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 The Devil's Due - Chapter 16

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Silverkelpie

Silverkelpie

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

The Devil's Due - Chapter 16 Empty
PostSubject: The Devil's Due - Chapter 16   The Devil's Due - Chapter 16 EmptyTue Feb 09, 2016 1:51 pm

Stepping off the railcar onto Medicine Bow’s depot, Bill Brown had to seize the brim of his black hat to prevent a gust of wind from knocking it off his head.  He turned his back to the prevailing breeze and walked down the length of the train to the stock cars as one of the heavy doors slid open and two men backed out, stumbling over the short drop to the platform.


“Sonova…” began one man only to be interrupted by an angry squeal and a wood-splintering crash.  The outer wall of the car bulged slightly with the sound. 


“He’s kickin’ the shit outta the car!  Old Fred’s gonna kill us if we can’t ship that load of beeves.”  The second man let his mouth take action while his body stayed rooted to the platform.  The first man reached for his pistol.


“Problem, Gentlemen?” asked Bill, reaching their side.


“Nothin’ a little lead won’t fix,” growled the first man.


“I surely hope you ain’t plannin’ on pluggin’ my horse, good sir.  I’m rather fond of him.” Bill put his hands on his hips opening the front of his black duster and revealing two guns riding butt-forward in their holsters.  The implied threat cooled the railroad men’s anger instantly and they backed away.


“He’s all yours, mister.  C’mon, Ben, let’s go unload the other cars.”  The second man hurried his friend away by his elbow.


Bill stepped into the gloom of the stock car.  The big black was tied off to a ring set into the far wall and leaned hard against the rope that held him, his eyes rimmed white with fury.  “Easy, son, easy now,” cooed Bill.  He fished in his pocket and pulled out two sugar lumps.  Extending his right hand held flat with the treats in his palm, his left hand slipped onto the black’s neck, stroking it gently.  Relaxing, the animal nuzzled his owner’s hand claiming its due and munching contentedly.  Bill untied the rope and led the horse quietly from the car. 


Medicine Bow had grown considerably since the last time Bill Brown had been there.  The stockyards were overflowing with cattle going to market, and the town now boasted a real store, a post office, and a school, but it was the saloon that drew his interest.  In his experience, drinking men gossiped far more than a lady’s sewing circle.  He tied the black to a hitching rail well away from other horses and went inside the noisy establishment.  The atmosphere was murky.


He leaned against the planked bar and surveyed the room until he spotted a man sitting at a corner table with several glasses and an overturned whiskey bottle discarded in front of him.  He negotiated the crowd until he reached the table and sat down in an empty chair across from the plainly inebriated man.


“Buy you a drink?” offered Bill while catching the barkeep’s eye and waving him over.


“Well, sure, mister, if’n yer payin’” slurred the drunk as the barman arrived.


“A bottle of your finest bourbon and two fresh glasses,” Bill reached into his waistcoat and withdrew several crisp bills laying them on the table.  Moments later, the barman returned with an unopened bottle of Old Fire Copper and clean glasses.  He plunked them on the table, grabbed up the bills, and held his hand out for more.  “Real Kentucky, I’m impressed,” said Bill, ponying up another couple of dollars and checking the seal on the bottle for signs of tampering.


“You’re wasting your money on Otis here.  He’d drink donkey piss if’n I served it to him.”  Collecting the empties, the barkeeper left them contemplating the finer libation.


“You gonna pour me some o’ that?” asked Otis, licking his lips.


“In a moment, first I’ve got a question I need answered.”


“I don’t know nothin’, mister.  Everybody says so.”


“I’m looking for a man--a tall man, like me, with blond hair but younger, in his twenties.  Goes by the name of Gabe Sorenson.”


“Don’t know nobody by that name.”  Otis had begun to sweat from the fear of not getting his drink, but he wasn’t so drunk as to try to lie to a man like the one across from him.  “Kin I have that drink now?”


“He’d be traveling with two young ladies by the name of Durbin.”  Bill saw a flicker of recognition flit across the man’s face and he leaned forward pouring a generous serving of the amber liquid. 


Otis grabbed the glass and drained it before belching out, “Oh, the guide.  Yeah, they’s here.” He hopefully held out his glass for a refill.


“Where?”  The bottle stayed suspended over the glass.


“Ma Freedy’s roomin’ house over on 2nd.” 


Pouring, Bill filled the man’s glass, as well as his own, to the brim.  He smiled and pushed both servings towards Otis.  “Much obliged, pardner.”  Capping the bottle, he stood up.  Otis was so entranced by his good fortune he never even saw the dark stranger leave.



oooOOOooo



A sharp rapping on the door roused Gabe from his nap.  For a moment he’d forgotten where he was, but the gray, tattered curtains and the musty smell of the bedding reminded him he was a long ways from his ma’s tidy home.  He rolled out of bed and sat up, rubbing his eyes as the knocking grew louder.  Getting to his feet, he crossed over and yanked the door open.  Stunned by the sight of his unexpected visitor, he stood gaping at the darkly-attired man facing him.


“Close your mouth, boy, the flies’ll get in.”  Bill stepped into the room, pulling the door from Gabe’s hand and quietly shutting it behind him. 


“Pappy!  What’re you doin’ here?”


“Lookin’ for you it’d appear,” smiled Bill.  His boy wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but he loved him despite his shortcomings.  “Come here, Gabe, and give your old pappy a hug.”


Gabe wrapped his arms around his father and clung to him tightly.  “You’re here.  You’re really here.”


“I won’t be much longer if you don’t loosen your grip and let me breathe.”  Sheepishly, Gabe let go and sat down on the edge of the bed.  “Now what’s this about you shepardin’ a couple of pretty young things around?  Since when did you become a guide?”


Gabe hesitated.  He’d been warned not to tell anyone about the plan.  Heyes had made it plain that the deal would be off if he did.  “I, um, er, just started.”


“Just how’d you get this here job?”


“It’s kinda a long story, Pappy.”  Gabe was studying the floor intently.  His father had a way of weaseling the truth from a man and he wasn’t a natural-born liar. 


Bill, who was nobody’s fool, caught Gabe’s reticence and wondered what the boy was trying to hide.  “Where’s your ma?” he demanded in a harsh tone. 


Gabe’s head lifted and his wide, blue eyes shifted around the room desperate for escape.  When a strong claw of a hand gripped his chin his eyes locked on the ones boring into him.  “Uh…um…she’s stayin’ with friends.”


“What friends?  Where?  Don’t lie to me, boy.  I ain’t too old to take you to the woodshed.”


