Judgment Day



by Neetz



The quiet tedium of the afternoon was violently broken by the most terrifying experience that can happen in a mining community like Windfall -- a cave-in. It began as a rumble, starting deep within the earth, reverberating and growing louder each second. For the people above ground, it was the beginning of long days of horror and despair, of hysteria and weeping. For those below in the mine, it was a living nightmare lasting only seconds that would be with them for the rest of their lives. For five of them, it was the rest of their lives.

The first long night was spent in digging out the injured and the dead. Only three men had been in the lower levels of the shaft. They probably never even knew what was happening. Several who had been nearer the main entrance had managed to scramble out, but at least ten more were unaccounted for. A few feet inside the shaft they found Toby Wilkins. He had almost made it, but only steps short of safety, one of the huge timbers had fallen on him, crushing out his life.

Hope diminished as the night wore on, until miraculously eight men were found in a clear pocket. Many were injured, but they were all alive. That was more than could be said for Alfred Cable. The body of the young mining inspector was found as dawn broke over the bleak hills. Everyone was accounted for except the three men who had been working deep in the shaft. It would take days, maybe longer, to reach them, and everyone already knew it was useless. There was no hope that the men were alive and little chance that the mine could be reopened profitably.

On the second day after the disaster, services were held for the four miners. The body of Alfred Cable was shipped to his family in Cheyenne. Four women were left widows and fourteen children fatherless, but the little town of Windfall had only one body to bury.

George Prescott, owner of the Prescott Mining Company, declared that a monument would be erected at the mouth of the mine to the memory of those who died there. No one would ever work that particular shaft again. He spoke kindly and, with a voice that cracked with grief, he said his heart was heavy with responsibility for this tragedy and that he would see to it that the families of the men were provided for. The people of Windfall were sympathetic and thanked God for a man like George Prescott.

After the service, Prescott walked back to his office, closed the door and pulled down the shades. He pulled out a file and leafed through it until he found the paper he wanted. He held up the insurance policy and smiled. Amazing what a couple of sticks of dynamite would do, he thought. Not only had it got rid of that nosey mining inspector, it would net the grieving owner $50,000 from the Midwest Insurance Company for a mine that had been tapped out months ago. George Prescott was very pleased with himself.

***

The afternoon had turned cool, a sure sign of the coming of winter, and the north wind whipped in the door as the stranger stepped into the office stirring the papers on George Prescott's desk.

"What is it?" he asked irritably, clutching at his flying papers, until his eyes fell on the lovely young woman who had just entered. She was dressed in a creamy peach colored dress, trimmed in white lace that revealed the shapeliness of her form. Her hair was dark brown and wavy as it lay loose upon her shoulders. The most prominent features of her face were her blue eyes. They seemed to sparkle and dance as she gazed at him. It was at that very first moment George Prescott knew he had to have her.

"Are you Mr. Prescott?" she asked and he nodded mutely. "I've come to apply for the position."

A long silence ensued. Then Prescott realized it was his turn in the conversation. "Ah, yes, uh, the position," he mumbled.

"You did place an ad in the Windfall Gazette for a secretary?" she asked politely, only the slight upturn of the corners of her mouth revealed her amusement at his befuddlement.

"Yes, of course," he jumped to his feet to offer her a chair. "Miss?"

"My name is Gail, Gail Brown," she replied demurely.

"Ah, what are your qualifications, Miss Brown?" He didn't care, but he knew he was expected to ask.

"I'm afraid I haven't much experience, except that I used to help my father keep his books."

"And what kind of business was your father in?"

"He owned a mercantile back in Ohio."

"Ohio? Well, you certainly are a long way from home. What brought you to Wyoming?" He patted his forehead with his handkerchief. Suddenly the room had become much warmer.

"Like so many others, Mr. Prescott, my father thought he could do better in the new frontier. We had heard so many stories of the wealth and fertility of the land so we packed up and came."

"Where are your parents now?"

She lowered her head. "They passed on a while back. Since then, I've lived on what money I had, but now it's running low and I need a job."

He came around the desk, leaned against it and took her hand. "Then you shall have a job, as my personal secretary." At his emphasis on the word "personal" her eyes met his. What he saw was not the innocence her appearance bespoke, but a fire that seemed to ignite his soul. She placed her other hand over his and smiled at the arousal her touch had engendered.

