Babylonia Brown had always hated her name. It had been chosen by her father, a Quaker, inspired by women like Elizabeth Fry and Susan B. Anthony. He was determined that his daughter should have the kind of sobriquet which would mark her out as a dauntless Amazon; a woman with enough character to cut swathes through any element of society. Not that she actually used that name; her intimate family had called her ‘Baby,’ whilst her friends preferred to use the pet name of ‘Loni.’
Quaker women were encouraged to become leaders of groups and grand innovators; but whilst they were equals at home and in church, they were not in the world at large. Improving the lot of others on this earth was a preparation for the next; indeed, it was seen as a moral duty. In the Colorado town of Golden, there was ample opportunity to do good. The more gold was there was to be mined, the more people were ‘convinced’ to give up their stakes. Very few were brave enough to take a stand against the tyrants, but the late William Brown had been one of them.
Looking down at the sad box of possessions she knew that she had always been a disappointment to her father. She was a mild, meek woman, who had only ever wanted to be a wife and mother, but it was time to be brave and take a stand at last. The knowledge that her visit to the mayor would trigger a series of events that could only place her in great danger filtered through her terrified brain. Was she really strong enough to see this through?
She aimlessly dropped her hand into the box. Things. Everyday stuff; the minutiae of life. It was strange how worthless mere possessions suddenly became in the face of death. She picked up his pipe, feeling the dimpled surface of the bowl under sensitive fingertips, before she raised it to her nose and sucked in a deep breath. The smell hit her like a brick wall; a visceral reaction which pinwheeled in her psyche, forcing memories and grief to surge to the fore. She gulped down an acrid, rasping breath, swallowing away the tears she simply couldn’t allow to flow. There was too much to do.
Her stomach flipped at sudden sound coming from the back door. What was that? Scratching? Rapping? She opened it tentatively, peering out into the darkness, but her heart leapt into her mouth as a man stepped from the shadows, into the trapezoid of light falling from the doorway.
“Ma’am? Is Mr. Brown there? We’ve come.”
Loni looked into a pair of deep blue eyes before her gaze dropped to the tied down gun and felt her panic start to spiral. What could she do? In an unthinking moment of terror she moved to slam the door but the man stepped forward and put a foot in the way before dragging her protectively outside. Gun drawn, he quickly established that there was no one else in the kitchen. She let out a little cry and dropped to her knees at the sight of another armed man invading her home.
The dark one kept to the walls, providing cover, before he flashed brown eyes in her direction. “Where are they, ma’am?” he hissed.
“Who?” she whimpered, crouching by the door.
The pair shared a look of confusion before the one the dishwater blond whispered. “The men? Have they got your father in another room?”
“My father...” she started to tremble. “He’s dead. What do you want?” Tears started to stream down her face. “Just leave me alone, please!
His brow furrowed. “Is anyone else here?”
“I’m the only one left.”
The men gave a curt nod, working like a well-oiled machine, moving in unison to check out the entire house with drawn weapons, before they returned to the kitchen, satisfied that the building was secure.
Loni was still cowering in the same place, staring at them with huge, moist, green eyes, her face pale against her auburn hair. The fair one approached her tentatively, smiling gently.
“Ma’am, I’m real sorry. You looked so frightened I was sure someone must have a gun on you.” He crouched and stretched out a hand. “Let me help you up.”
She made no move, other than to recoil further into the nook, her gaze darting yet again to the gun he wore. “What do you want?”
“My name is Thaddeus Jones, and this is my partner Joshua Smith. Your pa sent for us.”
She shook her head in confusion. “My father? Why would he send for you?”
“You said he was dead, ma’am,” the dark man gave her a frown of concern. “What happened?”
“He was shot.”
“I guess we’re too late. When did it happen?”
“What business is it of yours? Get out!”
“Miss Brown, your pa sent for us. He needed some protection to get you both out of town.”
Loni slammed them with an accusing stare. “He would never do that. He was truly committed to his work.”
The dark man reached into his pocket and pulled out a telegram. “He did send for us, Miss. He was very afraid for you.”
He held it out to her until she reached out a hand and snatched at it. The fair man stood up, eyeing her curiously as he pulled out a chair and sat. “We ain’t gonna hurt you, miss. Why don’t you come out of that corner and sit down?”
She climbed uneasily to her knees. “He would never leave. He was driven to get justice for those people... That’s why he was killed.”
Heyes gestured towards a seat. “We know he was a lawyer who was representing people who had their land grabbed illegally. We were recommended to him by a mutual friend of the governor. I understand your mother and brother were killed a couple of weeks ago, when their surrey was shot up. Everyone thought that your father was the target, and that your brother was mistaken for him in the dark.”
“I’m real sorry. You’ve had a real hard time,” the Kid sat back. “We’ve got to get you out of here. Do you know this house is bein’ watched?”
She stood at last, her heart thumping, facing the men who had invaded her home. “Anyone could have sent this telegram. How do I know who you really are?”
Heyes gave her a quizzical look. “Miss, I’m sorry for your loss, but I need to know why anyone would be watching you. Surely the case would have died with him?”
“I’ve no idea.”
The partners watched her guilty face colour from the neck up. “You’ve gotta be the worst liar I ever met in my life,” murmured the Kid. “That’s to your credit I suppose, but we need to know what those men want. They ain’t hangin’ about out there on the off-chance of enjoyin’ your company.”
