Originally a Virtual Season story
Playing Both Sides of the Law
The train clattered into the Denver station and jerked to a stop. A dark-haired man wearing a corduroy jacket and a battered, black hat jabbed an elbow into the ribs of the man slouching next to him.
A single finger propped up a floppy brim, and a blue eye glared from underneath.
“We’re here,” explained the dark-haired man.
His companion pushed himself upright and straightened his leather jacket. Dark-blond curls escaped from under the brown hat as he rubbed sleep from his eyes. “What time is it?”
Eyes as brown as roasted coffee beans peered at a pocket watch. “It’s just after six.”
“Did ya sleep at all, Heyes?”
“Shhhh! I slept enough, THADDEUS. Besides, we don’t meet Taylor until lunch. I got time to nap.”
Kid Curry nodded and collected his gear.
Two shaved, bathed, and less rumpled cowboys waited in a hotel lobby. While inspecting the dining room, the Kid glimpsed the back of a blonde woman slipping out a side door. He started to tell Heyes, but his partner was occupied with the maitre d’.
“Smith and Jones to meet William Taylor.”
“Please follow me, sir.”
A well-dressed gentleman waited at a table for four. He was a doughy ball of a man with wiry, gray-streaked hair. His pleasant face topped a body like a lopsided ball. He greeted each cowboy with a firm handshake.
“And Mr. Jones?”
Curry grasped the man’s hand.
“I’m William Taylor. Thank you for coming.”
“I thought your wife was joining us,” Heyes probed.
“She’s here—or at least she was. Camilla complained of feeling ill and insisted on some air just before you arrived.” He surveyed the restaurant and glanced out the windows. “Go ahead and order. I'm sure that she’ll be back shortly.”
The maitre d’ approached and handed him a slip of paper. After reading the note, their host slumped in his seat. “It appears we are without my wife. She took a carriage home.” He picked up his menu.
“Do ya need to go see how she is?” asked Curry.
“Thank you for your concern, but her note says that she’ll be fine.”
“We could meet later if you need to go,” offered Heyes.
“This isn’t like my wife. But…” he paused. “No, there are people at home if she needs help. Let’s go ahead, and I’ll check on her later.”
Heyes and Taylor sipped coffee while the Kid cleared his plate by mopping up gravy with the last biscuit.
“How much did the governor tell you?” their host asked.
Brown eyes met blue before Heyes answered. “Lom Trevors contacted us for the governor. All we know is that you need real competent bodyguards.” Heyes set down his cup. “Mr. Taylor, why do you need protecting, and why is the governor of Wyoming seeing to your safety?”
Their host laced his fingers on his round belly. “The governor and I were in school together. Three weeks ago, we met for dinner in Cheyenne. I told him about a problem, and he offered to help.”
Curry leaned forward. “Is someone threatenin’ you?”
“It’s my wife who’s in danger. Did you hear about the bank robbery in Santa Fe last month?”
The ex-outlaws exchanged an uneasy glance before shaking their heads.
“A gang, led by three brothers named Thatcher, robbed the Century Bank. They got away with over $70,000. A teller was killed during the robbery, and my wife is a witness.”
“Did anyone else see the murder?”
“Yes, Mr. Jones. There were three other witnesses. No one thought Camilla’s testimony would be needed, but two of the witnesses have disappeared, and one has died. Now the prosecutor is depending on my wife, and only one of the Thatcher brothers is in custody. I was going to hire Bannerman agents, but the governor insisted that she would be safer with you two.”
“Do the officials in Santa Fe know what happened to the other witnesses?”
“The death appeared to be an accident, Mr. Smith, but both the prosecutor and the sheriff think it all looks suspicious. They have warned us to be careful.”
Heyes leaned his chin on his palm and covered his mouth with one hand. “So you want us to escort her to Santa Fe and serve as body guards during the trial?”
“How long would we be stayin’ in Santa Fe?” asked Curry.
“The trial begins in three weeks. I’d like you to protect Camilla until it’s over. The marshal in New Mexico has offered to help if you need it.”
Both Curry and Heyes shivered at the mention of a federal marshal.
“Will ya be travelin' with us, Mr. Taylor?”
“No, Mr. Jones. We have two small children. My wife and I have decided that she will go with you and your partner, while I stay here with the children.”
“How's your wife feel about that? Most respectable ladies wouldn’t be real comfortable with two strangers.”
“Mr. Jones, I believe that you will find my wife is not like MOST ladies. She’s willing to travel with you, but she did ask to meet you first.”
Curry caught Heyes’ gaze. The dark-eyed outlaw answered with one raised eyebrow and a shrug.
Taylor studied them. “I’ll pay you five hundred dollars apiece and cover all expenses.”
Heyes’ smile spread until it brightened his eyes. “We might be able to help you. Have you received any specific threats to your wife's safety?”
“No, there have been no threats. But I want her guarded.” Taylor grew very solemn. “I love my wife, Gentlemen. She and our children mean everything to me. I’m not taking any chances with her life.”
Curry stretched out on the hotel bed while Heyes idly flicked through a deck of cards. A soft knock pushed both men into high alert. Curry grabbed his Colt and pressed his back against the wall.
Heyes cracked open the door and peeked into the hallway. His brows rose over widening eyes. “Cammie?” he breathed.
“How are you, Heyes? May I come in?” asked a tall shadow in the hallway. He stepped back, and a slender woman glided inside.
