Decker was panicked. On top of the water situation, his hands had deserted and once word got around why, he was going to have trouble getting more. Range wars weren't popular with the hands. He couldn't afford high enough wages to attract new help and he had a lot of cattle to tend. Damn Joel for riding out and taking the men with him. It was all going to hell.
He'd lost Alyssa, too. He wasn't fooling himself that he was in love with her. Bill knew that love was not something he was capable of, but he had been pleased with her. She had surprised him with her intelligence and he knew he would miss her advice. He had no one to turn to now. No friends and no family. He was alone, but he'd always been alone. Bill's mother had died in childbirth and he had been raised by a succession of nannies. Bill's father had been completely in love with his wife and was destroyed by her death. He had begun to drink heavily after the funeral and never let up. Alcohol had made George Decker an angry man. His father never disguised the fact that he despised Bill and that he blamed him for his mother's death. Bill had been determined to start a family to prove he was a better parent than his father.
Well, he'd just have to start over. There were plenty of women out there to choose from; he didn't need some over-wrought shrew to birth his children. He was lucky, really. Alyssa would have bred nervous, whiny brats and Bill would have never been able to tolerate that. No, he just needed to solve this water problem and everything else would fall into place. He wasn't going to give up. Big Bill Decker never gave up. He would find a way to come up with the cash and buy the Rocking M. With the two ranches combined, he'd have all the water he needed and the biggest spread in the county.
Bill quickly forgot Alyssa as his mind turned to his most pressing problem. He had gambled on taking the water and now he'd lost. What was he going to do? Decker slowly came to the realization that he would have to meet Boswell's price. James had overstated Boswell's desperation and Bill wouldn't forgive him for that. Bill had acted in haste because of it. Bill found it hard to believe that Boswell was a failed gambler; he'd somehow managed to get Bill over a barrel. Bill could scrape together $40,000, but there was no way he'd get the extra $35,000. He could try for a new mortgage on his place, but that would take weeks and he didn't have weeks. He couldn't keep paying to haul water in, that had only been a short-term fix, but he couldn't stop either or his cattle would die. It was too early to take them to market; they weren't fattened up enough yet. He'd lose his shirt if he sold them now and he couldn't afford any more losses. He had to get that water and he'd have to buy Boswell's ranch to do it.
James was the key to all of this. He worked for a loan shark. Bill had other plans for James, but that could wait for now. James could get Bill that $35,000 and; better yet, once Boswell was paid James could collect his employer's debt and be gone. That would save Bill the money he was planning to spend on getting rid of James. Decker was looking forward to never having to see James's smug face again, but, right now, he needed James and Bill knew where to find him on a Saturday night. Bill saddled up his horse and headed into town.
Alyssa was tired, sore, and covered with mud when she finally made it back to town. When she entered the hotel, heads turned in her direction. Everyone knew who she was and they all wondered what had happened to her. Alyssa straightened her back, raised her chin, and confidently strode to the front desk. The desk clerk looked at her with undisguised curiosity.
"I would like a single room, please, and a bath," stated Alyssa.
"Yes, Ma'am, right away, Ma'am. Just sign in here, Miss Harcourt," he said passing the book to her.
Upon hearing her name, she looked at him sharply and said, "The name is not Harcourt any longer. You may call me Miss….Golden. Allie Golden." She liked the name.
The clerk looked at her as if she had lost her mind.
"Ma'am, would you like me to summon the doctor for you? You look like you've been through an ordeal," he offered carefully.
"Nonsense, I have nothing more than a few bruises and scrapes. I will be fine. I simply no longer wish to be associated with the Harcourts. Am I making myself perfectly clear?" she said loudly to the room in general.
"Yes, Ma'am, loud and clear," answered the clerk, as he handed her keys to her room. He watched as Miss Har…Golden strode bravely across the lobby and ascended the stairway.
Alyssa had plenty of time to think on her walk into town. She had considered going to the sheriff to swear out a complaint, but she knew Bill Decker had his fingers in almost every pie in this town including contributing heavily to the judge's re-election campaign. She was not about to give him the satisfaction of publicly humiliating her. She had thought briefly of getting a gun and going after him, but quickly discarded that idea, too. She'd never held a gun in her life and Alyssa was sure that the complications would not be worth the satisfaction. No, she had finally decided that Bill Decker was not worth one more second of her time. Revenge was destructive for both the victim and the one who sought it. She refused to lower herself. Alyssa was moving forward with her life.