“She’s…uh…she’s…”


Bill let go of his son.  “Start at the beginnin’ and don’t leave nothin’ out.”


“I can’t, Pappy.”


“Can’t or won’t?”


“They said not to tell anyone.”


“Who’s they?”


“Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.”


Remembering what Beauregard had told him, Bill prompted, “The Devil’s Hole gang has your ma?”


The younger man nodded.


“Well, Lord help ‘em.  Why’re they holdin’ her?”  Bill sat down on the bed next to his son.  “Best you tell me the whole of it.”


“Yessir,” said Gabe sheepishly.


oooOOOooo


“Kyle, you missed a spot!” Scarlet stood in the middle of the bunkhouse pointing imperiously at a dusty corner behind the woodstove.


“Yes, ma’am, Miss Scarlet,” replied Kyle, bobbing his head in agreement as he scuttled to sweep up the fuzzy debris.


“You!  Put those blankets in the pot.  Boilin’ water’s the only thing that’ll kill the lice and the vinegar’s gonna take care of the stink.”  Lobo unceremoniously dumped an armful of grimy bedding into the large vat boiling on the stove.  Ike stood next to it, wielding a paddle, waiting patiently to begin stirring again. 


Scratching his head, Lobo looked longingly at the open doorway where Hank stood sweeping the floor.  They’d never worked so hard.  The old cow had been at them since just after dawn, when she’d burst into the bunkhouse and roused them from their sleep.  Only the promise of a home-cooked meal kept him from braining her.  He could smell the aroma of lamb stew wafting through the air.  Preacher had swiftly volunteered to oversee the meal to escape the rigors of cleaning.  Wheat hadn’t been as lucky.  He was washing the filthy windows, inside and out.  Right about now, they were all wishing they were the Burdon girls, locked up in the leader’s cabin well away from everyone and everything.


“Quit yer lollygaggin’ and git yer ugly butt back to work!” snapped the woman in question.  Lobo hurried past her to strip the next bunk.


In the leader’s cabin, Charlotte was sewing up a tear in a dish towel by the light of an oil lamp.  The shutters had been nailed shut from the outside and the building maintained a stubborn gloominess that lowered her spirits.  She’d gone through the kitchen drawers and cabinets looking for distractions from their enforced captivity.  Every dish had been scrubbed, every hole mended.  When she finished this last chore, she’d have nothing left to do.  She’d been secretly impressed by the collection of books stored neatly on a shelf in Mr. Heyes’ room, but had been afraid to violate his library despite the fact Scarlet was sleeping in the room and on his bed.  Somehow Mr. Heyes did not invite familiarity despite his lovely smile. Oh well, she could start pacing the floor like Carlotta was doing.


“If I have to spend one more second in this god-forsaken excuse for a….” Carlotta’s complaint was cut short by the front door banging open.  Hannibal Heyes stood in the doorway, his saddlebags thrown casually across one shoulder and his rifle gripped in his right hand.  He stepped across the threshold, tossing the saddlebags onto a chair and balancing the rifle on top.


“You’re welcome to stay in the toolshed, but I’m afraid the accommodations might not be any more to your liking.”  Heyes shrugged off his dusty corduroy jacket and hung it from a peg by the door before turning to look at his charges.  Noticing Carlotta’s interest in his rifle, he added.  “It’s unloaded.”


She growled with irritation.


“Where’s Scarlet?” asked Heyes.


“I have no idea.  She left early this morning and told us not to expect her until dark.”  Carlotta stamped one dainty foot in frustration.  “It’s not fair!  She gets the run of the place while we’re locked up like prisoners.”


He smiled.  “You are prisoners.”


“So is she!” argued Carlotta.


“Mrs. McGinty’s already seen everyone.  You haven’t.”


“She’s helping you, isn’t she?” 


Charlotte gasped at her sister’s accusation.  “Carlotta, that’s a terrible thing to say.  Scarlet has been very kind to us.”


“Don’t be naïve, Charlotte!  Scarlet McGinty’s looking out for her own interests.  Us.  We’re worth a lot of money and she knows it.”  Carlotta collapsed on the sofa in a huff. 


“What you’re worth remains to be seen.  Right now, you’re not worth the trouble you’re causing,” observed Heyes.  He walked past her to his bedroom and returned a few minutes later, buttoning on a clean shirt, his face freshly washed and his dark mane of hair slicked back.  Carlotta frowned at him and started to open her mouth to renew her complaining, but he spoke over her.  “Count your blessings, Miss Burdon.  I’m more of a gentleman than your brother was.  No one’s laid a hand on you and no one will if you play your cards right.”  He picked up his weapon and saddlebags and left.


“How dare he?!” snarled Carlotta, throwing a pillow at the closed door.  “Who does he think he is?”


“I’m afraid he knows exactly who he is, dear.  He’s our captor.”


oooOOOooo


Angelique tore the telegram from her husband’s hand.  “How much!?”


“Twenty thousand dollars.”


“That’s a ludicrous amount of money,” she frowned.  “Is this some kind of joke?  If it is, it’s not funny. ”


A rotund little man with a joyfully elaborate waistcoat clutched a hat as round as his belly.  “Kidnap is no joke, Mrs. Matheson.”


“This is Clement Farthing, darling.  He’s head of security at the bank.  I thought it best to get some help from him when we got the ransom demand.”  James’ moustache twitched.  “He says there’s no such place as Miss Porter’s School Of Art and Music for Young Ladies in San Francisco.  I don’t know what to make of it.”


Angelique’s slim brows gathered.  “There’s some kind of mistake.  My sisters have been there for some time.”


“No mistake, ma’am.  I had my men check it out.  I have no idea where the young ladies were going, but it certainly wasn’t where they said.  Do you have any confirmation of a booking?  Letters, telegrams, anything like that?”


The oldest sister shook her head.  “No.  We simply went on Carlotta’s word and from the mailing address she gave us.”


Farthing’s dark eyes glittered with surprise.  “Nothing?  You allowed two young women to go cross country without checking who they were with and where they were going?  All the way out of state?”


“Well, I’ve been very busy,” Angelique stammered.  “I’m... enceinte.


“Huh?  Ancient?”  Farthing scowled in confusion.


“She’s expecting,” James barked.


“Well, I can see that,” Farthing snorted.  “Why did she say she was old?”


“It’s French,” Angelique retorted.  “Respectable ladies don’t use vulgar words like pregnant.”


Farthing’s brows rose.  “Is that right?  Life must be full of surprises for their husbands.  Let’s get back to the missing women.  Do they have any gentlemen callers?  Anyone they may have run off with?  Someone you may disapprove of?”


