Helping the Enemy
(The Elizabeth Darkly series-number 3)
By Maz McCoy
Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry entered the hotel lobby with big smiles on their faces. They had each just won a considerable amount of money at poker and were congratulating themselves on the choice of Pine Springs, as the place to rest up for a few days. They could afford the hotel room for several days now; they could have a hot bath; they could keep their horses at the livery stables and they could eat without worrying where the next meal was coming from. In short, life was looking pretty good, for the two ex-outlaws. Things were going their way for once and it felt great.
“Mr. Smith, there’s a message for you,” the red-haired desk clerk called as the two men made their way towards the stairs. They exchanged a quick glance, neither man aware that anyone knew they were in Pine Springs. Heyes smiled pleasantly at the desk clerk as he took the note from him and read it. His expression changed to one of shocked surprise. He looked a little worried too. Without a word he pushed the note into Kid’s chest a little harder than he intended. The blond-haired man, taken aback at being shoved by his partner, took the note and read it.
“Have dinner with me? Elizabeth,” Kid read aloud and his expression changed as he realised who the note was from. He turned to the desk clerk. “Is there a back way outta here?” he asked.
“Why, yes sir, there is. Through the kitchen,” the man informed him somewhat surprised by the question. The men headed towards the stairs and took them two at a time. When they reached their room, Kid put a restraining hand on Heyes’ shoulder, and drew his gun. When he was ready, he nodded and the dark-haired man cautiously opened the door.
“Hello Hannibal, Jed,” Elizabeth Darkly said as they entered their hotel room. “How nice to see you again.” She was sitting beside the window, in the room’s only armchair. Kid kept his gun trained on her as Elizabeth stood up. She wore a blue dress with a small grey pattern on it. Her black hair was pinned up on top on her head with just a few wisps hanging beside her ears. She was as attractive as ever and Heyes felt the same mixture of emotions she always stirred in him.
“What are you doin’ here?” he asked suddenly aware of an ache in his shoulder where a bullet had penetrated some months ago.
“Now, is that anyway to greet an old friend?” she asked.
“No, but then you’re not a friend,” Heyes replied.
“Did you get my note?” Elizabeth asked ignoring his comment.
“We got it,” Kid told her not lowering his gun.
“It wasn’t meant for you,” she told him turning her attention to Heyes. “Will you join me for dinner? So that we can talk?” she asked.
“We have nothin’ to talk about,” Heyes told her pointedly.
“Oh, I think we do. Or do you want the sheriff to take a closer look at Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones?”
“Maybe he should be lookin’ at a thief named Elizabeth Darkly?” Kid suggested.
“I see. So what happens now? Do we turn each other in to the sheriff?” she looked amused. When neither man spoke she sighed and looked at Heyes. “I have something I would like to discuss with you, why won’t you join me for dinner?”
“You shot me!” he replied raising his voice.
“Oh, you’re not going to let a little thing like that come between us are you?”
“Yes, I am!” he exclaimed struggling to believe how casually and unconcerned she was about meeting them again. It was as if nothing had happened all those months ago at Big Mac’s ranch.
“What about you Jed?” she asked, deliberately using his real name. She had a way of making it sound like an insult. “Maybe you would like dinner to have with me, if your partner doesn’t like me anymore?” He was checking the chamber of his gun.
“Just makin’ sure I have enough bullets,” he told her ominously.
“Well if Jed wants to play with his gun, it looks like it’s you and me then, Hannibal?” Heyes stared at her in disbelief.
“How can you just turn up here and act as if nothin’ happened?”
“Because nothing really did. You’re not dead. You’re not in jail are you? You won, I lost. I’ve moved on, why can’t you?”
“You shot me!” he repeated.
“Oh, you do go on about that. Hannibal, it was business. I needed the money and your reward would have helped me out of a tight spot. It didn’t work out that way, that’s all.”
The ex-outlaw leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang, renowned for his silver tongue, was lost for words. He stared at Elizabeth and shook his head.
“Want me to shoot her now?” Kid asked, giving Elizabeth his most cheery smile.
“Yeah, go ahead,” Heyes said waving a hand dismissively in Mrs. Darkly’s direction as he sat down on his bed. For a moment she looked worried that Kid was actually going to do it.
“You wouldn’t,” she stated.
“You said that once before,” Kid reminded her.
“And you didn’t do it,” she replied. Kid tapped his chin with his gun and gave her a wicked smile.
“Why are you here?” Heyes asked, clearly exasperated.
“I need your help.”
Both men laughed. As if they would help her.
“I have a sister,” she began to explain but Kid interrupted her.
“There’s more at home like you? Your parents must be so proud.”
“No more than yours would be, I imagine.” Heyes saw that her words cut deep with Kid and his hand tightened on the handle of his gun.
“So you have a sister,” Heyes cut in before Kid could respond.
“Yes, Eloise. She’s been kidnapped,” Elizabeth told them. “I need to free her.”
“So go hire yourself some help,” Heyes suggested.
“That’s what I’m trying to do,” she said looking at them and they realised what she was asking. “How does $1000 each sound?”
“I thought you didn’t have any money,” Heyes reminded her.
“Times change,” she told him. “And so do my priorities. So will you help me?”
“Lady, you’ve got some nerve I’ll give ya that,” Kid said sitting down on the bed next to his partner.
“$2000 each. How does that sound?”
It sounded very nice to both of them but there was no way they could consider working for this woman. Elizabeth could tell she had their interest, if not their agreement.
“My sister is a very wilful woman.” The two men looked at each other but thought it best not to say anything. Elizabeth continued. “She was supposed to marry a young man from one of the very best families but that was my parents’ dream, not hers.”
”So she took off, after her big sister, to see the west and got herself kidnapped by desperate bandits,” Heyes finished for her.
“No,” Elizabeth said patiently. “She took off after a man named Courtney Ferris. He swept her off her feet when she met him at a dance. He was just passing through and she believed all the stories he told her, about the money he was going to make, when he started working his gold mine.”
“Imagine someone lyin’ to you,” Heyes said. “Must be real hurtful.” She decided to ignore him.
“Anyway, after two weeks with Courtney she realised that there was no goldmine and left him. She had no money, and so she told the first person she met that her family was wealthy and would pay well if they helped her.”
