Mattie Gold’s unremarkable features fell between the summer of attraction, and the winter of frailty. It felt like a lifetime since she had played with her tresses in a mirror to find the most flattering coiffure, or sought out fabric in the most alluring colors. She was a teacher; boring to all obvious appearances. Never a beauty, but never a grotesque either; she was humdrum, mousey, staid, and practical; but today her mind was a bubble of activity today, especially since yesterday’s momentous events. Mattie thrust the telegraph in her reticule with a sigh of relief. It was time to go home and pack, she was clearly about to be thrown out of her accommodation.
The hotel clerk looked up from his register in surprise. “Miss Gold? How can I help you?”
“I wish to reserve three rooms.”
The clerk smiled. “You have guests visiting maybe? Friends? Relatives?” His voice dropped to a shocked hush. “A man?”
The school mistress’ eyes sharpened. “Thomas Brownstone! That is none of your business. I wish to reserve three rooms. That is all you need to know.”
“I need to know who they’re for, Miss,” Thomas fell back into his old reverence for his teacher and pointed at the notice on the wall. “It’s the rules.”
“Very well. One of the rooms is for me. I shall move in immediately. The other two are for four men who will advise you of their names when they arrive. They should arrive here tomorrow and they will be sharing. Does that help?”
“I have no idea at the moment. Can you reserve the rooms or not?”
“I suppose so.” Thomas pushed the register over the desk. “But you live at the schoolhouse. Why do you want a room?”
“That is none of your business, young man.” Mattie stabbed the pen back into its holder. My bags are on Mr. Clarke’s wagon outside. Have them brought up to my room.”
“There‘s the question of payment, Miss?”
“Tommy. Where I am concerned there is never a question over meeting my obligations. Now, do I pay in advance or when I check out?”
A large Adam’s apple slid up and down beneath the stiff paper collar slightly too large for the thin neck. “The boss prefers before.”
“Then I shall pay now.” She opened her bag and snapped open a little purse. “How much?”
Mattie sat bolt upright on the chair with her hands folded in her lap, her chin raised defiantly against the onslaught of the angry man pacing up and down the hotel lounge. “Where’s the money? It ain’t in your room or your bags. You hid it. We’ve searched the lot.”
“I’m waiting for my lawyer to arrive to clear things up,” she reached out and grabbed at the bible they had discarded in their search before stuffing it into her bag along with her stockings and an embarrassingly expanding corset. “I haven’t stolen a thing.”
The man with the shaggy grey hair swiveled on his heel to face her. “You cleared out the Education Committee account. Where is it?”
Mattie’s nose rose a little higher. “Mr. Sampson, you may run the church around here but you’re an uneducated buffoon.” A smile played over her lips. “I can’t tell you how good it feels to be able to tell you that at last.”
She pursed her lips. “You’re not the boss of me... anymore.”
“Where’s the money?” snarled the minister. Do we have to search your person?”
“If you lay one finger on me I’ll lay charges against you for assault. I’m not hiding the money on me. Get your wife to search me.”
There was a knock on the door. She stood and walked over to the door, palpable relief washing over her colorless features at the men standing on the threshold. “Mr. Smith? You came, just as you promised.”
The dark man smiled, his brown eyes glittering with recognition. “Of course, Miss Gold. How are you doing? You look a little flushed.”
“I’ve been better,” she threw a glance at the sheriff. “Meet Mayor Toomey, Sheriff Peters, and Mr. Sampson. They want to either throw me in jail or run me out of town. They can’t quite decide.”
The fair man who followed behind made the sheriff turn and grab for his gun. “It’s him! That’s Kid Curry. Hands up. Ya gotta be dumb as a box of rocks to come back here. He just escaped from my jail.”
“Put that down,” an older man commanded as he brought up the rear. A star glittered on his waistcoat, backing up the steely glare. “I’m Sheriff Lom Trevors and I have papers from the Governor of Wyoming to prove that this man isn’t wanted. He was granted amnesty. You had no right to lock him up.”
