A Good Deed
"I tell ya, Kid, we found us a place here that couldn't be more right for us if we'd pulled it out of a hat and plunked it down in our path."
The two men had just checked into the hotel and were now headed back out to the street to take their horses over to the livery stable. They were of a height, one a tad more slender, his dark hair and clothes contrasting with his companion's fair curls and bright blue shirt. He paused to admire the view, such as it was, as he continued.
"If ever a town lived up to its name! Rambler's Rest—doesn't it have a ring to it? A quiet, solid, stable ring. This is exactly the type of sleepy little town where nothing ever happens. Nothing stirring but the stew for dinner, never a ruckus louder than the hymn singing on Sundays. Just what the doctor ordered."
"Well, Heyes, I grant it does seem a nice, peaceable..."
A shriek cut through the Kid's remarks. "My baby, oh save my baby!"
A runaway horse pounded past, pulling a buggy containing a very small child. It was headed out of town.
Hannibal Heyes unhitched his reins, flung himself into his saddle and galloped hell-for-leather after it.
The hysterical mother rushed toward the Kid. He reached out to support her as she stumbled.
"Whoa, there, easy now. It'll be alright. My friend's gone after them."
"But I must go, too!" She clutched at him frantically. "I am going myself. Please—can you help me? Can you take me?" She dissolved into weeping.
"I don't..." the Kid began uncertainly.
"Over here," a voice interrupted him. He looked up and saw a young woman beckoning to them. He was not too distracted to notice that she was a decidedly attractive young woman. She climbed into a buggy of her own.
"I'm following them, you can come with me," she called. "I need someone to drive anyway, while I sketch."
Before the Kid had time to ponder what this might mean, the mother wrenched herself from his grasp and ran to the buggy.
The young woman shot him an impatient look. "Come along. We haven't time to waste."
He shrugged and moved toward the buggy. When outnumbered by females, he generally found it the wisest course to give in. He settled himself, took up the reins, and they were off.
"Oh, faster, please," pleaded the mother next to him.
"Yes, it's alright," agreed the young woman at the far end. "He'll move along at a good clip if you let him have his head."
The Kid urged the horse to a run and, sure enough, they were soon in sight of Heyes and the runaway. They had followed so quickly upon their heels that they really hadn't gotten much of a head start.
"Hurry, oh hurry," the mother begged. The other young woman simply kept scratching away at what appeared to be a large pad of paper. The Kid couldn't spare more than a glance at what she was doing, as it took all his concentration to keep the rig under control at such a high speed.
"Oh, look," the mother suddenly breathed.
As the three looked on in amazement, Hannibal brought his horse alongside the speeding buggy. He kicked free of his stirrups, grabbed the buckboard, and pulled himself up onto the seat. He reached for the loose reins and began pulling back on them, easing the frightened horse to a trot, then a stop.
"Whoa, boy, that's it," he said, then heard a small voice contradict him from behind: "Giddy-up!" He turned and saw a little boy laughing at him and clapping his hands. "Giddy-up," he repeated.
"Who, pardner, I think you've had enough 'giddy-up' for one day." Heyes noticed the other buggy approaching. "And here comes someone who'll agree, I think." He picked up the child and descended just in time to hand him over to his anxious mother.
She hugged him to her tightly, murmuring over and over, "my baby, my precious boy," then looked gratefully up to Heyes. "Oh, how can I ever thank you?"
"Now, ma'am, it was only what anyone woulda done," he responded modestly, if a bit uncharacteristically.
"Nonsense, that was quite a daring rescue and you, sir, are a hero," declared the capable young lady who had arrived with the Kid, "and I'd like to shake your hand, Mister...?"
Heyes snatched off his hat and took her hand, but maintained, "Smith, ma'am, Joshua Smith, but as for that hero business—I don't know as I'd go so far as to say that."
"Well I would, Mister Smith, and what's more our readers would as well."
"Readers?" Heyes was puzzled.
"Of our newspaper," she amplified.
