Stagecoach to Calamity
(The Elizabeth Darkly series #12)
By Maz McCoy
Lying on his right side, clad only in his long johns, Kid Curry became aware of his surroundings. The soft pillow beneath his head, the warm sheets nestled around his body and a slender woman’s arm draped across his chest. A warm body pressed against his back and her breath tickling his ear. He smiled contentedly. This had to be his favourite way to wake up. After a night playing poker in the saloon, in the town of…? Well, that had slipped his mind, but he had obviously enjoyed the company of a woman. It didn’t seem very gentlemanly but he tried to remember who she was. Was it Veronica? Or was there a Jennifer? No, wait, there was a Margarita but she was… Or was that what they had been drinking? It must have been some night because he couldn’t remember…and that wasn’t like him. Wait, it was Jennifer! Yep, there was definitely a Jennifer. Her hand began to move, gently stroking his chest before descending lower over his abdomen. Mmm. His muscles contracted as she caressed his skin and her fingers moved lower.
Jennifer. Definitely, Jennifer. Except…wait a minute. After the poker game had ended he had declined the invitation from the other players to stick around and share a bottle. Instead he had…gone back to his hotel room, alone. Alone. He was sure he had been alone. And yet he was clearly not alone now. So who was the woman pressed against him? And how could he have forgotten? He had to see who this beauty was just to make sure he got her name right or it was going to be really awkward. Kid turned onto his back. The woman sighed and a mass of dark hair cascaded across her face. He reached across and gently moved her hair away and…
“WHAT THE HELL!” Kid shot out of bed.
The woman stirred, uttered a contented moan, stretched and opened her eyes.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOIN’ HERE?” Kid demanded.
“Hello, Kid.” Elizabeth Darkly smiled as she stretched dreamily before raising herself onto one elbow. She let the sheet fall away from her body revealing…
“Oh no.” Kid turned away. “Are you nekkid?”
“You don’t remember?”
“No! I mean I remember and we never… You were not…I was not. We were not…No one, and definitely not you, were not…I mean we didn’t…I didn’t…We never!”
“You finished?” she asked, lazily.
He looked around the room and discovered her clothes thrown over the back of a chair. “How do you do this?” He turned back to face her.
“What?” She smiled revealing nothing. Well, actually, she revealed quite a lot but it wasn’t what he wanted her to reveal, not that he didn’t appreciate what… Oh sheesh. He turned away again so his back was to her.
“How do you keep turnin’ up like this? Sneakin’ into my room?” he asked over his shoulder.
“I didn’t sneak. You invited me.”
“No! I did not!” He remained with his back to her. “What are you doing here?”
“I was snuggling.”
Kid sighed. She had to be the most annoying woman he had ever met.
“Nice butt by the way.”
“Huh?” He looked over his shoulder and realised the direction of her focus. His long johns had shrunk a little after their last wash and were a tad snug. He had considered buying a new pair but they’d had to leave town fast and…Now she was focussed on his…He shook his head and turned back to face her, instantly regretting it when she kept her gaze on his tight long johns. Her eyebrows rose and she smiled. He grabbed his hat from the bed post and used it to cover his…embarrassment. “Elizabeth…”
“How you do this scares the heck outta me, but now that you’re here…” His eyes narrowed. “Why are you here?”
“I need you.” A manly eyebrow rose. “And I need Hannibal.” Blue eyes narrowed. “He is meeting you here?”
“What do you need us for?”
“Apart from the obvious?”
“I have a job for you.”
“Is Hannibal gonna be here?”
Kid sighed. “Yes.”
Finally she pulled the sheet up to cover herself. “Good.” She settled back against the headboard.
Kid looked around for his clothes and…there was a knock at the door. Kid raised a hand silencing her as he reached for his gun hanging in the holster on the bed post. He moved to stand beside the door.
“Who is it?” he asked.
“It’s me, Joshua,” came the reply.
“COME IN!” Elizabeth called and Kid shot her a look.
The door opened.
“You didn’t lock it?” Kid stared at her in disbelief then turned to find himself face to face with Hannibal Heyes.
Saddlebags slung over one shoulder Heyes’ gaze moved from Kid to Elizabeth. A dark eyebrow rose.
“Don’t ask. Just don’t ask,” Kid said as he sank into a chair.
“Hello, Elizabeth,” Heyes smiled as he touched the brim of his hat politely and closed the door behind him.
“Elizabeth, you appear to be…underdressed.” She nodded. “And in Kid’s bed. Again.” She smiled and he turned to face his friend. “And you are…partially clothed.”
“I know what it looks like.”
“So do I,” Heyes replied, calmly as he hung his saddlebags over the bedpost.
“But it’s not what it looks like.”
“I’m all ears.”
Kid met his friend’s gaze. “Can we just find out why she’s here?”
“And ruin all my fun?” Heyes lowered himself into the edge of the bed and looked from Kid to Elizabeth. “So?”
“I need your help,” Elizabeth informed him. “But I need something to eat first. Your partner wore me out last night and I need a good breakfast to regain my strength.”
Kid gave a heavy sigh and, leaning his elbows on his knees, he put his head in his hands.
“I didn’t know he still had it in him,” Heyes said with a smile. He stood. “Kid, throw some clothes on and let’s go get a coffee. Give the lady a chance to make herself decent.”
Kid grabbed for his pants and muttered, “I don’t think we have that long.”
“Stop lookin’ at me like that,” Kid grumbled as Heyes sipped his coffee.
“Like what?” the dark-haired man asked innocently as he supressed a smile.
“I don’t know how she got in my room, all right?” Kid stabbed a piece of bacon a little too hard with his fork and it slid across the plate. He made another stab at it. “I locked the door. I always lock the door. I don’t know how she opened it. I mean it’s not like you taught her to pick a lock.” Heyes said nothing. Blue eyes looked up from the restrained bacon. They fixed on the man before him; the man who was looking at anything other than his partner. “You didn’t?”
Kid’s teeth stayed clamped together as he said, “Tell me you didn’t teach her to pick a lock.”
“I didn’t teach her to pick a lock.”
“Oh, my God, Heyes! You taught her to pick a lock! Why?”
Heyes shrugged. “She can be very persuasive at times.”
“What would persuade you to do that?”
“There was a lock that needed opening.”
Again Heyes remained suspiciously quiet. Kid’s eye narrowed. “What lock?”
“If I remember correctly there were some handcuffs…”
“Why didn’t you undo them yourself?”
Heyes simply looked at his partner.
“Why not?” Kid had a moment of illumination. “No?” He shook his head.
Heyes drank some coffee.
Kid’s mouth hung open. He shut it quickly. An awkward silence hung in the air until…five…four…three…two…“She had you handcuffed?”
Heyes shrugged. “What can I say?”
“Handcuffed? What the heck were you thinkin’?”
Heyes’ eyebrows rose. “You really want me to answer that?”
Kid shook his head. “I don’t know what you see in her.” He stabbed another piece of food.
Heyes smiled as he cut up a piece of bacon.
“All right, I see what you…see…when you’re with her but I don’t know why it’s her. Why Elizabeth? We’ve met enough willin’ women in our time; why not one of them?”
“To tell you the truth, Kid, I don’t know. She’s beautiful, intelligent. She challenges me.”
“She does that all right.”
“I’m unsettled by her.”
“You’re not the only one.” Kid washed down his food with a gulp of coffee. When he looked up he met Heyes’ thoughtful gaze.
“She sparks something inside me. I can’t explain it.”
Kid wiped the corners of his mouth on a napkin. “Just be careful. You know I’ll never completely trust her.”
“Even after she’s saved your life?”
“Even after that. I watch your back, Heyes. I’m no different around her. But please…don’t let her handcuff you to anything else.”
Before Heyes could answer, Elizabeth appeared in the doorway of the hotel restaurant. The men pushed back their chairs and rose to their feet as she approached.
“What kind of safe?” Heyes asked.
Beside him, Kid shoved another forkful of bacon into his mouth and shot a glare in Elizabeth’s direction. She had hardly touched the breakfast plate in front of her. He wished she’d stop talking and eat.
“It has Miller Safe Company written on the front,” she explained. “Have you heard of it?”
“No. Never,” Kid lied as he picked up his coffee cup and drained the contents. He shot Heyes a look and could see the sparkle of interest in his partner’s eyes.
“Do you know where it’s made?” Heyes asked as he moved the food around on his plate.
“I’m sure it said Philadelphia.”
Heyes looked at his partner. Kid narrowed his eyes and Heyes smiled. “I’ve heard of it.”
Elizabeth leaned forward. “Good.”
“Where is it?” Heyes asked as he beckoned to the waitress.
“We don’t need to know.” Kid gave his friend a pointed look.
“I’m only asking.”
“Sure you are.” Kid held out his cup and the waitress refilled it. He thanked her and studied Elizabeth as Heyes’ cup was also refilled.
“Something wrong, Thaddeus?” Elizabeth asked innocently.
“Yeah. You’re here.”
“You miss me when I’m not around.”
“It sure is quieter.”
“So where is this safe?” Heyes asked as he re-joined the conversation.
“A town called Calamity.”
“And what’s in the safe that’s so important.”
“I’d rather not say.”
“Then I won’t open it.”
“She didn’t ask you to open it,” Kid reminded him.
“She will,” he assured his friend. Heyes eyes met hers. There was a brief staring contest and then Elizabeth looked away.
“There are some of Nathaniel’s possessions in the safe,” she admitted, reluctantly.
“Your husband?” Kid asked through a mouthful of beans.
“What are they doing in a safe in Calamity?” Heyes asked.
“Oh, all right. I thought I had been given all of Nathaniel’s things when his estate was settled. It turns out he had left a few documents and such like in the care of a rather unscrupulous friend. This friend, a lawyer, is now offering to sell them to me.”
“What’s to sell?” Heyes asked, noticing how she shifted, uncharacteristically, in her seat. “Why not just give them back?”
Elizabeth shot a glance at Kid. “Does he have to be here?”
Kid looked up innocently. “Oh, I ain’t goin’ anywhere now. This is gettin’ interestin’.”
“Well?” Heyes prompted.
Elizabeth looked around the room, assuring herself that no one was listening. She gave Kid another glance and he smiled, sweetly, at her. Ignoring him she turned her attention back to Heyes.
“One summer Nathaniel took an interest in photography. He bought a camera and took photographs of all his family, the house, the garden, our servants. He had everyone pose for him. He even purchased the equipment to furnish his own darkroom.”
“He became quite the accomplished photographer.”
“Some of his photographs are in the safe.”
“So why’s this man want money for them?”
Elizabeth picked up a piece of toast and nibbled at it. Heyes and Kid exchanged a puzzled look. She seemed reluctant to say anymore which was very unlike her.
“Elizabeth?” She looked at Heyes, his brown eyes softened. “What else?”
“Some of the photographs are of a…classical…nature.”
A Heyesian eyebrow rose. “Classical?”
“How classical?” he enquired.
A dimpled smile formed.
Kid looked from Heyes to Elizabeth and back again. “Classical?”
“Sort of Greek,” Heyes informed his partner without taking his eyes from Mrs Darkly.
“He took photographs of Greek people?” Kid enquired.
“People dressed like Greek people?”
“I don’t imagine there was a lot of dressing up involved,” Heyes commented.
Beneath blond locks a brain grappled with this new information. Cogs shifted until, slowly, they clicked into place and, in a moment destined forever to be associated with Thomas Edison, Kid’s eyes widened and he smiled. “You were nekkid?”
Elizabeth frowned at him. “I didn’t say that.”
Kid’s smile broadened. “He took dirty pictures of you?”
“I prefer to think of Nathaniel’s photographs as artistic. And they were for no one’s eyes but ours.”
“You were nekkid?” Kid asked again, a broad grin on his face.
“Is that all you can think about?” She shook out her napkin.
“Hey, you’re the one turned up in my bed with no clothes on!”
They glared at each other across the table.
“I take it they’re in the safe in Calamity?” Heyes queried, returning the conversation back to the matter at hand.
“Yes,” she confirmed.
“How can you be sure?” Kid took a sip of his coffee.
“I went to Calamity to meet the man.”
“Who is he?” Heyes asked.
“Hector Neumann. It seems Nathaniel asked him to look after them, although for the life of me I can’t think why. Neumann told me he has been travelling and only recently learned of Nathaniel’s death. When he did, he looked at the documents to see if they were important.”
