Alter Ego Part Five
Kid Curry walked back into the clearing and fixed Abigail with eyes full of contrition and shame. "I'm sorry Abi. Real sorry."
Soft eyes drifted over to him, her physical vulnerability hitting him like a blow to the stomach as Heyes lifted her from the horse. Her tiny waist was only about the size of his thigh and her soft, white hands with their long, delicate fingers plucked at her skirts where she subconsciously worked at the fabric. How could he have even have thought about grasping her around the throat?
The weak smile warmed her face as she walked over to him. “I’m sorry, Jed.” She embraced him before she pulled back and examined him. "I'm fine. Honestly. Come and sit. Talk to me." She wandered over to a tree and settled down, patting the ground next to her.
He crouched beside her and looked at her throat, the burning redness and congestion already promising intense bruising, especially where now torn fabric had dug in to her pale flesh. His stomach rolled with self-reproach. She was no more than five foot four and built like a sparrow. What chance did she stand in a physical confrontation with a man who had at more than seventy pounds on her?
"I thought you were going to get us killed. I was wrong."
She nodded. “I know what you thought. Come. Sit with me."
She drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around them in a gesture he read as self-protection as he closed his eyes and slid his back down the tree trunk until he dropped on the ground beside her.
"Look, I think we got off on the wrong foot somewhere. You thought I would shoot a boy and we sorted that out. I thought you'd hand us over to a man like McCully. I hope you'll forgive me.”
"I do forgive you. You run on your instincts and act too fast sometimes," she shrugged. “A wise man once told me we all do that at times. It’s fine. I understand.”
He looked at her, her eyes downcast still staring off to her feet through her long, black lashes. "It would help if you could bear to look at me."
She gave him a sideways look, her rueful smile lit with regret. "We're really not that different, you know. It's our past. It's changed us. If things hadn't turned out like they did I'd have been married and running a home. I'd be a different person. So would you. I can't blame you for that. I understand it."
His voice dripped with sorrow. "And kids. Maybe even kids."
She turned her head to look at him properly, picking up on the tone and sensing he was no longer talking about her. "Yes. Definitely children."
"And a home. Just stay in one place and make friends. Build a future." He stopped himself realizing he was getting caught in his feelings again and met her gaze.
She smiled at him. "Go on."
He shook his head and narrowed his eyes with a blue twinkle, realizing she was drawing him out. "You had no time for a man in your life? You‘ve got no need to run."
“No need? I have every need; it’s just not the same reason as you.” She shrugged. "I'm too much like hard work for most men. I won't do as I'm told, as you've probably noticed. There’s no place for women like me in this world. I don't fit in.” She reached out and took his hand. “That’s hard, but I’ve carved out an area to make it fit.”
He caught the angst in her voice, knowing better than anyone how it felt to be misunderstood. "Abi, can you forgive me? I promise I'll never do anythin' like that again."
“There’s nothing to forgive.” She gave huge sigh before she stood and shook the grass from her skirts. "It's a dangerous life. I have to expect a few bruises. We reap what we sow."
"Not from me you don't
“I know, Jed. Don’t overthink this. It’s another lesson, huh? We know one another better now.” She walked off towards the river but he stood and followed her, standing right in front of her with a nervous smile. “Remember you did this in Bannen to make me talk?"
She stopped and regarded him with gentle eyes before her face broke into a smile. "Yes, Jed, if you want my forgiveness then have it, freely and from my heart. It's fine. It's forgotten. But will you leave this place? Take your partner and go. Go as far away from here as you can and don’t come back. It is dangerous for you here, but not because of me." She took his hand and drew it to her lips, kissing the knuckles with velvet lips. “We’re even. No bad feelings, huh? I need to go and think about how I’m going to explain all this to McCully. Someone will have seen us and he’ll know. Just give me time before we go back, please.”
He watched her back recede as she walked away to bathe her wounds in the river as he felt Heyes’ hand in the centre of his back.
"Just let her be, Kid. She’s right. Someone’ll have told McCully."
"What did you tell her, Heyes?" He gulped down a knot of angst before Heyes spoke again.
"The truth,” he folded his arms and shifted his weight onto one leg. “Just be glad she’s not angry at you. She has a Scottish temper, remember what she did in the cabin? She smashed me on the head with a jug."
"I’d be happier if she smashed me with somethin’. I deserve it." He mulled over the words, suddenly coming to a decision as he fixed Heyes with a determined gaze. "You wanted to know if we should leave or get involved. We stay. We get involved."
"Are you serious?"
"Ain't never been more serious in my life. McCully doesn't know us and if anythin' goes wrong she'll get a bullet in her brain. I ain't gonna let that happen. I owe her. Then we’re even."
