A/N OK back, see I actually made through on a promise Yay! Two chapters in less than three months that's got to be a record (unfortunately) for this story. So I gotta thank you the patient reader for sticking around. But let's not dwell on my horrendous posting record let's get down to the good stuff (hopefully) the chapter at hand.
Henry Shores, honorary Deputy Sheriff of Denver County, Colorado, part-time Pinkerton agent, part time bounty hunter, full time self proclaimed detective, ruefully regarded the mountain of paperwork that had piled up on his desk. It wasn't the fact that there was a substantial stack on his desk that irritated him. It was the fact that half of this mountain of paperwork should have been filed and categorized by his brother yesterday. Henry sifted through the top of the pile; doing so he discovered a leaflet listing the more important state laws that would come into effect due to the Territory's impending statehood. He placed that to the side and created the beginnings of a second pile right beside the original, which would henceforth be named the "to read" pile. As he continued sorting through the first pile, things got fairly more interesting. Notices of county and town ordinances, newly drafted regulations regarding the carrying of firearms in the city, houses of ill repute, disorderly conduct and various other sinful offenses great and small. Beyond that, he found wanted dodgers and an apparently fresh telegram from the Pinkerton Detective Agency.
Now this was an unexpected surprise.
The telegram could only mean one of two things, either Allan Pinkerton was calling him to Chicago headquarters and he would finally be given a full time position. Or as they had done frequently in the past, the Agency was alerting him of "stories of interest" in his regional area. Henry could then either do something about it or do absolutely nothing, it wouldn't matter to them as it seemed like the Agency was doing its best to ignore him. Henry sighed heavily, slighted or not, he was still a man of justice. He picked the telegram up and devoured the contents.
"Good Heavens!" he shouted after reading it for the third time.
Half an hour later, Henry stepped out of his room, fresh smelling, in a clean blue suit, and with the Pinkerton telegram in his coat pockets. He marched down to the first floor of his home which also served as the front office of the family detective agency. A few feet from the base of the staircase he discovered his brother Melville, half naked, laying sprawled on the floor. Furious, Henry marched over to the nearest window and pulled aside the curtains. The sunlight beamed down upon Melville and roused him from his sleep.
"Couldn't even make it to the staircase eh? Out philandering again I am sure."
Melville blinked his eyes open. "I philander no more than the next man my dear brother."
"You know brother; there is a stack of papers in my room that bear witness to your neglect!" Henry proclaimed.
The younger brother placed his right hand in air. "I have a perfectly sensible reason for not getting to those papers."
Melville let his arm drop. "I forgot."
Henry rubbed down the base of his forehead with his fingers. As he was gearing up to admonish Melville, his even younger brothers the twins Wendell and Wendelin bounded into the room from the kitchen.
"Good, you guys are finally awake," Wendell said.
Wendelin continued, "Alright now we can have breakfast."
Remembering his mission for the morning, Henry thrust a single finger in the air, "No time for breakfast trouble is afoot."
Melville sighed, "Trouble is always afoot."
"I am off!"
"He's off," Melville remarked.
"Stop mocking me!" Henry declared.
Melville shrugged from the floor. "Hey with our sister gone. Who else is going to do it?"
Henry deftly ran his fingers across his chin. "A fair point, we all have our roles to play in a team effort, and friendly teasing breed's familiarity.
Henry shook his head vigorously. "I shall pontificate on the role of humor in the family at a more convenient time. For now I work for justice."
With that said Henry stormed out of the house.
"How is he so energetic in the morning?" one of the twins muttered.
"And loud……so very loud" Melville grumbled.
When alone, Sheriff Thaddeus St. Claire would often stroke his sweeping dragoon mustache and admit to himself that he more than likely wasn't the best suited to be the sheriff of such a large community. He having done a halfway decent job of maintaining law and order in Denver was nothing less than a miracle. That he even had to enforce the law was a nuisance he could do without. It just so happened he was in the law business to make money. Still this city for all its warts and ugliness was his responsibility. For good or bad Denver had shown him just about everything a man would or wouldn't want to see.
However even for an experienced Western man like himself, every once in awhile something unusual would pop up in his town. The more recent example of this was the young lady sitting before him.
"You understand ma'am, I am just trying to get the full picture here."
Kim nodded, "Of course."
"First of all did you know who these men were?"
"Don't know, don't care," Kim answered simply. Then her eyes darted back and forth for a moment. "By that I mean I cannot honestly say I was aware of these men before their robbery attempt."
"They're wanted in Kansas, y'know." He gestured to one of the two nearby bulletin boards in the office, both of which were covered to the brim with leaflets and posters. "I got their picture right over there."
Kim gasped melodramatically. "Oh my stars and garters such devilish creatures! It is a relief to know they are now in your capable hands, behind bars."
"Yes ma'am they are safely behind bars" The sheriff nodded. Then he stared hard at the red head. "Thanks to....you?"
It was more of a question than a statement.
Kim smiled and placed her hand against her heart. "By the grace of good fortune."
"One the outlaws, his name being Sam Washington, Doctor sez you broke his jaw."
"Well," Kim said while clearing out her throat. "I can only imagine he had a weak jaw. Perhaps he was city born...from the east....Not a real western man such as yourself."
The sheriff nodded in acknowledgment of the compliment. "Perhaps."
Kim smiled brightly.
"My deputy also tells me you also managed to dent Mister Washington's revolver over a second outlaw's head."
She shrugged. "My father always said I was a lucky girl."
St. Claire remained silent as he continued to study Kim under his harsh gaze. Clearly uncomfortable she shifted once or twice in her seat.
"To be fair...." Kim paused. "...He had fairly slow reaction time."