“He’s seen the photographs?” Kid enquired with a wicked smile.
“Of course he has, he showed them to me. They’re in a blue envelope. Nathaniel brought some coloured stationery back from one of his travels. He thought the colour somewhat appropriate.”
Kid looked at his friend. “Heyes we gotta go get ‘em. I gotta see these pictures.”
“You will do no such thing!” Elizabeth turned to Heyes. “Hannibal you must help me.” She pointed at Kid. “He is not to see them! Neumann would ruin the family’s reputation if these photographs got out.”
“Not to mention your own.” Heyes placed a comforting hand on hers.
“I reckon it’s too late for that,” Kid commented and received a look from them both.
“We only have five days before he leaves Calamity. He plans to take them to a newspaper back East.”
“That’s cutting it fine,” Heyes stated.
“Well, you weren’t the easiest men to find.”
“That’s kinda the idea, Sweetheart,” Kid reminded her.
“You want me to what?” Kid asked as he placed his beer glass on the saloon table.
“Pose as her husband.” Heyes took a swallow of his own beer and watched as two men at the bar, both wearing tied-down guns, ordered drinks. They didn’t even glance in the ex-outlaw’s direction which allowed him to relax, slightly.
“No,” Kid stated, categorically.
Heyes sighed as if readying himself to explain something very simple to a small child. “I can’t do it because Neumann has to think I don’t know her.”
“Wait a minute, what are you talkin’ about?”
“I’ve come up with a plan. A way to get to the safe.”
Kid smiled, his faith on his partner once again confirmed. “What is it?”
“Elizabeth will go and see Neumann with her new husband. She will agree an amount to pay for the photographs, after establishing that they are still in the safe. I will also be in town, posing as a…” He thought for a moment. “Banker.” Heyes smiled at his own in-joke. “I will have need of a lawyer and important documents that need to be kept safe. For a reason I haven’t yet come up with I don’t want to put them in the safe at the bank.”
“I don’t want to pretend to be her husband,” Kid grumbled, his mood having taken a downward turn.
“Then marry her for real and you won’t have to.”
“That’s not funny, Heyes.”
“If she’s in town with a man, Neumann might think twice about blackmailing her.”
“Why can’t I just be her bodyguard?”
“It might scare him off. And it wouldn’t necessarily stop him threatening her.”
“You think he’s capable of that?”
“We don’t know what this fella’s capable of. He’ll be watching her like a hawk. If I play her husband, I won’t get anywhere near that safe. It has to be you.”
“I reckon I’ll be the one needin’ protection.” Kid took a drink.
“You did say we had to do this.”
“That’s cos I want to see her face when we see those photographs.”
“Not very gentlemanly, Kid.”
“What can I say, Heyes? She brings out the worst in me.” Two blue eyes followed the same men Heyes had been watching as they finished their drinks and left the saloon. Kid sighed. “She’ll make my life hell. You know that!”
“I’ll speak to her. Besides it’ll only be for a few days. What can go wrong?”
Blue eyes narrowed. “You want a list?”
The battered and dust covered stagecoach stood in the street outside the stagecoach office. The driver was up top catching and positioning the bags as a colleague on the boardwalk threw them up to him. Two passengers, a man and his wife, climbed on board, leaving the door open for the remaining two passengers who were locked in conversation with a dark-haired man a few feet away.
“Time to get on board, folks,” the driver announced when the last of the bags was in place. He clambered over the baggage and took his seat, reaching for the reins as he did so.
Heyes, Kid and Elizabeth looked towards the driver. Kid gave a wave, acknowledging that they had heard.
“I’ll meet you in Calamity in three days’ time,” Heyes said and Kid glared back at him. “Have a safe trip.” Heyes smiled. He turned to Elizabeth. “Behave yourself. I had to use my silver tongue to get him to go with you.”
“Wish you’d used it on me.” She ran her tongue over her lips.
Kid rolled his eyes and looked away.
“I’ll miss you,” Heyes informed her.
“I know.” Elizabeth looked at Kid. “But I’ll find a way to pass the time.”
“Leave him alone.”
Heyes turned back to Kid. “It’s just three days, Kid. Play nice.”
Heyes gave Elizabeth a kiss on the cheek but it was Kid, playing his role as the dutiful husband, who offered her a helping hand as she boarded the coach. Heyes patted him on the back as Kid climbed inside.
He stepped back from the coach and raised his hand in a gesture of farewell. The driver cracked the whip and the stagecoach gave a lurch. Heyes watched as the coach disappeared from view in a cloud of dust, then muttered under his breath, “Sorry, Kid.”
Hannibal Heyes swung his saddlebags onto his shoulder and headed along Main Street to the train station. If everything went to plan he should arrive in Calamity the day before Kid and Elizabeth. He would arrange an appointment with Hector Neumann, requesting his advice on a matter of law and a safe place to store his ‘documents’. That should give him an opportunity to examine the safe in Neumann’s office and plan his next move. When Kid and Elizabeth arrived they would set the next part of the plan in motion. Heyes smiled at his own genius before turning his attention to the other passengers also standing on the platform waiting for the approaching train. No one paid him any attention and for once that was just the way he wanted it.
When the train pulled to a halt in a cloud of steam he waited his turn to climb on board.
A hand slid slowly up Kid’s leg moving along his thigh, edging further and further towards…
Kid opened his eyes to find Elizabeth grinning back at him. He stretched, easing the ache in his back. “Just because we’re alone now, doesn’t mean you can take advantage of me,” he informed her.
“I thought you’d be happy when the Churchill’s left us.”
“Oh, I am.” Now that they were the only passengers on the stage Kid was grateful for the extra legroom. He just hoped Elizabeth was not about to make him regret agreeing to Heyes’ plan. “Although why they wanted to take over that stage station beats the heck outta me.”
“Some people like a challenge. An adventure.”
“I’ve had more than my share of them.”
“You love it, you know you do.”
He turned to face her. “Love it? Running from a posse? Looking over our shoulders all the time? Sleepin’ on the ground? Never knowin’ where the money for our next meal is comin’ from? Oh yeah, I love it!”
Elizabeth was not to be put off. “You love the freedom. You’re your own boss. No one tells you what to do or when to do it. You get to see new places.”
“Yeah, ‘cept they’re often a blur when you’re ridin’ through ‘em so fast.”
“You meet new people…”
“Sure have met a lot of lawmen, that’s the truth.”
“And you have seen more of this country than most people.”
“That’s ‘cos folk keep chasin’ us all over it.”
She smiled. “Your lives are an adventure and I don’t think you want it any other way.”
“So why do you think we’re trying for amnesty?”
“I doubt you love the part where people shoot at you.”
“You got that right.” Leaning forward he peered out of the window at the passing terrain. “Any idea where we are?”
“Well, while you were asleep we passed a mountain and a lake. Oh, and I definitely saw some trees. And a deer. There was a deer. Does that help?”
Smiling he shook his head. “Nope.” He stretched out his legs, placing them on the opposite seat. “It is nice to have the stage to ourselves.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Why Kid, whatever do you have in mind?” Her hand returned to his leg.
Kid covered her hand with his. Blue eyes met seductive brown ones. “Not that.” Slowly, he raised her hand and removed it from his leg. “Heyes told you to behave yourself.”
“Do you always do what he tells you?”
“Then why should I?”
“Because…” Elizabeth waited to see what he would say. Kid didn’t know what to say. He tilted his hat down over his eyes and folded his arms. “Get some rest, Elizabeth.”
He chuckled when he heard her heavy sigh.
Hannibal Heyes looked out of the train window at the scenery flying past. The sun turned a distant mountain range various shades of purple. Two dust covered cowboys herded scrawny cattle across a dry river bed. A wind-pump brought life-giving water from deep below the ground and pumped it into a muddy reservoir. Around him his fellow passengers found different ways to pass the time – ladies on their samplers whilst the men read newspapers or played a game of cards. The latter piqued Heyes’ interest for a while until he realised they were playing for little more than loose change. Returning his attention to the window he strained his eyes searching the distant terrain for a stagecoach he knew he would not see. Something made him uneasy. Leaving Kid alone with Elizabeth was never a good idea. Maybe that was it. Was he really worried about what a woman would do to the fastest gun in the West? Yep, seems he was. Maybe she would behave herself this time. Heyes smiled. Maybe not. But there was something else nagging at him although he couldn’t define exactly what it was. One thing about Elizabeth Darkly, she did unsettle him.
The door at the end of the carriage opened and the guard stepped inside. “Tickets,” he announced and Heyes searched in his coat pocket for the piece of paper.
Kid felt the stage draw swiftly to a halt but was not unduly concerned. They had already hit several bumps in the road, had to slow when some cattle crossed in front of them and swerved to avoid a huge crater in the hard-packed ground. Slowing to avoid another obstacle was not unexpected. Beneath the hat, eyes closed, he listened. No cattle lowing. No driver cussing. But there was something… His ears strained to catch it. Men’s voices. A conversation. A chuckle. The voices got louder and then…a gunshot. His feet hit the stagecoach floor; he pushed his hat up and looked at Elizabeth. “What’s goin’ on?”
“I don’t know.” She was obviously startled. She looked out the window on her side but saw nothing.
Kid did the same and came face to face with a rifle. “Afternoon folks,” said the man holding it. “If you’d just step outside, no harm’ll come to you.”
Kid shot a look at Elizabeth. “It’s a hold up.”
“Then you should be right at home.” Before Kid could respond she stood up, opened the door.
But she had already stepped outside. Frowning, and cursing under his breath, Kid followed. There was another man sitting on horseback, his gun still in his holster, the lower half of his face covered by a bandana. The man with the rifle beckoned them, indicating with the weapon that they should step away from the stagecoach and stand in front of a large moss covered boulder. They did as they were told. There was no sign of the driver.
The man on horseback called out to someone out of view, “Hey, Luke, we got a woman!”
Kid placed a protective hand on Elizabeth’s and instinctively she stepped closer.
A tall, dark-haired man, clearly in command by the swagger in his step, appeared from the front of the stage. His gun hung limply in his hand. This was obviously Luke.
“Whatcha got Pepper?” Luke asked of the man with the rifle.
“Man and a woman,” Pepper informed him.
“I see that. You got his gun?”
“He makes a move, Barney, you shoot him,” Pepper ordered the horse-rider as he stepped forward and removed Kid’s Colt from his holster. Pepper tucked the weapon into the waistband of his pants. “Who are ya?” Pepper asked.
“I’m Thaddeus Jones and this is my wife, Elizabeth.” His hand enclosed hers.
“Says she’s his wife,” Pepper informed the others unnecessarily.
Drawing closer Luke cast a glance at Elizabeth clearly liking what he saw but when his eyes fell on Kid he stopped in his tracks. Slowly a smile crept across his face.
“Well, well, well, now ain’t this interestin’.” Elizabeth felt Kid tense and his grip tighten. “Last I heard Kid Curry wasn’t married.”
Kid met the man’s gaze but said nothing as he drew nearer.
“Kid Curry?” Pepper’s mouth dropped open.
“Yep, that’s who we got here.” Luke stopped in front of Elizabeth and stared into her eyes. Elizabeth stared back. Luke chuckled and let his gaze wander, enjoying every curve. “She’s a beauty, Kid, I’ll give you that.” Suddenly he reached out and grabbed Elizabeth’s left arm, holding it roughly by the wrist. “I don’t see no ring on her finger.”
Elizabeth yanked her hand free. “We were only married yesterday. It was a last minute decision, no time to get a ring. Not that it’s any of your business!”
Ignoring her Luke turned to Curry. “That right, Kid? You on your honeymoon?” Luke laughed and the others joined in.
“It’s true.” Kid moved to stand in front of Elizabeth.
“Aww, ain’t that sweet. He’s tryin’ to protect her.” Luke smiled as he reached for the rifle Pepper held. The man relinquished the weapon and Luke spun quickly around jabbing Kid hard in the stomach with it.
Kid doubled over and dropped to his knees; all the air knocked out of him. He held his abdomen whilst gasping for breath. Luke grabbed a handful of Kid’s hair and pulled his head up so he could see his face. Angry blue eyes met his. “What’s the reward on you these days, Kid?” No reply. “Last I heard it was $10,000. I reckon I’ll have me a piece of that.” He let go of Kid’s hair and turned to the men on horseback. “Barney, toss me some rope or somethin’.”
