1 For a Lass Darkly

For a Lass Darkly

By Maz McCoy

“What the hell happened to you?” Hannibal Heyes asked as he entered the hotel room to see his partner, Kid Curry, spit a mouthful of blood into a bowl. His blond curly-haired partner looked up at Heyes, to reveal a cut below his left eye and bruising on the cheekbone. Kid Curry said nothing but returned to the bowl to dab water onto his cheek. “Kid?” Heyes asked, not hiding the worry in his voice, as he approached the younger man.

“How was your date?” Kid asked, through a cut lip, as he looked at his bruised face in the mirror of the washstand.

“Don’t try to change the subject,” Heyes admonished. “I know I don’t like you using your gun, because it draws attention to us, but you know you are allowed to use it when you need to, right?” Heyes attempt to lighten the mood produced no reaction from Kid so he picked up a cloth and wet it in the bowl. As gently as he could, Heyes placed it against Kid’s cut cheek. His partner flinched as he touched him.

“I sure hope the other guy looks worse than you do.”

“I doubt it,” Kid said cryptically and moved to the bed. He groaned as he lowered himself carefully onto the edge of the bed and began to untuck his shirt from his jeans.

“You going to tell me what happened?” Heyes asked.

“No,” Kid told him.

“Is it finished?”

“I don’t know.” It was warm and Kid was not wearing his Henley top. Heyes saw the bruises on Kid’s ribs as he unbuttoned his shirt.

“Just how bad are you hurt?” Heyes asked with concern.

“I just need to rest Heyes, okay?” Kid eased himself back onto the bed and lowered his head onto the pillow. Heyes did not like to mention it but there was something he had to say.

“You know we’re supposed to stay out of trouble.”

“We are Heyes,” Kid assured him, his eyes closed. “You have no idea how much trouble we are staying out of right now.”

“You’re not going to tell me are you?”

“Nothing I can’t handle,” Kid replied.

“Why am I having difficulty believing that?” Heyes asked rhetorically as he looked at his injured partner. Kid opened one eye, the unbruised one.

“You just get that necklace. Then we’ll be fine.”

***

They had arrived in Prey Lake a few days before, on an errand for Big Mac McCreedy. They rode down the main street passed the sheriff’s office, glad to see that the name was not one they knew, and stopped at the hotel. As Kid untied his things from his saddle he looked up and down the street. Seemed like a nice town, if kind of quiet for a Saturday. It was much like so many they had stayed in. There was a bank, a general store, the livery stables they had noted as they rode in, and where they would stable their horses during their stay. Kid’s eyes focussed on the café, across the street, and his stomach rumbled. It had been a long time since breakfast and Big Mac had given them some money as an advance, so he knew they could afford to eat. Heyes smiled having noticed the object of Kid’s attention.

“Why don’t we check into the hotel and then go get us something to eat?” he suggested and Kid gave him a smile.

“Must have read my thought’s Heyes,” he said.

“Nope but I heard your stomach’s.”

The hotel was bright and clean and their room, which overlooked the main street and the sheriff’s office, was spacious and airy. Two beds, a couple of chairs, a chest of drawers and a washstand with mirror furnished the room. It was certainly an improvement on the last hotel they had stayed in.

Having left their things in the room, they headed across the street to the cafeteria. Molly, the owner, introduced herself with a bright smile. She was a big woman in her early forties and not used to seeing such a handsome pair of men in her establishment at this time of day, or at any time come to think of it. The ranch hands from Double R were a rough bunch not known for their table manners. Molly took a particular shine to the blond man who soon proved to have a healthy appetite and said some very nice things about her cooking. Her maternal and, she had to admit, some not so maternal, instincts were aroused by the young curly-haired blond.

His partner was equally as handsome, with dark hair that flopped over his face and a nice smile that revealed some rather appealing dimples. Then he asked her about Elizabeth Darkly and that dampened her desire for him. Molly was a woman who liked to be the centre of a man’s attention.

“Do you know Mrs. Elizabeth Darkly?” Heyes had asked.

“Elizabeth? Why yes I do.” She gave no more away.

“Can you tell us where we could find Mrs. Darkly?” Heyes gave her his most trustworthy smile and Kid could see the woman’s resolve weakening a little but then she stiffened as if her decision was made.

“This is delicious pie,” Kid said as he spooned another forkful of apple pie into his mouth. Molly smiled at Kid Curry.

“I baked it myself,” she told him momentarily ignoring Heyes’ question.

“Really delicious,” Kid told her again. “Do you know where we might find Mrs. Darkly?” he asked almost absently.

“Well, seeing as you asked so nicely,” Molly said teasingly as Heyes watched the exchange between them. “She’s staying with Mr. and Mrs. Whittaker. He’s the manager of the bank. They have a house just outside of town on the road east. Great big place, you can’t miss it.” Kid gave her a grateful smile and nodded as his mouth was still full of pie.

“You know Kid, I don’t understand it,” Heyes told him as they left the cafeteria. “I’m supposed to be the one with the silver tongue and yet just then in there I learnt that I can sometimes be beaten by the power of food.” He gave Kid a wide grin and slapped him on the back as they headed back to the hotel.

***

Elizabeth Darkly was a strikingly beautiful woman with long dark hair that she fastened up behind her head with an attractive pin. When they first saw her, she was across the street walking along the boardwalk. She was wearing a green dress that revealed her delicate frame and neat waist whilst giving more than a slight hint of the womanly features beneath. They watched as she entered the general store, then made their way back to the hotel from where they could watch the store without drawing attention to themselves.

“Nice looking woman,” Kid said as they entered their room.

“Hmm,” Heyes replied absently.

“So which of us is it to be?” Kid asked as he watched the store from the window.

“To do what?” Heyes asked although Kid was well aware that his partner knew what he was talking about. Kid said nothing. “Oh you mean Mrs. Darkly? Which of us should find out where the necklace is?”

“That’s right Heyes. Which of us should get close to her?” Both men felt up to the job of wooing her enough to find out where the sapphires were. So who would do it?

“Do you have a plan as to what you’d do to find the necklace?” Heyes asked knowing it was quite likely that Kid didn’t.

“Do you?” Kid countered knowing exactly what his partner thought. Heyes raised an eyebrow his thoughts elsewhere.

***

Big Mac McCreedy had contacted then through Sheriff Lom Trevors, knowing full well that the sheriff, who was trying to help the boys get their amnesty from the Governor of Wyoming, would often be in touch with them. Big Mac needed their help as soon as possible and they had ridden to his ranch in the hope that it had nothing to do with a bust of Caesar and Senor Armendariz. Grateful to know that this was the case, and that Big Mac was desperate enough to offer them a sizeable amount of money, they listened intently to what he had to say.

Big Mac had met Elizabeth Darkly at a friend’s wedding. He had been taken with her from the moment she was introduced to him and she was soon giving all the indications of being besotted with him too. At this the boys did their best to hide their disbelief but they continued to listen. Big Mac fell for Elizabeth in a big way. He sang her praises to them as he described taking her on a picnic (something they could not picture Mac doing) and their chaste evenings together. He asked her to wear his mother’s sapphire necklace, to compliment the blue velvet dress he had bought her, to a cattleman’s ball and that was the last he saw of her and the sapphires. When he searched for her at the hotel her room was empty; all her possessions including the dress and Mac’s necklace were gone. Big Mac wanted the necklace back but without any fuss.

“Boys, I need your discretion on this. I don’t need to tell you how much of a fool I feel. Why if it got out I’d be a laughing stock. Armendariz would never let me live it down.” (It should be noted that this was some time before Big Mac set eyes on Armendariz’ sister). “If you do this without anyone else finding out there’s another $1000 in it for you.”