Wide-set green eyes graced an oval face framed by hair the color of moonlight on a mountain stream. A modest gray dress failed to hide her considerable assets. Kid stared at the porcelain-skinned beauty before his face split in a welcoming grin.
“Cammie!” he exclaimed and swung her around in a bear hug.
“Kid! Put me down,” she laughed.
“Oh, it’s good to see ya!” Curry beamed as he set her back on her feet.
She raised one eyebrow. “I’m not sure your partner agrees. What’s the matter, Heyes? Aren’t you glad to see me?”
“That depends,” he crossed his arms and indulged in a humorless smile. “So you’re the missing Camilla Taylor. Who are you planning to skin?”
“Me? What’s YOUR angle? Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes recommended by the governor of Wyoming,” she scoffed, and then squared off against Heyes with both hands on her hips. “What's your plot to turn my husband’s worry into a big payoff?”
“Your husband? Don’t you mean your mark? And you’re accusing me of scheming?”
“Heyes, I can—"
“Stop it!” ordered Curry. “Dang it all! Ya haven’t seen each other in what—six, seven years—but it’s like the fightin’ never stopped.”
Curry yanked open a dresser drawer, removed a bottle, and poured three glasses of whiskey. He handed one to Heyes and one to Cammie, then raised his own while the other two cautiously followed his example.
“To old friends,” he declared with an uncompromising glare.
Heyes slipped a glance at the elegant beauty and smiled sheepishly. “To old friends,” he repeated.
Cammie’s face softened as she sipped from her glass and nodded.
“You two are too much alike,” Curry muttered. “What’s goin’ on, Cam?” he asked more loudly. “Taylor’s no mark.”
“He really is my husband.”
Heyes’ mouth dropped open, but snapped shut when his partner pinned him with a look.
“I met him while setting up a swindle. The con fell apart, but I stayed and married William. That was five years ago.”
Cammie smiled coldly. “We have two children, Heyes. Is that married enough for you?”
His only response was a grimace.
“Think what you like, but I fell in love,” she concluded.
He scrutinized her face, but when the lady didn’t flinch, he eased the tension with a genuine smile. “Sorry for doubting you, Cam. It’s just that I kinda like the man.”
“I guess I can’t blame you for being suspicious—but why are you two working as bodyguards? And those names! Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones? You are usually more imaginative than that, Heyes.”
“The names were given to us by an old friend who needs to find us from time to time,” explained Heyes.
“We’ve gone straight, Cammie,” Curry stated bluntly. “And we need the work.”
“Gone straight? Really? Does the governor know who he’s recommended?”
“Yep,” Heyes replied. “The details are secret, but we kinda have a deal with him.”
“I do need protection, and you two would be wonderful,” she mused.
“One thing, Cam. If we take this job, you're gonna do things our way. Heyes and me will be in charge,” Curry declared.
She raised an eyebrow and squeezed her mouth into a frown. “All right. I'll do things your way, but William knows little about my past, and I don’t want him enlightened.”
The dimpled smile was cynical. “We keep your secret, and you keep ours?”
“Yes, Heyes, that’s it exactly.”
Kid Curry, hat covering his face, slouched in a seat while his elbows and head bobbed rhythmically with the swaying of the moving train. On the opposite bench, Hannibal Heyes nodded over an open book with his legs stretched across the aisle. Perched next to him, Camilla Taylor lazily skimmed a train schedule.
Suddenly leaning forward, she muttered, “Ww ...why... what's the use in taking...” The woman pored over the folded timetable clutched in her gloved hand. A delicately pointed elbow slammed into the ribs of a dozing Heyes.
“Ww… wha… What’s the idea,” he spluttered.
“That’s what I’d like to know,” she retorted. “Why did we take this train? It overnights in Alamosa. There are direct trains three days a week. Why did you pick this one?”
“What’s the matter, Cam? Don’t trust me?” he teased.
Her lips set in a hard line while Curry-blue eyes rolled in annoyance.
“We’re takin’ a roundabout route, cuz we don’t want anyone to know when you’re arrivin’,” answered the Kid.
“Anyone who can read a schedule will know when we’re due,” she objected.
Heyes faced her. “If we were staying on this train, that would be true. But we’re changing lines and will make Santa Fe hours before this Denver and Rio Grande pulls in.”
“Where are we changing?”
Two ex-outlaws shifted nervously. Heyes’ eyes slid sideways to peer at Cammie, and then his eyebrows rose in a question for his partner.
Her gaze flicked between the men, and her mouth compressed into a thin line. “Joshua, what aren’t you telling me?”
“Why do you always blame me, Cam? I have a partner, ya know.” The silky voice tightened and climbed an octave in frustration.
“Because they’re always your schemes.” She plopped against the back of her seat and gave a huff of irritation. “Besides, you won’t give a simple answer to an honest question.”
“We’re catching the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe at Dillon, New Mexico,” Heyes said with a direct glare.
“But …” Cammie trailed off and consulted the schedule. “This train doesn’t go through Dillon.”
“Nope. It don’t,” agreed Curry.
“We’re picking up horses and riding to Dillon. It’ll only mean one night on the trail.”
She referred to the timetable again. “But there are no stops that close to Dillon. How do we…?” Green eyes narrowed and pale eyebrows lowered. “Wait a minute. You two don’t expect me to—" her voice grew louder, but was cut off by Heyes’ gloved fingers against her lips.
