy...”


Heyes and Curry exchanged a glance and stood at the door to give the remains of the family some privacy, but Mary bustled in behind with a tray and a consoling smile, raising a brow towards the encircled father staggering towards the bed with his daughter clinging to him like a limpet. “Here, Clem,” Victor Hale swayed over to the bed and cradled his youngest in his arms. “My baby girl. Oh, my baby. I’m never going to let you go again.”


His daughter raised her head. “Jen...?”


Her father took a rasping breath. “Sssh, you’re safe. I’ll never let anything happen to you.”


Blue eyes met brown in an unspoken conversation and both men nodded in agreement, but Mary clearly knew how Soapy wished this to run. “Can you two go and see Soapy? I’ll make sure they’re packed and ready to go.”


Heyes and Curry nodded, leaving with no more than a brief glance over their shoulders.


She bustled over to the grieving couple, clearly keen to inject some practicality into the situation. “Well, now. You two need to eat something. I’ll leave this tray, but Soapy wants you both on the first train out of here. I’ll pack for you.” She raised a hand to appease the protest already budding on the bereaved father’s lips. “I’ll do your room first so’s to give you two some time, huh?”


Hale watched her go, nuzzling into his daughter’s face and breathing her life-affirming essence. Words were unnecessary as the blood-family communed through touch, tears and kisses. He pulled her tight and let go the floodgates with the salty tears and tense hugs of love at its fiercest.


“Jen...?”


Hale rasped an inhaled sob. “She’s gone, my love. I saw her. She’s not here anymore.”


Tears streamed down her face. “Did she suffer?”


Hale closed his eyes, but the monstrosity was etched on his memory. Clementine must never know the details. “No, my love. It was quick...” He wiped away the tears with his sleeve and uttered the eternal lie of kindness. “She never knew a thing.” The horror swam in his mind, of his baby clutching at her throat knowing that her life’s blood was ebbing through her fingers. His anger rose again but this was not the time. He had his youngest babe in his arms and she was all that mattered now. “Oh, my own baby, I don’t know what I’d do without you. I’m going to take you to your aunt’s and we’ll live quietly and safely.”


“When?”


He snuggled against her. “We need to get out of here as soon as possible, Clem. If today’s taught us anything, it’s that we’re not promised tomorrow. We must grasp today with both hands and hold it close. My first priority has to be to take you somewhere safe.”


Clem drew the sleeve of her nightdress across her face to wipe off the tears. “I just can’t believe she’s gone. I only saw her a few hours ago.”


Hale’s fingers curled around his daughter’s. He picked up her hand and stared at the delicate digits, his loss singing from the darkest corners of his soul. “You have your mother’s fingers but my square hands.” He raised them to his lips and kissed them gently. “A glorious, beautiful mixture. When I met your mother I did more than fall in love, I grew in it. I was the son of a dirt-poor farmer, but she made me see I could do anything. What I want to do now is keep you safe. We’re going to your Aunt Margaret’s, Clem. We’re going as soon as we can. You need a woman to look after you.”


“I wanted Jen to do that,” she wailed.


“We all did, my darling. And she will. She’ll guide you if you stop and listen to your soul, but right now your mother is telling me to take you away from here,” he stroked her hair, rocking her back and forth. “Jen will never really leave us. She’ll be wherever we go, wherever we dream, wherever we hurt. She’ll be there with your mother.”


OOOOOOOOOO


Jed and Heyes stood on the platform and waved at the departing train. They couldn’t see their friends, but they still waved and waited until the train pulled out of sight. Finally, Curry dropped his arm and stood listlessly. “I don’t wanna do this, Heyes.”


Heyes turned shocked eyes in his cousin. “What? You want to walk away? After what happened to Jen?”


“No,” Jed’s jaw hardened. “I don’t want to go to the undertaker’s place.”


“We’ve gotta do it. I promised Soapy we would. And it gave us the out we needed to stay in Denver. You want to find out who did this, don’t you?” Heyes clutched his partner’s shoulder and gave it a shake. “C’mon, it’s the last thing we can do for Jen.”


Jed bristled and abruptly shook off the hand lingering on him. “No, it ain’t. When I find the sonovabitch that did this, then I’ll do the last thing.”


“We gotta find him first. Let’s go.”


It was a short walk from the train station to the undertaker’s parlor. Both young men exchanged a glance before stepping into the softly lit front room. They stood awkwardly in a profound silence until they heard footsteps approaching from the back of the building. A man roughly their own age stepped out from behind a pair of heavy velvet curtains, smiled consolingly at them, and extended his hand to Heyes.


“Gentlemen, welcome. I’m E. P. McGovern and the owner of this fine establishment. How may I be of assistance to you in your hour of need?”


Heyes looked at the obsequious man before him. Revulsion shuddered through him at the clasp of the soft, fleshy hand, but he concealed his reaction. “Mr. McGovern, we understand that the sheriff had the remains of Miss Arrabelle Abbott brought here pending formal identification. I’m her cousin, Alfred Abbott, and I’ve come to make arrangements to have the body shipped home to the family.”


“Very good, sir. I just finished up with her. Lovely girl, so sad,” said McGovern with absolutely no hint of regret. “Right this way, sirs. May I say that I’ve outdone myself with your young lady? She was quite a challenge, but…”


“No, you can’t say,” growled Jed. “Why don’t you quit your jawin’ and just take us to her?” His nerves were failing him and his temper was rising because of it. He loved Jen and he didn’t want his last memory of her to be an ugly one, but they had to do this. No way would he have let Jen’s father perform this final, grisly duty. Heyes seemed unfazed, detached even, but Jed knew his partner was as upset as he was.