Heyes threw him a huge grin. "We'd need to be real careful. The men from the bank could recognize our voices."
"So we don’t go to the bank. There must be a way to trap McCully?"
Heyes’ eyes sparkled as only his could. "There's a way to trap anyone, Kid. I bet nobody ever tried to pull a flim flam on McCully before. In fact, I don't think he'd be expectin' it at all."
Abigail returned from the river, dabbing at her neck with a damp handkerchief trimmed with delicate lace. "Well? What have you decided?"
Heyes’ cheek dimpled. “We're goin' to take you back. You're right. It would cost lives to start again and I couldn't have that on my conscience. But we stick around to make sure you're safe."
"I can and I will, Abi." Heyes examined at her neck. "We need an explanation for that." He leaned over and released the clasp on her string of pearls before dropping them into his jacket pocket as she cried out in indignation.
"Those are from the agency. Mr. Pinkerton will want them back."
He gave her lingering look filled with thinly-veiled intolerance. "Lady, he needs to thanks his lucky stars he gets you back. You got robbed, they stole your necklace. That’s how your neck got bruised. You went to the first man you found for help and he rode you around to look for them. That man was him." His eyes glittered at her to quieten the objection on her lips. "The maid saw you with him. You need a story to go back with. Don’t crowd me, lady, or I might change my mind completely."
"All my male boarders sleep on the ground floor, dear. Only the ladies are allowed upstairs. No men. This is a respectable place."
Mrs. MacPhee peered through her round spectacles as Kid Curry saw himself reflected in the twinkling crescents of the thick lenses. She drank in the man in the crisp suit and starched collar before her. He looked decent enough, but there was a rawness about him which worried her enough to find out more.
"Respectable? Of course. That’s why I chose it, ma'am."
He threw her his most charming smile as he put down his hat and tried the wrought iron bed. The springs squeaked as he bounced, his arms akimbo like a child. "Comfy, ma'am. Real comfy."
"What business did you say you were in, Mr. Black?"
"I didn't, ma'am."
"Oooh?” she vocalized a range of notes querulously. "I do like to know who's in my home. It’s only right."
"Sure it is. If you were my mother I'd be makin' sure myself. You got any family, Mrs. MacPhee?"
"No, Mr. Black. Mr. MacPhee died years ago and we were never blessed."
"How sad, Mrs. Black and I have a boy and a girl. I couldn't imagine life without them. Especially my baby girl." He tilted his head and observed her. "I bet you'd have been a wonderful mother. You have such kind eyes. Very beautiful."
"Oh, you flirt!" A hand leapt to her chest as the landlady’s train of thought slammed to a halt. The Kid stepped into the void.
"I'll take it. It's got a real family feel to it. Who wants a room near a saloon bar? A man’ll never get any sleep." His eyes swept across the frilly curtains, the doilies, and the Broderie Anglaise trimmed pillows yet managed to speak without a trace of irony. "It's just what I'm lookin' for."
"This is my new boarder. Mr. Black."
All the faces lining the long dining table turned to face the newcomer as Abigail choked on her glass of water as she took in the Kid’s sapphire eyes and tousled hair.
Mrs. MacPhee bustled over to an empty place and pulled out a chair. "This is your place, Mr. Black. I like to try to maintain boy, girl, boy, girl, like they do at fine dinner parties."
"Fine dinin’ is fine, ma'am," the Kid grinned.
"This is Miss Ansell and Miss Pickering,” she indicated the man opposite. “This is Mr. McCully, and at the end there, we have Mr. Stanton. He travels in ladies’ underwear."
A man as plump as a bear preparing for hibernation smiled in welcome to the newcomer.
“Ya, do?” the Kid smirked at the salesman and took his seat between Abigail and a pretty, young blonde with large, clear, blue eyes set in a porcelain face. He smiled a greeting to Abigail. "Miss Mansell." He deliberately mispronounced her name as he nodded to her, before turning to the other woman to begin a powerful charm offensive. "Miss Pickering, it's a great pleasure."
"Mr. Black," Abigail tapped his shoulder knowing the maid had seen them together. "We've met before haven't we?"
He feigned irritation at being interrupted in his pursuit of the blonde by his side. "We have? At church maybe?"
"You helped me look for the robber. I'm much recovered thank you. They never caught the man you helped me look for." Her fingers leapt to her bruised neck, hoping he would pick up on her cover story.
"I'm sorry to hear that, ma'am. Real sorry." His brow creased with concern and he hoped he was displaying the right level of indifference before suddenly remembering her. "Oh yes. How are you? I rode you around to see if you could see him."
"Yes, thank you."
