The cab pulled up in front of the gate leading to a very impressive walkway bordered by bright flowers and blossoming, aromatic shade trees. Wrought iron adorned steps culminated at a set of elaborately carved heavy oaken doors that seemed to intimidate even the most legitimate of visitors even before they pulled the chime.
This was not so with the two finely dressed middle-aged men who stepped out of the cab and glanced around with pleasure rather than anxiety at the opulent townhouse rising up before them. They appeared to be right at ease in this upper class neighbourhood and stood for a moment, with thumbs in lapels as they took in the the fresh, clean smell of old money.
“Jed! Give me a hand,” came the request from inside the cab.
Jed Curry turned instantly and offered a hand to his wife.
“Sorry Darlin',” he quickly apologized as Beth carefully stepped down to the sidewalk. “Got caught up in the moment.”
Heyes chuckled at his cousin's lack of good manners as he turned to pay the cab driver the fee plus a healthy tip. The driver's eyes lit up with the generous offering and gave a vigorous nod in appreciation.
“Thank ye' sir!” the words tumbled out through broken front teeth. “This'll buy ole' Clive here grain fer a week. Thank ye'!”
“That's a fine horse you have there,” Heyes complimented as he gave the boney chestnut rump a gentle pat. “I can see you take good care of him.”
“Oh yes sir. Don't have no business without ole' Clive.”
Heyes smiled and nodded. He turned back to tend to his own manners just as Miranda was gently handing the cooing swaddled bundle into the mother's waiting arms. Heyes, with his usual impeccable timing, extended his hand to his own wife and assisted her out of the cab. Once all had disembarked the driver clucked to his tired horse and the cab jolted away to join the light traffic on this quiet well manicured street.
The two couples stood on the sidewalk and surveyed the townhouse in front of them. Miranda had seen expensive town-homes like this one before so wasn't quite in awe as her young 'cousin-in-law' appeared to be. Beth stood and gaped up at the impressive structure and found herself shaking her head in wonderment.
“I thought you said crime doesn't pay,” she whispered to her husband. “From what I've seen of Mr. O' Sullivan's home, and now this one I'm beginning to think it pays very well.”
Jed looked down at his wife, momentarily stumped.
“Well, yeah. But....”
Jed and Hannibal exchanged looks, then each took in a deep breath and released it in the form of huge sighs. Thumbs went into lapels again and they stood and stared at the front of the house. The one side of the double oaken doors slowly inched open and an old bald head with white tufts of hair adorning the ears poked itself out through the slit and pale rummy eyes gazed down at them.
“Are you ladies and gents coming for a visit?” asked the squeaky geriatric voice.
“Oh!” Heyes was brought out of his trance and the two couples made their way up the steps. “Good morning Charles. You're looking well today.”
Charles straightened up slightly as the visitors approached and his eyes squinted to take in the features of the man standing in front of him.
“Who are you?” he finally ventured with a touch of suspicion.
“It's me, Hannibal Heyes. Remember?” Heyes introduced himself. “And he's Kid Curry. You remember us.”
“Who?” The old geezer in the black tie and tails cupped a hand around his ear.
“Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry,” Heyes repeated a little louder. “Mr. Saunders is expecting us.”
Charles shuffled his feet nervously as he swivelled his body around to take in the four young people. His neck was awfully stiff these days. “Ehhh?” he asked again. “What's that you say?”
“HANNIBAL HEYES AND KID...” Heyes cut himself off as he noticed two ladies passing by suddenly glance up and then hurry along their way. He wasn't sure if it was because they recognized the name or simply assumed that anyone raising their voice in this neighbourhood must be a ruffian.
Jed stepped forward and putting a hand on a bowed shoulder, he put his mouth right up to Charles' ear.
“Mr. Saunders is expecting us!”
Charles instantly brightened up and actually did a quick little shuffle in his excitement at having heard the comment.
“Mr. Saunders is expecting you?”
“Yes!” four people chorused and nodded affirmation.
“Oh, oh! Yes. Do come in!” Charles quickly shuffled around and opened the door to lead the way in to the plushly carpeted alcove. “Mr. Saunders is in the smoking room. Come come, I will show you the way.”
“That's alright Charles,” Heyes tried again. “We know the way.”
Heyes smiled and removing their hats the two men handed them over to the hired help. They both gave the old butler friendly pats on the shoulder, then offering their arms to their respective ladies, led the way down the carpeted hall towards the smoking room.
Charles stood where his feet had planted and watched the visitors carry on without him. He looked confused and his lower jaw stated to wag in the assumption that he was about to say something. Nothing came to mind so he closed his mouth and gazed down at the hats in his arms and wondered what in the world he was expected to do with these.
“Hello Soapy,” Heyes greeted the elderly man who was sitting in his favourite chair with a blanket tucked around his lap and a glass of sherry on the table beside him.
“Hi Soapy,” Jed reiterated. “How are ya'?”
The two men moved in closer to their friend and gently placed hands of acknowledgement on a knee or a shoulder. The first thing the younger men noticed was the frailty of the skeletal frame underneath the clothing. Heyes leaned over his old friend with a hand still on his shoulder while Jed knelt down in front of him. The two cousin exchanged concerned glances.
The old man came out of his stupor and much to the boys' relief, a light came on in the elderly eyes and a smile brightened the wrinkled face.
“Kid!” he greeted the younger man who was right in his line of sight. “How are you?”
Jed grinned. “Great Soapy. How are you?”
“Fine, fine,” Soapy assured him as he gave the Kid's hand a reassuring pat. “Is Heyes with you?”
“I'm right here Soapy,” Heyes' baritone came from behind the old man. He quickly stepped around so Soapy could easily see him.
Soapy smiled up at him. “Boys! Boys! It's so good to see you. Come come; pull up some chairs and tell an old man what you've been up to these days.”
“Well Soapy,” Heyes straightened up. “we wanted to introduce you to our wives. And Kid's got a young'un too.”
