The heady scent of jasmine drifted in the warm night air as Abigail sat in the summer house at the end of the garden. It was a quaint, thatched, wooden affair and perfectly in keeping with the twee boarding house. Its clapboard and carved wooden fascias were carefully picked out in beige and brown until it looked like a giant gingerbread house. Mrs. MacPhee had a whimsical sense of the quaint and there was barely a surface or furniture leg unmolested by the doilies or embroidered leg curtains which she imagined inhabited the fine homes of the east.
It had been at least half an hour since Abigail thought she had heard the faint crack of a twig but she continued to sit, waiting patiently for her cautious tryst to be kept. A slight rustle of to her left finally seemed to indicate her visitor had arrived. “Good evening Mr. Heyes. I take it that you've finally ascertained that I'm on my own."
A shadowy figure in the darkness drifted forward through the gloom until it became close enough to morph into a human form.
Heyes stepped up into the summer house and leaned forward to drop a light kiss on the top of her head before he sat beside her.
"He's around," he replied enigmatically, the moonlight catching a flash of white as he grinned through the darkness. "So? How have you been?"
"I've been well, thanks. You?"
“Fine.” He shrugged. "How did you get on after our last meeting? What did Pinkerton say when you went back empty handed?"
"I didn't go back empty handed. I returned with two murderers. It was just fine."
"But not with Heyes and Curry. How did you explain that? What did you say to Pinkerton?"
"I told him the truth,” her soft laugh tinkled. “He's not the kind of man you lie to."
Heyes sucked in a breath. "The whole truth?"
He saw her head incline slightly in the gloom. "Most of it. You came out of it nobly enough, if that’s what you’re worried about." He laughed softly as she continued. “I told him I had been injured by the Pattersons and that you rescued me and nursed me through my fever."
"The truth, so far."
"Then I had to abandon the pursuit of Hannibal Heyes and Jed Curry as you now knew what I looked like, so I pursued a different case instead. That's also fundamentally true."
"And he was alright with that?"
"Yes. He already knew what I was doing as I had sent to Boston for information. It's good publicity for the agency and its motto, "We Never Sleep". I was unable to deal with one case so I went on and caught two murderers and acted in the public interest. I'll have to explain the robbery today though. He'll know that you would recognise me even if you aren't supposed to have found out that I'm a Pinkerton."
"What are you goin' to tell him?"
"Again, a version of the truth. You recognised me and I convinced you that I had become engaged. The fact that you kept me back to question me should corroborate that. You didn't have to know that I'm using another name."
"How did you know?"
His voice chimed with humour. “You aren't the only one who can ask questions, Abi."
She mused on the fact that he knew that she was engaged to the bank manager so it took little skill to find out about who she was. “Yes, servants are always ready to talk to a handsome stranger.”
“Handsome? You silver-tongued devil,” he lit up with delight. “I’m at your disposal anytime, Abi. All you’ve got to do is ask nicely.”
"Stop that. How much do you know?"
"You're supposed to be the daughter of an Eastern gentleman. You came to the Midwest to research the dime novels you write. You’ve been here for four months and been engaged to Robert Metcalf for a month," he shook his head. “What are you playing at, Abi? That's just plain cruel if you're only playing a part. I hadn't marked you down as that kind of woman. You don’t play those kind of games."
She slammed him with angry eyes. “How I conduct myself is none of your business."
"Does he already know?" Her eyes glittered in the moonlight, her refusal to answer telling him everything he needed to know.
"He cares for you, you know. He was worried sick about you in that bank. I felt real bad for him, especially knowing that you were in complete control."
"I know he does. He’s very sweet." Her voice was heavy with guilt as she dropped her head. “I hate it.”
"Abi, you could have refused him or put him off. You clearly don't return those feelings."
"I couldn't. I really couldn't. I had my reasons but I wouldn't go as far as saying that I was in complete control. Not with you two around. "
He sighed. “So? What now? You stick around and marry him?"
"Mr. Heyes, I can't see what difference it would make to you if I did."
"I'll take that as a no. At least you got the sense not to go that far." He sat back and folded his long legs at the ankle. "He has no idea? Your kisses must be the most potent lies you tell."