“Apiece?” Kid Curry asked having listened to the story whilst enjoying one of Mac’s imported cigars.

“Alright, apiece,” Big Mac said with much less complaint than they were used to. He turned to Hannibal Heyes. “I know you’ll come up with a plan Heyes.” He said confidently.

Heyes had been told Elizabeth Darkly liked wealthy men for the lifestyle they could give her and the financial gains she could make. With that in mind he began to mull over the possibilities.

***

“Toss you for it?” Kid asked moving away from the window. Heyes just smiled at his partner. “Whose coin?” Kid added.

Heyes produced one and let Kid examine it. He then tossed it into the air as Kid called, “Heads”.

Heyes caught the coin and placed it on the back of his hand. He showed it to Kid and smiled.

***

The dark-haired man was most apologetic for having bumped into Elizabeth Darkly as she came out of the store. He asked politely if she was unhurt and, when she assured him that she was, he rewarded her with a beguiling smile.

“Joshua Smith, ma’am,” the attractive, well spoken, young man said touching the tip of his hat as he introduced himself. She shook the hand he offered her.

“Elizabeth Darkly,” she replied already intrigued by him. “Are you new in town Mr. Smith?” She was sure she would have noticed such a handsome man before.

“Yes ma’am I am. My partner and I arrived yesterday. We’re doing a little prospecting.”

“Prospecting? For gold?” she asked her interest sparked.

“Oh no. For land,” he informed her.

“Are you a rancher Mr. Smith?”

“No. You might say I’m connected with the railroad.”

“The railroad? Are they thinking of coming to Prey Lake?” He looked around to see who was nearby and lowering his voice said.

“I’m not obliged to say ma’am.” Her curiosity was roused and if Mr. Smith was buying land he might be very wealthy. One thing Elizabeth Darkly liked was wealthy men. If the railroad was coming to Prey Lake there would be a fortune to be made if you owned the right land.

“Are you buying for yourself or for a client, Mr. Smith?” she asked bluntly and Heyes was a little surprised by her forthrightness.

“Myself,” he informed her. “I own a fair portion of land back home in Kansas and I’ve been acquiring more on my travels.”

“I’d be interested to hear more of your acquisitions,” she told him. “I may be looking to invest if a proposition was suitable. Would you consider taking a partner in your ventures?”

“Well, I already have a partner ma’am but he’s not as pretty as you. Perhaps we could discuss it over dinner this evening,” Heyes suggested giving her his most charming smile as he removed his hat and brushed his dark hair from his eyes.

“I’d like that Mr. Smith,” her smile revealed how much she meant it. Elizabeth fixed her dark eyes on Mr. Joshua Smith and Heyes felt himself falling into them.

“Please, call me Joshua,” he insisted.

“Then I’d like that Joshua. Shall we say seven o’ clock? You can pick me up at the Whittaker’s house, that’s where I’m staying.”

“Mr. Whittaker the bank manager?” he asked feigning surprise.

“Yes. I’m sure they will allow us the use of their buggy. Do you know where the house is?” He assured her he would find it. “Then I’ll see you at seven.”

“I’ll look forward to it.” They exchanged smiles and Heyes stood and watched as Elizabeth Darkly walked off along the boardwalk, her dress swaying to an attractive rhythm.

***

“So whilst you have dinner with the attractive Mrs. Darkly, I shall be sampling Molly’s delights,” Kid informed him as he pulled on his leather vest. Sitting propped up on his bed reading, Heyes gave his partner a quizzical look.

“Isn’t she a little mature for you Kid?” he asked.

“I meant her food Heyes.” He considered this. “Not that I couldn’t be tempted by her, no doubt, experienced charms but I need to keep a clear head if I’m to be watching your back.” Kid checked the chambers of his gun.

“I don’t expect any trouble tonight,” Heyes informed him.

“Neither do I,” Kid said twirling his gun and dropping it neatly into its holster. Heyes’ smile hinted at the pride he felt whenever he saw Kid do that.

***

Heyes called for Elizabeth at the Whittaker’s house at seven on the dot. He wore a dark suit and looked even more attractive in the moonlight than he had on the dusty boardwalk that afternoon. If he was as wealthy as she suspected, then Joshua Smith would make a very appealing challenge. The Whittakers did not make an appearance, allowing their guest her privacy. The buggy was already waiting for them at the front of the house and Heyes tied his horse to the back, before helping Elizabeth to board. Their legs touched as they rode but he noticed Elizabeth did not move away.

They had a nice supper together, in the hotel restaurant and the waiter recommended an appropriate bottle of red wine. As the wine flowed, Heyes pretended that it had loosened his tongue a little, and he told Elizabeth the railroad may indeed be coming to Prey Lake, so he was buying what land he could. Elizabeth found herself falling for his charms as well as his plan. Heyes too hated to admit that he could easily fall for Elizabeth Darkly. She was an attractive intelligent woman and if it wasn’t for the small fact that she was also a thief, he would have happily pursued her for himself. But then what right did Hannibal Heyes have to complain about anyone being a thief?

“I have to confess our meeting wasn’t entirely accidental,” Heyes informed her as their coffee arrived. “I had seen you earlier in town and wanted to meet you.”

“Oh, don’t worry Joshua; I was well aware of that.” He seemed a little surprised. “But you are an attractive man and there are far too few of those in Prey Lake. The offer of dinner with you was not an unattractive proposition even if our meeting was somewhat contrived.”

“Elizabeth, you surprise me,” Heyes said with as much indignation as he could manage. Then after a pause he added, “but pleasantly so. So now my secret is out what about you? Why is such an attractive woman living alone with the Whittakers?”

“Well you know I am a widow?” Heyes nodded. “Mr. Darkly left me with a certain amount of money and I have been travelling for a while. It helps to take my mind off losing Nathaniel and I have enjoyed seeing something of our country.”

“I would think it was dangerous for a woman to be travelling alone. Where have you visited?” Heyes asked and she waved her hand in the air.

“Oh, all over,” she said clearly not expecting to be drawn on particulars. “When I arrived in Prey Lake I met Mr. Whittaker at the bank. I had some items to deposit in his safe.” Heyes made a mental note of that as Elizabeth continued.

“Randolph introduced me to his wife and they asked me to stay with them. They have been so kind to me; I don’t know how I can thank them properly when I leave.”

“Are you going soon?” Heyes asked and she saw the disappointed look on his face.

“Oh no, I meant when I finally move on. I hope that won’t be for some time. I hope we will have time to get to know each other well, Joshua.” Her eyes met his and he told her he hoped so too.

Later Heyes drove Elizabeth back to the Whittaker’s, his horse once again trotting along behind the buggy.

“I enjoyed myself tonight Joshua,” Elizabeth told him as they reached the house. She put her hand on his arm. Heyes smiled and she was lost in the warmth of his dark brown eyes. He helped her down from the buggy. “I would love to do this again sometime.”

“Then perhaps you will do me the honour of joining me for dinner again tomorrow night?” When she looked away Heyes wondered if he had misread her and overstepped the mark. “Unless that is too soon?”

“Oh no. Tomorrow night would be wonderful, Joshua. Same time?” He agreed and she placed a kiss on his cheek before turning and entering the house.

