"Kyle, could you please drop me at the corner of Wazee and 16th Street?" asked Soapy, leaning forward to the carriage's driver. He turned to Heyes and smiled. "I believe I will spend a quiet evening with a dear friend. Do not expect to see me until tomorrow around noonish as I am hoping that you will have settled things with your partner and the young lady by then."
"Coward," grumbled Heyes as the carriage pulled to a halt and his old friend stepped down and smiled up at him.
"For a man who has recently cheated death, you seem determined to push your luck. Please give some consideration to alternative plans," censured Soapy. He started off down the sidewalk.
"Give Claudia my best," Heyes called after Soapy. The grey-haired gentleman raised an arm in acknowledgment and continued on.
"Open up," yelled Monty as he pounded on the detective's door. He'd been standing outside for a good five minutes, and was starting to worry that something had happened to Stafford, when the door opened.
"What is the meaning of …oh, it's you," Stafford yanked the door open and stepped aside as Monty barged in and slammed the door.
He looked Stafford up and down pointedly. The man had on a fluffy, white robe and his socks stuck out beneath it. "What do you want, Northrup? Can't you see I was trying to sleep?" asked Stafford crankily as he clutched his robe shut.
"Son, you better get dressed fast. Miss Harcourt's been found and the news is all over the streets by now. We need to find Carlson and Murtry before the Devil's Hole gang goes to ground," Monty plopped down into a leather armchair and stared at Stafford, "Well go on, git! I haven't got all day."
"Miss Harcourt's been found? Where?" This was terrible news for Stafford. What was his boss going to say? He had wanted the woman found discreetly; and how discreet was it going to be if she were to disappear again?
"Corky was telling the truth. I went to the newspaper office to check out his story, but I never made it inside. It was splattered all over the front page of today's paper that she'd been found and returned to her family," explained Monty.
"Did someone pay the ransom?" Stafford needed to see his boss before he came looking for him. He had to get rid of Northrup.
"Does it matter? Either way, the Devil's Hole gang will be clearing out of here right quick. We can't waste any time if we want that reward money," growled Monty. "Your fancy client ain't gonna to be paying you now that she's back. That bounty's all we're gonna get and now we'll have to split it."
But Stafford wasn't interested in the reward money on Heyes and Curry. He had much more at stake and he knew his boss was going to be angry upon hearing this news.
Another pounding erupted at the door and Monty drew his gun. "You expecting company?"
Stafford shook his head. "Who is it?"
"Jonas, it's me, Trevor. Let me in," was the answer.
Stafford paled slightly at the sound of the voice, but he opened the door. A tall, graceful young man entered. "Jonas, I'm sorry to pop over like this, but something happened that I'm sure you will want to know about. You asked me to keep alert for any interest in you and, well, you'll never guess who was asking after you today," said the man, barely pausing for a breath. Stafford shifted slightly and Trevor saw Monty with his gun drawn. With a small yelp, he threw his hands in the air. "Don't shoot me. Oh, please, don't shoot me," bleated Trevor, clamping his eyes closed.
Monty's mouth fell open at the man's plaintive cry, but he recovered quickly and holstered his gun, "Put your damn hands down and shut the hell up, boy. I ain't gonna shoot you, unless you keep squealing like a stuck pig."
"Trevor, this is Monty Northrup. He is assisting me on my current assignment. Northrup, this is Trevor Bowers of the Bannerman Detective Agency," said Stafford.
Trevor's eyes opened and he dropped his hands. Embarrassed, he fussed with his tie and straightened his jacket. "You startled me!"
"That was plain as day, son. Now why don't you start over? Who was asking after Stafford?" asked Monty.
"It was Mr. Soapy Saunders! He said that he had heard you were our finest agent," snickered Trevor, casting a glance at Stafford.
"Saunders? Why would he be asking after me?" Stafford glanced at Northrup and prayed that Trevor would not reveal that he was not an authentic Bannerman agent. He still needed the Texan help.
"Apparently, you came highly recommended to him. It was all so very exciting, that is, until Mr. Colcannon irritated him, and Mr. Saunders and his secretary left in a huff. Mr. Colcannon was beside himself. He tried to follow them out, but Mr. Chauncey was quite masterful in dismissing him." Trevor sighed.
Stafford was confused. No one would have recommended him as an agent. Why would Saunders have asked for him?
