Bill sat alone in his study drinking heavily and waiting for news. Around sundown, he heard a pounding on the door. It took him a moment to remember he no longer had servants to answer it. Rising to his feet unsteadily, Bill lumbered down the long hallway to the door and opened it. McGuire was standing on the porch. He had a heavy bandage about his shoulder and was pale-faced and sweating. Bill smiled at him and pulled him roughly into the house by his bad arm. "Is it over?" he asked.

"Dammit, Decker, let go of my arm. Can't you see I've been shot?" growled McGuire.

"Yes, of course. But James is dead, right? What about Boswell?" said Bill without offering an apology for his careless handling of the wounded man.

McGuire stared at Decker. This man was completely oblivious to the suffering of others. Even McGuire, who killed people for a living, had more empathy than Decker; or at least the good common sense to have some self-preservation. "James ain't dead and neither is Boswell. How do you think I got shot?" he said.

"What? I paid you $4,000 to kill those two. What the hell are you doing here? Get back out there and keep up your end of the bargain!" yelled Decker pointing at the door dramatically.

"Let me draw your attention to this here bandage on my gun arm, Decker. I won't be drawing a gun anytime soon or you'd be looking down the barrel of my Colt right this second. Our deal was that I draw those two into gunfights. I tried to do that and you can see what it got me. I'm lucky I didn't get myself killed." said McGuire.

Bill was sweating now, too. "James outdrew you?" he said.

"No. James refused to face off with me. The man's got a cool head. It was Boswell that shot me. Why the hell didn't you tell me he was a gunnie?" growled McGuire.

"Boswell? Boswell can't shoot worth a damn; that's what he has James for," said Bill angrily.

"Like hell he can't. He's the fastest shootist I've ever seen. The man's a professional if ever I saw one," said McGuire.

"What? What are you talking about?" said Bill, his voice rising. He was beginning to sweat profusely.

"You heard me. You told me James was a gunnie, not Boswell. I ought to take you out for that, Decker. I'm lucky Boswell was good enough to only wound me or I'd be six feet under right now instead of standing here delivering you a message," said McGuire menacingly.

"A message? What message?" snapped Bill.

"James said to tell you that you'd be hearing from him real soon," said McGuire with a smirk. He had been furious that he'd been tricked into drawing on someone of Boswell's caliber. If he hadn't of been shot, he'd make Decker pay the hard way. McGuire figured letting Bill take on those two men was better than a quick death anyhow. This way, Decker would know what was coming and he got to watch the blood drain out of Decker face as he realized that he now had two dangerous men after him.

"You just paid $4,000 for a world of trouble, Decker. You're a dead man," said McGuire. He left Bill standing in the hallway and slammed the door behind him on the way out.

OOOOOOOOOO

Bill was desperate. For the first time in his life, he was facing failure. He had always had faith in his ability to intimidate or buy his way through a problem. Not this time. Not against these men. Who were they?

Bill retreated to his study and opened another bottle of whiskey. Sitting back in his chair he tried to think. How did it all go so wrong? He'd dismissed the staff yesterday, no longer wanting to pay more wages. He was all alone here with no one to talk to. How was he going to get out of this mess? Bill just couldn't figure it out. He kept on drinking.

It had been one mess after another starting with that Kenneter woman. He'd lost money on that, but he had been lucky that was all he lost. Bill had to pay well to make sure that gunman disappeared and he wouldn't be linked to attempted murder. He'd had to spend quite a bit of cash smoothing things over with his fellow stockholders at Beaumont, too. Then there was the robbery at the mine headquarters. That had been a heavy blow. Now this; Decker was out another $4,000 on his failed attempt to kill James and Boswell. Worse, they were coming after him. Worse yet, Bill had just signed away his ranch to a loan shark. He couldn't give the money back either. James would kill him as soon as he saw him. Who were James and Boswell? It was obvious now that Boswell had no intention of selling the ranch to Bill. He'd been duped. Impotent with fear and rage, Decker poured another drink.

OOOOOOOOOO

Kyle stood just outside the study window watching Bill, while Wheat and Heyes waited around the side of the barn. Heyes figured the safe was in the study. He had already shinnied up a drainpipe and tossed the master bedroom. There was nothing there.

