A Visit Home

By Catherine

"Home, it's where I want to be,
I guess that this must be the place."

Talking Heads, "Home"

It was an early spring day, and green and growing things were just beginning to make a return to the Montana landscape when Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry rode into the town of Blue Sky. These last couple of days, they'd been pushing themselves hard. Heyes was anxious to get there, and Curry figured they'd have plenty of time to rest once they did. They'd ridden halfway through the night, the last night, but they'd underestimated the amount of distance they'd have to cover on this particular day. When they halted their horses in front of a house just on the outskirts of town, it was already the middle of the afternoon.

Heyes jumped off his horse first, tied it up, and covered the three porch steps in one. He knocked on the door, with Curry just behind him.

The door opened, and a slight, plain girl of about fifteen stood in the doorway. She looked surprised. "Oh, it's you! We weren't expecting you yet."

"Afternoon, Caroline. Ella home?"

"No, she's at the office. But Sandy's home, minding Rachel, if you . . . "

"How is Rachel?" he asked.

"Well, she's been awfully fussy these last few weeks. Teething. Sandy just finally got her to sleep."

Heyes looked a little uncertain, as though he were unsure of the proper procedure in such circumstances. "Then I guess I don't want to wake her up. I'll go find Ella." Without a further word except "Catch!" he tossed his saddlebags to his partner, and walked off down the street to the center of town.

Kid Curry caught them, while Caroline looked disapprovingly up from her unimpressive height. "He ought to have come in and seen Rachel first. She's grown a great deal in the last three months and a father ought to show a little more interest in his child."

"Oh, he will," said Curry. "It's just," his tone grew confidential, "I don't think he knows how to act around babies. It makes him nervous."

Caroline studied him. "How come it doesn't make you nervous, then? She's his baby, not yours, but you never seem uncomfortable with her."

The Kid gave a warm smile, one that crinkled the skin at the corner of his blue eyes. "Different folks react different ways. Heyes don't know what to do with babies 'cause he can't use that silver tongue of his to charm anyone who don't understand what he's saying. Besides, right now, I think the main thing he's feelin' is how much he misses his wife." That word still sounded funny, in connection with Heyes, even after almost a year. "Least, he hasn't shut up about it for the past couple of weeks." And then, trying to sound casual, "Sandy's still living here?"

"Judge Clayton is trying to push her divorce through as quickly as he can. The law doesn't make it easy, though. But I guess she'll be living here from now on." Caroline frowned.

Kid Curry wondered if she was feeling a little displaced by the return of the older girl, whose place she had taken as Ella's resident pupil-housekeeper when Sandy had gotten married. He remembered when he was Caroline's age, how the two-year difference between him and Heyes had seemed like an impassable gulf, sometimes. The four years between the two girls must seem even more so. Nineteen-year-old Sandy got treated like an adult, while Caroline did not.

But in a moment, she perked up. "Oh!" she said. "I bet you don't know. Remember how Ella promised to send me to a ladies' college, back East, when I got old enough?"

"I seem to recall hearin' something about that."

"Well, I've decided where I'm going. It's called Mount Holyoke College, and it's in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Doesn't that sound grand?"

It sounded too much like Hadleyburg, to Curry. He recalled the uncomfortably large sums of money he and Heyes had spent there, in their quest to help that miner and his family who'd gotten into trouble helping them. But he just smiled, and said, "It sure does, Caroline. Massachusetts. It almost sounds like another country."

"It does, doesn't it?" Pleased at his approval, she called out cheerfully, "Sandy! We've got a visitor!" It was amazing how a person so short and so thin could make that much noise. She reverted to her normal volume, and said, "She's in the back parlor minding Rachel."

Curry tried not to betray any eagerness as he greeted the lovely young woman who rose to welcome him, as he entered the back parlor. Sandy was what is called by the narrow-minded a "half-breed," her native blood showing itself in her black hair and high cheekbones. But it wasn't only her good looks that made her appealling, at least not in Kid Curry's eyes. She was gentle, sweet-natured, and domestic, but at the same time there was something untamed about her, something that pushed her to go riding off into the mountains on her own whenever she had a moment to spare, to explore and to lose herself in the wildness of nature.

"Hello, Jed," she said in her turn. He couldn't remember exactly when she'd started calling him by his real first name, but he liked it. She'd told him that she couldn't bring herself to call him Kid, but that Mr. Curry sounded too formal, and asked if he would mind telling her his given name. "It's nice to see you back. Caroline and I will get your room all aired out and ready for you."

He smiled at her, his blue eyes warm. "Thanks, Sandy. I'm glad you're still here. I didn't know whether -- "

"This is where I belong," she said simply. "And soon I'll be free legally, as well as in fact." She got a haunted look as she said that, suddenly, and Curry regretted having brought it up. Her husband, Ray Johnson, a local boy whom everyone had every reason to think well of, had turned brutal to her shortly after they were married. Finally, it had reached a point where she couldn't hide it anymore, and her friends had intervened. Even his father had disowned him and publicly taken Sandy's part in the matter, much to the surprise of the community. Ray had fled to Chicago. Sandy's friends spent a great deal of time thinking about him and the things they should have noticed, no one more so than his father.