***

The handsome blond cowboy nodded politely to the two teenage girls as they hurried past him, as he waited on the boardwalk outside the bank. Their returning smiles were self-conscious at being noticed by such an attractive man. Kid allowed himself a moment of almost paternal amusement at the effect he had on them. They were stunning young women and one day, he hoped they would find themselves a good man, of their own age, to make a husband. He returned his attention to the matter in hand when the door of the bank opened and Heyes stepped out, a concerned look on his face. Kid waited expectantly.

“It’s a Pierce and Hamilton ’78,” Heyes said unable to hide his disappointment.

“If we blow that safe everyone will know it was you,” Kid said although he knew Heyes was well aware of the fact.

“Well how else are we going to get the necklace?” his partner asked.

“You’ll think of something,” Kid said confidently placing an arm around Heyes shoulders and propelling him towards the saloon.

***

Kid and Heyes rode out into the countryside later that day pretending to look for suitable land to purchase. They had allowed their conversations about land, land prices and their search for property to be overheard by the bar tender in the saloon, the hotel desk clerk and the teller at the bank. If the unofficial town telegraph worked in Prey Lake the way it did in most small towns, it would not be long before most people knew their business.

“What are you doing?” Heyes asked Kid as they sat on their horses on a small rise that overlooked a large cattle spread.

“I’m making notes,” his partner told him as he wrote something on a notepad he had acquired in town.

“About what?”

“About the land. I figure if anyone’s watching us it will look good. Look more official.” Heyes was a little amused by Kid’s idea but he looked around.

“Do you see anyone watching us?”

“Nope.” Heyes was more puzzled and he peered over at the notepad.

“Is that a tree?” he asked having seen Kid’s work.

“No, it’s a hill,” Kid stated.

“Looks like a tree,” Heyes told him. Kid gave his partner a pained look but continued to draw. “Is that a cow?”

“No, it’s a lake,” Kid said patiently.

“Looks like a cow.” Kid took a deep breath but said nothing. Heyes looked up at the landscape. “Kid, I don’t see a lake.”

“Well they’re not real notes Heyes, it’s just for show,” he said exasperated by his partner. “I’m just scribbling. I thought it was a good idea.”

“Well you may be right. Just don’t try to sell that drawing to anyone.” Heyes smiled and turned his horse away heading up the hill. Kid gave his partner’s back a murderous look, put the pad into his saddle bag and then spurred his horse after Heyes.

***

Kid had watched Heyes and Elizabeth riding back to the Whittakers in the buggy. It was the third night in a row he had dined with the delightful Mrs. Darkly and Kid had a feeling Heyes was more than a little smitten with the attractive widow. He was standing on the porch, in front of the cafeteria, trying to decide whether to head to the saloon or go back to the hotel room to sleep, when two figures on horseback rode out of a side street and turned slowly in the direction Heyes had just taken. Something about their demeanour made the hairs on the back of Kid’s neck stand up. He headed for the livery stable.

Kid found the men’s horses tied to some trees at the foot of a small hill. He found the horses’ owners lying on their bellies in some bushes with a clear view of the front of the Whittaker’s large house. At that moment they were watching the tender exchange that was taking place between Heyes and Elizabeth, as they stood silhouetted in the open doorway. Heyes brushed a strand of hair from Elizabeth’s face. He moved towards her and she did not pull back. She knew he was going to kiss her and she wanted him to, she had hoped he would from the moment he pulled the buggy to a halt. Heyes’ eyes met hers and he placed a hand on her soft neck pulling her closer , his breath on her cheek, as he gently planted a kiss on her lips.

“Easy boys,” Kid said and the men heard a distinctive click as the hammer was drawn back on Kid Curry’s six gun. Kid slowly removed the guns from each man’s holster and threw them into the bushes behind him. “Now what I’d like to know is why you’re following my partner.” The men exchanged a glance but neither spoke. Kid placed the barrel of his gun against the temple of the man nearest to him.

“You feel like talking now?” he asked.

“We were just watching,” the man stammered.

“Why?” Kid asked pressing the barrel deeper.

“She’s a pretty lady.” Kid said nothing but his gun remained in place. “And we….we were asked to…..” His friend shot him a look that Kid did not miss. The man stopped talking.

“Asked by who?” The man froze and Kid decided to switch the gun to the other man. “Maybe you feel more like talking?” he said. Having the gun now pressed against his temple the second man suddenly felt less brave or reticent.

“We’re just doing our job,” he told the stranger.

“For who? Someone at the Double R?” This revelation caused a look of surprise to pass between the men.

“How d’you know….?” The second man shut up almost as soon as he spoke. Now they were not sure how much the stranger already knew. Kid wasn’t about to tell them that he had seen the brand on both of their horses and it did not take a genius to figure out where the men were from.

“So who asked you to follow my partner?” Neither man spoke. “Boys I’d hate to have to shoot one of you but if that’s what it will take to make the other one talk, then I will.” He pointed his gun at the first man’s leg.

“Hey wait!” the man cried. “Hank, tell him please. No wait mister, I’ll tell you.”

“Sam don’t!” Hank cautioned.

“I will,” Sam said. “Hell it’s easy for you to be brave he ain’t pointing the gun at you.” Sam turned a little trying to see Kid as he spoke. “It’s Thompson, the ranch owner. He’s got a thing for Mrs. Darkly and Joe Heeney the foreman he….” Sam stopped not sure how much more he should say.

“He what?” Kid prompted.

“He’s right behind you,” said a voice just before Kid felt a blow to the back of his head and the world turned black.

***

Heyes sat at a table in the saloon nursing a beer. There was a poker game going on but he didn’t feel like joining in. He was trying to decide what to tell Kid; how to tell him he was falling for Elizabeth and wondering what his partner would say. No, he knew exactly what he would say; he was just biding his time until he had to go back to the hotel room and face him. He would get the necklace, no problem about that but he was not sure he could just ride away afterwards. Oh he knew Elizabeth was a con woman but he admired her style; admired more than that about her. She was intelligent and witty and she was beautiful too. If they worked together on a plan as partners why they would be…….Heyes stopped himself. He had a partner already. A partner who wanted the amnesty just as much as Heyes did. A partner he had to think about too.

***

Kid Curry opened his eyes to see Hank grinning at him.

“He’s coming round,” Hank announced and stepped back enabling Kid to see that he was in a clearing, in the woods. It was dark and he could not tell how many men were around him or hidden by the trees.

Kid’s head hurt and his vision was still a little blurred as he was hauled to his feet and his arms were held roughly behind his back by two men, he assumed, were Hank and Sam. The man who stood before him Kid did not know. He was tall with grey hair hidden beneath his black hat. He wore a light blue shirt under a battered black leather vest. A scar about two inches long ran down his left cheek. The man kept his gun in his holster as he spoke but his hand rested on the handle.

“You hear me?” the man asked. Kid looked up at him. Joe Heeney he presumed.

“I hear you,” Kid told him groggily.

“Good. Then listen up. Stay away from Elizabeth Darkly.”

“I wasn’t near her,” Kid told him. Two quick blows struck him; one on the left side of his face and the second in the ribs. Kid doubled over in agony but Hank and Sam pulled him upright.

“Don’t try to be cute with me,” Heeney told him. “I don’t want you or your partner anywhere near her. Do you understand?”

“I can’t speak for my partner,” Kid told him truthfully.

“Then maybe this will help you.” He hit Kid again; another two blows. Kid thought about what Heeney had said. Seemed like a reasonable request, at least it would have been if the man wasn’t knocking the life out of him. “Or maybe this.” More punches rained into Kid’s body and he had no way to defend himself. Eventually Hank and Sam let go of his arms and Kid sank to his knees.

