(The Elizabeth Darkly series #11)
By Maz McCoy
“What do you mean, no? You haven’t even heard my idea yet.” Hannibal Heyes stood up and walked to the river’s edge to fill up the coffee pot. Crouching down he let the water flow into the open pot, rinsed it out then filled it again. Kid still hadn’t answered him. Heyes shot a glance in his partner’s direction. He sat, leaning against the trunk of a tree, loading bullets into his beloved Colt. “Well?”
“I’m not going to have anything to do with Armendariz, or any plan you have involving him and Big Mac. It’s trouble. It’s always trouble and trouble is what we’re supposed to stay out of. Right?”
Heyes stood up and returned to the fire, placing the coffee pot on the glowing embers. “There won’t be any trouble.”
“There won’t be any trouble because I have a plan.”
“And that’s supposed to make me feel better?”
Heyes feigned hurt feelings. “I’d like to think you had a little more faith in me, Kid.”
“Heyes, you know I have faith in you. I just don’t have faith in Big Mac or Armendariz.”
“The telegram said…”
“I know what the telegram said; you read it to me six times.”
“Sure seemed like more.” Heyes didn’t respond. “But it doesn’t matter how many times you read it, or how good your plan is, I’m not going back to Red Rock.”
The partners froze.
“Don’t anybody move.”
Brown eyes fixed on blue ones. Kid still has his gun in his hand. Quietly, he flicked the chamber closed and tightened his grip.
“Much as I hate to interrupt a good argument, you should know I have a very itchy trigger finger so why don’tcha lay that gun down?” Kid hesitated. “Now!”
Kid placed the gun on the ground but left it within easy reach.
The voice in the shadows spoke again.
“Push it further away.” Kid sighed and did so. “Raise your hands gentlemen, where we can see them.”
Reluctantly they did as asked. Two men stepped out of the bushes. How had they not heard them approach? The answer was all too clear. Both wore moccasins and one of them was an Indian; Apache if Heyes wasn’t mistaken. Always adept at creeping up on folk were Indians. Apaches were particularly well known for it. Just their luck to get an Apache. The other was a tall, brown-haired man, his build stocky and a mean looking scar ran just below his left eye. Heyes had never seen either of them before. The Colts the men carried with confidence were aimed, ominously, at two ex-outlaw midriffs.
“What’s this about fellas?” Kid asked casually, as the Apache holstered his own weapon and, stepping closer, relieved Heyes of his. He picked up Kid’s too; shoving them into the cloth belt he wore.
“Remove your gun belts and throw them over there,” the tall man ordered.
Heyes undid his buckle. “We’ve got nothing worth stealing.”
“We’re not here to rob you. We’re here to arrest you.”
The partners exchanged a look.
“Arrest us? For what?” Kid asked as he unbuckled his own gun belt.
“For being Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes.”
Heyes laughed. “Not that again! Sir, I don’t know who you are but my friend and I are getting just a little tired of being mistaken for that ornery pair of no-good bank robbers.”
“We sure are,” Kid agreed at his indignant best.
“My name’s Joshua Smith and this is my partner, Thaddeus Jones.” Heyes did his best to appear tired of having to repeat the same old explanation yet again. “We’re both from Mountain Ash. I run the general store there and Thaddeus owns the livery. We’re on our way to buy a suit for my friend here. He’s getting married next month to a beautiful girl, the daughter of the mayor no less.”
The Apache said something and brown-hair laughed. “The Corporal says you’re a pretty good liar. Says you don’t have a tell.”
Heyes looked at the Apache. Dark brown eyes met his as the brown-haired man reached into his jacket and pulled out some papers. Opening them he held out their all too familiar wanted posters.
“Name’s Wheeler, Byron Wheeler.” His name meant nothing to them. “I’m a bounty hunter. Darn good at it too.”
Now that, they understood.
“I told you to hold still, Curry!”
Kid turned his head as he lay on his stomach, feeling the cold metal against his wrists and hearing the click as the cuffs closed. Wheeler’s knee was in Kid’s back and he didn’t seem bothered as to how much pain that was causing his prisoner. With the cuffs closed, Wheeler dragged Kid into a sitting position. Blue eyes glared at the man as he walked away. The Corporal finished cuffing Heyes who was unceremoniously dragged to the opposite side of the camp fire. Lying on his side, Heyes struggled to sit up.
“I could use a hand here.” Neither captor even glanced in his direction. “Hey, Thaddeus,” Heyes said loud enough for the others to hear. “What do you think will happen once they realise their mistake?”
Kid sighed. What was the point of keeping up the pretence of not being Heyes and Curry? These were professional bounty hunters. They knew who they’d captured. “Guess they won’t be too pleased.”
“No, I don’t s’pose they will.” Heyes shuffled towards a boulder then used it to push himself into a sitting position. “Say Wheeler, where are you planning on turning us over to the law? Maybe we know the sheriff? He could vouch for us.”
Wheeler poured himself a cup of their coffee, took a long drink and then spat it out. “What the heck is that stuff?”
He got to his feet and walked slowly to stand in front of Heyes. He stared down at the outlaw. “Know a town called Mesquite?”
“South of here? About fifty miles?”
“That’s right. Real nice sheriff. Doesn’t ask too many questions when we bring a man in. Don’t matter how beat up they are, ol’ Carson will just lock ‘em up and hand over the reward money.” Wheeler looked at Kid then back at Heyes. “You two might wanna remember that, in case you’re plannin’ on tryin’ to escape. Dead or alive it says on your poster. They’ll pay me either way. You got a preference, best make your choice.”
“I reckon alive will do,” Kid informed him.
“You’re smarter than I thought, Curry.”
Wheeler chuckled to himself and turned back to the fire. Kid met Heyes’ eyes.
Well, what’s your plan now?
The door clanged shut and Sheriff Carson swung his keys as he walked back to his desk. Kid lowered himself onto the bunk, listening to Wheeler finalising the arrangements for payment of the reward money. Heyes prowled near the bars in the next cell but Kid didn’t look up.
“You all right?” Heyes asked, his voice low.
An obvious lie.
“Heyes.” Two blue eyes looked at him. “Just tell me how we’re gonna get outta this one?”
“I don’t know, Kid. I don’t know.”
When Heyes woke the following morning he saw Kid standing next to the small barred window in his cell. There was a wistful, far off look in the blond man’s eyes. It was one Heyes knew all too well. He’d fallen asleep thinking about life in the state penitentiary for the next twenty years. The dreams that followed had been anything but pleasant. Heyes sat up and hearing his friend move, Kid turned from the window.
“Mornin’,” Kid said as he approached the bars that divided their cells.
“We’re still here then?”
“I was hoping it had all been a nightmare.”
“Oh, it’s that all right.”
Heyes looked at his partner. “Lom.”
“What about him?”
“We should contact him.”
“I’ll just go send a telegram. Oh no I can’t ‘cos I’m in jail!”
Kid sat down heavily on his bunk, his back to Heyes.
“If you’re gonna be smart, Kid, think of a way outta here.”
“You’re the one with the plans. Plan somethin’.”
The door to the sheriff’s office opened before Heyes could reply. Sheriff Hubert Carson entered the office, a piece of paper in his left hand, a lit cigar in his right. He spotted his prisoners watching him.
“Morning, boys. I got good news for ya.”
“You’re letting us go?” Heyes moved towards the bars closest to the sheriff.
The man chuckled. “No chance. Just got word to transfer you to the Marshall in Oakville. He’ll take you two back to Wyoming.”
“Transfer us? How?” Heyes’ eyes narrowed.
“Train. Leaves this afternoon. Best pack light boys and put on your fancy suits.” Carson shook his head as he popped the cigar into his mouth.
Kid looked at Heyes.
“Heyes, you sit there.” Sheriff Carson pointed to an aisle seat in the train carriage. “Curry, you take the one next to the window.” Both men did as instructed, resting their cuffed hands in their laps as the sheriff sat down next to Kid. On the bench seat behind Heyes sat Deputy Harris, the butt of a shot gun resting on his knee. Heyes looked across at Kid and noticed his friend’s shoulder’s droop.
“Well, Thaddeus, this’ll soon be over. Once we get to Oakville, I’m sure the Marshall there will to realise the mistake Wheeler and the sheriff have made and let us go.”
“Why sure. I mean Heyes and what’s-his-name will be real familiar to a Marshall, especially one chosen to escort those two hardened outlaws to prison.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“When have you known me to be wrong?”
“It’s a long train ride Joshua, I reckon I got enough time to list them all.”
Beside him the sheriff laughed. “Boys, you’re not getting’ out of this one. We know who you are. You’d best start gettin’ used to the fact that you’re gonna to spend a long time lookin’ at a set of bars.”
“Best enjoy the scenery while you can,” Harris said over Heyes’ shoulder.
Kid looked at Heyes, the light faded from his eyes. “I reckon they might be right.” He turned to stare out of the window as the train pulled out of the station.
The train rolled on, warm air blew in through the open windows and the rocking motion lulled them. Kid continued to gaze out of the window, lost in his own thoughts until his head slumped forward as sleep overtook him. Heyes pulled his hat over his face and closed his eyes, feigning sleep as his mind whirled with ways to get them free. The train would have to take on water at some point. There was a chance the sheriff would be distracted by activity outside. They’d need to act fast. But how?
Sheriff Carson continued to watch them from his seat or, when he needed to stretch his legs, from the open doorway at the end of the carriage. He stood there now, however, he was no longer alone.
“But you have to let me see them. I am a reporter for the New York Chronicle!” a woman exclaimed. “When this story breaks you’re going to be famous, sheriff. Don’t you want to make sure the public hears the full story? Don’t you want them to remember your name; to know your important role in their capture?”
Under his tilted hat, Heyes smiled. Whoever she was, she was good. He couldn’t hear Carson’s reply but he didn’t expect the sheriff to let her anywhere near them
“I just want to speak to them, what harm can it do?” the woman continued.
Heyes tapped Kid’s foot and the blond man’s eyes opened. He peered out from under his own hat at his partner.
Heyes nodded his chin towards the rear of the carriage.