Loni bit into her lip, her heart simmering with trepidation and suspicion. “He’d never run away from this. I don’t believe you.”
Heyes nodded. “There’s a world of difference between running away and retreating to re-group. A good general will try to pick a battleground where they have the advantage. Maybe he needed to take them on somewhere safer?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s over. All of it.”
Blue eyes met brown, exchanging a cynical smile. “Really? It seems to me that somebody wants something from you,” Heyes replied, archly, “otherwise they wouldn’t go to the trouble of posting two men outside your house. Let’s face it; it wouldn’t take two men to control you, or to kill you. They’re there for another reason. Why don’t you tell me what that is, so I can help you?”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” she snapped.
The blond one twinkled beguilingly at her. “We need to know what you’re up against so we can look after you.”
Heyes stood. “Miss Brown, your father was a lawyer, representing poor folks against the local mayor. If he’s gone and they’re still around, I’m guessing that there’s some real incriminating evidence somewhere, and they want to be sure it’s destroyed. Am I right?”
“I don’t know and I’m leaving here tomorrow. Get out!”
The Kid shook his head remorsefully. “We’d be sorry excuses for men if we walked out of here and left you to fend for yourself against folks who have wiped out your whole family. No offence, miss, but you didn’t even have the sense to hightail it out the back while we checked out the house.”
Her eyes widened. “Are you refusing to go?”
Heyes’ eyes softened. “We are, Miss Brown, unless you agree to come with us.”
“Come with you? Men who forced their way into my home? What kind of an idiot do you think I am?”
“You ain’t an idiot, Ma’am. You’re scared and rightly so. If we were gonna hurt you, we’d have done it already. You pa was real worried about you, you were all he had left.”
She glowered at the Kid. “You could be here to find out what I know.”
“We could, I suppose,” reasoned Heyes. “But why is it so unlikely that your father wanted to do something to keep you safe?
“We... we weren’t close. It wasn’t easy to be around him.”
The Kid snorted. “And you think that means he wouldn’t care if you died? Sorry, ma’am but we ain’t goin’ anywhere until you’ve got the sense to come with us.”
“What do you think, Heyes?”
They both glanced at the bedroom door, where Loni had retreated before locking the door. They had heard the scrapping and dragging of furniture being piled in front of the door before they sauntered to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee.
“She’s terrified,” Heyes sighed. “Who could blame her? In the last month she’s seen her whole family systematically slaughtered. “No wonder she doesn’t trust anyone. I suppose we’ve got to make sure that she can leave in the morning. Why didn’t he tell her we were coming?”
“She wouldn’t even take a gun,” muttered the Kid, “says it’s against her religion. I don’t like her being holed up in that room on her own. What if they come in through the window?”
“I don’t think they’ll act tonight. They want the evidence, not her. They’ll follow her to see where she goes, where she might hide it.”
The Kid arched his eyebrows. “Want me to take care of the pair outside?”
Heyes shook his head. “They think she’s on her own. Let’s keep it that way until we have to show our hand.”
“We could just take her out of here,” reasoned the Kid. “It’s dark.”
“Against her will? I never thought I’d hear you suggest that.”
“Look, we’re good, but we can’t stop a bullet. She just shouldn’t be here and that all there is to it.”
Heyes nodded solemnly. “Let’s try it the easy way first. If she’s still here this time tomorrow...” he shrugged, “I guess we’ll just have to do whatever it takes.”
“Fine,” grumbled the Kid. “Let’s just hope that ain’t too late.”
Loni looked tired and washed out as she poked a tentative head around the door. The Kid raised his coffee cup and gave her a warm smile. “Mornin’. Come in. The coffee’s good,” he darted an amused glance across the kitchen. “I made it.”
“Are you still here?”
“Sure am. Breakfast?”
She glowered at him and shook her head. “I told you. I’m leaving today.”
The Kid blinked at her. “Yeah, but you still gotta eat.”
“You may have to. I don’t. My train leaves in half an hour. I’m going now,” she bent back into the bedroom and lifted a carpet bag before she continued in a voice laden with angst. “Keep the house. It’s a miserable place to me. I can’t wait to get out of here.”
She strode to the door, the bright, caustic sunshine cutting into the hallway, somehow making the corners even murkier.
She turned. “Goodbye, whoever you are. I only want to find some peace. Please let me.” The door closed firmly behind her.
“Heyes,” hissed the Kid as his cousin looked up from his breakfast. “We gotta get after her. Leave that.”
Loni clattered her way down the wooden sidewalk, the bag swinging at her side giving the impression of more insouciance than she felt. Her green eyes fixed on the wiry man on the other side of the road, tracking her, stalking her like prey, every step of the way. He gave a meaningful nod to someone on her side of the road. She followed the gaze of the mean, currant eyes until she found herself looking into a pair of chilling, crystal-blue diamonds. “Carry your bag, ma’am?”
Her breath started to come in rapid gulps of air and she rattled her head from side to side in denial. “No, thank you.”
She pulled back from the hand grasping the handle, but his arm stiffened like iron. “Let go, I have a train to catch.”
A smile played over the stranger’s thin lips. “Aw, come on. I’m just offerin’ to help.”
“The lady said, ‘No.’” barked an authoritative voice behind her.
She turned. The one called Jones was standing stock-still, his gaze holding the stranger’s eyes captive in an icy challenge. The man stepped back, dropping his hands down by his sides whilst a menacing smile played over his lips.
