Monty worked the toothpick around his mouth and studied Stafford. The man was still fussing with his food. He ate like he was dining with royalty; not eating with a beat up, has-been deputy in a hash house in the worst part of town. But at least when his mouth was full, he wasn't complaining about how bad he felt. "You ever been married, Stafford?" he asked.
"No, I have not. I prefer the bachelor life. Not that I don't enjoy the ladies," Stafford added quickly, "It's just that my line of work involves extensive travel and time away from home."
Monty didn't know what to make of Stafford. The man appeared thoroughly incompetent to him, but he must have some abilities or the Bannerman Agency wouldn't employ him. He thought about the expensive antiques he'd seen in the detective's apartment. He couldn't possibly make that much money. Monty was curious about how he supported such a rich lifestyle. "You're gone a lot, huh? It must cost you a pretty penny to keep that apartment. You ever think about taking on a roommate?"
Stafford choked on a forkful of chicken. "Why…why do you ask?" he stammered. Was this rough man hoping to move in with him? Over his dead body!
"Just wonderin'. Seems to me like you live pretty good on a Bannerman's salary," observed Monty.
"Oh, I see. Well, if you must know, I come from an old, respected family. I inherited a small amount of money on my twenty-first birthday and I bought the apartment building with it," explained Stafford.
"The whole thing?" asked Monty.
Stafford smiled. "Yes, the whole thing. I make a nice income from the rents and one of my tenants handles the maintenance and takes care of the other tenants in exchange for a rent-free apartment."
Monty looked at him with new-found respect. The man had a head for business. Most twenty-one year olds would have blown free money on women and beer. "So how come you're working for the Bannermen?"
"I use my salary to expand my real estate holdings. I own several more buildings in town and I intend to retire soon. As a matter of fact, I plan to call it a day after this job. You seem awfully interested in my life, Mr. Northrup. What's your story?" asked the detective.
"No story to tell. No wife, no kids, no family at all," Monty looked off into the distance remembering when that had not been the case. He wasn't about to tell this man his tale.
"I envy you your freedom," said Stafford, returning his attention to his food. He missed the pained look that crossed Monty's face.
"You're a fool to envy me, son," said the big man sourly. That effectively ended the rest of the dinner conversation; and several minutes later, Stafford put down his utensils, took a sip of coffee, and threw a five dollar bill on the table.
"Let's get to work. The sooner we get this over with the sooner I can get home," snapped Stafford. Walking out of the restaurant, the two men walked slowly up the street, studying faces and peering into windows.
"You're right, Kid. We have to find out what Slade's up to," said Heyes. The light in the study was fading as the day drew to a close. He struck a match and lit the oil lamp on the table next to him.
Allie was holding Ruth's hand, but she dropped it and curled her hands into fists. "I don't want to have anything to do with that man. He sounds despicable," she hissed.
"Allie, we're not asking you to welcome him into the family. We just need to know what he's planning," said Kid. He placed his arm around her shoulders and hugged her to him. "I know all this has been real hard on you, but I'm just asking that you trust us. You do trust us, don't you?" he asked softly. Allie looked up into his lovely eyes, nodded, and looked at Heyes. He smiled at her. Ruth and Esther watched Alyssa's interactions with the two outlaws with interest. It was plain that she was close to these two men, but they both wondered if they could really trust these outlaws to do what was best for their daughter.
"Okay. Let's look at this rationally. We don't really know yet whether or not Slade's involved and, if it is him, Allie can't hide from him forever. I think the first thing we have to determine is whether or not he knows she's his daughter," said Heyes as he began to pace in front of the fireplace. "Ruth, you need to let people know that Allie's back. You can drop a few words to some friends here and there. Kid, we'll have Corky break the story to his newspaper. If Decker's death and her disappearance was news, his editor will bite. Then, we'll sit back and see what happens. If Slade's onto her, he'll make a move and we'll be ready."
"Makes sense, Heyes," said Kid, approvingly.
