Different Directions II: Hide and Seek

By Catherine

Continues directly from Different Directions I:

“Sandy’s been taken.”

"What do you mean, taken?" I asked, as Heyes gestured for his partner to enter the room.

"Gone, disappeared,” Kid Curry looked frantic, something I never could have imagined until the very moment I saw it. His demeanor was ordinarily so low-key, and his rare anger displayed in a cold, calm manner that was so much more intimidating than mere bluster ever could have been. But now he looked shaken to his very core, his tanned skin ashen and his blue eyes unnaturally bright. I’d never doubted his feelings for Sandy, but I was deeply moved by what I saw. “Whoever they were, they just came, tied up Mary Ann, went upstairs and took Sandy. When I got there, Mary Ann was just starting to get one of her wrists loose, and Rachel was crying her lungs out upstairs. There were signs of a struggle -- Sandy put up a fight."

"Is Rachel all right?" I asked, a mother’s fears taking over from the more urgent concern.

"She's fine, now. Mary Ann is taking care of her," the Kid assured me. “And Mary Ann’s okay, just a little shaken up.”

"Could it have been her father?" asked Heyes, hesitantly. “Could he have kidnapped her to go join the tribe or something?” Part of me was furiously angry at him for even thinking that, and part of me admitted I'd been wondering the same thing.

But Curry jumped in with a quick response. "It wasn't Indians, Mary Ann said. It was a bunch of white men. Six of them, she thought, but she figured she might not have seen all of 'em. And Heyes, they left a little calling card."

"A note?"

"A note, and something else." Curry looked at me, uneasily. "Heyes, does she know?"

"Know what, Kid?"

"About Rick? Heyes, they left a dead rabbit in Sandy's bed."

Heyes looked thunderstruck. "After all those years?" He turned to me. "Ella, there's another secret I've been keeping from you. But it isn't one of my own --”

“What?” I asked, angrily interrupting him. “Just how many secrets can you keep from me? And what does Rick have to do with this?” I’d known Rick Johnson for years, and very well in recent years, since he was opposing counsel in almost every case I’d ever been involved in. But the link between a middle-aged lawyer in Blue Sky, Montana and a kidnapping in San Francisco was eluding me.

My husband touched me on the shoulder. “Let's get going back to the house, and we'll tell you along the way.” I continued to glare, and he spoke again. “Honey, I promised him. Anyway, I don’t know about you, but I want to see for myself that Rachel’s okay.”

All I could think about was Rachel hurt, Rachel abandoned, Rachel left alone and confused. I gathered my skirts in my hands, and began to run. Heyes and the Kid followed me, and we raced down the hallway, nearly colliding with a guest and a couple of workers. There must have been a number of employees at the Western Star Casino that night who wondered what had gotten into its two managers, as they didn't stop to acknowledge anyone's greetings or questions.

There was a carriage waiting outside the front door -- it must have been the one that the Kid had come in, because the driver seemed to be expecting us. Once we were inside, I opened my mouth.

“Do you think Sandy’s been hurt?”

The Kid never lost his look of profound agitation, but he turned to me and said, quite reasonably, “There wasn’t any blood. Although we can’t really tell.”

I continued. "And what in heaven’s name does Rick have to do with this, anyway? I know he’s annoyed some clients in his day, but I hardly think any of them would seek revenge by going all the way to San Francisco to kidnap his ex-daughter-in-law.”

Heyes gave Curry a quick glance, and then looked back at me, with the most serious expression I’d ever seen on his handsome, angular features. "The dead rabbit is the symbol of this gang Rick was in, when he was a young man back in New York. He ran off on them years ago. He couldn't take the violence anymore, so he headed out West and became the man you know. I guess he brought a lot of their secrets with him."

Rick? In New York? This was all too confusing. "What does this have to do with Sandy?"

The Kid jumped in. "From the note, sounds like they made a mistake. Apparently, they were under the impression that Sandy's his daughter, not his ex-daughter-in-law. I guess the Andersons’ ball made the society pages, and they wrote about Miss Alexandra Johnson from Blue Sky, Montana as one of the prettiest girls there. Some old friend of Rick’s must’ve seen it and made the connection. They left a torn-out article with the note.”

“But why’d they come after him after all these years?” asked Heyes.

“It says here he took $15,000 of their money with him, too. They want it back, with interest. The note says they'll get in touch."

"What are we going to do?" I asked.

"We're gonna get you home to Rachel," said the Kid, clearly in charge now. "Then Heyes and me are gonna make inquiries all over town, until we can figure out which way they've gone. After that . . . guess we'll get after them."

"And I'm supposed to just sit home?" I asked. "And do nothing?”

Heyes leaned forward, and put his hands on my shoulders. He looked me straight in the eyes. "Ella, someone's got to stick around for when the ransom demand comes in. And I guess you'll be wanting to coordinate with Rick, up in Blue Sky. He's got a right to know about this, too. He’s the real target, best as we can tell."

"Someone has to tell Albert Raintree," I said.

Heyes and Curry looked at each other uncomfortably.

"Well, he's her father, isn't he? He's got as much right as anybody else, as far as I can see."

"Guess he does, at that," agreed the Kid. I knew his discomfort with Sandy’s natural father having appeared after all these years wasn’t prejudice about his being an Indian, but some kind of fear about any man beside himself having a claim over Sandy. He smiled at me, almost as though he knew what I was thinking.

The carriage halted in front of the house, and we hurried inside. Everything was just as Kid Curry had described it. Rachel was crying as I’d never heard her cry before, and the maid, Mary Ann, was trying to comfort her, but was obviously on the verge of hysterics herself. After I’d held her and calmed her down a little, Heyes and I joined the Kid in the bedroom where Sandy ordinarily slept . . . where we saw something horrible. It was an ordinary brown rabbit, and its neck had been broken. The blood was congealing on top of the bedclothes. The only thing to be said for it was that the rabbit’s blood was the only blood in evidence anywhere in the house. There were signs of a struggle in the room -- the bedcovers had been disturbed, the washstand overturned, and a number of items from the dresser were scattered all over the floor. Curry had let the note drop where he’d found it, and when I retrieved the scrap of paper, it said just what he'd said it did.

O’Shaughnessy, did you think you could hide from us forever? We know where you are, Mister “Johnson.” You ran out on us all those years ago, but we never forgot. We took your pretty daughter and if you want her back, you have to pay. You stole $15,000 from our treasury, and we want it back with interest. You know what we can do. Wait and you will hear from us. The Dead Rabbits.

The paper was coarse and dirty, and the note was in heavy block printing, in black ink, though oddly, there were no misspellings. But that wasn’t the thing that concerned me most at the time. “O’Shaughnessy?” I whispered. “You mean Rick has really been someone else all these years?” All this time, I’d thought he was the child of Ohio farmers, but Heyes and Curry proceeded to tell me the little they knew of his true history as a poor immigrant, growing up amidst the dangers of the notorious Five Points district of New York City.

Nothing could have been a greater shock than Sandy’s disappearance, and they’d warned me back at the casino, but somehow the whole foundation of my world seemed shaken. I thought I’d known Rick better than nearly anyone -- a good deal better than I knew the man I loved, for instance. I sat in a chair by the torn-up bed, holding Rachel close, rocking her and crooning to her. She’d begun to quiet down, but I knew that if I turned my attention away from her for a moment, she’d begin screaming again, the poor thing. How much harder it must have been for her, not understanding what was going on. Or maybe, how much easier. She kept saying Sandy’s name, over and over, as though saying it would bring Sandy back to her. I only wished it was that simple.

“Rick was a whole lot better at this alias thing than the Kid and me ever were,” confirmed Heyes. “We’re about the only ones who know, and we found out in a real peculiar way.”

“The only ones other than the kidnappers,” I pointed out, and he nodded agreement.

“Yeah, other than them.”

I wanted to know how and why Heyes and Curry had found out something so vital about one of my closest friends and colleagues, something nobody else knew, but this wasn’t the time to ask. Right now there were only two things of importance in the whole world: the little girl who lay safe in my arms, and the young woman who had been snatched violently outside of the charmed circle we inhabited. Not even Rick’s mysterious past, not even the situation back at the casino, were important now. Rachel was safe and Sandy wasn’t, and until they both were, nothing else existed in the universe.

Kid Curry was pacing back and forth, extremely agitated. “I want to get after her right now, but we don’t know which way she’s been taken.”

“Maybe we should wait for the ransom note,” suggested Heyes. “It don’t sound like she’s in immediate danger.”

“She’s got to be scared to death. And she’ll be expecting us to come after her. She’ll be expecting me to come after her.” Curry’s voice was so tense I could imagine something snapping inside him as he spoke.

I piped up. “I don’t think Sandy would like you to put yourself in so much danger. What about those Bannerman agents you’ve called in for the job at the Western Star, Heyes?”

The two men gave each other a look, before Heyes responded. “That’s a thought, Ella. But probably we’re better off on our own. The Bannermans are effective, but they can be clumsy in a situation like this. And the Kid and me aren’t exactly amateurs. All those years on the outlaw trail taught us the skills we’ll need to track the kidnappers, and face them.”

“Albert Raintree’s nearly as good a tracker as an Apache. And he’ll be as worried as you are, once he knows.”

Kid Curry nodded. “I’ll go and see him,” he said, and then stopped and thought for a moment. “Do you know where he lives?”

“I’ll come with you,” I said. “Heyes, do you have any kind of network left from the old days? Folks who might have made it their business to know about a out-of-town gang showing up on their turf?”

He looked thoughtful. “I was just thinkin’ about that. There are one or two people we can still call in a favor with. And if not, Silky knows folks who might be able to help.”

The Kid and I took the carriage, and left Heyes to make his own way. We weren’t going to get a cab that would be willing to take us into the neighborhood where Albert Raintree lived. I knew he’d been working some construction projects since he’d been in town, and the pay wasn’t bad for workers’ wages. But an Indian didn’t have his choice of where he could live, and the area where Raintree rented a room was far more squalid than his circumstances would otherwise have allowed.

I hadn’t wanted to let Rachel out of my sight, and anyway, Mary Ann had been given some brandy and some smelling salts, and put to bed in a room which we let her lock from the inside. So I was holding my child on my lap when our carriage stopped in front of a decrepit rooming house. I’d called on Raintree once before, and he’d been ashamed for me to see how he’d been forced to live. He’d been almost pathetically grateful that I hadn’t brought Sandy with me -- that she didn’t have to see how the prejudice of her mother’s people had confined her father.

The entryway smelled unpleasantly of cabbage cooking and of something else that I chose not to let myself identify. The Kid’s expression was one of dismay, and I reassured him that Albert Raintree could have afforded better, if only someone would have rented to him. After I said it, I wondered whether it was comforting or not. We stepped over a passed-out drunk on our way up the staircase, and I clutched Rachel tighter than ever. She protested with a cry, but I certainly wasn’t going to let her go now. “It’s all right, honey. Mama is just keeping you safe.”

She began to ask again for the hundredth time where Sandy was, and I had no idea how to answer her. When a haggard woman in a faded, torn dress cast an envious glance at her, I only clutched her all the more firmly. I found myself looking thankfully at the Colt Kid Curry was wearing strapped to his thigh, as always.

Albert Raintree lived on the top floor, where at least he got some light and air. The Kid pounded at his door, but there was no answer. “Open up in there, Raintree!” he shouted. “We’re friends -- it’s important!”

Nothing stirred. And then I noticed the staircase that lead to the roof. We made our way up it. Curry could see that Rachel was getting heavy for me. He apologized for not being able to take her, but he didn’t want his gun hand occupied. I didn’t, either. I thought I knew what we’d find, but what if I was wrong and there was a rooftop encampment of ruffians?

We emerged from the narrow staircase to a rooftop world of slate and tar and chimneys. Above, the sky was blue with rushing white clouds. And there was Albert Raintree, in his own tribal dress, seated on some kind of skins and chanting softly to himself. Kid Curry opened his mouth to speak, but I quickly gestured to silence him. I had the feeling that interrupting the ceremony was akin to blasphemy, and even though I hadn’t had much use for religion since Reverend Bliss had drummed me out of the church back home as a scarlet woman, I still had a feeling for other people’s reverence.

But just then, Rachel took it upon herself to start crying, and Raintree looked up quickly. The spell was broken.

Every time I saw him, I was struck anew by the resemblance between him and Sandy. I could hear a quick intake of breath, and I knew Jed Curry was thinking the same thing. Neither of us had ever seen Raintree in native dress before, or with his long greying black hair unbraided, and he seemed both completely alien and uncannily familiar.

He got directly to the point. “What’s the matter? Is Sandy all right?”

“How did you know we were here about that?” asked the Kid, suspiciously.

“It seems unlikely you would pay me a social call, Mister Curry,” Raintree responded, “unless it had something to do with Sandy. And if it were something good, I expect you would have given me advance notice.” I was struck again by the formality of his English.

“Sandy’s not all right,” I broke in. “She’s been abducted. We need your help.”