"Mr. Chauncey?" quizzed Monty.
"The secretary," said Trevor. "Anyway, you had said that I was to tell you about any inquiries regarding you, so I took my break and rushed over here as quickly as I could."
"Thank you, Trevor. I am sure this was just a coincidence, but I appreciate your diligence. Now, I am sure that you will be missed if you don't hurry back," Stafford gripped the slender, young man by the elbow and piloted him out. He whispered something Monty couldn't hear, and closed the door. Monty frowned as Stafford passed him and went into his bedroom. "I'll be ready in ten minutes. There's a kettle of tea on the stove. Help yourself."
"What has you all flustered, son?" Monty had seen the confused, alarmed look on Stafford's face while Trevor was talking. The man would make a terrible poker player. "You expected someone to come looking for you; that's why you had that boy keeping an eye on things, ain't it?"he asked suspiciously.
Stafford poked his head out of the bedroom. "Nonsense, you heard Trevor. Someone simply recommended me to Mr. Saunders. After all, my reputation is excellent." The last thing he needed was to have this big lummox figure out what was really going on. "Furthermore, I am not moving out of my apartment and I am certainly not moving into that warehouse; over my dead body."
"That might not be too hard to arrange," snorted the Texan. "Listen up, son. You know Carlson and Murtry and they know you, too. You told them your name and that you were a Bannerman. Do you think that it could be Heyes trying to track you down?"
It was quiet for several minutes before the sounds of drawers opening and closing drifted into the living room. "Soapy Saunders is an upstanding citizen; what on earth would he have to do with Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry?" Stafford was pulling out clothing and tossing it on the bed while talking to Northrup in the other room. Northrup had a point. He needed to get out of here and agreeing to the warehouse gave him a chance to get rid of the insufferable man.
"I don't know, but someone is nosing around. How do we know what Saunders was before he became a successful businessman? Hell, we all have our pasts. Do you really want to take a chance, son?" asked Monty.
Stafford reappeared with a small valise and an even smaller smile. "All right, I will stay at the warehouse…but only for tonight. If we don't find Carlson and Murtry, I'm giving up on them and this whole crazy mess." His comfortable life in Denver was quickly losing its appeal for him.
Monty would see about that. He had to have Stafford's help or he would have quit working with the man a long time ago. "Fair enough, son," he said agreeably.
The Kid heard the carriage coming up the drive and sighed with relief. He and Ruth had been back for an hour or so. The ladies were in the drawing room visiting and he had been waiting alone at the kitchen table for his partner's arrival. Heyes came in a few minutes later. "How'd it go?" asked the Kid.
Heyes wasn't surprised to find his partner waiting for him. He could be like an old mother hen sometimes. "It went fine," snapped Heyes. He hung up his overcoat and hat and loosened his tie.
The Kid sat up more attentively. Heyes was ruffled and he wanted know what had irritated him. "What did you find out?"
Heyes came over and sat down across from his cousin. "Not much. Harrison isn't a client and Stafford isn't an agent."
"He's not? Then who does he work for?" Kid got up and poured his partner some coffee. Since they had arrived, Jordan had taken to being sure that a pot was always ready for Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry, day or night.
"Who knows? Could be Slade or Harrison, or someone else," said Heyes morosely. He took the offered mug of coffee and sipped.
"So what are we going to do now?" asked Kid. "Or should I be afraid to ask?"
"I have an idea or two that I want to run by you, but Allie should hear it, too. Where are the ladies?" asked Heyes, putting down his mug and casually standing up. He was being careful to stay out of arm's reach of the Kid. He wasn't about to tell his partner the plan until he had backup.
"They're in the drawing room, but you can tell me now," said the Kid, rising, too. He had caught on to Heyes. If his partner didn't want to tell him without Allie there, he knew he wasn't going to like this plan any more than the last one. The Kid lunged at Heyes, grabbing for his shirt. He was fast, but, in this instance, his cousin was faster.
Heyes jumped back out of reach. "No, I can't." Turning, he hurried down the hall.
"HEYES! Come back here!"
Allie, Ruth, and Esther heard Kid's bellow and, seconds later, Heyes skittered into the drawing room with the Kid hot on his heels. Like two boys caught misbehaving, they stopped short at the sight of the ladies sitting at the other end of the large room, and nonchalantly sauntered over to the fireplace. The Kid made sure to stay within range of his partner. Heyes looked over his shoulder and growled, "Quit crowding me." His partner smiled and drew nearer.