Husband and wife exchanged a glance.  “Not where Carlotta’s concerned,” James replied.  “Charlotte can get her head turned by a handsome smile, but Carlotta is...well, let’s just say she’s serious and bookish.  She’ll brook no nonsense.  That’s why we were happy for her to take charge.”


“So she wouldn’t have run off with a beau?”  Farthing shook his head.  “In my experience the quiet ones are the worst.  Why didn’t they tell you that the place didn’t exist if they weren’t in on it?  It looks like collusion.”


“Maybe they were in no position to tell anyone anything once they left here,” James rubbed his chin.  “This is terrible.”


“But they’ve been keeping in touch,” Angelique exclaimed.  “I get a telegram every week.  I’ve not seen one for a while though.  Maybe two weeks.”


Farthing turned his derby in his hands.  “How do we know it the telegrams were really from them?”


“Well, they signed them using childhood pet names,” mused Angelique.  “Lottie and Charlie.  A criminal wouldn’t know those names.”


“Unless they’ve been tortured...”


“Farthing!  My wife isn’t to hear such upsetting theories.  She’s very delicate.”


Angelique plowed on, extravagantly failing to display the grace endowed upon her by her spouse.  “Why wait all this time?  They must have lied about where they were going.  Why would they do that?  Surely if they wanted a ransom they’d ask for it straight away?”


James turned questioning eyes on his head of security.  “Well, Farthing?  Do you have an answer?”


“Nope.  They’d usually ask for it straight away.”


Angelique started to pace.  “Where have they been all this time?  It’s been almost two months.”


“More to the point, where are they now?” asked James.


Farthing nodded.   “When did you last hear from them and where was the telegram from?”  


It was Angelique’s turn to look befuddled.  “I...I never really looked.  The messages were short.  I just sort of glanced at them.”


“What did they say?  Have you got them?”


“No, I threw them all out.  They simply said things like, ‘Weather lovely,’ or, ‘All’s well’.  There was no detail.”


Farthing’s mouth firmed into a stiff line, deciding it was best to keep his opinion of this family’s cavalier approach to care and affection to himself.  “That’s it?  So I’ve nothing to go on?”


“No,” Angelique folded her hands over her baby-bump.  “I thought they were doing something educational and worthwhile.  Men like an accomplished wife, so a music academy seemed just the thing for two single, young ladies.”


“Just the thing to stop you looking too closely, you mean,” murmured Farthing.


“Now, wait a minute...,” James protested.


“No, he’s right.”  Angelique held up a hand, her heaving bosom betraying her growing anger.  “I’ve been manipulated, and this is exactly the kind of dirty trick Carlotta would play.  She’s been nothing but rude to every man I’ve introduced her to.  She’s seems determined to remain a spinster and stay under my feet.  She’s clearly set her cap at someone unsuitable and made off with him.  How can she do this to Charlotte?  She’ll be ruined.”  She turned widening eyes on her husband.  “Even worse, look at the shame they’ll bring on the family.  To have one willful female is bad enough, but two?  James, if I have a daughter she’ll be accused of having bad blood, and at risk of being flighty, by everyone in Denver society.  This is terrible.”


“We don’t know what happened, my dear.” James cut in.  “They might just have been kidnapped.”


Farthing frowned.  “Just been kidnapped?  You do realize the seriousness of this don’t you?”


“Of course,” snapped Angelique.  “The family name must be protected.”


“So must your sisters, Mrs. Matheson.  They could be in great danger.”


“Could be, yes...,” Angelique started to pace again.  “What is the usual procedure in circumstances like these?”


“We try to establish their whereabouts.  All we have at the moment is that the telegram was sent from the San Francisco line but that doesn’t mean much.  They could have tapped the wire anywhere along the length.  Lots of folks know how to do it, railway workers, telegraph engineers, criminals.  The fact they demand a reply at a specific time and date tells me that’s what they’re probably doing. They’ll  know when to listen out for it.”


“So we can’t check the office it was sent from?” James leaned back in his chair.

         
“Nope, it probably wasn’t even an office at all.  It does point to the San Francisco area somewhere, but we can’t observe the whole line.”  Farthing eyed the woman cautiously, concerned about her reaction.  “May I suggest we do as the kidnappers say, and we search the ladies’ rooms to see if they have left any correspondence or clues to their whereabouts?”


“Search?”  Angelique’s skirts swished as she moved.  “Common men looking through our personal things?  It’s out of the question.  I will look.  Now what do we do?  Respond to the telegram?”


“Yes, ma’am.  We are to go back to them with the word ‘yes’ at twelve noon to get instructions on how to pay.”


Angelique’s eyes stared off into the corner, lost in thought.  “And if we respond ‘no’?”


The security man’s jaw dropped.  “We can’t.  We don’t know who we’re dealing with.  You could be putting your sisters in great danger.  If we agree to keep the lines of communication open it buys us time to find out more.”


“I understand that, Mr. Farthing, but we simply don’t have the money.”


“But, my precious one...”


She rounded on her husband with electric blue eyes.  “We don’t have the money, James.”  She watched him bite into his lip, but fall silent.  She turned back to Farthing.  “My husband cannot take the money from the bank; that would be embezzlement.  We simply don’t have enough in our personal funds to meet such a demand.   It’s best they know that, so we can come to a more reasonable accommodation.”


Farthing glared at his boss for guidance, but only found Matheson staring at his own boss for the same. 


“Do we have to reply today?” she asked.


“Noon tomorrow.”


“Fine.  I shall search my sisters’ rooms and we will meet back here tomorrow morning at ten-thirty.  You shall continue with your enquiries to see what you can find out.  We shall see if that changes anything before we tell them we cannot pay.”  She swept over to the door and pulled it open.  “Until tomorrow. Mr. Farthing.”


He nodded curtly and strode out of the room.  Angelique closed the door behind him and turned back to her husband.  “I know...I know.  I seem harsh.”


“They could be killed, Angel.  We must do what we can for them.”


She shrugged.  “With what?  We don’t have that kind of money.”


“But the trust fund does.”


She nodded, “Yes, but there are situations in which they forfeit receipt of the fund.  Have you forgotten that?  If any of us behave in a way which is immoral or brings the family name into disrepute we can be cast out from the family and give up any claims of support from the family or the fund.  I think disappearing off to who knows where, with who knows who fits that pretty well, wouldn’t you say?”


“But...”


