Talk Of The Devil
Posts : 268
Join date : 2014-01-04
|Subject: Talk Of The Devil Sun Aug 16, 2015 4:59 pm|| |
She dived, her pale flesh flashing briefly through the darkness as she broke the surface before her voice drifted back to him. “Go on then! If you can catch me?”
The missing years seemed to melt away and it seemed like they were back at the creek, when they were young, innocent and in love. Everything was so easy then. Little did they know it was only because they were too naive to see the bumps in the road.
She was fast but Jed was faster. He dove head first into the water and cut through the water in an overhand crawl. Even though she was at least three yards away he reached the bank at about the same time as she did. Christina ran whooping from the water, gathering her clothes about her before she was grabbed from behind. They fell together, laughing and tumbling onto the bedroll before she laid face down, his arms still wrapped around her as she let out a long sigh.
“Well, now you’ve got me, what are you going to do with me?”
He drew his fingers softly across her shoulders, lazily tracing his way down her naked back as the fire threw flickering shadows across her flesh. “I don’t know yet. What do you suggest?” He asked, archly.
Christina gave a small chuckle, as his fingers slid further down her back, savoring the wonderful sensation of his gentle touch. He suddenly stopped, sitting up abruptly as she heard a sharp intake of breath. “What the hell is that?”
She turned, taking in his angry face and taught jaw, shocked and bemused by this rapid change in mood. “What? What’s wrong?”
She could feel his hand on her back, between her shoulders and continuing down to her lower back as the realization hit her that he was talking about her scars. The faded, uneven, lumps and bumps which had been part of her for so long.
She sat up, clutching her clothes to her chest and gave him a weak smile. “They’re scars. It’s fine. They’re really old. Nothing hurts.”
Anger exploded across his face. “Fine? There ain’t nothin’ fine about it! Who did that to you?” She looked directly into his eyes and fixed her mouth into a resigned pout, refusing to answer him. “It was your Pa, wasn’t it?”
His eyes glittered through the darkness as the true horror of their parting hit him for the first time. “I’ll kill him,”
“You’ll do no such thing. You’re better than he is.”
“Yes, you are,” she put out a delicate hand, resting it on top of his. “I know this is new to you, but this is all old to me. I put it behind me a long time ago. It’s fine, really.”
His eyes melted in front of her as he took her hand and looked into her face. “Was it your pa after he caught us? Should I have stayed?”
She shrugged. “No. My pa never hit me. Once he knew we’d,” she gulped, heavily, “once we’d been together...he made me get married. He said I was dirty and that I was lucky to find anyone at all.”
“And your husband did this? What’s his name?”
“Please, that doesn’t matter. Let me have today. Let’s just make this about us? He’s away. That’s all you need to know.”
Jed nodded and bit back a curse before her gathered her in his arms and laid her down on the bedroll, cradling her like a child. They lay together, his hot breath against her neck before she felt his hand stroke her hair as he whispered in her ear. “I ain’t goin’ to let anyone hurt you ever again.”
There was the metallic clattering of more than one rifle cocking before a voice barked through the darkness. “Hey, Paw. Look what we got here? That whore you married is turnin’ tricks again. You wasn’t outta town more’n ten minutes before she was at it.”
An angular face caught the moonlight as a tall man emerged into the clearing. “Well, look who we got here, Abner. Talk of the devil and he’s sure to appear. We’ve been off across the hills lookin’ for the bank robbers and we find one in our own back yard when we give up the ghost and come back home. We got ourselves a buck-neked Kid Curry.”
“How is he, Doc?”
The medical man turned impatiently. “Give me a chance, Gene. I just got here. The sheriff’s not even here yet. He’s still speaking to the Mayor,” he stared down at the barely conscious man. “What the hell happened to him? What have you done”
“He fell,” Eugene Beecher snickered to the gaggle of hillbillies leaning untidily around the sheriff’s office. “Didn’t he?”
“Yeah,” a toothless hayseed chortled. “Three times, inta the butt of a rifle.”
“Backwards,” chuckled another.
“Don’t go lookin’ at me like that, Doc,” growled Eugene. “I found that man doing my wife. What would you do?”
The doctor’s brows knotted in concern. “He forced her?”
“He’d better have.” Eugene Beecher gathered mucus from the depths of his wiry frame. “Ain’t no point in havin’ a guard dog that’ll wag its tail to every stranger passin by,” he grinned through tobacco stained teeth, “if you take my meanin’. I’m tryin’ to be delicate, you bein’ a doctor and all.”
Doctor Murray gave the miner a hard stare. “How is she?”
“She were alright when I left her, Doc,” Gene shrugged one bony shoulder inside his ill-fitting jacket. “I had to bring in this ‘un. I ain’t letting no one else claim the reward.”
“She’d better stay that way, Beecher,” the doctor glared at his opponent in open challenge. “I’ve seen her go around town limping and covering her bruises. If you as much as break the skin I’ll push for charges to be brought against you.”
“A man is allowed to chastise his wife, Doc. It says so in the bible. ‘T’ain’t right to set yourself up higher’n God.”
“There’s a world of difference between chastising and beating her to a pulp, and don’t try that fish-eye stare with me. I’m immune.”
One of the swarm of hangers-on frowned. “He’s what?”
“I think he’s some kind of foreigner,” Beecher eyed the medic with suspicion. “At least I hope that’s what ‘eye-moon’ means. I gotta ask the preacher.”
“It means you can’t intimidate me,” Doctor Murray blustered, noting he had only a deputy to back him up against the town’s toughest family. He paused, alerted by a groan as to the original cause for his visit and opened the Kid’s eyelids before pulling open the man’s shirt and drawing his hands over the ribs and abdomen. “He’s fine. I’ll give him something for the pain and come back in the morning. Don’t forget what I said about your wife, Beecher. If she turns up hurt I’ll be pushing her to press charges.”
“Don’t worry about a thing, Doc.” Beecher stood and leaned on the rifle which rested on the wooden floor. “You won’t see her.”
Doctor Murray drank in the unsavory smile but remained silent. He nodded curtly and turned on his heel before striding out into the night.
The sheriff appeared, glancing at the departing figure. “What’s eatin’ him? I barely got a word outta him.”
“I guess he’s scared of our outlaw friend here,” Beecher nodded towards the Kid.
“Are you sure he’s Kid Curry?” The sheriff laid his hat on the desk and headed over to the pot-bellied stove to pour a cup of coffee. “I’ve told the Mayor, but I don’t want to look like a fool.”
“I’m sure. I used to live in Kansas and that ‘un and his cousin were sent to work on our farm from the home for waywards. They were always trouble. They turned up again doin’ casual work for a friend of mine years later and the fair one seduced his daughter out from under his nose. I wasn’t surprised when I heard they were wanted.” Beecher perched on the desk. “I never thought I’d see him again though; especially when I moved to Wyoming.”
The sheriff nodded pensively. “Well, if you’re right, there’s a reward to be had and the bank staff will be able to identify him. What do you think brought him back here after they robbed the bank?”
Beecher shared a lingering look with his son. “Coulda been any number of things. I suppose we’d better get home and see how your ma is. Huh, Abner?”
“She ain’t no kin o’ mine,” the adolescent snarled. “You married her. I didn’t want her around.”
“You needed a ma,” barked Beecher, “and I needed someone to take care o’ the house while I worked.”
“Then you shoulda got a better ‘un,” Abner retorted. “Her tellin’ me what to do, an barely five years older’n me. ‘T’ain’t right. T’ain’t natural.”
Beecher’s finger rasped at his stubble. “Well, ya may have a point. She weren’t the best wife I ever had. Ya’d think soiled goods like her’d be better in the sack, but she were useless there too. Can’t see what anyone ever saw in her, but what the Good Lord joins together let no man put asunder. She’s my wife, and that’s all there is to it.”
“I suppose. Let’s head home, Pa. It’s been a long day.”
Beecher stopped at the door to allow his hands to file out of the building. ”You look after that ‘un, Sam. He’s worth ten thousand dollars of my money. They’re a tricky bunch, that Devil’s Hole Gang. They ain’t gonna be happy that we got one of their men. I’ve arranged for my men to stay in the lobby of the hotel across the road to make sure you got back up. One single shot’ll be enough to bring ‘em runnin’.” He stared over at the injured man in the cell. “He ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
One blue eye opened a crack and tried to look around the room as discretely as possible. Every muscle in his body groaned and protested. It was no good. He couldn’t see a thing so he had to turn.
Kid Curry steeled himself for the next burst of pain from his bruised ribs before he rolled over, trying not to groan out loud. He wasn’t wrong; the spasm shot through his ribs and convulsed his body but he managed to complete the maneuver. He paused, breathing heavily from his exertions, half-covered by the scraggy blanket, but it was worth it. He could now see the deputy rocking back in his chair at the main desk, but where was his pal? The sheriff made it clear that at least two men had to guard an outlaw as famous as him; even injured he couldn’t be trusted.
And they were right; he was nowhere near as badly injured as he had let on. Why not keep the element of surprise wherever you could? He would never be as good at poker as Heyes but he sure knew enough to keep his cards close to his chest. Beecher might be a red-neck brute, but he wasn’t about to jeopardize the chance of the reward money. A corpse is hard to question, and a dead body beaten to a bloody pulp is even harder to identify beyond doubt. The attack had been violent, but not beyond the pale. Let them think he could hardly move. It never hurt to let the opposition underestimate you.
