Alter Ego Part Seven
Heyes suppressed laughter gurgled against his closed lips, trying not to alert anyone to the presence of another occupant in the room. "You think he bought it?"
The Kid shrugged. "Dunno. Maybe? One thing's for sure. He’s got no idea who either of us are."
"Stage two. Shame. I've enjoyed sleepin’ in a real bed."
"True, but it's my turn for the bed tonight, Kid."
"Yeah. I ain't happy leavin' Abi though. I don't think she's got any idea how dangerous he is. We all know McCully killed Seth Matthew's wife and kids, all the family killed the same way. A bullet to the brain before Seth’s body was turned in a week later."
Heyes nodded, his face serious. "We can't control what she does, Kid, but at least we can distract him."
"I don't think that's enough, Heyes." Kid’s eyes glittered like diamonds through the half light of the room." Seth was tryin' to go straight. He hadn't done a thing since he married Elizabeth. "His mouth formed into a hard line “He's the most dangerous man either of us has ever faced and I don't think she has the any idea what he's capable of."
Heyes sighed and sat back against the metal bedstead. "That's her choice, Kid. All we can do is make her aware of everything we know about him so she can make an informed choice."
"We can't let a woman walk into that kind of danger, Heyes. It ain't right."
"What do you suggest, Kid? We can't force her to do things our way. She won't have it. Besides, she’s not your usual woman."
"Nope, but I wouldn't let any law man walk into it either."
"She won't be there. Everything’s leading him away from here away from her."
"Only if it all goes right, Heyes."
"Kid, when have I ever let you down?"
Kid Curry leaned forward to glare at his partner. "Don't get me started. What about that time you promised me, promised mind you, that we'd walk straight into the bank and there'd be a full safe sittin’ in there. Easy as pie, you said. Who did we find there?”
The Kid swallowed the last of his coffee before he stood, dropping his snowy napkin on the table. He paused to glare at a cringing Meg before stepping over to Mrs. MacPhee and handing her a wedge of notes.
"I'd like to pay for the next two weeks, if I may. I have business in the area which means I will probably have to stay away but things are, well, they’re a bit up in the air. I could be back at any time and I would like to reserve the room, if that's alright?"
Mrs. MacPhee’s eyebrows rose in surprise. She had never been asked this before and she wasn't sure if she wanted to continue to do business with such an irregular guest. The size of the sum he offered, however, was not to be scoffed at, so she swallowed her reservations and accepted the money.
"Will you need the room after that?"
"I doubt it, Mrs. MacPhee. I expect to finish my business here soon, maybe even tomorrow. I may need to finish paperwork and things in the area though, so I’d like to keep the room. I will recommend your accommodation to the Governor himself. He likes his men to stay in good wholesome accommodation."
"The Governor? Of the state? This state?"
The Kid winked. "The very same. The name ‘Mrs. MacPhee’ will be on his lips before too long."
Her large cornflower blue eyes sparkled at him as she clasped her hands in delight. “Oooh, Mr. Black. Can you imagine him staying here?"
“I’ll be recommendin’ it in person soon enough. Until then it might be best to keep quiet about my work here.”
He tapped the side of his nose, indicating he required her discretion, knowing all the while a snowball had more chance of surviving in the depths of hell than a delighted, posturing matron in a small town staying silent about an elevated social position for her business.
He needed her to talk about his departure, his connections and the importance of his business. He could rely on her to boost his status and reputation despite her complete ignorance of him and his vocation. The more McCully heard people talking about his competitor’s impending success and reputation, the more pressure he’d put on himself through injured vanity. She had to remind everyone he could be back at any time with his job concluded. The pressure was staring to show in McCully’s tense posture and pacing back and forth in the hallway.
"Will you be gone for long, Mr. Black?"
He turned at Violet Pickering’s voice. She was still as attractive as the first evening he had arrived with bright, glossy blonde hair and clear china blue eyes set in a heart-shaped face.
He turned on his most magnetic smile. "That depends, Miss Pickering."
"Oh? I was hoping you'd be back by the weekend." She blushed and fluttered coy lashes at him. "There's a dance."
The Kid grinned. "I'd like that ma'am. I'll see what I can do."
She flushed prettily, embarrassed by her obvious approach." I don't make a habit of asking men to dances, you know. I'm sorry if I've been a bit distant but you've grown on me. Quite a bit but I thought we'd have more time together so I could be more subtle. It seems I was wrong."
He admired the porcelain skin and the pert turned-up nose. "You don't look like a lady who needs to do the askin'. If I don't make it back I'm sure there'll be plenty standing in line take my place."
She turned her face to his, full of longing. "What does it matter if I don't want them?"
Kid Curry smiled. "I'll do my best Miss Pickering."
"I do. I promise to try. I can't promise when I'll be back. That ain't in my control."