His face remained calm, but his eyes did not. They seemed to double in size, and they darted from right to left, almost frantically. His breathing was shallow, loud, and quick, as though he’d run a long distance. “What happened? When? How?” he asked, firing off his questions so rapidly that we’d barely replied before he was halfway through the next.

As Curry and I stumbled over ourselves telling him, he gathered up his skins, and led us downstairs to his room. He took a large canvas bag, and began throwing things into it -- a mixture of native and European clothing, a couple of books, a few artifacts. I realized that those, and the skins that he bundled up and secured with a cord, were all his worldly possessions. Then he took some money from his pocket, and threw it on the dresser, along with his key.

“Where must we go to find her?” he asked.

“That’s what we still don’t know,” Curry replied.

We returned to the carriage, and I noticed the driver’s eyes widen as he observed the deerskin-clad “savage” climbing in along with us. Raintree joined us in speculation as the carriage rattled up and down the San Francisco hillsides.

“This Johnson has much to answer for,” he said.

“It’s not his fault the papers got Sandy’s name wrong. And it’s not his fault that his son turned out the way he did.” I instinctively defended my old friend.

“But there is something he did in the past that started this all, isn’t there?”

“That was a long time ago,” Kid Curry said. “People change. A lot of people do things they’re sorry for.”

“People do not change that much,” said Raintree, imperturbably.

I looked at Curry, wondering how he’d react to that, but he was staring out the window, away from us.

Heyes still wasn’t home when we got there. Albert Raintree wanted to be shown Sandy’s room, and the evidence, which he examined minutely. I knew we had to decide whether to call in the police or not -- Curry was opposed to it, on the general grounds of mistrust for the force of the law that his outlaw years had bred in him. I was for it, on the general grounds that my years as an advocate of the law had bred in me.

Since we couldn’t reach an agreement, the Kid suggested that Heyes ought to be involved in the decision. He looked a little smug when I assented, since he knew his partner would agree with him. But he was forgetting something. He was forgetting that Hannibal Heyes would never have fallen in love with a woman who didn’t have a fair chance in an argument with him.

Raintree slipped into one of the other bedrooms, and emerged, a few minutes later, in a shirt, vest, jacket and trousers. He was neatly plaiting his long hair as he entered the room. “What do we do next?” he asked.

“I don’t think Heyes was gonna check down in the harbor. I wonder if that’s worth it?” Curry mused, and in another minute, Raintree had swept him out the door.

I was beginning to think that forced inactivity was going to be my major role in this crisis.

It seemed like hours that I was alone with Rachel, waiting to hear something, anything.  A couple of times she began crying, and I tried to comfort her.  Her crying wore on my nerves, and as I ineffectually soothed her, I had to admit to myself that Sandy had a touch with my daughter that I myself lacked. Finally I tried singing to her, as I’d heard Sandy do again and again, and though my deeper voice didn't have the sweet tones of her light soprano, it seemed to be enough for Rachel.

Finally, there was a sound of the front door opening, and Heyes’ voice calling, “Anybody home? Kid? Ella?”

I ran to the entranceway, from the back parlor, and practically flung myself into his arms. “Any news?” I asked him, drawing him back into the parlor.

“Daddy?” murmured Rachel, and he went to her, taking her onto his lap. I’d noticed he was becoming quite fatherly, at least, when he was anywhere around her, which hadn’t been too often, lately.

“Nobody knows anything,” he said, absently stroking her fine dark hair. “I checked with a couple of old friends who are still on the dishonest end of things, and nobody knew anything about a strange gang from New York City. Then I went around to some of the more disreputable saloons, but no luck there, either.”

“The Kid and Albert Raintree went down to the waterfront.”

“Well, I hope their luck was better than mine,” Heyes said.

“Have you reported this to the police, yet?” I asked.

Heyes gave me a guilty look in response. “I’m still gettin’ used to the idea that I can go to the law without any consequences. And the San Francisco Police . . . that’s kinda like callin’ in an elephant. They’ll be all over everything, and squash any clues that we might find flatter than a pancake.”

“I was under the impression there were some fine detectives on the force,” I said. “Or so I’ve been told.”

“Guess we better contact them, or they’re gonna start gettin’ suspicious, huh? You watch, though, first thing some policeman is gonna do is take you aside, and hint that maybe, just maybe, me and the Kid are responsible.”

“Or her disreputable Indian father.”

“Or him,” Heyes nodded his agreement. “Then he’ll go on to wonder about the kind of company you keep, a respectable lady like you.”

“And then he’ll suggest that she probably eloped, or got homesick and ran off back to Blue Sky. Those half-breeds are awfully unreliable, aren’t they, being neither one thing nor another.”

“Since we’ve just had the entire conversation we’re gonna have with him, and gotten probably just the same results -- none at all -- can’t we just skip the police?” Heyes asked.

“We need to call in the police, precisely because you and the Kid have had your troubles with the law,” I pointed out. “They’ll think it’s suspicious if we don’t approach them. Anyway, I want to get it over with. I want to get the scene of the crime cleaned up. I don’t want that . . . thing . . . lying on Sandy’s bed, anymore. And the police have to see it first. Otherwise they will think we’re making this up.”

“Sometimes you’re just too smart for my own good,” sighed Heyes. “All right. Let’s get this over with.” He gently lifted Rachel down, and she tottered over to me, with shaky but determined steps.

The police came and went, disclaiming their ability to do anything until we’d heard from the kidnappers. “They may be out of our jurisdiction, by now,” explained the detective who’d examined the scene of the abduction. He’d taken the note as evidence, and very kindly agreed to dispose of the dead rabbit, after the police photographer had taken pictures of it from more angles that I could have imagined at all necessary.

“I told you they wouldn’t do anything,” murmured Heyes into my ear, as we followed them down the stairs to the entrance hall.

But after the detective made his farewells, he added, “I’m glad you called us in, Mister and Missus Heyes. If you don’t mind my saying so, with your past and all, Mister Heyes . . . well, it’s good to see you’re a law abiding citizen now. Kinda gives a man hope and all that.”

As the door closed behind him, I turned to tell Heyes that I’d told him so, but as soon as I opened my mouth, he kissed me and left me too breathless to speak.

Three days passed, in which there was no word of Sandy. “I can’t stand it,” Kid Curry said over and over again. “I want to go after her.”

“Kid, we ain’t got any idea where she’s been taken. What if we head up north and it turns out she’s been taken south? What if we ride inland and it turns out they’ve taken her out to sea? Besides, even if we found a telegraph office and checked in with Ella twice a day, we’d still get delayed in hearing if there was any news. The kidnappers want a ransom. They’ll contact us -- they seem to think this place has some connection with Rick.”

“Or they’ll contact Rick in Blue Sky, and he’ll let us know, right away,” I said. We’d telegraphed Rick days ago, and I knew he was standing by, ready to act in any way necessary. He’d cabled us to say so, and my former law partner, Jeremy Chadwick, had cabled me besides to tell me that the law was taking a holiday in Blue Sky, Montana so that he and Rick could be ready to respond on a moment’s notice.

Since the judge was fond of Sandy, I wasn’t surprised. Yet another of the advantages of a small town. I couldn’t help but think that if Sandy had been taken from Blue Sky, at least half a dozen witnesses would have been able to give us an idea of what direction her kidnappers had taken. Not to mention the fact that there'd have been a rescue party after her almost immediately. Here in San Francisco there could have been plenty of witnesses to the abduction who hadn’t come forward or probably didn’t even realize what had been going on.

But Kid Curry was going nearly mad from the inaction. He paced around the house, or he went outside and did target practice, to the point that the neighbors would come around to complain about the noise or the perceived dangerousness of the activity. When they saw the Kid’s expression, though, they invariably ceased their complaints, and either went away quietly, or inquired what they could do to help. Unfortunately, there was nothing anyone could do but wait.

Meanwhile, difficult though it was to think about anything other than Sandy, we turned our attention to the matter of the financial discrepancies at the casino. Things had progressed too far for us to call off the sting that had been set in motion, and besides, the situation was bad enough that it was threatening to blow up at any minute.

Heyes and Curry’s friend Harry Briscoe, a dark-mustached, ferret-faced man, turned up at the house. He was the much-anticipated Bannerman agent who was going to help expose whoever it was at the Western Star who was setting them up. But he turned up alone.

“Harry,” said Heyes impatiently, “I asked you to bring three or four men with you.”

“Well,” Harry hemmed and hawed, “you see, it’s like this. I’m not in favor with the agency at the moment and, well . . . you two aren’t exactly at the top of the agency’s list, either.”

“Even after we helped bust that crooked casino in Colorado Springs?”

“Memories are short,” said the detective.

“Yours shouldn’t be,” Curry interjected, in a low, almost threatening tone.

“It’s not. That’s why I’m here.”

Right now, Heyes was keeping everyone in line, but I knew that he was going to leave the investigation in my hands, as soon as there was any word of Sandy. Harry Briscoe and Silky O’Sullivan did not hit it off one bit. They were like oil and water, and that wasn’t a good thing, since Silky was one of the keys to this investigation. He had his finger on the pulse of the shady side of San Francisco, and he knew more about gambling, crooked, straight, or in-between, than nearly anyone alive. I could tell there was going to be trouble, as soon as Heyes wasn’t there anymore to smooth things over with his silver tongue and that disarming grin of his.

I wasn’t terribly impressed by Harry, myself. He tended to approach me with a certain slimy, condescending attempt at charm that must have been his idea of how one approaches a woman. No wonder he was out of favor with the Bannermans at the moment, at least if anyone female had played a central role in the last case he’d been investigating.

Silky, who’d never before had much use for this “respectable” woman Hannibal Heyes had inexplicably saddled himself with, had suddenly decided that I was all right after all. It was the most peculiar thing for me, after being the object of his undisguised scorn for so long. Now he couldn’t be friendlier. Partly, I think, he’d gotten used to me. He’d never seen me in action before, either, and he was pleasantly surprised to find I knew what was what. But mostly, I wasn’t Harry Briscoe.

II.

Silence, and darkness. The sound of a stagecoach’s wheels, rattling along a dusty and stony road. The inside of the coach was utterly black, and because Sandy was trapped in the middle of the seat, unable to reach out and peer around the blinds, it remained that way. Her hands were kept tied, and the cord chafed at the skin of her wrists. The coach would stop every now and again, and the men who guarded her would go in or out, but they always blindfolded her before that happened, so that she wouldn’t get even the slightest glimpse.

Their accents were strange, but not completely alien. Easterners, she thought, and the two older men spoke with the tone of the Irish. A musical accent, and one which Sandy would have found pleasing under different circumstances.

“Where are you taking me?” she asked, over and over again, but they never responded to anything she said, only spoke among themselves. In some ways, that was even worse than having been abducted -- being entirely ignored made her feel more completely alone than she’d ever felt in her life, even back at her grandparents’ after her mother died. Even at the orphanage, after her grandparents died.

“Funny O’Shaughnessy’s daughter looks like an Injun,” one of the Irishmen said.

“We don’t know anything about the mother,” responded one of the younger men, whose blunt, brutal tones betrayed an Eastern origin. Sandy had been to a house in San Francisco where the maid had been a poor girl from New York, and the four younger men in the group all spoke in a similar manner. She liked the way the Irishmen sounded much better.

“True. It’s the Wild West. O’Shaughnessy probably shacked up with a squaw.”

“Rick isn’t my father,” Sandy protested, but for her pains, she received a smack in the face from one of the younger men.

“Quiet, bitch,” he hissed. “Don’t think your lyin’ is gonna get you outta this.”

Sandy frowned. She gathered, from the tone of voice, that it was an insult, but she wasn’t sure why anyone would address her as a female dog. All she could hope was that the insults would remain on the verbal level, but she had an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach that they wouldn’t. There was certainly reason to hope for a rescue -- Jed Curry would move heaven and earth to find her, she knew that. But it had to be pretty hard to find a person in the wide open spaces of the West.  She believed that he would find her, but she wasn’t sure it would be in time.

III.

On the morning of the fourth day, a telegram arrived. We were in the middle of a meeting about the Western Star situation. Harry Briscoe was getting impatient to start the operation as soon as possible, so he could complete it and return to his head office with a tale of a job well done. Heyes wanted to wait until after he and the Kid had gone. He claimed it was for fear that the shift in personnel might upset the balance, but the honest truth is that once the groundwork was laid and the evidence secured, the final phase was going to be the work of a single evening. No, he knew that the Kid was too distracted by the situation with Sandy to participate in an operation that could mean the difference between future prosperity and a future behind bars for them both. The Kid was too distracted to sit down to a meeting, for that matter.

“And where is Kid Curry, anyway?” Briscoe asked.

“He had somethin’ else to do,” said Heyes. End of statement.

“Well, I don’t like it. How do we know he’s not double-crossing us?”

It might have been Curry who was known for looks that could kill, but the one coming from Heyes now was thoroughly lethal. “I’m gonna pretend you didn’t say that.”

