A Streetcar Named Je’desire

A Streetcar named Je’desire
(aka A Short Stay in New Orleans)

By Maz McCoy

“Hmm.”

Two blue eyes peered out from beneath a brown hat, looking sideways at his partner. Hannibal Heyes sat in a chair, on the porch in front of the hotel, reading a newspaper. Something had clearly sparked his interest. Kid Curry took a draw on his cigar. His chair was tilted back on two legs, his feet on the porch rail, as he rocked gently back and forth.

“Hmm,” Heyes mused again. Kid didn’t say a word. He knew Heyes wanted him to ask, but no doubt it involved a job he’d found for them and Kid was enjoying just sitting there, watching the people of Largo, going about their business. It made a pleasant change to sit and do nothing.

“Hmm.”

Kid closed his eyes. Nope, he was not going to ask.

The newspaper rustled.

“Kid.”

“What?”

“This looks interesting.”

“Good.”

“Take a look.”

Kid pushed back his hat with one finger. Heyes held out the newspaper.

“It’s a newspaper.”

“I know it is. Take a look.”

“At what?”

“This.”

Reluctantly, returning the chair to four feet, Kid took the paper and read.

“Cure that embarrassing rash with Mr. Potter’s Original Lotion.” His eyes met Heyes’. “Something you want to tell me, Heyes?”

“Not that. Beneath it.”

“Ladies undergarments. All shapes and sizes. Discretely packaged and delivered direct to you.” Kid raised his eyebrows and looked at Heyes.

“Next to that one,” Heyes said, patiently.

“Announcing the New Orleans, All-comers Poker Tournament.” Kid looked up. Heyes nodded.

“Go on.”

“To be held on The River Queen. New Orleans? Heyes are you crazy?”

“Why?”

“You want to go all the way to New Orleans? For a game of poker?”

“Why not? We’re less likely to run into someone we know there.”

“I can’t think of anything that would make a person travel so far as New Orleans. Certainly not a game of poker.”

“How about $50,000?”

“$50,000?”

“That’s the prize money.”

Kid looked back at the newspaper.

“Wait a minute. It says it’s $5,000 just to enter. You got $5,000, Heyes?”

“No, but I know a man who has.”

“Who?”

“Silky.”

Kid studied the advertisement again.

“That kind of money will attract a lot of attention, especially for the winner.”

“Which could well be me,” Heyes said with a smile, as he sat back confidently in his chair.

“Heyes, I don’t know…”

“I’ll use an alias, Kid.”

“Another one?”

“Sure.”

“And what am I supposed to do while you’re winning a fortune?”

“It’s New Orleans, Kid. I think you’ll find something to keep you occupied.”

***

The train ride wasn’t the most comfortable either man had taken. In fact, Kid informed his partner, on more than one occasion, that the train seat was one of the hardest he’d ever sat on, the journey one of the longest he’d taken and the….

“Okay Kid, I get your point”! Heyes snapped. “But you won’t be complaining when I win $50,000.”

“Heyes, has it occurred to you that prize money like that is going to draw in the best poker players from the region? Players you may not be able to beat?”

“I’m hurt by your lack of confidence in me.” Two disappointed brown eyes met Kid’s, then Heyes picked up a newspaper, shook it harder than was necessary and held it up, shielding him from his partner. Kid sighed. Reaching out a hand he pulled the newspaper away from his friend.

“I didn’t say you wouldn’t beat ‘em…just that they’ll be a lot of good players there.”

Heyes accepted the olive branch Kid was holding out. He folded the paper and placed it beside him on the seat, leaning forward conspiratorially.

“Even if you were right, which you’re not, but even if you were, I still stand a good chance of winning us a sizeable sum of money. Now that has to be worth the trip.”

Kid didn’t have the heart to disappoint his friend again. He hadn’t seen Heyes this excited about anything since…well for a long time.

“You’re right Heyes; it could be a lot of fun.”

Kid received a dimpled smile and his friend sat back to enjoy the view.

***

As well as providing their $5,000 stake, for a percentage of the profits of course, their old friend Silky had also arranged for them to stay with a friend of his who owned a large house, in what was now being called, The Garden District. A buggy was waiting for them at the station and the driver took the two ex-outlaws to the home of Darius Nolan. The house was more like a mansion, made of white stonework, two ornate columns supported the wide porch. They pulled the bell chain beside the large white door. It transpired that Mr. Nolan was not at home. He had been called away on urgent business, but had left instructions with his staff that Silky’s friends were to be well cared for. Mr. Silky’s friends, as Kid and Heyes were referred to, were shown to their rooms. Their luggage, which consisted of a saddle bag and small valise each, was carried there by a footman, summoned, with the ring of a hand bell, by Garwood the butler.

“Heyes, we could sleep the entire Devil’s Hole Gang in my room,” Kid announced, as he entered his partner’s room. “Sheesh, this is even bigger!” He looked around, taking in the elegant furniture and décor.

Heyes was relaxing on the bed, socked feet crossed at the ankles, hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling, as he leaned back on a pillow.

“I wonder what Nolan does to earn this kind of money?” he pondered.

“Silky said he was in investments.” Kid sat down in a large armchair.

“Well that could mean anything.”

“Does it matter?”

“I guess not, but we sure would have to rob a lot of banks to buy a place like this.”

A tapping sound at the door drew their attention. Kid got up and opened it. Garwood stood before him.

“I have taken the liberty of having dinner prepared for you, gentlemen. It will be ready to serve in ten minutes. I hope that is acceptable?”

“That’s fine, thanks.” The man nodded and Kid closed the door. “You know I could get used to this place.”

“So, New Orleans isn’t so bad after all?” Heyes swung his legs over the edge of the bed and reached for his boots.

“Well not what I’ve seen of it so far.”

Heyes looked back at his friend and smiled.

***

The partners decided to take a stroll around the district the following morning, to get their bearings. Two young men, gun belts slung low on their hips and cowboy hats perched on their heads, caused several heads to turn in the affluent area. Kid and Heyes marvelled at the size of some of the newly built homes. Wrought iron railings lined decorative balconies and gardeners worked tirelessly to clip hedges and tend immaculate lawns.

“I’m feeling kinda underdressed,” Kid muttered as a carriage, carrying four men in suits, passed them.

“Well you can wear that awful grey suit of yours tomorrow night, when we check out the riverboat.” Kid stopped walking. Heyes looked at his partner. “What?”

“My awful grey suit? What about your brown one?”

“What about it?”

“Well the pants are too short for you, for one thing.”

“They’re not!”

“Heyes, trust me, they are.”

“Since when did you become a clothes expert?”

“Well you started it. You know I don’t like wearing a suit anyway.”

Heyes smiled, but his retort was cut off by a rumbling sound. Kid and Heyes stood still, momentarily concerned that it was an earthquake; they exchanged a worried glance, and then turned and watched, in amazement, as a streetcar trundled by. Both men sighed with relief.

“It’s amazing what new things they keep coming up with. Only one carriage and no engine, now that would be easy to stop!” Kid observed.

“Yeah, but no safe on it; so no point.” Heyes smiled and noted the look of wonderment in his friend’s eyes, as he watched the streetcar disappear into the distance. “We could take a ride on one later, if you’d like.” Kid’s reply was a boyish grin.