"Newspaper?" Now Heyes was alarmed. He shot a questioning look at the Kid, who just shook his head and lifted his hands to indicate he knew no more than Heyes.
"Excuse me, I should introduce myself. Miss Roberta Tweed of the Rambler's Rest Review. This should make quite an exciting article for our next issue."
"You're a reporter?" asked the Kid in surprise.
"Oh no, but I'm sure he'll want to talk to you when you get back to town. Both of you. Mister...?" she looked inquiringly at the Kid.
"Thaddeus Jones, Ma'am," he supplied.
"Mister Jones was quite helpful also, driving Mrs. Ames and myself out here. A true good Samaritan." She smiled at him kindly, then appeared to mull over her words. "Hmm, yes, a hero and a good Samaritan. What a splendid pair of portraits that will make."
"Portraits?" Heyes was having trouble following her. That didn't happen to him very often and he didn't like the feeling.
"Yes, didn't I explain? I'm an artist. I do sketches for the newspaper. I've been sketching the rescue and I'll supply portraits of you to be printed with the article. You are news, gentlemen. Nothing ever happens here."
Not one to let grass grow beneath her feet, Miss Tweed briskly set about organizing the party for the return to town. The Kid was assigned to drive Mrs. Ames and her son, as the poor woman was still too distraught to drive herself, while Heyes hitched his horse to Miss Tweed's vehicle, which he took charge of so she could continue to sketch. His brain raced one step ahead of his silver tongue as he endeavored to talk her out of glorifying them in the press.
Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, alias Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones, had not the smallest wish for publicity of any kind. The two most wanted outlaws in the West, with a combined bounty of $20,000 on their heads, had enough trouble evading capture with only their descriptions circulating. The one thing they had going for them was that their pictures weren't on those wanted posters. If they were printed in a newspaper, Heyes knew it was only a matter of time before someone recognized them and added the artwork to those posters. Then what kind of a chance did they have to avoid a 20 year prison sentence long enough to earn the amnesty promised them by the governor? Heyes was not about to give up that chance because of a slip of a girl with a stick of charcoal.
"Being neighborly isn't news, ma'am. The newspaper should be for important things like politics and war and...and church socials," he was saying now, "not about a couple of drifters who just happened to be in the wrong, er, I mean right place at the right time to do someone a good turn."
"Now that's where you're wrong, Mister Smith," she replied. "That's just what people do like to read about. It's called human interest. Besides, we've written about politics till there's no more to say, we don't have a war at the moment, or even a church social. Trust me, I have experience at this, and this is newsworthy."
Seeing she would not be swayed, he tried a different tack. "I'll defer to your judgment on that, since as you say you do have the experience here, but couldn't you just run a simple little story then, without using pictures? People won't want to look at our pictures, we're just ordinary-looking fellows. They'd never believe we were heroes. They could picture someone more heroic if our faces weren't forced on them."
"Oh, my pictures are generally well-received. I'm sure people would like to see that a common man could be a hero. Not that I mean you're common. In fact, you and your friend are much nicer-looking than you seem to think. The portraits will be fine." She smiled at him reassuringly.
Heyes was not at all reassured. "How did you happen to get into the newspaper business?" he asked. He was genuinely curious.
"Oh, it just happened. Arthur and I grew up together here. Arthur's the editor of the Review, and its chief reporter, too. When he thought of the idea of using illustrations in the paper, he just naturally thought of me. He knew I'd been drawing all my life. Arthur is very progressive. He says we must look ahead and move with the times."
Bully for Arthur, Heyes thought.
"There. What do you think?" Roberta held out her sketchpad for his inspection.
He glanced at it and his heart sank. Any hope he'd been holding that it might not actually look like them sank with it. "It's an excellent likeness," he said.
"See, you were worried for nothing. And here we are in town. Let's go talk to Arthur."
Somehow they endured the interview with Arthur. Heyes talked rings around him and the article really shouldn't be a problem. So it just came down to that picture.