“Now where were we?” Heeney asked rubbing his bruised knuckles. Kid looked up at him, pure venom in his eyes. “Mr. Thompson has an understanding with Mrs. Darkly. They were getting on real fine until you and your partner showed up. Now he don’t want anyone complicating the situation. You and your partner will stay away from Elizabeth Darkly. Is that understood?” So that was it. Kid thought about it. If he did not agree they would probably keep hitting him and then they would go after Heyes.

“Yes”, Kid said through a bloodied mouth as he nodded.

“Do I need to speak to your partner or will you explain the situation to him?”

“I’ll do it,” Kid assured him as he felt blood run down his cheek from a cut below his eye. He hoped to keep them away from Heyes for as long as possible.

“You’ll keep him away from her?” Heeney asked wanting Kid’s assurance. Kid wiped his split lip with the back of his hand.

“I’ll keep him away from her.”

“Good, because if we see him with her again we’ll come back to see you. Is that understood?” Kid nodded. “Okay boys drop him outside of town.” Kid was dragged to his feet.

***

Heyes finally decided what he would do. He would tell his cousin he was falling for Elizabeth, they would tell Mac they could not get the necklace and then ride out. As Heyes approached the door of the hotel room his mind was made up……well almost……….probably…..no it was!

“What the hell happened to you?” Heyes asked as he saw Kid tending his bloody face. Kid had refused to tell him what had happened but somehow Heyes was sure it was to do with Elizabeth and the necklace.

“You just get the necklace. Then we’ll be fine,” Kid had said as he lay back on his bed. It was not long before his partner was asleep, exhausted by the evening’s events. Heyes placed a blanket gently over his cousin, noticing that there were no marks on Kid’s knuckles. He had not landed a single blow in his defence. Kid would have given as good as he got, if he was given the chance. The lack of marks told Heyes he had not been allowed to fight back. Who had done this to him?

“What’s going on Kid?” Heyes asked, his voice little more than a whisper, and knowing his partner could not hear him anyway. “Why won’t you tell me?” As much as Heyes hated to admit it to himself this changed everything.

***

Kid slept late the next day. He awoke to find his partner sitting on the other bed reading his book. Heyes put down the book and gave Kid’s face a concerned look. Actually Kid felt better than he had the night before. His left eye was swollen but he could still see out of it. His ribs hurt and there was no way to hide the bruises on his face which also looked much better having developed nicely over night into deep purple hews. Heyes tried asking but still Kid would not tell him what had happened. His naturally stubborn streak was working overtime.

“Oh my, look at you!” Molly exclaimed as they entered the café for breakfast. She studied Kid’s face as she poured them coffee. “Honey, I sure hope the other fella looks worse than you do.”

“I fell off my horse,” he told her wincing as he placed the mug to his cut lips.

“You want me to believe that, I will,” she told him. “But I’ve seen too many men fighting to think you’re telling the truth. You want the usual?” They both did, grateful that she pursued it no further and despite his bruised mouth Kid’s appetite was still good.

After breakfast they rode out to maintain the pretence that they were looking for land. They met with Mr. Stanley from the bank. He dealt with the sale and purchase of land in the area. He sent them out to a nice couple called Will and Edna Ford who owned a small property near the river. Heyes did not like the idea of stringing along decent folks so they had a quick look at the land, without meeting the Ford’s, and decided it was not suitable should anyone ask.

It was lunchtime when they finally rode back into town and by then Kid was in more pain than he cared to admit. As he eased himself out of the saddle he heard Heyes say “Thaddeus” in a way that immediately put him on his guard. Kid looked up to see the sheriff standing before him.

“Good Morning boys,” Sheriff Otis Lamb said. He was a short thin man with a big reputation. He was said to be good with a gun and with his fists; many men had been fooled by his wiry stature and lived to regret it. He was a stickler for good behaviour in his town. The sheriff made no attempt to hide the fact that he was studying the bruises on Kid Curry’s face.

“Something I should know about?” he asked.

“No sheriff, I fell off my horse,” Kid told him.

“Hmm.” The sheriff clearly did not believe him. “I don’t hold with fighting in my town. You boys got a problem, I want to know about it.”

“No problem sheriff,” Heyes assured him. “Like my partner said he got thrown off his horse. Horse got spooked by a rattlesnake. Biggest rattler I’ve ever seen. Didn’t I say that Thaddeus?”

“Er…. yeah you did Joshua…..just as I was picking myself up,” Kid said playing along. The sheriff looked from Heyes to Kid, clearly believing none of it. He gave them both a good hard look, as if memorising their features, and just when they were beginning to feel extremely uncomfortable, he touched the tip of his hat and walked off. They waited until he was out of ear shot before they let themselves breathe again.

“Well, now the sheriff’s taking an interest in you,” Heyes said with more than a hint of unease. “When do I get to know what happened?”

“You seeing Elizabeth tonight?” Kid asked ignoring Heyes question.

“No, tomorrow night.”

“Good cos’ I could do with the rest,” Kid said and walked towards the hotel leaving Heyes to wonder what he meant by that.

***

Kid slept for most of the afternoon. He found Heyes at the poker table in the saloon later that evening. From the pile of chips in front of his partner he had clearly won a considerable amount. Heyes smiled as he saw Kid approach the table. A piano player pounded out the same tunes they had heard every day since their arrival, as a couple of saloon girls headed expectantly towards Kid. He waved them away and. having seen the bruises on his face and not wanting to get involved in any trouble, they were somewhat relieved that he did.

“We’ve been invited to a party at the Whittaker’s house,” Heyes told Kid later as they sat at a table each drinking a beer.

“Heyes, I can’t go looking like this!”

“We can tell them the rattler story,” Heyes suggested.

“People will ask too many questions and you need to get to Elizabeth, not have to keep an eye on me.” They both knew he was right.

***

Kid watched from the tree lined hill as Heyes rode up to the Whittaker’s house and dismounted. Lights were on in every room and burning torches lined the driveway. A groom appeared and took the reins from Heyes leading his horse away. It seemed as if the whole town was there although Heyes knew the Whittakers had been selective with their invitations.

Heyes removed his hat as he entered the house and passed it to Dawson, the English butler. The hallway was crowded but Elizabeth spotted him and was soon at his side. She was a vision in a blue velvet dress. Heyes made a mental note to compliment Big Mac on his good taste. Around her neck Elizabeth wore a sapphire necklace. The sapphire necklace.

“Elizabeth, you look beautiful,” Heyes told her honestly. She was stealing his heart.

“Oh Joshua, I’m so glad you came,” she said placing a hand on his arm.

“Did you think I wouldn’t come?”

“Well I heard your partner had been hurt and I thought you might have to stay with him.” The town telegraph was working well it seemed.

“Thaddeus is fine. Just a little bruised and that goes for his pride too,” Heyes told her.

“What happened?” Elizabeth asked and Heyes told her the story of the rattle snake embellishing his part in the tale and adding the fact that he had shot the snake with a single bullet, saving Thaddeus from being bitten by the creature as well. He did not feel too bad about it, if Kid was not there it was Heyes’ story to tell.

A waiter offered them a glass of wine and Heyes took a glass after handing one to Elizabeth. A string quartet played in a room off to their right as Elizabeth led the way through the crowded rooms and into the garden. As they moved away from the house, the sound of the music and the murmur of the guests grew dimmer. They sat on a bench that overlooked a small rose garden. Randolph Whittaker’s pride and joy.

“It’s a beautiful night isn’t it?” Elizabeth said as she gazed up at the clear sky filled with a myriad of stars. “Do you think people will ever travel to the stars?” she asked.

“I think people will be able to do anything they set their mind to.”