"When may I start?" she asked.

"Ah, is tomorrow too soon?"

"Tomorrow would be perfect. What time should I report?"

"At seven. I'm afraid I have a lot of paperwork to catch up on so the hours may be long at first."

"Oh, I don't mind long hours, Mr. Prescott," she reassured him. Rising, she gently extricated her hands from his. "Until then?" she turned back at the door to face him.

"Until then, Miss Brown."

"Gail," she flashed her eyes at him.

"All right," he replied, "if you will call me George."

"Only when we're alone. It wouldn't be proper for your secretary to address you by your given name in public." Her tone belied the modesty of her words.

"Of course."

"I'll see you at seven then, George." She slipped through the door and was gone. Prescott reached for his handkerchief again to dab at the perspiration on his upper lip. He sat back down at his desk and tried to turn his attention to his work, but found it impossible. George Prescott had two vices in life: he loved to gamble and he couldn't resist a pretty girl. Right now, all he could do was contemplate the next morning at seven when Miss Gail Brown would once again walk through that door.

At that moment, the lady in question crossed the street from Prescott's office and walked about a block to the boarding house where she had taken a room. Smiling pleasantly at the middle-aged woman who ran the place, she walked briskly up the stairs and, turning her key in the lock, went into her room. A dark-haired man rose from his seat near the window where he had been watching the street.

"How'd it go?" he asked.

"No problems," she smiled. "I even surprised myself. I think I can safely say that our Mr. Prescott is nibbling at the bait."

He frowned, "Just as long as nibble is all he does."

She laughed. "Don't worry, sweetheart. I can take care of myself. Besides, if everything goes according to plan, all I'll have to put up with is a little groping."

"As long as it goes according to plan," he replied.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled his head down until his lips met hers. "It will," she assured him. "After all, it's not just any plan. It's a Hannibal Heyes plan."

He smiled. "Damned straight, Brandy. Why should I worry? I'm a genius." The smile became a devilish grin. "Besides, if he tried anything, you could probably beat the tar out of him."

"Damned straight!" she replied and they both laughed.

***

"Gail Brown" had worked for George Prescott for only two days, but she knew he was hooked. She had been openly encouraging to his advances, teasing in their conversation, and had presented him with every opportunity to admire her natural endowments from bending over in her flagrantly low-cut dress to faking a twisted ankle. She had been properly grateful when he offered to massage it for her. They were so engaged when someone knocked at the office door.

"Am I intruding?" asked the well-dressed gentleman that leaned his head inside.

"Of course not, sir," replied Prescott, quickly rising as his secretary discretely moved back to her desk. "What may I do for you?"

"My name is Joshua Smith. My uncle is Theobald Walsh. I'm sure you've heard of him."

"Why, of course, Mr. Smith. The Walsh interests include mining stock in companies all across the state, including my own. Come in and have a seat. What brings you here?"

"Well, Uncle Theo was concerned with your recent mine tragedy at shaft number eight and he sent me to personally check into how it will effect the financial position of your company."

"I can assure you, Mr. Smith, that while the cave-in was a blow to the community and to myself personally, the financial position of Prescott Mines is much too solid to be shaken by the closing of one shaft."

"That's good to hear, sir. I trust, however, that you will have no objections to my taking a look at your books, on behalf of my uncle's interest, of course.

"I would be happy to show you anything you wish. My secretary, Miss Brown, will assist you."

He looked toward her and nodded. "I'm certain she will be most helpful."

Prescott cleared his throat, a flash of possessiveness coursing through him at the way this other man was looking at his secretary.

Smith turned back to Prescott. "I can see you are a man who enjoys the finer things in life. I wonder if you might be of further assistance to me in a more personal area."

"In what way?" Prescott asked warily.

"I enjoy a good game of poker now and then, but of a higher calibre than one can find in a saloon. Would you know of a few gentlemen who could be persuaded to join me in a private game?"

"I certainly do," Prescott smiled in delight. "There are a few wealthy ranchers who live not far from here. We get together quite often for a little game. I'm sure they wouldn't mind if I invited you... and your pocketbook... along."