"As long as you do your best, Mr. Black, That's all I ask. If you're not there I won't go to the dance. It won't be worth it without you."
"I can promise that, Miss Pickering."
"Violet," she whispered as she stared intently into his eyes. "Call me Violet."
He nodded. "I'll do my best, Violet."
The Kid lay back and placed his hat over his face and crossed his arms behind his head with a gaping yawn. "Remind me again why we have to sit on this hill, Heyes? I ain't complainin’ but now the sun’s goin' down it's gettin' kinda borin’, especially when there's a hot blonde and a cool drink there."
Heyes lowered his brass telescope and raised his eyebrows.
"You know why. Abi won't speak to me. It’s the only way I can find out when she's meeting the Pinkertons who are pretending to be us. We’ve got to see who McCully's following."
"So you stay here. What does it matter if Abi’s not speakin’ to you? Violet's speakin’ to me, and sayin' real nice things too."
Heyes glowered at Kid's satisfied smirk. "Did the maid tell her you were rich?"
The Kid lifted the brim and cast a cynical gaze in his direction. "That ain't gonna work. She was sweet before anyone found the fake bank book, she's just warmed more. Quite a bit, in fact. I think it was me goin’ away that did it. I think she started to miss me before I even went."
"It’ll soon be time to move nearer to watch the place. We can't watch it from here in the dark."
"What makes you think it'll be so soon."
"’Cos you got McCully worried, Kid. He's going to rush this so he'll make mistakes. We need to be ready for him. The minute you're out of there, he'll make a move to make sure he's clean away before you get back. He’ll want to get Heyes and Curry before you do."
The Kid pushed himself upright, leaving his hat on the grass. “How come it’s always Heyes and Curry? Why ain’t it Curry and Heyes?”
Heyes shrugged. “I dunno. It’s how folks always say it. It’s easier to say.”
“I mean, it ain’t like it’s alphabetical,” mused the Kid.
“It flows better, like bread and butter; salt and pepper; smoke and mirrors; fire and brimstone; milk and honey.”
“More like ladies and gentlemen or Cain and Abel,” the Kid muttered.
“Pearls before swine?”
“A fool and his money?” the Kid replied. He paused, running out of aphorisms which put the worst things first. "How’d you think we'd have done if we'd never been told McCully was after us?"
Heyes shrugged. "Who knows? I don't want to find out either. We know what he looks like though, so it'd be hard to surprise us. Especially you."
They sat quietly on the hill until Heyes spoke again. "Do you think I'm getting too involved?"
The Kid threw a cheeky grin at his cousin. "Don't even try to tell me you treat Abi the same as a man.
When did you last meet a hairy-assed sheriff in a summerhouse? This one’s down to me though. I insisted on stickin’ around."
Heyes chuckled as he turned twinkling dark eyes towards his partner. "No. I wouldn't let a sheriff deal with McCully on his own either. He’s a murderer. I think most men’d take the help, though."
"Too stubborn, Heyes," the Kid shot a warning glance at his cousin. "We get outta here as soon as we can."
He nodded and smiled back. "As soon as we can, we head back to The Hole. Who’d have thought we'd feel safer on the run than in a boarding house with pretty women."
"We took a real wrong turn somewhere, Heyes."
"I guess we did,” Heyes stood and threw the contents of the coffee pot over the smoldering flames of their fire, shaking off the pensive turn the conversation had taken.
"Well, I suppose that's a good start."
The Kid’s lips twitched into a grin. "Destroy the evidence of your last serious crime."
Kid Curry ducked away with a laugh as Heyes launched the pot at his head. "I swear, if you ever have a go at my coffee again "
"I won’t. We need somethin' to fall back on when I can't shoot ‘em."
Heyes and Curry lurked in the background and made sure they could see both front and rear access to the boarding house. It was their third night's vigil, sure any visitation would take place before the wee small hours as it was dressed up as an assignation with the fake outlaw.
They watched two mounted men leave from the rear of the building, followed within minutes by a lone horseman. Heyes was about to emerge from his concealment when the rattle of a bridle made him dive for cover again, just making it before another mounted figure, smaller than the last, slipped by into the night.
Kid Curry moved forward and hissed at the shadowy figure skulking against the shrubbery.
"Heyes. We gotta move fast. Looks like there's more than one of them."
"Damn it! I thought this might happen. I think that was Abi. It looked like a woman. "He strode into the centre of the road and crouched, waiting for the wispy cloud to sail away from the silver face of the frail moon which hung in the sky above them. "I thought so," he murmured as his fingers trailed over the surface of the hoof print. "She hasn't got the sense she was born with."
Heyes’ eyes glinted from under the brim of his hat as he tilted his head up to his cousin. "It's Abi’s horse. I made sure I marked the hooves so I'd know by the tracks if she went out."