And that was Kid Curry's problem. Sandy got a scared look in her eyes at unexpected times, now, and she flinched at loud noises and sudden movements. He wasn't sure if she would want anything to do with another man, ever again, much less a former outlaw and well-known gun. After all, who was more associated with violence than a man like him? But who was the one man in the world who wanted more than anything to protect her from whatever threatened her with harm? He would never lay a finger on her in anger, and he'd damn well make anyone who did sorry that he was ever born. It was a good thing for Ray Johnson that he was on such bad terms with his father now that he was unlikely to ever come back to Blue Sky and cross Kid Curry's path. Any man who could do what he did to Sandy . . . .

And yet, he knew that it was that cold, angry fire that showed in his eyes whenever the painful subject was mentioned in his presence that was the thing most likely to keep him and Sandy apart. Sometimes he saw her looking a little afraid of him, too. How could he show her that his anger would never be directed towards her? How could he make her believe it, when it wasn't a subject he could even raise openly? If only she could see how much he cared, he knew she would understand. He'd love and cherish her more than his own life. He just wasn't sure how to approach her, and for Kid Curry, that was something brand new.

He wasn't used to having to be patient where women were concerned. Heyes liked to tease him that innocent young women and saloon girls alike seemed to just be waiting to fall in love with him wherever he went. He didn't think he was quite that successful with women, but on the other hand, he couldn't complain about his luck with the fair sex. The situation with Sandy was like nothing he had ever experienced before. Sometimes the waiting and the uncertainty were just too much for him, and he was on the point of telling her how he felt, and then he'd catch her starting at a sudden movement, and he'd stop himself short. And yet he was finding himself more and more in love with her.

Right now, all he could do was provide her with friendship and hope that she would eventually come to trust him. So what he said was, "Need any help with anything?" and she soon had him in tow, reaching things down for her from his greater height. He even held the baby, whose nap was short-lived, once or twice when Sandy needed both her hands free.

When he took Rachel in his arms, a little awkwardly, it suddenly struck him funny that the little girl he was holding belonged to his partner and to Ella, two of the more unlikely parents he'd ever come across. It seemed like she should be the child of the young woman who tended her so lovingly. Rachel was so young that it was hard to say who she looked like, yet, but she had dark brown eyes like Sandy's, not blue ones like Ella's. The dark eyes came from Heyes, of course, but it was easy to forget that when Sandy was holding her. Maybe someday . . . he stopped himself right there.

Blue Sky, Montana was hardly a metropolis, and the distance from the outskirts of the town to its center wasn't far. Hannibal Heyes soon arrived at the law offices belonging to his wife and to her partner, Jeremy Chadwick. He looked at the sign over the door and smiled to himself to see that they had finally gotten around to repainting it with Ella's new name. But they'd switched the order, so that Jeremy's name now came first, even though he was the junior partner. Ella had explained how they didn't want to scare off the banks and the railroads that were sometimes their clients more than was absolutely necessary, and he'd laughed. As if her first name weren't enough to scare off most prospective clients, anyway. But then, Ella's being a woman had never seemed to really stand in the way of her business. The locals had known her since she was a little girl hanging around her daddy's law office instead of her mama's kitchen, and her other clients ended up hiring her by default, when their opponents had already hired the only other lawyer in town. And once they'd hired her, they tended to keep on hiring her, because she was good at what she did.

But looking up at the freshly painted sign over the doorway, he had to admit that even he found it a little startling, seeing the name "Heyes" posted up over a law firm.

He was about to open the door when a tall figure rushed out, with an armful of files, and nearly knocked him over. "Afternoon, Jeremy," he said, as the younger man apologized.

"Heyes! We weren't expecting you in town for another couple of weeks. I'm sorry -- I'm just preoccupied. We're in the middle of a big trial. Railroad right-of-way stuff. Very boring but it pays the bills. I just came back to fetch some documents. Come along with me -- Ella's doing the oral argument right now, but I know she'll be pleased to see you."

Heyes looked down at his dusty clothes and boots. Ideally, he'd have liked to have a bath after his long ride, and maybe change into his fancy clothes to go to court. But at this point, nothing was going to stop him from reaching his goal.

They entered the courtroom, where he heard the sound of a familiar voice. "Your honor, my client would further like to offer into evidence surveyor's documents and a signed contract which prove that it had made it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt to Mister Leeson that a bridge would be built over the south fork of the Cattaraugus Creek. I'm just waiting for my partner to return with those documents." Heyes looked at the slender feminine form which presented its back to him. She was dressed primly, for the courtroom, and her blonde hair was neatly pinned up, but he smiled as he allowed himself a quick vision of how she would look in the bed that they would share tonight, for the first time in almost three months.

