The gas street lamps flickered in the cold wind whipping a light snow through the streets of Denver. Monty was hunched inside a heavy duster and tucked into a corner of the alley where he could see the Harcourt home. There'd been no sign of the outlaws today and Monty knew that it didn't take that long to get from Leadville to Denver. The Devil's Hole gang was now overdue unless his men had failed to note the gang's arrival. That was possible. Denver was a big city, almost 35,000. It wouldn't be hard for the outlaws to slip in unnoticed and Monty's best chance of finding them was here at the Harcourt's. He had to admit that he was starting to wonder if he had somehow miscalculated Heyes's plans. The man was famous for doing the unexpected.
Pulling out his tobacco pouch and rolling papers, he carefully folded the long edge of a paper, sprinkled a small amount of the precious herb into the crease and, using his thumbs and forefingers, he gently rolled a cigarette. Licking the flap of paper, he sealed it, tucked one end into his mouth, and struck a match against the rough brick wall at his back and lit up his coffin nail.
Ruth Harcourt was standing in her darkened drawing room by the edge of a side window. "There it is again. See, over there by the Tompkins house," she said over her shoulder, "There's someone out there, Becky," she said to the maid behind her. "Pull all the drapes and turn down the lights!" commanded Mrs. Harcourt.
Ruth had noticed the small light the previous night when she happened to glance out the window as she was extinguishing the lamps. It hadn't bothered her then; she had assumed it was one of the neighbors shooed out of his home by a finicky wife. Her Albert had smoked a pipe and she had made it a house rule that he had to step outside to do so. The smell lingered on the drapes and furnishings and she hadn't been able to abide it. Little had she known at the time, by driving him out of the house with his filthy habit, she was sending him into the arms of that little tart he met at Mattie Silks's fancy brothel down on Holladay Street.
Mrs. Harcourt was no one's fool, there was someone out there again tonight and she was sure she was being watched. Alyssa's disappearance after Bill Decker's death had been big news and it had drawn unwanted attention to say the least. Becky returned to the drawing room and said, "Everything's closed up tight, ma'am. Do you want me to stay?"
"No, thank you, that won't be necessary. It's probably another nosy journalist. Just lock up tight as you go," said Ruth, "and please don't forget to deliver my package." Distracted, she barely noticed as Becky gathered her things, scooped up the package on the kitchen table, and left the house to hurry home to her waiting family relieved not to have to stay. Ruth heard the back screen door slam with the maid's departure. She crossed the room to a secretary desk, opened a drawer, and pulled out a small, pearl-handled derringer. Slipping it into her skirt pocket, she snorted in a very unladylike way. She knew it wasn't a journalist and she was ready. Let them come.
The wind had picked up all day and as night fell, the snow started to fall. With the colder temperatures they'd had since the last storm, Heyes suspected this one would lay more snow down than the last one. He needed to get the gang out of the mountains. It wasn't unusual for winter to set in unexpectedly in these parts. He looked around the camp. Everyone was asleep except him, bundled in their bedrolls which were already covered with a light layer of snow. The horses had been hobbled and turned out for the day. Wheat and Kyle had brought them in late in the afternoon and now the well-rested animals were huddled together on the picket line drawing warmth from each other.
Heyes glanced at his sleeping cousin. They'd been pretty lucky. Despite his headache and bruises, the Kid had perked up considerably during the day and had even kept down a small meal this evening. It wouldn't be good for him to ride tomorrow, but it'd be far worse for him to be snowed in without proper shelter. There were no convenient line shacks along this route or big spruce groves to hole up in. They'd have to ride hard and fast for Denver. If needed, Heyes could ride double with Kid and send the rest of them on. Wheat knew the way, and he and Kyle could see Allie safely home.
Returning his attention to the flickering fire, Heyes tossed a few more logs on and watched the hungry flames leap up and lick at the fresh wood. It soothed him to sit by a fire. The constant movement and soft crackling of the fire had a hypnotic effect. He didn't want to think about the Kid's injuries or Allie's departure; he wanted to put those things out of his mind. He soon let his thoughts drift to the details of his latest plan.
