Regrets – Part Two – A Daunting Present

Regrets – Part Two – A Daunting Present

“All the dreams you never thought you’d lose got tossed along the way.” –  J. Rzeznik

Denver – 1890

“Where is she, Louise!  I gotta find her!”

Louise shook her head.

Whether that meant she didn’t know or she didn’t want to say, the Kid couldn’t tell for sure.  For the moment, he would focus on the boy, his son.

“What happened to Will?”

“Will’s almost a man now, Kid.  An’ full’a hate.  Been stayin’ with me these last eight years.  But right now, I’m ‘fraid he’s in Porterville, lyin’ in wait for you.”

“Lying in wait?”  Heyes, who had been listening to Louise’s account of Ike Gordon’s death, finally spoke up.  “You make it sound like Will’s a desperate killer!”

“He ain’t no killer, least ways not yet far as I know, but he might be desperate.”

“Louise?  I need to know.”  The Kid steadied his nerves.  “What happened to Ann?”

“The truth of it?”  Louise looked hesitant, but knew it was time for the truth, the whole truth.  “She’s in prison. Servin’ a life sentence for murder.”

Murder?  The wheels began to turn inside Heyes’ mind.  By Louise’s account, Ann had failed to save Ike Gordon’s life, but it wasn’t as if she’d done the murdering.  Immoral?  Surely.  A crime?  Maybe, but certainly not a crime worthy of a life sentence.

Heyes looked to Curry to see if his partner shared his doubts, but the Kid looked as if he’d just been kicked in the stomach, the words, “Prison” and “Life Sentence” reverberating inside his brain.

“An’ after Will got hold’a that letter…”  Louise shook her head.

Heyes pulled concerned eyes away from his friend.  “What letter?  Can I see it?”

Louise shrugged.  “Will’s got it I s’pose.  There was three of ’em actually.   Ann wrote ’em, right ‘fore the judge handed down his sentence.”

“What did they say, Louise?  Anything you can remember,” Heyes questioned.

“I only read the one of ’em.  The one addressed to me.  There was one to Will an’ another one to you, Kid.”

Curry’s head jerked up.  “Ann wrote a letter?  To me?”

Louise nodded.  “Like I said, there was the three letters and Ann didn’t want ’em delivered ’til after she was…in case she didn’t…”

Even unfinished, Louise’s sentence caused the Kid to shudder.

“Near as I can figure, she must’a wrote Will ’bout him bein’ yer son.  I ain’t sure, since Will never showed it to me.  He stumbled ‘cross where I had ’em hid, last year, ’bout this time.  Guess I didn’t hide ’em good ‘nough.  But he weren’t never the same after that.  Took to ridin’ outta here for weeks at a time.  Carryin’ a gun.  Wouldn’t talk to me ’bout none of it.”

“Will never knew about me before that?”

Louise dropped her head, ashamed at her part in the lifelong lie Will had been told.  “I think Ann was scared’a people findin’ out Will was yer son, Kid.  Makin’ him a target fer bounty hunters or gunmen holdin’ a grudge.  She told Will that her husband, ‘Jed Morgan,’ died ‘fore he was born.”  Louise turned apologetic eyes toward the Kid.  “I went along with it, Kid, but it weren’t like me an’ Ann didn’t tell him ’bout you!  Not yer name a’course, but things ’bout you.  Good things.”

Curry took hold of the older woman’s hand.  “It’s alright, Louise.  That don’t matter right now.”

“Where was the trial, Louise, here in Denver?  Were there any witnesses?”  Heyes brought the subject back to area he felt most crucial.

“Trial was real quick. There was a couple’a witnesses.”

“I need their names.  What were the witnesses’ names?”

“They was Ike’s buddies.  Les and Luther Hanley.  They claimed they saw Ann stab Ike.  Don’t know if there was any more.  Could’a been.  Ann’s lawyer would know for sure.”

“Who was Ann’s lawyer?”

“Got a office somewheres on Commerce Avenue.  His name was Bentley.”

“Commerce?  That’s the money side’a town.  How’d Ann afford somebody like him?” the Kid wondered out loud.

“She didn’t.  Bentley said somebody else paid fer his services.  A…” Louise struggled with the proper pronunciation, “’anonymous benefactor’ he called it.”

“You don’t know who the benefactor was?” Heyes resumed his investigation.

Louise shook her head.  “Ann was just glad to have somebody listen ta her side’a the story.  Bentley made her feel like things was goin’ real well, ’til the trial started.  Then things went downhill fast.”

“In what way?”

“Ann plead guilty.”

Heyes, who had been pacing, almost yelled, “She plead guilty?!  Why would she do a stu…”

Curry shot a look that stopped his partner mid-stride.

Heyes visibly suppressed his anger and rephrased his question.  “Why do you think she did that, Louise?”

“That’s somethin’ I never been able ta figure, neither,” she replied, with a shake of her head.  “After all, wasn’t like no one was missin’ Ike Gordon too much.  Even the sheriff was glad to be rid’a him.”

***

While Louise wiped down the bar, late that night, she listened to the squeaking floorboards from the hotel’s second floor.  She knew it was Hannibal Heyes, traipsing a path for the ump-teenth time across the room above.

Curry lay wide awake, hands behind his head, contemplating everything Louise had told him.  He had a son.  The fact brought both joy and trepidation.

He had missed the important “firsts” of Will’s life.  First steps, first words, first birthday.  Will must be about sixteen by now, near as Curry could figure.  He tried to remember what he and Heyes had been like at that age, frowning as he recalled, they were already well on the path to a life of crime.

The Kid had known at the time, a relationship with Ann Morgan was dangerous, but the two of them had chosen.  Stepped up to the table and rolled the dice.  The wisdom of such a choice was questionable. No.  The choice itself was indefensible!  Foolishly, they had forged ahead, deliberately throwing caution to the wind.  Desire, need, lust… love.  Call it whatever you want, wisdom played no part.

Seventeen years down the road, his son wanted him dead.

“Would you cut out that pacin’ and come to bed?”

“I think better this way, you know that, Kid.”  Heyes looked at the deep lines of concern written on his partner’s face.  “Would you cut it out and get some sleep?”

“I’m not pacin’.”

“No, you’re thinking.  And all your thinking is making me so nervous, I can’t think!”