“Wives?” Soapy asked incredulously. “You two got married?”
Hannibal and Jed motioned to their wives to come over and meet the elderly gentleman. Both ladies hesitated, feeling a little awkward of intruding on this meeting of old friends.
“Yeah Soapy,” Kid told him. “We sent ya' a telegram, remember?”
“You did?” Soapy looked concerned. “Last thing I remember about you two, is the newspapers going on about Heyes here going to prison.” He sadly shook his head. “Terrible thing that.” He took hold of Heyes' hand with his own boney digits and looked up at him with beseeching eyes. “I'm sorry I never got in touch my boy. I hope you forgive an old man's fear of prison.”
Heyes chuckled. “That's not just an old man's fear Soapy. And I understood. I'm a free man now, and as we said; we got married—I mean, you know; to ladies!”
An impish grin took over his face as he sent a quick glance to the Kid. Jed chuckled. Soapy looked up at the dark haired beauty (meaning Miranda, ladies, not Heyes. Although he is a dark haired beauty himself) standing before him.
Heyes straightened up and slipped an arm around Miranda's waist. “This is my wife...”
“Grace!” Soapy declared.
“No,” Heyes gently corrected him. “No, her name's Miranda.”
Soapy looked confused. “But you're married to Grace. Oh you two children looked so happy together. A very fine couple.”
“No Soapy,” Heyes corrected him again. “Grace was a....well, just a friend. Remember? This is my wife.”
“Oh,” Soapy looked up at Randa and then smiled. He offered up a trembling hand for her to shake. “Miranda is it?”
“Yes, Mr. Saunders.”
“Oh no, my child. Call me Soapy,” he told her. “Everyone does. Come come, sit down. Now where is that Charles with more sherry. That man is becoming more and more unreliable!”
Heyes and the Kid looked around for more chairs and quickly dragged four over so they could all sit in a crescent around the old man.
“I'll go look for him,” Heyes offered. “You just relax.”
Heyes left and Soapy smiled affectionately after him.
“Always such a good and considerate boy, Heyes was,” Soapy reminisced. “A shame about him going to prison. Will he be out soon?”
“He's out now Soapy,” Jed reminded him. “Remember? We're here for a visit and to introduce you to our wives.”
“Wives? You have more than one? So Heyes is married to Grace and Miranda? How did he manage that?”
Kid chuckled. “No Soapy, he's just married to Miranda. And this is my wife Beth.”
The old eyes smiled appreciatively at the petite and pretty blond sitting across from him. Beth smiled and extended her free hand to gently clasp his.
“Hello,” she said. “We've heard so much about you. It's so lovely to finally get to meet you.”
“My my my,” Soapy grinned at the two ladies in front of him. “Such fine young ladies.” His brows went up in surprise as the blanket wrapped bundle in Beth's arms squirmed and let out a mild yell. “Good heavens—is that a cat!? In the house!!”
Beth protectively tightened her hold around the infant while Jed actually did break out laughing this time.
“No Soapy! That's my son!”
“It sounds like a cat.”
“No!” Jed could hardly stop laughing whereas Beth looked incensed. “C'mon Darlin', let Soapy have a look at him.”
Beth seemed hesitant while Miranda sat back in her chair and tried hard not to join in with Jed's laughter. This whole situation was taking on a mildly surrealistic tone.
“C'mon Beth, it's alright.”
Beth looked to the old man and then seeing the honest, inquisitive look in his old eyes, she relaxed and smiled. Leaning forward, she loosened the blanket around her child's face and presented him to be admired. Soapy leaned forward and reached out a long skinny finger to touch the soft, glowing cheek. Beth was a little concerned that the old man might try to hold the infant, but she need not have worried as Soapy only wanted to touch him and make his acquaintance.
“His name's Thaddeus Jedidiah,” Kid informed his friend.
“Well, what do ya' know?” Soapy smiled as he gazed upon the next generation. “I never thought I'd see the day that you two boys would settle down. Especially you Kid; you just liked the ladies too much.”
Fortunately, Heyes returned at that moment carrying the sherry decanter along with four more glasses. He briefly wondered why Beth was looking embarrassed while Miranda was laughing into her hand. Jed sent a relieved look over to his cousin.
“Anybody for sherry?” Heyes asked.
“Yes!” came the very adamant chorus of three.
Fifteen minutes later both ladies had warmed to the charm of the old conman and Soapy himself was having the time of his life, flirting shamelessly with his proteges' wives.
“You have such a lovely home,” Miranda was saying. “Why did such a fine gentleman like yourself never marry and have someone to share it with?”
“Oh ho ho!” Soapy's brows went up in surprise. “My but your lady is blunt, Heyes. Of course that's hardly a surprise is it?”
Miranda smiled at her husband's slight discomfort. “Hannibal claims that's one of the reasons why he loves me. I'm afraid I do still embarrass him at times though.”
Heyes coughed into his hand and Soapy let loose a full-hearted laugh.
“Never you mind my dear,” Soapy assured her and he leaned over to give her a very friendly pat on the knee. “That young smart-alack always did need a curb bit to keep him in line.”
Miranda smiled broadly over at her husband. “Serves him right for never telling us about you.”
“Oh, don't take that personally my dear,” Soapy told her. “In the confidence game one learns to be discreet. I made sure to teach that to both these boys right from the start.”
“Oh I love this!” Beth declared. “Can we have some stories of their younger years? How did you meet? Were they good right from the start? Did they cause you no end of trouble?”
“Ho ho!” Kid interjected. “Discreet! Remember Beth. Soapy can't go into...”
“Of course he can!” Miranda insisted. “You're not wanted anymore and besides, I hardly think that anyone here would turn either of you in.”
“Yes dear,” Beth supported her cousin-in-law. “And this is what you get for not telling us yourselves.”
Soapy was chuckling to himself as he shakily poured out another round of sherry.
“Do I get the feeling we're going to regret coming here?” Jed asked mock-seriously.