“Just walk away, stranger.”
The Kid arched his eyebrows. “Maybe it’d be better for everyone if you walked away. The lady doesn’t want your help. She couldn’t have been clearer.”
“She’ll want what I tell her,” the stranger flicked a glint of steel at her. “Stay where you are! I ain’t done with you, woman.”
Heyes stepped forward, putting a protective arm around her shoulder. “You’re done. She’s not interested. Come on, Miss Brown.”
“Stay out of this, friend. This lady has some business that needs takin’ care of, before she goes anywhere.”
The Kid shook his head. “She ain’t interested. Get out of the way.”
The man’s fingers twitched beside the handle of his gun. “Are you really this stupid? She won’t give the likes of you the time of day. Is she worth dying over?”
“A good question. Is she?” the Kid tilted his head. “You’re full of big talk, but scarin’ a woman is easy. How about takin’ on someone your own size?”
“You don’t wanna do this, stanger. I seriously doubt you’re good enough.”
The Kid’s jaw clenched. “If you were that good, I’d know you. It doesn’t take much to be the fastest in a town this size. Walk away and leave the lady be. There’s no need for any trouble.”
The man gave a resigned sigh. “I guess you just can’t tell some people. Come on, draw.”
The Kid shook his head. “Nope. We’re on the sidewalk. Step out into the road where we can’t hit anyone else.”
His opponent gave a nod of acquiescence and took up a position in the middle of the road. “What are you waitin’for? Are you a coward?”
Heyes groaned and pulled Loni back against the wall, out of range, before the Kid strode out to face the gunman. “It ain’t too late. You can just walk away and let the lady catch her train.”
The Kid shook his head. “Nope. Joshua, take the lady to catch her train.”
“I said, draw!”
The Kid folded his arms. “Nope. We just want the lady to pass.”
The gunman gave a sort of exasperation. “Stop messin’ with me. Draw.”
There was one fact on which the witnesses were all agreed. The mayor’s man drew first. One minute the tall newcomer was standing with his arms folded and then his opponent grasped the handle of his gun. There was a flurry of gunshots, nobody could state exactly how many, before a bloody body lay in a crumpled heap in the road. There were screams and a male voice shouting, ‘Thaddeus!’ With their attention drawn to the sidewalk, folks suddenly noticed the tumbled heap of bloody petticoats slumped against a bloodstained wall.
“Get a doctor, she’s been shot,” bellowed Heyes.
“How?” the Kid bounded towards them, his eyes drinking in the huge wound in Loni’s chest.
“A shot from the front. Whoever shot her was standing across the road. Who shot you, Miss Brown?”
Loni’s eyes flickered and waned as she groaned weakly. “The evidence... They wanted to stop the evidence.”
“Shhh... Save your strength,” murmured Heyes.
“No... It’s hidden under his nose. It can still be used. It’s in the last place the mayor would ever think of looking.” She weakly gripped Heyes’ hand. “Get it. Take it to the governor. Promise me!” The partners shared a look of desperation. The life force was ebbing from Loni’s pale face. “I only wanted to make him proud,” she grimaced in pain. “Please. Get it?”
Heyes stroked her blood spattered cheek. “Where is it?”
Her voice dropped to a mere whisper. “I put it... It’s in...” She suddenly convulsed, caught in a spasm of agony until she let out one long rasping breath, before the spark in her eyes spiralled into a final dark oblivion.
A woman’s voice whispered in Heyes’ ear. “She’s dead. She’s gone. May God bless her soul.”
Heyes stood up and walked over to the tethering post, rubbing his tense, stony face.
“You couldn’t have known” whispered the Kid, grasping the guilt eating his partner.
He turned a tormented face on his cousin. “We should have taken her out of here. I should have listened to you.”
The Kid laid a hand on his shoulder. “She wouldn’t have come.”
“We should have made her. She’d be alive.” Heyes stared at a splatter of her blood on his sleeve with haunted eyes. “We owe her. We got to finish this for her. They’ve got to pay.”
“Hands up! The pair of you.”
They turned. Three men held them at gunpoint, one peering menacingly over the sights of a rifle.
“Easy, keep them up. You’re fast, but you ain’t faster than a finger already on a trigger,” barked the grizzled man with the star on his chest.
Heyes sighed. “He did everything he could, Sheriff. He refused to draw, time after time until he had to defend himself.”
A grey, wiry little woman stepped forward. “He did, Sheriff. I saw it. I saw it all,” she threw out an arm and eyed him in naked challenge. “They tried to help Loni. Everyone saw. If you want to do anything, you should be looking for the man who shot her in cold blood.”
A bushy eyebrow shot up in exasperation. “Keep outta this. Just ‘cos your husband’s the preacher don’t mean he runs the town, Eliza.”
“More’s the pity. These men acted to help her and in he fired in self-defence. Where were you? You got here fast enough once it was too late.”
“Shut it, Eliza,” the Kid bristled at the lawman as he continued. “You, drop them guns. Both of you.”
Heyes and Curry reluctantly let their weapons fall to the ground as Heyes’ verbosity leapt into action. “We stumbled on that man bothering a woman. My partner here just wasn’t going to stand back and let that happen. He drew last; fair and square, but if you’re going to take us in you’d better contact the Governor of Wyoming. We’re only here because we’re working for him. He’ll want to know where we are.”