Now they were propping up a post on the hotel veranda, watching the street and enjoying their first chance to talk privately since the incident.
"A good deed, Heyes," the Kid was ruminating. "You did a good deed."
"Yeah, so?" His partner was not in the best of moods.
"I did a good deed once," the Kid went on. "Remember what you said, Heyes? 'Well, let's not make it a habit.' That's what you said, Heyes."
"This only goes to prove I was right then, doesn't it?" No, this was definitely not one of Heyes' better moods.
"There's no call to get all worked up over it now," the Kid soothed. "You gotta figure a way outta this, Heyes. If that picture's as good as you say, we're sunk."
"It is as good as I said and I'm trying to figure a way out, but I couldn't talk her out of it and you can't exactly go point that pea shooter of yours at her and stick her up, so I don't... Unless...."
The Kid knew that look. That look meant something was formulating inside the marvel that was Heyes' brain. "Unless?" he prodded.
"Unless you romance it out of her," Heyes finished slowly.
The Kid considered. It didn't seem like much of a plan to him.
"She said you were nice-looking," Heyes added.
The Kid brightened. "She said that?" Maybe the plan had merit after all.
"Well, she said we both were actually, but I've already tried so you're all we got left. Turn on your charm. You can do it."
"I dunno, Heyes."
"This is no time to start having doubts about your way with the ladies. Besides, we haven't got time to argue. Look, there she is now, coming out of the newspaper office. Go on, you'll think of something."
Curry took a step forward, then hesitated, looking back over his shoulder.
"Just be charming. Go on, shoo." Heyes waved his friend onward.
Curry sighed, then went after Roberta. It wasn't that he lacked Heyes' faith in his abilities. It was just that he'd gotten the impression that Roberta was kind of sweet on Arthur. That being so, he didn't stand a chance. Furthermore, it wasn't like Heyes to miss something like that. He must really be rattled. Well, the Kid would at least give it his best shot.
"Miss Tweed! Roberta!" he called.
She turned and waited for him to catch up. He tipped his hat and smiled winningly at her.
"Mister Jones," she acknowledged.
"Thaddeus, please," he corrected.
"Alright. Thaddeus," she agreed.
"May I walk with you a ways?"
"Certainly. I'm just heading home. I have some work to finish on the sketches. Some final touches."
He fell in step beside her. "Mister Smith told me what a talented artist you are."
"It was very kind of him to say so."
"He was most impressed with your work. I'd love to see it myself."
"Oh, naturally you would! How scatterbrained of me not to think of showing it to you before." She flipped through the pages of her sketchpad until she found the one she was looking for, then handed it to him.
He took the proffered pad. The drawing he saw elicited a low whistle of admiration. Heyes was right: this was good enough to get them both killed.
"You're very good," he said, reluctantly relinquishing the pad. "Have you ever thought of doing something with art other than working for the paper? I don't know, painting portraits or something?" The Kid wasn't very knowledgeable about art.
"I have thought of it, of course, but I'm very happy at the paper. It's such interesting, fulfilling work. And then there's Arthur."
"Ah yes. Arthur." He was afraid of that. They continued chatting until they arrived at her door, but he felt it was a lost cause. Still, he'd give it one last try.
"Roberta, I'd dearly love to have that portrait of us. As a present. For my friend. It would be such a nice surprise. Would you consider selling it to me?"
"Oh, how sweet. Yes, indeed you shall have it, but I wouldn't dream of charging you. You must accept it as a gift."
"Why, thank you." Could it be this easy? Just by asking her for it?
"I shall give it to you..."—his hopes rose—"...right after it's printed"—his hopes were dashed. She gave the sketchpad a possessive little pat, said goodbye, and vanished into the house.
He headed back to the hotel, considering how to break the news. This was not going to improve Heyes' mood.
They waited in the shadows of Roberta Tweed's garden, watching as the last light burning was finally extinguished.
Curry hadn't been too happy when Heyes first proposed the break-in. "It don't sound legal, or gentlemanly, Heyes," he'd objected.