Heyes, Wheat, Lobo and Kyle were seated around the poker table playing cards and waiting for Decker. Heyes was careful not to win too much; after all, the boys were here to watch his back because Kid couldn't be. He made sure they all won a hand or two. It wouldn't do to piss them off.
Decker burst through the doors a short time later and spotted Heyes almost immediately. Heyes ignored him and continued his play. Decker walked up and stood next to him waiting to be noticed. The day's events had caused a big change in Bill and he knew everything depended on the next few minutes. He was no longer completely confident of his abilities. Heyes finally tossed his cards in and said, "Deal me out, boys." He rose and pushed past Decker as though he wasn't there going to the bar. Decker followed him.
"Mr. James…," Bill began. Heyes turned and stared at him, a cold look in his eyes. "Ahem. I need to speak with your employer. I need a loan," said Bill. He hated having to turn to James again, but he had no choice. He'd swallow his pride this time and take whatever abuse James wanted to dish out. He'd take care of James one way or another real soon.
Heyes stared a while longer and then smiled, "So Boswell's raking you over the coals, huh?"
Bill colored and said, "He wants $75,000. He won't budge. I can only come up with $40,000. Can you help me?" He really wanted to wipe that pleased look off James's face. The effort not to try was killing him.
"I can't, but my boss can. You do understand, don't you, that you'll have to secure the loan?" said Heyes. He was grinning now; letting Decker know how much he was enjoying his discomfort. Heyes had him hooked and he was going to have fun reeling him in.
Bill nodded and said, "What kind of collateral will he want?"
"Enough to know you won't run out on him," said Heyes. "You'll have to put the ranch up to secure it. Are you ready to do that?"
Bill sputtered, "That's ridiculous,…" He started to get mad, and then stopped to think long and hard. If he didn't get this loan, he'd lose his cattle and then he'd lose his ranch. He had no choice. Decker nodded again.
"I'll telegraph my office first thing Monday morning and get the paperwork started. Meet me back here Tuesday afternoon and we'll set it up," said Heyes. He abruptly left Bill standing at the bar staring after Heyes's back as he left without another word.
The next morning, Decker rode out to the Rocking M alone. Riding into the ranch yard and tying his horse off at the hitching post out in front of the house, Decker walked to the front door and rang the bell impatiently. He waited, but there was no answer. Again, he rang the bell, only to be startled by Boswell standing behind him. Bill swung around to face him and couldn't prevent his hands instinctively curling into fists. Boswell eyed him coldly and Decker was unnerved by what he saw in those steely eyes.
"What are you doing here, Bill?" asked Kid.
"I'm getting the $75,000 on Wednesday. You have a deal," said Bill extending his hand.
"You get the $75,000 and then we'll have a deal," said Kid, pushing past Bill to go inside, and then firmly closing the door in his face.
Bill kicked at the cat who had been peacefully basking in the sun while sitting on the top step. The animal howled and clawed his ankle before dashing off. Cursing now, Decker reached down and rubbed his torn flesh as he hobbled to his horse.
Bill was sitting in his kitchen drinking coffee and nursing his sore ankle while planning his revenge. He'd get Boswell the money and then he'd make James and Boswell both pay dearly for the way they had treated him. He was staring out the window absently when he saw a rider approaching down the ranch's lane. Finally, Bill thought as he rose from the table. Bill went out the back door and walked to the middle of the yard to wait for his visitor. It wasn't long before the man on the paint horse pulled up at the corral and dismounted. Bill walked over to him.
"McGuire, it's about time you got here," said Bill peevishly to the craggy, brown-haired man walking towards him.
The man squinted at him and spit out a gob of chaw. Staring at Bill he said, "You ain't paying me enough to kill my horse getting here, Decker. I'm here now. Who do you want dead?"
Bill smiled and said, "I do like a man who gets right down to business. Why don't you come into the house and have a cup of coffee? The timing has changed a bit since I telegraphed. Tell me, what would you charge to kill two men?"
Heyes was waiting for Bill at the corner table when he arrived early Tuesday afternoon. He had watched Decker approach through the window and could see that Bill was coming apart by the seams. He was unshaven and rumpled. Heyes had heard that Decker had sold a hundred head to Hal Rackham over the weekend and another hundred head early this morning at heavily discounted prices. Old Bill was definitely feeling the squeeze.
