Stafford showed up just past dawn with a broad smile on his face and a bag of warm sweet rolls in his hand. "Good morning, Mr. Northrup. It's a fine day, isn't it?" he chirped happily. Holding out the opened bag, he waited patiently as Monty extracted a roll and grunted his thanks. Stafford reached in and grabbed a bun for himself then crumpled up the bag and tossed it in the rubbish pile at the end of the alley. "So what's new?" said the detective, taking a big bite of his roll.
Monty swallowed hard and said, "Nothing much yet. The milkman came by a couple of hours ago. That's all so far."
"I expect we'll have some excitement soon. You go on and get some rest, I can take over from here," said Stafford, "I'll send word if you're needed."
"No, I don't think so, son. I think I'll stay right here and keep you company today," said Monty.
"That won't be necessary, Mr. Northrup," said Stafford more firmly.
"Might not be necessary, but I don't plan on going anywhere today. Look, son, if Heyes and Curry show up today we're both going to be busy," said Monty. "It's going to take more than two men to catch those boys. Now you go ahead and keep watch on the house while I hunker down here and get a little shut-eye. I told Corky to round up some more men and meet us here in two hours."
Stafford watched as Monty sat down with his back to the wall and put his feet up on an old wooden box. The man adjusted his heavy duster and crossed his arms. Stafford frowned at the change in plans. He was more than willing to share the reward money with the Texan, but he had wanted the glory of capturing Heyes and Curry all to himself. Settling in the shadows at the end of the alley, he saw the maid turning into the backyard of the Harcourt house and hurrying up the steps. He looked at his watch. No wonder she was hurrying, she was ten minutes late and she was probably going to get an earful about it.
The maid kept her head down and the hood of her coat pulled up as she fumbled with the key in the lock. She was nervous and had trouble making her fingers cooperate. Finally, the key turned and she pushed the door open and walked into the kitchen. Ruth was standing in the doorway awaiting her.
"Esther!" cried Ruth as she flung her arms around her younger sister. Esther pushed back her hood revealing a bright smile for the welcome she was given.
"Ruth, your plan was brilliant. I got the package and your note. No one paid any attention at all to me," said Esther as she shrugged off the old, tattered coat and revealed the maid's dress she was wearing. "What do you think of the latest fashion from San Francisco?" she said, giggling, as she spun in a circle.
Ruth felt true joy bubbling up in her for the first time in a very long time. She laughed delightedly and hugged her sister again, "I can't believe you're here. I've missed you so much! Let me look at you," she said holding Esther out at arm's length, "When did you become such an elegant woman?"
"Look who's talking!" said Esther. Her sister looked good. It had been years since she'd last seen her and she hadn't been well at all the last time. Esther's smile faded as she remembered the awful rift she'd created with her sister's husband all because of her political agenda. Had it been worth losing all this time with her dear sister and, Alyssa, what had it cost Alyssa? No, it hadn't, but it would have happened anyway, Albert had been dying for an excuse to get her out of their lives. "Ruth, have you heard from her at all?" asked Esther.
"Not a word. I've done what I could to find her but she seems to have vanished from the earth right after the funeral. The lawyers have been going crazy looking for her to no avail. Come and sit down, Esther. I've got a pot of tea readied and I'll tell you what I know," said Ruth, gently leading her sister into the parlor. She drew the drapes tightly, sat Esther down, and lit the oil lamp to dispel the gloom from the room.
"Do you think something's happened to her?" asked Esther in a tiny voice.
"Now don't start imagining things. Alyssa is a very head strong girl and she's probably off licking her wounds somewhere. Pushing her into a relationship with Bill Decker was an enormous mistake on my part. She resisted and I wouldn't listen to her objections. You know how I can be once I get an idea in my head. I thought he was the answer to all our problems. Bill was a powerful man and he had the wealth and connections to keep her safe. Little did I know she would need to be kept safe from him," said Ruth vehemently, "When I heard what he had done to her, well let's just say that it's a good thing that sheriff killed him or I might have done it myself."
Esther stared at Ruth, surprised by her tone. Her sister was not the woman she used to be, there was a steely strength to her that Esther had never seen before. "When did you become so tough, Ruth?" she asked softly.
Tears sprang into Ruth's eyes as she answered, "I had to, Esther. What else could I do to survive? When you left, I lost everything."
"What about Alyssa?" Esther said.