“Ma’am, I don’t think I…”
“Sheriff, I’m not carrying any concealed weapons. You can verify that for yourself.” Heyes looked up to see the back of the woman reporter as she held her arms out to the side, waiting to be searched. She was slim, with dark haired piled on top of her head and fastened with an elaborate clip.
Sheriff Carson actually blushed. “Ma’am, I’m not gonna search you.”
“Oh please do. Run your hands all over me if you have to. Free me of my garments. I want you to know that there is nothing beneath this dress for you to fear.”
Kid smiled. Somehow he couldn’t quite believe that.
The sheriff squirmed with discomfort.
“All right. I’ll give you five minutes, no more!”
“Thank you, Sheriff. I’ll make you famous, I promise.”
“Be that as it may, ma’am. I’m watchin’ you. Don’t try anythin’.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
The woman immediately pulled up the hem of her dress revealing not only a shapely leg clad in black stockings but a notepad and pencil tucked into a garter. Sheriff Carson’s mouth dropped open. Deputy Harris smiled as he examined the lithe limb. The woman turned and sat down opposite Heyes. She smiled at the partners. “Gentlemen.”
Heyes and Kid stared back. Slowly a smile broke on Heyes’ face revealing his characteristic dimples. “Tell me I’m not dreaming.”
“You’re not dreaming, Hannibal,” Elizabeth Darkly said in a whisper. “I’m here to save you.”
Kid sighed. “And I thought things couldn’t get any worse.”
“Sheriff, as sure as my name is Elizabeth Waterman, I swear that man is not Hannibal Heyes.”
Sheriff Carson removed his hat and wiped his sweating forehead with a handkerchief. He wished he was back in his office, back where things seemed less complicated.
“I was on a train the Devil’s Hole Gang robbed,” the woman informed him. “That’s why I was so interested in writing this story. Heyes took me aside and…Well, I’d rather not repeat what he did, but suffice to say I would recognise that outlaw again if I saw him.” She pointed to Heyes. “And that isn’t him.”
The sheriff looked at his deputy. Harris shrugged.
“What about Curry?” Carson asked.
Elizabeth Waterman studied the blond man, her expression serious. “I saw him too. He was an ugly man. I have no idea why they call him Kid, he looked haggard and ancient. He was unwashed, with dirty blond hair and was nothing special to look at.” Kid resisted the urge to comment. “And the smell! That I won’t forget in a hurry. Admittedly this man bears a striking similarity to Curry in so many ways.” She sniffed. “And there’s a trace of that awful odour…” She narrowed her gaze and leaned in to study the man before her. Kid waited and waited for her to make up her mind. Finally she shook her head. “No, no, this is not him either.”
Blue eyes narrowed.
She smiled sweetly back.
Sheriff Carson leaned forward. “I’m gonna hafta check this out at the next station.”
“Of course, sheriff, I’d expect nothing more,” Elizabeth replied. “I’m sure you’ll want to send a telegram to my editor too? To check that I am who I say I am? After all I could be in cahoots with a pair of disreputable outlaws and planning to free them when your back is turned.”
Deputy Harris turned to face her. “Not a sweet thing like you, ma’am.”
Elizabeth sent him a smile. “Why sheriff, what a lovely thing to say.”
“I’m just a deputy, ma’am.”
“I can’t believe that! An intelligent man like you should surely be a full sheriff.”
“I hope to be one day.”
“Well good for you. I have always found a man with ambition to be particularly attractive.” She slid along the bench seat to sit closer to the deputy. The man smiled as if Christmas had come early.
“I told you Wheeler was wrong,” Heyes reminded the sheriff. “Strikes me that man would turn his own mother in if he thought he could earn a few dollars for it.”
“Sheriff, won’t you at least remove their handcuffs so that they can eat something?” Elizabeth asked. “Byron that would be all right wouldn’t it.”
Heyes frowned. Byron? Who the heck was Byron?
Sheriff Carson scowled.
Deputy Harris blushed.
Elizabeth placed a hand on Byron Harris’ arm. “Where can they go? Why no sane man would try to jump off a train travelling at this speed.”
“JUMP!” Heyes yelled.
Kid hit the ground and rolled, tumbling head-over-hills down the embankment and ended up in a particularly prickly bush, his feet in the air.
“OW! Sheesh! Dammit!” Thorns caught on his clothes and ripped at his bare arms as he fought to extricate himself from the tangled branches. Why did he listen to Heyes? Finally he stood up to watch the train disappear down the track. They had to get moving. It wouldn’t take the sheriff and deputy long to free themselves and summon help.
Elizabeth Darkly stood a few feet away, brushing down her dress and trying unsuccessfully to control her unruly hair.
Further along the track Heyes sat with his arms resting on his knees, one hand holding the back of his head. Kid quickened his pace as he strode towards his partner. “You okay?”
That wasn’t true.
“Hit your head?”
“Let me have a look.” Kid knelt beside his friend.
“Then it won’t take me long to look at it, will it?”
“Hannibal, are you all right?” Elizabeth asked.
Two brown eyes looked up at her. Heyes noted her torn sleeve and scraped hands. “I guess I should be asking you that.”
“I’m fine. Just a little scraped and bruised.” She looked to Kid for his diagnosis.
“He’s got quite a bump back here.”
“I’m fine.” Heyes stood up.”
“Do you need nursing?” Elizabeth enquired as she knelt beside him, her eyes sparkly with mischief.
“Your particular kind?” Heyes enquired.
“Well not that kind, at least not right now.”
Heyes smiled then held his bandana to the back of his head. “Thank you for rescuing us.”
“It was a pleasure.”
Heyes’ eyes met hers. “So Heyes took you aside during a robbery, did he?”
“That’s what I said.”
“And did things you’d rather not repeat?”
She licked her lips. “Very wicked.”
“How ‘bout later we see if we can’t bring back a few memories?”
“I am here you know!” Kid complained. “Sheesh, Heyes, you’ve got a head injury! Can’t you two talk about something else?” Kid strode back along the track to pick up Heyes’ hat.
“Jealous?” Elizabeth called after him.
“No, nauseous!” Kid studied the tracks and the terrain beyond them as he whacked the dust off the hat. The next town on the railway line was north of them. They’d come from the south so that left… “I reckon we’ll do best to head west.”
“I agree.” Heyes nodded.
With a final glance back along the tracks, they set off into the cover of the shrubs towards the west.
“So, I thought why stay in New York when I could be in San Francisco?” Elizabeth stepped over a rock and quickened her pace to keep up with Heyes. “My aunt offered me a place to stay for as long as I wanted and I decided to see some more of the west before I reached the ocean. It was pure luck I happened to be on that train. I was supposed to have caught one yesterday but there was a mix up at my hotel and…well, suffice to say I had to travel today instead.” She turned to look at Kid. “Just in time to rescue you.”
“Heyes already thanked you.”
“I believe I did say thank you.”
“Is that all the thanks I’m going to get? No kiss?”
“What about a grateful hug?”
“There are other ways to show me how grateful you are.”
“None spring to mind.”
“Oh, Kid, I’m sure they do.”
“You sure you want to associate with an ugly man like me? I’m unwashed, remember?”
“Did I hurt your feelings?”
“I did, didn’t I?”
“No, you did not hurt my feelings.”
“Was it the unwashed comment or the ugly one?” Kid simply gave her a look. “Or were you jealous that you didn’t get to take me aside during the robbery?”
“Heyes, will you tell her I’m grateful so we can shut her up?” There was no reply from his partner. “Heyes?”
Heyes plodded on ahead of them.
Still no reply.
Heyes took two more steps and crumpled to his knees.
“I’m okay,” Heyes assured them as Kid shielded his friend’s face with his own hat.
“Sure you are.”
Elizabeth examined the bump on the back of Heyes’ head. “It’s not bleeding.”
“I told you, I’m fine!”
“You fainted,” Kid informed him. Blue eyes met brown ones.
“I didn’t faint.” Kid didn’t believe that. “Men don’t faint. They pass out.”
“Well, whatever you want to call it. One minute you were standing up and the next…” Their eyes met again. “You fainted; either that or you were taking a real close look for some cougar tracks.”
“Well, I’m fine now.” Heyes’ attempt to get back to his feet was halted by Kid’s hand pressing firmly on his chest.
“Stay down. I reckon we’ve gone far enough. We’ll camp here tonight. Give you a chance to rest up.”
“I don’t need to…” Kid and Elizabeth looked at him. Heyes’ shoulders drooped. “I got a little dizzy, that’s all. Really. I’m fine now. We should get moving. There could be a posse on our tail.”
“There could but I doubt they’ll travel at night and…” Kid glanced at the sky. “I reckon we have about an hour’s daylight left. I vote we stay here.” He faced Elizabeth.
“Seconded,” she agreed. “Motion carried. You lose, Hannibal.” She patted his knee affectionately. “Don’t worry, I’ll snuggle up real close and keep an eye on you.”
Kid rolled his eyes then smiled at his friend. “Better you than me.”
“We need to keep Heyes warm but I won’t risk a fire.” Kid looked around and decided that throwing a few branches over his friend was all he could come up with.
“We can make our own flames.” Elizabeth smiled at Heyes.
“That’s not something I want to think about,” Kid remarked as he pulled at the base of a shrub branch.
“Jealous again, Kid?”
“Nope, just sorry for Heyes. The man has a head wound; give him a break, huh?”
“I can hear you,” Heyes informed them from under his tilted hat. He sat back against a boulder; legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles.
“So what are we doing?” Elizabeth asked as Kid pulled at the base of a long-leaved branch.
“I figure we can use this as a blanket.” He tugged to no avail.
“You want to cover us in leaves?”
“The Indians use ‘em all the time. Makes good bedding”
“I imagine they have knives to cut the branches too.”
Kid looked at her over his shoulder. “I don’t have a knife, but trust me if I did I’d be using it right now and not on the branch.”
“Why Kid Curry are you threatening a defenceless woman?”
“You ain’t defenceless.”
Elizabeth smiled. “And don’t you know it.” She leaned forward, close to his ear so Heyes would not hear her. “If you get cold later, I know a lot of ways to warm you up.”
