By Maz McCoy
“Ahhh,” cried Hannibal Heyes as the man’s fist collided with his stomach. He doubled over in pain and then a second fist hit his jaw, snapping his head backwards. When the two men let go of his arms, Heyes sank to his knees, breathing heavily. One hand rested on the stained wooden floor of the saloon, the other grasped his stomach.
“Get up,” Cole Fuller demanded, but Heyes stayed where he was. He looked up at the man, as he licked the blood from his lips.
“I wasn’t cheating,” Heyes told him.
“Well you were doin’ somethin’,” Fuller said, confidently.
“Yeah, I was winning,” Heyes retorted and another blow caught him on the cheek, knocking him back again.
The saloon had fallen silent when Cole Fuller had challenged the dark-haired young man at the poker table. Several of the regulars knew the young fella was an outlaw named Hannibal Heyes; knew he ran with the Devil’s Hole Gang and that the Gang had been hooraying in town for the last few days. Some knew Heyes was a good poker player. Cole Fuller, new in town with a cattle drive, didn’t know the younger man’s reputation with cards. So when he started losing, and Heyes kept on winning, he figured there had to be something funny going on.
Fuller, threw down his cards, stood up and challenged the dark-haired man.
“Can’t we be reasonable about this?” Heyes asked, but two men grabbing his arms and pulling him away from the table had given him his answer. Fuller clearly didn’t like to lose.
“Get him up. We hang card-sharps where I come from,” Fuller stated.
Over at the bar, a man in a battered brown hat and a dust covered old jacket, watched the fight out of the corner of his eye. He finished his drink and pushed off from the bar. Slowly he made his way between the tables to where Fuller stood, fists balled, giving his orders.
“That’s enough,” the man said and Fuller turned to look at the stranger. “Call off your dogs.”
Fuller grinned when he saw the skinny looking saddle tramp.
“You talkin’ to me?” he asked.
“Sure looks like it,” the stranger told him.
“You lookin’ for trouble, boy? ‘Cos you just found it.”
The man in the brown hat pulled open his jacket and tucked it behind his back. A Colt .45 sat in a holster tied to the young man’s right leg.
“So that’s what you want.” Fuller smiled. He fancied himself to be pretty quick with a six gun.
Fuller stood square, his hand at his side, ready to draw. The stranger fixed two ice-blue eyes on the bigger man. Fuller swallowed; there was no fear in those eyes. Doubt began to creep into Fuller’s mind and then anger. He went for his gun, only to hear the click of a hammer, before he could even draw.
There were a few whistles of amazement from others in the saloon.
“Are we done?” the stranger asked. Fuller didn’t answer. “I think it’s time you and your boys left.”
Cole Fuller glared at him, but he turned and picked up his money from the table. He nodded to the men with him and all three left the saloon.
For the first time, the stranger looked down at Hannibal Heyes. He held out a hand to him. Heyes didn’t take it at first. He fixed two brown eyes on the stranger’s blue ones and then looked at the hand that was offered, trying to decide what he should do. Just before the man pulled his hand away, Heyes grasped hold. The man pulled him to his feet.
“Thanks,” Heyes said. The man simply nodded his head. He turned to go. “Kid,” Heyes called and the man stopped.
Kid Curry turned back to face Heyes; for a moment neither man spoke.
“It’s good to see you,” Heyes said, breaking the silence.
Kid considered this.
“You too,” he said.
“Can I buy you a drink?” Heyes asked, unable to hide the hope in his voice.
“I’ve had enough already,” Kid told him, disappointing the dark-haired man. “Time I was moving on.” He headed for the door. After a moment’s thought, Heyes followed him out, undeterred.
“You eaten?” Heyes asked, as he pushed through the bat wing doors. When Kid turned towards him, the afternoon sunlight shone on his face and he squinted. Heyes got his first good look at his old friend. He was shocked by how gaunt Kid looked. His eyes had dark circles beneath them; his clothes were covered in dust, as if he’d been on the trail for weeks. He looked tired.
Kid didn’t answer his question, but from his appearance, Heyes could guess the answer.
“I was heading back to Devil’s Hole,” the dark-haired man said cheerfully, trying not to show his concern. “I’ve got a couple a days’ food in my bags. You could ride with me for a while and I’ll make us supper?”
