Alter Ego - Part Six
"What do you want?" Abigail groaned as she stared into Heyes’ laughing eyes.
He watched the maid's departing back and took a seat in the parlor beside the huge fronds of the potted palm which filled the corner of the room with lush vegetation, making sure he spoke loud enough to be overheard by her.
"You've missed your publishing deadline. I called to see you yesterday but you were out."
He dropped his voice to a whisper. "Yes. You publish dime novels, remember? I’m your publisher."
She sat simmering at him as his face displayed his unconstrained amusement at her obvious annoyance. "This isn’t a game.”
"Get McCully in here. On some pretext or other."
"Why? I thought you weren't here for him?"
"The Kid isn’t. I never said anything of the sort."
Abigail glared at him. "Get out of here, right now."
"Nope. I need to speak to him. If he thinks a publishers around he might be less likely to get trigger happy. He may think he's being watched and written about."
"I'm warning you."
"Leave it out, Abi. What’s the harm in a little subterfuge?"
"When you're involved in it, the potential harm in unquantifiable."
Heyes chuckled as she stood and stormed towards the door.
"I think you'd better leave."
Abigail's stomach sank as she saw the unmistakable cropped, blond hair of Frank McCully approach the parlor, his broad shoulders betraying his bullish body language.
"Meg said you had a visitor. I thought I'd come and see who was calling, this far from your home town."
He opened the door and looked around the room as Heyes stood and proffered a hand in greeting.
"Perceval Walter. Perceval. Miss Ansell promised me a draft of her story about her time with Heyes and Curry. It's late."
Frank McCully's eyes darted over to Abigail as he closed the door behind him and leaned on it, blocking the exit from the room. His chilling blue eyes transmitted an earnest warning. "My name’s Frank McCully and she’s workin’ for me. It ain't her real name, mister. Suppose you tell me the truth?"
The smile dropped from Heyes’ eyes but the grin remained as thought set in ice. "I know that. I wasn't aware anyone else did. Suppose you explain how you know it?"
"I’m payin’ her."
Heyes nodded and sat again, but Abigail noticed he concealed a Derringer in his right hand, crossing his legs casually before he glared at Abigail.
"What are you playing at, lady? You promised me the story; exclusive! Now I find you've been dealing with," he threw out a hand towards McCully, “Mr. McThing here."
"McCully. Frank McCully. And I ain't a publisher."
"No?" Heyes enquired, innocence oozing from every pore. "What are you and what business do you have with this woman? I have a contract and she has a legal obligation to fulfill it."
"That ain't none of your business," snapped McCully as his eyes narrowed. "What's her real name ? If you know her, you know it."
Heyes looked Abigail full in the face before he turned to McCully. “Her name’s Mackinnon and she's the only woman ever to be held by Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. I want that story, mister and I'm prepared to fight dirty to get it. I have a female readership that’ll pay dearly for it."
"How’d you find her?" McCully demanded.
"Her mother. She writes to her. Now suppose you answer my questions. Who are you and what do you want with her? If you think for one second I'm about to lose out another prize to Street and Smith you got another thing coming."
McCully paused, sensing the anger simmering beneath the surface of a man so single-minded in pursuing the prize.
"I told you. I’m Frank McCully!"
Heyes snorted dismissively. "You keep saying that as though it’s supposed to mean something. Am I supposed to know who you are?" He tensed. "You work for the New York Daily Tribune maybe? The name’s vaguely familiar. I promise you, if you're planning on running a series I'll tie you up in court for years.”
“I’m McCully. You must have heard of me.” He turned puce, his starched collar looking tight and uncomfortable around his thick neck.
“You write books about men who’re either fantasists or liars. Do you really think all those tales are true?” He thrust a thumb towards his chest. “There are true heroes out there who face down the worst criminals in the West and you’re not interested? Men like me?”
Heyes shook his head and affected a slightly mystified air. "Nope. I can't place you. Are you a friend of her mother’s? She mentioned a florist called Mac -something. Or her hairdresser maybe?”
McCully glanced at Abigail, his annoyance growing. ”I did more’n a woman keeping company with a couple of outlaws. I’m a bounty hunter. The bounty hunter."
"Bounty hunter?" Heyes shook his head in confusion. "Nope. Never heard of you. Who are you after around here?"
McCully paced across the room and glared at the smiling man who refused to be intimidated by his bellicose demeanor.
"Surely if you were that good I'd have heard of you? Who’ve you brought in?" Heyes pressed, seemingly oblivious to McCully’s mounting ire.
McCully's hands formed into fists but Heyes was comfortable enough to push him.
"Some of the most dangerous men in the country."
"Yeah?" Heyes looked vaguely interested. "Like who?"
He opened his mouth to respond as Heyes’ head turned to face the opening parlor door. Kid Curry strolled casually into the room, a newspaper thrust under his arm. His blue eyes glittered around the room before he spoke. "I hope I ain't interruptin’ anythin'?"
