Decker was still fuming when he arrived home. Wes came out to take his horse and told him that Joel was waiting for him in his study. Decker burst through the front door startling the maid dusting in the hallway causing her to drop her duster and cower back against the wall. Without sparing her a glance, Bill strode down the hall and threw open the double doors to his study. Joel was surprised at the abrupt entrance and could see his boss was angry. Joel swept his grey Stetson off his head and held it nervously with both hands. Decker glared at him and snarled, "Well? You better have a good reason to be standing here instead out there moving cattle."
"Uh, er, we had some trouble this morning, Boss," began Joel. "Me and the boys rode up to check on the cattle in the northwest corner. The hands from the Rocking M had fixed up the fence line since we were up there last and the cows were thirsty." Decker stared at him. "There were still two men up there."
"So? Did you tear the fence down?" said Decker.
"Well, um, no…" began Joel not looking Bill in the eye.
"Why the hell not?" yelled Decker, once again turning red.
"Boss, we tried. This guy, the Rocking M guy, he wasn't backing down. He was real smart-mouthed and I lost my temper…." said Joel.
Decker had a pretty good idea who Joel was talking about. "So?"
"Well, I drew on him…" said Joel.
Smiling now, Decker said, "You killed him?" This would solve all sorts of problems. James was a complication he didn't need, and Decker was sure there was more to the man than he could see. He was pleased to have James dealt with. He needed water for his cattle and he needed it now. He had to get Boswell's water and he'd let no one get in his way.
"No, he was fast, real fast. He outdrew me before I even slapped leather," said Joel. "He sent me and the boys packing."
Decker exploded in anger, foul words poured from his mouth and he swept his arm across the top of his desk knocking everything to the floor. He proceeded to throw a fine sculpture against the stone fireplace surround; which was about the time that Joel crept out of the room.
The next afternoon, Decker emerged from the house, had his horse saddled up for him, and rode off towards town to send a couple of telegrams. He knew that he couldn't delay getting his cattle watered. Bill was going to have to haul water for his cattle in from the next town over and he knew it would cost a fortune; the last of his fortune. He needed to solve his problem quickly and he had come up with a plan to do just that.
Decker pulled up in front of the telegraph office and went inside to complete his errands. Once done, he walked across the street and headed into the Lucky Lady. The atmosphere was smoky. The place was packed and there was only room at the bar so Decker bellied up and ordered a scotch. The bartender, Cliff, knew Mr. Decker and was quick to serve him. He didn't want any trouble tonight. Decker tossed a dollar on the bar and told Cliff to keep them coming. Picking up his drink, he turned around, and the first person he saw was Heyes at the center poker table with a large pile of chips in front of him. Decker knocked back the first scotch and ordered a second before making his way over to the table.
"James. You and I need to talk," said Decker hovering over Heyes. Bill wanted to intimidate James with his size.
Looking up at Decker, Heyes smiled, and said, "I agree, but I'm kind of busy right now; maybe we'll talk later."
Bill was starting to hate this guy. He forced a smile on his face and said, "I'm drinking now, I might not be so nice later."
Heyes laughed and said, "Well, since you put it that way. Gentleman, deal me out." There was a lot of grumbling from the other players. They were not happy to see their money leave the table and it was one more black mark against Decker for causing it.
Heyes thanked the other players and ordered a round for the table before following Decker to the hook of the bar. Heyes was smiling; he had Decker on the run now. Decker sized him up again and decided that James wasn't so tough. Bill had both a height and a weight advantage; he said, "I don't like you threatening my men."
Heyes lost the smile fast and a hard glint came into his eyes. His hand deliberately dropped to rest on his gun. "It seems to me it was your man who drew on me. If we're going to have a difference of opinion maybe we should take this conversation outside."
Bill physically recoiled from Heyes's expression; he didn't know what to make of this man. A minute ago, he was passive and now he looked feral. There was something in James's eyes that scared him. Like all bullies, Bill was ultimately a coward and he was quick to back off and change tactics. Decker held up his hands and said, "I'm no gunnie, Mr. James. I just want to talk."