"Did the sheriff find the men responsible?"
“I just told you that they didn’t.” Her dark eyes glittered at him, pushing her next point with great meaning. "I'm sure arrests are imminent," she purred. "Really soon."
The Kid nodded. "I hope so, ma'am. It’s an awful business when a woman can’t walk the streets in safety. Someone said you'd been in a bank robbery too? The Innocents no less. You appear to be a magnet for troublemakers. I’ll have to avoid you."
"I've been unfortunate,” she agreed. “I do seem to be making a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"That's quite a run of bad luck. I'd stay indoors if I were you. They say these things always come in threes."
She fixed him with her dark eyes. "Oh no, Mr. Black. My problems definitely come in twos." He ignored the obvious jibe and grinned at her as she spoke again. "Are you staying long?"
"I’m not sure. That depends on my work." He smiled and turned his back to Abigail again, shutting off her line of questioning.
"What line of business did you say you were in?"
The question came from Frank McCully who observed him coolly from across the table.
"I didn't, Mr.?”
"McCully. Frank McCully."
The Kid turned and faced him. "I'm a security consultant, Mr. McCully. And you?"
"Me? I’m in Asset Recovery.”
"What does that involve?" the Kid’s stomach tightened, knowing what he recovered and how.
"Oh, it's not too far from your line. When something valuable goes missing I try to recover it or at least a proportion of the value."
"Interestin’. We must have a long talk."
"And what are you here for?" asked McCully. "The bank was robbed recently. Are you here about that?"
The Kid shook his head, refusing to disclose a thing. "Nope."
"Here for long?" asked McCully.
"On many things." Kid Curry’s grin widened, refusing to disclose more as Frank McCully sat back and narrowed his strange, pale eyes. The outlaw turned back to the young blonde beside him. To the casual observer the Kid was consumed by her explanations on how she taught school to all ages, ignoring the dark-haired woman beside him.
"Mr. Black?" The brown-haired maid he had flirted with recognized him as soon she entered the dining room.
"Meg? I was hoping to see you.” His eyes flicked back to Mrs. MacPhee who sat scowling at the head of the table. "It was due to her I chose this place. She spoke so highly of it.”
"I hope so. I don't hold with anyone carrying on with the help."
"No, ma'am. I helped a pretty girl with her heavy shoppin’. My Ma raised me to be a gentleman. Ain't seen her before or since. Ain’t that right, Meg? Besides, I’m a married man."
"Yeah. I saw you go off with Miss Ansell though. Do you know her?" demanded a wounded Meg.
"Miss Ansell. She went off with you on your horse."
All eyes darted between them.
"Ah yes. The panicked young lady who had her necklace stolen." He said as she turned back to Abigail. “It’s all go around here, ain’t it?”
"It was a traumatic day,” her hand darted to her bruised throat.
"Pleased to be of assistance, ma'am."
The downward intonation in his sentence made it clear he was dismissing her to resume his quest for the blonde on his left hand side. Abigail had clearly underestimated his ability to think on his feet. She pushed back the half empty soup bowl in front of her and resolved to get him on his own. What exactly was the Kid was up to?
Heyes pushed himself to a sitting position on his bedroll as the faint sound of a metallic tinkering drifted over from the door. The Kid had already sprung up, his gun drawn, before Heyes issued a subduing hand signal.
He took his place behind the door as it slowly opened and a shadowy figure crept in, clicking the door closed as the Kid struck a match and filled the room with an expanding bubble of golden light from the oil lamp.
"Good evening, Abi. We’ve been expecting you."
She swirled round to the voice behind her and saw Heyes holding a gun on her whilst a grinning Kid sat in the bed.
"Put the gun away," she hissed, before she turned her back on a bare-chested Kid. "And are you going to put some clothes on? I need to talk to you."
"Why? If you break into a man’s room you’ve gotta expect things like this,” he retorted with a broad smile. “You never got dressed for near enough two weeks at the cabin."
Her face flushed. "And whose fault was that?" She turned back to Heyes. "Are you going to put that gun away?"
"Nope, if you come sneaking into our room you take what's coming. What do you want?"
She glowered at him before crossing over to the bed and sitting on the end. The Kid grinned at her, his well-muscled torso glinting in the lamplight as she hoped he only sat naked from the waist up. Maybe breaking into their room wasn’t such a good idea?
"What are you two doing here?" she demanded, looking away from the distractingly tight body.
"We paid for a room," the Kid answered. "There was no need for Heyes to sleep outside when we’ve got this. Not when it’s on the ground floor and he can get in through the window."
"It's my turn for the bed tomorrow, Kid," Heyes reminded him.