"Hah, I never had her to lose. The two of us are like oil and water. She never forgave me for losing you. I think that was the end of any chance I had of a relationship with our daughter," said Ruth with bitter smile.
"Then however will we find her?" said Esther.
"It's better that we don't find her right now. After all these years, why are we suddenly being watched? Something's happening and until we know what it is, it is far safer for Alyssa to stay missing," said Ruth.
Kid awoke to find Allie sitting in the chair by the bed. She smiled at him and said, "I've been waiting here for a very long time to let you apologize to me."
Kid yawned and grinned at her audacity. "I was out of line. I'm sorry," he said.
"Good. Now that we have that over with I've brought you breakfast," she said, picking up the tray on the table next to her and coming over and sitting on the bed. "There's some buttered toast and coddled eggs. There's a lovely pot of jam, too," she said. Kid sat up carefully and took the tray.
"I suppose this is your way of saying you're sorry, too, right?" said Kid as he slathered a dollop of jam on the warm bread.
"Jed, I am sorry. I didn't want to hurt you, and neither did Heyes. I promise you it was over before it started," said Allie sincerely.
"Allie, it's okay. I spent a lot of time thinking last night. If it's what you and Heyes want, I won't stand in your way," said Kid patting her knee.
"Heyes doesn't want me. He told me he 'cares' for me, but he doesn't want to. Jed, he was so worried about hurting you and he was right, we did hurt you. There's no hope for us," she said sadly.
"Believe me, Allie, Heyes loves you; he's just too stupid to admit it," said Kid.
She smiled, "He does?"
Kid felt hurt by the joy that shone from her eyes, if only he could've made her that happy. He took another bite of toast and swallowed some coffee to wash away his bitterness.
Heyes had spent a restless night and had set out early to meet Wheat and Kyle at the saloon they had said they were going to stay at. The two had spent a wild evening on Holladay Street whooping it up, and they looked like hell this morning. Wheat was nursing a flat beer and sporting a two-day growth of beard and Kyle kept nodding off. Heyes ordered a hearty breakfast for the table and sat down, scraping the chair out noisily, making the two men wince.
"Shh, keep it down, will ya?" said Wheat as he nudged Kyle awake again, "Kyle, wake up. Heyes is here."
Kyle, lifted his head slowly, looked at Heyes bleary-eyed, and nodded off again with his chin resting on his chest. He began to snore loudly.
"Leave him be, Wheat. I just came to check up on you. How'd it go last night? Did anyone see you?" asked Heyes. He wanted to know if word had spread yet.
"Yeah, someone saw us, shot at us, too. That's how it went," grumbled Wheat.
"Who shot at you?" said Heyes. He didn't like hearing there had been gunplay. The last thing he wanted was a bunch of trigger-happy goons lying in wait for the gang.
"How the hell do I know? Some yahoo was following us, so we thought we'd make it hard on him. We kinda took off and the fool tried to shoot my horse." said Wheat irritably.
Kyle, woke, lifted his head again, and smiled, "Don't worry, Heyes, Wheat took care of him."
"What did you do, Wheat?" hissed Heyes angrily. Kyle's eyes widen at the change in Heyes's tone.
"I showed him the error of his ways, that's what I did," said Wheat, then dropping his voice low he said, "Maybe I should show you the error of yours."
"What's that supposed to mean?" glared Heyes. "Did you shoot someone? So help me, Wheat, if you…"
"I didn't shoot no one, but that might change if you keep pushing me, Heyes," said Wheat threateningly.
Heyes's hand shot out and he grabbed Wheat by the shirt collar yanking him forward across the table. Kyle was wide awake now and scrambled backwards out of the way. Wheat's hand came up and he punched Heyes hard on the side of the head. Heyes lurched to his feet pulling the bigger man with him and belted Wheat in the stomach, doubling him over. Wheat roared up and threw his weight at Heyes toppling him over backwards. They rolled across the floor grappling with each other, shoving chairs and tables away; fists and arms flailing about. Kyle tried to break them up only to receive a punch in the nose from his partner. Grabbing his bloodied nose, he sat down heavily in a chair.
