At the fourth bar they'd tried, Monty and Stafford finally had some luck. A cowboy sitting in on one of the poker games in the back room said that he'd seen two men matching Carlson's and Murtry's description earlier in the evening. The big, mustached man had sat down and played a couple of hands, but had proven to be a sore loser. He'd challenged the dealer after a series of particularly bad bets and, for a few tense moments, the cowboy had thought there was going to be gunplay. Fortunately, a smaller man had hustled the ill-tempered player out of the saloon and down the street. They'd gone south. The cowboy was sure of it because he'd watched them go.
Stafford was elated. He was desperate to find those two outlaws and finish this whole ridiculous mess. He hurried out of the saloon and started off down the street in a rush. Monty had to hurry to catch up with him despite his longer legs.
Wheat and Kyle were at the bar at Weston's place and the owner, Carl Weston, was eyeing Wheat with intense hatred. He couldn't stand that puffed up, overblown flea-mongering son of a…
"Why, howdy there, Carl, it sure is great to see you again," Wheat picked up his beer off the bar and shouldered through the crowd until he stood in front of the irate saloon owner. Kyle stayed at the bar; his job was to keep an eye out for Stafford.
"Wheat Carlson, what the hell are you doing here? I thought all you bunch of has-been Devil's Hole boys had turned your yellow tails for home now that Heyes is dead. Don't you remember I told you if I ever saw you here again, I'd whup your ass?" snarled Weston. The noisy, crowded room quieted instantly, and patrons hurried to back out of the way of the coming fight. They had all heard Carl and were staring at Wheat. Whispered speculation flew about the room.
"That's right, Carl, you did say that and, you know, partner, that's why I'm here. I'm going to give you a chance to do just that," grinned Wheat as he took a deep sip of his drink and, looking Weston in the eye, spit a cold stream of beer at the man's face.
"I'll kill you!" screamed Weston as he launched himself at Wheat. The two men lurched backwards, clenched to each other.
Heyes had chosen an old warehouse of Soapy's as the sight for his confrontation with Stafford. He and the Kid knew the building well from the days they had lived and worked with the conman. Soapy had used it as a storage site for several of the props from his various scams and as a convenient spot from which to dispose of items he did not want to be caught in the possession of. Now that he was legitimate, the building was empty save for several stacks of old, unused crates. It had long ago been sold to one of his other business entities and then to several more. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for Stafford to trace the ownership back to Soapy.
There was a comfortable, though basic, office in the center of the building which would be ideal for a confidential conversation. Three of the four sides of the office were made of glass which had allowed the former warehouse manager to keep a close eye on his employees and would now aid Kid Curry in watching his partner's back from the shadows of the warehouse. The fourth side had a wooden door in the center of it. Heyes was currently inside the room. He picked up a large, lit oil lantern and placed it on a side table along the wall opposite the door and behind the rough, scarred oaken desk. Finished, he wiped his hands on a rag, and stepped outside of the office.
Allie and the Kid were nowhere to be seen, but he heard soft giggling coming from behind one of the stacks of crates. He circled around to it on silent feet and sprang around the corner howling like a banshee. He raised a shriek of surprise from Allie, who had been planning to try to jump out and scare him. She dissolved in laughter as Heyes pulled her into his arms and kissed her soundly.
"You scared me!" she said accusingly as she willed her heart back into her chest. He continued nibbling the soft hollows of her neck. "Heyes, stop. Please."
Heyes raised his head and gazed into her eyes. "You don't like it?"
"I like it a little too much." She tried to push away from him gently, but he held her tight. His behavior confused her. He was becoming more and more affectionate every day. He had said that he cared for her, but they could have no future; yet he flirted outrageously with her every chance he had. She couldn't help responding, but it worried her. She knew she was in love with him and she also knew he was only going to break her heart.
The Kid was prowling around the outer walls of the warehouse making sure there were no missing boards or other places where someone could sneak in. Heyes's yell had caught him unaware as well and he had spun about, gun in hand. Realizing it was just his partner fooling around; he twirled his pistol into its holster, but stood watching the two shadowy figures. It was good to see Heyes happy and behaving like a teenager in love, but the Kid was genuinely worried about those two. He loved Allie, too, and he didn't want to see her hurt. At the same time, he didn't want to see this relationship last. It was too dangerous for all of them and he would have to have a talk with his cousin soon. The risks were too high.
