The hiss of the gas lantern being lit by a young man standing on a rickety ladder roused Heyes from his stupor. Looking around, he saw that he had wandered into the commercial part of town. Storekeepers were cranking up their awnings and rolling wheeled display carts inside their buildings in anticipation of closing for the evening. Dark storm clouds had rolled over the city from the mountains bringing an early twilight to Denver. He had no idea how long he'd been wandering aimlessly trying to absorb the idea that Allie had gone from his life for good. The fact that he'd lost all awareness of his surroundings was a good sign of how upset he was. He hadn't been expecting the ranch to succeed so quickly. If he were honest, he hadn't expected it to succeed at all. He'd thought Allie would face opposition to her plan to create a safe place for desperate women; instead, she had quickly gathered strong support for her worthy cause among the more genteel Denverites thereby making his contributions unnecessary and, even more so, risky for the ranch. For him to continue to funnel stolen money to the Second Chance would be a selfish act. She didn't need him helping her; she needed him to get out of her life.
Allie's timing had been excellent. Denver was growing by leaps and bounds. The bustling city was the new gateway for the Wild West; entrepreneurs and businesses were flooding into town hoping to cash in on its expansion. No longer perceived as a lawless outpost, Denver was becoming more and more settled attracting wealth from all over the country. Crime was still rampant, though, and the city's investors were demanding more law enforcement; the Rocky Mountain News was being inundated with letters to the editor from the town's outraged populace. Too much more law; and he and the Kid were going to have to find another place to hide in plain sight.
Scott Medgar had wormed his way into a partnership with Allie by promoting the ranch to his rich friends. Was that all he was to her? A partner? Heyes felt an ugly twist of jealousy coiling in his gut at the thought. Why was he so hurt? He was the one who had ridden away from her. It was inevitable; she was moving on without him and he couldn't blame her.
He didn't know what he was going to do. The past few months had given him a purpose that had been sorely lacking in his self-centered life and had made him feel as though he was somehow less amoral. It was hard to have it ripped away unexpectedly and he was surprised by how adrift he felt. The ranch had been his second chance, too, and it was gone. He had foolishly hoped that someday, maybe, he'd be able to be a real part of the life Allie was building. How could he be so foolish as to believe that he could have a good life? Allie wasn't the first woman he'd had to leave behind and he now knew that she wouldn't be the last. Why had he let himself hope? He'd always known that he and the Kid were also victims of their own crimes; while they'd been stealing the West blind, they'd robbed themselves of any chance to have normal futures.
He glanced around to see if he'd attracted any unwanted attention while he'd been so distracted. He'd been lucky. Turning down a side street, he hurried in the direction of Soapy's Capitol Hill mansion. The Kid would be furious with him for disappearing for so long.
"Sit down, you're wearing a hole in my floorboards!" snapped Soapy. Softening his tone, he continued, "Kid, please calm down, Jordan and Charles will find Heyes."
Curry ignored his elderly friend and continued walking from the south-facing window to the east-facing window of the drawing room, stopping only long enough to ascertain that his partner was nowhere in sight. He should have known better than to sit back and let Heyes go off like that; they were infamous and the odds of someone recognizing them, despite their city duds, was too great. They always watched each other's back in town. What had he been thinking? Heyes at his best was hard to predict and the Kid knew he was terribly hurt by the news Soapy had given him. The longer he'd been gone, the more anxious the Kid had become. Hearing the kitchen door open, he rushed down the long hallway calling, "Did you find him?"
"Find who?" asked Heyes, tossing his black bowler onto the counter and scooping up the coffee pot that Jordan kept filled when he visited. He had his back to Curry or he would've have seen the scowl on his partner's face.
The Kid pulled up short in the hallway. He didn't want Heyes to know how worried he'd been. His partner was a grown man and had a perfect right to go off on his own. He'd known Heyes would hate him chasing after him, so he'd agreed to let Jordan and Charles do the searching while he stewed in his own anxiety. Curry willfully relaxed and walked into the room, casually asking, "Where were you?"