Allie came over to them in a rustle of silk as the two outlaws watched appreciatively. She was dressed in a beautiful emerald green gown and had put her hair up. The Kid smiled at the sight of her. Here was the girl he'd fallen for, but it was Heyes who reached out for her hand and softly whispered into her ear, "You take my breath away."
"That was probably caused by you running away from your partner and I'm going to want to know why," countered Allie, kissing his dimpled cheek. "I'm pleased, however, to see that you are still in one piece. What did you find out?"
"Let's go sit down with your mother and aunt. They'll want to hear this, too," said Heyes. He kept hold of her hand as they walked across the room and Kid noted what a handsome couple they made, Heyes in his custom-tailored suit, and Allie in her elegant gown. They belonged together. Kid's heart lurched at the next thought; Allie was Heyes's girl, not his.
"Daisy, darlin', you've tuckered me out. I'm gonna have to crawl my way outta here," Kyle leaned over and kissed the plump redhead then reached across her for his pants.
Giggling like a schoolgirl, Daisy held his hand. "Don't go, Honey-child. Stay the night with me. I don't need other customers when I got you." She meant it, too. Kyle was her favorite and it wasn't only that he always tipped her extra well. He treated her like a lady. The small outlaw might not be much to look at, but that didn't matter to her. She'd long ago learned that the handsomest faces often hid the ugliest natures. Not her Kyle, he handled her like a precious jewel and she loved him for it; but he was a wanted man and she was a working girl. Sighing, she let go of his hand and sat up to kiss him thoroughly. "There'll be more of that when you come back, you hear?"
"I hear you, sweetheart. I'll be back, but I don't rightly know when. Don't look so sad. You know I don't lie to you, girl. I might be leaving town in a hurry, but I'll be back soon." Kyle had pulled on his pants while talking, and buckled up his belt. Picking up his hat, he smiled at her one last time and walked out the door. Daisy rolled over to stare out the window; her world darkening once again.
Wheat was walking down the hall, grinning happily, and tucking in his shirttails. "Hey, Kyle, you ready?"
"Yeah, where do you want to start, Wheat?" said Kyle, catching up to his partner.
Wheat started down the stairs, "Let's go raise some hell at Weston's bar. We'll tear it up a bit and let word get around. I owe that shifty scum bucket some payback for cheating me out of fifty bucks."
The beer mug slammed down on the bar louder than necessary. Monty was getting tired of waiting. The detective had said that he'd meet him here. He had been waiting for Stafford for nearly two hours and he was getting impatient. He'd already had several beers and he couldn't afford to get drunk tonight. He'd spent the time standing on the hook of the bar, conserving his drinks, and keeping his eyes on the front window watching the passersby. It was late afternoon and the light was turning. In another hour, it would be dark. At least it was warming up some. The last week or so had been unseasonably cold and snowy, but today had warmed up nicely. Maybe his luck would change with the weather. He was getting tired of wandering around Colorado; it was finally time for him to start thinking about heading south to Texas after all these years. He just needed this one last score. He brooded silently as the thought of going home led to other darker, uglier thoughts.
Stafford walked through the double doors and saw Northrup staring straight at him. He nodded and walked back out to the street and the Texan joined him a moment later. "Where the hell have you been?" challenged Monty.
"I took my things to the warehouse. Corky was awake and trying to wiggle out of his bindings, so I forced some laudanum down his throat and waited for it to settle him down. I certainly hope that it at least makes him feel better. Did you have to be so rough on him?" chided Stafford.
"Don't forget that little liar was supposed to be working for us, instead he was using us to get information," growled Monty. "What are you defending him for, son? You ain't getting paid for the girl 'cause of him and he's gonna cost us another fortune. Now that the news is all over town, the Devil's Hole gang is probably half way to Wyoming. They know that girl will sing about how they kidnapped her."
"We'll find them." Stafford knew that Miss Harcourt hadn't been kidnapped nor had she returned home yet. His boss was still having the Harcourt family home watched. She might be in Denver, but she was still in hiding, and probably still with Heyes and Curry. He'd seen firsthand how chummy she had been with Curry and he was betting they were lovers. If he didn't get his hands on that girl soon, it could go very badly for him. His boss had screamed and yelled for nearly fifteen minutes while Stafford had sat frozen to his chair hoping no blood would be spilled. He had decided right then and there that he was done after this job. He had had enough.