Elizabeth stepped closer to Kid. “What are they talking about?” she asked, feigning ignorance. “Why do they think you’re Kid Curry?”
“Didn’t you tell her?” Luke asked.
Barney untied several leather cords from his saddle and threw them to Luke.
Elizabeth looked at the robbers. “He’s not Kid Curry.” They did not seem convinced. “He’s not!”
“Sweetheart, you’ve been lied to.” Luke approached Kid with the cords.
She turned to Kid. “Tell them you’re not Kid Curry!”
“Elizabeth,” Kid gasped.
“Tell them you’re not Kid Curry!” Elizabeth insisted. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Luke flicking the leather. When Kid not do as asked she turned to face Luke. “What are you going to do to him?”
“Well, we ain’t gonna have a neck-tie party if that’s what you’re worried about, Sweetheart. Wouldn’t want to ruin your honeymoon. Although I did hear the reward was payable dead or alive, so I’d be real cooperative, Kid, if I was you.” Luke stopped in front of Curry. “If you cause us trouble I might decide you’d be easier to handle, dead.” He smiled and held out the bindings. “Pepper, tie him up.”
Pepper scurried closer, took the cords and moved behind Curry, pulling his arms behind his back.
Luke bent close to Kid so only he could hear when he spoke. “I like the look of her, Kid. I gotta admit you got good taste. Might have me a piece of that.”
Kid lunged for the man but Pepper still had his arms and Luke was prepared for him. This time the rifle butt connected with Kid’s jaw. He fell sideways, his head reeling, his mouth filling with blood.
“You never learn do you?” Luke stood over the injured man. “$10, 000 I love it!”
“You can’t turn me in,” Kid informed him as he wiped his mouth inadvertently smearing blood across his face before Pepper grabbed him arms again, pulling them behind his back. “You’re as much an outlaw as I am.”
Luke smiled as he stepped away from the Curry. “That is true but Barney, here…” He waved a hand at the man on horseback, “he’s not wanted by the law. In fact this is his first robbery and wouldn’t you know he struck lucky with you! He’ll be happy with his share of the reward.”
Kid flinched as Pepper pulled the leather tight around his wrists. He decided to try bargaining. “Let my wife go, Luke, she’s got nothin’ to do with this.”
“But you’re on your honeymoon! I can’t separate a man from his bride.”
“I’ll go with you, won’t give you any trouble, just you let her go.”
“Now that jus’ tugs at my heart strings. It really does.” Luke looked at Elizabeth. “But I still don’t believe she’s your wife. So that makes me wonder who she is. She another man’s wife?” He looked back at Elizabeth. “You been doin’ something you shouldn’t, ma’am? Kid always did have an eye for the ladies. Fancied a little excitement, huh? Or are you a runaway?” He turned to the other men. “What do you think boys? Maybe she’s just a high price workin’ gal?”
Elizabeth bristled at this. “I am no such thing! I happen to be from one of the finest families in…”
“Don’t get all feisty on me now, girl!” When Luke grabbed her arm she pulled free.
Elizabeth stood toe to toe with him. “You’ll show me some respect and you will let my husband go!”
Pepper laughed. “She sure is somethin’, Luke.” He pulled tighter on the final knot, and then stepped away from Kid.
Luke looked at Elizabeth and grinned, “Yeah, she sure is.” The outlaw turned back to Kid. “So, where’s Heyes?”
“What’s it to you?” The blond man asked, his gaze shifting from one man to the next assessing the situation. So far things looked grim.
“I always liked ol’ Heyes.”
“That’s not how I remember it.”
“Well, maybe we did have a disagreement or two.” He turned to Elizabeth. “You ever meet his partner, Hannibal Heyes?”
“Do you seriously think I’d associate with a disgusting outlaw like him?”
Kid supressed a smile, which hurt his mouth.
“You married one, or maybe you didn’t.” Luke’s brow furrowed.
“I told you we ARE married and he is NOT an outlaw.”
“You keep believing that, Sweetheart.” He turned back to the blond man, still on his knees, and crouched closer. “So where is he?”
“We split up.”
“Yeah.” Kid looked up at Elizabeth. “We fell out over my wife.”
Luke laughed out loud then suddenly reached down and grabbed Kid’s hair again. “I did a lot of bleedin’ ‘cos of you, Kid. You remember that don’tcha? The tables are turned now, Kid. Tables are turned.”
Kid met the other man’s gaze and held it. There was nothing else he could do.
Hannibal Heyes smiled. She was a beauty. As Hector Neumann lowered himself into his leather chair, Heyes took the opportunity to study the safe over the man’s shoulder. The Miller Company of Philadelphia safe stood against the wall behind the man’s large oak desk. It was just like the one in Senor Armendariz’s house. It might take some time but he knew he could open it and this time there shouldn’t be a bust of Caesar inside it. However, he needed to make sure that Elizabeth’s photographs were in there first and that she was in no way implicated for their removal. No point taking a risk for nothing.
Neumann leaned back as he asked, “So what can I do for you Mister Smith? My assistant mentioned something about documents?”
“First let me thank you for seeing me at such short notice.”
“Not at all, you have me intrigued.”
“Well, you’re right, I do have some important documents on me. I’m carrying them for a client of mine who lives in San Francisco,” Heyes explained. “I’ll be heading to the west coast shortly but I don’t want to leave them in my hotel room and I don’t trust banks.”
“May I ask why?” Neumann sat back in his chair. Heyes’ raised a questioning eyebrow. “About the banks.”
“Let’s just say, that as a banker, I know how easy they are to rob.” He smiled and Neumann repeated the gesture.
“So why have you come to me?”
“The reason is right behind you. I asked around and was told you had a safe in your office.”
“A lot of folks do.”
“But they’re not lawyers. And they don’t all have a Miller safe.”
“And you want to use it?”
“If you’ll let me, yes.”
“What is the nature of these documents?”
“I’m not at liberty to divulge that.”
“I won’t keep something in my safe without knowing what it is. I hope you can understand that.”
Heyes took a deep breath. He was clearly unhappy. “I’m willing to pay to use your safe.”
Neumann smiled and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his desk. “Mister Smith, as you stated, I’m a lawyer. If I took money to keep something in my safe, without knowing what it was…”
Heyes held his gaze. “What I’m asking you to look after is nothing illegal.”
Neumann steepled his fingers as he studied the man before him. He considered Heyes proposition. Finally he asked, “How much?”
“Five dollars a day, for the space and your discretion.”
“For how long?”
“Three, maybe four days. I’m waiting for a telegram.”
“They must be pretty important documents.”
“They are to my client.”
Neumann pondered the matter. The clock on the bookcase ticked and tocked. Heyes waited as Neumann considered the proposal. “All right. You’ve got yourself a deal.”
“I’ll take ten dollars now, the rest when you bring the documents.”
“I have them with me.” Heyes reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a billfold. He handed over the money. “I’ll require a receipt, for these,” he said as he withdrew an envelope from his jacket pocket.
“Of course.” Neumann held out his hand.
Heyes smiled. “I’ll watch you put them in there.”
“Then you won’t mind if I ask you to turn your back while I open it?”
“Of course not.” Heyes turned away and listened as the dial turned right, left, right again. He smiled. When he heard the safe door creak open he turned around. “Looks pretty solid.”
Neumann rested a hand on the door. “Made of the finest metal. The Miller Company is a well-respected maker.”
Heyes looked at the number of files and envelopes inside the safe. “You sure there’s room?”
“I’ll make room.”
Heyes handed over the envelope and watched as Neumann shifted a few files around to accommodate it. He noted with satisfaction a bright blue envelope on the top shelf, just as Elizabeth had described.
Neumann closed the safe and spun the dial.
Kid Curry regained consciousness to hear the thump, thump, thump of his pulse pounding in his head. Either someone was trying to get his ears to meet in the middle or he had one heck of a headache. He took a moment to assess his situation. He was in one piece, lying on a wooden floor. His hands were no longer tied. He listened but heard nothing but that thump, thump, thump. It appeared he was alone. His head hurt. He groaned.
“You awake?” a familiar feminine voice inquired.
Definitely not alone. “No,” he replied grudgingly.
“Good.” Clothing rustled as Elizabeth settled herself on the floor beside him. “How are you feeling?”
“Not good, huh?” A grunt was the only response. “I think they’ve left us here. I mean left us alone. I haven’t heard anyone moving about outside for some time.”
“Where’s here?” Kid asked, still not opening his eyes.
“A shack built into the hillside by the look of it. Could be an old miner’s hut.”
Kid cracked open one eye as he considered this. “What did they hit me with?”
“Well, I’m no expert on guns but I think it was a Schofield.”
Tentatively Kid reached up and felt the not-unexpected lump on the back of his head. He waited as a wave of nausea passed over him, then looked up at Elizabeth, examining her face and attire. “You all right?”
She smiled, touched by his genuine concern. “Yes.”
“If they touched you…”
“They didn’t, although what you planned to do if they did is beyond me. Can you open both eyes?”
“I’m workin’ on that.” With more grunting, groaning and a few well-chosen swear words; Kid raised himself onto his knees. Sitting back on his ankles he looked at her. Realising he still couldn’t get his left eye fully open he gently explored it with his fingers.
“It looks painful.” Elizabeth reached out and brushed a strand of hair off his forehead.
“You should try it from this side.” Resting his hands on his knees he blew out a breath and looked around. “You say this is a miner’s shack?”
“It looked like it from the outside.”
“Any idea where we are?”
“You mean apart from a miner’s shack?”
“We rode for a couple of hours. They flung you over the back of a horse so I doubt you could admire the view.” He didn’t reply. “We climbed through some trees, had to ride single file along a track for a while and eventually ended up here.”
“Outside. Was the ground well worn?”
“Like there’d been fresh activity?”
She considered his question. “Yes. It didn’t look abandoned.”
“Any other buildings?”
“One. A small cabin. And there’s a lean-to against the hillside, in the trees.”
“Probably for the horses.”
“There were none there.”
“Then there was no one here to meet them?”
“Means it’s just the three of…” Closing his eyes tight he grimaced as a spear of pain shot through his head.
“Kid…?” She watched as he fought it. She reached for the bandana around his neck. Two blue eyes opened, one wider than the other.
“What are you doin’?” he asked as she untied the knot.
Taking the bandana she walked over to two buckets that stood in a corner of the room. Picking up one she returned to his side and knelt on the boards before him. Elizabeth offered Kid a ladle full of water. When he took it she soaked the cloth into the cool water. Kid drank greedily before returning the dipper to the bucket. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. As he looked up she planted the wet cloth n his face.
“Keep still.” She wiped at the dried blood smeared above his left eye and around his mouth.
“You don’t hafta do that,” he informed her as he turned his head away.
“I know.” She caught hold of his chin and turned his head to face her. She dabbed at the cut over his eye. “This probably needs stitches.”
“Well, it’s not gonna get ‘em.” He winced then looked at Elizabeth. “You can stop. I’ll survive.”
“You do seem to.” For a long moment they held each other’s gaze.
Finally Elizabeth looked away.
“They say anything about what they plan to do with you?” Kid asked, breaking whatever the moment was.
You, she noted, not us. He had a pretty good idea what they planned to do with him. “They didn’t say anything but I assumed the obvious.”
“Then we’d better get you outta here.” He didn’t move.
“You think he’ll kill you,” she stated.
“I reckon he’d like to.”
“Who is he?”
“Luke Bannister. He rode with the Gang for a while but he wouldn’t take orders. Didn’t like Heyes’ plans and told him so.”
“I can’t see Hannibal appreciating that.”
“He didn’t.” Kid remembered only too well. “On one job he got rough with the passengers. It’s something we didn’t allow. We never robbed the passengers of personal things; never hurt them if we could avoid it.” Kid seemed suddenly reticent about saying any more.
“So what happened?”
“He left the Gang.”
“I told you. He didn’t agree with how we did things.”
“He said he did a lot of bleeding because of you.” No reply. “What happened between you?”
“Heyes did the plannin’ I dealt with the men, that’s how we did things.”
“So how did you deal with him?” When he didn’t reply Elizabeth came to her own conclusion. “Did you shoot him?”
“Not at first.”