Heyes’ point seemed to land and the sheriff lowered his gun slightly. “Governor?”
A pair of determined brown eyes hooked the sheriff’s. “Yup. This isn’t going to be kept in town, if that’s what you’re thinking. He’ll dispatch lawyers, and if he thinks his employees are being railroaded it could go all the way. He won’t let this lie. Contact sheriff Lom Trevors in Porterville if you don’t believe me.”
There was the clearing of throats and shuffling of feet as the guns started to lower. “I reckon he’s right, Sheriff. Folks say that Joe drew first and the other one couldn’t have done anythin’. He was beside her and everyone says that she was shot from across the road. Best let them go.”
The sheriff holstered his gun. “What you doin’ here? What business has the Governor of Wyoming got in Golden?”
“None,” Heyes smiled charmingly. “We’re passing through.”
“Really? Where to? What you doin’?”
“We’re not at liberty to disclose that,” Heyes replied, archly. “You could ask the Governor yourself – but then I guess he’ll want to know why you arrested us. We’ll have to tell him all about this.”
“Hey! I ain’t arrested you. Two folks are dead. I wouldn’t be doin’ my duty if I didn’t ask questions, would I?”
“I guess not,” muttered Heyes. “Do you mind if we pick up our weapons and get out of here?”
“I think the mayor would want to meet real important visitors to our town like you two, especially after all this. We wouldn’t want you gettin’ the wrong impression of Golden, would we? Come with me, but we’ll look after your guns.”
The Kid gave the lawman a look that hit him like an icicle in the heart. “I bet her family’s real glad you’re on the case, eh? A man like you makes a real difference to a town.”
The ante-room to the mayor’s office was a clutter of porcelain, silk screens and lacquered furniture, a testament to the Victorian craze for anything oriental other than immigrating humanity. Chinese labourers could only dream of such luxurious surroundings.
The Kid gawped at the creature sitting back on his haunches; a large open-mouthed, boggled eyed beast with a florid mane, the left paw resting on a globe. He placed a hand on its head. At about four feet high it was the biggest pottery animal he had ever seen. “What is it?”
The mayor’s secretary stood. “Apparently it’s called a ‘foo dog,’ he gestured towards the statue’s partner resting at the other side of the door. “That’s his missus. They come as a pair.”
The Kid’s frowned. “Ugly critters, ain’t they?”
The little man with the patent leather hair grimaced. “Horrible. I wouldn’t give them house room, but I have to sit here all day with them big mouths lollin’ open at me. It’s the mayor. He loves ‘chinwoyseree.’ I think it means he got fashionable bad-taste. That’s why there’s them dragons all over the place. What’s wrong with a stuffed bear or a nice elephant’s foot umbrella stand? Some folk got no style.”
“What are they for?”
“For? They ain’t for nothin’ but gatherin’ dust. Take seat. He won’t be long,” his eyes darted to the bell jingling on a spiral coil above the set of double doors. “That’s him now, I’ll be right back.”
The dapper, little figure disappeared into the next room as both men relaxed on ornately carved chairs. The Kid leaned back, his head against the printed wallpaper, and stared aimlessly at the ceiling. Heyes gazed at his partner, understanding the undercurrents bubbling in the deep blue eyes.
“How you doing, Thaddeus?”
The Kid’s Adam’s apple slid up and down in profile before he spoke. “Fine, I guess.” There was a long pause before he continued. “Why do they do it? I wanted him to walk away. I did my best.”
Heyes nodded. “I know. It looks like someone had the idea of using the shootout as cover. Why didn’t I think of that and at least get her into a building?”
“Because you ain’t the kind of sick in the head to shoot down an unarmed woman in the street; that’s why.”
Heyes let out a long slow breath. “So. We gotta meet the mayor. Wonder what he’s got to say?”
The double doors stared to open. “I think we’re about to find out, Joshua. Keep your wits about you. I get the feelin’ we’ve never needed them more.”
Edward Meagher nodded at the two men before he took a fat cigar from the humidor on the oversized desk and started clipping the end. His failure to offer them one, coupled the lawmen outside, told Heyes and Curry all they need to know about their status as ‘guests.’
“Take a seat,” he sat back on his own chair, swivelling nonchalantly. “You work for the Governor of Wyoming and your names are Smith and Jones? Do I detect some aliases here?”
Heyes folded his right leg over his left and began bluffing for his life. “I have no way of knowing what you detect, Mr. Meagher. I’ll tell you the same as I told the sheriff. We’re passing through town on business and got caught up in a killing. If you ask me, that shootout was provoked to cover premeditated murder. Their only mistake was in picking on someone who was better than they were.”
“Hmm, way better, from what I hear.” Meagher scanned Kid with pebble eyes. “You’re real fast.”
The Kid shook his head. “Nope. The other guy was just real slow.”
“He wasn’t that slow. He was an employee of mine.”
The Kid snorted. “He was bullyin’ a woman in the street. Was he doin’ that for you, or was he on his own time?”
The mayor gave a crescent smile, but the set of the receding jaw reminded Heyes of the sharks he had seen in an encyclopaedia. “He called you out? More fool him. Just where did you develop those skills, Mr...?”
“Jones, Thaddeus Jones. I ain’t got any special skills. Maybe he was havin’ a bad day?”
Meagher nodded. “I’d agree with you there, Mr. Jones. His day was as about bad as they come.”
