Kid Curry picked up the book from the desk of Hannibal Heyes and looked at the title in surprise. He pursed his lips and opened it at the front to read the synopsis. Having read he grunted, pulled a face and dropped it back on the desk.
“Ah! Ya found it,” said Hannibal Heyes, holding the door open.
Kid Curry gave him the look and grunted. The fingertips of his left hand tucked into the waistcoat pocket of his expensive, bespoke tailored suit.
“Who is this Nial H Benshaye fella?”
A smug grin appeared on the face of Hannibal Heyes as he crossed the room to stand on the other side of the desk. He too was dressed in a suit, although not as expensive looking as the Kid’s suit. He stood hands on hips and chuckled.
“Can’t ya guess?”
The Kid picked up the book again and sniffed. He read, “The Hypocrisy of Victorian Morals”. He grunted.
“Sounds like one of those European phi-los-o-fers to me,” he muttered. “Writing a load of mumbo jumbo nobody normal, understands.”
Heyes chuckled again and teased the book from the Kid’s hands. “Nial H Benshaye is a nom de plume!”
“What’s one of them?”
“Kinda like an alias. Something we know something ‘bout.”
The Kid sniffed. “Not surprised this Nial H Benshaye wants to keep his identify a secret if he goes ‘round writtin’ stuff like this.”
“Now Kid, ya haven’t read it. Ya can’t make a judgement call like that when ya don’t know what this is about.”
Heyes waved the book at him.
“I reckon I can. Ya read it?”
Heyes smiled knowingly. “Sorta. Come over an’ I’ll tell ya all about it.”
Heyes turned and made his way over to the two comfortable looking red leather wingback armchairs in front of the fireplace. He looked back when the Kid didn’t follow him.
“C’mon. It ain’t what ya think.” Heyes reached down and took the stopper off a lead crystal decanter. “I’ll pour us a couple of drinks an’ we’ll get settled for the evening. We get to spend some time alone, catching up, jus’ the two of us. How often do we get the chance to do that these days?”
Suspiciously, the Kid walked round the side of the desk and made his way over. “Not often that’s for sure. What with you here in Porterville and me in Boston. So why’d ya want to spend it telling me about that dang book?”
“’Cos you’re in it!” Heyes settled himself in a chair, crossing one leg over the other and raising a glass to his lips. He smiled knowingly again as he looked round.
“I’m in it?” The Kid came over.
“Yep.” Heyes watched the Kid head for the other chair.
“What d’ya mean I’m in it?” the Kid demanded, irritably.
“Are ya sitting comfortably?”
“Ye … ah,” the Kid said, very suspicious and reached for his whiskey.
“Good. Then I’ll begin.” (Sorry couldn’t resist!)
Heyes sniffed, narrowed his eyes and looked at the ceiling.
“The story begins ‘bout thirty years ago. Kid Curry rides into town …”
“Do I have a chiselled jaw?”
Heyes hesitated, wondering what he meant for a moment. The Kid was a picture of innocent as he stroked said jaw, now relaxed into middle age, and Heyes caught on.
“No,” he said, firmly and turned back to the book.
“Eyes the colour of blue ice?” Eyes now softened by laughter creases.
“Steely blue?” Eyes now widened in amusement.
“No!” Heyes was louder with each no. He cleared his throat and began again. “Kid Curry rode into town to …”
“Do I have blond curly hair the colour of summer corn?” Hair still with a hint of a curl but now with varying shades of grey.
Heyes leant his head back and closed his eyes in despair.
“This ain’t a dime novel, Kid. It’s a serious book,” Heyes said, wearily.
The Kid received the look and he chuckled. Then he was serious. He motioned for Heyes to start over.
Through gritted teeth, Heyes continued. “Kid Curry rode into town to meet up with his partner. They had separated to take on different jobs and had agreed to meet up here in the town of Moncrieff.”
“So he let that other fella go off on his own?”