They continued their stroll; touching the brim of their hats to ladies they met taking a morning promenade and giving them a flirtatious smile. Others they met were not so enamoured by their roguish appearance. A nanny, pushing a large perambulator and holding the hand of a small boy, gave them a suspicious glare and hurried by. They had just turned a corner, about to head back to Nolan’s house, when the sound of a woman’s cries caught their attention. The partners’ quickened their pace, moving swiftly alongside a large hedge, ready to help a damsel in apparent distress.

“Out!” a man called.

“No!” a woman cried.

“Oh good shot, Charles.”

“Your serve, Maryanne.”

Four tennis players, two men, two women, looked up at the sight of the cowboys, guns drawn, standing beside the tennis court.

“Oh my!” said one of the women, placing a hand to her mouth.

“Is this a stick up?” one of the players asked, flippantly, as he stooped to pick up the tennis ball. The partners holstered their guns.

“Everything alright?” Kid asked the ladies. “We heard you cry out.”

“That’s because it was,” the taller of the two men informed him.

“Huh?”

The women smiled and the youngest of the pair, walked towards the two young men.

“It’s very chivalrous of you to come to our aid, but as you can see we are perfectly fine. I get just a little too excited when we are playing tennis,” she explained. Her brown hair was tied back with a ribbon, her blues eyes sparkled as they met Kid’s.

“Maryanne’s a bit of a screamer, when she’s excited” her partner announced. Maryanne blushed.

“Oh do be quiet, Charles!” the other, taller and slightly older, woman said and turned to the two young men. “Hello, I’m April Cavendish, this is my sister Maryanne, our brother Geoffrey and the buffoon over there is my fiancé Charles Carrington.”

Heyes removed his hat and Kid followed suit.

“I’m Joshua Smith and this is my partner, Thaddeus Jones.” Heyes had eventually decided against confusing things by choosing another alias for the trip. “You folks aren’t American?”

“No, we’re English,” April told him. Maryanne’s eyes fell once more on the gallant, Mr. Jones.

“Are you real cowboys?” she asked, stepping closer.

“Yes ma’am,” Kid replied and Heyes suppressed a smile as Kid folded his arms across his chest and did his best to look…cowboyish. It had the desired affect on Maryanne.

“How exciting. We’ve always wanted to meet some cowboys.”

“Well they don’t come more authentic than my partner here,” Heyes told them with a smile, placing a hand, proudly, on Kid’s shoulder.

“I’d love to hear all about the West.”

“Maybe later, Maryanne,” Charles called. “We have a game to finish.”

Maryanne turned to Kid. “Do you play, Mr. Jones?”

“Huh?”

“Tennis.” She held up her racket.

“I’ve never tried, ma’am.”

“Well then you should learn,” Geoffrey said, walking across the court towards them. Clearly he was feeling somewhat protective of his sister but Heyes sensed his desire to take Kid down a peg or two in a game of tennis.

“I don’t think my friend is dressed for the game,” Heyes remarked.

“Well you really don’t need anything special,” Charles insisted. “Although, you may find running difficult in those cowboy boots. Not many cows to round up in New Orleans are there?”

“He doesn’t need to run around. Here Mr. Jones, take my racket.” Maryanne held out her tennis racket and a ball. Kid turned to look at Heyes, who shrugged and took Kid’s hat. The blond man took the racket and ball the young woman offered, wondering if this was anything like baseball.

“What do I do?”

“Are you good with your right hand?”

Kid smiled, his eyes sparkled mischievously.

“Yes ma’am.”

Maryanne smirked, but didn’t let the others see.

“Throw the ball up, hit it with the racket and try to get it into that area over there. That’s called serving.”

Helpfully, Charles pointed to the area on his side of the net that Kid should aim for.

“So I hit in into that area and does he try to hit it back?” Kid checked.

All the players nodded.

Kid glanced at his partner, who stepped back, watching his friend confidently.

“Stand just here,” Maryanne, took hold of Kid’s arm and steered him across the court. “This is called the base line. You serve the ball from here. You can run anywhere on the court once you have served.”

The blond man looked across the net, felt the weight of the racket in his hand. Charles nodded to him.

“Just throw it up in the air and hit it?” Kid asked. Maryanne nodded, encouragingly.

“Oh wait, you’re stiff.”

“Ma’am?”

“You need to relax your shoulders.” Kid did as she suggested. “Much better.” Maryanne smiled, approvingly.

“Ready any time you are, Mr. Jones,” Charles called confidently. Clearly, he didn’t expect this cowboy to be any good at all.

Kid threw the ball into the air. As the tennis ball fell, there was a blur of arm and racket, the ball hit the racket strings and then flew over the net, bouncing in the middle of the area Charles had pointed to. Charles swung his racket in a vain attempt to return the serve. For a moment no one said a word, all were stunned into silence. The tennis ball hit the boundary fence and bounced several times before rolling back passed Charles.

“Was that any good?” Kid asked, innocently.

“You just aced my fiancé, Mr. Jones,” April said with an admiring smile.

“I’d call it beginner’s luck,” Geoffrey told her.

“Then let’s see what you can do against him,” his elder sister challenged. Geoffrey looked at her and then at Kid.

“All right. Try again Mr. Jones, only this time, serve the ball to me.” He walked around the net, replacing Charles on the service line. “Any time you’re ready.”

“Go on Thaddeus; show him what you can do.” Heyes smiled, encouragingly. Kid moved to the baseline once more.

“You ready?” Kid asked Geoffrey. The other man nodded, preparing to receive the ball. Once again Kid threw the ball into the air and sent it skidding passed the other man in a speedy, blur.

“Oh that was fast! So fast! Oh, Mr. Jones, you are a natural,” April gushed, much to her fiancé’s annoyance. “Charles isn’t he marvellous?” The expression on her fiancé’s face told her he didn’t share April’s enthusiasm.

“Are you that fast at everything you do?” Maryanne asked, as Kid handed back her racket.

Two blue eyes fixed on hers.

“No ma’am, some things I do real slow.”

Once more Maryanne smiled.

“I wish I could know you better, Mr. Jones.”

“The feeling’s mutual, ma’am.”

Maryanne took her racket and, sensing the others approaching, stepped away from him.

“You should take this game up,” April encouraged.

“I don’t expect there are too many tennis courts out on the range, are there, Mr. Jones?” Charles asked.

“None that I’ve seen.” His eyes met the Englishman’s, holding the stare he received in return.

“Well, we’d best be heading back, Thaddeus.” Heyes caught hold of Kid’s arm, having seen the look on his partner’s face. A fast draw on a tennis court was not going to go down well. He tugged on Kid’s sleeve.

“Yeah, we’d best be going.” He took his hat from Heyes and settled it on his head. “Nice meeting you ma’am.” He touched the brim, first to April and then, with a longer look, to Maryanne.

“Nice meeting you folks,” Heyes said, cheerfully, turning his partner away from the court.

Four pairs of English eyes watched them walk away. Two pairs were relieved to see them go, one pair watched her sister and the final pair looked longingly after the two men, her eyes tinged with sadness.

***

“I don’t see why we hafta dress up,” Kid complained as he shook out his suit pants and held them up.