Heyes relaxed slightly and nodded, "Well, buy me a drink and we'll talk." Decker nodded to Cliff who had been watching the conversation, one hand under the bar holding his sawed-off, buckshot-loaded shotgun. He, too, relaxed and reached for the scotch on the back bar. Pouring two drinks, he said, "You two can take it to the back room, but leave your guns here. I don't want a shoot-out tonight. You can take that bottle, too, it's on the house if you behave yourselves."
Decker was offended to be spoken to that way by a bartender and started to reply, but Heyes cut him off, laughing again, and tossed a five dollar bill and his gun on the bar. "Thanks, Cliff, you're a wise and generous man." He grabbed the bottle and left Bill standing at the bar. Bill put his gun on the bar, too, and had to follow Heyes like a dog at heel; Bill was pissed.
As Heyes and Decker disappeared into the back room, Kid stood up from the corner table where he had been sitting with his head down and nodded at Cliff before moving down the hall and standing outside of the closed door to the back room. He didn't trust Decker and he didn't like Heyes's plan to force Decker's hand. Kid couldn't hear the conversation through the thick oaken door, but he'd sure hear if there was a fight. He crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall. It sure was sad how many people in this town hated Decker. Cliff had been all too happy to make sure Decker left his gun at the bar. Bill had crossed nearly everyone in the county from the sounds of the gossip Kid had been listening to at his afternoon poker games. It takes a stupid man to make that many enemies, and stupid men were dangerous. Kid wasn't letting his guard down.
Heyes was already seated by the time Decker entered the room and he had poured himself a drink neglecting to pour one for Bill. Heyes instinctively knew how to exert his dominance and he was determined to have Decker feel threatened by him. Decker pulled out a chair and sat eyeing Heyes for a second before grabbing the bottle and sloshing a drink into a glass. Bill was nervous and it was making him agressive; Heyes could tell and it made him smile.
"So what exactly is it you want to say to me, Decker?" said Heyes.
"I don't like you, Mr. James," said Decker.
Heyes laughed heartily, "Fair enough, I don't like you either."
"You're an arrogant son of a bitch, aren't you? Who the hell are you? You aren't hired help, are you?" said Decker. He seen Boswell's submission to this man and Boswell didn't strike Bill as particularly submissive. This man had a hold over Boswell and Bill was determined to find out what it was.
"What's it to you?" said Heyes staring at Bill.
"It's important to me to know what you have over Boswell and I'm willing to pay well for it. You do seem like a man who understands money," said Decker.
"You sure have done a whole lot of thinking about me. Why is that, Bill?" said Heyes with a smirk, "Aww, don't worry about me. You've got a whole lot more to worry about than me. Now, Bill, I'm a business man; let's talk money. You want to know my business? $2,000 is what it will cost you."
"Cost me, for what?" yelled Bill. Kid, outside the door, stood up straight at the raised voice and dropped his hand to his gun. He waited before reaching for the door and when he heard no further yelling, he relaxed again.
"For the information you want," said Heyes reasonably.
"That's a hell of a lot of money for talk," growled Bill. Heyes just sat smiling without responding. Bill studied Heyes for several minutes. Heyes knew that few people can handle prolonged silence, so he waited unspeaking. Time stretched out until Deckers eyes flickered briefly. Finally, Bill said, "Okay. I'll have it for you tomorrow."
"Then we'll talk again, tomorrow, Bill," said Heyes rising from the chair and pausing to give the Kid time to clear out. "I'll leave you that bottle, you look like you could use a few more drinks."
Heyes walked out front and was heartily welcomed back to the poker game. Bill came out about twenty minutes and three drinks later and saw James sitting at the same table laughing it up with Bill's neighbors. The same neighbors who treated him like something they stepped in. He hated them all, but he especially hated James. The man went out of his way to make Bill feel like a fool and nobody got away with doing that to Big Bill Decker. James would pay for his treatment of Bill; Boswell, too.
Heyes rode back late to the Rocking M. He had just turned off onto the road that led to the ranch house when he saw a shadowy movement in the trees to his right. He pulled his gun and swung his horse to the trees at the same instant.