The Kid snorted. "That woman don't know what's good for her."
"Bear her in mind if the shootin’ starts, Kid."
His face was obscured by darkness but Heyes could hear the scorn in the Kid’s voice as he barked his retort. "I came here to make sure she was safe because I owe her. Do you really think I'm gonna blow her head off?"
They trailed the little party for about three miles, in a furtive game of tag, following their quarry, who was following McCully, who, in turn, was following the Pinkerton agents. The hooves and tack were wrapped to muffle against unnecessary noise as they used all the lessons they had learned over the years of felony to conceal their approach.
They knew it was unlikely McCully would try to corner the men whilst still on the road. He thought he was facing Heyes and Curry, so only a fool would try to draw on them in an open road. He would follow them to ground and try to split them up and pick them off one at a time. That gave them the luxury of time, especially if he didn’t know he was being trailed.
After some time they saw the warm glow of a light from a small cabin nestling amongst the trees. The smoke from the chimney billowed into the still night air like a malignant mushroom, telling them that the occupants had arrived home and had settled for the evening.
The light from the uncovered window also told them anyone inside could be easily targeted by a marksman hidden in the darkness outside. It was a fatal mistake but it was also where McCully would be most likely to take position to pick off his victims.
But the real Heyes and Curry were waiting for him.
It took hours before they saw a shadowy figure creep over by inches to the window shining out into the darkness.
They had pre-arranged their tactics. Heyes was to take McCully, while the Kid took care of the bigger picture, so they adopted the roles which were so well-arranged they were almost instinctive.
McCully crept from his crouching position and peered into the cabin through the corner of the window. He removed his gun from the holster and slowly raised his hand to the level of the window sill.
He matched the pistol’s sight to the back of the figure seated in front of the range, his hat on the back of his head as he sat reading the newspaper spread out in front of him.
The pale blue eyes narrowed as he pulled the trigger, ready to blast the back of the man’s head clean away. The long finger curled around the trigger, retracting it as he squeezed, driving the metal back against the metal housing.
He bit his lip in frustration, nothing happened. Not even a click. What the hell was wrong with his gun? He was about to turn it up to examine it in the light from the window when a voice hissed in his ear.
"Drop that. Right now."
McCully's heart thumped as he complied with Heyes’ demand, the weapon clattering on the hard, gritty ground.
"Stand up. And keep your hands where I can see them."
The man stood, his hands raised. He was about two inches taller than Heyes and the light from the full moon lit the scene, cut with slashes of shadows from the surrounding trees.
"I guess your usual method of execution ain't gonna work this time, McCully. Now walk over to the well."
"Don't I even get to see who you are?"
"Why?” sneered Heyes. “Elizabeth Matthews and her kids never got to see you coming, did they?"
The man stiffened before he replied. "You a friend of the family then?"
Heyes felt his distaste for the man slither down his spine as he narrowed his eyes. "You don't even try to deny it do you?"
"What's the point? You’d never believe it wasn't me, would you?"
Disbelief dripped from every syllable as Heyes spoke again. "You gonna tell me you're innocent? That you never killed anyone?"
McCully’s harsh snort of laughter cut through the night air. "Of course I killed! I ain't never killed a woman or a child though. I ain't got the stomach for it."
"Now why would you expect me to swallow that?"
Heyes’ heart froze as he felt cold gunmetal against the back of his ear as a female voice caught him by surprise by her proximity. "Because I did it. Now drop that gun right now or you'll get the same treatment."
Kid Curry's voice cut across the woman’s as he stepped forward, his arm raised, aiming his weapon straight at her head. His anger at himself for allowing this situation to develop spilled over into his taught, harsh voice. When he had seen the figure lurking in the shadows he had assumed it was Abigail, not Violet
Pickering, who now stood with her gun pointed straight at his cousin’s brain.
"No. You drop it, and do it fast. I ain't too particular to shoot a woman in the head if the situation demands it. Do as you're told. Now!"
Violet stood, coldly appraising the situation, not even reacting to Kid's yell before she dropped her arm with a snort as Heyes whirled round to look into the face of the woman who was obviously McCully's partner in crime.
"It's Violet. Violet Pickering," yelled Kid.
"You’re with McCully?" demanded Heyes. He reached out and snatched the gun from her hand.
She glared at him, refusing to answer as the door to the cabin opened and two men, one blond, one dark piled out of the door with their weapons in their hands. They took in the group outside as they raised their guns, the dark man pointing at Heyes, the blond one covering Kid Curry.
“Drop those guns.” The dark man demanded. "Who the hell are you people?"
The blond man abruptly stopped as his eyes came to rest on the unmistakable face and cropped blond hair of Frank McCully.
"We're friends," Heyes stepped forward with his hands raised. "Keep McCully and the woman covered. They’re the problem. He was about to shoot one of you through the window but Abi obviously got to his gun, thank God."