“Shh!” Heyes cautioned. “There’s nothing to get excited about.
“Nothing to get excited about! Do you seriously expect me to jump off this train? Are you—" Her scowl expanded to include the Kid, “BOTH of you—out of your thieving minds?”
“With your history, I don’t believe that you’ve never hopped a train,” Heyes retorted sarcastically.
“Well, I haven’t, and I don’t intend to start now.”
“You promised to do things our way,” the Kid reasoned. “We’re not tryin’ to make this difficult. We just wanna keep ya safe.”
Heyes cautioned her with a quick finger to his lips.
“But jumping,” she whispered, “is dangerous.”
“It’s not bad in the place we picked.”
“How can you be sure of that, Thaddeus?”
His answering grin grew mischievous below dancing blue eyes. “Aw, Cam, we know just how to pick a spot to get on or off a train. You know that.”
Heyes chuckled, leaned back in his seat, and closed his eyes, ignoring the blonde woman squirming next to him.
Kid Curry watched the valley slide by in vibrant shades of blue and green while snow-capped peaks towered in the distance. With a sudden lurch, the train began to climb again. He nudged his partner with a boot. When Heyes nodded, the Kid grabbed his saddlebags and disappeared through a door at the back of the passenger car.
Heyes prodded his dozing seat partner. “Time to wake up.”
“Hmm,” she replied, rubbing her eyes. “What time is it?”
“Time to get moving. Follow me.”
Her eyes popped wide, and she bit the corner of her bottom lip. “I’m not sure I can do this.”
“You’ll do fine. Come on.”
Heyes retrieved his saddlebags and Cammie's satchel and strode to the end of the car. After a nervous glance out the window, she followed him through the rear door.
The roar and chug of the engine was much louder on the connecting platform. Before Cammie could ask questions, Heyes vanished into the next car. He held the door, and she squeezed her bustled dress through. He marched down the aisle, and she had to hurry to catch up before he exited onto the next platform.
With a beaming smile, Kid Curry leaned out from a small hatch-like door in the adjacent freight car. He wedged it open with a foot and offered his hand to help Cammie cross the platform and climb through the cramped opening. Heyes struggled with her bustled behind, which caught on the splintered wood and blocked the hatch. Once the fabric was freed, he tossed the bags inside before crawling through the aperture.
Cammie twisted and turned like a cat chasing its tail. She reached around, attempting to straighten her tangled dress and the protruding bustle.
“Why are ya wearin’ that thing? It’s just gonna get in the way when we jump.”
“Kid, it’s all the rage to wear bustled dresses,” she answered patiently.
“It might be fashionable, but it sure ain’t practical for what we’re doin’,” he replied.
“If you and your partner had told me your plans, I could have dressed properly.”
“And listen to you whine and complain all the way from Denver? Not likely,” muttered Heyes.
“I am not a fragile flower who can’t take discomfort, Heyes, but this—" she spread her arms and looked around the freight car. Bovine occupants, penned at the far end, watched her with placid brown eyes as they chewed. “Well, this stinks!”
“I’ve shared a train with worse. At least they don’t complain, and they don’t really stink,” observed Heyes, glancing at the cattle. A lifted tail was followed by the sound of viscous plopping. “Okay, maybe they do stink.”
Cammie waved her gloved hand in front of her nose and rolled her eyes.
“You need to take that bustle off before we jump,” Heyes instructed.
“I’m not removing any clothing. It won’t fit in this bag, and I’m not leaving it with the cattle.”
His brows drew together in frustration. “It’s gonna get wrecked when you roll away from the train, and it could tangle up in your legs.”
She challenged him with an unwavering glare.
Heyes opened his mouth to argue further, but snapped it shut when he saw the determined set to her jaw. “Fine. Have it your way, but remember I warned you.”
The Kid slid the door open and stuck his head out into the wind. He turned back to his companions. “Stop squabblin’. We gotta go.”
Heyes nodded, and Cammie’s eyes grew into enormous green pools in a face blanched of color.
“It’ll be all right,” Heyes reassured with a squeeze to her shoulders. With a hand at the small of her back, he steered her toward the open door.
Metal wheels rattled against the rails in stark dissonance to the whine of the wind. Rushing air tried to peel away their clothes. As she watched the landscape, and clutched Heyes’ arm, the chugging slowed and the wind diminished.
Heyes spoke in her ear. “We’re climbing a hill and easing into a bend. The train is slowing down. After Kid jumps, I want you to wait until I say go, and then follow him. Tuck your chin against your chest, pull your legs up, keep your knees loose, and roll when you hit the ground. You’ll be fine.”
He took her carpetbag and pushed her closer to Curry. She clenched his arm and stared with desperate eyes. He smiled encouragingly and inched her toward the door. The Kid tossed his saddlebags and leapt. They watched him roll to a stop and sit up. The train continued slowing until they reached the outside curve. Cammie stepped forward, but was brought up short as the hem of her bustle caught on a nail. She reached down to untangle the fabric, but the train lurched, and increased speed. Heyes jerked her arm away from the bustle.
“You have to jump now!”
He lifted her skirt and with a yank broke the ties holding the bustle at her waist. She hesitated, and he gave her a nudge. With an audible gulp the blonde woman plunged off the train and rolled across the grass.
Heyes tossed out her bag, then his saddlebags, before following her out the door. When he stopped rolling, the Kid stood next to him. He accepted the extended hand, and came to his feet. Cammie sprawled in a disheveled heap a few yards away. The Kid was staring at the receding train and laughing. Her stark white bustle billowed from the boxcar like an ungainly kite.