Kid made a show of moving away from her. Their eyes met. “Go annoy Heyes.”
She smiled and mouthed ‘Later’ before heading over to Kid’s partner.
Heyes pushed his hat up with one finger as Elizabeth approached.
“Want me to heat you up?” She knelt beside him, a wicked smile on her face.
“As appealing as that thought is, I’m warm enough.”
“That knock on your head must have been worse than I thought if you’re turning me away.” She settled beside him. “Unless you’re suggesting I keep your partner warm?”
“He’s not!” Kid assured her.
Heyes held out an arm and Elizabeth snuggled in beside him.
“You really okay?” she asked, her head resting on his chest.
“I am now.” Heyes heard Kid muttering. “What?”
“What are you doing to that bush anyway?”
“Tryin’ to get something to…” The branch swayed, an outlaw cussed. “…Cover us up with. I thought maybe…” Tug. Sway. Tug. Cuss. Elizabeth and Heyes exchanged a look. Did they need branches to keep them warm? Nope. Elizabeth snuggled closer.
“Kid, don’t waste your time,” Heyes suggested.
“Not gonna be beaten by a…” Tug. Pull.
“Really, Kid, we’re fine.”
“It’s okay. I can…” Tug. Tug. SNAP! Kid staggered back, landing unceremoniously on his butt. He held a completely defoliated twig in his hand. “Damn!”
“What is it?” Heyes asked as he stood beside a squinting Kid Curry on the afternoon of the following day. They had spent a less than comfortable night under the stars, lying on hard ground NOT covered by branches, since Kid had given up after his struggle with the bushes. They had woken with stiff necks and aching backs to no breakfast or hot coffee before heading out across country in search of civilisation and food. Kid would happily forego civilisation if he could just find food. As if to confirm the fact his stomach growled. The blond man’s eyes were now focussed on the horizon. There was scrub and brush as far as the eye could see but there were also…
“Buildings. Could be a town.” His eyes narrowed.
“I don’t see anything.” Elizabeth shielded her eyes with her hand as she gazed into the distance.
“I’m trying to think of the towns around here but I don’t think we’ve ever been out this way before,” Kid mused.
“I still don’t see anything,” Elizabeth protested.
“Don’t mean it ain’t there, sweetheart.” Kid smiled and drew his gun, opening it to check the chambers.
Before Elizabeth could say anything, Heyes did the same. “You’re expecting trouble?” They ignored her.
“Let’s hope the telegraph hasn’t reached here yet,” Kid stated.
Heyes shot his partner a look. Nope, he didn’t believe that either. Heyes reached for Elizabeth’s hand giving it a gentle squeeze as he took it in his. “When we get there, as much as I know it will pain you, please follow our lead,” Heyes insisted.
“And if I disagree with what you decide to do?”
“I’ll shoot you,” Kid informed her.
“Oh, you’d just love to, wouldn’t you, Kid?”
“No, HE wouldn’t,” Heyes glanced from his partner to his…Well, sheesh this was a weird time to start wondering what he should call Elizabeth. Heyes shook his head. “He won’t shoot you, but mess things up and I might.”
Heyes walked off tugging Elizabeth with him.
“Might I remind you, who just rescued who? Who was handcuffed and on his, no wait, on their way to prison and would still be on that train if it wasn’t for me! May I also remind you that you didn’t have a clue how to get yourselves out of that mess and that if I hadn’t come along when I did…” Elizabeth’s voice faded as they disappeared over a ridge.
“What do you think?” Heyes asked. He lay on his stomach on a small rise above the town. Kid and Elizabeth lay belly down beside him. With a gunman’s eye Kid surveyed the buildings. Nothing moved. No one scurried furtively from one building to the next. No cat lay sunning itself on the boardwalk. No stray dog barked at its shadow or waited for its owner outside the saloon. Instead the saloon doors swung in the breeze that sent a dust devil swirling its way across the deserted main street. A shutter banged closed in the wind but there was not a living thing in sight.
“Pretty big town to just abandon,” Kid mused.
“Maybe the gold ran out,” Elizabeth suggested.
“Never heard of a strike out here,” Heyes informed her.
“Maybe the water then,” she suggested. Kid pointed to a water tower just behind the main street. Dark stains on the ground indicated that the tank was still dripping. Okay so it wasn’t the water either.
Heyes rolled onto his side looking at them. “What do you want to do?”
“Whether there’s anyone down there or not, we still might find food. We know there’s water and at least we’ll have shelter for the night. I say we go on in,” his partner voted.
“Oh, I’m allowed an opinion now?” She stared at Heyes. “I thought I was just to ‘follow your lead’.”
“Don’t sweetheart me, Hannibal Heyes, I get enough of that from him,” She jerked a thumb at Kid who gave her his most innocent smile. Elizabeth returned her attention to Heyes. “I never thought of you as a chauvinist but…”
“Elizabeth, just answer his darn question!” Kid cried, exasperated.
“Don’t you start, Blondie!”
Kid looked at Heyes. “I vote we shoot her. Is it too late to shoot her?”
Heyes smiled. “Yes, Kid. It is.” Making the decision for all he stood up in full view of anyone watching them from the buildings below. When he held out his hand, Elizabeth took it and he pulled her to her feet. “You don’t really think I’m a chauvinist do you?”
“You don’t even want to get me started on that!” she informed him as they headed towards the town.
“Is that like a Methodist?” asked Kid.
“NOTHING!” Kid called as he came out of the saloon, letting the bat wing doors swing shut behind him.
“SAME HERE!” Heyes announced from in front of the general store across the street. “ANY FOOD OR WATER?”
“WATER, BUT IT’S GREEN. STILL WANT IT?”
“THINK I’LL PASS. THERE’S SOME CANS IN THE STORE. ELIZABETH’S CHECKING ‘EM OUT.”
Kid stepped down into the street. His boots kicked up dust as he strode towards his partner. “Wonder what happened here.” He looked around and…
“What is it?”
No reply. Kid’s eyes narrowed on a point further down the street.
“Thought I saw someone.”
Heyes was swiftly at his side, his hand resting on his gun. “Where?” His eyes scanned the street.
“The church.” Kid hadn’t taken his gaze from the building. “Just caught a brief glimpse but…”
“I don’t see anyone.”
“They must have gone inside.” Kid kept his eyes on the church.
Heyes turned towards the general store. “ELIZABETH!”
After a moment she appeared in the doorway clutching three cans. “You bellowed my beloved?”
“Kid thinks he saw someone. We’re gonna take a look.”
She placed the cans on a bench outside the store and started down the steps. “I’m coming with you.” Elizabeth strode towards them.
“No, I think you should…”
“If you think for one moment that the little woman is going to wait behind while the big strong men go off and get their heads blown off you can think again!” She was standing in front of him now, her feet just a few inches from his, daring him to contradict her. Brown eyes met brown eyes.
Heyes smiled. “Got a gun?”
Elizabeth reached down and took hold of the hem of her skirt. Lifting it she showed them her long stocking clad leg.
“Nice as that is, Sweetheart, I don’t think that’ll keep Heyes here,” Kid informed her.
“Huh?” Elizabeth looked down, realised they couldn’t see what she was showing them and raised her skirt higher, revealing a Derringer tucked into her stocking. “That better?”
“The view? Definitely.” Kid smiled. “The gun? Pathetic.”
“It’ll do just fine,” Heyes assured her. “I assume it’s loaded?”
“Of course. I found it in a drawer along with a box of bullets. Wish they’d left a rifle but, beggars can’t be choosers.” She glanced from Heyes to Kid. “So, are we going to church or do you boys want to stand here and gawp at my legs some more?”
Kid looked at Heyes. “Rhetorical question, right?”
“Hey! You there! Wait!!” Heyes and Elizabeth turned at Kid’s sudden cry and saw a small figure in a long dark robe disappear into the church. Kid set off towards the building and the others followed. Reaching the church Kid pushed against the large oak doors. It didn’t budge. Locked? He sent his partner a puzzled look.
“Reckon you can open it?” Kid asked.
Heyes stepped forward confidently. “Of course.” He pounded on the door with a fist. “Hello in there!”
“I coulda done that!” Kid scoffed. No one answered. Heyes pounded again. And again. And then again. And finally the door cracked open and a nun peered out at them.
Heyes was lost for words but Elizabeth had no such trouble and pushed him aside. “Oh, thank goodness, a woman! Sister, please let us in,” she entreated. “We’ve been walking for days and….”
A shot rang out, the bullet hitting the door frame just inches from Elizabeth’s head, sending splinters into the air. Kid and Heyes drew their guns as Heyes shoved Elizabeth’s head down. Turning their backs, they shielded her with their bodies as they searched for the shooter.
The door opened wider.
“Come inside! All of you come in! Quickly!” The nun stood to one side and they squeezed past her entering the church as another bullet hit the door before the nun shut and bolted it with a large beam of wood.
The inside of the church was cool compared to the heat outside. Their eyes adjusted to the change in light and they found themselves face to face with black and white clad women.
“Sisters.” Heyes holstered his gun and removed his hat, then whacked Kid in the stomach with it. The blond man quickly removed his own headgear. Heyes hit him again and Kid holstered his Colt.
“Sisters,” Kid said with an embarrassed smile as he faced the three nuns, two of whom looked old enough to be his grandmother.
The nuns said nothing. Maybe this was one of those silent orders, where you weren’t allowed to speak although the nun that let them in had so…
As the two grown men stood dumbly near the door like schoolboys at communion Elizabeth stepped forward.
“Ladies, I am so glad to see you. I hope you have a bath here because I could really use one. We have trudged across miles of open countryside, my shoes are worn out, my back aches and now someone is shooting at us.” She sat down on a pew, raised her skirt and rubbed her left ankle. “My feet are killing me.” The nuns did not reply. “Sisters?” Elizabeth looked to the nun who had allowed them entry into the church. “You do all speak English don’t you? Habla inglés?”
“Yes, we speak English,” the first nun replied. “I’m Sister Agnes. Unfortunately we do not have enough water for a bath at the moment.”