"Nope. Just ready to leave Mr.?" Heyes stood and smiled at his cousin.
Kid Curry thrust out a hand. "Black. Jonathan Black"
Heyes’ eyes lit like a Christmas tree in recognition of the name. "Not the Jonathan Black."
The Kid adopted a coy look and dropped his head. "Yes. Have we met?"
"No. But I'd like to," Heyes eyes sparkled as he strode ever to meet him. "The Jonathan Black. You are the type of man I want to speak to. Walter Perceval. Knight Percival Press. We're always interested in speaking to men like you. I'd like to publish your story."
"I've never heard of Jonathan Black. What's he done that's so all fired important?"
Heyes’ eyes glittered in McCully's direction. "Sir, if you knew anything about the West you'd know who he is."
He stood and put an arm around the Kid's shoulders as they wandered out to the hall, leaving Abigail with a seething McCully. Heyes’ voice drifted behind them as they walked away. "You have so many tales and I'd like to talk to you about a publishing deal. I can arrange a ghost writer -" He turned and looked straight at Abigail. "Miss Mackinnon, we have a contract. I need the first draft by Tuesday and no excuses."
Meg snapped open the leather valise, her eyes darting around as she realized she had made more noise than she had intended. She paused; sure her rasping breath could be heard even in the hallway. She was not an experienced malefactor but she was the most obvious choice of accomplice to search Jonathan Black’s bags as a maid had a ready excuse for being in anyone's room.
Frank McCully had worked his magic on the gullible girl until he had persuaded her she was the most bewitching creature he had ever laid eyes on and their fortunes were inextricably linked from this point on. She had to find out about the mysterious stranger attracting the publicity and money that should be going to her Frank so he could afford to marry her.
Her trembling hands raked through the clothing and paused on the battered notebook. She opened it and out dropped two folded documents. Wanted posters. There was nothing out of the ordinary about them as few bore more than a rudimentary description, as the cost of reproducing photographs was prohibitive. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were wanted dead or alive - everyone had heard of them, but why would he be carrying these around with him?
The notebook contained cryptic notes; lists of banks with an amount of money beside each one, trains and stagecoaches also had a price beside each one along with a place name. As she flicked through the pages she could see a few rudimentary maps one of which was labeled ‘D.H.’. The rest of the scribbling meant nothing to her so she tucked it back under the blue shirt and picked up the bank book.
She gasped as she saw the quantity of money in his account, every penny of it paid in sums of thousands of dollars .The most Meg had ever seen in one pile had been one hundred and seventy two dollars, so a total of over sixty thousand dollars was unimaginable to her. Jonathan Black was a rich man. Probably the richest man she had ever met.
"Lookin' for somethin'?" Kid Curry stood in the doorway staring at her with a furious glower.
Meg dropped his bank book and swirled round to face him, her heart thumping against the panic rising in her breast. "I'm sorry. I I was just "
He strode over to her snapped the bag shut, towering over her as he stood inches from her face. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't get you sacked? Right now."
She shook her head furiously, her light-brown ringlets dancing against her shoulders as her blue eyes widened in entreaty. "Please, I need this job. I've never done anything like this before. I was- ”Her voice drifted off to a choked grizzle, unable to finish the sentence against the scrutiny of his chilling gaze.
He opened the bag and rifled through the contents before he closed it again, satisfied everything was still inside. He arched a threatening eyebrow.
"It looks like everythin's there, but you never know. Maybe I should search you?"
She gasped and backed off. "I never. I never stole anythin' in my life mister."
"No? Then you'd best tell me why you were in my bag. What were you lookin' for?"
His hot breath burned into her face as she stammered her reply. "I was curious. Search the bag. Nothin’s missin’. Honest!”
His eyes narrowed as he stared in to her eyes, appraising her before dismissing her with a curt twitch of his head. "Go. Get out of here, before I change my mind but if I find anythin's missin’ later I'll skin your hide."
"There's nothin’, honest,” she stammered as she made a bolt for the door. "Please don't tell Mrs. MacPhee."
Kid Curry watched her retreating back, his grim face brightening with a wry smile after the door was closed behind her. So, the first bite of
the bait had been taken. It would soon be time to play in earnest.
"I don't understand. What was in the notebook?"
"Directions to a place called D.H. and lists, lots of lists of banks, railways and coaches with prices beside them. Huge prices."
"Prices or amounts? Amounts stolen perhaps?"
"I don't know." Tears welled in her eyes as she felt browbeaten and put upon." He caught me. He’s really scary when he's angry. I was lucky to get out of there alive."
"Why? What did he do? What did he say?"
She shook her head. "It wasn't what he said it was how he said it."
Frank McCully sneered, disingenuous about how frightening Kid Curry could be when he put his mind to it. Hardened criminals took pause at one glance, so it didn't take much to scare a simple farm girl.