"Splendid, just send me word of the details. I'm staying at the Morgan House Hotel. I'll be back tomorrow to borrow your Miss Brown and your ledgers. Good day to you, sir." He tipped his hat as he turned away.

"Good day, Mr. Smith."

Before he could reach the door, it was opened by a tall, slender woman, middle-aged but still handsome, her long blonde hair pulled back severely into a bun at the back of her head. Smith held the door for her as she entered.

"Ah, Mary, come in, darling," Prescott's tone rang phoney. "Mr. Smith, this is Mrs. Prescott."

"I'm pleased to meet you, Mrs. Prescott," Smith responded with a nod as he took her hand.

"Mr. Smith is the nephew of Theobald Walsh, a major stockholder in our company."

"Then you're here on business, Mrs. Smith?"

"Yes, ma'am. Concerning the recent tragedy."

"Yes, it was a terrible thing. Those poor women and children who lost their menfolk. My heart just goes out to them."

"From what I've heard, you and your husband have done a lot to help them."

She looked toward her husband with an expression that surprised Smith in its coldness. "We can never do enough to make up for what they've lost."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied as he shot a quick glance at Prescott's secretary and saw she too had noticed the silent exchange.

"George, is this your new secretary?" Mary Prescott looked toward the younger woman. "She's lovely."

"Indeed," added Smith, admiringly. Miss Brown blushed appropriately.

"Yes, forgive my bad manners, my dear. This is Miss Gail Brown."

"I'm so glad to meet you, Mrs. Prescott," she responded as the woman's gaze narrowed at her.

Smith cleared his throat. "If you will forgive me, Mrs. Prescott, I was about to say good day when you arrived."

"Certainly, Mr. Smith. Please come by our home some evening for dinner before you leave town."

"I will look forward to it," he replied as he replaced his hat and opened the door. "Until tomorrow, Mr. Prescott, Miss Brown." Then, he left.

"Quite a nice young man," commented Mrs. Prescott as the door closed. "He seemed to have an eye for you, my dear," she smiled at her husband's secretary.

"Be that as it may," muttered Prescott, irritably. "What is it you want, Mary? We do have quite a bit of work to do."

"I'm sorry, dear, but I just dropped by the meet Miss Brown here and invite her over for lunch some afternoon."

"That would be very nice, Mrs. Prescott," she replied. "I'd love to."

"Then, what do you say to Monday?"

"Fine," she smiled at the older woman.

Prescott quickly hustled his wife out of the office and turned his attentions once again to his secretary.

"Gail," he moved closer to her. "You know I'm a married man, but what you may not know is that I am not a happily married man. It's been a long time since there was anything between my wife and myself."

She put her hand to his cheek. "My poor George."

"Gail, I care for you," his breathing was heavier as he caught her hand in his. "I have no right, but I can't help myself. You're... you're in my blood."

"Oh, George, darling, I feel the same way."

He looked at her in amazement.

"You do?"

"Yes, and it's shameless, I know, but I've always been attracted to strong, powerful men. A girl in my position, all alone in the world, can't afford to be timid about her feelings. I want you too." She leaned against him running her hand down his arm and back up again.

"Gail!" he almost leaped for joy.

She turned her lips to his ear and whispered. "Come to my room at the boarding house tonight, late, after your wife has gone to sleep. I'll be waiting for you." Then she planted a soft kiss on the earlobe.

"Oh, my sweet Gail, I'll be there. I'll be there." He hugged her to him.

"Oh, George," she sighed, but the unseen smile on her face was full of mischief.

***

It was very late indeed when Prescott finally knocked softly at his secretary's door. She opened it quickly, he slipped inside and they were instantly in each other's arms.

"Oh, my darling," he crooned. "I've longed to hold you like this."

"George," she breathed heavily, then he kissed her passionately.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. It was no louder than any normal knock, but in the silence of the late hour, it seemed to thunder.

"You weren't expecting anyone were you?" he asked.

"Only you," she replied.

"What do we do?" he asked in fright.

"You stay out of sight behind the door and I'll get rid of whoever it is."

He nodded and slid into position as she straightened her clothing and opened the door just a crack.

"Yes? What do you want? Do you realize the hour?"