Harry Briscoe had obviously noticed it, too. “I’m sorry, Heyes. I know he’s worried about this other business.”

Heyes gave him a quick smile, not a warm one, I noticed. “It’s all right, Harry. I know you didn’t mean it.”

“If we could get back to business, now,” Silky O’Sullivan interjected in his gravelly voice. “‘Cause I’ve got a man to see about a horse, this afternoon, and I don’t have time to watch Mister Briscoe here make that animal’s hindquarters of himself right now.”

Harry shot him a dirty look, which Silky serenely ignored, and business continued.

Heyes spent his days at his office at the Western Star, as usual, but returned home in the evenings, with his concern for his family under these trying circumstances as his excuse. The Kid was too restless even for that. The saloon girl Gloria, who acted as our eyes and ears on the casino floor, came to us daily from the Western Star, with stories of our secret confederate Willie Weinmann’s increasingly erratic behavior -- deliberately and calculatedly erratic, as we knew. He’d set off to make himself a mark with a shorter time frame in mind. By now he was plunging so recklessly that there was a concern it was becoming incredible that a young man of the small merchant class, such as himself, could play for such big stakes.

Fortunately, Willie carried himself more like a man-about-town than as the petit bourgeois he really was. He was nondescript, but in a clean cut, even-featured kind of way that suggested gentility, and he spent a lot more on his wardrobe than a young man in his circumstances ought to have. So he’d made a liaison with a saloon girl, and drunkenly confided to her that he was the black sheep of a family that was far wealthier than he liked to let on, and that he had been blackmailing his elder brother, a successful importer and exporter with a particularly strict and respectable wife, about a youthful indiscretion.  Problem solved rather neatly.

We were in the library, early one evening, when I heard a ringing of the front doorbell. A few moments later, I heard running footsteps, and Mary Ann crying out, “Miss Ella! Miss Ella!”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Telegram. About Miss Sandy.”

I didn’t bother to reprimand her for opening it -- instead, I snatched it from her trembling hands, and read it aloud to the assembled company. SANDY JOHNSON IS SAFE -- FOR NOW. $25,000 KEEPS HER SAFE. BE IN FREMONT JUNCTION, OREGON, IN FIVE DAYS, WITH THE MONEY. BRING RICHARD “JOHNSON”. -- D.R.

“$25,000?” Heyes asked. “Oh, yeah, that’d be with the interest.” He turned to Mary Ann. “Where’d the Kid get to?”

She opened her mouth to speak, but the sound of gunfire supplied her answer before she could say anything. “Mister Curry is in back, shooting at targets,” she said, redundantly.

Heyes turned to the assembled company. “All right, Harry, Silky, Ella. Are you ready to put your operation into play?”

And only when he received our assent, did he run to the back window. He flung it open and called out, “Okay, Kid. We got the word -- Fremont Junction, Oregon. There’s a northbound train that leaves in half an hour. You’re outside, already -- you get the driver. I’ll go upstairs and get Raintree.” He looked back at me. “Ella, you’d better wire Rick to make sure he knows what’s going on. We’ll drop you at the telegraph office.”

It seemed like only moments later that we were in the carriage, rattling our way down the hilly San Francisco streets. When we reached the nearest telegraph office, Heyes jumped out first, and handed me down. He kissed me and said, “Take your things, and move to Silky’s this afternoon. I’ll send the carriage back from the station.” It had been decided that in the absence of my husband and his partner, I would stay at Silky O’Sullivan’s Nob Hill mansion. Silky had enough security at his place to foil any attempt at breaking in. Rachel and I would be perfectly safe from the ring at the casino, with enough left over to stop any stray Dead Rabbits, in addition.

“Be safe. And bring her home safe, too.” I peered back into the carriage, to say goodbye to Jed and to Raintree. Two pairs of eyes were shining, and I could tell they were eager to be off. Heyes climbed back into the carriage but leaned down and kissed me once again. “We’ll wire you as soon as there’s anything to tell. At Silky’s.” He paused, suddenly looking uncertain. “Ella, you’ll . . . you’ll be here when I get back, won’t you?”

“I’m not going anywhere,” I replied. “Not without you, that is.” I realized my eyes were starting to tear up, but he gave me one of those smiles of his, and I smiled back.

Then he closed the door and they were gone.

IV.

Hannibal Heyes looked across the aisle, to where his partner was sitting next to Albert Raintree. The two of them sat there, not speaking, but Heyes had the sense that there was some kind of silent communication going on. He took a book out of his pocket and tried to read, again, but gave up in short order.

He knew that Raintree and the Kid were too wound up to talk, but as for himself, he was made a little differently than they were. If he couldn’t talk about it soon, he was going to burst. Here they were, dashing off to rescue Sandy. Kid Curry had $15,000 in a leather wallet in his breast pocket -- Rick Johnson had said he’d be responsible for $15,000, if they could come up with ten, but they weren’t quite comfortable with that. After all, Rick was trying to raise the money in Blue Sky, Montana, which wasn’t exactly a high finance capital. On the other hand, Rick was close friends with the leading bankers and ranchers in town. Besides, maybe he still had some of the money he’d embezzled from the Dead Rabbits all those years ago stashed away somewhere.

Well, he and the Kid had emptied their own accounts, though Heyes’ was already somewhat depleted from buying and furnishing that house. Ella had kicked in most of what she had, and they’d borrow some from Silky and from Jim and Clara Santana. Just about the only eligible candidate they hadn’t borrowed from was Joe Parker, because under the circumstances they hadn’t felt comfortable approaching him for a loan. Not since they were trying to expose him as a fraud, and all.

With any luck, it wouldn’t matter. With any luck, the Dead Rabbits wouldn’t get a cent. Heyes had at least half-a-dozen half-formed rescue schemes in mind. But Sandy’s safety came first. Meanwhile, he knew that Willie Weinmann was being given the signal to begin the final phase of the sting operation at the Western Star that very evening. He only hoped that Willie was up to it. He only wished he and his companions had someplace safe to talk, away from all the passengers that crowded the carriage. Most of all, he only wished Raintree and the Kid wouldn’t keep meeting his attempts at conversation with stony silence.

V.

Mary Ann and Rachel had been installed in an upper floor of Silky’s mansion, a discreet young man with a pistol posted on the staircase. This served a double function, both to keep them safe, and because Silky wasn’t much accustomed to children and found that Rachel’s crying got on his nerves. I spent as much time there as I could, but I preferred to wait in the front parlor some of the time. I was torn between not wanting to be away from my little girl, and not wanting two staircases between me and any news that might come from the casino or the telegraph office.

Rick had wired me back almost instantly in response to the news of when and where and that Heyes, Curry and Raintree were on their way. He’d managed to raise the full $15,000 that he’d promised, and he was setting out for Oregon immediately. Unfortunately, rail connections weren’t as direct as they were from San Francisco, so they’d be spending more time on horseback. He’d had to discourage most of the able-bodied men of Blue Sky from accompanying him -- a large posse might get out of control, and would be unwieldy over those kinds of distances. But he had three hand-picked companions. Two went almost without saying: Deputy Sheriff Sven Rasmussen had always been a close friend of ours, and my former law partner Jeremy Chadwick was going, of course. The only one that surprised me was Oliver Stanley, a local rancher who was one of Rick’s closest friends. I’d always thought of Stan as selfish and mercenary, not the sort who would put himself at risk for anything but his own personal gain. But whether it was adventure he was after, or whether his friendship for Rick was simply too strong for him to let Rick face this on his own, he was with them.

Meanwhile, the word on the other front was that the trap was about to be sprung. Gloria had heard whisperings that distinctly implied that Willie Weinmann and his money were soon to be parted. Harry Briscoe had just arrived at the Western Star in the guise of a tourist. And Silky O’Sullivan and I had received permission from Joseph Parker, the casino’s owner, to stand in for my husband and his partner as temporary managers in their absence.

Parker had seemed so sincerely sorry when he’d heard of Sandy’s abduction that I’d begun to wonder if he could possibly be as ruthless as we’d suspected him of being.  Of course, cheating was a whole lot different from kidnapping.  He seemed almost too grateful to have Silky involved, I thought, knowing that they’d had their differences in the past. As for me, he simply smiled and said that if Heyes wanted me there, it was fine with him.  From what Heyes had told him, he was sure I could do anything I put my mind to.

Silky and I weren’t left entirely without supervision, however. Parker’s accountant Bill Reynolds had been installed as the third member of our troika. He was a tall, rangy man with spectacles and an impressive set of salt-and-pepper side whiskers. Reynolds didn’t speak much, but when he did, his words carried the weight of a pronouncement, somehow.  He was intelligent and hardworking, and I didn’t like him at all, probably because he only spoke to me to ask how Rachel was doing. It was as though he wanted to push me out of the office and back at home where I belonged, and where he wouldn’t have to deal with me. Naturally, that had me very suspicious. But he was quiet and responsible, and went over everything with us daily.

He seemed really loyal to Parker, too. Of course, he might have been in on it with Parker, I thought. But the man practically had “law-abiding” tattooed on his forehead. On the other hand, Heyes had told me about how little old ladies from Boston occasionally interrupted train robberies in progress to inform him and the Kid that they looked like nice boys, and perhaps they ought to consider some other line of work. So you could never really tell.

Heyes telegraphed me two or three times a day, from various station stops, to let me know where I should send the next wire, “to be called for.” But I had nothing to tell him, except about the twice daily reports I was receiving from Jeremy and Rick on their similar progress westward.

And then, it looked like the trap on Willie was about to be sprung. And our trap could be sprung in return.

VI.

Since they’d gotten to the house, things had gotten worse. It looked like an old, abandoned ranch house, but it was hard to tell, since the windows were always kept shuttered and the light through the cracks was bright enough to see only at certain hours of the day. There were kerosene lamps, but they didn’t leave them lying around for Sandy, so that she only had light when one of them chose to keep her company in the small back bedroom where she was usually confined. More often than not, she preferred the darkness.

One of the older men, and one of the younger ones, were fairly kind to her. The young man, Jimmy, a nondescript but strong-looking fellow, brought her enough water to wash with, and even untied her and kept his back turned while she made do as best she could with it. Several times he dressed the wounds that the ropes had caused on her wrists. He said something about having a sister, and that Sandy reminded him of her.

The second of the older men, who was named Sean, was scornful to her verbally, calling her “squaw bitch” and other such epithets, but his abuse was purely verbal, and it didn’t disturb her much. The three other young men were egging each other on to more and more outrageous behavior, and that had her on edge. Jimmy tried to intervene on her behalf, but they merely laughed and shoved him aside and suggested he was less than a man.  They never dared to go too far if the kinder of the elder men, Timothy, was around, and even Sean seemed to keep them in line.  “Don’t harm the hostage,” he said. “O’Shaughnessy is paying for her safe return, and that’s what he’s going to get. We may be criminals, but we’re honest criminals,” he would say and laugh at his own witticism.

Sometimes, though, the two elder men went away for long periods of time -- possibly on errands, possibly into town to the saloon. Sandy was never quite sure. But whenever she heard them taking their leave through the partially-opened bedroom door, she shrank away in terror. It was then that the persecutions of the trio were about to take their most extreme form.

She still had faith that Jed would try to find her, but she couldn’t help but wonder whether he’d ever succeed. “Squaw bitch” was one of the kindest things the younger men called her. And they had begun to touch her, taking small liberties at first, but then greater and greater ones, until she knew where ultimately it would end. They would take from her something that no woman should ever be forced to give. They would violate her, and there was nothing she could do to prevent it.

If she wasn’t ransomed or rescued soon, it would happen.

VII.

The train stopped at Fremont Junction, and Heyes, Curry and Raintree stepped out onto the platform. Curry looked around him, with an intense look in his blue eyes and a certain tightness in his jaw and neck. Heyes watched his partner -- he was here, and he was ready for action.

Curry and Raintree went to the hotel to see about getting rooms and to inquire after Rick and his party, while Heyes went to the telegraph office to wire Ella and to see if the kidnappers had left any kind of message. Of course, he learned, the wire hadn’t been sent from that station. The telegrapher allowed that he’d heard rumors about a break-in to an office a way down the coast, late one night. But if the kidnappers had done it, it meant that at least one of them must have been a skilled telegrapher. Still, that wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility.

Heyes sent a quick message to San Francisco to inform Ella of their safe arrival, and then, after reflecting for a moment, sent one to Rick in Montana, as well. If the telegraph operator was lying, and was working with the kidnappers, that would certainly get his attention.

When he arrived at the hotel, it was to find a furious Kid Curry pacing up and down the porch. His eyes had that cold blue fire in them that made even Heyes a little cautious.

“What’s the matter, Kid?”

“No Injuns allowed.”

“What?”

“Sandy’s father is not welcome in the Fremont Junction Inn. He’s gone to see if he can get a room over at the saloon.”

“I didn’t even think of that, Kid. I wonder if I could talk them into . . .”

