Alice turned her thoughts to Kurt. She would have appreciated his company on this trip. His fortitude and calm resolve would have been a reassuring comfort, a salve to the worry she felt for the men she had known as Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones. But, ever a businessman, Kurt had stayed behind. And as dear as she found him, his presence was often a reminder of love not gained. Early on, Kurt had revealed his stolid expectations of wifely submissiveness. Whether it was the dogma of the German Army, his upbringing, or simply a current-day turn of values, Alice wasn't sure. Regardless, she couldn't fathom such house frau subjugation from herself and, frankly, neither could Kurt. So, their partnership endured as a match in abiding friendship and business sensibilities, and Alice was abundantly pleased with its lucrative fruition.
Just as Lom Trevors' telegram had arrived, Alice and Kurt were forging plans for an adjoining hotel. It seemed to be the next logical venture. Tourists of every ilk were visiting nearby attractions, dining at The Golden Perch Rathskeller, and taking in the evening playhouse performances. A commute by stage coach or buggy was then required to obtain lodging. Kurt was ecstatic at the prospect of potential profits for a day's worth of food, entertainment, and hotel accomodations. Alice, for her part, was amazed at the ease with which one business idea had flowed seamlessly into the next as if by some grand design.
On this day (and many others), she recalled Joshua Smith, none other than Hannibal Heyes himself, wishing her luck upon their parting. "You deserve it, Alice," he had said warmly. Since then, she and Kurt had certainly been blessed with good luck in spades. And in a very real way, Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones were indirectly responsible for it. In that vein, Alice had suggested a name for the new hotel, "The Joshua Tree Inn". Kurt had been delighted, "A fitting tribute." he had said. A moment later, Lom's telegram was delivered. Floored upon reading it, the timing surreal, Kurt and Alice had reached an immediate decision, committing to provide whatever resources necessary to free their friends. As it stood, only a testimony had been requested. A tiny repayment in kind, they agreed, too small really for all they had gained.
Lom Trevors prepared to announce the next speaker. He seemed a tad nervous, shifting his weight and perhaps grinning a bit too widely. "Gentlemen, I would now like to introduce our next character witness. She's a respectable young woman of some celebrity: a singer, stage actress, and business owner from San Francisco. May I present Miss Alice Banion."
There was a small commotion in the room as Alice Banion, a charismatic young woman with porcelain skin and sparkling eyes moved forward. A male voice near the crowd's perimeter shouted, "Miss Banion! Miss Banion!" and a smattering of applause followed.
As she proceeded to the dais, Sheriff Trevors quieted the crowd. Alice began to speak, an endearing lyrical quality to her voice, "Why thank you, everyone. I'm so very flattered. It never occurred to me that anyone here would recognize my name. For those who don't, I'm Miss Alice Banion," she emphasized the word "Miss", assuring her title would be correctly transcribed. "My business partner, Mr. Kurt Schmitt, and I are co-owners of a well attended restaurant and dramatics venue in San Franciso, California called The Golden Perch Rathskeller and Opera House. Mr. Schmitt is tending to business, so today I will be speaking for both of us. And I must say, we have been richly rewarded by our good fortune, but had it not been for Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry, I would be in a very different sort of place right now."
Alice halted, sombering her expression as she scanned the audience, mostly male of varying ages. When she spoke again, the musical lilt was replaced by solomnity, "I would most assuredly be serving jail time, as much as 10 years of it."
A collective gasp arose in the room accompanied by a flurry of mutters. Clearly, based on Alice's appearance, delivery, and demeanor, it was unthinkable to even the most casual observer. The crowd's reaction was even better than she had anticipated. Pleased, Alice hoped it would play as well in print, putting aside any possible repercussions to her career.
"So, you see, I came here today to share my knowledge of Mr. Hannibal Heyes and Mr. Jedediah Curry, and how they delivered me from my own desperation. I can quite convincingly vouch for the character of these decent, law-abiding men."
Alice then turned to address the lawman who was risking his own livelihood and reputation to defend two notorious outlaws. "Sheriff Trevors, in the interest of veracity, I must say I only knew Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry as Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones until I received your telegram. Even so, it seems only proper to refer to these kind gentlemen by their given names, if that's alright with you."