Knowing she was not about to let it drop, Kid gave a sigh and then told her. “I told him he had to leave. He didn’t see why he should. I told him it wasn’t up for discussion. We came to blows over it. He grabbed someone’s gun…”
“So you shot him?”
Elizabeth considered this before she asked, “And for that he’d kill you?”
“He just might.”
In the comfort of his larger than normal hotel room, Hannibal Heyes leaned back in the hot bath water, and rested his back against the metal of the tub. He sighed. The warmth felt good on his muscles. The aroma of the soap filling his nostrils was clean and relaxing. He reached out a hand and picked up a glass of whiskey from a nearby stool. He took a sip of the amber liquid and felt the warm burn as it slid down his throat. With his other hand he placed a freshly lit cigar in his mouth and inhaled. As Heyes let out a long stream of smoke he gave another sigh. He might have had to forgo the obvious pleasures of Elizabeth Darkly’s company to arrive first in Calamity. He might have had to let Kid play the dutiful husband while he took the role of anxious banker but there were certainly some benefits to the sacrifice. He crossed his feet at the ankles resting them on the end of the tub. Oh yes, there were definitely some benefits.
“So, did you start an escape tunnel?” Kid asked, holding his ribs with his left hand as he turned to look around the sparse hut.
“I thought I’d wait for you,” Elizabeth informed him.
“Nice of you.” He made an effort to stand which involved more groaning and cussing and grabbing of the wall. “Sorry,” he apologised when he was finally standing upright. He held his ribs trying to get oxygen into his lungs without actually breathing. It wasn’t working. He wouldn’t be surprised if one of his ribs was broken. Sure was painful enough.
“He kicked you.”
“It was his parting shot, so to speak.”
“Wish he’d missed.”
“Want me to have a look?” She took a step toward him and Kid stepped back.
“Just can’t keep your hands off me, huh?”
“Yeah, well I don’t need you to look at me to know it hurts.” He met her gaze. “Thanks for the offer though.”
“Why Kid, are you growing to like me?”
“I never said that,” he reminded her but smiled all the same. Kid turned his attention to their prison. He strode to the door and rattled the handle hard. “Locked,” he stated needlessly.
Elizabeth rested her hands on her hips and tried not to look annoyed. “Don’t you think I tried that?”
“Do you want to try the window next, in case my tiny woman’s brain didn’t think to check that either?”
Kid gave her a look but remained mute on the subject. He looked around the shack and took a quick inventory. Two pails, one filled with water. No sign of his gun or gun belt. A small three-legged wooden stool stood in the corner and a couple of blankets were tossed on top of it. That was it. “Did they give you anything to eat?” he asked.
“You’re thinking about your stomach? Now?”
“No, I was thinking about you.”
Elizabeth couldn’t hide her surprise. “Oh. Erm, no I’ve had nothing.”
“Reckon you could get through that window?”
She looked at it. The frame was small but she could probably squeeze through it. However, there was one tiny problem. “Not while it’s locked.”
Kid picked up the stool and swung it at the glass and frame. The glass broke and Kid groaned, bending over as pain screamed through his ribs. After a moment to gain his breath he swung the stool once more and harder. The window frame shattered leaving a gaping hole surrounded by jagged splinters of wood. He looked at Mrs Darkly. “Reckon you could get through it now?”
She smiled. “You really are something, you know that?”
“Oh, I’m something, all right.” He beckoned her over. “Let’s get you outta here.”
“Then you find something to open the door with.” Kid wrapped his sleeve around his hand and knocked out the remaining pieces of wooden frame then turned the empty bucket upside down making an impromptu step. He studied Elizabeth. He frowned.
“What?” she asked, puzzled by his expression.
“Take off your dress.”
She smiled, sinfully and sauntered towards him. “Why, Kid, I knew this day would come but do you really think now is the appropriate time? I mean are you up to it?” Standing close to him she placed her fingers on his shirtfront.
He gave a patient sigh and watched her trace the outline of a button and slowly walk her fingers down his shirt front to his belt. Kid smiled, then said, “You’ll never get through the window in all that material.”
“Oh.” The fingers stopped. Brown eyes met blue ones. “And there was me thinking…”
“I know what you were thinkin’.” He waved his hand in the general direction of her dress. “Get that thing off.”
“You really know how to sweet talk a gal don’t you?” Elizabeth fumbled with the ties at her neck then turned around. “Undo me.”
“The maid at the hotel helped me get into this dress. You’ll have to help get me out of it.” She giggled. “Oh, I can’t wait to tell Hannibal I said that.”
“I’m gonna say don’t tell him, but I think you’ll tell him anyway.”
Elizabeth moved her hair away from her neck so he could reach the buttons.
He took a moment to appreciate her smooth skin and the hair caressing the nape of her neck. He unhooked the first button.
“You seem to know your way around a lady’s garments.”
“I’ve helped out a time or two,” he admitted.
She sniggered. “I bet you have. And now you’re undressing me.”
“No, I’m just helpin’ you with the buttons.”
“That’s what they all say. It starts with a button and then…”
“And then it’s just another button.”
She looked at him over her shoulder. “You sure you’re not tempted back there?”
“I think you’re lying.”
Kid tapped her on the shoulder. “All done.”
She turned to face him. “That was quick.” She smirked. “Is that what they all say too?”
Despite himself Kid smiled and watched as Elizabeth pulled the dress off her shoulders. She pushed it to her waist then down over her hips, stepping out of it, to stand in just her chemise and lace trimmed pantaloons.
Elizabeth rested her hands on her narrow waist and met his appreciative gaze. “Like what you see?”
“Very much so.”
Unembarrassed she cast her dress aside and strode to the window. Once there she climbed on top of the empty bucket, rested a hand on Kid’s shoulder for balance and he helped her through the gap. However, it was easier said than done. Elizabeth went through head first but struggled once her hands were on the other side. “I could use a hand.”
Kid’s hands connected with a round and pleasingly firm rump. He smiled.
“Maybe if you gave me a push instead of groping me, we’d get somewhere.”
“I am not gropin’ you.”
“Feels like it from this side.”
“Don’t flatter yourself, ain’t that what you tell me?” Kid yelled into a mound of thin material and soft woman.
“Just shut up and push.”
Hannibal Heyes pulled a fob-watch from his vest pocket, flicked it open and studied the dial. The stagecoach was late. Very late. So late in fact that the due stage was over-due. He turned to the stage-manager who was scribbling something in chalk on a blackboard.
“Any idea when the stage’ll arrive?” he asked.
The man moved to one side allowing Heyes to see what he had just written.
STAGE OVERDUE. WHEREABOUTS UNKNOWN.
“What do you mean whereabouts unknown?” Heyes demanded.
“Just what it says. It left on time just didn’t make the last two check points.”
“So what’s being down about it?”
“The sheriff of Little Creek has sent a party out to look for it. If they don’t find anything I reckon our sheriff’ll do the same.”
“That’s it. There’s been a coupla hold-ups in the past month. I reckon that’s what’s happened this time.”
The man went back into his office leaving a worried Heyes to stare down Main Street and into the hills beyond the town, hoping for some sign of the missing stage. The sun was moving closer to the ridge. It would be night soon. If he rode out now he’d be searching in the dark. There was nothing he could do for his friends until the morning. Heyes turned to face the office of Hector Neumann. There was something he could do.
Clad in only her white undergarments Elizabeth Darkly looked inside the lean-to searching for anything she could use to force open the shack door. There was a rake; a broken stool similar to the one Kid had slammed the window with and a rusty metal box. An old wooden door rested on two boxes and she knelt to see underneath it smiling when she caught sight of a wooden handle. Grabbing it she pulled and a spade came free. A pick axe would have been better but she would have to use what she had to hand. Running to the shack door she raised the spade like a club and brought it down on the door handle. The force reverberated up her arms.
“ELIZABETH?” Kid queried.
“WHO ELSE WERE YOU EXPECTING?” she called back.
“WHAT D’YOU FIND?”
“A SPADE. I’m trying to…” WHACK. WHACK. “Get the door open.”
“SEE IF YOU CAN WEDGE IT BETWEEN THE DOOR AND THE FRAME,” he suggested. “I’LL PUSH FROM THIS SIDE.”
Elizabeth did just that. She jabbed at the gap until eventually the spade fit and then leaned on the handle using it as a lever. Inside the shack Kid braced his feet on the dirt floor, placed his left shoulder against the door and pushed.
“YOU PUSHIN’?” he yelled.
“OF COURSE I’M PUSHING!”
“I’ll push something harder when I get this door open,” she muttered.
“NOTHING!” She gritted her teeth, braced herself against the spade’s handle and…p…u…s…h…e…d!
Music from the Whip-crack-away Saloon drifted along the darkened street and into the alley. Hidden in the shadows, Hannibal Heyes slid his knife carefully up between the windows of Hector Neumann’s office and gently turned the catch. When it was free he pushed the bottom window up, pausing when it squeaked. He looked around. Nothing moved on Main Street. At this time of night there were only a few revellers about. Heyes continued to push up the window until there was enough room for him to squeeze through. He eased aside the curtain and climbed into Neumann’s office.
There was enough light from the street to guide him to the safe behind the large desk. Settling himself in front of it Heyes removed his gloves, rubbed his hands together and blew on them before flexing his fingers. He placed the fingers of his right hand around the dial, pressed his left ear to the cold metal of the safe door and listened. He sighed. This was always his favourite part. Heyes’ grip tightened and his nimble fingers turned the dial slowly clockwise listening for the faint yet familiar sound. The noises of the street faded into the background. A drunk singing, a horse drawn wagon rolling by, a dog barking. All vanished as Hannibal Heyes focused on the security mechanism deep inside the Miller safe. Click. Turn. Too Far. Just a little bit more and…Click. Eyes closed, a satisfied smile on his face Hannibal Heyes did what he did best.
He continued until he heard the final click. Sitting back on his heels he grabbed the handle of the safe and, turning it, he opened the door, cringing when it uttered a metallic squeak.
Heyes studied the contents of the safe. Casually he ran his fingers over the envelopes and files until they rested on a single blue envelope. He removed it then looked over at Neumann’s desk. Locating the item he required he stood up, picked up the letter opener and slid it carefully under the envelope’s seal. With gentle teasing the envelope was soon open. He reached inside and withdrew several photographs. He looked at the first. His eyes widened. Well, now that was…different. He examined the next. Wow. He coughed and looked at the next picture. Sheesh. No wonder Elizabeth didn’t want them sent to her family. Heyes slid the photographs back into the envelope and put it in his jacket pocket. He removed the brown envelope he had given Neumann from the safe, closed the metal door and locked it. Checking that all was in order he returned to the window and slipped quietly from the room.
“C’mon!” Kid grabbed Elizabeth’s hand and dragged her towards the trees.
“My dress!” she yelled.
“We don’t have time.”
“Yes, we do!” She stood her ground and he stopped, turning to glare at her. “If you think I’m going to run through the woods in nothing but my underwear you’re very much mistaken.”
Kid looked from Elizabeth to the shack. “All right. Go get it but you can put it on later, we don’t have time to be messin’ about with buttons.”
“Bet you wouldn’t say that if you didn’t have any pants on!” she called over her shoulder as she headed towards the shack.
“How come I always get stuck with her, Heyes?” he muttered as she entered the clearing. As she reached the door Kid heard approaching horses. “Elizabeth!” he hissed.
She had heard them too and turned to Kid.
“C’mon!” He beckoned her to him and reluctantly she knew he was right. Head down she ran back to the trees.
“D’you think it’s them?” she asked as she crouched beside him.
“We’re not hangin’ around to find out.”
“Wha…” but her words were lost as he took her hand and pulled her deeper into the trees and down a slope. It was all she could do to keep her balance and keep up with the man dragging her along. “Can we please…” she tried but he was too focussed on getting them as far away from their captors as possible to listen.
Suddenly he turned, placed a hand on her head and shoved her to the ground. “Will you…” but he cut her off with a hand over her mouth before throwing himself on top of her.
“THEY’RE GONE!” a man’s voice cried in the distance.
“HEY, LOOK SHE LEFT HER DRESS.”
There was the sound of distant laughter.
Dark eyes glared at Kid over the top of his hand but Elizabeth had stopped struggling and listened.
“Which way did they go?”
“I don’t know. Can you see any footprints?”
