2 The Return of Mrs Darkly

The Return of Mrs. Darkly
(The Elizabeth Darkly series-number 2)

By Maz McCoy

Hannibal Heyes read the telegram and then handed it to his blond-haired partner. Kid Curry read it and frowned. He looked at his cousin and ex-outlaw leader of the Devil’s Hole gang.

“She’s back,” Kid read again. “Who’s back?” Heyes just looked at him waiting for Kid to realise. Suddenly Kid’s eyes opened wide and he shook his head. “Oh, no Heyes it can’t be.”

“It has to be her Kid, who else would it be?” the dark-haired man asked.

“I don’t know Heyes, Mac doesn’t say.”

“Exactly. He doesn’t say because he doesn’t need to. Elizabeth Darkly is back.”

“You don’t know that. It could be anyone,” Kid Curry said as they stood in front of the telegraph office in Cedar Mills, a little town they had arrived in early that morning.

“You’re right Kid, I don’t,” his partner said and Kid Curry gave a sigh of relief. “So let’s go and find out.”

“What?” Kid could not believe this.

“Well, what better way to put your mind at ease?” Heyes asked him.

“My mind? My mind is fine,” Kid assured him as Heyes began to walk back towards their hotel. Kid had to walk faster to keep up with him. “It’s your mind I’m worried about.”

“There you go, you’re worryin’ again. You’re right Kid, the best way to stop you from worryin’, is to go see Mac and find out what’s goin’ on. I can’t have you worryin’ like this.”

Kid stopped walking and watched as his partner disappeared into the hotel, unable to believe how he was twisting things around to make this look like Kid’s idea. He shook his head in impressed amazement. Heyes wanted to find out if it really was Elizabeth Darkly. Kid knew Heyes had fallen a little for Mrs. Darkly, last time they had met; then she had vanished mysteriously without a trace. His partner clearly wanted to find out how, and why, but he was not about to admit it. So, if he wanted to make it sound like a trip ‘to put Kid’s mind at rest, then he guessed he would just have to go along with it. Kid Curry shook his head and followed his partner into the hotel.

***

Big Mac McCreedy greeted them eagerly and ushered them into his study shooing, Manuela, his Mexican housekeeper away. He closed the door behind them and was soon offering them whisky and cigars, arousing their suspicions before Mac said a word.

“Boys, am I glad to see you,” he told them as he looked at their dusty clothes and Kid’s none too pleased expression. “Rough ride? Here have a cigar. Take two.” He offered them to Kid Curry, who said nothing and eyed the large man suspiciously before taking one to smoke now and pocketing one for later. Heyes did the same, on Mac’s insistence.

“Alright Mac, what’s goin’ on? You said ‘she’s here’. Do you mean Elizabeth Darkly?” Hannibal Heyes asked as he settled himself into one of Mac’s leather armchairs.

“I do.” The big man smiled at Heyes clearly enjoying the suspense he had created. “She’s here in this house and she’s waiting to meet you.”

“Why?” Heyes asked.

“She has something she wants to discuss with us,” he told them.

“Us?”

“Yes, us. She’ll tell you herself. C’mon.” Heyes and Kid exchanged a surprised look and followed as Mac led them into the sitting room.

Elizabeth Darkly stood beside the fireplace. She wore a green dress trimmed with black lace. Her black hair hung about her shoulders and around her neck she wore a single string of pearls. Elizabeth smiled at them as they entered the room, a smile that was directed more towards Hannibal Heyes than his partner.

“Joshua, it’s good to see you again.” Their eyes met; held each other’s gaze for a moment longer than was necessary and then she turned her attention to Kid Curry. “And this must be your partner, Thaddeus. We never met before.” She held out her hand and Kid shook it, politely, as he gave a brief nod of his head. Neither man was sure what was going on. Why was she here? Some months ago, Elizabeth Darkly had stolen a sapphire necklace from Big Mac and he had hired Heyes and Curry to get it back for him. In the process of doing so, Heyes had fallen for the attractive, dark haired woman and later been held captive. Kid had suffered some bad beatings. Mrs. Darkly simply disappeared.

It was the first time Kid had seen the woman close up, he guessed she was in her early thirties and he had to admit, she was very attractive. Her deep brown eyes focussed on him and she smiled. Kid was sure he saw Heyes bristle a little at that.

“I imagine you have a lot of questions,” Mac said. “We can talk over dinner. You’ll stay here of course. Let’s get you settled in.” This also surprised them as they had always stayed at the hotel in town on their previous dealings with Big Mac. They were shown to their room and neither man said anything for a while, each lost in his own thoughts. They washed and changed for dinner. Finally Kid broke the silence.

“What do you think’s goin’ on Heyes?” He had his hand on the door handle. “D’you think she’s stringin’ Mac along again?”

“I don’t know Kid. I can’t imagine why she’s come back or why he’s let her back in. I guess we’ll hafta hear what they hafta say.”

***

“I needed to see you both to apologise. You see, I really did feel something for both of you.” Elizabeth turned her attention first to McCreedy. “Mac, you are a warm and generous man and I am so sorry for all the trouble I caused you.” Kid and Heyes were not sure this was a description of the man they knew but neither said anything.

“Elizabeth, we’ve already discussed this and you know I’ve forgiven you,” McCreedy said clearly still mesmerized by the woman. She turned to face Heyes to explain.

“After my husband died, I was alone and I thought I would never find anyone who could make me laugh again. Then I met Mac, and he was so sweet and gentle, so generous too but I was still mourning my husband and I knew I could not give Mac all of my love. I panicked and fled. It was only later that I realised I still had the necklace but it was too late. People would think me a thief and I was on the run.” Kid looked from the big man to his partner. Were they buying this? They were certainly hanging on her every word, as she looked at them, with large pleading eyes but surely Heyes would see it for what it was, just a good story.

“When you showed an interest in the necklace I realised you had been sent by Mac,” Elizabeth continued and Heyes listened intently. “Don’t ask how I knew, I just did. In a way I was grateful. It was a relief that it was over. Joshua, can you forgive me? I felt that we had a genuine friendship and I wanted to explain the reasons for what I did. I hope you won’t think too badly of me.”

If she flutters her eyelashes at him, I think I’ll be sick, Kid thought. He watched the two grown men become like little boys as they showed every sign of being besotted with her or was he just jealous that she had not turned her attentions on him?

“Thaddeus?” Elizabeth’s mention of his name startled Kid.

“Ma’am?”