A serious young man closed the door to the hotel lounge behind them and stood protectively beside the schoolteacher. “Chester Brubaker, Attorney at law. My client called me here to assist with some charges you have laid against her.”
“Forget about a pilfering schoolteacher,” barked the sheriff. “That’s Kid Curry.”
“Yes, he is,” Brubaker nodded. “But as these papers show, he’s not wanted anywhere. The statute of limitations has run out on all charges and the only state which offers no such limitation has declared an amnesty for both Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes. See for yourself. They are no longer wanted men.”
The mayor peered at the papers glancing up at the lawyer from time to time, before shuffling the pages and handing them back. “They seem to be in order,” he muttered reluctantly.
Hannibal Heyes and Brubaker shared an amused look at the obvious confusion in the man’s eyes. “You’re sure, Mayor Toomey? I don’t want you to make any rash decisions. I want us to agree before I move onto her case.”
“How does a man like Kid Curry get amnesty?” barked the sheriff, holstering his gun. “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.”
“Not as dumb as a corrupt lawman dumping the woman who’s got the goods on him,” purred Heyes. “That’s about as smart as catfish bait.”
“Yup,” the Kid agreed, “Any dumber and he’d have to be watered twice a week.”
“Huh?” blinked the lawman.
“You had a long standing understanding with Miss Gold, didn’t ya?” The Kid narrowed his eyes. “You made her all kinds of promises, but then you dropped her like a hot coal when it looked like you were in the money. That ain’t very gentlemanly.”
“So? You used to stick a gun in folks faces and hold ‘em up. I ain’t takin’ no eti...ket lessons from a gunman.”
“You never had any etiquette lessons from anyone, Harold. That’s the problem,” murmured Mattie, “along with too many other things to list.”
“You stole the town’s money. You got no room to talk down to anyone, Mattie.”
“I have been lied to and used.”
Heyes laid a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t get involved, Miss Gold. Some people just want to justify treating you badly.”
Brubaker cut in. “You are accusing my client of theft. Can you be clear about the charges?”
“She stole the school committee money,” barked Sampson. “I want it back or she’ll do hard labor.”
“Stole?” Brubaker turned Mattie. “You told me that you simply closed out your account.”
“I did,” she nodded. “Although I didn’t know there was an account in my name until Mr. Smith here informed me of the fact. I met him in the street after I left the jail house on Thursday. He was very kind and he offered me some comfort.”
“Comfort?” Sheriff Peters scowled. “You and me argue and you run straight into the arms of another man? I was right ta dump ya.”
The clergyman’s eyes narrowed. “As a female teacher you are not allowed gentlemen callers. If I’d known about this...”
“Well, you didn’t,” sniped Mattie. “Harold, I mean, Sheriff Peters, and I have had an understanding for the last eight years. He’d been visiting me, and...,”she gulped hard, “he made me promises, otherwise I would never have allowed him to take the liberties he did. I was desperately upset when I ran out of the jailhouse that night. I felt used and abused. Mr. Smith was a knight in shining armor.”
“Well, that’s real kind of you,” Heyes piped up. “I was in town on business.” The hard stare Lom Trevors was giving the dark-haired man was lost on most of the men in the room as Heyes continued. He gave his lawyer a smile of appeasement. “Miss Gold just ran straight into my arms. She was real upset and told me all about the promises the sheriff had made to her over the years.” The dark eyes glittered with disapproval. “You told her you were going to marry her didn’t you?”
“I never...” the sheriff spluttered.
“You did,” exclaimed Mattie. “You swore we were going to get married once we’d saved enough money to buy a little place somewhere. I’ve been living hand to mouth for years; saving every penny I could to make it a reality.”
“Well, I guess you got the money to give back what you stole,” The reverend countered.
“One thing at a time,” Heyes raised a hand. “When I met this lady she was in tears. She’d just been unceremoniously thrown over for a younger woman after being used for years by the sheriff.”
“What’s this got to do with her stealin’ from the Education Committee?” The minister demanded.