“Somewhat naïve too, it would seem,” Heyes stated.
“Exactly.” Elizabeth watched as Kid gave an exaggerated yawn.
“Is this gonna take long?” he asked pleased to see that he was annoying her.
“Instead of helping her, the man she told, kidnapped her. He’s holding her hostage and has sent my family two letters demanding payment or my sister will be killed.”
“Elizabeth, we both know what you’re capable of, so why haven’t you already hired yourself someone like Bill Walker, and gone after her?” Heyes asked.
“Because the man holding her is very clever and very violent. He has moved her three times already and he has sent us a piece of her clothing covered in blood.” She looked genuinely upset by this last statement. Heyes stood up and moved towards her. He looked into her deep brown eyes and Heyes saw traces of real hurt there. She looked at her feet, a little embarrassed that he should have seen that moment of weakness. Having composed herself she looked at him again.
“Do you believe me?” she asked. Heyes said nothing and that worried his partner.
“I take it you have a plan to get your sister out?” Heyes said and Kid was quickly on his feet.
“You’re not thinkin’ of helpin’ her?”
“Let’s just hear her out Kid,” the dark-haired man said but his partner was having none of it.
“No. Heyes this is one very dangerous woman. Don’t believe anythin’ she tells ya!”
“Kid,” Heyes said kindly. “Let me jus’ hear what she hasta say.” Kid stared at him open mouthed. Then he gave an exaggerated sigh, relented and leant back against the door, his arms folded across his chest.
“The man’s name is Evan Crow. He has never met any of my family. He contacted them through a man he hired but that did not work out. The man did not do as we asked or give Crow the messages my family sent. Now I intend to meet him directly.” She looked at Heyes. “I thought you and I could be husband and wife; Mr. and Mrs. Darkly.”
“No,” she said firmly. “Darkly.”
“We ride to the next rendezvous. I insist on seeing my sister or no more money will be handed over. You come with me. Cast an outlaw’s eye over their camp, tell me what our chances are of freeing her.”
“What about me?” Kid asked wondering what plans she had for him.
“Oh, you’re just some illiterate saddle tramp. I’ll find a use for you,” she told him. Kid’s smile did not reach his eyes.
“My gun has a full chamber. It’s just a question of when,” he told her. Twirling his gun he dropped it expertly into its holster. Elizabeth gave him a sickly smile.
“Is that meant to impress me?” she asked.
“One bullet, that’s all I need,” he replied.
“Will you two cut it out?” Heyes said unable to hide his frustration.
“Well she started it,” Kid told him petulantly.
“Elizabeth, I’d like to discuss this with my partner. Could you wait for me downstairs?” Elizabeth Darkly ran her hand down the front of Heyes’ leather vest.
“Of course, Hannibal,” she said sweetly and he remembered the last time she kept using his real name and controlled the desire to shiver. “Thank you,” she said and left the room.
“You are not seriously thinkin’ of doin’ what that woman asks, are you?” Kid said when they were alone. Heyes did not reply. “Heyes, she shot you!”
“I know Kid, I was there; it hurt.”
“You can’t go along with her.”
“Well what else can we do? If she tells the sheriff that Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones are really Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry there go our aliases and maybe our chance of amnesty.”
“You really think she’d do that?”
“I wouldn’t put anything past that woman.”
“We’ll just have to get new aliases, that’s all.” Kid said.
“And what do you suggest? Hotchkiss and Rembacker?”
“I don’t know but you’ll think of somethin’.” He looked at his partner, worried that he was falling under the woman’s spell again. “Heyes this could be a trap. She could be plannin’ to turn us in again.”
“Yeah, I thought that too. So we won’t both go with her.”
“I don’t think I’m gonna like what you are about to suggest.”
“I’ll go in alone with her…now wait Kid hear me out. You follow on behind. I’m gonna need someone watchin’ my back and we both know that’s what you do best. If anythin’ happens you’ll be there to get me out of it or get whatever help you can.”
“I was right, I don’t like it. You really are thinkin’ of helpin’ her.” He thought for a moment. “I suppose we do have to know what she’s up to.” Heyes reluctantly nodded.
He was beside the river once more. It was dark this time and there was a movement behind him. Heyes turned.
“Who’s there?” he called but there was no reply. He tried to walk away but his feet were fixed to the ground. Nothing was holding them down; he just couldn’t seem to move them. A twig snapped. “Kid?” he called but still no one replied.
A figure appeared from the darkness. She wore a long blue dress and around her neck there hung a sapphire necklace. She smiled invitingly at him.
“Hello Hannibal,” she said sweetly.
“Elizabeth,” he whispered. What did she want? Why had she come back? She moved slowly towards him and he could only stare as she raised a gun and pointed it at him. “Elizabeth, what are you doin’?” he asked.
“Just finishing what I started,” she told him. It was Kid’s gun. What had she done to Kid? He watched, paralysed, as she drew back the hammer.
“Elizabeth please, don’t,” he pleaded.
“Oh, but I have to Hannibal, don’t you see?” She smiled at him again, her deep brown eyes holding his gaze and he remembered a kiss they had shared.
“Elizabeth please,” he repeated.
“Goodbye Hannibal,” she said.
“Elizabeth, no!” The gun went off.
“Heyes! Heyes wake up!” Hannibal Heyes opened his eyes to find himself looking into the concerned face of his partner. “You okay? You were dreamin’.”
Heyes struggled with the tangled bedclothes and sat up. He was covered in sweat and he felt his heart racing.
“I’m fine,” he lied. “I’m fine.”
“Yeah, ya look it,” Kid said unconvinced. “You wanna talk about it?”
“Nothin’ to tell,” Heyes said, his breathing beginning to return to normal.
“So, you calling out, “Elizabeth! No!” That was nothin’?” Kid asked and his partner could not meet his gaze.
“It was just a dream.”
“Sounded more like a nightmare.”
“Yeah.” He unconsciously rubbed his left shoulder, an action not lost on his partner.
“I told you Heyes, that woman’s trouble. The sooner we can get away from her the better.” He noted that his partner did not say anything to that. Heyes had met Elizabeth earlier that evening and agreed to help her. He wasn’t about to change his mind now however hard his partner tried to persuade him.
They both settled back to bed but Hannibal Heyes lay awake in the darkness listening to the steady rhythm of his partner’s breathing. He was still awake when the dawn sunlight broke through the curtains.