St Claire grunted in response before leaning forward on his desk. He prepared his next line of questioning, most of which regarded the contraption in her purse. However, before any words could escape from his lips Henry Shore barged into the office, waving a piece of paper above his head.
"Aww hell," the sheriff muttered to himself upon setting eyes upon the detective.
"Trouble is afoot," Henry declared.
With a few long strides he crossed the room in moments, and then he slapped the letter upon the sheriff's desk. He glanced at Kim uttered a polite, "ma'am," and then turned his attention back to the sheriff.
"You are crazy as a lizard to be charging into a lawman's office. That's a good way to get yourself shot!" St. Claire exclaimed.
"I heard you the first time, dangit! What do you want?"
Sheriff St. Claire rued the day when he took on Henry Shore as a part time deputy. The young man was brave, intelligent, he had a connection to the Pinkerton's and he was more enthusiastic about law and order then any of the other deputies. St Claire had been hoping to pass off most of the work to Henry, but that was before he had discovered that the man was about as annoying as a person could get. For one thing he wasn't satisfied with the basic parameters of the job. At one point he attempted to enlist the sheriff and the other deputies in digging wells for old widows miles from town. In addition to that travesty, no western man ever needed to talk as much as Henry Shore did. If you ever offered him an ear he would likely talk it clear off your head. Worst of all he hardly ever drank, never cussed, and he didn't chase women. Now the sheriff didn't mind having respectable men around, the problem was when they tried to get everyone else to be respectable with them. It was like being around a lifetime bible thumper except without the hellfire and scripture.
"Sheriff, there is no time for polite pleasantries, you must read this quickly. It is of utmost importance!" He slid the telegram to St Clair.
Henry slid the letter across the desk to the Sheriff. With great reluctance the lawman studied the letter, occasionally his mouth would silently sound out a word as he tried to figure it out. After a moment or two St. Claire scratched at his cheek and said. "Darn it you know I ain't much of one for reading. Just tell me what it says!"
Henry began pacing dramatically around the room. "Dodge City, Kansas, Garden City, Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, Nevadaville, Colorado, Central City, Colorado. What do all these towns have in common?"
"How the hell should I know?" The Sheriff muttered irritably.
Henry took a deep breath. "According to my Pinkerton sources, in the past month there has been an eyebrow rising trend of violent outbursts in those aforementioned towns."
"Duels, between gunmen! All of these towns faced a spontaneous outburst of face to face shootouts of unprecedented levels."
"Unprecedented levels? Even for Dodge? They have shootouts every day!"
"If the letter says unprecedented, it must be unprecedented. Pinkertons are not known to exaggerate," Henry stated.
"That's all well and good but that sounds like a problem for someone else. Just the way I like it."
Henry stopped his rapid pacing and turned to give the sheriff a deadly serious stare. "I am afraid it is your problem sir. In each town the upswings of violence all started after the arrival and departure of one man."
Henry paused for the apparent dramatic effect.
"The legendary troubadour known as The Bard!" he proclaimed.
"The Bard? What about him?"
"The telegram mentions that he's been going around these towns touting the skills of apparently the new fastest gun in the west."
"That I do not know. What I do know is, if you follow the order of towns, it's quite likely that The Bard will be walking into our fair city either today or tomorrow!"
The sheriff groaned. Henry Shore's presence was bad enough without him bringing in bad news.
In the Sheriff's eyes there were three base types of bad men in the west. The foolish types seeking adventure, the true predators with nary a twinge of conscience, and gunfighters out to prove their skill. The gunfighter in his eyes would have to be the craziest of the bunch. It was impossible to try and understand them, because regular men couldn't begin to comprehend what they do and why they do it. Though you couldn't paint over them all with a simple brush; he had run into noble gunmen, mean gunmen, highly educated gunmen and plain stupid ones. Old, young, white, black, they came in all varieties. However, no matter their differences they gave little to no pause to the ludicrous thought of standing in the middle of the street without cover and firing at another man.
"Sheriff, there are a number of known gunfighters in our community. With the end of the week coming up you can bet there will be more entering town soon enough. If you let The Bard enter town there will undoubtedly be a commotion."
"Who am I the King of Denver? He ain't wanted in this town, and if a man shows up and behaves himself there's nothing I can do."
"Sir with all due respect: are you deaf? I just told you each town The Bard has visited has exploded in violence!"
"Now hold on, violence happens in this city every day. Thankfully most of it happens away from the respectable citizens."
Denver like many other large communities in the West had its fair share of issues with the separation of classes. Railroad tracks known locally as the "darklines" separated the rich, the tee-totaling, the law abiding and the "civilized" on the north from the wild, woolly, uncouth, anything-goes residents of the south side of town. St. Claire and his other deputies had done their very best to contain the undesirables to their own part of town.
"No one can keep gunfighters from curling each others' toes if they really want too. They will shoot each other and then move on. It'll take some extra work but I'm sure we can keep it from spilling north of the tracks."
With his arms out wide and with an incredulous look upon his face Henry said, "Is that all your are planning to do? There will be men dying in the street!"
"And we'll clean it up as best we could," St Claire glared at Henry. "There have been gunfighters in this town for as long as I can recall. This is the first I am hearing of you having a problem with it. Too busy digging wells for old widow women I reckon."
Chastised, Henry stepped away from the sheriff's desk with slumped shoulders. The sheriff reached under his desk and brought out a half empty bottle of whiskey. He was in the process of hauling the bottle to his mouth when his eyes fell once again on the red head. She smiled nonchalantly at him, completely ignorant to the fact that she was being privy to what should have been classified information. Lost in the whirlwind of annoyance that was Henry Shore the sheriff had forgotten she was still in the room.