Another nun, older, smaller and thinner than Sister Agnes, spoke up. “We have food if you’re hungry.”
“Thank you, Sister Mary,” Sister Agnes said, silencing her. She turned to address their visitors. “We’re not exactly prepared for visitors here. You have come at a bad time.”
“So we saw. Apart from the shooting, the town does seem kinda quiet.” Heyes jerked a thumb over his shoulder.
“Empty too. Why is that?” Kid asked.
The nuns exchanged glances but no one spoke. Elizabeth sensed their unease. “Maybe you can tell us about it later. That food sounds good. If you have enough to share?”
Sister Mary smiled, took her cue from Sister Agnes. The senior nun nodded and Sister Mary led the way across the church aisle, where each nun genuflected, before heading towards a room beyond a side door.
“This is good,” Kid announced as he swallowed another mouthful of stew. They sat on a bench at a long table in the small kitchen in the building adjacent to the church.
“I’m glad you like it,” Sister Francis replied. She was young, maybe eighteen or nineteen and her smile was genuine and sweet. She gazed at the blond cowboy, whose hat rested on the bench seat beside him. He smiled back at Sister Francis and she blushed. Kid wondered what such a young woman was doing with two elderly nuns.
“Sister Francis.” The young nun was startled by Sister Agnes. “Bring the water please.” Sister Francis did as requested and picking up two jugs headed for the table. She filled their glasses in turn. Kid smiled at her when she reached his side.
“Thank you,” he said and she blushed again.
“So what happened to the town?” Heyes asked Sister Agnes.
The nun considered his question for a moment and then uttered one word. “Gold.”
“Gold?” Two ex-outlaws’ eyes lit up. Old habits die hard.
“There’s gold here?” Heyes pointed to the ground beneath him.
“A lot?” Kid asked casually as he stuffed another spoonful of stew into his mouth.
“I don’t know.”
“If there’s gold, why is the town empty?” Elizabeth asked.
Sister Agnes sat back, preparing to tell her tale. “A man named Robert Orchard arrived in Paisley two years ago. He bought up land around the town, then some of the stores. He started a mining operation. Nobody thought anything if it. He created jobs. He was investing in the town. The mine grew bigger. His operation was somewhat secretive. Guards were posted around the mine. The workers were not allowed into town. One or two men suddenly disappeared.”
“Off visiting relatives or called away to a sick friend,” Sister Mary informed them.
She received a look from Sister Agnes who then continued with the story. “Rumours started to spread about what they were really mining. Not minerals as Mister Orchard had told us but gold. A specialist surveyor arrived from back east. Orchard bought more of the stores, then the school building. Soon he owned most of the town.”
“But not the church,” Sister Francis interjected.
“No, not the church.” Sister Agnes cast a glance at the young nun. She was clearly not expected to speak unless spoken to. “And then he asked people to leave. He owned their stores and he wanted them out. There were meetings in town but what could anyone do? Richard Orchard did indeed own the town. He was perfectly entitled to ask his tenants to leave. And by then the mine shaft extended under the town.”
“Under the town?” Heyes’ brow furrowed.
“Apparently there really is gold here. Orchard’s surveyor found a seam that extends down Main Street and under the church.” She allowed that to sink in.
“He wants you out.” Kid stated.
“Yes.” Sister Agnes nodded. “They have yet to cut off the water supply but we have to sneak out to get food.”
Kid looked at Heyes. They’d just eaten some of the nun’s limited resources. “Sister, you should have told us before we…” Kid waved his hand at their empty plates.
“Nonsense. We share everything we have.”
Heyes remained quiet. Trouble. The nuns were in trouble and they were supposed to stay out of that. He looked at Kid and knew his friend was thinking the same thing.
“What can we do to help?” Heyes asked.
Sister Agnes smiled. “Nothing. Rest up and then go on your way, when you can. We will be all right. Richard Orchard is not going to harm us.”
“So who were they shooting at?” Kid asked.
“They are just warning shots. Orchard’s men are trying to scare us; to make life as uncomfortable for us as they can in the hope that we will leave. However, they have clearly drawn the line at hurting a nun.” She smiled.
“And they don’t know the Sisters of Saint Christopher’s do they?” Sister Francis added proudly. “We are doing God’s work here. He will protect us.”
“Thank you, Sister Francis, but we must remember that God may be busy elsewhere.” The older nun smiled at the novice. “However, he has provided us with company this evening and for that we are grateful.” She smiled at the three visitors. “What news of the outside world? How are the Boston Red Stockings doing?”
Heyes laughed. “I’m sorry, I don’t know.”
“Never knew nuns followed baseball,” Kid added with a smile.
“I’m sure there’s a lot about nuns you don’t know.”
Kid caught the twinkle in Agnes’ eye as she spoke. He liked this woman.
“But why stay here?” Elizabeth asked. “The town is empty. You have no one to preach to and there are only three of you.”
Heyes would have sworn Sister Agnes bristled at that remark.
“We are not here just to ‘preach’,” she informed Elizabeth.
“Sister, I’m sure our friend didn’t mean any offence,” Kid said, not convinced of any such thing and he shot Elizabeth a look that told her just that.
“No offence taken,” Sister Agnes replied.
“So why stay?” Elizabeth asked again. “You’re literally sitting on a fortune. If he’s offered to buy you out take this man’s money and set up somewhere else.”
“This church has been the home to our Order for many years. Each of us found our way here for a reason. It is here we do God’s work.”
“To whom?” the other woman asked.
“God’s work isn’t only about spreading the word. We pray, we tend his soil, we live our lives as an example to others.”
Elizabeth opened her mouth ready to point out that there were no others to be an example too when Heyes interrupted her. “So what happens when your water runs out?”
“It won’t run dry. Our well is in the small shed you passed on the way to our door. The windmill draws the water to the surface and runs it through a duct to our kitchen. It’s quite an innovation. A young Mexican built it for us a few years ago.”
“But all this man, Orchard, has to do is to destroy the windmill and you run out of water.” Elizabeth seemed determined to play Devil’s advocate.
“Life must be very hard for you, my child, if you always see the world through such dark eyes.” Sister Agnes stood up, slowly. “If you will excuse me?”
Kid and Heyes rose to their feet. They watched the two nuns leave the room.
Kid glared at Elizabeth.
Elizabeth found Sister Agnes in the church. The nun sat in the pews lost in quiet contemplation. Elizabeth hesitated, not wishing to disturb the woman.
“What is it child?” Agnes asked without looking up.
“I didn’t want to disturb you.” Elizabeth stepped closer.
The nun raised her head and smiled as she studied the younger woman’s face. “You are not disturbing me.”
“I came to apologise, which isn’t something I do very often. If I upset you, I’m sorry.”
“You spoke your mind. I appreciate that. You said nothing I haven’t thought of myself. I am responsible for this church and two other people. I’ve struggled to know the right thing to do but I know God will guide me to make the right decisions.” Agnes’ eyes examined Elizabeth in the muted light inside the church. “Oh my dear, your clothes are torn.” She stood up. “I’m sorry, I should have noticed. Let’s get you decent.”
“That’ll be a first,” Kid Curry said and both women turned, startled to see him standing there. His smile disappeared under the nun’s glare. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
“Was there something you wanted?” Sister Agnes’ eyes bore into him.
“Er, no I was just gonna take a look around.” Kid waved his hand absently around the church. “If that’s all right? Check out the er, the escape routes and…er…stuff.”
Agnes dismissed him with a glance and led Elizabeth away. As she passed him Mrs Darkly couldn’t help but reach out and goose Kid Curry causing Sister Agnes to turn and scowl at his startled cry.
“Sorry, Sister,” he apologised as he blushed and shot Elizabeth a glare.
“She’s as bad as you,” Kid Curry grumbled as he joined Heyes who was seated at the long dining table nursing a cup of coffee.
Heyes smiled. “I take it we’re talking about Elizabeth?” He stood up and walked over to the stove.
“No, that nun. I swear she looked right through me.”
“You’ve just got too much of a guilty conscience, Kid.”
“Oh, and you don’t?”
“Just hide it better than you, I guess.” He held up the coffee pot and Kid nodded. Heyes poured him a cup. “So what are they doing?”
“Elizabeth and the Sisters.” Heyes returned to the table, placing the coffee in front of Kid. His partner nodded his thanks.
“Sister Agnes is gonna get her decent.” Heyes gave Kid a confused look. “Elizabeth. Apparently her dress is torn.”
“It’ll take more than a dress to make that woman decent. You don’t wanna know what she did to me in the church.”
“I didn’t but seeing as you’ve mentioned it, I’m all ears.”
Kid tried to ignore Heyes’ amused grin. “Forget I said anything.”
“For now. D’you check out the church?”
“Yeah. There’s a good view of the street from the windows at the front. One door at the back. It’s easy to lock and open. There’s a corral across from that with a couple of mules in it. Open ground between it and a barn. The windmill out front is part of a smaller building. I couldn’t get a good look at it.”
Heyes nodded as he considered this. They discussed possible escape routes and ways to defend their position. From the corner of their eyes they saw two nuns enter the room. Kid gave them only a cursory glance and took a swig of coffee. As they drew closer he looked up and…choked on his coffee. Heyes cast a worried glance at his friend. When he was sure he was going to survive he turned to the nuns… and found Elizabeth smiling back at him from beneath a nun’s habit. Heyes’ mouth dropped open.
Heyes pushed back his chair and stood. He studied her outfit, looked at Sister Agnes beside her then back at Elizabeth. Reaching out he took her hand in his and nodded his approval. “You make a very appealing nun.”
Still coughing, Kid shook his head.
“What?” Elizabeth enquired of the blond man. “Can’t think of anything to say?”
Kid took a deep breath. “Oh, I can think of plenty. Just don’t reckon this is the place to say it.” He smiled innocently at Sister Agnes who stood at Elizabeth’s side. When the real nun headed towards the coffee pot Kid lowered his voice and whispered. “I always knew it’d take an act of God to make you decent.”
The nuns took Elizabeth to their small dormitory to show her where she could sleep. Kid and Heyes sat at the dining table and considered their next move. It wasn’t a long discussion because there didn’t appear to be too many options. They could leave in the morning, abandoning three nuns to their fate or they could stay and – do what?
