Alter Ego - Part Four
"She lied. What do you expect?"
Heyes put his weight on one leg as he hooked his thumbs in his belt and queried. "So? How you gonna kill her then?"
Abigail couldn't believe her ears. “What!”
She turned on her heel, but Heyes’ hand darted out and grabbed her by the wrist. Abigail swung her arm in a huge circle, breaking his grasp, only for him to catch the fabric on her dress and lock onto a great gathering fold at the front. He held her at arm’s length as she punched and kicked impotently, the cloth gathering around her throat in a tight ball in his hard fist.
Heyes sanguine demeanour belied the wildcat he held at a distance as he spoke casually to his partner. "You gonna strangle her with your bare hands? Not sophisticated but it'll get the job done I suppose."
The Kid turned his chilling gaze back to the woman writhing at the end of his arm before Heyes drew his attention back to his partner again. "A shot to the head would be quicker? Want me to do it?"
Abigail's eyes watered as she choked and struggled against the grip whilst Heyes’s brown eyes drifted over to her, drawn by her fight. "There's a river over there. How about drowning? Drowning’d work."
“You’re a monster! Let me go.”
Heyes mused this over and seemed to think the better of it. "No, you're right. Too wet. Or hanging maybe? What about hanging? One thing's for sure. I wouldn't do it that way."
The Kid snorted in frustration.
"We both got knives. No, I guess you've thought it through. Far too messy."
Heyes examined his grip before looking straight into Abigail’s furious face. Stray locks of her hair were wound into his fist. That had to hurt. "Maybe I should use both hands and put them right around the throat? That fabric’s starting to tear." He toyed with the grass with his toes for a few moments before he spoke again. "Or a rope? You could get me a rope from my horse? I’ve got some."
Kid Curry exploded at his annoying partner. "Oh, for cryin’ out loud! What can we do with her? We can’t kill her, Heyes.”
Heyes gave the Kid a satisfied nod and shook his head with a smile of relief. "No. Now you ask. I don't want either of us to do it. It took you a while but we got there in the end." Heyes glared at Abigail. “It doesn’t do you any harm to hear us consider it though.”
He released her and led her over to a tree and pushed her to a seated position. He examined her. The dress was ripped and the flesh was reddening already, but he was satisfied her injuries were only superficial. "Stay there." His eyes transmitted an unnecessary warning.
He smiled at The Kid. “I knew you didn't have it in you. Not even for a woman who was going to hand us over to McCully. You ain't that man."
"I wasn't," croaked Abigail.
"We'll deal with you in a minute," barked Heyes.
The Kid closed his eyes and dropped his head. "McCully? Gettin’ us arrested is one thing, but McCully? I can't believe she would do that to us.
Heyes gave him a wry smile. "So, what did she say about it?"
"She denies it, but she would, wouldn't she?"
"Well. Let’s see, shall we?"
He towered over her, his dark eyes penetrating her soul. “Well?"
She stared back at him, her chest rising and falling in fear and exertion.
"Nothin’ to say? Not much of a defence?" His dropping of his ‘g’s told her Heyes’ anger robbed his accent of its polish.
"I can't. I really can't. But I’m not prepared to see you hurt."
He crouched, leaning on his knees, reading her every move. "Abi, listen carefully. I need you to tell me what's going on, otherwise things could get unpleasant for you. I'm sorry about that, sorrier than you'll ever know, but if you don't tell me you'll leave me no alternative."
“No alternative to what?” Her eyes turned to his, full of resignation and fear. "You’ll have to do what you need to. I can't. Lives depend on it."
"Many lives over time but-“ she stopped, biting back her words, having already said too much.
He watched her mute stare, wondering why she didn't speak. Why she refused to defend herself. He knew her well enough to know she was articulate enough to try to bluff her way out of this. The stakes had to be high.
"Is someone going to die soon?"
Her eyes opened, almost pleading. "No one will die if you let me go back. Nobody. Just leave here as soon as you can."
He scrutinised her. She looked like she was telling the truth, in fact she appeared to be placing her own safety behind her current assignment in the habit he found infuriating. She had no idea what he had planned for her. She couldn't be sure whether or not Heyes would really do something to her if his life was at stake, yet she stuck to that damned secrecy which drove him insane.