“I can see a lot of ‘em Barney, most of ‘em yours! Luke’s gonna kill us if we don’t find ‘em.”
Kid eased himself off Elizabeth’s body. He placed a finger on his lips indicating she should be quiet. “Let’s get movin’,” he said in a whisper and this time she followed him without complaint.
Heyes bought a horse at the livery and left town just after sunrise. Collar turned up against the unexpected early morning chill he headed along the road from Calamity. There had been no news from the sheriff’s search party and the lawman in Calamity planned to gather some men and set out to look for the missing stagecoach later that day. It was too late for Hannibal Heyes. He needed to find his friends. Elizabeth’s blue envelope was tucked in his saddle bags; he could only hope it had all been worth it.
From what little he had learnt in town, a gang of three, maybe four, men had attacked and robbed a couple of wagons and a few lone travellers over the past few months. The sheriff had a rough description of the men involved but no one knew who they were. Two men travelling alone had been robbed and killed. The men in both wagon parties had been beaten and a woman assaulted. Grim-faced Heyes kicked his horse on.
“OW!” Elizabeth cried as she lost her footing as they descended a slope. She landed hard on her backside.
Kid stopped turned and looked at her assessing her condition as he did so. “You all right?”
“Would it matter to you if I wasn’t?” She eased herself onto her knees giving Kid another pleasing view of her derriere. “I know what you’re looking at,” she accused.
“Then stop stickin’ it in the air.”
Elizabeth shot him a look over her shoulder. “Will you help me up?”
He offered a hand and she took it. Kid tugged her to her feet and she slid on the muddy ground and ended up pressed chest-to-chest with the ex-outlaw. Kid smiled.
“Let me go,” she demanded.
“I thought this was what you wanted? Just me and you. Alone in the wild.”
“Now is not the time! There are men chasing us.”
“I thought you wanted the excitement of being caught.”
“Not when I’m half-dressed!”
Kid let her go. “You are one confusin’ woman, d’you know that?”
She met his gaze. “You weren’t seriously suggesting we…here?”
Kid smiled and she scoffed as he turned away to study the sloping ground before them. They would have to descend through the trees and hope that the cover held until they were a safe distance away. Unfortunately at that moment the sound of breaking branches and men crashing through the undergrowth could be heard not far above them. The chase was still on.
Kid took Elizabeth’s hand in his once more. “C’mon Sweetheart, let’s go.”
Heyes pulled his horse to a halt and climbed from the saddle. The stagecoach stood alone. The horses had been unharnessed and were gone. The driver was not so fortunate. He lay sprawled on the ground, a dark, dried stain across his chest and a tell-tale bullet hole cut in the fabric of his shirt. Heyes swallowed and moved to the side of the stage, dreading what he might find. The door was open but no one appeared to be inside. All the same he knew he had to check. Heyes peered into the gloomy interior. It was empty. Looking around he soon located Elizabeth’s empty reticule and a shawl he had seen her wear. The Champeen tracker of all Southern Utah bent his knees and studied the ground searching for tracks. Despite the overabundance of footprints he was able to locate Elizabeth’s feminine impression and at least three different boot prints, none of which he could identify as his partner’s. His stomach knotted when he found dark spots in the earth he recognised as blood. On the edge of the clearing were hoof prints and the undergrowth had been flattened by horses and that was all he had to go on.
Heyes summarised. The stage had been stopped. The driver shot and the horses taken. The passengers were nowhere to be seen and the amount of blood on the ground, although worrying, was too little to suggest they had been killed. If they had been killed then why take their bodies? It gave Heyes a glimmer of hope. It appeared that the robbers had taken the passengers with them which implied they wanted them alive. He just hoped that wasn’t proving to be a worse fate than death.
Returning to his horse, Heyes climbed back into the saddle and followed the trail through the brush and into the trees.
“Can we please stop for a minute?” Elizabeth pleaded, breathing heavily.
Kid did as asked, pulling her into the safety of the trees as his eyes scanned the trail behind them.
Elizabeth placed her hands on her hips and took deep breaths. “Any sign of them?”
Not taking his eyes from the way they had come Kid shook his head. “No.” Finally he turned to look at her. “How you doin’?”
“Holding up. You?”
Kid smiled. “Being chased ain’t new.” He looked around. Studying the lie of the land, searching for an escape route.
“How do you do it?”
“It’s that or be caught, Sweetheart. I know which I prefer.” Kid examined her red, sweat covered face and smiled. “Got your breath back?”
“Too bad, cos we hafta keep movin’.”
She studied him; his bruised face and half closed eye. “Maybe you need the rest too?”
“Can’t afford that luxury.” Kid grabbed her hand. “C’mon.”
Hannibal Heyes leaned sideways in the saddle, searching the ground around his horse for a sign he could follow. So far the trail had led him into the trees and up an escarpment. The track had been and could only be traversed single file. The splatters of blood that accompanied the tracks on rocks and foliage had finally petered out. Either someone had stopped bleeding or they were no longer part of the group. Having seen no evidence of a body or anyone leaving the party, Heyes chose to believe in the former. His eyes fell on a few crushed leaves, about horse shoe size. He looked ahead and spotted more of the same. Satisfied he was still going in the right direction he urged his horse on.
Around the next bend he knew he was on the right track when he spotted a familiar brown object lying on its crown in the undergrowth. Heyes climbed from the saddle and reached into the bushes to extract Kid’s hat. He brushed the brim to remove a leaf and turned it thoughtfully in his hands. When he looked inside his jaw clenched at the smear of blood on the lining. Had he been following his partner’s bloody trail? And if Kid no longer needed his hat…? He didn’t let his thoughts go to that dark place.
Swiftly, he shook the image of his injured partner from his mind, climbed back into the saddle, dropped the hat over the saddle horn and kicked his horse on.
They were tired.
They were bruised.
They were hungry.
So, of course, it started to rain. And not just any rain. This was heavy rain, big drops, with a little wind added so that it blew in sideways. The sort of rain that got you very wet, very quickly and found its way into your ears and down the collar of your shirt.
“Oh, please, give me a break!” Elizabeth exclaimed as she stopped walking. They were on a narrow track that edged the side of a steep valley.
Puzzled Kid turned to look at her but she wasn’t addressing him. Instead Elizabeth looked at the heavens.
“Three months without a drop of rain. Three months! Every newspaper in the state complaining about the drought and now, NOW, you decide to rain! Well, thank you very much! Not content with having me run half-way across the country nearly naked you’re gonna drench me as well!”
“If you think for one minute that I’m gonna throw a few coins in a collection plate…”
“…after this well, Mister you are very much mistaken!”
“Sweetheart, I don’t think He’s listenin’ to…”
She glared at Kid, cutting him off. “Well HE’d better be listening to me because if I find out all of this is for nothing, there’s gonna be hell to pay!” She looked him straight in the eye, defying the blond man to contradict her. Then she turned the same expression on the dark sky above.
“H…HE…may not be able to hear you but the men chasin’ us might! So could you keep it down a bit? Huh?”
Elizabeth shot one last glare at the sky then shivered. “I’m sorry.” She looked at Kid and then shivered again.
“C’mere,” Kid beckoned, gently and reluctantly she approached him. Kid wrapped his arms around her.
“What are you doing?” she asked, her face pressed to his damp chest.
“Am I allowed to?”
“Yes. I don’t usually lose it like that,” she muttered into his chest. “But I am cold and angry and my feet hurt. And now I’m wet through.”
“I hate being cold.”
“It’s okay.” He patted her back.
“I hate being hungry.”
“I know.” He took hold of her hand. “I should have gotten you a ring.”
She looked up at him, confused. “What?”
“A ring. For your finger.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Kid Curry, are you asking me to marry you?”
Kid laughed. “No!”
“Then what are you talking about?”
“If we’d gotten you a ring they’d have believed you were my wife.”
“Well, next time we have to play at being married, I’ll remind you.”
“Make sure you do.”
She smiled against his chest. “So you think there’ll be a next time?”
“I hope not.” He looked at the top of her head. “Nothin’ personal.”
She patted his chest. “I shouldn’t have got angry.”
“No, it’s not. It’s weak.”
Kid stepped back holding her, literally, at arm’s length. “I’m not gonna tell anyone you shouted at God.” The look she gave him conveyed her doubt. Kid smiled. “Woman, do you trust anyone?”
“Not even Heyes?”
“Sometimes, I trust Hannibal, about some things. At other times I’m not so sure.” Elizabeth shivered again.
Kid released her and began unbuttoning his shirt.
Her eyes narrowed with concern. “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like?”
“You want it now?” she queried. “Just because I let you hold me and I’ve shown you I can be vulnerable?”
She looked down at her chemise. “Is this see-through? Is that it?”
“What are you…?”
“I show just a chink of vulnerability and like all men you think you can jus…” She realised he’d stopped unbuttoning and was staring at her, open-mouthed. Elizabeth let out a long breath. “You weren’t thinking that were you?” He didn’t reply. “Why are you taking off your shirt?”
“Well, it sure ain’t to have my way with you!” He shook his head as he returned to the buttons. “Sheesh, woman, you are really somethin’.”
“It was a misunderstanding. My mistake.”
“You’re right about that. You and me would be a mistake.” Kid pulled his arm out of one sleeve and then the other before draping the shirt it around her shoulders. “Put it on. It’ll keep you warm.”
“It won’t be forever and the extra layer will help, trust me.”
“I don’t trust people.”
“Well, make an exception this time.”
Elizabeth actually smiled, shyly as she shrugged into his shirt. “Thank you, Kid. I’m touched.”
Kid scoffed. “If you ain’t, Sweetheart, I gotta be.” He walked on.
The area around the shack was deserted, the wooden door broken open. The ground outside showed a multitude of footprints and once again Heyes was having trouble distinguishing one from another. He drew his gun as he approached the open door just in case anyone was still around, although he seriously doubted it. Cautiously he peered into the shadowy interior. It was empty except…
A familiar dress lay in the dirt near the window. Satisfied the place was empty; Heyes entered the shack and, footsteps echoing on the wooden board, walked over to the dress. He crouched down and picked it up, letting the soft fabric run between his fingers. Elizabeth’s. He pictured her wearing it; recalling how elegant her neck looked. How the colour complemented her eyes. Unpleasant thoughts replaced those images. Why was her dress here when she wasn’t? Why had she needed to remove it? And yes, she had removed it. It wasn’t torn. She’d taken it off not had it ripped from her. Heyes didn’t know whether he should be glad about that or not. And what about Kid? Where was he? There were too many unanswered questions.
Heyes stood up and examined the cabin more closely. There was a broken stool in the far corner and the window had been broken but only a few of the pieces were inside suggesting…He pondered. His eyes moved from the stool to the window, from the broken pieces of wood to the broken pieces of glass. His eyes opened wide in realisation. The window had been broken from the inside not out; possibly broken with the stool by someone desperate to get out. There was no way Kid would fit through the window but Elizabeth might. His fist closed around the dress. Elizabeth without a dress definitely might.
He smiled. “Got her in her underwear again, Kid.”
Filled with fresh hope Heyes exited the shack and searched the surrounding area once more. Suddenly the boot prints made more sense and led him to the treeline and the crushed undergrowth beyond.
Heyes nodded his understanding. “So, you went that-a-way. I sure hope no one was following you.” But unfortunately the numerous boot prints suggested otherwise.
“Be careful it’s slippery,” Kid cautioned as they made their way along a track that was probably worn down by mountain goats. Who else would make a path this narrow and this close to the edge of a ravine? Unfortunately navigating the perilous track was currently their best option if they wanted to outrun the men chasing them. Kid was convinced they were still being chased and not from some inner sixth sense honed in his outlaw days but from the sounds of clumsy men stumbling through the trees behind them. They had heard nothing for at least twenty minutes but he didn’t believe they’d given up yet.
Elizabeth followed Kid placing her smaller foot where his large booted one had been. She clung to nearby branches and trees that had somehow managed to find a roothold in the barest of soil.
Kid glanced over his shoulder to check how she was doing. “You okay?”
“Yes, just concentrating real hard on not plummeting to my doom.”
“Glad to hear it.” He put his foot down and the rock on which his boot settled gave way. Kid grabbed the nearest tree as the rock went clattering down the hillside. He took a moment to remind himself to breathe. When he looked up Elizabeth was staring back at him.