"Hold on just a minute, you two! We have spent our whole lives devoted to trying to keep Allie out of harm's way and now you are asking us to paint a bulls-eye on her? I will not allow my daughter to be used as bait!" growled Ruth. She had crossed Heyes's path and stopped him in his tracks. She leaned into his face and he leaned away, slightly alarmed by her ferocious mien.
"She won't be in danger, Ruth. At least no more than she is right this second. If we don't know who's after her, how can she be kept safe? I've got a lot of people working for me in this town and every single one of them is going to be watching out for Slade or whoever it is. Soapy's men will, too," said Heyes.
"Soapy Saunders is a businessman, what possible help could he be?" barked Esther.
"My dear woman, I should hope that I can be a great deal of help. After all, I taught Heyes and Kid nearly everything they know about running a con," said Soapy from the doorway.
"I'll see your five bits and I'll raise you another two bits," said Wheat grandly. He reached down to his meager chips and flung several into the pot. The man next to Wheat studied his cards doubtfully.
Kyle grinned at his own hand. "Kyle, honey, I ain't seen you in a coon's age," said a voice in his ear, just before he felt two warm, soft arms slipped around his neck.
"Daisy, darlin', how the heck have you been?" asked Kyle, looking up with a tobacco-stained smile at the older red-headed gal draped over him.
"Just fine, honey child, but I sure have missed your sweet smile. How come you haven't been around to see this ole gal lately?" purred Daisy.
"Aw, you know how it is, sweetheart. I've been workin' real hard, but I'm here now," said Kyle with a sly smile. Things were looking good for a fun night. He held onto her hand as he stood up. "Hey, Wheat, me and Daisy are gonna do some catchin' up. I'll see you later."
"Don't you go wearin' him out now, Daisy. I still remember luggin' him out of here the last time," grumbled Wheat. Daisy giggled and led Kyle away as Wheat laid his hand down.
"Looks like I'm lucky again, boys," he gloated.
"Say, Northrup, isn't that Corky across the street?" said Stafford, gesturing to the crowded sidewalk on the other side of the road. Monty saw the younger man hurrying his way through the crowd. He expertly wove his way in and out of the flow of people impeding his progress.
"What the hell is he doing? He's supposed to be down on Larimer," the Texan watched for a minute, "Looks like he's in a heckuva hurry, too. Wait here. I'm going to see what lit his tail on fire." He stepped off the sidewalk and onto the snowy road sinking deeply into the filthy mud and cursing his way across until he reached the safety of the wooden walkway. He could still see Corky a block ahead. He'd just follow him a ways and find out what was going on. His instincts were screaming at him that the little weasel was up to something.
"Ladies, welcome to my home," Soapy entered the room.
"Soapy, may I introduce Mrs. Ruth Harcourt and her sister, Esther Thorpe?" said Heyes politely.
"Mr. Saunders, it is delightful to meet you," Ruth extended her hand.
Soapy gently took it and raised it to his lips. "The pleasure is all mine, my dear. Miss Thorpe," he acknowledged Esther with a slight bow. "Kid, it is good to see you up and about. Heyes, I assume that you and Allie had a slight change of plans?"
"The detective nearly caught us, Soapy. I had to bring the ladies here. It wasn't safe to leave them there alone," explained Heyes.
"Quite right, my boy. Ladies, please allow me to whisk you away from these two rascals and show you to your rooms so that you might freshen up before dinner. We can discuss what you have planned for Mr. Slade over our meal. Chef has prepared a delicious roast. May I?" said Soapy, extending his right arm to Ruth and his left to Esther. Good manners demanded that they comply and they each slipped a hand in the crook of his arm. He swept them from the room.
"Allie, are you all right?" asked Kid gently.
"I don't know," she whispered. Heyes crossed over to the butler's tray and poured her a brandy, carrying it back to her. She gulped it down all at once. "Thank you. Thank you both for staying with me. I don't know how I would've gotten through that without you. I just can't believe it. My whole life has been a lie." She fell down onto the chair behind her.