“I said can you forgive me too? I know Thompson’s men hurt you when you tried to protect Joshua. I feel that’s also my fault.” Her smile was warm and he found himself smiling back but then she turned the smile off, just a little too quickly, and that made Kid wonder how genuine her feelings about anything were. She was an excellent actress and it wasn’t like Heyes to be blinded by a woman’s charms. Kid was feeling uncomfortable and for some reason he could not explain, a little vulnerable. He felt a sudden urge to reach for his gun but it was in their room so he took a sip of coffee instead. When Mac slapped him on the back and suggested brandy and a cigar in the study it was clear that he was happy for Heyes and Elizabeth to have some time alone together. Kid gave Heyes a glance but his partner was already refilling Elizabeth’s wine glass.

***

“Thaddeus is a charming man,” Elizabeth said as Heyes handed the glass to her.

“Some women seem to think so,” Heyes agreed and Elizabeth smiled as she realised he was having a joke at his partner’s expense.

“You two are very close,” she observed.

“He’s the best friend I have.”

“You’d do anything for each other?”

“Yes,” Heyes was curious. “What’s on your mind?” he asked flatly.

“Just thinking,” she told him.

“Now that makes me nervous.”

“Nervous? Because of me?” She feigned surprise and Heyes just smiled.

“What happened the night you left?” he asked and she thought for a moment before answering.

“I was going to try to get the necklace myself. I had some foolish notion that I might be able to open the safe. Then I saw you climbing through the window. You can imagine my surprise. So I followed you and saw you hide something in the rocks.”

“Did you see what happened afterwards?” he asked wondering if she had seen him hit over the head and carted off by Richard Thompson’s men.

“I saw you walk off, then I crept in to have a look at what you had hidden. I had my suspicions that it would be the necklace.”

“So why didn’t you take it?”

“I don’t really know. I didn’t need the money at the time and I wanted Mac to have it back.” She touched him on the arm, her hand warm on his skin. “Does that make sense?”

“Where’d you go?” he asked looking into her eyes and remembering a kiss they had shared.

“Away.”

“How?”

“You’d be surprised how helpful people can be for the right amount of money and, if you promise to send them more, they’ll keep quiet about it too.”

“Why have you really come back?” he asked. He did not believe all that she had told them at dinner.

“I wanted to see you again.” She hadn’t missed a beat. Heyes smiled not believing her.

“That’s very flattering,” he told her. “At least it would be if I believed you.”

“Why don’t you believe me?” She looked into his eyes. Was she toying with him or genuinely hurt? She too remembered the feel of his touch on her skin.

“Why should I?” he asked staring back.

“Because it’s true. I enjoyed being with you Joshua, it felt right for once. I knew you were lying to me but I couldn’t figure out why at first. I was flattered by your attentions and you were a challenge and then I started to like you.” She moved closer to him. “To like you a lot and I wasn’t pretending anymore.” He took the glass from her hand and placed it on the table next to his own.

“I liked you too,” he told her honestly and she moved closer still. He could feel her breath on his face.

“Do you think you could like me again?” she asked seductively. His eyes focussed on her lips. The kiss when it came was passionate. His arms pulled her to him his fingers caressed her hair as their bodies pressed against each other. She was out of breath when he released her. Elizabeth stared at him.

“I won’t run away tonight,” she promised him.

***

“Heyes that you?” Kid asked squinting into the darkness, his eyes barely open. It was late. He had no idea how late but Heyes clumping about in the room had woken him.

“Go back to sleep,” Heyes told him as he crept towards his bed.

“What time is it?” his partner asked.

“It’s late, jus’ go back to sleep,” Heyes said. The bed springs creaked as he sat down to remove his boots.

“I sure hope you know whatcha doin’,” Kid said as he settled back beneath the covers and Heyes realised his partner knew exactly where he had been.

***

The next day Elizabeth was up and out before any of the men. She had breakfast and then went riding. Big Mac had given her permission to ride any of his horses and she had taken a particular liking to a tall chestnut with beautiful eyes.

Elizabeth was an accomplished rider and she rode with ease along the riverbank. She looked across the water, sparkling in the morning sunshine, at the land Mac had lost to Senor Armendariz. She had heard a lot about Mac’s rival and made a mental note to keep away from the astute Mexican.

Eventually Elizabeth returned to the house her face flushed, her hair windblown. She took off her riding gloves as she entered the hall and came face to face with Hannibal Heyes.

“Good mornin’,” he said giving her a smile that had broken many a woman’s heart.

“Good morning Joshua,” she said returning his smile.

“Did you have a good ride?” he asked his eyes meeting hers.

“Yes. After last night I needed time to think. Riding helps me do that.”

“We were just about to have breakfast. Will you join us?”

“I’ve already eaten but I’d love a cup of coffee.” Heyes stepped to one side allowing her to enter the dining room first.

“Mac, I thought I saw some men down by the river. They were crossing back and forth for some reason,” Elizabeth said, as they all sat at the dining table, the men starting to eat a hearty breakfast. Their forks paused, mid air at her words.

“Armendariz?” Mac asked. “Did you see a Mexican?”

“They all looked Mexican,” she told him and the big man got quickly to him feet slamming down his fork as he did so.

“Dammit, what’s he up to now?” he cried and then apologised to Elizabeth for his language.

“Mac, why don’t Thaddeus and I go an’ take a look for you? Before you go jumpin’ to conclusions,” Heyes suggested watching as Kid continued to chew thoughtfully.

“Wouldn’t hurt to have a look,” the blond man said and they were all relieved when McCreedy sat down.

“Thank you boys, I’d appreciate it,” he said and they exchanged a relieved look. They had been involved in his feud with Armendariz before and anything they could do to calm things down between the two rivals, and keep themselves out of the feud itself, was fine by them.

After breakfast Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry rode towards the river each secretly hoping to find nothing. They rode along the riverbank for sometime, spotting nothing out of the ordinary at any of the regular crossing places. Kid was dying to ask Heyes about his encounter with Elizabeth and whether or not they should stay or go but he thought better of it. His partner would let him know his feelings on the matter when he was ready.

They followed the trail as it entered a grove of trees and a voice called out.

“Alright boys, hold it right there.” Two men rode out in front of them their guns drawn and pointed directly at them. Another man rode out from the trees behind them. “Getcha hands up,” the man in the middle said. He wore a black hat with a feather stuck in the band. His name was Bill Walker and he was a big man with a pock marked face and a bulbous nose. Heyes and Kid put up their hands and the man behind them dismounted and took the guns from their holsters.