“Don’t do that again,” she told him.
“Trust me, I’ll try not to.” Even more cautiously he took another step. There was a patch of mud where a small stream emerged from the rocks and trickled over the edge producing a thin waterfall. “There’s another slippery patch coming up,” he warned.
“I see it.” Once Kid was past it she edged along the track which was swiftly becoming little more than a ledge. “Are you sure there isn’t another way we could…”
And then she slipped.
Heyes slid down the hillside, skidded to a halt and fell face first into a bush.
“Dammit!” he exclaimed as he pulled himself free of the branches. He brushed off a covering of leaves, and then leaned back into the bush to retrieve his hat. Brushing his hair back from his face he settled his hat on his head then touched the side of his face. There was a cut on his cheek and his fingers came away wet. He looked at the blood.
“Terrific,” he grumbled and then looked around.
A path of crushed leaves and grass not four feet away suggested the route he should follow.
He looked up the slope to see his horse peering down at him.
“Well, don’t just stand there,” Heyes ordered the roan. “Get yourself down here!”
“DON’T LET GO! DON’T DROP ME!” Elizabeth pleaded, her hand held tightly by Kid, but even as she said it she watched his brown glove slip slowly down his wrist.
Kid had one arm locked around the branch of a tree and the other wrapped around Elizabeth’s left wrist.
“PLEASE DON’T LET GO,” she repeated like a mantra while feeling desperately around with her feet for a stronger purchase. Elizabeth grabbed frantically at the sparse vegetation with her free hand. “I know I’ve said and done things that…”
“Elizabeth…SHUT UP! AND FOR GOD’S SAKE WOMAN STOP WRIGGLIN’.”
“I’M TRYING TO GET MY FOOTING.”
“WELL, YOU SWAYIN’ ABOUT AIN’T HELPIN’, SWEETHEART.”
“I’M SORRY! NEXT TIME I HANG PRECARIOUSLY OVER A RAVINE I’LL TRY TO BE MORE CONSIDERATE!”
Kid’s only reply was a grunt as he adjusted his grip on the tree and felt the rough bark scrap away the flesh as he did so. He desperately tried to brace his feet against something, anything, he was sure wouldn’t move. There didn’t seem to be a lot of that around but somehow he dug his heels in.
Kid looked down at Elizabeth’s cry. Sure enough his glove had slipped further off his hand. When it fell off completely she’d go with it. “Can you brace yourself on anything?” he asked hopefully.
“You mean without wriggling?” she asked sarcastically.
“YES!” His glare shut her up.
“My foot’s on a ledge or something but I don’t think I can hold…”
Kid gritted his teeth and began to pull. Elizabeth watched his glove slip further over his wrist.
“Kid, I don’t think…”
“SHUT” he heaved, “…UP. AHHHHHHH!”
As Kid pulled, Elizabeth suddenly found a surer footing. Placing more of her weight onto her foot she grabbed the nearest tree root.
One-handed Kid continued to pull. Teeth gritted, veins appeared on his temples as his face turned a deep shade of red. He had no idea where the strength came from but somehow, by some miracle, he managed to heave Elizabeth slowly up to the narrow ledge. Frantically she grabbed hold of more roots and then a boulder before finally, gratefully, she hauled herself back onto solid ground.
Kid stood breathing hard, his weight still supported by the branch his left arm was slung around. His right hung loosely at his side. It felt as if it had been pulled from its socket. Hell, maybe it had. Finally releasing his grip on the tree he rubbed his right shoulder. Pain shot through it as he rolled the joint hoping to realign anything that wasn’t where it should be.
Elizabeth hugged the ground, her heavy breathing the only audible sounds she made. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Kid allowed himself a smile at the sight of her underwear clad derriere sticking up in the air.
“That’s a familiar sight,” he muttered.
Shaking the image from his mind, Kid peered over the side into the ravine and the drop below. “I said, that was close.”
Elizabeth shook her head, momentarily speechless. Finally she found her voice. “Thank you,” Elizabeth spoke so quietly Kid wasn’t sure he heard her.
“I said, thank you,” she informed him, her focus still two inches from the muddy ground.
“Oh,” Kid nodded. “You’re welcome.”
Turning her head, she looked up at him. “I mean it. Thank you. You saved my life and it nearly cost you yours.”
For a minute Kid did not reply. He could see from the look in her eyes that she was sincere. Yeah, that had been close, for both of them. Then a glint appeared in those blue eyes and the corners of his mouth tilted up a fraction. “Nah, I’da let you go before I fell.”
She smiled back. “Not very gentlemanly.”
“Well, it woulda been a whole lot easier if you didn’t weigh so much.”
Kid’s smile broadened and he held out his hand. “C’mon, Sweetheart, we gotta get movin’.”
Heyes led his horse slowly along a path that wound its way through a dense stand of trees. He’d found no further clues to indicate that he was definitely following his friends but he had nothing else to go on.
Something up ahead caught his attention. He stopped in his tracks halting the horse beside him. As his ears strained to catch the slightest sound he gently rubbed the animal’s nose, quietening it.
There was the sound again. Voices.
As he stood beneath the canopy he tuned into the sounds up ahead. There were two different tones. Deep. Varying in volume. The voices were male and…they were shouting at each other. Leaves and branches rustled as they crashed their way through the vegetation. The sound fading as they moved further away.
Heyes gave them long enough to move out of earshot before he continued to follow.
“We can rest here for a bit,” Kid stated as he led the way under the spreading boughs of a tree. They were deep in a forest, surrounded by a dense patch of twisted branches and fallen leaves.
“Can’t we spend the night here?” Elizabeth asked wearily, as she followed him into the relative darkness the branches produced.
“No. I doubt those two have given up on us. By morning Bannister could be with them. They’ll cover more ground than we can. They don’t care who hears them. We need to get to a town or find somewhere with weapons or…”
“Or we’re dead?” she supplied and met his gaze.
Even in the shade of the trees Kid couldn’t hide the truth. “I can’t see them leavin’ us alive, this time.”
“You really know how to cheer a girl up.”
Kid looked at her out of the corner of his eyes.
“What?” she asked.
“I never thought of you as a girl.”
“Well, I’m not a boy.”
He ran his gaze over her thin undergarments and smiled, salaciously. “No, you’re definitely not that.”
She folded her arms across her breasts. “Shouldn’t you be setting up camp?”
He chuckled. “We’re not stayin’ that long,” he reminded her as he examined the makeshift den he’d found.
Elizabeth settled herself on the leaf-covered ground and pulled her knees up to her chin. “So, if not as a girl, what do you think of me?” she asked.
Kid smiled but said nothing.
He considered his words carefully, then looked her in the eye. “A handful.”
Heyes sat on his horse at the top of a steep rocky incline. The men he was following had ventured onto a narrow track that ran close to the edge of a ravine. He would not be able to ride along the track and leading a horse would be extremely dangerous too. If Kid and Elizabeth had risked taking this trail, then they were surely desperate. He had no idea what condition his friends were in. His mind returned to the blood inside Kid’s hat, the hat that was still slung over his saddle-horn. If Kid had a head wound trying to navigate that path when balance was important would be…He’d rather not think about that.
And what about Elizabeth, running through the woods in her underwear? Despite the gravity of the situation, Heyes smiled. He’d love to hear Kid’s explanation for that. Those two were never safe together! He allowed himself a moment to muse on that. Every time Kid and Elizabeth were left alone there was trouble. Had to be a reason for it. Maybe he should discuss it with them when they were all safely sitting in a restaurant in some nice hotel. Until then…
He considered the direction the trail would take. He didn’t want to leave his horse behind so he would have to try a more circuitous route and hope their paths crossed further down the mountain side.
“You cold?” Kid asked when Elizabeth shivered for the second time.
She looked up at him, standing over her. “A little, but don’t worry. I don’t want your pants next.”
He smiled, reached out a hand which she accepted and pulled her to her feet. “We don’t have much daylight left.”
“Then why not stay here?” she asked, hopefully.
“Because there’s only one way in and no way to defend ourselves.” He noted her confused expression. “We’d be sitting ducks. Trapped against those rocks. When we find somewhere to spend the night I want an escape route.”
She patted his arm. “And I thought Hannibal was the one with the brains.”
“I just let him think that.” His grip tightened on her hand as he gave her a sideways look. “You ready?”
She nodded and ducking under the tree branches he led the way once more.
Heyes leaned sideways in the saddle and studied the ground where a few crushed leaves outlined a footprint. He was getting closer. In the mud he spotted the occasional heel print, sometimes large sometimes small. He was sure he was following Kid and Elizabeth. And then he discovered a third print; the heel of a boot with a slight nick in it. The man following his friends was getting closer to.
“Looks like it’s all downhill from now,” Kid stated as they emerged from the treeline and the land opened out below them into a wide valley. Beside him, Elizabeth wrapped her hands around his arm causing him to look at her face. “You okay?”
“Just glad not to be at the bottom of a ravine.”
“We’re not out of the woods yet.” She looked behind them at the woods they had just emerged from and he smiled. “Figure of speech.”
It was her turn to take his hand. “Come on, Curry. Let’s go find that partner of yours and get my photographs back.”
At the memory of the photographs Kid smiled. “Yeah, about those photographs…”
“Don’t trouble yourself about them. You keep all the brain cells working on keeping us safe.”
“I already got that covered,” Kid assured her, confidently.
“Hold it right there.”
Kid froze at the sound of the man’s voice and felt Elizabeth’s grip tighten on his hand.
“Either one of you moves and the last thing you’ll feel will be my bullet in your back.” There was the sound of rustling leaves and Pepper stepped out of the bushes behind them. “Barney,” he called and further down the hillside another familiar figure appeared, gun pointed in their direction.
Pepper moved to stand in front of them. He smiled triumphantly. “Bet you folks thought you’d got away from us, huh?”
“I hoped we had,” Kid admitted, meeting the man’s gaze.
“Yeah, well, you sure were wrong.” He sneered then called over his shoulder. “Barney, you take the woman down to the old prospector’s hut. I’ll finish this one off and catch y’up.”
Elizabeth stared at him in horror when he flicked the barrel of his gun.
Pepper laughed. “Get moving…Sweetheart.” He shot Kid a look, clearly having heard him use the same term of endearment.
Elizabeth looked at the man beside her.
“Go on,” Kid encouraged. “Do as they say.”
“I’m not going to leave…”
“Do it!” Kid held her gaze for no more than a moment but she knew not to argue…this time.
Reluctantly, she let go of his hand. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“So do I.”
Turning her back on him Elizabeth made her way down the grassy hill towards Barney. When she reached him he grabbed her arm roughly before turning away from the others and leading her off. Elizabeth cast a glance over her should but Kid’s attention was already on Pepper.
Kid had not moved. “You think you’re man enough to do this? Sure you don’t wanna wait for Bannister?”
“You think I won’t kill you?”
“Don’t matter what I think. Just wonderin’ if Bannister wanted to do it himself.”
Pepper scoffed. “Yeah, well Luke don’t get everything his own way.”
“That right? Then why’ve you been chasin’ us down a mountain? Wasn’t that what Luke wanted?”
“Just, shut up! Turn around.”
“I’m not movin’.”
Kid’s refusal unsettled the other man.
“I said, turn around!”
“And I heard ya.”
Pepper shifted nervously.
Kid’s gaze never left him. “If you’re gonna shoot me you’re gonna have to do it face to face. I’m not dyin’ from a bullet in the back.”
“You think I won’t shoot?”
“Like I said, don’t matter what I think, just matters what you’ll do.”
Blue eyes met brown ones and they were not about to blink first.
“You’re hurting me!” Elizabeth complained as she did her best to wrestle her arm from Barney’s firm grip.
“That’s the general idea.”
“That attitude must have women lining up to be with you.”
“Just shut up and walk!” He trudged on, his strides longer than hers forcing her to trot to keep from falling.
Falling, now there was a thought.
“Oh!” Elizabeth stumbled, landing on her side.
Her lip trembled. “I can’t.”
He pulled her up but her knees gave way.
“OW!” She slumped back on the ground. “My ankle! I think I’ve twisted it.” She rubbed her left ankle with her hand.
“You gotta be kiddin’ me, woman!”
“Well, if you hadn’t been so rough, pulling me along so fast…” She stifled a sob. “I’m only a woman. How could I possibly keep up with you?”
