The jail in Helena was larger than the one back home in Blue Sky, and newer. I’d visited clients there often enough. But as I looked at my husband on the other side of the bars, those sparkling dark eyes and broad grin, I thought about how much I’d like to reach through them and throttle him.
“Oh come on, Ella. You gotta admit it’s at least a little funny. Me bailing you out?” And he broke into a full-throated laugh.
I could see his point. For Hannibal Heyes to be in jail, visiting his lawyer, who was also his wife -- not to mention the person most likely to get him and his partner Kid Curry out of trouble -- was a reversal of fortune indeed. Most of it had been early on in our acquaintance, when he was still a wanted man. He’d gotten his amnesty and been straight with the law for years now. But there’d been the odd sheriff who still held a grudge, here and there, as the pair of them travelled around for the security services agency they ran now. And then there was a drunk-and-disorderly a few years back which wasn’t entirely unjustified. I suppose I should have disapproved, on that one, but he’s only human. Anyway, it had me travelling all the way to Washington State, which gave me something to hold over his head when circumstances warranted.
This wasn’t one of those circumstances. A few feet away, Jed Curry was comforting his daughter Sarah and our Arabella. “You stood up for what you believe in – I’m proud of you both.”
Bella shook her head. “It’s ridiculous that Mother can stand up front of a judge, but not vote for one.”
“Or for President!” said Sarah.
“Soon, girls!” came voice from the next cell, followed by another which agreed, “Things will be changing soon!”
But Heyes continued to laugh. “By chaining yourselves to the pillars on the statehouse?”
I shrugged. “The suffragists in Britain are doing it. And it got us more attention than all those petitions we’ve been circulating.”
“All right, all right,” said a burly man with a large tin star of a deputy sheriff on his waistcoat. “Mrs. Heyes, Miss Heyes, Miss Curry.” He looked at us, and then at our rescuers. “Guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it, girls? Your fathers weren’t exactly law abiding at your age, either. Well, bail’s paid.”
He unlocked the door to our cell, and we filed out, Sarah, then Bella, then me. The girls each got a hug from their respective fathers, and the four of them trooped towards the door. I stopped for a word with our suffragist neighbors in the next cell, before following.
The train was crowded, on the way home. Heyes sat next to me, still teasing a little about my newfound life of crime. His dark hair showed the grey more distinctly than his partner’s lighter curls did, and there were more creases at the corners of his eyes now, but he was still lean and handsome. Both of them were.
Jed sat with the girls, across the aisle, responding calmly to their indignant descriptions of the way the chains we’d used had been cut, the way the sheriff and his men had shoved us along, and the terrible food. Considering his relatively extensive experience with jails – though luckily not prisons – not to mention the orphanage in his youth, he was remarkably patient with their complaints about the mild hardships we’d just endured.
“Just you wait and see the feast your ma’s got planned for us when we get home,” he said, calmly. “She’s only sorry she couldn’t’ve joined you all in jail. Bad timing with Thaddeus breaking his leg like that.”
“He’s too reckless when he rides,” Sarah said, scornfully, but Bella’s eyes shone with admiration.
“He’s so brave,” she said, “and such a wonderful rider.”
Sarah shook her head in disbelief. “Really, Bella? My brother? Ew.”
I turned back to my husband, smiling. “Were we ever that young?”
“You, probably. I never was. I’m glad for what we’ve been able to give them. And I’m glad, like the Kid said, that they’re learning to stand up for themselves.”
“It’s funny that you still call him that. Considering.”
“Some folks think it’s funny you call me by my last name, considering.”
“All right, Hannib—“
“Don’t you dare!” he interrupted, but he was grinning.
Just then, the train came to a sudden halt.
There was a murmuring among the passengers, all around us. Heyes turned away from me, and made eye contact with Curry, across the aisle. I saw Jed nod.
“You’ll be all right,” my husband said to me, as he rose. “Just stay here and don’t call any attention to yourself.” He gave my shoulder a quick reassuring squeeze.
Heyes rarely went armed anymore, in this new century, but Jedediah Curry still did. However, the tied-down holster was too conspicuous unless they were on certain types of security jobs. Instead, I saw him reach inside his jacket, to draw his weapon, as the two of them made their way down the aisle to the front of the car.
The girls dashed across the aisle, and into the vacant seat next to me, the three of us now squeezed into two seats. It was a close fit. “Do you think it’s a robbery?” asked Sarah. Her eyes were wide and her breathing came quickly.
“Could be something’s fallen on the tracks,” I said. Parents were supposed to be calm and reasonable. At the moment, however, I thought she was probably right.
“Is that the conductor that Father’s talking to?” whispered Bella.
“Looks like it,” I said. Heyes and Curry were talking to a man whose uniform suggested Bella was right. The man was gesturing furiously, while they mostly nodded, and Heyes occasionally interjected a comment or two.
We continued to sit. “What’s going on?” asked a loud male voice.
“That’s what we’re trying to find out,” said the conductor.