“But nothing, James.  They have forfeited their trust fund, and therefore any ransom must come from our personal finances.”  A cat-like smile spread over her face as she patted her tummy, “and we cannot afford it.  We have the little one to think of, financially and socially.  Even if they have fallen into the hands of criminals, they put themselves in that situation by lying to us.  Not only that, but they will be completely unmarriageable now.  Who will want them after this?  They’re soiled goods.”  She walked over to a small sofa and lowered her pregnant frame carefully.  “Besides, the fewer people drawing on the trust, the larger the share for the rest of us.  Doesn’t it say equal shares for each of the daughters?”


“Ah,” James grinned.  “I knew you’d have thought this out better than me.  You are right of course.  They did put themselves in this situation and they will be completely unmarriageable.  Quite scandalous, indeed.”


oooOOOooo

_________________
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb
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Silverkelpie

Silverkelpie

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

The Devil's Due - Chapter 16 Empty
PostSubject: Re: The Devil's Due - Chapter 16   The Devil's Due - Chapter 16 EmptyTue Feb 09, 2016 1:52 pm

Bill sat in the torn, stuffed armchair and stared off into space.  After hearing Gabe’s story, he’d sent his son to fetch the two ‘sisters’. 


Rita and Beulah had confirmed Gabe’s side of things and added some details of their own.  The two girls knew the outlaws in question and had assured him they were not your typical crooks, more conmen than vicious criminals, although Curry had garnered a reputation as a shootist.  From what he’d heard, It didn’t sound as though Scarlet was in any real danger.   Heyes was a smart man and he was working hard to avoid harming anyone.  He had to wonder why.  Most outlaws were crude, brutal men.  Obviously, Heyes wasn’t most outlaws, just like Kid Curry wasn’t an ordinary gunman.  He’d have to proceed with caution on both fronts.  While he was a good hand with a gun, he knew he wasn’t up to Curry’s standards.  His gaze shifted back to the three people watching him ruminate.


“What’re we gonna do, Pappy?”  Gabe sat between the two young women.  Rita was filing her nails, humming to herself, but Beulah watched him like a rabbit watches a rattler. 


“You’re gonna do exactly what Heyes told you to do.”


“I am?  I mean, we are?”  A confused frown crossed the young man’s face.  “Why?”


“’Cause the man has your ma and, until that changes, he holds the winnin’ hand.”  Bill stood up.  “Pack your things and get goin’.  See that you keep sendin’ those telegrams.  I’ll handle Heyes and Curry.”


“How?”


“Leave the thinkin’ to me, boy.  You just keep up your end of the bargain.” 


“Yessir, but how’re you gonna find Devil’s Hole?  It’s real hidden and they kept me blindfolded the whole time I was comin’ and goin’.”


“I don’t need to find it.  I know where it is same as every lawman and bounty hunter in Wyomin’ lookin’ to make a quick buck.  Better’n than that, I can get in.”  Bill paused as he neared the door and turned back.  “You girls see that you don’t cross things up or you’ll be answerin’ to me.  I ain’t some wet-behind-the-ears wanna-be outlaw; you don’t want to piss me off, you hear?”


Beulah nodded, not trusting herself to speak.  She’d seen men like this one before and had the scars to prove it.  It baffled her how a man like that could have spawned a sweet man like Gabe.  As the door swung close, Rita turned to their guide.  “What d’you think he’s going to do, Gabe?”  She liked Heyes and Curry and was loathed to see them harmed.


“I don’t rightly know, Miss.  Pappy’s kinda hard for me to read.  I didn’t get much time with him growin’ up.”


“How come?” asked Beulah.


“I don’t know the whole story.  Just bits and pieces I picked up over the years.  Somewhere along the line, Pappy got in trouble and he’s been on the run ever since.”


“If he was on the run, how’d he meet your mother?”


“Oh, they was childhood sweethearts.  Ma’s known Pappy her whole life.  He used to live on the farm next to hers.  She says she’s loved him from the minute she set eyes on him.”


Rita shivered.  “He seems kind of scary to me.”


“Naw.  Pappy’s a good man, just restless ‘cause of what happened to him in the war, that’s what Ma says.  Why, he was a Texas Ranger afore he became a Reb.”  Gabe was smiling at his memories.  “I still remember that big, shiny star he used to wear.  The war changed him, though.  He weren’t the same man when he came home.  I guess that’s when his troubles started.  He left again pretty soon after.”


“Why’d he leave?  Did your ma throw him out?” 


Gabe smiled at Beulah’s question.   “No, ma’am, those two love each other more’n anything or anyone, even me.  No, Pappy joined back up with the Texas Rangers and that’s where things went south for him.  He got into a gunfight with another Ranger.  Killed him dead but Pappy said it was a fair fight, and so did his captain, only the other men in his company didn’t think so.   They came for him in the middle of the night, dragged him from our cabin.  I can still hear Ma screamin’ at ‘em.  They strung him up on our old elm tree out front.  Used my swing’s rope to do it but, lucky for Pappy, it had some stretch to it.  He played possum while those men rode off in a big hurry when Ma came out the door with her scattergun and started sprayin’ buckshot about.  Soon as they was gone, Ma cut him down. He set to chokin’ and coughin’ something terrible; his face all purple-like, but he was fine for the most part.  Next mornin’ I woke up and he was gone.  Ma said I was the man of the house from then on, although I know who’s boss.”


Rita took his hand and squeezed it gently.  “I’m sorry, Gabe.  That must’ve been horrible for you to see.”


“Yes’m.”


“Where’d he go?” asked Beulah.


“Here and there; Ma never said but I think she knew.  She’d get letters with money in ‘em from time to time, but she was real careful to burn the envelopes ‘fore I saw ‘em; said it was for my own good.  Guess she didn’t want me runnin’ off after him.”


“And you never saw him again until now?  Why didn’t he send for you?”


“Oh, I saw him.  He’d come to visit every once in a while, but he never stayed long.  He’d always say he had to stay one step ahead of the long arm of the law.”


“He was an outlaw?”  Rita leaned forward, her nails forgotten, and rested her head on her hands.


“He was whatever he needed to be in order to keep a roof over our heads,” chuckled Gabe.  “Those two were hell-raisers from the get-go according to Ma.  It weren’t till Pappy joined the Rangers, and I was on the way, that they tried respectability.  Ma has stuck with it as best she could, said I deserved a good upbringing, but it was Pappy who saw we didn’t starve.  Nothin’ else would’ve kept those two apart.”


oooOOOooo


Angelique reclined on the chaise longue, a confection of lace and watered silk down to the elegant beaded slippers peeping out from a cloud of petticoats.  She sat up and punched at the pillows, scrunching them into support for her back.  “Ah, Farthing.  Have you anything to report?”