His curiosity was soon put to rest at the sound of the side door opening. The deputy looked up from his desk. “Is that you, Roy? Make sure you lock the door behind ya.”
The sound of a gruff, “yeah,” followed by the scrape of the door as it closed and the rattle of keys was confirmation of a return from the outhouse.
“All quiet out there? Surely they won’t be dumb enough to hit the jailhouse with Beecher’s men across the road at the hotel.” The deputy walked over to the pot bellied stove. “Yah want some coffee? We need to stay awake.”
He froze at the metallic click of a cocking gun behind his ear. “Across the road, you say?” The deputy turned to see a dimpled smile behind the gun barrel. “How many?”
“Where’s Roy,” he demanded. “What have you done to him?”
“Your friend is fine. He’s just a bit tied up right now,” the grin widened. “We waited until he was coming back. It’d be just plain mean to leave a man needing to go, wouldn’t it? Now get those hands up and keep them there.”
The deputy frowned, meeting the dark eyes defiantly, but he raised his hands as instructed. “You ain’t gonna use that gun. One shot and this place will be full of Beecher’s men.”
“Yeah? That’d be a dumb move, considering we’ve got one of your men out the back. Do you think we’re gonna stand by and let the Kid go to jail?”
“You’re the Devil’s Hole Gang,” the deputy countered. “You don’t hurt anyone. Everyone knows that.”
Hannibal Heyes shook his head. “Nope. They say we never shot anyone, and that’s not the same thing at all. Is it boys?”
“I can’t speak for you, Heyes, but I hurt plenty of folks,” Wheat emerged from the darkness near the side door. “How are you doin’, Kid? You don’t look so good.”
“All the better for seein’ you boys here,” the gunman propped himself up with some difficulty to work around his damaged ribs.
Wheat smiled and turned back to the deputy. “I don’t hurt ladies though. I ain’t an animal. So unless you’re the ugliest woman in town don’t get too comfortable, my friend.” He strode forward and grabbed the gun from the lawman’s holster. “What about you, Kyle?”
“Does breakin’ hearts count?” Kyle strode over to the front door and locked it. “I left a l’il gal over in Utah who never forget me. Lily her name was, and she was the sweetest saloon gal I ever laid eyes on. That’s a broken heart that’ll never mend ‘cos I took part of it with me. She had lots of yellow hair. I only ever saw that color when the sun hit a bobcat’s eyes. Man, she was a wild ‘un; a bobcat in her own right. I once saw her lay out a fella with one blow from a spittoon. I fell for her right there and then. ”
Heyes rolled his eyes. “Can we stick to the point, boys?” He held out beckoning fingers. “Keys to the cell; where are they?”
“The sheriff took ‘em with him when he went home,” the deputy raised a challenging eyebrow. “I couldn’t give ‘em to you to save my life.” He stared in to the hardening brown eyes and gulped hard. “Honest. I couldn’t.”
Wheat looked expectantly at his leader. “Looks like you’re needed, boss.”
The deputy’s hands started to quiver. “If you shoot the lock off the men across the road will hear. You ain’t got a chance of getting’ him outta this cell without gettin’ caught. Just get outta here while the goin’s good.”
Heyes gestured towards the chair. “Tie him up, Wheat. Make sure he’s gagged real good. Time for me to get to work, I guess.”
Heyes dragged off his hat and fumbled with the lining until he drew out a long piece of metal with a hook on the end. He nodded to his old friend. “I’ll have you outta there as soon as I can, Kid.”
“Well you better be quick, Heyes. The sheriff said he’d be checkin’ this place every three hours and you got twenty minutes to get me outta here and make a clean getaway.” The Kid winced through a bruised grin and nodded towards the clock on the wall. “I gotta warn you. I ain’t so quick on my feet tonight. It might take a bit to get me on a horse.”
“Gee, thanks. That always helps.” Heyes dropped to his knees and inserted the pick into the lock. “Nothing like working against the clock to focus a man’s mind.”
“Kinda like that time we held up the train at Tall Grass. We knew the time was runnin’ out and that a posse would leave the town when the payroll was late. That safe wouldn’t blow. Wouldn’t crack either. You kept turnin’ and turning’ at that combination. It just wouldn’t crack. I thought it’d be one we’d have to leave behind. Do you remember that, do ya?” Heyes ignored him and stared into the keyhole as he delicately manipulated his instrument in the cavity. “That looks real tricky. I don’t want to hurry ya, Heyes, but we’ve got to be on the road south if we want to get a head start on the sheriff.”
“I know that, Kid,” came the terse reply.
The clock ticked on, marking out the passing seconds accompanied only by metallic scratch of the pick on the tumblers of the lock.
“This is true blue of you boys. I knew I could depend on you to come back for me.”
Irritated brown eyes glared at the Kid. “Yeah. So can the law, so if you don’t mind, I’d appreciate some quiet to work?”
“Sure, Heyes. Sorry about that. I think it’s somethin’ the doc gave me. It’s made me a bit light-headed.”
Heyes returned to his work, the frown intensifying with his concentration as he continued his prodding and engineering in the keyhole. The scowl fell away with the click of success and the cell door swung open. “At last. Come on, Kid. We gotta get you outta here.”
Wheat covered the rear and Kyle the front as Heyes supported the groaning gunman from the bed. They stumbled towards the cell door, but the Kid pulled back when Heyes turned towards the side door. He pointed over at the desk. “No. My gun. It’s in the drawer.”
“Look at the time, Kid. We gotta go!”
“My gun! It’s taken years to get it just right. I need it.”
“But it’s nearly five minutes to the hour…”
“For cryin’ out loud,” Wheat snapped. “Get him on a horse. I’ll get his gun.” He wandered over to the desk muttering under his breath. “If’n I didn’t know better I’d think that the doc gave the Kid whatever Kyle’s been takin’ for years….” He followed the gang out of the office clutching the precious weapon in a large fist. “It’d better wear off damn quick.”
“Wheat!” Heyes’ coarse whisper cut through the night air. “Help me get him on this horse. He’s hurt.”
“Sure, here, Kyle. Look after his gun belt for him.”
Two men pulled and pushed the injured man back and forth until come kind of balance was achieved. “You gonna manage, Kid?”
“Yeah. It’ll hurt even more if I fall off. That’ll focus the mind.”
Wheat threw his leg over his mount and guided his mount quietly out into the alley behind the jailhouse. “I heard the Kid say in there that we were goin’ south. I guess that means we’re headin’ north? Good idea of your’n to drop that into conversation when one of us is caught, Heyes. It kinda plays with their heads.”
Heyes shook his head. “Nope.”
“We are goin’ south? It’s a double bluff?” Asked Kyle.
“Kinda,” Heyes cast a worried glance at his partner. “He’s not fit to travel far. We’re movin’ quietly to the edge of town and laying low. Then we’ll do the last thing they’ll expect. We ride back in.”
“Are you mad?” Wheat demanded.
“Completely loco,” grinned their leader. “We know Beecher turned him in and I know who he is. While Beecher’s men are running about like headless chickens we’re going to check into the hotel and the Kid is gonna recuperate in comfort - in the last place they’d look. Kyle and I’ll sneak him in by the backstairs and while you book us two rooms, Wheat.”
“That don’t sound safe!” his lieutenant protested.
“The minute the alarm is raised every man in town is gonna hit the road, including the lawmen. Nobody in the hotel is going to know who you are and nobody but the clerk is going to see you. You’ll keep to your rooms and stay quiet until the Kid is fit to travel.” The night masked the growing darkness in the outlaw leader’s eyes. “I’ve got a few scores to settle with Mr. Beecher in the meantime. He’s not the only one with a good memory.”
Wheat strode through the hotel lobby and gussied up to the front desk. His moustache bristled under too wide a smile while frighteningly bright eyes fixed on the desk clerk, but what was intended to be friendly and engaging actually came across as maniacally forward. The thin man gulped against a stiff cardboard collar and backed into the rack of pigeon holes behind him. “Can I help you, sir?”
“Yah got rooms?”
“We are a hotel, sir. That’s what we do. You want a room?”
Wheat nodded. “Two doubles.”
The clerk fumbled for the register. “Doubles? You are expecting company, sir? You’re on your own.”
“Yeah, my boss is just getting somethin’ from the pharmacy. He asked me to check in. He’ll be here in a minute.” Wheat leaned over the desk. “Yah got a couple of good ones at the front? Together’d be best. He’s a real bast…,” he glanced over his shoulder at the door, “he’s real strict. Ya ever had a boss who thinks ya can’t do anythin’ right? He’s one a them. Can ya help me out?”
The clerk nodded tentatively. “Still, the owner says I am supposed to see all prospective occupants of a room. We get some undesirables trying to get in here.” he pointed over to the nameplate on the office door bearing the legend ‘manager’. “It’s the rules.”
Wheat dropped his head, still propped on the desk. “The rules, huh?” His hat rose slightly along with his crinkling forehead. “Yeah. We both got one of those bosses. Can ya reserve me the rooms while I go get him?”
“Sure,” the clerk picked up his pen. “What’s the name?”
The smile dropped from Wheat’s face as confusion hit him. What name was he to use? This was the sort of thing Heyes used to roast him for – not enough preparation. He groped around for a name and found the some filed in his short term memory. “Beecher,” he announced. “Kyle Beecher.”
“Beecher? Are you related the Beechers over at Blue Peaks? He had some men in here tonight.”
Wheat shook his head, realizing his mistake. “T’ain’t my name. It’s my boss’s. He ain’t got no family around here. Ain’t got no family nowhere, as far as I know.” He grinned. “He’s one o’ them who might a crawled out from under a rock.”
