The Devil’s Daughter

By Ann Keating

Hope is gone and
she confessed that
when you lay your dream to rest
you can get what’s second best
but it’s hard to get enough.

From Eye of the Hurricane by David Wilcox

Chapter One

Heyes stared upward at the high hot sun. The glare cut into his eyes, and as he turned his head sideways drops of sweat fell from his face onto the rough sacking. He stared fixedly at the rough plank wall of the wagon, but nothing distracted him from the pain. He lay in the bed of the wagon on his back; his tied arms pinned beneath him. Ropes encircled his ankles and knees and a loop of rope tightened slightly around his throat as he tried to shift his weight off his arms. The end of the neck rope had been secured to the wagon’s backboard and the slipknot around his neck served its function to restrain any movement. Heyes knew he was fast approaching the point were this would not be enough to prevent him from trying to turn his body and the knowledge that he would surely strangle himself in the attempt caused his stomach to twist. But the pain in his arms was insistent. He had hoped that numbness would come, but it hadn’t, and as the pain increased, that hope began to fade.

The old man had not been satisfied that the rope tied around his captive’s wrists would be enough to secure his possession of the young outlaw, and he had added a coil of rope just above his elbows. Heyes had let out an involuntary groan as the old man had steadied himself with a foot planted between Heyes’ shoulder blades and pulled the rope taut, almost bringing Heyes’ elbows together behind his back. Heyes estimated that it might have been as much as half a day since the man had hoisted his trussed body into the back of the wagon and secured him by his neck, but time was difficult to judge when every moment brought fresh agony. At first, he had noticed the tightness of the brittle ropes around his legs, the discomfort of lying on a lumpy bed of old feed bags and the heat of the unshaded sun. But soon those things faded and his entire being became the pain that spread from his elbows, over his shoulders, around his arms and across his chest. It became increasing difficult for his body to make those involuntary muscle movements that were required to take a good breath. The first tendrils of panic, the fear of being unable to draw air through the rough gag, down his throat past the tightening rope and into his constricted chest, forced a moan past his lips.

The unconcerned backward gaze the old man shot his from his seat along the buckboard made Heyes curse inwardly. He was determined not to let the man know how much pain he was in, how desperate he had become. He feared for his hands, which felt cold and distant, and he feared for his life, which depended on the ever-lessening amount of air getting to his lungs. But he mostly feared that he would be finally unable to stop himself and that he would beg, with no hope of success, for relief. Bile rose in Heyes’ throat at the thought of what was fast becoming his future. Broken, pleading with this hated man, disgraced utterly, and completely unable to help himself or his partner.

Heyes wondered what had become of the Kid. He could not shake his last memory of the sharp gunfire from the tree line, the bloody chest wound that had erupted from his horse and caused the animal to plunge to the ground. Upon waking, the only evidence he had of what happened was the dull pounding in his head, the presence of the old man and, most ominously, the absence of the Kid. By the time he had come back to his senses, he was already tied hand and foot. His careful, cajoling inquiries to the old man, delivered in the wry style he had found most successful in the past, had won him only a vicious kick in the ribs and the rough gag. His one remaining strength, the power of his persuasive voice, had been effectively silenced and he was left alone with his questions.

Heyes knew that his partner would not have left him to his fate. The Kid would never have ridden off on him, even under fire. That was small comfort to Heyes, who knew that the Kid would have been more likely to die in his defense. Involuntarily, Heyes’ quick mind had called unbidden the image of the Kid’s corpse sharing the back of the wagon with him. Cold relief had raced through his veins when he realized he was the old man’s sole prisoner. But none of that answered the question, where was the Kid?

During the first hours Heyes had bitten through the pain, expecting any moment that the Kid would make his move. His ears strained for the sound of pursuing hooves, warning shots, and the Kid’s gruff commands to the old man, but nothing came. Now, in the depths of pain, he felt despair. The Kid would not let him suffer like this. He was not coming; he could not come. Another moan forced its way past his lips and he felt the hot sting of tears mix with the salty sweat in his eyes.

The old man pulled the reins and halted the horse. He turned in his seat and stared down at his captive. The outlaw lay twisted in ropes and covered with sweat, the fine lines of his face pulled taught with pain, his brown eyes glaring. The old man moved carefully across the buckboard to check the ropes, his only concern that sweat may have given the outlaw room to slide free. He noticed that the neck rope had cut into the man’s throat. He hooked a gnarled finger under the knot and pulled, but the rope was stretched tight and he only succeeded in cutting off the man’s air. As Heyes’ face began to purple, the old man moved behind his head, hooked his hands beneath Heyes’ arms and pulled him forward a few inches to slacken the neck rope. Any relief that Heyes felt at having his breath restored was immediately buried by the frantic spasms that coursed through his abused muscles. He curled him body inward, trying to will a stop to the jagged pains that shot through his arms and chest. His bound legs kicked out helplessly at the wooden planks of the wagon. He heard a pained, hopeless wailing and was broken to realize he was the source of the desperate cries, but powerless to stop.

“Hush up,” the old man ordered, the first words Heyes had heard him utter. “It won’t do you no good complainin’. That reward is dead or alive and I’m beginning to wish that damn horse had thrown you harder, broke your neck and saved me the fuss.”

Heyes tried to turn away from the face of the old man, but he leaned in closer and spoke again, “I’ve never shot a helpless man, but if you don’t stop that noise, you’ll be the first.”