“We are making the right impression,” his partner explained as he brushed down Kid’s jacket, and then hung it on its hanger on the back of the door.

“We look like a couple of idiots.”

“We do not. We look like smart gentlemen.”

“Not in that suit you don’t.”

“Kid I don’t see what…

“S#$*!” Kid grabbed a towel from on top of the chest of drawers and began to frantically mop up the gun oil he had just spilt on his best shirt. “D #*&!”. He held up his shirt. There was no way the oil was going to wash out.

“I guess you need a new shirt,” Heyes observed, helpfully.

“Oh terrific!”

***

A bell rang above the door as Kid entered the general store. The man behind the counter was cutting some cloth for a female customer so Kid made his way to the men’s shirts. Heyes had told him not to get anything too fancy which was fine by him. He picked up a blue shirt but it wasn’t his size. He heard the bell ring again, and then voices, as more customers entered the store. Kid picked up a red shirt. Nice but the material sure was scratchy. That would drive him crazy. He held up a third, light brown shirt. It was his size; the material was surprisingly soft and, from the tag hanging off a button, a reasonable price.

“You’re not going to buy that one are you?” a female voice asked. Still holding the shirt against his chest, checking the size, Kid turned and came face to face with Maryanne, the English tennis player. She smiled. “Hello again.” Kid smiled back.

“Howdy, ma’am.” Kid touched the brim of his hat.

“Shopping for a new shirt?” she asked, moving closer. Kid could see her sister talking to the man at the counter.

“I spilt gun oil on my best one.”

“But you’re not going to buy that one?” She indicated the brown shirt.

“Well it’s my size and good value.”

“But it doesn’t suit you.”

“Ma’am?”

“It drains the colour from your face; makes you look quite ill. Oh Mr. Jones you cannot possibly buy that.” She took it from him and placed it back onto the pile, then began searching for another. “Is it for a special occasion?”

“I need it for a trip on a riverboat.”

“Oh how lovely! We’re hoping to take a trip on the river soon.”

Kid watched in amazement as she searched through the shirts. Maryanne found a likely candidate, held it up against him, considered it and placed it to one side.

“It doesn’t hafta be anything fancy.”

“But you need one that is your colour.”

“My colour?”

“Yes. It definitely has to be your colour.”

By the time April joined them Maryanne had selected four that ‘might do’.

“What do you think?” she asked her sister, holding a dark blue one against Kid. “Thaddeus needs a new shirt.”

“Too dark. Mr. Smith could carry that off but Mr. Jones is too fair.”

“That’s what I thought.” The shirt was discarded.

“Ladies, I think I ca…” but Kid’s words were cut off as another shirt was held up and pressed against his chest. The sisters exchanged a look. No, that wouldn’t do. Maryanne reached for a pale blue shirt and repeated the checking process. A smile crept across their faces.

“Oh yes, definitely. What do you think April?”

“Oh yes.”

“This is definitely your colour, Mr. Jones,” Maryanne informed him. “Blue brings out the colour in your eyes.”

“Thank you ma’am.” Kid appeared slightly bemused by their enthusiasm. He took it from her and gave the price tag a surreptitious glance. He could afford it. “I guess I’ll get this one then.”

“You won’t regret it,” Maryanne told him, patting his arm gently. “And enjoy your riverboat trip.”

“Oh, you’re going on a riverboat?” April enthused. “Maryanne has always wanted to go on a riverboat.”

Kid knew a hint when he heard one but, as much as he would have liked to see Maryanne again, this wasn’t the time to be escorting a young lady.

“This is for a poker tournament,” he explained. “I don’t think it’s a suitable occasion for either of you.”

“Another time perhaps?” Maryanne asked, hopefully.

“It would be a pleasure, ma’am.” Kid’s blue eyes met hers, holding them just a fleeting moment but it was enough to make her heart beat faster. He thanked them again and headed to the counter.

“We’re staying at the Palace,” April called after him.

Kid nodded an acknowledgement.

“April!” Maryanne hissed.

“What?” her sister asked, innocently. “Well you want to see him again don’t you?” Maryanne didn’t answer, but her sister knew her too well.

Kid placed the shirt on the counter.

“Having that one?” Joe Douglas, the store owner asked.

“Seems so.”

“Well it does bring out the colour of your eyes,” Joe told him, unsuccessfully suppressing a smile.

“Just take the money will you!”

Kid thanked the ladies once again, picked up his parcel and left the store.

“Definitely his colour,” said April.

“Definitely,” chorused Maryanne, with a wistful sigh, watching as Kid walked off along the boardwalk.

April looped her arm in her sister’s.

“He knows where you are, if he wants to see you. Come on; let’s see if we can find Charles.” They headed to the door.

***

“Did you get one?” Heyes asked when he met Kid on the boardwalk.

“Yeah.” Kid held up a brown package.

“Good.” Heyes turned to go but then realised Kid wasn’t following him. Kid’s attention was focussed further along the street. He followed Kid’s gaze. Ah, the ladies. Heyes smiled and placed his hand on Kid’s shoulder. “Come on partner, let’s eat.”

Now that did get Kid’s attention.

***

“Isn’t she a beauty?” Heyes marvelled, as the River Queen headed towards the riverbank. Steam billowed from its two smokestacks and the red paddle wheel at the rear churned the water white. The sound of the calliope filled the air and lights along the boat’s side glowed in the evening light. Kid looked at Heyes, amused to see his partner so enamoured with the riverboat. Potential passengers lined the quayside, watching her arrive. Eagerly, Heyes led the way through the milling throng and, when the gangplank was lowered, they moved forward with the crowd to board the vessel.

Kid followed Heyes to the ballroom where the poker tournament was to be held. They stood to one side, dressed in their best suits and, in Kid’s case his new blue shirt, taking in the scene before them. Kid was sure he saw his partner’s eyes light up at the sight of the tables laid out with poker chips and fresh, sealed decks of cards, just waiting for skilled hands to shuffle them and deal. Yep, Heyes was practically salivating at the thought.

There was a table to one side where the players had to register. Heyes scanned the names already there but did not recognise any. Of course he might not be the only one using an alias. There was a tall man with dark, well-trimmed hair, standing near the table, watching as the players signed in.

“Clancy Delaney,” he announced holding out a hand to Heyes. Heyes shook it.

“Joshua Smith and this is my partner, Thaddeus Jones.”

Kid reached forward and shook Delaney’s hand.

“I see we are drawn on the same table for the first game, Joshua. You don’t mind if I call you that do ya? I don’t like too much formality.”

“Joshua’s fine.”

“I’m from Texas, myself. Where you boys from?”

“Kansas originally.”

“Are you a professional gambler?”

Heyes smiled.

“No, but I enjoy a good game.”

“Well we should have some here. I know a lot of the men playing and some don’t take any prisoners when the cards are dealt.” He cast a glance at Kid. “You don’t play, Thaddeus?”

“I leave the high stakes games to Joshua.”

Delaney’s eyes dropped to the guns on their hips.

“Expecting trouble?”

“You never can tell,” Kid told him, his eyes holding Delaney’s.

***

At 8 o’clock the players were called to their tables. Kid stood at the bar, watching Heyes take his seat. He looked at each of his partner’s opponents in turn, sizing them up for potential trouble.