“Did you know the dead woman too?” asked Heyes.
Meagher arched his eyebrows. “I knew her father. Poor girl, she told me only yesterday she was leaving town. Her family seem to have made some enemies and have all died rather tragically. If my man was involved in that it’s a good job he was killed. It saves me the bother of hanging him.”
“She was here?”
“Oh, yes. Yesterday afternoon. I told her that I’d do everything I could to help her.” He struck a match and puffed at his cigar, the glowing end illuminating with each suck. “Terrible business. Did you know her?”
Heyes looked the mayor straight in the eyes. “Never saw her before in my life.”
Meagher cast some pensive smoke rings in their direction. “Well. All things considered, I’d best let you get on your way. I’m sure you don’t want to hang about Golden for any longer than is necessary. You’re passing through? Take some advice and keep going. You can collect your side arms from the sheriff at the door.”
“What’s the plan?”
Heyes glanced at the sheriff dogging their steps from across the road. “We leave town and search her house after dark. She said it’s right under his nose. It’s in town somewhere.”
“Ain’t that the first place they’ll look?”
“After her bag, yes. But we gotta start somewhere.”
They turned; the guttural attention seeking came from a slim, pale, young man dressed in a plain, charcoal suit. He fingered his crisp, white collar and nodded curtly. “Excuse me, I was told that you tried to help Miss Brown?”
Heyes narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Yes. Why?”
“My name is Herbert Fry. I’m... she was my fiancée.”
The Kid swallowed hard. The pain in the man’s eyes and his slump of hopelessness was all too familiar. “I’m sorry. I wish we could have done somethin’. We were tryin’ to look after her.” He paused, floundering for the right words to ease death’s sting. There was simply nothing he could add.
Herbert nodded and cast his eyes down to the street. “I wanted to thank you for trying,” he gulped emotionally. “I tried to sneak her out of here, but she wouldn’t have it. She said they had to see her leave, it was part of her plan.”
Heyes frowned. “Plan? She knew they’d try to kill her?”
“I think so, now.” Herbert let out a gasping sob. “She didn’t tell me that. I wouldn’t have allowed it.”
Heyes and Curry exchanged an astounded look. “Why would she do that? Why would anyone do that?”
“She felt she had to take up her father’s fight for him. If she’d disappeared they’d have killed witnesses, so she had to let them steal the evidence she put in her bag... but it’s fake. I was so afraid for her I got the overnight train here.” The young man visibly trembled. “I was too late.”
Heyes turned away, rubbing his face. “She could have found a better way. Good God, we’d have helped her.” A thought hit him. “We made it worse, oh, God, no! If they’d got the bag...”
The young Quaker shuffled uncomfortably at the blaspheming. “Indeed. He is good. It just doesn’t always feel that way. We must have faith.”
The Kid let out a long, low whistle. “What an incredible woman. She did this to protect the witnesses?”
Herbert nodded. “Humanity shone from her like a beacon. The moment I laid eyes on her I knew that God had made a partner for me.” His voice cracked with pain. “But now... What am I to do? What is there left?”
The Kid placed a comforting hand on Heyes’ heaving shoulder. This was going from bad to worse. “Mr. Fry, I’m real sorry, but we’ve been told we gotta get out of town.”
Herbert cast despairing grey eyes up the main street. “Sure, you should go.” He turned, releasing a great sigh of grief.
“Mr. Fry,” Heyes hesitated, “just what have you got planned now?”
“Oh, I don’t know...”
The Kid flicked up an eyebrow. You ain’t gonna do anythin’ stupid, are you? Because if anyone did that to my girl...”
Herbert stiffened. “I am a Quaker! We use peaceful means at all times. I would rather die than kill.”
Heyes rubbed his face. “I was afraid you’d say that. Mr. Fry, we want to help. Mr. Brown hired us to get them both out of here. Can you come with us? We really need to talk.”
Herbert shook his head. “I don’t know you. I simply can’t.”
Heyes flicked up an eyebrow and fixed the young man with a determined stare. “Look, so far two people have died, and I now know that the only reason we’ve been allowed to walk out of here is because the mayor thinks he’s killed the evidence, along with anyone else who got in his way. Now you show up. This isn’t going to end well and I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand back and let another innocent blunder into this situation. Mr. Fry, either you come with us or we take you out of here; any way we have to.”
Heyes cut him off. “I think life is sacred too, and that includes yours. It’s not going to take Meagher long to find out that evidence is fake. You’re coming with us. Got that?”
“Excuse me.” A lanky man popped his head out of the door of a nearby building. “You were at the shooting today, weren’t you? Do you mind if I take a statement from you for the Weekly Bugle? It’s the local newspaper.”
Kid looked across the road to Meagher’s office, where the sheriff still glowered suspiciously from the sidewalk. “Go away. Leave us be.”
“Aah, a straight-talking man. People who get straight to the point make for wonderfully pithy quotes.” The reporter folded his arms, the horn of the bugle from the picture of the mounted cavalry officer on the newspaper office window behind him protruding comically out the top of his head.
The Kid bridled at him. “I ain’t in the mood. You won’t be able to print any quote I give ya.”
The journalist was not that easily put off. “But this story could sell all over the country. Don’t you want to think of folks in New York reading your homespun wisdom? They love a western hero who calls a spade a spade. Please, it’ll take ten minutes.”