Corky met Monty again at the small café. The big Texan was already seated when Corky arrived. Slipping into the chair across from the man, he said, "No word yet, sir, and the men are getting restless. I'm concerned that they will have trouble keeping focused."
"Offer them another fifty dollars. That ought to get their attention where we want it. Let them know that you are keeping tabs on them, too," said Monty. The waitress came over, set down two mugs and a pot of coffee, took their breakfast order, and hurried away.
"Yes, sir, I will. Are we sure they're coming?" said Corky. He was beginning to have his own doubts which were being helped along by the changing weather.
"Sure enough, son," said Monty.
The snow had abated some by early morning, as the temperatures had plummeted overnight, and drier air had moved in. Heyes knew, though, that the leaden clouds overhead meant there was more to come. Everyone was packing up their gear. Kid was fiddling with his saddle when Heyes walked over to him. "You almost ready?" he asked his younger cousin.
"I think the tree's broken," said Kid, picking up his saddle and flexing it in his arms.
"Leave it, Kid. You can use the extra gear on the gelding," said Heyes. Kid dropped the saddle roughly on the ground and snatched up the saddle blanket rolling it around his bedroll, grabbed his saddlebags, and walked towards the big bay. Heyes followed him. He knew Kid was less upset about the saddle than what had happened to his horse. "Kid, I'm real sorry about Knucklehead," said Heyes.
"Yeah, me too," said Kid stopping to face his partner.
"I want you to have the gelding. He's a real nice horse and he'll be a good fit for you," said Heyes.
Kid smiled, "Thanks, Heyes." Turning to the horse, Kid tossed the bags on the back of the saddle, laid the bedroll on top, and tied it all down with the latigo straps. As he finished, the bay swished its tail and struck Kid in the eyes. "You dumbass!" grumbled Kid.
Heyes started laughing as Kid turned with a scowl on his face, "You think that's funny?"
"I think you just named your new horse," said Heyes with a broad grin.
Kid slowly smiled and said, "Yeah, he can be D.A. for short." Patting the bay, Kid took the reins and stood next to the saddle, ready to mount.
"Sure is kind of tall, ain't he?" said Kid, looking up at the saddle on the broad back.
"Yeah, but he covers a lot of ground and he's real fast," said Heyes.
Kid grabbed the horn, gave a small jump up, and at the same time shoved his foot in the stirrup swinging his other leg over the saddle. "That worked. Didn't do much for my head, though," he said looking down at his partner.
"You sure you're okay to ride alone? We could double up…" said Heyes.
"Heyes, quit fussing. I feel lousy but I can still sit my horse without any help. If that changes, I promise you'll be the first to know," said Kid firmly.
"Have I ever told how stubborn you are?" groused Heyes. He untied Fannie from the picket line and handed her reins to Kid. He untied the line and wrapping the rope around an elbow and hand he rolled it up and shoved it in his saddlebag. Allie was mounted and waiting on Patches. Kyle and Wheat were climbing on their horses. Heyes walked over to the fire and kicked some dirt on the still warm embers. "All right, let's move out," he said loudly.
Sy had reported to Soapy late last night that there was no sign of the gang in Denver. This news had kept the elderly man up most of the night. While he normally had great faith in his competent network of spies, he couldn't help worrying that the Kid might have slipped in unnoticed. After all, it was a skill that he possessed in great abundance. Soapy sighed and rose out of his chair. He opened the drapes to let the first light of day stream in. He had to find Kid, he couldn't let him be caught unawares; like Heyes had been caught unawares, shot by a sore loser at the poker tables.