St Claire regarded her with politeness. "With such other pressing issues at hand and with the culprits already behind bars I don't see any reason to continue my investigation."
Kim quickly stood up. "Well thank you for your hospitality sheriff, and for keeping the peace."
He nodded. "Now as a courtesy, and in the interest of public safety I would be obliged if you could keep any of the information shared between--" he gestured to Henry, "-Mr. Shore and I close to the vest. If you understand what I mean"
"Oh of course," Kim nodded. "If it's in the interest of public safety I will be sure to keep a tight lid on the matter."
After exchanging pleasant smiles with the two men Kim bid them both farewells. She stepped out of the office ruminating on the latest turn of events. It hadn't even been much more than an hour since her arrival and already there were three serious factors that would likely dictate how she spent her remaining time in Denver. The first thing that she had learned was that there were indeed gunfighters in the city. Secondly she had learned of an impending crisis involving the gunfighters that may occur, lastly but certainly not least by far, she believed that she had caught a glimpse of a poster with the name "Scarecrow" scrawled across the top on the wanted board.
Stepping out further into the street Kim paused to evaluate the implications of each discovery.
Monique having stayed outside with their luggage noted her friend's quiet departure from the sheriff's office. "I take it things didn't go well in there?"
Partially lost in thought Kim answered, "It started off quite annoying, however by the end it got…very interesting."
"Interesting, what does that mean?"
As Kim was about to reply a wagon came to a sharp halt in the street right before them. The driver jumped down from his seat just as a man in a fancy suit and stuffed collar disembarked from inside the wagon. Before Kim or Monique could register what was going on, the driver began to swiftly load their luggage into the carriage.
"Load them up quickly now, quickly!" exclaimed the man in the fancy suit as Kim and Monique exchanged bewildered glances.
"Pardon me sir, but I do believe your man there is stealing our luggage," Kim stated.
"You are Miss Kimberly Possible I presume? The woman who foiled the attempted robbery of a stage coach last night."
Kim nodded, "I am Kimberly Possible."
"Very good. Now Miss Possible, I must inquire on whether you have made the necessary accommodations for spending the night in this fair city."
Kim gestured down the street, "Um, there is a boarding house down--"
The man snorted. "Remove that hovel from your memory, Miss Possible. You are now a patron of the Northern Lights Grand Hotel for as long as you desire, courtesy of the owner Mister Jonathan Whitemore. I am here as his representative."
"Whitemore?" Kim sounded out the familiar name.
"There was a man named Whitemore with us on the stage coach," Monique remarked. "Don't you remember he introduced himself and his lady friend when we picked them up in Yuma?"
"I do recall now."
The representative grinned from ear to ear. "That would be Mister Whitmore's youngest son Charles Whitemore. And if his descriptions of those bandits are even half the truth Charles likely owes you his life."
"So this is a reward for stopping the robbery," Kim concluded.
"One we are hoping you will graciously accept. This is the least a man of Mister Whitemore's stature could do. It is the finest hotel in the territory; you will find none better in the territory."
Kim remained silent as she mulled the invitation over.
"Mister Whitemore also owns the highest class ladies boutique in town. So in addition to the room and board you can also have free access to a change of clothes."
A muffled but distinct squeal of delight escaped from Monique.
By then the driver had finished loading the luggage into the wagon.
"I am sure the hotel is dreadfully more pleasant than a boardinghouse. However at the risk of sounding ungrateful, I must say I cannot accept the invitation without my friend here," Kim stated.
"Hey now, don't give up a chance at luxury for my sake," Monique remarked.
"Sorry, I won't budge on this matter." Kim turned to the representative. "Monique did her part in saving Mister Whitemore's son as well."
Smiling politely Monique waved at Whitemore's representative. He studied Monique for a long moment before pulling the door of the wagon open. "Of course, I am sure Mister Whitemore will approve."
Gleefully the two friends hopped into the wagon. The representative entered right after them, he barked to the driver and moments later they whipping down the street. Kim stared out the window watching the city fly by. More than once she caught sight of a group of women in fanciful dresses darting in and out various stores of interest. This was obviously the north side of Denver, the "respectable" part of town. It offered a safe, happy if not a tad predictable life for a woman. Indeed it was interesting enough, Kim thought. But could she truly say she visited Denver without knowing what both sides of the city had to offer?
You did not need much powers of observation to notice that Henry had returned home with a very surly disposition. There wasn't much ambiguity in him rushing up into his room and slamming the door shut without uttering a word to his brothers. Though Melville would never admit it to anyone but himself, he knew that after the death of their parents and their sister's departure years later, Henry's annoyingly cheerful optimism was what kept the remaining family members together. Which is the exact reason why, there was a definite threshold of "enjoying himself at his brothers' expense" that Melville simply did not cross. Truly he appreciated the burdens of responsibility that his brother took on for the family. So doing the minimum amount of work to keep Henry somewhat satisfied was the least Melville could do to contribute to the family well being.
He poked his head through the door of his brother's room. "Hey I have that report on Lipsky that you wanted."
Henry lay unmoving on his bed. His eyes were up at the ceiling.
"The one you asked about a few weeks ago?"
"So I will just put it in the file."
"I am pontificating."
Henry had all the right to pontificate in his own room. However when their sister had left home Henry had pontificated in his room alone for two weeks straight before snapping out of it.
"Pontificating on what?"
"I have failed Melville; I have failed in upholding my pledge towards justice."
"Oh boy", Melville thought to himself. The last thing Henry had openly admitted to having failed at was keeping the family together.
"Gunfighters brother, gunfighters happened. Shootouts are usually filed as cases of self defense; and because of this I have overlooked the presence of these crimes in our fair city. Thus I have allowed a number of the good citizens to live in a state of constant danger."