The Kid fixed him with a hard stare. “I don’t call it a spade when I’ve tripped over one in the dark. That’s the only kind of language you’ll get from me at the moment. Take a tellin’ and go away.”
Heyes smiled and turned back to Herbert. “Well? Are you a volunteer or a conscript? I’m not leaving you in Golden. You won’t last ten minutes. Decide.”
They sat around the campfire swilling strong coffee, each man haunted by their own personal demons. It was only noon, but this day seemed to spiral downwards to disaster with every fading second. Just how were they supposed to protect a man as idealistic as Herbert from himself? He had lost everything but his promise of heaven. The partners played events over and over in their mind’s eye but the end never changed. The nightmare prevailed.
Heyes broke the silence. “Mr. Fry, words can’t express how sorry I am that things have turned out like this, but we have to do everything we can to end this without any more loss of life. As she died, Miss Brown begged us to find the evidence and end this. Have you any idea where she might have hidden it?”
Herbert shook his head. “If I knew I’d take it to the state governor myself. She wrote to tell me what she had planned, and to tell me that she’d leave town after that. All I got after that was a strange telegram.”
He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. “She was getting the train at eight, I got the night train to be there before that, but it was late.”
“Probably a good job too, or you’d be dead too,” muttered the Kid.
Herbert dropped his head. “I wish I was.”
“What do you do?” asked Heyes.
“I’m a doctor. I dreamt of a life with Loni, serving the sick. What is there now?”
Heyes sighed. “There are still a lot of folks who need help, Mr. Fry. It’s the best way to honour her memory.” He dropped his head to read the telegram. “Seen Mayor. Getting train at 8. Luke 11:9. Psalm 22:21. Loni,” Heyes’ brow furrowed. “What does that mean?”
Herbert dipped into his pocket and pulled out a small bible. “I’ve no idea. The words vary depending on the version of the Bible.” He flicked through a few pages. “Luke 11:9 - And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. Psalm 22:21 - Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.”
“Do those have any special meaning to you?” demanded Heyes.
“No. I just don’t understand it.”
Heyes pulled off his hat and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s a code. It’s got to be. Seek and you shall find. It’s where she’s hidden it. The lion’s mouth she wanted saved from, that has to be Meagher.”
The Kid gasped and seized the missive. “He’s right! It’s a clue. So what does ‘thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns’ mean? There ain’t no unicorns in Golden.”
“Think,” demanded Heyes. “What could she mean? What’s like a unicorn?”
“Horses?” asked the Kid.
“Could be,” Heyes stood and started to pace. “Have the Browns got stables, Mr. Fry?”
“A barn. You think she hid it there?”
“Who knows? She hid it somewhere and we need to find it if we want to save those witnesses. We wait until dusk. Then we search.”
The Kid gave a great huff of annoyance. “Look, Joshua, we’ve searched the Browns’ barn, the town livery and Meagher’s stables. It ain’t in any of them, and if I step in any more horse manure I’ll swing for you,” he prodded Heyes’ chest with a long forefinger. “I AIN’T going near another stable. Got that?”
Heyes gave a shrug of annoyance and sat down on a bale of hay. “Fine. I’ve got to rethink this. Herbert, read me those quotes again.”
The young man didn’t need to refer to the Bible. The quotes tripped from his tongue as easily as a well recited prayer. “Luke 11:9 - And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. Psalm 22:21 - Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.”
Heyes rubbed his face. “We’ve definitely been barking up the wrong tree. Maybe it’s nothing to do with unicorns. What does ‘thou hast heard me from the horns’ of unicorns mean?”
Herbert smiled. He had already guessed that these two men had spent little time on Bible studies. “Some interpret it as times in life when in danger, they have called upon God for help and been heard. Others see it as deliverance from the rapacious jaws of evil. In some versions of the Bible it is not a unicorn, it’s a buffalo, and the horn is more representative of trumpets. It’s a clarion call to God or for the protection of the righteous.”
The Kid’s eyebrows arched in challenge. “Joshua, I ain’t searchin’ cowsheds, or huntin’ for the nearest buffalo. It doesn’t mean that. I doubt she would have gone near any of those things.”
Heyes nodded; his pensive eyes distant and distracted. “I know... I’m just trying to understand how she would have interpreted those passages so I can see things through her eyes. The rapacious jaws of evil. That sure sounds like Meagher, though, with that mean, cold smile. A trumpet? What could that be?”
The Kid gave an ironic snort. “Those jaws sound like those ‘foo dogs’ in his office. Those sure ain’t friendly lookin’ things.”
Heyes darted glowing eyes at his cousin. “Rapacious jaws? Thaddeus, you’re a genius.”
“I am?” the Kid nodded, smiling gently. “It sure took you long enough to find out.”
“It would just take a few seconds to stick a package in one of the statues. Women’s skirts sure make it easy to carry something without anyone noticing, and Meagher’s secretary left the room when we were there. If he did the same with Loni, it would explain a lot,” Heyes’ face dimpled with satisfaction. “They even look a bit like lions. Why didn’t I think of that before?”
“Because you were too busy chasin’ unicorns,” the Kid shook his head. “There’s a sentence I never thought I’d be sayin’ today. Come on. I’m lookin’ forward to smashin’ those things, knowing how fond Meagher is of them.”
Herbert’s eyes glittered suspiciously. “They left that door unlocked? Really?”