The sounds of the isolated struggle between the two men had masked the approach of a third participant in the drama. Her presence was announced definitively by the clear and unmistakable sound of a cartridge being racked into the breach of a rifle. The old man looked up directly into the yawning barrel of the long weapon. Slowly, his eyes rose along the gun, over the slender arms and onto the hard angry face of its owner.

“Girl,” the old man said carefully, “Don’t be pointin’ that thing at me.”

“Get up very slowly,” came the composed reply in voice that brooked no protest, “and slide off the end of the wagon. Do it now, or I’ll drill you a third eye.”

The old man moved as instructed, but his voice edged upward in annoyance, “You don’t know what you’re dealin’ with here.” 

“Looks obvious to me.” She expertly tapped the sides of her horse with her heels, urging him back so she could continue to cover the old man as he eased him self to the ground. She looked down at him from atop the gray horse, “Looks, and sounds, like you’re about to kill this man.”

The old man stamped a foot in frustration, “Wouldn’t make no difference if I did. Reward’s the same either way. I’m bringin’ in a dangerous outlaw. The law’s on my side and this ain’t none of your damn business.”

A smile flicked briefly across the woman’s pale face, but failed to reach her blue eyes. “It is my business, because you’re on my land now. And I’m the only law recognized around here.”

“All right then, didn’t mean no harm in trespassing, but it takes a day’s ride off the road to Silver Branch,” the old man sighed, “I’ll move back out across the main road and leave you be.”

“That’s not going to happen.” She shifted her weight, threw a denim-clad leg over the pommel of her saddle and slid expertly from the horse. The rifle did not waver. “Take off that gun belt, slow, and drop it to the ground.”

The old man complied, signaling his anger by flinging the belt heavily to the ground. The woman jerked the rifle barrel and said, “You move over next to that poplar tree and stand real still.”

Keeping an eye on the old man, who was now about twenty feet from his dropped gun, the woman lowered the rifle and slid backwards onto the wagon bed. She balanced the rifle in easy reach across her knees and looked into the face of the bound man.

Heyes had stilled, forcing himself to listen carefully to the exchange. He had swallowed his disappointment that the newcomer was not Kid Curry and begun, almost instinctively, to seek an advantage. The woman who looked down at him could have been any age from 25 to 35. Her pale face with its even features gave few clues to her age. The hair that hung down her back in a messy ponytail was dark and glossy. Heyes thought he could detect compassion in her clear blue eyes. He slowly rubbed his cheek against his shoulder, trying to indicate that he wanted her to remove the gag. He knew he would have the advantage over the old man if only he could talk to this woman – make her see things his way.

The woman saw a handsome man in sorry shape. His brown eyes were bloodshot, his sharp featured, square jawed face streaked with sweat and grime. The pain in that face was clear and it sparked her anger anew. Without touching the man, she moved back off the wagon and raised her rifle to shoulder level. “Talk fast, old man,” she growled, “My decision’s getting easier every second.”

“That man is Hannibal Heyes,” the old man said, his anger not abated, “He is my prisoner and worth a lot of money. You interfere with me, and I’ll have you up for stealing that reward away from me.”

Heyes’ heart shrank a little at the woman’s reply, “Reward? How much reward?”

The old man snorted, “Never mind how much. I caught him and that money’s mine. I’m no mind to share it. I got my rights.”

“No call to be unreasonable. Maybe we could work something out. Cut a fair deal.”

“I ain’t dealing with you, girl.”

“Fine,” she said evenly, “Then I’ll deal with him. You stay put there.”

The woman slid back onto the wagon, the rifle kept in easy reach. She knelt next to Heyes and slid a sharp bladed knife from her boot and addressed Heyes. “I got my hands full here. So, I don’t want you to move at all, all right?” Heyes nodded and she slid the blade between his cheek and the cloth of the gag. It came away with a ripping sound. Heyes tried to wet his lips and clear his throat. He managed to choke out a short “thank you,” before he was seized by a violent cough from his dry throat. The movement caused the spasms to recur and this time his cries of pain were unmuffled.

“That tears it,” the woman said, “Doesn’t matter to me who the hell you are, no one’s trussed like a hog and tortured on my land.”      

The old man, his fury moving him past sense, stalked towards the wagon. The woman turned on her knee and lifted the rifle to the spot where she had made him shed his gun belt, but that was not where he was heading. He moved to the side of the wagon, surprising fast for his age, and slipped a derringer from inside his jacket and aimed its barrel at the woman’s head. She woman swung the rifle and fired from the hip, over the Heyes’ prone body. As the echo of the rifle blast faded, the woman sat back in the wagon and laid the rifle again across her knees. Heyes watched her face carefully and was amazed when she broke into a wide grin. “Damn near moved too late,” she gasped, “That was bit close.” She shook her head, “Out of practice, I guess.” She slid to the back of the wagon and propped the rifle against the wooden siding. Then she crawled forward and peered onto the driver’s bench. She lifted a gun belt and turned to Heyes, “This yours?” she asked. Heyes nodded, unusually at a loss for words. He watched as she stood carefully and wrapped the gun belt around her waist, slinging it low on her hips and fastening the tie around her thigh. “That’s more like it,” she said and knelt again beside Heyes. “You don’t mind, do you?” she smiled at him slyly with a mouth full of bright white teeth.

“No, ma’am,” Heyes replied, “you go right ahead.” His voice was dry and rough but his tone respectful.