“Get off your horses, nice and slow,” Walker instructed them. They did as they were told and walked away from the horses into a clearing as directed by the self appointed leader.

“What’s going on here fellas? I think you guys are makin’ a mistake.” Heyes did not get the chance to say anymore. A rifle butt slammed into his abdomen and he crumpled to his knees holding his stomach. Kid moved towards his partner and was stopped by a six gun pointed in his face. The man holding it, whose name was Duffin, gave him a toothless smile and it was clear he would shoot if he had to.

“No one told ya to speak, did they?” Walker stated and Kid glared at him, his murderous intensions clear. Heyes gasped for breath and gave the man with the rifle, his own glare, as he struggled to his feet. Kid watched with concern but could do nothing to help him.

“Tie ‘em up,” Walker ordered and their hands were pulled roughly behind their backs and bound tightly at the wrists. “Now walk.” They moved in the direction indicated, their bound hands making it difficult to balance, as they walked over the rough ground. At times one or the other stumbled and was dragged back to his feet and pushed on until they reached a campsite by the river. Another man was already there and had a fire going, bedrolls laid out and a pot of coffee heating up. Off to one side ropes provided a pen for the horses. Were these the men Elizabeth had seen? They were not Mexican but she could have made a mistake about that.

“You,” Walker pointed at Kid. “Over there.” Kid made his way to a large boulder and sat down with his back to it as instructed. As Heyes was shoved towards where his partner sat he risked a few more words.

“If you tell us who you think we are I’m sure we can clear this up.” The big man hit him a cross the face with the back of his hand and Heyes stumbled backwards falling awkwardly onto his arms. Kid cringed. Why didn’t he ever learn? He watched as Heyes sat up his lower lip split and bleeding. Heyes looked at Kid and gave him a slight smile, at least as much as his split lip would allow him. Kid Curry rolled his blue eyes and shook his head to let his partner know he thought he was crazy.

“Who’d ya think we are?” Kid asked hoping to take some of the heat off his partner. Walker strode towards him. “What if we’re not the right men?” Kid added quickly.

“Gag ‘em,” was all the man said and a dirty bandana was wedged into their mouths and tied behind their heads. Well that did not help much, Kid thought.

Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry sat a few feet apart and looked at each other. Heyes tried to send a message to his partner using a few raised eyebrows and the expression in his dark eyes. Kid did not have a clue what he was trying to tell him, so the ex-Devil’s Hole Gang leader gave up.

A couple of hours later three of the men, including Walker, finished their meal and rode out leaving just one man behind to guard them. He was short and tubby with a receding hairline. He did not look like the hardest man to overpower, if you’re hands were not tied behind your back.

“ ‘ey,” Heyes mumbled at the man and he walked towards them.

“What?” he asked.

“’ow nong are e oing oo e ear?” Heyes asked and the man looked puzzled.

“What?” he asked again and Kid tried to help.

“’e ed, how ong are ee owing oo e here?” It finally dawned on the man as he realised what they were saying.

“How long are we goin’ to be here?” They both nodded. “I don’t know,” he told them honestly.

“Can oo ake ease ags off? I aunt eathe,” Heyes said and the man was concentrating hard to understand him. He suddenly smiled; pleased with himself.

“You can’t breathe! You want me to take the gags off.” Heyes nodded. The man was unsure. “I don’t think I should.”

“ ’lease,” Heyes pleaded.

“I guess it can’t hurt,” the man decided and untied the bandanas from around their mouths.

“Thank you. D’you have any water?” Heyes asked and the man fetched a canteen and gave first Heyes and then Kid a drink. “I’m Joshua Smith, this is Thaddeus Jones. What’s your name?”

“Brinkley, Arnold Brinkley,” the man told them.

“Well Arnold, do you have any idea what’s goin’ on?” Heyes asked.

“I’m sorry, no one tells me anythin’.”

“Arnold, I have a wife at home who’s gonna to be very worried when we don’t get back and my friend here, well his wife is gonna have a baby any day now. You have to let us go.”

“I’m sorry fellas, I can’t.” He shook his head with determined resolve.

“Don’t you have any idea why they’re holdin’ us?” Heyes asked as Brinkley began to walk away.

“I just know we were hired to capture you two, that’s all.” He headed back across the campsite, tidying up as he went, before heading off into the bushes presumably to take a nature break. Kid saw this as their chance and quickly shuffled round so that he was back to back with his partner.

“C’mon Heyes, untie me. It’s your turn, I did it last time,” Kid Curry said impatiently.

“You know, that’s the problem,” Heyes said making no attempt to untie his partner. “There was a last time.”

“What are you talkin’ about?” Kid asked over his shoulder.

“We’ve been tied up before and before that too. You know there are people out there who’ve never been tied up; never been beaten up either or held captive.”

“Heyes, just untie me,” Kid said irritably. Still his partner did not move.

“Is this what our lives will always be like? We have to get out of this business.”

“Heyes!” Kid’s voice took on a hard edge. “Shut up and untie me.”

“Okay Kid. No need to get proddy.” He began to work on the ropes that bound his partner’s wrists. “You know you sure are grumpy today.” Kid gritted his teeth. He’d deal with his partner once his wrists were free.

Finally, Kid felt the ropes loosen and he freed his hands. He turned quickly to work on the ropes that bound his partner. He had just freed Heyes wrists when they heard Brinkley returning. The tubby man emerged from the bushes rearranging his shirt. He looked up and saw the prisoners still sitting exactly as he had left them. They looked a sorry pair and he felt some sympathy for them, especially if they had wives who would be worried about them. He had been married once to a sweet girl called Alice…

“Hey Arnold!” Heyes called pulling him from his memories. “Any chance of a trip to the outhouse?” Brinkley looked a little concerned. He was not sure what to do about this.

“Can’t it wait?” he asked hopefully.

“Not really,” Heyes said and Brinkley walked towards them bending down in front of Heyes.

“I guess I’d have to untie you,” he stated unsure if he should.

“Unless you want to…”

“No!” Brinkley said shocked at the thought. “Turn around and I’ll untie you.” Heyes shuffled around and just as Brinkley saw that the ropes were already loose he heard the click of a hammer and Kid Curry was pointing Brinkley’s own gun at him.

“Don’t move Arnold,” Kid said.

“You’d betta put your hands behind your back,” Heyes said and he soon had Brinkley tied up with the ropes that had previously held his own wrists. Heyes picked up a bandana to use as a gag. “I’m sorry about this Arnold but it’s for your own good.” Brinkley did not look very convinced of that.