“Can’t help it, Heyes.  If I’d been thinkin’ back then, none of this would be happenin’ now.”

“That kind of thinking gets us no where, Kid.”

“Wha’d’ya s’pose he’s like, Heyes?”  The Kid swung his legs over the edge of the bed, a hint of something sounding like excitement in his voice.

“Will?”

“Yeah.  You s’pose he looks like me?”

“Could be.  If he’s lucky, he’d look more like Ann.”

Curry seemed not to notice the attempt at humor.  “Could be he don’t look like neither one of us.  Could take after my folks, or hers.  But I wonder what he’s like.”

“Louise said he’s bitter, Kid.  ‘Full’a hate.’  Remember?”

The Kid rose, beginning to pace himself.  “But that can’t be all, Heyes.  Ann raised him.  For the first eight years of his life, anyway.  And she’s gentle and carin’ and…”

“And in prison for murder,” Heyes finished.

An injured look clouded the blue eyes.  “You really are a miserable cynic, you know that?”

“I’m sorry, Kid.  I’m trying to stay focused on what we can do for Ann.  You and I both know she doesn’t belong in prison.”

“You come up with anything yet?”

Heyes shook his head.  “Nothing much.  I think we should start by talking to the witnesses.”

“Les and Luther Hanley?  They’re friends of Ike Gordon.  You know they’d say anything Ike wanted ’em to.”

“But Ike’s dead.  What reason would they have to pin his murder on Ann?”

“Can’t think of one.  Unless…” Curry’s thinking caught up with his partner’s.

“Unless someone, someone like Ike’s murderer, was threatening them…or paying them.”

The Kid nodded.

Heyes resumed his pacing.  “It’s the lawyer, Bentley, that really bothers me.  Why would he encourage Ann to plead guilty?”

“And who’s this anonymous benefactor Louise was talkin’ about?”

***

“Mornin’ Les.  Luther.”

Two head jerked up, recognizing the voice, before they recognized the face of Hannibal Heyes.

“You two don’t look happy to see me.”

“That ain’t it at all, Heyes.  Just been a long time since we seen ya.”

The door to the livery slid shut behind them, blocking rays of morning sun.  Les and Luther spun around and saw a glint of shiny metal before their eyes adjusted completely to the new darkness inside the barn.  Kid Curry!

Both swallowed hard.  “Look fellas.  We got nothin’ ag’in you boys.  We know we roughed you up a little, way back when, but that was on Ike’s say so.  Ike’s gone now.  Me an’ my brother, we don’t want no trouble with you two.”

“Roughed us up?  You remember being roughed up, Kid?”

Curry shook his head, moving closer to Les, weapon aimed, “Sure don’t, Heyes.  But I do remember bein’ stabbed and left for dead.”  The cold blue eyes were close enough for Les to feel the air chill.

“That weren’t us, Kid!  That was Ike!  You know that!  An’ he’s dead now.  Won’t be hurtin’ no one ever ag’in.”

“We changed our ways!  Honest!” Luther chimed in.

“Honest?” Heyes laughed.  “What’s honest about lying to a judge?”

“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, Heyes.”  Luther’s brother shook his head as well, in agreement with the statement.

“That’s too bad.  We were really hoping you two could help us solve a puzzle we’ve been working on.”

“What puzzle’s that?” Les asked, afraid to talk, but more afraid of keeping silent.

“What we’re trying to figure out is, how did a couple of no accounts like you two end up with enough money to buy this livery?”

Glances were exchanged between Les and Luther.  Les continued, “We come into some money…uh…inheritance, you might say.  After Ike died.”

“So Ike left you the money.”  Heyes tipped his head toward the Kid.  “Easy enough to check out.  All we gotta do is go down to the courthouse.  They keep records on that sort of thing.”

“Don’t lie to us, boys.  You do and you’re gonna make me real unhappy.”  Curry stepped even closer to Les.

Les moved back another step, bumping into the barn’s back wall.  “Did I say inheritance?  Not exactly inheritance.  We just come into some money, ’bout the same time Ike died,” Les amended, shaking in his boots.

“From who?”  Curry raised his weapon higher, giving Les a clearer view of it.

Les was breathing heavily, sweat beading on his forehead.  “Some fancy lawyer.  Name was somethin’ like Barton…Benton…Bentley!  That was it!”

The Kid glared at the man.

Heyes moved closer to Luther.  “What did you have to do for the money, Luther?”

Luther cast glances toward his brother, sure that Curry was about to kill him.  Sure that he’d be next.  “We had to testify we saw Ann Morgan stab Ike Gordon.”

Heyes asked one final question.  “Who really did stab Ike?”

“We don’t know, Heyes,” Luther answered, closing his eyes, certain he’d breathed his last.  “We never saw who done it.  I swear!”

There was a long silence.  Heyes hung his head, “Let’s go, Kid.  I think for once, Luther’s tellin’ the truth.”

He turned to leave, but Curry didn’t follow.  He still stood in front of Les.  “You go on, Heyes.  I’ll be out in a minute.”

“Kid.”

Curry didn’t move.

“Kid.”  Heyes moved closer, placing a hand on his friend’s right arm.  “It’s time to go.  Les and Luther are gonna be waiting to testify at Ann’s new trial.”

The Hanley brothers’ heads nodded in unison.

As if summoned back from some distant place, Curry came back to his senses.  He holstered his weapon and walked calmly from the barn.

***

The law office of Rayford Bentley was located in the heart of Denver’s bustling business center.  Heyes whistled quietly to himself, tipping his hat back to look toward the top of the tall building.  The Kid was right.  Commerce Street was definitely the money side of town.

After checking the directory, they climbed the stairs to Bentley’s office, located on the top floor.

“Good afternoon, ma’am.  Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones to see Mr. Bentley.”

“I’m sorry.  Mr. Bentley is out of town.  Would you gentlemen like to make an appointment?”  Two attractive eyes examined both callers, but lingered on Heyes.

“When will he be back?” Heyes asked Mr. Bentley’s assistant, with a smile.

Helena Tucker batted long lashes in Heyes’ direction before flipping the pages of Mr. Bentley’s appointment book.  “Next week.”

***

Hannibal Heyes turned the key, entering the room he and his partner were sharing at Louise’s Place.  “What are you doing?” he asked, surprised.

