One More Last Chance
Ann Wortham, Laura Virgil & Lynn Bowyer

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An all Alias Smith and Jones novel that picks up where the series left off.

What would happen if the elusive amnesty finally came through…but for only one of the partners? One More Last Chance follows Heyes and Curry on a new set of adventures, mixing angst and action along with some new characters along the way.

Full color cover by Laura Virgil (pictured). Approximately 137,000 words.

One More Last Chance
 

Some excerpts from the novel…

Red Rock, Texas was a typical small town where everybody knew everybody. Small towns could be dangerous for wanted men like Hannibal Heyes, but in the case of Red Rock he figured he was relatively safe. For one thing, everybody knew him as Joshua Smith, the partner of Thaddeus Jones—and everybody thought Thaddeus Jones was Big Mac McCreedy’s nephew. Everybody including the sheriff. Even though Joshua Smith was now wanted for murder in his own right, it evidently hadn’t occurred to the sheriff to question whether or not Jones’ friend Smith was the self-same wanted Smith. Or, maybe it had occurred to him, and he was simply unwilling to cause problems for a friend of Mr. McCreedy’s.

Whatever the case, and whomever the townsfolk and sheriff thought he and Curry were, Heyes knew he was as safe in Red Rock as he was anywhere. Probably much safer, as his partner kept reminding him. Most of the folks there knew Joshua Smith and liked him. The local ranchers and Mr. Peterson, the banker, played high-stakes poker at the McCreedy ranch every Saturday night. Lately that poker game included Heyes, as well, and he had been easily accepted into their social circles. Curry had been correct when he pointed out that they had many friends in this part of the state. Even Armendariz across the border, although constantly feuding with McCreedy, had often counted himself their friend in times past—especially since they had been instrumental in bringing McCreedy and Armendariz’s sister together.

So, Heyes felt completely safe going into town Friday morning, whether anyone else agreed or not. He was going crazy sitting around on the front porch of the ranch while Curry was out working every day. The doctor wouldn’t even allow him to saddle a horse for himself yet, insisting he keep his arm in a sling for a while longer.

Worse yet, his partner had turned into a mother hen, and wouldn’t let him disobey the doctor’s orders in spite of his obvious restlessness. He knew Curry felt responsible for the shoulder wound—and he was—but Heyes figured he didn’t need a mother. He knew better than anyone how sore the shoulder still was, but it didn’t keep him from wanting to get up and out for a little while. He reckoned he was going to die of cabin fever before his friends ever let him loose again. It was starting to feel a lot like jail.

Finally, he managed to convince everyone concerned he was at least well enough to accompany Blake and Curry to pick up supplies in the buckboard.

"You’re not to drive the team," McCreedy warned him. He was an imposing man, full of bluster, though he leaned heavily on a cane. He wasn’t really very tall, but he somehow always managed to appear bigger than anyone else present. A cigar was a seemingly permanent fixture in his mouth, even while he was talking. Half the time it wasn’t even lit. "I don’t want Sandy yelling at me when he’s out here to check your arm tomorrow."

"Yeah, yeah," Heyes grumbled. "Blake is driving, Mac. I just want to get out of here for a while, okay? Even your pretty face starts to wear thin on a fellow after too long." He punctuated the insult with a cheeky grin, enjoying the startled look of outrage on the older man’s bearded face. He adjusted his arm in its sling and settled himself on the buckboard seat next to Blake.

Curry laughed at the good-natured arguing, spurring his horse down the drive, while McCreedy shook his cane at them.

Don’t get into trouble!" he yelled after them. "Blake! You keep them out of trouble!"

"Sure thing, Mr. McCreedy," Blake hollered back, sharing a sly look of understanding with Heyes. He elbowed the other man lightly in the ribs. "Whose definition of trouble we using here?" he chuckled.

"Exactly," Heyes agreed, anticipating an afternoon enjoying a beer and maybe a friendly game of poker or two. He had no doubt he could convince the Kid to join him in passing a few hours that way, and probably Blake, too. The foreman was loyal to his boss, but he liked a good time as much—or more—than the average cowpoke. McCreedy wouldn’t be expecting them back much before nightfall.