“Yes. That OTHER fella can take care of himself,” Heyes said, firmly.
A grunt of disbelief from the Kid and the look received again.
“The Kid’s first stop was the saloon. Three days of eating trail dust had stirred up a powerful thirst. With a bit of luck he might find his partner in the saloon. Before he could stop …”
“See. I told ya. That other fella’s in trouble.” The Kid shook his head in resigned dismay.
“He ain’t in trouble! He’s jus’ not THERE!” Heyes grunted. “Yet!” He cleared his throat again. “An’ this ain’t a story about HIM, it’s about YOU!”
The Kid grinned in pleasure. “Oh well in that case carry on. Perhaps I might like this after all.”
The Kid settled back and laced his fingers over his stomach.
“Before he could stop, a young woman ran into the street in front of him, causing his horse to shy away. As he brought his horse under control, she grabbed the reins.
“Please sir you have to help me!” she begged. “Please say you will.”
Heyes glanced over at the Kid and smiled mischievously. “Our hero, Kid Curry, immediately leaped to the fair damsel’s assistance …”
“It don’t really say that? Do it?” the Kid was incredulous.
“Naw! I made it up.” Heyes said, followed by his rich deep chortle.
The Kid rolled his eyes. “Then what does it really say?”
Still smirking Heyes turned back to the book. “It says: the Kid could see by the look on her face just how terrified and desperate the woman was.”
“Ma’am?” he frowned, bringing his horse under control and patting it’s neck reassuringly.
“Please sir! You must help me!”
“Alright ma’am. I’ll help ya if I can,” the Kid said, calmly and dismounted. He lead his horse over to the nearest hitching rail and tied off. “How can I be of assistance ma’am?”
In the study the real life Kid, tutted. “I wouldn’t of said it like that,”
Heyes looked across, his eyes wide.
The Kid twitched his head. “Awh! I might I guess,” he conceded. “Sheesh! This is sure some needy woman.”
With a smile, Heyes turned back to the book. “It’s my sister and cousin. They’re being held against their will. I need to get them away. Please, oh please come with me sir!”
Heyes stopped and looked over at the Kid. “Instead of jus’ readin’ this, I can do the voices as well if ya like?” he said, eagerly.
“Jus’ read it Heyes!” the Kid growled. “Ya obviously gotta reason for all this. Get on with it.”
With a nod, Heyes got on with it.
“She took hold of his arm and tried to pull him away.
“Whoa! A moment ma’am. Who’s holdin’ ‘em? Ain’t ya been to the sheriff?”
“My father and brother and no I can’t go to the sheriff.” She started to sob. “Most folks in town won’t believe me and daren’t get involved anyway. I just thought as you were a stranger …” She dissolved into uncontrollable weeping.
The Kid hesitated. He held her upper arms and shook her gently. “Hey, ma’am, now don’t take on so.”
Real life Kid shifted uneasily in his chair. “I would NOT of said that! Don’t take on so!” He tutted. “What sorta language is that?”
Heyes grinned. “I think they call it creative license.”
The Kid looked at him doubtfully. “Still not sure I woulda said it,” he mumbled and motioned for Heyes to continue.
“What’s ya name ma’am?”
“Emily. Emily Blondell,” she sobbed.
“Blondell? I heard of a fella by the name of Blondell*. Banker over at Touchrock*.”
She nodded. “Yes Henry Blondell, that’s my uncle. My father’s Ewan, his younger brother.” She looked at the Kid in horror. “Do you know Uncle Henry well?”
“No ma’am. Me an’ my partner were able to clear something up for him a while or two ago.” The Kid hesitated.
“He seemed a right upstandin’ man, a deacon in the Baptist church I believe.”
Emily went off into fresh floods of tears. “But that’s jus’ the problem,” she wailed. “Father’s on the church
committee here. And on the Board of Bank Trustees. And on the Town Council. This town might as well be called Blondell Town. He practically runs it.”