It was obvious Kid Curry had just finished packing his saddle bags.  He flung them over one shoulder.

“I can’t sit around Denver for a week waitin’ for Bentley to get back.  Lom’s waitin’.  Will’s waitin’.  I’m leavin’ for Porterville.”

“Not alone you’re not!  Will’s blaming you for everything that’s ever gone wrong in his life!  He hates you right now, Kid, and I’m not letting you go to Porterville alone!”

“This time you’re wrong, Heyes.  Will’s waitin’ for me, just me.  It’s me he’s gonna get!”

A glimmer sparked in Heyes’ eyes.  “Maybe it’s ME he’s gonna get.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means, what if Hannibal Heyes arrived in Porterville alone, without Kid Curry?  Found his partner’s son and turned some of his silver tongued charm on him.  Maybe I could talk him out of some of that stored up hate before you even make an appearance.”

Curry shook his head.  “Not this time, Heyes.  The boy’s been lied to enough.  This time we do it my way.”

“I’m not going to lie to him, Kid.  Just point out a few truths he may have missed on his own.  And Will sounds pretty smart.  After all, if it weren’t for your horse throwing a shoe, we’d have ridden right into his ambush.”

“You sayin’ I’m not smart enough to handle my own kid?”

“Not at all.  What I’m saying is, it sounds like he takes after his father.”

“How’s that?”

“What I’m trying to say, is,” Heyes smiled, “if Will’s half as smart as his father, he’ll know when to listen to me.”

***

“Howdy, Lom,” Heyes called, as he entered the lawman’s office.

Unwittingly, Lom turned toward the side door.

“Expecting someone, Lom?” Heyes quipped, unable to resist the opportunity.

“Just you and the Kid.  You got my letter, I expect?”

“Sure did.”

“Where’s Curry?”

“He’s not here yet.  Why?”

“Oh, nothin’,” Lom tried to cover, not wanting to let on just yet about the presence of Curry’s son in Porterville.

“Wouldn’t be someone here waiting to see the Kid, would there, Lom?  Someone like, oh, let’s say, Will Morgan?”

A variety of emotions, ranging from astonishment to utter amazement, played across the sheriff’s face in a matter of seconds.  “How do you do that?”

“Do what, Lom?” Heyes practiced his most innocent smile.

“Know what I’m thinking before I open my mouth.”  He waved a hand, dismissing his own question.  “Forget it.  I can see there’s no keeping a secret from you.  Yes.  Will Morgan’s in town.  Staying at my place.”

“Uh huh,” Heyes listened, grabbing a mug and filling it with coffee.  “What else?”

“Not much else.  He’s the spitting image of the Kid a few years back.”

“You seen him shoot?”

“Practicing, yeah.  Why?”

“Hear he’s pretty fast.”

Lom nodded.  “Pretty fast, yeah, but he’ll need a few more years of practice if he wants to be as fast as the Kid.”

“Good.”

“Good, why?”

“Good, because he’s aiming to kill my partner.”

Lom’s mouth dropped open in shock.  “What?!  Why would he want to do that?  I thought the Kid was his…“  Lom left his curiosity behind and moved on with more direct questioning.  “What are you planning to do about it?”

“Talk him out of it.  Right after you introduce the two of us.”

***

Will’s mind raced for a solution when he saw Sheriff Trevors arrive home with only one member of the outlaw pair he sought.  The wrong member.

“Hello?” Lom called as he entered the house, Heyes close on his heels.

Will appeared from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel.

“Will, I got someone I want you to meet. This is Hannibal Heyes.”

Will swallowed, incapable of speech.  He’d never lure Curry to Porterville if Hannibal Heyes suspected what he was up to.  He’d need to play his cards close, if he wanted any chance of carrying out his plan.

Turning to Heyes, Lom continued, “Hannibal Heyes, meet Will Morgan.”

“Pleased to meet you, Will.”  Heyes extended his hand toward the young, would-be gunman, whose features were startlingly similar to a young Kid Curry.

“How’d you know me?  How’d you know I was here?”

“Been talking with Louise.”

If Heyes had already talked to Louise, it stood to reason Kid Curry had too.  It looked like Will would be playing this hand with his cards already face up on the table.

“My business is with Curry, not with you.”

“But he’s not here.  Not yet anyway.  Figured you and I might get to know each other first.”

“Got no desire to know you, Mr. Heyes.  No offense.”

“Oh, none taken, Will.  Since you don’t seem inclined to share, I’ll go first.  Your father and I go way back.”

“Don’t call him that!” Will stormed.  “He ain’t never been no father to me!”

Heyes could see that the intimidating Curry glare had not skipped a generation.  “Fine.  ‘Kid Curry’ and I go way back.”  He pulled out a chair for Will and nodded for him to sit.

Will obeyed.

“I’d say I know him better than anyone, so any questions you have, just go right ahead and ask.”

“Don’t wanna know nothin’ about him,” Will mumbled.

“You sure went through a lot of trouble to get him here, Will,” Lom commented.

“Not to talk.”

“Why, then?” Trevors pressed.

Will nervously rubbed sweaty palms against his pant legs. He was quiet a long time.

“You plan on gunning down my partner, Will?”

Will’s continued silence was his answer.

“Why?”

The young man, who now looked like no more than an angry school-boy, answered in a low voice.  “He was never there, not when I needed him, not when my mother needed him. It’s because of him, she’s where she is now.”

“Where’s that?”  Lom asked.

Heyes answered for Will.  “In prison.  Serving a life sentence for a murder she didn’t commit.”

Will’s head jerked up.  “Louise tell you all that?”

Heyes nodded.

“What else she tell you?”

“She said you’ve been staying with her since you were about eight, when your mother went to prison.  Me and the Kid lost our families too, when we were about that age.  I don’t know if you knew that.”

Reluctantly, Will shook his head.

“I think you were lucky to have Louise around.  She’s a good woman.”

Will listened, saying nothing.

“And, she’s worried about you, I can tell that much.”

“She worries too much.  I can take care’a myself.”

“I can see you’re doing a real good job of that.”  Heyes crossed the room and removed Will’s weapon from its holster.  “Don’t think you’ll be needing this, right Will?  The Kid’s worried too.  He wants to meet you.  Get to know you.”