“You’re tougher than you let on.”
“It’s all for show.” Sniff. “I never wanted to come out her in the first place. If he…”
A shot silenced her. Elizabeth turned back up the hill to a place now hidden by the trees. A place where she’d left Kid and Pepper.
Barney looked shocked. “I didn’t think he’d really do it.” He grabbed her arm and pulled her up once more. “C’mon.”
This time Elizabeth let him lead her away. She even forgot to limp.
“Hold still while I try and stop the bleeding.”
The man watched over his shoulder as his bandana was used to staunch the flow of blood. To his eyes there was an awful lot of blood.
“I don’t feel too good,” he admitted.
“Jus’ stay still.” The man did as he was told and the final knot was tied. His hat was replaced on his head and fixed there with a not-too-gentle tap. “Don’t move.”
Lying as he was, face down in the dirt with his hands bound together, the man didn’t exactly have an easy escape should he choose it. The stranger, who had bound his wrists and tended the gunshot wound on his right arm, stood up. “Don’t you think that was a little stupid?”
The man he addressed turned to look at him, twirling the Colt in his right hand and dropping it skilfully into his holster as he did so. “Not really.”
“That so?” Clearly more of an explanation was required.
“First off, he wasn’t too keen to kill a man face to face, so he wasn’t about to pull the trigger anytime soon.” A dark eyebrow rose sceptically. “And second, you were in shootin’ range.” A broad smile crossed the blond man’s face.
“You didn’t know that,” Heyes pointed out.
“Not at first,” Kid admitted, “But when I heard someone crashin’ through the bushes I knew it was you.”
“I wasn’t crashing.”
“I still heard ya.”
Heyes stood facing his friend making sure Kid met his gaze. “You took a big risk.”
“What choice did I have, Heyes?”
Heyes sighed. “I’m just saying.”
“Yeah, I know.” Kid sat down, a little too heavily, on a fallen tree trunk and winched.
His partner studied his bruised face. “Can you see anything out of that eye?”
Heyes looked closer then reached out a hand and…
“Jee-zus!” Kid leapt backwards. “What d’you do that for?”
“Just seeing how bad it is.”
“Well, then ask me! I’m on the painful side here!”
“D’you put anything on it?”
“I haven’t exactly had a lot of time to tend wounds, Heyes.”
“Wounds?” A concerned brow furrowed. “Where else you hurt?”
“Heyes, just…leave it. We’ve got Elizabeth to find so how ‘bout you focus that genius brain of yours on her and leave the bits of me that hurt alone?”
Heyes gaze softened. “You’re seeing a doctor when we get to town.”
Heyes gave Kid one last sideways glance before turning his attention to the valley below. “Why’d she take her dress off?”
“Bet he was celebratin’ his honeymoon,” Pepper remarked suggestively from his prone position.
Heyes turned to glare at the man. “Who asked you?” he strode over, removed his own bandana and swiftly used it to gag the man. Satisfied they would hear no more from Pepper he returned to his friend. “So? The dress?”
“Only way to get her through the window,” Kid informed him.
“Seems like every time I leave her alone with you her clothes come off.”
“I don’t have my shirt on either. Wanna make something of that?”
“Oh, don’t worry, I noticed that.” Heyes did his best to look annoyed. “If I didn’t know better I might wonder if there’s something going on between you two.”
Kid didn’t rise to the bait. “But fortunately for both of us you do know better.” Blue eyes met brown ones. “And I have a loaded .45 now.” A slow smile formed on Kid’s face and a similar one worked its way out from the corners of Heyes’ mouth.
“I should probably still call you out.”
Kid stood up and rested a friendly hand on Heyes’ shoulder. “Any time you want, Heyes, you just let me know.” He pointed a thumb at Pepper. “What are we gonna do about him?”
“Leave him for the bears.”
Pepper looked up at them and made a muffled sound.
“He might know where they’re meeting Bannister,” Kid suggested.
Heyes considered this. “He might. Think we could persuade him to tell us?”
“Worth a try.”
“D’you want to pull his fingernails out or shall I?”
Pepper’s eyes grew wide with fear.
“You do it, Kid, I hate the sight of all that blood and the way they always scream.”
“But I did it last time.”
“I know but I just don’t have the stomach for it.”
Pepper’s muffled sounds grew louder. Kid feigned surprise. “I think he’s trying to tell us somethin’.” He bent down beside the man and removed the gag. “Somethin’ you want to tell us?”
“I know where Bannister’s gonna be.”
“Well, of course you do.” Heyes walked to stand in front of the man.
“I’ll tell you.”
“We know,” Kid assured him.
“You don’t need to pull my fingernails out. Just don’t leave me for the bears.”
Kid and Heyes exchanged a look. “What do you think?” Kid asked.
“It would be easier if he just told us. Save a lot of time and screaming.”
Kid looked down at Pepper. “You willin’ to tell us without force?”
Kid nodded. “Okay, then. Where you meetin’ Bannister?”
“We had to wait until nightfall, then take the woman to the river crossing at Salt Creek Falls.”
“What about him?” Heyes asked, cocking a thumb at his partner.
Pepper avoided Kid’s gaze.
“Hey!” Heyes prompted him with a shove to his shoulder. “What about him?”
“Bannister told us to kill him and dump his body.”
“Nice.” Kid looked at Heyes. “Told you I shoulda finished it all those years ago.”
Heyes stood up, clearly considering their next move. Decision made he addressed Pepper. “We’ll leave you tied to that tree.” He pointed in case there was any doubt as to which one he meant. “When we get to town we’ll send someone up here to get you. If you stay quiet and don’t attract attention to yourself you should be fine.”
“What if I’m not?” the prone man asked. “I’m bleedin’. Blood’ll attract animals.”
“You should have thought about that before you teamed up with the likes of Bannister,” Kid advised him, then looked at Heyes.
The dark-haired man adjusted his battered hat and hoisted up his gun belt. “Let’s go get Elizabeth.”
“How far is it?” Elizabeth asked as Barney pulled her along.
“Can we stop? My ankle…”
“Shut up about your ankle! You ain’t been limpin’ on it anyway.” Barney’s whole demeanour had changed since they hear the gunshot.
It seemed to Elizabeth that he was as unhappy about that as she was. She thought of Kid lying on the ground, a bullet hole in…No there was no way Barney felt the same way she did.
As the sound of rushing water drew nearer she knew she had to do something, anything, to get away. Once they met Bannister she’d be in real trouble. There was no way she could see herself escaping from two men.
She had to work on Barney. Try to get him to let her go. A thought came to her. “You know they’ll hang you,” she informed him.
She wasn’t about to. “You’d have been all right before. I mean we wouldn’t have mentioned you at the stage robbery, especially as it was your first one. You clearly didn’t know Bannister was going to shoot the driver.”
He turned to face her. “I told you to shut up!”
“Well, did you?”
Something changed when she looked him in the eye.
“No,” he admitted.
“I knew it.” She smiled at him. “I’d have told them there were only two men, Pepper and Bannister. You’d have been free. But now…” She dropped her gaze to the ground.
“I didn’t know he was going to shoot your husband!” Barney wailed. “I ain’t no killer.”
“But you’ll be implicated. When they come looking for me and find the dead driver and then…my husband…”
“There ain’t nothin’ I can do about it now.”
“Yes, there is.”
His eyes met hers, hopeful.
“Let me go. When I get to town I’ll tell them what happened but leave you out of it.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because you let me go.”
“What about Bannister?”
“What about him?”
“He’s meeting as at the Falls. He’ll know what I did.”
“Not if you don’t go there!” Sheesh, was this man stupid? “Let me go now. Better still let’s head to town together, then when we get there you can go your way and I’ll make my way to the authorities. I’ll tell the sheriff or marshal what happened but like I said I’ll leave you out of it.” She looked at him, waiting expectantly for his agreement. “What do you say?”
“Yeah, Barney, what do you say?” a man asked and they both spun around to see Luke Bannister standing on top of a boulder the gun in his hand pointed directly at them.
“Will you stop moaning?” Heyes asked as he guided his horse into a stand of trees.
Seated behind him in the saddle, Kid Curry grimaced. “I can’t help it. Every time the horse moves it hurts my ribs.”
“You could get off and walk”
“I think I might.” But he didn’t.
They rode in silence for a while until Kid asked, “Did you get the photographs?”
“You got ‘em on you?”
“You looked at ‘em?”
Kid was incredulous. “Why not?”
“Because they are not mine.”
“Since when has something not being yours stopped ya? You’re a thief.”
“Says the man who just broke into a safe.” The dark-haired man did not dignify that with a reply. “Heyes, you know what they’re photographs of, right?” He didn’t wait for a reply. “How could you not take a peek at ‘em?”
“I was a raised to be a gentleman.”
Kid scoffed. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“They belong to Elizabeth. She gets to open the envelope first.”
Behind him, his partner sighed. “This goin’ straight has really affected you, Heyes.”
Sitting on the horse above the falls, Kid had one leg hooked around the saddle-horn. He watched as Heyes cautiously approached the edge of the cliff and peered over the edge at the water cascading into the gully below.
“You know I read a story once where the outlaws hid in a cave behind a waterfall,” Kid informed his partner.
Heyes turned and looked at his friend.
“What?” Kid asked.
“When did you read a book?” Heyes asked sceptically.
“I read books.”
“Sometimes.” A dark brow rose. “I do!”
Heyes shook his head and Kid did his best not to look aggrieved.
“Anyway. In this book there were two outlaws. Figgy McGrew and Bart Reevers and…”
The eyebrow rose again. “Figgy McGrew?”
“Yeah. I didn’t write it, Heyes; don’t blame me for their names.” Kid waited, expecting Heyes to say more. When he didn’t he continued. “They robbed a bank, took off with the money and returned to their hide out.” Kid pointed at the waterfall. “A cave behind a waterfall.”
Heyes smiled. “They get away with it?”
“The sheriff tracked them down. There was a shoot-out.”
“Behind the falls?” Heyes was clearly doing his best not to smile.
Kid was doing his best not to shoot him. “Yes.”
“Maybe that’s where they are.” Heyes stared at the waterfall, thoughtfully. “Highly unlikely given the nature of the rock formations here.”
“What do you know about the rock formations around here?”
“More than you do.”
“You don’t know that. I might‘ve read somethin’ about ‘em in a book.” Kid met his partner’s gaze daring him to challenge him.
His partner didn’t suppress his smile this time. “Yeah, I guess you might.”
Kid turned to him and smiled. “You know, for a while I wanted to be Figgy McGrew.”
“He led an exciting life. He had an outlaw name.”
“You got an outlaw name.”
“That I do.” Kid pointed a finger at the falls and unhooked his leg from around the saddle-horn. “I know a few things about waterfalls too.”
Heyes followed the direction Kid pointed and stared in surprise as Luke Bannister appeared from behind the curtain of water. Open mouthed he turned back to Kid. His friend gave him a smug smile.
The outlaw turned, startled, as he stood beside the pool below the waterfall. Immediately recognising the man walking towards him his hand dropped to the gun at his side. “Heyes.”
“It’s been a long time, Luke,” Heyes stated conversationally as he drew closer. His own right hand hung casually by his Schofield.
“Can’t say I’m pleased to see you, Heyes.”
“Feeling’s mutual, Luke.” Heyes looked casually around. “Got yourself a nice spot here. This your hide out?”
“For now.” Bannister searched behind Heyes for anyone with him, but saw no one.
Heyes nodded, approving. “Not bad. One way in, cliff behind you that’s difficult to scale down. Good thinking.”
Bannister looked around again; still not convinced they were alone. “Glad it meets with your approval. What brings you here? And how the hell did you find me?”
“I ran into a friend of yours,” Heyes stated casually, but then his face darkened. “With a friend of mine.”
Bannister looked over his shoulder but there was no one there. “Not sure who you mean.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Like I said, Heyes, what brings you here?”
“I heard you have someone that doesn’t belong to you.”
“You did huh?” Bannister sneered.
“And this friend told you that?”
“I did,” a voice confirmed and Bannister spun around in time to see Kid Curry step out from behind a tree, Colt .45 unwavering in his hand.
Bannister’s shoulders dropped. “You’re supposed to be dead.”
“Yeah, I wanna talk to you about that.”
Bannister fixed his gaze on the gun in Kid’s hand.