Curry cut him off. “I thought about that, Heyes. But they were pretty definite. At least, the owner pulled a shotgun on Mister Raintree. I don’t think even your silver tongue can outargue a shotgun.”

“Well, I guess we’ll see if there’s room for us at the saloon too. Let me just go in and leave word for Rick and his party, if they show up.”

They arrived at the saloon to discover that, as the manager said, they would be happy to serve Mister Raintree with food and drink, and he was welcome to play cards if he liked, but they really couldn’t give him a room on the premises.

Kid Curry was moved to inquire whether, if he obtained the services of a saloon girl, the room would come with it. Neither Raintree nor the manager was amused by that.

“Well, I ain’t gonna take some nice cozy room somewhere if Raintree’s gotta camp out. It don’t seem right.”

“Kid, I agree in principle, but we’ve gotta be reachable, somehow. And I’m not sure that all three of us bein’ cold and miserable is gonna help matters much.”

Raintree said quietly, “I am used to sleeping outside. I would prefer the two of you be comfortable, since we may have many trials yet ahead of us.” And then he smiled, enigmatically. “Besides, you can order a bath, I can take it, and they will learn that the water doesn’t turn red in my tub.”

“Don’t seem right,” the Kid repeated, and Heyes sighed loudly. In his heart he agreed with his partner, but he dreaded the thought of sleeping out on the hard ground in the cold autumn night. Maybe he was getting soft, living in San Francisco and all.

With nothing else to do, they ordered drinks, and Heyes began looking around for a game of cards. But as he was about to approach a likely looking group of players, he heard a distantly remembered voice calling out, “Hey, you!”

He turned around, to see a homely man of middle size smiling and waving at him. It took him a moment to recall, but then he broke out into a wide grin of his own. “Dick? Dick Watkins?”

“That’s me,” said the man, as they headed across the floor towards each other. When he got within a few feet he said softly, “Didn’t want to call out your name, Heyes. I heard about the amnesty, but I wasn’t sure whether you went by your own name or not.”

“Depends on the circumstances,” said Heyes. “But you . . . you were only wanted in Texas, and the statute must have run on that long ago.”

“It sure did,” said Dick Watkins, his smile showing his crooked teeth. “I been an honest farmer ever since I left Devil’s Hole. It’s a life that suits me. And now I could even go down to Texas again, if I wanted to. I was glad to hear you boys decided to join me on the right side of the law.”

Heyes guided Dick over to the table where the Kid and Raintree were sitting. “Kid, you remember old Dick Watkins, don’t you?  Dick, this is Mister Albert Raintree. Dick was an . . . associate our ours, back in our less law-abiding days,” he explained.

Raintree greeted him politely, and the Kid gave him a firm handshake and looked pleased about something for the first time Heyes could remember since Sandy had been taken. “Of course I remember you, Dick. How’s Martha doing?”

Dick’s wife had been brought to Devil’s Hole by another outlaw, Dick’s partner, in fact. But when the man had tired of Miss Martha Champion, a sweet but not particularly pretty girl, things had grown a little uncomfortable for her. Heyes and Curry had rescued her from the attentions of a drifter who was passing through the Hole, but it was Dick who had rescued her from the Hole altogether. Disgusted by his partner’s having thrown her in as a stake at poker, he’d offered to marry her, in name only if she liked, and set up a farm with her. He’d grown tired of the outlaw’s life, and Oregon was far enough from Texas that nobody was likely to track him down for the small reward on his head in that state. Shocked and brokenhearted as Martha was, she’d responded to Dick’s kindness, and accepted.

“Martha and the children are fine,” said Dick, and he smiled again. This time his smile was so radiant that you barely noticed the crooked teeth. “I highly recommend the married state. Not that you boys are likely to ever stay in one place long enough to try it.”

“I got a little girl now, myself,” said Heyes. “And a wife,” he added, in case that wasn’t assumed.

Dick’s eyes widened. “Well, now, I never thought you’d settle down, Heyes. I want to hear all about the woman that landed Hannibal Heyes . . . that must be quite a story. But let’s save it for Martha -- she’ll want to hear about it, too, and you always were a much better storyteller than me. Than just about anyone, come to think of it.” He turned to Kid Curry, and smiled again. “And what about you? Anyone special in your life?”

The Kid looked quickly at Raintree, and away again. “Yeah, but that’s a little bit complicated right now. Rather not tell it in a public place like this.”

Heyes responded to Dick’s confusion by saying quietly, “We’re here on business, regarding the lady. It’s not a story we really want to share with the whole town.”

“Well, that’s solved easily enough,” said Watkins. “You’ll come and stay at the farm tonight. We’re just a mile outside of town. Then you can tell us everything.” He turned politely to Raintree. “Will that be all right with you, Mister Raintree?”

Albert nodded slowly. “Thank you. I can’t say I’ve found this town very accommodating.”

Heyes left word with the bartender about where they would be, should anyone come inquiring after them.

The livery stable was still open, and they were able to arrange for three horses. The liveryman raised his eyebrows a little when they didn’t even bother to dicker over the price. Instead, Kid Curry paid for the horses like it was nothing.

Heyes and Watkins rode a little bit ahead of the others. “Martha’s sure gonna be surprised and happy to see you two,” said Dick. “I hope I’m not takin’ you too far out of your way, but it occurred to me that Mister Raintree there might have a little trouble finding accommodations to suit him in Fremont Junction.”

“Oh, that’s a bit of an understatement,” said Heyes. “Besides, what I remember of Martha’s cooking, we’d be happy to ride more than a mile out of our way for it.” It felt good to be on horseback again, he mused. And to see the wide-open sky, and the surrounding hills, and hardly any buildings. He’d always loved visiting San Francisco, and he’d adjusted to living there quickly. But now he was surprised to realize just how much he’d missed all this.

He turned around, to look at the Kid, who was riding alongside Raintree. The pair of them mirrored each other’s looks of intense concentration, but even so, the Kid looked somehow as though he was in his own natural element.

The Watkins farm was a decent-sized spread, with a simple, but surprisingly large house, neat and tidy and homey-looking. The reason for its large size was explained when they walked inside. There was Martha Watkins, no longer rawboned but a bit plump, surrounded by what seemed to be an endless array of children. There were five of them, including a set of twins, all under the age of nine. The youngest was a baby in her arms. The plumpness suited Martha, so that she was almost attractive now. Her hair was still a washed-out brown, and her eyelashes and eyebrows almost white, but her freckled cheeks were rosy and she smiled constantly at the antics of her children.

“Well, I never thought I’d see you two again!” Martha exclaimed.

“It’s good to see you looking so happy,” said Curry. “That’s quite a family you have.”

“It sure is,” Martha said, beaming. Though Dick had proposed to her out of kindness, and she had accepted out of gratitude and desperation, it was clear from seeing them together that kindness and gratitude had long ago turned into love. If, that is, the five children weren’t enough proof. “You’re just in time for dinner.”

“Do you have enough?” asked Dick, suddenly concerned. “I know you weren’t even expecting me for sure.”

“When do you ever eat at the saloon when you know you can have my cooking instead?” asked Martha, complacently. “And there’s plenty for three more folks. You just can’t have thirds.” She poked her husband in the belly.

They settled around the big oak table in front of the fire, and Martha served up a simple, but excellent supper. It was, indeed, a great deal better than anything they would have gotten at the saloon, Heyes thought. He noticed that the Kid, despite his preoccupation, dug into it with relish, and seemed more relaxed than he had since this whole nightmare had begun. The oldest boy took a fancy to him, and wouldn’t leave his side, the whole evening. Raintree, though, ate only sparingly, and spoke only when spoken to.

Afterwards, Dick and Martha went to settle the younger children into bed. They were going to double some of them up so that their visitors could have a room to themselves.

The two oldest children were permitted to sit up with them, but then, it was clear they were going to have difficulty detaching the boy from Kid Curry, anyway.  Dick told his wife that Heyes had a little surprise for her. But instead of opening his mouth to speak, Heyes reached inside his breast pocket and pulled out a small photograph, which he handed to Martha. “This is my wife, Ella, and my daughter, Rachel.”

“She looks just like you!” Martha exclaimed, peering closely at the little girl. “And what a lovely woman your wife is. How did you meet her?”

But when Heyes told her, she refused to believe it at first. “You’re having fun with me, ain’t you? Ain’t he, Kid? Ladies don’t . . . ”

The Kid just shook his head and smiled. “No joke. She really was our lawyer up in Montana. Heyes finally met a woman who could talk as good as he could, and that was that.”

Martha smiled. “Guess I can see that. Can’t you, Dick?” And her husband nodded. But when the conversation was turned to Kid Curry, and if he had a sweetheart, it took a more serious turn. Stumblingly, constantly interrupting each other, Heyes and Curry told them the story of Sandy and her kidnapping. Raintree remained silent, simply nodding his confirmation from time to time. Dick and Martha registered a quick moment of surprise when they were told that the Indian gentleman was Sandy’s father, but they soon recovered from it.

“You’ll stay here for as long as you need to, won’t you?” asked Dick.

Heyes and Curry looked uncomfortably at one another. “As long as we’re not putting you and your family in any danger.”           

The older children bunked in with the younger, that night, and the three travelers slept in the loft which was usually theirs. Heyes sighed, as he blew out the candle and slid into the bigger bed, beside the Kid, who showed every sign of spending another restless night. He was relieved when a low, even voice spoke from the other side of the dark room.

“I begin to wonder if I carry a curse. Perhaps it is fortunate I did not remarry.”

“What do you mean, Raintree?” asked the Kid.

Heyes felt inexplicably lighthearted, and had to restrain himself from whispering, “Shouldn’t you practice calling him ‘father’?” Only his remnants of good sense prevented him.

Albert Raintree continued, “Has Sandy told you the story of her mother and me?”

“Not what she heard from you,” said the Kid. “I guess she figured that was private, between you and her. I know what she used to think, before you found her, though.”

“It was close to the truth. Her mother was a captive in the wars between the settlers and my people. She was a beautiful young woman, then. I knew some English, and I used to speak to her. At first, she wouldn’t answer. But after awhile, she began to ask me questions, about my people, about our way of life.

“She learned that we had lost as many of our loved ones as her people had lost. I told her that we were fighting for our way of life, the way we’d always lived, against the encroachments of the farms and ranches. I told her about members of the other tribes I’d spoken to in my travels, how they’d been forced off their ancestral land, and away from their sacred places.

“And after awhile, she began to see me the way that I saw her. We married, according to the rites of my people, and we were happy for a winter and a summer. By the next winter, her people had ‘rescued’ her. They locked her up, to keep her from fleeing back to me. I tried to find her, but by the time I did, she had gone to her ancestors. There was only a stone with her name on it, and the date.”

“And you didn’t know Sandy had been born, right?” the Kid asked.

“When I went to find my wife, her parents wouldn’t see me, and nobody in the town would speak to me. If Mister Jeremy Chadwick hadn’t had that photograph of Sandy and Missus Heyes on his desk, and if it hadn’t been for the strong resemblance between Sandy and her mother, I might never have known.”

“She looks a lot like you, too,” said Kid Curry. “The first time I saw you together, I knew it was true. . . . Mister Raintree, we can’t both have found her, and now lost her. We’ve got to save her.”

“We will.” Heyes spoke up for the first time. “That’s all. We will.”

“I sure hope you’re right, Heyes.”

“My ancestors have been silent,” said Raintree. “I have looked for them in the smoke. But I believe that Heyes is right. You and I have had too many losses already, Jedediah.”

“The world kinda owes us, right? And, um, call me Jed, or Kid, not Jedediah.”

They fell silent, and soon the Kid had rolled over and was snoring. Heyes was used to it, but just before he dropped off to sleep himself, he surprised himself with a clear mental picture of a young Albert Raintree and a woman who looked like Sandy, crowned with the same luxuriant black hair, only with a rounder face, and dark blue eyes.

The next morning they rode into town, only to learn that there was still no word. The kidnappers had given the next day’s date, Heyes reminded his impatient partner.

“Ain’t there anything we can do to try to find them?”

“We could ride down the coast to where the telegraph man said that wire came from -- but what if he’s sending us on a fool’s errand?”

“Guess you’re right. It’s just that . . . if something doesn’t happen soon, I . . . I just don’t know how I can stand it much longer.”

“I know, Kid, I know.”

VIII.

Heyes had left extensive instructions on how to continue gathering evidence, which figures to monitor, and so forth. But for the sting to work, we had to catch them in the act. We’d been so sure that Willie Weinmann was the perfect target, but for several days now we’d been disappointed, as he’d reported back to us, unscathed, night after night.

And finally, they bit.

Gloria came into the back office with a glass of sherry on a tray for me.

“I didn’t order --” I began to protest, but she put up her hand.

As she leaned forward to hand me the glass, she whispered, “It’s happening.”

I took the sherry from her, and set it on the desk. When I turned around to say something else to her she’d gone.