The clerk nodded. “Yeah. Are you sure he ain’t one of our Beechers? He sure sounds like one.”
“We’re just passin’ through. This ain’t social. One of the boys got kicked by a horse and he needs to rest for a day or so. I’ll go fetch him. So you’ll keep them rooms?”
“Sure. What line of business did ya say you were in?”
Wheat paused, his blank eyes revealing another lapse in preparedness. “Um… we’re in holes.”
“Holes? How can you be in holes?”
“That ain’t the right word; tunnels. That’s what we do. It’s real technical and ya gotta know what you’re doin’. Ya don’t want one fallin’ in on ya.”
“But we ain’t got any tunnels about these parts,” the clerk pressed.
“Not yet you ain’t,” Wheat’s eyes brightened at his own initiative, “that’s why we’re here. I’ll be right back with the boss.”
“Tunnels?” Heyes scowled. “Why did you tell them that?”
“What d’ya want me to tell him?” Wheat pointed down the empty street. “We’re the ones the posse is ridin’ after?”
“Will you keep your voice down?” Heyes glanced around. “I guess we’ve just gotta go with it. The only problem is that you have to travel for miles to find as much as a hill in this part of Wyoming and tunnels aren’t much use without them. You sure don’t make life easy.”
“Well they want to see ya before they give us a room and I told them you were in charge, so get them bossy boots polished and get in there,” Wheat barked.
“Are you sure it ain’t a trap?” the Kid queried.
Wheat shrugged. “How can it be a trap? We watched the posse hightail it outta town and the only man in the hotel is a little muskrat of a fella. They’re followin’ the rest of the gang.”
“If’n we’re gonna stay here we gotta take the risk, Heyes,” Kyle interjected. “Either that or we go right now. Wheat ‘n me’ll back you up.”
One long appraising look at a woozy Kid Curry made up Heyes’ mind. He nodded to Wheat and Kyle. “You two. Support the Kid by the door and make sure the horses are right outside. You can stable them once we get a room…if we don’t need them for a quick getaway. Once the desk clerk has seen how respectable we are we can get ourselves a couple of rooms, but keep a low profile.”
The desk clerk looked up at the tall man approaching the desk whose dimpled smile lit up the room. “I believe you have a couple of rooms for us? Name of Beecher.”
“Yeah, one of your men said you needed them,” the clerk nodded over to Kyle and Wheat trying to make it look like an increasingly weak Kid could stand under his own power. “Is he drunk? We don’t take drunks.”
Heyes shook his head, noting it was time for a diversion. “He was kicked by a horse. The pharmacist gave him something.” He glanced around, his hand hanging near his gun. “There’s nobody around. Is there something wrong with this place?”
“No, no. The men are out hunting some desperate outlaws. Every able-bodied man for miles around is out huntin’ down the Devil’s Hole Gang.” The clerk paused, and tugged his waistcoat over his paunch, “of course, they had to leave some of us around to protect the womenfolk.”
“That seems real good thinking,” grinned Heyes, “now about those rooms.”
“Sign here.” The ledger was slid in front of the outlaw leader. “Cash in advance.”
Heyes nodded. “Two nights, I reckon? That should give us enough time to see if he can travel or if we send him on by train.”
“Your man says you’re diggin’ tunnels?” The clerk watched Heyes scratch the nib across the page. “We’re gonna have some tunnels? You’re a miner?”
Heyes sighed deeply. “No. We work for the railway. We’re on our way west and doing some surveying for wear and tear on the way. It’s as flat as a pancake hereabouts. Why would we be tunneling here?”
“That’s what I thought,” the clerk turned the register so he could read it, “John Beecher?”
“Yes,” Heyes held the man’s gaze determinedly, “John.”
“Okay, Mr. Beecher, and your men are, Jim Hotchkiss, Joe Rembakker and…,” the clerk squinted at the handwriting, “Jack Trevors?”
“Yes. That’s Trevors,” Heyes gestured towards a dazed Kid Curry. “He’s a great engineer, but he knows squat about horses. Looks like he’s about to learn about laudanum though.”
Two sets of keys were slid over the polished top. “Rooms three and four. Up the stairs and turn right. Ya got bags?”
“Hotchkiss and Rembakker will bring them in once they’ve stabled the horses. We don’t want to be disturbed. We’ve got a sick man here.”
“Will do.” The smiling clerk watched the man in the black hat help the injured man up the stairs before he walked over to the manager’s office. He tapped lightly with his knuckles before a muffled voice drifted through the paneled door. “Mr. Keen? There’s somethin’ I think you should know about some guests who just checked in….”
“Stop arguing and lie down. The door’s locked and I’ll keep watch.” Heyes pushed down a protesting Kid Curry onto the bed. The idea was that we find you somewhere safe for you to rest.”
“The idea was that we lay low somewhere you can get even with Beecher,” the blue eyes screwed up in pain as the Kid fought back a cough. “I ain’t a fool, Heyes. This ain’t a good idea. We should git while the goin’s good…”
“You need to rest and you can’t do that lying on the cold, hard ground.”
“It’s better’n bein’ buried in the cold, hard ground. What if anyone recognized us, Heyes?”
“Only the clerk saw us, and the stableman will see Wheat and Kyle. That’s it. We’ll be fine as long as we stay here until you’re fit to ride.”
The Kid fought to prop himself up. “And what about the deputy? You’re forgettin’ about the law. He can identify all of us.”
Heyes pulled the curtains closed before peering through the crack. “He’s not gonna see us. We stay in here until you’re fit to travel. We only go out after dark.”
“After Beecher? You gotta leave it. This is a dumb idea.”
Heyes swung around. “Listen, Kid. I had to sit there and listen to Beecher beat the cr*p outta you because I was watching your back on your own when Beecher arrived mob-handed. I was out-numbered and out-gunned and couldn’t do a thing to help you without turning myself in too. Do you think I’m just going to walk away from that? It was only the fact that I heard him say he needed to turn you in alive that stopped me from blowing his head off.”
“Well, I say we put as many miles between us and Beecher we can.”
“When you’re ready, Kid. You might have cracked a rib. You couldn’t outrun a schoolgirl right now. “
“Then just relax until we can move on,” the Kid winced and fell back. “It’s not worth it. Let it go.”
“There’s nothing to worry about,” Heyes flicked open the curtain again and peered out into the night, “Once Wheat and Kyle get back from the stables. Ah, yeah. I can see them now.” He paused, his fist clenching and unclenching as he willed his men to come back to safety. “They’ve stopped. Come one…come on. Get back here. You’ve gotta get back to the room before the posse get back.” He watched the pair freeze in the middle of the road, lit by the light from the saloon windows. They were clearly talking to someone in the shadows. Kyle was gesticulating as though reasoning with a figure hidden by the darkness.
“What’s goin’ on?” the Kid demanded.
“Something and nothing. They’re talking to somebody,” Heyes frowned, still peering out of the window. “I told them to get straight back here.”
“So what’s keepin’ them?”
“Looks like they’re talking to someone. It’d better not be a saloon girl. This isn’t the time…” Heyes’ eyes widened. “Wheat’s gone for his gun! Dammit, Wheat. What’re you thinking!?
There was a thundering blast of gunfire, quickly followed by another and Heyes watched helplessly as a man staggered out of the shadows and swayed into into the road clutching at his guts. He teetered and faltered before collapsing face first onto the dirt.
The Kid pushed through the pain to sit up. “What! What happened?”
“Stay here, Kid,” Heyes grabbed his hat and made for the door. “I need to go and find out what those damn fools have done.”
Heyes took the stairs three at a time, pausing only to make sure that the door was locked behind him. The last thing he needed was an injured Kid Curry stumbling into the middle of whatever was going on down there. He nodded towards the curious desk clerk who fluttered around the doorway like a worried moth. “There was a shot. Did you hear a shot? I thought I heard a shot…”
“Yes, that’s why I came down.” Heyes frowned into the street from the doorway. “What happened?”
“I dunno,” the clerk blinked in to the night. “I just heard a shot and the sheriff is out with the posse. Should we get the deputy? They’re guarding a prisoner, but they’re the only law in town.”
Heyes nodded, fixing the man with wide, innocent eyes. “Let’s find out what happened first, huh? It could’ve just been a misfire. You stay here, and if I shout for you, you can run out the back door to get the law. How does that sound?”
The man’s smile twitched nervously as he assessed his part in this bold plan. “The back door? Yeah. I could do that.”
“Good. Make sure you can hear me if I call, but don’t get too near. I need you to make sure you’re out of range. You can’t get back up if you’ve been hit.”
The clerk swept obligingly back from the door, his smile widening. “No, we don’t want that. I couldn’t get help. Not if I was hit…”
Heyes rolled his eyes and strode out into the night, keeping to the shadows until he got near to the two outlaws standing over a hunched figure on the other side of the road. A quick sweep told him that the law wasn’t back yet. “What’s going on here? I heard shots.”
Wheat’s hand dropped from his holstered gun, recognizing the voice. “I did it to save him. Honest I did.”
“Save who?” Heyes strode forward as a few locals tentatively opened their doors and crept out into the street. “What have you done?”
The outline of a prone figure lay on the sidewalk, with a man lean over him loosening the buttons and pulling his clothing open. Kyle pressed near to his leader. “We was helpin’. Honest were. If Wheat hadn’t a done it, I’d have, Hey...” A sharp kick cut off the rest of the name. “Ow! That weren’t called fur. I was only tellin; ya what happened.”