“So is that a yes?” she asked.

“I suppose it is.”

“And what have you set your mind to?” she asked and Heyes looked into her eyes.

“Maybe it’s my heart that’s set on something instead,” he suggested as she held his gaze.

“Joshua I…” Elizabeth was surprised at the strength of her feelings towards this man. A man she was suppose to be using not falling in love with. “I don’t know how to…..” Another couple strolled by and Heyes quickly changed the subject.

“That’s a beautiful necklace,” Heyes remarked.

“It’s a family heirloom,” she told him. Yes, Heyes thought but not your family’s.

“They’re sapphires aren’t they?”

“Yes. It was made in Paris,” she told him, repeating what Big Mac had told her the night he placed them around her neck.

“Then I hope you keep that locked somewhere safe,” Heyes told her.

“Why yes. Mr. Whittaker was kind enough to keep it in the safe at the bank for me but he has a safe here too, so it will be locked away tonight.” Heyes smiled. Whittaker had a safe at the house.

***

Elizabeth headed towards the stairs to get her shawl. She had suggested a buggy ride with Joshua, anything to get away from the crowd and to have a chance to be alone with him. As she placed her hand on the banister Richard Thompson appeared beside her.

“Where have you been?” he asked. “I have been looking all over for you. I thought we could spend some time together tonight.”

“Why Richard, I was in the garden with Mr. Smith.”

“You seem to be seeing a lot of him lately,” he said the accusatory tone in his voice not lost on her. “I was under the impression it was you and I that had an understanding.”

“Oh Richard we do but Mr. Smith may have some very valuable information for us and a proposition I am very interested in.” She leaned closer to him and he caught the scent of her perfume as she whispered. “I think he may have something to your financial advantage too. I just need him to tell me more.”

“Maybe I should speak to him.”

“No Richard, let me handle this. We are going for a buggy ride and I know how to get him to talk.” She placed her hand over his before pulling away and heading up the stairs.

***

Richard Thompson was a very wealthy rancher and a man used to getting his own way. He had set his sights on Elizabeth Darkly and he did not like the attention this new man in town, Joshua Smith, was paying her. He had invested a lot of money in a new suit and shirt, suffered an agonising music recital at the local church and endured a picnic at the church social as he slowly worked his way into Elizabeth Darkly’s affections. He was not about to let all of that come to nothing. His ranch foreman Joe Heeney had assured him that Smith’s partner, Thaddeus Jones, would warn his friend off. So far he had seen little evidence of that. If anything, Elizabeth was becoming closer to Smith and despite her protestations he knew she felt something for him. As he strode from the Whittaker’s house he waved his men over from the corral where they had been waiting. Kid watched as Thompson barked orders, he could not hear, at the men. The men did a lot of nodding and there seemed to be a lot of “yes sir, Mr. Thompson,” going on. Then Thompson went back into the house and the men returned to their horses. They mounted and waited.

A few moments later Heyes appeared with Elizabeth on his arm. Don’t enjoy your work too much Heyes, Kid thought as he watched his partner help the beautiful woman into the buggy, his hands lingering on her waist just a little longer than Kid thought necessary. Elizabeth put her arm through Heyes’ as he urged the horses on and they disappeared from view on their evening buggy ride.

Kid grew concerned when, not a minute later, Thompson’s men followed them. He mounted his horse and set off after them.

***

“Hold it right there boys.” The two men stopped their horses and Kid Curry rode out from the trees, gun in hand, and pulled his horse to a halt in front of them. “Take your guns out of your holsters real slow and throw them on the ground,” he instructed them. Reluctantly Hank and Sam did as they were told.

“Now I’m not expecting anyone to creep up behind me this time.” No sooner were the words out of Kid’s mouth than he heard the sound of approaching horses. This could not be happening. Joe Heeney and a group of ranch hands rode into view and quickly had Kid surrounded. He had been so careful. He had watched the group split up; seen Hank and Sam ride on after Heyes and the others head back to the house. He had bided his time before stopping them and now this! I must be losing my touch, Kid thought.

Every man around him had his gun drawn. Kid could hear Heyes’ voice in his head. Stay out of trouble. Don’t draw your gun unless you have to. Don’t draw attention to us. It just wasn’t his day.

“Having a spot of trouble Sam? Hank?” Heeney asked. He turned his attention to Kid Curry. “Mike take his gun,” he ordered one of the men. Kid weighed up the odds. He could shoot Heeney before anyone shot him. Then he would no doubt die in a hail of bullets and he wasn’t ready for that yet. Kid let the man called Mike have his six gun.

Kid was pulled off his horse and held by two men. He did not bother to struggle as he faced Heeney.

“I thought we told you to stop your partner seeing Mrs. Darkly,” Heeney said.

“I said I’d stop him and I will,” Kid insisted. “It’s just gonna take me some time.”

“You don’t have more time. I explained that.”

“Just one more day that’s all I need.”

“I think we’ll go see your partner,” Heeney said and turned towards his horse.

“No wait!” Kid called and Heeney turned back to face him. “You got anything to say..…or do…..you deal with me,” Kid told him knowing what that meant.

“Interesting,” Heeney said with a slight smile. “Your loyalty to your friend is going to be painful for you.” Kid said nothing just prepared himself for what was to follow. Heeney smiled at him then nodded to his men. This time Heeney let his men do the beating. Kid was beginning to lose consciousness when they finally stopped. He sank to his hands and knees when they released him.

“This is your last warning,” Heeney told him. “Next time we see your partner with Mrs. Darkly I won’t tell my men to stop….with either of you. Do you understand?” He did not wait to see if Kid nodded his head. The men mounted their horses and rode off into the darkness.

As the sounds of their hoof beats faded Kid lay by the side of the track hurting. His mouth was bleeding, his eyes were swollen and it hurt to breathe. He did not know where his horse was. Slowly, painfully, Kid staggered to his feet and, grateful for the light which appeared when the moon emerged from behind some ominous looking clouds, he searched the bushes for his gun. It was empty but despite his blurred vision he took the time to reload it and slipped it comfortingly into his holster. Then he began to walk in the direction of town. As he walked Kid occasionally stumbled and fell, cutting his hands and scraping his knees to add to his wounds. He did not think there was a part of him that did not ache or hurt in some way. Just as Kid was beginning to think that he’d have to spend the rest of the night by the roadside, a few faint lights flickered into view through the branches of the trees. He was soon on the outskirts of town. He searched for the one house he hoped would provide a form of sanctuary.

***

Molly lived in a small, single storey house on the edge of town not far from her place of business. It had a neat, well kept garden which Molly loved to tend and which provided her with some of the ingredients for her pies and stews. Molly was sewing when a knock at the door startled her. It was late and dark outside. Who could it be at this hour?

She called out. “Who is it?” but heard no reply. Molly picked up the loaded shotgun she kept behind a cupboard and cautiously opened the door.

He was leaning against the door frame, his shoulders sagged and it had clearly taken all his strength to reach her house. His face was battered and bruised, his clothes dusty and torn. Blood ran from cuts above and below his left eye and was dried about his nose and mouth. His lip was split and his left eye was almost swollen shut from the beating he had taken. With all the strength he could muster, Thaddeus Jones raised his head and looked at Molly.

“I need your help,” he said weakly and placing one of his arms around her shoulders to support him, Molly brought him into her house.

Thaddeus was sleeping in her bed, his wounds cleaned and tended as best she could, his exhausted beaten body finally resting, when Molly slipped out of the house and headed into town.