Heyes smiled and nodded.
Beth was practically bouncing in her chair with excitement and it was only T.J.'s mild complaining that reminded her to settle down. Miranda sat back with a satisfied smile on her face; they were both about to learn just a little bit more about their respective husbands' shrouded pasts.
“Where shall I start?” Soapy asked the group in general.
“At the beginning!” Beth suggested. “How did you meet them?”
Soapy sat back in his comfy arm chair and took on a reflective countenance.
“Well, let me see,” he began. “As I recall I was plying my trade as an honest salesman...” Heyes and Jed both snorted. “....when I spotted two dirty, young ragamuffins lurking on the outskirts of the crowd.....”
“What were you selling?” Beth asked, her eyes sparkling with this new adventure.
“Soap!” answered Soapy, as though that should have been obvious. “Was making a pretty fine living at it too.”
“Selling soap?” asked Beth incredulously. “Seems an awfully slow way to make a living.”
“Not the way Soapy sold it,” Heyes interjected. Two enquiring looks were sent his way. Heyes smiled. “He'd take ordinary soap bars and tell the crowd that he was wrapping various different currency notes in with them, anywhere from one dollar up to twenty dollars. Then he'd charge a dollar per bar.”
Miranda sat quietly waiting for the punch line that she knew was coming while Beth's jaw dropped in disbelief.
“But how could you make any money doing that?” she asked. “You'd be giving away more money than you would make, even charging a dollar apiece.”
“Well he didn't actually put twenty's in with the soap,” Jed explained. “He just made it look like he did. He would never give away more than five one dollar bills, but he'd sell 15 to 20 bars of soap.”
Beth covered her mouth with her hand in her surprise. “But that's wicked!”
Soapy shrugged. “That's the game my dear.”
“You'd be surprised how many people were willing to part with a dollar just for the chance to win twenty back.” Heyes informed her.
“Including two ragamuffin boys who barely had a dollar between them,” Soapy commented slyly.
“Well we were kinda' desperate, Soapy,” Jed reminded him. “Twenty dollars would have fed us for a month.”
“But it wound up feeding you for a few years instead,” Soapy pointed out sagely.
Heyes chuckled. “Yeah, it sure did.”
“So you went to work for the conman,” Miranda concluded. “Did you use your natural charm and silver tongue to convince him to do that?”
Heyes' smile deepened as he soaked up the praise.
“Ha! Hardly!” Soapy broke the bubble. “You see, my children; I made the worst mistake any conman can make. I felt sorry for a mark. They were both such pitiful little things...”
“Pitiful!?” came the unison complaint.
“.....standing there and holding up their one dollar life savings for a bar of soap that they could have bought at the mercantile for five cents. No; I just couldn't do it to them. So I took them on to work for me.”
“Were they any good?” asked Miranda with a wicked glint in her eye.
“Of course we were good!” Jed insisted.
“We were naturals!” Heyes seconded.
Soapy snorted. “Hardly,” he burst another bubble. “Oh they knew how to run a pickpocket scam. They were a good team for that and Heyes' fingers were pretty nimble even then. But they didn't have it down smooth the way a professional did. They probably got chased off more often then they won the prize. I still marvel at the fact that you boys didn't get nabbed and sent back to that home for waywards. If me and Silky hadn't taken you in that's probably where you would have ended up. Or worse. The territory back then didn't have any qualms about sending boys off to prison if the homes for waywards were full.”
“Yeah, I know Soapy,” Heyes agreed suddenly quite serious.
“We owe you and Silky a lot,” Jed seconded.
“How is that old flim-flammer?” Soapy asked. “I haven't seen that foul tempered old man in years.”
“He's not that foul-tempered,” Beth insisted.
“Oh, you've met him have you?” Soapy asked her with a twinkle.
“Yes,” Beth told him. “He let us use his hunting lodge for our honeymoon. He was very nice to me.”
“So the old geezer has softened some in his golden years has he?” Soapy was incredulous.
“No!” both Heyes and Jed insisted.
“He just knows how to smooth-talk a pretty lady, Soapy,” Jed explained. “Just like you do.”
“And this is the man you're going to take me to meet?” Miranda accused her husband.
“Oh, well. He's not that bad.” Heyes quickly back-stepped.
“Ha!” Jed laughed. “You're only taking Miranda to meet him because you know he'll skin ya' alive if'n ya' don't.”
“Yeah, well. There is that,” Heyes agreed sheepishly.
“That certainly explains why he's not married,” Miranda commented coyly. “but you haven't answered my question.”
“My but you are persistent my child,” Soapy accused her good naturedly. “but there is no real story to tell there I'm afraid. I just never found the time.”
“That sounds awfully lonely,” Miranda continued. “A fine home like this and no one to share it with.”
“Oh I was never lonely my dear,” Soapy assured her. “I would often have students coming to stay here with me.”
“Students?” asked Beth.
“Orphans,” Heyes clarified. “Waywards, runaways, street urchins. Like us. He and Silky would often bring in promising youngsters off the street and give them a home and a bit of an education while teaching them the finer arts of the con game. This house was never lonely.”
“So you see,” Soapy continued. “I had family all around me. And I still do.” he smiled over at his two proteges and then glanced down at the infant softly cooing in his mother's arms. “And it's a joy for an old man to see that the family is growing. Even Charles comes around once in a while for a visit.”
Heyes instantly bristled. “Charles?” he asked. “Not Charles Morgan.”
“Yes yes,” Soapy smiled as he admired the infant. “Little Charlie. He comes around for tea. He's doing very well for himself now. Owns his own gambling house in St Lewis. But he's over this way on business sometimes and when he is he comes to visit.”
Miranda put a hand on her husband's arm, noting that his mood had changed.
“How could you let that man into your house Soapy?” Heyes demanded. “He betrayed your trust. He betrayed me. He was instrumental...”