“Okay,” Kid said, unemotionally. But Heyes caught something, was it gratitude, in his eyes? Kid turned towards a horse tied to the hitching rail. It was well cared for and better fed than its rider. Heyes’ own animal was tied just a few feet away. With a smile, he headed for his horse.
The pleasure at seeing his friend again made Hannibal Heyes chatty. Most people knew the man could talk, but seeing Kid again, after all this time, seemed to open up the flood gates. Heyes rode in front yakking away, telling Kid all about the Devil’s Hole Gang, the jobs they’d pulled and how it was being run by a man named Big Jim Santana.
“I reckon Jim’ll let you join us if you want to Kid,” Heyes called over his shoulder. “It sure would be good to ride with you again. Have a think about it. No need to rush into any decision. I don’t want to pressure you.”
Having a think about it was all Kid could do. Heyes hadn’t drawn breath long enough for him to get a word in edgeways. He had not been sure how his friend would react to seeing him again; he wasn’t sure if his help would be appreciated. Kid had done his best not to smile when Heyes had taken the hand he offered. The sound of Heyes’ voice lulled, an already tired, Kid Curry. He felt his eyes growing heavy. He leaned forward as the horse’s movements gently rocked him. He had been on the trail a long time; moving from place to place, constantly watching his back. Now, with another man riding with him, a man he trusted to keep his eyes and ears open, he allowed himself the luxury of closing his eyes. Slowly, Kid began to slip from the saddle.
The sound of a something hitting the ground with a thud, caused Heyes’ to look round quickly.
“Kid!” he cried, seeing his friend lying on the ground. He was swiftly off his horse and at his friend’s side. “Kid, you alright?” Heyes asked as he dropped to his knees.
Kid groaned and looked confused when he opened his eyes.
“You fall asleep in the saddle?” Heyes asked, with a smile. He patted the younger man’s arm. Kid flinched and cried out. “Kid? You hurt?” And then he looked down at Kid’s arm, where his skin showed between his sleeve and the top of his glove. Dried streaks of blood ran from inside the sleeve and down to Kid’s hand. Seeing the focus of Heyes’ attention, Kid turned onto his side and away from his friend.
“I’m alright,” he said, unconvincingly.
“What happened?” Heyes asked.
“It’s just a graze,” Kid said, dismissively. He didn’t seem to have the energy to pull himself to his knees.
“Want me to take a look? Take your jacket off, let me see,” Heyes said.
“No need.” Kid fixed two tired blue eyes on his friend. He was breathing heavily. “Let’s go,” he said, but he made no move to get up. He was clearly exhausted. He rested his head back on the ground.
“Why don’t we camp here?” Heyes suggested, as he watched his friend. He was still so damn stubborn. He wanted to tell him how exhausted he looked. You’re hurt too; won’t be able to get back in the saddle without help. Instead he said, “I’ll make us something to eat. What do you say?” He met Kid’s eyes, expecting a fight. He didn’t get one.
Kid knew Heyes could read him like one of those fancy books he was always reading. He never had been able to hide his feelings from him.
“Okay,” was all Kid said and then he passed out.
Hannibal Heyes looked at the man lying unconscious on the ground, on the other side of the fire. Had Kid changed? Was he the hardened gunman he’d read so much about? He knew he’d killed someone, but was he a killer? A cold-bloodied murderer? Was this still the man he thought of as his best friend? Sleeping, Kid looked no more than an exhausted boy.
The smell of coffee woke Kid Curry. He sat up quickly, reaching for his gun, but then he saw Heyes crouched over a fire. Heyes picked up the coffee pot and poured the steaming brew into a cup. Hearing Kid move he turned and smiled.
“Want some?” he asked, holding up the cup.
“Yeah,” Kid said, sitting up.
Heyes handed him the cup and, thanking him, Kid blew on it, and then sipped it. On the first taste he screwed up his face. He looked up; Heyes was looking back at him.
“Your ma was a great cook,” Kid said. “How come you still make such awful coffee?”
“Practice,” his friend replied and Kid smiled.
Heyes crouched beside him.
“You’re hurt,” he stated, meeting his friend’s eyes.
“S’nothin’,” Kid said. “Just a graze.”
“So do I get to take a look at it?” Heyes asked.
Kid stared at him, deciding what to do. He was so tired and his arm hurt. He knew he should have seen the doctor in the last town. Finally, he nodded.
