Different Directions I: Lost and Found
Joseph Parker looked around the Western Star Casino, master of all he surveyed. It was one of the few gambling halls in San Francisco which dared to operate outside of the Barbary Coast area, and it was certainly the most successful. In fact, the place was booming, and Parker knew he had Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry to thank for it. Folks came from all over to meet the famous former outlaws, and hear stories of their days on the outlaw trail. Of course, they were generously rewarded for their contribution to his success, and he was even thinking of offering them a partnership in the place. He had enough other business interests that he could afford to sacrifice a few dollars here in order to keep his star attractions happy.
Parker smiled to himself. Silky O'Sullivan had done him a real favor when he sent those two his way. Almost a big enough favor that he'd consider forgiving Silky for many of the things he'd done to him over the years that weren't exactly favors. The only thing that puzzled him was that they were willing to do it at all. Outlaws had the reputation of being independent folks, even reformed outlaws, and the idea of appearing as a sort of trained seal act wasn't exactly what you'd expect from them. But they did do a lot of the management of the place, and Parker supposed that they honestly thought that was what they were there for. They probably didn't realize just how much they were on display . . . or just how much of the Western Star's business could be credited to their presence. Heyes even kept the books, although of course Bill Reynolds, Parker's chief accountant, looked at them on a regular basis. And anyway, they'd had a difficult time trying to figure out how to make an honest living. Some of their stories of the days when they first went straight made that pretty clear. All Parker could figure was that they must have been awfully determined to get that amnesty. He doubted he'd have stuck it out, himself, not with everything they’d had to go through.
And Heyes had another motivation to try to make a go of this job. He'd said something about having a wife and baby out in Montana, living in the middle of nowhere, and apparently he was anxious to bring them here to San Francisco.
Ah, there they were, lounging against a wall behind the roulette tables, talking together. Parker eyed them proprietarily. They were a handsome pair, all right, with something just a little wild and dangerous-looking about them, even dressed up like city slickers in the suits they wore to work. A number of the more daring and fashionable women of San Francisco's upper classes, who wouldn't ordinarily have set foot inside a gambling establishment, had come to the Western Star specifically to see them, and then come back again. They were pretty evenly divided in their admiration for the dark-haired, dark-eyed Heyes, with his irresistible smile and his glib tongue, or the quieter, rugged Curry, with his polite ways and his youthful features. Parker's own wife, Madeline, had said it made chills run up and down her spine when Kid Curry spoke to her in his well-mannered way, and she thought about what a deadly shot he was.
Women were good for business, thought Parker. When they started gambling, they did it for the thrill, and they'd play emotionally. He could still recall a girl he'd seen at the tables in Baden once, on his Grand Tour of Europe, almost twenty years ago, and how completely she'd given herself over to the game. She was dressed in green and silver, and if he closed his eyes and concentrated hard, he could see her even now. He'd always wondered what had happened to that girl.*
Women. But not so many women that they'd interfere with the saloon girls plying their trade. Just the right balance, thought Parker. And that was what he had here. He smiled, slowly, thinking of how nicely the business was lining his bank account, and of his wife's smile when he'd told her they'd be rebuilding their Nob Hill home. Of course, a casino was only a hobby for an industrialist and financier like Joseph Parker. A lucrative one, though . . . a very lucrative one.
"This is the life, all right," said Hannibal Heyes to his partner, looking at the vast room filled with all the accouterments of gambling: green baize tables covered with cards and chips, roulette wheels, places for dice. There was a band playing around a small, mostly empty dance floor in the far corner of the room, and plenty of beautiful saloon girls working the floor, the prettiest ones they'd ever seen all in one place. "Ain't it, Kid? We haven't had it this easy in . . . well, since ever."
"Not bad, not bad at all," allowed Jed Curry, allowing his eye to rest on the gold leaf trim around the edge of the roof. He could never quite work out whether it was pretty or just a little gaudy. But it didn't seem to bother Heyes, so he figured it must be okay. "Of course, I do start to feel a little closed in, livin' in a city and all." His eyes met those of a particularly attractive saloon girl. Her smile at him wasn't her work smile. It was genuine, and inviting, and he smiled back. There were some advantages, of course, he allowed to himself.
"We'll ride out into the mountains on our next day off," Heyes promised him. "I told Parker that, from now on, we had to have a day off together every week."
They watched as a party of well-dressed men approached them. There were five of them, and from the scent that preceded them, Heyes could tell that the cigars they were smoking were expensive. The men were Easterners, by their manner of speech. "Mister Hannibal Heyes? Mister Kid Curry?" asked one of them, a distinguished-looking gentleman with gold spectacles and a dark beard. "We'd be honored if you'd be our guests for dinner."
"We'd be happy to join you, wouldn't we, Kid?" said Heyes with his best smile, and led the way to the luxurious dining room at back. What made the whole thing such a racket was that these folks would pay for Heyes and Curry to have dinner, when it wasn't as though they'd be paying for it themselves, otherwise. "We've never had it easier," he repeated softly to himself.
Heyes sat down on the bed, and sank back. "Too much good food and soft living, Kid."
"I'll say. You look about like you're going to bust your buttons, Heyes."
"You should talk, Kid. Look at you."
And Curry looked ruefully at himself in the mirror. He knew he'd always had a bigger appetite than Heyes, but he'd had to have his vests let out already and he was afraid he'd have to do it again soon. Heyes, on the other hand, seemed to just talk it all off. The Kid was more a man of action, and this was a pretty action-free existence. Too much soft living, that was for sure, he repeated to himself.
Heyes seemed so happy here, though, and Curry hadn't seen him thriving like this at anything he'd tried . . . not since they'd left the Devil's Hole Gang behind and started back on the path to the straight side of the law. And it wasn't like what they'd been doing before had really been what you could call successful, even if Curry had preferred spending more time in the mountains and on the open range. But Heyes seemed to see things differently. In fact, his next words proved it.
“You know, Kid, I was talkin’ to Joe Parker about some of his business interests this afternoon, when you were ‘round the back of the casino showing off, doing target practice for those ladies from the East.”
“*Joe* Parker?” asked Kid Curry, raising his eyebrows. “Since when are you and him on a first-name basis?”
“We ain’t, Kid. I don’t call let him call me Hannibal, that’s for sure.”
“Heyes, you don’t even let *me* call you Hannibal. You don’t even let your *wife* call you Hannibal. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been anyone ‘cept your folks and Big Jim Santana who you *did* let call you Hannibal.”
“Well, I just find it a little disrespectful that he calls *us* by our last names, no ‘Mister’ Curry or ‘Mister’ Heyes, when we always call *him* ‘Mister Parker’.”
Heyes shrugged. “You’re right. Some of them rich folks think they’re better than the rest of us, no doubt of it. And Joe Parker’s one of ‘em. But he’s settin’ us up in a business we never could’ve staked ourselves to, and we got all *kinds* of opportunities here. And pretty soon, we’re gonna be on top. Pretty soon, ‘Mister’ Parker’s gonna be beggin’ us to call him ‘Joe.’ You just wait, Kid.”
“I hope you’re right, Heyes, ‘cause I’m startin’ to lose patience with his attitude. You got a plan, or something?”
“Well, Joe Parker’s been tellin’ me about some of the finance stuff he does . . . stuff he calls ‘speculating.’ It’s respectable businessman stuff and all, but you know what it really is? It’s a fancy form of gambling. The more he was tellin’ me, the more I was startin’ to pick it up. And I think a couple of smart guys like us, well . . . I think we could be pretty good at it. I’m sure I could.”
“I don’t know, Heyes. The stuff those men do is on a lot bigger scale than a couple of hands of poker, ain’t it?”
“Well, in the first place, we’ve played some pretty bigtime poker, at Big Mac’s and other places. And in the second, at least nobody draws a gun on you if you get to winnin’ too much and they get ornery.”
“Yeah, they just send you to prison if they think you’re cheatin’, instead.”
“Kid, you gotta start thinkin’ bigger. That’s the problem with bein’ honest. We’ve been thinkin’ too small. I figure if I keep talkin’ about this stuff with Parker, he’s gonna figure out I’m a pretty sharp guy, and maybe he’ll let me take a few chances for him. And that’ll get us in.”
“Into what?” asked the Kid.
“Into a way of makin’ a lot of money, honestly. You remember a lot of money, don’t you, Kid? We used to get it from robbin’ trains and banks.”
“Yeah, Heyes, and if we were *really* so smart as all that, we’d be livin’ on that money in retirement right now, instead of havin’ blown it all on high livin’ and . . .”
“Supplies,” Heyes interrupted.
“Kid, I’m not sayin’ we didn’t blow a lot of that money in fancy restaurants and casinos and whorehouses, but a lot more of it went towards provisioning Devil’s Hole. Remember those long winters and all those hungry men?”
“I know, Heyes, I’m just sayin’. . .” But he stopped. He was just saying he was afraid of getting too deep into this new world of theirs. Well, Big Jim Santana had made the transition all right. He was a legitimate San Francisco businessman now, though he’d had his wife Clara’s money and connections to help him. But Big Jim had been ready to settle down, after seven years in prison. Even if he hadn’t fallen for Clara, even if Heyes hadn’t dissuaded him from doing that last big job with the Devil’s Hole boys, he’d been planning to retire to South America, anyway.
As for Curry, though, the words “settling down” made him feel like iron bars were closing in all around him. He’d been so sure that his partner still felt the same way that he did. And now he was about to take what Curry couldn't see as anything but a drastic step.
"Heyes, you thought any more about that house?" he asked. "Seems real strange, you buyin' a house."
"I'm going to sign the papers, tomorrow, Kid. Parker was tellin' me that real estate values are about to explode in these parts, and that now is the time to buy." He paused for a moment, his expression pensive. "You'll come and live there, too, won't you?"
"I don't know, Heyes. These rooms seem awful convenient, just upstairs from work and all."
Heyes grinned wickedly. "Well, I was figuring we'd keep 'em for nights we worked late, anyway, and I know you're gonna want yours for when you have female company. But it seems odd enough us havin’ separate rooms, after all these years. I don't want to live in separate places, too."
"We have separate rooms at Ella's house," Curry pointed out.
"Well, that's a little different, now, isn't it? I mean, you have to admit you'd be a little in the way there. But the point is, not separate houses."
His partner smiled. "Of course, I'll come and live in the house. Long as I don't have to pledge to spend every night there, that is. But don't you think you're rushing into this a little too fast? I mean, you just wrote Ella about it. She hasn't even said she'll come yet."
"Oh, she'll come all right. She's my wife, ain't she? I just figured it was time for us to live in the same place all the time, like other folks do, when they're married."
Curry laughed. "When have the two of you ever done things like other married folks do? She likes it, back out there in the middle of nowhere. And I got the distinct impression she likes having us out of her hair, some of the time."
Heyes shrugged. "San Francisco is the place for a woman like her. It's got all the stuff she likes: concerts and lectures, and fancy dressmakers. She don’t get any of that in Blue Sky. And more booksellers than even she can run through. Her father used to bring them here when she was growing up, and you should see her eyes light up when she talks about seein' the Bay. And some church somewhere in town with a real pipe organ, from back East, where they play all that loud music she likes, like that whatshisname . . . Bach."
The Kid had a mental image of Ella, sitting at her desk back in Blue Sky, Montana. She was interrupted constantly by the flow of friends, clients, family, but always returning to that one thing she loved, her work. He couldn't see her uprooted from all that.
Granted, there wasn't a whole lot for him and Heyes to do, out there in a small town in the middle of Montana, but the Kid had liked the pattern: wandering off for months at a time, and then having a home to go back to, where they could settle in for a nice long stay. It had gotten him thinking about whether there might not be a girl for him in Blue Sky, too, and he had a particular one in mind. He'd thought Heyes liked the way they'd been living, too, but after awhile he'd started talking about how a family shouldn't be apart so much. And he'd come up with a plan. A Hannibal Heyes plan.
Curry thought it was the worst one, ever. But he couldn't bring himself to tell Heyes that, and anyway, it wasn't his way to complain when life was pretty good, like it was now. After all, he could remember when things were really bad -- hiding out, never knowing when they might be recognized and turned in, and, once they'd gone honest, not knowing where their next dollar was coming from, half the time. He sighed. On the other hand, he'd never felt caged like this, back then. It wasn't that he didn't like San Francisco -- he'd just never thought he'd be living there on a permanent basis. The stars seemed awfully far away at night in a city.
But then, who was to say it was permanent? When had anything ever been permanent for them, except for each other? And he guessed now he could add Ella and Rachel to that, and maybe, just maybe . . . .
"Night, Heyes," he said, and started to close the adjoining door behind him. But in a moment, he'd opened it again. "Think Ella will bring Sandy, when she comes?"
Heyes smiled. "Guess that's up to Sandy, isn't it? You know, it might help if you gave her a hint about how you felt about her. I've never seen you tiptoe around a woman like this -- it ain't like you, Kid."
Maddeningly, Curry didn't answer. He just repeated, "Good night, Heyes," and shut the door again.
Hannibal Heyes and I had been married for a bit over two years, and things were going pretty well for us. At least, we were both happy, though there were folks that thought it a bit peculiar that he only lived here in Blue Sky, Montana with me about half the time. But my life was here, and the last thing I wanted to do was keep him stuck here in this little town all the time, where he couldn't even get anyone to play poker with him, anymore, now that they all knew how just how good he was. Oh, certainly he and the Kid worked a bit when they were here. But it was peculiar for the local ranchers and businessmen to hire the husband of one of the town’s leading citizens to do odd jobs, or so they told me.
I wasn't always even sure where he was, since Heyes wasn't the best correspondent, but I'd known that came with the territory. We'd carried on a relationship of sorts for quite some time before the idea of making things more permanent had even occurred to either of us, and I’m not entirely sure that if I hadn’t found out I was going to have a baby . . . his baby . . . we’d be married even now. It wasn’t that he didn’t love me, or that I didn’t love him. He just wasn’t the kind to settle down, even after receiving his amnesty, and it was one of the things which had drawn me to him. I’d decided to live my life on my own when my fiancé Billy died and I was only nineteen, and nothing I had seen in the many marriages I’d observed in the meantime had inspired me to change my mind. Men had this way of coming in and taking over your life, and I liked my life just fine the way it was. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was in the unusual position, for a woman, of being able to support myself quite comfortably.
But nature had its say, and Rachel was a year and a half old, now. She was a dear little girl, although I was looking forward to the day when she could speak in whole sentences and I could read her stories. Well, I did that already, but when I knew she understood them, and would talk back.
Somehow, my having married one of the most notorious outlaws in the West, even if he had received an amnesty from the Governor of Wyoming, hadn't done a whole lot for my law practice. But since there was a shortage of lawyers in our parts, it meant that the work had to get done by someone. Some of the representatives of the banks and railroads didn't much like going to a lawyer named Heyes, whether they knew where the name came from, or whether they were just superstitious about it, "being spelled the same way as that notorious bandit," as one of our clients had innocently said to me. In that case, they ended up with a lawyer named Chadwick -- my partner, in other words. As a result, they usually ended up with me, anyway, since Jeremy and I preferred to work together on everything.
It didn't harm the non-commercial end of the practice at all. I was constantly amazed by it, but the townspeople had forgiven my transgressions on the day that they heard I was to be married. They forgot all those nasty things they said about me, when it had come out that Miss Ella, instead of being pure as the driven snow, had been carrying on with a well-known former outlaw for quite some time. In fact, most of them seemed to take great pleasure in calling me "Missus Heyes" instead of "Miss Hart.”
So we handled the wills and land sales, and, unfortunately, a divorce for my former ward, Sandy. There were still plenty of chances to go to court against my old legal adversary Rick Johnson, and I had a new opponent, too: the United States Government. I was getting more and more interested in the land claims of the native people who we settlers were constantly displacing. A lot of the townsfolk didn't approve much of that, what with the Indian wars being a not-so-distant memory. Rick always said that he'd have never gotten away with it, but that the townsfolk were used to thinking of me as just the slightest bit eccentric, anyway, so they shrugged it off as another one of Ella's crusades.
I think he was being polite, myself. I think a lot of them were used to thinking of me as a lot more than the slightest bit eccentric. But what with the Harts having been one of the first families of Blue Sky ever since its founding, my eccentricity was regarded as a benign fact. The sky is blue, the mountains are high, and Ella isn’t quite like other folks. But it’s kinda sweet, isn’t it?
No wonder it took an outsider to fall in love with me.
I guess Heyes and his partner had been gone for a couple of months this time, when I got a letter:
Ella: The Kid and I are in San Francisco now, and we've been offered a job managing a casino. It might even be permanent. Give me a couple of months to see how it goes, and if it works out, you and Rachel can join us out here.