Kid and Heyes moved quickly now. They found their guns and soon had their horsed saddled. They gave Arnold a sorry look before riding off. They had not gone far when they heard horses coming towards them. Heyes indicated a path that disappeared into a small wood. Dismounting they lead their horses into the trees and out of sight just as Walker and the two other men rode by. Kid was about to remount when Heyes put a restraining had on his arm.

“I want to find out where they go when they realise we’ve gone,” he told his blond partner. “Who’d hire someone to catch us? Who knew we’d be here?” he asked rhetorically.

“I don’t think they knew who we really were either,” Kid said and Heyes considered this.

“You’re right Kid. It jus’ doesn’t make sense.” At that moment two men rode passed at speed. Walker’s horse trotted along after them and came to a halt as Walker consulted the watch he pulled from his pocket. Walker dismounted, threw the reins of his horse around the branch of a tree and headed towards the river. Leaving their own horses in the trees Heyes and Kid followed him, at a safe distance, climbing over rocks and scrabbling through undergrowth as they did so.

The sound of rushing water grew louder. The river was picking up speed as it tumbled over a series of rapids. A few resilient trees and bushes clung to the rocks or found a foot hold for their roots between the boulders. Walker had disappeared from view and they waited hoping he would reappear and they could resume following him.

“Kid d’you know…” but Heyes words were cut off as Kid clamped a hand over his mouth and pushed him up against a tree trunk. Heyes struggled for a moment giving his partner a look that said ‘what the hell do you think you’re doing?’ Kid keeping silent put his other hand in front of his partner’s face and pointed exaggeratingly to the right. Heyes looked in the direction indicated and through the branches of the bushes and a gap in the rocks he saw two people standing in conversation. One was Bill Walker, the other he could not identify as only their vague outline was visible.

“I told you we’d get ‘em and we did,” Walker said.

“But then you lost them,” the other person stated. Heyes and Curry stayed perfectly still straining their ears to catch what was said against the sound of the river.

“Why’d ya want these fellas anyway? Seem like a couple of idiot drifters to me.” At this Heyes and Kid exchanged a hurt look.

“I’m paying you to do as you’re told, not ask questions.” When the second person raised their voice Kid felt Heyes body tense as he recognised who it was. Heyes tried to get his partner to release him but Kid held him tighter not knowing what he might do or say in that moment. As Heyes had said, they needed to know what was going on.

“I’ll bring them out to the river tomorrow. Be there with your men and this time don’t mess things up. They must not know I have anything to do with this.”

“Don’t worry lady. I can be real convincin’, when I hafta be.”

The pair parted and Kid waited until he heard horses riding off before he finally let go of his partner. The dark-haired man said nothing as he straightened his shirt and Kid watched him. Heyes looked surprised and a little betrayed. Finally he turned to Kid.

“Why?” was all he said.

“$20,000 seems to be a good enough reason for most people,” Kid reminded him. Heyes thought about this and something Elizabeth had said, that first night, came back to him. They had been talking about the necklace and why she had let him keep it. “I didn’t need the money at the time”. That was what she had said. Did that mean she needed the money now? Was that the real reason she was here? Had she come to capture Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, to claim the reward? He did not think she knew who they really were. Maybe she did. What was this all about? Why was she really here? There were just too many unanswered questions.

“You alright?” Kid asked and Heyes nodded.

“Yeah. I jus’ feel like a fool and that’s becomin’ a bit of a habit where she’s concerned.” Kid decided it was best not to comment.

“So whatta we do now?” he asked.

“If she wants to take us to the river tomorrow, I suppose we should go, but not alone.”

“Why don’t we jus’ leave now? If we’re not here she can’t try to catch us,” Kid observed.

“And then we’d be lookin’ over our shoulders for her, as well as a posse. No Kid this has to end here.”

“Then you’d better start figurin’ out how,” his partner said as they headed back to their horses.

***

When they returned to McCreedy’s house Big Mac and Elizabeth met them at the door. When she saw his bruised face Elizabeth made a great show of fussing over Heyes.

“We were worried about you,” she said. “When I got back from my ride Mac told me you had not returned.” Heyes allowed her to usher him away to tend his wounds. Kid hung back and put a hand on Mac’s arm.

“We need to talk,” he said. “How about openin’ your whisky?” The big man was curious and led the way into his study.

***

The next morning, at breakfast, when Elizabeth suggested a horse ride, if they thought it was safe, Kid feigned a hangover blaming Mac’s fine whisky and far too generous nature. Heyes smiled sweetly at Mrs. Darkly and agreed to join her. Elizabeth quickly accepted one man, if she could not have two. Kid Curry watched from a window as they rode off together.

It was a beautiful day, the kind that had bees buzzing about the flowers and birds singing in the trees. Heyes let Elizabeth decide their route and he was not surprised when she led them towards the river. Elizabeth smiled sweetly at him as they led their horses along the river bank, not too far from where Heyes and Kid had been held captive by Walker and his men. Elizabeth reached out and took Heyes hand in hers. Again there was the smile that had so easily claimed his heart.

“Isn’t it beautiful here?” she said and he had to agree. “Joshua, why have you never married?” she asked suddenly.

“I never found the right woman,” he told her not quite sure where this conversation was headed. “And I don’t lead the life a married man should.”

“Now that makes you sound mysterious,” she told him as she focused her brown eyes on his. “How did you meet Mac?”

“You’re full of questions today,” he observed, noticing her looking around as if she was expecting someone to be there.

“I’m just interested in you,” she told him and looked behind him.

“Are you looking for someone?” he asked.

“I suddenly thought about what happened to you yesterday. Those men could be nearby.”

“I doubt it,” he reassured her. “Mac said, his men rode out to have a look and the campsite was empty. They’re probably long gone by now. Besides I’m here to protect you.” He bowed gallantly. She did not blush as many women might, just gave him a knowing smile.

“But gallant sir, who will protect me from you?” she asked. “I mean here we are, un-chaperoned. Why anything could happen. I have my reputation to think of,” she teased.

“Oh, I don’t think you’re so innocent as to need a chaperone,” Heyes said and she caught the edge in his voice. Elizabeth turned her dark eyes onto his.

“I’m not sure I know what you mean.”

“I asked you once before, why you really came back. Now I’m askin’ you again. Elizabeth, why are you here?”

“I told you, I wanted to see you again, to apologise.” She tried to look hurt but was certainly confused by his sudden change.

“Yes, that is what you said before,” he agreed. “But that’s not the real reason. Why d’you plan to meet someone here today?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she lied.