He put down the coffee cup. Slowly, and with Heyes’ help, he removed his jacket, wincing as he did so. There was a dirty, blood stained piece of cloth tied around the upper part of his left arm. Heyes began to untie the knot.
“When’d this happen?” he asked.
“Couple a days ago, got bushwhacked.”
“You still can’t keep outta trouble huh?”
“I wasn’t the one being beaten up over a poker game,” Kid retorted.
It was Heyes’ turn to smile.
Kid returned the smile. He had missed Heyes, but his friend had changed, grown up. He was running with the Devil’s Hole Gang now. A big time outlaw. He doubted he’d want his cousin hanging around.
Heyes removed the bandage, revealing an ugly open wound. “This is gonna need cleaning,” he said.
“You don’t hafta do anything for me,” Kid said, trying to pull away. Heyes gripped his arm and Kid winced.
“Let me help,” the dark-haired man said, firmly, not releasing his grip, as he met his friend’s eyes. Kid relented. Heyes found some clean strips of cloth in his saddle bag and cleaned the dried blood away from the wound. It began to bleed again. Kid tried not to show how much it was hurting him, still a little wary of his old friend. Heyes cleaned and bandaged the gash in his flesh, and suddenly Kid cried out.
“Ow! Will you watch what you’re doin’,” he snapped testily.
“Well it hurts!”
“Where’s this tough gunslinger I’ve been reading so much about?” Heyes asked, as he pulled the bandage tight and Kid flinched once more.
“I didn’t write those stories,” Kid told him. “Ow!” he glared at Heyes, who gave him a sweet smile.
“I heard about you too,” Kid said. “Heard about the gang.”
Heyes met his stare.
“Yeah, well it’s not exactly stuff to make our folks proud, is it?” he said, sadly.
“No, I guess not,” Kid admitted.
When he had finished, Heyes looked at him.
“When did you last eat?” he asked.
Kid looked at him. Obviously not.
“The day before?”
Still no answer.
“Sheesh Kid, you’re supposed to be the fastest gun in the west,” Heyes said with a mixture of shock and amazement. “Couldn’t you have shot something to eat?”
“Haven’t you noticed?” Kid asked, his voice tired.
Heyes looked puzzled and Kid pointed to his gun belt.
“Your gun too?” Heyes asked, incredulously.
A sudden shocking thought came to the dark-haired man.
“So when you…He coulda killed you Kid!”
“Nah. Like you said, I’m the fastest gun in the west. He wasn’t gonna outdraw me, was he?” Kid said, confidently.
“But what about the others? If they’d drawn or fired?”
“Guess I’m lucky they didn’t,” Kid said, with a shrug.
Heyes shook his head in disbelief.
“Are you always that reckless with your life?” he asked, with genuine concern.
“No,” Kid told him. “Only when someone I care…” he stopped himself and looked at the ground, but Heyes had already heard what he’d said. The dark-haired man smiled. They were going to be all right.
“Not always,” Kid added.
They were silent for a while and then Kid’s stomach rumbled loudly.
He looked up a little embarrassed.
“I’ll get us something to eat,” Heyes said and headed for his saddlebags. As he searched inside for the food, he looked up at his friend. “Why don’t you come back to Devil’s Hole with me? I’m sure it’ll be okay with Jim. The Gang can always use another pair of eyes and someone handy with a gun.”
“I don’t know Heyes. I’ve got used to being on my own.”
Yeah and you ain’t doing too well on it either, Heyes thought, casting a glance at his exhausted friend. He was so stubborn.
“You sure you ain’t still mad at me?” the dark-haired man asked, as he began to make some biscuits. Kid didn’t answer and Heyes bit his tongue. It had been a long time ago. They had just been kids, on the run and spending twenty four hours a day together. They were bound to get on each others nerves. Heck, he couldn’t even remember what had sparked the argument in the first place. So they had agreed to split up; go their own way; all for the best. And then he was alone and missing his best friend more than he would ever admit. When a scruffy blond man had stepped forward to help him in the saloon, Heyes had not dared hope that it was Kid. But when he had seen him draw, there had been no doubt. And then those blue eyes had fixed on his, a hand held out in friendship.
“I sure have missed you Kid,” Heyes said, turning to face his friend at last. Kid Curry lay back against a rock, fast asleep. Getting up, Heyes picked up a blanket. He walked over to Kid and covered his friend. “You get some sleep. I’ll watch your back this time,” he said.
THE REST IS LEGENDARY