“Well, do it quietly and no names,” hissed Heyes. “Why did you shoot him, Wheat?”
“He was gonna shoot that fella, and he was telling him that he weren’t armed.” The large outlaw bristled with indignation. “I done a good thing. Honest I did.”
“He did,” the man crouched over the body raised his head at last. “He was going to shoot me. Your man got in there first.”
Heyes frown deepened. “Who are you and what is going on?”
“I’m the town doctor, and this piece of…,” he indicated, the man in front of him, “is Abner Beecher. I tried to go and see his step-ma while his pa was outta town and he came after me with a gun. I was runnin’ for my life when I bumped into these two. I can’t thank them enough.” He fixed Wheat with a serious stare. “You saved my life, Mr…?”
Wheat groped around. What did he just say at the hotel? Ah, yes. “Beecher. Kyle Beecher.”
The doctor tensed. “Beecher? Are you kin to this one?”
“Maybe back in the days of Adam,” Wheat brushed his moustache, “Pa came from the old country before comin’ west. Are these folks from Boston?”
“They’re from Kansas,” shrugged Doctor Murray. “You got folks there?”
Wheat’s blue eyes glimmered at his leader. “Nope. Never been there in my life. I once knew a couple o young upstarts who came from out that way. A pair of wrong ‘uns if ever I met one.”
Heyes felt the need to bring things back to the point, especially as the crowd of locals pressed nearer. “Is he dead?”
“Oh, no,” Doc Murray grinned. “He’s unconscious. Your friend shot him right through the thigh. I got a tourniquet on it. He lost a lot of blood.”
“Is he going to make it?” Heyes dreaded the answer even before he heard it.
“Probably not,” the doctor stood, “but it was him or me. Given the choice I’d rather it was him.” The doctor paused to take in the shocked looks. “What!? He was going to kill me. Were you going to go to him to tend your ailments? Well? Were you?”
“Abner Beecher?” muttered an elderly man standing in the shadows. “Ain’t nobody gonna miss him,” he grinned a near-toothless grin and nodded towards Wheat, “and I’m glad that one didn’t.”
“Help me carry him over to my office, will ya?” The doctor summoned over a couple of townsfolk. “Get a board or something.” He turned back to Heyes. “You don’t need to worry about your man. I’ll tell the sheriff he saved me.”
Heyes watched an old door being brought out to carry the wounded man. “That won’t be enough. A man is likely to die.”
“It’ll be enough for the sheriff here,” Doc Murray affirmed. “He’s known the Beechers since they arrived in town. They’ve got a way of being noticed. I was looking for Beecher’s wife, and Abner here was clearly given the job of seeing me off. He took it a bit too seriously and followed me into town to make sure I didn’t double back.”
“Double back? Why would a doctor be hunted like that?” demanded Heyes.
Doc Murray dusted off his knees and watched his patient borne off towards his office. “There’s the odd domestic dispute and then there’s downright cruelty. Old Man Beecher’s been known to break an arm for his wife spendin’ too much at the store, so when his wife was caught with Kid Curry I worried for her life. Abner was determined I wouldn’t see her for myself. His pa told him not to let me near the place while he was out with the posse. I guess the boy took that kinda serious, like. Maybe he wanted to show off to his pa, but he followed me into town and drew on me.”
“Why would he do something that dumb?” Heyes demanded.
“I’m guessin’ she ain’t too well and he didn’t want me to see that.” He called to a youth standing beside a woman clad in white night clothes and a shawl. “Billy, go get the marshal. I think we gotta get out to the Beecher place.” He looked at Heyes and Wheat. “You want to go and see the marshal to clear things?”
“We just got into town and need the rest,” Heyes shook his head. “You tell him. I’m glad my man could help. I know I depend on him. I don’t think we’re needed if you testify that the other man drew first.”
“Could’ve been anyone. I’m just glad it was someone who could help. You were just folks passin’ by at the right time, is all,” the doc agreed and tugged at the brim of his hat in farewell. “Thanks for all your help.
Heyes paced back and forth in Wheat and Kyle’s room. The large lieutenant twitched back the curtain and peered out into the street. “I tell ya, Heyes, we gotta get outta here before the posse get’s back to town. This is the dumbest idea you’ve had since you had us tryin ‘to rob that army payroll. We all told ya there’d be soldiers protectin’ it, but oh, no. You had a plan.” Wheat dropped the curtain and glared at his boss. “As soon as the sheriff hears about this, he’ll want to see me and then we’re done for.”
“Not necessarily,” Heyes murmured. “He’s gonna be all hot and bothered by the Kid getting clean away, and he’s gonna have to answer to that. The last thing he’ll be bothered with is someone getting shot because he was breaking the law. It’s a closed case.”
“It ain’t closed just because you say it is,” Wheat growled. “I ain’t stayin’. You can do what you like.”
“And leave the Kid here without protection?” Heyes demanded. “It’ll be at least a week before he’s fit to ride. Are you really gonna sneak out of here and leave him to fend for himself? He’s lying in the next room thinking we’ve got his back while your plotting your escape. Do you think that’s what he’d do if it was you?”
“That ain’t fair,” Kyle muttered. “We can take him with us and hide out close by. We ain’t saying we’d leave him.”
“He’s going nowhere. He’s in a comfortable bed at last and he’s staying there until he’s fit to ride.” The dark eyes glared at his men. “You owe it to him?”
Kyle’s loose jaw dropped open in dismay. “But, Heyes…”
“But nothing,” Heyes looked at each man in turn. “You go if you need to, but that just puts the Kid in a worse position. He’s only got me to cover him, so what’s he going to do when the sheriff comes knocking on the door to ask questions?”
“What’s he gonna do whether we’re here or not?” Wheat retorted. “One look at us and the law will know who we are.”
Heyes shook his head. “Nope. The only people who can identify us are Beecher and his wife and they’ll too occupied with the shooting to care. The sheriff has only seen the Kid, and nobody else.” He paused. “I guess the dark-haired deputy from the office can finger us too. It was too dark for his pal outside, so we only have to avoid those three.”
“Only?” snorted Wheat. “We ain’t got no control over who goes where. This whole plan is nuts.”
“We’ve got control over where we go, and the plan is to stick to the rooms until we can get the Kid fit enough to ride outta here.”
“But what if the marshal comes up to our rooms to ask about the shootin’?” asked Kyle.
Heyes hated it when Kyle made sense. He paced some more to give himself thinking time. “Yeah. I guess I’ll have to make sure I get hold of the Sheriff on his own to stop that from happening.”
“You got your chimney clogged, Heyes,” Wheat tapped his forehead. “You’re trying to juggle a whole town and it’s our heads on the line.”
The harsh glare told the outlaws how their leader was taking this conversation. “You want to go? Nobody’s stopping you.”
“Well, don’t be too hasty, Heyes. We ain’t sayin’ we ain’t gonna help. Just that we feel like sittin’ ducks. Maybe we could stay close to town and give you cover when things get rough,” reasoned Kyle.
“And what do I tell the sheriff when he wasn’t to know why you hot-tailed it out of town?” demanded Heyes.
“Well…we got a message to go somewhere?” ventured Wheat.
“Yeah? Where from? If you got a telegram; that can be checked.”
“Someone came to tell us,” Kyle announced. “They came right here.”
“And the desk clerk didn’t see them? They didn’t even have to ask what room you were in and walked straight up and knocked on your door. Psychic, are they?”
“Now you’re just bein’ proddy, Heyes,” Wheat folded his arms. “Ain’t nobody gonna check.”
“Not before the shooting they weren’t, but now you shot a man it might raise a few questions if you disappear. You should have thought this through if you didn’t want to do it. The way I see it, you’re committed.” Wheat and Kyle exchanged a glance as their leader continued. “Well, what’s it to be?”
Wheat sighed heavily and opened his mouth to reply. A series of short raps at the door cut him off. Kyle’s eyes widened and everyone’s hands dropped to their guns. “Who’s that?” hissed Kyle.
Heyes gulped and regained his composure. “Only one way to find out, I guess.” He strode over to the door and stood to the side with his gun drawn. “Who’s there?”
Heyes signaled to his men to be ready to draw. “Who is it?”
“It’s Samuel Denton, Sir. I’m the owner of the hotel. May I speak to Mr. Beecher?”
Wheat shrugged and gesticulated in confusion. “I said I was Kyle Beecher down in the street,” he whispered, “but you said you were John Beecher when you were checkin’ in.”
Heyes glowered at Wheat. “I gave the hotel a different name for you. Can’t you keep your alias straight for ten minutes?” He raised his voice to respond to the man at the door. “That’s a common name. Which Beecher are you looking for?”
“John Beecher, the man who just checked his team in at the front desk. The desk clerk said you had gone to this room when you got back from the street.”
Heyes bit into his lip. “Yes, that’s me. How can I help?”
“Open the door and I’ll tell you.”
Heyes breathed in heavily through him nose and slipped a cautious hand down to the lock. As the door opened the manager was greeted by an amiable smile which gave no indication of the lather and flap of the previous few seconds. “How can I help?”
The man who stood in the hallway glanced around conspiratorially. He widened his bulbous, pale-blue eyes and smiled at the outlaw leader. “Mr. Beecher? Can I come in?”
Heyes shook his head. “Sorry, but we’ve been on the road for days. We were about to turn in when the shots disturbed us. We’re definitely turning in now.”