A tall man with a dark moustache stood on a dais at the bow end of the room. The room fell silent as he began to speak.

“Gentlemen, welcome to the River Queen. Welcome to the New Orleans All Comers Poker Championship. In case anyone hasn’t read the terms of entry, I will run through them but may I say it’s a bit late now if you haven’t!” A ripple of laughter ran through the room. “There is a $5000 buy in for each round. Each player must start with at least that amount in chips in front of him. The games will start of the sound of the first blast on the steamboat whistle. The games stop on the second blast and the two players with the most money in front of them proceed to the next round. So you’re playing against each other and the clock. In the event of a tie there will be one hand of showdown. For those of you who don’t win …well the bar is always open.” He smiled at his own joke. “Gentlemen, good luck.”

There was a blast on the whistle and the first cards were dealt. The River Queen’s paddle began to turn and the steamboat pulled away from the quay, heading up the Mississippi. The tournament was underway.

***

By the time the River Queen docked, in the early hours of the morning, Heyes and the amiable Clancy Delaney had proceeded to the second round. As the gangplank was lowered several disconsolate losers shuffled down it, in search of solace elsewhere.

“Not a bad night Kid,” Heyes said, cheerfully, as he patted his jacket pocket. He had to put down $5,000 as the buy-in for the second round and pocketed the rest of his winnings. “I have enough to pay back Silky’s loan too.”

“So even if you lose…” Two brown eyes turned swiftly in Kid’s direction. “Which we know you won’t, but if you did…” Kid gave his friend a conciliatory smile. “We still stand a chance of going away with a sizeable stake?”

Heyes considered this, still not happy at Kid’s apparent lack of confidence in his abilities with cards but, he knew his friend was tired so decided not to push it.

“You’re right Kid,” Heyes placed a hand on his partner’s shoulder. “Let’s go and get breakfast.”

***

The next night the competition continued without trouble. Kid stood at the bar nursing a drink, much to the bartender’s displeasure. He earned commission on the number of drinks he sold and Mr. Jones was a poor customer. Kid was just keeping a clear head, so he could watch his partner’s back. Once again Heyes was the highest winning player on his table and was soon into round three.

“How much did you win tonight?” Kid asked as they descended the gangplank.

“I’ll tell you later.”

From the smile on his face, Kid knew it was a sizeable amount.

“How much?” Kid asked again, when they entered Heyes’ bedroom back at Nolan’s house. Heyes withdrew a wad of notes from his pocket and fanned it like a pack of cards. He smiled triumphantly.

“We’re $6,000 up, Kid.”

Kid placed a hand on his partner’s shoulder.

“I knew I kept you around for a reason.” Kid smiled. Heyes gave him a dimpled grin. “You’re enjoying yourself way too much. Don’t get careless, Heyes.”

“Careless? This is me you’re talking to, Kid. Besides you’re the one supposed to be watching my back.”

***

“I’m just going to send a telegram to Silky and Lom,” Heyes stated as they walked on the boardwalk beside the river, after breakfast. “Why don’t you have a look around? I hear the French Quarter has some pretty amazing sights.”

“Yeah, I heard that too.” Kid smiled, wickedly, at his partner.

“Just be careful.” Two blue eyes opened wider. “Keep your wits about you.”

“When don’t I?”

“I haven’t got the time to list them all,” Heyes called over his shoulder as he headed for the telegraph office. Kid watched his partner go and then headed for the infamous district.

Not unaccustomed to some of the seedier sides of life, Kid had still been surprised by the things he saw as he strolled the streets of the French Quarter. There was a lot on display you didn’t usually see so well advertised elsewhere. Even at this early hour there were scantily clad women hanging over the balconies or leaning against door frames. Kid turned down more than one offer from a southern temptress. There were men slumped drunk on the boardwalk and in the alleyways. Others stumbled from bars, clearly the worse for wear. For Kid it was too early for alcohol. He headed away from the bawdy streets to a more respectable part of town on his way back to Nolan’s. He paused to let a carriage pass.

“Je’desire! Je’desire!” At the sound of a woman’s voice, Kid turned on the boardwalk to see a beautiful dark-haired woman hurrying towards him, a parasol shielding her face from the sun. “Oh, it is you!” she cried, excitedly, as she drew closer. She was familiar, but he saw the disappointed look on her face when she realised he didn’t recognise her.

“Ma’am…?”

“Je’desire, surely you remember me?” She drew closer and two deep brown eyes held his in their gaze as her eyelashes fluttered. The proverbial penny dropped.

“Senora Alvarez?”

A smile lit up her face.

“You do remember me.”

“Well of course I do, ma’am. I couldn’t forget a pretty woman like you.” He turned on his most charming smile.

“Are you still the famoose outlaw, Je’desire?”

“No ma’am, I’ve given all that up.”

“Handable too?”

Kid smiled.

“Him too.”

Senora Alvarez moved in closer.

“So what do you do now Je’desire?”

“Oh, odd jobs, you know.”

“No, I do not know what a strong, young man does to earn a living.” Her eyes focused on his and she licked her lips. “I can only…imagine.”

“Is your husband around, ma’am?” Kid shifted, uncomfortably beneath her gaze and looked along the street, hoping to see the Captain.

“Oh no, he is away on important business once again. I am staying with my sister and her husband.” She pointed across the street to a young couple, admiring something in a store window. “My sister Elaina and her husband Ricardo. They are nice, but a little boring. So tell me all about you, Je’desire.”

“There’s not much to tell, ma’am.”

“Oh, I do not believe that. So many exploits. So many hold downs.”

“Ups.” She looked confused. “Hold ups.”

“Well, I would like to know about your ups. I would like to share an up with you.”

“Ma’am, I…er…”

“Oh, now you will think I am a foolish woman.” Her eyelashes fluttered once more as she stared up at him.

Before Kid could reply, Senora Alvarez’s sister and her husband walked towards them.

“Arabella?” She looked suspiciously at the man in the grey suit.

“Oh, Elaina, Ricardo, this is Je’desire…” She stopped, suddenly aware that perhaps it was not wise to introduce Je’desire after all.

“Jones,” Kid held his hand out and Ricardo shook it.

“Je’desire Jones. That is an unusual Christian name,” Ricardo observed.

“It’s a family name,” Kid told him.

“And what do you do, Mr. Jones?”

“He works on the railroad,” the Captain’s wife explained.

“Not anymore, ma’am,” Kid emphasised.

“So what do you do now?” Ricardo eyed him suspiciously. He had seen the way his sister-in-law looked at this young man.

“I’m doing some security work for a friend,” Kid informed him.

“How interesting.”

“I don’t mean to be impolite, but I have to be going. It was nice meeting you folks.” Kid backed away as he excused himself.

“Will I see you again, Je’desire?” Senora Alvarez asked, hopefully.

“I don’t know, ma’am. Maybe.”

“Good day, Senor Jones,” Ricardo nodded pertinently. Kid touched the brim of his hat and walked quickly away. Ricardo’s eyes bore into the back of the blond cowboy.

***

“So now there’s two women in New Orleans with their eyes on you, Kid,” Heyes said with a smile as they sat on Nolan’s veranda having lunch. Kid had told him of his encounter with Senora Alvarez much to his partner’s amusement.