"Put your gun down, Mr. Heyes. It’s not a toy."
Heyes strode over to her, his pistol still drawn, but pointing to the floor. “I can't trust you Abi. There may be back up coming. You’re here on a Pinkerton operation, after all."
"Och, for heaven’s sake. Do you think I'd have turned up here if I had a gang with me? McCully would have noticed them right away. Who do you think it is? Meg? Stanton with his ladies’ underwear?"
"If you have, we’ve got a hostage." Heyes eyes twinkled at her.
"Behave yourself, Mr. Heyes," she shook her head, her long curls tumbling around her waist. "I've come here to find out what you're playing at? Are you mad? He’s Frank McCully. You’re playing with fire.”
The Kid crossed his muscular arms and smiled at her. "We've come to help you. He’s dangerous."
"I don't need any help. Especially not from you. You might as well wear a target." She arched a brow. “But wearing anything would be pretty good right now.”
“Pinkerton shouldn’t be puttin’ you in places like this on your own,” the Kid relied with determination. "We ain't askin', Abi. There ain't anythin' you can do about it."
"No?" Her determined eyebrows rose.
His eyes glinted like flint in the lamplight. "Then maybe Heyes should take you out of here and leave this to me?"
“You’re talking about killing him?” She gasped in horror. "You wouldn't dare."
"Abi, the Kid is quite determined to make sure you're safe after yesterday. He feels he owes you," Heyes gave her a mischievous flash of his eyebrows. "I'll look after you. I can be real entertaining when I put my mind to it. I can do tricks and everything."
“I don’t doubt it, Mr. Heyes. I’ve seen your file,” Abigail huffed. "I have a job to do and you two are going to mess this up. What if someone recognizes you? Just what are you doing? I can't sit back and let you kill McCully anymore than I would let him kill you."
The Kid looked wounded. "We ain't gonna kill him. We ain't killers Abi. We’re way more sophisticated than that."
"What then? Why are you here?"
"I'm here to make sure you're safe. I hurt you, so I owe you. I need to make up for it."
Her face softened at his earnest tone. "You don't owe me anything, Jed. Get out of here. Please. You’re the ones who are in danger."
"I don't care, Abi. I scared you real bad and your neck’s still bruised. I hurt you like I never hurt a woman in my life. Either you come with us or I stay here. It's a straight choice, but one way or another I'll make sure you're safe. I owe you, and you need backup around McCully."
"Jed, this is too dangerous. I can't let you do this, you've held up the bank in this town. This is just plain crazy. This job is no worse than anything else I've done over the years. If you really want to help, then don't give me anything else to worry about."
"You aren't going to change his mind, Abi. Not when he's in this mood." Heyes put his gun away and walked over to stand in front of her. "He feels he owes you and you may not think this is any different, but it is. Frank McCully is treacherous. As dangerous as they come. I wouldn't be surprised if he was already planning on putting a bullet in your brain if he thinks it'll save him from paying you once you've outlived your usefulness."
"Don't you think I've thought of that?"
The Kid shook his head and muttered in exasperation. "Your ma must lie awake every night."
Abigail glared at him, refusing to speak as a grin of realization spread over Heyes’ face. "She doesn't know, does she?"
Her porcelain brow wrinkled as she tilted her head provocatively. Heyes chuckled, darting a look at the Kid. "What does she think you do?"
"None of your business."
"I bet she'd have a conniption fit if she knew you were in a bedroom in your dressing gown with two outlaws at two in the morning."
"And one of us as naked as the day he was born," the Kid chuckled.
She stood and pushed her way passed Heyes, heading for the door. "If you don't get out of here I'll have to let Allan Pinkerton know. He may send someone out for you himself. Don’t say I didn't warn you."
Heyes shot out a hand and caught her arm. "You aren't gonna do that Abi, otherwise you would have already have told him."
She glared at his hand as his face dimpled in a smile.
"No?" She muttered in challenge as she met his eyes.
"Nope." He shook his head slowly. "You're gonna let the Kid look out for you. You do your job. He'll do what he has to in the background and no one's upset. More importantly, no one’s hurt. Look on the bright side. We won't have time to rob anything when we're looking out for you."
She glanced over at Jed, still trying not to look at his glistening torso. "You don't have to do this."
"I do, Abi. I sickened myself in those woods so God only knows what you must have thought," he beamed a determined smile. "I'm gonna make sure you're safe one way or another. At least this way I'm just a businessman in the background."
Her chocolate eyes glittered at him. "You make sure you stay in the background?" She whirled away and stood with her back to him, sure of his nakedness, as he tugged back the sheets to stand, "and more importantly; right now, you stay in bed."
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight Old Scottish proverb