“Is the bridge out or something?” asked another man. “I take this train all the time, and it’s never stopped here before.”
“Is everything all right?” This time it was a woman.
“You folks sit tight,” said the conductor, and left the car, accompanied by Heyes and Curry.
Somehow that was not reassuring.
The next five minutes, according to the gold watch pinned to my bodice, felt much longer. Sarah grumpily interrogated Bella’s feelings towards her brother, which caused my daughter to turn bright pink and stop speaking. Stop for about two minutes, that is, until the topic shifted to their going East for a year or two to study at the girls’ school their “Aunt” Caroline, my former ward, ran in Connecticut. Both girls were enthusiastic about the prospect, and I suspected Thaddeus would return to his former status of older brother substitute once Bella was otherwise occupied.
The door to the carriage opened again, and our heads turned. But it wasn’t Heyes and Curry, or the conductor, but a couple of men with dusty hats and bandannas tied around their faces.
My heart sank when I saw them – were Heyes and Jed injured? Or, unthinkable, dead? Surely no one could have gotten past Kid Curry, whose skills hadn’t diminished with the years. He’d have winged them both, with his incredibly accurate shots.
But there they were. “All right, folks, hand over whatever you got. Money, jewelry, the works.”
The shorter, stockier man, took off his hat and passed it along the aisle, like the collection basket at church. His friend, tall and sandy-haired, kept his gun trained on the passengers as they went.
Soon enough, the outlaws had made their way to us.
“The Devil’s Hole Gang never took personal possessions from the passengers when they held up trains,” said Sarah, with even more scorn than she’d directed towards her friend’s partiality for Thad.
“Devil’s Hole Gang don’t exist no more, does it?” said the man passing the hat, unconcernedly.
“Do you know who our fathers are?” asked Bella.
“Men who can afford to buy you those pretty dresses surely have money to spare.” He looked past her, to me. “See neither of you are wearing any baubles, but your mother’d better hand over that watch and her wedding ring.”
Heyes had given me the gold watch on a trip we’d taken to Denver, some years back, and I had no intention of giving it up, or my wedding ring, either. But what was going on? Why hadn’t they returned?
I heard the gunman pull the hammer, ready to fire at me for not complying. Would he actually do it? Or did he expect me, like the other passengers, to react automatically to the sound?
But just then came the sound of another gun being readied. I turned, horrified, to see Sarah holding a Colt pistol on the gunman.
“Bella asked you a question, and you answered it wrong. My pa’s Kid Curry. He taught me and my brothers to shoot. And guess which one inherited his natural gift for it?”
“And,” said Arabella, with that broad smile that echoed her father’s, “mine’s Hannibal Heyes. Quickest thinker in the West, they say. Quick with his hands, too.” Which she demonstrated by producing the hat-carrier’s pistol. She’d stolen it from his holster while he was leaning over to collect my watch. “Thing is, Sarah’s a good shot like her daddy. If she means to wing you, she will. But me? I’m only passable. If I shot you, I’d hit you, but maybe not where I was aiming.”
As the outlaws stood frozen, staring at the girls in disbelief, a couple of male passengers came on them from behind and disarmed them. Someone took the rope from around his luggage to tie one of them up, and a woman who was knitting a long scarf volunteered it to secure the other.
By the time Heyes and Curry, accompanied by the conductor and a couple of deputies, got back to the car, everyone had reclaimed their belongings. One of the deputies explained that while the rest of the gang was being apprehended, this pair must have slipped away to see what they could salvage from the operation.
As the deputies removed the pair of outlaws from our car, Heyes said, “That’s the problem with criminals these days. No finesse at all. And no loyalty to their comrades. Right, Kid?”
“Oh yeah. Loyal to the end, just like, er, Wheat? And Lobo?” Curry’s blue eyes sparkled with amusement. He turned to his daughter. “You really are a chip off the old block. Good thing we’re livin’ honest these days, or I might be responsible for the most feared lady gunslinger in the whole West.” He put out his hand. “Now give it back. How’d you know I was travelin’ with a spare?”
Sarah just shook her head. “’Cause I know you, daddy. I figured there’d be one in your bag, just in case.”
Heyes gave Bella what was supposed to pass for a stern look, but failed entirely. “And you, young lady. I never taught you how to pick a pocket – or a holster, either.”
Bella laughed. Though she had my blue eyes, she had her father’s smile, dimples and all. “Guess I just inherited some things naturally, same as Sarah.”
The two men looked at each other. “Daughters. Who expected they’d be so complicated?” said Curry.
“Remember the Jordan girls?” asked Heyes.
“So,” said Bella, never one to give up an advantage, “us going East to school, where we’ll stay out of trouble—that’s a good deal, right?”
Heyes looked at me, then at his partner, who nodded. “That’s a good deal.”
Historical Note: Montana gave women the vote in 1914, six years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, in 1920, and sent the first U.S. Congresswoman, Jeannette Rankin, to Washington in 1916.