A wooden marker proclaimed nine miles to Trinidad, Colorado. Heyes, Curry, and Camilla rode on a dirt track shadowing a tumbling river. Evening crept down the mountain slopes and blanketed the narrow valley. Steam plumed in the chill air, punctuating each breath of the riders and their horses.
“Heyes, we’re nearin’ Trinidad. Time to find a campin’ spot.”
The dark-haired man pulled his sorrel to a stop. Both he and the Kid scanned the countryside.
“What are you looking for?” Cammie’s words rattled through chattering teeth.
“You’re cold.” The Kid removed his sheepskin jacket and settled it around her shoulders.
“Thanks,” murmured the trembling woman as she clutched the leather tight to close out the October chill.
“You didn’t dress right for this trip,” Heyes reprimanded.
“I’d have done a better if you’d trusted me with the plan. You never mentioned jumping off trains, picking up horses, and riding into the night.”
“Gotta be prepared for the unexpected,” Heyes retorted.
“Why have we stopped?”
“Lookin’ for a place to camp,” answered the Kid.
“A place to camp! That sign said we’re nine miles from Trinidad. Why would we camp? They have hotels in Trinidad. The train to Dillon passes through Trinidad. Let’s catch it there and save another thirty miles of riding.”
“They also have a marshal in Trinidad. We’d like to avoid him,” reasoned Heyes.
She rolled her eyes. “There’s a sheriff in Dillon. Besides, Trinidad is a large town. Why would we run into the law? We’ll check into a hotel, stay in our room, and leave the next morning. No reason at all for you to run into the marshal.”
“But it’s Bat Masterson,” drawled the Kid, as if that explained everything.
“The gunfighter? Do you know him?”
“Not really,” Heyes answered. “But we know some of the same people, and Kid thought we should stay clear of him.”
“Then stay in the hotel room. I’m not sleeping on cold ground less than ten miles from a bed and a bath. If you decide to join me, I’ll be at the Grand Union Hotel.”
She kicked her horse into a sloppy trot without glancing back. The Kid exchanged a look with his partner before hurrying after her.
Heyes sighed and twisted around to reach his saddlebags and fished out some leather thongs. Grasping the reins, he kicked his horse into a gait that would allow him to catch the Kid and their disobedient charge.
He pulled up beside Cammie's mount just as the Kid snatched the reins from her hands. As his partner brought her horse to a slow walk, Heyes crowded the other side preventing her from scrambling off the animal.
“What do you think you're doing?” she stormed while trying to pluck the reins out of Kid Curry's fingers.
The Kid's quick reflexes kept the reins from her grasp. With an unladylike snort of exasperation, she grabbed the leather near her horses nose. The resulting tug-of-war with Curry achieved nothing.
“Cam, stop this nonsense,” ordered Heyes from the other side.
“I'm going to Trinidad!” she proclaimed.
“No. You're not,” responded the Kid with complete certitude.
“How do you plan to stop me,” she challenged.
Heyes' hand snaked from behind and dangled the leather. “Do you want us to tie you up?” he asked.
Instantly, she spun around to face the dark-eyed outlaw. “You wouldn't dare,” she hissed.
Heyes' smile was cold. “You care to wager on that?” he asked while swinging the thongs back and forth in front of her face.
She wilted back into her saddle and blew out a deep sigh. With her face tilted down, she pleaded with Heyes using her eyes and her pale lashes. “Heyes, it's cold, and I'm really not dressed for camping out. Besides, Bat Masterson is no threat to me.” She placed a dainty gloved hand on his knee as she begged.
Heyes laughed and this time his smile crinkled around his eyes. “Oh, Cam. Don't bother. I know how the game works, and it hasn't worked on me for years.”
“No one's goin' to Trinidad,” the Kid's voice held no room for compromise. “One of us will be awake and watchin' all night. If ya behave yourself, you'll spend a nice, comfortable night by the fire. If you don't, we'll tie ya up like a prize pig. Your choice, Cam.”
Green eyes met blue in a silent battle. After a few seconds Cammie dropped her gaze.
“You wouldn't really tie me up, Kid, would you? You're far too much of a gentleman to tie up a lady.”
“It'd be to keep ya safe, so yeah, I'd tie ya up,” he answered.
“Fine,” she surrendered. “Let's find a decent spot to camp.”
The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe left the Dillon station at 7:00 am. Heyes, Curry, and Cammie snagged seats in the last passenger car just before the train shrugged into motion and chugged south. They passed through Maxwell and Springer before pulling into Las Vegas, New Mexico for a half hour layover around 9:30 in the morning.
“I’m getting' breakfast,” the Kid announced when the train stopped.
“It might be safer if we all stayed on board,” advised Heyes.
The reply was whispered. “Are you forgetting about the US Marshal in Las Vegas?”
The Kid challenged his partner with a belligerent glare. “I'm not gonna run into anybody. I'm just goin' to get us something to eat. I'll be right back.”
“You know the marshal?” murmured Cammie.
“It don’t matter. We left Dillon before breakfast. I gotta eat. I’m not waitin’ until Santa Fe.”
“You wouldn't let me stay in a hotel because of a marshal in Trinidad who you had never even met, but now you'll go into this town after food? Well, I never!” She managed to huff in a whisper while picking pine needles and small sticks out of her wrap.