It was a little disappointing, walking in when she was in the middle of something like this. But he knew better than to interrupt a trial just because he happened to want to kiss one of the lawyers. He didn't suppose it was a problem too many men ever had to think about. Well, he'd never expected that he was going to ride into town and see his wife waiting on the porch for him, with the baby nestled in one arm while she waved a handkerchief in her free hand. If anything, marriage had changed Ella even less than it had changed him.

Jeremy walked to the front of the room, while Heyes removed his black Stetson and took a seat in the back row of the courtroom. He saw Jeremy lean over and whisper something to his partner. After a moment, Ella turned around and gave him a quick wave and an eager but rather preoccupied smile. The balding, grey-haired man who was seated at the counsel table with her turned around as well. Her client, he supposed. The man looked like he must be a railroad official. Not only did he have that well-fed, self-satisfied look, but the suit he was wearing proclaimed money loudly and distinctly.

Heyes sat and watched the trial for the next hour or so, because he figured that after riding all this way to see her, he'd rather be where Ella was than not, even if she was otherwise occupied. Anyway, it was always entertaining to watch her when she got into courtroom mode. It was almost like a play, only one where the performers had to keep on their toes and watch out for surprises in the middle. Sometimes it looked like so much fun that he'd even asked her if she thought he'd be any good at it. She'd said that she thought he would be unbeatable in the courtroom with his silver tongue and quick wits, but that he'd be bored to tears by the rest of the work, and that his criminal record would make it difficult, if not impossible, for him to be admitted to the bar anyway. Not that a lot of lawyers aren't bigger crooks than you ever were, she'd added, but they're a little subtler about it, and they usually don't get found out. Then he'd laughed and told her to slow down a minute. "You don't think I really want to be a lawyer and stay cooped up in an office all day, do you?" he'd said. "I just wanted to know if you thought I could do it."

The judge called a brief recess, and Ella and Jeremy and their client had put their heads together to discuss the documents. Opposing counsel, however, took the moment to come back and greet him. Opposing counsel, as usual, took the form of Rick Johnson, a heavyset man headed into later middle age. "Well, well," he said, with a big smile. "Look who it is. You'll have to pardon Ella for not rushing to say hello, but I'm afraid I threw her for a loop with a few of my contentions there. I think they're busy trying to undo the damage." He leaned closer to Heyes and whispered confidentially, "I bet you didn't know she kept that kind of company. The Midwest Railroad. Not very fond of you at the Midwest Railroad, are they? Still, they just bought out one of her regular clients, or I don't expect she'd be here. They usually use big city lawyers."

Heyes gasped for a moment. "The Midwest Railroad?" The very same organization that, until the Governor of Wyoming had officially pardoned him and his partner, just over a year ago, had posted a $10,000 reward on each of them. That reward had gotten them into more difficulties, especially when they'd been trying to go straight, than just about anything else. "Ella is working for the --" he stood up, overwhelmed by a sudden rush of anger. "How could she --?"

"Shhh," Rick whispered. "Keep your voice down. Look, I told you they bought out one of her clients. They were using the same agent, and she didn't know about it until things had progressed a bit too far for her to feel right about backing out. We did talk about it, and we agreed it wouldn't be right."

"Right?" hissed Heyes. "And it's right for my wife to do business for a company that put out the reward that nearly got me and the Kid killed more times than I like to think about? That was a pretty big reward, Rick. Besides me and the Kid, only Jesse James and folks like that have ever been worth that much. Folks'll do an awful lot for $20,000."

Rick's expression was unreadable. Heyes knew that he could certainly empathize, since he'd been wanted by the law himself, in his younger days, in another place and under another name. But what he said was, "I know that, Heyes. I expect you do, too."

"What do you mean, Rick? The Kid and I never killed anybody in all those robberies. But there were an awful lot of folks who took the "Wanted: Dead or Alive" part of that poster pretty seriously. And that was me and my partner who could've ended up dead. We came close more'n once."

"Really, Heyes, Ella was pretty upset once she realized what was happening. She said you'd react this way. I'll tell her to come back and talk to you as soon as she can. I shouldn't have said anything, but you know me . . . I can never miss an opportunity to put one over on Ella." His mischievous look returned. "Look at it this way -- all she's doing is taking their money. You've done that, plenty, haven't you?"

"Not for services rendered," Heyes said. But even as he said it, he thought to himself that Rick was probably right -- it was standard operating procedure where outlaws were concerned, and even if the reward seemed awfully high, it was simply a tribute to his and the Kid's success as bank and train robbers. A thought struck him. "You don't suppose they figured out where her married name comes from, do you?"

Rick thought for a moment. "Probably not. It's not that unusual a name."