The woman frowned as she turned her attention back to his bonds. “I’m going to start cutting you loose, and it’s going to hurt, but you’ll be better off if you try and hold still.” She lifted her knife again.

“The old man?” Heyes asked, glancing past her shoulder.

“Oh,” the woman replied easily, “He’s dead.” She looked Heyes steadily in the eyes. “I’m not a big believer in fancy shooting just to wound. Best you keep that in mind.”

“Yes ma’am,” the outlaw said softly and she slid the knife along his neck to the rope.     

Chapter Two

It was a slow process to cut Heyes loose and move him to the back of the wagon. The woman muttered angrily under her breath as she uncovered the angry red wheals from where the rope had cut into the skin of his neck and wrists. His neck, hands, knees and feet were loose and she had him sitting on the back of the wagon when she stopped and looked him in the eyes. “When I cut these ropes,” she gestured with the knife at the ropes that circled his chest, the same ropes that held his elbows stretched behind his back, “that’s going to be the worst.” Heyes, who had struggled to contain groans as his bonds were cut, nodded silently. The woman stood on the ground at the back of the wagon, her belt level with his knees as he sat with his feet dangling. She lifted the knife, pushed it against his chest and pulled out until the ropes gave way. Heyes’ arms fell unbidden to his sides and the spasms struck him again. He arms curled instinctively across his chest as the fire raged in his muscles and he felt himself fall forward unto the woman, deep sobs tearing from his chest. She moved her free hand around his head and held him against her shoulder, stroking his damp dark hair and making soft noises, the kind you’d use to quiet a hurt animal.

After a time, Heyes pulled himself upright. He carefully lifted a protesting hand to his face and wiped at his eyes. “Thank you,” he said hoarsely. Heyes pulled his arms around himself in a tight hug, as though to hold his screaming chest together. He looked up into the woman’s face and was surprised to see tears in the corners of her eyes. She caught his gaze and jerked her eyes away. She coughed, composed herself, and looked back at him. She touched his hand gently with her own. “My name is Bridget Malley,” she said, “and it’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Heyes.”

“I’m not…” he began automatically, but she held up a hand.

“Yes you are,” she said firmly, “but that doesn’t matter for now. We have to get you off this road and get those wounds tended to.” She walked over to her horse, munching grass unconcerned at the roadside, and led him back to the wagon. They easily sidestepped the corpse of the old man that lay sprawled in the dirt. Bridget didn’t even look down at the man she had killed. She loosened a canteen from her saddle, opened it and handed it to Heyes. “When you can ride,” she said, “You can take Artemis. He’s a gentle saddle and he knows where we’re going, so you won’t need to guide him.”

Heyes drank slowly from the canteen, mindful not to give in to the urge to drain it dry. He did not want to think how painful a case of the dry heaves would be in his condition if he wasn’t very careful. As Bridget moved forward to unhook the old man’s horse from the wagon, Heyes looked down at his body in the dirt. Half the old man’s head was blown away. Heyes was surprised that he did not feel more, looking at the mangled corpse of the man who might have killed Kid Curry.

Chapter Three

Moving very slowly and pausing often in deference to Heyes’ condition, they made it back to the Malley ranch just as dusk was settling. No sooner had they passed though the wooden gate than a tall thin man ran from the large stables and intercepted their path. “Bridget,” he panted, “Where the hell have you been?” Without waiting for an answer, he moved around to inspect Heyes. “And who the hell is this? He looks awful. And why is he riding Artemis? And where the hell did you get that sack of bones?” He jabbed a large thin finger at the old man’s horse, which responded with a credible attempt at a bite. “Dammit,” he exploded, “Get off that insane animal.”

“George,” Bridget said calmly, “There is a dead body on the road at the foot of the hills near the bend of Tapply Creek. I want you to get a couple of the boys out there now and bury it off the road.” She held up an imperious hand before the man could interrupt, “No time for questions. I’ll explain it later.” She turned the horse towards the main house and called back, “And there’s a buckboard. Push it into the ravine. And send Patrick up to the house for the horses.”

The man nodded reluctantly, but did as he had been instructed. He turned away toward the barn, calling “Luke, Max, get saddled up.” As Heyes marveled at this woman’s ability to silence the men around her, she urged her horse towards the ranch’s main house. As they approached it, Heyes was amazed at the size of the structure, generous by any standards, with tall pillars in front and a set back second story with gabled windows. Bridget hopped easily from the back of the horse and did not watch as Heyes eased himself painfully to the ground. He was silently grateful that she made no move to offer help. She lifted Heyes’ saddlebags, recovered from the buckboard, to her shoulder and moved up the stairs towards the front door and called, “Follow me.” Heyes realized he must be starting to recover as he noticed for the first time how well Bridget filled the men’s’ jeans she wore. He had seen women wear pants before, especially women who rode often, but Bridget was different, somehow dangerous in the casually assured way she moved her tall, strong body. Heyes could hardly believe he’d seen her kill a man just hours before, but he knew he shouldn't let that thought get too far from his mind. He followed her into the house.

A large, bustling woman with white hair and a sour expression stood in the high ceilinged foyer. “Bridget, what on earth…” she began in an obviously Irish accent. Bridget leaned down and kissed her on the check. “Maura, everything’s fine, but we’re going to need clean towels and bandages. And we need to get one of the guest rooms ready.”