Soapy had heard all the gory details. His tentacles of information-gathering stretched across the state and the greater West, but that had been one instance he had wished he could've been kept in the dark. His self-constructed memory of Heyes's death kept him awake nearly every night. Heyes had been such a remarkable man. Soapy sat back down at the fire and remembered the early days when he had first given shelter to the two young boys. It had taken quite a while for him to become aware that he was mentoring a criminal genius. Heyes had been so very clever that he'd kept his talents well-hidden until he had decided that Soapy was worthy of their trust. The two boys had been like abused animals; wolfishly aggressive and defensive at the same time.
It had taken all of his patience to earn their confidence, but that's what he did; he earned people's confidence and then he used them for his own gains. He'd planned the same with the boys. He'd seen their intelligence and cunning immediately and had decided they would be useful to him. It had taken far longer for him to realize they were conning him as well. He'd been delighted. Mutual need had eventually become mutual trust and, then, mutual love. He'd loved Heyes like the son he never had. Kid, too, but it was different with Heyes. Heyes had been like a sponge, soaking up knowledge at a blinding rate, and Soapy had reveled in his protégé's accomplishments as a reflection of his own glory.
He wished with all his heart that he'd never driven the boys out the way he had. Maybe if he'd been less demanding, less strict about the rules, they might have stayed and become famous conmen. As it was, they had become legendary on their own. Soapy liked to believe that Heyes's early training in the art of the con had been part of the reason for their success. His robberies were seldom ordinary. He had used a combination of planning, cunning, and outright conning to minimize the risks and maximize the returns; and it was every bit as much Kid's skill, a skill that Soapy had abhorred, as much as Heyes's ingenuity, that had launched them to greatness. Kid's reputation and prowess with a gun preceded him and his presence alone reduced the odds of violence during their jobs and kept him and his partner safe. But not this time, this time the Kid hadn't been there to watch Heyes's back; he hadn't been able to keep him safe.
Soapy knew it was going to be painful to see the Kid without Heyes. He knew, too, that he had to be prepared to find him a changed man. The loss of his partner was not a blow Kid Curry was likely to recover from, but Soapy was determined to help him in any way he could.
The gang made good time for most of the day. By late afternoon, the horses were tiring as was Kid. They had been riding since dawn and Heyes was sure Kid had only managed to stay upright out of sheer cussed stubbornness. He slowed to a walk and held Fannie up until Wheat, Kyle, and Allie passed him by. He watched Kid riding towards him. His partner was trailing them, but he was still in the saddle.
"You look like hell," said Heyes, pulling Fannie alongside the bay. The snow was starting to fall more heavily now.
"Thanks, you always know just what to say, don't you?" said Kid. He couldn't even look over at Heyes, he was so exhausted. He felt like hell, but he knew they needed to press on. "Go on, Heyes, I'll be fine. It just might take me a little longer to get there," he said, shivering.
"No point in killing the horses or you, Kid. We'll walk for a while," said Heyes.
Kid nodded, he had no strength left to speak again.
Nothing, absolutely nothing was happening. Stafford hated this. He was wet and freezing and for what? Nothing! He pulled out his watch and checked it for the fifth time that hour. Shaking it impatiently, he held the timepiece to his ear. It was still ticking. He shoved the watch back in his pocket and stamped his feet to shake the snow off; he could barely feel them. Jumping up and down, he flapped his arms in an effort to stay warm. He heard a sound behind him and spun about only to find Northrup grinning at him like he was a fool.
"Finally, it's about time you got here," snapped Stafford.
"I'm early," said Monty, the smile disappearing. He shouldered past the detective to look around the corner at the house. "Anything new?" he asked.
"No. There's been nothing. The maid showed up for work at seven in the morning and she just left. There's been no one else in or out. We're wasting our time. Heyes probably has other plans for that girl," said Stafford sulkily.
"He's coming. He's a greedy man and greedy men are easy to read. You just need to be a bit more patient, son," said Monty despite his own misgivings.
"Fine; you can freeze out here, I'm going home," said Stafford, ducking around the corner and disappearing into the white curtain of snow.