The men turned in their seats to find themselves face to face with Sister Mary. She had been relatively quiet during their meal, speaking only to confirm or agree with something one of the other Sisters said. She smiled as she approached them now. Both men got politely to their feet.
“Sister.” Heyes smiled back as the elderly woman drew closer.
“Something we can help you with?” Kid enquired.
“As a matter of fact, there is.” She looked behind her, and then turned back to them, her tone conspiratorial. “I wonder, do either of you gentlemen play poker?”
Kid chuckled as he laid out a blanket on top of the bed roll he’d placed in a corner of the church. He glanced at his partner.
“Shut up!” Heyes snapped.
“I didn’t say anythin’.”
“You were thinking it.” Heyes shook out his own blanket, then sat down on the bed roll and began pulling off a boot.
Kid chuckled again as he mirrored his friend’s actions. He shook his head. “I can’t believe she cleaned you out.”
“Neither can I.” Heyes tugged off his other boot.
“She sure is good at poker.” Kid shook his head at the memory but Heyes said nothing. Instead he took out his feelings on the buckle of his gun belt. Kid chuckled. “I couldn’t believe it when you suggested Montana Red Dog.”
“I was desperate!”
“To rip off a nun?”
“A sweet little elderly nun who turned out to be a cardsharp!”
Kid sniggered and received a Heyes glare in return.
“Isn’t there some vow they take about gambling?” Heyes grumbled. “Where’d she learn all that stuff anyway?”
“The Sisters do not all come to us as children.” Heyes and Kid shot to their feet as Sister Agnes approached. She smiled. “I’m sorry we could not offer you a more comfortable place to sleep.”
“We’ve no complaints, Sister. We’re used to sleeping on hard ground under the stars,” Heyes informed her. “Just being inside’s a luxury.”
“Sister Mary is right; you do have a silver tongue, Mister Smith. I hope she didn’t take all of your money?”
Heyes looked embarrassed. “No. Not all of it.”
“Sister Mary worked in a gambling house in New Orleans many years ago. Her skills have done wonders for our charitable causes.” She smiled at their shocked faces. “I didn’t come to the church as a child either. My father was a medicine man, except his potions never cured anyone. However, they did pay for our room and board until we were thrown out of town.” She smiled at their stunned expressions. “We’re not always what we seem are we gentlemen?”
“She can’t know who we are, Heyes, can she?” Kid whispered as they watched Sister Agnes glide across the aisle of the church.
“’Course not.” He looked up at the figure of Christ, above the altar. Was he looking directly at them or was it his imagination? They had enough to worry about in their pursuit of amnesty without the wrath of God to contend with.
“I don’t remember there being any nuns on any of the trains we robbed,” Kid mused as he lay on the church floor, his hands tucked behind his head.
“Neither do I.” Heyes fussed with his blanket, then lay down and pulled it up to his chin. “She can’t know.” He hoped he was right.
Kid and Heyes entered the kitchen the next morning each sporting a day’s growth of stubble and a backache. Neither man had slept well. A guilty conscience lying under the watchful gaze of the figure of Christ did not make for a good night’s sleep. Or maybe it was just a very hard church floor. Either way they were not in the best of moods when they entered the room.
Spotting them, Sister Francis smiled and picked up two mugs and the coffee pot.
“Good morning, Mister Smith.”
“Good morning, Mister Jones.”
“Would you like some coffee?” The young woman held out a cup to Kid. Heyes smiled. It appeared the young nun had taken a shine to his partner. Typical. Probably those darn blue eyes again.
As Kid accepted a cup, Heyes looked towards the table. Sister Mary smiled at him and shuffled along the bench seat, patting the space next to her as he approached. Heyes sat where she pointed.
“I hope you’re not gonna suggest another game of poker, Sister, because I am broke thanks to you.”
“Oh, I didn’t take all your money. That would have been uncharitable.”
Heyes smiled. “And robbing a weary stranger wasn’t?”
“Consider it a donation.”
“Yeah, one I had no choice in.”
“You had a choice. You just chose to call.”
“I had a good hand. Nine outta ten times it woulda won that game.”
“Ah, but I have the Lord on my side.”
“Playing partner’s, huh? That’s cheating!”
“Call it retribution. You did try to hoodwink a nun with Montana Red Dog.” Sister Mary smiled and patted his hand. “I like you, Joshua.”
“Yeah, but you like my money more.”
The nun roared with laughter. She cast her gaze towards Kid and the young Sister. “The coffee’s fresh, go grab a cup and save Sister Francis from her girlish notions.”
Heyes stood up. “D’you want one?”
“No thank you, but I’d appreciate it if you came back and sat a while.”
Heyes collected a cup from Sister Francis, after he’d persuaded her to drag her gaze away from Kid. Then the two men sat at the table, sipping on the hot liquid and chatting conversationally with the ladies. There was no sign of Elizabeth Darkly.
Soft footsteps announced the arrival of Sister Agnes. She looked worried. “They’ve broken the wind pump and cut off the water supply,” she announced.
“Is there any water at all?” Kid asked.
“Just enough for drinking water today and probably tomorrow. After that…” The ominous consequences hung in the air.
“Joshua and I will go take a look,” Kid announced. He took a long last swallow of his coffee. He glanced at Heyes. “Coming?”
“There are men out there shooting at people.”
“And there are men in here that can shoot back. Someone has to go out and fix it.”
Heyes sighed. Kid gave him a look.
Heyes turned to face Sister Agnes. “Yes, Sister?”
“If you intend to go out there, I have something that might protect you.”
Kid looked up at a painting of Christ on the cross that hung in Sister Agnes’ small office. He’d never been one for church-going. Sure, when they were kids they’d gone with their folks on Sunday but he wasn’t one for praying on a regular basis. Still, the Sister meant well and they could do with any help they could get. If she thought it would help to wear a crucifix he’d take it and thank her for the thought. She must have quite a selection if she needed Heyes to help pick one out but…
“What do you think?” Sister Agnes asked and Kid turned around and…
“Not a word.” Heyes warned him holding up one finger. “Not. One. Word.”
Kid smiled. Bit his lips together hard. Smiled again. Opened his mouth. Bit down hard on his lips fighting the urge to say something.
“Not. One,” Heyes warned again.
Kid turned his back on his friend his shoulders rose and fell a couple of times before Kid spun round quickly.
“You gotta let me say something or I’m gonna burst.”
Heyes gave him his best gunfighter’s stare.
Kid grinned. “You make a wonderful nun.”
Hannibal Heyes’ eyes narrowed and a crease formed in his forehead just below the wimple he now wore.
Kid was surely going to bust a gut if he wasn’t allowed to laugh out loud. He bit his lip again. He lowered his voice when he spoke so only Heyes would hear.
“I know we’re supposed to stay out of trouble but don’t you think becoming a nun is taking it a bit far?”
“It’s a good disguise. Hopefully no one will shoot at a nun.”
“What do you think, Thaddeus? Will he pass?” Sister Agnes waited for his answer. So did Heyes.
Kid ran his eyes over Heyes’ ‘costume’. He wore the full nun’s habit except – it was a little short. Two dusty boots poked out from beneath the material. “You wearin’ your boots?”
Heyes grabbed hold of the bottom of the habit and raised it.
“Whoa! Sister! Stop! Please!” Kid cried in mock horror. Heyes ignored him and revealed he still wore his gun-belt. Kid shook his head. “The Lord sure does move in mysterious ways.”
“Sister Joshua, I think you should lower your habit,” Sister Agnes suggested.
“Sorry,” Heyes dropped the material and looked back at Kid. “Will you stop smirkin’!”
Kid smiled. “Well, Sister Joshua, if we both get killed doing this, at least I’ll go out laughin’.”
“I have no intention of getting killed, so if we hafta shoot make sure you hit what you aim at.”
“Don’t I always?”
“Do we have time for the list?”
“Just cos you’re a nun don’t mean I can’t shoot ya!
“Gentlemen.” They turned to Sister Agnes. “Are you both going outside?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll cover Joshua while he sees if he can fix the pump,” Kid informed her.
“Well then…” The nun looked at Heyes and back to Kid. A smile slowly formed on Heyes’ face. A smile Kid didn’t like.
“Oh, no. No way!”
“Not a word,” Kid warned as he stood, grim faced, dressed in a nun’s habit near the main door.
Elizabeth smiled and bit her lip. “Not even one?”
“It’s a very good word.”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“The wimple suits you.”
“Did you not hear me?”
“It highlights your blue eyes.”
“Heyes is dressed as a nun too ya know. Why don’t you go bother him?”
“Because this is more fun. I get to remind you of this every chance I get.”
“Just. Go. Away.”
“Not a chance. Oh, what do you think would happen if you got caught like this? Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry found dressed as nuns!” She chuckled.
“Will you keep your voice down!”
Elizabeth fussed with a strand of hair that poked out beneath Kid’s wimple. He batted her hand away. “Stop that!”
“I just want you to look your best Sister Thaddeus.”
“This is giving me all kinds of fantasies, you know.” She waggled her eyebrows at him.
“Go fantasize about Heyes.”
“Are you wearing your gun?”
“Of course I’m wearing my gun.”
“Ooh, a nun with a gun.” She sniggered and Kid looked around desperately for his friend.
Elizabeth watched as Heyes wandered over, not in the most nunly way. Hmm. That could be a problem. “Hello, Sister Hannibal.”
“That’s Sister Joshua, to you. So what do you think of Sister Thaddeus?” Heyes smiled at his partner.
“There is no Sister Thaddeus!” Kid glared.
“I think she’s adorable.” Kid rolled his eyes and looked to Heyes for help. His partner just smiled. “You’ll both be careful?” Elizabeth asked.
“Of course.” Heyes gave her a kiss on the cheek.
Kid groaned. “That does not look right.”
“Neither do you two,” she informed him. “You don’t walk the way a nun does. Try to be more,” she searched for the word.