He scratched his cheek and thought back to what she had told him. It was a matter of life or death. She was guarding someone. She didn't need gun skills. Frank McCully was in the equation. Who could she be protecting? His agile mind ran through the fragments, doing his best to piece them together into a viable theory. It hit him like a kick from a horse, right between the eyes.
He sucked in a breath and stared at her. "Abi? It’s us. You're here to protect us."
Her eyes widened and filled with tears and confusion. "How? How did you know?"
"Who else needs protecting when McCully’s around? It’s got to be criminals and who else is around Everlasting with a price in their head, dead or alive? This is our territory."
"You sure about this, Heyes?” The Kid’s jaw dropped open, “She could be tryin’ to draw us out for him."
He shook his head. "Nope. She's done everything she can to stop me seeing her. She almost begged in the summerhouse. She's drawing out McCully."
"Why? Why would the law care about that? He kills criminals."
"Yes, he does, but he also makes criminals to fight to the death rather than be brought in." Abigail spoke at last, knowing the game was lost. "And they kill the law because they think we're all as bad as he is. In the last year three Pinkerton agents have been killed because the outlaws think they'll be shot anyway. We have to stop McCully and let them know we consider murder to be murder. They need to know the law is fair and applied equally. They can do their time and then live as free men. We can’t live by the gun like this."
“Mostly your reward money.” Unblinking eyes looked straight into his. “Intelligence told us he was after you. We leaked it to him you had nursed me when I was shot by the Pattersons and then let me go after a few emotional entanglements. He has no idea I'm a Pinkerton. In fact he doesn't even know there are female Pinkertons. He's paying me to stay in Everlasting and pose as Abigail Ansell, even into making eyes at the Bank Manager to make sure I could be around when you robbed the Bank. I got engaged on his orders. He thinks he's running the show and it was only a matter of time before you robbed a bank in this area.”
"And to make arrangements to see us?"
She shook her head. "He knows you're too sophisticated than to fall for that. He thinks I'm setting you a challenge knowing you can't resist one.”
Heyes arched a dark eyebrow as his eyes bored into her. "It could be argued you did exactly that."
"No. You were never going to be there and I tried my best to keep you away when you arrived. We have agents planted to rob the place, but if we’d done it too quickly it would have looked suspicious. The agents can pass for you both to someone who's never seen you and is going on the descriptions. They'll be at a planned assignation and McCully’s gun will have been tampered with. That's my job. The only problem is you two turned up and almost blew the whole plan."
"How do you know he's never seen us?"
"He told me so."
Heyes narrowed his eyes and stood, letting out a long slow breath. It figured because they never mixed with criminals unless they were with the gang, and they were tested and loyal. So, McCully had never seen Heyes and Curry, but they had made sure they had seen him. Their lives depended on it.
"Why didn't you tell me this before now, Abi?" asked Heyes.
"I couldn't. I wasn't allowed to and it couldn't get out, but you guessed. Even if this didn't work out we had to find a way of winning him over so he'd use me again if he went after someone else. He's a mass murderer and he'll continue to kill unarmed people. If he's not stopped he'll undermine the rule of law and endanger more of my colleagues as criminals treat all arrests like life or death. And he's not just killing criminals; he's also killing men, women and children who don't stand a chance. They’re defenceless. For that reason alone I have to do this. He's a cold blooded murderer." She dropped her head. "Besides, if I had told you there would be no way you'd keep out of this. You’re too damned bloody-minded for your own good."
"You’re no better. What if he found out about you?"
She looked him straight in the eye. "We all know what he'd do. He shoots unarmed men in the head when their hands are handcuffed behind their backs so a woman who double crossed him wouldn't be a problem for him, but there would be someone else to take my place."
Heyes shook his head as he bit his lip. "I can't let you risk your life for mine, Abi. Does he know your real name?"
"Yes. Why not? If anyone of the gang had talked you might have told them my real name. It wasn't worth the risk to lie."
“The Devil's Hole Gang don’t talk, Abi. I make sure of that. I also don’t tell the gang about people like you. You need to protect yourself more.” He rubbed his face and turned towards the Kid who was staring at them, transfixed with horror at what he might have done.
"This could be a lie," he muttered. "She could have been settin’ us up to hand us over."
"Except for one thing, Kid," Heyes shook his head. "She pushed and pushed for me to keep away."