“Already told ya, I got no interest in knowin’ him.”

“Too bad.  The Kid’s loss.  Yours too, I’m thinking.  He’s worried about your ma.”

“If he cared so much about my ma, where was he when I was born?” he spat, bitterly.

“That you’ll need to ask him.  I won’t pretend to know everything that went on between the two of them.  But I know he cares about her.  Cares enough he’s already got two witnesses lined up to testify for her at her new trial.”

“That so?”  Will’s face softened somewhat, this information capturing his interest.

“It is.”

Heyes moved to the table where Will was sitting and pulled a chair in front of himself, sitting on it backward.  He leaned forward, resting his chin on his forearms.  “Will, how about we work together, you, me and the Kid, to try and help your mother?”

“I’ll help her myself.  Don’t want no help from you.  Or him!”  The defiant attitude was back.

Heyes shrugged.  “If that’s how you want it.  It’s a shame though, since we already talked to those two witnesses and got an appointment with her lawyer for next week.  We were planning on going to see her at the prison next, to see if there’s anything she can tell us that would help, but if you have your own plans…”

“You’re going to see her?”

Heyes smiled.  Will had taken the bait like a hungry coyote.  “Leaving at first light.”

***

“Hello, Will.”

It was Curry who finally broke the long silence when he entered Lom’s house and stood, face to face with the son he’d never known. He extended his hand toward the more youthful version of himself.  The eyes were familiar.  Deep, haunted.  Like his.  Or maybe they were more like Ann’s, the last time he’d seen her.  Cold, piercing.

Will nodded, but refused to shake the outstretched hand, eying it like a rattler about to strike.

“Heyes says you’ll be workin’ with us to help your ma.”

There was another nod, accompanied by more glaring.

“Thank you.  ‘Preciate it.”

Will finally found his tongue.  “I ain’t doin’ it fer you!  I’m doin’ it fer her!”

This time it was Curry’s turn to give a wordless nod before he turned and left.

***

Heyes found Curry leaned against the bar at the saloon in town.  “I know that was hard, Kid, but you did good.  Real good!”  He slapped the Kid’s shoulder like a proud uncle congratulating a new father.

“You softened him up, huh, Heyes?  From where I’m standin’, looks like Will’s still likely to kill me.”  The Kid downed his second whiskey with a shaky hand.

Heyes noticed, finding it difficult to keep amusement from his voice.  “Don’t tell me you’re scared of him?”

“No, I’m not scared!   I’m just…well, yeah, I’m scared!  I’m scared of messin’ this up!  Scared of doin’ or sayin’ somethin’ wrong!”

“Scared he’s gonna knife you in your sleep, huh?”

“That too!” Curry growled, before downing a third.

“The good news is, he’s agreed to come with us.”

“And the bad news?” the Kid groaned.

“Nope.  No bad news.  Partner, you just gotta have a little faith!”

***

They’d been on the trail for the better part of the morning on their way from Porterville to the Colorado prison.  Heyes and Will rode side by side, taking the lead.  Heyes explained the details of his plan to help Will’s mother.  Will spent most of his time nodding, and the Kid quietly brought up the rear, alone.  It was safer there, as he saw it.  Hard to say the wrong thing when you’re not saying anything at all.

It was nearly noon when Heyes suggested they stop to rest the horses.  As they dismounted, he shot a look at his partner and gestured his head in Will’s direction, encouraging the Kid to make the best of this opportunity.

“Nice piece you carry, Will.”  Curry admired the younger man’s choice of handgun.  “May I?”

Will nodded and handed the weapon over.

He inspected it.  “You take real good care of it too.”

“Yup.”

His son was too young to have a sidearm strapped to his hip.  But then, hadn’t he been even younger than Will when he’d done the same?  “You been wearin’ it long?”

Will shook his head.  “Only since I found out ’bout you.  I planned on killin’ ya with it.”  He took his weapon back from the more experienced gunman’s hand.  “Somethin’ wrong?” he asked, seeing the sick look on Curry’s face.

“Just wonderin’ if that’s still your plan.”

Will twirled his gun back into its holster and met Curry’s question with two unwavering eyes.  “I’ll let ya know.”

***

The huge door swung open, like the gaping mouth of a shark, waiting to devour its prey.  Curry entered, anxiously yet willingly, into the belly of the beast.

Inside the prison, a cold dampness seemed to ooze from the stone walls, chilling him to the bone as he walked the corridor, following the guard who led the way, their footsteps echoing behind them.

“We need to find out everything Ann remembers about that night, about Bentley, everything,” Heyes had reminded the Kid several minutes before, brushing the dust off an updated version of Curry’s favorite grey suit.  “Will and me will be waiting right outside.”

“Warden wants to see you first,” a burly guard told him.

“Mr. Jones” was instructed to sit at a table.  The heavy door banged shut, echoing with a note of finality that caused Curry to break into a cold sweat.

He and Heyes had spent plenty of time in jail cells, but nothing like this.  The place was like a tomb, pressing in on him, pushing him under, sealing him in.  He didn’t want to spend twenty minutes here, let alone the twenty years he and Heyes could have served, if they’d been caught.  Ann Morgan hadn’t been as lucky.

Feeling as if he couldn’t breathe, the Kid tugged nervously at his collar.  It seemed like hours, but was probably only a matter of minutes before the door opened again.

“This some kind of joke?” the warden barked.

“Sir?” Curry stood, confused.

The warden was a gruff-looking man, obviously boasting years of experience in the handling of hardened criminals.  “What’s your name?” he demanded.

“Jones.  Thaddeus Jones.  I told that to the guard already.”

“What’s your business with Mrs. Morgan?”

“I was sent by her attorney,” the Kid lied.  “He’s building a case for her appeal.”

“What’s her attorney’s name?”

“Mr. Joshua Smith, of Porterville, Wyoming.”

“Wyoming?  What business does a Wyoming attorney have here in Colorado?”

“Only Mrs. Morgan’s business, sir.”  The Kid was quickly tiring of this interrogation and didn’t try to hide the irritation in his voice.

“Well, you can tell Mr. Smith, he’d better mind his client’s affairs more carefully in the future.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning, Mrs. Morgan was transferred to another facility several days ago.”

“Which other facility?” Curry dared to ask.