"I don't usually reveal myself and Mr. Metcalf doesn’t have your powers of persuasion," she snorted ironically remembering the night at the cabin, "but then not many men do."
"Mr. Metcalf. Is that what you call him?"
"I call him Robert. Why?"
He moved closer and slipped an arm through hers. "Good. I don't want you calling just anyone mister. That's our thing."
"Why are you here, Mr. Heyes? This is none of your business."
He turned his head and looked deep into her eyes. "I wanted to see you again. That's not a crime, is it?"
"That depends on what else you're doing whilst you're around."
She felt the rumble of his laughter against the arm he held. "I'm a bad man, Abi. Want to find out how bad? I wish I’d known how far you were prepared to go to get a job done back at that cabin. We’d have had a lot more fun. I’d like to see you try to lead me on a merry dance of seduction.”
“I do not lead men on for fun. It’s necessary.” She shrugged him off and stood. "What do you want? I have a job to do."
“It was a joke, Abi. I guess it says I’m different, since you didn’t play those games. You knew I found you attractive.” He sat back and folded his arms, his broad smile catching the moonlight. "I want to make sure you're safe. You tend to take risks I don't think are acceptable."
She closed her eyes as her stomach sank, guilt closing in. "I'm protecting someone's life. That's all you have to know. I have to stick around no matter what until I'm told otherwise and I’ll do what it takes to get it done," she paused. “To a point. There are lines I never cross.”
"A guard? You?"
She bristled at his disbelief. "Don’t start that. Just because I'm a woman."
"And what a woman," he leaned forward and fixed her with a determined stare, "but just how good are you with a gun?"
"That's none of your business Mr. Heyes. In any case I'm not that sort of bodyguard."
He shook his head and stood too. "Madness. I don't know what the world’s coming to. I need to go but can I see you again? Dinner perhaps? For old time’s sake?"
"I can't. I agreed to meet you once. That's it."
“No, it’s not.” He walked over and stroked her cheek softly as his intense eyes burned into her. "I'll be in touch."
Her eyes fixed on him, genuine desperation floating in the depths of the blackness. "Please. Don’t. I really mean this. You have to keep away. As far as possible. Go anywhere else and lie low for at least three months." He grinned at her, but she grabbed onto his arm. “Promise me. You must keep away! I’ve never been more serious in my life."
He gathered her face in both hands dropped a kiss lightly on her lips. "Goodnight, Abi.” He stared into her eyes before he sighed and stepped back. In less than a few seconds he was enveloped by the darkness.
Abigail walked back into the house with a knot of angst forming in her stomach. She was doing her job and she had sworn to do it to the best of her ability, but she hated duplicity and double dealing.
"How did it go?"
She looked at the tall blond man who stood in the kitchen, his strange pale blue eyes appraising her hopefully. "Just as expected Frank. He wants to see me again."
He nodded and smiled. "Good. I guess Jed was there too but after a few dates neither of them will suspect what they're walking into. With men like Curry it's always better to catch them unawares and the longer they think you're involved with Heyes the more they'll be lulled into a false sense of security. This makes the whole plan even better."
She dropped her head. "I hate this. They saved my life you know."
He stepped forward and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"I know. You got a rotten job here. You have to string Metcalf and Heyes along at the same time, but if anyone can do it you can. I trust you."
"I'll do my job. Don't worry about that,” she answered.
"I know you will. Are you sure they don't suspect?"
"Would you? All I've done is try to avoid them and put them off because I know they can't resist a challenge. There's no way they suspect that this whole thing's set up to entrap them. If you put it around that a successful bank has a large payroll coming in this close to The Devil’s Hole Gang’s main area of operation it's only a matter of time before Heyes and Curry walk into it."
Frank McCully drained the last of his coffee and put his cup down on the table with a characteristic clatter. He was not a gentle man. "A good night's work. Not long now. I'm turning in."
Abigail smiled at him briefly before her face dropped into a blank expressionless mask, her eyes almost black in the lamp light "Yes. Not long now," she murmured.
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight Old Scottish proverb