Lobo and Hank were at the bar having a couple of cold beers. They kept their backs to Heyes and Decker, but kept their eyes glued to the mirror behind the bar. They could see Heyes just fine that way.
Bill sat down with a thump and sighed. He rubbed his drink-bloated face and looked at James. The man looked cool and calculating. Sh*t, Bill hated this man. There was something about him…
Heyes spoke first, "Do you have the deed?"
Bill didn't trust himself to speak and only nodded, reaching for his pocket. He heard the click of the hammer before he saw the gun aimed at his heart, "Hell, take it easy! I'm just getting the deed." Decker withdrew the papers and threw them on the table. Lobo and Hank straightened up when they saw Heyes draw, but they didn't turn around. Heyes had said that he didn't want them interfering unless absolutely necessary. Hank smiled at Heyes's draw and glanced at Lobo, but Lobo just shrugged dismissively and went back to his beer.
Handing Decker the loan documents, Heyes took the deed Bill held out and began to read. "All right, they look good. You need to sign the deed over to 'Rocky Mountain Loan Company as the lienholder,'" said Heyes. This was Soapy's company and was frequently used to launder the gang's stolen money. Heyes watched as Decker transferred the deed with a shaking hand. He only hoped that Decker finally understood what it felt like to be a victim. With a nod, Heyes summoned the notary public who was waiting at the bar just down from the boys. The small man came over and sat down to execute the documents. He called Cliff and a barmaid over to sign as witnesses. Heyes thanked the notary politely and paid him his fee as he stood to leave. The man promised that he would file the documents today.
"Well, Bill, I hope you drove a hard bargain with Boswell because it isn't going to be easy to pay the interest on that loan," said Heyes with a smirk as he reached into his inside pocket. Bill was watching him like a hawk and could barely restrain himself when Heyes pulled out several bundles of cash and set the money on the table. Decker snapped it up, counted it quickly, and tucked it inside his jacket.
"I know what I'm doing," snapped Bill. He stood quickly and, without further words, left Heyes sitting at the table. As soon as he was satisfied that Bill was on his way out of town, Heyes rose to leave.
Kid was watching from a table in the café across the street as Heyes walked out of the saloon followed by Lobo and Hank. Kid saw a stranger on the other side of the street leave the sidewalk and angle across the street towards Heyes. Reading the man's posture, Kid jumped up and pushed past two incoming customers to hurry out the door.
"Cole James? I've got a message for you," yelled McGuire from the middle of the street. Kid stopped on the boardwalk and slipped the safety strap from his gun. Prepared for anything, Kid waited to see what would happen.
Heyes had been walking down the sidewalk with Lobo and Hank when he heard his name called out. He turned, as did his two men, and saw the man who had yelled to him. He also saw Kid at the ready behind the stranger. Smiling, Heyes said, "Mister, I have no interest in hearing anything Decker might have to say." He began to turn away.
"I'm calling you out, James," yelled McGuire.
Heyes looked back and laughed. "So Decker's too chicken to do it himself?"
McGuire actually smiled at this and nodded, "Yep, that's right. Rich men never like to get their hands dirty."
Heyes laughed again and said, "I hope you got your money up front, because Bill Decker's not going to be a rich man much longer." He was still standing with Lobo and Hank and had made no effort to step out into the street; however, the Kid had while Heyes had been talking and was now only thirty feet from the man challenging Heyes. "I've got no beef with you, mister, and I'm not about to get into a gunfight with you over someone like Bill Decker."
Kid stopped and called out, "If you have a problem with my friend, you have a problem with me."
McGuire swung around, startled, but he was smart enough to keep his hand well away from his gun until he knew what the threat was. He was a professional. He eyed Kid for a minute and said, "Who might you be?"
"The name's Boswell," said Kid watching McGuire carefully. He saw the slight flicker of recognition. Decker had been a busy man since yesterday.
McGuire grinned, "Now ain't that interesting? I've got a message for you, too."
"I'm all ears," said Kid, relaxed and ready.
McGuire was done talking and went for his gun. He was fast. Fast enough that the Kid had to shoot. McGuire was thrown to the ground by the impact of the bullet and laid clutching at his shoulder while squirming in the dirt. Heyes walked out to him and stood over McGuire as Kid walked up. Squatting, Heyes said, "Tell Decker—message received. Let him know he'll be getting a reply real soon."