“Colorado Women’s Asylum,” the warden barked, clearly put out with Mr. Jones’ lack of information.

“Asylum?  Is Mrs. Morgan ill?” The news had taken the Kid off guard and the question slipped out before he realized it.

“In more ways than one!” the man shouted.  “The woman’s crazy!  She was here eight years and never said a word to anyone!  She’s unpredictable.  One moment, docile, the next violent!  She attacked several of my guards.  One of my best men is still laid up in the infirmary!”

“I see,” the Kid said, his mind taking a different path.  No telling what the guard had done to warrant such an attack from Ann, but it was good to know she was still capable of defending herself.  Quite capable, as it sounded.  Curry thanked the warden and rose to leave.

“But you won’t find her at the asylum if that’s where you’re heading.”

“Why is that?”

“The asylum sent two men to escort her.  I tried to tell them they would need more men than that, but they wouldn’t listen.  Mrs. Morgan escaped en route.  The asylum had already taken custody of her.  She’s their problem now, not mine.  Personally, I’m glad to be rid of her!”

“I bet she feels the same,” the Kid mumbled, under his breath.

“Pardon?”

“Uh, I said, ‘I thank you for your time’.”

***

“Well?”  Will hurried to catch up as the Kid strode purposefully toward the waiting horses.

It had been difficult for Curry to decide how he felt, when he followed the guard back down the long corridor and out of the prison.  Relief, yes, knowing Ann was out of that place.  It had shaken him and he’d been there less than an hour.  Ann had spent eight long years, trapped inside.

If she had escaped, where was she?  Wouldn’t she have tried to contact Will, or Louise?  The Kid knew Ann wouldn’t have tried to contact him.  She hadn’t been able to count on him for anything in the past seventeen years.

The warden said Ann had attacked guards, hadn’t spoken to anyone in eight years.  He said she had lost her mind.  Could he be right?  Looking back at the imposing stone structure behind him, the Kid concluded, it was entirely possible.

When Curry said nothing, Will grabbed his arm.  “Did ya see her?” he demanded.

“No!” the Kid snapped.  Pulling his arm away, he mounted his horse and rode out.

Heyes stood near Will, watching.  “Place like that is bound to shake a wanted man, Will.”  He looked back toward the thick, threatening walls and shivered, feeling its effect even from this distance.  “Come on.  Let’s get outta here.”

***

Night had fallen and they had made camp before anyone said another word about the Kid’s visit to the prison.  Will approached as Curry sat quietly near the fire, full mug of cold coffee held in one hand as he stared into the flames.

“They wouldn’t let ya in?” he asked, timidly.

Heyes joined them.

“She’s not there.”  Curry’s voice was low.

“What?”  Heyes voice was controlled, but his irritation was evident.

The Kid paused, looking up into two sets of eyes, one, eager for information, the other, desperate for hope.  He wished he had more information to give, or more hope to share.

“They moved her?” Will wondered.

The Kid shook his head.  “They were trying to move her.  She escaped.”

Heyes stood, kicking at the dirt.  “How are we supposed to help her if we can’t find her?” he yelled, flinging his arms into the air in frustration.  “No one’s gonna grant a new trial to an escaped convict!”

Seeing the worry on Will’s face, the Kid spoke up.  “Yellin’ about it, won’t help, Heyes.  And it’s not like Ann set out to mess up your plan.”

“Where were they movin’ her?” Will wondered.

Although the Kid didn’t want to answer, he wanted to be honest.  “To an asylum.”

“An asylum for sick folks or…somethin’ else?”

“I don’t think she was sick, Will.”

Will nodded and was quiet for a long time.  “We ain’t givin’ up, right?”

***

“Good morning, gentlemen!”  Helena greeted the three morning visitors, but her smile was directed only at Heyes.

“Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones and Mr. Morgan to see Mr. Bentley.”

“I haven’t forgotten your name, Mr. Smith,” she replied, gliding toward Bentley’s office to usher them in.

“Good morning, gentlemen!”  Rayford Bentley shook hands with all three, before motioning graciously toward a seating area with enough room for all of them.

“Coffee?”

“No, thank you, Mr. Bentley, we’ve already had our breakfast.”  Heyes answered.

“Alright, then we can get down to business.  How can I be of service?”

“We have some questions about the trial of a client of yours.  Mrs. Ann Morgan.”

“Yes, I remember her.  Sad story really.  A young mother, on her own with a son to raise.”  Suddenly, he recognized the surname.  “You wouldn’t be her son, Mr. Morgan, would you?”

“Yes, sir, I would.”  Will found polite conversation difficult, after what Heyes had told him about the money paid to the Hanleys for their false testimony.

“I’m so sorry things didn’t turn out better for your mother.  I heard there was an incident at the prison, that she is… not well.”

Heyes reclaimed the conversation, answering in Will’s place.  “We assume she is quite well, now that she has escaped.”

Panic washed over Bentley’s face for only a moment.

“But that’s not what we’re here to discuss, Mr. Bentley.  We were told you were hired by someone to represent Mrs. Morgan at her trial.  Who?”

“That aspect of Mrs. Morgan’s case is confidential, sir.  I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to discuss it with you.”  He removed a handkerchief from his pocket, dabbing at his forehead.

“Then let’s discuss why you would advise her to confess to a murder she didn’t commit.” Curry’s voice was firm, almost threatening.

Bentley leaned forward, clearly irritated at being called to justify his actions.  “Mrs. Morgan’s case was very complex and her situation quite dire.  Two sworn witnesses had testified against her and she herself admitted to a desire to see Mr. Gordon dead.  I handled her case to the best of my ability and under the circumstances, I feel she was lucky to escape the death penalty.”  He rose and opened his office door, waiting for the three visitors to leave.  “My conscience is clear, gentlemen.  I’m afraid there is nothing more I can do for Ann Morgan, or you.”

On his way out the door, the Kid stopped and pinned Bentley with a glare.

The attorney averted his eyes, uneasy under Curry’s intense scrutiny.  “Please, I have other business which needs my attention.”

The Kid made a motion toward the door then, paused.  “Mr. Bentley, I just want to be clear on one thing.”

The intense gaze was unnerving.  Bentley swallowed hard.