"Most folks spell it with an 'a', though."

"You want me to drop a hint? You know me. Always willing to try anything that might throw my esteemed competitor off her balance." Rick winked, but Heyes knew that he was only partly joking. While Ella considered Rick one of her dearest friends, she'd often commented that she was sure he lay awake nights trying to figure out new ways of scoring points off her in the courtroom. Having seen them going at each other in court, Heyes could believe it, although he'd seen them sitting down to a friendly dinner right afterwards, happily recounting just exactly how they'd "gotten" each other. After the first time he and his partner had joined them at one of these dinners, Kid Curry had commented that he'd never seen Heyes so completely at a loss for words. "You try and get a word in edgewise when those two get started, Kid," he'd replied.

There was only once when he'd seen them nearly speechless with each other. That was when Rick had come to ask Ella's forgiveness for all the trouble he'd caused for her and Heyes. This was a year or so back, right after they'd decided to get married. She was still on the mend from her long bout of brain fever. Heyes had been sitting with her, reading the newspaper to her, when Rick came calling. He'd been almost inarticulate, as he'd approached her, only able to say, "I'm sorry." She'd looked at him for a moment, then responded, "I know," and briefly took his outstretched hand. And that was it.

After he'd left, she'd said nothing about it to Heyes, but from that moment on, things had returned to normal. Ella and Rick, whose entire connection consisted of flinging words at each other, had reconciled their differences almost wordlessly.

Heyes looked up, a moment later, and saw that Rick was approaching Ella at her counsel table. He drew her apart. Then she was heading down the aisle of the courtroom in Heyes' direction. She looked anxious as she spoke, her lips tight and her glance darting around. "Wonderful to see you. I wasn't expecting you for--"

"--Several weeks. I know. That's what everyone keeps telling me," he said, as he rose again to greet her. "Nice to see you, too," he said, after a pause, "Although I can't say I'm real fond of the company you choose to keep while I'm away."

She looked down, not meeting his gaze. "I was hoping you'd see some sort of amusement value in it. I've been planning to spend my share of the fee on a special present for you and the Kid." Then she looked up, straight at him, and smiled apologetically. "I had no idea the Midwest had bought out the old Montana Northern until a week ago, less than a week before the trial was scheduled. We were dealing with the same agent that we've always dealt with, and I guess he thought we already knew. And then we couldn't back out, especially since Rick had the other side covered."

He shook his head, and looked at her with a serious expression on his handsome, angular features. His brown eyes were overshadowed by his heavy, frowning brows. "Well, Ella, I have to say I'm real disappointed in you. How could you work for these people after all the trouble they caused for me and the Kid? I wish you'd consider dropping the case."

Ella looked shocked at the suggestion. "I can't just drop a case in the middle. That's . . . that's . . . unethical. And besides," she gave him a look, "you did keep stopping their trains and taking their money. What they did was just what a railroad would do under the circumstances, wasn't it?"

Heyes couldn't hold his serious expression for another moment and broke into a big grin. "Ella, I know you too well to think you'd walk out on anything in the middle." He reached out and touched her hand. "I hope at least you're overcharging them. Guess I better get used to the idea that there's a hired gun in my life, and it ain't the Kid."

She smiled. "You may have reformed, but I haven't. It's part of the job. Listen, we're going to run for another couple of hours, and I don't expect you really want to sit around and watch me give it my best for the good old Midwest. Why don't you go home and see Rachel, relax a little, clean up, whatever you like, and meet me at the office around six?"

"The office?" He raised his dark eyebrows.

"I'm on trial. You know what that means." She reached over, put a hand on his shoulder. "Now, week after next, when we were expecting you, I managed to keep almost a whole week clear. Well . . . three days. Two and a half, anyway, for sure."

He laughed. "Now what was it I used to like about you? You weren't like other women, and I didn't have to worry about you spending all your time sitting around, waiting for me to come home. That was it, right?"

"Used to?"

"I'll see you at six," he said, and caught the key she tossed him.

When he got to the office, Ella was waiting outside. "This wasn't your only key, was it?"

She nodded. "Actually, it was. Jeremy's got the other one, and he took Mr. Morgan over to his hotel. But that's all right. I've kept you waiting around enough today." She took a step towards him and leaned up slightly to kiss him. "I'm sorry. I'm glad you're here. You're not too angry at me, about the Midwest, are you?"

"I'll get over it, I guess." He began to slip his arms around her, and then he recalled that they were standing in the main street in broad, if fading, daylight. She didn't seem to mind, though. He sometimes got the feeling she was showing him off a little, whenever he came to town, now that they were married, and he wasn't a wanted man anymore. There had certainly been enough obstacles earlier on, enough reasons to keep things hidden.

He remembered that he had the key in his hand, and unlocked the office door.