Henry had the tendency to not notice that Denver was far from a "fair" city and he also didn't realize that shootouts would probably have happened whether he was aware of them or not. Henry flattered himself greatly by believing he had "allowed" the "good" citizens to do anything. Still Henry enjoyed his crusade and Melville would find no enjoyment in trying to take that away from him.
"So now that you have failed, are you going to quit?"
Henry turned his heads towards his younger brother. "What?"
"Now that you have allowed Denver to become a cesspool of violence and sin, no one would blame you if you quit and allowed things to take their natural course."
Henry bolted upright. "Never, I must come up with a plan to rectify the situation at hand! Justice and peace must be restored to Denver, the shining beacon of the West!"
Melville smiled to himself. Henry had transited back from gloom to his traditionally annoying self righteous self.
And that is the way it should be.
Melville pulled his head back through the door. "Well don't pontificate too hard, you may pull a muscle or two."
Henry at that point was already gathering papers at his desk. "Your concern brother while fraught with mockery is duly noted."
Crisis adverted Melville marched contently to his room. There he slipped into a sleek purple suit and plucked a pink envelope out of his dresser before stuffing it into his pocket. All quiet on the home front he stepped outside and started towards the south side of the city.
It was much later in the afternoon when Melville found himself in front of StrangeFellows, which was part dance hall and part saloon. The fact that it was occasionally frequented by some of the roughest elements of the city meant that it was not what Melville would consider a local hotspot for the average man. Melville had never stepped foot in the StrangeFellow for anything other than aiding his brother in an investigation.
However there was a first time for everything.
Melville pulled out the pink envelope and drew in the hint of lavender that it released into the open air. He fished the letter from his secret admirer out and re-read it. He had discovered the envelope after returning from a long night out of what his brother had labeled philandering. It had been slipped under the door of their home and apparently the rest of his family was none the wiser. The secret admirer had invited Melville to meet her at the saloon before its peak working hours. Obviously it was a letter from one the dance girls, who had grown to admire Melville from afar. The poor girl couldn't bring up the courage to approach him face to face.
Melville re-read the letter again. StrangeFellows was also known to have some of the prettiest and "reckless" saloon gals and dancing girls as well. Head held high Melville marched into the saloon. It was fairly empty at this time of day. There was only one person sitting at an empty booth to the left nursing his drink and flipping cards. There was no band on stage in the back of the room and a single barkeep was wiping down glasses behind the bar to the right. He didn't see any women around but Melville remained optimistic. As instructed by the letter he found the empty booth behind the first wooden pillar in the building. Tapping his fingers against a wooden table Melville awaited his admirer.
"Hello there cowboy," someone tittered behind him.
He ran his hands through his hair before turning. "Hello ma'am...You!"
Grinning broadly Shego sauntered over and plopped herself on the opposite side of the booth.
"Yeah me, I can't believe you fell for it."
"You…letter...but...How dare you!" Melville sputtered.
"Ah don't take on so. It was only a joke," Shego shrugged.
"You fooled me!"
She sighed. "Is that all you are going to say to your long lost sister?"
"OK, how about this, you are under arrest!"
Shego stared at Melville for a moment, and then she began laughing. The more she laughed the madder Melville got.
"Hey, I'm serious I can bring you to the sheriff and...."
Shego howled as she took off her hat, she then wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Her laughter eventually faded into a chuckle. "I needed that, thanks for brightening my day little brother."
"Alright, I won't stay here and be laughed at!"
Melville made a move to leave, but Shego placed her hand upon his shoulder and shoved him back down to his chair.
"Hold on, hold on....Just wait a minute…..I need your help. Actually, I need Henry's help. But seeing how listening to Henry lecture is akin to getting kicked in the mouth by a mule; it just so happens I need your help."
"Why should any of us help you after you abandoned the family... right after you robbed one of the city's banks... right after you kicked a deputy in the groin."
"Listen to me," Shego interrupted. "I need your help; it's probably a matter of life and death. My life or death."
"Maybe, I don't know for sure" Shego said as she glanced into Melville's eyes. "Which is why I need your help brother."
After a long moment of contemplation, Melville vigorously wiped his hands up and down his face. "Fine, but just promise me that you won't do anything illegal while you're in town."
Shego leaned back in her seat and sighed heavily, "I can't do that."
"Ugh," was his reply as he closed his eyes, waiting. "Why not?"
"I can't make a promise I broke three times this morning."
Melville groaned. "OK, how about we rein in the illegal activities."
Shego extended out her hand. "Pardon me. Perhaps I have not introduced myself; I am the member of your family who left home to become an outlaw."
Melville stiffly stood up.
"How about this?" Shego asked. "I promise not to burn the detective agency down while you guys are out to lunch."
"Is that a threat?" Melville asked.
"That's a compromise of good faith. You know how I feel about that house."
He glared at his sister; she glared at him with a cheeky smile.
"Like I always used to say Melville, third time is the charm."
A crooked smile came to Shego's when her brother let out a heavy sigh.
"Alright, since it's a matter of life and death, what is it that I can help you with?"
She shook her head. "Not now, but I will be in touch. You can say I have some business in town, so I'll be around for awhile."
With a soft chuckle Melville stood up. "You have not changed big sister. In one way I am disappointed, in another way I am glad."
"Pleasure doing business with you brother," Shego called out as he made his way for the exit. "Tell the twins I said hello!"
"Ha," Melville said without turning around.
They both knew if Henry even got wind of her being back in town he would do anything in his power to drag her back home...or to jail. It all depended on how righteous he was feeling at the time. While stepping through the door of StrangeFellows Melville wondered how he would help his sister, without his brother being aware of it. He was still lost in thought when he bumped into a woman on the boardwalk.