“It ain’t is it?” real life Kid, queried.
“NO! Quit interrupting. Ya need to know a little more before ya er …” Heyes smacked his lips to hide a smirk.
“Swing into action,” he mumbled.
“Then what’s the problem, ma’am?” the Kid, asked, hooking his thumbs in his gun belt.
Emily looked up and down the street, making the Kid do so as well. Not that he knew what he was looking for. There was nobody on the street close to them. She caught him by the arm and led him into an alleyway.
“Father gives the impression of respectability but he’s keeping my sister and me and now my cousin, hostage in the house. He makes us do all the cooking and cleaning and fetching and carrying. While he and my brother just lord it up. They treat us like servants. We’re not allowed out socially. We can’t have friends over. Ha! Not that we’ve got any friends! The only time we go out is to church. And then, we’re not allowed to speak to anyone, apart from exchanging the pleasantries. It can’t go on, Mr … Mr…?”
“Jones. Thaddeus Jones.”
“It can’t go on, Mr Jones. He beats us if we do the slightest thing that isn’t to his satisfaction. Sarah, my sister, is of a delicate constitution and I’m afraid that if he beats her again … well I’m really afraid …” More sobbing.
“That he’ll kill her.”
The Kid stiffened when he heard that. If there was one thing, he couldn’t abide. Men abusing women.
“This ain’t true is it, Heyes?” The Kid was hard, entirely in keeping with the legendary gunman of old.
“No it’s all made-y up-y.” Heyes hesitated. “Although these things went on an’ I’m afraid still do,” he growled. “I’ll carry on an’ them we’ll talk ‘bout it.”
“Ma’am, I really think ya oughta go to the sheriff …”
“But I thought I explained. I can’t. He WON’T do anything. Not against Father. Here, Mr Jones, look at this.” She fumbled with the buttons of her bodice.
The Kid looked horrified. “No really ma’am …”
Before he could protest anymore, she was wriggling her arms out of her bodice and lowering it. She turned her back and showed him.
Even for the hardened gunman the sight he saw chilled him to the bone. Her back above the top of her chemise was a mass of scarred, bloodied and bruised stripes.
“Ma’am I’m sure if …”
“No! Mr Jones, I can’t!” She spun round and looked at him imploringly. “I just need to get my sister and my cousin out of that house as soon as possible. I can’t wait for the sheriff to decide if he’ll do anything. It has to be done NOW!”
“Alright! Alright, ma’am I’ll help ya!” The Kid held up his hands in surrender. When he saw she was beginning to calm he nodded. “That’s better. Now get yaself dressed. Don’t wanna be caught with ya looking like that.”
“How did ya get away?”
As she dressed, she told him the story. The Kid gentlemanly turned his back. “I crawled out of the kitchen window in the middle of the night. Father or Eric check that all the windows and doors are locked before they go to sleep and they keep the keys. I discovered they didn’t know about the window in the pantry. They have no reason to go in there. I managed to crawl out in the middle of the night. It was small and a struggle but I managed. But Sarah and Clara won’t fit through. Clara came to live with us only a few months ago. She’s Uncle Henry’s daughter and her husband was murdered. In the bank, can you believe? Some crazy woman just marched in and shot him! Dead! There was a scandal and Uncle Henry thought it would be best if Clara wasn’t around so he sent her here.”
Still with his back turned, the Kid folded his arms. “Yes ma’am I heard about that,” he murmured. It would do no good right now to say anything further.
“You can turn round now. Thank you.”
When the Kid turned round, she was almost composed. The dabbing at the corners of her eyes the only thing that anything was amiss.
“So ya gotta plan? Apart from bustin’ ‘em out?”
Emily looked suitably embarrassed. “No. I hadn’t thought any further than asking you for help. Can you think of something?” She looked at him eagerly.