"Double bluff? She's a real good liar."
"She's not too bad but she ain't a poker player, Kid. In fact, she's real easy to read for anyone skilled at it. Right from the first day in the cabin, remember?"
"It's a gamble, but I'll stake my life on it, Kid."
The Kid mused on everything he’d heard before he spoke again. "It sounds like you already have, Heyes."
The Kid turned to her, struck by Heyes’ certainty. He leaned over and stretched out a hand towards her bruised neck. Shame kicked him in the guts as she flinched at the approaching hand and stopped short.
He was suddenly caught in a vortex of abhorrence, seeing himself through her eyes as his stomach turned over. Adrenaline still filled his system and it charged every emotion with a special power. The bile rose in his gullet, fired by his anxious episode until he clutched a hand to his mouth and ran behind a tree revolted at what he might have done. He had turned into one of the men he hated.
Abigail glanced at Heyes in surprise as the loud retching and heaving drifted over to them. He smiled tenderly and gave her a reassuring pat on the back on the knee. "I guess the Kid believes you too. It's his way of saying sorry."
He straightened and looked into the trees, following the Kid's movement. His pensive eyes dropped to her and drank in the woman whose confusion melded with her clear irritation at the men who were treading all over her carefully-planned operation. "Catch your breath. I need to speak to the Kid so we can decide what we're going to do with you."
Fire flashed in her eyes. "You're going to let me get on with my job. Too much time has gone into this and it could cost lives if we have to start again. I simply won't tolerate interference. Not this time. Am I clear?"
He turned and fixed her with a cold grin. "I hear you. You're unarmed in the woods with two criminals and you're in no position to give orders. Am I clear?" His eyes softened but the set of his jaw told her he meant business. "Rest a while. We'll talk, but I'm in no mood for ultimatums, Abi."
The Kid turned bleary, red-rimmed eyes on his cousin. "You believe her, don't you?"
Heyes’s eyes glittered with sympathy. "Yup. She’s not the sort to allow anyone to be slaughtered, it goes against her values. I got to know her mind when I questioned her in the cabin. I explored her and tested her. I even know her breaking point. It wasn't pretty." He turned and sat on a fallen tree as he paused, lost amongst the troubling memories which came flooding back to him from that night. "You didn't see that side of her until now. You didn't have the chance to know her so deeply. Don't beat yourself up over it."
"Just how hard were you on her?" the Kid asked, his face drawn and weary.
"Real hard," Heyes flickered a reassuring smile. "Harder than you were. I broke her, remember."
The Kid sucked in a breath. "The thought of what I might have done is killin’ me."
"No, I know that would never happen," replied Heyes with a shake of his head. "It's not in you. You never act in cold blood without real good reason. You knew you didn’t have enough. Your instincts won out."
"Fine, so I ain't the brains of the outfit."
"I wouldn't say that. You see things I miss all the time. You got real good instincts. It's clever, just a different type."
"Huh? Instincts so good I kidnap an innocent woman?"
Heyes laughed softly and patted his shoulder. “Ooh, Kid. You can say a lot of things about Abigail MacKinnon, but innocent isn't one of them. She'd turn us in, but she wouldn't let anyone kill us. That's about as far as I'll go."
The Kid dropped beside him on the log and supported his pale face in his hands. "I was hit by what I nearly did. I was like the men who hit our place when we were kids. My stomach turned over at the thought of it."
“Yeah.” Heyes stiffened and gripped the Kid’s forearm reassuringly, knowing the visions which filled his mind with nightmares. "You ain't that man. You're better than that or I wouldn't be sitting here with you, family or not."
He laid an arm on the Kid’s shoulder. "Well, partner. The question is where do we go from here? Do we hot tail it outta here and let McCully target someone else, or do we get involved and help her?"
"She don't want our help. She's got agents ready to take our place."
"They ain't got the vested interest we got."
"True," The Kid sighed.
Heyes paused. "We got two big advantages though."
"We know what he looks like, but he doesn't know what we look like."
"And the other?"
His grinned widened. "We got you. You’re the man who feigned a bad chest to stop from getting adopted, and taught me to do the same. You kept us together until we could go off on our own.Now if you can do all that when you’re a little boy, what can you do as an adult? There’s grown men who can’t keep a family together. You’re remarkable. You’re way better’n McCully at every single thing you do. Especially with a gun."