Wheat checked the bunkhouse to be sure the hands were gone. They had all heard the rumors that the Circle Bar D hands had up and quit but he needed to be sure. The bunkhouse was stripped clean. Heyes would have to deal with Decker in the house, but at least they wouldn't have to worry about the hands. Heyes could wait until Decker either passed out or went to bed.

Heyes didn't like the idea of manipulating the safe with Decker in the room, but Decker was doing his best to help solve that problem. Heyes just had to wait for good old Bill to finish drinking himself into a stupor. He shrank back into the shadows where Wheat soon joined him.

It bothered Heyes that Kid had packed up his things and ridden into town last night. Heyes knew Kid was angry, but he was angry with Kid, too. He was getting sick and tired of Kid riding out every time Heyes pissed him off. He needed to grow up and start handling his temper like a man. Heyes smiled at that thought; he wasn't too good at that either or he wouldn't be lurking about in the dark waiting to take down Decker. Heyes had to admit Kid had every right to be pissed. Kid had made a good point that had stung and Heyes had lashed out. Heyes knew he took too much pleasure in striking out at his enemies and it was a pretty good sign of how messed up he really was. Maybe it was time for him to grow up a bit, too, but not yet. Not until he'd finished with Decker.

Just after midnight, Heyes jimmied the lock on the study window and he and Wheat slipped inside. Wheat crept next to Bill's chair and drew his pistol. He pointed it at Bill's heart and cocked the hammer. There was no reaction from Bill. Wheat grinned at Heyes and nodded. Bill was snoring heavily by this time, completely unaware of Wheat. The air around Decker was filled with noxious, alcoholic fumes. Wheat could hardly keep his eyes from watering and he was used to living in the bunkhouse.

Heyes searched the room and found the safe behind a panel of the wainscoting. It was an old safe and would open easily. Bill had kindly left the lights burning so Heyes went to work. It took less than 10 minutes for Heyes to crack it. Heyes swung the door open and inside were the wads of cash he'd given Bill, the $40,000 for the Rocking M, and maybe $5,000 more. He riffled through the other paperwork he saw and found that it was mostly notes for monies Decker owed. It looked like Decker was nearly cleaned out. Heyes smiled; it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. He swept everything into the sack he'd brought and left the door standing open. It would be the first thing Decker would see when he awoke. Heyes and Wheat left as quietly as they had arrived leaving Bill to sleep.

OOOOOOOOOO

Kid checked into his room at the hotel after a long night of warm beers at a less prosperous saloon in the worse part of town. He was avoiding Heyes. Kid stumbled slightly as he crossed the threshold and pulled himself up short. This was the seediest hotel in town and it showed. The coverlet on the bed was stained and tattered. The china commode was chipped and the whole place reeked of quiet desperation. Kid snorted at that thought. Quiet desperation was about how he felt. He knew he was heading fast towards a showdown with Heyes. He couldn't sit by and let his partner run roughshod over him or who knows what would happen. Heyes was out of control and it was Kid's job to rein him in.

They did it for each other. He couldn't count how many times Heyes had stepped in and stopped him from doing something he'd regret. Well, it was his turn now. Heyes was on the verge of making a big mistake and Kid wasn't about to sit idly by and let that happen. Sitting down on the bed, Kid pulled off his boots and laid back into the pillows. He thought about Heyes's plan. Somehow his partner was convinced he was teaching Decker a lesson. What Heyes was failing to recognize was that a man like Decker was incapable of learning. He blustered and bullied his way through life by the force of his ugly character. He had no reason and no desire to learn.

OOOOOOOOOO

Alyssa, too, was contemplating her hotel room. While it was considerably nicer than Kid's, it was a far cry from the life she had become accustomed to. She had to laugh at herself. She'd been raised to believe that she was entitled; entitled to a life of servitude to an impossible man; entitled to a boring life of captivity. Well, no more.

Alyssa's Aunt Esther had broken with the family years before and had fled Denver for San Francisco. There had been whispers shared between Alyssa's parents as to Esther's transgressions. Esther was a firm believer in a woman's right to form her own destiny and had spoken up and voiced that opinion only to be shunned by the family who raised her. Alyssa had been close to her aunt as a small child and, when she disappeared from her life, she had been determined to find her.