Of course, the first thing I did was take it out on Jeremy. I don’t suppose my tone was particularly soft or pleasing as I fumed, "He isn't *asking* me to move to San Francisco. He's *telling* me about it! What does he think I am?"
"His wife?" Jeremy asked mildly, turning to look at me with those pale green eyes of his.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I snapped.
"Well, husbands and wives do tend to live in the same place. All of the time, not just some of the time, like you two."
I hated it when Jeremy got all conventional like that. He had just turned twenty-five, but sometimes you would have sworn he was nearly ten years my senior, instead of the other way around. "But Heyes and I aren't like most husbands and wives," I pointed out.
"You're certainly not. You're the only married woman I know who calls her husband by his last name."
I couldn't help but laugh at that. "He doesn’t exactly encourage people to call him Hannibal, if you hadn’t noticed. Besides, it sounds kind of pretentious. Too bad his name really didn’t turn out to be Joshua Smith."
Jeremy made a face at me. "I think you made your point when you suggested naming the baby Clytemnestra."
"You know, he would have agreed to it if you hadn't gone and told him where it came from. Apparently he has an old friend named Clementine and he thought it sounded enough alike that she'd take it as a compliment."
But Jeremy wasn't allowing me to distract him from the point he wanted to make. "Ella, it's just natural that a husband would want to support his wife and child. You know how it's always bothered him that it's your house, and your job, and sometimes it practically seems like it’s your town. There's not much for him to do around here, except set up a ranch, which doesn't seem to be the kind of thing he’s really cut out for. His ideas are just bigger than that."
I lowered my gaze to the carpet, my eye picking out its patterns as I spoke. "I know. I know I can't go on the way I did when I was on my own. And I also know that now that the railroad right-of-way disputes are getting all ironed out, and we’ve litigated just about every land claim for a hundred miles around, there's not really enough money in this practice for the both of us. And I know that you and Melanie are expecting again, and this growing family of yours is going to demand more and more revenue. So it makes sense for me to go."
"It's not the money, Ella. But Rachel's getting older, and in a couple of years she's going to start wondering why she doesn't live with her father, like other girls. Besides, they have lady lawyers in California. Remember, we checked once to see where they did and where they didn't?"
"I know. But in small places, like this. In a big city like San Francisco, they have dozens of men lawyers, maybe even hundreds. Nobody'll give me a chance when there are that many men to choose from."
Jeremy gave me one of his little brother grins. "You know, most women would jump at the chance to be a lady of leisure. And you might actually find yourself a little more interested in your child now that she's learning to talk."
"I love Rachel," I protested.
"I know you do, Ella. But Caroline and Sandy take care of her as much as you do -- maybe more."
I deliberately elided that one. "Well, Caroline and Sandy would both come with me to San Francisco. It would be the best thing in the world for both of them. Caroline could go to a good school, and Sandy could be someplace where nobody knows about her past." Sandy’s divorce was no shame to her, under the circumstances, but I still wished her someplace where she could start over again fresh, and where better than the big city?
Sandy's former husband, Rick Johnson’s son Raymond, had turned nasty shortly after their marriage. Nobody knew about the beatings for a long time, but when Rick found out, he'd nearly killed his son. Cora Johnson still didn't talk to her husband, as far as anyone knew, although they continued to live in the same house. Ray had gone off to Chicago, where his married sister was living, and where he was able to get a job with one of the stockyards for which he'd been acting as intermediary with the local Cattlemen’s Association. Rick and I were able to push through a divorce for Sandy, even though the law didn't make it easy -- we'd taken her to see Judge Clayton before she'd healed up from the last and worst of the beatings, the one she hadn't been able to hide from us. After what he saw, the judge had invented some grounds to dissolve the marriage, although it had taken some time before it could be finalized.
Jeremy just smiled and shook his head. "You're right. *If* they want to go. I can see Caroline there, but Sandy's not exactly a city girl."
"Neither is Heyes . . . a city boy, I mean. Or the Kid. I'm betting I get another message in a month or two telling me to forget it and they'll be back in Blue Sky as soon as the train can carry them. Besides, we've got that big tribal land rights case." I grabbed a piece of paper and a fountain pen, and began my reply.
Dearest Heyes: Your job sounds wonderful, and of course I remember San Francisco fondly. Besides, Jeremy says I have to go. But only after the tribal land rights litigation is over. Two months sounds about right.
My best to the Kid, but keep all my love for yourself.
P.S. Rachel can say "mama," "horse" and "courtroom" now, but I'm not teaching her "papa" until you and she next meet. She might start applying it indiscriminately and ruin my reputation all over again.
Jeremy grabbed it from me, and began to laugh as he read it.
I looked at his sharp, aquiline features, and his dark curls. He'd really begun to take on the appearance of a man, rather than a boy, these past few years. He was the closest thing I'd ever had to a brother, and I was going to miss him more than even he knew. It wasn't fair, I thought. Nobody ever suggested that Heyes and the Kid would have to split up, and Jeremy was my partner, just the same. Maybe a law partner, instead of an outlaw partner, but I didn't see much difference.
"You could come to San Francisco, too."
"And leave Rick Johnson all alone to wreak legal havoc on the good people of Blue Sky, Montana? Not likely. Besides, Melanie's not a city girl, either."
In the end, Sandy chose to come with me, and it was Caroline who elected to stay behind. She was determined to head East, and to make Jeremy and me keep our promise of sending her to a women's college there, the next fall. Somehow she just didn't want to head any further west, not even for San Francisco, not even when I told her it was just as good as the East. She'd live with the Chadwicks for the remaining time, and help Melanie with the new baby. And then it was Mount Holyoke for her.
I was jealous, in a way. I'd been taught at home by my parents after I picked up the basics of reading and writing in the local school, and I'd never really had friends who shared my interests, except for Jeremy and, a very long time ago, Billy. Never other women. I wondered what it would be like, sharing the experience of learning with a room full of interested girls.
It was Joseph Parker's usual time to inspect his favorite toy, and, as usual, everything was running like clockwork. Ah, there was his best employee. Hannibal Heyes had caught his eye, and was coming towards him. "Well, Mr. Parker," he said, when he'd gotten within earshot, "I have some good news. My wife has finally managed to wind up her business back in Montana, and she's arriving in San Francisco this afternoon."
"Very good, Heyes. She must be very pleased, thinking about that lovely house you've had furnished."
"Actually, she doesn't know. I thought I'd surprise her with that."
Parker smiled. "I don't think I'd dare to surprise my wife with something along those lines. Women tend to have very particular notions about those sorts of things. I'd assumed you'd been consulting her about the furnishings and all."
"I just tried to get things in the same style as her house back in Montana."
Parker raised an eyebrow. He could imagine how dreadful it was going to be. Montana farmhouse or Montana brothel?
Heyes continued. "You know, Mr. Parker, the thing is that my wife is going to find the transition a little difficult and . . . I was just thinking maybe your wife might be so kind as to show her around a little, introduce her to some people. She's very involved in the community out where she comes from." Heyes gave his employer one of his most winning smiles.
"We'll see, Heyes. Madeline's a very busy woman, you know, with her charity work and all the social demands on us." Heyes was a mighty good fellow, but Parker had a pretty strong feeling that any woman a former outlaw would be married to was not going to be someone appropriate for Madeline to associate with.
But Heyes wasn't listening to him. Parker watched him turn his head suddenly, and looked in the same direction to see that his attention was fixed on a woman who'd just entered the room, and was looking around, all bewildered. She was one of the most beautiful girls Parker had ever seen. She couldn't have been much more than twenty, small and delicate, a real prairie rose in a simple dark dress. Her long, wild black hair was only vaguely confined by a ribbon, and she had lovely huge dark eyes. There was a baby in her arms, old enough that it was getting too large to be held comfortably, and she was clutching it nervously. Parker wondered where Heyes had found her -- had she been a farmer's daughter, or a saloon girl? She looked like she was probably part Indian. A real beauty, all right, and the very picture of an outlaw's bride. Most definitely not a lady.
Parker followed Heyes to the door, but was surprised when he greeted the woman with merely a smile. He put out his hand to touch the child, caressing the side of its small face, and said something in low tones. Parker couldn't hear what he'd said, but he did catch part of the woman's response. Her voice was sweet, gentle. "Paying the driver" is what he heard. But for heaven's sake, to head right out to pay the driver with only the most distant of greetings to his wife, when he hadn't seen her for months. Especially a woman like that. Was Heyes crazy, or just cold?
"Excuse me, Mrs. Heyes? I'm Joseph Parker, I'm the owner here. Your husband works for me."
The girl looked surprised. "I'm not Mrs. Heyes. I'm Sandy Johnson; I'm her friend."
She gestured out the door with her free hand, and Parker peered through the door-window, only to find Heyes locked in a passionate embrace with a blonde woman. After a moment, they pulled apart, and the woman straightened her hair with a surprisingly prim gesture for someone who’d just kissed a man like that right on a public sidewalk. She smiled at Heyes, who took her arm, and led her inside.
"Ah, Mr. Parker, here she is. This is my wife, Ella. Ella, this is Joseph Parker, the owner of this place."
The blonde held out her hand politely. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Parker. I know that my husband is very happy working here, and he says that's in large part due to you." She wasn't a breathtaking beauty like the dark girl, but she was an attractive woman, much closer to Heyes' own age, if Parker was any judge. She hardly looked like the same sort as her friend Sandy at all: her clothes were fashionable and well-cut and her fair hair was properly swept up into a knot. Her voice was cultured, and her manner showed good breeding. She was something more important than a beauty: she was a lady. Parker was both surprised and relieved at how very presentable she was.
"You're from back East, Mrs. Heyes?"
She looked puzzled. "I was born in Boston, but we moved West when I was small. I feel like a native of Montana, anyway. I only have fuzzy memories of the East. Why do you ask?"
"No reason.” Except that she had the East written all over her. She must have come from a very . . . civilized . . . family. A good family. Probably one with money. How had she ended up with someone like Hannibal Heyes, anyway? “Well, let me know as soon as you're settled in, and I'll have my wife call on you."
"That would be lovely, Mr. Parker," she said politely, and then turned back to Heyes and said, "I'm sorry things were delayed like this, but the case kept dragging on, and I just didn't feel right leaving that all to Jeremy. We think it may go to the Supreme Court next, though of course we'd help the tribe find some specialists in Washington, D.C."
Parker's eyes widened, as Heyes replied, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world, "The Supreme Court, huh? You sure you wouldn't want to argue it yourself?"
"They have lawyers who specialize in that sort of thing. Besides, I've retired, remember?" his wife said drily, and then turned her attentive smile back on Parker. "Now, if Mr. Parker will permit, I was hoping you might be able to take an hour or so off to show us where we're staying. I think Rachel is ready to take a rest, and Sandy has been wearing herself out fussing over both of us all the way from Blue Sky."
"Oh, well, I expect Heyes to take the rest of the evening off to help his family settle in. Curry ought to be able to manage on his own."
"Where is he?"
Heyes replied before Parker could. "I left him in back, with a group of rich Texans. I think we robbed all of their railroads, at one time or another, and it's wonderful how well they seem to be taking it." That smile again.
"Well, go and get him. I don't want to just leave without saying hello -- and neither will Sandy." She gestured to include the dark, beautiful girl, who hung back shyly, clearly overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the Western Star’s main gambling floor.
Heyes disappeared towards the back room, and Parker noticed that his wife's eyes followed him all the way. He couldn't read her expression, but if she had been a man, he would have thought it a look of frank admiration and even desire. But, well, she wasn't a man, but a lady, and quite the proper lady, despite that talk of law courts. Did that mean that she was a . . . an actual lawyer? He’d heard about such things, but they were very unusual. A lady like that a lawyer? It didn’t seem likely, but then Montana was a peculiar place, from all he’d heard.
In any case, she was not the sort of woman he had imagined with Heyes at all. But from the rapt attention she gave his retreating form, it was certain that she was very much with him. Only after Heyes disappeared through a pair of swinging doors did she turn back to face Parker.
"Excuse me, Mrs. Heyes, but I'm curious. Just how did you meet your husband?"
"Well, he and the Kid needed a good lawyer, and they just happened to be in my town. And after that we kept running into each other . . . all over the West. I suppose finally we just gave in to fate. Either that, or he figured it was less expensive to marry me than to keep paying his legal bills." She smiled.
"If you don't mind a personal question, Mrs. Heyes, what led you to become a lawyer? It's a little unexpected, a lady like yourself."
Ella Heyes smiled with painstaking politeness. "My father didn't have a son to pass the practice on to. But I'm afraid I'm going into retirement now. I don't think San Francisco will require my services in the same way that Blue Sky, Montana did." She apparently caught a motion in the corner of her eye. "Oh, look, here they come."
Curry gave her a quick friendly embrace, and the girl called Sandy came forward to join them. Suddenly Parker had a peculiar feeling, standing with the group. He saw the way Kid Curry’s eyes lit up as he looked at Sandy and realized that he was the only one not being reunited with a loved one. So he made his excuses and walked away.
"So, what's this surprise that the Kid kept talking about?"
"You'll see," Heyes kept repeating, his grin deepening his dimple as he helped Sandy and me into the waiting carriage. I held Rachel on my lap, keeping her as steady as I could as the carriage bounced around the hilly streets of San Francisco. She kept up a running monologue of sorts, very little of it in recognizable words, and I couldn’t help but remark to his father that she was growing up to be just like him.
After a short ride, he jumped out and helped us down again. "There it is," he pointed with obvious pride. It was a house. A wonderfully gingerbready house. "Carpenter's gothic, they call it."
"Very nice," I responded. "Is it ours?"
"How'd you guess?" he grinned.
"Because it's a pretty house, but it's an awful lot like the houses we passed along the way. It’s not such an amazing piece of architecture that you'd have dragged us all the way out here to see it just for fun," I said. "And because you promised you were taking us somewhere we could clean up and rest."
He just laughed. "Come on inside."
The inside amazed me, frankly. Either business was better than I'd thought, or he'd backed a couple of real dark horses at the track. I turned to him, "You mean you were *listening* all those times I was nattering on?"
He shrugged. "I just remembered names, and the man at the store helped me. I don't know anything about buying furniture. Seems a little funny-looking to me, but I figured, if it'll make you happy. . . ."
The furniture must have been from the East, or at least from a local manufacturer who subscribed to the tenets of the British Arts and Crafts movement. The craftsmanship was extraordinary, and the designs more sophisticated than those I was used to in Montana farmhouses, and yet the lines were strong and simple, and celebrated the grain of the oak they were made from. I’d seen the fussy elaborate furniture that was the prevailing taste in the homes of those who could afford it, and I’d never liked it. But this . . . this, I’d been dreaming about. And the wallpaper . . . "William Morris?"
"That one was easy. You kept leaving all those books lying around and going on about how not only does he write, but he designs stuff, and on and on. It's fair enough to make a man jealous the way you go on about him, sometimes."
"Well, there's one thing you do better than him," I said. "I hear tell he doesn't keep his wife very happy. She's the mistress of one of his friends."
He laughed. "Why do you know so much about these folks in another country who you're never gonna meet?** But anyway, I don't think we'll have that problem. The Kid's my only friend, and he don't fancy you that way. So as long as I don't make any other friends, I should be okay."
"Make all the friends you want," I said, bringing my hand up to touch his face. "It still won't be a problem."
Sandy cleared her throat softly behind us, and we stepped quickly apart. "Well," Heyes said, collecting himself, "Why don't I show you the rest of the house?" There was a library out back, with a view of the garden, which he said would be especially mine. There were some books in the bookcases, but plenty of room for what I'd brought with me from Montana. Give the man points for effort. Unlike the usual heaviness and the smothering draperies typical of the "good taste" of the times, the furnishings allowed for a certain amount of light and air. Yet I still had a stifling sensation in my chest.
But then he put his hand on my arm, and I forgot all about the feeling, for the time being. "Let's see the rooms upstairs," and he led us up the staircase, pointing them out, one by one. "That's the Kid's room, and that'll be Sandy's, and that little one's for Rachel, for now. There’s a bigger nursery, upstairs, for when she’s older. And this is ours."
"Very nice," I said, as he led me in.
I looked around, but all I really saw was a very large bed, and the man who was standing a few feet away from me. Too far, I thought, as our eyes met, and I could tell he was thinking the same thing.
And with scarcely an apology to Sandy, he had closed the door behind us and we were tumbling onto the bed. "It's been much too long," he murmured, and I could only agree, as his lips brushed my forehead, my cheek, and then my mouth. "Ella, honey, I've missed you."