“Two?” Kid stuffed a piece of bread into his mouth.

“You haven’t forgotten the delightful Maryanne, have you?”

Kid smiled, clearly not.

“Keep this up and you’ll have a whole streetcar full buzzing round you by the time we leave.”

“It’s just coincidence Senora Alvarez turned up.”

“I told you you’d find something to do in New Orleans.” Heyes smiled at his friend as he shoved a forkful of food into his mouth. That was some smile on Kid’s face.

***

That evening they donned their best suits once more and took a carriage to the quayside. The River Queen looked resplendent, its lights beckoning in the darkness. Men and women strolled along the quayside, some were chaperoned couples, married ones walked arm in arm.

Dark eyes watched the two young men waiting by the gangplank. They were clearly pleased with themselves and anticipating another successful night at the River Queen poker tables. Mr. Smith was a favourite to win the tournament and therefore a threat. Smith could not be allowed to win the tournament. It was he, and not Smith, who would have that money; money that would literally save his life. No, Mr. Smith could not be allowed to reach the final. The man gave an almost indistinguishable nod to a figure waiting some distance away.

***

“Excuse me,” Kid looked at the man who had just tugged his sleeve. He was stocky, with a dark close-cropped beard. “Can I have a word?”

“Sure, what is it?” Kid asked casually. He kept one eye on Heyes, who was ahead of him in the crowd waiting to board the riverboat. He didn’t want to lose sight of his partner.

“It concerns your friend.” Kid’s brow furrowed and he took a greater interest in the man. He hadn’t seen him before.

“What about him?” Kid found it hard to hear the man’s reply in the noise of the crowd. Kid saw Heyes walking up the gangplank.

“I think he’s in danger.”

“Why d’you say that?”

“Not here, I don’t want to be overheard.”

Kid thought it pretty unlikely with all the noise around them but when the man nodded to a large stack of crates on the dock, he followed him towards them. Kid’s hand settled on his gun, ever cautious, his eyes scanning the area.

“Well?” he asked when they stopped.

“Mr. Smith, there is something you should know.”

“I’m not Sm…” Before he could finish his sentence, everything went dark.

***

Heyes stood at the top of the gangplank looking for his friend. He scanned the crowd. Where the heck was he? He’d been right behind him. He searched for a grey hat and curly blond head, but there was no sign of Kid.

“Mr. Smith, players need to be at their tables,” a man said behind him. Heyes turned to see one of the tournament stewards. “If you don’t take your table sir, you’ll forfeit your place.”

Heyes looked back at the crowd.

“Have you seen Mr. Jones come on board?”

“I’m not sure sir. I can’t say I noticed.”

“I’m sure I saw him just a minute ago.” A tall man, Heyes knew as one of his opponents that evening, stepped forward. “I believe he was looking for you. In the ballroom.”

Heyes smiled.

“Thanks.”

The steward looked at both men.

“The game, gentlemen?” They followed him inside.

***

Kid Curry opened his eyes. It was still dark. He lay face down beside a wooden fence. Slowly, it had to be slowly because someone was pounding on an anvil inside his head, he got to his feet. The world swam around him, a blur of shapes in the darkness and he put a hand on a wooden fence to support himself. His ribs hurt but not enough to suggest they might be broken. He put his hand on his holster; his gun was gone. Blood from a cut above his right eye blurred his vision and he wiped it away with the back of his hand. If he was still bleeding he couldn’t have been unconscious for long. Kid needed to get to the River Queen, he just didn’t know which direction to go in. Where the heck was he?

A few stumbling steps brought him out onto a busy street. Music burst from buildings ablaze with light. People wandered in the middle of the street, men with their arms around underdressed women strolled by. Someone bumped into him, sending Kid into a post. He held on, not wanting to fall. Staggering along the street he was easily mistaken for just another drunken reveller. Noise, music, lights, voices, faces, smells, all assaulted his senses. He walked and stumbled until he could take no more. Finally, as he felt his legs giving way, Kid collapsed in a doorway, straight into the arms of a buxom blonde.

“Hey fella!” the woman cried and then she saw the blood on his face. “Loyola!”

“What?” came the cry from somewhere in the building.

“I need your help. There’s a man down here.”

“Honey, if you don’t know how to deal with a man you’s in the wrong profession!”

“This one ain’t upright.”

“So work on him girl!”

“Loyola!”

“All right I’s comin’, I’s comin’!”

***

Hannibal Heyes took his seat at the table. There were only three tables still occupied. He smiled politely at the other players and placed his chips in front of him. He watched as the dealer shuffled the cards, casting a glance across the room to the main door, as he waited.

“Is everything alright, Joshua?” Clancy Delaney asked from across the table, noticing the direction of the young man’s gaze.

“Fine.” Heyes smiled, picked up his cards and looked at them, but his mind wasn’t fully on the hand he had been dealt. Delaney took a sip of his whiskey. Heyes’ eyes shot to the bar once more.

***

Having removed his bloodstained shirt and Henley and washed the blood from his face, Loyola stood back and looked at the young man lying on her bed.

“He sure is a pretty thing,” she said to Tilly, the buxom blonde, who now stood beside her. “I don’t think there’ll be any lasting damage to that handsome face.”

“I wonder who beat him.”

“Sweetie, you know around here they don’t always need a reason. D’you find anything in his jacket?”

“Nothing to identify him. Just a few dollars in his pockets.”

“Make sure you put ‘em back.”

“I have!”

“Good.” She sat on the bed beside Kid and stroked his chest, pondering. “He might tell us what happened when he wakes up. He might do a lot of things when he wakes up.” She turned back to Tilly, and smiled.

The young girl giggled. Loyola stood up.

“Come on girl, we got money to earn.”

***

“Two cards,” said the man to Heyes’ right. The dealer dealt two cards and the man picked them up. Heyes didn’t need to look at his own hand. He knew what cards he had and knew the probability of drawing any number of cards and making any possible hand. He glanced at the bar and then at the door. Still no sign of Kid. If he was on board where the heck was he?

“Huh?” he asked the dealer.

“I said, any cards?”

“One.” Heyes threw in a card and picked up the one he was dealt.

He hadn’t seen Kid get on the boat. He only had the word of another man that he was on board. At the time he had no reason to suspect the man was lying, but he knew he’d been wrong. The question was, why hadn’t Kid boarded the River Queen? Heyes looked at his card. At least some things were still going right.

***

“Loyola! I think he’s wakin’ up!” Tilly called as she watched Kid’s legs move beneath the covers.

Loyola Calhoun entered the room just as Kid’s eyes opened. He groaned and stared at the red ceiling and red walls. Turning his head he came face to face with a buxom blonde wearing nothing but a corset and drawers, and an equally voluptuous, dark-haired woman in a long, red, lace-trimmed dress, that gave him an excellent view of her ample cleavage. She smiled at him.

“Take it easy, Sweetie,” she advised. “You’ve had quite a night.”

He closed his eyes momentarily and then opened them again.

“Where am I?” he asked, although he had a pretty good idea.

“You’re in my boudoir,” Loyola informed him, seductively. “In the finest establishment on Bourbon Street. Loyola’s!”

“I don’t remem…remember…being here.”