The Kid hesitated. “I might but first we’d better get you outta town and somewhere safe. There’s an old cabin ‘bout two miles outta town. Saw it on my way in. Reckon ya’ll be safe there for a while. Can ya ride ma’am?”
She nodded. “But only side-saddle. Never astride. Father said it isn’t healthy for a young woman.”
The Kid took a step back and looked at her. “Well my horse is tired but ya don’t look as though there’s too much to ya so I reckon he can manage us both for a few miles.”
Emily gave him her first real smile. “Thank you, Mr Jones.”
“Thaddeus ma’am. It’s gonna get real cosy on that horse an’ I reckon we should be on first name terms.”
Real life Kid groaned. “Sheesh!”
“What?” Heyes demanded.
“Who writes this stuff? Now THAT is right outta a dime novel if ever I heard it!”
Heyes sniffed. “I think it’s called giving the public what they want.”
“The hero is supposed to be all gentlemanly and er heroic.” The Kid looked doubtfully. “I’m telling ya Kid, that’s what sells novels these days.”
“Yeah but I never noticed ya writing cheesy stuff like that in your books an’ you ain’t done too bad.”
Heyes cleared his throat. “That’s ‘cos I write about real folks,” Heyes said, tongue in cheek. He flicked through a fair few pages. “Anyway I’ll skip ahead over the plottin’ an’ plannin’. All ya need to know is that ya managed quite well without that other fella’s help an’ advice.”
Heyes didn’t see the look. He just felt it.
“It was two days before the Kid had a plan he hoped would work …” Heyes looked across at the Kid indignant face. He just waved irritably at Heyes to continue. “It was two days before the Kid had a plan he hoped would work.”
“Ya don’t havta keep repeating it!”
Heyes grinned. “It was … The plan involved a distraction. The Kid would contrive to fall off his horse outside the Blondell house. Emily would hide in the bushes opposite. The accident, timed to coincide with Eric the brother arriving home and opening the front door. While he is distracted helping the Kid up from the inconveniently placed muddy puddle, Emily scoots in unseen and looks for her sister and cousin. They are prepared for rescue and are ready to go.
Outside, the Kid hams it up, mud in the eye, possible broken ankle etc, etc, etc. As soon as the girls leave the house he keeps Eric occupied for a little longer, and then whistles for his horse. A miraculous recovery!
“Heyes, that’s a terrible plan!”
“It was your plan!” Heyes said, indignantly.
“I wasn’t even there!”
“Yes ya were. It says so right here in this book,” Heyes false smiled at the Kid. “Let me read ya the ending.
You’re a gen-u-ine hero!”
“Emily was waiting around the corner with a wagon. Sarah sat up beside her and Clara in the back. All three grinned broadly, as he came in sight.
“Mr Jones! You were wonderful!” Emily prepared to get down but the Kid stopped her.
“Let’s save the thanks ‘till we get back to the cabin. Probably best to put some distance between us and your family.”
“Yes of course. Didn’t I tell you he was wonderful? He thought this whole plan up all on his own.”
Real life Kid rolled his eyes.
Later when the Kid rode back into town, who should be sitting on the front porch of the hotel but his partner, Hannibal Heyes.
“Well it’s ‘bout time you showed up. I was expecting ya two days ago!”
Heyes tilted his head this way and that, taking in his partner’s mud splattered clothing. He took the cigar out of his mouth to say, “Looks like you er had an interesting two days, while ya were waiting.”
The look Heyes received should have frozen him solid.
“Don’t talk to me Heyes. Not until I’ve had me a hot bath, a decent meal and six or seven whiskies.”
Heyes shrugged and sucked on the cigar. “I’ll join ya for the meal an’ the six or seven whiskies.” He gave the Kid the full double dimple. “I like a good story while I eat.” He paused. “I reckon this’ll be a good ‘un, looking at the state of ya.”
Once the Kid had related the tale, Heyes realised the seriousness of the situation. He dug his hand in his pocket and pulled out some folded bills.