It was another hot and dusty day with no sign of the rain Blake kept promising and the road to Red Rock, although short, had been thirst inducing. The three men went to the saloon first thing to quench their dry throats, and spent a pleasant hour recovering from the heat, enjoying some pleasant conversation along with a few beers.

Finally, Curry and Blake went to load Mr. McCreedy’s list of supplies, leaving Heyes to enjoy himself in the saloon, playing cards with a couple of drifters passing through.

"I’ll come get you when we’ve finished loading the wagon," Curry told him. "Then we can pick up a few things for ourselves before we head back." He flipped his partner a double eagle. "Don’t lose it all, okay?" he quipped.

Heyes nodded distractedly, taking the money and shoving it into a breast pocket, his mind already on the poker game. He might not be able to deal cards yet, but he could hold them well enough to play.

The heat, if anything, seemed worse outside, now that the sun was full overhead. Curry wiped at his forehead and slapped Blake on the shoulder. "Guess we’d best just get this over with, huh?"

Blake didn’t look any more enthused than he did.

An hour later, they were still carrying items out of the store and stacking them in the buckboard, working their way down the long list of supplies. Curry checked the tally one last time and was pleased to note they were finally reaching the bottom. With a sigh of relief, he hoisted a bag of flour to his shoulder and headed for the wagon. As he came out the door, he stopped and ducked quickly back inside.

Blake was standing next to the buckboard, talking to a tall, blond-haired man. The stranger had a full beard and mustache and was half turned away from him, only his profile showing. But something about him and the way he stood struck Curry as familiar.

He eased the bag of flour to the floor and thumbed the safety off his gun. He could see that the stranger wore his Colt .45 tied down, like a gunfighter, and had an air of knowing how to use it. He was well dressed and clean, obviously not an ordinary cowpoke or drifter coming in off the trail. Curry had instincts when it came to his own breed, and this man was sending warning bells off in his head.

Blake was gesturing and suddenly shook hands with the stranger. Then, the tall man turned and headed off down the street, the opposite direction from the saloon. Curry breathed a sigh of heartfelt relief as he watched.

"Who was that you were talking with, Blake?" he asked, leaving the bag of flour where he’d set it down and approaching the other man. Maybe his instincts for trouble had been wrong this time. The stranger hadn’t so much as glanced toward the store while he and Blake were talking.

The foreman shrugged. "Just someone asking after Joshua." He dusted his hands together, trying to rid them of the white residue from the bags of flour he was loading.

Curry went cold inside, the blood draining from his face. "What?" He could feel a lump in his throat and feared it might choke him it seemed so large.

Blake was staring at him with concern. "Something wrong?"

"What…what did you tell him?"

"Why, just that Joshua was staying at the ranch. He seemed like a nice enough fellow; said he’d be by to visit later." Blake pointed down the street. "I told him Josh was over to the saloon playing poker, but he went the other way. He just went into the sheriff’s office, looks like."

Curry was shaking in involuntary reaction. "We’ve got to fetch Joshua. Now."

From later in the novel…

It was late by the time Hannibal Heyes reached Porterville. Even in the darkness, he could tell the town had grown since his last visit two years before. Most of the lights were out as he made his way down the main street, although one of the saloons still seemed to be doing a rousing business. The sounds of raucous laughter and tinny music drifted out onto the street. He wished he could spare the time to stop and have a cold beer before facing Lom. But he didn’t dare risk it.

It was going to be difficult, seeing his old mentor after being out of touch for so long. He knew Lom would have some hard questions for him, much like Curry had. But Lom’s would be a bit more pointed. Lom knew a lot more about where he’d been and what he’d been doing than Curry did, even now. In a way, he wished he could just keep on riding, forget about the blasted amnesty, and disappear. But he couldn’t. He’d promised the Kid he would make one last try for it, and that’s what he was going to do.

He’d pushed his horse hard, afraid of stopping along the way. He knew Curry might decide to follow him and he wanted to reach Lom long before the other man had a chance to catch up to him. He and Lom were going to have things to say to each other he would rather not have Curry hear…at least not yet.