They left later that day. Elizabeth appeared in the foyer of the hotel in a brown suede skirt that turned out to be pants. Kid thought it had some fancy name but he didn’t not know what it was. He just knew she could ride in them.
They rode out of Pine Springs mid-morning. Heyes led the way, Elizabeth in the middle with Kid following at the rear. Kid and Elizabeth exchanged a few frosty looks and Heyes tried his best to lighten the mood but he could not help thinking that he was making a big mistake. He had the distinct desire to keep looking over his shoulder to check no one was following them. Maybe he should have listened to Kid after all.
That night they set up camp by a river. They unsaddled the horses, laid out their bedrolls and the two men prepared a hot meal. As Kid tended to the horses, Elizabeth sat down on a log next to Heyes. She pressed her leg against his and noted that he did not pull away. For a moment each stared into the fire watching the glowing embers.
“I think I owe you an apology,” Elizabeth said suddenly. Heyes waited to see what she would say next. “I’m sorry, I shot you.”
“Are you? Really?” he asked. “You seemed pretty sure about it at the time.”
“I was desperate. I needed money badly and as much as I hate to admit it, that clouded my judgement.”
“So you wouldn’t do it again?”
“I have no reason to shoot you.”
“$10,000 no longer appeals to you?”
“I don’t need the reward on you, on either of you, anymore. So no, $10,000 is not a good enough reason to shoot you.”
“Well, Elizabeth, I’m glad to hear it.”
“So do you believe me?”
“Not for a minute,” he told her taking the empty plate from her. He gave her a big smile revealing two dimples, she was not sure she had noticed before, and he went to wash the dishes.
Elizabeth Darkly peered out from beneath her blanket. It was still dark as the two men moved about the campsite. It was cold too and the ground felt uncomfortably hard. She pulled the blanket around her as she watched them. They were both very handsome; she had to admit that. She remembered the first time she met Hannibal Heyes on the boardwalk in Prey Lake. She remembered that smile; how attractive she had found the dark-haired man with his deep brown eyes. She remembered too, how disappointed she had been, when she realised he was working for McCreedy. She knew then, she would have to leave him behind. She watched as he made the coffee, placing the pot onto the fire; watched as the two men exchanged a few words and his blond partner passed him something from his saddle bag. They worked well together; each complimenting the other. They took care of each other too.
She watched Kid Curry, standing by the fire in his sheepskin coat. He looked so young at times and she was surprised to think that he looked vulnerable too. It seemed an odd word to choose for a known gunslinger. At other times, as she had seen, he could look extremely dangerous. She knew she irritated him and that amused her. She knew his annoyance came from concern for his partner, not for himself, which she reluctantly found admirable.
Elizabeth thought back to the day she had shot Hannibal Heyes. She remembered the recoil of her gun; watching him fall clutching his shoulder. At the time she had been full of adrenaline and desperate to get away but at the same time she had wanted to check that he was alright. Knowing that Kid Curry was approaching fast; she knew that he would be. What an odd feeling that was.
Elizabeth pushed back the blanket and sat up. She stretched and ran her hands through her hair trying her best to straighten it. She was surprised that it was Kid who approached her first.
He handed a steaming mug to Elizabeth. She took it, thanking him as she did so, and cupped it in her hands, using it to warm her fingers. Elizabeth took a sip and instantly she screwed up her face.
“Somethin’ wrong?” Kid asked, controlling his amusement, and she noticed he had yet to taste his own coffee.
“It’s a little…” she did not know what to say but Kid knew exactly what she meant.
“Yeah, it is,” he agreed.
“Does he know?” Kid smiled then.
“Oh, yeah but he thinks he makes great coffee.”
“Really?” she whispered.
“There’s nothin’ wrong with my coffee,” Heyes suddenly called out, having heard their conversation, and they exchanged a sheepish look. Kid pulled himself up when he realised he was actually smiling at Elizabeth. She saw the sudden change in his expression.
“Oh, don’t worry Jed, I won’t tell anyone you smiled at me.” She got up and walked past him. “It won’t kill you, although I’m sure you think, one day I might.” She winked at him and Kid was speechless.
As they cleared up the camp Kid watched Heyes and Elizabeth together. They moved around each other like two people engaged in an unspoken dance. Kid was worried Heyes seemed to have accepted Elizabeth’s presence all too easily. They were even laughing over something trivial she had just said. It was as if he had forgotten what she had done to him.
Elizabeth pulled herself into the saddle in the full knowledge that later that day, she would hopefully be meeting someone who could take her to her sister. Maybe even the kidnapper himself. It was a daunting prospect even for her.
Kid pulled his partner to one side.
“Heyes, I don’t like what I’m seein’,” he said uneasily and his partner knew exactly what he was talking about. Heyes adjusted his coat and straightened his black hat giving himself time to think.
“I’m just tryin’ to make the best of the situation,” he told his friend.
“I know,” Kid said keeping his voice low.
“You’re just gonna have to try to do that too.”
“I’m not sure I can.”
“Look, I was the one that she shot and…” but Kid interrupted him.
“I know Heyes, but when I heard the gun go off and saw you lyin’ on the ground,” he paused remembering back to that day. “I thought she’d killed you. I thought I’d find you dead and I can’t forget how that made me feel. To see you laughin’ with her now…” he left the rest unsaid and Hannibal Heyes did not know what to say to his friend.
Kid started to walk away.
“Just be careful, okay?” he asked and Heyes watched him climb into the saddle. Kid held out his reins and Heyes took them with a nodded thank you.
They rode for much of the day in silence. Elizabeth detected an uneasy atmosphere between the two men and she did not doubt that she was the cause. It was not hostility, just a feeling of words unsaid. When they stopped to rest the horses and took the chance to have some lunch, she kept to one side, giving them the opportunity to talk, should they decide to take it.
Heyes found Kid tending the horses. He was talking gently to his black horse.
“Kid, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t realise how it had affected you. It never occurred to me what you went through that day.”
“Yeah, well you’re not dead so…” the blond man let it go unsaid. He had had time to think too. “I just don’t know what else that woman is capable of an’ that scares me. I see the way you look at her sometimes, an’ that scares me too.” Heyes smiled.