"Fight! There's a fight at Weston's bar. Place your bets here! " cried an enterprising young man, standing in the street, and waving a fistful of dollars in the air. Stafford ran in that direction with Monty struggling to keep up. Stopping just short of the front window of Weston's Saloon, Stafford cautiously craned his head around the frame and peeked inside. He could see two men going at it and he scanned the rest of the patrons. Monty caught up to him and panted, "Do you see 'em?"
"I can't see much of anything. I'm going in." Stafford started for the door, but Monty grabbed his arm, stopping him.
"Slow down, son. You're in too much of a hurry. If they're in there, you're gonna spook them."
At that moment, Carl Weston landed a hard blow to Wheat's jaw sending him reeling back against the bar rail. Stafford was distracted by the cheers inside the saloon and looked through the front window. He saw Carlson push off the bar and hurl himself at the other fighter.
"That's him, the big man with the mustache; that's Carlson!" Stafford pointed to Wheat and Monty edged past him to look.
"He is big. Where's Murtry?"
"I don't see him," Stafford searched the faces carefully. "He's not there." He struggled to free himself from the hard grip of the Texan. "Let me go!"
"Hold on, son. You can't just go busting in after Carlson," cautioned the former deputy, "You'll get your head blowed off. We've got to do this real careful-like."
At the thought of getting his 'head blowed off', Stafford stopped squirming and started listening. "What do you suggest?"
"Well now, son, I'm glad you asked. I think we need a plan, don't you?" Taking Stafford by the arm, he sat him down on a bench and began to talk. "You watch the front. Keep your gun ready and, if he comes out that way, make sure he's alone and take him alive. I'll take the back. Chances are that's the way he'll go."
"Why do you say that?"
"Hell, son, what's a man do in a saloon?"
Stafford colored. "You can't mean…?"
"No, I don't mean that. A man drinks in a saloon. And the more a man drinks, the more likely it is he'll need to make a trip out back. When a man's gotta go, it's all he can think about and he won't be expecting trouble. Am I right?" Monty was grinning. "We're just gonna wait until we get Carlson alone."
Kyle had seen the detective and another man on the boardwalk outside the saloon and he had crouched down behind the men watching the fight so he couldn't be seen. It wasn't much of a fight either. For all his big talk, Carl Weston was getting his butt kicked. Wheat was a big man who lived a hard life and it showed. One or two more punches, and the fight would be over. Too bad, too; Kyle had hoped to get a couple more bets down. Wheat cocked his fist back and unleashed a haymaker to Carl's stomach and the man collapsed to the filthy floor. A roar of disappointment rose from the spectators.
Kyle craned his head between two men, keeping them between him and the window, and waved his hand at Wheat, signaling him to be ready. Wheat wiped his nose on the sleeve of his shirt and smiled back at his partner. The winning bettors in the crowd clustered around him and patted him heartily on the back amidst numerous offers to stand him to a beer. Wheat accepted them all. If he had to stand around and wait to be found, he may as well enjoy the attention.
Kyle carefully worked his way to the front of the saloon and grabbed a big duster and a hat off the pegs by the door; then he slipped through the curtains that separated the storeroom from the saloon. One of the bar gals was coming out with a couple of bottles clutched in her fists. She looked at him askance. "Sorry, ma'am, but there's a fella out there who's lookin' to do me some harm. I had no idea that filly was his little sister. She told me she was eighteen," he grinned at her with his yellowed smile and she gave a sniff of disgust and hurried away. Kyle put on the coat and hat. No one would recognize him in this getup. From his hiding place, he could see Stafford standing and talking with the other man outside of the saloon. The man nodded and went around the corner towards the back of the building. They must be setting a trap. Kyle grinned. They weren't the only ones.
Weston had been hauled away by a couple of his employees and had yet to return, while Wheat was downing another beer and reliving the fight with his admirers. He wondered what was taking so long. Kyle had signaled him ten minutes ago that the detective had arrived; where was he? This was his third beer and he was gonna have to make a trip out back if something didn't happen soon. Wheat was beginning to unconsciously jiggle his leg.