"Abi? You know Abi?" The blond man threw his partner a significant look.
"Who the hell are you two? Who do you work for?" demanded the dark Pinkerton.
"We work for ourselves, but we know you're Pinkertons and our paths have crossed with Abi before. We’ve been watching McCully too," Heyes hoped he was giving enough detail whilst still remaining vague on his true identity.
"We thought he was going to kill someone tonight so we followed him out here." He darted a look at Violet Pickering. "We didn't reckon on her though."
"What's your names?"
"Jonathan Black and he's Walter Perceval,” answered Kid."I'm a bounty hunter, but McCully's bad for business."
The two men nodded. "Where is Abi?" asked the dark one.
"I dunno," replied Heyes. "She wouldn't talk because I thought her job was too dangerous for a woman. You know what she's like when she decides to keep a secret. I've been operating on guesswork but seeing her around McCully could mean only one thing. I marked the hooves of her horse and followed her here, but I ain't seen her."
"You idiot!" McCully snapped at the woman, "Couldn’t you have stolen someone else's horse? You led them straight to us."
"Abi's not here?" Kid queried.
"Not without a horse, she ain't," retorted Heyes, his parochial speech a clue to his heightened emotions. “I guess she's still back at the boarding house."
"Either of you two got cuffs on you?" asked the blond man.
"Nope," Heyes replied, airily. "We saw McCully riding out followed by what we thought was Abi. We followed them on impulse. You?"
The dark man nodded. "In the cabin, you two." He gestured with his gun to McCully and Violet. “Move, now!”
Heyes sat on his horse in Everlasting and watched the Pinkertons head over to the sheriff’s office with their prisoners. "Well, I guess there's no reason why we can't spend a night at the boarding house. The Pinkertons think we're bounty hunters, we've paid for a room, and McCully's in jail. We can head off in the morning,” his cheeks dimpled with satisfaction, “after a spot of gloating to Abi." He chuckled, nudging his mount towards the stables. "I'm looking forward to that bit."
The Kid nodded, his voice pensive. "Who'd have thought McCully would have a sister who looked like that?" He turned to his partner. "I'm real sorry, Heyes. I saw her in the shadows but I thought she was Abi
so I didn’t do anythin’. She could’ve killed you.”
Heyes shrugged and smiled at him, understanding why he wouldn't shoot. "Well, it was a successful night, and you paid your debt, Kid."
The Kid nodded. "Thank God that woman stole her horse and kept her in Everlastin’."
"Yup, sure did," grinned Heyes. “She’s gonna be mad we were involved with her colleagues but she was kept right out of it.”
"Not completely, Heyes. She got to his gun and disabled it. She also fooled him into goin' through with it."
The smile dropped from Heyes’ chastened face. "I know. We helped, that's all. Though God only knows what mess she'll be involved in next." He turned to the Kid. "She worries me you know. It's like she doesn't care about her own life."
The Kid tugged at his reins to guide his mount. "I know what you mean. There’s darkness deep inside her. Someone who carries the same blackness can spot it easy. She needs real light cast on that shadow before she'll live a proper life again."
Heyes glanced over at his cousin. He frequently condemned himself for his lack of intelligence beside Heyes quicksilver mind but he was far from stupid. Kid just lacked a brain which could process vast quantities of data at the same speed as he could process the tiny cues in body language which told him when he needed to draw his gun.
"Let's hope it happens soon, eh?"
The Kid glanced at him. "It can't be you, Heyes. We both know that."
Heyes frowned. "I don't know what you mean. I’m not in the market for anything serious."
"Nobody is until it hits them," the Kid chuckled. "She's special. I can tell, and she'd be interested if you weren't a criminal. Thank God she's smart enough to make sure she keeps well away from you."
"She's attractive. That's all. I ain’t dead. I’m not looking for anything serious."
"She stunnin’ and she's got a mind that can tie yours in knots. That puts her in a different league from the farm girls and teachers you’re used to sparkin’. We leave first thing in the mornin’, Heyes. No excuses."
The stable doors creaked open and they led their animals in, ready to bed them down for the night. Heyes strode over to the oil lamp hanging on the hook and lit it. A warm, cozy glow filled the stables, lighting the way for the Kid as he led them forward towards the stalls.
He stopped dead in his tracks as the horses shied and whinnied in distress at the sight in front of them, yanking at his arm as they bucked and pulled back.
Abigail's body lay in a pool of blood which trailed and collected from a wound on the side of her head as her life source ebbed from her body. The congealing puddle ran off into the discolored hay of the stall. Her head was turned to the side and the blood found numerous routes across her face, turning into gruesome streams which formed a ghastly mask over her pale, lifeless face.
Heyes ran over, gasping in horror at the sight before him. "Abi!"
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight Old Scottish proverb