“Where is she?” Heyes asked, stepping closer.
“She’s not here.”
“She came here. We followed their trail,” Heyes informed him and Luke swivelled to face him.
“I sent her down the mountain with Barney.” His head swivelled back to Kid, who stepped closer.
“So why you still hidin’?” Curry asked as he took another step.
“I wasn’t hidin’?”
“You gonna tell us you were takin’ a shower?” Kid asked.
Bannister raised his hands, palms outwards as he looked from one man to the next. He smiled genially. “You got me fellas. But your lady friend has gone.” His eyes met Kid’s. “I mean your wife.” He looked to Heyes. “I’ll tell you where she went, but you have to promise to let me go.”
“Why would we do that?” Heyes asked as his eyes moved to meet Kid’s. Curry gave an almost imperceptible shake of the head.
“Because if you don’t agree to it you won’t find her until it’s too late.”
“Too late?” Heyes feigned concern as Kid eased his way towards the waterfall.
“If I don’t get back to her by a certain time, Barney will kill her.”
Heyes considered this. Slowly he shook his head. “Nope, I don’t think so.”
“I don’t believe you, Luke. Can’t think of a reason why you’d tell him that.”
“Because you fellas might do something to me.”
“Nope,” Kid said easing himself closer to the falling water. “You thought I was dead and you sure as heck didn’t know Heyes was here.”
Bannister looked at Heyes.
“He’s right.” The dark-haired man told him. “No reason at all for you to tell him that.”
“It’s the truth.”
Again Heyes shook his head. “No, it’s not. You see I know you, Luke. When you rode with the Gang, you were never bright enough to think up a plan that would work. Oh, you might come up with something after the event but you were never the planner. No, I reckon you just walked away from Elizabeth and Barney. You probably told them when you’d be back but you had no reason to tell Barney to kill her. So, I don’t believe you.”
“She’s gonna die if I don’t return on time,” Bannister insisted.
“No, Luke, she’s not.” Two certain blue eyes met Luke’s.
Suddenly Bannister reached for his gun and two shots echoed around the gulley. Luke’s gun hit the ground before his knees did. He held his right arm and bright red blood seeped through his fingers. At the same time blood from his right hand dripped into the dirt. “Did you both have to shoot me?” he moaned.
Heyes holstered his gun. “You were gonna shoot my friend.”
“I thought he’d draw not you.”
“I know.” Heyes stepped towards him as Kid kept his Colt aimed at Luke. Heyes shot him a look and Kid gave the briefest of smiles then watched as Heyes removed the injured man’s bandana and tied it around his arm.
“Not so tight!” Bannister complained as Heyes pulled on the knot he had tied.
“Would you rather I let you bleed to death?” Heyes asked.
“What about my hand?”
“Stick it in your shirt.” When he was finished Heyes looked at Kid. “You think they’re back there?” he indicated the waterfall by a tilt of his chin.
“Worth a look.” Kid waved his gun in Bannister’s direction. “What about him?”
Luke looked up when he realised they were discussing his fate.
“You wanna shoot him?” Heyes offered. “Or shall I?”
Bannister’s eyes opened wide with shock and Kid fixed his gaze on the man. “I have to admit I’d like to.”
“Kid, you know I never woulda killed ya. That was Pepper’s idea. All I did was…”
“Do this,” Kid indicated his almost closed eye. “Yeah, Luke, I know exactly what you did, what you would have done and what you told your men to do. So don’t tempt me.” He held Bannister’s gaze long enough to be sure the man was fully aware of how close he came to losing his life.
Finally Kid turned back to Heyes. “We got more important things to do. Leave him here.” He looked at Bannister. “I’ll deal with him later.”
The crashing water drowned the sound of their footsteps as Kid and Heyes ventured into the crevice behind the waterfall. Heyes’ shirt and Kid’s Henley were soon soaked by the mist that hung in the air. Water trickled down their faces and dripped off their hats as, guns drawn, they made their way along a narrow passageway leading further into the hillside. The walls ran with water, a green, slimy sheen of algae covered everything and the light faded the deeper they ventured.
Heyes stopped walking and held up a hand halting their progress. Despite the cascading water he could hear voices now, somewhere around the bend in the passageway. He detected a man’s voice followed by a raised, feminine one.
Heyes faced his friend. “It’s them,” he mouthed.
Kid nodded his understanding and Heyes edged closer to the bend.
Elizabeth’s clothes were soaking wet. She was cold and she was not a great fan of enclosed spaces. At least not ones enclosed by tons of rock. Oblivious of the fact that help was at hand she addressed Barney. “He won’t know if you let me go,” she stated.
“You don’t know Luke!” Barney replied sullenly. He was also soaked to the skin, not having realised there was a way under the waterfall rather than through it.
“He doesn’t want a woman tying him down,” Elizabeth continued. “He’ doesn’t really want a hostage. He’s just after the money but no one’s going to pay a ransom for me. Not after you killed my husband. I have no value to Luke now. If my husband had lived he would have raised a ransom for me but now…Oh Barney, he wanted revenge against my husband, not a woman tagging along.” She moved closer to her captor. “Barney.” He looked up at her, water dripping from his hair as he did so. “Barney, I think he’s going to kill me.”
“Luke wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t kill a woman.”
“No, you’re right he wouldn’t.”
Barney nodded in agreement.
Elizabeth met his gaze. “He’ll ask you to do it.” Her tone became gentler and trembled as if in fear. “Will you do it Barney? Will you be able to kill me?”
In the passageway Heyes looked at his partner. Kid rolled his eyes actually feeling a little sorry for Barney. He’d been on the receiving end of Elizabeth’s charm offensive more times than her cared to remember. Kid removed his hat, placing it crown side down on the ground. Slowly he peered around the corner, assessing the situation before pulling back. He gestured to Heyes, indicating that Barney had his back to them and Elizabeth was on his left.
Gun raised, Heyes prepared himself.
“Ready?” Kid mouthed.
Heyes nodded and they moved.
No shots had been fired. On seeing the two armed men appear, as if from nowhere, Barney surrendered instantly. Kid took the man’s gun, tucking it into his waistband. He gestured to the damp tunnel.
“Let’s move, Barney.”
With resignation the other man trudged the way Kid pointed.
Behind them Heyes stood holding Elizabeth in a firm hug. “You all right?” he asked.
Eyes closed she rested her chin on his shoulder and felt his breath on her ear as he spoke. She smiled. “I am now.”
Heyes pulled back, holding her at arm’s length, his eyes running over her body, checking for himself. Satisfied he smiled. “You’re in your underwear again,” he observed. “And Kid, has his shirt off.”
“I can explain…”
“Can’t wait to hear it.”
She threw her arms around his neck and moved in for another hug. “Thank you for saving me, Hannibal.”
“You’re welcome.” He ran his fingers through her hair. “We should go outside.”
“Yeah.” He didn’t pull away from her.
“Because, you’re wet, your clothes are damn near see-through and if we stay here any longer…” he lowered his voice to a whisper in her ear.
Heyes and Elizabeth emerged hand-in-hand from behind the waterfall. Seated forlornly not far from Bannister, Barney watched them approach confusion written all over his face. He looked at Kid, then back at Heyes’ hand holding hers.
Kid watched them too, his eyes taking in their entwined hands and Heyes’ jacket draped around her shoulders. He shook his head and holding his ribs with his right arm, lowered himself carefully onto a moss-covered boulder. He was suddenly feeling very tired and everything seemed to ache.
Heyes frowned. It didn’t take a genius to tell that his friend was in pain. Eyes now closed, the blond man took slow breaths, grimacing with each one.
“Just how much pain are you in?” Heyes asked as he drew closer. “And don’t tell me you’re fine because I can see you’re not.”
“Seein’ as you have all the answers, I’m surprised you have to ask.” Kid opened his right eye, the left now too swollen to be of any use, and tilting his head, he looked up at his friend. “I guess I should see that doctor now.”
“Think you can sit a horse?”
Kid gave a shake of his head. “No, but do I have a choice?”
“I could carry you,” Elizabeth offered flippantly.
Kid grimaced. “Please don’t make me laugh, Elizabeth.”
She stood beside Heyes, a hand resting on his shoulder as she studied Kid. “If he was a horse we’d shoot him.”
“If I was a horse I’d let ya,” Kid replied and she moved to sit beside him.
She put her hand on his thigh. “What can I do to help?”
His one good eye opened wide. “Seriously? You really want to know?”
Elizabeth smiled and patted Kid’s leg. “Don’t worry, cowboy. I’ll look after you.”
Kid looked up at his friend, his eyes pleading for Heyes to help him but Heyes simply smiled.
Kid Curry stood at the end of the hotel corridor, arms folded as he leaned against the wall trying not to watch Heyes and Mrs Darkly. He was sure there was some sort of decency law against all the kissing they were doing outside the door of her room. I mean a man shouldn’t be standing that close to a woman in her only underwear unless…well unless. But with Elizabeth Darkly things were never the way they were supposed to be. Heck it had only been a few days since he’d found himself in bed with her and she sure hadn’t worn as much then as she was wearing now.
He coughed and the pair of them turned to look at him. Elizabeth gave him an innocent smile.
“What?” Heyes asked.
“Let her put some clothes on, Heyes, so we can go eat!”
Heyes turned back to Elizabeth. “He’s hungry.”
“So, am I but not for food.”
“You do need to get out of those wet clothes.”
“Now, you’re talkin’ cowboy!” She waggled her eyebrows at him suggestively.
He smiled. “And into something warmer.”
“You get warm…”
“I’d prefer you get me hot.”
Heyes stepped away from her. “I will be back.”
He reached around her and turning the handle on the door opened it for her. “Go.”
She stepped back and into her room. “You sure you don’t want to help me undress.”
Heyes groaned. “Elizabeth…”
“You know what you’re missing.”
She placed a hand on the edge of the door. “Go feed your friend and have something to eat yourself. You’re gonna need your strength for later.” Before he could say another word she closed the door.
Heyes turned to face Kid and sent him a look.
“What?” Kid asked innocently.
Seated at a table covered in a delicate lace cloth Hannibal Heyes reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a blue envelope. Across the table in the hotel dining room Elizabeth Darkly smiled. Heyes placed the blue envelope on the table in front of him.
“I wanna see them,” Kid insisted. He sat on Heyes’ right and was in the direct firing line of Elizabeth’s glare.
Heyes pushed the packet toward Kid and Elizabeth’s mouth dropped open.
“Hannibal, I thought you…”
“Let him look,” he interrupted. “After all they almost cost him his life.”
The blond man picked up the packet, saw that the envelope had already been opened and gave Heyes a questioning look. “I thought you said you hadn’t seen them.”
Heyes shrugged. “I lied.”
“Sheesh, Heyes, I thought…”
“Oh for heaven’s sake get on with it!” Elizabeth proclaimed in exasperation.
Kid reached into the envelope and removed the photographs. Feeling a twinge of guilt he looked at Elizabeth. “Maybe I…”
“No, go on. Hannibal is right, they did cost you dearly.” She turned her head away, dismissing him.
Kid looked at the first photograph, studying it carefully. He frowned. Blue eyes shot a look at Heyes but his partner remained impassive. Kid looked at the next picture. His eyes opened wider. His mouth formed a perfect O.
“Heyes, these…” He looked at the next. “Sheesh. These are not…” He studied at the next. He looked at Elizabeth. “You’re not…”
“What?” she asked impatiently.
“You’re not in these.”
“I know that.”
“Oh, I know exactly what you thought.” She exchanged a quick glance with Heyes.
“This is a man,” Kid stated, pointing to the photograph in case there was any doubt as to who he meant. “They’re all of a man.”
“Good to know you can tell the difference,” Elizabeth stated snidely.
“Who the heck is this? “ Neither spoke. “Why the heck would you have photographs of a nekkid man?” Still no response from Elizabeth or Heyes. “When you said…I thought…”
Elizabeth smiled, patiently. “You thought it was going to be me. You thought you were going to see naked photographs of me.”
Kid smiled, sheepishly.
She took the photograph from him. “That is Nathaniel. He was going through his Classical Greek phase at the time.”
Kid’s eyebrows rose. “Classical?”
Kid looked at Heyes. “You mean I went through all of that for photographs of a nekkid man?”
Slowly, his partner smiled.
The End…until the next time she’s back.