“How much money ya got Kid?”
“I got paid for my job so I reckon I gotta oh a hundred, mebbe a hun’red an’ thirty.”
Heyes growled. “Well keep the thirty. There’s two hundred. I reckon three hundred will be enough to get ‘em to Denver.”
“More’n enough. Why Denver?”
“’Cos I reckon Soapy owes us a favour for springin’ him from jail that time in Nevada. I’m calling it in. He can put ‘em up for a few days, introduce ‘em around, get ‘em settled. They need to get a fresh start and Denver is jus’ far enough away not to have heard about the Blondell family.”
The Kid smiled at Heyes. “You’re all heart Heyes.”
Heyes shut the book with a snap and looked across at the Kid, who sat silently for a moment.
“I know that was only a made up story but how many women do ya think there really are who don’t have a Kid Curry ridin’ …”
“To the rescue?”
The Kid was sombre and Heyes shook his head and sobered with him. “I dunno, Kid. I just know it goes on an’ it shouldn’t be allowed to happen. The authorities need to do something about it an’ the only way they will is if public opinion puts enough pressure on ‘em.”
“Why did ya read me this, Heyes?”
“Well I was keen to know what ya thought. As you’re in it.” Heyes looked down at the fingers and paused. “But that ain’t the only reason.”
The Kid instantly picked up Heyes’ change of tone.
“I went to the Wyoming Mayor’s convention few months ago. All the mayors in Wyoming get together once a year, swop stories. I got talking to a mayor of a town near Yosemite an’ he was telling me ‘bout this family who lived in his community. On the face of it, perfectly respectful family ‘cept … “ Heyes swallowed. “The father an’ brother were treating their womenfolk like the women in my story. Worse even. Nobody knew. Nobody suspected. Or if they did, they chose to turn a blind eye. Until …” He paused again. The Kid could see this was hard for Heyes to say. “One of the women got hold of a knife, cut the father an’ brother’s throats, then killed herself an’ her sisters. Nobody came looking for over a week an’ by then … well it wasn’t a pretty sight that greeted ‘em.”
“Sheesh!” The Kid ran his hand threw his hair. “What a waste.”
Heyes sighed. “At first everyone thought there was a madman on the loose, ‘till the doc examined the bodies.”
Heyes paused and his voice faltered when he next spoke. “One of the girls was pregnant.” He paused again and swallowed hard before he could carry on. “Then when they realised, they started poking ‘round the house an’ found a letter from the girl who had done the killing. She had detailed every little thing the father and brother had ever done. The worse thing is she knew she couldn’t expect any help from the authorities. Said she did what she did ‘cos it was the only way out, the only make it stop, the only way to punish them for what they did.”
Heyes put his head down. The Kid could see that this had deeply affected Heyes and he put a hand on Heyes’ arm.
Heyes swallowed. “Yeah.” He licked his lips, visibly composing himself. “I came home an’ kept looking round at folks an’ wondering. Folks I’ve known for years. Folks I’ve trusted with my kids. I suddenly felt suspicious of everybody. Ya never know what goes on behind closed doors do ya? Then I got to thinking was it going on in Porterville, right under my nose? Should I as Mayor know about it? Try an’ stop it? Investigate? Start poking into folks privacy?” He shook his head and frowned. “I didn’t sleep for days.” He started into the fire. “Mary made me tell her in the end. I didn’t want to tell her all the details of course but she wheedled it out.” He shook his head. “I made the classic mistake us men do with women. Thinking that our womenfolk are delicate little flowers. They’re far stronger than us Kid, really.”
The Kid nodded.
“Mary reminded me that I’m also a writer. So …” Heyes sighed. “I decided the world needed to know ‘bout things like this. The story from the Convention was in confidence so I wrote a fictional account. Lightened it, left out loads of the horrific stuff … jus’ gently eased the reader in.”