“You met Walker here yesterday.” He looked around and pointed. “Right over there I think it was.”

“Joshua, I think that blow you took to the head, has muddled your brain.” She looked around. Whoever she was expecting still had not arrived.

“I don’t think they’re comin’,” he told her. She looked questioningly at him. “The men you’re expecting. I think Mac and Thaddeus have probably rounded ‘em up by now. That would upset your plans a little, wouldn’t it?”

“I don’t know…” but she thought better than to deny it. She paused organising her thoughts before she spoke. “You’re right, I’m not as innocent as I may have pretended.” She turned her back on him for a moment. When she turned around, she was pointing a gun at him.

“Elizabeth.” Heyes raised his hands slightly, more to calm her down than in defeat.

“I always get what I want, Joshua, and right now I want you.”

“I’d be flattered if I thought you were after me for my good looks and charming personality.” He looked at her. “That’s not whatcha had in mind, is it?”

“No Hannibal it isn’t,” she said his name with a sneer. “Or would you prefer Heyes?”

“You think I’m Hannibal Heyes?” he said incredulously.

“I know you’re Hannibal Heyes,” she told him and he realised there would be no point in denying it.

“$10,000 then?”

“$20,000 actually. I intend to hand Kid Curry over as well, Hannibal.”

“I think my partner might have his own views on that,” he told her.

“I thought he left the thinking to you. You’re supposed to be the brains and he’s just the dumb hired gun.”

“You’ve got that so wrong,” he told her but she ignored his comments.

“Start walking.”

“To where?”

“To the horses,” she told him.

“And if I don’t?”

“Then I’ll shoot you.”

“I don’t think so,” he said with some certainty.

“The reward is dead or alive remember?” she reminded him. “I’m sorry it has to be like this. I really am very fond of you. I wish we could have spent more time together. Maybe if things had been different…”

“They could be,” Heyes told her sensing a sudden weakness in her resolve.

“No. No they can’t be. You see I need the money, badly. So I will shoot you, if I have to.”

“No, I don’t think you will,” he stated.

“That’s because you really don’t know me very well.” There was a sudden change in her expression; a look in her eyes that Heyes had not seen before. He realised for the first time, that she might be capable of shooting him after all.

“Shoot me an’ you’ll have to drag me to my horse.”

“If I shoot you, you can’t go anywhere. I’ll know exactly where to bring the sheriff. I’m a defenceless woman at the mercy of a ruthless train robber. No one will blame me if I shot you, in self defence, as you tried to molest me.” She ripped the lace from the neckline of her dress and at that moment they heard approaching horses. It would be Kid and Big Mac. They had gone to find Walker and his men before heading over to meet Heyes and Elizabeth. The plan was for them to ride in and, hopefully, announce the capture of the men.

“Move!” she ordered with a slight trace of panic in her eyes but Heyes stood his ground.

“No, Elizabeth, I’m not goin’ with you.”

“Move, or I swear I’ll shoot.” Still Heyes did not move, meeting her steely gaze and then Elizabeth Darkly fired her gun. Heyes staggered backwards in shocked surprise as the bullet penetrated his left shoulder.

“That should slow you down a little,” she told him. “I’ll be back for you, Hannibal Heyes,” she promised and ran to her horse. Heyes heard it galloping away.

Kid Curry, Big Mac McCreedy and several of Big Mac’s ranch hands rode into view not long after Elizabeth had spurred her horse away. Mac shouted to his men and they rode after the woman. Kid was off his horse and running towards his partner before the animal had come to a halt. Heyes lay on the ground, a hand clamped at his shoulder, warm blood running through his fingers. He looked pale.

“How bad?” Kid asked not bothering to hide his concern.

“She shot me,” Heyes told him unnecessarily and Kid heard the surprise in his partner’s voice.

“So I see,” Kid said realising his partner was probably in shock. “Bullet still in there?”

“It hurts like hell if that’s any help,” Heyes said and then saw the worried expression on his friend’s face. “I don’t know. I think the bullet went right through.” Kid gently pulled Heyes to a sitting position, apologising when his partner cried out, and looked at his back noting the blood-stained hole in his shirt at the shoulder. Without saying a word Kid removed his bandana and placed it over the wound.

“You’ve gotta go after her,” Heyes told him.

“Later. We’ll deal with you first.”

“But Kid….” His younger cousin ignored him and turned his attention to McCreedy.

“We need to get him to a doctor,” Kid said to Big Mac and then he bent down to address his partner. “Think you can sit on a horse?”

“No, but do I have any choice?” Heyes said honestly.

“Not really,” his partner admitted. Mac and Kid helped Heyes to his feet and onto Kid’s horse before Kid Curry climbed up behind him and they set off back to Mac’s ranch. Big Mac sent two men on ahead, one into town to fetch the doctor and the other to the ranch, to prepare his housekeeper.

Kid eased his horse on, torn between the desire to get Heyes back to Mac’s ranch as fast as possible and the need to make the ride as easy as he could for his partner. At first Heyes held on as much as he was able to and tried to help Kid as they rode, but slowly Kid felt Heyes growing weaker and then he slumped forwards as he lost consciousness. Kid held Heyes against him. Eventually they reached the ranch to find the doctor waiting and prepared for both the patient and the wounds he had received. Putting Heyes over his shoulder, Kid carried him up the stairs to their room, and laid him gently onto the bed. He watched as the doctor went to work with the help of Manuela. Kid stood beside the door unable to help and saying nothing as his partner’s wound was expertly cleaned and bandaged. He watched as the blood-stained clothes piled up on the floor, his mind torn between his concern for his partner and his growing desire to ride off and find the woman who had done this.

The doctor, a small dark-haired man in his forties with a pencil thin moustache, moved away from the bed where Heyes now lay unconscious. He turned his attention to the young blond man waiting patiently beside the door. The man looked a little pale and his worry for his friend was obvious.

“Are you hurt?” the doctor asked and Kid realised he was looking at his shirt, which only now did he notice, was covered in blood.

“It’s not my blood,” he said vaguely.

“You should go and get cleaned up,” the doctor said and gently placed a hand on Kid’s arm. “Your friend will be well cared for. He’s resting now.” Kid looked at Heyes lying there, a bandage across his chest and over his left shoulder. It was only slightly blood stained where the bullet had entered his flesh. He looked so vulnerable; nothing like the tough ex-leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang. The doctor urged Kid to go and reluctantly he slipped quietly from the room.