“That’s what I was wondering,” Lom replied. The low calm tone betrayed more than a hint of suspicion. “And what has this to do with Kid Curry being arrested?”
“Well, I was just in town,” Heyes slipped into his poker face. “But I’m sure the sheriff thinking that he was about to get ten thousand dollars reward for arresting a wanted felon had a lot to do with the way he treated poor Miss Gold.”
“It certainly did,” asserted the school mistress. “The town was abuzz with the talk of Harold bringing in the notorious gunman, and about the reward money. I couldn’t wait to see him. It was then that he told me the truth,” she pointed an accusing finger at her ex-lover. “He told me that he’d been just stringing me along for years. He had no intention of marrying me. There was I thinking that we finally had our nest egg and more, and he was just a viper in my bosom. I was heartbroken!” Mattie Gold’s anguish was not of the melt-in-front-of-you, wilting-daisy kind. It was the simmering-lava-and-brimstone variety. “You told me that you were marrying Emily Sampson and that I was to forget you.” Her little fists tightened in fury. “Did you really think I was going to let that little harlot sweep in and take everything from me? The preacher’s twenty year old daughter? She’s been around more men in town than the barber’s cape.”
“Hey!” Sampson stepped forward with his fists raised but Kid Curry quickly stepped in the way and faced the minister down with a chilling blue glare.
“But that’s my daughter,” he protested.
“Then you should have been watching her,” Mattie snorted. “Your Emily suddenly found a middle-aged man attractive the moment there was ten thousand dollars in cash on the way. Oh Harold! Do you really think that a pretty young girl is going to be interested in a bristled old coot with a moustache like a prairie dog?”
“You were interested,” snapped the sheriff.
“In you. As a person! What kind of life do you think a girl like that was going to give you? You have nothing to talk about and nothing in common. Once she’d spent your money she’d be out looking for the next one.”
“May I remind you that’s her father is here?” barked the minister.
“She’s got her father’s scruples,” retorted Mattie. “I know how often you go to Miss Penny’s flesh emporium.”
“I’m spreading the word ...” the clergyman spluttered.
“Really?” Mattie pursed her lips. “You’ve been going there three times a week for years, and they only ones who’ve left went on to open their own places. Is your message ‘go forth and multiply?’?”
Sampson turned puce.
“Yes, and you paid cash,” Heyes arched a suggestive brow. “I checked. Miss Penny might be as fond of corporal punishment the church, but she’s not as confidential.”
“What does all this have to do with her takin’ the education board’s money?” Sheriff Peters pointed at his ex-fiancé. “She cleared out the bank account and won’t tell us where the money is.”
“Miss Gold, I think we need to speak in private about this matter,” Brubaker urged.
“There’s no need. I only found out yesterday that there was an account in my name in the bank. It had only my name on it nobody else’s.” Mattie’s face lit up. “It had a lot of money in it. Eight thousand, six hundred and forty three dollars and thirteen cents, to be exact. That is the account I closed, along with my savings account. I only took money which was in my name and I have the paperwork to prove it.”
Brubaker frowned. “Is this true, Mayor? The account she closed was in her name?”
Mayor Toomey bit in to his lip. “It’s not that simple.”
“Yes is it,” Brubaker asserted. “If her’s was the only name on that account, she is able to withdraw it from the bank quite legally.”
“But the money wasn’t her’s to take. It was the property of the Education board.”
“Eight and a half thousand dollars?” Heyes smiled, mischievously. “That’s one well supplied school.”
“I beg to differ,” sniffed Mattie. “I supplied many things myself because the committee told me there was no money. I’ve been living with a leaking roof for the last two years, and the few books I had were falling apart.”
“Really...” Heyes’ pensive moué wasn’t fooling a glowering Lom, but he continued on. “Did you open that account?”
“No. I didn’t,” Mattie shook her head vehemently. “The first I heard of it was when you told me about it, Mr. Smith. I was quite shocked as you can imagine.”
Brubaker stared hard at the teacher. “So you knew nothing about this account? Would you swear to that, Miss Gold?”