"I've missed you too." I reached up and ruffled his dark hair. His lips returned to mine, and this time I kissed him back, a long, slow, passionate kiss meant to begin to bridge all those months we'd spent apart, to reach back to the last time we'd been alone together in the sweet darkness of a shared bed.
Kid Curry sprawled on an armchair in the back office at the Western Star, watching his partner, who was seated at the large mahogany desk. Heyes was examining a ledger, which it seemed he’d been doing for hours, while Curry looked around idly, his blue eyes focused on nothing. He swung one of his legs back and forth so that it hit against the edge of the chair. He was doing it to annoy his partner, to get his attention somehow. There was nothing Curry hated more than these sessions where Heyes would balance the books. He wasn't sure why he had to be there, when Heyes never wanted him to do anything. In fact, he got annoyed if the Kid spoke, or even fidgeted too much. But he always wanted him there.
And then, for once, Heyes spoke to him. He was frowning, his dark, heavy brows pulled together. "Kid," he said, turning around in his chair to face his partner, "these books just don't add up."
"What do you mean, Heyes? You mean the arithmetic's not right?"
"No . . . everything matches up as far as the figures. It's just that . . . that accountant of Parker's, that Reynolds . . . it just don't make sense. He . . . changes things, Kid."
"Have you asked Parker about it?"
"Yeah, but . . . he always gives me some kind of excuse. He says I don't really understand about bookkeeping, not like Reynolds does. I dunno. I always kept track of things back in Devil’s Hole, and I even kept the books that time in Wickenburg. I think I know what's going on, but I can't claim to be an experienced accountant, like Reynolds. Maybe we should get someone of our own to have a look."
The Kid shrugged. "If you think so. But, I mean, Parker's the boss. If he's stealin' from himself, is that our business?"
Heyes gave him a sharp glance. "If he's stealing from himself, he's probably defrauding someone else. His creditors, for one. He’s got a couple of other businesses, too, remember. He could be moving money from one to another, for his own purposes, and that’s fraud. We only got our amnesty by stayin' out of trouble for a couple of years, remember? We get mixed up in anything illegal, and you tell me what you think our chances are."
"Probably not so good." Curry looked glum now. "It’s real likely the law’d just assume we were in on it. So what do we do?"
"Not sure. Talk to someone who knows more about keepin’ accounts than me, maybe? I'll think about it some."
"Maybe Ella'd have some ideas? She's handled stuff like this before, hasn't she?"
Heyes shook his head. "I'd rather not tell her about this."
The Kid frowned. "You trying to protect her or something? As I recall, she used to be pretty good about helping us get out of trouble."
"No, I remember that. I just . . . She's made some big changes in her life to come out here. I know it’s tough on her, givin’ up her law practice and all. She's barely been here a week, and I don't want the first thing she hears about the business to be that something might be going wrong. Besides, it's probably nothing. Maybe Silky will know someone, or Big Jim Santana. He probably has a whole fleet of accountants he could send over here to look things over for us."
"Sounds like a plan," said Curry, brightening.
"But we can't just show up, ledgers in hand." Heyes frowned. "It would be more than a little embarrassing to admit to Jim that we can't handle a situation like this ourselves."
Curry rolled his eyes. "So we can't say anything to Big Jim and we can't say anything to Ella. Heyes, what's the point of having friends if we can't ask them for favors?"
"I don't mind asking Silky. And, when we know what's going on a little better, I don't think I'll mind talking to Jim. But I want to keep Ella out of this."
"You start pulling that typical wife stuff on her, Heyes, and I don't think she's gonna like it much."
"Kid, just let me handle this my own way, okay?"
"All right, Heyes." But he shook his head. If Hannibal Heyes didn’t know his own wife better than that . . . well, there wasn’t anything his partner could tell him, in that case. What worried the Kid more was that maybe Heyes did know better, and maybe he wasn’t listening to himself. He could get stubborn that way, sometimes.
There was a knock at the door. "You in there, boys?"
"It sure is."
Heyes quickly closed the ledger, and returned it to its place in the desk drawer. "Come in."
"Well, Heyes, Curry, good to see you hard at work. I think one of the croupiers needs you, though."
They followed him outside. "Didn't expect to see you here, today, Mr. Parker. It's not your usual day."
"Well, you know, that's one of the first principles of running a tight ship -- unannounced inspections. Of course you boys pass with flying colors, but still, it's good to keep up the habit. Always expect me when you least expect me . . . ." He led them through the large main gaming room to one of the roulette wheels.
There was an altercation going on. A young man was shouting that he was being cheated, and that he wanted to speak to the management.
Parker nodded at them, and Heyes spoke. "I'm the manager. What seems to be the problem here?"
The man nodded at the croupier, a short, older, square-faced gentleman called Tony Salerno. "He's cheating me, that's what's the matter."
"Tony?" Heyes asked.
"Don't know what he's talking about. You know the policy here is honesty -- you ought to, since you're the boss." Tony had a gruff voice that was deceptive, since he could be quite loquacious and charming when he wanted to be. He was overeducated for a croupier. When he'd been hired, he'd explained that he used to be a schoolteacher, but that he'd gotten bored, and was looking for more excitement out of life.
"Do you have any proof, Mister --?"
"Weinmann. Willie Weinmann. Not in so many words, but I have played roulette in New York, in Chicago, many places. This game feels wrong," he explained, in a voice with just the slightest hint of an accent, as though he'd been raised by people who spoke German at home and English with the rest of the world. Which was probably the case. Willie Weinmann was a pleasant-looking young man of about twenty-five, with watery blue eyes, light brown hair, and a squarish face, rather handsome than not, but rather nondescript than handsome. He was the sort of fellow you wouldn't recognize twice, thought Heyes, who had many a time wished that he and the Kid had been the sorts of fellows you wouldn't recognize twice rather than the sorts of fellows whom everyone seemed to remember after the slightest glimpse. Well, not that it mattered anymore.
"I'm awful sorry, Willie, but without some kind of proof, I'm going to have to take Tony's word for it. He's been with us since the beginning and he's always been an outstanding employee. But why don't you let the house stake you to some other game, like say, blackjack?" Heyes took the young man by the arm, and walked him away.
"I suppose . . . well, that would be okay," he said. "Do I get a free drink, too?"
Clearly he was the sort to make the best of things, thought Heyes. *If only all our problems could be solved this easily.*
But Kid Curry caught up with them on Willie's other side. "That a loaded cane, Mister Weinmann?"
Watery blue eyes met steely ones. "I wasn't going to use it in here. It's just for self-defense on the way home. I started carrying it in Chicago. I was helping to run a store there, and the street roughs used to lay in wait sometimes, especially when I was taking the receipts to the bank."
"From now on you check it at the door, all right?"
He shrugged. "All right." And shortly thereafter, he was happily ensconced at a blackjack table, with a large whiskey by his side, losing the house's money back to the house.
"Well done, boys," said Joseph Parker, who had followed from a distance, observing. "Very well handled, indeed. And Heyes, if you have the time . . . I was thinking about making a couple of transactions of a . . . speculative nature. And I was wondering if you had a moment to look over a couple of the prospectuses with me. You know how much I value your opinion."
Heyes turned to his partner and gave him a big grin. *Halfway there,* he thought, *halfway there.*
"So, I've been keeping an eye on Tony, ever since then, and he's clean as a whistle. Smartest man we've got on the floor, too -- I'm thinking of putting him in charge of the section."
"You sure we can trust him, Heyes? I mean, it is pretty funny, a man like him willing to settle for the peanuts he can make spinning roulette wheels."
Heyes shrugged. "He's got his reasons. Besides, folks could've said that about us, any number of times after we started going straight. Why are a pair of sharp fellows like those two willing to do any kind of work they can find? I’d like to give him the kind of chance folks sometimes gave us. Anyway, Ella's stopping by later on. She's going to some kind of lecture in town, and then she's meeting us here. I was thinking I might introduce her to him, see how she reads him."
"You gonna tell her about what happened with that fellow who was in here the other day and accused him of cheating?"
His partner shook his head. "I told you, Kid, I don't want to mix her up in what's going on here. I just . . . I just wanna handle it without her, that's all."
Curry shook his head. When Heyes got stubborn like that, there was nothing much you could do about it.
"Boys!" At the sound of the familiar voice, Curry and Heyes spun around to see a petite brunette running excitedly towards them.
"Clem!" they both called out together. She ran towards them, throwing her arms first around Heyes' neck, and then around Curry's. Each of them spun her around and kissed her, until Curry finally placed her firmly on her feet. She had huge brown eyes and luxuriant dark hair, and her elfin features were sparkling with excitement.
"I came as soon as I got your letter," she said. "I can't believe you two are all settled down and running a casino. It's wonderful!"
Curry looked at her a little guardedly. "As long as you didn't have any . . . that is . . . other plans for us . . . ."
Clementine looked at Heyes. "Whatever can he mean?" Her large eyes were perfectly round and her delicate features were poised in a look of injured innocence, which didn’t fool her two friends one bit.
"I think he's trying to find out whether you had any of your little schemes in mind for us, or if this is a purely social call." Heyes winked at her.
"It's been nearly three years since I've seen two of my oldest, dearest friends, and that's the first thing you think about?" She batted her heavy dark eyelashes at them. "And all I can think about is my age-old question -- who is the handsomer of you two?" Clem took a step towards Heyes' side, and slipped her arm beneath his, and looked up at him. "Might be you," she smiled her prettiest smile.
He gently disengaged her arm. "It's him," he smiled back, indicating the Kid.
"Hmm . . . maybe, maybe not." She looked at the blond man, and then back at the dark-haired one, and took his arm again.
"No, it is," he said, and disengaged her once again.
"If you say so. But you're usually a lot happier to see me than this, Hannibal Heyes," said Clem, pouting prettily.
Curry looked suspiciously at his partner. "Heyes, you never wrote and told her, did you?"
Heyes gave him a guilty look. "I guess it slipped my . . . excuse me," he seemed to see someone in the distance. He slipped away, with a quick, "I'll be right back. There's someone I'd like you to meet."
"What's the matter with him?" Clem asked Curry, who slid an arm around her waist.
"Well, Clem, remember how you could never make up your mind between us?"
"He decided to make things a little easier on you."
"You're not saying . . . ?" She could see Heyes in the distance, stopping to join a woman, giving her a quick kiss, and taking her arm.
"He got married."
Clem's jaw dropped, and her already large eyes grew enormous. "Hannibal Heyes got married? But he was the last man in the world I expected to do that! I figured you, maybe, but . . . he isn't the marrying kind. That's what we always said about him."
Curry shrugged. "I think he was as surprised as anyone. But I guess you could say Heyes finally met his match." He tightened his grasp around her waist, and pulled her a little closer, with the comfortable flirtatiousness of an old friend. "I'm still available." At least, he qualified to himself, until Sandy says otherwise.
Clem sighed. "But I liked it when there were two of you to fight over me." She deftly detached herself. "It won't be nearly as much fun, anymore. Still, we've known each other for an awful long time. I guess everything changes sooner or later, even you boys."
Kid Curry smiled. “I’m glad you came, Clem. It’s been too long since we’ve seen you.”
And Clementine Hale smiled back at him, not a flirtatious smile, but one filled with genuine warmth. “It sure has, Kid.”
From a letter written by Clementine Hale to Diamond Jim Guffey:
" . . . and you won't believe the extraordinary woman Heyes ended up marrying. First of all, she's a giantess -- she must be nearly as tall as Heyes is. And of course, though I know some people think blonde women are attractive, she's awfully pale and washed out looking. But the most peculiar thing about her is that she was apparently quite the old maid, and used to be a lawyer or an accountant or something. Who ever heard of such a thing? If I'd have known that it was Amazons who attracted Heyes, I never would have wasted all this time on him. . . . "
From a letter written by Diamond Jim Guffey to Clementine Hale:
". . . I've had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Heyes, and I must say I found her both attractive and charming, although not so much to my own taste as the more petite, dark-eyed and scheming type. I hadn't realized that this was coming as a surprise to you, and I'm certainly sorry for any distress it may have caused you. But you must have known you couldn't play the two of them off against each other indefinitely. However, since you don't seem to be interested in Curry without Heyes, any more than I suspect you would be in Heyes without Curry, may I suggest an alternative? Have you given any thought to the advantages of an older, more experienced, and with all due modesty, far wealthier gentleman? Devotedly yours, . . . "
I remember the night I met Clementine Hale pretty distinctly, if only because I’d always wondered about the women in Heyes’ past, and I’d always wondered about Clem in particular, since her name tended to come up a bit more often than any of the others’. I wasn’t really sure if it had been a romance or a friendship laced with flirtation, though I suspected the latter, seeing how she flirted with the two of them pretty much equally, with plenty left to spare for every other man we stopped and chatted with on our progress around the floor that night.
She was everything I wasn’t -- flirtatious, petite, able to turn herself into the center of attention in every situation she was in. I went around for the rest of the evening, feeling gawky and unattractive like I had when I was a fifteen year-old tomboy, before I met Billy and learned that not every man was looking for the same thing in a woman.
At least, I felt that way until Heyes looked at me and smiled and whispered something into my ear that made me blush, but also let me know just where it was I stood in relation to Clementine Hale. I wasn’t disappointed, anyway.
I think it was that night when Heyes suddenly took it into his head that I ought to meet some of the dealers, too. I couldn’t quite figure out why, but he kept asking me what I thought of a number of them. Only one of them really stands out in my mind, though. He was by far the brightest of them all -- in fact, the first thing I asked Heyes was, what was he doing there and not managing his own place? He was short and dark, with something of the bulldog in his looks, and he was quick, clever, and almost charming. I say almost because there was something about him that unnerved me. I told Heyes I didn’t really trust him, and he seemed to listen, but afterwards, when I asked him if that Tony was still working there, he’d nodded and explained that he was doing too good a job and he couldn’t figure out a real reason to fire him. Not one that would satisfy Mr. Parker, who thought Tony was the model and pattern of all casino employees.
He probably was. What did I know about dealers and croupiers, anyway?
Our life in San Francisco settled into a rather peculiar pattern. Heyes and the Kid stayed late at the casino, and though I tried to wait up for them to get home from work, far too often I failed. In the mornings, I would wake up and find Heyes lying there in bed beside me, although I almost never heard him coming in the previous night. Of course, he'd be sound asleep then, so I'd slip quietly out of bed, wash up, grab a book, and pull aside the curtain just enough that I had light to read by. Then I'd climb back into bed and read, accompanied by the soft sound of his breathing. Sometimes I'd stop and just look at him, lying there with his dark hair ruffled against the white pillowcase. Eventually, there would be a stirring beside me, and I'd put my book down. Those sweet, late-morning hours were the time we spent talking, and touching, and . . . .
At any rate, everyone knew not to disturb us before we put in our appearance. But then, all too soon, he'd have to get to the casino, where both his management and storytelling skills were in heavy demand.
I was a little jealous of Sandy, because somehow Jed Curry seemed to manage to find the time to get back from the casino and accompany us on our daily walks. He claimed that staying inside all the time gave him the willies, but the newly laid out Golden Gate Park was not exactly the open wild, either. It was hard to ignore the encroachment of the city, all around, unless you were staring off into the bay, and over to the mountains beyond. When he was walking with us, I would fall behind, and watch them. Sandy nearly always took charge of Rachel. She had a touch with my daughter that I seemed to be lacking, even though Rachel did demonstrate a rather heartwarming preference for me when we were all seated around in the parlor at home. I'd look at the three of them walking ahead of me, Curry tall and straight, and Sandy walking contentedly at his side, her beautiful jet-black hair loosely confined behind her. Rachel would be held in one or the other's arms, and I'd think that they looked like the real family. I thought about how they both looked happy here, but how I knew they'd both rather be someplace a lot more open, a lot wilder.
He appeared to be courting her, slowly and cautiously, and I was glad. It seemed peculiar that Kid Curry would do anything cautiously, especially anything involving a woman. But he knew what Sandy had been through, and how skittish she had been when Rick and Jeremy and I had gone to take her away from her husband's house. It was well over a year now, and she was less and less likely to flinch at loud noises and sudden movements. She was less likely, frankly, to shrink away at the sound of men's deep voices and men's heavy steps, and when she looked at Jed Curry now, I could actually see in her eyes that she wanted him.
I'd warned him away once, when I didn't think he had anything to offer her but heartbreak, but now I was silently cheering him on. The longer this went on, the more nights he spent at the house, and the fewer in his room over the casino, where I had a pretty good idea of what he had been doing. Well, he was doing a lot less of it, and still being the perfect gentleman with Sandy.