Kyle crept out of the back room and slipped behind the bar while the bartender was out at the tables picking up glasses. Sliding his way along as he stayed hunched low, he stopped in front of Wheat.
Kyle saw his partner look around, "Psst, Wheat, down here."
Wheat leaned over the bar. "Kyle, what are you doin' down there and why are you dressed like that?"
"I'm in disguise and stayin' outta sight. They're here. Stafford's out front and the other fella's 'round back. I think they saw you."
"'Round back, huh? Just so happens I need to make a trip out back," grinned Wheat. "Here's what we're gonna do…"
Monty was hidden behind a couple of empty beer barrels with a clear view of the outhouse. A short cowboy in an oversized duster and a huge, floppy ten-gallon hat that had slipped down over his eyes had just come swaying out of the back door and staggered his drunken way to the facilities, but there'd been no sign of Carlson. He was beginning to worry, when the back door slammed open and Carlson hurried down the steps towards the small building just beyond the light of the doorway. Damn it, thought Monty, he'd wanted to catch Carlson inside the john, but the cowboy was still in there. He crept closer to the edge of his hiding place and drew his gun. Carlson crossed the short distance quickly and pulled on the handle to the outhouse then stood impatiently waiting. Whatever the cowboy was doing, it was taking too long. Carlson pounded on the door. "Hey, hurry it up in there, will you?" Monty watched from the shadows. With a curse, Carlson turned away from the outhouse and walked around the side facing some shrubs. Okay, this will work, thought Monty, creeping toward the occupied man.
Click. Wheat felt the press of cold steel against his back. Fighting to keep the smile off his face, he turned, still urinating. The big, armed man facing him jumped back. "Dammit, Carlson! Stop taking a piss and stick your fool hands up."
Wheat smiled now. Taking his time, he slowly buttoned up his trousers as Kyle slipped out of the outhouse where he had been patiently waiting. The door creaked slightly and the big man holding a pistol on Wheat turned at the sound. Wheat swung at him, knocking the pistol out of the man's hand and slamming him back against the wooden building with a thud. The man slid to the ground. "Where's the other one?" snapped Wheat to his partner.
"He's still watchin' the front," Kyle looked down at the fallen man, "You don't want to do that, Mister. I'll have to put a hole in you, if do." The man's hand stopped moving to his boot leg and Kyle reached down and retrieved the large hunting knife concealed there. He handed it to Wheat and hauled the man to his feet.
The fight over, several of the disappointed spectators went on to the next saloon in search of more entertainment. Stafford didn't see Carlson among them. Impatient and worried that something had gone wrong, he appeared in the doorway and looked about the less crowded barroom. Carlson was gone. He must've gone out back just like Northrup had thought he would. Laughing delightedly, Stafford pushed through the crowd and out the back door. He trotted down the stairs and stopped half way to the outhouse. There was no one in sight. Where had they gone? He felt an arm slip about his neck and he started to struggle.
"Hold on, Bub. I'd hate to give you another smile," Wheat held the hunting knife in his right hand out in front of the detective's face while his left arm kept a firm grip. Stafford went still. "Why, Mr. Stafford; it sure is a pleasure to see you again."
"You owe me two hundred dollars," squealed Stafford. Monty appeared out of the shadows with Kyle behind him prodding him along.
"No sir, I don't believe I do. You paid us to find Miss Harcourt and fetch her back to her family. I reckon we've done just like you asked; unless, of course, you're in the mood to argue with a man holdin' a sharp knife to your throat?" Wheat pushed the smarmy man towards his partner. "I didn't think so; seems to me like you two were plannin' on ambushin' me and my partner here."
"We weren't ambushing you; we simply wanted to talk to you," lied Stafford. He had planned to force these two to take him to Heyes. Maybe he could bribe them to.
"So talk." Wheat tucked the knife into his own boot and drew his pistol.
"We aren't interested in you or Mr. Murtry; we want Heyes and Curry," Stafford saw the hint of a smile on Carlson's face, maybe this was going to work. "We'll pay you to turn them over to us. A thousand dollars."
"You want us to give you Heyes and the Kid for a measly grand? They're worth twenty thousand dollars." laughed Wheat.