A moment later, there was a commotion on the casino floor.

A moment after that, a harassed-looking croupier had stuck his head in the door. “Is Mister Reynolds here? Or Mister O’Sullivan?”

“Silky’s in the dining room,” I said, “and I haven’t seen Mister Reynolds all evening. Is there something I can help you with?”

“Oh, no, Missus Heyes. That’s all right,” he said. “I’ll find Mister O’Sullivan.”

Naturally, I followed him the whole way to the dining room.

Silky pretended to be angry at being disturbed in the middle of a rather impressive-looking steak-and-oysters supper. Or maybe he was really angry -- the chef had outdone himself, from the looks of it.

“Do you know what’s going on?” he turned to me. “Or what this idiot is doing disturbing me at my dinner?”

“No, I don’t,” I said. “He specifically asked to see you or Mister Reynolds.”

Silky sighed in disgust and said, “All right, then. Let’s go see what the ruckus is all about.” He turned to snarl at the croupier. “And it had better be worth it! The nerve of interrupting me at my supper!”

We entered the casino floor. Mostly, business was proceeding as usual. But there was a disturbance in one of the corners of the room.

Harry Briscoe was shouting at one of the dealers. “You cheated me! You . . .”

So it was Harry they’d picked, after all, and not Willie. I looked around, and Willie was several tables away, playing as though everything was right in the world. His ash blond hair was ruffled, but otherwise he was dapper as always. He caught my eye and winked. This was even better than we’d hoped.

“What’s going on here?” Silky elbowed his way to the front of the crowd.

“Why, Mister O’Sullivan, nothing,” said the dealer, a slim blond man who was beginning to sweat profusely. “Absolutely nothing. Just a good, honest game of blackjack.”

“Honest, my eye!” exclaimed Briscoe. I thought he was overacting just a bit.

“Well, carry on,” said Silky. “Go on playing, and I’ll see what can be seen, myself.”

“He’s not gonna cheat, now, with you lookin’ on, Mister Whoever-You-Are,” complained Harry. “And just who are you, anyway? I thought this casino was supposed to be run by Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. I came all the way from Kansas City to see those two with my own eyes, and they’re nowhere to be found.”

I cleared my throat. “I’m Mrs. Heyes. My husband and his partner were called out of town on urgent business. Mister O’Sullivan and I are keeping an eye on things until they return.”

“Well, you’re not keeping a very good eye, then, are you?”

And then, in a moment, things became crystal clear. Tony Salerno was making his way through the crowd, his dark bulldog face flushed and angry. Trailing behind him, tall and stooping as always, was the accountant Bill Reynolds. Seeing the two of them together, things fell into place. Here were motive and opportunity, walking hand in hand, so to speak. Where Salerno had the know-how on the floor, Reynolds had his eye on the big picture. Separately, neither of them could quite have run it, but together . . . a perfect complement. Not unlike, say, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, really.

As they crossed the floor towards us, there was not the slightest bit of doubt in my mind that they were allies and co-conspirators. I had no idea whether Joseph Parker was involved in it, but in a sudden flash I realized that, for all Salerno’s brilliance, it was Reynolds who was in charge. It was the way he looked around him, the supreme arrogance of that quiet stare.

Of course, I was going on nothing but surmise at the moment. Surmise and the bad feeling that both Salerno and Reynolds had always given me. But I’d learned to read people, in the courtroom, and I would have given any odds that I was right.

So maybe Heyes was right, after all. Maybe I was a gambler in my own way.

“What’s going on here?” snapped Salerno.

“I could ask you the same thing, Tony,” Silky rasped back. “This is your section, I believe?”

Salerno turned to the dealer. “Clarence? Do you have an explanation for this?”

“No, Mister Salerno. The gentleman here was just losing big, and he began to start yelling that I was cheating.”

“*This* wouldn’t have anything to do with it, would it?” Harry’s voice had changed from a plaintive whine, to something more authoritative . . . at least, as authoritative as he ever got. He jerked Clarence’s sleeve up, to show a spring clip. Then he reached behind the table, to touch the spring on a hidden drawer, which contained additional decks of cards. No doubt an examination of those cards would prove they weren’t quite ordinary. “Or this?”

“How dare you?” thundered Reynolds. “That’s private property.”

“Perhaps I should introduce Mr. Harry Briscoe, of the Bannerman Detective Agency,” I said. “We called him in especially. My husband has had his suspicions that something has not been quite right around here for some time.”

“Your husband!” Reynolds exclaimed. “Your husband has a criminal record nearly as long as my arm.”

“Playing your trump card so soon?” I asked. “I’d expected more from you. My husband and his partner had criminal records, which were expunged when the Governor of Wyoming granted them a full and unconditional amnesty, nearly three years ago.”

Perhaps Salerno would have tried to talk his way out of it. Perhaps Reynolds would have continued his indignant thundering. But just then, Clarence drew a gun from another secret compartment in the table, one Harry hadn’t found. He clapped it to Harry’s temple.

And a moment later, fell to the floor unconscious.

“Hey!” Briscoe turned around. “That thing could’ve gone off!” His long face was screwed up in a funny expression.

Willie Weinmann stood behind Clarence’s crumpled form, the famous loaded cane in his hand. “But it didn’t.”

“That’s a whole lot of comfort!” Harry complained.

Reynolds and Salerno, and about half a dozen other people, made a sudden rush to the doorway, but just as suddenly, all the doors slammed shut. Armed men stood beside them.

“I don’t think you’ll be going anywhere until the police arrive,” said a tall, handsome man with a slight Spanish accent. Big Jim Santana had a gun in his hand for possibly the first time in years, and he looked as comfortable as if he had never left the outlaw trail.

They never lost that wildness, I thought, no matter how domesticated they might seem to get. Not Jim Santana, not Hannibal Heyes, not Kid Curry.

But how had Jim known to be there this evening?

“I’m sorry, Ella,” Silky was whispering into my ear. “We set this up in advance. Harry was pretty sure he could make himself a target quickly.”

“How?”

“Well, he doesn’t look very bright, does he?”

I could see his point, but I felt left out. “You really don’t like me, do you, Silky?”

He looked shamefaced. “Nah, it’s not that. I just figured . . . I just figured if something went wrong, we might need a lawyer. Like if we were wrong and they brought us up on conspiracy charges or something. And I figured if you were gonna be our lawyer, you shouldn’t be a party to the occurrence.”

I began to laugh. “Silky, that’s a lovely thought. But I’m not even a member of the California bar.”

Now he frowned. “All these months here, and you never . . . what were you thinking, Ella? Honestly, all that book learning, and you’ve got the common sense of a flea!” And I joined him in unison for his final phrase. “Thinking small, that’s what it is. You’ll never get anywhere that way, Ella.”

Maybe fifteen minutes later, there was a thundering at the door. Jim Santana signaled for it to be opened, and a full complement of San Francisco’s Finest handcuffed Reynolds, Salerno, Clarence and their cohorts.

“That was easier than it should have been,” I remarked to Silky.

He turned to respond, but just then two men approached us. One was a pleasant-looking grey-haired man with spectacles which framed twinkling blue eyes. The other, equally pleasant and bespectacled, was of African descent. He wore a federal Marshal’s badge pinned to his jacket, and he had a wise, kindly smile as he reached out to shake Silky’s hand, and then mine.    “I’m Marshal Thoroughgood,” he explained. “This is Police Captain Brennan.  Fine work, Mister O’Sullivan, Mrs. Heyes. You’ve done a real service to the people of San Francisco.”

“And what about me?” It was Harry Briscoe, who had worked his way over to us.

“We’ll be certain to issue you a commendation, and we’ll send a copy to the head office at the Bannerman Agency.” Thoroughgood smiled. “But now we’ve got to see about Mister Joseph Parker and his connection with this little ring.”

I later heard that when Parker was pulled in for questioning, he was so clearly surprised by what had been going on that the police quickly released him. Unfortunately, it turned out that Reynolds and his associates had been ransacking his entire financial empire, and Parker was ruined. The Western Star was shuttered, and the rest of his interests went into receivership.

Parker himself suffered from a breakdown. Remarkably, his wife rose to the occasion. Madeline nursed him devotedly, and not a drop of alcohol passed her lips from the moment he entered his sickbed. Afterwards, I heard that since she was no longer “delicate,” the doctor had told them that it would be all right to try to have children, after all. Madeline was expecting her first within the year. Parker’s business friends gave him a boost back up, and though he never regained quite his former status, within a couple of years they were quite solidly comfortable again. I wondered whether he had ever really allowed himself to know the cause of Madeline’s “delicacy” or the reason it suddenly and permanently ceased, but I never inquired.

But that was in the future. Right now, we had something to celebrate. Kurt and Alice Schmidt were holding a victory party on Heyes’ and Curry’s behalf back at their restaurant, and after we’d cleared out all the residual staff members and guests, that’s where we went. I’ve never been overly fond of German cooking, but Kurt outdid himself that night, and even Silky allowed that it compensated for his spoiled meal of earlier that evening. The guests of honor weren’t there, of course, but Willie and Gloria came along with Silky and Harry and me. Soapy Saunders, just back from Europe, was there, and Jim Santana went home to fetch his wife Clara, as well. I suddenly wondered why I’d been so lonely in San Francisco when my husband knew so many interesting people there. Why hadn’t I been exchanging afternoon visits with spirited Clara Santana or with Alice, who turned out to be pleasant, sensible and funny, instead of Madeline Parker and her dull friends? I hated to admit that at least some of it was my own fault, but there you had it.  When a person is determined to be unhappy, she can usually manage it.

Alice’s voice was everything I’d heard it was, and more. I found myself wishing my old friend Sven Rasmussen could have heard it -- besides being the deputy sheriff in Blue Sky, he gave singing lessons to the ladies and had an operatic quality bass voice himself.

But thoughts of Sven turned my mind back to my husband, and to Sandy. Sven was with Rick’s party, and I knew they’d be arriving in Fremont Junction that next morning. There had been a wire from Heyes before I’d left to go to the casino, telling me that they were staying at the farm of some old friends, just outside of town.

It was amazing how Heyes and the Kid had old friends just about everywhere they went. I wondered how they did it. I thought not living in the same town their entire lives might have had something to do with it. Maybe just being who they were had something to do with it.

I left before the celebrations ended. I wanted to get back to Rachel before it got too late. Silky and Harry Briscoe volunteered to escort me home, or rather, back to Silky’s, and then they’d return to the party themselves. As we walked out the door, Silky took me by one arm, and Harry took the other. They were flush with champagne and high spirits, and for once they were getting along. It wasn’t quite the same as walking arm in arm with Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, but it would have to do. Until Sandy was back home and safe, and Heyes and the Kid with her, it would have to do.

And at least champagne and high spirits didn’t lead either of them to turn their voices to song, like the pair I’d rather have been celebrating with. Life had its small mercies.

IX.

This time Sean and Timothy were gone for much longer than they’d ever left before. It had begun almost as soon as they were gone. The three younger men began to torment her again. Jimmy tried to intervene on her behalf, but he’d been threatened, and finally bound and gagged.

This time the touching was more serious. Their hands moved to places they’d never dared venture before. And as they touched her, they alternated between curses and endearments. She thought that the latter were worse.

Finally, one of them made bold to begin. And as the onslaught began, Sandy willed herself to someplace far, far away, where she looked on the proceedings as though they were happening to somebody else. She wanted to cry and scream for that girl, but she couldn’t. She was too far away. And then, she knew nothing at all.

X.

The sound of hoofbeats approaching on the road. Martha ran to the door to see who was coming.

A quartet of horsemen had halted in front of the house.

“Ma’am, is this where we can find Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry?” The speaker was an older man, with a broad, red face and grey hair.

“Who’s asking?” Martha was suspicious.

“My name is Rick Johnson, ma’am. Heyes and Curry are expecting me and my friends.”

She nodded. “They’ve gone for a ride with my husband. They were getting so restless, waiting to hear from those kidnappers and all.” She remembered her manners. “Won’t you come in? I have food, and something for you to drink. And Mister Raintree is out back, somewhere.”

“Why, thank you, ma’am,” said a tall, good-looking young man. He was riding hatless, and his curly dark hair was windblown. “I’m Jeremy Chadwick. I think I’m the only one here who’s met Mister Raintree before.”

“Raintree?” asked a stocky man, who was younger than Rick, but older than Jeremy. He had a gruff voice, and an abrupt but jovial manner. “He really is an Injun, then? Sandy’s father, I mean.”

“What’s that supposed to mean, Stan?” asked the fourth man, a extraordinarily tall blond with a huge frame, who was riding a much larger horse than the others. His deep voice had a singsong accent that betrayed his Swedish origins.

“Er -- nothing, Sven. Nothing at all.” Stan said quickly. “I’m sure Mister Raintree is a fine person, being Sandy’s father and such.” He looked anxiously at the big man.