"Certainly, Miss Banion. You may continue," Sheriff Trevors said with an encouraging nod.
"Thank you, Sheriff. I first spotted Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry in Browntown. When I learned of their visit with Charlie O'Rourke, a condemned man at the local jail, I then found reason to make their acquaintance. You see, I believed Charlie had confided in them the location of his stolen stash of gold bars worth $100,000. I must now say he hadn't because Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry begged not to be told." Alice again paused, allowing her words to settle as she glanced about. Reporters and curiosity seekers alike were focused on her with rapt attention.
"Now, you may wonder why on earth I was concerning myself with a condemned man and his gold. Please allow me to explain. Eighteen months earlier, I had been on my way to San Fransciso when I found myself flat broke and stranded in Browntown with no end in sight -- perched on a swing, caged like a canary, singing for my supper in a smoky little saloon. I'll tell you, it was not the picturesque life by the sea I had imagined, you understand." Alice flushed, reflecting on the irony of it all. How she, really so honest to the core, found herself rock bottom and willing to do just about anything to extricate her mind, body, and soul from Browntown.
"When I heard about Charlie's gold, I was sure it would be my ticket to San Francisco and a lovely life of financial freedom. Quite foolishly, I'm afraid, the larceny of absconding with that loot didn't quite strike me as it should have. Oh, yes, I suppose on some level I knew it would be wrong. But, elation and desperation pushed reason aside when I realized no one except Charlie knew the gold's whereabouts. I couldn't bear the thought of him needlessly taking that secret to his grave when I was so financially destitute myself.
"On Charlie's final night, I sang gospel hymns to him and we conversed during the last four hours of his life. Just before dawn, poor Charlie confessed to me. He said he had buried those gold bars in the desert near a grove of joshua trees and told me precisely how to find them. Soon after his hanging and burial, Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry came calling, offering assistance in retrieving the gold. I couldn't have known that their involvement would be the best decision of my life." Alice dabbed her eyes with an embroidered hankie, for she hated to recall the hanging. During that fateful night, she had come to know Charlie O'Roarke as a man who had lost his way due to the bleak circumstances of his life, just as she herself had almost done under the duress of poverty, dashed hopes, and broken dreams.
After a moment, Alice drew in a deep breath. She now had to skirt Harry Briscoe's ill deeds per Lom Trevors' instructions. Bannerman detective, indeed, the snake-faced, beady-eyed louse! Alice would have liked nothing more than to expose him as a scheming crook, and how she, Heyes, and Curry nearly perished in the desert on his account. She exhaled, picturing in her mind the two dear men for whom she made this journey, their future hanging in the balance. Alice honored Lom's request, continuing steadily in spite of herself. "As our journey into the desert unfolded, I discovered Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry were in cahoots with a Bannerman detective. I knew of him because he had been nosing around Browntown since Charlie's arrest, sniffing for that gold.
"I was absolutely livid, feeling I had been thoroughly hoodwinked and bamboosled. Upon confronting them, Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry called my attention to the fact that running off with stolen property would be ultimately illegal, and that they had done it for me, to keep me from serious trouble. They went on to explain about a five-thousand dollar reward and their plans to share it with me.
"I was incredulous to say the least. But, Mr. Heyes turned my thinking with his words. The words of his own personal truth: "Running's something we know a little about. You wouldn't like it. That's something you can believe." Right then and there, gentlemen, my heart fell to my knees. For my good and nothing more, Mr. Heyes revealed his own sad situation thereby convincing me of his and Mr. Curry's upright intentions. Whatever their pasts, these two men are angels of grace. They truly saved me from the dire consequences of my own thoughtless desperation." Alice spoke with obvious feeling, placing her lace-gloved hands over her heart and bowing her head ever so slightly, as if in prayer.
"Near the end of our journey, and simply by good luck, we met Mr. Schmitt who drove a rather hard bargain. After bartering for supplies, as it were, we agreed to split the reward money four ways.