Maura grabbed Bridget’s hand, “You’re hurt?” she asked anxiously.

“No, Maura, but my friend is.”

Maura eyed Heyes suspiciously where he stood at the door, his arms wrapped protectively around his chest. He weakly tried his best winning grin on her with no success. Maura scowled at him. “The green room’s made up. He can stay in there.”

“I’m putting him in the blue room,” Bridget said brightly. “We’ll meet Sally up there. Ask her to prepare a hot bath.” She smiled at Heyes and led him up the long winding stairs to the second floor. Heyes looked back to see Maura standing by the still open front door, a sour expression on her face. “Bridget, where did you get that gun?” she called after them.

Bridget did not answer and Heyes followed her down a long carpeted hallway and through a set of large oak doors into the brightest, largest bedroom he had ever seen. The furnishings were opulent and, Heyes thought, expensive. Bridget dropped his saddlebags on the bed, opened them and began to empty the contents.

“Is that really necessary?” Heyes asked as Bridget shook out a pair of his longjohns.

“Yes,” she replied, “It is. You’ll remember that I almost got us both killed when I didn’t find the derringer that old man had hidden. I guess I just need to be more cautious.” She looked up at him as she emptied the last of his clothes unto the bed. “Well, you seem harmless enough for now.” She grinned, picked up his shaving kit and headed for a connecting door, “Right this way, Mr. Heyes.”

He caught up with her and grabbed her elbow. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but you really can’t be calling me that.”

“Well, Hannibal seems awfully familiar. What should I call you?”

He met her gaze and held it for a long moment. “My name is Joshua Smith,” he said gravely, “And it’s very important that you remember that.” He still held her elbow as a pain not related to his injuries passed over his face. “I can’t stay. I have to find the friend that was with me this morning when we got shot at. I don’t know what happened to him and I have to find out.”

Bridget gently pulled her elbow away from his hand and looked thoughtful for a moment. “I’ll make a deal with you,” she said. “You tell me what happened and I’ll send some of my men out looking for your friend.” When she saw the hesitation in his eyes, she continued, “It’s almost night now, you’re not familiar with the area, and you’re in no condition to travel. My men know everyone and everything that happens for five counties around. If your friend is out there, they can find him.”

Heyes nodded reluctantly. “We had just left Two Pines and were headed north on the river road about five miles outside town. There was firing from the tree line and my horse was hit. I got thrown and that’s the last I remember. I don’t know what happened to Thaddeus.”

“Was your horse hit badly?” Bridget asked, frowning.

Heyes thought of the gout of blood from the gelding’s chest, the way his forelegs had folded instantly. “Dead, I imagine. Hit in the chest.”

“A dead horse should be a pretty good marker of the spot. The river road gets a lot of travel and I suppose it’s the talk of Two Pines by now. I’ll send Charlie, he’s my foreman and he’ll get us a full report.” She looked up at him slyly, “And your friend’s name is?”

“Thaddeus Jones.”

“Smith and Jones,” Bridget mused, “Very clever. I don’t suppose your Mr. Jones bears any resemblance to the description on the wanted poster for Hannibal Heyes’ partner Kid Curry?”    

When Heyes did not respond, she lay a hand gently on his arm. “We’ll find him, Joshua, I promise.”

Chapter Four

Heyes eased himself carefully into the steaming tub of scented water. He hated to admit it, but he wasn’t in any shape to hunt for the Kid. He could barely raise his arms and every movement threatened to start his torn muscles twitching painfully. He closed his eyes and let his head rest gently against the curved side of the tub. As he moved his neck back and forth, he could feel the egg sized lump along the back of his head. Gingerly flexing his body, he mentally tallied his injuries. Cracked head and bruised shoulder and side from the fall off the horse. Torn muscles in his arms and chest, rope burns on his neck, elbows, chest and knees, deep rope cuts around his wrists. He slowly lifted his right arm out of the water and opened and closed his hand. A stippling of fine pinprick hemorrhages through the skin, but apparently no permanent damage. Lucky, he supposed, considering the other possible outcomes. He held his breath and sank under the fragrant bubbly water.

When he emerged a moment later and wiped the water from his eyes, he was surprised to see Bridget standing at the foot of the tub.

“Bridget!” He exclaimed, grabbing a towel from the stand next to the tub and pulling it hastily across the tub in the area of his midsection.

“You realize that’s the first time you’ve called me by name?” she smiled and handed Heyes a half-full brandy snifter. “I thought you could use this.”

“Thank you,” Heyes said, accepting the glass while trying to keep the towel in place. “And now…” he began.

“Now,” Bridget interrupted, pulling a chair over next to the foot of the tub and settling in comfortably with her own brandy glass, “We can have a little privacy and you can explain to me what Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry are doing in my part of the world.” She took a long sip of the brandy and continued, “I have an interest here. I need to know which bank I should be removing my money from. Or do I need to cancel shipments on any particular train route?”

“Bridget,” Heyes said, trying to put authority into his voice, although finding it difficult while being naked in the presence of a strange woman. A very strange woman, he thought. “I’m not going to discuss this with you. Believe me, the less you know about this the better it is for you. All I can tell you is that you don’t need to worry. Once I find the K… I mean, my friend, we’ll be leaving.”

He was interrupted when the door swung open a startled teenage girl appeared, dressed in a maid’s uniform and carrying a large armload of towels. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she stammered, “Ma’am, I heard your voice and I never thought…” She seemed to run out things to say and stood mutely in the doorway, her eyes darting furtively towards Heyes and back gain and her mouth hanging slightly open.