Martha smiled to herself. She didn’t suppose too many people would argue with the Swedish giant. Then she turned to Jeremy. “Heyes mentioned you were a particular friend of his wife’s, so maybe you can satisfy my curiosity on something. Was he teasin’ me when he told me he met her ‘cause she was his lawyer?”

Jeremy and Rick looked at each other and smiled. The younger man spoke. “He sure wasn’t, ma’am. In fact, I was her law partner until she and Heyes moved to San Francisco.”

Rick laughed. “She taught Jeremy here everything he knows about the law. Which is why I’ve been beatin’ him so bad in the courtroom.”

Jeremy gave him a look of mock indignation. “Except for the other half of the time, when I win, Rick. Don’t forget that half.”

“Keep dreaming, young man,” said Rick loftily, but then his expression turned more serious. “There was a message waiting at the telegraph office for us. Do you think they’ll be back soon?”

“Shouldn’t be more than an hour,” Martha said, after thinking for a moment. “Think they went downstream towards the Potter place. They’ve been pacing around here like crazy. We thought it was the best thing for them to get out.”

Rick shrugged. “An hour’s not going to make a big difference, and anyway, my friends and I could stand to get off horseback for a bit. We’ve got a lot of riding still ahead of us.”

Jeremy and Sven dismounted and headed towards the back of the house, where they’d been told they could find Raintree. Oliver Stanley was already looking around. “You got anything to eat, ma’am?”

He preceded them into the house, and Rick caught Martha’s arm. “We’ve been travelling for a couple of days. Have Heyes and Curry had any news before this?”

“Not that I know of,” she said, registering his anxiety.

XI.

“You what?” came Sean’s voice again. “How dare you? This was a kidnapping, not a . . .”

“You’re a disgusting trio of whelps, you are.” This was Timothy. But even though she knew the two men were defending her, in a sense, Sandy just wished the shouting would stop. As long as they shouted, it brought her back to herself, back away from the place where it was safe for her to hide.

“Ya bring us all the way out here to settle some old score of yours, and ya don’t even let us go inta town once in awhile. Whaddaya expect?” protested one of the young men -- the heavyset, dark one. She didn’t know his name -- didn’t want to know it -- but she recognized his voice all too painfully.

“That you use the brains God gave you instead of behavin’ like a bunch of disgustin’ animals,” said Timothy. “This isn’t about you. This isn’t even about the money, not really. This is about what O’Shaughnessy did to us. This is about revenge. Don’t let your petty, selfish desires get in the way of revenge. The poor girl . . . . ” he broke off, in disgust.

“She ain’t even human, though, is she? Half O’Shaughnessy, half squaw. What’s it matter? By the time he realizes something’s wrong, we’ll have the money and we’ll be on our way.”

“You’re an idiot!” Sean again. “We’re not getting revenge on her. She’s a hostage. Now look what you’ve done.” He thrust open the door to where Sandy was lying on the bed. She shrunk away, not wanting anyone to see her like this. Her clothes were all torn, and she’d been bruised and bloodied from resisting them. “Jimmy, get her some towels and water to clean herself with. And a shirt or something -- let her cover herself decently.”

The door closed again and the voices lowered, and in a moment, Jimmy came in with water and clothing for her. “Shhh,” he said softly. “I won’t hurt you.”

But she just sat and stared at him, unmoving, so he began to wash her himself. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t stop them. They said I wasn’t a man, for not joining in. But I say I’m not a man because I didn’t kill them first, the bastards.” He began to unbutton the top of her dress, and she shrank in terror. “I’m not going to touch you, I’m just going to put clean clothes on you. Clothes that’ll cover you decently, not like . . . I’m sorry we don’t have any ladies’ things. The pants are mine, and the shirt is Sean’s. Nothing of theirs.”

And so finally, she sat there passively, letting him clean and dress her.

XII.

When they rode up to the farmhouse, they could see all the extra horses tethered in front.

“Dammit!” exclaimed Kid Curry. “I knew we shouldn’t have gone out.”

“Easy, Kid. We haven’t been gone that long. And you were gonna dig a trench in their living room floor with your pacing if we stayed any longer.”

The sound of their horses must have reached inside the farmhouse, because in a moment, Rick and Jeremy had rushed outside.

“They’re just outside a town called High Falls Point, about five miles from here. We’re to meet them there, to hand over the money and pick up Sandy.”

“You two ready to go?” asked Rick, but it wasn’t really a question.

Heyes and Curry didn’t even bother to dismount. They just accepted the saddlebags of supplies and the weapons that were handed them. And in a surprisingly short amount of time,

they were ready to go.

Dick Watkins volunteered to go with them, but was quickly refused.

“Dick, there could be shooting. It could be bad. You’ve got a wife and five kids,” said Heyes, persuasively. “I’d hate to see you get hurt if something goes wrong.”

“You’ve got a wife and child, too,” Dick pointed out.

“I’ve got a wife who took Sandy out of an orphanage when she was twelve years old. One who sent me to rescue Sandy, and who would’ve come herself if I hadn’t talked her out of it. And believe me, it wasn’t easy. Dick, none of us would be leaving six hungry mouths behind, if anything went wrong.”

He looked from face to face. Heyes, accounted for. Raintree, Sandy’s father, looked like an Indian warrior waiting for battle, as perhaps he was. Curry, who loved her, his blue eyes steely and dangerous. Rick, the reason for the mistake that had led to her kidnapping, older than the others, but with an expression of determination that made it clear he was a man you wouldn’t want to cross. Rasmussen, large and menacing, his deputy’s badge gleaming in the sunlight. Stan, Rick’s closest friend, hard and burly. Jeremy, younger than the others, tall and strong in a wiry way, who counted Sandy among his own closest friends.

And who was he? Just a domesticated ex-outlaw turned farmer and family man. After the others left, he and Martha decided he would wait a few hours and ride after them, just in case they got into something they couldn’t get themselves out of.

“Do me a favor, Heyes,” said Rick, who’d ridden up close to him.

“What’s that?”

“Make sure your friend marries her, as soon as possible.”

Heyes gave a quick smile. “I think that’s what he’s got in mind, but . . . why the recommendation?”

“Us Johnsons are just bad news for Sandy, between the way my son treated her, and now her gettin’ kidnapped on account of me. I just don’t think she should have to be called Johnson a minute longer than absolutely necessary.”

“Got a feeling you’ll meet with a fair amount of agreement on that one, Rick. I just . . . I kept tryin’ to work out a plan, so’s we could rescue her without you having to pay that $25,000. But I can’t think of one that wouldn’t put her at some kind of risk.”

“You think I care about the money?” Rick sounded hurt. Which was funny, because he’d never made any bones about caring about money before. But he’d also never had anything like this at stake, before.

“No, it’s just . . . Ella figures this is gonna pretty much clean you out.”

The older man smiled ruefully. “You kidding me? I’m figuring on paying you back for the stake you put in, too. I’ll always work, so I’ll always eat. And all the bankers in town are my friends and clients, so they’re not gonna take away my house. Besides, who’m I gonna leave it to? I have a wife who doesn’t talk to me anymore, a son I disowned, and a daughter that cares more about making a splash in Chicago society, or some such foolishness, then she does about dropping her old man a note from time to time and telling him how his grandchildren are doing. More important, I owe Sandy.”

Heyes just nodded. He looked ahead, to where Kid Curry and Albert Raintree were leading the pack. The pair of them were so impatient that Heyes suspected they would have galloped at full tilt the whole way, if it wasn’t for the rest of the group holding them back. But they didn’t know how things were going to turn out, and they couldn’t risk exhausting the horses on the way there. And once again he noted that despite the anxiety of the situation, he felt more alert and alive than he had in months.

What seemed an eternity later, they’d arrived at High Falls Point, and been directed to the old Summers ranch outside of town. When they drew near to the house, they were met by a sextet of men carrying shotguns and rifles.

They were all dressed like Easterners, their city clothes not fancy, but out of place in the rough terrain. But when one of the men opened his mouth, he spoke with the tones of Ireland. “Richard O’Shaughnessy, is it? It’s been a long time, Richard.”

Rick dismounted from his horse. “I’ve got the money in my saddlebags, so don’t think I’m going to try anything, Sean. You can have the money back, and welcome. It’s weighed heavy on my conscience all these years, and it’ll be a relief to give it back to you.”

“Weighed heavy on your conscience, you murdering bastard? You’ve done a lot worse than take our money!” The speaker was another Irishman, the other older man in the group.

“Timothy O’Beirne,” Rick acknowledged. “I’m not doing to disagree with you, Tim. It was a long time ago, and I’m a different man, now. But I don’t expect I’ll ever be forgiven for the things I’ve done -- the thirty men I killed for the gang.”

“‘Tisn’t your knife work I principally object to, O’Shaughnessy. It’s the one you killed while escaping from us -- my brother. I’ve never stopped looking for you, you know, not in all these years.”

“I’m sorry about what happened with Seamus,” said Rick. “He was a good man -- not like the rest of us. I’m sorrier about that than anything. I’ve seen his face in my dreams every night since.”

“So have I, you bastard,” Timothy responded.

Without another word, Rick removed a cloth bag from his saddlebags, and walked forward. He placed it on the ground, just in front of Sean. “Here you go, and welcome to it. Now just let us have the girl.”

He turned and began to walk away.

“Bring out the girl, now.” Kid Curry’s voice was cool, calm, and utterly deadly.

“We’ll do that,” said Sean, and nodded to one of his men, who turned and walked towards the house.

But just then, Timothy raised his gun, and discharged it. “This is for Seamus, you hypocritical son of a bitch.” Rick fell to the ground, wounded.

“No!” Oliver Stanley cried out, and rode forward from the back of the group. He killed Timothy with a blast from his shotgun to the heart, and swung around again to hit the young man next to him right between the eyes, before he fell from his horse. He’d been shot several times in the chest, and was dead before he hit the ground.

In the exchange of gunplay that ensued, the mounted men had the advantage, but several of the kidnappers were excellent shots. One of the young men managed to get Heyes in the shoulder and the thigh, with two shots in quick succession. Heyes’ gun spun out of his hands, and he dove for it, while Jeremy picked the gunman off with his rifle. The Kid must’ve given him some more shooting lessons I didn’t know about, Heyes thought, just before he fell unconscious with the shock.

Kid Curry managed to wound Sean in the shoulder, but when he tried to disarm the heavy-set, dark-haired youth positioned behind him, he was distracted by the sight of Sandy, peering through a broken window, and the shot went wild. The young man managed to shoot Sven Rasmussen in the arm before the Kid steadied himself and got off another shot. But the dark-haired youth jerked forward with one of Jeremy’s bullets in him, and the shot that was meant to disarm him was fatal.

There was a noise from behind the house, and another young man came riding out from behind the house, skirting the gunmen as far as he could. Jeremy raised his rifle, but the Kid said, “Hold up. That one’s running away as fast as he can. Let him go -- he’s not any danger to us or to Sandy.”

The door to the house was opened, and a white flag peeped out of the door. A young man peered out around the door. “I’m not armed. The girl’s with me, and I’ll bring her out to you. Just promise . . . just promise you’ll let me be.”

“You have our word,” said Kid Curry. He dismounted, as did Raintree, and they hurried forward, towards Sandy.

Her black hair hung down around her shoulders, dirty and disheveled. She wore a man’s shirt and trousers, both much too big for her. And as the young man led her forward, Curry could see that there was no look of recognition in her dark brown eyes. She had the frightened look of a wild animal -- a hundred times worse than the fear he’d seen in her before. She shrunk from them, her father and her lover. She hid behind her captor, in utter terror.

“You can see what they did to her,” said the man. “Not Sean and Timothy, but the others. My so-called friends.” He spat. “I’m sorry I couldn’t stop them. I tried.”

Kid Curry blinked back tears. Sandy was trembling, terrified, and showed no signs of recognizing him. Heyes was lying behind him on the ground, seriously wounded. Oliver Stanley was dead, and Rick Johnson was dying, slowly. Jeremy was already kneeling by Rick’s side, trying to staunch the bleeding, and Sven Rasmussen, despite his own wound, was doing the same for Heyes.

Curry looked at the woman he loved, and then at his partner. When he took a step forward, Sandy shrunk back in terror. He looked at Albert Raintree, who was standing entirely still.

“Go to your friend,” he said softly. “Let me handle this.”  And without moving, he began chanting softly.

And after standing and staring for another moment, Kid Curry turned his back on the scene, and walked towards Hannibal Heyes.

Kid Curry sat over his unconscious friend, watching him lie there silent and still. If it weren’t for the regular, labored sound of his breathing, Curry would have wondered if his partner was still alive.

Thank goodness Dick Watkins had been stubborn, and had trailed them at a distance, all the way to their rendezvous with the kidnappers. By the time he arrived, his assistance had been sorely needed. Heyes was bleeding profusely, with a bullet in the shoulder and another in the thigh. It was touch and go, and it was worse for Rick Johnson. With neither Heyes nor Rick in any condition to be moved, they simply took over what had been the kidnappers’ lair. Sven Rasmussen insisted on throwing all the windows and doors open and airing the place out, despite the flesh wound he’d received in the arm. He would also have swept the abandoned ranch house out, himself, except that Jeremy insisted that he lie down.