“I asked some detectives to look into the Music School, Mrs. Matheson.  There’s nothing run by a Miss Porter for miles around other than a fish barrow, a flop house, and a…well,” Farthing tugged at his collar trying to find a delicate way to put his next few words, “a place of ill-repute.”


“Ill-repute?”


He shuffled.  “Will your husband be joining us, Mrs. Matheson?”


She shook her head.  “He’s at work.  I deal with family issues to free him from worries.” 


“Oh, well.  Needless to say, they checked all the establishments and nobody had ever heard of your sisters.  I understand that four men checked the last place very thoroughly.  It took them all night.  There being criminals in there we wanted to be sure the misses weren’t being held.”


“It must have been very large.”


Farthing shrugged.  “Let’s just say that they covered every possible nook and cranny.  I don’t believe your sisters told you the truth about their destination.”


“I agree, Mr. Farthing.  What do we do about it?”


“Did you find anything in their rooms, ma’am?”


“Books; lots and lots of books about the West.  Oh, and piles of newspapers which seemed to come from all over the place.  I couldn’t make any sense out of it at all.  The newspapers came from at least three states, so it only makes matters worse.  They could be anywhere.”


“Were they all western states?”


She raised a brow.  “Yes, why?”


“It could be something in the small ads, or it could show a potential route.  May I take them for examination?”


She waved an airy hand.  “Ask the servants.  I had them bundled up and disposed of, messy rubbish.  I can’t believe Carlotta kept stuff like that.”


Farthing steeled himself against rolling his eyes and replied through clenched teeth.  “Can I ask you to stop throwing away the evidence?  First it was the telegrams and now the newspapers.  Why don’t you just give it to me to get rid of for you?”


“Whatever you want.  Now, to the telegram.  I still want you to say that we cannot pay.  Every indication is that my sisters are simply trying to extract a vast lump sum in order to do as they please.  I simply cannot allow that to happen.  My husband is a trustee of the trust fund and he must abide by the terms.  We need to think about moral decay.”


Farthing’s face fell.  “I was hoping to convince you to change your mind on that.  There are worse things than a bad reputation.”


“Perhaps in your world, Mr. Farthing, but reputation is everything in mine.  Why, we could never do business or get married without it.”


“If you’re wrong we could be putting them in grave danger.” 


“If I’m wrong; but that’s a big if.  I am very rarely wrong when it comes to my sisters.” 


Farthing eyed the woman; blonde and big-eyed, she’d be willowy if it weren’t for the expanding expectancy around her belly.  There was a core of fire in the indifference, shifting like a glimmering aurora behind an iceberg.  No, this coldness wasn’t nonchalance.  It was an affectation to cover her real, deep emotions.  Did he want to put himself and his job in the way of that to protect women he’d never even met?  The answer came easily.  “As you say, ma’am.  The message will be sent.”


oooOOOooo


Heyes dismounted, his foul mood betrayed in the glare he unconsciously shot at Scarlet who stepped from the porch of the leader’s cabin.  She was clearly on a mission and he didn’t have the time or the patience.  He grabbed his saddlebags and rifle before handing his animal over to Lobo.  “I’m busy,” he growled.


Her grey eyes lit up with indignation.  “Lucky you.  You said you’d talk to me yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that.  I need to talk to you now.”


“What about, Scarlet?  Socks, brighter lamps, soap?  Some other domestic issue?  I told you Wheat would deal with that stuff.”


She propped her hands on her ample hips.  “How much longer?  Them poor girls are goin’ crazy in there with no more’n an hour of daylight a day and nuthin’ to do.  More to the point, I got a business to run.  The world don’t revolve around you.”


“Soon, Scarlet, soon.  You don’t get something this complicated sorted in a day.”


“A day?  It’s been nearly three weeks.  I can’t keep them contained much longer.”  She cast a hand over at the cabin.  “They mended every stitch of clothin’ in the place, taken over all the cookin, and even made curtains for every building in the place; including the tool shed.  That now looks better’n the bunkhouse did before I cleaned it up.”  She prodded his shoulder with a long forefinger. “There ain’t a single thing left for them to do.  Even in prison they keep them busy.  You ain’t bein’ fair.”


He gave her an uncompromising stare.  “Prison?  You know as well as I do that the male guards keep the female prisoners busy, and a pretty pair like them would sure be popular.  Every week there are poor souls released who got in the family way in there.  They’re better off here than any jail in the country.”  He rubbed his weary face, smearing dust from yet another visit to Useless Loop.  “I don’t have time to fix the world for folks who don’t even realize it’s broken.  They got themselves in this fix.”


Scarlet paused.  A lifetime of experience had taught her the skill to handling men was in knowing when to stop pushing.  “You look tired.  You’ve been real busy, I’ve seen that.”


“I am,” he sighed.  “Leave it with me.  I’ll try to come up with something to keep them amused.”


“Look, I’ve just helped them wash their hair to keep them occupied.  Why don’t we give them some time outside for the day to dry it in the sun?  You could sit out and guard them while I get your dinner ready.  You could relax a little and they get out?  You don’t let me take them out without you or the Kid watchin’ ‘em, so it’d kill two birds with one stone.”


“I’ve got stuff to do,” he flipped open the saddlebag and pulled out a ledger.  

     
“If you can do it sittin’ at a desk you can do it down by the river.  The evenin’ sun on your back when you’re relaxin’ ain’t the same as it beatin’ down on the trail.  Take some time and them thoughts’ll come easier.  She watched some of the tension drop from his shoulders.  “Go on.  You know you want to.  It won’t be for long, the sun’s starting to go down anyways.”


He paused, sorely tempted.  “Yeah.  Why not?  Let me dump these bags and I’ll see you down there.”


oooOOOooo


Heyes leaned back against a tree and watched the older woman lead the hooded sisters down to the riverside.  The sheer climb of the crags on the far bank blocked the view into a corner just as well as the bend in the river.  The trees prevented the prisoners from scanning the rest of the Hole to memorize the layout.  It was the only place they could get some sunlight and fresh air without endangering the hideout or the gang.  Scarlet whipped off the hoods and the women picked their way down to the water where they sat chatting and brushing out their long blonde hair like mermaids.  Heyes paused to appreciate the way the locks glinted in the sunset before pushing himself back to his notepad.  He pulled the pencil out of the spine and tapped it on the page pensively. 


He gradually lost himself in a mist of figures, train times, estimated journey times, quantities of explosives, supplies, equipment, and general logistics when he heard a twig crack nearby.  His head jerked up, immediately alert.  It was Carlotta, drenched in the golden sunbeams penetrating the canopy of leaves.  She regarded him with serious blue eyes as the radiant shimmering light highlighted the downy dandelion snow floating in the luster around the hair falling about her shoulders.  