“Sally,” Bridget said, nonplussed, “This is Mr. Smith, an old friend of the family here to recuperate for awhile. He’s to be given the courtesy of the house.”

“Pleased to meet you, sir,” Sally said uncertainly, and dropped a sort of half-curtsy.

“Pleased to meet you too, Sally,” Heyes said gamely, “But you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t get up.”

The girl blushed furiously, dropped the towels on the counter and fled.

“Where were we?” Bridget asked, grinning into her brandy.

“You were just leaving,”

“No,” Bridget said, tapping her head with an index finger, “I remember, you were just about to tell me...”

The door flung open suddenly and Maura, the elderly Irish housekeeper, strode into the room. “And what is all this?” she demanded.

“Apparently, its some sort of social gathering,” Heyes sighed, “Only no one told me to dress appropriately.”

“Funny man,” Maura snapped. She turned to Bridget, ”Out, and I mean right this second. Your father would spin in his grave. I cannot believe the doings about this house these days. Your father would have had none of this I assure you.”

“Fine,” Bridget soothed her, “No need to get all mother-henny Maura.” She rose from the chair and followed Maura from the room. Just before she closed the door, she added to Heyes in a whisper, “You still have some explaining to do.”  

Chapter Five

Heyes soaked in the tub, sipping brandy, until the water cooled. There were no further interruptions. He dried himself with Sally’s towels, pulled on some clean clothes and emerged into the blue guestroom to the sight of Bridget practicing fast draws with his gun in the full-length mirror. He was instantly grateful that he had automatically been trained to bring his clothes with him into the bathroom from the years of shared facilities in cheap hotels.

Bridget greeted him with the words; “You’re not a gunfighter, are you?”

“Not if I can help it.” Heyes watched her expertly twirl the gun around and drop it lightly back in its holster. He smiled as she drew the gun again and held it a moment at hip height. She was all right, but Kid Curry was a different class altogether. “How can you tell?” he asked jokingly.

Bridget turned and held the gun flat on her palm, as if showing to Heyes for the first time. She answered his inquiry seriously, “Colt Navy, pretty standard post-war model, blued finish, but not balanced very well. Good enough for general use, but it would need a lot of customizing for a duelist.”

“I imagine that would depend on the gunfighter.”

Bridget dropped the gun back into the holster and agreed, “Some people are just born fast. Not me, though. I’m a good enough shot, but mostly I have to rely on my charm.” She smiled and moved to the bureau. “Take off your shirt.”

“That’s charming,” Heyes responded, wondering at the sudden shift in conversation and where this was going now.

Bridget lifted a small, compact earthen jar off the bureau, “Liniment,” she said, and lifted a bundle of white cotton, “and bandages. You have quite the opinion of yourself, Mr. Smith.”

Not a man given to blushing, Heyes simply smiled, pulled off his shirt and sat in the proffered chair. Bridget moved to kneel in front of him and began a close inspection of the marks around his elbows and wrists. She frowned, lifted the lid off the jar and gently began to massage the ointment into the marks around Heyes’ elbows. “Tell me if this hurts.”

At first, Heyes just felt the coolness of the liniment of his burns, then a spreading, tingle followed by a not unpleasant numbness. “What is that?” he asked.

“Something Maura makes,” she explained, “supposedly from an old County Cork family recipe. I have no idea what she puts in it, but it seems to work wonders.” Bridget grinned and added, “On the horses anyway.” She carefully applied the balm to Heyes’ wrists and then, placing the jar aside, picked up the roll of cotton bandage. “I’m going to wrap this lightly and you should be careful not to scratch at it, even if it gets a little warm.” As she wrapped the bandages around each elbow, then each wrist, Heyes felt the numbness turn to heat.

“This would probably heal up on its own,” he said, beginning to regret submitting to this home remedy.

“Don’t be a baby,” Bridget said teasingly as she stroked the liniment unto the marks across his chest. “Besides, when Artemis snagged himself across the forelocks in barbed wire last summer, I treated it with this and he healed up with no scars at all.”

“You’re actually using horse liniment on me?” Heyes asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Horse liniment, people liniment, cow liniment,” Bridget shrugged, “its all the same if it works, isn’t it?” She pushed Heyes’ head back with one finger under his chin and applied some to the marks around his neck.

As he felt the heat under the bandaged areas start to rise, Heyes asked nervously, “And how did Artemis react to this?”

Bridget picked up the bandages again and stood to wrap them around his chest. “I can’t say he was too happy about it,” she allowed, “He kept trying to push himself into his trough so we had to hobble him in his stall.” She started wrapping Heyes’ neck. “I hope an ample supply of brandy will be adequate to keep you calm. I can’t see how I’d explain to Maura having to keep you in the barn.”

She finished her ministrations and wiped her hands on a clean towel. “You have some nasty bruises on your shoulder and side,“ she said, “Do you want me to treat those for you?”

“No, no,” Heyes said quickly, “You’ve done enough.”       

Chapter Six

Bridget Malley stood in the morning sunshine on the porch of the magnificent house her father had built for her mother, the house her mother had never seen, and stared into the distance. She was a woman accustomed to having control. Control of her employees, control of her business ventures, and, most importantly, control of her self. Now she found she could not control her own thoughts. Try as she might to concentrate on the plans she had for the next few vital days in the future of her business, she could not banish intruding thoughts about Hannibal Heyes. The kind of thoughts she rarely entertained about any man.