"I'm here to see your friend, Prescott," growled the stranger as he roughly pushed the door open, flinging the girl down on the bed. He slammed the door and faced the mine owner, who stood cringing against the wall.

"What do you want?" Prescott asked.

"I got some business with you, Mr. Prescott."

"These are hardly business hours, young man," Prescott replied indignantly.

"I realize it's not the kind of business you intended to take care of," he glanced toward Miss Brown, a gleam of amusement in his eye, "but the time and place suit me."

"Get out of my room, you ruffian!" shouted the girl.

"When I'm through," he replied. He turned back to Prescott. "You see, George, old boy, I happen to know a little about the cave in at Mine Shaft 8. I know, for instance, that it wasn't an accident."

Prescott went white. "What are you talking about?"

"Oh, you know what I'm talking about, George. I can prove it too, and I will unless I'm persuaded not to."

"Blackmail!" the secretary said with disgust.

"Smart little playmate you got here, George," the man nodded appreciatively.

"I s-still don't know what you're t-talking about," stammered Prescott.

"Come off it, George. I got the goods and if you don't want to hang for murder, you'll pay me. I figure it's worth at least a hundred thousand to a wealthy man like you."

"A hundred thousand!" Prescott shouted. "How could I get that kind of money?"

"You're rich, George, and so's your old lady. I'm sure you won't have any trouble."

"Who are you?" he demanded.

"Name's Jones, Thaddeus Jones. Not that it makes any difference."

"Well, Mr. Jones, you are sadly mistaken if you think you can blackmail me," Prescott's hand trembled as he straightened his tie, giving away his fear.

Jones walked threateningly up to Prescott. "You're the one who's making the mistake, George, if you don't take me seriously."

At that moment a vase came crashing down on the back of Jones' neck. He grimaced then sagged to the floor. Prescott looked up from the unconscious form to see his secretary standing with the broken neck of the vase still in her hands.

"Tie him up, quickly," she ordered. Stunned, Prescott did not move. "George!"

"Oh, yes, of course," he replied and took the curtain sashes from her hand and proceeded to do as she told him. "What are we going to do?"

"We're going to get rid of him," she replied.

"How?" he asked as he finished tying the knots.

"We're going to kill him," she replied coldly.

"But..."

"We have no choice. If he tells his tory, you'll be ruined at the very least. If he really has proof against you, you could be hanged. I won't let that happen." She put her arms around him. "I love you, George," she pulled him close and kissed him.

"Gail, I..."

"There's no time now. Get a horse, tie it in the alley behind the house, then come back up and help me get him down the back stairs."

"But what it someone sees?"

"No one will. We'll be careful. Now go!"

She opened the door and practically pushed him out. As soon as she was sure he was gone, she turned back to the still form on the floor. She bent down and put her hand on his brow. "Kid? You all right?"

He rolled over and smiled up at her. "You bet. You were great, Brandy." She untied his hands and he reached back and pulled out the board hidden down the back of his shirt to absorb the impact. "I didn't feel a thing."

"Everything's going according to plan so far," she replied. At that moment there came a gentle tap at the door. "It's Heyes," she said recognizing the signal. She moved quickly an opened the door.

"He's on his way to the stable. Let's move," he said as he motioned the Kid toward the bed. They reached below it, pulled out a bundle and rolled it in the throw rug on the floor, then tied it securely. Heyes lifted it for the feel. "Weight's okay, but it doesn't feel quite like a body."

"Don't worry," replied Brandy. "He's so nervous he'll never notice." She pointed to the door. "You two better get out of here fast. He'll be back any minute." Heyes nodded as he and the Kid quickly headed out the door.

Minutes later, Prescott reappeared. "The horse is out back." He notice the bundle on the floor.

"You grab that end and I'll take this one," she commanded. He glanced toward the door with a worried expression. "No one will see, George. Now hurry!"

He did as he was told and together they carried the bundle down the stairs and to the alley. Once it was loaded on the horse, she led the way as they moved toward the outskirts of town.

"Where are we taking him?" asked Prescott.

"To Mine Shaft 8," she replied. "We'll bury him there. No one will ever know."

"I-I don't know if I can kill him, Gail," he stuttered.

"You don't have to," she replied. "I took care of that while you were gone for the horse."