“Yes yes, he apologized,” Soapy continued to play with T.J., totally oblivious to Heyes' distress. “I really don't know what he was talking about. But it couldn't have been all that bad as nothing really came of it. Something he had to do to avoid going to prison or something like that. Hardly blame him for that now can we?”
“But I did go to prison!” Heyes shouted out. “And a lot of it was because of what he said...!”
T.J.'s anxious cry stopped the ex-con in his tracks while Beth sent her 'cousin' a reprimanding look.
“Heyes...” Kid cautioned him. “Here and now is not the time.”
“Come come, Heyes,” Soapy chided him. “Grudges are for people with bad stomachs. Besides,” he sent his friend a pointed look, “it is my understanding that there was a lot more to it than that.”
Heyes dropped his eyes and sat swirling the sherry around in his glass. “Yeah, well....he still turned on you Soapy. You and Silky both. He wouldn't have cared if they'd come and dragged you off to prison just to save his own miserable....”
“Let it go Hannibal,” Soapy told him and Heyes knew he meant it with the usage of his given name. Soapy's eyes lit up and they took on a mischievous twinkle. “Oh! You're sore over the fact that he tried to steal that young lady away from you.”
“You and Miss Turner did make a lovely couple,” Soapy teased him. “and I know you were fond of her.”
Heyes sent an uncomfortable glance over to his wife. Not that he had anything to feel guilty about, but Randa had already had to put up with two of his ex-girlfriends, she didn't need to have a third one thrown in her face.
“We were never a couple Soapy, you know that,” Heyes reminded him. “Besides, Kid liked her too.”
“Oh, yeah thanks Heyes,” Kid looked incensed.
“What?” asked Beth teasingly as she rocked her son. “Another lady who's affections you two shared?”
“No!” Heyes was adamant. “It wasn't like that at all.”
“My what sordid pasts you have!” Miranda grabbed at the opportunity to tease. “I'm beginning to wonder just how much you two did share. As you both have pointed out; you are partners, after all!”
“Randa!” Beth tried to stifle the laugh but wasn't too successful.
Heyes stared at his wife, open-mouthed and still amazed at her ability to leave him speechless.
Jed rolled his eyes. “Thanks a lot there Soapy. We're never going to hear the end of this.”
Soapy chuckled as he poured out more sherry.
“Never mind my children,” he said to the two ladies. “I am just teasing. But Miss Turner was very lovely.”
“Can we move on to something else?” Heyes asked. “Like that con that required a young girl as the hook so you decided to put Jed in a dress because of his blue eyes and curly hair.”
Two pairs of feminine eyes swivelled over to Jed. The groan was clearly audible.
Dinner at the Granger's home later that evening was a welcome respite for the partners. Except that Beth and Miranda insisted on repeating all the fine details of the stories they had heard from the elderly Mr. Saunders. All three men breathed a sigh of relief when dinner was finally over and the three ladies retreated to the kitchen to wash up while Sylvie tended to the children.
“So, is Mr. Saunders just as darling a gentleman as Mr. O'Sullivan is?” Bridget asked her sister.
Beth laughed. “Yes!” she agreed. “Both are crusty old men on the surface. But you can tell there's a soft touch underneath. Especially where Jed and Hannibal are concerned.”
“But the things those flim flam men had them doing!” Miranda shook her head at the absurdity of it. “No wonder they're such scoundrels!”
“Who?” Beth laughed. “the old flim flam men or the two young boys?”
“Both!” Miranda insisted. “Child scoundrels growing up to be adult scoundrels! They certainly did have interesting childhoods, and knew some very interesting people.”
“Just wait until you meet Mr. McCreedy,” Beth cautioned her.
Bridget nodded an adamant agreement. “Just don't let him scare you off.”
“Another one?” Miranda was incredulous. “Don't tell me; crusty on the outside but a big softy underneath it all.”
The two sisters shared a smile.
“I don't think I would go quite that far,” Bridget told her. “He obviously cares for Han and Jed, I mean he wouldn't have come all the way to Wyoming for Jed's trial if he didn't. But a big softy? I don't know about that.”
“No,” Beth agreed. “Jed says he's softened some since he got married, but even at that, he didn't get to be a rich and powerful landowner by being a nice guy.”
“Why not?” Miranda asked. “Your father did.”
The expression on the faces of both girls sparkled as love for their father shone forth.
“Can't argue with that,” Bridget agreed. “But Papa's special.”
“Now that I have my own child, I've come to realize even more just how special Papa is,” Beth murmured. “If T.J. grows up to be half the man Papa is then we'll have done a good job.”
Bridget nodded agreement, but a hint of sadness crossed her eyes as she focused all her attention onto the dishes.
Miranda and Beth exchanged a look and Miranda put a hand on Bridget's arm.
“What is it?” she asked her friend. “Is something wrong?”
“No no,” Bridget insisted. “It's just that....I love both my daughters to pieces; they're wonderful. But I so wanted to give Steven a son. And now....”
“Ohh Sweetie,” Miranda quickly moved in to give her a hug and Beth was right behind her.
The three friends embraced for a moment until sniffles forced them apart to pull out handy tissues.
“We so wanted a large family,” Bridget continued. “But we don't dare try again. At least Steven won't hear of it.”
“And rightly so, too,” Miranda stated. “You're far too valuable to risk loosing. Besides, you have two little girls who need their mama.”
“Yes I know,” Bridget agreed. “And David has been very helpful and supportive. Thank goodness! Steven was actually all for it, even though it's....illegal....and of course David knows we won't give him away.”
Miranda raised an eyebrow. “What's illegal?”
The sisters exchanged guilty looks.
“Oh dear,” Beth mumbled.
“You didn't know about that?” Bridget asked quietly.
“About what?” Miranda was really interested now.
“There's an herb a lady can take so she won't get....in the family way....” Beth explained. “Jed and I will be using it so that we can space our children out a bit. Knowing Jed, I'd be....indisposed....every year otherwise. I still want to have a life for goodness sakes! But for Maribelle and now, Bridget who can't take the risk of it happening again, well they can take this herb and still be able to....you know....without fear.”