Wheat had the size, but Heyes was fast and slippery. It wasn't long before he had Wheat down and he was beating the tar out of him. Wheat got a few weak punches in but he was fading fast. He was older and less fit than Heyes. With the last of his strength, Wheat threw Heyes backwards and rolled on his side grappling for a broken chair slat to use as a weapon. The sound of Heyes's gun cocking stopped Wheat cold and he rolled onto his back dropping the slat and looking up into the barrel of the Schofield pointed at his head. He went still and held his hands away from his sides. "Take it easy now," whispered Wheat, "You don't want to be shooting me." He saw the wild look in Heyes's eyes and knew he was a dead man.
Kyle slipped in front of Wheat with his hands up and smiled sweetly at Heyes, "Wheat's real sorry, Heyes, but he's been kinda mad at you lately. He's got this crazy idea that you're two-timing the Kid with Miss Allie; made me want to hit him myself a time or two." Heyes took his eyes off Wheat and looked at Kyle, the rage fading from his face. "I told him he was barking up the wrong tree, but you know how he gets. Let's just all cool down here and have us some breakfast. Okay?" said Kyle carefully lowering his hands. Heyes relaxed and dropped his gun, returning it to his holster slowly. He stepped around Kyle and leaned over Wheat, "You got something to say to me, say it now."
Wheat stood up slowly using the back of a chair to steady himself. He wiped the blood from his mouth with a shirt sleeve and glared at Heyes. "I got something to say all right. You ought to be ashamed, using a little gal like that. I thought you were a better man than that," said Wheat. He jumped back as Heyes went for him again. Kyle intercepted his boss and held him back. "Shut up, Wheat, just shut up," said the small outlaw.
"I don't know what you think you saw, Wheat, but you're wrong. I haven't done anything to Allie," snarled Heyes.
"Oh yeah, maybe Kid might see it differently," said Wheat snidely.
Heyes had been furious at Wheat's insolence, but now that he understood the source of it, he could let it go. Wheat was just trying to protect Allie. Heyes laughed without humor, "Kid knows exactly how I feel about Allie, Wheat. I told him myself last night."
Wheat was shocked. "Hell, you're lucky to be alive, Heyes."
"You, too, Wheat," said Heyes coldly. He picked up his hat, threw a few dollars on the table and left. The few onlookers jumped out of his way as he pushed past them.
"Damn, I need another beer," said Kyle watching his leader go.
"I think I could use something a mite stronger," said Wheat.
Kid could see Heyes coming up the back stairs through his open door. "What happened to you?" he said, struggling to get up and take a closer look at his cousin. He could see the bruises on Heyes's face.
"Hey, lie down. Doc told you not to get out of bed," said Heyes, hurrying in the door.
Allie was sitting in the corner chair and gasped at Heyes's bloodied appearance. She rushed over to him and grabbed his arm. "Who did this to you?" she demanded.
"It's nothing," said Heyes, pulling loose from her gently, "I'm fine. Wheat and I just got into a little argument, that's all."
"Looks more like a big fight to me," said Kid with a grin. He knew how little it took for Wheat to set Heyes off and he bet Wheat looked way worse. Still, he didn't like hearing that Wheat got uppity with his partner when he wasn't around to keep an eye on things. He made a mental note to have a talk of his own with Wheat. It was dangerous for the men to feel they could challenge Heyes when he wasn't around to watch his back.
"Whatever were you fighting over?" asked Allie. She wet her handkerchief with some water in a glass on the table and reached up to dab the blood from Heyes's cheek. There was a deep scratch there and he winced as she started it bleeding again. He reached up and pulled her hand away from his face.
"Wheat was just getting a little big for his britches. I had to put him in his place," said Heyes with a grin, "I'm going to go clean up and then I want to sit down and go over the plan."
After he left, Allie turned to Kid, "It's not funny. Wheat's a big man, he could've hurt him."
"He ain't big enough to hurt Heyes when he's got his back up, nobody is," laughed Kid.
Corky showed up with Roeber and Campbell. The smaller man had begged for another chance to face the outlaws. It had hurt his pride to be humiliated that way and he was looking for revenge. Corky had wanted to turn him down, but he couldn't come up with a plausible excuse for cutting him out so he'd let him come. He worried that the hot-headed man would be a dangerous mistake, but there was nothing he could do. He had already sent a note to Sy outlining the detective's plan and hopefully, Kid Curry would be forewarned. It was the best he could do without blowing his cover. Sy had told him to stay in the thick of things to help keep control of the situation.