As far as I could tell, the most forward he got was offering her his arm when they strolled together. I duly reported all this to Heyes, who assured me that in ordinary circumstances, the Kid would kiss a girl as soon as look at her, at least, as long as he was certain she wouldn’t have any objections. And as far as Heyes could recollect, none of them had ever had any.
But this was different. They looked so right together, and when she was with him, the shadows that followed her everywhere seemed to clear away.
That wasn’t the only reason why I constantly reprimanded myself for my jealousy of the time they spent together. As I sat around the house waiting for Heyes to return, I kept thinking about those times in Blue Sky, when I'd come home after a long session at the office, and find him sitting at home, reading. When he looked up at me, there'd be a lost look in those brown eyes, until something clicked and he'd begin teasing me about something or other. Or I'd find him waiting for me on the steps outside my office. Otherwise he'd be at the saloon, which wasn't much fun for him once nobody would play cards with him for money, anymore. He didn't spend his time there getting drunk very often because he knew that I didn't like it and it was the only thing we ever fought over. When he did it, it usually meant he was looking for a fight. It meant I was wrapped up in my work and ignoring him past acceptable bounds.
And sooner or later he and Curry would leave town again, and even though I'd miss him, and my bed would feel big and lonely at night, and I'd keep expecting to hear his voice or his footsteps for days before it sunk in that he was gone again . . . . even though all of that, I felt a certain relief, too. I could work late without feeling like I was disappointing anyone too much. I could come and go as I pleased, while Caroline and Sandy watched my little girl.
So why should I be surprised that when he found something he was good at and liked to do, he would throw himself into it as wholeheartedly as I would have done? As I had done all along? Hadn’t he been the most successful outlaw leader in the West? Was it so surprising that he’d get bored just drifting around aimlessly doing odd jobs? Still, it did surprise me. Maybe I’d set too much store on his innate restlessness, and his love for the wide open country, but I hadn’t foreseen this at all. I wondered how long it would last, how long it could be before his wanderlust outweighed his satisfaction. Before he would want to move on again, and I could go home.
I tried visiting him at the casino, but I always felt a little in the way. Sometimes he invited me specially -- usually when it occurred to him that we hadn't seen much of each other for while, or when the casino had important visitors who'd brought their wives, and I was socially useful. But the rest of the time, I stayed away unless I had a concert or a lecture to go to in town, in which case I'd call for him at the casino so we could travel home together. Half the time I'd end up sitting in his office with a book for a couple of hours, and not infrequently he'd come in and find me dozing in a big, comfortable armchair that sat in a corner by the fireplace, usually unlit because the San Francisco weather didn’t require it.
The casino was overwhelming to me -- all those people, all that noise, all the constant action of the roulette wheels and the blackjack tables and the poker games. On any given night, the Western Star Casino probably had the equivalent of half the population of Blue Sky in there. There was dining and drinking, and dancing and conversation, and plenty of "hostesses" chatting up unaccompanied gentlemen. The girls didn't actually have rooms on the premises, but there was a rather suspiciously luxurious-looking boarding house next door.
I just couldn't get interested in gambling, either. Heyes' instinct for it was one of those things about him I knew I'd never understand, just as my complete incomprehension of it puzzled him in turn. He'd say that I took plenty of gambles in the courtroom, and he couldn't see why I didn't see it was the same thing, but . . . I didn't. That is, I knew what he meant, but I didn't feel it.
Besides, I always felt as though his stories of his wild law-breaking days were tamed down a little in my presence, especially the ones involving the ladies. One time I heard him telling a group of Easterners that he was sorry, and he'd tell them the whole story later, but that pretty lady standing over there was his wife, and . . . . I'd already heard them all, more than once, too, and I had to confess that even his silver-tongued storytelling didn't hold me enthralled anymore, when I'd heard a story a dozen or more times already.
Also, I had the sense that I wasn't quite picturesque enough for the Western Star and its clientele. Even neatly combed and wearing suits, my husband and his partner had a certain air about them. They'd seen a lot and done a lot, and you could tell it from the way they carried themselves. Parker had convinced them to wear those flashy brocade gamblers' vests, which he said made them look really sharp. Oddly enough, they seemed to agree. I thought they made them look more picturesque, instead, kind of like my image of what riverboat gamblers would look like. But then, I hadn’t been used to seeing them dressed up very often, anyway.
I knew I didn't fit the romantic picture of the outlaw's bride. I looked like any respectable San Francisco lady might have looked, and certainly not like a woman who was pining away for the wilds of Montana. It was amusing, though, that the very quality that disappointed those rare Eastern tourists who chanced to meet the elusive Mrs. Heyes was the quality that led the so-called "better" society of San Francisco to nod at me at the opera, or when we were promenading in the park.
My first invitation to one of Mrs. Parker's Thursday receptions, when I'd been living in town for a month or so, was the signal that San Francisco society was willing to consider embracing me.
The Parkers’ house was on Nob Hill. It wasn't one of the largest of the Nob Hill mansions -- those belonged to gentry like the Stanfords and the Hopkinses, and ironically, to friends of my husband's with peculiar names like Soapy Saunders and Silky O'Sullivan, the origins of whose fortunes didn’t bear looking into. But modest by Nob Hill standards was hardly modest in the ordinary sense of the word.
Madeline Parker's drawing room was elegantly, and expensively, appointed. I couldn't help but think that there was something awfully strange about a world where such elegance existed and yet the poverty of some of the immigrant families I’d seen around the city was more abject than anything I had ever imagined. I suppose I was sheltered, coming from Blue Sky, where even the poorest cowhand had decent housing and enough to eat, while we Harts and the Johnsons and the other wealthier families in town had nothing beyond what belonged to the solid middle class of San Francisco.
In the course of the afternoon, I discovered that my past career was a harmless eccentricity, and my appearance and manner were entirely acceptable. Since I was close enough to being informed of this to my face as made no difference, I made some conclusions of my own about the manners of my interlocutors, a roomful of women ranging in age from their twenties to their fifties, and marked by an almost aggressively tasteful manner of dress, an amalgam of jewelry like I’d never seen before, and complicated hairstyles of the sort one needed a ladies’ maid to attain.
The ladies were fascinated with how I'd come to be married to Heyes, and questioned me incessantly.
“But weren’t you afraid, knowing about his past as you did?” asked one of them, a stout older lady with oddly bluish hair.
I hadn’t the heart to tell her that I wasn’t exactly aware of his real identity until I’d already put myself into a compromising position with him . . . and that by that point, he could have told me something a great deal worse and I probably wouldn’t have blinked an eye. So instead I said, “But, you see, I met him first as a client, and I’ve learned a great deal about reading my clients. I believed I could trust him, and it turned out that I was quite right.”
“Even though he was a notorious outlaw?” asked a younger woman, her complexion oddly flushed with what I supposed was vicarious excitement.
“But he was already trying to go straight when I met him. That was one of the first things he told me, after he admitted who he really was. Besides, as I said, I’d spent some time with the two of them already, and I was certain in my heart that I could trust him.”
“Well, it certainly is a romantic story!” said the younger woman, and her companions nodded, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. In the personal remarks they addressed to me, it became apparent that I wasn't the only one who'd read Lord Byron's *The Corsair* . . . I was just the only one who’d actually married him.
Of course, none of these women had ever done anything for a living, like I had, except for one or two of the older ladies who'd worked in shops or something back before their husbands had struck it big. I found it fascinating, learning how their husbands had amassed their fortunes -- for I was easily the most fortuneless person present, other than the servants -- fascinating and deeply ironic. From the wives of the railroad barons, the land speculators, and the bankers, I learned one important thing -- there was barely a fortune in the room that had been made in a manner that was significantly more honest than the way my husband had made his money. The primary differences were that their money was made under color of law, and instead of spending it all on cards and whiskey and women, their husbands had reinvested much of it in places that would make them more money. And yet, every single one of these ladies would have distinguished between her husband and my own -- how hers was a clever businessman, whereas mine, whatever he might be now, had still been a common criminal at one time.
Somehow they let me know that despite that judgment they found the idea of getting to know him and his partner rather intriguing, and that at the same time, they found me entirely proper and acceptable. Unlike the people of Blue Sky, they didn’t accept me in spite of my eccentricities. They simply decided that they didn’t exist. I was one of them, a lady, and that was that, no room for other opinions. An entire lifetime of “well, Ella isn’t quite like other people,” erased in the conspiratorial nod of the leaders of San Francisco society. It was disconcerting, to say the least.
All-in-all, it was an entertaining evening, marred primarily by the fact that these ladies seemed to think we were now friends. They pressed invitations on me, and promised they’d come calling..
Madeline Parker signaled for me to stay when her last guests were departing. "Wilmot, some sherry, please."
The dark-skinned butler brought us a set of crystal glasses and a decanter on a silver tray, and ceremoniously filled a small glass for each of us.
"Well," said Mrs. Parker, raising a glass, "here's to our finally having the chance to get to know each other."
I raised mine in response. "Your husband certainly has done mine a good turn, Mrs. Parker."
"Madeline, please. And may I call you Ella?"
"Why, of course. It's what I'm used to answering to." I paused for a moment, looking for something to talk about. "Lovely furniture you have, Mrs. -- Madeline." It was heavy carved walnut, dark and far too ornate. If it was what passed for sophisticated around these parts, I'd stay unsophisticated quite contentedly.
"Thank you, dear. And that's a lovely dress. Did you have it made here in San Francisco?"
"Yes, in a manner of speaking. That is, the dress was made here, but I imported the seamstress. Sandy makes all my clothes."
Madeline Parker raised her eyebrows. "But the fashion is absolutely up-to-date."
"Until we moved here, I used to do a lot of business with a bookseller in New York. He thought it was a little strange, a woman ordering so many law books and histories and foreign novels as me, so he sometimes used to include a copy of Godey's Ladies Book or some other set of fashion plates in his shipments. I think he meant it as a sort of gallant gesture. Sandy started picking out pictures of what she thought would look pretty on me and just took off from there. I could never get her to make anything like that for herself, though."
"Well, considering her position, it wouldn't be appropriate, would it?"
"What do you mean?" I felt a flash of anger, and controlled my tone of voice only with a significant effort. "Sandy was married to the son of the most prominent man in Blue Sky." *Was* married. I'd just left myself open to admitting that Sandy was divorced -- Sandy who I was trying to help get a fresh start. I hoped she wouldn't pick up on it.
She didn't, since Sandy wasn’t of sufficient interest for her to register it. "I'm sorry. I thought she was a sort of servant?"
"Well, she did help with the cooking and cleaning, but she was my ward, certainly not a servant. She didn't really take to her books, but she's a regular . . . " that hateful, vulgar poem. I was as certain Madeline Parker adored it, as I was that her second glass of sherry was going to her head. "Angel in the House."
"Oh, Coventry Patmore! What a lovely poet he is. I can recite whole passages from 'The Angel in the House'." And she proceeded to do so, as well as to consume a third glass of sherry. I actually took it in my head to feel sorry for her, useless pretentious woman. Parker had married her for her ornamental value, I suspected, but it never occurred to him that he ought to trouble himself with what she was really thinking and feeling. As a result, she didn’t have much trust in her capacity for either, and she had come to rely on the opinions of her neighbors, to adopt as her own.
She concluded with a flourish, and I clapped politely. "Isn't your Sandy a . . . a half-breed?" she asked.
I rose, but put on my most patient smile, the one I usually saved for recalcitrant witnesses. "Sandy is an orphan and her parentage is unknown. We -- that is, she and I -- have always suspected her father was a member of an indigenous tribe, yes. But we've always regarded it as rather a matter of pride -- Sandy’s own personal romance." Those were terms I thought Madeline Parker would be able to understand.
Her world was too rosy now for her to take offense, so she simply smiled. "An Indian Princess. How lovely . . . but you *do* understand that I still can't invite her to my Thursdays."
I collected what remained of my wits, and made my exit, as she was signaling the butler for another glass.
Oh, it wasn’t all that bad. I quite liked Heyes’ and the Kid’s old friend James O’Finn Santana. But then, Big Jim, as they called him, was a former outlaw, too -- in fact, he'd run the Devil's Hole gang before Heyes did, even if he was running a successful shipping firm now. But he still had a roguish look in his eyes that made me figure I wouldn’t want to get in his way if there was anything he really wanted.
Of course, whenever we saw him and his wife Clara, the men’s conversation was mostly reminiscing about the wild old days at Devil’s Hole, and we women tended just to listen. It was freer and more spontaneous than the storytelling at the casino, but sometimes it almost seemed as though they'd stopped really living when they'd gotten on the right side of the law.
Worse than that was Silky O’Sullivan. One look at him and you thought you’d found a courtly old silver-haired gentleman, but in fact, he was more irascible than the entire judiciary back in Montana combined into one, and they were an irascible lot. He made no secret of his puzzlement as to just why Heyes had married me. I wasn’t a real beauty, by his standards, which tended to encompass actresses and ladies of the demimonde -- women of far more . . . obvious, shall we say? . . . attractions. And wealthy in Blue Sky was certainly not wealthy in San Francisco -- I didn’t have nearly enough money, not by his standards, either, not to justify Heyes’ inexplicably linking his lot in life with that of a skinny old maid.
There were two kinds of woman whom Silky could appreciate: the quiet and lovely and unobtrusive (Sandy was a favorite with him) and the conwoman or adventuress. He’d just shake his head at me, and wonder why, “with brains like yours, you’ve been wasting them for that pitiful five dollars an hour or whatever it is that lawyers get.” Never mind that most of the workers in San Francisco in those days were thankful for fifteen dollars a week; Silky was convinced that I thought small and that I was a bad influence on Heyes. “Holding him back,” he said once, right in front of us.
Heyes burst into laughter at that, and reminded Silky that he’d begun his quest for the amnesty and the honest life quite some time before he’d met me.
“Well, if you’d never gotten caught in the first place, you’d never have had to go for the amnesty would you?” Silky shook his head. “Small thinking, that’s what it was . . . Now look at me.” And then he’d be off again about another one of his scams that had come off triumphantly.
I sometimes wondered if anything had ever backfired on him. Heyes assured me that plenty of his schemes had come to nothing, but that I wasn’t likely to be hearing about those.
Other than that, I did very little except play with Rachel, whose interest in the world around her was increasing daily; write endless unremarkable letters to Jeremy and sometimes to Rick; and read voraciously. I haunted my bookseller’s, secure in the knowledge that it was the only place I knew where my society “friends” weren’t likely to be found. I read constantly, novels and law and a new interest, political economics. I was interested to read in one of the latter books that “Property is theft.” That certainly shed a new light on my husband’s past career.
"It's been weeks since the last time that you found anything wrong with the books, Heyes. Do you think everything's been straightened out?"
Heyes swung around in his desk chair to face his partner. "I thought so, Kid, but now I'm not so sure. I think it's time to bring in Silky, and ask his advice."
“You think he can help us figure out if there’s cheating going on?”
Heyes grinned. “Who knows more about cheating than Silky? Didn’t he invent nearly half the ways there are to do it? Well, him and Soapy between them, but Soapy’s still in Europe.”
The Kid returned the grin. “You got a point, Heyes. But you know how Silky’s always grumbling about our going straight. Says it’s a waste of natural talent. Do you think he’ll be willing to help?”
“Sure he will, Kid. When’s he ever not come through for us?”
“What about the books? I thought you’d said they’ve been makin’ sense lately.”
“I did, but that was before I started double-checking what was at the tables at different points in the night. It’s just goin’ on at a different level.”
“Got any suspects?”
“Just about everyone, Kid. Could be Parker, himself. Could be that bookkeeper, Bill Reynolds. Could be almost any of the dealers and croupiers. Hard to tell. Could even be you.”
But Curry looked so hurt at his partner’s facetious remark that Heyes pulled back and apologized. “Sorry, Kid. I know you’d never end up on the opposite side of anything from me. It’s just . . . I’m gettin’ more and more convinced we’re bein’ set up to take a fall. Anyway, I gotta get out of here. I promised Ella I’d take her to the opera tonight.”
Curry grinned. “The opera, Heyes? I knew gettin’ married could change a man but I didn’t think I’d ever see the day when you’d be goin’ to the opera.”
Heyes shrugged. “I just don’t see enough of her, and with everything we’ve got goin’ here this week, it was either tonight or Thursday. Wanna know what she’s doin’ Thursday evening?”
His partner inclined his head, to indicate his interest.
“She’s goin’ to a lecture at the Athenaeum, on political and economic reforms. Now you tell me which you’d rather do -- go hear some music and see some pretty ladies singin’ it, or go to hear some fancy college professor from back East tellin’ us that some folks don’t have enough money and some folks have too much. Like that ain’t obvious just from walkin’ around?”