Dick went gone to fetch the doctor and the sheriff, while Jeremy and Albert Raintree tended to the wounded in body, and to the wounded in spirit. Kid Curry was still torn between his seriously injured partner and the woman he loved. But Sandy was so traumatized by the events that had taken place before her rescue that his presence seemed to hurt, rather than to help, her. And so he’d stayed at Heyes’ side for the past day and night, assisting the local doctor when he arrived, and keeping watch the rest of the time.

He dozed off to sleep in the chair by the side of the bed just once, and jolted awake moments later. But he wasn’t feeling the fatigue -- all he felt was concern for Heyes, who he could help, and Sandy, who he couldn’t.

Dick had performed a small miracle around town, rounding up enough fresh linens and quilts for Heyes’ and Rick’s beds. But Curry was afraid that more than one small miracle was going to be needed in this situation. He saw how his partner was sweating, even in his sleep, and how his dark brown hair was plastered to his head. Heyes was paler than usual, his dark, heavy eyebrows standing out in contrast so that they were the first thing you noticed when you looked at him.

The doctor had insisted on dosing him with laudanum to kill the pain. Curry had been dosed with it a few times himself, when recovering from wounds or fevers, and from what he knew about the drug, he suspected it was contributing to Heyes' fever dreams. Every once in awhile, he'd start to toss and turn, and he'd speak in his sleep, but it was usually something incoherent about someone the Kid had never heard of -- and the idea of Heyes knowing someone the Kid had never heard of was a little far-fetched.

So he kept his silent watch, listening alertly for any signs, any warnings. And though he was a little rusty at it, he found himself praying.

Hannibal Heyes lay in the dark, his shoulder and his thigh on fire. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been unconscious. He wasn’t even sure where he was. And he had the distinct feeling that he was lucky that he knew who he was.

“You all right, Heyes?” It was the familiar voice of his partner.

“Been better, Kid,” Heyes said weakly, and managed a ghost of a grin. “Surprised at how much I missed this, though. Not the gettin’ shot part, but . . .”

Kid Curry sat down and gently lowered the bedcovers. Heyes could hear a sound like water, and soon felt a damp cloth, soothing the fire in his shoulder just a little. “Easy there, Heyes. Know what you mean, though -- kinda makes you feel fully alive, don’t it? The doc’s comin’ back a little later.”

“Kid, I’m afraid I don’t . . . where am I? What happened?”

“We’re at a farm outside of High Falls Point, Oregon, is where. You got shot rescuin’ Sandy, is what. You’ve been out for awhile, but you’re gonna be all right.

“Does Ella know I’m . . . ?”

“She’s on her way from San Francisco, even as we speak.”

“Did they . . . ?” Heyes trailed off again, too weak to talk much, but confident in the knowledge that the Kid knew him so well that he’d be able to figure it out.

“The folks that were responsible for what was happening at the Western Star are in custody, and we’re not even vaguely under suspicion. And Heyes, it wasn’t Joe Parker who was behind it. It was Bill Reynolds and Tony Salerno, working together.”

Heyes smiled weakly. “I’m glad. I kinda liked Joe -- didn’t like thinkin’ ill of him. But . . . Sandy, how is she?”

Nothing for a moment, and then the Kid spoke quietly. “She’s not too good, Heyes. Some of those bastards . . . they raped her. She’s not talkin’, she don’t recognize anyone, she’s not . . . herself.”

“Oh, Kid. I’m sorry.” Heyes tried to lift his arm to put a hand on his friend’s, but made a sudden outcry of pain before quickly dropping it again. “Damn.”

“Hurts, huh?”

“No . . . yes, it does, but . . . damn that something like that had to happen to Sandy. She’s been through so much already. And damn that it’s hurtin’ you so much. I know you love that girl.”

“Yeah, well . . . . Right now I’d rather talk about something else, Heyes.”

“Uh, all right. Er . . . Rick’s been shot, hasn’t he?” Probably not changing the conversation for the better, but . . .

“He took one a lot worse than you did. You were touch and go for while, but now it looks like you’re gonna make it, but he --” Curry broke off. He’d never known Rick Johnson all that well, but somehow, even with all his other worries, he was finding the older man’s inevitable death a grief to him. Maybe because Rick mattered so much to Ella, and Ella mattered so much to Heyes and . . . well, she mattered to him, too. She’d been a good friend. “He’s dying, slowly. And he wants to speak to you. When . . . when you think you can get up, you ought to go in there.”

“Think I could manage a brief visit, soon. What the hell happened, anyway, Kid? We paid the ransom, and then everything went crazy.”

“That Timothy O’Beirne was out for revenge, Heyes. He never intended on letting Rick ride away.”

“And the ransom demand?”

“That was for real. The others were in it for the money. But not O’Beirne. For him, it was personal. Rick killed his brother.”

Heyes looked too weak to talk any more, and whispered, “I appreciate your loyalty, Kid, but . . . go to her. Go to Sandy. I’ll be all right.” Really, he didn’t want his partner to go anywhere, but he also didn’t want to keep him from Sandy’s side.

“I’ll be back in a bit. I won’t be gone long.”

And Heyes would have called after him, “Stay as long as you want,” but he was too weak to speak anymore.

Sandy still refused to come inside. Pretty much everything frightened her, particularly the scene of her captivity, and she hovered near an old oak tree that grew alone behind the house. The only person she wasn't afraid of was Jimmy, one of her captors. Apparently he was the only one who’d been kind to her, and the only one of the younger men who hadn’t violated her. But the sheriff had come to take him away, along with Sean, the only other one of his fellow-kidnappers who’d survived the shootout that had accompanied the rescue. They’d given a description of the kidnapper who fled, but there wasn’t much hope of catching up with him by now.

Curry had thought of trying to intervene with the sheriff, to keep the man with her. But by then, Albert Raintree had begun to make contact.

Raintree sat in her presence, chanting and humming, and it seemed to have a calming effect. After awhile, she crept nearer and nearer to him, and though she still wouldn’t let him touch her, she began to let him speak to her. He loosened his greying black hair from its braid, and once or twice, she put out her hand to touch it. Her mother had black hair, too. Raintree had told the Kid that he could still picture her vividly in his mind’s eye, even though she’d been taken from him so long ago. But whether it was that Sandy recognized him as her father, or that she was somehow reminded of her mother by the long black hair, or whether it was simply that, as an Indian, he was the most obviously different from the men who’d hurt her -- that Curry couldn’t tell. Raintree had changed back to fully native dress, and he looked different, more alien and less like the comrade who’d shared in this journey with the Kid.

Kid Curry was suffering an agony of jealousy, even at the same time that he thanked whatever powers there were that somebody was reaching her. He was selfishly jealous, he knew it, but he was miserable and he wanted to be the one to connect with her, to bring her back, to shelter her with his love.

And instead, he was helpless. All he could do was watch, and give Raintree what support he could.

Now, he approached them hesitantly. There was that wild and frightened thing in Sandy’s expression, which became more apparent as he drew nearer. She clung to her father, without actually touching him, and Curry could see that when he tried to touch her, to soothe her, she pulled away, suddenly rigid.

“Sandy. Sandy, are you all right?” The Kid called out softly.

There was no answer, as he’d known there wouldn’t be. As there hadn’t been, all the other times he’d asked.

“Mister Raintree, what’s happening? Is she getting better?”

“She can’t hear you,” Raintree explained. “I think she can only hear me when I chant, not when I speak. Those men . . . what they did to her . . . she’s gone someplace far away inside herself.”

“But is she gonna be all right?”

“In time,” said Raintree.

The Kid tried to approach her, but she shrunk away from him, hiding behind her father. She gave a little yelp of fear, barely human.

“What can we do for her? This is drivin’ me . . . I can’t hardly stand it.” Drivin’ me crazy, he’d nearly said. Was that what Sandy would be called? Curry couldn’t help but think that her response to what had happened to her was probably the most rational thing she could have done. She couldn’t get away from her captors, from the rapes, physically, but . . . she’d gotten away the best she could. The only thing was how to let her know it was safe to come back, now.

Raintree looked serious. “You must try and understand what I’m going to say. Your people . . . you are used to thinking that everything you do and know is superior to the knowledge of my people. And your medicine -- for the body, it is very strong. But our healers know more about the mind and the spirit.”

The Kid merely nodded. “Our doctors would drug her, probably put her in a sanitarium.”

“The confinement would destroy her. Jedediah Curry, I know that you love my daughter. And I must ask you this. Let me take her to the healers of my people. There are healing rituals, dream rites, and so forth. I believe our shaman could help her.”

Curry took a deep breath. “All right. But I’m going with you.”

But Raintree shook his head. “You’re needed here. Your friend Heyes needs you. There is a strong connection between you -- without you, he might not live.”

“But his wounds are healing. How do you know that, anyway? Is this some of your Indian mumbo-jumbo?”

Raintree smiled. “No. But I have watched you together. You are like true brothers of the spirit, like two halves of a whole. He needs you to give him strength.”

“Guess maybe you’re right. We’ve been lookin’ out for each other for so long I can’t even imagine life without him.”

“Heyes’ wife knows it, too. She has spoken to me about it.”

Kid Curry took a moment to digest that. Ella had always seemed to know that she could never take the Kid’s place in Heyes’ life. She’d always assumed that wherever Heyes was, his partner would be there, too. But he’d never thought before what that must have meant to her, sharing her husband. It wasn’t as though Heyes didn’t love her -- he did, very much. But they hadn’t formed the same kind of bond, the bond that came from years of depending on another person for your very survival. Heyes and Ella, they were different. They wanted to be together, but sometimes it seemed like it was hard work for them both. But he and Heyes . . . their companionship was just natural, like breathing air or something.

The Kid had always thought it would be natural like that for him and Sandy, too. That once he got past the defenses she’d built up during her brief disastrous marriage, it would feel to her like it felt to him, that they were two of a kind. But now she’d encased herself in a fortress so mighty, he didn’t know if he could ever breach its walls.

After a moment, Raintree went on. “Heyes needs you. Sandy loves you, but she doesn’t need you in the same way. Not now. Later, when she is whole.”

“When are you leaving?” asked the Kid.

“I was only waiting to speak to you. I must get her away from here, as soon as possible. I noticed a cart in the old barn that looks like it's sound. Sandy cannot ride right now, but I had thought to take that cart.”

The Kid nodded. “I expect you’re right. I just hate to lose her again, so soon after finding her.”

“She is lost to all of us right now. I think I can bring her back. But,” Raintree hesitated for a moment. “There is risk involved. What she will undergo on her journey back to us may change her. She will . . . see . . . things.  She may not be the same.”

“Do we have any other choice?”

“You can keep her locked up in a room, tied up so she doesn’t hurt herself. And you can hope she comes back to herself in time. Because that’s what the doctors of your people would recommend.”

Curry bowed his head for a moment, and said a prayer to the God he wasn’t at that moment certain he believed in.  How could a kind and loving God let what happened to Sandy happen to anyone? “All right. Take her. Just . . . go. The longer she stays, the harder it’s gonna be for me to part with her.”

He stood up and walked away, not daring to look back.

 “You’re back,” said Heyes. He lay on his bed, soaked in sweat, his dark hair dripping where it fell forward onto his forehead. “How’s Sandy?”

“Gone,” said Curry.

“Gone? What do you mean?”

“I mean, while you were sleeping, her father hitched up an old cart he found in the barn and drove her off. He’s takin’ her back to his tribe. He says they have healers . . . one of ‘em’s called a shaman . . . who can help her.”

Heyes hesitated for a moment. “I know you weren’t expectin’ it to turn out this way. I’m . . . sorry.”

Curry’s blue eyes got that steely glitter for just a moment. “Don’t really feel like talkin’ about it right now, Heyes. Maybe later. I was comin’ to see if you were up for a little journey down the hallway to see Rick.”

“I dunno, Kid. I don’t think moving is one of my strong points right now. But . . . he’s not gonna last much longer, is he?”

Kid Curry shook his head and smiled sadly. “No, not much longer. And he’s strong right now.”

“All right, then. Let’s . . . do it.”

The Kid slid his arms around his friend and helped him to sit up.

“Feel kinda dizzy, sittin’ in an upright position. Only thing for it is to do it, I guess. Let’s go.”

And, leaning heavily on Curry, Heyes slowly made the long journey to the door, and down the hall about six feet, to another doorway. He limped into the makeshift sickroom, where Jeremy Chadwick and the local doctor hovered at the dying man's side.

"I wanna speak to Heyes alone," Rick slurred weakly. "Private."

Kid Curry hesitated in following Jeremy and the doctor, but Rick turned to him and said, “You, too.” So he deposited Heyes on the chair at the side of the bed.