"Pardon me I..."
He took a step back and looked over the stunning redhead in a bright dress with a stylish hat and gloves to accessorize.
"No, pardon me," she said as she brushed past him.
He watched as she walked away.
"Hold on...did you take a wrong turn somewhere? Might you be possible looking for you way back north?"
She turned to him. "Why would you say that?"
Melville shrugged as he glanced around the neighborhood. "This is the south side of the city ma'am. The boutiques are up north; down here well….there is not much here but uncouth individuals."
Kim smiled good-naturedly. "Thank you for your concern but I do believe I am right where I want to be."
Melville shrugged, "Fair enough, good day to you ma'am." Turning away he walked off in the opposite direction.
Kim considered the fact that she was overdressed for the situation. This was not entirely her fault however; Monique had wanted them to take advantage of the boutique after they had purchased Ron's medicine. At first Kim had wanted to get some rest back at the hotel before she went off exploring, but she could not overcome Monique's insistence. Once inside the boutique though, Kim had her eyes opened to Monique's wisdom. What would it have hurt for her to exchange her dusty clothes for something fresh? A new dress and a few accessories later, Kim dropped Monique off at the hotel.
After a few basic inquires from the locals about where gunfighters spent their time, Kim found herself walking through the doors of the StrangeFellows saloon.
Her first reaction was that the saloon smelled of stale odors, and some not so stale orders that made her nose wrinkle. Kim tried not to breathe deep as she moved deeper into StrangeFellows. Heading towards the bar she regarded a few questionable stains on the plank floor. A sharp laugh interrupted her from identifying the mystery pink-ish stains. She looked down the bar to see the bartender pouring a woman a drink. The woman smirked at Kim, who became immediately aware that there was quite a contrast between her dress and the other woman's trail clothes.
"The working girls coming in right off the farm these days, huh Horace?" Shego snorted.
The barkeep didn't reply instead he moved away and approached Kim.
"Are you lost?" he asked her.
"No," Kim stated. "Why do people keep asking me that?"
"Well I am sorry to say women ain't allowed in here without an escort."
Kim leaned onto the bar and pointed at Shego.
"That's not a woman Miss. That one has been a jaguar for as long as I have known her."
Kim and Horace heard Shego mutter "Funny stuff" right before a tiny dagger embedded itself in the wooden bar, inches from Kim's elbows and Horace's resting fingers.
Startled, Kim backed away from the bar and glared at Shego.
"Keep them jokes coming Horace," Shego warning before returning to her drink.
Having been threatened by worse Horace ignored her again and kept his attention on Kim.
"Ma'am the owner of this particular saloon does not allow women of your--" he looked Kim over. "--Refined sensibilities to enter here unescorted. It's for your own good and ours. Last thing we need is for the respectable folk to get riled up and try to shut us down again...."
"Riled up over what?"
"Any misfortune that would befall a… proper lady such as yourself."
"You are probably more suited to the cafes up north."
"One moment please..."
"The tracks aren't too far from here. For a price we can have somebody escort you back up..."
"I am looking for any information I can get on an outlaw, who may have visited this city not too long ago," Kim blurted out.
Shego laughed out loud as Horace brought his hand to his forehead.
"Not this old story again," Horace muttered.
"And here I thought school-marms were supposed to be the living embodiment of moral and ethical virtue," Shego laughed.
Kim's head swiveled from Shego to Horace. "I am not a--"
"Ma'am by any chance are you with child?"
"I beg your pardon!" Kim exclaimed indignantly. "I am not!"
"She begs your pardon Horace," Shego chuckled as she drained her glass.
"If I had a nickel every time…." Horace sighed.
Shego stood up and started slowly towards Kim. "I see it now. You never met a man like this outlaw. He wasn't cultured or educated. He wasn't rich. But there was something about him, some quality you just couldn't define, and that is what made him irresistible. He walked around town like he was different. Like the rest if the world wasn't as unique as he was. When you were around him all you wanted to do was touch him."
Kim felt flames filling up her cheeks.
Shego wrapped her arms around herself. "Oh my, this behavior is downright wicked. If my pappy learned what we were doing why I'd be dismissed without hesitation. Oh my I never kissed a man before... OK, maybe just this once."
A cruel smirk came to Shego's face as she looked Kim through mocking eyes. "What happened did he promise he'd marry you? Did you wake up in the shed all by your lonesome?"
Red faced with embarrassment Kim glowered at the female bandit.
"I believe there has been a misunderstanding," Kim managed to say with miraculous restraint. "I am simply looking for information."
"Here's all you need to understand Miss." Horace added. "Even if I had information I wouldn't give it to you for your own good. Forget about this outlaw and stick to your own folk. This ain't your world."
Shego plucked her dagger from the bar; she waved the blade inches from Kim's face. "That's right princess, this ain't your world. The weak lamb gets devoured by the lion in this here jungle. So skedaddle back over the tracks to mama and papa before you really get hurt."
The tip of the dagger brushed against Kim's nose and only the a few brief seconds afterward Kim's right hand snapped up and grabbed Shego's wrist.
Spooked, Shego attempted to pull her hand away but Kim held it in place. She added a bit of pressure and the sharp pain forced Shego to drop her weapon.
"I would advise you to buy a new blade. That one was dull; I doubt it would cut through hot butter."
Shego grunted as she attempted to pull away, Kim released her hand letting the older woman stumble backwards.
"I don't appreciate your insinuations Miss. I think you should take them back," Kim stated through narrow eyes.
"Take them back...?" A white hot anger flashed through Shego's body. "Why you arrogant little...."