“Yeah, well, she scares the hell outta me.” He was pleased to see his partner smile. “I’ll be careful, I promise.”
“Well at least I’m here watchin’ your back.” Kid slapped his partner across the shoulders and propelled him back to Mrs. Darkly.
They entered Rawlin’s Landing just before sunset. It was a small town on the river that had grown up around the ferry. Elizabeth Darkly had been instructed to ask for a man named Pole Drinkwater. Kid and Heyes entered the saloon and asked the bartender if he knew the man. The bartender, a giant of a man, pointed to a small, thin weasel-faced man in a battered hat, sitting at a far table. Pole Drinkwater looked as if he could do with a good meal and a good wash, in either order.
“Mr. Drinkwater?” Heyes asked as they stood at his table.
“Who wants ta know?” the man asked defensively.
“I’m Nathaniel Darkly,” Heyes said slipping into character. “And this is Mr. Jones, a friend of mine. My wife Mrs. Elizabeth Darkly was told to ask for you here by a Mr. Crow, I believe.”
At the mention of Crow’s name Pole sat up and beckoned them to sit down. At the same time his eyes fell on a beautiful woman floating across the saloon towards him.
“Nathaniel, sweetheart,” Elizabeth cooed as she placed her arm around Heyes’ neck. “Have you found Mr. Drinkwater?” Heyes smiled lovingly at her.
“Yes dear, this is Mr. Drinkwater.” Elizabeth studied the man who gave her a wide grin revealing a missing tooth and the remains of his last meal.
“Howdy ma’am,” he said taking off his battered hat. His hair was in the same state as his clothes and body.
“Hello,” Elizabeth said sweetly. They all sat at the table and the bartender appeared beside Kid.
“You folks drinkin’ or leavin’?” the man asked pointedly.
“Drinkin’,” Kid told him and ordered for them all, including Pole.
“You have an interesting name,” Elizabeth said hoping to break the tension and put him at his ease.
“Yeah, well, along time ago, before the new ferry was built, I always used ta get folks across the river on ma raft. Used a pole to move it and the name kinda stuck. Now everyone jus’ calls me Pole.”
“Interesting,” Elizabeth lied. “Mr. Pole.”
“That’s jus’ Pole, ma’am,” he told her.
“Pole,” she corrected herself. “Mr. Crow told me to find you when we got here and you would have some news for us?”
“Sure do,” he stated.
“Well?” Heyes prompted.
“Said you’d have somethin’ for me too, if’in you get my meanin’.” Pole told them and realising what he wanted Heyes passed a bill across the table to the man. Pole squirreled it away inside his shirt.
“What did Mr. Crow tell you?” Heyes asked.
“He said to bring the money to that big ol’ tree up on the ridge,” he gestured in its general direction.
“How will we know when to do that?” Elizabeth asked.
“Well I’m to let him know you’re here and then he’ll send for ya.”
“Will you do that right away?” Elizabeth asked, desperation in her voice. “Please Mr. Drinkwater, it’s very important.” She reached across and caught hold of his hands. He was taken aback and even blushed a little at her gesture.
“Well don’t worry ma’am I’ll get to it right away.” He stood up and left. Elizabeth opened the palms of her hands and looked at them in horror.
“I need to wash my hands,” she said, distaste in her voice. “Oh my, his hands were sticky.” Kid didn’t bother to hide his amusement as he stood up.
“I’ll go follow good ol’ Pole,” he told them and left Heyes and Elizabeth at the table.
“They want $30,000 for my sister,” Elizabeth Darkly told Hannibal Heyes as they sat on the porch outside the saloon waiting for Kid Curry to return. “At least that’s how much they asked for last time.”
“Does your family have that kinda money?” Heyes asked ever watchful, taking in each passer-by with an ex-outlaw’s eye.
“Oh yes, they are extremely wealthy.”
“Then why’d you try to turn us in for the reward?” he asked incredulously.
“My family did not approve of Nathaniel Darkly. I know what Eloise is like because I did exactly the same thing. I ran off with Nathaniel and my family disowned me for a while. When my sister went missing, they suddenly realised that I was more a woman-of-the-world than they were, and I was needed again.”
“And now you’re very wealthy again,” Heyes observed.
“That is an added bonus,” she admitted with a smile.
“$30,000 is not a lot for your family?”
“No, my family will pay much more.”
“Don’t let the kidnappers know that,” he told her.
“I’m not a fool Hannibal.”
“You’d better stick to callin’ me Nathaniel, just in case.”
“Alright Nathaniel,” she smiled sweetly. A strand of hair had fallen across his face and she brushed it aside. It prompted a mixture of feelings and he did his best not to squirm. At the same time he had to admit he did still find her very attractive and that worried him. Kid would never let him forget it, if he allowed anything to happen with Elizabeth, this time. “Seeing as you’re my husband now, maybe we should get our own hotel room?” Heyes was totally lost for words and Elizabeth smiled again.
“Why, you know, we could be here for days,” she teased. “I’ve arranged for the bank to have my money ready in cash but if the kidnappers want more….We’ll need to stay here longer and continue the illusion that we’re a loving husband and wife.”
“Elizabeth, I have my reputation to think of,” he told her seeing the mischievous glint in her eyes.
“That’s what I was thinking of too,” she said cryptically. “I thought we might ruin it for you.” Two elderly ladies walked by them on the boardwalk and Hannibal Heyes was surprised to find himself blushing.
Kid returned an hour later. He had followed Pole to a meeting with a dark-haired man; followed that man until he entered a canyon and was lost from view. Kid decided not to pursue him further. It was dark by then and as well as being harder to follow, he did not want to alert him. By the time he returned to town Pole had already found Heyes and Elizabeth and told them to be ready to ride out at ten the following morning. He would take them to the rendezvous point.
Heyes had organised adjoining rooms at the hotel. He and Kid would share one and Elizabeth would have the other.
“Don’t lock the door,” Elizabeth said seductively to Heyes, that night, as she went to her own room. When the door was closed, Heyes promptly turned the key. He turned to see his partner leaning against the wall, arms casually folded across his chest, grinning at him. He didn’t need to say a word for Heyes to know exactly what he was thinking.
“Yeah Kid, she scares the hell outta me,” he admitted to his partner.
At breakfast the next morning they discussed their plans.