“Oh, don’t worry. You stumbled in through the door, bloody and beat. You ain’t a customer…yet.” She winked and played with the ribbon on the bodice of her dress.

Kid thought for a moment and then a sudden realisation hit him and he sat up. The room spun and Kid thought he might vomit. He lay quickly back on the pillow a hand over his mouth, eyes tightly closed.

“I guess it’s too late to say don’t go rushin’ things?” Loyola sat on the edge of the bed and gave him a gentle shove. He made room, allowing her to place more of her ample rear on the bed. “What’s your name, Sweetie?”

“Thaddeus. Thaddeus Jones.”

“Well, Thaddeus, you took quite a beatin’.”

“My friend’s in trouble. I need to get to him.”

Loyola placed a warm hand on Kid’s chest, her thumb moving gently back and forth.

“You’re in no condition to go anywhere so why don’t you tell me all about it and we’ll see what Loyola can do?”

***

“No Thaddeus, tonight?” Delaney asked as he left the ballroom and walked onto the deck, during a break between the games. Heyes was leaning with his back against the rail, his hair blowing in the breeze, an empty glass in one hand.

“Not tonight.”

“I didn’t think I saw him come on board.”

Heyes had no intention of discussing Kid’s absence. He looked back at the distant riverbank and a light of a campfire glowing in the darkness. There was an uncharacteristic chill in the air.

“You’re up on me already,” Delaney stated as he moved to stand alongside Heyes. The dark-haired young man smiled.

“Got you worried, huh?”

Delaney returned the grin.

“No, but I admire your optimism.”

“You don’t think I’ll win?”

“If I did, I’d be a fool to keep playing wouldn’t I?” Heyes smiled but did not reply. “So where is Thaddeus?”

Heyes wanted to say ‘I wish I knew’, but settled for, “He had some business to attend to.”

“Ah, business.” Delaney turned and walked back into the ballroom.

***

“Honey, what are you doin’?” Loyola asked, as she entered the room to find Kid sitting on the edge of the bed. He had a hand across his ribs, holding them protectively. His bare legs protruded from beneath the sheets that draped across him, preserving his modesty.

“I have to get to the river.”

“Not like that you don’t.”

“Can you get me my clothes, please?”

“I’m sorry sweetie, no.”

“Loyola…”

“You’re gonna do more harm than good if you don’t rest and I’m lookin’ forward to seein’ that body in full workin’ order.”

Kid raised his eyebrows at her.

“I don’t care about myself. My friend’s in danger. I hafta help him.”

“I know. You told me. I’ve sent someone to find out when the River Queen docks. I have a carriage we can take.”

“It could be too late.”

“Well, you won’t get to him any quicker and don’t even think about swimmin’.”

Kid gave a slight smile, realising she was right. Until the riverboat docked, there was nothing he could do. He looked up at her.

“Thank you. I can’t repay you for your kindness.”

Loyola smiled.

“Oh, honey, there are always ways.” Kid met her wicked gaze and smiled. “We’ll leave that until you’re well enough. Come on. Let’s get you back to bed until I know more.”

Kid swung his legs back beneath the covers, groaning as he did so.

***

Heyes leaned his back against the bar and surveyed the room. He hoped to find his friend sheepishly waiting for him when they docked in another hour’s time. Maybe he’d met a woman too appealing to leave. He couldn’t think of any other reason Kid would miss the boat. Except that Kid wouldn’t miss the boat, he wouldn’t abandon his friend. He would have been there if he could to watch Heyes’ back. There was only one reason he wouldn’t be there and that was if he couldn’t. Something had happened and there wasn’t a darned thing he could do about it.

***

The paddle churned the water and the River Queen slowly eased against the dock. Heyes watched as the gangplank was lowered and then, anxiously, joined the people heading for the shore. Needing to start searching for Kid, Heyes pushed his way through the crowd.

“Excuse me…Sorry, sir…Ma’am, if I could just squeeze….Thank you…Sorry…Excuse me.”

“MISTER SMITH! JOSHUA SMITH!” Heyes’ head snapped up as he heard someone calling his name. He scoured the crowd for the caller. “MISTER JOSHUA SMITH!”

He spotted a large woman, standing in a carriage. She wore a red dress with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders, but there was still a lot of flesh on display. Heyes made his way towards her.

“Ma’am, I’m Joshua Smith.”

She looked down at the dark-haired young man. Nice eyes. She smiled.

“Loyola Calhoun. Climb up, Smith.” Heyes hesitated.

“Why should I?”

“Do you know Thaddeus Jones?”

At the mention of Kid’s name, Heyes tensed.

“I do.”

“He’s been hurt. I got ‘im at my place. I’ll take you.”

Heyes climbed up beside her, settling himself in the small space she left on the seat. Without another word she cracked a whip and the horses sprung forward. Heyes grabbed onto the seat.

“How bad is he hurt?” he asked as they hurtled along the street. “D’you know what happened?”

“He got beat up,” Loyola explained as she turned the buggy. “Stumbled into ma place by chance.”

“And your place is?”

“Loyola’s. The finest establishment on Bourbon Street, but don’t be shocked. Your friend wasn’t a client although you both being fine lookin’ men, I’d say that’s a real pity.” She gave him a long look and placed a hand on Heyes’ arm. “Might even give you a free one, you being so pretty an’ all.” He smiled; trust Kid to stumble into that sort of establishment.

“Any idea who did it?” Heyes asked.

“No, and your friend didn’t say. I guess you’re gonna hafta get that outta him yourself.” They turned into a street lined with balconied houses and lit by flaming torches, along the boardwalk. Music drifted from open doorways. Women, in various stages of undress, hung over the iron railings, waving and calling to him as they passed. Drunken men stumbled from bars, some heading straight through the door of the next one they came to. It was Heyes’ first view of the French Quarter. How had Kid ended up here, he wondered? The carriage swerved as Loyola avoided another highly inebriated soul.

“GET OUTTA THE WAY, FOOL!” she yelled and then turned the carriage into another street.

Finally, she pulled the horses to a halt in front of a dark, balconied building. A black man ran out of a doorway to catch hold of the reins. Loyola climbed down and Heyes followed her into her ‘establishment’. A dozen pairs of female eyes fell on the handsome new arrival. The women, more than a little under-dressed, looked hopeful, but one glance from Loyola warned them off. The hallway was dark, the walls lined with red velvet and black-laced curtains hung across the doorways. Heyes followed Madam Calhoun up the stairs and along a short corridor to a corner room. Opening the door she ushered him inside.

Kid lay on the bed, a blanket pulled up to his waist. Heyes’ eyes fell on the purple marks on Kid’s ribs and the cuts and bruises on his face.

“Thaddeus?” Loyola studied Heyes’ face as he approached the bed. “Thaddeus?”

Kid’s eyes opened and he smiled when he saw his friend.

“Hey.”

“I thought I told you to stay out of trouble?” Heyes’ eyes scanned his partner’s face for a clue as to how bad he was hurt.

“Well, you know me.” Kid groaned as he pulled himself up and leaned back against the pillow.

“What happened? Why didn’t you get on the boat? Where did you go last night? I lost sight of you in the crowd. They said you were on board but… Do you know who did this?”

“Could you ask ‘em one at a time?” Kid asked, weakly.