“It’s a bad idea,” Heyes insisted, meeting the Kid's glare.
“I’m just gonna go over to that café and order some sandwiches. I’ll bring some back for you two.”
“Thaddeus, we need to stay on the train,” his partner warned.
“It’s a real big town.”
“Would you two stop arguing?” Cammie interrupted. “I’ll go get the sandwiches.”
“Can’t let ya do that,” objected the Kid. “We’re supposed to be lookin’ after ya.”
“Then Joshua can go,” she suggested, staring unflinchingly into his dark-brown eyes.
Heyes threw both hands into the air, palms outward. “All right,” he surrendered. “I’ll get the food, but you two stay here and out of trouble.”
The train jerked to a stop in Santa Fe at 2:00 pm. Cammie gathered her trailing skirt and draped it over one arm as she descended to the station platform. Heyes offered his hand to help with the steps while Curry followed, carrying her carpetbag.
“Why’s your skirt so long, Cam?” asked the Kid with curiosity.
“Because your partner insisted I leave my bustle on a boxcar.”
Heyes suppressed a smile.
The Kid chuckled. “It was a mighty impressive sight.”
Heyes urged Cammie forward while his partner turned to help an elderly passenger. The blonde woman stood in the space between the two cowboys, leveling a scowl at the back of the blue-eyed outlaw.
A loud crack sliced through the afternoon. Cammie spun away from Heyes, before crumpling into a heap of fabric. Red seeped between the fingers she clasped tightly to her shoulder. Kid shoved the older woman into the car and wheeled into a crouch beside the track with his Colt drawn, eyes searching for the sniper.
Heyes dove behind the passenger car steps. He hooked an arm around Cammie’s waist and hauled her into cover. A bullet drilled into the boardwalk she had just vacated. Thrusting the blonde woman between the train and the steps, Heyes leaned over her, gun drawn, scouting for the rifleman.
“You okay?” he asked the Kid.
“Uh-huh. How’s Cammie?”
Heyes peeked at the lady huddled beneath him. “She’s hit in the shoulder, but I think it’s a graze. Have you spotted the shooter?”
“No. Nothin’s movin’. Cover me. I’m gonna check from a different angle.”
“How am I supposed to cover you when I can’t find anyone to shoot at?”
Without answering, Curry launched himself into the street and barrel rolled to cover. Once secure behind a water trough, he studied the buildings on the far side where the shot had originated. Nothing moved.
The stamp of booted feet swung Curry around until his six-shooter aimed directly at a sheriff’s star. He jerked his right hand up, pointing the gun skyward. The sheriff nodded an acknowledgment and plastered his back against a building. Two other men wearing stars followed the sheriff’s example.
“Who’s doin’ the shootin’?” asked the lawman in an unhurried drawl.
“Don’t know,” was Curry’s terse reply.
“Are they shootin’ at you fellas?”
Heyes moved aside, revealing the lady scrunched on the ground. “They’re shooting at her.”
The Kid stood up and holstered his gun. “They’re gone.”
The lawman crossed to Heyes and the woman sheltering beneath him. “You Mrs. Taylor?”
“Yes, Sheriff,” she replied with a gasp.
“She’s been hit. We need to get her to a doctor without letting whoever is out there have another crack at her,” Heyes instructed.
“I think your friend is right. I think the gunman is gone.”
“We ain’t takin’ a chance with the lady’s life,” insisted Curry.
“How bad are you hurt, Ma’am?” asked the lawman.
“It’s just a scratch. Hurts like the dickens, but I’ll be fine.”
“Jack, Pat,” the sheriff called to the deputies. “Get over here.” He looked at the cowboys. “You two the lady’s guards?”
“Ya did a good job. That was some fast thinkin’ gettin’ her outta the way.”
“Thanks, Sheriff.” They accepted the praise uneasily.
“Well, Boys, lets form a pack around Mrs. Taylor. If the shooter is still watchin', he’ll have to go through us to get to her,” ordered the sheriff.
“How about a plan that’s less likely to get one of us hurt if he’s still around?” groused Heyes.
“I’m open to suggestions, Mr. …”
“Smith. Joshua Smith. And this is my partner, Thaddeus Jones.”
“I’m Sheriff Ike Spencer. Glad to meet ya, Smith, but I think we need to get Mrs. Taylor to the doc. She’s lookin’ a mite peaked.”
With a glance that took in her pallor, Heyes and Curry joined the two deputies and the sheriff in forming a human shield around Camilla Taylor. She struggled to remain erect in the center. After Heyes gathered up the trailing skirt fabric and handed it to her, she gripped his arm for support while the Kid quickly knotted his bandana around the still oozing wound. Together the small party worked their way through Santa Fe to the doctor’s office.
“It’s going to be just fine,” the balding doctor assured Camilla Taylor as he tightened the dressing. “Clean it once a day and keep it dry. If any redness develops around the wound come see me.”
“Thanks, Doc,” said Curry from where he leaned against a wall of the examining room.
While the physician gathered his supplies, he stole a glance at the Colt revolver strapped to the thigh of the sandy-haired man dominating the corner. He looked into the blue eyes coolly assessing his every move and frowned. “I don't usually allow armed men in my examining room.”
Curry didn't reply.
“Are you sure this man has your best interest at heart, my dear,” the doctor asked.
She suppressed a smile and glanced at the Kid. “He’s here to keep me safe, Doctor. I can trust him.”