Kim stood tensely in front of Shego, awaiting the outlaw's first aggressive move. Shego threw a sharp right, Kim moved her head ever so slightly and the punch whistled past her. Shego's eyes narrowed, either the red head was lucky or she was facing someone who knew something about fighting. Her suspicions were confirmed when she barely managed to dodge Kim's gloved fist from smacking into her mouth.
Shego backed away and Kim did the same. The two women adjusted their stances. They started each other down once again. Suddenly a large slab of muscle stepped in between them.
"Come on now don't step in between a cat fight, Moose," Horace whined.
"Boss says the red head has got to go." The massive man named Moose announced.
Kim scanned the area until her eyes fell upon the only other person left in the saloon. In a shadowy booth across the room a lone man flipped cards nonchalantly in an apparent game of solitaire.
Moose turned to Kim with a stone faced expression. "You can't get hurt in here. You will bring trouble. You must leave."
Kim glared at Shego before turning to Horace. She had questions for the barkeep, or maybe even his boss. Questions they could reasonably answer, considering their employment in a place with a reputation like StrangeFellows.
Questions that would possibly arise suspicion if she brought them to the sheriff.
Horace would know something about gunfighters and the outlaw world in general. But more importantly he may have known why Scarecrow was up on St Claire's board.
"I apologize for the inconvenience. I will be leaving now."
Shego sidled up to the bar. "Watch your back princess."
Kim offered her one last scathing look before making her way out of the saloon.
By late evening, even though the sun had gone down, the city was still baking in an unusually sweltering heat. This type of weather didn't go a long way in dispersing the collective lethargy that seemed to have been gripping the citizens for most of the day. Horses dozed at hitch rails, dogs lay asleep on the boardwalk. The train chugged slowly eastward spewing great columns of smoke into the air. The streets were relatively quiet.
The same could not be said for the StrangeFellows saloon when "The Stranger" proudly pushed through the doors.
Kim was immediately assaulted by a whirlwind of sights and sounds. The dance floor which occupied most of the middle of the room was lit up as bright as the sun. Dozens of couples swirled in rhythm to the music. The walls of the building shook to the frantic pounding of boots and shoes. Men at the bar to the right of the room let out Comanche war cries in between whooping and hollering. Each man seemed to be trying to outdo the other in wild antics. The lights on the dance floor did not extend to the booths along the left side of the room. In the dim lighting, shadowy silhouettes sat awfully close hand in hand. The platform at the back of the room featured a band that was playing so loud the music attacked Kim's ears. The piano player pounded the keys and the fiddler slashed viciously at the strings. And there were girls everywhere, chatting, dancing, waiting to be asked. Girls in blue dresses, girls in red, shapely girls, heavy set girls, ample bosoms, those less so, blonds, brunettes...girls…girls…girls.
The place was packed to the rafters. It was bedlam.
"Land sakes," Kim breathed as took a few minutes to take in the sight of it all.
A familiar slab of muscle slid up behind her. Moose unfolded his brawny arms and fixed his beady eyes on Kim's face. Then in a gravelly voice he said. "You are not welcome here."
For a moment she wondered if the big man had seen through her disguise. But figuring that the towering mass of muscle was all brawn and no brain, Kim concluded that to have been impossible.
"You are a nobody, I won't have a problem tossing you out."
"I don't like your tone," Kim said.
"No offense mister, but the boss doesn't want you here. The mask on your face makes you look like a Nancy. You look weak. There are lots of men who prey on weakness here. So you have to go."
Kim blinked. "Well now I think your boss just insulted me."
The big man shrugged. Then he started toward Kim. She put a hand up to his chest.
"Simmer down big fellow; I am not looking to create a scene. And there will definitely be a scene if you take another step towards me. How about I talk to the man in charge and make my case. If he still says no, I'll leave peacefully and you can go back to scaring bully goats. That's fair ain't it?"
Moose's face scrunched up in concentration as he considered her statement. "Fair" he nodded before pointing out the booth closest to the door.
"His name is Carter Degrazia. He is the one in black. Watch what you say, or you won't get past Lem and Bub."
Nodding politely Kim pushed through the crowd.
"I look weak eh?" Kim thought to herself. "I'll show them weak."
Carter Degrazia's booth featured a small table with two other men, one to his right and one to his left.
"Are you Carter Degrazia, the owner of this establishment?"
Degrazia was a nicely dressed individual in a black suit and a bowler. He offered a Kim a look of deliberate indifference.
"I just want to say if you are going to insult me sir, the least you could do is insult me to my face instead of through the big lummox over there."
The man on the right sneered. "Hey now do you know who you are talking too?"
"I am talking to the man who owes me an apology," Kim said.
"You want an apology?" the man on the left asked. "He must be awful dumb, huh, Lem?"
Lem laughed. "Maybe we ought to learn him something, Bub. Seeing he's so dumb."
Grinning now, he looked straight into the Kim's eyes. "Maybe I ought to cut his ears off and give 'em to him for a present. That might teach him a lesson right Bub?"
"Can't back down here."
Kim snorted. "If there is a lesson for me to learn tonight, I know for sure you two hombres won't be the ones dishin' it out."
"Who the hell do you think you is?" Bub shouted.
"I reckon I am someone who is rapidly losing patience with a couple of pushy loudmouths."
Bub frowned at the insult while Lem attempted to discreetly pull a blade from his pocket. It wasn't nearly as discreet as he had imagined because when he came up to cut at her face, Kim swatted the blade away with a sharp upward swing. The blade landed harmlessly on the floor, Kim's fist however landed roughly on the base of Lem's jaw.
Bub was slow to react. When he made an attempt to grab for his gun, Kim kicked the front leg of his chair out from beneath him. She grabbed him by the back of his head and adding to his falling momentum she sent crashing through the wooden table.
She sighed, "Next time grown folk are talking, you boys hush up you hear?"