A not-quite-shiny shoe was thrust between the open door and the jamb. “I may have some information to your advantage.”
Heyes’ brows rose. “And I have some for you. I’m going to close that door whether your foot is in the way or not.”
“I understand you’re tired, sir, but I only need a minute of your time.”
“We have been alerted that the posse is just returning and that the men are tired and hungry. They have asked the hotel to arrange a meal for them.” The manager paused. “That could cause you a problem.”
“Me?” Heyes arched his brows. “I don’t see why?”
“The sheriff will be back soon,” the prominent eyes bulged in emphasis, “he’ll want to know all about the shooting and there’ll be an angry pa on your tail. When old man Beecher hears that his son was shot by your man he’s likely to go renegade.”
There was a low grumble from the room which provoked a grimace from the dark-eyed man at the door. “So you want us to go?”
A smile spread over the hotel owner’s face moon-shaped face. “Far from it, Mr. Beecher. I want to hide you.”
“And why would you want to do that?”
A pair of shiny boots shuffled on the floorboards as the owner mused on an answer. “Because I can tell him and anyone else who asks that you left town after the shooting.”
A muscle tightening in Heyes’ jaw was the only indication of a reaction. “And why would you do that?”
“Because you work for the railroad, something to do with surveying, I believe?” The owner turned at the sound of the little clerk bearing a heavy tray onto the landing. “You have an injured friend, it’s late and you’ve had a long hard day. You want rest, privacy, and nourishment. Hospitality is my game and I know how to look after a guest’s every need. The last thing you need is to strike out in the dead of night to find a camp site. I can give you everything you need.”
Heyes right hand casually raised his gun behind the door. “You haven’t answered my question. Why?”
“Well, mainly to stop by hotel from being smashed to pieces as the battleground, but mostly because you work for the railroad. A hotel owner needs to know if you are surveying for another line. Information like that is gold dust for me, if you catch my drift. The name’s Denton. Samuel Denton,” he gestured back to the clerk struggling under the weight of the tray, “and I took the liberty of plating you up a few sandwiches and sending up a bottle. “Can Higgins and I come in?”
Heyes scanned the two men, weighing up the risk. Those two, against three hardened outlaws? He nodded curtly and stepped back, curling around the door to re-holster his weapon. “Sure.”
Denton and Higgins paraded in, the owner making a grand show of removing the cloche. “A choice of roast beef, ham, or chicken. I have included a bottle of bourbon.” He turned to the clerk. “You may go. Tell anyone who asks that they left town after the shooting.”
“Very good, Sir.”
They all watched the door close behind the retreating desk clerk before the manager spoke again. “He’s a good man, that Higgins. Loyal, discrete, and smart.”
“Yeah,” Wheat prodded at a bread roll to investigate the filling. “Me too.”
Heyes fought the impulse to roll his eyes. “You want information on any planned works?”
“Sure do. Wait, Higgins.” The manager halted his man as he was about to leave the room. “In exchange for protection against Old Man Beecher.”
Heyes strode over to the window and peered out at the arriving riders gathering in the street below. Some of the posse were home, others still had to reach outlying farms and homesteads and required rest and succor before they finished their journey. Voices were rising, no words were audible, just the music of the clamor. One voice rose above the others, an angry, heated, impassioned cry of pain which spiraled above the others. Denton followed over to the window. “Yeah, sounds like Beecher just heard about his son. Very angry man at the best of times, so I’m kinda worried how this’ll take him.” He turned bright blue eyes on the outlaw leader. “What’s it to be? I can tell them all you left town and you’ve got a snug little hideout here. All I want is to know where the railroad is goin’ to put its next line. How about it?”
The fake smile dimpled Heyes’ cheeks. He knew when to deal. “I’d be dumb not to take a deal like that, Mr. Denton. It makes no difference to me where you build a hotel.” He thrust out a hand to seal the deal. “Tomorrow? Not early, I want to be sure that I’m not seen. Have your man get my horse ready for noon and I’ll share what I know. Have the horse out the back of the hotel. We don’t want anyone to see me and know you were lying, do we?”
“Ya want one?” Kyle thrust out a sandwich clutched in his grimy hand. “They’re real good. I even think the beef is real cow. You got us a real fine hideout here.”
“No thanks,” Heyes headed to the door. “Take those to the Kid and share them with him. Keep an ear out for any trouble and take him down the back stairs if your hear anything.”
Wheat nodded, while Kyle watched his friend carefully place the bottle of bourbon behind the curtain. The door to the room carefully closed behind the outlaw leader. “He never said nuthin’ about the booze, best to do exactly what he told us.”
“Yeah,” Kyle nodded. “Don’t know how it might take him if he drinks bourbon. Him being on medicaments an all.”
“Better safe than sorry,”
Kyle picked up the tray. “Yup, he’s gotta be ready to make a break for it. He can’t do that if he’s full as a tick.”
“We’re all heart, Kyle. You and me’s just like nurses.”
“Yeah,” Kyle spat in the fireplace. “I know my ma used ta hide the hooch from me so I like ta think we’s just like family when the Kid is all laid up like this.”
Posts : 268
Join date : 2014-01-04
|Subject: Re: Talk Of The Devil Sun Aug 16, 2015 4:59 pm|| |
Heyes glided silently down the hallway, keeping to the shadows and the walls until, he reached the top of the staircase. The light and hubbub from the hotel lobby drifted up to the man peering out of the shadows at what was unfolding below. It didn’t take Heyes long to spot Eugene Beecher’s craggy features; not only was he a face he knew from the past in the milling crowd, he was the one making the most noise. The face was older, craggier, and harder. Life certainly hadn’t been kind to Eugene Beecher. “Ya let him go and ya back the men who shot my boy?” he barked in disbelief.
The man with the star was obviously at the end of his tether. “Eugene we didn’t set him free. He escaped, while your men were lookin’ out for the Devil’s Hole Gang too.” He jammed a poking finger into the famer’s chest. “And your Abner took a pot-shot at the doc. That’s why he got injured, and that’s why these Beecher folks left town.”
“Beecher?” The arrogance dropped from the father’s face. “The folks who shot my boy are called Beecher?”
“Yeah...why does that matter?”
“Where’re they from?”
“Doc said somethin’ about Boston.”
“Boston. What’s folk from Boston doin’ here?” Beecher’s mouth dropped open, betraying a dismay which caused Heyes’ brow to furrow in intrigue. “Boston’s a long ways from here.”
The sheriff folded his arms. “I don’t need no geography lesson. I got an escaped outlaw ta deal with and your boy tried ta kill the town’s only doc. Where folks come from is the least of my problems.”
“He never did nuthin’. It’s all a mistake,” Beecher protested. “I just want ta find the witnesses, and I want that reward money. T’aint my fault you let him go. I caught him, fair and square.”
“Beecher, git outta ma sight before I lock you up for causin’ a disturbance. That son o’yorn tried to murder the doc, and if’n he lives he’s gonna face prison for it. If you want to do anythin’ useful go and find Curry. There ain’t no reward for an escaped prisoner and that’s all there is to it. Git!”
“This ain’t over,” Beecher yelled as he was ushered to the door by his own men. “I’ll be seeing a lawyer. I’ll get my boy out and we’ll see about that money!”
“I’ve had a selection of sandwiches laid out for you and your men, Sheriff Smart,” Howard Keen, the hotel manager, nodded over to the dining room where then hotel owner was pointing out intricacies of a huge urn to Higgins, the desk clerk. A disapproving middle-aged female was arranging the food and was clearly finding all these male bosses more of a hindrance than a help. She stopped and glared at the two men blocking her way, before clearing her throat theatrically. She was clearly not to be trifled with; one flick of a heavy eyebrow was enough to send even the owner scuttling out of her way.
From his vantage point at the top of the stairs, Heyes was able to see through the timbered arch into the first few feet of the dining room where tired and hungry men crowded around the long table which stretched off beyond his field of vision.
The dark eyes followed the hotel owner as he gestured with his head over to the corner. The cheeks dimpled with delight as he realized that the owner was leading the manager to the corner right below his vantage point on the stairs. Heyes pressed closer to the banisters and started the necessary ear peeling required to tune into the murmured voices.
“Keen, get over here,” hissed Denton. The owner glanced around at the remaining members of the posse who were being herded into the dining room. “I need to speak to you about something.”
“The railroad men are upstairs. Nobody is to know, especially not Bertha.” He gestured with his head over to the stern matron at the dining room door.
“Why not her?” asked the manager. “She does most of the cookin’. She’s bound to ask who the food is for.”
“It’ll be sandwiches, and I’m havin’ meetin’s. That’s all she needs to know. She’s got a mouth as wide as the Mississippi. I don’t want anyone to know these men are here. Nobody, you got that?”
Keen nodded obediently. “It was me who told you they were here, Sir. I know how much we need information to keep ahead of the competition.”
“Yes,” the owner seemed slightly mollified. “It was Higgins who brought it to you though, wasn’t it? A bright lad that Higgins. Very bright.”
“Lad? He’s thirty two, Mr. Denton. He’s married with two children.”
The owner nodded. “Yes. A very bright lad…”
The manager rolled his eyes. “Yes, and from what I hear tell, his ma was real pretty when she was young. She arrived in town with just her and her young ‘un didn’t she?”
“What’s that supposed to mean? She’s a respectable widow,” demanded Denton. “All those rumors are hogwash.”
“Nothin’,” smiled Keen. “You like the Higgins family. I get it. Now these men upstairs. What about them?”