"You mean he's already..."

"Yes," she nodded. "I smothered him."

Once they reached the mine it didn't take long for them to do their grisly job. As they returned their shovels to the supply hut, Prescott turned to Gail Brown. "Gail, I don't know what to say."

She took hold of his hand. "Just say you love me, darling. That some day we'll be together."

"You did all this because you love me?" he asked in disbelief.

She took his face in her hands and kissed him. "I'd do anything for you, George. What do I have to do to prove it? I just killed a man for you, didn't I?"

He wrapped his arms around her. "Oh, my darling, how could I ever be so lucky?"

"There's no time now," she pulled away. "Get the horse back, then you get home. I'll be in the office at seven as usual. Remember, nothing has happened."

"All right," he replied. She flashed him one last smile then moved quickly back toward town. He paused for only a moment, then did the same.

Just out of sight of the mine, Brandy turned into the covering brush where her two confederates were crouched. "How'd it go?" asked Heyes.

"Perfect," she answered. "He'll trust me with anything now."

"Good. Tomorrow morning we initiate phase two."

***

Seven o'clock the next morning, George Prescott walked into his office trying to maintain a casual air. There he found his secretary as he had expected and something he hadn't expected, Joshua Smith.

"Good morning, Mr. Prescott. Thought I'd get an early start on the books. Hope you don't mind."

"Of course not, Mr. Smith," he replied as he hung up his hat and coat. "I trust you are finding everything in order?"

"So far. Just as I expected. I'm sure there will be nothing but good news to report to Uncle Theo." He stood up from the desk. "By the way, were you able to arrange that little game we discussed?"

Prescott smiled. "As a matter of fact, it's on for tonight, if you're free."

"Always for something of such importance. Where and when?"

"At my house at six. Be prepared, though. We often play until dawn."

"Wonderful. And how much should I bring along?"

Prescott chuckled. "That depends on how much you plan to lose. The buy-in is $25,000."

Smith's eyes seemed to sparkle. "That's perfect. Now, I must get back to the books so I'll be done in time."

The rest of the day was spent with Smith going over the ledgers. Finally, unable to get a moment alone with his secretary, Prescott declared that he was leaving.

"I'll just be a few minutes longer, then I'll go to my hotel and freshen up and be at your place at six," Smith assured him.

"Fine," replied Prescott. "Miss Brown, would you mind locking up after Mr. Smith leaves?"

"Not at all, sir," she replied formally. They exchanged a meaningful glance before the mine owner went out the door.

"Now there goes one frustrated man," remarked Heyes. "Did he manage to say anything to you at all?"

"Not really," Brandy replied. "He's a careful man, but he's obviously not over his scare of last night."

"That's good. We want to keep him jumpy so long as he has confidence in you."

"Why shouldn't he? After all, I love him enough to kill a man to protect him," she smiled.

"Have you been able to find anything in the files?"

She shook her head. "Not a thing to implicate him in the cave-in. Like I said, he's careful. He covered his tracks well."

"Then, we proceed with the plan."

"Good luck tonight," she said as she gave him a kiss.

"You're all the luck I ever need, sweetheart," he replied, then leaned in for another.

***

The clock in the library struck four in the morning as the group of men continued their play. By the pile of bills before him, it was obvious that Joshua Smith was the current winner and by the same indication it was equally obvious that George Prescott was down to his last few dollars. Everyone had folded but these two. Prescott held a full house, aces and eights, and was sure Smith was bluffing. He had already gone to his safe and taken out more money to cover his bets. Now $5,000 was all he had left and it would take all of it to call Smith. With one last look at the cards in his hand, he pushed the stack of bills into the pot.

"Call," he said.

"Are you sure, Mr. Prescott?" asked Smith. "It looks like you're having an awful run of luck."

"Not this time," he smiled as he displayed his hand. "I think you'll have a hard time beating that."

Smith smiled. "Not so hard as you might think, Mr. Prescott." He laid out his cards, "Four little deuces."

Prescott's eyes bulged as he watched Smith rake in the pot. He laughed nervously, mopping at his face with his much used handkerchief. "I guess you're right, Mr. Smith. My luck is running a little bad tonight."

"Let's hope it stops here at the poker table," Smith remarked.