“Godly,” Sister Agnes provided. Sheesh, there she was again. How the heck did she do that? Creeping up on folk like that was – unsettling. “Walk with serenity gentlemen. Imagine you have all the time in the world and peace in your heart.”
“Well, we’ve always been peaceable men, Thaddeus, so how hard can it be?” Heyes smiled at his friend.
Kid cracked open the door and looked out. The main street was deserted and the water-pump building tantalisingly close.
“Street’s clear,” he announced. “You ready?”
“Anytime you are, Sister.”
Heyes slipped out of the door and into the sunlight. He focussed on walking like a nun, slow, serene, no rush, the Lord on his side, hands held together in front. He headed across the open plaza towards the storehouse. Kid followed. His eyes were ever watchful. He saw no movement although he scanned every adobe building, brick and plant. His hands were tucked into his sleeves but he held onto his Colt.
Heyes reached the small building in which the water-pump was housed. He disappeared inside taking a moment to allow his eyes to adjust. Kid followed him.
“Well, they didn’t leave a lot for us to repair,” Kid observed as he looked at the pieces of the pump that lay scattered on the floor.
“Oh, it’s not so bad.” Heyes reached down and picked up a piece of metal. “They haven’t destroyed it really, just taken it apart. It was probably easier that way. I guess they figured the Sisters wouldn’t be able to fix it.” He smiled at Kid. “Didn’t know there were two new nuns in town.”
“I am not a nun and neither are you,” Kid bristled.
“Not too keen on your disguise?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Worried it brings out your feminine side?”
“Can you fix the darn thing or what?”
Heyes smirked. “Yep, I reckon I…” He picked up another piece and fit it into the part he held. “…can.”
“Can you see anything?” Sister Agnes asked as she stood next to Elizabeth Darkly at a window. Elizabeth’s eyes were focussed on the pump house.
“Do you think they know what they’re doing?”
“I have every faith in Joshua.”
Sister Agnes noticed the omission. “But not Thaddeus?”
A smile crept across Elizabeth’s face. “Oh, I have faith in him too. He’ll keep them both safe or die trying. Just don’t tell him I told you.”
“I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“So do I.”
“LOOK!” Agnes pointed. Elizabeth watched as the windmill blades began to turn. The women grinned.
“I knew he could do it!”
“You ready to go?” Kid asked, his eyes scouring the street and distant buildings for any sign of danger.
“Yeah.” Heyes gave the pump an affectionate pat. “Keep going, girl.” He joined his partner at the door. “See anything?”
“Reckon they’re out there?”
“You’re pretty gabby today.” Two blue eyes fixed on Heyes. The dark haired man smiled. “That glare don’t work when you’re wearing a wimple.”
They stepped outside and walked towards the church as serenely as they could manage. A large piece of tumbleweed rolled by and a sudden gust of wind blew dust in their faces, hoisting their habits into the air. Heyes and Kid batted down the garments but not before their manly attire of jeans, boots and gun belts had been exposed to anyone watching.
“Dammit!” Kid forced the black material down. “How do women move in these things?” They continued to walk, the wind exposing their true garments to all. They had just passed a water trough when the first shot rang out flicking up the dirt not two feet in front of them.
“RUN!” Kid yelled somewhat unnecessarily.
Heyes certainly didn’t need encouragement from his partner. He took off at speed, grappling with the habit as he searched for his gun. Behind him Kid did the same. Bullets pinged off a metal tub, hit adobe walls with a pfft and created dust spurts as they hit the ground in front of them.
“Don’t think much of their aim!” Heyes bellowed.
“Seems fine to me!” Kid pulled his Colt and aimed a couple of shots at a small building to their right from where he’d seen bullet flashes. He wasn’t likely to hit anything but it might force the shooters to keep their heads down for a while. Heyes slowed to do the same but felt Kid’s hand in his back, shoving him forward. “Keep runnin’!” Kid covered Heyes’ back. His friend heard him stumble and cuss.
“Go! Go on!” The blond man righted himself and ran.
When Heyes finally reached the church the door flew open and wimpled faces beckoned him inside. Heyes turned waiting until Kid, running backwards as he fired, finally reached him and entered the church. The large door slammed shut behind them and two Sisters blocked it with the oak plank. Heyes collapsed to his knees breathing heavily. Kid leaned against a wall, hands on his knees as he gasped for air.
“Are you all right?” Sister Agnes asked.
“Fine,” Heyes assured her. “We’re fine.”
“Did you really fix it?”
Heyes smiled. “Good as new.” He got to his feet. “How ‘bout we go get a drink of water?” Elizabeth and Sister Agnes led the way to the kitchen. Heyes stopped and looked at his friend. “Coming?”
Kid waved him off. “Later.”
Heyes nodded and followed the ladies. In the shadows Sister Francis watched as the blond man pulled the habit off over his head in irritation and propped himself against the wall.
Kid Curry squeezed his eyes closed and grimaced. Leaning forward he rested his hands on his knees once more. His eyes narrowed as he watched one red drip and then another hit the floor. What? As the adrenaline rush subsided he felt the burn in his side. He knew something had hit him but he’d assumed it was just a graze. He touched a hand to his shirt. It was wet. He looked down at the growing bloodstain. It must be a deeper graze than he thought. Kid cussed, righted himself then bit back a crippling pain. The floor moved as a wave of dizziness swept over him. Damn! He didn’t have time for this. If he just sat down for a minute maybe he’d be okay. He could fashion a makeshift bandage and no one would be any the wiser. If Heyes found out, he’d want him to rest and they couldn’t afford to be without his gun. He just needed to…Oh. That. Hurt! Just a minute, that’s all he needed. Just. One. Minute. Kid picked up the wimple, screwed it into a ball, and placed it against his wounded side.
Sister Francis took a step towards him.
“Mister Jones?” There was no reply. “Thaddeus?”
Kid looked up at her. “Sister…Listen…”
She took a step closer. “Are you all right?” It was then that she saw the blood on his hands. She gasped.
“Sister, it’s okay…”
Sister Francis didn’t listen, instead she spun on her heals and ran.
“Sister Agnes! Sister Agnes!” Sister Francis cried as she ran into the kitchen. Agnes stood with Elizabeth, Sister Mary and Heyes, who was no longer dressed in a habit, as they marvelled at his genius in repairing the water pump. Water flowed into the large white sink as Sister Mary pumped the handle.
“Sister Francis, we do not run! Nor do we bellow!” Sister Agnes admonished.
“I know, Sister, but…” The young nun skidded to a halt.
“You were taught better than this. Sister Francis, compose yourself.”
The young woman stood calmly and took a breath. “I’m sorry Sister Agnes but it’s Mister Jones.”
Heyes looked up, concerned. “What about him?”
Heyes stopped in his tracks. Kid sat on the floor where he’d left him, leaning his back against the wall. His legs were stretched out in front of him, his chest rose and fell rapidly and his head drooped forward. The left side of his clothing was…soaked red… and Kid’s right hand was covered in blood where he held his side.
“Kid?” Heyes dropped to one knee beside his friend.
Kid looked up and met Heyes’ eyes. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
“Where have I heard that before?”
There was the sound of approaching footsteps and Elizabeth and Sisters Agnes and Francis appeared behind them.
“Joshua what…?” Elizabeth looked at Kid. “How bad?” She knelt beside them.
“Bad enough.” Heyes tore open Kid’s shirt revealing the ugly wound.
“It’s just…a graze,” Kid said between gasps for breath.
“It’s more than that.” Heyes took the crumpled wimple from his friend and pressed it into the wound.
Kid hissed. “That hurts!”
“I’m trying to stop the bleeding.”
“I know…just. Do it.”
Heyes pressed harder and Kid cussed. “Watch your language, nuns present.”
Kid looked up into a sea of female faces. “Sorry…Argh!”
“I need to take a look.” Heyes leaned Kid forward so he could see how far round his side the wound ran.
“What’s it look like?”
“Like you shoulda run faster.”
“I was trying to…cover your back.”
“If you’da run faster…”
“Hold still.” Heyes pressed down.
Kid’s teeth clenched together and he turned to Heyes. “Do you need to press so hard?”
“No, but then you might bleed to death.”
“I don’t think they hit an artery but you’re leaking a lot of this red stuff.”
Sister Agnes crouched beside them. “Give me that.” She took the blood soaked wimple from Heyes’ hand. “Sister Mary and I were nurses during the war,” she stated when Heyes shot her a glance as she brushed him aside. “We’ll tend to him.”
“Sisters you don’t hafta…” Kid began but the senior nun silenced him with a wave of her hand.
“We just need to get some gauze on this wound, apply a little medication and you’re going to be fine, Thaddeus.”
“We have to cauterise it,” Kid stated. “Open up a bullet or…”
“NO!” Agnes was adamant.
“You heard Joshua, I’m losing too much blood.”
The nun’s eyes met the steely gaze of an outlaw.
“I’ve seen it done before,” Agnes stated. “I know what you want your friend to do and it’s not going to happen. You’re more likely to seal in any infection.”
Heyes looked at Kid. “She has a point.”
“She knows what she’s talking about,” Sister Agnes informed them, pointedly.
Kid closed his eyes and held his side. “Do whatever you hafta.”
Agnes waved Heyes out of the way and a flurry of black and white clad women took over.
Sister Francis watched over Thaddeus as he slept. He was a handsome man with soft blond hair and blue eyes that lit up when he smiled. He was strong and brave and… Sister Francis shook her head admonishing herself. She shouldn’t be thinking this way about a man. It was just…He had the kindest blue eyes. He noticed her and spoke to her. Too many people barely acknowledged her presence. She was a novice; of no real consequence. It was the life she had chosen but…Maybe she had been too young to know what she wanted. There was so much she did not know. So many things she would never see or experience.
She looked at Thaddeus. The blanket covered him from the waist down but she knew he wore only his under garments. His bare torso was covered only with the bandage Sister Agnes had applied to his wound. The rest was…exposed and…manly. A fine sheen of sweat glistened on his skin. When she’d seen the blood on his hand she’d thought he would die. She had prayed so hard.