"No, it's not, but I don't see as we have another choice at this point. I'm open to suggestions."
Curry hadn't come up with any so here they were, preparing to steal one piece of paper to save another—their amnesty.
They'd decided the deed had to be done at night since Roberta never seemed to go anywhere without that sketchpad. But she had to sleep sometime, and that would be their chance.
When he thought enough time had elapsed since the lights went out, Heyes signaled Curry and they advanced stealthily towards the house. They tiptoed up the back steps and tried the door. Heyes had banked on small town custom and he wasn't disappointed—it was open.
They moved through the kitchen with barely a glance—it wasn't likely they'd find it here. They searched the front parlor more thoroughly but still came up empty. Heyes pointed up and the Kid nodded. They'd hoped to avoid going upstairs but it looked like their last resort. They began climbing. They were about halfway up when a step let out a loud creak. They froze. They waited, hardly daring to breathe, watching for a figure to appear at the head of the stairs. When no one came and they heard no sound from above, they continued on their way, the Kid taking care to avoid the creaky step. When they were safely at the top, they paused a moment to regroup.
Roberta's bedroom was visible through an open door. They could see her sleeping form under the bedcovers. A shaft of moonlight shone through a window, illuminating a chair on the far side of the bed. On the chair sat the sketchpad.
Putting a finger to his lips, Heyes led the way inside. One slow step at a time, they began making their way cautiously around the bed. Somewhere below, a clock chimed. Roberta rolled over. They dropped to the floor. She began to yawn and stretch. They dove under the bed.
"Mm, what time is it?" they heard her mumble as she lit the lamp on her bedside table. From their limited viewpoint, they saw a hand reach out and lift the sketchpad from the chair. Heyes' hand involuntarily reached, too, as though he would grasp it himself. They heard the sounds of flipping pages, then she settled down, as though working on a sketch. They settled down to wait.
It had been very quiet for some time. Still the light burned. She may have fallen asleep; then again, she may not. Well, there was only one way to find out. They couldn't stay there until morning. With a nod at the Kid, Heyes slid out from under the bed and carefully peered over the edge. She was asleep! He and the Kid slowly stood up, their cramped muscles protesting. They gazed down on their treasure, lying atop the bed, with Roberta's left arm across it. There was no help for it. They had to try to retrieve it.
They exchanged a silent question. The Kid pointed at Heyes. His deft safecracker's fingers were more suited to a delicate job like this. He nodded and began ever so slowly to ease the pad out from under that restraining arm. A little more, just a little more, got it! As quickly as possible while maintaining their silence, the pair backed out of the bedroom and made their way downstairs and-out of the house. They didn't draw an easy breath until they were back in their hotel room with their precious burden.
"Heyes, we did it!" The Kid was laughing with excitement and relief.
"Yeah, I guess we haven't lost the old touch," Heyes responded, smiling as much at his friend's delight as at his own feelings. "Let's have a look at this nuisance of a masterpiece."
He began to turn the pages, slowly at first, then more quickly, his smile replaced by a look of dismay.
"Heyes? What is it?" The Kid could see something was wrong. "Heyes?!"
"It's the wrong one.
"It's the wrong sketchpad, the picture's not here! This one has hardly any drawings in it. She must have filled up the other one and started a new one." He tossed it aside and began pacing, trying to think of where they could have gone wrong.
"But we searched the house! There wasn't another one there."
"Yeah, yeah, unless we overlooked something, or unless...." He stopped pacing and looked sharply at the Kid. "Didn't you say she was finishing the work for the paper?"
"I'll lay you any odds you like she finished and delivered it to the newspaper office this evening before we went over there."
"I won't take that bet. You've gotta be right," the Kid groaned.
Heyes glanced at the window. "It's dawn. They're probably printing by now. It's too late, Kid. Too late." He sat down and lowered his head into his hands.
The Kid gripped his cousin's shoulder but said nothing. There was nothing to say. They were done for.
