Trick or Treat
“Kid, are you sure this is the right road?” Heyes leaned to the side to avoid some bushes that loomed suddenly out of the dusk, as his horse carefully picked his way along the rutted, overgrown trail. “It seems kind of outta the way.”
His partner answered from behind him, since the road was only wide enough to ride single file. “Heyes, I may not be one for reading books like you are, but I can manage to read a street sign, and I’m telling you this one said Bascomb Lane. That is where this banker lives that we’re lookin’ for, now isn’t it?”
“That’s the address, alright, but I don’t see any call to get so ornery about it.”
The Kid sighed. “Sorry, Heyes, this job has me a mite nervous is all. I ain’t denyin’ everything you said about its being a whole lot easier than punching cows or building fences. Pay’s a lot better, too, especially if we collect that bonus for delivering those documents and bonds by the first of the month—tomorrow. I guess it just still makes me fidgety having any dealings with bankers.”
Heyes grinned in sympathy. “I sure can’t fault you there, Kid. I’m having some of those same feelings myself. Like I’ve said before, though, I kinda like it when you’re nervous. I can depend on you to look after me better. Anyway, we’ll be finished with the job tomorrow and then you can relax.”
Just then they rounded a bend in the road and a house came into sight. It was a big place, all lit up, with the sounds of music and laughter and many voices.
“Looks like this banker’s a friendly sort,” Heyes commented.
“Got a strange taste in decorations, though,” remarked the Kid, nodding at a tree where a rocking chair balanced amongst the branches.
Heyes raised his eyebrows. “Some guests getting a bit rowdy after a little too much of the liquid refreshments?” he suggested.
They moved on to the barn, where they dismounted and hitched their horses near the other horses and rigs gathered outside it. Light spilled from the open barn doors, and most of the noise seemed to be coming from there as well. They saw a cheery little man, round and balding, genially welcoming all who approached.
“Come in, gentlemen, come in! Join our merrymaking,” he called to them.
“Thank you, sir, but we’re actually here on business,” Heyes explained. “Would you be Mr. Montague Cuthbert of the Cuthbert Bank?”
“Me? Old Cutthroat Cuthbert? I should say not! You’re a bit out of your way. Bankers like to live in town, you know, closer to their banks, and to their money, eh? You want Bascomb Lane. That’s where old Cutthroat lives.”
“We thought this was Bascomb Lane.” Curry was confused.
“This? Oh my, no, whatever gave you that idea? This is Thorny Hollow Road.”
“But the street sign said that was in the other direction, I know it did,” Curry objected before Heyes could get in an ‘I told you so.’
“Street sign? Oh, young man, this is not a night to be trusting street signs. The youngsters hereabouts change all the signs around every year at this time. It’s one of their favorite Halloween pranks.”
“It is Halloween, isn’t it?” Heyes realized. “We’d forgotten. No doubt that would also account for that chair in your tree?” He indicated the source of their earlier puzzlement.
Their new acquaintance chuckled. “Now what practical jokers accomplished that, I wonder? Last year it was a wagon on the barn roof!” He looked from Heyes to Curry and appeared to consider. “See here, my good fellows,” he continued, “if you’ve got business with Banker Cuthbert, he won’t thank you for looking him up after hours. Surely it can wait till morning. As long as you’re here, even if it was through losing your way, I insist you stay and join our Halloween party. The Matthews family is famous for our parties, you know. I won’t take no for an answer, mind!”
Curry looked questioningly at Heyes. Heyes shrugged agreeably. “Why not?” he said. “We could do with some fun.”
“Splendid, splendid!” exclaimed their host. “The more the merrier, I always say.”
It was a very merry party and they did have fun. Heyes buttered his hands and joined in the taffy pull, the Kid soaked his curls bobbing for apples, and they both danced with every pretty girl in the place. Upon leaving, they thanked their host profusely for his hospitality and followed his directions to the hotel in town, where they fell immediately into a sound sleep.
The next morning, feeling rested and refreshed, they stopped to get directions to Cuthbert’s from the desk clerk. They explained about the Halloween prank with the signs.
“Oh dear, yes, I can see how strangers could get lost that way,” he said, shaking his head. “Especially out by Thorny Hollow Road. Nobody goes there anymore. Nothing there but the old deserted Matthews place.”
“Deserted? But…” the Kid began.
“Yep. Wouldn’t want to be lost out that way myself, ‘specially not on Halloween. Folks do say as how it’s haunted. Course, that’s probably nonsense. It’s a pity, really, that nobody ever fixed that place up. They say old Matthews used to give the best parties. That was before the barn burned down. The whole family was killed in the fire. A terrible tragedy, terrible. Course, that was a long time ago now. Back when old Mr. Cuthbert was the banker here. Old Cutthroat, they used to call him. Now young Mr. Cuthbert’s not like that at all. I’m sure you’ll find him very pleasant.”
Heyes and Curry were speechless. They managed to nod at the clerk and walked out of the hotel.
“Now, Kid, I’m sure there’s a logical explanation. There’s gotta be.”
“Sure there is, Heyes. We went to a party with a bunch of ghosts. What’s not logical about that?”
“No, Kid, lemme think. Hmmm. A dream. Yeah, that’s it. We were on edge over this job, and tired, and we just had a dream.”
“We both had the same dream?” The Kid sounded doubtful.
“I’ve heard of that. It happens. It’s a trick of the mind, that’s all.” Heyes jammed his hands into his pockets. Immediately he stopped walking and slowly drew his hands out again.
The Kid looked at what he was holding: pieces of taffy wrapped in paper. He reached out and took one from his friend’s hand, unwrapped it, and popped it into his mouth.
“Heyes, for a trick of the mind, this is real good taffy. Try some.”
“But, but, Kid, how can you just, I mean, don’t you think…”
“Heyes, I’ll tell you what I think. I think that sometimes you do too much thinkin’. Don’t you think?”
Heyes contemplated the paper-wrapped treats in his hands. “Kid,” he said, “I think you just may have something there.” He ate the taffy.
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