***

“What do you wanna do?” Big Mac asked Kid as he handed him a glass of brandy. Kid had washed and changed and some of the colour had returned to his face

“Find her. Shoot her. Regret it for the rest of my life,” Kid told him honestly, his blue eyes fixed in an icy stare, as he took a sip of the brandy and felt it’s warmth as it slid down his throat.

“We do have to find her,” Mac said. “I can’t believe she got away again but I’ve got my men out now, scouting around. I’ll let you know if they find any trace of her. She’ll find it harder to pay off people in this town. The sheriff’s keeping an eye on the stage and the train.” Kid shot him a worried look. “Don’t worry about him; remember he thinks you’re my nephew although I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t ride out here later to have a word with Heyes.” At the mention of his partner Kid put down his glass and stood up.

“I’d better go check on him.”

“The doctor said he should be fine,” Mac reminded him.

“I know,” Kid told him his doubt obvious.

***

Mac gently opened the door so as not to wake the wounded man. The ex-outlaw leader was sleeping peacefully, the doctor had said there was no sign of infection and the wound had been dealt with swiftly. He expected ‘Mr. Smith’ to make a full recovery. It would just take time for him to regain his strength after losing so much blood. Mac turned to the chair positioned between the two beds where Kid Curry now slept, his head resting on one hand. He had intended to sit up all night, keeping an eye on his partner, ready to defend him from any other attack but the events of the day had eventually caught up with him and, exhausted, he had drifted off to sleep. However, there was no way anyone would get to Heyes without waking him first.

Mac removed Kid’s hat, which rested on his knee and placed it on the dresser. He thought about attempting to remove Kid’s gun from his hand but then thought better of it; one bullet wound in a day was enough. He placed a blanket over his young ‘nephew’. Momentarily Kid’s eyes opened and fixed on McCreedy, who smiled at him. Kid muttered a weary thanks and the big man crept towards the door. Mac looked back at the two sleeping men. They could not look less like two desperate outlaws wanted dead or alive.

***

Heyes opened his eyes to see a room lit by rays of sunshine steaming in through the window. His shoulder ached but otherwise he felt okay, if a little tired. He looked across at his cousin, asleep in the chair beside the bed. Kid still looked so young when he slept. His neck was at an awkward angle. He’s going to have a neck ache when he wakes up, Heyes thought just as the door handle turned slowly and Big Mac put his head round the door. He smiled when he saw Heyes was awake and entered the room.

“How d’you feel?” he asked and Kid’s eyes flew open. He fought with the blanket that still covered him and pointed his gun at the man in the doorway. Sensibly Big Mac stood perfectly still. Kid stared wide eyed at the big man; eyes open but not awake. He looked from Mac to Heyes.

“He been there all night?” Heyes asked weakly.

“Yeah. All night. On guard,” Mac said and exchanged a smile with the dark-haired man. Kid looked from one to the other trying to appear alert as he lowered his gun replacing it back in its holster. He sat up in the chair and rubbed his stiff neck. Kid looked at Heyes.

“You alright?” he asked. His partner thought about this for a moment.

“My shoulder hurts.”

“A bullet hole will do that to you,” Kid said not entirely unsympathetic.

“She actually shot me,” Heyes said still not quite able to believe it. “She actually shot me.”

“Yeah, she did.” Kid looked at his partner checking that he really was okay. “I’m sorry I didn’t get there sooner.” He did not meet his partner’s eyes.

“You didn’t know she was gonna shoot me,” Heyes told him but his partner did not look convinced. “You didn’t Kid, but thanks,” Heyes said.

“For what?” Kid looked surprised now.

“Not sayin’ I told you so.” Kid smiled the thought had occurred to him. “Could I have a drink of water?” Heyes asked suddenly realising how dry his throat was. Kid poured a glass of water for him from the jug that Manuela had left on the dresser. He helped Heyes sit up, to take small sips of the cool liquid. The movement caused the ex-outlaw considerable pain and Kid did his best to support him. As he eased back onto the pillow Heyes looked pale and drawn. He looked at the two men who watched him with concern.

“Did you find her?” he asked weakly.

“I haven’t looked,” Kid replied and turned to McCreedy. “Mac?”

“No, no sign of her yet. My men went after her but she got away. They looked around but they couldn’t find Elizabeth or Walker,” Mac said.

“She has a way of disappearin’,” Kid told him.

“The men we brought in don’t really know much,” McCreedy told them. “Seems Walker hired them a few days ago. They were promised good money to capture two men and hold onto them. No one would get hurt. They were told it was just a little pay back for a bad debt.”

Kid stood and, picking up his hat, rubbed the stubble on his chin.

“I’m gonna have a look around,” he said. “D’you think you’ll be all right?” He asked his partner.

“Apart from the danger of fallin’ out of bed, I’ll be fine.” He looked at his cousin through tired eyes. Kid was still watching him him, unsure what to do. “I’ll be fine. I think I’ll get some sleep.” With a quick look back at Heyes, Kid left.

“Mac,” Heyes said clearly fighting sleep. “Keep an eye on him. Don’t let him do anythin’ stupid.”

“Do you really think I could stop him?” the big man asked. “Don’t worry; I’ll keep an eye on him.” When he descended the stairs Mac was surprised to find Kid Curry still in the hallway. He had been waiting for their host.

“Keep an eye on him for me Mac,” the blond man asked. McCreedy smiled.

“That’s what he just said.” He saw the look of concern on the young man’s face and the worry in his eyes. “Go on, get going. I’ll send Manuela up. She’ll dote on him like a mother hen, you know that.”

“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Kid told him.

***

Heyes awoke from a restless sleep to hear movement in the room. Manuela probably. She had been keeping a motherly eye on him since Kid left. He opened his eyes and made out two figures in the room. A man in a black cowboy hat with a feather stuck in the band approached him and he heard the click of a six gun hammer. Heyes focussed. Walker.

“Finally awake, huh?” Walker said as the other person moved into view.

“Hello Hannibal. I told you I’d be back for you.” Elizabeth Darkly gave him a sweet smile, which Heyes did not return.

“I guess I’m lucky you’re a bad shot,” Heyes said.

“No, I’m a very good shot. My father taught me to shoot when I was nine. If I were a bad one you’d be dead right now. I planned to wing you and I did. Now we’re in a bit of a hurry,” she told him.

“Get your clothes on,” Walker instructed. “We’re going for a little ride.”

“I don’t know where they are,” Heyes replied and Elizabeth dropped a pile of clothes onto the bed.

“Put these on or ride as you are,” she stated. Heyes eased himself up with one hand groaning as he did so. That hurt.