The two other ladies smiled at Beth's shy attempt at describing this new wonder drug. Then Miranda took the wind right out of her sails.
“Oh you mean like a pessaries,” Miranda piped up.
“A what?” both sisters asked.
“A pessaries,” Miranda repeated. “It's not a herb or drug or anything. It's a simple device you can put in there and it prevents pregnancy.”
“Oh,” Beth looked crestfallen.
“You know about this?” asked Bridget.
“Oh yes,” Miranda informed them. “Many society ladies use them, not wanting to curtail their party time with inconvenient children. Most of their husbands are none the wiser.”
“So, you planned on...?” Beth asked hesitantly.
“No,” Miranda admitted. “To be quite honest I never even considered the possibility. As you know, William and I never had any children. When we first married, I was so young and naive, I'd never even heard of anything like this. I mean, of course—we weren't suppose to hear about such things were we? But it's amazing what money can buy. Those wealthy society ladies found ways, believe me. But by the time I realized these methods were available, well I'd already been married a number of years and nothing had happened anyway. I was convinced by then that I couldn't have children and William was never that keen on having them, so....Believe me; this pregnancy was just as much a surprise for me as it was for Hannibal. Actually, more so! At least Hannibal knew he was capable! So you see; this is all his fault!”
The three ladies broke up laughing.
“Yes!” Bridget agreed.
“Of course it is!”
Out in the sitting room the three men were chatting over their glasses of brandy. Laughter from the kitchen stopped their conversation and they all glanced over in that direction.
“I never would have thought that doing the dishes could be that much fun,” Steven stated.
“They do turn it into a social event don't they?” Hannibal observed.
“The Jordan ladies seem to have a knack for that,” Jed contributed.
“How is Bridget doing?” Hannibal asked. “She seems in good spirits.”
Steven smiled. “Oh she is. I don't know how she does it; even with both deliveries being difficult she rallies quickly and just loves the girls. Still, I know she's disappointed that this is it.”
Heyes and Jed exchanged a quiet look and Kid shrugged.
“Well, you know,” Heyes began tentatively. “There are other options. Adopting Sally was one of the best things me and Miranda did. That child still amazes me. Have you ever considered....?”
“Yes,” Steven admitted with a little laugh. “We talked about it briefly. It's still a little too soon for both of us to seriously consider that for right now.”
“Oh of course,” Heyes agreed. “Things need time to settle down. At least you're willing to consider it.”
“I know Beth and I discussed it even before we were married,” Jed told them. “I kinda' knew it was somethin' I'd wanna do. Kinda' givin' somethin' back, you know. Those young'uns have things way better than Heyes and I did, but still it's not the greatest way to grow up. Once T.J.'s a little older we're gonna look into it.”
“What about you Hannibal?” Steven asked. “Are you going to adopt any more?”
“Oh!” Heyes looked befuddled. “I hadn't really thought about that. We've been so preoccupied with what's already going on, it never really occurred to us. I donno. You two seem all determined to have large families but I think me and Miranda will be quite happy with just the two. Still, you got me thinking about it now. We'll see. Maybe after the baby arrives we might consider adopting an older child. I recall Sister Julia saying it was harder to find homes for the older children. So—maybe. We'll see.”
“Well,” Steven got up to pour another round of brandy. “We all know what Hannibal and Miranda are going to be doing for the next month or so. What about you Jed?”
Jed rolled his eyes and groaned.
“I've got a wedding to attend, remember?”
Heyes grinned wickedly. “How are the plans going for the bachelor party?”
Jed sent his partner a pained looked. “Slow. God's honest truth; Harry does not have any friends. Are you sure you won't be back in time Heyes?”
“Positive. Harry has known for some time that I would be out of town. If he really wanted me there he could have changed the date.”
“You already invited me to the party,” Steven pointed out. “and I certainly intend to show, even if it's just to help beef it up a bit.”
“What about David? And Jesse?” Heyes suggested. “They all know Harry.”
“David said he's coming. Don't know about Jesse though, he's not much fer goin' out at night now. I've sent telegrams to Lom and Kenny but haven't heard back. Wheat and Kyle will probably be there, I hope,” Jed mused. “I've tried gettin' hold 'a some of the fellas at the detective agency. I was hopin' there would be at least some who have enough regard for Harry to show up at his party. I ain't heard back from any of 'em yet.”
“Oh nothing,” Heyes lied. “Alright. I'm just picturing you walking into the Bannerman Detective Agency and actually trying to get their attention.”
Jed looked irritated at first and then couldn't help the smile tug at his lips followed by an agreeing chuckle and nod.
“It was kind of a change from the norm,” he admitted. He sighed and turned serious again. “I'm not looking forward to this at all.”
“Aw it'll be alright,” Heyes shrugged it off. “Get Harry drunk enough and he won't remember who was there anyway.”
“Yeah I suppose,” Jed mumbled.
The conversation was interrupted then by Rosie accompanied by her mother coming in to say goodnight.
“There's my little girl!” Steven beamed. “All ready for bed?”
Rosie giggled and toddled over to her father with arms outstretched, wanting her goodnight hug. Steven willingly accommodated her. He picked her up into his arms and hugged and kissed her as she snuggled in and hugged him around the neck.
“There you go. Goodnight sweetheart.”
“'e nit,” came the attempt at the word.
“Are you going to say goodnight to your uncles?”
Rosie looked over at the other people in the room and suddenly turned shy. She rubbed her fists into her sleepy eyes and then reached out for her mother.
“Oh come on then, you silly little thing,” Bridget said as she scooped the child up from her husbands lap. She smiled apologetically over to her friends. “She is more of a morning girl. She's far more likely to say 'good morning' than 'good night'.”
“That's fine Bridget,” Jed assured her. “Goodnight Rosie.”
Rosie rubbed her eyes again and hid her face in the nap of her mother's neck. Bridget smiled and rolled her eyes before she turned and took the little one off to bed.