The physician uttered a disgruntled, “Hrumph. Do you have something you can change into? Your dress is bloody.”
“Not with me,” she answered, lifting the skirts of her abused dress and grimacing at the damage.
“Is leaving you without a decent change of clothes, part of his plan to keep you safe?” the doctor asked, tilting his head in the Kid’s direction.
Curry scowled, but stayed silent.
“Something like that,” she replied.
“The plan isn’t working out so well, is it?” continued the doctor, eyeing her injury.
“She’s alive!” objected Curry.
“You probably know your own business best, Ma’am, but I wouldn’t trust this fellow very far.” He glowered at the Kid and shook his head. “I’ve got a daughter about your size. I’ll fetch you something clean to wear.”
“That would be kind, Doctor. Thank you.”
“No trouble. Just make sure this cowboy waits outside while you change.”
The strides of Sheriff Ike Spencer slowed and faltered as he plodded into the doctor’s office through a side door. Santa Fe’s chief lawman appeared middle-aged with shrewd gray-blue eyes and straight brown hair fading to gray. He spoke slowly and deliberately through a long, bushy mustache and walked with a slight limp.
“Find anything,” Heyes asked.
Spencer shook his head. “Nothin’. Whoever did the shootin’ either belongs here in town, or they’re gone.”
“These Thatcher brothers must be awfully smart,” concluded Heyes. “We changed trains en route and arrived hours before scheduled, and yet they were waiting for us. I don’t know how they knew when to expect us.”
“I was wonderin’ that myself. But you’re wrong about the Thatchers. Those three are as dumb as dirt.”
“Then how are they managing all of this?” Heyes wondered. “There’s a thinker behind it.”
“I agree with ya,” drawled the sheriff.
Heyes studied his face. “You don’t believe the Thatchers are in charge. Is someone else the planner?”
“Don’t matter what I think. Prosecutor’s satisfied with the Thatchers, but, yeah, you’re right. I can’t see those three dim-wits plottin’ this. They’re small-time rustlers and troublemakers. I don’t think they have enough brains between ‘em to plan a bank robbery.”
“Then whoever planned it is the person after Mrs. Taylor.” Heyes dropped his head and muttered to himself. “Why aren’t these jobs ever simple?”
“Good question, Smith.” Both men paused. “How’s Mrs. Taylor doin’?”
“Doc says she’ll be fine. He’s loaning her a clean dress. After she changes, we’ll head over to the hotel.”
“I want her to come over to the jail first and identify the prisoner.”
Heyes shook his head and squinted one eye. “Can't do that, Sheriff. It's not safe.”
“Once she’s on record havin’ named Thatcher as the shooter, they got less reason to kill her. The damage is done.”
“Hmm. Maybe,” Heyes considered. “But how do we guard her through the streets?”
“My deputies are patrollin’, and the jail’s just two doors down. You, me, and your partner can surround her and get her inside while my deputies cover us.”
“Sounds okay,” chimed in the Kid as he entered the room.
The late afternoon sun filtered through a quiet street. The door to the doctor’s office cracked open. A shiny Colt peeked out. The Kid trailed it onto the boardwalk. Blue eyes catalogued the street and the buildings. Once he moved away from the door, his partner and Sheriff Spencer slipped out. Camilla Taylor followed. They fanned around her and moved quickly to the jail. The sheriff rapped a code onto the door. A deputy ushered Cammie inside, shadowed by Heyes and the sheriff. Curry entered last, walking backwards and scanning the street with his gun drawn.
The deputy gulped at the sight of the green-eyed beauty in the borrowed calico dress. He jerked his hat off his head and blushed when Cammie smiled and coyly lowered her lashes.
“How’s the arm, Ma’am,” he stammered.
“Better, Deputy. It’s kind of you to ask.”
Heyes rolled his eyes. “Haven’t lost the old touch, have ya, Cam. Once a swindler,” he muttered. He grabbed her healthy arm and towed her after the sheriff. “Come on, Mrs. Taylor. Leave that poor deputy to do his job. You need to identify a desperate bank robber.”
“Which one?” she whispered with a smile. “There are so many here to choose from.”
Heyes glared silently. The sheriff unlocked the door to the cell block, and they followed him and Curry inside.
Dim light outlined two cells on either side of the corridor. An untidy gray lump huddled on a mattress in the first cage on the right. A dirty hand snaked out, clutched the fabric in a tight ball, and pulled. The blanket slithered over a scalp of wispy hair and down a cadaverous face until it puddled around a bony frame.
“Howdy. A mite early for supper, ain’t it?” asked the prisoner. He blinked owlishly as the lawman lit a lamp, and then gawked at the poised woman outside his cell. “Gosh, Sheriff, where’d ya git the looker?” He spat on his palms and rubbed the resulting mud into his wafting hair.
“Well, Ma’am?” prompted the sheriff.
Cammie glanced around, but found all the other cells empty. “Is this your only prisoner?”
“Yes, Ma’am. That’s Gus Thatcher.”
Camilla peered at the man, who had pasted on a silly grin complete with speckled teeth. “I’ve never seen him before, Sheriff. I don’t think he was one of the outlaws who robbed the bank, and I’m positive he wasn’t the gunman. You’ve got the wrong man.”
“What?” exclaimed Heyes.
“He’s not the shooter?” asked Curry at the same time.
Spencer nodded. A half-smile grew on his face.