His buckskin mare was wiry and tough; she wasn’t even winded when he pulled up in front of the sheriff’s office. He’d ridden her all the way from Texas and found her to be one of the most sure-footed and toughest mounts he’d ever owned. The Kid kept teasing him the mare must be part Comanche. The truth be told, he’d won her from a half-breed Kiowa in a winner-take-all poker game down in New Mexico Territory. There was no telling what her history was. Giving her a quick pat on the neck, he stepped up to the window and peered inside.

Sheriff Lom Trevors was sitting at his desk, bent over, working on some paperwork. No one else seemed to be on duty and the jail cells were empty. Just the sight of those cold, gray cages was enough to send a shiver of apprehension through Heyes.

He pushed his fears aside and went to the door, slipping quickly inside, pulling out his pistol as he entered.

Lom jumped to his feet in alarm, then relaxed slightly when he saw who it was. He was a tall man—several inches taller than Heyes—and imposing, with dark, graying hair and a mustache that quivered slightly when he spoke. His eyes could look like steel when he was angry, but they lit up at the sight of his visitor. "Heyes! What the hell are you doing here? Where have you been?" A flood of questions poured out of his mouth. "When you disappeared, I thought…well, I thought the worst." Several emotions chased across the stunned sheriff’s face, including an unquestionable expression of relief.

"That so?" Heyes kept his tone carefully neutral. In the past, he had considered Lom a good friend to himself and the Kid, but that was before what happened in El Paso…before what happened in Nogales. He didn’t think of Lom as a friend, anymore. In fact, he had admitted to himself during the harried ride to Porterville that he didn’t even trust the sheriff not to arrest him. Hence, the drawn gun.

"I was worried," Lom maintained, his brow furrowed up. "You were dead, for all I knew." His voice deepened slightly, and Heyes almost believed he was genuinely concerned. Almost.

"Hmm. But you let the Kid think I was dead, didn’t you?" Heyes walked across the room until he was standing directly across the desk from the sheriff. He leaned slightly forward, his gun still loosely pointed at the other man.

It was obvious Heyes’ coolness toward him was beginning to confuse him. Lom stared down at the gun pointedly, then back up at Heyes’ face. "Now, let’s not start up that old argument," Lom said, with a loud sigh. "We’ve been through it all before. It wasn’t my choice, Heyes. The governor feels it’s for the best if the Kid doesn’t know you’ve been in touch with us. He’d have too many questions. You know we’re right."

"I thought you were."

"You agreed to the deal, didn’t you?"

"Yeah, I agreed." Heyes nodded, knowing it was true. He was a willing party to the deception. Like he’d told the Kid on their way to Wyoming, Lom couldn’t be blamed for everything that had gone wrong in their lives the last few years. He had honestly tried to help them obtain their amnesty—at least in the early days of their deal—and he and the governor had kept their word when they granted Curry his pardon.

"So, what happened? Where have you been? I haven’t heard from you since you were in Nogales, almost a year ago. The governor was fit to be tied when you never came back after that job. The last we heard, the mission was a success…then nothing. There were rumors…rumors you were seen riding with the Chamberlain gang—" Lom sent another pointed look at the gun in Heyes’ hand.

Heyes ignored it. There was no way he was going to take a chance on trusting the other man just yet. "I’ve been in Texas," he hedged. He certainly wasn’t going to tell Lom about his time at Robber’s Roost in Utah, if he could help it. When he’d met up with Buck Duane in Nogales his fortunes had taken another turn, one he wished he could just forget about. But there was nothing he could do to change the past. Only the future mattered now.

"Hmm. I see. In Texas. Where in Texas? Doing what?" Lom pressed, not willing to let the subject drop no matter how reticent Heyes appeared.

Heyes didn’t quite meet the other man’s eyes. "Surviving. Working," he dissembled. He rolled his stiff shoulder unconsciously and then realized Lom was watching the gesture with a knowing gaze.

"How’d you get hurt?" the sheriff asked.

"Hurt?"

"Don’t play coy with me. I can see you’re favoring that shoulder. How’d you get hurt?"

"Had a fall," Heyes said quickly, trying to think of a plausible lie Lom wouldn’t see through right away. The bullet wound was barely healed and he didn’t want to have to explain how he came by it. "I was doing some ranch work and my horse stepped in a prairie dog hole."