The Kid raised his deep blue eyes to his cousin. “I could’ve killed her, Heyes.”
“But you didn’t. You chose not to because you’re better than that. She’ll understand. I guess we’ve got to tell her about more about our past so she understands how protective you are.”
“What am I gonna say to her, Heyes?”
The sound of hooves clattered in the background, making both men turn. “How about, why are you stealing Heyes’ horse, Abi?” Heyes leaped to his feet. “Stay here, I’ll get her. That damned woman is impossible.”
She was lighter and on Heyes’s mount, but he was a superior horseman on a larger animal and it didn’t take long before she heard the percussive pounding of his horse battering across the dry road towards her. She turned. She could see him high in the saddle with a forward seat, urging his mount on faster and faster towards her. She gritted her teeth and pressed in with her heels, but the pulsating thumps behind her were getting inexorably closer and closer. The adrenaline flooded her system and her heart beat like a drum which filled her ears, but somehow the horse refused to go any faster. The mare’s ears flicked back listening to the pursuit, but the thump of the hooves got louder, pounding a tattoo which told her Heyes was gaining on her. The dress fluttered in the wind as she rose in the saddle, the petticoats annoying her as they flapped around and robbed her of anything but comedy value.
Her peripheral vision caught the shadow of the chasing man closing in, arm outstretched before a hard hand grasped at the reins. The reins tightened pulling the beast to a halt. “Whoa there, Gypsy. Good girl.” He glared at her. “That was aimed at the horse. Not you. What the hell are you playin’ at, Abi?”
“If he didn’t want me taking his horse, he shouldn’t have brought me out here.”
“That’s my damned horse. This isn’t over, Abi. You can’t go running off.”
She raised her chin. “Oh, it’s well and truly over. You need to put as many miles between yourself and Everlasting as possible so I can get on with my job.”
Heyes gathered the tethers in his hands, his jaw firming. “No, it isn’t. For a start you need to understand what happened back there and why.”
She tilted back her head, eyes flashing. “You discussed more convenient ways to kill me after your cousin kidnapped me. What else is there to discuss?”
"There’s why.” He paused, his voice softening. “He’s real protective of me.”
Her brows gathered. “Most relatives are. It’s not an excuse.”
He shook his head. “The reason we were orphans is that our families were wiped out in the border wars. We survived but we saw it. The Kid saw a whole lot more than me. He ran to our place and hid me after watching his family slaughtered before his eyes. I was stupid enough to run towards the place when I saw them, but he caught me and grabbed me. If he hadn’t I’d be dead too. Even after all that he thought about saving others. It’s why he became a fast gun. He needed to stop men like them.”
He dropped his head. “Nobody really cared, not enough to keep us out of a home. He saw it all and it affected him.”
Her jaw dropped open. “Where was this?”
“Kansas. Our folks were involved in the underground railroad. Some pro-slavery folks decided to teach our kind a lesson.
“Oh, Hannibal!” she reached out and grasped his arm.
“He did everything he could to keep us together by lying to the authorities and saying we were too ill to get adopted as cheap labour. Then we ran away and he looked after me all by himself,” his shrug was weak. “The thought of McCully putting a bullet in my head was enough for him. I’m sorry you experienced that, but he thought you were setting us up.”
Her mind ran with everything she knew about the gunman, picking out his squeamishness around violence connected to women and remembering the man who fixated on the little girl when they broke into the undertaker’s office in Bannen.
Her brow creased. “Poor Jed.” Soft brown eyes fixed on him, “I’m sorry, Mr. Heyes.”
A slim brow arched. “Back to Mr. Heyes again? I was Hannibal a few seconds ago.”
She dropped her head. “A few seconds ago you were a child and watching your family die horribly. I’m so sorry. I really am.”
He urged his mount into action, ponying her mare along with him. “Good, because that’s why you and him need to clear the air, for both your sakes.”
Her brows curved in surprise. “Why for my sake?”
“Because I’m not finished with you yet, Abigail MacKinnon, and if you’re going to be around you need to understand a few things about us.”
She opened her mouth, but he kicked the pace to a canter and left her reply hanging in the air.
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight Old Scottish proverb