"I have some bad news," she continued. "Jeremy and I are going to have to work really late tonight. Rick surprised us with a lot this afternoon, and we think the answers are in a couple of boxes worth of documents that Morgan just brought us. But it's going to take a lot of work, searching through everything, and we're on again first thing in the morning."

There was a flash of anger in his voice that surprised him. "So I should just go off and have a good time and you'll see me later? While you work all night for your favorite client? Well, fine -- I'm sure I can find something to amuse me at the saloon."

"No," she said softly, putting a hand on his arm. "You're my favorite client, remember? Look, I'm sorry about the way this is turning out. It's just . . . if I drop the whole thing in Jeremy's lap now, and it gets out that you were seen in town around the same time, it'll get around that I'm putting hearth and home before my work. You know there are still a lot of folks out there who assume that now that I'm a married woman it's just a matter of time before I revert to type and become the domestic angel nature always intended me for."

Heyes snorted. "Nature? Not your nature." But he always found it hard to resist when she tried to enlist him on her side like this.

She smiled, hopefully. "I don't want to give them the satisfaction. Besides, I'm the one who really knows this case. Jeremy's got something on next week, over in Gibsonville." The hand on his arm slid slightly, in a caressing gesture. "I'm sorry, Heyes. I've missed you so much. I wish . . . I wish Jeremy wasn't due back here at any minute."

The raw ache of longing and desire in her eyes really got to him. He looked regretfully at the staircase which led to the flat above. The rooms were sparsely furnished now, since Ella had moved most of her things into her new house -- their new house, he reminded himself -- but there were a few things left, including a couch in one room, and, he suspected, a bed in the other. She kept them there so that she could bring Rachel with her to the office, sometimes. Thinking about the little girl who looked up at him with eyes so much like his own made him smile to himself for a moment. He slipped his arms around Ella's waist, and pulled her close. The feel of her against him, as she slid her own arms around his neck, was just what he'd been missing these past months. A rush of warmth ran through him as he began kissing her, passionately, urgently, and she responded in kind. "Guess we don't have much time," he whispered.

"Not much," she replied, breathless. "Just enough to say hello." She had missed him as much as he'd missed her, he could tell, by the intensity of her response to his kisses.

All too soon they heard the front door bang open and then shut, and heard Jeremy Chadwick calling her name. "Ella, you here?" There were more footsteps, and then he was in the room with them.

Heyes kissed her one final time, but gently, because of the third party present. "Guess I'll go see if I can find the Kid. Maybe we'll go back to the saloon and see if we can get into a card game, while you two enjoy yourselves. Although the folks around here don't seem to like to play with us much."

She laughed. "Oh, they like you just fine. It's losing they don't much care for, and they always seem to do that when they play with you. Or so they tell me." She kissed him again, not quite wanting to let go. "I'll be home late, but wait up for me, please?"

He dropped his arms, and stepped back, but he smiled at her. "Yes, ma'am. Anything else I can do for you, ma'am?" He heard her partner snicker, but before she could answer, he was gone.

"I don't know, Kid. I guess in order to get into a decent game of cards around here, we're gonna have to find us some folks who are just passing through. Ella's right -- the locals are a little afraid to play with us, now." Heyes looked around the saloon, but nobody seemed to be willing to do anything more forward than say hello and smile in the direction of the table where he sat with Kid Curry, a couple of beers, and a lonely-looking deck of cards.

Curry smiled at his partner's complaint, but he seemed preoccupied and he didn't answer.

"What you thinkin' about, Kid?"

"What do you think I'm thinkin' about, Heyes?"

"Well, at a wild guess, I'd say it's about five foot four, real pretty, with black hair and a sad story. Sound about right?

Curry nodded, and Heyes could see that he was troubled. "Yeah. I don't know what to do, whether I should tell her how I feel or just keep clear altogether. And it's hard, livin' in the same house as her whenever we stay here."

"Sandy's had a rough time, all right --"

The Kid cut him off. "Don't say her name in here like that -- people might guess what we're talkin' about."

Heyes gave him a look, and then continued. "It seems like you're doin' just the right thing, actin' like a friend, not tellin' her how you feel just yet. Kid, she's bound to be crazy about you. Girls like her always are, everywhere we go. She's just got some hard stuff to get past." He meant innocent girls, nice girls, who constantly responded to the Kid's frank blue eyes, and his polite manner, and the fact that he was probably as close to a knight in shining armor as they were likely to ever meet, even if he was an outlaw and a gunslinger -- former outlaw and gunslinger.

"What do you mean, girls like her? I never met a girl like Sandy, before."

"Shhh. Don't say her name, Kid, remember?" Heyes grinned. "I know you're sunk now. I knew it was all over for me when I kept sayin' how Ella wasn't like anyone else I'd ever met, either."

"Took a little more'n that to bring you to the point of admitting it, as I recall." Like the public discovery of their romance nearly destroying Ella's reputation and her livelihood in her hometown. Like the fact that a baby was coming, whether they got married or not.