He nodded towards the fallen tree which had been designated as a boundary.  “No further, Miss Burdon.  That’s far enough.”


She tutted and the magic of the image was broken.  “I know, I know.   Stay in the trees.  I’ve been told a hundred times.” 


He returned to his work, but noted through peripheral vision that she didn’t move.  “Did you want something?”


“How much longer?”


He closed his book with a snap and dragged irascible brown eyes to meet her challenge.  “Until I can be sure you’re no longer a risk.  When that happens you’ll be the first to know.”


Her hands form hard little fists.   “You don’t have a plan, do you?  That’s why you’ve avoided us for weeks now.  You just use that cabin as somewhere to sleep.”


“It’s way more than that,” he smiled, archly, “it’s your jail, and I’m in no hurry to spend time in one.”


“Then you picked the wrong career.  You’ll end up doing life for this,” she snapped.  “They’ll be looking for us.”


“Ya think?  And how do you suppose they’re going to find you?”  He folded his arms. “You covered your tracks pretty well.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s the only thing you’ve done well in this whole sorry affair.”


She changed tack, her voice softening .  “I know you said you wouldn’t ransom us, but please.   I can’t take any more of this, I hate sitting in the gloom.  How much do you want to just let us get on with our lives?”


His brow creased.  “And how are you going to pay?  By selling pictures of us?  If you had more than a few hundred dollars on you we’d have found it by now.  Besides, we both know this isn’t about money.  There’s no way around that fact.”


“You can’t want us around your neck like a millstone,” her eyes nakedly pleading.  “There must be something.”


He shook his head.  “There’s nothing you can give us, and your family says they won’t.  You’re as stuck with this as I am unless you’ve got a plan.”


“My family?” she gasped.


“Sure, they told us a week ago they wouldn’t pay to get you out.”


Her jaw dropped open in disbelief.  “But you said Kid Curry wasn’t going to let you ask for a ransom.”


His cheeks dimpled into a joyless smile.  “No, I told you he didn’t want me to ask for one.  The Kid isn’t in charge, Miss Durbin.  I run this gang.  I had thought if your family no longer had enough money for a reward and if it cost them to get you back safe and sound, they might keep you under control.  That’s not an option either, but I guess they know you better than I do.”


“But…but,” she stammered.  “Not an option?  What do you mean?”


“I mean they won’t pay a penny.  I tried to get them to negotiate but they say there’s no money and that they can’t help.  They won’t even reply anymore.”


She shook her head rapidly, her long, damp hair swinging around her hips.  “But there is money.  There’s the trust fund.”  She watched him shrug indifferently.  “Really there is.”


“If they have anything, they’re not prepared to spend it on you.  Now if you don’t mind…,” he re-opened his ledger.  


“Mind?  Of course I mind.  What did you tell them?  What do they think is happening to us?”


“They were told you’ve been kidnapped by criminals.  Other than that, not much.”


She stepped forward.  “Really?  Look me in the eye and tell me the truth.  You didn’t even tell them who’s holding us?”


“They’ve refused to pay three times, Miss Durbin; and no, we didn’t say it was us.  Looking me in the eye isn’t going to help; when it comes to lying, I’m quite magnificent at it, even if I do say so myself.”  He stared deeply into her clear blue eyes.  “I don’t know what else you want me to tell you.”


Her large eyes started to glitter with tears, but she blinked them back rapidly and wobbled backwards.  “Oh!”


Heyes frowned.  “It’s not what you expected?”


“I knew Angelique never cared much for me, but I never dreamed for a moment she’d throw me to the wolves like this.  She didn’t even offer to help Charlotte?”   


“I’ve no idea who was in charge of the decisions, but they made no offers at all.  Not one.”  His mouth firmed under uncompromising dark eyes.  “Are we done here?  I’m busy.”


She nodded blankly and dropped her head.  “Yes.  Completely done.”


He watched her wander aimlessly back over to her sister, her shoulders drooped in defeat, and decided that Scarlet was right; life in the Hole was clearly weighing heavily on that one.  Charlotte appeared to be doing better, but they definitely needed something to keep them busy.


Kyle scuttled up, cutting through his ruminations.  “Heyes, Wheat sent me to get you.  He saw smoke risin’ from the top of the rocks at the back of the Hole.  Him and the Kid are already headed up there.  Someone’s up there watchin’ us.”        


Someone at the Hole?  Who could that be?  He stood.  “Scarlet?  Get the women back indoors.  We’ve got company.”


oooOOOooo


The crackling fire lent the night a warm glow despite the chilly temperatures.  The light flickered wildly across Bill’s face highlighting the etched lines around his mouth and his severe expression.  He kept his eyes glued on the flames despite his ears picking up the sound of company.  As he’d hoped, a campfire this close to the Hole was bound to raise curiosity.  There was a passel of outlaws surrounding him, making no effort to hide their presence.  Checking him out and no doubt making sure he was alone.  He smiled tightly to himself before loudly speaking, “Come on in, boys.  Coffee’s hot and so’s the fire.”  He stood slowly, opened his coat and spread his arms so his weaponless state was plain to see.  “I ain’t armed.”


“Colin Flanagan, is that you?”


“It’s me, Wheat, in the flesh and lookin’ to powwow with the boss.”


Wheat stepped out into the light, his chest puffed out.  “You can talk to me.  What’re you wantin’?”


Bill shook his head.  “Naw, Wheat, you ain’t boss, Heyes is.  He around?”


“I’m here,” answered a baritone.  The dark-haired leader of the Devil’s Hole gang materialized to Wheat’s left and a curly blond appeared on his right with a Colt Peacemaker in his steady hand. 


“Heyes,” said Bill, “and you must be Kid Curry.”


“Who’s askin?” said the blond.


“Name’s Bill Brown.  Wheat here knows me as Colin, but that’s just an alias I used when I rode with Big Jim.”


“Jim mentioned you once or twice.  Said you were a good man before you up and disappeared on him,” said Heyes.  His deep brown eyes assessed Bill openly and he made no move to welcome the newcomer.  “What’re you doing here?  Big Jim’s in jail.”


“I heard.”


“So why’re you here?”


Curry’s voice had glacial overtones Bill couldn’t easily dismiss.  “Mind if I put my arms down, Kid?  They’re gettin’ mighty heavy.”


“Kyle, frisk ‘im.”  A small man stepped out of the brush, holstering a large pistol and crossed the clearing to thoroughly pat down the intruder.