Monty pulled a wooden box out of the trash pile at the end of the alley and dragged it back to his waiting place. Stepping up on it, he shook the snow off his boots. At least his feet would be dry. He pulled out his tobacco pouch and prepared to make himself comfortable. It was cold, but the thought of all that reward money would keep him warm.
Heyes had climbed up behind Kid over an hour ago. He had been keeping a close eye on his partner all day and when he saw the Kid sway in the saddle he'd called a stop to the nonsense. Kid had only half-heartedly protested, a testament to how badly he felt. It was nearly dark and the outskirts of Denver were in sight. Heyes could tell by the way that Kid was leaning against his right arm that his cousin had passed out. He needed to get him off this horse and in a bed as soon as possible. Allie rode up next to him and reached out to touch Kid's limp arm.
"How is he?" she asked, her concern etched on her face. Her lips were turning blue with the cold and Heyes could tell she was exhausted, too. It had been a hard, fast ride, but now that they were forced to slow down, the cold was creeping in. Heyes's hands kept slipping on the wet leather of the split reins, his gloves oily with the wetness of the snow.
"He's out cold again. We've got to get him out of the weather," said Heyes. Wheat and Kyle had ridden on ahead to keep an eye out for trouble. "We have a friend, Soapy; he'll take us in," said Heyes.
"Soapy Saunders? Everyone in Denver knows who Soapy Saunders is!" said Allie, amazed that the Devil's Hole gang had such an influential friend. Mr. Saunders was one of the wealthiest men in Denver. "However do you know him?" she asked.
Heyes smiled at her, "Soapy's an old friend from way back. He actually took Kid and me in when we were still wet behind the ears."
Allie laughed, "I swear, Heyes, you never cease to amaze me." The smile died quickly, though, as she wondered if any other man would ever amaze her again and she thought of how barren her life would feel without him and Jed in it.
Heyes wasn't paying attention to her. He could just make out Wheat and Kyle riding towards them. There was a third person with them. Heyes shifted Kid to lean against his left arm and passed his reins to his left hand, freeing up his gun hand. "Get behind me," he snapped at Allie. She saw the riders, understood his concern, and dropped back; falling into line directly behind him. She, too, slipped the safety off her gun and rested her hand on the grip.
He relaxed as soon as he could see Wheat's broad grin. The riders pulled up and Kyle laughed. "Lookee, who's here, Heyes; it's Sy," said the small outlaw, reining to a sliding stop.
"Sy, good to see you again," said Heyes, shifting Kid again.
"Heyes, we heard you were dead," blurted Sy, his usual cool demeanor completely gone. "Everyone thinks you're dead."
"Good, let's keep it that way for a while. We're going to need to lay low while the Kid rests up," said the outlaw leader, picking up a walk again, "He had a bad fall a couple of days ago."
"Yes sir. Soapy will be so pleased to see you. The reports of your death have been particularly hard on him," said Sy, pulling in to ride alongside him. Allie, Wheat, and Kyle trailed behind the two men.
"Sy, why did you ride out to meet us?" asked Heyes.
"I've had all the men watching for the Kid. I got news an hour ago that the gang had been spotted south of town so I rode out to meet you and take you in a back way. There's trouble waiting. A Bannerman detective and a big Texan, Northrup, are on the lookout for Miss Harcourt," said the smaller man, glancing at the woman riding behind Heyes. She wasn't at all what he had expected. The woman was well-armed and looked born to the saddle. "They're keeping watch on the lady's home and the homes of all her friends. Soapy ordered us to find Kid first. He's worried about an ambush."
Heyes smiled, "Soapy's always looking out for his friends, isn't he?" Allie had ridden up on the other side of Heyes when she heard her name. "Sy, let me introduce Miss Allie Golden, formerly known as Alyssa Harcourt. Allie, this is Sy Sloane. He has worked for me and for Soapy for a long time; he's a friend," said Heyes.