She patted her bag. “I’ll swear to it on my bible right now, Mr. Brubaker, and I didn’t sign anything to open it. Nothing.”
“So who did open it?” Brubaker demanded.
“The committee thought that it might be best to have it in the teacher’s name,” murmured the mayor. “That way she could use it as she needed equipment...”
“Or she was there to take the fall for your embezzlement,” sniped Heyes.
“Why didn’t you tell her about this account,” asked Brubaker.
“We did. She knew it wasn’t her money,” retorted the sheriff.
Heyes folded his arms. “I can testify that she was pretty astounded when I told her about it and I’m pretty good at reading people.”
“Mr. Smith comforted me after I left the jailhouse where the Mr. Kid was being held. It was him who told me everything,” her eyes narrowed as realization started to dawn. “It was the strangest of coincidences.”
“You can say that again,” muttered Lom.
Brubaker rubbed his face. He didn’t want to know the answer to this question, but he had to ask. “So, there was an account in my client’s name with a whole lot of money in it, which she claims to know nothing about. After being thrown over by him, she bumps into a complete stranger who tells her all about it.”
“Yes,” agreed Mattie agreed.
“And that stranger also happens to be the partner of the incarcerated man,” the lawyer paused. “And he is really Hannibal Heyes.”
Mattie gasped. “You! You are Hannibal Heyes?”
“They’re all in it together,” yelled the Mayor.
“A criminal,” scoffed Mattie. “I most certainly am not!” She glared at Heyes. “And you can wipe that smile off your face young man. You lied to me.”
“I suppose I did, Miss Gold,” Heyes replied. “My partner was in jail and I didn’t know the amnesty had come through yet.” A warning glare from Lom made Heyes smile lightly as he continued. “I made it my business to find out about the men holding the Kid.” He shrugged at Lom. “It’s not a crime. It didn’t take me long to find out that the father of the girl who jumped straight in to make the most of the reward money was a preacher who went the local brothel more than he went to his own church. So I got to wondering how he paid for it.”
“That’s none of your business, you hypocrite,” barked the mayor.
“Hypocrite?” Heyes face shone with innocence. “At least when the Kid and I robbed, we did it to your face. You and your friends have been skimming money from the church, the town, the education board, and the law enforcement budget for years. How do I know?” Heyes’ grin broadened and his cheeks dimpled. “Because I’ve got the real books. You put that money in that account and used it as a slush fund with the help of a crooked bank manager, and put it all in the schoolteacher’s name in case you were caught to make her take the fall.”
“How could you have the books?” demanded Sampson. “They were locked up... “
“In a safe,” beamed Heyes. “Yes. They were. Now, I wouldn’t ordinarily put Lom or my lawyer in a situation like this, but you are all crooks, and I’ve got the goods on you. If the amnesty hadn’t come through you’d have had real biblical wrath rain down on you, but you got lucky. So did the Kid on a point of law pointed out to me by Mr. Brubaker. The amnesty came through before he escaped. That means the jail break isn’t a crime because he wasn’t legally detained.”
Kid Curry strode over to the door and opened it. “There ain’t any charges you can bring here, but we thought we’d come to make sure Miss Gold was free to go to. And as you were prepared to make her the patsy in your crime, we thought it only right that she walked away with enough money for her to be set for life.”
“You won’t get away with this, barked Mayor Toomey. “That’s the town’s money and she isn’t leaving here until we get it back.”
“You can’t detain her,” Brubaker shook his head. “If you try I’ll be straight on the Governor.”
“You know about this. Ain’t there some law about a lawyer telling the truth?” Demanded the sheriff.
“We’ll, my client is owed confidentiality by me and she’s committed no crime. If you have a civil case to pursue, that’s up to you. As far as any other crime is concerned I’ll simply answer any questions asked of me.”
“Not if we lock you up too, it won’t,” growled the sheriff.