“Quirke thinks he runs this town. He’s about to find out he’s not as smart as he thinks he is. When I’ve got some inside information he’ll find I’ve bought up the land before he gets there.”
Keen raised his brows. “He does run this town. He’s the mayor.”
“I mean, he’ll take over this business if I let him. That railroad man said he’d take me out with him tomorrow. I need two lunches packed, food for other three, and a breakfast before they go. Got that?”
Keen nodded patiently. “I have, Sir. Shouldn’t you be givin’ these orders to Higgins?”
“I’m givin’ them to you, Keen. I need you to run this place,” Denton cast an arm over to the matron once more. “She can’t get an inkling of this. Talkin’ to her’s like releasin’ a flock of carrier pigeons. Quirke has ears everywhere. He can’t get an inkling of any land I want to buy. The price’ll go up. There’s a new hotel to run for you in this. It’ll be a bigger, better, and newer place. I’m aimin’ on Higgins steppin’ up to run here.” Fenton laid a hand on his manager’s shoulder. “We’re on the verge of somethin’ big, Keen. I need good men around me. Are you in?”
The manager nodded and smiled. “I’m in.”
“Good,” Denton grinned. “Sort breakfast and the rest of the meals. I’ll take care of the business deals.”
Shrewd dark eyes flicked up from the map and scanned the trees skirting the river. “So, this is the Beecher place?”
Denton nodded. “Why does that interest you? Are you sure you’re not related?”
“Positive. I like to think that nobody would mistake me for a hillbilly.” Heyes’ lips twitched into a winning smile. “It interests me because the new branch line to Guernsey will go right through the middle of it. There’s a lot of copper out that way and we need to transport it. I guess it’s best we keep out of his way for now. He won’t be a happy man this morning. Have you heard how his son is?”
The hotel manager shook his head. “The last I heard he weren’t doing too good. I’ll be surprised if he makes it. Doc Murray s a fair shot. The boy was a fool to go after him but Abner was always short of a few sods on his roof.” He tapped his temples knowingly. “They said his ma drank and he came out pickled. I never met the woman but his step-ma seemed nice enough; too good for that lot if you ask me.” Heyes eyes darkened but he remained silent. “She’s real put-upon girl and she’s not in town much. She ain’t allowed, by all accounts. Beecher keeps a real tight rein on her, but since she was caught with Kid Curry I can understand why. What kind of woman goes off with an outlaw?”
Heyes shuffled in his saddle. “What kind of woman goes with the man you’ve described to me? I guess she was desperate to marry him.” He shrugged. “Anyway, back to the point. This is the land I need to survey…” he was cut off by the sound of gunshot blasting through the peace. Birds scattered from their roosts and filled the air with black twisting clouds of panic. Both men jumped down from their horses and quickly led them over to a thicket where they took cover behind a fallen tree.
They watched as horses thundered away from the Beecher Ranch, followed by another volley of shots. The glint of a metal star pinned to the chest of one of the riders caused the outlaw leader to duck lower behind the log.
“What’re you doing?” snickered the hotel owner. “They’re not shooting at us? Beecher is chasing Doc Murray off his land.”
“The doc?” Heyes frowned. “What’s he doing out here? Is he mad?”
“Sometimes we think he’s loco, but mostly he’s as stubborn as a rock. Come on, let’s find out what he’s doing,” Denton raised a hand and called out to the riders, who paused before kicking their horses into a turn. They headed straight for the wanted fugitive, who felt his stomach drop unto his boots until they got close enough for Heyes to see that the mustachioed lawman was not the deputy from the jailbreak, he was the measured man from the lobby of the hotel. In short, he could not identify Hannibal Heyes.
“Hey, boys. Whatcha doing all the way out here?” waved Denton.
Sheriff Smart frowned at the dark man emerging from the undergrowth as he pulled his mount to a halt. “Hey, Denton. What brings you all the way out here?”
Denton grinned at Heyes climbing out from the bushes. “Just showing a guest around the area. He’s not used to gunfire from the looks of things,” he smiled at the medical man. “What brings you back this way? I thought the Beechers would be the last people you’d want to see today.”
“They are,” muttered Doc Murray, “but I need to see the woman. I’ve warned Beecher before about mistreating his wife. I’m down right scared for that woman. I told Beecher I’d be around to make sure she was healthy. I won’t be scared off. I reckon that’s what Abner was trying to do, but he took it too far when he pulled a gun on me.”
“A married woman caught with an outlaw? Doesn’t seem like she deserves too much sympathy to me,” Denton muttered. “I know what I’d do if’n it was my wife.”
“Anyone who spends their life with that man deserves sympathy, and we’ve only got Beecher’s word for the way Kid Curry was caught,” the doctor snorted. “Besides, a bit of chastisement is one thing, but half-killing them is another thing altogether.”
“You’re genuinely afraid for this woman,” ventured Heyes.
The sheriff’s curious eyes turned on the newcomer. “That’s why we’re here, Mister…?”
“Smith,” blurted out Denton as Heyes sighed in the face yet another alias in this town. How many was that now? He was Beecher to the hotel staff, Wheat was Kyle Beecher to the doctor but Jim Hotchkiss in the hotel. Now he was Smith to the sheriff and to the Doctor while the Kid and Kyle were Jack Trevors and Joe Rembakker respectively. He made a mental note to draw up some kind of chart to deal with a situation which seemed to be degenerating into some kind of Western farce and hoped that all these people would never be together at the same time.
“And your business here, Smith?”
“Holes,” Heyes replied with eponymous dimples appearing on cue. It was clear that the hotel owner didn’t want to tell the sheriff that the men who shot Abner were still in the area.
“Holes?” the lawman repeated.
“Yes. The government has asked me to look into sinkholes and try to find areas in danger of developing new ones in the future. The geology here has shown that we need to check things out,” Heyes tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially. “It’s a matter of public safety, but it’s purely a precaution, you understand. They open with no notice and suck anything above ground to the bowels of the earth.”
“Have we got any of these holes in these parts?” demanded the doctor.
“Not one,” Heyes assured the men. “But if they’re likely to happen, the Governor wants to know about it. The only way to do that is to take some mineral samples. Mr. Denton here is just showing me the lay of the land.”
Sheriff Smart arched his brows. “Who knew the authorities were so on the ball?”
“Yeah,” Denton glanced at Heyes admiringly. “Who knew?”
“I should’ve guessed you were from the governor’s office when you jumped for cover so fast,” grinned the sheriff.
“Hey, you do your job and I’ll do mine. Should you be riding away if you think a woman is in danger?”
“He refuses to let us on his land, but we was only firin’ over our heads to make a point,” the Sheriff replied. “I’ve told him that if the doc don’t see his wife by tomorrow morning I’m takin’ back up and goin’ in there. He’s lost the reward money and his son is hangin’ by a thread. I ain’t gonna push him too far.”
“But if she’s badly injured…,” Heyes persisted.
“A man has a right to be angry at a wife who went off with a criminal,” Sheriff Smart stated firmly. “No court’s gonna punish him for a bit of discipline, as long as it’s within reason.”
“Within reason?” muttered Heyes. “He sent his son after the doctor for even asking. That doesn’t sound like a reasonable man.”
“We don’t know that,” Smart replied. “Abner could’ve taken against the Doc all on his own. We’ve gotta give a man a chance.”
Heyes nodded, unwilling to push the matter further. “Sure, shall we head on to the next place, Denton? I think I’ve got a measure of the dirt around here.” He tipped his hat to the Doctor and the Sheriff. “Nice meeting you. Maybe I’ll see you around if I don’t move on before.”
The Kid sighed, then winced, as pain shot through his chest at the movement. “What’s up? I thought we were safe here.”
“We are,” Heyes replied, just a touch too casually. “Are the ribs still bothering you?”
“They’re good enough to ride outta here if we need to.”
Heyes shook his head. “You’re not ready yet. The hotel manager is keeping us under wraps because he thinks he’ll get information about where to build his next hotel. He’s a good front for riding about the country without too many questions but it’s only a means to an end. He doesn’t want Beecher finding out we’re here either. It might kill the goose with the potential for laying that golden egg.”
“Means to an end? This ain’t the time to think of revenge, Heyes. I know you, and how you get when you’re crossed, but we need to get out of here. It’s more important than gettin’ back at Beecher. As long as we’re free, we got nothin’ but time.”
The dark brows gathered. “I know that.”
The Kid frowned. “What?” He watched his cousin glance away. “Tell me. There’s somethin’ eatin’ at you.”
Heyes sighed and walked over to the bed. “I need your word that you’ll stay where you are and not do anything stupid.”
“Stupid? Like what?”
“Like jump up out of that bed and try to deal with this.” Heyes cast a hand out towards the window. “You’ll only end up back in jail, so all this will have been for nothing. You need at least a week of complete rest. You’ve broken at least one rib and I’m not happy about that head injury. You’re sleeping a lot.”
“I ain’t sleepin’ a lot; I’m tryin to sleep a lot,” The Kid retorted. “This darned rib wakes me up every time I move. I’m not that bad I can’t ride.”
“I don’t want that rib puncturing a lung. Just let things settle down a bit and I’ll get you out of here at a pace you can handle. There’s no way you could outrun a posse right now.”
“So, I won’t.”
Heyes paused. “Won’t what?”
“Jump out of bed and get myself arrested again. You’re great at changin’ the subject, but I know you too well. I give you my word, now you keep your side of the bargain; why are you so keen to stay here?”
Heyes chewed on his lip before conceding. “Christina.”