Although her eyes were pointed at the road that led to the main gates, she did not see that view. Instead, she saw again and again Heyes’ face. The look in his dark almond-shaped eyes, the curve of his grin, the fall of his hair. She had a hand braced against the newel post at the top of the front stairs, but she did not feel the warm aged wood, worn smooth by the many hands that had touched its surface. She felt instead Heyes’ wrists, his arms, the smooth muscles of his chest. She had, at the time, attributed the tingle she had felt in her hands and up her arms to whatever secret ingredients Maura had put into her famous liniment, but she knew better now. Bridget knew that she had let her feelings get the best of her. The sympathy for the man’s plight had transformed quickly into fascination with the man himself. Her sleep last night had been fractured by visions of herself ministering to his wounds in ways far more elaborate than the simple aid she had administered. The memory of those dreams brought a blush to her cheeks and she closed her eyes. It was a moment before she became aware of a voice calling her name.

“Miss Malley, Miss Malley,” the young boy repeated, bouncing impatiently on his toes at the foot of the front stairs, his hat clenched in his hands.

“Yes, Patrick,” Bridget replied, shaking herself out of her reverie, “What do you want?”

“Luke sent me, Miss Malley,” the boy replied, pulling himself proudly to his full height. “I have a very important message and he said I should give it right to you, fast as I can get here.”

“A very important message about what, Patrick?”

“He said to tell you that they found both men you was interested in - one on the road and one in the town. And that one’s dead, and the other one’s alive.”

“Come on in, Patrick,” Bridget said, turning to enter the house, “and you can tell us the rest.”

Chapter Seven

After a large meal, grudging prepared by a silent Maura and served by a blushing Sally, exhaustion had hit Heyes and he retreated to the blue guestroom. At first he thought that, despite his tiredness, he would not be able to sleep. His bandaged wounds itched and burned and his mind raced with thoughts of what might have happened to his partner. Finally, exhaustion won out and he slept fitfully, dreaming of burning ropes and blood.

When he awoke to the morning sun, Sally was standing silently not a foot from the bed, staring at the bandage that circled his throat. Heyes jumped. “What is it about the women in this house?” he asked, hastily pulling the covers around himself, “A man can’t get a minute’s privacy.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Sally stammered, “But the Miss, she just sent me up to fetch you. She says to tell you to come down to the front parlor right away and to tell you that there’s news about your friend.”

She hadn’t finished the sentence when Heyes sprang from the bed and strode across the room to the clothes he had left strewn on the divan. Sally let out a small squeak, covered her eyes with her hands and ran blindly out of the room.

Several moments later, when Heyes reached the doorway of the parlor, he saw that Bridget was sitting on a sofa across from a small boy, who was sitting in a chair, swinging his feet and munching on a large roll.

Bridget gestured that Heyes should join her on the couch. “I’m not even going to ask you what you did to Sally,” she said narrowly, “The poor girl’s hiding in the pantry. You frightened the life out of her. Meanwhile, Patrick here has news for us.”

Patrick swallowed the lump of roll in his mouth and smiled. He was enjoying all the attention.

“Well,” he began, “Luke said I was to tell you that the second man, Mr. Smith’s friend, is at the Bristol Hotel in Two Pines.”

“He’s at a hotel?” Heyes interrupted incredulously.

Patrick looked flustered and Bridget reached out and put a hand on his knee, “Its all right, Patrick. Just tell it to us like Luke told you.”

Patrick nodded “He said Mr. Jones is at the Bristol Hotel ‘cause that’s where Doc Halloran put him after he mended his leg.”

“What’s wrong with his leg?” Heyes demanded.

Bridget turned and shot him a glare. “Let the boy deliver his message, will you?” she scolded. Heyes sighed and sat back into the sofa.  

Patrick continued, “A bunch of hands from the Star Keys place found him out by the ravine road yesterday. They had seen two dead horses and stopped to check it out. Luke said that Mr. Jones had drug himself all the way back up to the road from the bottom of the ravine with a broke leg. He said he had never heard the like of it, as it’s hard enough to climb the ravine wall if you’re whole. Then Mr. Jones didn’t want to go into Two Pines to the Doc’s. The Star Keys boys had to drag him into a wagon. The Doc fixed him up, but then wouldn’t let him leave. He was some kind of mad then, Luke said, and he pulled his gun on the doctor. Would have shot him too, maybe, if he hadn’t passed out from the shot the doctor gave him. The Doc couldn’t get the gun out of his hand, even with him out, so now nobody wants to go in the room with him, what with all his cursing and threats and all. The sheriff thinks Mr. Jones is a gunfighter,” he finished. His message delivered, Patrick stuffed the last of the roll into his mouth.

Heyes stood and headed towards the door. “Wait, wait,” Bridget called, intercepting him in the foyer, “You can’t go after him. I’ll go.”

“I have to go and I have to go now.”

“Listen to me,” she said gripping his forearm, but quickly letting go when she saw him wince slightly. “I’m sorry, but if the sheriff thinks he’s trouble, then another stranger coming to get him is just going to make him more suspicious. Especially if that stranger looks like someone tried to hang him. The sheriff knows me and I can bring your friend back here directly.” She looked into Heyes’ eyes for a long moment, “You’re just going to have to trust me and be a little patient.”