“He’s clean, Kid.”  Kyle retreated to the gloom of the forest.


“All right, you can drop your arms but don’t make any fast moves.  I’d hate to ventilate you by mistake,” warned the gunslinger.


Bill smiled warmly now.  “Thanks.”  He slowly took his seat by the fire and waved the two leaders to join him.  Heyes sat across from him, but the Kid stayed on his feet his gun pointedly aimed at Bill.  “I’m lookin’ for my wife, Mary.”


“Ain’t no Mary Brown here,” snapped Wheat who hovered near his bosses.


“She goes by Scarlet McGinty.”  He noted the flicker of recognition in the big man’s guileless face and he remembered Wheat was a terrible poker player.  “I see that name rings a bell.  I don’t want no trouble, Heyes, I just came to fetch my woman.”


There wasn’t any point to prevaricating, so Heyes simply said, “That’s a problem, Bill.  You see, Scarlet and I have an agreement.  She’s chaperoning a couple of hostages for me in exchange for getting a cut of the ransom.”


“You ransomin’ little girls, Heyes?  I thought the Devil’s Hole gang had higher standards.”


“Can’t see what business that is of yours, Bill.”  The two men were emphasizing each other’s names like they were a warning of trouble to come.


“Scarlet’s my wife, Heyes.  That makes it my business.”


“Soon as the job’s done, she’s free to go.”


“That ain’t good enough.  I ain’t seen her in a coon’s age and I want to be sure she’s all right.”


“You’ll have to take my word for it, Bill.”  Heyes’ expression remained neutral but a world of threat was reflected in his dark eyes.


“Gabe’s my son.”


“Who?”


“The fella you’ve got ridin’ around with those two floozies and sendin’ telegrams to hell and back.”  Bill grinned.  “That’s right, Heyes.  I know what the plan is and, better’n that, I know folks in high places who’d listen if’n I spoke up about it.”


“That right?  You’re awful cocky for a man whose woman I’m holding.”


The smile disappeared.  “You harm her, Heyes, and I’ll hunt you down.” 


“Dead men can’t hunt,” growled the Kid.


“You’d cut down an innocent man for tryin’ to see his wife?  Strange, I heard Kid Curry wasn’t no killer.”


“Colin Flanagan’s a wanted man.  Worth thirty-five hundred last I heard.  You’d be leavin’ your wife a wealthy woman and we only have your word she wouldn’t prefer it that way,” observed Curry.


Bill leaned back and roared with laughter.  “She just might.  Yessir, she might, but why don’t we let her decide?  ‘Sides, didn’t you hear?  Colin Flanagan died down El Paso way.  Seems he pissed someone off real bad but, Bill Brown’s not wanted by the law at all.  Killin’ him might take a bit more explainin’ on your part.”


Heyes had sat quietly watching the back and forth between this interloper and his partner.  It was plain to see Brown was fully aware of the Kid’s reputation, but not intimidated at all by facing down the barrel of Kid Curry’s gun.  Despite his reservations, he found himself liking this man and Santana had trusted him enough to make him first outlaw.  With the job he was planning, he could use another competent hand.  Hell, he could use a competent hand.  He wasn’t so sure he had one.  His decision made, he reached out and poured a cup of coffee into the battered tin mug resting on the fire ring.  Taking a scalding sip, he looked up at Bill and smiled.  “Bill, I’ve got a proposition for you.”


“I thought you might.”  Bill coldly smiled back.


“You help me with my next job and you’ll get a cut same as the rest of the gang.  Then you’re free to go.”


“What about Scarlet?”


“I’ve already made a deal with her.  She’ll be free to go once the ransoming’s done.”


“You’ll let her go just like that?”


“I gave her my word and it’s good.”  Heyes took another sip before continuing.  “’Sides, I’ll have you to make sure she holds up her end of the bargain.”


Bill chuckled.  “You’re a sneaky cuss, ain’t you, Heyes?  You’ll go far in this business.”


“So, do we have an agreement?”


“We do.  Only, if’n you don’t mind, I’ll be answering to Colin.  Bill’s an honest man and I’d like to keep it that way.”


“Don’t matter to me what you call yourself as long as you do what you’re told.”  Heyes held out his hand and the two men shook over the dying coals of the fire.  “Welcome to the Hole, Colin.”


oooOOOooo


Thick pine branches filtered the moonlight so that silvery, dusty beams radiated across the duff of needles softening Bill’s footsteps as he neared the stream.  He heard her soft, musical humming before he saw her leaning over the water, her back to him, rinsing her sudsy hair.  The sight of her caused his heart to skip a beat, and suddenly shy, he stopped to compose himself.  She wore a simple cotton shift that failed to hide her ample curves; curves he could still feel beneath the roughness of his hands.  A flush of desire kindled in his soul.  She was here; he was home.

 
He stepped from the gloom into the full light of the moon casting a long silhouette that flickered across the water beneath her bent form.  Straightening immediately, she turned and stared at him, speechless, but only for a second.  With a shrill cry of delight, she sloshed from the stream, slipped once on the muddy bank, nearly going to her knees, and flung herself into his arms weeping tears of joy. 


He buried his face in her wet hair inhaling the scent of her while his strong arms pulled her into his chest.  “Mary,” he murmured, “Oh hell, I’ve missed you, girl.”  She snuggled her face against his neck and sobbed, “Bill, Bill, is it really you?”


“It’s me, Darlin’.”  Gently, he gripped her shoulders and pushed her away an arm’s length.  “You are a sight for my old eyes, sweetheart.”   


Scarlet wiped her eyes and gave him a tremulous smile.  Past the shock of seeing him appear as though a ghost materializing she was filled with questions for this man who meant the world to her.  The only man she’d ever loved.   “How’d you find me?  What’re you doin’ here?  Gabe!  Is he all right?  Did he send you?”


“He’s fine.”  Bill gently wiped a trickle of water cascading down her cheek from her wet head.  “Give me a second to drink you in, Scarlet, you can’t take my breath away like that without givin’ me a chance to catch hold of it again.  Let me look at you, pretty thing.”  Satisfied she was unharmed he pulled her close again, and kissed her deeply causing her to moan with pleasure.  Laughingly, he let her go.  “Guess it’s best I keep my paws off you ‘till we’re alone.”


“Bill, why are you here?”  One hand pushed a tress behind her ear while she planted the other on his chest continuing to desire reassurance he was real.


“You’re here,” he said simply.  Taking her hand, he tugged her along with him to a nearby downed tree and sat down, pulling her down next to him.  “Now, tell me what you’re up to Mary Anna Louise Georgia Elizabeth Angelina Scarlet.  Have I missed any?”