McGovern led them through the curtains and down a long hallway towards a brightly lit room at the end. Heyes could see a pair of feminine feet peeking out from under a cloth-covered figure lying on a large table and he faltered. Jed gulped but placed a firm hand on Heyes’ back, pushing him forward gently.


The undertaker, offended by Jed’s rude reply, simply stepped up to the table and yanked back the cloth without giving either man a moment to prepare.


“That’s her,” croaked out Jed, turning away.


Heyes stood silently. His initial shock subsided slowly and he began to accept that this was no longer Jen; she was gone. He numbly nodded his agreement. He still couldn’t tear his eyes from her. She was nearly as beautiful in death despite the paleness of her skin and the hastily stitched scars. There was a small, bloody tear in her left earlobe. Heyes had to take a moment to clear his throat before he could speak but when he did, it was with barely concealed fury. “Where are her personal effects?”


“Sir?”


Brown, hard eyes turned to McGovern. “Her purse; her jewelry, I want them now!” He knew it was common on the frontier for morticians to bolster their income through theft and he wasn’t going to let this man get away with stealing from Jen.


The greasy-haired undertaker drew in an indignant breath. “Sir, I had to remove her finery to properly prepare her, but, of course, I’ve secured it.” He crossed over to a roll-top desk against the far wall, unlocked, and slid open the middle drawer pulling out a small package. “I took every precaution to keep the valuables safe until they could be claimed.” He resentfully handed the brown paper wrapped bundle to Heyes. “Now, may we discuss the arrangements? I have several beautiful caskets that I’m sure would do nicely.” Without re-covering the body, he turned to go.


“Wait!” Jed lifted the plain, homespun cloth with infinite care and drew it gently up over Jen’s chest. He bent down and kissed her cold cheek before covering her face. Heyes watched, but stood rooted where he was. Curry left the room.


Alone, Heyes stared at his dear friend’s form for several minutes until he remembered the package he clutched. Wanting to be assured that nothing was missing that should have been there, he tore it open. As the paper parted, an emerald earring fell to the floor and bounced on the wooden floor. Heyes lifted it up in his hand and stared at the green stone twinkling in the gaslight. He remembered these, but not on Jen. These had been the earrings Clem had worn when William had proposed to her. They were also the earrings Jen had been wearing when she was murdered. Nausea swept through Heyes before other thoughts crowded in on him. He hastily shoved the earring back into the package and went to find Jed. He had questions which needed answers.


Heyes followed the sound of his partner’s voice until he found him with the undertaker in a room filled with finely crafted caskets. They were standing by a gleaming walnut model with brass fittings and had not noticed his arrival.


“Now this one is our very best, sir. The latest style; lead-lined for long lasting protection and employing only the finest of fabrics for your loved one’s final resting place.”


“We’ll take it,” said Heyes, making his presence known. “Here’s the address to ship Miss Abbott to.” He pulled out a folded piece of paper and handed it to McGovern.


“Very good choice, Mr. Abbott! McGovern unfolded the paper and glanced at it. “Excuse me for a few moments and I shall prepare an invoice for you.” He hurried from the room eager to close the deal and get rid of these two intimidating men.


“Don’t you wanna take a look at some other ones? You know how picky Jen was about appearances, Heyes.”


“That one’s fine. He said it was the best,” Heyes stated flatly as he held out the package. “Take a look at this and tell me what you think.”


Jed frowned, confused by Heyes’ lack of interest. He looked down. “Those are Clem’s emerald earrings. What was Jen doing with them?”


“She must’ve gotten them from Clem. Jed, what if someone noticed them; someone who knew Clem and might’ve been at that Ball?” said Heyes. “Burdon’s Ball. They’re real unusual and obviously valuable. It wouldn’t take much to link two women together if they both wore them.”


Curry’s fist closed over the brown paper, trapping the earrings inside. His visage turned ugly and he hissed, “William! It was William!” He turned to leave, but Heyes followed him out into the street.


“Hold on! We don’t know that for sure. We’ve got to find William first and figure out what happened.”


“You bet I’m gonna find him and then I’m gonna kill him. Nobody else saw the earrings on both women. Who else could it be?”


Heyes’ grabbed Jed’s wrist. “You’re not killing anybody and neither am I. Sure I want to see the bastard who did this dead as much as the next man, but Jen was a beautiful woman and there are men who enjoy grinding them into the dirt just for the fun of it, you know that as well as I do. We need to be absolutely sure it’s not some random maniac.” His fingers tightened on his cousin’s wrist. “First we figure out who did it; then we talk about what we’ll do.”


Jed’s eyes narrowed to the venal slits of the hunter. “You’re the talker, Heyes. I’m more of a doer.”


“We can’t just go off half-cocked. If William did it, we’ll get proof. Then we let the law handle it.”


“I ain’t about to call him out in the middle of a street crowded with children, lawmen and nuns. I ain’t a fool.”


“I never said you were. Look, we’re both angry about Jen, but we ain’t vigilantes, we’re con men.” Heyes released his grip but maintained the hard scrutiny. “Besides, this isn’t just your fight. It’s mine, Jen’s – her whole family, Goddammit! We all deserve to see the killer brought down and to have a hand in it.” A dark eyebrow flicked up. “Shooting’s too good for him and there’s no way I’m letting him drag you or anyone else to hell with him.”




_________________
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb
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The Devil's Due Part 5
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