Sister Francis swallowed and reached out a hand, resting it on his bare arm. His flesh was warm and yet she shivered. She moved her hand down to his. He moaned in his sleep as if sensing her presence and gripped her hand. Sister Francis froze. What if he opened his eyes now? What would he think of her?
“It’s all right, Thaddeus. Rest easy,” she said trying to sound casual and unconcerned. She tried to free her hand but he didn’t release it; if anything he gripped harder as if needing her touch. She reached across and covered his hand with hers. His skin was so soft beneath her fingers. She thought it would feel rougher. She really shouldn’t be holding his hand. Gently she prised her hand free then stood up and leaned over to brush a strand of hair from his forehead.
She snatched her hand guiltily away and turned as Sister Agnes entered the room.
“I was just…He…I think he…” Even as she blushed Sister Francis summoned all her courage and looked directly at Sister Agnes.
The older woman studied the novice. She noted the flush in her cheeks, her discomfort and obvious embarrassment. She moved to Kid’s side and placed a hand confidently on his forehead. “He’s a little warm but that’s to be expected.” She moved her hand to his side resting it near the wound. Sister Francis watched with dismay at the casual way the other nun touched the man. “Hmm, warm too.”
“I’ll watch him.”
“No, I don’t think that’s wise.”
“But I’ve been…”
“Sister Mary will take over.”
“But I can do this! I want to help.”
Agnes’ eyes softened. “I know you do child and that is why I’m telling you to leave.”
“Go now. Tell Sister Mary I need her here.”
Francis could see there was no use arguing with Sister Agnes. Reluctantly she picked up the bible she had placed beside her chair and with a quick glance at Thaddeus, left the room.
“He’ll be all right. He always is,” Elizabeth stated as she lowered herself onto the kitchen bench and sat beside Heyes.
“You say that like you’d rather he wasn’t,” Heyes observed as he swirled his coffee around in the metal mug. He’d been nursing the same cupful for some time and it was probably cold.
“I have to admit there was a time when I couldn’t wait to bump him off.”
Finally Heyes turned to face her. “Tried it yourself?”
“That would be telling.”
“That’s why I asked, so you’d tell me.”
She pretended to search her memory. “I think it was only you I shot.” Elizabeth patted his hand. “But then you always hurt the one you love.”
“I don’t think they meant that so literally.”
Elizabeth leaned closer. He felt her warm breath on his face and watched her tongue move slowly across her lips. “You could show me the scar later. I could see if it’s healed.”
Her mouth was a hair’s breadth from his left ear as she whispered, “Maybe you need a second opinion?”
“I don’t think this is the place.”
She blew gently in his ear. “Then we should find a place.”
“In a church?”
“Hannibal, are you avoiding being alone with me?”
He turned, took her face in his hands and kissed her firmly on the lips. He smiled smugly when he pulled away. “Nope.” Heyes stood up. “But my mind’s on Kid right now. You, I’m saving for later.”
Elizabeth found herself uncharacteristically lost for words as she watched him leave.
Pain pierced Kid’s left side as he slowly regained consciousness. Someone was moving near him but he had no intention of opening his eyes to see who it was. He groaned. At least he would have if his mouth wasn’t as dry as the desert and his tongue swollen.
Someone was there. Guess he must have made some sound after all.
He opened his eyes. There was someone leaning over him. Black and white. A nun. Sheesh, was he dead? No, he was with Heyes. Then it definitely wasn’t heaven. His friend stepped into view. Heyes smiled.
“Hey partner. How you doing?”
“Got any water?” Kid rasped.
Heyes turned away. A cool cloth was placed on Kid’s forehead and he looked into the eyes of an elderly nun. Sister Mary smiled and Kid tried to sit up.
“Oh, s*%$!” Kid closed his eyes tight.
“I’m sorry we have nothing to help ease the pain, Thaddeus,” the elderly woman informed him.
“You know you shouldn’t use language like that in front of Sister Mary.” Kid opened his eyes at Heyes’ admonishment.
“I imagine it does.”
Heyes held out a glass of water and then placed a hand behind Kid’s neck. Gently he raised his friend’s head allowing him to sip the water offered.
“Thanks.” Kid breathed heavily as he lay back on the pillow.
“Sister Agnes is a pretty good nurse. Heck she’s better than many doctors we’ve met.”
“What’d she do? Tear half my side away with sandpaper?”
“After you passed out, she cleaned the wound real good.” Glaring blue eyes met brown ones informing his friend just how darn good a job he thought she’d done. Heyes ignored his friend and ploughed on. “Then she applied some balm from a plant she learned about in Mexico. We need to carry some of that with us, it’s amazing stuff.” Heyes smiled. “You need to watch your language though.”
“Elizabeth still here?”
Heyes smiled. “D’you want me to go get her?”
“You know the answer to that.”
Heyes chuckled. “I guess I do, although she was real keen to help.”
“I bet she was.” Kid looked at Heyes through half-closed eyes. “What’s happening outside?”
“It’s been pretty quiet. Sister Mary is here to keep an eye on you. Be nice to her. No more cussing.”
Kid’s eyes turned to look at the nun beside him and she smiled.
“I’ll be nice,” Kid assured him. “Just feel so darn useless.”
“Well, that’ll teach you to get yourself shot, again. I’m gonna go check on things. Rest up.”
“Can’t do much else.”
“Just as well.” Heyes looked up at Sister Mary. “And you…” The nun’s eyes opened wider. “…No playing poker with him!”
“Is he awake?” Elizabeth asked as Heyes joined her at the church window overlooking the main street.
“Yeah.” Heyes rested his head on the windowsill and she rubbed a hand across his back.
“Is he complaining?”
“Did he ask for me?”
Heyes turned to her. “Strangely, no.”
Elizabeth smiled. “I’ll go annoy him later.”
“He needs to rest.”
“In that case we need a plan to get out of here. A Hannibal Heyes plan.”
Heyes met her brown eyes and studied them thoughtfully. Reaching out he tucked a strand of hair into her wimple. “You make a beautiful nun.”
“You weren’t so bad yourself.”
Heyes smiled. “I am having some very bad thoughts right now.”
Elizabeth smiled, interested. “Naughty thoughts?”
“Do they involve a nun and an outlaw getting into bad habits?”
“They sure do.”
Elizabeth licked her lips, slowly and Heyes watched her tongue again. Why did she have to keep doing that? “There might be a quiet corner in the church where we can explore those thoughts further.”
Heyes smiled. “I think we’d get struck by lightning.”
“D’you think he’d disapprove?” She turned her gaze heavenwards. “We’re only human, after all.”
“I think he’d let us know he disapproved.”
“And how would he..?”
DING! The church bell rang out.
Heyes and Elizabeth stared at each other. Heyes looked towards the church ceiling. “You don’t think..?”
“No! It couldn’t…”
“Coincidence?” Heyes suggested.
“It has to be.” Elizabeth didn’t look convinced.
Sister Agnes appeared with Sister Francis by her side. “They’re shooting at the church bell. If I had a shotgun I’d let them know what I think! It took ages to raise the money to buy that bell.” She huffed as she stepped up beside them to peer out of the window.
“Can you see who it is?”
“You don’t really want a shotgun do you?” Heyes asked.
Sister Agnes met his gaze and he had his answer. Yes, she did.
“Still want to find a quiet corner?” Elizabeth whispered in his ear.
“Didn’t you hear the bell?”
“That was the men outside.”
“Or…someone moving in a mysterious way.”
They both looked heavenwards once more.
“In that case I’ll go tease your partner.”
“Leave him alone.”
“There’s a man approaching on a horse,” Agnes informed them.
Heyes looked out of the window. Sure enough a man on a large brown horse rode slowly towards the church, stopping about thirty feet from the door. The man wore a long black slicker and an equally black hat sat on his head. He rested his rifle across the saddle horn and no doubt wore a gun beneath the slicker.
“YOU IN THE CHURCH!” he bellowed.
Sister Agnes raised the oak beam from the door.
“Sister, what are you doing?” Heyes asked as he scrambled to Sister Agnes’ side.
“I will speak to this man.”
“Let me.” He placed his hand over hers as she held the beam.
“It’s my church. I’ll do the talking.”
“I’ve dealt with men like him before.”
“And you don’t think I have?”
Heyes didn’t answer. They stood facing each other neither saying a word. She was stubborn. Her gaze held his. He stepped back and Sister Agnes opened the door. “Be careful.”
“I will,” Agnes assured him and stepped outside. She held up a hand, shielding her eyes against the sun. “What can I do for you?”
“I got a message for ya.”
“And who are you, young man?” Sister Agnes asked, taking a step closer to the horse.
“Name’s Billy Moss. I work for Mister Orchard. He wants you outta the church. He owns this town, all the land around here too. He’s gonna mine right under your church.”
“I believe he’s already informed us of that, Mister Moss.”
“Sister, you hafta leave! If you stay in the church you could be killed.” There was an element of sympathy in the man’s voice.
“We will pray that won’t happen.”
“Sister, please!” Moss urged his horse closer. “He’ll do it! A wagon load of dynamite arrived today. The tunnel’s already gone past the General Store. It won’t take much longer to blow their way through. If they tunnel under the church the whole building could collapse taking you with it.”
Agnes placed a hand on his right boot. “Thank you for the warning.”
The man leant forward over his horse’s neck, his face closer to hers. “Sister, please leave. A church is only a building. My Pa was a church going man. He said God was everywhere. Always with him. He said he could do his work anywhere. Surely it’s the same for you?”
Agnes smiled. “And what would your Pa say about what you are doing now?”
“I reckon he’d be ashamed of me, but he’d get outta the church and take the others with him. And I reckon he’d be pleased I tried to warn ya.”
“Will you force us out?”
Billy Moss considered his words carefully before he spoke. “I ain’t about to shoot a nun or harm a woman but you got men in there too. If you insist on staying, we’ll kill them for sure. Think about what I said.” He touched his fingers to the brim of his hat. “Sister.” He turned his horse and rode off. Sister Agnes stood in the street for some time, watching as he rode away.
“She’s coming back,” Elizabeth announced.
All eyes turned to the door. Elizabeth pulled it open and Sister Agnes entered the church.