"All right. Two thousand. One now and one later," pressed Stafford.
"Mister, tell me why I shouldn't just slit your throat here and now?" Wheat slowly pulled the huge knife out again.
"Okay, five thousand. I'll give you five thousand dollars," Stafford reached for his wallet, but stopped as Wheat leveled his pistol at him. Monty watched this exchange silently. Carlson seemed to be going for it, but why would he sell out his meal ticket?
"Ah ah ah, use your left hand and two fingers, and go real slow-like," drawled the outlaw.
Stafford pulled out his wallet and dug the bills out. "See. I have two thousand, right here. Take it, go on take it, it's yours if you lead me to Heyes and Curry. I'll give you the other three after we have them."
"Stafford, don't be a damn fool, you can trust these…oof!" Monty doubled over as Kyle punched him in the stomach.
"Nobody asked your opinion, Mister," growled Kyle. He yanked off his bandana and roughly gagged the bigger man so he couldn't talk sense to his partner.
"Okay, Stafford. You've got a deal. Five grand and I'll give you Heyes and Curry," Wheat snatched the sheaf of bills and stuffed them into an inside jacket pocket. "All right, you gents go first. Me and Kyle here will be keepin' a close eye on you.
Corky had awakened a couple of hours ago, but the effects of the laudanum were lingering. He couldn't think clearly yet and had spent considerable energy fighting the ropes that bound him. Now he began to take an interest in his surroundings. He was tied to a straight-backed wooden chair and appeared to be sitting in a huge open space. It was dark, but he could tell by the echoes of his grunts that the building was big and empty; probably one of the old warehouses. There were several that had been abandoned as town had grown in a different direction. Denver was booming and buildings were springing up everywhere. If he was right, no one would hear him if he called out; he had to get loose. The moonlight cast a soft glow, but it appeared that the room had been swept clean. He started rocking the chair back and forth from its front legs to its back legs, each time allowing the chair to drop heavily to the floor. It was jarring to his aching body, but he hoped that he could loosen the glue that held the chair together. Rhythmically, the chair banged down over and over again.
"You two about done over there?" asked the Kid from the dark side of the warehouse.
Heyes grinned at Allie and kissed her again slowly. "Nope; not done at all."
"Well, too bad. I ain't walking around this place again just so you can smooch up Allie," Kid walked into the light cast by the lantern in the office. "I reckon it's time we get in our places. Allie, you know what to do?"
"Yes, I'll be over here and you'll be over there. If there's trouble we can get them in the crossfire," Allie pulled out her pistol and checked that every chamber had a round.
"It ain't going to be like shooting a tin can. These are going to be real people and you might just have to shoot one of them. Think you can do it?" Kid, too, checked his pistol.
"I can if it means keeping Heyes safe." She holstered her gun and smiled at them. Heyes winked at her.
"Good. All right, let's get ready. Heyes, don't do anything stupid."
"I won't, stop worrying," Heyes reached out to grab Allie and steal one last kiss.
She stroked his face and whispered, "Be careful."
Stafford was slightly alarmed to see that Carlson was leading them towards the warehouse he was holding Corky in. Was this some sort of joke? Had these men found Corky?
"This way," said Carlson, gesturing to a building in the opposite direction from his. The big outlaw gave Stafford a slight shove.
"What is the Devil's Hole gang doing out here?" asked Stafford.
"You don't think we're gonna hide out in plain sight, do you? We're wanted men," Murtry laughed and spit a stream of tobacco out of the side of his mouth. That's exactly what they did every time they came to Denver; went about the place like they owned it. Heyes had told them the best way to not look suspicious was to make sure you were seen and to spend generously. People were blinded by the color of green.
"What's that sound?" Wheat stopped and hushed the other three. He listened carefully. There was a steady thumping sound coming from some distance away. It sounded like machinery. Shrugging, he gestured for Monty and Stafford to lead again. "It's that big building on your left. No, I mean on the right. No, hell, that way."
The man was a cretin. Stafford couldn't wait for this job to be over. He was never meant to hobnob with ruffians like these three. Once he had Heyes and Curry, he would get the girl, get the money, and get out of Denver once and for all.