Half an hour later all three of the children were settled into bed and the adults settled in for a quiet visit along with tea and cake before darkness settled in.
“You'll do fine,” Heyes was saying as they carried on with the conversation concerning Harry and Isabelle's upcoming wedding.
“I just wish he could'a found somebody else to be his best man.” Jed continued to gripe. “What am I suppose to say at the reception? 'Here's to Harry. Thanks goodness he was such a lousy detective'?”
“Oh come on,” Beth chided him. “Why are you two always so mean to him? Even that Christmas in Kansas. He was doing so much to help out and you two were constantly on his case about something.”
“Not constantly,” Heyes protested.
“Yeah,” Jed agreed with his cousin. “we were nice to him over Christmas.”
“You call that nice?” Beth countered. “It was almost embarrassing.”
“Aw, Harry doesn't mind,” Heyes assured her. “He knows we're just teasing him.”
“And it's not like he don't deserve it,” Jed pointed out. “I don't think Harry knows how to handle havin' a friend.”
“Probably because he's never had any,” Heyes pointed out.
“There you go again,” Beth pointed out. “That's mean.”
“That is a bit harsh,” Miranda agreed. “Why do you treat him like that?”
Heyes and Jed exchanged a quick look and both became a little more serious.
“Harry isn't quite the loyal 'best friend' he tries to come across as,” Heyes explained.
“Yeah,” Jed continued. “He'll back ya' up until somethin' better comes along. Then he don't mind turnin' on ya'.”
“Hmm,” Heyes reflected. “I seem to recall waking up and finding myself staring up the barrel of a rifle pointed at my head. I tell you, a strong cup of morning coffee won't get your heart beating faster than that wake up call.”
“He actually pointed a rifle at you?” Bridget asked, suddenly concerned.
“Yep,” Heyes nodded. “While I was asleep.”
“Tied us up too,” Jed added.
“Mm hmm,” Heyes nodded again. “Left us out in the desert twice, almost three times.”
“Well, the third time he did actually come through with the horses,” Jed explained. “But even then it was only because it was to his own advantage.”
Another nod from the partner. “The only reason that man never turned us in for the reward, well he can't now anyways. But why he never did before is because we were the ones who were always getting HIM out of trouble.”
“He wasn't even a good enough detective to do the right thing,” Jed told them. “so whenever he'd get the bright idea to do the wrong thing, that's when he'd really mess it up.”
“Well if he's such an awful person,” Miranda asked. “why do you keep him around?”
Another glance exchanged between the partners.
“I guess he does kind of grow on ya'.” Heyes ventured.
“Yeah,” Kid agreed. “and he has come in handy on occasion. I mean, as long as you know he's inept, you can kinda' work around it and then he does alright.”
“That brings up another interesting question,” Miranda pointed out. “If he doesn't understand loyalty then what are the chances that he'll be faithful in his marriage? I mean we all kind of laugh that Isabelle is getting what she deserves, but does she deserve that?”
A humorous glance between the partners this time.
“I don't think Isabelle has anything to worry about there,” Jed commented.
“Yeah,” Heyes agreed. “Harry's gonna be so thankful that he actually found a woman who would marry him, I doubt he'll stray too far from home.”
“He might visit the brothel once in a while,” Jed ventured. “but that ain't really cheatin'.”
“What?” asked Jed.
Heyes sent his partner a bewildered look. Steven groaned and sat back to watch how his brother-in-law got himself out of this one.
“What do you mean 'that's not really cheating'?” Bridget demanded.
“Didn't you promise me that you would never step into a brothel again?” Beth asked, but there was a twinkle of mischief in her eyes as she took perverse pleasure in watching her husband squirm.
“Yeah, of course I did!” Jed agreed. “And I haven't. I'd never do that....well no, I guess I have done that, but not to you. I wouldn't do that now....I mean...c'mon Heyes! Help me out here!”
Heyes had been busy trying to swallow a laugh and now he turned large innocent eyes to his partner and shook his head. “Ohh, you got yourself into this one.”
“Aww c'mon!” Jed was actually getting mad. “You know darn well I would never do that. I was just talkin'. Can't a fella just talk?”
Everybody broke out laughing and Heyes gave his partner a slap on the shoulder. “You're a married man now Jed,” he teased. “Can't go around just 'talkin'!”
“Oh it's alright,” Beth assured him through her chuckles. “we were just teasing you.”
“But still,” Miranda turned serious again. “do you really think Harry would...?”
“Well, you can never really know,” Heyes contemplated. “but I don't think so.”
“Naw,” Jed agreed. “Like we were sayin'; he's gonna be so tickled to have a woman actually marry 'im, he ain't gonna do no strayin'.”
“I certainly hope you're right,” Miranda commented. “Isabelle is many things, but she doesn't deserve that.”
“So, Miranda,” Beth was almost giggling in her own excitement. “You must be getting so excited about your trip. Santa Marta sounds like such a beautiful town.”
Miranda's eyes sparkled. “Yes. I'm hardly going to sleep tonight. We will be stopping at so many different places; it's hard to know which to look forward to the most.”
“When does your train leave?” Bridget asked as she poured more tea.
“Ten o'clock tomorrow morning,” Heyes answered. “We have a nice little roomette booked all the way to San Francisco and we'll stay with Silky for a couple of days. Then another train ride down to Yuma where we'll meet up with the special stage that leaves from there and goes directly down to Santa Marta. I'm hoping we can spend a week there. Then we'll take the coach back to Yuma and cut across through Arizona, New Mexico and then Texas. We'll probably stay in Red Rock for a few days at least as I'm sure we'll both be a little travel weary by then. After that is the leg home, up into Colorado. I think we'll by pass Kansas.”
Jed snorted and nodded. “Yeah, I think we've seen enough of Kansas for awhile.”
“It just sounds so romantic,” Beth declared. “I hope we get there one day.”