***

The knocking at the door woke Heyes. He had been lying on the bed reading, and must have dozed off, for the book still lay open on his chest. It did not seem that long since he had returned from taking Elizabeth home, their buggy ride cut short by a heavy rain shower which chilled the air. Sleepily he looked around. Kid was not back yet and he wondered what the time was. He stumbled to the door and opened it to find Molly standing before him. She seemed worried and upset.

“Can I come in?” she asked hastily and Heyes stood back opening the door wider to allow her in, curious to know what she wanted.

“It’s Thaddeus,” she said and a vice clamped around Heyes’ heart. “He’s hurt. He’s been beaten up again.”

“Where is he?” Heyes asked grabbing his gun belt from the bedpost. He had relaxed slightly when she had not told him Kid was shot, dead, lying at the undertakers, and a thousand other things that had run through his mind the moment she had said ‘it’s Thaddeus’.

“At my house.” She went on to explain. “He turned up a couple of hours ago. I did what I could for him. I called for the doctor but Mrs. Wilson’s baby is due anytime now and he’s out at her place.” She paused and Heyes looked at Molly. His gratitude was plain for her to see. He placed a hand on her arm.

“How bad is he?”

“I don’t know. I think he may have some broken ribs but..” Molly did not know what else to tell him.

“It’s okay. Thank you for helping him. Let’s go.” He took his hat from the hook on the door.

***

Kid was sleeping when Heyes entered the room. His left eye was badly swollen and his chest and ribs were covered in purple bruises mixed with his older ones from two days before, that had now turned unattractive shades of brown and yellow.

“Who did this to him?” Heyes asked not expecting Molly to answer although he doubted if she knew.

“You’re his partner, why don’t you know?” Molly asked him accusingly as she went back into the sitting room and Heyes had no answer for her. Kid had been beaten up once. He should have found out what was going on.

***

“Hi,” Heyes said as Kid opened his eyes and looked at him.

“I hope I look better than I feel,” Kid said trying to ease himself into a sitting position.

“That’s a pity. I was hoping you felt better than you look,” Heyes replied as Kid gave up trying to sit up and lowered his head back on the pillow. “Who did this Kid?” Heyes asked gently and then losing his temper added. “And just what the hell is going on?”

“Leave it Heyes,” Kid told him.

“No, not this time. This time you’re gonna tell me why someone’s after you,” Heyes insisted.

“They’re not,” Kid assured him.

“Oh, of course not,” Heyes said sarcastically. “People get beat up all the time for no reason.” He gave Kid a look and Kid knew he was beaten.

“They’re not after me,” Kid told him.

“Kid, please!” Heyes rarely raised his voice to his partner but he was beginning to drive him crazy.

“They’re after you.” This stunned Heyes into silence. A pretty good trick at the best of times. Heyes digested what his cousin had just said and Kid continued. “I caught Thompson’s men following you but they got the drop on me. It turns out that Thompson doesn’t want you seeing Mrs. Darkly. Seemed pretty definite about that. That was the first time they….Well….I thought I could help keep him away from you so I told him I’d stop you seeing her. When I didn’t….”

“They did this?” Heyes added. Kid nodded.

“They threatened to go after you if I didn’t keep you away from Elizabeth.”

“Are you telling me you got beaten up so that I wouldn’t?” Heyes asked incredulously.

“Well Heyes, when you put it that way, it does sound kinda stupid,” Kid acknowledged.

“Kid, they might have killed you,” Heyes said as the generosity and downright foolhardiness of his cousin’s actions sank in.

“I guess I’m lucky they didn’t.” Heyes said nothing in response. “Tell me you got the necklace,” Kid asked hopefully.

“I know where it is,” Heyes told him.

“You didn’t get the necklace,” Kid stated the disappointment clear in his voice. “I went through all this and you didn’t get the necklace.

“But I can get it,” his partner assured him.

“Well you’d better because I may not survive the next time.”

“Don’t worry Kid, there isn’t going to be a next time,” Heyes told him.

Kid tried to smile but it hurt too much. He was so tired. His ribs hurt, his head hurt, if he could just sleep for a while….

Heyes pulled the covers up over Kid’s chest as his partner drifted off to sleep. Heyes looked at Kid’s bruised face and he knew what he had to do.

Heyes found Molly sleeping in a chair in the sitting room. It was 2 am.
She stirred when he entered the room, opened her eyes and looked up. Molly soon realised he would be leaving.

“Molly, will you look after Thaddeus for me?” he asked putting on his hat.

“Where are you going?” she asked worried that he was about to go looking for the men who had hurt his partner. Heyes did not say anything. “You’re not going to do anything stupid are you?”

“You know Molly, I’m often asking my partner that.” He gave the bedroom door a quick glance. “Now I seem to be the one that has been stupid. I think I lost sight of why we were here. I’m going to get what we came here for and then I’m coming back to take care of my partner.”

Heyes placed his hand on the door handle.

“If he wakes up, tell him I won’t be long.” Then he left.

***

The house was in darkness. Hannibal Heyes crept towards a ground floor window and, removing a trusty tool from his pocket, opened the catch and pushed up the window. It gave a slight squeak, which sounded like a freight train whistle to Heyes, but was actually not loud enough to summon anyone inside. Heyes climbed through the window well aware that Kid was not there to watch his back this time. He was grateful for the moonlight that illuminated the room. He was in Whittaker’s study. Heyes slowly cast an expert eye over the room and then homed in on a painting of three dogs, which he suspected hid the safe. Moments later Hannibal Heyes had his nimble fingers around a dial, his ear pressed to the cold metal, as he listened to the movements within. He had to admit that he missed the challenge, missed the rush of adrenaline he felt as he turned the dial. It felt good. It felt right and it was not long before he confidently placed his hand on the handle and turned it. The safe door opened as he knew it would. He turned to smile at Kid then remembered he was not there.

Removing several ribbon bound documents, Heyes eventually found what he was looking for. A jewellery case exactly as Big Mac had described it. Heyes opened it and lying on the blue velvet was the sapphire necklace Elizabeth had worn earlier that evening. He closed the case and slipped it into his pocket before replacing the documents and shutting the safe. They had the necklace. Now as soon as Kid was well enough they could head back to Big Mac’s and the job was done. But what of Elizabeth? Heyes did not want to think about that.

As Heyes stepped back onto the porch and lowered the window, a sound caught his ear. Footsteps. Someone was coming. He slid into the bushes and began making his way quietly back to where he had tied his horse. He was suddenly aware of someone close by and some instinct, from his days with the Devil’s Hole gang, told him it was trouble. Heyes looked around, found what he needed and moved on.

He had just reached his horse when he heard a rustle of leaves in the undergrowth and turned to see a figure approaching. Unfortunately it was the man who came up behind him that hit him over the head. Heyes crumpled to the ground.

***

Hannibal Heyes’ head hurt. He did not want to open his eyes in case the herd of cattle that were stampeding through his head turned out to be real. He tried to move and found that his hands were tied tightly behind his back but his legs were free. Cautiously Heyes opened his eyes and immediately regretted it as the little light that there was in the room hurt. He was on the floor in the corner of a small room that looked like a root cellar or store. The walls were roughly hewn from the ground and on one side of the room, furthest from Heyes, there was a heavy wooden door which fit the frame badly, allowing shafts of light to penetrate the room. Using the wall for support Heyes managed to sit up. It didn’t take long to assess the situation. He was in a fix. There was always a chance that the door was unlocked but after a long struggle to get, first to his knees, and then to his feet and then across the room, Heyes turned the handle and found the door locked. He sank back to his knees and waited.