"What?! Are you plumb crazy? There ain't no way in hell I'm going to let you do something that damn stupid!" hollered the Kid. "I'm telling you, Heyes, if I have to hog-tie you and throw you in the basement until you come to your senses, I'll do it!" He was pacing about the room, stopping every few seconds to glare at his partner, who stood silent as his partner berated at him.
"Mr. Curry, please calm down. Profanity will not help!" snapped Esther.
Ruth chortled. "I think it is helping. If he wasn't cursing, he would probably be throwing punches. Come on, dear, we'd better leave these three alone to work this out." She hooked her arm through her sister's and they left the room, unnoticed by the others.
"The idea is insane and I won't have you risking your neck that way! I'm the one you are trying to help, and I'm telling you right now that I don't want you to do it." Allie was furious.
"It's too late to stop it. Kyle and Wheat are probably with Stafford or his partner by now," said Heyes quietly.
Allie's mouth dropped open and the Kid stopped pacing. Instead he leaned dangerously into his partner's face and ground out, "What did you say?"
"I said the plan's already in motion. I can't stop it now without risking Wheat and Kyle," Heyes was being very careful not to show any of the smugness he was feeling; instead he started talking and talking fast. "There was no time to waste! We need to get to the bottom of this quickly. I can't just sit back and try to stay one step ahead of the game; I already did that and look what happened. These people aren't fooling around. What happens if we make a mistake or get careless? They get Allie, or you, or me when we're not expecting it. I won't risk it."
"NOW you won't risk it?" Kid wanted so much to wipe the floor with his partner, but he couldn't do it in Soapy's house. Next time he got Heyes alone, it was going to be a different story.
Heyes put a hand on his partner's shoulder. "Kid, they took Corky. He could be in real danger or he could even be dead."
The Kid knocked Heyes's hand off his shoulder. "Yeah, so you want to be next? Is that it?" He raised his fists threateningly.
Allie had gripped handfuls of her voluminous skirt in her fists to try to prevent her from reaching out to strangle Heyes. She might be dressed like a lady, but she wasn't thinking like one. She was heartily wishing she had her gun, because there was nothing she wanted more than to shoot him; maybe in the arm, not too seriously, or no, the foot. Yes, that would be useful. This was all a set-up. He wasn't asking their approval, he'd already gone ahead without them.
"Kid, take it easy, I want you to come with me as back up," said Heyes, holding his hands up in surrender.
"You do?" Kid dropped his fists. His partner had caught him by surprise.
Heyes grinned, "Sure, I'm not facing these two on my own. Are you feeling up to it?" He needed his partner's help, he was going to be an important part of the plan.
Mollified, the Kid said, "I guess so."
"Jed! Can't you see he is manipulating you?" cried Allie.
Jed looked at her, and looked back at his partner. "Are you sure this will work?"
"Arrgh!" Allie stamped her foot in frustration. "If Jed is going, I'm going with you, too!"
The two partners turned to her. "No, you're not!" they said as one.
"Yes, I am, or I swear I'll go find Jack Slade on my own and, when I find him, I'm going to kill him!" She was pacing now, "I'll tell you what I'm not going to do! I'm not going to wait here like some helpless idiot while you two go off to risk your damn fool necks on my behalf." She changed her tone and dropped her voice, "Heyes, I can help. You know I can and, besides, if Stafford sees me it just adds leverage to your plan."
Heyes considered her, "How do you figure that?" The Kid's mouth fell open; he couldn't believe that Heyes was actually thinking it over!
"How would Stafford know you're not conning him? You're famous for it. He might not believe that you even have me, especially now that the newspaper has published my return. Maybe he thinks I'm sitting at home. Let him see me. That ought to send him running back to Jack Slade." Allie could see he was being swayed by her argument and she pressed on. "I'll be there, out of sight. I can back you up, too, and Jed will be there. He can size up the dangers before I show myself."
"Okay, it makes sense to me," agreed Heyes and it was exactly what he had wanted all along; their help. "I did promise Soapy I'd consider the alternatives. Let's do it." Allie smiled.
"What?!" yelled Kid, turning a very ugly shade of purple.