“Is the crime in wanting a man dead?” Curry’s eyes grew colder.  He moved one step closer.  “Or in killin’ him?”

***

“That didn’t go how we wanted it to, huh, Heyes?”  Will asked, as they descended the steps outside the office building.

“On the contrary, Will.  I think it went well.”

“How do you figure?”

As Heyes explained the information he’d been able to glean from their meeting, he took the time to point out to Will the importance of studying a person’s body language.

“Sometimes, what a person don’t say is more important than what he does say,” Heyes finished, as they moved down the street and around a corner.

“But we still don’t know who it was that hired Bentley and that’s what we come here to find out.  Ain’t it?”

Just then, a carriage hurried by, carrying one passenger.  Rayford Bentley.  He hadn’t noticed the trio watching from the side of the crowded street as he called instructions to his driver.

“And that’s what I’m going to find out right now,” Heyes hoped.  “You two, meet me in about an hour or so.”

“Where you goin’?” Will called, as Heyes trotted back toward the office building.

“Fishing!”

Will looked puzzled and the Kid smiled.  “C’mon, Will.  I’m gonna explain to you the art of fishin’ for information — Hannibal Heyes style — over a piece of pie.”

***

Heyes entered the office quietly and smiled when Helena looked up.  “I was wondering, Miss Tucker.  If you haven’t eaten lunch yet, would you allow me to…”

Before Heyes had a chance to finish, Helena had her bag in hand.  “I’d love to, Mr. Smith.”

***

“…And I’ve been working for Mr. Bentley ever since.”  Helena dabbed at the corners of her mouth with a dainty napkin.  “My, that pastry was delicious!”

“Almost fifteen years?  That’s hard to believe, Miss Tucker, unless you began working for him when you were only a child.”  Heyes smiled.

Helena blushed.  “Mr. Smith, you are too kind.”  Her eyelashes began to flutter again, invitingly.

“Well, I’ll bet you’ve been working for Mr. Bentley long enough to remember the case of a friend of mine.  Ann Morgan.”

“Mr. Bentley’s criminal clients do NOT visit his private offices, Mr. Smith.  We never met.  However, I do remember Mrs. Morgan’s case.”  She rolled her eyes heavenward.  “How could I forget?”

Heyes sipped his tea and gave Helena another of his dazzling smiles.  “It was memorable?”

“You say Mrs. Morgan is a friend of yours, Mr. Smith?  I’d hate to be accused of divulging private information to outsiders.”

“Oh, yes.  Mrs. Morgan and I are very close.  Almost family, you might say.”

“Well, the case has been over and done with for so long already, I guess there’s no harm in my talking with you about it.  Especially now that Mr. Bentley seems to have recovered from the financial blow.”

“Financial blow?  I had no idea.  I was under the impression Mrs. Morgan’s case had been financed by some anonymous benefactor.”

Helena laughed.  “Only if you call Mr. Bentley himself the benefactor.  He footed the bill for her entire case himself.  It nearly sent him into bankruptcy.  Actually, now that I think about it, the case seemed so cut and dried.  I have no idea how the expenses ran so high.”

“Does Mr. Bentley take on many clients on a pro bono basis?”

“Not often at all.  I suspect he took on your friend’s case due to a connection he felt between his sister and Mrs. Morgan.”

“I didn’t realize Mr. Bentley had a sister.”

“Yes.  Mrs. Jessup.  Mr. Bentley took over the care of her son after she…when Mrs. Jessup no longer was able.  He absolutely adored his nephew, Gavin.  Sent him to a fine boarding school somewhere back east.  Put him through law school too.”  Helena sipped her tea.  “Both Mrs. Jessup and Mrs. Morgan were from Pine Ridge.  Both had been left with young sons to raise alone.”

“Mr. Bentley’s sister and Mrs. Morgan were friends?”

“I wouldn’t know.  Poor dear.  Mr. Bentley had his sister committed a number of years ago.  Even before Mrs. Morgan’s trial.

“Bentley’s sister wasn’t well?”

Helena shook her head.  “It seems Mrs. Jessup never recovered after her husband’s death.  He was killed in some sort of awful gun fight.”  Helena shuddered.  “Lost her mind.  Just kept slipping further and further from reality.”

***

While Heyes was busy “fishing,” Will and the Kid sampled some of Denver’s finest pie.

“You think he’ll find out who hired Bentley?”

“Heyes is pretty good at finding things out, Will.  If Miss Tucker knows anything, she’ll tell him.”

“You an’ him are good together, ya know?”

The Kid waited, allowing Will to speak his mind.

“I watched how you two handled that lawyer.  Heyes done most’a the talkin’, but you was right there, backin’ him up.  An’ when you put the pressure on Bentley, Heyes done the same for you.”

“There’s nothin’ me and Heyes wouldn’t do for each other.  We’re partners.  Have been for longer than I can remember.”

“Must be nice, havin’ somebody you can count on.”

The Kid noticed the longing that briefly passed across Will’s face and saw the boy just as quickly push the unbidden emotion away.  Will was only sixteen and was basically alone in the world.  At least when they were that age, he and Heyes had had each other to lean on.   A flood of guilt washed over him.  He should have been the one his son could count on.  He would like to be now, if Will would let him, but the chances of that seemed slim.

“How come you done it?” Will startled Curry from his thoughts.

“Done what?”

“The stealin’.”

Curry gave a quiet laugh.  “Been tryin’ to figure that out for about twenty years now, Will.  Haven’t come up with a good answer yet.”  He pushed his empty plate forward and leaned back in his chair, his voice taking on a tone of nostalgia.  “What I can tell ya is, we were good at it!  It just came so natural, so easy!  After the first time or two, we were hooked.  Didn’t seem to be any turnin’ back.”

“But you did.  You an’ Heyes quit.  Tried for amnesty.”

“Eventually, yeah.  It gets tough lookin’ over yer shoulder all the time, knowin’ you can’t trust anyone.”  As he spoke, the Kid read understanding in his son’s eyes, born of his own life experience.

“But you trusted my ma?”

The Kid leaned forward, resting his arms on the table.  “Next to Heyes, your ma’s the only one I ever trusted.”

“Then how come ya left?”

It was the question the Kid had dreaded.  How could he explain?  How much could he leave out about the last night he’d seen Ann Morgan and still be honest with his son?