“You all right?” Heyes asked, as Elizabeth closed and bolted the door swiftly behind her.
“I am fine, thank you, Joshua.” She looked at the anxious faces before her. “The young man was very civil. He informed me that Mister Orchard’s dynamite has arrived and he intends to continue mining under the church. He was sent to tell us to vacate the building.”
“Get outta town, huh?”
Ignoring his remark she turned to Sister Francis. “We need to get packing.”
“WHAT?” Heyes stepped in front of her.
“That young man said something…” Agnes stated.
“Did he threaten you?” Heyes’ eyes turned dangerous.
The nun smiled, kindly. “Me? No.”
“Then why the change of heart?”
“He said something that made me think. He was right. It’s time for us to leave.”
“I don’t know why she changed her mind,” Heyes admitted as he watched Elizabeth removing her wimple. They were in Sister Agnes’ office while she and Sister Francis went to collect their mules and wagon. They had refused Heyes’ help to hitch up the team. In fact Agnes had been pretty adamant that Heyes stay inside the church so as not to inflame the situation. Exactly how he’d be doing that he didn’t know but he respected the nun’s wishes.
Elizabeth shook out her hair and Heyes stood, unable to keep away. He took hold of the long tresses, running them through his fingers. Elizabeth watched him. Their eyes met.
“I love your hair,” he admitted.
“So I noticed.”
“D’you want me to help you out of this?” he asked, taking hold of her habit.
“As much as I want to say yes, it doesn’t seem right.”
Heyes raised an eyebrow. “You getting principles now?”
“Maybe. Or perhaps it’s this habit.”
“It does a lot for me.” Heyes’ eyes fell on her mouth. “Do your principles stop me from kissing you?”
“Good.” He pulled her to him, pressing his lips against hers.
“Where’s Joshua?” Kid asked as he sat on the edge of the bed and re-buttoned his shirt for the second time. Darn thing seemed to have developed a mind of its own. Sister Mary didn’t answer and Kid turned to face the nun. “Sister?”
She looked concerned. “You shouldn’t travel yet.”
Kid smiled, hoping to reassure her. “I’ll be fine. I’ve travelled with worse injuries.” His words did nothing to allay her fears. “Sister Agnes wants to leave. I’d rather not stick around to face those men on my own.”
“I wasn’t suggesting that you do.”
“I just want you to be careful.”
Kid’s eyes narrowed mischievously. “You getting’ sweet on me Sister?”
Sister Mary laughed. “Maybe a few years ago I might have given you a run for your money, but now…? I’ve been wearing this habit too long to throw it all away over some pretty blue eyes.” Kid smiled and she drew closer. “You’re a good man, Thaddeus.”
“I’m not sure about that.”
“You’re a good man. I can feel it. Trust me.”
Before Kid could reply she turned on her heels and swished out of the room. Kid rested his hand on the handle of his gun. If only she knew.
“I am not lying down in the back of the wagon, while women walk!” Kid protested, as he leaned against the wall at the rear of the church. The Sisters had hitched up their two elderly mules to a battered old wagon that didn’t look capable of going thirty yards let alone the thirty miles to the church at San Cristobel. Sister Francis held the rope of the lead mule and spoke soothing words to it as Sisters Agnes and Mary brought out their few meagre possessions for Heyes to load into the wagon.
“You can’t walk thirty miles,” Kid’s partner informed him.
“I could snuggle beside you and keep you company,” Elizabeth suggested as she placed a sack of flour in the wagon bed.
“Thanks, I’ll pass on that,” Kid told her.
“If you try to walk you’ll slow us down,” Heyes continued. “Put your pride to one side and get on board.” He jerked a thumb at the wagon.
“I could give you a hand up,” Elizabeth offered. She moved closer to Kid and Heyes smiled as he saw his partner steel himself. “You wouldn’t mind if I got a firm hold, would you?” She sidled closer. “You’ll need a woman with a good grip.”
Kid looked to his partner. “Will you tell her?”
“Don’t get me involved.” Heyes smiled and picking up another sack he slung it up into the wagon.
“I know how to handle a man.” Elizabeth drew nearer, her eyes fixed on Kid’s and he tried his best to blend in with the wall. Elizabeth was moving closer to her…victim.
“All right! All right!” Kid moved around her. “I’ll get in the darn wagon just as long as you keep your hands to yourself!”
Heyes sniggered and Kid shot him a glare. “Big tough outlaw like you, can’t handle a woman. I reckon they oughta reduce the reward.”
The wagon was loaded, Sister Mary held the mules’ reins, and Sister Agnes sat beside her. Heyes stood to one side as Elizabeth and Sister Francis rode in the back with Kid. The young sister held onto a wooden cross and turned moist eyes towards the church she had called home for so long.
“Wagons roll!” Agnes hollered, Sister Mary flicked the reins and they moved away from the church.
As they neared the edge of town, Kid spotted a group of men following them. “JOSHUA!” he called as he drew his gun.
Sister Agnes turned in her seat. “Keep ‘em moving Sister Mary,” she instructed.
Heyes drew closer to the wagon and exchanged a look with Kid. “What ‘you reckon?”
“Just seeing us outta town?”
“I hope so.”
The wagon moved on untroubled. As the town grew smaller behind them, they finally began to relax.
Sister Agnes pulled the wagon to a halt on a hill top above a small ranch house. Kid, despite his protestations that he wasn’t tired, was sleeping in the back of the wagon. Sister Mary was nestled in beside him. They made quite a cosy couple, his head resting on her shoulder. Elizabeth and Sister Francis were walking some way behind them, chatting.
“Why have we stopped?” Heyes enquired.
“That ranch sells horses.” Agnes pointed down the hill.
“And you’re telling me because..?”
“You need some.”
“I imagine they’d want money for ‘em too.”
“You don’t have any?”
“Not much at the moment. Sister Mary, remember?”
“Ah, yes, but you need to ride.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Walking’s pretty healthy.”
Agnes smiled and reached inside her habit. A moment later she pulled out a small purse and withdrew some crumpled bills. She held them out to him. “Here. Take this. Buy three good horses and saddles.”
“Sister, it’ll be a while before we can repay you.”
“You don’t need to repay me.”
“I can’t take your money.”
“Yes, you can. It was raised for a worthy cause and this is a worthy cause. Go and buy them.”
“You sure Sister Francis can ride?”
“No, but Thaddeus will need one.”
“He might complain but I can assure you he’s better off travelling in the wagon and when we get to San Cristobel…”
“You’re not going to San Cristobel.”
Heyes’ eyes narrowed. “We’re not?”
“But you are?”
“Sister, I don’t…”
“The sheriff in San Cristobel is a man named Ike Tyler. He used to be the sheriff of Little Jaw. That’s in Wyoming.”
Heyes grew serious. “I know where Little Jaw is.” He didn’t like the way the conversation was going. “I’m not sure what that’s got to do with…”
“I think you do.”
“I know who you are Mister Heyes,” Agnes interrupted, finally stunning him to silence. Heyes looked at his partner. “And I know Thaddeus is really Kid Curry. I don’t believe Elizabeth is a member of the Devil’s Hole Gang but I wouldn’t put it past her.”
Heyes frowned and looked at Kid; dang fool was gabby in his sleep again! “I don’t know what my partner’s been saying but…”
“You both used your real names when Thaddeus was hurt,” Agnes informed him. “Your concern for your friend made you careless.” Heyes didn’t respond. Instead he waited to hear what the nun had to say. “Your concern for each other is admirable. But now do you see why you can’t go to San Cristobel?”
“While I’m not admitting that we are Heyes and Curry, there’s no reason to believe that this sheriff would recognise us.”
“Apart from the fact that he was on a train the Devil’s Hole Gang robbed a year or so ago. I remember because he regaled us with the story when he first came to visit us. Said he got a good look at the leaders of the gang.” She let that sink in.
“If we were Heyes and Curry and you realise I’m still not admitting that we are..?”
“But if we were that would make things a mite problematic.”
“And we would be strongly advised to purchase some horses and ride the Hell – I mean heck – outta here.”
“That would seem wise.” Sister Agnes’ eyes met Heyes’. He saw only kindness and understanding.
“Heyes and Curry would tell you that they’re trying for amnesty. We, I mean they have to stay out of trouble for a couple of years but that’s not something the Governor of Wyoming wants made public.”
“I can understand why. I wish you luck Mister Heyes.” She held out the crumpled bills.
“I can’t take your money.”
“You never seemed to have such scruples in the past.”
Heyes looked up to see a wicked twinkle in the nun’s eyes. “Touché.”
Agnes held out the notes. “Take it. Consider it a charitable donation.”
“Thank you.” Heyes took the money and stuffed it into his vest pocket.
“Joshua? Is something wrong?” Elizabeth walked towards him.
“Sister Agnes and I have decided that this is as good a place as any for us to say our goodbyes.”
“Here?” She looked around. “We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
“No, we’re not. There’s a ranch down there that I am assured sells good horses and tack.” He smiled a little too cheerfully.
Elizabeth looked from Heyes to the nun seated on the wagon. Something was definitely going on. “And what about Thaddeus?”
“Well, I thought about leaving him behind but he’s kinda grown on me so I guess we should take him along.”
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
“You’ve heard him say he’s ridden with worse injuries. He’s right, he has. Guess he’s about to get some more practice.” Heyes turned away and Elizabeth grabbed hold of his arm.
“What’s going on?”
“No reason, I jus…OW! DAMMIT! Elizabeth, that hurts!” Her fingernails dug deeper into his arm.
“It’ll hurt a darn sight more if you don’t tell me what’s going on.”
“All right!” He kept his voice low, not wanted Sister Francis to hear. “She knows who we are.”
Elizabeth frowned. “Kid chatting in his sleep again?”
Heyes nodded. “Yep. Can’t keep him quiet. Gave the game away.”
“I told you I shoulda shot him.”
“Well, it’s too late now.”
“So what’s the plan?”
“I go down there…” He pointed to the ranch house. “And buy us horses.”
“You said you didn’t have any money.”
“The kind Sister has given me some.”
“And then what?”
“We do what Kid and I always do, we ride away.”