Chapter Eight

Heyes waited, very impatiently, for Bridget to come back from town. She had said something cryptic about “town clothes”, disappeared briefly upstairs, and returned transformed. Heyes had found her attractive in her jeans and work shirt, but he fully appreciated her powerful looks when he saw her in the long, bodice-hugging green velvet dress. She had taken her hair down and brushed it out into a dark cloud over her shoulders. Her blue eyes had lit up against the dark fabric of the dress.  

 Heyes stared out the front windows of the Malley home towards the road to town. He wanted desperately to take a horse from the stables and join Bridget, or ride after the Kid himself, but the cold practical part of his mind knew that Bridget was right. His presence might just make things worse. He hugged his aching arms to his chest.

“Ahem.” Heyes turned toward the sound of the half-cough. George, the tall thin man from Bridget’s stables stood in the parlor doorway. “I need to have a word with you,” the man said, entering the room and dropping his hat on the sofa.

“What is it you need to say?” Heyes inquired carefully.

George did not answer at first. He moved to the far wall of the parlor, lifted a cut glass decanter from a side table and poured two generous glasses. He moved back toward Heyes with one glass outstretched.

“No, thank you.” Heyes said, “It’s a bit early in the day for me. I generally wait until after breakfast to start drinking.”

George placed both glasses on a low table and sunk down on the sofa. “Trust me. You’ll want it in a minute.” He gestured to a chair across from him and Heyes sat. The two men surveyed each other for a few moments in silence. Heyes thought George looked to be a well-weathered fifty, though he could have been older. A long diagonal scar bisected his face from one sandy eyebrow to the corner of his thin lips. His rough lined face gave few clues to what he might be thinking. Heyes had to admire such a natural poker face.

George lifted one of the glasses and took a long careful pull at the contents. He placed the glass back on the table and leaned back into the cushions. “I’m going to tell you a few things you need to know, then I’m going to make a suggestion. You should listen to me good and then do what I say.”

“I’m listening,” Heyes allowed, pointedly ignoring the part about doing what this man said. He would make his own decisions, as always. And he had never liked taking orders.

George stared at him a moment, then took a deep breath and began. “I have worked for Bridget’s family for almost as long as I can remember. Her father hired me when I was sixteen. I’ve spent my life with these people and Bridget means the world to me. I was there when she was born and I’ve taken care of her all her life. I’ve tried to keep her safe. I run the ranch, but taking care of Bridget, that’s really my job.”

“You have nothing to worry about from me,” Heyes interrupted. He thought the story had the tone of an oft-told tale and he did not want to sit through a fatherly warning regarding his behavior towards Bridget.

George met his level gaze. He sighed. “I’m not worried about you, boy,” he said slowly, “I’ve seen a thousand of you.” He folded his arms across his chest and smiled, “I should probably be worried for you - if I was the worrying kind. You know who Bridget Malley is, son?” He didn’t wait for Heyes to reply. “Bridget is the only daughter of James Malley. That name sound familiar to you?”

Heyes found his hand moving almost unbidden to the glass on the table in front of him. He took a quick gulp and was surprised to see a small tremor in his hand as he placed the glass back down. He tried for his best non-committal expression, but it felt false on his face. “Bridget’s father is Steely Jack Malley?”       

“The same.” George smiled again. “But he never did like that name ‘Steely.’”

Heyes felt his mouth go dry again, but he forced himself to leave the liquor untouched. He rubbed a hand across his face. He had heard of Jack Malley. Everyone had heard of Steely Jack – the most hated man in the States. And he was sitting in his front parlor. And he had been naked in front of Steely Jack’s only daughter. He felt an almost giddy flush of impending doom.

“Mr. Malley around here somewhere?” he asked, having to concentrate on not looking over his shoulder to see if the legend stood right behind him. He felt the small hairs on his neck start to shift.

The smile disappeared from George’s face. “Mr. Malley is dead. He died last year.”

Heyes bit back a “Thank God” and instead asked, “How?”

George looked him levelly in the eyes, “You might say ‘natural causes’ for a man in his profession,” He paused. “Someone shot him in the head.”

“No shortage of likely suspects, I bet,” Heyes said, reaching again for the whiskey glass.

“No shortage,” George agreed solemnly, “Him being ‘the most hated man in the States’ and all.” George grinned ruefully, “I think he was actually a bit fond of that expression. It used to irk him that some Northerners hated the commander of Andersonville prison more. And that some Southerners hated Sherman more. But he used to say that he had them both beat. Everyone, on both sides, hated him.”

“With reason,” Heyes said, feeling a bit bolder now he knew Steely Jack was dead. He remembered what people had been saying about Steely Jack since the war. How he had sold arms to both sides. Cannon and pistols to the Union army and English sniper rifles to the Confederacy. The stories went back before the war to the wars with Mexico, and some said back as far as Ireland, a country which did not welcome back its native son, even as rich as he had become. Tales abounded of shady deals, smuggled arms, double crosses and bodies buried in the dead of night. Heyes swallowed as he considered the man who had just buried a body in the dead of night for Steely Jack’s daughter.

Heyes had heard some of the stranger stories, too. People whispered that Steely Jack wasn’t human, that he never slept or ate, that he had lived for hundreds of years, that he had sold muskets during the Revolutionary War, that he was the Devil himself. Heyes remembered seeing a cartoon in a newspaper years after the war, when Steely Jack had expanded to selling rifles to Indians, and to Indian hunters, of Steely himself, waist high in a river of blood, holding a spoon.