"Took a lot more. But you're a little more inclined the domestic way than me, and anyway, I've done it and lived to tell." Heyes shrugged. Ella had been as skittish about marriage as he'd been, and it had worked out pretty well. Of course, it helped that she liked her independence, and didn't mind it when he and the Kid rode off together for months at a time. "The only thing you got to keep in mind is she probably expects a man to settle down with her full time. When I say Ella's not like other women, I mean it, especially that way."

"I know. 'Sides, I'm not good enough for Sandy, anyway."

Heyes rolled his eyes. "You're good enough for anyone, Kid. You really are sunk, aren't you? Next you're gonna be telling me I'm not good enough for Ella."

Kid Curry winked. "'Course you ain't, Heyes. Whatever made you think you were? She's just got bad judgment, that's all."

"Bad?" Heyes' expression went all innocent. "She picked me, didn't she? Not some two-bit gunslinger, like some folks I could mention."

"Watch it, Heyes," his friend said, laughing. "But seriously, do you really think Sandy could ever . . . you know? Care about me?"

"Kid, I can see it now. You with five or six kids of your own, gettin' all fat and sassy on Sandy's good cookin'. Once in a while you'll feel sorry for me and Rachel, sittin' home all by ourselves waitin' for Ella to get back from the office, and you'll invite us over to dinner. Probably keep us from starvin' to death." He grinned. "I got a vested interest in this workin' out."

"Guess you do, Heyes, seein' as you're the one that married a woman who can't cook. I thought you were supposed to be the big genius."

But before his friend could respond, Curry saw Rick Johnson crossing the room towards them. He nudged Heyes -- he wanted to change the topic of conversation, and quickly. Even if Rick had taken Sandy's side against his own son, the Kid wasn't sure he'd take kindly to someone else aspiring to take Ray's place in her life.

Rick's broad, red face was wreathed in smiles. "Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, well, what a surprise to see you here. I thought you'd be home with your lovely wife, Heyes, this being your first night back in town, and all."

"She and Jeremy are workin' late, as you well know. I'm surprised you're not doing the same, Rick. Maybe that's why they'll beat the pants off you in court tomorrow." Heyes flashed a smile of his own.

Rick's smile grew even wider. "They're working late, I'm not. What does that tell you? 'Cause what it should tell you is that I'm a better lawyer than Ella Hart," he never could remember to call her by her married name, "and Jeremy Chadwick put together." He produced a deck of cards of his own, from his breast pocket. "And lucky at law, lucky at cards. I'm about to prove I'm also a better poker player than Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry put together."

Sensing that there was some fun to be had, people began drifting over to the table where they sat. Soon Rick had recruited a couple of sacrificial lambs to fill up the poker table, and the game began in earnest. Heyes was tired, and a little off his game, and Rick kept bluffing hand after hand and winning. Curry played his cards close, winning a little and losing a little. The other men kept doggedly along, and it was pretty clear that they were resigned to walking away losers, as part of the price for being in on a game they expected to be able to tell stories about for years afterwards. But as a battle of Titans it was distinctly disappointing.

When Rick had relieved Heyes of half his earnings from the cattle drive he and the Kid had just completed, the lawyer pulled out his pocketwatch, and said, "Well, what do you know? It's nearly eleven. And I've got to be in court in the morning. Goodnight, gentlemen." He swept in his winnings, and rose to leave.

Heyes shook his head. A dusty, sweaty cattle drive, and now what did he have to show for it? A hundred lousy dollars? And the money from the earlier jobs they'd had on this trip was long gone. The honest life was proving financially unrewarding. It had been one thing when they were on the dodge, but now it was getting a little tedious.

On the one hand, there was his innate restlessness, one of the things that had driven him to the outlaw trail in the first place. Even now, he hadn't found a job he wanted to settle down to, and he'd been giving it some real thought. On the other hand, there was the dullness and difficulty of a lot of the jobs that he and the Kid ended up taking. The two most successful outlaws in the history of the West, they'd been, or so he'd read in some newspaper article he'd found about himself when the amnesty came through. But now they were just a pair of drifters who roamed the West, exploring and visiting old friends -- but who, for money, still ended up taking odd jobs under assumed names, just like when they were on the dodge.

Sometimes it was hard not to compare himself with his wife, with her thriving law practice and that nice big house she'd bought for them to live in. As she pointed out to him, now that they were married, all of her assets really belonged to him, by law. But he wouldn't touch any of them. He didn't even want to wire her for money when they'd been broke down in New Mexico a couple of months ago. That's how they'd ended up drifting on over to Texas and into a cattle drive. It just didn't feel right, a man depending on his wife like that.

And then there was Rachel. She was so little right now, it was hard for him to believe she noticed when he was there and when he was gone, but what about when she got older? He didn't know the first thing about being a father, but he had an uncomfortable idea that showing up for a few weeks or a month three or four times a year probably wasn't what it was all about.