Heyes nodded. “How else could I have got in? We just hit lucky. The Lord works in mysterious ways after all. He’s probably just giving us a helping hand.”
“Hmm. His ways are getting more and more mysterious the longer I know you two. How do you know Mr. Brown anyway?”
Heyes’ smile glinted through the poor light. “We didn’t. He knew the Attorney General of Wyoming and he asked the governor to help. They studied law together.”
“And how do you know the Governor.”
“Oh, just through some business we did in the past. We owe him a favour. Now, can you keep it down? We’re not supposed to be here you know,” hissed Heyes.
The Kid was suddenly struck by a thought. “Herbert, do you know why Loni’s father didn’t tell her we were coming? She might have trusted us if he’d told her.”
Herbert bit his lip. “He wouldn’t have wanted to leave. I think she would have known how afraid he was if he’d told her. He would have meant it for the best,” he heaved a deep sigh. “In some ways they didn’t have anything in common, in others, they were too alike. They would sacrifice themselves, but didn’t to communicate well. They had the same tendency to think very deeply, perhaps too deeply.”
“Well, we best get searching.” Heyes stood opposite the big pottery animal. “She was right handed, so if she was facing the door her right hand would be nearer this one.”
The Kid grinned. “Allow me.” He lifted one of the ornate chairs and swung it straight at the head. It bounced harmlessly, the spindly, tapered legs splintering against the glossy glaze. “It’s stronger than it looks. Well, there’s only one thing in this room as big. Gimme a hand, Joshua.”
The pair dragged the other foo dog across, heaving it up between them. Their eyes met, twinkling with anticipation. “On three,” grunted the Kid. “ One, Two... THREE!”
They thrust the enormous animal towards its mate with all their strength. There was an ear splitting crash as they collided, before slivers of earthenware flew out in all directions. The head split and cracked, then a great wedge slid sideways, opening up the hollow guts. The other foo dog fell to the floor, shattering into a million pieces, the broken head rolling aimlessly from side to side.
Heyes frowned. “Man; that made a lot of noise. Mr. Fry, can you check out the street from the window? Let me know if you see any movement or lights going on.”
The Kid pulled the fragments apart with gloved hands, turning disappointed eyes on his cousin. “Nothin’. Not one thing! I was so sure.”
“Maybe she hid it somewhere else?” Heyes turned to Herbert. “Anything going on out there?”
Heyes nodded. “Then we search. We turn this place upside down. She said it was right under his nose, so we’re going to rip this place apart.”
An hour later Meagher’s ‘chinwoyseree’ lay in a disordered clutter. No hanging, china dragon or vase had been left unmolested in the quest. The Kid cast a dissatisfied eye over the room, shaking his head ruefully. “Nothin’. Not one thing.”
Heyes appeared at the doorway of the office, the discrete glint in his dark eyes telling his partner that there had been nothing of significance in the safe. He scratched his head and wandered aimlessly through the shambles. “So, what now?”
“I can’t think of anywhere else except the house, Joshua.”
Heyes scratched his chin. “But she said it was right under his nose. She said it’s the last place he’d look, and that’s not her home. You knew her, Mr. Fry. Where would she have put it? A friend’s home maybe?”
“No. She’d never put anyone in that kind of danger.”
Heyes sauntered over to the window, the first grey fingers of dawn lightening the sky to charcoal, but still glistening with stars of light. “I think it’s got us beat. I just can’t think of anywhere else.”
The Kid strode over and placed a hand on his shoulder. “We’ve done our best but I guess that just ain’t good enough. I hate to see a man like Meagher get away with this.”
Heyes suddenly stiffened. “Thaddeus... How would you describe a unicorn?”
“A horse with a horn. Why?”
“Look out of the window. Tell me what you see.”
Herbert joined them at the glass, peering anxiously out at the still sleeping town. “Houses, buildings. It’s a quiet street.”
The Kid put his forehead against the pane. “There’s a cat over there, lickin’ his...”
“I’m not talking about that! Look at the building opposite. What do you see?”
“It’s the newspaper, remember the journalist? ‘The Weekly Bugle.’”
“Yup,” Heyes turned glistening eyes on the pair. “Look at the sign.”
“A union soldier on a rearing horse, blowing a bugle,” murmured Herbert.
“A bugle’s a type of horn,” mused Heyes. “A horn you’d hear. Like the quotation. Look again and tell me what you see – right under Meagher’s nose.”
“A horse and a horn,” gasped the Kid.
“Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns,” Herbert gulped loudly. “Now that’s a sound Meagher wouldn’t want to hear. The truth, all over the press.”
“And right under Meagher’s nose, a clarion call for the righteous. Let’s get over there. It’s going to be light soon.”
An hour later they sat dejectedly on the wooden sidewalk, the birds twittering delightedly at the birth of a new day. Herbert gave them both a look of stern admonishment. “I don’t care what you say, I don’t believe for one minute this door was left open too.”
“I never said it was,” replied Heyes, defensively, “besides where does it say in the Bible, ‘thou shalt not open a door and look around a bit?’ We never took anything, we didn’t even do any damage.”
“Not in there we didn’t. But we wrecked the mayor’s place.”
“I ain’t sorry about that,” muttered the Kid. “He’s got a point, though. It’s daybreak. We’ve searched all night and come up with nothin’. We gotta make ourselves scare.”