Stafford was getting restless. He prowled up and down the alley as Monty gave the men their instructions. The Texan was laying a trap for the outlaws. Campbell was sent to the roof of the building across the street while Roeber was to conceal himself on the roof of the house across the alley. Monty would have Corky take over keeping an eye on the front of the house while he watched the back. As far as he was concerned Stafford was nearly useless so he could continue his pointless pacing. The men left to get into position and Monty pulled out his bag to roll another smoke.
"How are we going to learn anything waiting in the house?" asked Esther.
"There's a man out there watching us. I've seen the lights from his cigarettes at night. He's been there for at least three days. Clearly that means they're expecting something to happen here. Perhaps, they expect Alyssa to return. We just have to be patient and wait to see what happens," said Ruth.
Esther was alarmed at the idea that Alyssa might come back unaware of the dangers. "We have to warn her. It could be dangerous," she said, becoming anxious.
Ruth hugged her sister and said, "Honey, you're not thinking. How can we warn her when we don't know where she is? All we can do is wait and be ready should something happen." She reached into her skirt pocket and pulled out the small derringer. Holding it out to her sister, she asked, "Do you remember how to use this?"
Esther smiled slyly. "Better yet, I brought one of my own," she said as she pulled up her skirt and drew the pistol from the holster strapped to her thigh.
Ruth laughed, "Papa would be proud, wouldn't he?"
"Sy delivered this note. One of his men is working with the detective and sent over their plan," said Heyes passing the small slip of paper to the Kid. Allie leaned over his shoulder to read it.
"My mother's laid a trap for us! They've surrounded her house watching for us." she said indignantly.
"They're watching your friends', too," Heyes said, "So we're going to give them what they want. Sy and Kyle are going to show up with Patches at your friend's house here." He pointed at an X on a map drawn in the note.
"That's Melissa's home. Heyes, she's a sweet little thing. They'll scare her to death," said Allie.
"She'll never know they're there. They'll make a pass, flush out the men, and raise the alarm," said Heyes. "In the meantime, you and I will get into your mother's and force her to call off the dogs."
"She just wants the money. I know it. I'll buy her off if I have to," snapped Allie.
"I'm sure we'll be able to persuade her one way or another," said Heyes.
"And Wheat will be watching your backs?" asked Kid, skeptically, "I don't like it, Heyes. I'm not feeling real trustful of Wheat right about now."
"Kid, he'll do fine. Wheat and I settled things between us. I trust him to do the job, you should, too," said Heyes confidently.
"Well, I'm not sure I trust him either," said Allie. "The way he went after you was wrong. How do I know he won't do it again?"
Kid waited for an answer, too. Heyes looked at each of them and sighed, "Wheat jumped me because he thought he was protecting your honor."
"What?" said Allie.
"He thought I was taking advantage of you," said Heyes. Kid laughed, relieved to know that Wheat hadn't been challenging Heyes for leadership, he'd been acting the big brother to Allie.
Allie giggled, "Little did he know that I was taking advantage of you."
"Very funny; you two are really funny, you know that? Are you ready?" Heyes said to Allie.
"I'm ready," she said, standing up. She had changed back into her split skirt and had her gun belt on and strapped down. Her mother wouldn't know what hit her.
Kid looked from one to the other. He didn't like them going off on their own without him, but he also knew Heyes wouldn't agree to him coming along so he kept quiet. He'd just have to bide his time.
Heyes and Allie met Sy a few blocks up from the Harcourt house. He was sitting on a wagon loaded with a large crate and Wheat and Kyle were sitting on a bench on the sidewalk in front of him; their horses tied to the wagon. They stood as Allie dismounted. Heyes had already hopped off and was at the back of the wagon examining the crate.
"Morning, Miss Allie," said Kyle.
"Ma'am," said Wheat. His face was bruised and his lip was swollen. His right eye was turning an ugly shade of purple. Allie walked over and stretch up on her toes to give him a kiss on his cheek. Wheat was caught by surprised and touched his face where her lips had been.
"That is for being a gentleman and defending my honor," she said, smiling at him.
"Aw shucks, Miss Allie, I was just worried about you," said Wheat, embarrassed.
She leaned in close again and whispered in his ear, "Thank you, but you'll need to worry about me a whole lot more if you ever lay a hand on Heyes again."
Wheat jumped back and looked at her uncertainly as she walked over to stand by Heyes who smiled at her and took her hand. "I think it's time I met your mother, don't you?" he said with a broad grin.