Kid knelt down in front of her and took her hands. "I know you're hurt right now, but try to remember how much they love you. Hold onto that."
"I'll try, but it's so hard. That horrible man isn't my father. My father raised me. Jack Slade may have sired me, but he'll never be my father," Allie looked up at Heyes, her eyes radiating the pain her heart felt. "I know I'm the same person I was a few hours ago, but everything seems so changed now. How is that possible?"
"You're seeing your family clearly now; things are bound to look different. Give it time. You know your parents and your aunt have loved you as best as they could, but nobody's perfect. Most people just try to do the best they can with the hand life deals to them. That's what they did and it's what you have to do," said Heyes.
She considered Heyes's words. He was speaking from experience. He and Jed, too, had both had to make the best of what they'd been given. Well, so could she. Allie smiled tentatively. "Alyssa Harcourt really is gone for good, isn't she? She was never really me at all. I was pretending all that time to be someone I'm not and I never even realized I was lying to myself. I guess I'm more like my mother than I want to admit. She was right, blood will tell."
Monty watched as Corky banged on the door of a nondescript townhouse. After a few minutes, the door opened and the young man slipped inside. The Texan rolled a cigarette and waited. Sure enough, a short time later, Corky emerged and strolled up the street much more relaxed than he had been upon arriving. Monty watched him disappear around the corner and he waited. Whatever Corky was doing, the answer was in that townhouse. Another few minutes passed and a slight, older man emerged. He was still pulling on his gloves and adjusting his jacket as though he had dressed in haste. Monty tossed away his cigarette and followed this new lead. It was apparent that Corky might be playing both sides of the fence. If he was, Monty was going to make sure he paid for it. Nobody played him for a fool.
"Do you believe that Jack Slade still wishes to harm Allie?" questioned Soapy. His guests had discussed the Harcourt's situation with him over a fine meal, and were now relaxing in the study with an after-dinner drink.
"I cannot imagine who else it could be. I've already determined it has nothing to do with Bill Decker's estate," said Ruth. While she had told her tale to Mr. Saunders with far more brevity than she had Allie, he had understood what hadn't been said.
"My dear, do you really think it would be in Jack's best interest to harm her now? What would he have to gain? Perhaps, he wishes to meet her," suggested Soapy.
Allie shuddered. "I don't want to meet him. He's a beast who has done nothing but hurt the people I love."
Ruth patted Allie's hand. "Mr. Saunders, you may be right, but I cannot take the chance of underestimating Jack Slade. He made an attempt on Esther's life and I will not risk Allie's."
Heyes spoke up. "Ruth, we have to get to the bottom of this. Allie can't spend the rest of her life hiding. If Slade is after her, he'll wait until her guard is down and that's when he'll strike. We have to strike first."
"I agree, Mother. I don't want to spend my life looking over my shoulder and I don't want to continue to live a lie. It's time to settle this once and for all. Believe me, I am no longer a helpless girl. I can take care of myself and I plan to do just that." Allie stood up. "Thank you for your hospitality, Soapy. I apologize, but I am completely exhausted; please excuse me." Heyes stood up and gestured for Kid to do so. Kid looked at his partner in confusion. Since when did they put on airs with Allie? He stayed seated as she left the room.
"Ladies, Soapy, please excuse me, too. I'm going to round the boys up and let them know what we are planning," said Heyes, walking to the door.
"Hold on, Heyes. I ain't letting you wander around Denver with half the town looking for you," said Kid, getting up, too.
"Nobody's looking for me, Kid. I'm dead, remember?" laughed Heyes.
"Yeah, that's what you said before and you were wrong then, too. Ladies, Soapy, thank you," said Kid, following his partner out.
"Kyle!" roared a voice through the paper thin walls from downstairs.
"Sorry, Darling, that's my boss. I'd best skedaddle or he'll have my hide," said Kyle, jumping off the bed and fumbling for his pants on the floor.