“I’ll go and meet them,” Heyes told Elizabeth.
“I’m not trusting you with $30,000 of my money,” she told him. “We go together.”
“This mornin’ we don’t take any money with us,” Heyes told her. “We find out what they want and we bargain. We need ta know that your sister is alive and well. We hand over nothin’ until we know that for sure.” Elizabeth considered the sense in his words and had to agree. Kid watched the exchange as he slowly chewed his food. He washed down a mouthful with some coffee.
“What d’you want me to do?” he asked his partner and Heyes explained his plan.
A little before ten o’clock Hannibal Heyes and Elizabeth Darkly waited with their horses, outside the hotel. Pole arrived on the stroke of ten.
“Howdy folks.” He greeted them with a wide smile tipping his hat to Elizabeth. “You all ready to ride?” Heyes and Elizabeth climbed onto their horses. Pole looked around.
“Where’s the other fella? Mr. Smith?”
“Mr. Jones,” Heyes corrected. “He won’t be joining us. I’m afraid he had a little too much to drink last night. He’s not feeling too well this morning.”
“Know what that’s like,” Pole told them and accepted their explanation for Kid’s absence. Turning his horse he led the way out of town.
In fact Kid Curry had ridden out earlier and was at that moment lying on the ground, beneath some bushes, over looking the meeting point. He yawned and watched an ant as it made its way over a twig and around three small stones. The ground was cold and hard. He hoped Heyes and the others would get there soon. Kid looked at his watch, then adjusting his hat, he settled down to wait.
Evan Crow was a tall, handsome, dark-haired man with a black moustache and a three-inch scar down his left cheek. He was the kind of man mother’s warned their daughter’s about but they fell for all the same. He was also extremely dangerous and he knew it. Some folks said his eyes could pierce your very soul. They were deep hooded eyes that he liked to fix on a person until they looked away. He had them focussed now on Elizabeth Darkly and she merely stared back.
“Where is my sister?” she demanded irritably as her horse shifted beneath her. Elizabeth held the reins a little tighter.
“Where’s ma money?” he countered leaning forward in the saddle.
They had arrived at the rendezvous point well before the agreed time and watched as three men rode towards them; Crow was in the middle. Neither of Crow’s men spoke. One removed his rifle from its scabbard and sat back in the saddle, cradling the weapon across his chest. The other man rested his hand on the handle of his six-gun. Heyes hoped his partner had them both in his sights.
There had been the briefest of introductions between Pole, Crow and Elizabeth. Heyes had intended to do the talking but Elizabeth, being the woman she was, had yet to let him get a word in edgeways.
“You’ll get your money when I get my sister back,” she told Crow.
“Lady, I like ya; direct and to the point. I think we can discuss whatcha want.” He looked at Heyes with suspicion. “Who’s this?”
“Nathaniel Darkly,” Heyes said somewhat sheepishly. “Elizabeth is my wife.” He held out his hand but Evan Crow simply ignored it. He looked at Heyes as if he was trying to decide whether or not he was an idiot, which was something of the character Heyes was hoping to convey.
“I want proof my sister is alive,” Elizabeth demanded.
“An’ I want proof you got ma money. So whatta we do now?” The kidnapper gave them a wicked smile amused by the situation.
“Mr. Crow, the bank in Rawlins Landing will give me the cash you require,” Heyes told him. “We can get it for you today if you want but we need to know Eloise is safe and well. My wife has been frantic with worry.”
“Well then maybe she’d like t’come with me and see for herself?” He edged his horse closer to Elizabeth and his leg brushed against hers. Elizabeth refused to be intimidated by the man.
“My wife isn’t going anywhere with you, sir,” Heyes tried to sound as pompous and naive as he could but determined too.
“Then why don’t both of ya come?” Crow suggested. He fixed Heyes with a steely gaze. “Hand over your gun.”
Kid Curry crawled closer to the edge of the rock face and peered down at the camp below. Two men stood by the fire; one held his hands out towards the flames, warming them. There was a single storey cabin and another building that looked a little like a tool shed or some kind of store. There was no sign of the woman.
Heyes and the others should arrive anytime now. Kid had done a little scouting ahead before reaching the rendezvous that morning and had found a short cut which led to the kidnappers’ camp. He wanted to be ready. He wanted to have scouted out the campsite and worked out possible escape routes before Heyes got there. He just needed to…
A sudden growl behind him caught his attention and Kid turned slowly onto his back to see a mountain lion, teeth bared not more than ten feet away. If he shot it he would draw attention to himself. Kid waited to see what the large, very angry looking cat, would do. It edged closer. Kid got slowly to his feet, careful not to make any sudden movements as he did so. The cat closed the gap between them and was on him even as Kid drew his gun. As the cat leapt at him, he put his hands out to protect himself. The mountain lion ripped at his throat with its claws and Kid felt them digging into his flesh. He stumbled backwards, feeling the ground disappear beneath his feet. Kid Curry and the mountain lion went tumbling over the edge.
The two men by the campfire heard the commotion. There was a loud crashing in the bushes, the sound of rocks falling and twigs breaking and an animal screamed. They ran towards the sounds, guns drawn. As they approached a clump of bushes at the bottom of the hillside, a mountain lion emerged, its teeth bared at them and then it ran off. One man let off a couple of shots but missed the animal. They were about to go back to the comfort of the fire when one of them saw something in the bushes
“Hey, Harvey look,” the man named Gus said, pointing into the scrub. He was a stout balding man in his forties and was already sweating from the short run to the bushes. The two men approached cautiously, to find a young blond man lying unconscious. His shirt was ripped open across the left shoulder to reveal what looked like a bloody gash from the claws of the mountain lion. The young man had several cuts and bruises on his face, presumably from the fall.
“He dead?” Harvey asked, scratching his lank brown hair. He was about the same age as Gus.
“No. I can see ‘im breathin’,” his friend said.
“Who d’ya think he is?”
“Don’t know. I guess we’d best get ‘im back to camp. Crow will wanna take a look at ‘im.”
They lifted the man between them and half carried, half dragged him to the camp site.