Kim and Carter locked eyes as the two men lay groaning on the ground at his feet. There was a moment of silence before Carter nodded. He snapped his fingers and Moose suddenly materialized before them, he grabbed both men on the ground by a foot each and began dragging them away. Carter snapped his fingers again and in a matter of moments another man delivered a wooden table and placed it before him.
Degrazia placed his hands on the new table.
"You have me at a disadvantage. You are...."
"Just looking to cool my heels in this saloon," Kim said.
"Fair enough, but look around first. There are killers, thieves and Texans among others in here. You can throw a mean punch but by the looks of the softness in your hands and cheeks you are probably an Easterner who thinks he can pass off as a bad man. I was doing you a favor before, as much as I would like to take your money. Besides, having that thickheaded sheriff sniffing around here...again…is bad for business."
Kim shrugged, "I am obliged for your concern but I'll take my chances."
She glanced around. Not much had changed in the atmosphere of the room; it was like no one had even noticed there had just been a fight. Either most of everyone else had ignored it or they were so used to fights breaking out that it no longer got in the way of dancing and drinking. Both options unnerved Kim a bit.
Kim had taken a few steps away from Degrazia's table when a pair of giggling girls stepped before her. Although their perfume got to Kim before they did. It filled the air around them.
"Howdy tough guy," the tallest said in a Southern accent. "I'm Margaret and this here is Nicole. Would you care to dance? Only ten cents a step."
"No thanks ma'am," Kim coughed politely.
"Please," Margaret coaxed with a wink and a chuckle.
"I am not much of a dancer."
"You're not very friendly either." Margaret grabbed Kim by the hand and began to drag her to the bright glare of dance floor. "Come on you'll have fun I promise."
Kim had no desire to dance or to hurt feelings. She pretended to be scanning the crowd. "Sorry, but I am actually looking for someone."
"Um another girl..?
"Really? What's her name?"
Margaret frowned. "There's no one who works here by that name."
"Whoops there she is. Save me that dance for later," Kim slipped her hands from Margret's grasp and weaved in and out through the crowd.
After putting some distance between her and the girls, Kim found herself near the bar. Spying Horace behind the counter she quickly made her way towards him. She was sorting the list of questions she would ask when a hand on her shoulder interrupted her thoughts.
"Quickest fight I have seen in awhile."
Kim turned towards a young man wearing an unusually large wide brimmed hat, and a red bandanna wrapped around his neck.
"Ah thanks," she replied.
"Let me buy you a drink," the young man announced.
"Why?" Kim inquired.
"I ran afoul of those obnoxious fellas earlier. If you didn't put a whooping on them I would have eventually."
"Ah, I see."
The young man signaled for Horace and ordered his best bottle of Mononghala whiskey. The bartender poured drinks for them both. Resting her elbow awkwardly on the bar, Kim accepted the glass. Taking a signal sip she let the whiskey burn a path down her throat to her stomach.
"Ah, that's...satisfactory." she lied.
The young man extended his hand. "The name's Seth Beechum."
Kim shook his hand. "Well my name is Nobody."
Seth laughed. "Ah, you are one of them types that likes having a mysterious name. Well I have run across much more mysterious names in my time."
"Yep for example, Mysterious Red Beam Beauregard from Louisiana, that name beats yours by a mile."
Kim smiled. "I can't say I disagree with that."
Seth tipped the contents of his glass into his mouth. He let out a satisfied sigh before tipping his hat to Kim, "well Nobody, thanks for the show."
The young outlaw dropped his glass onto the bar. He was in the process of turning away, when he suddenly stiffened up in place.
"Wait just a minute is that....?" he muttered. "Well I'll be it is..."
Kim stared curiously at him as she discreetly sniffed the contents of her shot glass, which resulted in an involuntary grimace. Seth's stare went past Kim and across the room, a streak of wonder twinkled in the outlaw's eyes. Kim attempted to follow his gaze.
"What, did another fight break look?"
An incredulous look came upon Seth's face. He pointed, "Don't you see who just walked in yonder. That's The Bard!"
Kim glanced at the entrance as the man known throughout the West as The Bard strolled confidently into the room. She recognized that the atmosphere had shifted subtly. There was much less dancing and boozing going on. Many men looked The Bard's way and nodded their head in a greeting. Some looked him over once or twice before going on with their business.
"That guy with the guitar is The Bard?"
So taken aback by her apparent ignorance Seth plopped himself on a bar stool.
"So what is his story?" Kim inquired.
Seth shook his head. "It just so happens, that The Bard knows everything about anything worth hearing west of the Mississippi. He's akin to a walking museum of history or something. He's a legend."
"Is that right?" Kim muttered to herself.
"By God it is you," Carter Degrazia said as stepped forward and shook The Bard's hand, "I thought Moose was seeing things."
"Been a long time Carter," The Bard grinned.
"What brings you here to our fair saloon, Bard?"
"It's a long road to Denver by horse and even a longer road without a drop to drink," The Bard said. "I am just here to wet my whistle before I get off to bed. Is that all right with you?"
"Sure suits me," Carter replied as he led The Bard to the bar. "Let me get you a drink on the house."
"Does The Bard know much about gun-fighters?" Kim asked.
"Didn't I just say he knows something about everything? 'Course he knows about gunfighters. If I know about gunfighters then he sure as hell does."
Kim's right eyebrow arched up into her forehead. "Any gunfighters here tonight?"
Seth nodded. "There are a handful of gunfighters on hand tonight."