Heyes turned and smiled. He knew the Kid had been worrying, but he was grateful for his partner's attempted deception. "I was walking and thinking. Where did you think I was?"
"I don't know. Maybe in a jail cell, or stretched at the end of a short rope," said the Kid sarcastically, as he sank into a chair at the table. Heyes place his coffee mug in front of Curry and turned back to the stove, pouring himself another. He carried it to the table and sat down.
"You've got to do something about all that worrying, Kid. It ain't good for you."
"So, are you okay?"
A cloud passed across dark brown eyes. "I'm fine." Heyes knew he wasn't and wasn't sure he ever would be again, but there wasn't anything the Kid could do to help and telling him how directionless he felt would only alarm Curry. He had to handle this on his own. "Matter of fact, I'm hungry. How about you? I was thinking we could go on up to Blake Street and have some fun."
The Kid studied him thoughtfully and nodded, "Sure, sounds good to me." He was going to have to keep a close eye on his partner. Heyes looked lost and bewildered.
The air in the saloon was so smoky and thick that the Kid felt his throat close up and his eyes water as he walked through the batwing doors. Heyes was standing near the bar, still wearing his good suit, but Curry wore his trail clothes. Once inside the dingy space, he walked past his partner. They were much more recognizable standing together and so made a habit of not appearing to be together in public. The clothes helped. Heyes looked every inch the wealthy city boy and quickly attracted the eye of a slick-looking man seated at one of the poker tables. Knowing the man was sizing him up, Heyes adopted a wide-eyed innocent look as he wandered over to the table. The man removed an expensive cigar from his mouth and gestured for Heyes to sit down.
From the other end of the bar, Curry watched his partner slip into a chair at the high-stakes table. He lifted his beer off the bar and leaned back against the rail watching Heyes settling in. This was good. Poker always lifted Heyes's spirit and could keep him occupied for hours. Eying the petite brunette barmaid in front of him, the Kid turned his thoughts to his own needs. He'd keep an eye on the game a little longer and, if all went well, he'd be able to have a little time to lift his own spirit.
The Kid was coming down the stairs, tucking in his shirt, when he heard a roar of approval rise from the crowd gathered around the high-stakes poker table. He could see the back of Heyes's head from here and the angry expression of the man next to him. He sighed. Heyes was at it again. Reaching down, he slipped the safety off his gun and took the rest of the stairs two at a time. The saloon was crowded and he roughly pushed his way through the densely-packed bodies, elbowing ribs and stepping on feet as needed.
"Flush, aces high, gentlemen. Looks like I win again," said Heyes with a disingenuous laugh. He leaned forward to rake the chips from the center of the table. A well-manicured hand shot out and gripped his forearm. Heyes kept a friendly demeanor as he looked at the professional gambler on his left. The man had invited him into the game expecting to fleece him and Heyes felt no remorse at cleaning him out. He'd been betting heavily; the money he'd set aside for the ranch was burning a hole in his pocket, and the stakes had risen dramatically. A small fortune sat on the table.
"Where did you learn how to play poker like that?" growled the gambler.
"From my dear old aunt; why do you ask?" Heyes smiled guilelessly.
"Your aunt must've been a crook," snapped the angry man.
Heyes grinned wickedly, sitting back and reaching out to pick up his beer glass with his right hand. He idly twirled it on its bottom edge while maintaining his smile. "You know, I would take exception to that, except you're right; she was a crook…and a helluva poker player." The crowd laughed heartily at Heyes's response; all of them grinning except for the Kid now standing across from the smiling, dark-haired winner. The laughter died away quickly and the other men at the table stood up, backing slowly away. Heyes was still smiling at the gambler. His apparent amusement was only further enraging his opponent.
Just beyond Heyes, the Kid saw another two men watching the exchange with more than casual interest. The gambler had a couple of gunnies backing his play. Curry waited to see which way Heyes was going to take this, never losing sight of the two men behind his partner.