"Upon returning to Browntown, Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry did just as they said, placing the gold with the proper authorities, and collecting the reward. Mr. Heyes then split that five-thousand dollars as promised. Oh, I'm sure they could have found a way to welch out on our deal by skipping town or the like, leaving Mr. Schmitt and me high-and-dry with no recourse. But, instead, Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry proved themselves as men of integrity. And I will tell you, it still amazes me to this day. These boys are nothing short of heroes where I'm concerned."
Alice thought back on their time in the desert, how she had eventually reasoned that Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones were outlaws on the run. She, however, couldn't have guessed their true identities. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were practically legends in their own time. Dime novels abounded and stories circulated, often portraying the pair as dark heroes. Grateful to them beyond measure, Heyes and Curry, Alice knew, were indeed heroes. Heroes of the most noble variety.
"My life profoundly changed from that day forward. The reward money allowed me and Mr. Schmitt to set out for San Francisco. When we arrived, it provided our stake to establish a small restaurant where Mr. Schmitt's culinary skills gained rapid attention, and my singing headlined our dinner hour. Once our little rathskeller flourished, we expanded in size, most recently adding the opera house -- my passion of course. Now, plans are underway for a new hotel, "The Joshua Tree Inn". Mr. Schmitt and I have been lucky, our ventures have done well so far. But, had it not been for Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry, I certainly wouldn't have a shred of success in my life today. And I owe not only my success, but my very freedom, to these two gentlemen.
"Rest assured that they are now honest citizens committed to doing right by the law, themselves, and others. Therefore, I respectfully plead with you, the good people of the Wyoming Territory, to see that your governor upholds his promise, makes his word his bond, and grants full amnesty to Mr. Hannibal Heyes and Mr. Jedediah Curry. They surely deserve nothing less. Thank you everyone."
Alice took an open seat near the other witnesses. She greeted them warmly before sitting, happy to be in such good company. It spoke volumes about the character of the men in question. Alice only hoped it would speak volumes to the governor as well.
With the testimony behind her, Alice relaxed a bit, reflecting on her memories. She recalled having been terribly torn between Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. Equally enchanting, gallant, and charming, they had caused her more consternation than either of them would ever know. Kid Curry was absolutely refreshing with his adorable, boyish appeal, and gentle, polite manner, dear in every way. She doubted ever encountering a more handsome man, until she got a closer look at Hannibal Heyes, that is. His dark, dimpled good looks, winning smile, and charming self-assuredness had positively infatuated Alice. It had been a delimma of most perplexing proportions.
As she had become better aquainted with the two, Alice had found herself utterly taken with the man she now knew as Hannibal Heyes, his quick, logical mind, his keen business sense, his ability to formulate a precise plan and execute it, and his witty sense of humor. Alice almost chuckled aloud over the notion of a coin toss to settle her affections. His delivery had been so perfectly deadpan, why she had almost believed he was serious! He had been sweetly affectionate toward her on the trail, yet a complete gentleman even in the romantic glow of campfire light while his friend snored soundly, unaware. By deed, he had expressed what was in his heart just by the respect he had shown her then, the way he had gazed into her eyes, touched the small of her back, rested his arm around her, or gently held her hand. Oh, in a million ways really. Alice's own heart had overflowed with love and admiration for him. But, she dared not speak it for fear of hurting his handsome, sandy-haired partner needlessly. For Alice knew that separation was inevitable, there could be no other option. She recalled their final goodbye -- the longing in his brown eyes reflecting her own, the reciprocal depth of emotion as his lips briefly met hers, the warm sincerety of his good luck wishes, and the bittersweet tug within her soul. Timing was everything, and sadly not in their favor.
Patience is a virture, Alice reminded herself. Perhaps more suitable timing would follow. Should the amnesty be granted, she and Kurt were prepared to offer Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry gainful employment. The opera house now required a booking manager and a security man, well-paying positions currently unfilled. A renowned silver tongue and an unparalleled fastdraw would fit the bill nicely. And, who knows? Maybe even the fates would be nudged a bit. Alice smiled, musing silently about the unknown outcomes of life, love, and luck.
Lom Trevors advanced the platform. "Thank you, Miss Banion, for testifying here today. Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry will certainly appreciate your contribution."
Alice nodded politely, grateful for the opportunity. After all, she reasoned, a testimony was the very least she could offer.