They didn't even try to sleep. They packed up their things and prepared to leave town. It was best to put as much distance as they could between them and Rambler's Rest as quickly as they could. No point in leaving a warm trail for the bounty hunters to follow.
They went down to the hotel dining room and ordered breakfast. When it came, they picked at their food listlessly. Conversation was desultory; each was preoccupied with his own thoughts.
They remotely heard firm footsteps stride into the room and over to their table. "There you are," a voice said.
They looked up from their still full plates into the face of their own personal harbinger of doom. Funny how time changes your perspective, Heyes thought. Was it only yesterday they'd considered her merely a nice, attractive young lady?
"Well, don't you want to see your story?" Roberta inquired impatiently, thrusting a newspaper at each of them.
"Sure, why not?" the Kid managed.
Heyes felt speaking was just too much effort, but he took the paper before him. He scanned the front page. His eyes widened as they focused on the illustration. He leafed through the rest of the paper. As it was only four pages long, this didn't take much time. He turned back to the front page, as if he couldn't believe what he'd seen before. He looked up at the Kid and saw his blue eyes looking back at him with the same speculation. They both turned to Roberta.
"What happened? Where's the picture?" The two men spoke at once.
Roberta pulled out a chair and sat down. "Oh, Arthur decided to use the action sketch instead of the portrait. He said that was too static, and this conveyed the mood of the rescue better."
"Arthur said that? Bless his newsman's heart." Heyes was grinning now.
"I knew I liked Arthur." Curry's grin matched his cousin's.
"I suppose he's right," Roberta sighed. "I tend to concentrate too much on portraiture and still life. I need to work more on action scenes."
"This is fine," Heyes declared, looking happily at the picture of the totally unidentifiable figure leaping from the horse to the wagon. "I wouldn't change a thing."
"Thank you, but there's always room for improvement. I'll start practicing as soon as I can find my sketchpad. It's the funniest thing—I can't find it anywhere. I must have misplaced it, but I can't think where."
The two men had the grace to look guilty.
"Er, you'd be surprised how things can get lost and turn up again," ventured the Kid.
"That's right. You'd be amazed how many times I've tried to lose Thaddeus here, but he always pops up again."
The Kid gave him a mock scowl and Roberta smiled.
"Look, why don't you join us for breakfast," Heyes invited her. "I suddenly have a voracious appetite, and I think you'll find you can hunt better on a full stomach. We'll even help you look if you like."
"Oh, it's not important," she dismissed the problem. "I'm sure you're right and it'll turn up. Meanwhile, breakfast does sound good. Oh, and I almost forgot." She turned to the next table where she had laid something down when she came in. She picked up a sheet of paper and Heyes and the Kid beheld their sought-after prize, that ornery portrait. "I promised Thaddeus I'd give this to you when the paper was finished with it, and since we're not going to use it after all, it's all yours."
Heyes accepted it eagerly. "You don't know how much this means to us," he assured her fervently.
"I'm glad you like it. Anyway, I can always draw another if I want to."
She reached for a piece of toast, oblivious to the two pair of eyes suddenly locked on her in consternation. She took a bite and chewed, while the two men remained intent and unmoving. Finally she glanced up and continued, "For myself, I mean. Something to remember you by. Not to print, I'm afraid." She sounded apologetic.
"Oh, don't worry, we're more than satisfied with this little bit of fame and glory here." Heyes indicated the newspaper. "We don't expect any more." He didn't know how much longer he could continue to take the way his heart kept leaping in and out of his throat. This "restful" town was sure getting on his nerves.
"Unless you do any more good deeds, that is," Roberta added. "In that case...."
"Oh, I don't see how that's likely," Heyes stated hurriedly.
"Now that we know a good deed never goes unpunished," Curry chimed in.
Roberta looked baffled. "You mean unrewarded, don't you?"
"Whatever, we don't plan on making them a habit," Heyes confirmed.
"Besides," Curry mused, swallowing a forkful of steak and eggs, "nothing ever happens here."
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