The blue eyes widened in alarm as the realization hit. “Oh, my good…I never thought of that. If he beat the life out of me, what would he do to her? He didn’t have to make sure she could be recognized for a reward.” He dropped his head. “What kind of man am I? Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Because you’re sicker than you’re making out and you’re drugged up to the eyeballs,” Heyes crossed over and perched on the side of the bed. “You don’t need to be on top of everything, you know. That’s what friends are for. I’m looking out for her.” He patted the mattress. “I’m looking out for her for you.”
“How is she? Is she hurt?”
Heyes shrugged uneasily. “We haven’t managed to get anyone to her yet. The sheriff’s told him that he’s got until tomorrow, but the doc’s being real pushy. He won’t let it rest.”
“Pushy? It needs more than pushy, Heyes. You should have seen the mess of her back. The skin was like a ploughed field. I’ve never seen scars like it, let alone on a woman. He’ll kill her by inches because quick’s less fun. Someone’s gotta get her outta there.”
Hannibal Heyes took a deep breath, reflecting on the man they knew from their youth; brutish, callous, and petty. He was the reason they had run away from Valparaiso. They’d insisted in letting them out to work for that man, and had no interest in the listening to the boys about the way they’d been abused. Beecher had been the overseer to Christina’s father, and when Jed had been caught in the hayloft with her all hell had been let loose. That couple of hours in the hay had changed the course of their entire lives. Neither of them had given a second thought for the girl they left behind, and he cringed at the realization that they’d both dismissed her position in life as being as secure as her father’s. How were they to know that she’d be handed down to the harsh overseer because a woman with a ruined reputation been an inconvenience who soiled the family name? He didn’t have to wonder what kind of life she’d had. He already knew; and the truth stung.
The poker played slipped into his mask and flashed a reassuring dimple. “I’ll make sure I’m out that way tomorrow. There’s no way I’m letting Beecher away with this.”
“He can’t see you, Heyes. He’ll recognize you.”
“Yeah. I’ve had a few thoughts about that.” The dark eyes gleamed. “I don’t think I’m going to have to worry about that. I’ve got it covered.”
The dark figure ghosted through the darkness, delicately pulling back fronds until the silhouette of the Beecher place could be clearly seen in the pale moonlight. A hound grumbled and raised its head before rising to its huge paws to investigate the sounds drifting through the night air. Heyes reached into his pocket and pulled out the package , tempting the beast over by wafting the aromas in its direction by waving it about. “Come on, boy,” he murmured. “Come and get the delicious beef.”
The animal’s hunger got the better if it and it snuck cautiously forward. This must be a friendly human. There were enough of those who came to work for his owner, but nobody stayed for long. None of them had ever come bearing meat before. This should happen more often.
The wagging tail told the experienced interloper that the old ploy was about to be successful. “Any more of you out there?” Heyes let out a low whistle and another floppy-eared mutt scampered over. “Yeah, there you go. Eat it all up.” He watched the beasts snuffle around on the grass where he dropped the drugged food. “That should keep you two quiet, but in the meantime you think I’m a friend.”
He stepped carefully around the feasting dogs and allowed the shadows to engulf him as he took stock of the property. The farmhouse stood in the center of the plot, just as he remembered from the maps he had been provided with by the hotel owner. That meant that the bunkhouse was further away, to the north of the house; far enough away for him not to worry about it too much about them hearing him. The barn, stable, corals, and various animal houses were near the bunkhouses for convenience. In between the bunkhouse and the house there was a well. The map was clearly out of date though. The river had obviously changed course. The map had shown it a matter of yards away from the cabin, but he saw that it now played its way through the valley at the end of the field.
So much for maps. Heyes turned to see the dogs scratch at the grass, searching for the remaining scraps of their tit bits and decided it was time to explore. The light from a cabin window was too tempting for an expert burglar. He kept to the edges, still in the shadows, until he could press up against the windows and stare into the building. He recognized his old adversary right away, sitting facing the range. The face was far craggier; gravity had grabbed the frequent scowl to drag the flesh into a permanent glower, and the crepey eyelids formed hoods over black piercing eyes. There was not an ounce of humanity in that face. He silently reflected on the fact that children and animals could read these features before frequent use etched them in place forever, yet they were often so often dismissed. That was a lesson he would never have to re-learn. He listened.
He watched Beecher stand up and pick up a bucket before making for the door. Light poured out into the night as he made his way out of the building. Heyes pressed further into the shadows and watched Beecher head down towards the river with his bucket. A frown played over Heyes’ brow; did he have time to search the cabin? Did he even need to? Beecher was not a man to do his own dirty work. If Christina was inside she would have been ordered to fetch the water. He sank into the darkness and watched the man fill his bucket and stride back to the cabin.
Yes. He had to be here tomorrow when the law came to find look for Mrs. Beecher. He knew he could help.
Heyes’ stomach sank at sight of the team riding up to the Beecher place. Pride of place, on Sheriff Smart’s right hand side, rode the deputy who had been guarding the Kid the night of the breakout, and who could identify Hannibal Heyes. On the left rode the other young lawman who had been grabbed on the way back from the privy. This wasn’t good. Time to grab a fast disguise. He lowered his binoculars and headed straight for the river.
“What on earth?” The hotel owner swung around at the sound of his companion floundering into the river.
“I slipped,” Heyes crawled out onto the riverbank on his knees. “There were some real interesting stones in there. I wanted to get a sample but I fell off the rock.” He rubbed his face with hands covered in earth from the grassy bank. “Darn it. I almost had it too. I was sure if was an ore bearing rock. So you know what that means?”
“Do you know what you look like?” Denton chortled. You’ve got a lump of mud on your cheek.”
Heyes pulled out a sodden neckerchief and smeared the mud even further. “Did that get it? He transferred the bandana to the other side, smearing it again. “How’s that?”
Denton strode over, shaking his head. “You’re making it worse. Much worse.”
Heyes rubbed harder, smearing mud diagonally over his forehead. “How about now?”
“Give me that, you look ridiculous. I’ll get it.”
The ex-outlaw leader was not about to let his carefully applied camouflage be removed that easily. He stepped back into the river and floundered about again, thanking his lucky stars that the weather was fine and the water refreshing, rather than frigid. He plunged in a fist and hauled up a random stone from the gravel bed examining it carefully. “I knew it.” He turned gleaming eyes on the hotel owner. “See? This is huge.”
“What is? That little stone?”
He held up the stone as he waded ashore again. “See this? See that lighter area there. See the glitter?” Heyes paused. “Do you know anything about geology?”
“Nope.” Denton peered at the rock. “What am I looking for?”
“See the shiny bits? They’re not just any bit of glitter. They’re silica deposits”
Denton arched a brow. “And they’re valuable?”
“Nope, but it means that we’ll also find silicates.”
“And they’re valuable?” The hotel owner looked at the shaking head with growing irritation. “Well if they’re not valuable, what use are they?”
“Wherever there we find anything worth mining we also see a set of conditions that show us it’s worth digging there. Where there are silicas, there are silicates and where there are silicates there very probably…,” Heyes looked around at the ground nodding knowingly. “Yup, it looks like it’s real likely.”
“And they’re worthless,” the now-confused man demanded.
“Only if you don’t like money, Denton. You might know them better as opals.”
Heyes nodded knowingly. “We can’t be certain, but it looks like exactly the kind of place we find them. I can’t believe it.” The cheeks pitted with muddy dimples. “This is a perfect set of conditions for their formation.”
“Here, in the old Beecher place?” Denton reached out for the stone. “Sure, I can see it. There’s something sparkling when you hold it up to the sun.”
Heyes’ smile brightened. “Yeah. I guess that’s why I fell in. I was surprised. I’ve only ever seen these conditions once before, in the Virgin Valley Fields of Nevada.”
“The Virgin Valley? I’ve heard of that.” Denton could hardly contain himself. “You think there are opals here?”
“I sure do,” the dark eyes narrowed, “and we are the only people who know about it. This is big. Way bigger than a railway. This is life changing.”
“If you tell the railroad the ground is unsuitable, they’ll go elsewhere, won’t they?”
The outlaw gave a conspiratorial nod. “They’ll go where I tell them, within reason. Listen you need my geological know-how, and I need your capital. Partners?”
Denton thrust out a hand to shake on it. “When I see a man of science so surprised he tips into a river, I know I’m onto a winner. Deal. Now, first things first. We’ve gotta get Beecher to sell us the place.”
Heyes turned at the round of the arriving lawmen, content his face was suitably distorted by the mud to throw the deputy. People were always confused when they saw someone out of place, and he certainly wasn’t expecting Hannibal Heyes to be dunking in Beecher’s river. “Ya, think? I’m guessing he’s got a whole heap of trouble heading his way. They said they’d be back if he didn’t let his wife see the doctor.”
“Yeah, darn it. The timing couldn’t be worse. The last thing he’ll want to talk about is selling the place right now.”
“Or…,” the dimples were just visible under the mud, “he’ll need some money for legal fees.”
“Nah. They never lock men up for things like that. Not when they were caught with another man.”
Heyes strolled over to the bank and picked up his hat, then thought the better of putting it on. The hatband was too distinctive. He jammed it under his arm and flattened down his hair with a muddy hand. “Come on. Let’s see what he’s been up to. The more we know the better.”
“Beecher!” Sheriff Smart bellowed from behind the safety of the water butt by the well. “Git out here and keep your hands in the air.”