“I may need some help,” he told her and she saw how weak he looked.

“It will be my pleasure,” Elizabeth replied.

***

Kid Curry returned to McCreedy’s house exhausted. He was late back, his horse had pulled up lame and he had to walk it. He had been everywhere he could think of in search of Elizabeth Darkly and to no avail. He had asked around town, just in case someone would talk to him, if not the sheriff or Mac’s men. He had ridden to the nearest ranches although he decided against a visit to Senor Armendariz; they were in enough trouble as it was without that complication. Somehow he could not see Elizabeth taking refuge there; Armendariz was too smart a man and would ask too many questions. What did that say about them he wondered? If they had asked more questions maybe? But it was too late for ‘what ifs’.

Kid checked out the camp near the river in case she had returned there and then he searched other known hideouts in the area. He found nothing. Reluctantly he returned to McCreedy’s house.

Lights burned in the hallway as he entered. Kid knew Big Mac would be in town by now, at a cattleman’s meeting, so he did not expect to be met. He hoped Mac had left someone on guard but there was no one around. He was surprised to hear voices upstairs. Perhaps Manuela had stayed with Heyes until she knew Mr. Jones was back to take over his care. She had been a Godsend. He would have to be sure to thank her. Maybe he could buy her a nice scarf; he knew she liked them.

“Manuela?” he called but received no reply and the voices fell silent. Now that was odd. Kid started up the stairs.

***

“It’s Curry!” Elizabeth hissed; a sudden hint of panic in her voice at the unexpected arrival of Heyes’ partner. Heyes was dressed now, his hands tied in front of him but blood stained the shoulder of his shirt. The stitches the doctor had so carefully sown had ripped open, as Walker helped him pull on the shirt. He was in considerable pain and breathing fast but trying hard not to show it. Hearing his partner’s voice Heyes’ mind raced. He had to warn Kid but how? Walker obviously realised what he might try to do and pointed his gun into Heyes’ pale face.

“You make one sound and I’ll put another hole in you,” he warned and Heyes did not reply; just listened to Kid’s approaching footsteps on the stairs. Elizabeth moved back into the shadows beside the dresser as they waited for the inevitable turn of the door handle. The footsteps reached the door, the handle turned and the door eased open. Not wishing to wake his partner, if he was asleep, Kid cautiously looked into the room. Bill Walker smiled at him as he sat beside Hannibal Heyes.

“Why don’t you join us?” he suggested. “Come on in; nice and slow.” Kid weighed up the situation. He saw his partner’s bound wrists, the blood on his shirt, the gun in Walker’s hand and did a quick calculation as to what the outcome might be, if he tried to rush him.

“You alright?” he asked his partner as he eased into the room.

“I’ve had better days,” Heyes told him, giving his cousin a reassuring smile despite the weakness he felt and the sweat running down his forehead.

“Shut up the pair of you,” Walker ordered. Elizabeth remained still and quiet in the corner. Kid had not yet seen her. Walker addressed Kid Curry. “Take off your gun belt; real slow.”

Keeping his eyes on Walker, Kid bent to undo the ties around his leg and in the split second Walker’s concentration was on Kid and not him, Heyes made his move. He shoved Walker sideways, crying out as pain ripped through his shoulder as he did so. Walker lost his balance and Kid lunged at him and they struggled for the gun. They crashed into the nearest bed, sending it across the room, then grappled on the floor, wrestling for the gun that Walker only barely had a hold of. Suddenly the gun skidded across the wooden floor and stopped at the feet of Elizabeth Darkly. Swiftly she picked up the weapon and approached the two fighting men. She aimed it but could not focus on Kid Curry alone. If she tried to shoot him she might hit Walker and, although she had little respect for the man, she still needed his help. Instead she turned the gun around in her hand and swung it with considerable force. Heyes called out his partner’s name but it was too late. The gun butt made contact with the side of Kid’s head and he crumpled to the floor.

Heyes looked with concern at his cousin as he lay unconscious on his back, a thin trickle of blood beginning to run from his hair down his left temple. Walker staggered to his feet.

“Tie him up,” Elizabeth told him and, regaining his composure, Walker removed Kid’s gun from his holster then pulled his arms over his chest. He tied Kid’s wrists together with a leather cord. Elizabeth turned her attention to Heyes.

“Not very smart Hannibal. Was it? Now look what you’ve done to poor Jed.” Elizabeth was deliberately using their Christian names. Somehow she knew that would rile Heyes. The ex-outlaw looked at her with venom in his dark eyes but he said nothing and that seemed to annoy her even more. Once Kid’s hands were tied Walker was sent to get the horses ready. Elizabeth took Kid’s gun and held it loosely in her hand as she stood over his still body.

“Such a vicious weapon for a young man to carry. Do you think your parents would be proud of all you’ve taught him?” She did not wait for him to reply. “I wonder what Jed might have done in life if the cousin he admired so much, had not lead him into a life of crime? Oh yes, I’ve done my research Hannibal and I know how much he looks up to you.” She smiled knowing full well the reaction her words would elicit from Heyes. She was not saying anything he had not asked himself over the years but to hear someone else say it, to hear her say it, cut deep.

“So what happens now?” Heyes asked trying not to reveal his feelings and wishing he felt strong enough to do something about it.

“We take you both to the sheriff and claim the reward money, but not the one in this town. I think Big Mac has too much influence on him don’t you? I thought one in Wyoming might be nice, especially as that’s where you are both wanted. Nice to be wanted isn’t it?” She laughed at her own joke. “I don’t think you are going to like prison Hannibal; locked up in a dark damp cell; being told what to do every minute of every day. No trains or banks to rob.” She let that sink in, watching his expression for any sign that her words were affecting him. Heyes simply stared back at her but she could see she was getting to him.

“And then there’s poor Jed. Why every man there is going to want to test out his reputation; to see how tough the ‘fastest gun in the west’ is when he doesn’t have his gun. He’ll be lucky to survive the first month.” Elizabeth gave him a seductive smile which now that he knew her better he no longer found appealing. “Don’t worry Hannibal; I’ll take good care of you on the way there.” Out of the corner of his eye Heyes saw Kid stir.

“What happens to Walker when we get to your sheriff? Does he get some of the reward money?” Heyes asked, easing himself into a more comfortable sitting position against the wall. His shoulder hurt and he was struggling to stay conscious. He could feel his blood soaking once more into his shirt. Heyes just hoped he could keep Elizabeth’s attention focussed on him and not Kid.