“You’re not surprised, are ya Sheriff?” Heyes surmised.
“See, Sheriff, it’s jest like I told ya,” chimed in the prisoner. “I ain’t had nothin’ to do with that robbery. Honest I din’t. Now this here lady confirms—"
“Oh, hush up, Gus. I’ll see to ya later. Let’s talk out front, Folks.”
The sheriff found Cammie a seat, then offered coffee to his guests.
“Are you sure that Gus wasn’t the shooter, Ma’am? I heard the robbers used bandanas to cover their faces, so I need to know how you can be so certain.” He handed her a cup of coffee and propped one hip on his desk.
“The man who was killed tussled with the shooter. The bandana slipped off the outlaw’s face when they struggled. All of us in the bank got a clear view of his face before he masked it again. That’s why I’m certain your prisoner is not the man who shot the teller.” She took a sip of the coffee and grimaced. A pause stretched for several heartbeats before she resumed. “I can’t be as sure that he wasn’t one of the other outlaws, but I don’t remember any of them being that thin. I don’t think he was there. I’m sorry, Sheriff, but it wasn’t him.”
“Hmm,” mused the lawman. He studied the blonde woman as he sipped his coffee. “Ma'am, I think that someone is trying real hard to make sure that you can't pick out the real shooter.”
“Sheriff, who identified the Thatcher brothers as the gang leaders?” asked Heyes.
Ike Spencer’s face slowly split in a satisfied grin. “J.J. Webb, a lawman out of Las Vegas, brought Gus in. Claimed that he heard him talkin' about the bank job with his brothers. He didn’t realize right away what they were talkin’ about, but once he figured it, he could only nab Gus. His brothers had disappeared. We also found fifty dollars of the stolen money on him.”
“How did he explain the money?” asked Heyes.
“Claimed that the City Marshal hired him to do some repairs and cleanin’ and paid him extra because he didn’t have change.”
“Fifty dollars for cleanin’?” exclaimed the Kid incredulously.
“Yup, Mr. Jones. I had the same reaction. The money made it seem real likely that Gus was in on the robbery.”
“This Las Vegas Marshal, his name Webb?” suggested Heyes.
“Nope,” replied the sheriff.
“Then what kind of lawman is this, J.J. Webb?”
“That’s a little unclear, Mr. Smith. He calls himself a peace officer, and he works for the city marshal, but I’m not sure what his duties might be.”
“Wait a minute. Are you sayin’ he works for the same city marshal who paid Gus fifty dollars for doin’ odd jobs and cleanin’?” probed Curry.
“How much of the money has shown up in circulation?” wondered Heyes.
“Just that fifty dollar bill. It’s all we’ve seen.”
“That’s seems real strange,” added Heyes.
Spencer smiled. “You boys are thinkin’ along the same lines as me.”
“Does this marshal have a name, Sheriff?”
“Sure does, Mr. Smith. It’s Joe Carson.”
“I assume that you’re familiar with the Dodge City Gang in Las Vegas, New Mexico,” stated Heyes.
“Kinda hard not to be,” Spencer replied.
“Is this Marshal Carson or Peace Officer Webb associated with the Dodge City Gang?” guessed Heyes.
“Well, that’s a mite harder to determine. I can tell ya that they’re both real cozy with Hoodoo Brown, the Justice of the Peace in Las Vegas, and Carson has deputized for posses the likes of Dave Rudabaugh, Slap Jack Bill Nicholson, and Frank Cady.”
“Those are some real bad men, Sheriff,” added the Kid. “Wanted in more than one state.”
“Too true, Mr. Jones. All too true.”
“So you’re thinking that the Dodge City Gang is out to get Mrs. Taylor?”
“I didn’t say that, Smith, but I ain’t gonna rule it out, either.”
“What are you implying, Mr. Smith?” broke in Cammie. “Is there some outlaw gang—with lawmen in their pockets—out to get me?”
“It’s more like the gang and some shady officials are in cahoots, Ma’am,” replied Spencer. “Las Vegas has worked up quite a reputation as the most crooked town in the west.”
“That’s how they knew when Mrs. Taylor would arrive in Santa Fe!” exclaimed Heyes suddenly. “When the train stopped in Las Vegas, and we bought those sandwiches, someone with the Dodge City Gang spotted her.”
“You’re probably right,” added the sheriff. “The Las Vegas train station sits right where the gang’s the strongest.”
“Great,” grunted Curry. “We thought we were bein’ clever switchin’ trains. If we hadn’t gone though Las Vegas, Mrs. Taylor wouldn’t have gotten shot.”
“There was no way for you to know that,” soothed Cammie. “If it wasn’t for you two, I’d have been killed at the station today.” She patted his arm and exchanged a smile with Heyes. “I read something about that gang in the Denver paper,” she added. “A bunch of gunslingers and gamblers working with lawmen to run a town for profit. Not a group it would be healthy to testify against.”
The sheriff frowned. “You could still do a lot of good, Ma’am, if we can bring in the killer. We could use your help.”
“You don’t even have the right man in custody, and if the killer is a member of this Dodge City Gang, you aren’t likely to ever have him in your jail. I think the best thing I can do is get a good night’s sleep, and then head home.”
Curry and Heyes exchanged a look.
“I think that we’re gonna have to agree with the lady. Protecting her from a small-time gang with one of them in custody is one thing. Trying to keep Mrs. Taylor safe from organized outlaws who are smart enough to own a town is a whole different matter,” grumbled Heyes.