All he knew was that he wanted to be the best at something again, like in his outlaw days, but he didn't know what. Nearly a year after the amnesty, and he still didn't know what he wanted to do when he grew up. "Come on, Kid. Let's call it a night." He wondered if Ella would be home yet.

"You go on, Heyes," said Kid Curry, somewhat surprisingly. "I got a nap this afternoon and I'm not so tired now." The truth was that he didn't want to follow his partner home and watch him disappear into Ella's room, while he made his way to his own lonely bed, with the woman he couldn't stop thinking about sleeping a few rooms away.

Kid Curry sat on his own for awhile, nursing his drink and looking around him. He didn't really want to be there, but he didn't want to go back to the house, either. To go home, he'd been about to say, and stopped himself. If it was home for Heyes, he guessed it was his home, too, but it felt funny to say it.

A pretty girl with auburn hair approached him. "Like some company?"

He hesitated. Ordinarily he would welcome her company, but he felt funny, here in Blue Sky. He had a new appreciation of the awkwardness of the situation Heyes had found himself in back in Colorado when the two of them, drunkenly stumbling about with a pair of gaudily-clad saloon girls in tow, had run by pure chance smack into Ella, who was there on holiday . . . with Sandy, come to think of it. Of course, the situation was a little different. Heyes and Ella had already been lovers by then, even if they still had a lot to learn about each other. It wasn't the same thing at all. And it sure wasn't like Sandy was gonna come walking into the saloon at any moment and see anything.

Maybe it would take his mind off matters. It wasn't like he was courting Sandy yet, or like he'd even made up his mind that he had enough of a chance with her to make it worthwhile. Nor would he touch her like that, until they were . . . well, he was getting way ahead of himself.

She was looking at him expectantly. "Buy a girl a drink?"

"Sure," he said, and the flirtation that ensued led almost mechanically forward, until he found himself accompanying her upstairs, and all that followed.

Afterwards, she lay there, running her hand up and down his bare chest. "I'm glad I got your attention, Mister Curry. There was a girl here awhile back said she'd been with you once. Said it was really something special. She was right."

Curry frowned. "That was the girl that told about her seeing Ella and Heyes together, back when everything turned so nasty for awhile, wasn't it?" What she did contributed to the chaos that had almost had irreparable effects on Ella's life, and had led to the unlikely outcome of Hannibal Heyes becoming a married man. On the other hand, it had all turned out for the best, hadn't it? Heyes seemed to be happy, anyway, and the only harm it seemed to have done to Ella in the long run was that she had to get new business cards printed up. Oh, and that sign, which Heyes had pointed out to him on the way to the saloon. He stood up and began to pull his clothes on.

The girl didn't respond to his question, but instead she asked, "Will you come and see me again?"

"I . . . " he hesitated. "If I can."

"You got a sweetheart? Some respectable girl? You think maybe you won't need to come and visit us girls anymore, after awhile?"

"I don't know. I don't know if she could ever care for me."

"Who is it? Someone around here? I know most of the folks in this town, even if they don't all care to know me."

He hesitated, not wanting to say Sandy's name in the company of a girl whose favors he'd just bought. And yet, that wasn't fair to the girl either. She was probably a good girl, in her way, and he'd never been one to look down on anyone because of what they did to get by. He'd be a pretty big hypocrite if he did. The self-righteous attitude that he'd just slipped into, so alien to his nature, told him he was in real danger where Sandy was concerned.

But she guessed before he could decide whether to say anything or not. "I'm betting it's Sandy Johnson, that was Sandy Nicholls. Am I right? I mean, what with her being so pretty and all, and living in the same house where everyone knows you stay when you come to town. And they say she's going to be divorced, soon."

He just continued buckling on his gunbelt, neither confirming nor denying her guess.

The girl went on. "You know, Sandy and me were at the orphanage together over in Butte. She was so quiet I hardly knew her, but it's funny how things turn out. If Miss Ella had taken a fancy to me, instead of to Sandy, that day she came to take an orphan home with her, it could be her you were here with right now, and me you were imagining to be too good for you." She shrugged. "No point in being bitter about it, though. I don't aim to be a whore all my life. I've got more regulars than any of the other girls here, and a couple of 'em are sweet on me. But you can come and see me anytime, all right? I haven't quite decided which one of 'em to pick, or quite let 'em know that they're gonna make me an offer, yet. I'll be around for awhile."

He smiled at her, and said with perfect sincerity, "If I can, I will. I'd like to." But inside his thoughts were serious. It sure was funny how things turned out. Sandy got a break that turned her into a lady, this girl didn't, and she became a whore. He and Heyes had tried to make their own break, when they were in another school for orphans together, and had ended up on the wrong side of the law.