When they had all cleared the room, Rick spoke. "You know I'm not going to last much longer," he said. "And before I go, there's something I need to tell someone. Something I've kept a secret for many years."

Heyes smiled weakly. "Another big secret, Rick? How many can one man have?"

Rick tried to smile back, unsuccessfully. "This one isn't like that, Heyes. But it concerns someone close to you.

"Go on," said Heyes. He was beginning to have a peculiar feeling that he knew what was coming next, and why Rick had been so insistent on talking to him.

"I . . . Heyes, this is something I never dared to admit to anybody. It's hard to say to you now. It's just . . . growin' up on the streets, like I did, I got hard at a real young age. Well, you probably know what it's like -- Ella told me about you being an orphan and all. But you always had the Kid to care about. I . . . I never had someone like that. My mama died and after that my father crawled into a bottle and couldn't be bothered with me.

"After I left New York and headed West, I found a lawyer with a daughter and an opening for a clerk, so I married her. But I didn't think I'd ever fall in love. Not until . . . I'd known Benjamin Hart's daughter since she was nine or ten -- that's around the time I first showed up in that part of Montana. But I'd never thought much about her. Not until the first time he sent her to court in his place.

"She was still in her early twenties, then, and still heavily in mourning over Billy, even though it must have been four, maybe five years after his death. You can imagine how pale, almost unearthly, she looked, dressed all in black from head to toe. And as slender as she is now, she was almost consumptive-looking, then. I don’t think she ate very much in those days. I was a little concerned Judge Clayton might favor her side, seeing as how the mourning clothes were for his nephew and all, but as a whole I was pretty sure I could have Ella Hart on toast for lunch."

"Huh?"

"I thought I'd have an easy time defeating her. I'd only met her around town, and I'd gotten the impression she was polite and ladylike. I figured I could demolish her case effortlessly.

"Well, I won the case, but it wasn't effortless. It was far from it. Not only had Ben taught her well, but there was something about her style in the courtroom, even then . . . Heyes, I'd enjoyed myself. She had that real fighting spirit. Her father was an outstanding lawyer, there's no doubt of it, but courtroom work was always something he had to do.

"Not Ella. Until that moment, I guess I'd always fit women in two categories: wives and mothers, worthy women of course, but not terribly interesting; and whores, entertaining enough, but nothing more.  Here was a woman who was . . . she was like me.  I was fascinated.

“I could imagine sitting and talking with her for hours. Later on, I did. Most men aren't really looking for that, are they? But you and I know better."

Heyes took a deep breath. "You're in love with Ella?" He’d known that was what Rick was going to say, but it still felt so funny, getting it out.

"You’re so surprised? You think you’re the only one who can appreciate . . .  Oh, I knew she wouldn't look twice at me, not that way. A married man, so much older than her, and nothing much to look at . . . well, I’m not the kind of man a young woman would fall in love with, I know that. So I contented myself with our rivalry, and our friendship and, most importantly, with knowing that nobody else could have her either. Knowing that the only man she had ever loved, and would ever love, was dead.

"So, you can imagine how the world fell to pieces for me when I figured out what was going on -- what had been going on -- between you two. That day when you walked into her office in Blue Sky and kissed her like you did, not knowing there was anyone else in the room.  You remember that? Right after you got your amnesty.”

“How could I forget?” asked Heyes. “You nearly wrecked both our lives that day, as I recall.”  

Rick nodded, weakly. “I was practically out of my head with jealousy and rage that anybody could touch her when I knew that I never could."

Heyes’ eyes widened. “Funny way to show that you love someone.”

"I wasn't rational for weeks after it happened, and then it was too late. I tried to convince myself I hadn't behaved like a complete and utter . . . well, I knew what I'd done and I couldn't see any way out of it." Rick smiled weakly. "It came out all right in the end, though, didn't it? You and she might never have gotten married at all if I hadn't inadvertently forced your hand."

Heyes smiled back. “Not right when we did, that’s for sure.” But then his smile fell. “‘Course she nearly left me, back in San Francisco. Said she wasn’t happy with the way we were living.”

“Don’t you know Ella’s never gonna be happy unless she’s got something to do with herself? Preferably beatin’ the tar out of some opponent in the courtroom. It’s just the way she’s made. Not that . . . uh . . .” He coughed weakly. “Not that she’s not a good mother, but she . . . she can’t seem to make it the center of her life, like other women do.”

 “No, she . . . she loves Rachel a whole lot, but . . . you’re right.”

“I could’ve told you this San Francisco thing was going to be a disaster. But who’d’ve listened to old Rick?” For a moment, a flash of the old twinkle shone in his eye.

“We promised each other that we’d figure something out. A plan we can both be happy with.”

“I’m glad,” said Rick. “I just . . . before I . . . went, I needed to know . . . I needed to know you’d be there for her.”

Heyes reached out and took Rick’s hand in his. “I will.”

“And you will never tell her about this conversation, or I’ll come back and haunt you. And you wouldn’t want that. I’d be a real unpleasant ghost to have around.”

“Nothin’ personal, Rick, but I think she’d find it a little too weird, anyway.”

Rick smiled. “I’m sure of that," he said, and fell into a fit of coughing. When he spoke again, his voice was weaker than it had been. "Now, let me get back to the business of going to hell in my own way.”

“Rick, you’ve done a lot of good in your life.”

“There’s no forgiveness possible, not for what I did when I was young. But maybe . . .” he trailed off for a moment. “Maybe they’ll put me in the nicer part of hell, on account of some of the good things I’ve done since.”

And then he fell silent, and Heyes rang the bell. Jeremy and the doctor returned to Rick’s bedside, and the Kid and Sven Rasmussen, his wounded arm neatly bandaged, assisted Heyes back to his own.

Halfway there, Heyes’ legs buckled underneath him, and his companions half-dragged, half-carried him the rest of the way.

Darkness again, and then light. The feel of cool water against his forehead, and once again, the covers lifted, and his wounds being bathed.

“Kid?”

“Yeah, Heyes. You were still unconscious when the doc came in to see you. Guess you kinda wore yourself out, in there with Rick. Doc says you’re healin’ up right and you just need to sleep more.”

Heyes opened his eyes and saw his partner leaning over him, looking tired and a little older than he usually did. “Rick?”

“He’s gone now. He died about an hour ago. I think he used himself up, on whatever it was he needed to talk to you about. What was it he needed to talk to you about, anyway?”

Heyes hesitated. He’d promised Rick on his deathbed, and he didn’t want to break his word. But telling the Kid was sort of like telling himself. Still, a promise was a promise. “Oh, nothin’. Somethin’ kinda strange.”

“Oh, about Ella?”

“Why’d you say that?”

“Just a guess. Don’t tell me I’m the only one who figured out how he felt about her?”

“Apparently, Kid. It sure came as a surprise to me. He just wanted to make sure I was gonna watch out for her, is all. Guess he didn’t want to go to his grave without ever confessing his feelings to anyone. Made me promise not to tell her, though.”

Curry nodded. “Good idea, if you ask me. She’d find it pretty peculiar, I’m guessin’.”

“That’s what I figured.” Heyes stopped for a moment, and winced. “Did the doc give you anything for the pain?”

“There’s some laudanum. Doc’s been givin’ it to you. But you were sleeping natural this time. Want it?”

He made a face. "I don't think want is quite the right word. I don't want it. But I'm thinkin' I'm gonna need it.”

XIII.

When the train pulled in at Fremont Junction, Gloria and I climbed down off the train. She was wrestling with our luggage while I held Rachel in my arms. 

“Sandy?” she asked.

“We’re going to see Sandy soon, Rachel. I promise,” I said. At last it was finally true.

I looked around the platform anxiously, but I didn’t see anyone I recognized. “Let me put you down, sweetheart. You’re getting so big, you’re getting too heavy for mama.”

Just then, I saw a familiar figure at the end of the platform. “Jeremy!” I exclaimed. “I thought you’d have had to head home by now, what with the practice and the new baby and all. It’s so good to see you.” I gazed fondly at the tall, lean form and aquiline features of my former law partner. Before I’d thought about it, I put up her hand to mess up his curly dark hair.

Jeremy smiled at the sisterly familiarity, and bent down to kiss me on the cheek. “Ella, there’s more going on here than I told you in my telegram.” He stopped to reach down and give his hand to the little girl, who was saying, “Unca Jermy, Unca Jermy,” excitedly.

“Hello, Rachel. Who’s your friend?”

“Glory,” said Rachel, proudly.

I smiled. “This is Gloria. She was working at the Western Star. I invited her to help with Rachel, for the time being.”

The former saloon girl had so transformed herself, in her plain dark high necked dress, and with her auburn hair neatly plaited and put up, that I was certain Jeremy wouldn’t have suspected what she’d been. Well, not if he hadn’t known from my letters that there was only one capacity in which the Western Star had employed women. She looked like an old maid school teacher, albeit a very pretty one.

But I was too worried to continue with polite introductions. “What’s the matter? Has Heyes taken a turn for the worse?”

“He’s weak, but he’ll recover. But, Ella, he’s the only one who will.”

“What? Is Sandy?”

“We don’t know. Something horrible happened to her, in the hands of the kidnappers.” He couldn’t quite bring himself to name the act of rape, but somehow I knew what he meant. “She’s retreated inside herself to the point where she didn’t even recognize Jed Curry. Her father’s taken her away, hoping some of the healers in his tribe can help her.”

I bowed my head at this. “No. No. It’s not fair. Nobody should suffer as much as she has. She’s going to be all right, isn’t she?”

“We think that she will be, in time. But Jed agreed to let Raintree handle it, and since he’s her intended and all, we thought . . .”

I felt a sudden surge of anger. “I was her legal guardian before her marriage to Ray,” I snapped. “I should have been consulted.”

Jeremy put an arm on my shoulder, obviously trying to calm me. “But Curry knows how highly you think of Albert Raintree and his people.  He assumed you would approve.  And, anyway, you'd already left. We didn't know how to reach you."

I nodded. "And . . . what else?”

“Well, I got off the easiest. Jed’s all right, just pretty devastated at what’s happened with Sandy. He’s spending most of his time nursing Heyes. And Sven had a flesh wound, but that’s already half healed. But Rick . . .”

“What about Rick?” I could feel all the blood drain from my face, and when I caught sight of myself in one of the station windows, I was pale as death itself.

“Rick . . . Ella, Rick is dead. So is Stan.”

“No,” I said. “No.” Stan gone? The shock of that barely registered, for the moment. All I could think about was Rick. He always used to joke that he was too mean to die. But now he was gone and all I could think about was what a kind, decent man he was, underneath the arrogant surface. And what a huge void his passing was going to leave in so many lives. Especially mine. I’d lost my first love, Billy, and I’d lost both my parents. My sister Rosa was alive and well, but we were almost completely estranged from one another. Rick was a friend, a professional rival. And he was also one of the most important people in my little world, which was rocked to its foundations at his passing.

For the first time, Blue Sky didn’t sound entirely like home.

I gave Rachel’s hand to Gloria, and flung myself against Jeremy. I stood there crying, holding onto him for dear life, right there on the train platform. And after awhile, I dried my tears, because I wanted to get to Heyes, wanted to see him with my own eyes and touch him with my own hands. All this loss, Rick dead, Stan dead, Sandy gone away for some indefinite time. But Heyes would survive, thank God. I felt a huge, overwhelming wave of love, and I knew that a world without him was incomprehensible.

XIV.

Wave after wave of warm air seemed to pass over him. He was floating somewhere, in a place beyond time, beyond his own body. And then the door opened, and he had the sensation of something light.

A small, dark form hurtled itself at him. “Daddy!” it cried, and he realized it was Rachel.

He forced himself back up to the surface. “Since when can she do that?” he asked.

“Since before you left home -- remember? You asked me the same thing just a couple of weeks ago. She’s been getting more and more mobile, lately,” said a female voice, from somewhere to his right. He tried to focus on her, but all he could see was something light -- her hair -- and something dark -- her dress.

“Ella?” he asked.

“I’m right here.” She sat down at his side, leaned over to kiss his forehead. “You’ve got a lot of healing to do, but they tell me you’re going to be just fine.” She reached over and removed the small, warm weight from his side. “Come on, Rachel. Daddy needs to rest. Go with Gloria, and she’ll sing to you.”

“Glory?” asked Rachel. “Daddy’s taking his nap.”

When they’d gone, Ella said, “Goodness. Your silver tongue must be rubbing off. That’s the most words she’s ever strung together. At least . . . the most that were in any language I could recognize.”

“Ella?” he asked. “You’re here? You’re not going anywhere?”

“I’m here. For good,” she said softly, and took his hand.

But Heyes was already sinking back in to his laudanum-tinged dreams. He looked up at them -- the two golden heads bowing over him. A pair of angels, to guard him while he slept.

Nah. Just the Kid and Ella. Still, if he were going to choose from among all the ordinary, flawed mortals in the world to guard him while he slept -- that’s who he’d pick.

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