“Yeah, Heyes, but Ella ain’t lived it, like we have. Guess she’s got some different ideas, ‘cause of that.”
“Yeah, probably.” He smiled ruefully. “So, it’s off to the opera for me.”
Kid Curry smiled back. “Better you than me.”
“Well, you know, Kid, you could come along.”
“And leave the Western Star all alone?”
“Yeah, well, when she told me to bring you along, that’s what I told her. You owe me one, for sayin’ one of us had to stay behind to manage this place.” He thought for a minute. “At least the champagne oughta be good.”
“Champagne’s good here. And who needs champagne anyway, when you can have whiskey?” Kid Curry shrugged. “Try and enjoy yourself, Heyes.”
“Least I’ll get to see my wife for a change.”
Mary Ann came upstairs to tell me that Heyes was waiting for me, so I straightened my bodice while Sandy put the final finishing touches on my hair. It was styled more elaborately than usual, and I was a little nervous that it might not make it through the evening. It wasn’t the only thing I was a little nervous about. I’d been seeing less and less of Heyes lately, as he’d been staying later at work and sleeping until nearly the time he had to leave to get back to the casino. It was hardly worth his coming home at all, some nights, but I appreciated the effort he was making. This evening, I felt like he was a gentleman caller, come to escort me to the opera. And I knew he wasn’t going to enjoy it much, and I wanted him to, so badly. It seemed as though it had been a long time since we’d had a whole evening, just the two of us together.
Heyes was waiting at the bottom of the staircase, and I saw his eyes widen just a bit as he saw me. I couldn’t figure out the cause until I felt the draft from the entrance hall, and I realized he’d never seen me in evening dress before now. Not in the “society” sense, anyhow. The neckline was a great deal more dramatic than anything he’d ever seen me wearing before.
He gave one of those broad, lopsided grins that deepened his dimple until it was practically impossible not to want to touch it. “Ella, you look . . . good enough to eat. If I’d’ve known this was how you’d dress for the opera, I’d’ve taken you to one long ago.” Then, with mischief in his eyes, he asked, “Are all the ladies there gonna be wearing dresses like this?”
I determined not to rise to the bait, but there was something about that smile of his. “You mean you plan on having eyes for anyone but me? . . . . But much as I hate to interrupt a gentleman in the middle of a compliment, aren’t you going to change?
“Change?” he asked, blankly.
“Er, to evening clothes?” I asked.
He looked down at himself. “I’m wearin’ my good suit. This ain’t like one of your English novels, Ella. This is the West.”
I shrugged. “This is San Francisco, home of pretensions of all kinds. Oh, well. Never mind. You’ll be the handsomest man there, anyway. Except maybe that new tenor I’ve been hearing so much about.” I picked up my shawl, which Mary Ann had left for me on a chair in the entrance hall, wrapped it around myself, and took Heyes’ arm. “Shall we go?”
The Opera House was newly constructed and it was along the same lines as the finest mansions on Nob Hill. I guess Heyes had never really paid attention to it before, because when the carriage dropped us off, I could see that he was a little more impressed than he wanted to let on. I’d been attending all season, since the music really was quite fine, so I was used to the place.
The usher looked at my husband’s suit a little superciliously, but he must have figured out who he was when he was told what box we were going to, because before we’d been seated, I’d seen a not-so-subtle change in his expression and manner. Heyes and his partner had become folk heroes. The usher stared at him, admiration evident, for just long enough that I began to wonder if he’d still be standing there gawking when the curtain rose.
So this was the Opera, thought Heyes. Well, it wasn’t quite what he’d expected. Some of the singing struck him as peculiar, but there were some lovely bits, too. He hadn’t quite realized there was going to be a whole story acted out, but that, since it was being sung in Italian, it didn’t matter much what that story was, since you couldn’t follow it anyway. One thing had him puzzled, and he leaned over to whisper to Ella. “Why are all those folks in the other boxes carrying on talking like there’s nothing going on, on stage?”
“Because they come here to see and be seen, and half of them really couldn’t tell you what opera they’re seeing or who’s singing. It’s really pretty sad, isn’t it?”
Heyes frowned. “Does seem peculiar, yeah. Why go to all this trouble?” He gave her one of his looks. “Much easier just to go to the saloon and see folks there. No need for all the dress and bother, there.”
“Well, dearest,” said his wife, “some very few of us are here for the music.”
He settled deeper into his seat, trying to get comfortable, and took her gloved hand in his. “And some of us are here for the folks who are here for the music.”
But at the intermission, when they headed to the lobby for refreshments, he was impressed by the people she was introducing him to. The Stanfords, the Huntingtons, the Crockers, and so forth. These were the movers and the shakers of San Francisco’s business community. Why, if a man wanted to get some real deals going here, these were the people he’d want to know. These were the people who didn’t need to visit the Western Star because they were too busy gambling with railroads and mines and the contents of entire ocean-going liners. Most of them were on a level with Joe Parker, but the rest could buy and sell him with their pocket change.
And here they all were, chatting politely with his wife. At the opera. It was that easy.
Afterwards, when they made their way back to their box, she apologized to him. “I’m so sorry. Those people must bore you dreadfully -- they certainly do me. But Madeline Parker’s introduced me to all the wives, and now I’m stuck with them. Though I was impressed at Leland’s telling me that the university they’re endowing in memory of his son is going to be coeducational.”
All Heyes could think about was that “Leland” was exactly the kind of man he would have tried to relieve of some of his excess cash through illegal means in the past, and maybe “Leland” was the kind of man he might relieve of some of his excess cash through legal ones, in the future. First Joe Parker letting him in on some of his speculations, and now this. He felt like new horizons were opening up in front of him. New schemes, new challenges, new ways of being the best at something. Just schemes that were legal, that was all. Big Jim had sure been right to say that business could be fun, if you took the right attitude towards it.
And here maybe he had a way in, to meet the investors and make the connections, without having to lean on Joe Parker. A good thing, in case it was Parker who was trying to set them up. And it was all thanks to Ella and her opera and some rich ladies who bored her to tears. She did look lovely in that dress. Well, if things went the way he saw them going, now, she could have lots more like it. Prettier, even. And jewels to wear with them.
There was a problem with one of the roulette wheels that next night. An Eastern tourist, a rich one, was accusing the house of cheating him. He was with a big party, and they were all from New York, which meant they weren’t soft spoken or timid about their accusations. Heyes swore at them under his breath, but he made good their losses, and hauled the man who was running the wheel into his office to give him a good talking to.
“What’s all this about, anyway? You know we run an honest house, here.” Heyes paced back and forth, while Kid Curry stood behind him, silently, with that quiet aura which was as effective in achieving results as Heyes’ silver tongue was.
The man looked at Curry, obviously shaken. “But everybody knows that . . . there isn’t a roulette wheel in a casino anywhere that doesn’t have a foot pedal. And the run of luck was against us tonight -- those folks were winning big. I’ve been reprimanded about letting my losses get too high, before.”
Heyes frowned. “These are games of chance. The chance is in the house’s favor, but it’s still random. And who’s reprimanding you, anyway? Who’s your section leader? Tony Salerno? Ed Wharton? Hank James?”
“I’m in Ed’s section,” said the man. “But that’s not . . . .” he stopped cold.
“What?” asked Heyes.
But the man refused to speak any further, except to hand in his resignation, effective immediately. Neither Heyes’ silver tongue nor the Kid’s steely eyes and soft persuasive voice, could convince the man to utter another word.
Two days later, he was found dead in his lodgings in a dingy part of town. He’d apparently been killed resisting a robbery, and the San Francisco police dismissed the case quickly, although not before questioning Heyes and Curry.
But what could he have possibly had worth stealing? The former outlaws had their suspicions, and made some inquiries around the casino, but either nobody knew anything, or nobody was talking.
“Maybe we should talk to Ella about it,” suggested the Kid, not unexpectedly. “Get an outside opinion. Remember how she worked with us to figure out who murdered that lady, back in Colorado?”
“Are you crazy, Kid? I don’t want her anywhere near this. If it is connected to whatever’s going on, it means that these folks are dangerous, and we are not gonna put her in that kind of danger, by lettin’ her get involved in this.”
“I wasn’t thinkin’ about it that way, Heyes. Guess you’re right.”
“Course I’m right,” said Heyes, but she wouldn’t see things that way if she knew about it, he added to himself. Just more stuff I’ve gotta keep from her, and that certainly ain’t makin’ her happy.
As he became more and more involved in the investigation of just what was going on at the Western Star, there were so many questions that she was asking that he couldn’t answer. It certainly didn’t help that she could almost always tell when he was lying, either. So between the extra time it took him to double check on things around the Western Star, and his fears of what he might let slip to her if they really got to talking, he found himself staying away from the house until later and later at night.
When she tried to wake him now, in the mornings, to talk or for other reasons, he’d mumble, “I’m sorry honey,” and give her a brief kiss on the cheek. And then he’d roll over, and say, “I was stuck at work awful late last night,” and pull the covers over his head and pretend to go back to sleep. Of course, that meant that their relationship was suffering in more ways than one. But it would all be different soon, he kept reminding himself. Meanwhile, he tried to pretend to himself that she didn’t look as lost or unhappy as he knew she did.
Kid Curry had still not made a formal declaration to Sandy, but he was walking out with her day after day, and if she wasn’t aware of his feelings, it could only be because she was determined not to be. It was hard for me not to ask her, but I was trying my best not to intrude. I could still remember when she’d been an innocent, trusting girl. The painful secrets she had learned to keep to herself during her brief, disastrous marriage had turned her openness in on itself, and though she responded as genuinely and as generously as ever to things outside herself, she had built a wall around all that was personal to her that even I couldn’t break through.
Sometimes I thought that if Jed Curry couldn’t do it, then nobody ever would. And so, every day I waited for them to return from their walk, or if I accompanied them, I lagged behind. And every day, I was disappointed. Still the same nothing.
As it turned out, Jed Curry had very little to do with the event that made Sandy admit to me that maybe, just maybe, she could be happy again.
I was reading in the study, when Mary Ann came in to get me. Kid Curry had taken a couple of hours off from work to take Sandy and Rachel to the park, and I had stayed behind to get some work done -- if you could call it that. I’d been accompanying them less and less, mainly because I was beginning to get impatient about whether he was going to get to the point, soon, and I thought maybe the more time I gave them alone, the more likely it would be to happen. Alone but suitably chaperoned by Rachel, of course.
"There's a . . . person to see you. An Injun. Didn't have a calling card, of course, but he says his name is Albert Raintree, and that your Mister Jeremy Chadwick sent him."
"Thank you, Mary Ann," I said, and followed her into the parlor. "That will be all, Mary Ann," I said, in dismissal. I hated the formalities, hated the fact that Mary Ann really was a servant, and not part of the family. She was obviously uncertain about leaving me alone with someone she considered a savage, so I said, "If Mister Chadwick sent him, it will be quite all right."
Mary Ann looked at me. There was a photograph of Jeremy with his wife and children, on the mantlepiece in the sitting room, and I could tell from her expression that she was picturing them all lying scalped somewhere. We were going to have to have a long talk, sometime soon.
The man standing before me was tall and imposing, with a dignified bearing only partly marred by the obvious discomfort with which he wore his dark suit. His greying black hair was neatly confined in a braid down his back, and his handsome, sculptured features were impassive. Only his eyes showed something different, a mixture of anxiety and pain.
"Well, Mister Raintree, why don't you sit down? I understand you've come all the way from Montana looking for me." I took a seat, myself, and my visitor followed suit.
"Mrs. Heyes?" he asked hesitantly. "You and your partner have done some important work for my people, and we appreciate it. There are not many of your . . . kind . . . whom we can trust." He paused. His speech was slow but painfully correct.
"What is it, Mister Raintree? What's the matter? Surely you didn't come all this way to tell me that."
"I have recently learned that I may be indebted to you for something else. There is a girl called Alexandra Nicholls? Or Alexandra Johnson?"
"Sandy?" I asked.
"Mrs. Heyes, I had never dealt personally with Mister Chadwick before, but it happened that one of the leaders of our tribe was going to consult with him on business, and I had matters which took me that way, and so I went with him. And there was a photograph on Mister Chadwick's desk . . . a photograph of yourself, and a little girl, and a young woman. The appearance of the young woman was . . . striking to me. I asked Mister Chadwick who she was, and he told me a story."
I looked directly into Raintree’s eyes -- his strangely familiar eyes -- and then I responded, excitement, and a peculiar sort of fear welling up all at the same time. "Sandy’s mother was a tribal captive. She was rescued by a party of raiders and returned to her family, and she gave birth to a child eight months later. She died within the year. Sandy and I always imagined that she died of a broken heart, that she hadn't regarded her rescue as such a lucky chance." I broke off, and blurted out what I thought I already knew. "Mister Raintree, are you . . . could you be . . . ?"
"It was twenty years ago, but I still remember her as though it were yesterday. The name of her clan was Nicholls. She was my wife according to the laws of my tribe, although your people have never had much respect for our laws. I tried to find her, but by the time I found her parents, she was dead. I never knew there was a child." He fell silent.
For a moment, all that could be heard was the ticking of the large grandfather clock in the hallway. And then I collected myself, and spoke. "Your daughter isn't here right now, but she should be back within the hour, if you care to wait. I'd offer to take you to them, but she's taken my little girl for her walk in the park. Golden Gate Park is quite a distance, and they've got the carriage. Mister Raintree, you're going to be very proud of Sandy, I can assure you."
"She . . . her grandparents didn't teach her to hate me and my people? We hurt them in the wars, the same way that they hurt us with their guns and plows and settlements."
"They may have tried, but they failed. It's been the greatest sorrow of her life, that she hasn't known how or where to look for you." I found that my eyes were just a little moist, and I dabbed at them with my lace handkerchief. "I never met them, and she'd been in the orphanage for a couple of years when I came and took her to live with me, but . . . "
"Took her to live with you? Adopted her as your child?"
"As my ward. I tried to help arrange for her future. She was always . . . " and the conversation went on like that, for quite some time, I filling Sandy's father in on the details of her life, he interjecting brief questions.
That Albert Raintree was Sandy's father, it never occurred to me to doubt. The more I looked at him, the more I could see the resemblance between them. Some of his mannerisms were surprisingly like hers. And since Sandy was a subject of intense interest to both of us, the conversation was absorbing. The only thing I didn’t tell him about was the details of her failed marriage to Ray Johnson. It didn’t seem like my place, somehow. That would be between Sandy and her father.
Suddenly, I heard the carriage pulling up in the street. I stood up, suddenly, and he followed suit. "Wait here, Mister Raintree. I'll send her in."
I ran to the door, to find them entering. Kid Curry handed me Rachel, who had been riding on his shoulders. "Well, I'd better be gettin' back to work," he said, "or Heyes'll have something to say about it, and it won't be something nice."
"Wait," I said. "Wait a moment for me to get my things. Let's bring Rachel to see her daddy at work."
Curry looked doubtful, and Sandy protested, "But she's tired, Ella. I think she needs to rest."
"Sandy, there's a gentleman to see you, in the parlor. I think that you and he have something important to talk about. I think you'll want to see him alone."
She cast me a puzzled glance, but did what she was told. In a moment, I heard a brief cry of joy, and then someone shut the door.
"What's goin' on there?" Curry asked me. "Who's she got to see alone?" His expression was protective, defensive.
"Jed, Sandy's father came calling this morning. Until a few weeks ago, he had no idea that she even existed. Apparently her mother -- his wife -- was, as you'd say, ‘rescued’ from the tribe she was living with by her family, before he was aware that she was expecting a child."
"So why does that mean you and Rachel should come down to the casino? Sounds more like I should stay right here."
"Because they deserve some privacy, and you and I are going to have a really difficult time giving it to them, don't you think? Besides, I had a long talk with him already, while we were waiting for you. I'll tell you all about it on the way to the Western Star." I looked at Rachel, who was getting quite heavy in my arms. "Come on, sweetie. We're going to go visit daddy."
"Daddy," she said.
It was a statement, not a question, but I still felt compelled to answer. "You know, honey. That other man who lives here."
Curry shot me a dirty look.
When we got to the Western Star, it was obvious that Heyes was preoccupied. He greeted me with absentminded affection, and then drew his partner into the office without asking me to follow. He didn’t even ask me what I was thinking, bringing Rachel there, though she was clearly the only infant in the casino. Some of the friendlier saloon girls drifted away from their appointed duties in order to coo at her. They were polite enough to me, almost deferential, but it was Rachel’s resemblance to her father that they found most enchanting.