"Ranch work, hmm?" Lom didn’t sound too convinced. "You expect me to believe you dropped out of sight, didn’t contact me for nigh onto a year, and during all that time you were down in Texas minding your own business and doing ranch work." He was openly skeptical; Lom knew just how much Heyes disliked ranch work.

But Heyes didn’t back down. "That’s right," he maintained firmly. He was good at bluffing, always had been, although Lom knew him better than most men and might be able to see through the pose.

"And why haven’t you been in touch?"

"I was tired, Lom," Heyes said, knowing this, at least, was the plain truth. "After Nogales, I just wanted to rest for awhile…and time went by. I got to thinking…thinking about the Kid getting his amnesty and where I might be going with my own life. I didn’t like what I saw, what you were turning me into." What Heyes didn’t tell the other man was that he didn’t like the direction he chose for himself, either. His brief return to outlawing had only sent him deeper into despair and loneliness. He could only hope that now he was back with the Kid and had a chance at a future, maybe even a chance to start a new life on the McCreedy ranch, things would start to turn around for him again. But he didn’t trust Lom Trevors to have his best interests at heart anymore. Too many things had happened to make him question Lom’s motives.

Lom sank back down into the big chair behind his desk, one hand stroking his chin. "I can understand that, Heyes, but I’m afraid I don’t believe you. There’s more you’re not telling me. I’ve known you a long time, since you and the Kid were no more than teenagers, don’t forget. What were you really doing these past few months?"

"Does it really matter?" Heyes paused, and then added, "Is it really any of your business?"

"I’m not sure," Lom admitted. "I don’t know why you’re here. You’re resentful toward me, and you don’t want to tell me what you’ve been doing… Why are you here?"

Heyes wasn’t completely sure himself why he had given in and come, either. He hadn’t wanted to. He had agreed with Curry after much arguing and prompting that it wouldn’t hurt to ask the governor of Wyoming to reinstate his bid for amnesty, but he didn’t really believe anything would come of it. It wasn’t that he didn’t want the amnesty anymore. He still wanted it desperately, perhaps more than ever. But, he’d been disappointed too many times over the last few years. At the rate he was going, the statute of limitations would run out on his crimes—at least his older ones—long before he ever achieved the elusive amnesty.

Maybe it was a stupid move to leave Curry behind in Shirley Basin. The solid presence of the other man at his side would have been a comfort at the moment; it might have steadied him and made him more confident. Only the fear Lom and the governor would make good on their threat to revoke Curry’s amnesty had convinced him it would be better for the other man to stay behind, safely out of sight. Of course, Curry disagreed with him, stubborn as ever. He knew his partner was going to be mad that he’d snuck off during the night with nothing but a note left behind—and he knew Curry was going to be wondering if he truly intended to come back. Perhaps it would have been smarter to take off into the mountains at that point. It certainly would have been simpler. But he didn’t want to disappoint Curry yet again. He’d promised to make a try at this, to try to set things straight with Lom and the governor, and he was going to at least make the attempt. The thought of his younger partner following him back to the outlaw trail was unthinkable. Curry had a real chance at an honest life now, and Heyes didn’t want to ruin it for him.

"Heyes?" Lom questioned, bringing him out of his introspection and back to the present. "Are you going to answer me? What is it you want?"

Heyes shook himself and forged ahead. Lom could only say no and at least he would have an answer. Then he and the Kid could move on and decide what to do. "I…I want my amnesty deal reinstated, Lom. I think you owe it to me. I think the territory of Wyoming owes it to me."

"You know why I can’t do that, Heyes. We’ve had this discussion before—"

"Damn it!" Heyes interrupted. "I’m tired of hearing excuses! You know damn well I didn’t kill that kid in El Paso! I’m not that stupid, Lom. If you or the governor thought I’d really killed that kid, you’d have had me down there in chains long ago."

Lom’s eyes narrowed, but he ignored Heyes’ reference to El Paso and the other man’s anger. "Tell me where you’ve been," he said calmly.

"Texas," Heyes repeated stubbornly.

"Look," Lom sighed, "If you want me to help you, then you better come clean with me. I want to know where you’ve been the last few months. I have my reasons for asking."

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