"You cheated!" snarled the gambler, rising to his feet.
Heyes rose as well, slowly; his right hand still playing with the glass. "No. I don't cheat. I'm just a better poker player than you."
"You better have something to back up that smart mouth of yours," the man's hand clenched into a fist. He glanced up for a second to make sure his two men were in place. Heyes saw the gambler's eyes shift away and he snatched up his beer glass drawing the man's attention back to his right hand. The man, thinking that Heyes would attack using the glass, swung with his own right fist not expecting Heyes to throw a solid punch with his left hand; connecting with the gambler's exposed jaw and snapping bone. The man went down like a sack of potatoes as Heyes followed the swing of his arm and ducked low to the table. He saw the Kid draw, heard the loud report of the gun, and felt the bullet whistle past his ear.
"Drop it," said Curry, warningly to the second man. The stunned gunman let his pistol fall from his fingers and slowly raised his hands. At his feet, his partner writhed in pain clutching his gunhand. "Who are you, mister?" he whispered.
The Kid ignored the man as Heyes stood up. "You okay?" He looked his partner over carefully, relieved not to see any bullet holes in him.
"Can't you stay out of trouble for one minute?"
Heyes smiled, "Man insulted my aunt. What was I to do?"
Curry raised his eyebrows and looked at the man with the raised hands, "That so? Seems to me you all got what you deserved then. C'mon, partner, let's go." The Kid started for the door, keeping his gun trained on the two men.
Heyes took off his bowler and quickly cleaned the table of money and chips. He turned to the gunman and tucked two twenty dollar bills in the man's pocket. "I'd suggest that you and your friends here use this money to get some train tickets out of town. It wouldn't be wise to run into my friend again, if you get my meaning." He patted the man's shirt pocket and left him standing by the poker table, his hands still in the air and his two friends at his feet.
Heyes came out of the batwing doors laughing delightedly until he saw the frown on the Kid's face. He sobered up immediately, "What? What'd I do?"
"Couldn't you have been a little more careful, Heyes? Did you have to clean that fella out?" The two partners walked up the sidewalk side by side, careful to keep an eye on the street behind them.
"He asked for it, Kid. The man spent the whole evening pushing me."
"So you figured breaking his bank was going to back him off."
"No, but I figured it'd cheer me up some." Heyes grinned at the Kid, holding up the hat filled with his winnings.
"Well now, I hate to admit it, but that cheers me up, too," said Curry with a slow smile.
The month passed quickly. Not wanting to impose any more on Soapy, Heyes and the Kid used some of the poker winnings to rent a suite of rooms at a hotel in the Highlands overlooking the South Platte River. It was in a quiet area and helped to ensure that they would not run into any familiar faces during the day. The nights were another story. They cut a wide swath through Denver's red light district on Holiday Street. Lined with bordellos, gambling halls, and seedy saloons, the district was a mecca for every outlaw in the West. Heyes and the Kid paid heavily to buy the protection of the houses they frequented. The ability to do so was part of what made Denver such a draw for those living on the other side of the law. By the end of the month, the two partners had run through a large part of their money and were ready to return to the Hole.
The Kid rolled over onto his back, the sunlight streaming in through the crack in the drapes and slicing across his eyes. His brain pounded against the confinement of his skull and he groaned loudly. His mouth was dry and foul tasting. He heard the suite's door open and reached for his pistol draped on the back of the chair next to his bed. The door closed again. Seconds later, Heyes peeked around the edge of the door jamb, unfazed by the gun barrel pointed at his head. "Coffee's here; come and get it."
"Bring me a cup, will you?"
"Can't do that, Kid."
"'Cause your hand's shaking so hard you'd spill it all over yourself."
The Kid looked down. Heyes was right. He had a tremor in his right hand like a ninety-year old man. He holstered his gun and pulled back the covers. Moaning, he sat up on the side of the bed and held his head in his hands.