Prescott jumped. "What do you mean?"

"Well, Mr. Prescott, you're not superstitious are you?"

"Not particularly, why?"

Smith pointed at Prescott's cards. "Aces and eights, that's the hand Bill Hickock was holding when he was murdered. They call it the deadman's hand."

Prescott began to sweat all over again.

"I hope your personal affairs are in order," Smith said jokingly as he raised his glass in toast.

Prescott found it difficult to smile as he raised his own glass.

***

"It's five-thirty in the morning, George. What are you doing here? What's wrong?"

"I just needed to talk to someone, Gail. Please, let me in."

She drew back from the door.

"What's happened?" she asked.

"I just lost fifty thousand to that nephew of Walsh's."

"Fifty thousand!" she echoed. "How could you lose so much?"

"I just couldn't stop betting. When I'm nervous or upset, I lose my control."

"But you're wealthy, George. You can afford it, can't you?"

"Are you kidding?" he slumped into a chair. "The company is bankrupt. I've been living off Mary's inheritance for the last two years."

"But the books. I watched Mr. Smith go over them. He couldn't find a discrepancy."

"I covered myself."

She knelt on the floor in front of him and took his hand. "Is that why you caused the mine cave-in?"

He started to instantly deny it, but he desperately needed to tell someone and Gail loved him. "Yes. It was the only way. I had to have the insurance money to cover the debts. And that young mining inspector had just about figured out that Number 8 was worthless. I couldn't let that report get out."

"So you made it look like an accident." He nodded. "How?" she asked.

"It didn't take much. I went down the night before and sabotaged some of the bracings. Then I set a small charge way down below, just enough to start the chain reaction. I set the timer for when I knew Cable would be below."

"That makes it premeditated murder, George," her tone was becoming cold. "And you didn't even care how many miners you took along, did you?"

"It was the only way. Don't you see? Oh, Gail, you have to understand."

"I understand, George." She stood and crossed the room to the curtained off closet. "How about you, sheriff? Do you understand?" She pulled back the cloth to reveal two men, one of which was Joe Freeman, Windfall's sheriff.

"Yes, ma'am," he leveled his gun at Prescott. "I think we've heard quite enough."

She turned back and looked at Prescott as he stood stunned in the center of the room.

"Wait a minute," Prescott began. "Who are you?"

"Let's just say someone who wanted to see justice done."

"Justice! But that Jones fellow. You killed him! I know. We buried the body..." he stopped when he realized what he was saying was incriminating him even more.

"Don't worry, George. You won't be held accountable for that one." She went to the front door and opened it. In from the hall stepped Joshua Smith and very much alive Thaddeus Jones. Prescott looked as if he were about to faint.

"You were all in on this!"

"Yes, George, we were," replied the Kid.

"Why? What did I ever do to you?"

"They were helping me, Mr. Prescott," said the man standing with the sheriff.

"And who are you?"

"My name is Amos Cable. Alfred was my brother."

Prescott reached for the chair and sat down. He lowered his face into his hands and cried.

***

Almost two weeks had passed since the arrest of George Prescott for the murder of Alfred Cable and four miners. Kid Curry, Hannibal Heyes and his wife Brandy sat nervously in the outer offices of the governor of Wyoming. The door to the governor's private office opened and Sheriff Lom Trevers motioned for them to step inside.

"Governor Moonlight, may I present Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry."

"I am pleased to meet you, gentlemen," replied the former Kansas farmer as he shook their hands. He looked past the two outlaws at Brandy. Heyes noticed the look and reached back for her.

"This is my wife, governor, Abigail."

"I am very pleased to meet you, Mrs. Heyes," he offered his hand to her also.

"Sheriff Trevers and Amos here have been telling me about this Prescott business. I understand he will be going on trial soon."

"Yes, sir," confirmed Trevers.

"It wouldn't have been possible without these three," offered Cable.

"I'm glad my suggestion worked out," Moonlight smiled with satisfaction.

"It was your idea, sir?" asked the Kid.

"Yes, Mr. Curry."

"It's true," Cable confirmed. "Alfred had told me he suspected Prescott of altering his books. He meant to prove that the company's holdings were worth a lot less than Prescott was claiming. After the cave-in and after I found out about the insurance policy, I came to the governor with my suspicions."