“It was your ma who left, Will, but I was the one who pushed her to it.”  He winced with the pain of the bitter memory.  “I had a price on my head.  I had nothin’ to give your ma.  Nothin’ but trouble.  One day I guess she finally figured that out and then…she left.  I s’pose she figured both of you would be better off without me.”

Heyes entered, leaning on the table.  “You two ready to go?”

***

It was late in the afternoon when Heyes, the Kid and Will rode back to Louise’s Place.  Heyes talked as they rode, sharing all the information Miss Tucker had told him.

“Jessup.  That’s what she said.  You remember anyone by that name from Pine Ridge, Will?”

Will shook his head.

Curry pulled his horse to a stop.  “Heyes.”

Heyes turned in his saddle to look back at Kid Curry.  “Somethin’ wrong?”

A shadow passed across Curry’s face.  Again, memories of the past resurfaced.

“I’m gonna kill you, Curry!” the angry voice echoed.

The Kid turned.  Seeing the wild look on the man’s face, gun in hand, aimed in his direction, it was a choice.  Kill or be killed.  Curry drew and fired.

The once quiet street suddenly filled with people coming from every direction.  Whispers of, “Heyes and Curry!…Never seen nothin’ so fast!” mingled with, “Killed him outright!”  or  “Fair fight!”

But the world seemed to stop when the accusing eyes of a young boy met the Kid’s.  “You killed my Pa!”

“Kid?  What’s wrong?” Heyes asked again, with his horse pulled up next to his partner’s.

“Jessup.  That was the name of the man.  The one from Pine Ridge.”  Curry’s eyes met Heyes’.  “I killed him.”

“I don’t get it.  What’s goin’ on?” Will asked, but slowly gained his own understanding as the conversation between Heyes and Curry continued.

“You think Bentley knows who we really are?” the Kid asked Heyes.

“I’d say that’s a safe bet.  And he definitely knows Will is Ann’s son.”

Both turned to look at Will.

“And somehow over the years, he’s figured out that you’re Will’s father,” Heyes ventured.

The Kid picked up Heyes’ thought process.  “And I’m the one responsible for killin’ Jessup, the husband of Bentley’s sister, and for causin’ his sister to lose her mind.”  He rubbed a regretful hand over his face.  “But he couldn’t find me, so when the opportunity presented itself, he took his revenge out on Ann.”

***

Curry sat alone on the porch of Louise’s Place.  The cool night air was a welcome relief after the heat of the day.  The sky was clear, except for the cloud hanging heavy over Curry’s head.  The unearthing of bad decisions from his past was leaving him with serious misgivings about any choices he might make in the future.

Jessup was dead.  Jessup’s wife, committed.  He wondered what had happened to their son, but feared the answer.

Ann had been convicted of murder.  Will had grown up without either parent to count on.  How many more cruel realities had been the result of his bad judgment?

“You killed a lotta men?”  Will’s voice broke through the gloom.

“Some,” he answered honestly.

“You sorry you done it?”

The Kid looked Will directly in the eye.  “Will, killin’ even one man is one man too many.”  He looked away and finished in a whisper.  “I regret it every day.”

“I done some things I regret too,” Will pulled a chair next to the Kid’s and fell silent.

It was evident Kid Curry was not the man Will had envisioned when he’d first set out to find him.  He had expected  an evil demon, who had taken advantage of his mother, then, tossed her aside without a second thought. Instead, he found a man not so different from himself. A man who had made choices.  Hard ones.  Some good, some bad, some with an impact that lasted a lifetime.  He also found a man who seemed to care about his mother, and maybe, about him too.

Would Will have chosen differently, if faced with those same decisions?  Would he have killed a man who was aiming to kill him?  Would he have stayed to raise a son, knowing if he stayed he’d be facing twenty years in prison?

They were questions that would remain forever unresolved.  But maybe, somewhere in the grey area between the black and white of wrong and right, just maybe there was some small hope for redemption.

“My ma wrote you a letter.”

“Louise said as much.”

“How come ya never asked to see it?”

Curry shrugged.  “Figured I’d wait.  Hoped you’d decide to show it to me on your own.”

Will reached in his vest pocket, removing a large envelope.  “I hated you for a long time.  Even wanted you dead.”

Curry closed his eyes.  His son had made that much perfectly clear.

Will extended the letter toward Curry.  “I regret that now.”

The Kid accepted the letter and sat, quietly holding it.  A peace offering from his son.

“Will, I done a lot ‘a things I regret in this life.  Killin’, robbin’, hurtin’ your ma more ways than I care to count.  But nothin’, nothin’ I regret more, than missin’ out on knowin’ you.”

Will nodded and went back inside.

The Kid was left alone again, Ann’s letters in his lap.  He opened the large envelope that was addressed to Louise.  Three letters and one small piece of paper tumbled out.

The paper was the note he’d left with Louise so many years before, telling Ann she would be able to reach him through Lom.  The first letter was the one Ann wrote to Louise, the second, to Will.  The Kid held the final letter nervously.

Louise said Ann had written it before the judge handed down his sentence.  She would have written it, thinking it might be the last night of her life.  The letter suddenly became even more precious.

Jedediah Curry

He laughed quietly.  Ann had never called him anything but “Kid.”  It was strange to see his given name written in her hand.  He traced his fingers across it slowly, remembering as he did, everything he loved about Ann Morgan, her gentle touch, her soft voice, the way she made him feel like he was worth something.

Dear Kid,

There’s something I should have told you a long time ago.

He closed his eyes remembering Ann’s face, knowing already the truth her letter would reveal.

We have a son, Kid, you and me.  His name is Will and he’s perfect.  A lot like you in some ways.  A lot like me in others. Anyway, I done my best up to now, but it wasn’t good enough.

Not good enough?  Judging by Will’s obvious love for his mother, the Kid decided Ann’s parenting skills had been more than adequate.

They tell me this here letter might be the last chance I get to fess up and say I’m sorry.  Since I been here, I’ve had lots of time to regret every mistake I ever made.  I done some things to be truly sorry for.

I’m sorry I never told you about Will.  My reasons seemed pretty good to me at the time, but I was wrong.

I’m sorry for the poor job I done at being Will’s ma.  He deserved a better ma than the one he got.  He’s the best thing that ever come into my life.