“I can’t believe I was so wrong,” Heyes dropped his head into his hands. “I was so sure we’d find it.”
Herbert smiled reassuringly. “You did your best, Gentlemen. Many people wouldn’t have done half as much”
Heyes stood and started to pace. “She was dying. I owe this to her. Where would she put it? It’s right under his nose.”
The Kid’s eyes glittered gratefully at Herbert. “Thanks, but we just don’t feel like we’ve done enough.”
“Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns,” muttered Heyes. “Seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you....”
“He’s right, Joshua. We’d better get off.”
“She’d walk down the street towards Meagher’s place, knowing she had to get it out of the house. She wouldn’t leave it with anyone, so she put it somewhere.”
“Joshua, what are you goin’ on about? We gotta go. It’s nearly daybreak.”
“Knock and it shall be opened to you... that sounds like a door.”
“He’s right, Mr. Smith. People are starting to stir.”
Heyes shrugged him off, caught up in his thoughts. “You can’t take it in there, but you can’t give it to anyone. You can’t linger anywhere because you’re being watched. She’d have walked down here because her house is on this side of the street.”
“Joshua, folks are up and about.”
Heyes’ stream of consciousness continued. “She’d have walked down there and stopped to cross the road.” His voice suddenly took on a lightness, as revelation hit. “It’s the only place she could stop without arousing suspicion because she had to see if the road was clear! Knock and ye shall find. That means there’d wood involved at the very least.” He closed his eyes. “She was scared. Standing there... she had to get rid of it before she went in there. Where would you hide it?” His eyes suddenly widened, staring at the wooden sidewalk. “You’d drop it. Kick it surreptitiously out of the way. Nobody would notice, not under those long skirts.”
He dropped to the ground, peering underneath the boards, shuffling along until he was right underneath the entrance to the newspaper office. A long arm groped about until he dragged out a bag.
“You alright, Sonny?” asked a curious, grizzled old timer, passing by on his way to start a day’s work at the livery stables.
Heyes sat up with a grin. “Sure am. I’ve been looking for this all night.”
The Kid rubbed his tired face. “So, what is it? What the big, dangerous secret.”
Heyes flicked through the papers in the accordion fold, wallet. Lots of affidavits, land stakes, statements,” he let out a long slow whistle. “Newspaper cuttings about the murder of a woman by her husband, in California. There are reports from an investigator too. William Brown was looking into Meagher’s past.”
The Kid arched his eyebrows. “Meagher’s a killer? Well, we knew that; but he’s already wanted?”
Heyes rifled through the folder. “That could sure be a worry for him. The picture in the newspaper doesn’t look much like him, but it’s twenty years old and it’s just an etching.”
“Could that be it?” Herbert gasped. “Meagher could deal with the land grabbing case by killing and intimidating witnesses, but when he found out that he was being investigated, it was a step too far. The lawyer had to go before he found out the truth about him.”
Heyes nodded. “Whatever the truth is? He sure doesn’t seem to want have anyone looking into his background.”
“How would he have known that Mr. Brown was investigating?” asked Herbert.
“It doesn’t take much to intercept a telegram, Mr. Fry. Bribery, threats; you name it.” The Kid’s mouth firmed into a line. “It’s the easiest thing in the world.”
Heyes thrust the paperwork back into the folder. “It’s thirteen miles to Denver. We’ve got to get these to the governor before Meagher realises that the case didn’t die with the Brown Family. It makes no difference whether he killed his wife or not. An arrest, and a trip back to California to see if any witnesses can identify him, will give the authorities here enough time put a case together in Golden. A snake can’t bite without a head. Meagher’s finished.”
A pair of horsemen made their way into the countryside. Even from a distance, their demeanour seemed sombre, drenched in thoughts and memories.
The Kid darted a look at Heyes. “You did some real good back there.”
Heyes’ mouth flexed, pitting his cheeks with shadowed dimples which emphasised the coldness of the eyes fixed ahead. “So did you, Kid. Who knows how many people Meagher’s man killed? Who knows what he would have been ordered to do if Meagher was ever taken in? He was real fast, you know. Not many could have taken him out.”
The Kid sighed. “I don’t want to think about that. I can’t get passed how it might have gone if we’d let them take her bag.”
“Me neither, Kid,” Heyes replied simply, almost to the point of curtness.
They rode on in silence for hours before the Kid broke the silence again. “I thought you were the talker. Where are all those words of reassurance you usually find to make us both feel better?”
“At least one family has been wiped out. I’ve been looking for words to make that better for most of my life, Kid.”
“You stopped it, Heyes. You made the difference.”
“This time, Kid, but it was all too late for the Browns.”
The Kid bit his lip. “Do you think, Herbert will get over her?”
“Eventually, I guess. Either that or he’ll learn to live with it. There weren’t many like her, that’s for sure.”
“One of the bravest I ever met. He said he knew right away she was the one for him. Do you believe in that?”
Heyes shrugged. “Does it matter? Even if we did know someone like that, we couldn’t act on it. We’re on the run.”
The Kid turned, fixing him with emotional blue eyes. “Yeah, it matters. It makes all of this worthwhile. All the runnin’, the time workin’ at anythin’ to turn an honest buck; all of it. Amnesty is the only way we could have somethin’ like that if it ever comes our way. I might have lost everythin’, but I still got hope.”
Heyes nodded. “Me too, Kid. I hope so too.”