Heyes knew there was no chance of rescue. Kid was probably still asleep and even when he woke he would have no idea where Heyes had gone, let alone that he had been taken prisoner. Heyes settled down against the wall and waited. It was probably going to be a long wait too.

When the door finally opened, the sudden rush of light caused Heyes to squint and look away, so he did not see how many men entered to haul him outside. When his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw that he was on a ranch. It was a large prosperous looking place with a big barn and stable. It had a large corral, a good size for breaking horses, a bunk house off to one side and a large, two storey main house with a long porch that ran the entire width of the house. Steps led up to an ornate wooden front door that opened as Heyes was half dragged, towards the barn. A man exited the house and strode across the well trimmed lawn down the slope towards them. It was Richard Thompson. Thompson was dressed in his work gear, jeans and a leather vest over a crisp white shirt. He strode purposefully towards the barn as Heyes was dragged inside.

Two men held Heyes’ arms behind his back making sure he stood upright and faced their boss. Wasting no time the rancher walked up to Heyes and addressed him.

“What were you doing at the Whittaker’s house last night?” Thompson demanded to know.

“I was at a party,” Heyes said. “I believe you were there too.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it. Why were you there at two thirty in the morning?”

“I could ask the same of your men.” Thompson glared at him. “But I won’t. Lost my watch,” Heyes informed him.

“Why were you creeping around?” So they did not know the real reason for his night time trip.

“I didn’t want to wake the whole house. I thought I might see someone still up and if not then I’d come back when it was light.” It was plausible.

“That’s a lot of trouble to go through for a watch, Mr. Smith.”

“I’m very fond of that watch.” Heyes gave him a smile.

“You were trying to see Elizabeth,” Thompson told him.

“No, I wasn’t,” Heyes replied truthfully.

“You see Elizabeth and I have an understanding. We have been seeing each other for some time. You will not get in the way of that.”

“Does Elizabeth have the same understanding?” Heyes asked him.

“Yes she does,” Thompson assured him. “So you see you are wasting your time with her.”

“Oh, our time wasn’t wasted. To the contrary last night was very……” Heyes searched for the right word, one that would let Thompson know what had happened when he and Elizabeth had ridden off together. Or at least make him think he knew. He smiled at the rancher. “Our time was very pleasurable,” Heyes said. The blow caught him by surprise in its timing and the force with which Thompson struck him. Heyes tasted the blood from his spilt lip as he looked up at Thompson.

“My men have been asking you to stay away from Elizabeth Darkly.”

“No one asked me,” Heyes informed him.

“Well you’ll have to take that up with your partner. Seems he said he’d keep you away from her.”

“Must have lied,” Heyes suggested.

“So it would seem. Still we have spoken to him about that.”

“Yes,” Heyes said. “I saw the result of your handy work. Do I get the same treatment?”

“I don’t think so. I think if Elizabeth saw you all beaten and bruised, it might only awaken her maternal instincts. You know what women are like for wounded strays.”

“So what happens now?” Heyes asked.

“You disappear.” Heyes did not like the sound of that. “Out of sight, out of mind as they say.”

“You’re going to kill me?”

“Oh no, Mr. Smith I’m not a murderer. We’ll just keep you locked up and away from her.”

“And how long do you intend to keep me locked up for?”

“I don’t know. How long do you think it will take her to forget you?”

Just then a man entered the barn. He was out of breath, either from running or a hard ride. He whispered something to Thompson that Heyes could not hear. Thompson grew concerned and then angry. He turned to Heyes.

“Where is she?” he demanded.

“Where’s who?” Heyes asked innocently because he did not know what the rancher was talking about. Thompson hit him hard across the face with the back of his hand.

“Where’s Elizabeth?”

***

“Hi Molly,” Kid said as she entered the bedroom. It was light now and the sun streamed in through a gap in the curtains.

“Brought you some coffee,” Molly said as she placed a steaming mug on the cabinet beside the bed. “Not sure if you’re up to drinking it.” She peered at his bruised face and mouth.

“I’ll find a way,” he assured her, pulling himself up as best he could. It took a lot of effort. It felt as if a herd of elephants had trampled him.

“The doctor said you need rest,” she told him as she opened the curtains and let in the late morning sunshine.

“The doctor was here?”

“Uh huh. You were well out of it. Said your ribs are badly bruised but not broken and you should rest up as long as you can. Said he’ll come by later today and check on that eye, make sure you can see out of it and your vision’s okay.”

“Thanks for helping me. I appreciate it.”

“What was I gonna do honey? A gorgeous young man turns up beaten and bruised on my doorstep asking for help; a woman would be a fool to turn him away.” She gave him a smile. “O’course you’re gonna owe me something awful and I’ve been thinking about what I’d like as payment.” She raised her eyebrows enough to give Kid a pretty good idea what she would want. He looked a little worried or maybe a little shocked. Molly thought she saw him blush. Molly put back her head and laughed.

“Oh don’t worry Thaddeus; I have no intention of taking advantage of you.” She straightened out the bed covers. “At least not until you’re up to it.” Leaving him struggling to decide if she was joking.

“Has my partner been back?” he asked after taking a sip of coffee.

“Not since last night. Left around 2 am. Said he was going to get what you came here for. Does that make sense to you?” It did. Heyes had gone to get the necklace but from where? The bank? Kid hoped not.

***

“Where is she?” Thompson asked as his men hauled Heyes to his feet.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Heyes informed them wanting to remind Thompson that he was not supposed to be getting a beating. I mean what would Elizabeth think?

“Elizabeth. What have you done with her?”

“Nothing. Why?”

“Because she’s missing. She’s gone,” Thompson stated.

“Gone?” Heyes could not understand why Elizabeth would have gone now.

“Yes, she’s left. The Whittaker’s say her room is empty. Bags, clothes all gone.”

“And you think she’s with me?”

“Well she has been everyday since you got here.”

“I don’t know where she is. I swear it.” For some reason Thompson believed him. There was a look on Mr. Smith’s face, when he was told Elizabeth had gone, that was enough to convince him that this man had no idea she had planned to leave, nor where she was now.

***

He was not quite sure how he managed it but Kid was standing upright, had dressed himself and was putting on his gun belt when Molly returned from tending to the lunchtime crowd.

“What are you doing up?” she asked. “The doctor said you had to rest.” She tried to usher him back to bed but he was having none of it.

“Molly, I have to go find my partner,” he told her.

“But I promised him I’d look after you.”

“And you have,” he assured her. “But he should have been back by now and I’m worried about him. I think he needs my help.” She was not convinced but she was also concerned that Joshua had not returned, and a little worried too.

“Are you sure you’ll be all right?” she asked.

“No,” he replied honestly, smiling at her as he said it. Molly smiled back knowing there was no way she was going to stop him. “Can you get my horse for me?” he asked and Molly was soon on her way to the livery stable.

***

Kid rode out to the Whittaker’s house. Molly had informed him that there had been no trouble in town and no, no one had robbed the bank. A question she found more than a little odd. Heyes had left to do what they had set out to and that meant he had gone after the necklace. If it was not at the bank the only other place Kid could think it would be, was at Whittaker’s house. The man probably had a wall safe of his own.

Kid found the Whittaker household still busy clearing up after the party the night before. He was concerned to see the sheriff leaving the house as he rode up. Otis Lamb mounted his horse and then pulled up beside Kid’s. He gave Kid’s newly bruised face the once over.

“Another fall Mr. Jones?” he asked.

“Not this time,” Kid told him. “I’m looking for my partner. Do you know if he’s in the house?”