Crow arrived back at the camp with two newcomers in tow. They were both blindfolded and the man’s holster was empty. Following a nod from Crow, Dawson, a silent bald man with a small animal bone stuck in his earlobe, removed the blindfolds. Harvey and Gus studied the newcomers, as they adjusted their eyes to the light, and took in their surroundings. There was a dark-haired man in a black hat and a beautiful dark-haired woman. Crow’s men focussed their eyes on Elizabeth. It gave Heyes an unpleasant feeling to see where their attention was directed but it did not seem to bother his ‘wife’.
“Where is she?” Elizabeth asked looking around the camp site and seeing no sign of her sister. Crow indicated the cabin and dismounting Heyes and Elizabeth went inside. It was a surprisingly homely place with a warm log fire, three comfortable armchairs, a table set for six and above the fireplace a sampler read ‘Home Sweet Home’. Heyes did not think Crow had sewn it. There were two doors at the back, presumably leading to bedrooms.
“Eloise!” Elizabeth called.
“She ain’t here,” Crow told her. “You folks make yourselves at home. We’ll get ya sister for ya.” He was mocking them, Heyes could tell. Crow left. When the door was closed, Heyes was quickly at the window watching where the man went. He stopped to talk to two of his men and they pointed to something off to one side. Heyes turned away when Elizabeth spoke to him and failed to see Crow’s first encounter with his partner.
“Whatcha got there?” Crow asked as he emerged from the cabin and then he saw Kid’s unconscious body lying on the ground. “Who the hell is that?”
“Don’t know Crow, he jus’ dropped in.” Gus laughed at his own joke but stopped as soon as he saw the expression on his boss’ face. Crow bent over the young man and grabbing hold of his chin pulled his face from side to side.
“Don’t know ‘im. You?” they both shook their head. He looked at the bleeding claw marks left by the mountain lion. “What happened to ‘im?”
“We think a mountain lion got ‘im and he fell down the hill,” Harvey told him.
“Hmm. What was he doin’ up there, I wonder?” Crow thought for a moment, looking up at the ridge from where Kid had fallen. He glanced back at the cabin and then at the tool shed. “Put ‘im in the shed,” he ordered and they dragged Kid Curry towards the shed.
“What do you think?” Elizabeth asked.
“I don’t like this. At the moment I’m not sure if he’s gonna let us see your sister or if he’s gonna let us go,” Heyes told her.
“Should I offer more money?”
“No. Not yet. Let’s just see what he does. Kid should have us covered by now.”
The door opened and Crow returned.
Something was clawing at his shoulder. Kid Curry’s eyes flew open and he grabbed at the hand at his throat to find himself staring into the brown eyes of a beautiful dark-haired young woman. She was kneeling beside him. The young woman gasped as he grabbed her hand and she tried to pull away. Kid looked at her in confusion, expecting to have found himself face to face with a mountain lion instead.
“Who are you?” he asked not fully conscious.
“I might ask the same of you,” she said indignantly and Kid let her go. It was then that he saw she had a cloth in her hand.
“I was only tryin’ to bathe your wounds,” she told him and dismissively threw the cloth into a bowl of water at his side. If he did not want her help, so be it. Kid sat up slowly and groaned. His head hurt and his shoulder felt like raw meat where the big cat’s claws had dragged across his skin. His ribs hurt too; he hoped he had not broken any.
“I’m sorry, I thought you were a mountain lion,” he told her as he held his left side and she smiled.
“Gee, you sure know what to say to a girl, don’tcha?” she replied and he could see she was joking.
He smiled and looked around. They were in a wooden building, maybe some sort of shed. There was a large box-like structure against the wall, in one corner, serving as a bed. It had a mattress thrown on it and rather tatty looking blanket hung over the side. A couple of other boxes served as tables. That was about it.
“Who are you?” he asked, although he had a pretty good idea he knew exactly who she was. She was a younger version of Elizabeth Darkly although she didn’t talk like her. He was supposed to be watching out for his partner and instead he had fallen down a hillside and ended up in the same room as Elizabeth’s sister. Heyes would never let him live this down.
“Eloise Brinklemeyer,” she told him and then she smiled. “Yes, it’s quite a mouthful ain’t it? That’s why I intend to marry me a man, with a much simpler name. And you are Mr…..?” She looked expectantly into Kid’s eyes and he suddenly found himself reluctant to tell her his short, simple alias but he knew he would have to say something.
“Jones. Thaddeus Jones,” he said and he did not like the look she suddenly gave him as she heard his surname. He felt like a mouse entering a predator’s lair and it was not a comfortable feeling.
“Nice to meet you Mr. Jones,” she said thoughtfully, as if she was trying his simpler surname out for size. There was a lot she already liked about this handsome man. She liked his blond curly hair and his blue eyes. Picking up the cloth she squeezed out the water and leant across to dab at his shoulder once more. Kid flinched from her touch but let her clean the wound, grateful for her help.
“So, you got attacked by a mountain lion?” Eloise stated.
“Yeah, I was out huntin’ and it got the better of me. Say, where are we?”
She looked at the door.
“I’m not exactly sure,” she began. “I’m being held prisoner by a man named Evan Crow. He kidnapped me and he’s tryin’ to get my family to pay a ransom for my release.” Kid moved, regretting the decision as a pain shot across his chest. He rested his back against the wall. His gun and gun belt were both gone.
“How long have you been here?”
“About three days. We’ve moved around a lot. I’m beginning to think my family won’t pay up. My Pa can be real stubborn at times and I think I may have upset him.”
“I’m sure they’ll be doin’ all they can,” Kid told her somehow reluctant to admit he knew who she was, and that her sister, was on her way with the ransom. He did not know why he felt that way. There was just something in the back of his mind, some instinct, telling him to be cautious. “Are you alright?” he asked and from the emphasis in his words she knew what he was asking her.
“They haven’t hurt me,” she told him meeting his gaze.
“I’m glad,” he said and she saw the genuine relief in his blue eyes.
“Now wait a minute sir, my wife and I are here in good faith. Why we…” but Crow’s fist made contact with Heyes jaw before he could finish his sentence. Heyes stayed on the ground. The blow hurt but not as much as he pretended it did. Elizabeth bent down and helped him to his feet. Heyes massaged his jaw and gently felt the blood on his split lip. “There was no need for violence Mr. Crow,” he said feigning shock.
“Got anythin’ else you wanna say?” the kidnapper asked.
“Not right now, no,” Heyes told him through a sore mouth.