“I can’t really blame you folks,” replied the sheriff mournfully. “I just hate the idea that those scoundrels over in Vegas are gonna get away with robbery and murder in my town.”
“The lady has already been hurt doin’ the right thing,” offered Curry.
Spencer grimaced as he remembered her injury. “How’s your shoulder feelin’ Ma’am?”
“It’s all right, Sheriff. It’s sore, though, and I’m very tired.”
“One thing you folks ought to consider. You’ve cleared Gus Thatcher. I’m bettin’ that the gang who pulled the robbery knows dang well—pardon my language, Ma’am—that we're now aware that Gus wasn’t even at the bank that day. Whoever did do the shootin’ knows that Mrs. Taylor can identify him. They may wanna be real sure that she doesn’t come back later and testify against whoever did do that shootin’. Just leavin’ New Mexico may not be enough to keep her safe.”
“Well that’s a cheery thought, Sheriff,” growled Heyes.
“Whadda ya suggestin’ we do about it?” asked the Kid.
“I just think the lady would be safer if we had whoever planned all of this behind bars.”
“We ain’t lawmen,” Curry objected.
“I could fix that,” the sheriff offered cheerfully. “From what I’ve seen, you would both make fine deputies, and Smith here is a natural-born investigator.”
Heyes flashed a crooked half-smile, and Curry’s eyes grew wide and his eyebrows reached for his curls.
“Well, that’s real flattering, Sheriff,” said the dark-haired outlaw, with a nervous chuckle. “We appreciate your confidence, but we would need to think about an offer like that, and talk about it privately. Besides, we have a commitment to Mrs. Taylor and her husband.”
“I’m glad you remembered your obligation to protect me, Mr. Smith.”
“Would the three of you at least talk together about what’s safer for Mrs. Taylor, leavin’ now or catchin’ the murderer first?”
“We’ll talk about it, Sheriff,” Curry assured him. “Let’s get over to the hotel, Joshua. It’s gettin’ late.”
“Do ya want my help movin' the witness,” asked the sheriff.
“Thanks, but we've got it,” answered the Kid.
Heyes, Curry, and Camilla left the sheriff’s office and moved carefully down the boardwalk toward the hotel. The afternoon sun had warmed the October day and the streets were empty and quiet.
“Cam, stay next to the wall behind me ‘n Heyes,” Curry whispered. He used his left hand to guide her into position while he scanned the street.
“Spencer isn’t the most astute lawman I’ve met,” remarked Cammie as they walked.
“What do ya mean?” Heyes asked. “He seemed sharp-witted to me. Willing to look beyond the obvious.”
“I’m not doubting his intelligence. I’m questioning his character judgment, wanting to deputize you two.”
“I don’t know, Cam. He’s not the first sheriff to think we would make good lawmen. We’ve been deputized before. Hired to deliver bank robbers to Junction City. We even caught the rest of the gang while on the way and brought them in,” Heyes preened.
“Yeah, and look how that turned out,” scoffed the Kid.
Kid Curry sat on the floor in a hallway leaning against the door with his legs bent. Pulled low, his hat shielded his eyes, so he could peer out from under the brim without revealing what direction he was looking. He listened to the wee-hour creaks and groans of the sleeping hotel.
The sound of footsteps and the squeal of unoiled hinges jerked his head up and sent his hand to the revolver at his hip. The door to his right crept open, and the tousled brown head of his partner poked out.
“I been thinking,” Heyes whispered, while padding toward him on bare feet, wearing a Henley top and tan trousers.
“What’re you doin’ up in the middle of the night?” grumbled a sleepy Curry.
“I told ya. I been thinking.”
“If you’re gonna think instead of sleep, why don’t you sit out here guarding Cam, and let me get some rest?”
Heyes gave the Kid innocent eyes. “I can’t guard and figure things at the same time. I wouldn’t be paying proper attention to Cam’s safety if I was pacing and cogitating.” His hair fluttered as he shook his head. “Honestly, Kid, sometimes I don’t know what you’re thinking.”
Curry rolled his eyes. “Okay, Heyes. Whatcha been broodin’ about?”
“Hunh? Whadda ya mean, the money.”
“The haul from the bank robbery. Sheesh, Kid, you’re usually quicker on the uptake than this.”
“I know ya mean the loot from the bank job, but what about it?”
“Why’d they steal it? Come on, try to keep up.”
“You ain’t said nothin’ that makes sense, yet,” Curry snapped. He crossed his arms across his chest and glared at the man crouched next to him. “I don’t know, Heyes, maybe they stole the money so they could spend it!!”
“Then why the secrecy? They’ve committed murders to cover their tracks. Why?”
“Because they don’t want to get caught and go to jail. I shouldn’t have to explain that to YOU.”
“What I mean is, the Dodge City Gang has backed robberies before this. They’ve spent the money, and the lawmen in the group have covered their tracks. They haven’t gone to all this trouble to kill witnesses and set up someone to take the fall with the law before. What’s different about this job, and what’s the money for? The sheriff says they ain’t spending it, so what are they doing with it?”
The light-haired outlaw looked thoughtful before he frowned at his partner. “I don’t know. What are they doin’ with the money, and why’s this job different?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet. But I’m sure it’s important.”
“If you do figure it, will you let me in on the secret?”
“You’ll be the first to know.” Heyes stood up and slipped silently back into their room.