“Don't worry about that Beth darlin',” Jed assured her. “I'll get ya' down there. The two times Heyes and I were there didn't exactly turn out to be a vacation.”
“Twice?” asked Steven. “I thought you were only there once before when you ran into that rather unfortunate business with the Alcalde.”
“Ah, no,” Heyes sighed. “we've been there twice. The second time Jed and I actually had enough money to live there for awhile and we kind of hoped to stay until things cooled off in the States. But as usual things didn't quite work out that way.”
“Yep,” Jed agreed. “Now the Alcalde didn't know who we were the first time we were there, but he sure found out about it the second time.”
“What?” asked Bridget. “How?”
“Well there had been this bounty hunter hot on our trail,” Heyes explained. “We thought we'd lost him but he followed us down there, took us by surprise and handed us over to the Alcalde.”
“You know, I gotta hand it to Senor Cordoba,” Jed reminisced. “he really seemed disappointed to find out who we really were.”
“Hmm,” Heyes wasn't quite as impressed. “Probably made him feel bad that he'd let us slip right through his fingers the first time.”
“How did you get away from him?” Steven asked. “From what you have told me of the man, he sounds like a competent officer. Hardly one you could easily dupe.”
Heyes and Jed flashed smiles at each other.
“Gotta hand it to Clementine!” Jed laughed.
“Yep,” Heyes agreed. “Now there's a lady....”
“Clementine?” asked Beth. “What does she have to do with this?”
“Oh!” Heyes sat up a little straighter. “Ah, we kind of thought it would look a little suspicious, you know; two single men coming down to Mexico to live in a villa all on their own for a year.”
“Yeah,” Jed smiled sheepishly. “You know, wouldn't want people ta' talk.”
“Yeah so we decided to take Clementine along with us,” Heyes explained, suddenly realizing how inappropriate that whole arrangement would now appear. “So, she agreed to 'pretend' to be married to one of us. You know; to make it look....respectable.”
Four sets of eyes were staring at them, tea cups poised mid-way between saucer and lips.
“You know; just pretending!” Heyes assured them all. “We all had separate rooms. Nothing actually happened.”
“Well,” Jed mumbled. “I wouldn't say 'nothin'.”
Five sets of eyes swivelled over to Jed.
“What's that suppose to mean?” Heyes asked suspiciously.
“Well ya' know Heyes,” Jed explained. “we had to make it look and feel authentic.”
“What!” Heyes was incredulous. “You were mad at her the whole time we were there!”
“Why do ya' think I was mad at her?” Jed demanded in his own defence. “There we were pretendin' to be husband and wife and she's makin' eyes at the Alcalde! It was embarrassin'--and insultin'!”
“Sounds to me like you were doing more than just 'pretending',” Heyes grumbled.
“Yes,” Beth agreed pointedly.
“Aww c'mon, Beth darlin'. It was years ago,” Jed assured her. “You know I'd never....”
“Oh I know,” Beth laughed it aside. “I'm still just teasing you. My but you're sensitive on that topic. I've suspected ever since my wedding shower that you and Clem had been more than just friends. I also know that before we were courting you had your fair share of...experience.”
“I'd say it was more than his fair share,” Heyes grumbled again, still feeling in a snit.
“Hannibal,” Beth sent him a reprimanding look. “I happen to like Clementine and the images this conversation is putting in my mind are ones I would gladly do without. Let's move on shall we?”
Heyes had the good graces to look contrite and an awkward silence settled over the room. Miranda smiled and picked up the conversation at a safe juncture.
“So how did Clementine help you to get away?” she asked curiously.
“Oh well,” Heyes warmed to the topic again. “Clem knew that the Alcalde was smitten with her and she used it to her full advantage. She told him all about our bid for amnesty and how we hadn't done anything illegal in three years, not that the law knew about anyways. She just batted her eyelashes at him and actually convinced him to let us go.”
“Oh my goodness!” Steven was incredulous. “Just like that? A high ranking, very much respected official of a luxury resort town just let two known apparently notorious outlaws escape from his custody simply because Clementine batted her eyelashes at him?”
“No,” Jed reluctantly admitted. “that's not quite....”
“No, it took a little more....” Heyes added.
Silence again as the audience waited for the rest of the story to come forth.
“Ahh...” Heyes and Jed exchanged a quick look.
“We sorta gave him money...” Jed explained.
“So the town could build a new schoolhouse,” Heyes finished.
“A new schoolhouse?” Steven questioned. “A wealthy town like that couldn't afford to build their own schoolhouse?”
“This was a really nice, top of the line schoolhouse,” Heyes assured him.
“Yeah,” Jed seconded. “One of the best schoolhouses I've ever seen.”
“You've seen it?” Steven asked.
“Well, actually no,” Heyes admitted. “That's one reason we're going down there. To see the schoolhouse that Jed and I paid to have built.”
“Really?” commented Miranda.
“And how much did this top of the line schoolhouse cost to build?” Steven continued to push the point.
“Well we didn't actually pay for the whole thing,” Jed explained. “It was already under construction when we...”
“How much?” Steven asked again.
“Four thousand dollars,” Heyes told him.
“He took a four thousand dollar bribe just because Clementine batted her eyelashes at him?”
“No!” Heyes insisted. “It wasn't a bribe!”
“It was a...donation.”
“A donation?” Steven confirmed. He sat back in his chair shaking his head and chuckling. “It's amazing. You two head down to Mexico, taking a single woman along with you in order to pretend to be respectable when in fact you were being anything but. You then get arrested and thrown in jail but your pretend wife who was actually more interested in the Alcalde than she was in her 'husband' convinces him to let you both go free in exchange for a four thousand dollar 'donation'. Have I got that right?”
“Not quite,” Heyes told him.
Steven and the three ladies broke out laughing.
“Not quite?” Miranda asked incredulously. “How much more can their possibly be?”
“Ah well....” Jed explained. “as a penance for accepting the donation for the new schoolhouse, Senor Cordoba did not pursue a relationship with Clementine.”