The wiry frame of the bully appeared at the door, but he positively swaggered, oozing the irritating confidence of the bully. “What d’ya want, Smart? I was busy.”
“I warned ya that Doc Murray needs to examine your wife. We need to check on her welfare. Send her out.”
A smirk crept across the farmers’ weasel features. “Can’t do that, Sheriff. She ain’t here.”
The lawman stood and peered over the top of the barrel. “What d’ya mean. I’m in no mood for games.”
“Ah mean she dun up and lit out. Last night.” Beecher gathered a great gob of indifference from deep inside his hard ribs. “Ain’t got no idea where she is.”
“Is this some kina joke, Beecher?”
Beecher spat off the edge of the porch with an almost enviable precision. “Joke? She left me. Probably run off with that outlaw. I’m real broke up about it.”
The sheriff strolled cautiously out from behind the barrel. “Well, if’n you don’t mind I’ll have my men look around the place.” He gestured to his deputies. “Floyd, Albert, get the guns off those hands before we search the place.”
“Sure,” Beecher lowered his hands and called over to his staff. “Give ‘em your guns boys. Ain’t nobody here lookin’ for trouble.”
The youngest lawmen walked over and collected the weapons and arranged them into a neat pile by the horses and stood covering his colleagues while they checked out Beecher and his cabin. “They said they don’t know nuthin’, Sheriff. They ain’t seen or heard a thing.”
“Of course they ain’t. Beecher only employs the deaf, dumb, and blind. They ain’t gonna tell us a thing.” The sheriff walked over and deposited a few more guns on the pile. “Watch the men, Albert. Floyd and me’ll search the house.”
Denton frowned and turned to the man watching all of this unfold through the bushes. “Why are we watching this?”
“Because if Beecher’s going to be arrested we need to know. We want to buy this place don’t we? We need to know as much as we can about the man to get the best price.”
It didn’t take long before a smirking Beecher emerged followed by a couple of downcast looking officials. “She a told ya she’d gone. There ain’t no controlling a whore like that. She’ll go off where the scent takes her. I’m well rid of her.”
Smart headed out towards his horse. “We’ll be investigating, Beecher. This ain’t over.”
“It’s as over as it’ll ever be, Mr. Lawman.” Beecher gave a mock salute with two fingers. “I get the feelin’ she ain’t never coming back. Not while Kid Curry’s on the run. They’ll be together.”
Heyes fought back a snort of annoyance and got to his feet, walking into the clearing. “Hey, Sheriff. You’re not leaving are you?”
Deputy Floyd drew, pointing straight at the muddy stranger striding towards them. The hotel owner gave a huff of annoyance and jogged out behind. “Don’t shoot. It’s the hole man. He fell in the river.”
The deputies shared a look of surprise. “Hole man?”
Sheriff Smart watched the dripping man approach. “Yeah, the government’s checking for sinkholes hereabouts. Did ya fall into one, Smith?”
“Nope, just the river.” Heyes darted a look at Beecher. “You’re not just going to ride out and leave are you? You haven’t looked anywhere but the cabin or the bunk house.”
“Here, whasit to do with you?” barked Beecher.
Heyes ignored the farmer and continued, determined to share what he’d observed last night. “It’s clear that his son tired to shoot Doc Murray because he wouldn’t let up on his efforts to see Mrs. Beecher. He had to be pretty desperate to go that far, and the way I see it only one thing could make a son fear for his pa that much.” He pointed straight at Beecher. “He killed her, and his son was trying to save him from hanging.”
Beecher turned puce. “What? Who is this fella?”
“Yeah,” murmured the older deputy. “Where do I know that voice from?”
“I dunno. A saloon, maybe? I’ve been in town for a while.” Heyes realized he’d better get on with this before he was rumbled. “Anyway, he’s clearly killed her. Why aren’t you searching this place for a body? He’s not going to leave it in the house.”
“He’s gotta have a hundred and fifty acres here. I ain’t gonna dig it all that up,” the sheriff retorted.
“You don’t have to,” Heyes asserted. “You’ve got an expert on holes. If there’s a body buried, I’ll be able to spot it.”
“What kinda tomfoolery is this? Holes?” Beecher pointed at Heyes. “Git this damned fool off ma land.”
Smart lifted a hand. “Not so fast Beecher. He might have a point. So, Smith. You reckon you can find a body with all that knowledge of holes you got?”
“I sure do.” Heyes pointed over to the buckets at the end of the porch. “Look at those, and the track through the grass. He’s clearly going down to the river to get his water, but he’s not been doing that long enough to wear the grass away. He pointed at the well the lawman was leaning against. “So, why do you think he’s doing that when he’s got a well? Why has he recently stopped using it?”
The sheriff stiffened. “Yeah. Why is that?”
“You came to search the house. You dun that. Now git,” Beecher bellowed.
Sheriff Smart’s blue eyes narrowed. “Albert, draw your gun and shoot Beecher if he so much as moves a muscle. Floyd, come and help me get those logs off the top of the well.”
“You got no right to be doin’ this,” Beecher yelled.
“We came here to find your wife, and that there hole-man is right. Abner wouldn’t have shot the Doc unless it was real important. Doc Murray has bothered them to see Christina before and it never got further than obscenities.” He dragged at the top layer of logs, pausing only to brush off an irritated spider making a break for it up his arm. “Come on, Floyd. Gimme a hand with this board.” The two men heaved the timber aside and immediately pulled back as a foul, putrefying stench his their nostrils. Floyd leaned over, clutching at his stomach, dry-heaving into fresh air as a cloud of bluebottles dissipated into the air. “Dear God. I never smelled anything like it in my life.”
“It’s a bear,” Beecher yelled. “I closed off the well cos a bear fell in and soured the water.”
“You’re under arrest, Beecher. You’re gonna sit safely in the cells until I can get a hook down there to drag out whatever’s floating about. Dear Lord! An old lawman once told me that there was nothing like a body left in the water, but sheesh, he didn’t tell me the half of it.”
“C’mon. We need to get back to town. I need a bath.” Heyes looked over at Denton but a light went out in the dark eyes. “That poor woman. I hope she knew that were people who cared enough to make sure he paid for this, even if they couldn’t stop him.”
“Do you really think she’s down that well?” Denton whispered, hoarsely. “He says it’s a bear.”
“A bear?” snarled Heyes. “He’d have dragged the thing out by now, not hidden it under a pile of logs.” He shook his muddy head unable to bring himself to say her name in case it betrayed his emotions. “No. That’s the remains of the woman. You’ll see. If there’s one thing I know about it’s holes…”
It was a somber Hannibal Heyes who walked back into their hotel room. He’d spent far too long at the bath house; partly out of reluctance to face his injured partner with the news, but mostly because, he; Hannibal Heyes, didn’t know quite what to say. The silver tongue had turned to lead, and the heart had turned to stone. Christina hadn’t been the love of the Kid’s life: she hadn’t even been his first. She had been a diversion in a hard life where joy was snatched where it could be found. There had been no thought of repercussions, or of the impact on anyone else, and they certainly never thought that they’d hurt the women they left behind. He lay in the soapy water and damned the blindness of youth, along with the callous impetuosity and bravado which made them grab their pleasures where they found them.
When they had met Christina she had been the beautiful daughter of a wealthy farmer, but by the time they’d done with her she had become an embarrassment and inconvenience to be quickly married off to anyone who’d have her, and that brute Beecher was there. He didn’t even want to dwell on the life she’d had, the doctor’s fears already told him enough about that. He didn’t blame the Kid for a second, he was no better.
This whole episode had been a wake-up call. It was time to grow up and look at the bigger picture, but how could they move on and live decent lives? No matter where they went they’d still be wanted.
For some reason he heard his mother’s voice in his head, quoting the bible. “What ye sow, so shall ye reap.” The only problem was that everyone else seemed to be facing the consequences but them. It was only a matter of time before fate bit them on the ass. All they ever sowed were weeds which grew and choked the life out of anything good.
But Christina…poor Christina. She had been beautiful, funny, and clever, and they’d both vied keenly for her affections. The Kid had won, but she was most definitely the loser. Yet still she’d welcomed the Kid with open arms when they’d bumped into her leaving the mercantile. Maybe it was one of the few happy memories she had in a brutish, awful existence, but all Heyes could focus on was that meeting them heaped more violence and pain on an already terrible life.
How was he going to tell him? What was he going to say? He felt the round metal door knob in his hand and breathed deeply. He was simply going to tell him the truth; then they’d talk about the future, the past, and share bittersweet memories.
One day they’d have to face up to the consequences of the memories they were making right now, but tonight was not the time.
Posts : 392
Join date : 2015-02-20
Location : western PA USA
|Subject: Re: Talk Of The Devil Mon Nov 09, 2015 6:24 pm|| |
This was beautifully written and ran through so much - emotions, action, scheming and dialog. It was truly well balanced. A bit of everything from comedy to angst. Kudos on a story well said and well written.
Posts : 306
Join date : 2014-08-12
|Subject: Re: Talk Of The Devil Mon Mar 21, 2016 6:02 pm|| |
I really enjoyed reading this story. Was this the end of it? I have kept checking back to see if there was more. it was very well written.
Posts : 268
Join date : 2014-01-04
|Subject: Re: Talk Of The Devil Tue Mar 22, 2016 7:24 am|| |
Thank you, for your kind comments. They are very much appreciated. Yes, Gin16. This is the end of the story. I left how the Kid moves on from this to the imagination of the reader.
|Subject: Re: Talk Of The Devil || |
Talk Of The Devil