"Miss…Golden, pleased to meet you," said Sy politely. "Heyes, we should take precautions. There are a lot of people looking for the lady. Ma'am, I'm very sorry, but we need to get you off that paint. Word has gone out that you are riding a flashy paint horse."
Allie stroked Patches's neck protectively. She started to protest, but Heyes shook his head. "Sy switch horses, hats, and overcoats with Allie. Keep your collar turned up and your head down. Wheat, you and Kyle ride along with Sy and come in from the west. If we're lucky, you can draw off a few eyes. Go get Doc Mason and we'll meet you at Soapy's. Allie, you're going to have to pull your hair up and keep your head down, too. Sy's coat ought to be big enough to hide you're a woman. Watch the ground in front of you and don't look up at anyone. We'll look like we're taking a sick man to the doctor's," said Heyes, "No one will be expecting that."
A light rapping at the kitchen door drew Jordan's attention. He was used to visitors at all hours of the day and night. Nodding to the chef who kept a sawed-off shotgun by the prep table, he swung the door open and staggered back at the sight of Hannibal Heyes. "Mr. Heyes!" he squeaked. Heyes pushed in past him, dragging Kid, while Allie supported the injured man under an arm on the other side. Jordan shut the door quickly and hurriedly pulled the shades on the windows. Heyes sat the Kid down in a straight-backed chair by the table and Allie steadied him with her hands on his shoulders. He was awake, but groggy.
"Mr. Heyes, you're alive!" said Jordan.
"So I'm told. Is Soapy in?" asked Heyes.
"Yes sir, he's in his study…" said Jordan.
"Jordan, can you please help Kid upstairs? Doc Mason ought to be here soon," said Heyes.
"Of course, sir, I will," said Jordan.
"And please put Miss Golden in the blue room. She'll want to freshen up," said Heyes. Allie could see that he was more than a frequent visitor to the home; it was as though he were assuming the role of master. Jordan and the chef lifted Kid up gently and started up the back steps with him. Allie followed with a quick backward glance at Heyes.
He had slipped off his wet jacket and draped it over the chair, setting his hat on the seat. Running his hands through his hair, Heyes walked down the long hallway. He stopped at the closed double doors and tapped softly. There was no answer. He turned the knob silently and cracked the door open peering around it. There, in his favorite chair, was Soapy asleep by the fire. Heyes eased over to him and knelt in front of his friend. Soapy had a half-empty glass of scotch in his hand and Heyes took it from his slack hand and set it down on the side table. He reached out and gently shook Soapy. The old man opened his eyes. "Hi Soapy," said Heyes with a huge, dimpled grin. Soapy stared at him, confused and speechless, until Heyes began to worry the shock was too much for him.
"Heyes," whispered Soapy. He reached out a shaky hand and touched Heyes's cheek as though he was sure he'd find nothing there.
"It's me," Heyes said simply, knowing his old friend was overcome by the surprise.
"Of course it is," said Soapy with an answering smile. He stood and pulled his protégé up and into a hug. The older man released his friend and turned his back on Heyes, wiping the tears from his eyes and snatching up his drink to cover it. Bolting down the scotch, Soapy struggled for control. Heyes stood quietly giving his friend time to compose himself.
"I swear, Heyes, you are going to be the death of me one of these days," said Soapy irritably.
Heyes laughed at the familiar refrain. He'd heard it many times over the years. Sitting down in the chair opposite Soapy's, he nodded at the bottle. "I could sure use a little scotch to cut the road dust," he said with a cheeky grin.
"Hmpf. It's snowing to beat the band. Road dust, my eye," said Soapy, pouring a generous portion for each of them. He handed a glass to Heyes and sat down, saying "I want the whole story of your miraculous reincarnation. Leave nothing out!"
Mattie Silks was a famous madam on Holladay Street (now Market Street) in Denver. She and another madam, Kate Fulton ,were rivals in business and love. They were involved in the first recorded duel in Denver between two women. From 1877 to 1897 Mattie's brothel was the most successful in Denver.