Heyes looked up from his hands to meet George’s eyes. He older man stared intently at him. George said, “We gonna have a problem with you, son?”

“I’m not sure what any of it has to do with me,” Heyes said noncommittally.

“Well,” George sighed, “We tend to get some people who come around here lookin’ to settle old scores. Whoever killed Jack wasn’t the first one to have tried. Twenty years ago in St. Louis, a non-reconstructed Reb took a shot at Jack. Missed, and Jack killed him. But the fella’s shot killed Bridget’s mother. Jack had already decided to move out here, build this house – to try to get his wife and daughter away from all that. He was too late to save Felicity, but he was determined to protect Bridget. But it followed them everywhere. Men have been trying to kill Bridget all her life. Even since Jack died, we still get trouble. Last month, someone dropped a diseased sheep carcass in the well.” He nodded again to Heyes, “So, I need to know what your story is. Bridget tells me she knows you won’t be a problem, but she won’t tell me why she knows it.”

“She’s right,” Heyes said after a moment, “I’m not going to be a problem.” He did not add that he could not be so sure about the Kid. Another Steely Jack story, one Heyes believed, had him supplying both sides in the Kansas border wars. The wars that killed both Heyes’ and the Kid’s parents. Heyes knew he would have to find a way to feel the Kid out on the fact that they were being sheltered by Steely Jack’s daughter – before the Kid got this same lecture from George. The thought prompted him to drain the last of the whiskey from his glass. “What about the suggestion you were going to make?” he asked.

George stood and placed his hat back on his head. “Run,” he said simply. “When you dance with the Devil, the Devil don’t change. The Devil changes you.” Without another word, he turned and exited. Heyes was left to wonder about the woman who would be Kid’s saving angel. Which one was Bridget? The cold-blooded killer who had steeped over the old man’s body so calmly, or the pretty woman who had so carefully bandaged his wounds? And which one had he sent to the Kid? 

Chapter Nine

Kid Curry gritted his teeth and tried again. Supporting himself on wobbly arms, he pulled himself sideways towards the edge of the bed. He hooked his right ankle under his left heel and strained to lift the splinted limb. Sharp pains darted back and forth the length of his leg. Ignoring the warning messages from his body, he raised the leg a few inches and started to pivot his weight. When a sharp rap sounded on the hotel room door, his hand automatically reached for the pistol on the bedside table, causing him to lose his balance. The leg dropped onto the bed unsupported. “Damn,” he yelled, raising the gun towards the door, “If you’re not bringing me those crutches I asked for, I wouldn’t suggest opening that door.”

A few moments passed. Kid felt a drop of sweat slide down the side of his face and the gun trembled just slightly in his hand. The combination of pain, and pain treatment, had left him weak as a kitten – and mad as a wolverine.

Slowly, the door slid open a few cautious inches. A delicate white lace handkerchief appeared through the opening, followed by a slender female hand. The hand fluttered the handkerchief and a soft voice asked, “Truce?”

Kid lowered the gun to his lap, but kept the barrel trained on the door. “Who are you and what do you want?”

Around the corner of the door came half a face, a curtain of dark hair and a single blue eye. “I’m Bridget. Joshua sent me.”

Kid’s heart leapt at the name. No one in three territories around knew his partner as Joshua Smith. “You can come in,” he said cautiously, “But just you.”

There was a ferocious whispering from behind the door. Bridget turned her head and spoke into the hallway, “He says just me. I suppose you all can come with me if you want to, but he is aiming an awfully big gun in this direction.” The whispers died down immediately. Bridget entered the room and closed the door firmly behind her. She stood a moment at the end of the bed, eyeing Curry carefully.

“Where’s Joshua? Is he all right?”

“Your friend Joshua’s staying at my ranch. He’s been hurt, but not too badly. I thought it would be best if I came for you alone.” She held her finger to her lips and motioned towards the closed door with her eyes. “Let me straighten those bedclothes for you,” she said, carefully loud enough to be heard in the hallway. She moved to the side of the bed and slid down next to Kid. He could smell her perfume as she put her lips to his ear. “I told them that you’re a security expert,” she breathed, “That you and Joshua came here to work for me and that my instructions forbade you to tell anyone who you are. That should explain to them a bit of what’s gone on.”

Kid put his hand on her shoulder and moved her back so he could look at her face. “It doesn’t explain it to me,” he whispered.

“We’ll leave that to Joshua,” she smiled, “After all, he’s the one with the silver tongue.” Before Kid could answer, she pulled back and stood, moving towards the door. “I’ll get those crutches and we’ll take you to the ranch,” she said, aiming her words at the door. She looked back at Kid and whispered, “You don’t look much like a gunfighter.”

“Who told you I was a gunfighter?” Kid hissed back.

“Well,” she answered, moving to the side of the bed and leaning close again, “The sheriff is convinced, and the doctor, the one you threatened to shoot. Besides, that’s a Smith & Wesson Schofield .45 you’re holding – a gunfighter’s gun if there ever was one.” She lay her hand gently on his gun hand. “Fortunately,” she whispered with a smile, “a gunfighter is just what I need…”

More to come. Upcoming chapters answer the question – what/who does Bridget want? Please send comments, especially encouragement, to the author.

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