She chuckled at his recitation of her past names, “Just a few.  Don’t matter none.”  She leaned happily against him and began explaining.



oooOOOooo



Charlotte looked down at her sister on the bed.  She was normally so strong and clever, but since they’d gotten back from the river she’d lain silently on the bed with her knees curled up in a fetal position.  She’d refused to eat her evening meal, talk, or even look her in the eye.  The heaving shoulders turned on her made Charlotte fairly sure she’d been crying, but there hadn’t been any sound at all.   It was both unsettling and frightening.


The younger sister suddenly felt very alone in the gloom of their prison now Carlotta seemed to have receded into herself, but it appeared that Carlotta’s internal world was even darker than the shadows of Hannibal Heyes’ cabin.  Wherever her mind was, the silent, raking sobs told the world it wasn’t a happy place.  Where was Mrs. McGinty?  She would surely be able to shake Carlotta out of this.  She prodded the recumbent body once more.  “Lottie.  Speak to me.  What’s wrong?  Are you sick?”


The older sister simply shook her head and pulled the quilt over head.  It was like she’d given up on life. 


Charlotte stared down at the tray bearing the uneaten dinner and walked over to the door.  She rattled the handle.  It was locked.  “Hellooo?  Can anyone hear me?  I think my sister is ill.”


She pressed her ear to the door, but there wasn’t a sound from the other side.  Were they completely alone?  She jumped at the sudden bang which cut through her already frayed nerves.  Someone had obviously slammed a door against the wall with some force and the clattering footsteps announced at least one booted arrival.


“So?  What is it?  You’ve been simmering since we came down from the rocks,” barked Heyes’ voice.  “Out with it.”


“Ransom, Heyes.  You told me you weren’t interested in ransomin’ those women, and I told you I wanted no part of it if you were,” replied Kid Curry.


“Yeah, I heard you.  What made you think you get to boss me around?  I’ll decide what’s best for this gang.  Hell, if we ran this place on committee, it’d be chaos.”


“So you don’t care what I think?”


“Of course I care, Kid.  I just get to override it.  This is a gang of criminals.  If I don’t rule with a firm hand they’ll take me down faster’n tumbleweed in a tornado.” 

The Kid’s voice dropped to a low growl.  “We were holdin’ them until we saw a way forward and found out more.  That’s what I agreed to, not this.  You’re askin’ for money for them!”   


“Sure, but we found out it’s not as simple as it looks.  You’re not a knight on a white charger; you’re a gunman backing up another outlaw.  You’re not here to look after the Durbins.  Have you any idea what a gang like this could do to those girls without strong leadership?  Hell, they’d never see the light of day again.  I’ve got to give the men something or they’ll storm in here and take over.  It’s a balancing act.”


“We found out?  We!?  How come you never shared any news with me?  I told you when I came back that we were equals, or I walk.”


“Come on, Kid.  You know what this business is like.  It changes every minute.  I don’t have time to run everything past you.  You gotta trust me.”


Charlotte heard a chair being scraped back like someone jumping to their feet.


“Trust you?  This is you all over, ain’t it?  You’re so smart you know better’n everyone else.  Have you any idea what the law’ll do to us when they catch us?  Stealin’ is one thing, but kidnappin’s another step down the road.  It’s low and dirty, and we’re better’n that.”  There was a pause.  “At least, I’m better’n that.”


“So high and mighty, huh?  I bet you won’t be at the back of the line when it comes to taking a share of the money.  Besides, their family’s refused to pay.  Happy now?”


“No, I ain’t happy.  You asked them for it.  In any case, how does ransoming them help when they got pictures of us plastered all over the country?  You ain’t thinkin’ straight.”


“It helps us because they won’t want to lose both the ransom and the reward money,” snarled Heyes.  “How many families have got forty thousand dollars to throw away on a vendetta?”


“Forty thousand?  Our reward plus the ransom…that means you asked twenty thousand dollars for them?”


“Well, sure I did.  You don’t think they’re worth less than us do you?”  Charlotte could almost hear Heyes smirk.  “Don’t be arrogant.”


“Arrogant?  Me!  No wonder they never paid.  Twenty thousand’s a ridiculous amount of money.  I could cheerfully punch some humility into you right now.”


There was the sound of another chair being hurriedly scraped back as Heyes stood.  “You’re welcome to try.  Go on, take your best shot.”


“Yeah?  Your lucky coin ain’t gonna help you.”


“Lucky?  It’s got two heads.  I don’t rely on superstitions; I’m not an idiot, and I don’t go into fights I don’t think I can win.”  Heyes’ voice rose.  “Come on.  You and me; right here, right now.  This is something we should have settled from the start. 


“You’re as dumb as buffalo berries if you think I’m gonna stick around ‘n be treated like this.  You told me yourself that you needed a good gun around here.  Well, good luck managin’ without me.”          


“I managed before you and I’ll manage after you, but don’t forget those girls will still be able to draw your likeness.   If you don’t make something out of it you’re an idiot.  You’re in this up to your neck whether you like it or not.”


“I know that, Heyes, and there ain’t no way around it short of killin’ them.  I told you to let them go and be done with it, but no; you had to come up with some convoluted plan and make them hate us all the more in the process.  You’re a stone-cold fool and I’m done with you.”


“If you walk away you forfeit your share of the next job as well as the ransom.”


“You just told me the family ain’t gonna pay.”


“Well, no.  Maybe the family won’t but just give me a bit more time and I’ll come up with something.”


There was a loud bang quickly, followed by a clatter, as though a body was thrown against a wall and then knocked over some piece of furniture.  The Kid’s voice rang with anger.  “I’m leavin’, Heyes.  You’re lower than a snake’s belly and I ain’t stickin’ around to get dragged down there with you.  Good luck.  You’re gonna need it on your own.”


There was the sound of Heyes’ voice yelling into the night.  “Yeah, well you’re walkin’ away and leavin’ them with me.   What does that make you?”


The door slammed with a resounding bang which echoed into the night.


Charlotte turned at the sound of movement behind her.  Carlotta was sitting up, sobbing quietly into the quilt.  “The family has refused to help us, Lottie.  Is that what upset you?  Did you find that out earlier?”


Carlotta nodded.  “I didn’t know what to tell you.  I’m so sorry.  I got you into this.  What are we going to do?” 


Charlotte’s worried blue eyes glinted in the lamplight.  “I don’t know, Lottie.  I just don’t know.”

_________________
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb
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The Devil's Due - Chapter 16
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