“Huh? Oh, sorry.” Heyes smiled. “Who did it?”

“I didn’t get a name. There was a group of ‘em. One man said he had some information about you. They grabbed me on the dock. It all went black and I woke up in a wagon. Next thing I knew I was in an alley.” Kid looked up at Heyes. “They told me to stay away from the River Queen. Stay out of the poker games.”

“But you’re not…” Realisation hit Heyes. “They thought you were me.”

“I guess so. Guess they couldn’t tell Smith from Jones.”

“Did they say why you had to stay away?”

“Not in so many words, but I guess they thought you were winning too much.”

Heyes sat down on a nearby chair.

“I’m sorry.”

“Wasn’t your fault.”

“Any idea who they were working for?”

“No.” Kid grimaced and closed his eyes.

Heyes looked pensive. Who would have done this? Who wanted him out of the game? Any of the other players? Possibly, but why? He’d been winning but others had won more. Had they also been threatened in some way? He wasn’t in the final yet but…Suddenly, Kid swung his legs over the edge of the bed.

“Should you be doing that?” Heyes asked, getting to his feet.

“We hafta get going.”

“No, we don’t.” Kid didn’t look like he could go anywhere.

“I can’t stay here.”

Loyola stepped forward.

“Yes, you can, honey. You both can. You know you’re welcome.”

“Thank you, but we do have somewhere to stay,” Heyes informed her. “I’m just not sure he should be moving yet. Has he seen a doctor?”

“Yes. I called a man who sees to ma girls. He knows to keep his mouth shut.”

“What did he say?”

“He don’t have no broken bones. Doc, said he reckons he needs rest mostly.”

“D’you hear that?” Heyes asked Kid, pointedly. “You have to rest.”

Bruised eyes looked up at him.

“I heard. I have rested.”

“Not enough, sweetie.” Loyola stood beside Heyes looking down at Kid.

“So I’ll go back to Nolan’s and rest there.”

Heyes considered it. At least they could talk freely there.

“Wait ‘till the morning, Honey,” Loyola advised. Kid looked up at her. Two sparkling blue eyes met hers.

“If I did that, I might succumb to your temptations.”

She smiled.

“And would that be so bad?” She sat on the bed beside him, pressing her hip against his.

It was Kid’s turn to smile.

Heyes patted Kid on the shoulder.

“You sure you want to go? Looks like you’re being well cared for.”

“I have been but…”

“Alright, I’ll call a carriage.”

“I’ll take him, in mine,” Loyola offered. “Both of you.”

“Thank you.” Heyes turned to Kid. “D’you need a hand getting dressed?”

“Thanks.”

Heyes looked around for his friend’s clothes. Picking up Kid’s shirt he noticed the blood stains laundering had not been able to remove. He sighed. They were in trouble yet again.

***

If Garwood disapproved of them returning with the infamous Madam Calhoun, he was too well mannered to show it. However, there was something in the look he gave them…

“What is it?” Heyes asked.

“We had a burglary, sir. I am afraid your rooms were ransacked.”

Heyes frowned.

“I returned from an errand last night to find the house had been broken into and two men climbing out of a window. I gave chase but they got away. They left many valuable items untouched. I think they were looking for something particular.”

“I see.” Heyes turned to the carriage, where Kid sat with Loyola. “Could you give me a hand with Mr. Jones? He’s been hurt.”

“Of course sir. Not seriously I hope?”

“I hope not too.”

Between them they helped Kid down from the carriage and into the house seating him in an armchair in the drawing room.

“Will the lady be joining you?” Garwood enquired. Heyes looked out the door at Loyola, still seated in her carriage. He walked over to her.

“I’m very grateful for all you did for Thaddeus. Would you like to come inside for a drink?” Her eyes fell on Garwood standing in the doorway.

“I should get back,” she told him, reluctantly. “Never know what ma girls get up ta while I’m gone.”

“If you’re sure? You are very welcome here.”

“Don’t be so sure. Your reputation has already been tainted by me just sittin’ here.”

“I don’t care about a reputation but I would like to thank you.”

“Well, don’t forget what I said. I like what I see Joshua; Thaddeus too when he’s up to it. You just come on by.”

Heyes gave a smile and waved as she whipped the horses on. He turned to face Garwood. The butler said nothing.

As Heyes entered the drawing room, Kid looked up. He didn’t look too well.

“Garwood.” The man was quickly at Heyes’ side. “Help me get him upstairs, will you?”

“Of course, sir.” Garwood’s expression turned serious. “I tidied up as best I could, but I’m sure you’ll want to check, to see if anything is missing.”

***

When Kid was settled in bed, Garwood stood by the door with Heyes.

“Shall I bring something to help with the bruises?” he asked.

“Have you got whiskey?” Kid asked.

“I do,” Garwood smiled. “But, I was thinking more of a cool cloth. However, allow me to see what I can find.” He turned and left the room. Heyes followed him.

“Garwood. My friend was attacked by someone wanting to stop me from continuing in the poker tournament.”

“I see.”

“It could well be connected with the break-in. Any idea how I can find out who did it?”

“Well Mr. Nolan does have a few contacts in the less desirable parts of town.” He thought for a moment. “Let me see what I can do, sir.”

“Thank you.” Heyes went to his room and opened the drawer where he had hidden his poker winnings. As he expected it was gone. He looked in his second hiding place. That too was empty.

“Well?” Kid asked when his friend returned.

“Ironic as it may be, we’ve been robbed.”

***

A bottle of whiskey was placed on the table.

“I took the liberty of bringing two glasses,” Garwood said as he poured. “I thought sir might be in need of a drop too.” He handed a glass to Heyes.

“And for you, sir.” He held out the glass to Kid. Kid took it but his hand began to shake. Heyes moved forward and took the glass from his friend.

“Thank you, Garwood.”

“I think I’ll head for bed, sir. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

The butler left and Heyes looked back at Kid. His eyes were closed. Suppressing the anger he felt at the men who had attacked him, Heyes pulled a blanket over his sleeping friend.

“You didn’t stand a chance, did you?”

***

Although moving somewhat stiffly, Kid was down for breakfast before his partner the following morning. Heyes found him sitting on the terrace, a cup of coffee in his hand, an empty plate on the table before him.

“Mornin’,” Kid said as his friend pulled out a chair and sat down.

“Morning. How you feeling?” Heyes looked over the bruises on Kid’s face.

“Like I had a fight with a mule and lost.”

“You look like it too.” Heyes smiled sympathetically and looked at the plate. “It’s not affected your appetite then?”

“I forced it down.”

“Sure you did.” Heyes was anything but convinced.

“So what’s the plan for today?”

“You get some rest.”

“Heyes, I told you, I have…”

“Rest! No arguments! No going out! Nothing happens until tonight.”

Kid took another mouthful of coffee and glared at his friend over the rim of the cup.

“Save it for someone you intimidate!” Heyes told him.

***

Kid’s eyes scanned the room, looking for any sign of trouble, as Heyes took his place at the final table. The bruises on Kid’s face drew attention but he ignored the stares. As the game went on a crowd gathered around the table. One man dropped out, all his money gone on the turn of a card. Another fell to the same fate a few games later.