"You stupid ”he bit back his words, aware he may still need to use her. He strode over to the window and gazed out at the back garden, trying to ignore Mrs. MacPhee’s substantial bloomers fluttering on the line and using the moment to swallow his irritation at the girl. "I'm sorry. You ain't used to this life." He turned and smiled at her. "Only two wanted posters? Heyes and Curry, lists of what could be holdups and a map to various places, one called D.H.? You don't remember details?"
"No. why should I?"
"Hmmmm. He’s got a real interest in Heyes or Curry. He was probably listing all their jobs. D.H.? Devil’s Hole, maybe? They’re rumored to lie low there sometimes.” He turned to face her again." Did you see any other names?"
He paused, ruminating on her potential usefulness before he spoke again. "Can you bring me the book?"
"No! He’s dangerous. I'm not going near him. If you want that book do it yourself."
He glowered through narrowed eyes, realizing he had to string along an annoying, dim-witted woman even though she had outgrown her usefulness. It would be easy enough to avoid her though, as Mrs. MacPhee was determined to keep rigid social boundaries in place. He smiled. "I don't want to place you in any danger. Meg. Leave this to me."
"Mr. Black?" Kid Curry looked up from his newspaper, into the crystal blue eyes of Frank McCully. "Do you have a moment?"
The Kid dropped his paper, leaving it open at the page he had been reading, his newspaper was local and over a week out of date. McCully pretended not to notice as his eyes flicked back up to meet his.
"I can spare you five minutes. Is it to do with a commission, perhaps?"
McCully sat in the opposite chair. "I couldn't even discuss anythin' like that until I got a better idea about what you do."
"That publisher fella knew you real well. I can't say I've heard of you but he knew you."
The Kid gave him a wry smile.
"I guess that works both ways mister. I ain't never heard of you either."
McCully tugged at his collar, clearly irritated. "I've worked as a bounty hunter for the last eight years. There ain't nobody who can compare with my record."
"If you say so, sir."
McCully’s color rose. “So? What exactly do you do? What’s he know you for?"
Kid Curry delivered his best enigmatic smile. "You'd best ask him that, but I’d say it was discretion and success. I don't aim for fame. I get on with my work. The quieter the better in my mind. I’m not interested in his publishing deal."
McCully’s gaze dropped to the newspaper. "That's an old copy. It’s out of date."
"I know. I always like to get up to date in a new town."
"You're readin’ about the robbery. The Devil’s Hole Gang. Do they interest you?"
He folded the newspaper and tilted his head at McCully. "Robberies always interest me. They probably interest you too."
"Sure do. But why that one in particular?"
"I never said it was that one in particular. If you'd arrived five minutes ago you'd have seen me read about the town drunk doin' ten days for startin’ a fight with a horse. You think I'd have a specific interest in that?"
"I think you're interested in Heyes and Curry."
"You're welcome to your opinion, sir, as long as you know that’s all it is."
McCully leaned forward and fixed the Kid with determined eyes. "Look, if you're after them we could be conflictin’ with one another. I’m out for them too and we could get in each other’s way."
The Kid’s brow creased. "Why are you tellin’ me this? Surely if we're competin’ with each other it makes more sense for you to keep me in the dark?"
"Who else could you be here for? There ain't anyone else for miles around who's got a bigger bounty on their head and you turn up after the robbery."
The Kid sat back and began to tap the arm of the plump chair with his long fingers. "Are you suggestin’ a partnership?"
"Could be. If you're interested?"
The Kid nodded and leaned forward. "Or are you tryin' to find out what I'm doin' and what I know?"
"No. There ain't no point in competin’, standin’ on each other's toes while we both miss out it makes sense to pool our resources and get at least half each."
He sat back again and faced McCully with a grin. “Did you send the maid into my room?"
Kid Curry chuckled. "Yeah, right. If that's the standard of your work I don't want nothin' to do with you."
"She don't look like she'd be too hard to break. Do you want to reconsider your answer?"
McCully paused, assessing the hard eyes and understanding for the first time why Meg had been so afraid of him. "I wanted to know what you were doin’ here."
The Kid’s mirthless laugh rang through the room. He stood, folding his newspaper and jamming it under his arm. "I guess that's the difference between a professional and a keen amateur. You ain't heard about me because I keep my head down and can blend in when I have to. Law enforcement and those in the know have heard all they need to about me. I don't care about anyone else and I’m not interested in bein’ famous. Is that clear?"
"Maybe you'll reconsider when you've had time to think. It’s bad enough tryin' to bring in Heyes and Curry without trying to duck each other as well."
He turned as he reached the door. "You don't have to worry about tryin' to duck me. I ain't interested in Heyes and Curry, leastways not at the moment. They’re all yours. I got bigger fish to fry."
"Too big for you, sonny. All you need to worry about is keepin' on the right side of the law so I ain't involved in lookin' for you too."
McCully's jaw firmed. "Some people might say that sounded like a threat."
Kid Curry opened the door, the ghost of a smile playing around his lips. "Really? I must have said it wrong. I didn’t want to leave you in any doubt."
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight Old Scottish proverb