“Though I'm sure Clementine would have appreciated it if he had,” Heyes added.
“Uh huh,” Jed agreed.
“So this is the bed of intrigue you're going to be walking me into?” Miranda asked.
“Well, I wouldn't go so far...”
Miranda laughed and clapped her hands. “Ha ha! I love it!”
“You do?” Heyes asked hopefully.
“This honeymoon is going to turn out even better than I thought!”
The following morning found the Heyes' and Currys' standing on the platform at the train station. This busy station was bustling with soon to be passengers making sure tickets were in order and luggage was being appropriately handled by porters as they readied to board the train themselves. Excited children ran amok as parents tried in vain to keep them in check only to have them slip their hobbles and gallop off again in youthful exuberance.
Five cars down from the platform, the large engine sat humming like a predator waiting in ambush while the last minute preparations got completed. Fifteen minutes before departure time the whistle sounded long and loud and a new level of excitement and hustle took over the passengers as everyone said their final goodbyes.
“Well that's it,” Hannibal announced somewhat needlessly. “Time to get on board.”
Miranda smiled as she held her husband's arm and gave it an extra squeeze.
“I'm so excited!” she admitted with a sparkle dancing in her eyes. “I've been on train rides before but this is going to be so much fun.”
“I envy you,” Beth gushed as she leaned in and gave her cousin-in-law an exuberant hug. “You're going to be seeing so much and I know Mr. O'Sullivan will treat you like royalty.”
Heyes and Jed exchanged smiles over that comment, then shook hands in farewell.
“Say 'hi' to Silky for me,” Kid said. “Let him know how things are going.”
“Oh yes,” Heyes agreed.
“And Senor Cordoba and Big Mac and anybody else you might run into who we know.”
Heyes grinned. “Yes I will. Keep an eye on the horses for me.”
“Of course we will!” Beth exclaimed, almost insulted that Hannibal felt the need to remind them. “Karma must already be having the time of her life, getting to spend some time with her daughter.”
Heyes laughed. “She's going to get fat and lazy out there on Double J grass again.”
“She'll be fine Heyes,” Kid commented. “Stop worryin' about her.”
“Keep an eye on Sally too,” Miranda asked them. “Make sure she doesn't run Belle into the ground.”
“I expect she and J.J. will be so busy ridin' around the ranch, Belle is hardly ever going to see her,” Jed assured her. “don't worry about her.”
“I'm not worried,” Randa insisted. “Just, keep an eye....”
“Don't worry,” Beth smiled and gave Randa's arm a squeeze. “We'll watch out for her.”
“Time to get aboard folks,” came the prodding from a porter making the rounds. “Train's pulling out in five minutes.”
“Oh, yes.” Heyes agreed.
“Here we go,” Miranda laughed. “Wouldn't do to miss the train when we're standing right here.”
“No,” her husband agreed. “Okay Jed, Beth. We'll keep in touch.”
“Bye. Have fun!”
“We'll see ya' in a month Heyes.”
Once on board the train Hannibal and Miranda followed the porter down the isle and through the connecters from one car to the next. This was all new to Heyes; being treated like somebody special, but in a good way. They entered and passed through the regular passenger cars, doing their best to avoid bumping into people who were storing personal luggage or trying to lasso wild children. This is what train riding usually meant to Heyes. Get on board as quickly as you can and get a seat before all the good ones were taken and then hope that you didn't end up with an annoying neighbour.
But this time they had an escort and even better; one that wasn't carrying a rifle. The porter took them across another covered walkway through to the next car and here the decor changed dramatically. Instead of the isle running down the center with rows of seats on either side, the isle was to the right of the car and the left was a solid wall with two doors at each end. The porter led them past the first door and with a key, opened the second one. He leaned inside to place their personal bags onto the floor and then stepped aside to invite them in.
Miranda stepped in first and smiled with familiarity. She was accustomed to travelling in this fashion but again; this was all very new to the ex-outlaw. He tried not to show his childish delight at the comfortable roomette that he found himself in. His poker face came on and he turned to the porter while taking out his wallet and handing the good man a more than reasonable tip; Heyes was planning on a very enjoyable train ride.
The porter smiled as he saw the amount and bowed his head appreciatively as he accepted it.
“Thank you sir,” he said. “My name is George and I will make sure your time spent on board is a pleasurable one.”
“Thank you,” Heyes agreed. “I'm counting on it.”
Three more loud whistles from the engine gave warning that the train was moving out and with a shriek of delight Miranda scurried over to the window to wave 'goodbye' to their friends. Heyes and the porter exchanged smiles as the train gave a mild jerk and they were on the roll.
“Please let me know if there is anything else you require.”
Heyes nodded agreement and George backed out of the room and closed the door, leaving the couple alone. Only then did Heyes allow his countenance to express his true emotions as a grin took over his face and the dimples did the rest.
“I can't believe this room,” he announced. “All this time I thought it was just the owners of the railroad who travelled like this.” His eyes lit on the cherry wood table that was situated by the center window and bracketed by two comfortable looking arm chairs. “They even gave us chilled wine and a cheese plate—and flowers!'
Miranda smiled with pleasure at her husband's excitement over this new experience.
“A little different than riding coach, isn't it?” she asked him.
“I'll say,” Heyes agreed. Then he frowned as he looked around even more. “But where do we sleep? Are the chairs it?”
“No!” Miranda laughed. “See that handle there on the end wall? The porter will come in this evening and pull down the bed. It saves room not having the bed down and ready when we're not using it.”
“But how does he know when we're not using it?” her husband asked with a wicked grin as he moved in to encircle his wife's waist with his arms. “I must admit; one of the few things I've never done on a moving train was make love to my travelling companion.”
Miranda laughed as she gave him a cheeky slap. “I doubt very much that your previous travelling companion would have appreciated it!”
“Hmm,” Heyes murmured as he leaned in for a kiss. “Probably not.”
To be Continued.