Seth's head bobbed up and down proudly. "I am a genuine outlaw, and even though I may not be a gun-handler myself, in my circles you run into them every now and then. See that grizzled old hombre nursing a drink alone in the corner that is Zachary "damned" Kellery. He's in his late sixties at the very least. The dude standing at the very end of the bar is Lawrence "Sunset" Holt, he made his reputation in Montana some say he is a back-shooter. The fella dancing with two ladies there is "King" Ronnie Pearson, he claims he is descended from English royalty."
"Hey Bard, I read a book that said Larry Morgan was raised by Apaches is that true?" A saloon patron suddenly shouted from across the room.
The Bard sipped his drink before laughing out loud. "Don't believe everything you read, according to those books he killed a hundred braves at the tender age of eight."
A laugh ran through the crowd.
"Nah, Morgan wasn't raised by Apaches" The Bard announced. "But John McBride was."
A collective "OOOOOOO," came from those paying attention.
Carter slapped The Bard on the back. "Hey you got a song or story for us. I can get the stage ready for you."
"Hate to disappoint you folks but I happen to be dog tired from the ride over. However I have been working hard on something real big."
"Big you say?"
"Very big Carter, let me ask you this. What do the names Jess Adams, Paul "Dancer" Hughes, Slim Jeeter, Timothy Murdoch, and Tobias Coover have in common?"
"They're all dead!" someone blurted out.
Once again laughter came from the crowd.
"Definitely they are deceased. But also these five men at one point in their lives were considered the fastest gun alive. They were the last five to have almost a unanimous consensus on that, if I recall correctly."
Carter nodded. "That's a natural fact."
The Bard finished his drink and sighed happily. "Well if my latest tale proves true, there might be a sixth name to add to that list."
The band stopped playing, all conversation and dancing in the room ceased, and suddenly all eyes turned toward The Bard.
"Gawd almighty, history is about to be made right here," Seth exclaimed.
"What?" This time it was Kim's turn to be taken aback.
"Fastest in the West huh? Who is it?" Carter asked.
The Bard shook his head. "Sorry friend, but now is not the time. I am plumb tired and my voice is hoarse. And I think I feel a fever coming on. You know if I can't give a good show, then there will be no show. But soon folks, real soon, and I'll tell it right here in this saloon."
The crowd erupted into a loud whoop.
"Well now I've had my drink. I reckon it's time to get some rest. Night yall."
The Bard started off towards the entrance when a man in a black suit, with a dark shirt opened at the collar and two guns at his waist seemed to emerge from the shadows of the room. He intercepted The Bard's path.
"Bard," he said. "You're looking well."
"As do you, Trace," The Bard replied.
"Who is that?" Kim whispered.
Keeping his eyes on the two men Seth said, "That there is Trace Turner...They say he's killed more men than you can count but the particulars aren't well known and no one is fool enough to ask for details."
"I'd appreciate it Bard, if you kept my name in consideration," Trace Turner said.
The Bard smiled. "I'll do that."
Trace stepped aside and The Bard brushed past him and out the door. The saloon erupted with conversation, while the music simultaneously returned, followed soon by bursts of dancing.
Trace Turner melded back into the shadows.
"My goodness it's going to be quite exciting around these parts for the next few days," Seth said enthusiastically.
"What do you mean?"
"What do I mean? Didn't you see Trace there? The gunfighters are for sure going to be vying for The Bard's attention! Being known as the fastest gun is akin to being a living legend."
"Why would anyone want that title? Why would anyone want to be a gunfighter?"
"For lots of reasons!" Seth exclaimed. "For no reason," he then added. tilting his head and shifting his shoulders. "Gunfighting don't need a purpose; the duel is its own purpose. You don't ask why the sun shines or why rocks are rocks, do you?"
"You go to hell," a man standing near the booths suddenly shouted.
"I'll take you there with me pard," yelled a man standing next to him.
The two men stepped away from the booths to face each other, their hands hovering inches over their guns. People on the dance floor began to scatter.
"You been making brags and yapping in my ear long enough. I am damned tired of it! Now pull iron or shut the hell up!" The first man shouted out.
"No, not in here, take it outside," Carter Degrazia exclaimed.
"Get ready to hit the floor," Seth whispered.
"Wait!" Kim cried. "We just can't let them..."
Both men grabbed for their guns. The second fighter was quicker. He fired once hitting the first man in the chest. The fatally wounded man grabbed his chest for a few seconds before slumping to the ground. He died without uttering another sound.
"It was self defense! And I warned him about his mouth," the second man crowed.
Carter groaned. He snapped his fingers, and the body of the dead man was dragged out of the saloon. Horace tossed some sawdust on the blood stains on the floor. The festivities resumed moments later.
Frozen in place Kim looked over to Seth, who simply shrugged.
"Told ya so," he smiled. "And it's only going to get bigger from here."
"So how manly were you?" Monique asked when Kim returned to their hotel room. "Did you spit on the floor and scratch yourself inappropriately?"
"I believe I played the role well enough," Kim said distractedly. She then hurried over to the luggage currently on her bed.
"You should consider work as a thespian. You have a natural gift."
Monique's compliment fell on deaf ears, as Kim rifled quickly through her belongings. As a precautionary measure she had carried along some of The Stranger's gear to Denver, but not enough for her to be entirely comfortable. She foresaw a lot of improvising in her future.
"Did you learn anything interesting?" Monique said after nothing her friend's anxiety.
"I am not sure," Kim answered.
"You're not sure?"
"Monique I know we're here for an important reason. But we may be in Denver longer than we had anticipated."
A/N Oh yeah laying down the tracks for something here, it'll be big, it'll be fun, and it may or may not contain a few more familiar KP faces. So OK, questions for you dear reader. Shego and Kim's meeting, good, bad, swell? Did ya like it? Team Go whuddya think? Yay, nay? Tell me what ya think!!!!! Feedback is good, so read and review lol.