The Kid widened his eyes. “You wrote this?”
Heyes looked embarrassed. “Yeah. In case ya ain’t figured it yet, Nial H Benshaye is me.”
He sighed and took up the book again, separating off part of it. “The Kid Curry story only accounts for the first third of the book. I figured if the reader was still with me after then they may read a little more, so I wrote an essay. In a very neutral, matter of fact kinda way, didn’t go into any specific details, jus’ gradually winding the reader up to expect something shockin’ but makin’ ‘em wanna read it an’ not shut the book in horror. Weren’t easy Kid. Then I finished with the tale I’d heard. If the reader makes it to the end then I reckon I’ve opened a few eyes.” He paused and looked at the Kid. “What d’ya reckon?”
The Kid took a while to say anything. He went through numerous facial expressions and several puffs before he said, “So why use a different name?”
Two weeks later at the offices of the Crime Writers Journal, Boston, Heyes interviews for a forthcoming article and we are listening to a recording.
“So turning now to your new book “The Hypocrisy of Victorian Morals”, this is quite a departure from the genre we normally expect from you. You’ve used a nom de plume as well. What is the reasoning behind that?”
“Readers know what to expect when they pick up a Hannibal Heyes book. This ain’t a mystery or a thriller, in my usual style so I thought it deserved a different name.” There is a distinctive Hannibal Heyes laugh. “Except of course Nial H Benshaye IS an anagram of Hannibal Heyes. An’ I’m making no secret that’s it’s really me. I jus’ wanted the reader to expect something a little different that’s all.”
“And could that reason also be that this book may prove to be controversial?”
“Well yes I’ve every reason to hope it will be. Y’know we’re eight years into a brand new century and there are new ways of thinking all around us. It’s about time that some of the things, considered social norms of the recent past are now openly discussed. As a society, we shouldn’t tolerate this behaviour anymore and … I think … we should try an’ expose it wherever we find it. I hope my book can shine a small spotlight and ultimately do some good.”
“So you see this book more as a social commentary?”
“Yeah I suppose so. That really wasn’t my first intention but as I got more an’ more into it, I guess that’s what it evolved into. But there’s still a few mysteries to be solved and certainly in the first part everybody lives happily ever after. That part is jus’ a short story.” There was a chuckle. “But I also hope the rest is a little more thought provoking. Although I’m aware that not everyone will agree with me an’ I’m prepared for criticism.”
“So what was the motivation?”
There was pause and then we hear a sigh.
“I was told a story a while back. ‘Cept it wasn’t a story. It left such a powerful impression on me that I felt compelled to put pen to paper and tell it. But I needed to do it in a way that keep the reader, reading so … hooking ‘em with the Kid Curry story first seemed an appropriate way to do it.”
“Kid Curry is the hero of the first part and it is written very much in the style of a dime novel. You haven’t written about your old partner for years. Why bring him back now?”
“Although that part of the book is a fictional, it was just the kinda thing I could see him involving himself with. I wanted to tell the story an’ I didn’t wanna waste time developing a character from scratch. I knew exactly what the Kid would say an’ do in any given situation so it helped me concentrate on jus’ telling the story. An’ it is jus’ a story. It’s the rest of it that’s true.”
“Well I’ve no doubt “The Hypocrisy of Victorian Morals” will receive an interesting reception when it’s released.”
“I expect so too an’ I’m looking forward to it.”
There was a pause. “I understand that there is a new Hannibal Heyes book in the pipeline?”
We hear a laugh. “Yeah it’s comin’ along. It’s gonna be called “The Blindfolded Man. But I am NOT gonna say anymore. You’re jus’ gonna havta wait an’ see!”
*Blondell and Touchrock is referring to Blodgett, the bank president of Touchstone. In Heyes’ autobiographic novels, (alluded to) he always changes the names slightly to ones that sound similar.
Kid Curry and that other fella; Hannibal Heyes and whatsname