He was smiling as he stood up and nodded to Kid who smiled back and tipped his hat before walking away.
Heyes, Lobo and Hank arrived back at the ranch just a short time after Kid. Kid was waiting for them on the porch and watched as his partner rode in, laughing and joking with his men. Heyes looked like he didn't have a care in the world; not at all like a man who had just had his life threatened. What would have happened if Kid hadn't have been there? The shootist had been fast; so fast that Kid had to shoot. If Heyes had been alone, he would have been dead by now, and here he was acting as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Sometimes Kid didn't understand Heyes at all. Heyes never seemed happier than when he was in the middle of some dangerous, complicated scheme. Did he have a death wish?
Kid studied Heyes as he walked towards the house. He was so relaxed, so calm, that it really pissed Kid off.
"Heyes, we've got to talk," snapped Kid.
Heyes pulled up short at his partner's tone. "Sure, Kid, let's talk," he said warily.
"Inside. I ain't talking to you out here in front of the men. What I've got to say, they don't need to hear," said Kid. Heyes sighed, knowing that Kid was annoyed again. He was getting real tired of having to tiptoe around his cousin.
"You need to quit this scheme of yours right now," said Kid. They were in the kitchen. Heyes was at the counter pouring them each a glass of whiskey.
"Quit? Why would I quit now? We're almost done. Decker's got the money, he's signed over the ranch, and now all I have left to do is steal the cash back and he's done for," said Heyes surprised by Kid's statement. Turning, he extended a glass of whiskey to Kid. His partner ignored it.
"No," said Kid.
"No? What does that mean? No?" said Heyes starting to get annoyed, too. He set the glass on the counter and stared at his cousin challengingly.
"It means, no, you aren't stealing that money," said Kid. "Decker's tried to kill you twice now just for being in his way. You steal that money and he's going to know it's you. You're the only one who knows he has it."
"That's the whole point, Kid. I want him to know it was me. This whole job doesn't have any meaning if he doesn't know it's me," said Heyes. "That's why I'm opening the safe and not blowing it. I want him to know it was Hannibal Heyes he nearly had killed."
"You want him to come after you. That's what this is all about, isn't it? Heyes, you always have to have the upper hand. Someone crossed you and you couldn't handle it," yelled Kid.
"Kid, what do you want me to do? If I don't take these risks, if I show any weakness, don't you think every scumbag outlaw and bounty hunter in the West is going to come gunning for me? Is that what you want?" said Heyes, starting to lose his temper now and yelling back.
"They're already gunning for you, Heyes, because you're such an arrogant ass!" yelled Kid.
"Nice you have such a high opinion of me. I really appreciate that," snapped Heyes.
"What does it matter what I think? Your opinion is high enough for both of us," countered Kid.
"Maybe we should become the Devil's Hole sewing circle. Get ourselves out of the outlaw business altogether 'cause we both know it can be dangerous, now don't we? I know, let's see how the boys feel about turning over a new leaf," said Heyes. He glared at Kid and then walked over and opened the back door to the kitchen. "Boys, come on in here. We need to take a vote," yelled Heyes with an ugly smile on his face as he turned back to Kid and waited. "Let's see if the gang shares your opinion."
Wheat, Kyle, Lobo, Hank and Preacher all piled into the large kitchen.
"Help yourself to a glass of whiskey and have a seat, boys," said Heyes. Kid was furious with his partner. He knew exactly how this would go.
"Boys, Kid thinks we should drop the plan and walk away," said Heyes.
There were shocked looks all around the room. "Why'd we want to do that?" said Wheat belligerently.
"Yeah, Kid. Heyes said we'd make big money off this job. We're all looking forward to spending the winter somewhere nice," Said Hank looking confused.
Lobo simply growled his disapproval. He was too pissed off to speak.
Preacher said, "The good Lord said an eye for an eye. I thought that's was what this was all about; retribution for the sins of Bill Decker. If we quit now, we will be condoning what he's done and leaving this town with an even angrier man."
Kyle was the one who put it best, "But this is what we do, Kid. Why'd we want to walk away?"
Kid had had enough. He looked at Heyes and said, "You can watch your own back, Heyes, and you can keep hurrying your way to Hell for all I care." He stormed out of the room.
Heyes looked at the boys and smiled. "Kid's just a little testy. He'll come around. He always does."
The boys didn't look so sure.