The blowsy redhead, Daisy, reached out and slapped his bare behind. "You all come back and see me now, you hear, Kyle? You sure are a lot of fun for an old gal like me."
Kyle turned around and gave her kiss and said, "Daisy, Darling, I'll be back so fast the bed'll still be warm." Picking up his shirt and thrusting his arm in it, he rushed out the door with the other sleeve dangling only to return a moment later. Digging deeply into his pocket, he pulled out a handful of bills. "Thank you, Sweetheart, I had a real good time, too."
Daisy blew him a kiss and watched as the door closed behind him. If only all her customers were so sweet.
Kyle hustled down the stairs taking them two at a time. Heyes was standing at the bottom. Landing with a thump, he smiled at his leader and said, "You bellowed, Heyes?"
Heyes couldn't help smiling; Kyle looked like the cat that ate the canary. Wheat didn't look nearly so happy. He'd been losing steadily since Kyle had gone upstairs and he had started to bet wildly. He'd just lost a big part of his loot on the last hand. "What's goin' on, Heyes?" Wheat grumbled.
"Allie's in trouble and we're going to help her," Heyes gestured for the boys to follow him and led the way to a table in the back of the saloon. Kid trailed them keeping an eye on the other patrons. He saw no one paying any attention to them and that suited him just fine. The last to arrive at the table, he pulled out a chair and sat down, giving Heyes a nod to indicate that all was clear.
"What's goin' on with Miss Allie?" asked Kyle. The waiter started to come over, but Heyes held up his hand and signaled for a round of beers. The man turned on his heels and headed back to the bar to place the order.
"Jack Slade might be after her," said Kid succinctly. Allie's family woes were nobody's business and it had even bothered him to have Soapy hear the shortened story.
"Jack Slade?! What would he want with Allie? She ain't his type," said Wheat. He noticed Heyes's frown, "I mean no offense or nothin', Heyes. She's a fine gal, I just meant…"
"I know what you meant, Wheat. Just shut up and listen. I don't know for sure that he is after her, but he might be. If he is, he'll have to go through the Kid and me to get to her. She'll be safe at Soapy's. I want you two to put your ears to the ground and see what you can come up with. See if you can buddy up to some of Slade's boys." Heyes reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash, "Buy some goodwill and see what you can find out."
Wheat was smiling now. He liked the idea of spending Heyes's cash. "Sure, Heyes, you can count on me and Kyle. You know we'll do everythin' we can to help out Miss Allie even if it takes days."
Sy had only gone a few blocks when he realized he had a tail. He knew just how to shake him. Ducking into a Chinese laundry, he roughly pushed his way past the workers inside and slipped out the back door as a torrent of Mandarin drifted after him.
Monty saw that he had been spotted and he began to run after the slight man, but he was a considerable distance ahead. He saw the man go into a building and he chased after him. "The man who was just here; where'd he go?" he roared. Faces lifted from their tasks and turned their eyes towards him. One or two men blocked his path, irate at being invaded by a non-paying customer again. A chatter of Chinese met his question. "Dammit!" he yelled, shoving the men aside and running out the back door. The alley was empty and there was no sign of the man.
"What's the rest of the plan, Heyes?" asked Kid.
"Hmm?" answered his partner absently, watching Wheat and Kyle walking away.
"You heard me. What else is rattling around in that empty space between your ears?" Kid was watching Heyes.
Brown eyes met blue, and a dimpled smile formed. "What do you say we hire ourselves a Bannerman?"
"What?!" a frown formed.
"Kid, I've been thinking," began Heyes, untying his horse.
"Yeah, that's what has me worried," said Kid, reaching for his own animal.
Heyes mounted up, "We need to run that detective to ground; find out who he's working for. The fastest way to do that is to hire him. First thing tomorrow, we're going to pay a little visit to the Bannerman Detective Agency."
"Why does there always have to be more?" groaned Kid.