Kid caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. A man entered the ballroom, a man he vaguely recognised, but from where? Images of a face in the dark came back to him. Angry words and then…the alley! He was one of them!

Kid strode purposefully towards him. The man spotted Kid’s approach and ran out onto the deck. By the time Kid was out of the door, the man had disappeared. After a brief, hopeless, search Kid returned to the ballroom just as there was a break in the game.

“The odds have narrowed,” Heyes said, optimistically. “You know I’ve got a good feeling about…” His eyes scanned Kid’s face. “What is it?”

“One of the men who attacked me is on board.”

“Where?” Heyes looked around, not sure what he expected to see.

“I lost him.”

Heyes nodded towards the door and they walked out onto the deck, where they could talk freely.

“What do you want to do about it?” Heyes asked. “I still have a game to win.”

“Yeah, and you could also get a bullet in the back.”

“That’s why I keep you around.”

“Hmmph.”

“They can’t do much in a crowded room.” Kid gave him a look. “Without you spotting them that is.”

“I can’t watch everybody, Heyes.”

They were silent for a while. Kid fidgeted awkwardly, as he looked at the churning paddle wheel.

“What’s wrong?” Heyes asked.

“You going back inside yet?”

“Why?”

“I need to…you know?”

“Huh?”

“Go.”

“Oh.”

“It’s all this water and that damn paddle wheel!”

Heyes smiled.

“Okay, I’ll head back inside in a minute.”

“Watch your back.”

Kid looked amused.

“I will. I will…now go!”

Kid walked quickly away, in search of relief. Heyes stood with his back to the railing and gave a dimpled smile to two ladies taking a stroll around the deck. One caught his eye and returned his smile.

“Hello Heyes,” said a male voice beside him. Heyes froze at the mention of his name and the feel of a gun barrel shoved in his side. “Keep your hands in view.”

Heyes did as he was told and turned to face the man. It didn’t take him long to recognise him.

“Mulberry.”

“I’m flattered that you remembered.”

“With Kid still carrying the scar, it’s hard to forget.”

Mulberry reached forward and removed Heyes’ gun from his holster.

“Hold out your hands.”

“Why?”

“So I can put the handcuffs on you.”

“You don’t need those.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Bounty Hunter rules?”

“No, I just know you Heyes.”

***

When Kid returned to the deck, Heyes was no longer there. He looked inside but the game had yet to restart and there was no sign of his friend in the ballroom. A familiar feeling of unease crept over him. He went back onto the deck and looked up and down. He headed towards the stern of the boat. Through the crowd he spotted Heyes. Kid quickened his pace. There was someone with his partner and Heyes was grim faced. Suddenly hands grabbed him, shoving him face first against the wall. Struggling he fought off the man and broke into a run, heading towards his partner Heyes looked up at the sight of Kid Curry hurtling towards him but then someone grabbed Kid’s arm. Kid and his assailant went sprawling to the deck. Mulberry turned on hearing the commotion.

Seeing the man distracted, Heyes took his opportunity and struck out, catching Mulberry on the jaw.

Kid kicked the man holding him down, catching him on the side of the head with a sickening thud. The man lay stunned. Kid struggled free, stumbled to his feet and, looking up, saw Mulberry pull a gun on Heyes. Kid barrelled into Mulberry’s side with such force that they crashed against a wall. Mulberry went down hard, groaned then threw himself as Kid. Heyes retrieved his gun from the deck and looked around for Kid. His partner was still grappling with the large man. His hands were around Kid’s neck, crushing the life breath from him. Kid punch caught Mulberry on the jaw, Mulberry grabbed Kid’s sleeve and they staggered towards the railings. There was the ominous sound of splintering wood. Before Heyes could reach them the balustrade gave way and both men went plunging into the Mississippi.

“KID!” Heyes watched as his partner and Mulberry were carried towards the paddle wheel. Frantically, he followed them along the railing, his eyes desperately scanning the water. The river churned white and Heyes lost sight of his friend. Mulberry was dragged closer to the wheel. Kid was likely to suffer the same fate. Dark eyes scanned the water. Where the heck was Kid? Clouds moved off the moon and Heyes caught a glimpse of a brown hat and a face beneath it. Without a second thought Heyes jumped into the water.

“KID!” Heyes swam towards his partner, just as Kid sank beneath the surface.

***

The world was a dark swirling mass of water. Kid could hear the THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! of the paddle wheel getting closer and closer. Above him, through the water, he could see the lights along the boat deck. Voices drifted through the water as he sank deeper. His arms flailing, he fought against the current and then a hand grabbed him, hauling him upwards. Two men broke the surface, spluttering for breath as the River Queen moved on in the darkness, heading back towards New Orleans. Kid tried to swim but the hands around his neck prevented him from doing so.

“Heyes get off me! GET OFF ME!” Kid yelled as he struggled with his partner.

“I GOT YOU KID!”

“GET OFF ME, I’M FINE!”

“KID!”

“GET OFF ME HEYES! I’M NOT DROWNIN’.”

“YOU ALL RIGHT?”

“I’M FINE!” Realising they were both all right, Kid and Heyes trod water. “Heyes. Will you let go! Please.”

“What?” Heyes looked at his hands on Kid’s shirt collar.

“Let go! I CAN swim!”

“You were drowning.”

“No, I wasn’t.”

“You went under.”

“And I had every intention of coming back up.”

They stared at each other.

“You okay?”

“I’m okay.” Kid saw how worried Heyes was. “Thanks.”

Heyes smiled, and then looked up river at the disappearing riverboat.

“You jumped in?” Kid asked.

“Yeah.”

“What the heck for?”

“To save you.”

Kid smiled and received a dimpled grin in reply. Kid looked around.

“Now what?”

“I guess we swim for shore. Just don’t say I’ll race ya!”

***

Two lone figures sat on the bank of the mighty Mississippi, both soaked to the skin, their shirts plastered to their chests. Heyes turned his hat upside down and tipped out water. Kid pulled off his right boot and emptied it. He turned to his partner.

“Remind me why we came to New Orleans, Heyes.” Kid tugged at his other boot. His friend remained quiet. “Remind me about the great Hannibal Heyes plan to win us a fortune in a poker game.” Kid looked at Heyes but still the man was silent. Kid sighed, his shoulders sagged. He emptied his left boot, scaring a frog into the water as he did so.

Still Heyes said nothing. What could he say? He looked along the river.

“We can’t go back to Nolan’s, can we?” Kid stated. “Someone set Mulberry on our trail and if he told them who we are…”

The only reply was a brooding frown.

“Maybe we can ask Loyola to collect our things for us? Get word to Garwood?”

Heyes remained silent. Kid looked at him.

“Heyes, will you please say something.”

“What can I say? You’re right. It was a bad idea.”

“No, it wasn’t. We could be $50,000 richer now.”

A droplet of water ran from Heyes’ hair down his face. Casually he brushed it away.

“So, how much money do we have?” Kid asked.

Heyes felt in his wet vest pocket and slowly counted the few coins that had miraculously remained there.

“Well?” Two blue eyes fixed on him.

“After deductions for…”

“Just tell me Heyes!”

“Fifteen cents.”

“Fifteen cents?”

“Yeah.”

Kid laughed.

“Yep, another great Hannibal Heyes plan.”

THE END

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