As she had grown, that resemblance had become remarkable. She had his dark brown eyes and hair, and though her facial features still had the infant’s soft formlessness, as much as they were defined, they were marked by the shadowy promise of his square face, high cheekbones, large eyes and small, distinctively shaped nose. Of course, all of this was only suggested in her round face, but there was nothing of me suggested at all. I almost felt as though I’d been an innocent bystander to her creation.
After a long while, my husband and his partner emerged from his back office and invited us to dinner. Kid Curry was obviously preoccupied by what had happened with Sandy and her father. But I couldn’t put my finger on just why it was that Heyes’ dark eyes were so shadowed, or why it was that his eyes roamed relentlessly around the dining room or why he kept jumping up from the table to go into the main gambling hall and then back out again. Finally, when dinner arrived, he settled down long enough to eat with us.
“Are you sure he means her well, though?” the Kid was asking me again, for what seemed like the dozenth time that evening.
“Jed, he’s her father,” I replied, my patience beginning to wear thin. “He’s gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to come and find her, and he’s certainly not a wealthy man. I know an awful lot about his tribe, and I can tell you that.”
“But why now, after all these years?”
“I told you that already. He didn’t even know about her existence until he saw our photo on Jeremy’s desk. He recognized her immediately. And anyway . . . Heyes, you remember when you first found out about Rachel’s, well, that she was coming?”
“Huh?” Heyes was clearly aware that I’d addressed him, but not about a word that had been said. “Oh, Rachel.” He gave me a warm smile. “Of course, honey. Once I knew that you were having that baby, I knew that I had to be a part of her life. If you’d have gotten stubborn about it, I’d have camped out on your doorstep and made a nuisance of myself until you changed your mind.”
He reached out his hand towards his little girl, who grabbed his fingers and pulled on them, and said, “Daddy home.” But whether she meant, *daddy are you coming home,* or *daddy is this your home,* I wasn’t certain. Or maybe she was just listing two of her favorite things.
And shortly afterwards, one of the dealers came into the dining room and signalled for his attention. He excused himself. Rachel and I were left alone with Kid Curry and his continued fretting. It was sweet, it was chivalrous, and it was tiring. I finally asked him if he had anything against Indians, and he looked genuinely shocked at the question.
He explained that he hadn’t ever known many, but he didn’t expect they were any worse than any other folks who’d had everything taken away from them. No, it wasn’t who or what Albert Raintree was that had Kid Curry so anxious. It was more that he was, at all. They’d both been orphans, he and Sandy. Now one of them wasn’t. Now there was another man with a claim to love and protect and cherish Sandy, and the Kid felt a little threatened.
The big social event of the season was the ball at the Andersons’ mansion. It wasn't the most impressive mansion on Nob Hill -- the Mark Hopkins house was generally accorded that honor. But it had the largest and most elegant private ballroom this side of the Mississippi, or so one was told.
I found myself hoping we wouldn't be invited, actually. Though Madeline Parker's friends were politely persistent in their invitations, and I’d even formed acquaintances further up the social ladder, I barely knew the Andersons and I had my hopes that we might have escaped their notice.
Unfortunately, San Francisco society was not going to miss out on the opportunity to claim such intriguing figures as Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry as guests. Even Sandy was included in the invitation, as "Miss Johnson." I didn't hurry to correct the mistake, and I was pleased that she took an interest in her dress for the occasion, as well as my own. It was time she stopped keeping herself so hidden away. That and I didn't relish the prospect of spending an evening watching all the pretty young misses batting their eyelashes at Jed Curry and his intriguingly forbidden charms. I was finding myself proprietary over her claims on him. But I also wondered if “Miss Johnson” would have been invited if the existence in San Francisco of her father, Mister Raintree, had been known to her hosts.
However, Sandy’s father had been delicate to the point of reticence in exercising his claims over her. He said that he understood that a live Indian father was a much different thing than a mysterious, probably dead one, and that he wanted Sandy to know him well before she made any decisions about acknowledging him. At the time, I thought this was overscrupulous, and wondered what it was about Sandy that made men so delicate in their handling of her. Albert Raintree made Kid Curry look positively aggressive in his approach.
One thing I had become certain of, though, and that was that I had misjudged Curry. I think he’d have welcomed the entire tribe into his family if that’s what he needed to do, in order to have Sandy in his life.
That evening, she and I found ourselves enthralled by putting on the pretty dresses we'd had made for the occasion. For once we’d both gone to a seamstress, since Sandy couldn’t fit herself the way she needed to for this dress, and I was worse than useless as an assistant. Mine was a shade of blue which particularly suited me, and brought out the color of my eyes. Sandy's was a pale peach. At first I hadn’t been sure about such a pale color with her dark beauty, but it was spectacular on her. It was a color for an innocent young girl, and as I watched her dress I thought about how she really was still quite untouched by the world, despite the way that world might view her status as a divorcee. Her innocence had been compromised through no fault of her own. But for once she seemed unaffected by her past troubles -- as we were talking, I noticed that her eyes never once got that haunted look that flitted through them so often.
"Hold still, Ella," she said, laughing, as she twisted my hair in back. "I can't get it pinned up evenly if you keep turning your head like that."
"I was just listening for Rachel," I said. "Are you sure Mary Ann got her to sleep?"
"Yes. I was in there with her just twenty minutes ago, you know that."
"I don't know why I'm so nervous about leaving her tonight."
"You seem awfully worried about this evening," she observed. We’d switched roles. Sandy, the shy and retiring one, was excited about her first ball. I knew just enough about these people to know all the things that could possibly go wrong.
But, as I helped Sandy with her hair, in turn, piling it on top of her head and trying to contain its luxuriance, I asked her point blank, "So, has anyone asked you to save him the first dance?"
I moved around to check the front, and I could see that she was blushing prettily. "Jed asked me to save him the first dance, and the last, and every one in between."
"Oh, dear," I said. "You can't do that."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, a gentleman is not supposed to monopolize a lady all evening. It's considered, um, unseemly. Unless, of course, they are engaged to be married. I don't suppose . . . ?"
"No, Ella," she said. "He hasn't asked me that. But I can tell he . . . cares for me."
I couldn't help but laugh. "So you’ve finally figured it out. When did you realize?"
She frowned. "I just . . . After Raymond, I didn’t want to think . . . I just wanted men to leave me alone. But Jed’s been a kind man and a good friend.” She stopped, and looked away. “He’s very handsome, and brave, don’t you think?”
I smiled to myself. This was the old, confiding Sandy. "He's cared for you for a very long time. Sandy, Jed Curry is known as a ladies' man. He's not the type to hold back with these things. But I think with you, it's different. I think you have to think seriously about whether you could care for him, too."
She just looked at me, and I could see tears gleaming in her brown eyes.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes," she sniffled. "He's the only man I think I could love, after . . . after what happened with Ray. It’s just that things are so confusing now, with my father finding me and everything."
I leaned down and embraced her, careful not to crush either of our dresses. "Sandy, honey, if you think you could love him, that's wonderful. But don't do anything because you feel like you need to. And I promise you, he wants your father to be a part of your life. He’s just afraid of anything that might take you away from him."
She was silent for a moment, and she looked almost sad again. But then she answered, "I'm sure about how I feel."
"Then go ahead and scandalize San Francisco society. Dance every dance with him." I kissed her on the cheek. "Of course, you know, you'll be disappointing half the young ladies at the ball."
I heard a shout from below. "You two ready to go?" It was Heyes. They'd come back from the casino to fetch us.
As we made our way down the stairs, I could hear the Kid fretting. "Do we have to go to this, Heyes? Do we really have to make polite conversation with all these fancy folks?"
"Oh, come on, Kid. It'll be good for business. We'll meet new people, make contacts. Big Jim said so."
"Is he goin'?"
"Well, no. But he's already met people. He don't need to."
But when the Kid caught sight of Sandy coming down the stairs in her ballgown, all of his complaints ceased. "You look . . . well, you're just about the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen." He gave her his arm, gallantly, and I thought to myself that his long period of waiting was over. This was the Jed Curry who could handle himself with the ladies, not the patient, uncertain man who had been hanging around Sandy for the past year and a half. If I didn't manage to surprise them kissing on the lawn outside the ballroom this evening, I was going to be terribly disappointed.
It was funny, the effect a dress could have, even though men claimed they didn’t care about such things, and didn’t understand why we women did. I remembered how Heyes had reacted when he took me to the opera the first time. Tonight he just smiled warmly as he took my arm. He planted a small kiss on the nape of my neck as he helped me on with my shawl and thought the others weren’t looking.
The carriage dropped us off in front of the Andersons’ mansion. It was lit up as brightly as if it were day inside. Between the gaslight and the candles, they must have been burning as much as would keep a poor neighborhood lit for a week, in just the public reception rooms. But I promised myself I wasn't going to think that way tonight. I was going to appreciate the beauty of the home I'd been invited to, and I was going to enjoy myself on one of the few evenings I'd had a chance to spend with my husband in a long time.
We walked in, and a footman indicated which way we should go. I had the sense that the servants were admiring the arrogant and easy manner with which Heyes and the Kid walked in, as though the second most expensive mansion on Nob Hill was barely worth noticing.
"Mr. and Mrs. Hannibal Heyes," called the majordomo, as though I'd changed my first name along with my last one. "Mr. Jedediah Curry. Miss Alexandra Johnson." That mistake again. None of us said a thing to correct it.
Practically as soon as we arrived, Heyes was called over by a group of men which included Joseph Parker. For awhile now, ‘Mr. Parker’ had become ‘Joe.’ I recognized a couple of the others as Heyes’ new business contacts. Just this one evening I’d wanted him to myself. But I’d heard him tell the Kid just what he was here for. Contacts. This was the beginning something new, something of his own, moving away from managing the casino for someone else. I felt that tightness in my chest again, that trapped feeling. Heyes was rooting himself deeper and deeper into San Francisco, while I felt as though I was in imminent danger of being buried alive.
The Kid whispered to him for a moment before he went, and didn't follow him. Instead, he led Sandy onto the dance floor and I watched them. They looked so right together, I thought. He was a surprisingly good dancer. Sandy had danced very little, there not being much opportunity for it in Blue Sky and she having married young. It was fortunate that this was a waltz, and that all she needed to do was follow. As I watched her, her eyes fastened on his, I thought that it wouldn't be a problem.
I drifted over to the refreshments table, and accepted a glass of champagne. I watched Sandy and Curry dancing, and I glanced over to where Heyes was standing with his business friends. I felt like Cinderella in reverse. Here I was, at the ball, and my escort had abandoned me almost instantly. I kept trying to remind myself of the times I’d done the same thing to him, back home, but somehow it didn’t feel the same. Even though I knew it was exactly the same.
In every sensible manner, I was being unfair, I thought, as I accepted another glass of champagne. Several men bestowed approving glances at me, as they passed by, but I didn't care about what anyone else thought. I drank the second glass rather quickly, and heaven knows if I mightn't have behaved stupidly if just then I hadn't run into Madeline Parker. She had accepted more than two glasses, it appeared, and I declined my third. She led me back to the side of the dance floor where two of her friends were standing.
"Look who I found," she said, cheerfully. "Another casualty of men's talent for turning everything into a business meeting."
"So nice to see you, Ella," said Dora Wilkins. "Is that your ward dancing with your husband's partner?"
Edith Robinson chimed in, "I guess nobody told them it isn't proper for a young man and a young lady to dance together all evening like that." She didn't sound like she was blaming me, just making an observation.
I looked at her. "Oh, she knows. I told her. I just don’t think she cares much.”
“Do you think they’ll . . . you know? Wedding bells?”
“I think it’s a real possibility. Nothing’s settled yet, of course, but I’ve had my suspicions for some time now.” I stopped, appalled at myself. I sounded just like the women I was with, gossipy and indiscreet.
But they smiled at me, and looked back at the couple on the dance floor. All four of us, sighing and remembering . . . I could remember the first time I’d danced with Heyes, in some dance hall up in Montana after I’d gone and got them out of trouble about something or other. That was the contract dispute, I remembered, about the shipment of antiques that got hijacked from them. I remembered how good it had felt to be held by him, and somehow everything that had happened since hadn’t erased the intensity of that feeling in my memory. I closed my eyes and I could recall it exactly, his arm around my waist, and his other hand clasping mine. We both did our best with the unfamiliar steps and there was nothing else that mattered in the world but how near we were to each other, and how soon there would be nothing separating us at all. That, and the sweet sadness of knowing that the next morning we’d be going our separate ways.
When I opened them again, nothing had changed. I was still standing with three other married women whose husbands had better things to do. I'd been so proud of my dress, and it looked like I wasn't going to dance in it all night. And I thought about Heyes sitting in my parlor back in Blue Sky, a book in his hand and a lost look in his eyes, and I understood how he’d felt.
I looked around the ballroom, and I saw the Kid handing Sandy a glass of punch at the refreshment table. She was flushed from the exertion but happier than I’d seen her in a very long time. A moment later, I saw them slip through a set of glass double doors onto the terrace, and I figured that if I followed them, I might well catch their first kiss.
But I didn't. That wouldn't have been very nice. I watched the other dancers, instead, though not with very much interest, and every so often I would respond to a comment that Madeline or Dora or Edith made. And after awhile, I felt a touch on my arm, and I turned, and there Heyes was, looking so handsome that for a moment I forgot how alone I’d been feeling.
“I’m sorry, Ella. I was just meeting some friends of Joe Parker’s, men who could be useful business contacts. You know how it is. They wanted to hear some of my old stories, and I wanted to hear about some opportunities that might be comin’ up, and . . . well, now I’ve wasted more than half the evening, and you lookin’ so beautiful and everything.”
He was here now and I was happy, so I took a deep breath and decided not to say anything. Then I said it anyway. "I’m just glad you remembered me. The ladies I was standing with tell me it only gets worse as it goes along.”
He frowned. "Ella, please don't start."
"Start what?" I asked. "This doesn't feel like the beginning of anything."
"If we're gonna argue, let's at least do it on the dance floor, all right?" He took my arm and led me into the steps of the waltz.
It felt good to be dancing with him. Neither of us was a particularly good dancer, but we moved well together, as though our bodies understood each other even when our minds were in discord. I looked slightly up to meet his eyes, and he was smiling.
"Now that's better, isn't it?"
I nodded. I had the uncomfortable feeling that I was being placated, even as I felt myself melting to his touch.
"Ella, honey, I know this isn’t what you’re used to. I haven’t forgotten that you want something more out of life than sipping tea with some rich men’s wives. But I’m doin’ this for our future, and for Rachel’s. Once I’ve got some things goin’, I’ll bring you in on it, honey. Just right now, I need to show myself I can do this myself.”
“Mmm,” I said. “I guess I understand. I know a little bit about having something to prove.” At that moment, at least, I thought I could see his point.
We didn't speak again after that, but simply went where the music took us. He was holding me a lot tighter than is generally done while waltzing, and it felt so right. But before I knew it, someone was tapping on Heyes' shoulder, and Kid Curry had cut in. Heyes turned, and found Sandy standing behind him, and swept her off in a dance.
The Kid looked about as happy as I could imagine a human being looking. His blue eyes really were sparkling, cliche or no. "She loves me, Ella. She told me so," he said as he swung me around. "Everything I've been through, everything I've seen, how come I still can't believe it?"
"I haven’t the slightest idea, Jed. I thought women tended to fall in love with you everywhere you went. Heyes always says so. Why is this such a surprise?"
He laughed. "I don't know. Because it's her? Because I've cared for other girls, but never the way I feel about Sandy?"
I looked across the floor, to where Sandy and Heyes were dancing together, not particularly well. Whether he wasn’t leading her, or she wasn’t following him, I don’t know. But whatever it was, it just wasn’t there. "Why don't we go rescue them?”
Hannibal Heyes sighed to himself, as he relinquished his dance partner to his partner. Sandy was a sweet girl, and if things kept going the way they’d been going, she’d make the Kid a very happy man. He knew it was about time. But he could have wished they’d waited a little longer, since they’d waited this long.
Ever since that croupier had turned up dead, he’d wondered just how deep the conspiracy at the Western Star went, and just how dangerous it could get as he and the Kid drew closer to the truth. It was hard to keep Ella out of it, especially now, when she was so obviously unhappy in her new position as lady of leisure. He knew that the Kid was right, and that she could be a significant asset to the investigation, but he didn’t want to put her, or Rachel, in any more danger than they were in already.
He’d thought over and over again that whoever it was must realize that the easiest way to him would be through them. They were his most vulnerable point -- Rachel still an infant, Ella quick-witted but unable to handle herself against any kind of physical danger. He could still remember how he felt that day in Colorado when Daniel Stevens had been holding a shotgun on her at close range. That was when he’d had to admit to himself just how much he loved her, even if he couldn’t say it. And just how empty a place the world would be, without her.