"You better get a move on or we're going to be late for breakfast," said Heyes, disappearing from the doorway.
Curry remembered. They were supposed to meet Soapy and Corky…no, Charles, for breakfast before they left town. He stood up slowly and crept into the sitting room, plopping down on the overstuffed sofa.
Heyes held out a delicate china cup and saucer. The aroma of hot coffee percolated through the Kid's brain cells and he reached out carefully to take it. "Drink up. I let you sleep in. We're meeting them in forty minutes and it'll take us ten to get there."
The Kid groaned again, tossed his perky friend an ugly look, and emptied his cup.
Heyes put down his knife and fork, lifting his napkin to his lips. "So, what do you have for me, Charles?"
Charles beamed, pleased with the news he was about to impart. He was so excited by his elevation from common burglar to trusted informant. Soapy sat back and watched his new protégé with an indulgent look. He still missed having the younger Heyes and Curry underfoot and had been sorely disappointed when they had gone off on their own leaving the older man and his scams behind. He considered it his own failure that they'd chosen common outlawing over the beauty of the confidence game. Heyes had been a brilliant grifter and so had the Kid, but they had been too wild and too headstrong for their own good. He had tried to drive home the point that a great confidence man never let his marks know they were victims, but his boys had craved notoriety and chafed at the discretion required to pull a perfect con. They had been such angry children; ready to strike back at a world that had treated them so poorly. And they had, but at what cost?
Charles cleared his throat. "Well, sirs, it seems that the Union Pacific Coal Department is planning to expand its operations in anticipation of the rumors flying about that the Union Pacific is acquiring the Kansas Pacific and the Denver Pacific railroads. They supply the coal for the Union Pacific, you see." Heyes had sharpened his gaze on the young man as he spoke and Charles nervously tugged at his shirt collar under the intense stare. "To this end, they have recently purchased some land near Rock Springs, Wyoming, in a small, unincorporated mining area called Columbine."
"I don't deal in rumors, Charles, give me the specifics," said Heyes, sternly.
Charles glanced at Soapy, who smiled reassuringly. "Yes, sir, I can tell you for a fact that the Union Pacific is sending a shipment of fifty thousand dollars west via their Laramie-Rock Springs line on May 11th to Columbine to begin the construction of the new mine."
Heyes sat back and regarded the younger man with a pleased smile. "Where did you get this information?"
"One of the ladies I subsidize at Mattie Silk's has an ongoing relationship with a mid-level manager at the Union Pacific offices, sir. He bragged about the deal he was brokering for the land." Charles relaxed as Heyes's smile broadened. He looked over at Kid Curry who was equally interested.
"Ain't that kinda risky? If Mattie knew you were working her girls, she'd have your hide," said the Kid.
"That's why I cut Mattie in on my share of the profits. I assure you she's delighted with the arrangement." Charles was smiling now.
"I'm impressed. You're doing a great job, Charles," said Heyes, nodding his approval.
"Thank you, sir. I was hoping that now might be a good time to discuss a possible raise in my salary."
Heyes cut a glance at Soapy who was paying close attention to a painting on the wall. His former mentor was doing a great job, too, teaching this young man to negotiate; but he was no slouch in that department. "I am sure I will be in a much more generous mood after we acquire the fifty thousand, don't you agree?" Charles nodded reluctantly. "Gentlemen, it's always a pleasure doing business with you. I'll be in touch soon." Heyes stood up and shook Soapy's hand and then Charles. He pulled out his billfold and tucked a twenty dollar bill under the salt shaker.
"Soapy, Charles, thanks for everything," said the Kid, shaking hands as well. He picked up his brown hat and followed Heyes out the door.
The two partners stood waiting on the train station platform as the northbound train sat idling on the tracks.
"Columbine, huh? Never heard of it. Have you?" said the Kid.
Heyes grinned, "No, but I kind of like the sound of it."