“I don’t plan to share you or the money you’ll bring with anyone,” she said. Kid opened his eyes and tried to focus. The world was a giant blur and someone was hammering on his head. Heyes hoped he would not make a sound.

“I don’t suppose Walker knows that yet?” Heyes said again drawing her attention towards him. Kid reached up and gently touched his head as he took in the situation around him. He felt the wet stickiness of his own blood on his forehead. Ow! What hit him?

“Walker has no idea,” Elizabeth said. “Why the sudden concern for him? I’d have thought you should be worrying about your own fate. Remember the posters say ‘dead or alive’ and they’ll pay me either way. I’d hate to have to shoot you again but if you try anything Hannibal you know I will.” She pointed Kid’s gun at him.

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t,” Heyes said and Kid turned to look at him; his eyes a little bleary his gaze questioning. “You know I’m sorry things turned out this way. I always hoped you and I could have worked together; maybe planned a few schemes together.” He took a deep breath as a wave of pain, and its accompanying nausea, past over him.

“You and I?” She looked surprised by his admission.

“Why not? You have to admit, we had a certain somethin’.” Heyes saw Kid move and he gave Elizabeth a smile.

“Partners you mean?” Elizabeth was intrigued and a little excited by the thought.

“No,” he told her flatly. “I have a partner.”

“He’s not much good to you now,” she pointed out and heard the click of a gun’s hammer.

“Don’t be so sure,” Kid said and she turned astonished to see him both conscious and with a gun in his hand. Kid held the gun in both hands to steady himself and blood from his head wound ran down his cheek.

“You know, even with his hands tied, he’s faster than you,” Heyes said and he could not hide his pride in his partner.

“He’s right,” Kid said. Elizabeth thought about it for only a moment before lowering the gun she held.

“Where did you get a gun?” she asked.

“You forgot Heyes’ gun,” Kid told her pointing to the empty holster that lay under the bed, where it fell during the struggle. Heyes reached forward and took the gun from her. “Untie ‘im,” Kid ordered hoping she would do it before he passed out. She began to undo the knot on the binds around Heyes wrists. When she had finished Heyes held the gun while she untied Kid’s hands. She had just thrown the leather strap angrily onto the floor when they heard Walker climbing the stairs.

“Now isn’t this a familiar scene,” Heyes observed. “What was that Walker said? Make one sound and I’ll put a hole in you?”

“You wouldn’t?” she said.

“No, he wouldn’t but I would,” Kid told her and she had no idea if he was telling the truth but his expression certainly frightened her. Elizabeth kept quiet as Kid tied her hands with the strap she had removed from Heyes. Kid moved to stand behind the door, his gun raised. When Walker blithely entered the room he put the gun to his head.

It did not take him long to tie Walker up. The man now sat dejected on the bed next to Elizabeth.

“What do you think you can do to me?” she asked, a note of defiance still in her voice. “If you try to hand me in to the sheriff I shall tell him who you really are.” Heyes looked at her. He now sat in the chair Kid had slept in. He looked done in; ready to pass out at any moment. At his shoulder the red patch on his shirt had grown. His eyes were open only because he was willing them to stay that way.

“I’m sure you would, but as you said before, Big Mac knows the sheriff in town really well and I don’t imagine he’ll listen too closely to a thief.” She glared at him. “Oh Elizabeth, where’s that smile you always had for me now?” Before she could say anything unfitting for a lady they heard Mac’s slightly drunk voice downstairs.

***

When Mac realised what was going on he raised his household. A man was sent to get the sheriff and others were called to take the prisoners down stairs and guard them. Despite his protestations Heyes was helped back into bed and the doctor was sent for. Heyes looked at his partner who stood beside the door blood still on his face. Kid smiled at his partner to reassure him but then his eyelids began to droop and he started to slip down the wall.

“Kid!” Heyes cried out and Mac turned just in time to catch him as he fell. Mac eased him onto the other bed.

“I guess he’ll need the doctor too,” Heyes said weakly, his concern for his partner obvious.

“How you two have managed to stay alive all these years I’ll never know,” McCreedy said. He was worried about both of them. He didn’t like the fact that Heyes shoulder wound was bleeding again and there was no telling how serious a head wound Kid had received. He liked these young men and in frustration shouted at Manuela, when she entered the room to tend to them. Manuela was used to her boss and his tantrums, so she ignored him and even pushed him out of the way as she went to see to her patients.

***

Elizabeth Darkly was arrested and taken to town by the sheriff. McCreedy explained how she had stolen a necklace from him and how his nephew and Mr. Smith had been sent to retrieve it. When you have a possession back, it’s easier to admit it was stolen. Elizabeth was also charged with shooting Joshua Smith. Bill Walker was arrested for kidnapping and assault.

“You know we can’t give evidence at their trial,” Heyes told Mac when the sheriff had departed and the doctor had ridden home. The house was quiet again and Manuela had left them to prepare some food.

“Don’t worry about that,” Mac said somewhat conceitedly as he exhaled a cloud of smoke from his cigar. “Around here my word will do.”

***

“She’s what?” they heard Mac bellow. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry sat up in their respective beds trying hard not to go crazy, at the enforced bed rest the doctor, and more importantly Manuela, had imposed on them. They listened intently as Mac raged downstairs. Then there was the sound of heavy footsteps and the door to their room flew open. “She escaped,” he announced.

“What?” Heyes asked putting down the book he was reading. His arm was now in a sling and a healthy colour was back in his face.

“How?” Kid asked.

“Damn fool of a deputy, listened to some sob story she told him. Woman’s problems and she was gone before he knew what hit him.” Mac paced across the room. “Sheriff’s had men out looking for her all morning.”

“No sign of her?” Heyes asked knowing what the answer would be.

“None.”

“You know Mac there is one place she could have gone,” Heyes said.

“Armendariz,” McCreedy stated shifting uncomfortably.

“Yep.”

“Boys you don’t want me to….” He looked from one man to the other. Heyes was regaining his strength and Kid looked much better despite the bruising around his temple.

“We’ve helped you out many times Mac,” Kid reminded him.

“And been well paid for it too,” McCreedy stated bluntly.

“Now we need your help,” Heyes said.

“I can’t boys. I can’t ride over there lookin’ for a woman. I’d have to explain the whole story. Think how that would make me look.” They both fixed him with a mischievous smile. “And she’d tell them who you two really are and I think he’d believe that,” he added. Their smiles faded. Armendariz would find such information interesting and no doubt extremely useful. Dammit had she gotten away again?

The End?

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