“Good.” Crow turned to Elizabeth. “Now I told ya you’ll get to see ya sister and ya will. What I’m thinkin’ now is how much more your family would pay for two sisters?”
“You’re not seriously thinking of holding us hostage too?” she asked incredulously. “There is no way you will get your money without me.”
“Well we’ll see about that wont we,” Crow told her.
“Why cause yourself more trouble?” Heyes asked, dabbing at his split lip. “You have $30,000 guaranteed. My wife is not the most popular member of her family. They might decide to forget the whole deal.”
“Nathaniel!” Elizabeth said with convincing indignation.
“Well there’s no point foolin’ the man is there dear? The way you spoke to your father last time we saw him; I doubt he’d pay to get you back. It’s important Mr. Crow knows that.”
Crow watched the exchange between ‘husband and wife’ with amusement and saw that there might be some truth in ‘Nathaniel Darkly’s’ words.
“You can see ya sister. Then I’ll decide whatta do with ya,” Crow told them. He opened the door and shouted to his men. Harvey and Gus came running. Crow pointed at Heyes and Elizabeth. “Take ‘em to the woman. An’ lock ‘em up.”
Hannibal Heyes was thrown roughly into the tool shed and his hands and knees made painful contact with the hard ground. He heard Elizabeth cry out as she was shoved in after him and then he heard her cry of delight, as she saw her sister.
The sisters said almost in unison. Heyes eased himself onto his knees. He was aware of the sisters’ excited reunion and as he slowly picked himself up he saw a man’s boots and jeans in front of him. His gaze moved slowly up.
“What the hell are you doin’ here?” he asked as his eyes fell on his partner’s face and then he saw the gashes at Kid’s shoulder and the blood on the front of his shirt. “And what happened to you?”
“Nice to see you too, Joshua,” Kid said offering his partner a hand and pulling him to his feet. He grimaced as he did so and held his side.
“So what happened to you?” Heyes asked, studying the bloody marks on his partner’s shoulder.
“I got attacked by a mountain lion,” Kid told him dryly.
“Of course you did. What else would it be?” Heyes said rhetorically as if finding his partner locked up in the same shed as he was and recovering from an attack by a vicious predator, was the most natural thing in the world.
“What happened to you?” Kid asked noticing his partner’s swollen lip.
“Got attacked by a kidnapper.”
“Let me have a look at that,” Heyes said indicating the scratches across Kid’s shoulder and chest. Elizabeth and Eloise were sitting on the box-bed locked in deep conversation. Heyes assumed they were catching up on months apart. Elizabeth was particularly keen to know all about Evan Crow and what the man was capable of.
“I’m okay, Heyes,” Kid told him as his partner began to fuss about him.
“Of course you are, and you’ll probably bleed to death believin’ it, so let me have a look.”
“I’m fine it’s just a few scratches,” he told his partner as Heyes moved to have a look. Kid turned to move away. “Ow!!” he said as a pain ran across his ribs. Hannibal Heyes simply looked at his partner and waited for an explanation.
“Well?” he asked when Kid said nothing.
“Alright, I fell down a hill too, probably just bruised a few ribs.”
“You really aren’t safe on your own are you?” Heyes told him.
The two men sat on the floor, their backs to the wall. Elizabeth had introduced Heyes as Joshua Smith much to Heyes relief. Heyes noted how Eloise kept looking at Kid and was amused by how uncomfortable her attentions made his partner.
“Well ‘brains of the outfit’ whatta we do now?” Kid asked his partner.
“Oh it’s alright. My partner always watches my back. He’ll be out there now figurin’ a way to get me outta here or goin’ for help because that’s what he’s supposed to be doin’.” Heyes did not look at Kid; he just waited for his remark to sink in.
“Okay, I’m sorry Heyes,” Kid whispered. “I jus’ wasn’t expectin’ a mountain lion to pounce on me. So, what are we gonna do?”
“I’m workin’ on it Kid.”
Heyes began to lift up his right trouser leg and Kid saw the small pistol strapped to his calf.
“Nobody bothered to search dumb old Nathaniel Darkly,” he told them. He made sure neither woman saw the gun. “You take it.” Kid looked scornfully at the small gun.
“It’s ‘fastest gun in the west’ Heyes, not fastest peashooter. You keep it. I think you need more protection from Crow than I do right now.”
Heyes was still working on a plan to get them out of there safely when the door opened. All four squinted as their eyes grew accustomed to the sudden burst of light, the shed only having one tiny window in a far corner.
Crow entered looking as if he had made up his mind about something. He pointed at Elizabeth.
“You. Go back ta town and get the money. Then I’ll let ya sister go.”
“I’ll go with her,” Heyes said.
“No. You stay here,” Crow told him.
“Elizabeth and I are both signatories at the bank. You won’t get your money unless we both go.” Heyes told him getting to his feet. “We both need to sign for it.”
“Alright,” Crow conceded. “You both go back.”
“What about me?” Kid asked standing up.
“I haven’t decided what to do with you yet,” Crow told him.
Heyes shot Kid a look. Kid gave his partner a slight nod telling him it was okay, he should go. Heyes wished there was time to pass him the gun but there was no way to do it without drawing attention to the fact. With a final quick glance at Kid, Hannibal Heyes was pushed outside. Kid and Eloise watched the door close and listened as the key turned in the lock.
Blindfolded and on horseback, Heyes and Elizabeth were led, by Dawson, out of the canyon. Once back at the meeting place the bald man removed the blindfolds. Dawson said nothing, just turned his horse and headed back to the camp. They watched him ride off.
“Elizabeth, go back to town. Start getting the money together,” Heyes told her.
“What are you going to do?” she asked with concern.
“I can’t leave Kid in there alone. Crow has no reason to keep him alive an’ pretty soon he’s gonna to realise that.”
“You don’t know where they are,” she reminded him.
“They’re in that canyon. I’ll find ‘em,” he assured her. When he was sure she was on her way to town he rode after Dawson.
“Mr. Crow, I have a wife an’ family. They’re gonna be worried about me. They know I was out here huntin’ and you could have people all over this place lookin’ for me if I don’t go back,” Kid told the dark-haired man as he stood opposite him in the dark shed.