“No, he’s not there,” the sheriff informed him. “But Mrs. Darkly’s gone. Rooms empty. Clothes, bags, all gone; even her necklace. Now that was in Randolph’s safe and he never told her the combination, so how’d she get that back? How d’you think that safe got opened?” He looked at Kid Curry as if he might have something to say on the matter.

“I can’t imagine,” Kid said whilst thinking, please don’t let Heyes have done it and gone off with her.

“She may have been a thief all along. Whittaker’s checking to make sure there’s nothing else taken.” He looked up at Kid. “Now what’s that about your partner? He was seeing her wasn’t he?”

“They’d really only just met,” Kid said trying to sound convincing. “It was mostly business talk.”

“Hmm. Think he’d go off with her?”

“Oh, no, not Joshua. He’s a family man. Wife and kids back home,” Kid lied. Dammit Heyes if you have gone off with her…

“Well when you find him, if he knows anything, tell him to come see me,” the sheriff instructed him, turning his horse away.

“I will sheriff. I sure will,” Kid said breathing a sigh of relief that the sheriff was leaving. Sheriff Otis Lamb stopped his horse and looked back at Kid Curry. “Oh and Mr. Jones. I’d stay away from Joe Heeney and his boys if I was you. You seem to be getting the worst of it.” With that he turned back and spurred his horse into a canter. Kid watched him go. Now how the Hell did he know that?

Heyes was missing. Elizabeth was gone. The necklace was gone. Kid did not like the way things were fitting together. Would Heyes have gone off with Elizabeth without telling him? He was taken with her well enough, Kid had seen that but was it enough to abandon their partnership? Their amnesty? Without a word? No, he did not believe that for one minute. So where was Heyes?

What if Heyes had got the necklace first? Did Elizabeth find him? Would she be violent? They had met some pretty tough women in their time. Kid had no clues as to where they might be. The only other thought he had was that Heeney and his men had found them. It was worth a look. Kid turned his horse towards the Double R.

***

It was late afternoon by the time Kid arrived at the Double R. With his horse hidden and tied to a tree, he watched the ranch house from a hill top. He scanned the bunkhouse, stable and barn but nothing moved. Kid settled in for a long wait.

Eventually a man appeared from the bunkhouse carrying a metal plate containing some food. The meal was hot and still steaming as he approached the door of the root cellar. Odd, Kid thought. The man opened the door, disappeared inside for a few minutes and the reappeared without the plate, locked the cellar door and returned to the bunk house. Kid kept watch. Some time later another man approached the door, disappeared inside and then reappeared pushing a man out into the open. The man’s hands were tied behind his back and he stumbled as he was pushed towards the outhouse. It was Heyes. Kid watched to see that his partner did not seem too badly hurt. He checked his gun, although he knew it was fully loaded. Then he went to get his horse.

***

Alerted by the sound of an approaching horse, several men came out of the barn including Richard Thompson. They stood in a line watching the rider draw nearer. Thompson was a little surprised to see that it was Thaddeus Jones.

“Mr. Jones. Nice to see you looking so unwell,” Thompson told Kid as he rode up.

“I’ve come for my partner,” Kid Curry told Thompson as he stood before him. Hank and Sam stood nearby along with several other ranch hands. Kid noted that all of them wore their guns. Maybe this was not such a good idea after all. Maybe he had taken one too many blows to the head to be thinking straight or maybe he was fed up creeping around and being told what to do by these people. Either way Kid Curry stood his ground.

“What makes you think he’s here?” Thompson asked.

“Because that man,” Kid pointed at a small grizzled old man, “went through that door with a plate of food.” He pointed at the root cellar and they followed the direction of his gaze. “And that man,” he pointed at Hank. “Dragged my partner out of that door and over to the outhouse and back again.”

“I think you’re imagining things. Your partner’s not here,” Thompson said.

“Then you won’t mind me looking in your root cellar.”

“You’re not going to look anywhere,” Thompson told him.

“Who’s gonna stop me?” Kid asked and Thompson reached for his gun. He was too late. With his legendary speed Kid Curry had his gun in his hand and pointed at Thompson before the rancher had even touched the handle of his own.

“I wouldn’t try it,” Kid told him amid gasps and whistles of amazement from Thompson’s men. Thompson was astonished at the speed of the man. At that moment Joe Heeney came out of the barn and, seeing a man holding a gun on his boss, went for his gun but Kid fired one shot and sent Heeney’s holster skidding across the ground in a cloud of dust. Thompson was lost for words. After all they had done to this man why had he never drawn on them like this before?

“You,” Kid pointed at Sam. “Go get my partner.”

Sam did as instructed and ran to the root cellar door. Moments later Heyes was pulled out squinting in the bright afternoon light. Sam untied him and, seeing his partner holding the ranch hands at gunpoint, Heyes strolled nonchalantly over to them rubbing his wrists as he did so.

“Afternoon Thaddeus,” he said giving the impression of a man who did not have a care in the world.

“You all right?” Kid asked noticing the bruise on Heyes’ face.

“Oh, never better. Mr. Thompson and his men have made me welcome in their own special way. You know what that’s like. Wanted me to stay for quite a while.” He turned to Thompson. “As you can see I’m not going to be staying after all. Might just let the sheriff know how nicely you asked though.” He leant against Kid’s horse as Hank was sent to get his. When the man returned with Heyes’ horse the ex-outlaw pulled himself up into the saddle and, with a nod to Thompson, he and his partner rode out.

***

“They have to be here,” Hannibal Heyes said as the partners searched the rocks in the trees around the Whittaker’s house. It was night time and the moon had finally reappeared from behind some clouds giving them enough light to see by. They crept about trying not to attract anyone’s attention. Heyes had told Kid how, knowing he was being followed; he had hidden the necklace between some rocks just before he was knocked out.

“Don’t you remember which rock you put them under?” Kid asked worried as to what his partner’s answer might be.

“Well Kid, it was dark and there was someone following me.”

“Heyes, are you telling me you’ve lost them?” Kid asked incredulously.

“No. I just don’t know exactly where they are right now.”

“Heyes, we are not going back to Big Mac without that necklace. He’d never let us leave alive.”

“Kid, you gotta have more faith in me,” Heyes told his partner.

“Find the necklace and I will,” Kid said through gritted teeth. He was still aching and he was not exactly pleased about being out in the woods in the middle of the night when a nice warm bed was calling him. “I swear Heyes if you don’t….” He looked up to see his partner holding up a jewellery case, a smile beaming across his face. Heyes opened the case and Kid whistled at his first sight of the jewels.

“No wonder Mac wanted them back,” he said. Heyes picked the necklace up, the sapphires glistening in the moonlight. For a moment he remembered how they fell around Elizabeth’s delicate neck.

“Heyes what’s that?” Kid asked pointing to a piece of paper poking out from beneath the velvet lining. Heyes pulled the paper out. It was a hand written note. They both read it.

I knew you’d find them again.
Tell Mac I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist either of you.
E

It must have been Elizabeth, Heyes had heard following him last night. How many people had been out there in the dark he wondered? Had she seen Thompson’s men take him hostage? He doubted it. He was sure she would have summoned help if she had. Why hadn’t she taken the necklace, how did she know he was working for Big Mac and where was Elizabeth now? It seemed there were a lot of things about the enigmatic Elizabeth Darkly he would never know.

“You gonna be all right?” Kid asked his cousin. Heyes turned slowly to look at his battered partner.

“Looking like that Kid, you’re asking me that question?”

“Bruises heal Heyes. I’m not sure about your heart.”

“I’ll be all right Kid. I’m tougher than I look. Let’s go see Big Mac.”

THE END

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