And after tonight, he’d have to add Sandy to that list of vulnerabilities, too, now that all San Francisco would know that Kid Curry was in love with her.
He’d been trying to read Joe Parker and his associates all evening, deliberately peppering the reminiscences that the men had demanded with stories that might elicit a reaction. He’d talked about card cheats and the saloon at Wickenburg and that crooked casino in Denver that he and the Kid had helped Harry Briscoe expose. But Parker hadn’t reacted at all.
He turned to Ella, who stood facing him on the edge of the dance floor, and gave her his arm. They threaded their way gently through the crowd, until they reached the tall French doors that led out onto the terrace.
“I wonder what they said,” she mused, as they strolled along, the cool night air a welcome relief after the closed-in feeling that the large crowd gave to even the vast ballroom. “The Kid and Sandy, when they were out here. I wonder who told who first, and how it all came out.”
“I don’t really think it’s our business just exactly what they said, Ella. Anyway, neither of them is all that much on words, not like us. Probably they didn’t say much of anything at all. Probably they told each other like . . . this.”
They’d reached a sufficient distance from the house, now, and Heyes stopped and pulled her around to face him. “Like this,” he repeated, as his arms slid around her and his lips met hers. There was so much he couldn’t tell her right now, so much he hoped his body could communicate until it was safe again to confide in her.
He was startled by a little gasp and a giggle, and he quickly turned around. Madeline Parker was standing a few feet away from them, looking a bit the worse for wear. One of her lady friends was supporting her.
“We just came out to get some air,” she explained, woozily. “The heat of the room, you know.” The heat of too much champagne. “Nice to see the ball turned out all right for you after all, Ella.”
“Come on along, Madeline,” said her friend. “We’ll go back inside and get you some nice hot coffee.”
When they’d gone, he turned to Ella. For once, he found her expression unreadable. “You okay, honey?” he asked.
“Fine,” she said, shortly.
“It’s a funny thing. Joe Parker’s head over heels in love with his wife, but he don’t see what’s become of her. He still has this picture left over from five or ten years ago, and that’s what he sees. No matter what she does.”
“He may love her, Heyes, but he’s torn the heart out of her,” said Ella, and turned away.
He sighed. The connection between them was broken again. They’d have to speed up the investigation -- he’d tell the Kid tomorrow, and they’d wire Harry Briscoe to come at once.
And then afterwards, things would be different. He was sure of it.
I slept late, the morning after the ball, but I wasn’t really sleeping. I was tossing and turning and thinking about the events of the night before. I couldn’t decide whether I was happier for Sandy and the Kid, or sorrier for Madeline Parker. As for myself, I had no idea where anything stood. Heyes had been so attentive, at the end of the evening, but he’d left me standing alone for so long before that. And I wasn’t going to get any satisfaction out of him. He wasn’t going to tell me what was going on, or why he’d been so distant. He thought he could just kiss me and everything would be all right, like I was some kind of mindless . . . woman . . . who just responded blindly to the affection of her man.
I was angriest at myself, for having responded so easily.
There was something else that had been bothering me, too -- the sheer waste of the evening. I’d heard that Elizabeth Anderson did settlement work, as a volunteer -- I’d been recommended to call on her if I wanted to get involved more actively in charity work. But what was spent on that ball could have funded two or three mission houses for the poor for a year. Food and clothes and classes in reading for the illiterate, and English for the immigrants, and job skills for the unskilled.
So much in San Francisco just didn’t make sense to me.
Heyes went off to work earlier than usual in the morning, and arrived home just after dinnertime. By then I’d spent the day trying to think it through, and I guess I was spoiling for a fight.
At least the first words out of my mouth when I saw him were, “How are things at the casino? Help anyone along the road to ruin today?”
He looked at me curiously. "Just what do you mean by that? What’s got into you lately, Ella?”
“I'm just sick of it all, I guess."
"Sick of what?"
"Some people having so much, and some people having so little. Some people having nothing at all." I gestured to the copy of Karl Marx's Capital I was reading.
He gave me a disgusted look. "Ella, how would you know about having nothing? As I recall, there's one person in this room that's never wondered where her next meal is coming from, and that person's not me."
"I know. It's just . . . did you ever stop to think about . . . not those rich bankers, but the farmers whose money you took? And the ranch hands? The small businessmen? Did you ever wonder what they were doing while you were off in Denver or San Antonio, having a good time on the proceeds of your robberies?"
He frowned, his heavy dark brows drawing close together. "And we stopped all that years ago."
"What about those poor Chinese laborers your employer, Mr. Parker, hires to work in his factory? And what about the people who lose money in the Western Star and can't afford to?"
"What the hell has gotten into you, Ella? Nobody ever said life was fair. I found that out at an early age. You've been pretty lucky if you're only finding it out now."
"What about all those workers who our lovely friends here, like the Andersons, pay near-starvation wages? Then Elizabeth Anderson does a little charity work so they can feel good about themselves again. And what about the casino?"
I could tell he was angry now. He walked over to the sideboard, and poured himself a very large drink. Even I could tell from the scent of it that the whiskey was high-quality, and the glass into which he poured it was made of crystal. He gulped it down at once, and refilled his glass, which he carried back over to where I was standing.
"Ella, I've worked at mining, and I've gone on cattle drives, and I've done a lot of things that you don't know anything about. I've been hungry, and I've been tired, and I've been more worn out than you can ever imagine. And a man's got to have his dreams. He's got to dream that someday he can have something more, something bigger, better. Most folks go to gamble expectin' to lose. Hell, I'm lucky, and I know in anything other than poker and blackjack, chances are good that even I'll lose. But the very act of gambling gives them excitement. It gives them a dream that just maybe . . . " He put his hand out and touched my arm. His voice was softer. "What's really the matter?"
"What do you mean, what's really the matter?" I asked. "It's got to be something personal? Why? Because I’m a woman, maybe? Okay, well, I'll tell you. I'm glad for you that you've found honest work that you're good at. I know that even though you like to ramble, that odd jobs here and there weren't good enough anymore. And there wasn't anything in Blue Sky for you. But what about me?"
"What about you? You've got Rachel, you've got this great big house, you've got a man that . . . " he paused for a minute, gulped, and went on, "cares about you more than anything in the world. That'd be enough to make any woman happy. Any normal woman."
"You didn't marry a normal woman, did you? You married me. I thought you knew the difference."
"I could say the same thing to you, couldn't I? You get these ideas in your head, and all of a sudden everything is different? You know me, Ella. You know all about my past, and you know all about me."
"Maybe I've got too much time on my hands to think. Look, I know we've talked about it before, but . . . I'm not happy like this. I miss having something to do."
"I know, honey," he said. "Please just give it some time. Look, I'm working a few things through, now, and if they go like they're planned, I won’t be working for Joe Parker anymore. I’ll have some of my own things going -- our own things, me and the Kid, and you. I'm gonna be needin' a lot of legal work done, and I could use a personal legal advisor. You've been readin' up on California law, haven't you? Why don't you go ahead and see about gettin' admitted to the bar, or whatever it is you need to do?"
I shook my head. "I don't know. I don't know if I'm comfortable with the idea of working for you."
"Ella, as I recall, you workin' for me was kinda like the foundation of our relationship. Is doin' work for me, as a respectable businessman, so much harder than doin' work for me when I was on the run from the law and you were always gettin' me out of jail?"
"But I was independent. You were one of my clients. One of many."
"You sure had a funny way of showin’ me that, then. I seem to remember getting some indications that I was a little bit more special to you than your other clients." His smile, as he said that, was brilliant, and it took a lot for me to ignore it. But I did.
“The point is, I'm feeling pretty indebted to you right now. But being your employee . . . that'd feel strange."
"How do you think I felt back in Blue Sky? Where the house was yours, and the business was yours, and just about everything in the whole damn town was yours? I'd go away and come back, without much to show for it, as far as money went. Just tired and dusty, and I'd sit down at your table, and eat your food, and sleep in your bed. All yours. That's hard on a man, Ella. Everything I ever knew about being a man told me that I should be taking care of you, not the other way around."
"You knew what you were getting into."
"And you know something? I respected all that. I still do. When I'd come riding into town, missing you so bad I could hardly stand it, and you were buried under stacks of papers because you had to go to court the next day, I understood. And when you made it clear that Sandy was gonna have as much to do with raising our daughter as you were, I understood. Seems to me I do a lot of understanding, and now that it's your turn to do a little, I don't think I'm getting it."
"I came here. I gave up my practice. Nobody ever suggested you go anywhere without the Kid, but I was just expected to drop Jeremy flat like our partnership didn't mean a thing."
"He upset about that?"
"He's a man. He told me my place was with my husband." I paused. "He writes me three or four times a week, though. For a man with a busy law practice, and a wife and two children, I think that means something."
"Ella, I . . . "
"Heyes, you knew me. You knew who I was, and what I did. And now you think I can just be different, because it's what you want?"
"Ella, that's just not fair. You knew who I was, too. You knew all about me. There's things about me you wanted to change, too."
"Like what? What about you that you didn’t want to change? You were going straight before I ever met you. And I’m not the one who asked you to settle down."
"Like you made it pretty clear you didn't appreciate it if I stayed out playin' cards all night. And you sure made it clear that if I was gonna come home drunk, I might as well not come home at all. Well, my whole life before I met you, I stayed out all night playin' cards, and I got drunk if I wanted to."
"What are you saying?"
"There’s lots of nights it’d be a lot more convenient to stay over in my room at the Western Star, and there’s nights now and then when I’d like to get good and drunk. But I've been coming home, and coming home sober, every single night, because that makes you happy. All I'm askin' is for you to be a little patient, let me test the waters, and I'll bring you in on my business however you want -- as my lawyer, as a partner, as whatever you like. Why can't you just do this to make me happy?"
I didn't say anything, and he pulled on his jacket.
"I'm goin' out," he said.
"To the casino?" I asked.
"No," he said. "I'm goin' out to play cards and get drunk. I'll be out real late."
"I won't wait up."
"You never do," was his parting shot, and the door slammed behind him.
He was right about one thing. I'd been expecting him to act like my notion of a gentleman, and he'd never claimed to be one. He might not be an outlaw anymore, he might even be settling down, but he was never going to be tamed. I'd just better get used to it, or else face the fact that I couldn’t.
Well, if he was going out to get drunk, I hoped he’d have more sense than to go to some of the seedier bars in the Barbary Coast. The last thing I wanted was for him to get shanghaied. I’d have to rescue him then. And I wasn’t sure I was still going to be around to do it.
So, he was going to play cards and get drunk. He wasn’t gonna think about Ella, and he wasn’t gonna think about the investigation. Just about having a good time, for once. But where was he going to go and do it, he wondered. He spent all his time at the Western Star, but it wouldn't do for him to drink and gamble at his own saloon. Well, it wouldn't do for him to drink to the kind of excess he was planning on, and it wouldn't do for him to beat his own customers at poker.
The Barbary Coast came to mind, but without the Kid to watch his back, he didn't want to risk ending up on board some old merchant freighter headed for China.
Then he thought of Kurt and Alice Schmidt, and their restaurant and music hall. He'd been meaning to visit it again for months, but the Western Star had been taking up all his time. Kurt and Alice’s place was a fair ways away, and he passed a number of saloons on the way . . . and stopped in at several.
When he got there, he was already a little unsteady on his feet. Alice was singing, much to the delight of her audience. Now that she owned her own place, she didn't have to swing in a gilded cage or wear those little outfits he remembered admiring her in when they'd first met. Instead, she wore a sapphire-toned velvet dress that set off her elegant beauty to perfection, and she stood on a small stage at one end of the room. A pity that -- but likely her husband didn’t think so.
Heyes walked over to the bar and ordered a pair of whiskies. He was halfway there already, and there was no point in wasting any time.
It was a number of songs later, all of them lively and well-sung, and a few more drinks, as well, when Alice took a break and noticed her old friend sitting at a table near the bar. "My, my," she said, looking at his glazed expression and the empty glasses that were piling up around him. "Is it something you want to talk about?"
He shook his head.
"I'll bet it's your wife, isn't it?" she asked. "I knew you weren't the marrying kind, and so did everybody except you, apparently. It's too bad, really. If I'd have known you were planning on taking the plunge, and I'd have met you before I met Kurt . . . "
"Did meet me before you met Kurt," he said, thickly. "I was how you met Kurt. And the Kid."
"You were how I met the Kid? I thought I met you both at the same time."
"You did," he said, confused.
Alice smiled kindly at him. "I think you'd better get on home. But you’re in no condition to get yourself there. Kurt's very busy in the kitchen tonight, and I've got to sing again in fifteen minutes, or else one of us would take you home. But I'll find someone to go with you."
Heyes lapsed into a daze, and an undetermined amount of time later, he found that Alice had returned, and with her, a young man. "Joshua, dear, this is Willie. Willie's a friend of Kurt's and mine. He'll see you home."
"His name isn't Joshua. That's Hannibal Heyes," said the young man, whom Heyes now recognized as the man who had accused one of his croupiers of cheating, not that long ago.
"Why, of course it is, Willie, dear," said Alice. "But he was first introduced to me as Joshua Smith, and I still call him Joshua for old times' sake."
Heyes looked at the young man for a moment. He was carrying that loaded cane that the Kid had spotted when he’d been in the Western Star. He wouldn't have been a match for Heyes under normal circumstances, but then, Heyes had been doing quite a job of making sure that anybody would have been a match for him, over these past several hours. "Can't go home, yet. Told Ella I'd be home late. Real late."
"Oh, dear," said Alice. "He's had a fight with his wife, I think. But Joshua, much as I'm happy to let you sit in my club all night, I'm a little concerned about you being here on your own in this condition without Thaddeus to look after you. I really think you'd better let Willie see you home."
The nondescript young man smiled. "I'd be happy to." He looked sincere, and Heyes figured he'd have to take the risk that he was. Because when he stood up, it was clear he wasn’t going anywhere without assistance.
Willie put Heyes in a horse-drawn cab, and climbed in himself afterwards. “Happy to be of service,” he said, in his lightly-accented voice. “I’ve been there a few times, myself. Well, more than a few times.” He proceeded to tell Heyes about his ideas about just how Tony had cheated him that night they’d met at the casino, and to explain that he understood it was the kind of thing Heyes himself wouldn't have known about.
Before he could keep the drunken words from tumbling out of his mouth, Heyes had told him about his suspicions, and had invited him to take a part in the investigation.
Willie accepted, eagerly. Great, thought Heyes. I won't even tell Ella about this, and I've just recruited a complete stranger. Even I can't wait to see what stupid thing I do next.
But if he did anything else stupid, he didn't know about it, because the next thing he knew, it was broad daylight. He was tangled up in his bed covers -- he looked around the room briefly, in a panic, to make sure it was his own room, and not, say, the hold of a freighter. It was. The light hurt his eyes, and movement and sound hurt all of him. But at least he hadn’t been shanghaied -- that was something.
A soft, mocking voice came from the direction of the chaise on the far side of the room. "Good morning, darling. Have you proven your point to your own satisfaction?"
He blinked, and looked that way. She was fully dressed, and sitting with a book on her lap. "I had a great time last night," he said, stubbornly.
"Mm," she said. "I'm sure you did. The young man who brought you home tells me you came in half-drunk already, sat down by yourself, drank a great deal more, and had to be assisted home. Sounds like a fine old time."
“Don’t start, Ella. I’m not in the mood.”
She got up and walked over to the bed, and sat down next to him. “Can I get you anything?” she asked, stroking his hair.
"Whatcha doin'? You're never nice to me when I have a hangover," he said, suspiciously. "What do you want?"
"Nothing," she responded. "I’m sorry about some of the things I said last night."
He looked up at her with his still-bleary eyes. "You look real nice. A whole evening away from the casino, and I wasted it gettin' drunk at Alice's. I must be crazy."
"Alice? This is birdcage Alice? 'I'll never know what would have happened if I'd only met one of you' Alice?"
"You're *jealous*? I finally made Ella jealous? Honey, this is two kids and married to a very talented chef Alice. She knows which side her bread is buttered on. He's real good at what he does, and a lot more people end up hearing her sing because of his cooking."
"Which you've never taken me to try . . . "
"Could we go back to the part where you were bein' nice to me? I don't have the energy for anything else."
But just then, Kid Curry stuck his head in the door, and brought with him his favorite hangover cure. A mere recitation of the ingredients sent Ella fleeing back across the room to her chaise.
"You clean it up!" she insisted to the Kid, certain that whatever it was, it was going to make Heyes violently ill.