I feel bad about a load of other things I done, but I don’t know as I’d do no different, if I had a chance to do them over.  Maybe that means I ain’t truly sorry for them things, or maybe they just ain’t worth mentioning no more.

What I ain’t sorry for, is letting Ike Gordon die.  Not after what he done to you.  He got what he deserved.  And tomorrow morning, the judge will see to it I get what I deserve.

Truth is, Kid, I’m scared.  I don’t want to die, but the thought of going to prison, well, I’m just thinking, hanging might not be so bad.  I’m hoping you can understand that.  I don’t think nobody else would, except maybe Heyes.

The Kid ran a hand across his face, the truth of Ann’s words hitting home.

Sometimes I think what life would have been like if I done things different, if you done things different.  Guess that don’t matter now.  Will is the only one who matters. And he’ll be needing you.  I hope this letter somehow finds you, so you can find him.

I always loved you, Kid.  I ain’t sorry for that neither.
Love, Ann

He let the letter drop.  Ann Morgan.  He’d loved her from the start.  He never told her, but at the time he had figured somehow, she just knew.  Now, he wished, just once, he’d spoken the words.

***

“I’m turnin’ in fer the night, Heyes.”  Louise finished wiping down the last table and placed both hands on her hips, stretching the aching muscles of her lower back.  “Say g’night to the Kid for me.”

“I’ll do that, Louise,” Heyes nodded.  “Soon as he gets back.  Said he was going for a walk shortly after Will went up to bed.  He hasn’t come back yet.”

Louise crossed the empty saloon to the window, where Heyes sat.  His foot rested on the window sill, his chair tipped back on two legs.  He stared out into the night, as if the answer to every question lay here, on Second Street.

Louise rested a hand on his silky dark hair before she bent, as a mother would, to place a kiss atop his head.  “Don’t stay up too late, ya hear?” she admonished, before heading toward the stairs.

“Louise?”

The older woman turned to look at him.

“Who do you think killed Ike Gordon?”

Louise sighed and returned to the table with Heyes.  “Figured you’d get around to askin’ me that sooner or later.  It wasn’t Ann if that’s what you’re gettin’ at.”  Her eyes warned him against even considering the possibility.  “I always figured it was that stranger.  The one that was in the saloon that night.  He won all Ike’s money playin’ poker, then beat him to the draw.  Shoo’ed Ike outta here with his tail ‘tween his legs.  Ike wouldn’t’a took kindly ta that.  He’d’a been waitin’ when the stranger left.  Just like he was waitin’ for you and the Kid long ago.”

“That’s my theory too.”  He placed a gentle hand over Louise’s, assuring her he also believed in Ann’s innocence.  “You don’t know who he was?”

“Don’t know his name.  That night was the only time I seen him.”

“Do you think you’d know him if you saw him again?”

“I think so,” Louise nodded.  “What I remember most was his smile.  Kinda scary smile, if ya ask me.  An’ he talked fancy, like he weren’t from ’round here.”

“What else can you tell me about him?”

Louise continued to think hard, closing her eyes, trying to recall each detail of that fateful night.  “He was young.  Too young to be as good as he was at poker.  An’ too young to be drawin’ that gun quick as he did.  Near as fast as the Kid.”

***

The horses had been fed and watered.  The stalls had been cleaned.  It was well past sunset when Les Hanley got ready to leave the livery.  A sound behind him caused him to turn.  He never saw it coming.  The piece of lumber hit him with enough force to kill him.  The assailant dragged him into an empty stall and made sure the job was finished.  A knife slit Les’ throat.

The livery door was standing open when Luther came looking for his brother.  “Hello?” he called.  No answer.  “Les?  You still here?”  Silence.  He was just about to lock the door, certain his brother had simply forgotten again, when he saw movement in the barn’s dark interior.  “Les, that you?”

The color drained from Luther’s face as a figure moved into a beam of moonlight, and recognition set in.

The stranger smiled.  “Hello, Luther.”

Luther nodded.  “I remember you, mister, but I don’t know your name.”

“It has been a long time.  But my name doesn’t really matter, does it?  I haven’t seen you since,” he smiled again and pushed the livery door shut, “since the night your friend Ike Gordon met his unfortunate demise.”

“Me and Les never said nothin’!  We figured it might’a been you that killed Ike, but we kept our mouths shut.  We didn’t have no proof.”

“Yet you gave testimonies stating Mrs. Morgan killed your friend.  Why?”

“It was that lawyer, Bentley.  He said he’d be willin’ to pay good money if we was to help him put Ann Morgan away.”

“I do hope he paid you and your brother well for your bearing of false witness.”

“He paid real good, mister.  ‘Nough to buy us this livery and then some.  ‘Nough we’re livin’ comfortable.”  Luther chuckled.  “Hear what he paid us near put Bentley bankrupt though!  Pretty stupid of him, huh?”

The smiling stranger rubbed his chin and mumbled to himself more than to Luther, “Stupid, yes.”  Then, he looked back at Luther again.  “Why do you suppose a lawyer like Mr. Bentley would want to see someone like Mrs. Morgan suffer?  She was a young widow, with a son to raise.  She’d never done anything to hurt Bentley, had she?”

“We never knew, mister.  An’ we never cared.  Just did what Bentley wanted and he paid us.  Worked out pretty good for you too, huh?  Seein’ as how our testimonies put you in the clear.”

“They did.  And I’m grateful.  Eternally.  But now, it seems Mrs. Morgan has escaped from prison.  She could even be on her way here, to seek her revenge on you and your brother as we speak.”  He moved closer to Luther.  “And it seems Mrs. Morgan has friends in town, asking questions about the night Ike Gordon was murdered.”

“We never told Heyes and Curry your name, mister.  Heck, I don’t even know your name, remember?  Me an’ Les never said nothin’.”

“Heyes and Curry?”

“Mrs. Morgan’s friends that’s askin’ the questions.”

“Ah, yes.  And as I said, I‘m grateful, Luther.  I just want to be sure you and your brother will continue to keep your silence.  Eternally.”

With the quick flash of a metal blade, Luther joined his brother, face down in the stall, their blood seeping into the livery’s dirt floor.

The story continues in Regrets – Part Three – An Unwritten Future.

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

August 2009

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