He tried to picture Sandy in the gaudy finery of a saloon girl, but his imagination failed him. But say he'd met this girl in a quiet, respectable dress, no plumes in her hair. Say she'd met his glance shyly, as a well-bred girl would, not boldly, as she'd learned to do in pursuing her trade. It was funny. He could picture this girl respectable, but he couldn't imagine Sandy as a whore, even as something inside him acknowledged that for a pretty half-breed orphan, it was the likeliest road.

Ella still wasn't home when Heyes got back there, so he went into the back sitting room where her bookcases lined a whole wall. She talked about her bookseller back East sometimes, but Heyes appreciated anew that he must turn a tidy profit on her. She didn't care as much for Mark Twain as he did, and he was always surprised that someone could have that many books and not a single one by James Fenimore Cooper. Still, he never failed to find something in her collection that was worth reading. Which was a good thing, because whenever he came to Blue Sky, he found himself with more time to kill than he liked to think about.

He started to take down Middlemarch, because he knew it was her favorite story and he kept promising himself he'd read it someday, but it was so long, and the heroine was so earnest. Every time he tried to start it, he got bored about halfway through the second page. Then something caught his eye, and he replaced the large tome in its spot of the shelf, with an inner feeling of relief he hardly liked to admit to. It was called No Name and it was by some fellow called Wilkie Collins, who he'd never heard of. He started to look through it. He realized as he scanned the pages that the heroine was a swindler and a confidence trickster. Grinning, he tucked it under his arm and headed up the stairs.

He stripped down to his pants and his long underwear shirt, and lit the lamp by the bed. He propped up some pillows and lay back with the book. The story was an absorbing one. He found himself captivated by the game of wits the heroine was playing with the distant cousin who had unfairly inherited the estate that should have gone to her and her sister. She wasn't really a swindler by trade -- she just wanted to get what was rightfully hers, and she was smart enough to do it, by fair means or otherwise. In fact, she reminded him of Clementine Hale. Although the author described her as tall, with light brown hair, grey eyes, and a determined chin, he kept picturing her as short, with Clem's dark hair and eyes and deceptively innocent expression. He didn't realize how much time had passed, until he looked at the clock and saw that it was well after midnight, closer to one o'clock. Ella still hadn't returned. He wondered if he should go to the office and offer to escort her home, but then he might be stuck there for a couple of hours if she and Jeremy hadn't finished up with those documents yet. So he returned to his book.

He wasn't aware of falling asleep, but he must have, because he woke up to the feeling of gentle kisses. He opened his eyes, slightly, to find that Ella was lying next to him, wearing a pretty white lacy nightdress, and stroking his ruffled dark hair, as she looked at him. When she saw that he was awake, well, a little awake, she leaned over to kiss him again.

"I got home a little while ago, but I had to check in on Rachel. She was awfully hungry. You awake?" she whispered.

"I could be persuaded to be," he said, sleepily. He didn't want to admit to himself that he was a little surprised to wake up and find her there beside him, when he'd fallen asleep thinking of Clem. "Don't you need to get some sleep before your big day tomorrow?"

Ella kissed him again, more insistently, then pulled away and laughed. "You think I sleep at night when I'm in the middle of a trial? Where have you been? I'll get three, maybe four hours, if I'm lucky. Maybe an extra hour or two, if I'm relaxed and happy. You could help with that."

That woke him up. "So that's what you keep me around for? And here all this time I thought it was for my brains, my charm, my sense of humor . . . "

"Don't forget your looks, while you're at it," she added, and started laugh softly. "Oh, and your uninflated sense of self-worth."

"Oh yeah? Well, if you feel that way, maybe I'll show up in court and cheer for Rick tomorrow, instead of you." Now he was chuckling, too. "Not only do I like his client, whoever he is, better'n yours, but I have new respect for him now that he wiped me out at poker tonight."

"Rick was at the saloon, playing poker? Why, that --" her laughter was coming from deeper in her throat, now. "He's such a faker. He knew you'd be there if I was working late, and he knew you'd tell me he was there. He does that to make it look like it all comes easy to him, but he'll be up all night, tonight, you watch."

"You're just jealous because he spent the evening with me and you didn't."

"You conceited . . . " but now she was laughing so hard she couldn't continue.

But now he was fully awake, and he leaned over to kiss her, his hands caressing her body through the thin nightdress.

"Mmm," she whispered, reaching down to unfasten the pants that he'd forgotten he'd fallen asleep wearing. "Now, why was it I was supposed to be jealous of Rick?"

"No reason in particular," he murmured.

And Kid Curry, coming in a few minutes later and passing their bedroom on the way to his own, heard noises that sounded like lovemaking, mingled with whispering and muffled laughter. There was something almost unbearably intimate about the combination, speaking as it did of a connection that was more than purely physical, a passion mixed with friendship. It made him feel even more alone than he had just felt the moment before. He shrugged and continued down the hallway, thinking his own thoughts.

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