"Not bad, Heyes. Maybe you'll make a gunslinger after all," said Kid, grinning, as he emerged from the dark.
"That isn't funny. I could've shot you," snapped Heyes.
Kid just smiled and pulled alongside his partner. "I figured I owed you a scare."
Heyes holstered his gun and looked at his friend, "Decker went for it, Kid. He's paying me $2,000 tomorrow to tell him about our little arrangement."
Kid nodded and said, "If he don't come after you first, Heyes. A man like that doesn't think the same way you and I do."
"Don't worry, Kid. I'm not giving him a chance to. He wants to know about you so bad, he'll wait and try to kill me later," said Heyes with a smile.
"He'll have to get in line, Heyes," said Kid.
Bill saw Alyssa for lunch the next day and told her about the situation with James and Boswell. She agreed that something was going on between those two and that it was worth the money to find out what that was; after all, her fortune was tied to Bill's. What he hadn't told her was that he was no longer a very wealthy man and that $2,000 was going to hurt. He saw her home and then headed to the bank to make a withdrawal.
Decker was pacing out in front of the saloon. He had the money and he was impatient for the information. Where was James? He had to get this resolved and fast.
Heyes was watching Decker stew from the window of the merchantile. It suited him to get Decker so worked up it would cloud his judgment. After about 15 minutes, he sauntered out the door and casually strolled towards Decker.
"You're late," snarled Bill.
"Now Bill, is that any way to greet a business associate?" said Heyes watching Bill's color rise. He knew Bill had to be a lousy poker player. Decker reached out and grabbed Heyes's arm dragging him into the saloon towards an empty table. Heyes bristled at Bill's touch and wrenched his arm away.
Glaring at Decker, Heyes said, "Don't ever lay a hand on me again." He radiated threat, but Bill was too upset to notice. Decker collapsed into an empty chair; a small, white envelope in his hand, and nodded at Heyes to do the same. Heyes could see that Bill was just where he wanted him. Relaxing, Heyes sat down slowly into the chair with its back to the wall and scanned the room noting it was empty except for Cliff behind the bar. Bringing his eyes back to Bill and leaning towards him, Heyes said, "What do you need to know, Bill?"
"What's your hold over Boswell?" said Decker. Heyes sat back and smiled. "Let's just say we have an arrangement."
"That's not going to earn you two grand, James," said Bill.
"All right," said Heyes, nodding, "Boswell gambles and he does it badly. He's into my boss for over $75,000 and it's my job to make sure he doesn't bolt before paying up. He's got until the end of the month to pay up. Those are my men out at the Rocking M, he doesn't have any hands. He can't afford any."
"What about his father? Couldn't he get the money from him?" asked Decker. This had always been his solution to money problems.
"You haven't been paying attention, Bill. This ranch was the final gesture. If Boswell fails, he's disowned. How fast do you think Daddy would cut him out of the will if he knew his son was into a loan shark for $75,000?" said Heyes.
"So you work for a loan shark? You're not working for Boswell?" said Bill.
Decker sat back and pondered what he'd just heard. Then he leaned forward again and said, "Then why did he turn down my offer?"
Heyes laughed and said, "Because he's a gambler. He was hoping you'd sweeten the pot. You just need to up your offer."
Bill's eyes opened wide as he realized that he now had Boswell where he wanted him; he started to grin, but Heyes reached over and gripped his arm hard, killing the smile.
"You owe me $2,000, Bill. Where is it?" growled Heyes. Decker thought about stiffing him now that he knew who and what James was, but he saw the flicker of hell in those brown eyes. He tossed the envelope down on the table and stood. "There's your damn money. Don't ever talk to me again."
Heyes picked up the envelope and tucked it into his pocket, "That'll be my pleasure, Bill." Heyes turned his back on Bill and walked out of the saloon. Kid was across the street in the shadows watching for trouble. Stepping onto the sidewalk, Heyes touched his nose and walked to his horse. He mounted and rode off. Kid melted around the corner and followed Heyes on horseback down a parallel side street. Preacher and Wheat were posted just outside of town to make sure they weren't followed and to provide escort back to the ranch. Things were heating up.