Alyssa was ashamed of her own behavior at the time but it hadn't stopped her from rifling through her mother's secretary desk and reading her correspondence. There she found one solitary letter from her mother's sister. It spoke of Esther's immense sadness that her mother had thrown over a promising talent as a painter to sell herself into the servitude of marriage. She urged her sister to break loose of the chains of her life and join her in the exciting city by the sea. Alyssa had been shocked at the time. She had no idea that her mother possessed any talents beyond the ability to make her only child feel like a tedious burden. Alyssa remembered wondering at the time if her mother would take up her sister's offer. She had always known that her parent's marriage had been one of convenience. She wondered why her mother had chosen to stay in a loveless relationship when she had an exciting life awaiting her. Alyssa had hastily copied down the return address, and returned the letter to where she had discovered it. She had kept the address with her from that day on as a safeguard should she need a haven.

Alyssa could barely recall her aunt's face, but she knew she had adored her. She had thought her beautiful and wildly exciting. Her aunt, in turn, had taken her little niece under her wing and shown her the love her parents never did. She remembered Esther explaining to her that a woman was a man's equal and showing her flyers and missives about the brave females who were fighting for women's rights. It had caused no end of trouble when Alyssa's mother had found the flyers in her daughter's room. Her aunt had left for San Francisco the next week. Alyssa had been devastated.

This morning she had sent a telegram to her aunt asking if she could come for a visit. She had been surprised by the swift response. Her aunt was thrilled to hear from her and was delighted to have Alyssa come. Alyssa had quickly made plans and was set to leave town tomorrow afternoon. She was taking a stage to Glenwood Springs and from there she would travel by rail to California. She wasn't about to make it easy on Bill Decker or her mother to track her down.

OOOOOOOOOO

When Bill woke the next morning, he saw the opened safe, but it took him a moment to understand what he was looking at. When he did, he roared and flung himself out of his chair. Unable to believe what he was seeing, Bill reached into the safe and felt the empty shelves. He'd been robbed. He'd been robbed while he was sleeping 10 feet away! Bill fell back to the floor and sat staring at the empty safe for a long time until he mind began to work again.

It must've been one of his employees. There had been a lot of tears and grumblings when he let them go. They all thought he was rich. A few of them had worked for the family their whole lives. He knew that two of the maids knew where the safe was, but the silly cows would've had to get someone to open it. He was very careful to change the combination frequently and he had just changed it last night because he had the cash to keep safe.

The safe; that was it, who could open a safe without a combination or dynamite? He knew there were men who specialized in this sort of thing, locksmiths who had turned their talents to the wrong side of the law. It had to have been James. James must've hired someone to break in. He was the only one who knew that Decker had the cash last night. James was a thief, thought Bill; he'd set him up! James had played him for a fool. Bill began to purple with rage. He would see that outlaw pay if it was the last thing he did!

That was the moment it all became clear to Bill.

Outlaw. There was only one outlaw in these parts who could open a safe without dynamite. Hannibal Heyes was famous for it. Could James be Heyes? It all fit, but it made no sense. Why would a big-time outlaw like Heyes be interested in robbing him? What had he done to draw Heyes's attention? What would a wanted criminal like Heyes be doing hanging around here? Decker shivered at the thought that he had almost killed Hannibal Heyes. If he had succeeded, Kid Curry would've come after him! Boswell! Boswell was Kid Curry!

Decker stood up shakily; his heart pounding. His anger had dissipated and he was hollow with fear. Were they still coming after him? If so, he was a dead man. How was he going to get out of this? He needed help. The sheriff, he'd go to the sheriff. Yes, that's what he'd do. There was a big reward on Heyes and Curry, and he could turn them in; their men, too. He'd raise a posse and bring in Heyes and Curry. The reward money just might be enough to buy him the time to save the ranch. That thought gave Bill the false courage he was going to need.

Bill quickly saddled up his horse and galloped off towards town.

OOOOOOOOOO

Kyle had kept watch on the ranch the rest of the night and, in the early hours of that morning, he'd seen Decker come out and head to the stable. Kyle knew what this meant and, mounting, he rode as fast as he could into town where Heyes was waiting.

This was the part of the plan that had really upset the Kid. There was only one reason for Heyes to want to risk hanging around when the gang could so easily ride away. Heyes had admitted it, too; Kyle had heard him say that he wanted Decker to come after him.