“Now hold on,” Lom cut in. “The Governor of Wyoming knows we came here to clear up charges against the Kid. He’ll send folks lookin’ for us. My deputy in Porterville ain’t gonna just let it lie either.”
“There’s an easy way to decide.” A determined Kid Curry stood with his feet planted firmly apart in a familiar stance which gave Lom pause. “Any of you fellas care to try to draw against me? I’ve got amnesty, but there’s nothing stopping me usin’ my gun to prevent a bunch of criminals takin’ the law into their own hands.” The arctic eyes scanned the room, drinking in the fear flickering in the men’s eyes. “I didn’t think so. Now, if you hand over your weapons we’ll be peaceably on our way.”
“Are you really a lawman?” Mattie demanded as they walked to the railway station.
“Sure am, Ma’am.” Lom smiled, reassuringly. “I’m the Sheriff of Porterville. I helped these fellas get their amnesty. You’ll be welcome to come back there with me to decide where to head next. I’ll make sure none of these rats come after you.”
“Thank you. I hadn’t thought beyond jail. And you,” Mattie prodded the brown corduroy jacket with her umbrella. “You are Hannibal Heyes. You used me!”
Heyes turned to face her with a smile full of bluff and contrition. “I’m sorry. I really am. I just needed to get my partner out of jail. You’ve gotta admit that sneaking the cell keys out to me, so I could pass them to the Kid was the best revenge you could get on your two-timing fiancé. The minute he lost the reward, he lost the woman he threw you over for.”
“You, you...” she paused, groping for the mot juste. “Devil! That’s what you are. It never occurred to me to break the law until I met you. You dripped poison in my ear. You could persuade the disciples to charge for loaves and fishes.”
“I just pointed out a few things is all,” Heyes murmured. “You did the rest. And you didn’t break the law. He wasn’t wanted. He had amnesty. ”
“If I understand the conversation in there correctly you didn’t know the amnesty had been awarded at the time, so you thought it was a proper break-out. You played me like a puppet!”
“A puppet who’s now eight and a half thousand dollars richer,” the dimple deepened. “And I came back to make sure you were alright. I never leave a gang member behind. Do I, Lom?”
“Keep me out of this,” Lom chuckled. “He can be real convincing, Ma’am. Don’t feel too bad. The devil has a broken mould somewhere he’s trying to fix to make more of him. Even folks used to dealing with criminals can get taken in. He persuaded me to ask the Governor for amnesty.”
“They had you set up to take the fall if anyone discovered they were embezzling, Ma’am. I wouldn’t feel too bad at beating them at their own game.” Heyes continued down the sidewalk.
Mattie blinked at the outlaws. “You really think that they would have done that?”
Heyes nodded. “They put it all in your name, while drawing on it whenever they wanted with the help of a crooked bank manager. You dodged a bullet there.”
“I still can’t figure out whether meeting you was a good or bad thing, Mr. Heyes.”
“I’ve known him all my life and I’m still tryin’ to figure out that one,” grinned the Kid. “All I know is that how folks treat you is their problem, how you react is yours. If I was in your shoes I’d start figurin’ out how to spend the money they gave you. It’s legally yours. Free and easy.”
“Yes,” Mattie murmured uneasily. “The money...”
“You have got it haven’t you?” Heyes frowned at the uneasiness in her face. “Where is it?”
“I hid it.”
The ex-outlaws shared an amused glance before the Kid grinned. “You can tell us, Miss Gold. We ain’t gonna take it from you. We’re goin’ straight, remember?”
“I put it in the last place the sheriff would think of looking for it,” Mattie replied, taking a smile from Lom as a reassurance.
“Yeah?” the men shared a glance.
Mattie was still uneasy. “I put the money in the lining of my bible.”
A chuckle started somewhere at the back of the group, growing and spreading until Mattie joined in herself, drawn by the sparkling blue eyes of the man she found hard to believe was a gunman. “Well, ma’am. I guess that’s kinda apt. Some of us get led into temptation, the rest of us find our own way, but God must love crooks. Why else would he make so many of us?”
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight Old Scottish proverb