But it didn't, and after a bit of the color came back into Heyes' face, Ella went to see Mary Ann about getting him a bath.
The bath did feel good, that was for sure. Once Ella was safely out of the room, he turned to the Kid, who sat there with the total disregard for privacy that their traveling together for all those years had bred in both of them.
“Got a wire back from Harry Briscoe. He arrives in San Francisco in three days.”
“Good, Kid, because I don’t think we can keep this operation under wraps for much longer. Ella’s really startin’ to get angry about things, and there’s so much I can’t tell her right now.”
The Kid looked at him, curiosity reflected in his blue eyes. “Do you really think her knowin’ is gonna put her in any more danger than her just bein’ your wife? Seems to me if she’s at some kind of risk, she’s got the right to know about it.”
“Do you really think she could know about it, and not be right in the middle of it? The Ella that we know?” He paused and looked at his partner. “Briscoe’s bringing some other Bannerman agents, isn’t he?”
“I asked him to.”
“I want one of them put on Ella and Rachel for protection. Sandy, too. I want them safe and out of the way.”
“You’re gonna put a private detective on Ella and you think she ain’t gonna figure it out? Heyes, she’s got her strong points and she’s got her weak points, just like everybody else, but bein’ observant was always one of her strong points. And jumping to conclusions is one of her weak ones.”
“I don’t know, Kid. The Bannerman agents are professionals. They’re gonna have to figure it out. Hand me that towel, would you?” He rose out of the tub, and wrapped the towel around himself. “Ow. Hangovers didn’t used to hurt this bad, did they?”
“We’re gettin’ older, Heyes.” The Kid shifted in his seat and stretched as Heyes dried himself off and began to dress. “Anyway, you sure we can trust Harry Briscoe? We’ve had our ups and downs with him.”
“Kid, he still owes us big.”
“He paid us back in Hadleyburg.”
“He got a big promotion over that. Then when he lost his job, afterwards, we got it back for him. Remember, in Utah? So I figure he still owes us. Besides, this could make his reputation forever.”
“Heyes, I’m rememberin’ why he needed to get that job back. Incompetence, wasn’t it?”
“Well, Kid, you tell me what other Bannerman agent owes us?”
“We’re legitimate now. Can’t we just hire one, or a Pinkerton?”
“They just love us at both those agencies, don’t they, Kid? They were after that $20,000 on our heads for years. There was not a whole lot of celebrating in their head offices when we got our amnesty. We need Harry.”
“What about this Willie Weinmann? You sure we can trust him?”
“Kid, if Alice says we can trust him, I figure that’s good enough for me, after everything we went through with her. Besides, he knows it wasn’t us that cheated him, and he wants to get even with whoever did. Anyway, he told me he’s never had this much excitement in his life. We’re meetin’ him at Alice and Kurt’s place at three.”
“We better leave, then,” said the Kid, looking at the clock on the mantlepiece. “You’ve been sleepin’ the day away, Heyes. It’s almost three now.”
Heyes finished shaving and took a quick look in the mirror. “All right. And Kid?”
“Next time I have a fight with my wife and I wanna prove somethin’, remind me that this hurts me a lot more than it hurts her, okay?” He winced once more. “Hope Kurt has some of his good coffee brewin’ when we get there.”
I’d thought about it and thought about it, and I knew I had to go. I waited until I heard the outside door bang shut, and I went up to my room to begin packing. Blue Sky might not be perfect, but at least when I'd lived there, I'd had a purpose to my life. Things made sense, there. The ranch hands enjoyed the outdoor life, for the most part, and those who wanted to make something more of themselves made a decent wage, and saved up for something of their own. And maybe I'd been "Miss Hart" to some folks because I had a certain position in the town, but I hadn't been so different from them, not really. Not like the Stanfords and the Parkers and the Andersons were from Mary Ann or from the poor folks I saw on the street here.
But I was lying to myself if I told myself that it was all homesickness, or that it was San Francisco itself that was pushing me away.
I was lonely and aimless and unhappy. I was living with Heyes and yet I missed him desperately. And I wondered if the distance he was keeping was really all about his being so wrapped up in the business. I wondered if he’d lost interest in me. Just because I’d held his interest longer than any other woman had didn’t mean it was forever.
Anyway, I was beginning to lose interest in me, too. And that meant it was time to do something about it.
I was about halfway through with packing when Sandy came in. "Ella, what are you doing?"
"Going home. Going back to Blue Sky, on the last train in the evening. You can do what you please. Stay here and marry Jed Curry if he ever gets around to actually asking you, or come home with me. But Rachel and I are leaving."
"What about your husband?" she asked, softly.
I shrugged. "What about him? By the time he gets home and finds out, I'll be gone. He can figure out where to find me."
"Ella, that's not fair. At least you have to tell him. At least give him a chance."
"It's not about chances anymore. It's not about fair, either. It's about the fact that I'm suffocating here. I gave up my work, and my community, and my friends, to come here and be with a man who if I'm lucky, I get to have a conversation with on Sunday afternoons."
"Is he so different from you?"
"Maybe he's more like me than I ever realized. And maybe two people can't both be like me and be married to each other. I don't know. I'm leaving."
She took my hand, and I looked into her soft brown eyes. "At least go tell him," she pleaded. "Don't just disappear."
I dropped it. "All right. I'll go to the Western Star and tell him. I don't see the point; it's just going to lead to screaming and yelling, but I'll do it."
The whole way, I debated with myself. Why was I doing this? What point would it serve? Why not just slip away quietly, while I could?
I couldn’t bring myself to go straight to the casino, so instead I had the driver take me around, visiting some of my favorite scenes. I stood for a long time near the Presidio, looking out into the Bay and to the mountains beyond. Maybe there were a few things I’d miss about San Francisco. Maybe more than a few.
I got to the Western Star and inquired after Heyes. The first person I asked didn't recognize me, and was evasive, but the second person I asked was a bartender called Mike and he told me I'd find him either in the back office or up in his private quarters. He had a peculiar smile as he told me this, and it occurred to me that I didn't actually know if Mike liked me or not.
There was nobody in the back office, so I headed up the grand staircase to the guest rooms above. These private rooms were quiet, and besides the two that belonged to Heyes and the Kid, they were mostly for particularly favored guests of the establishment. The saloon girls didn’t use them -- at least not unless one of those big-time gamblers was looking for a little female company.
Saloon girls. I remembered Mike's peculiar smile and I wondered if I was going to catch my husband in flagrante delicto. I knew he’d been faithful to me for a long time, not from the very beginning, but for quite awhile before we’d married. Only I couldn’t figure out quite why else the bartender had given me that look. Not that I had much of a right to complain, when you considered that I was intending to desert him. I wondered if it was still desertion if you told the person where you were going.
I knocked on the door that I knew was Heyes’, and he answered it himself. He stepped out into the hall, and said, “Ella. What are you doing here?” He didn’t exactly look pleased to see me, either. If anything, he looked almost frightened. Maybe I had caught him in the middle of something. I tried to see beyond him, into the room, but he blocked my view.
Well, that made it all the easier. “Heyes, I’m leaving.”
He looked relieved. “I’ll see you at home later, honey, I promise.”
“No, you won’t,” I said. “I said I’m leaving. As in, on the last train out of here this evening. Goodbye, come see me in Montana. That kind of leaving.”
His expression didn’t change, but his eyes did. As what I’d said sunk in, their look became lost, so that I almost felt like I was drowning, looking into them. “Ella, no. Don’t go.” He put up his hands, as agitated as I’d ever seen him. “I can’t talk about it now, honey, but please . . . don’t go.”
And then a familiar voice spoke up from inside the room. “Who you talkin’ to out there, Heyes? Is it your wife?”
Heyes turned quickly around. “Yes, Silky.”
“Well, invite her on in. I’d like to hear what she has to say about this.”
Without a further word, Heyes stepped out of the doorway, and ushered me into the room.
There was a saloon girl there, all right, in a low-cut satin dress with a plume of feathers in her hair. But she was sitting on a chair, as prim and proper as someone dressed like she was could be. There were two men there, too, one young and rather nondescript, who I recognized as the young man who had brought Heyes home from the Schmidts’ restaurant the other night. The other was, of course, the white-haired, well-tailored figure of Silky O'Sullivan.
"Honey, this is a really important meeting. You’re welcome to stay, but . . . what we were talking about . . . it just has to wait." It was so rare for Heyes to betray any kind of emotional distress that I was more touched by what was leaking through than hurt about what he wasn’t showing.
Silky's gruff voice broke in. "You should've brought her in on this to begin with. We could use her smarts, Heyes."
It was the first time that Silky had ever complimented me, and I was touched, despite the circumstances. "What's going on, Silky? What hasn't he been telling me?"
"Joseph Parker's been running a crooked operation."
I looked at him, wide-eyed, and then turned to Heyes. "And if it should ever get found out, who would take the fall for it but . . . his two most prominent employees, who happen to have well-known criminal records."
Heyes looked at me grimly. "Exactly. That's why we're going to expose him before he can turn the tables on us. But Ella, there’s something else you need to know -- why I haven’t told you about this.”
“Yes,” I said, “I think I’d like to know that.” What Heyes was telling me explained so much about the way he’d been lately -- why he’d seemed so distant. He’d been keeping a secret and he’d been afraid I’d find him out. But why had he been so determined to keep this from me?
“Ella, these people know the risks they’re taking,” he gestured at Silky, the girl, and the young man. “You need to know, too. You need to know *why* I’ve been trying to keep you out of this, and why I’d like you to stay out of this.”
I couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of my voice as I said, “Because the mother of your child has to be protected at all costs?”
He ignored my tone. “That has somethin’ to do with it. You see, we’re not exactly sure if it’s Parker we’re up against, or who it is, but whoever it is, they won’t hesitate to kill anyone who gets in their way. They *have* killed already -- an employee who they thought was gonna tell us something. And I don’t want you or Rachel at risk. You’re a lot more vulnerable than Silky, say, or Willie, here.”
“As far as Rachel’s involved, I agree. As far as I’m concerned, I think that’s my own decision.”
Heyes sighed. “I knew you were gonna say that. Ella, I couldn’t stand it if something happened to you. But you’re not gonna let it go now, are you? So here’s how it is --”
I interrupted. “And who’s to say you and the Kid are safe? I could say the same thing to you.”
“It’s our risk to take. I thought I could keep you safe by keeping you out of it. I should have known better.” He sighed and indicated his counterparts. “Silky knows everything about crooked gambling there is to know, so he's giving us the lay of the land. Gloria's been our eyes and ears; you know yourself that people will say things in front of a woman almost as though she isn't there. Especially a saloon girl in a gambling hall. Willie,” he indicated the nondescript young man, "is our plant. He's been coming here for days now, playing just recklessly enough to get noticed. We're hoping he'll be one of the next marks. And an old friend of the Kid's and mine from the Bannerman detective agency is arriving in a couple of days with a few of his men."
I was silent for a moment. No wonder I’d seen so little of him lately. He must have been working around the clock on this, double checking his evidence before he made a false accusation against a man who'd apparently been good to him, coordinating the various players in the game, and so forth. "Well, the things we don't know about the people we live with." I sat down in an untenanted armchair. "Carry on. I'm fascinated."
And with a few uncomfortable glances, they did just that. I was silent, except when I corrected them on one or two points about gathering evidence in ways that would make it admissible in court.
On the way out, Willie stopped to kiss my hand, in a slightly awkward manner. Silky winked at me as he left. "I've been telling Heyes he ought to get you in on this. What's the point of marryin' a lawyer and then not getting free legal advice? It’s just plain stupid."
"Good night, Mr. Heyes, Mrs. Heyes." It was Gloria. She gave me a big friendly smile, and somehow I knew that my worst imaginings weren't true, and that she wouldn't have been staying behind if I wasn't there. I wondered why she was taking the risk -- maybe they figured that nobody would ever know she was involved. Maybe she wanted more out of life than being a saloon girl.
I turned to Heyes and said, “Now would you like to fill me in on the rest of this? Like how you thought you could get away with not telling me all this, and why you wanted to?”
He gave me an odd, rueful smile. "Look, at first I’ll admit it was pride. I'd dragged you all the way here and I made you give up your law practice and everything. I didn't want you to know that I'd done all that and then I'd found out this wonderful job of mine was fronting for a crooked gambling hall. I wanted to fix it all, so that you never had to know. I wanted to be a success before I brought you in on anything."
"I wouldn't have noticed when Joseph Parker was dragged off to jail on charges?"
“I wasn’t thinking that far ahead, honey. And then when that man that ran the roulette wheel was killed, all I could think about was protecting you.” He took a step towards me. “You're not really going to leave tonight, are you?"
I didn’t say anything, and he laughed, a harsh unpleasant laugh. "I think I need a drink." He crossed the room to where there was a decanter of whiskey, and poured one, which he tossed right down. He set down his glass, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and looked at me. "Most of my life I figured I'd never meet a woman who could hold my interest long enough to make any difference. The whole thing was just a kind of game or something, you know? Nah, you wouldn't know.
"I liked you, right from the start. When you marched into that sheriff's office with your head held high, lookin' like you knew just exactly how we were gonna react when you offered to be our lawyer, and not even angry about it, just bored at havin’ to explain yourself once again. . . . Well, I said to myself, if I'd have lived a different life, maybe I'd have liked to stick around and get to know you better. Under the circumstances, though, you were out of my reach. I knew you’d never even look twice at a man like me, an accused outlaw you met through the bars of the sheriff’s lockup. Still, I couldn’t stop lookin’ at you. But I was pretty surprised when I wound up in your bed a couple of nights later.
"And even then, I never thought things would have turned out the way they did. Me gettin' married? That sure didn't seem likely. And now I'm sittin' here, listening to you talk about leaving. There's a part of me that says, ‘Heyes, you don't need this anymore. There's plenty of pretty girls downstairs to keep you company, and the Kid'll always be there.’
"But there's this other part that just doesn't want you to go. And that’s my heart, and my soul, and everything that’s ever been good about me. I . . . damn. This is hard to say. I was on my own for a long time, and in that whole time, the only person I ever really cared about besides myself was the Kid. But since I’ve known you, I’ve cared about someone else, too. You. And I just don't seem to be able to get around it, no matter how hard I try. I don’t want to be without you, Ella. You and Rachel are the first family I’ve had since my folks were killed. I . . . I love you. All right?" He’d said it, finally.
Whatever he was expecting, I don't think me bursting into tears was it. “Heyes,” I said softly. “How could you think I could walk out on you in the middle of all this?”
And then he was holding me tightly, kissing me until I pushed him away and said, “Just don’t ever pull something like this on me again, okay? Don’t ever get all distant and try to keep things from me.”
“I promise,” he whispered. “I never thought keepin’ secrets could make me feel as lonely as it did. And lyin’s always been kind of a second nature -- but I can’t lie to you any more than I can lie to the Kid.” He drew me close again, and began kissing me, and this time I responded. Soon, I felt him unbuttoning my bodice, and then I felt his kisses on my bare shoulders and neck. All I could think about was how it felt, and how much I wanted him to continue . . . how much I wanted him. How much I loved him.
Then, suddenly, he was the one to pull away. “Would you have gone?” he asked.
I looked into his eyes, feeling his nearness. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think so. I think I needed you to take me seriously. Heyes, I . . . I miss it so much.”
“I know, Ella. And once this is all settled, we’ll figure something out. I promise.”
And in response, I slipped my arms around his neck and drew his mouth back to mine.
I don’t know just how much time passed, but suddenly there was a banging on the door. “Heyes? You in there? Heyes?” It was the Kid.
“I’m kinda busy. Is it important?”
“Real important. Let me in, Heyes.”
“Just a minute.” He turned back to me. “I’m sorry, Ella. It’s probably just something downstairs. If I have to go down there . . . wait here for me? Please?” He hadn’t undressed at all, himself, so he just ran his hand through his hair to straighten it, and then he went towards the door which he opened a crack.
I pulled my blouse back on, and began buttoning it, as I heard the Kid’s fierce whisper.
"You got company or something? Why are you acting so strange?"
"Yeah, Kid, Ella's here. It's kinda bad timing. What's the matter?"
"I was figurin' it was Ella. Mary Ann said she went out three or four hours ago. Her bags are all packed, but she probably told you all about that. But that ain't why I'm here."
"Kid, what's going on? You just came from the house? Something's wrong back there? Is Rachel okay?"
"Something's really wrong, Heyes. It’s not Rachel. Sandy's been . . . taken."
TO BE CONTINUED
* Actually, her name was Gwendolen Harleth, and the reader who wants to know more about her is referred to George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda.
** Fandom takes many forms, and Ella isn’t immune to it.
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