"Amos has been my aide for a long time," Moonlight patted the young man on the back. "He's like a son to me. After I heard the story, I suggested he contact you through Sheriff Trevers. I knew if anyone could get the goods on Prescott, it would be you."

"We had no idea what it was all about when Lom sent for me to meet with an assistant to the governor," Brandy admitted. "But after hearing your story, Amos, I knew we couldn't refuse to help. The boys felt the same way."

"You all put a lot on the line to bring Prescott to justice. This administration is grateful and we're not the only ones."

"You're not?" Heyes asked puzzled.

"I informed the president of Midwest Insurance Company that it was through your efforts that his money was recovered. With the fifty thousand dollars back in his hands, he felt very benevolent. Now Midwest Insurance is the parent company of Midwest Railroads, one of those offering a reward for the capture of you two. That reward has been withdrawn."

Heyes, Brandy and the Kid all exchanged astonished glances. "You mean we're not worth $20,000 anymore?" asked Curry.

"If you'll pardon my bluntness, you're not worth anything anymore. Through Midwest's influence, the other rewards have been withdrawn also. It made perfect sense, considering that you haven't robbed a bank or train in almost four years and you've just proven that your loyalties lie on the side of the law now."

"Without the rewards, there won't be much incentive to catch us," reasoned the Kid.

"Pardon me, again, for interrupting," smiled the governor, "but there won't be any reason to try and catch you at all."

"We'll pardon you, governor, if you'll pardon us," Heyes quipped with a gleam in his eye.

Moonlight chuckled. "That's just what I intend to do, Mr. Heyes. In fact, I'm going to announce it at a press conference this afternoon. I'm cancelling the warrants for your arrest. A full pardon for both you and Mr. Curry for all crimes committed up to now. A clean slate, gentlemen."

Tears streamed down Brandy's cheeks as she threw her arms first around Heyes, then the Kid, then the governor, and finally back to Heyes who smiled down at his wife.

"Our dream's come true, Brandy. We're free. We can settle down and live like normal people should live."

"Heyes," injected the Kid, "when have we ever been normal?"

"Well..." he conceded, "it's time we learned."

"Maybe this will give you a good start," said Moonlight as he handed Heyes an envelope.

"What's this?" the ex-outlaw asked.

"It's the fifty thousand dollars you won from Prescott."

Kid Curry frowned in confusion. "But I thought that went back to the insurance company."

"It would have, but Mary Prescott insisted on paying back the money herself. Seems she knew her husband had been embezzling from her and she had suspicions about the cave-in. She felt guilty for not coming forward, but somehow even after the way he treated her, she still loved him."

"I'm not surprised," said Heyes. "Brandy and I saw it that day in Prescott's office. I figured then she suspected something."

"But what about the money?" asked the Kid. "Why are you giving it back to us?"

"Well, I understand you won it fair and square in a poker game, 'Mr. Smith'. It accomplished your objective of putting pressure on Prescott. Since you returned the stake Amos gave you, you're entitled to keep your profits. I'm sure you'll find something to do with them."

"You bet we will," replied Heyes as he and the Kid exchanged mischievous glances.

"Now wait just one minute," Brandy grabbed the envelope out of her husband's hand. "I have a say in this too, you know."

"Yes, dear," Heyes replied in his best hen-pecked husband imitation. "Exactly what did you have in mind?"

"Well, to be perfectly fair, I think we should split it three ways."

"But I won it," he complained.

"We're all partners, remember!"

"You tell him, Brandy!" the Kid chimed in.

"Okay, okay, we split it. Then what?"

"Then," she looked from one to the other, "then we have one hell of a poker game!"

Kid Curry yelped for joy and Hannibal Heyes grinned broadly and nodded, "I think I'm gonna enjoy the normal life. Yes, indeed!"



The End? NOT!



For those of you Smith & Jones fans who are asking, "Since when did Heyes get a wife?" the answer is--you've never read Reivers' Legacy. That was the Alias Smith & Jones zine published by Sharon Dickerson and me back in 1983! (Yes, it's been that long!) Alas, there was never enough interest to do a second zine, and we had leftover stories that never were published. I thought this one might stand on its own, so I included it here.