“That’s possible,” Crow accepted. “But I don’t think they’d look any further if they found your body at the foot of the ravine. You already have the scratch marks. They’d soon realise a cat gotcha.”
Kid did not like the way Crow’s mind was working.
“There’s no need to kill me. I’m not gonna say anythin’. I jus’ wanna get home to my family,” Kid tried to sound innocent and sincere, his eyes pleading with the man.
“Evan, don’t worry he’s lyin’,” Eloise said suddenly, much to Kid’s horrified surprise.
“What?” Crow asked.
“He’s with my sister. Mr. Jones is workin’ with them. That man was not Nathaniel Darkly. He’s someone called Smith.”
“Why didn’tcha tell me before?” the dark-haired man demanded to know.
“How could I say anything? My sister was always here. Don’t worry. They’ll get the money, I’m sure of it.”
Kid could not believe what he was hearing, nor how her country accent had suddenly disappeared.
“You are really somethin’,” he said looking directly at Eloise, shaking his head.
“Don’t look so surprised. We’re all liars here aren’t we Thaddeus?” she almost spat out his name.
“She fooled ya well huh?” Crow said, throwing an arm around Eloise’ waist, and pulling her to him.
“I knew my family wouldn’t take to Evan,” she told him. “They’d cut me off without a penny, the way they did Elizabeth. So we had ta find a way to get the money.”
“Does your sister know about this?” Kid asked.
“Elizabeth? Why God no. She would never do anything illegal.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” Kid remarked knowledgeably. Eloise moved closer to Kid. She ran a finger down his cheek.
“I’m sorry Evan will have to kill you. I really like you.”
“So don’t let him do it,” Kid suggested, his blue eyes on her own, hoping to find something there he could work on.
“If I thought there could be anything between us…” she began.
“I’ve gotta simple name,” he said. “That’s a start.”
“So has Evan,” she reminded him. Eloise planted a quick kiss on his mouth. “Sorry Thaddeus.” She turned back to Crow who was grinning at him. Kid watched them leave, and then sat down on the bed to wait. How long it would be before Crow came back to kill him, he didn’t know.
“Psst.” Kid opened his eyes. He didn’t know how long it had been since Crow and Eloise had left. Maybe an hour had past, maybe more. He was sitting on the bed, leaning against the wall, his eyes closed, when a sound had roused him. He looked around. “Psst.” It was coming from the small window at the back of the room. It was dark outside. He moved towards the window and standing on tip toe caught site of a familiar dark hat.
“Heyes?” Kid asked keeping his voice low.
“Yeah, Kid it’s me,” his partner replied in a whisper.
“What are you doin’ back here?”
“Gettin’ you outta there. You know, like a partner should.”
“Okay stop rubbin’ it in.” Kid thought about it. “How?”
“I’m workin’ on it. Be ready to move. I just need to…” There was the sound of a struggle.
“Heyes? Joshua?” Kid called but this time he received no reply.
Hannibal Heyes was dragged from the side of the tool shed by Billings, the larger of Crow’s two men. Heyes was a fit man and capable of holding his own in a fight but Billings was considerably stronger and had the added advantage of a gun pointed at the ex-outlaw’s head. He shoved Heyes into the centre of the camp and Crow stood waiting for him.
“Well, well. If it ain’t Nathaniel Darkly,” he said as Heyes turned to face him. “Oh, but that’s right. It ain’t Nathaniel Darkly is it?” Heyes said nothing deciding it was best to find out what Crow knew first. The dark-haired man rubbed the stubble on his chin as he approached Heyes. Crow’s eyes looked even deeper in the glow of the campfire.
“So what’s ya name?” Billings and Dawson moved to stand directly behind Heyes. He had nowhere to run. “I asked ya a question.” Crow’s eyes grew darker.
“What makes you think I’m not Nathaniel Darkly?” Heyes asked and the sudden blow to his stomach caught him by surprise.
“I’m the one askin’ the questions,” the kidnapper reminded him. Heyes was doubled over recovering from the man’s punch. Crow put his head down so that Heyes would hear him. “What’s ya name?” he whispered near to Heyes’ ear. Hannibal Heyes raised himself up and wondered if he should tell him. A punch to his face convinced him it would be a good idea to do so.
“Smith, Joshua Smith,” he mumbled.
“I’m sorry? You’re gonna have ta speak up.”
“Smith, Joshua Smith,” Heyes repeated a little louder.
“Well Joshua, whatta ya doin’ here?” Heyes pulled himself upright again, although his ribs recommended otherwise. He faced Crow who decided he had not answered fast enough and landed another blow to Heyes’ abdomen. Heyes staggered back into Billings and Dawson and they grabbed his arms, holding him still. Their boss approached Heyes. “Whatta ya doin’ here?”
“Helping Elizabeth get her sister back.” Crow hit Heyes across the face with the back of his hand. Heyes tasted blood as his lip split once more.
“Good, now you’re beginnin’ ta understand how this works,” Crow told him. “So who are ya?”
“Just a friend.”
“An’ where is Elizabeth now?” Heyes paused too long. More blows landed on his face.
“On her way to town; to get your money,” Heyes told him through a swollen mouth. His head was spinning. He was not sure how much longer he could stay conscious.
“Good.” Crow stood in front of the beaten man. “And why’d ya come back?” Heyes took another punch to the ribs.
“You really are gonna to have t’learn to answer faster. Why d’you come back?” Crow asked.
“I thought I might be able to get Eloise out.”
“Really?” Heyes nodded. “Are you sure you didn’t come back to release your partner?” Heyes deliberately looked at the ground. He did not want Crow to see his expression as he took in what he had said. How would Crow know Kid was his partner? What exactly did the man know?
“I asked you a question!” Crow shouted and hit Heyes twice more in the ribs and once to the face. Heyes doubled over his body racked by a fit of coughing as he gasped for breath.
“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” Heyes told him weakly.
“Really? Then you won’t mind if I kill ‘im.” Heyes eyes shot up to face Crow. “I thought that might getcha attention.” He nodded to Billings and the big man let go of Heyes’ arm and walked towards the tool shed, gun in hand.
“You’ll get your money,” Heyes said, through a bloody mouth, desperate to keep Crow’s attention on himself and not Kid. Dawson held him tight. Billings unlocked the door. “We can get more if you want it.” Crow just stood there and smiled at Heyes.
“I’m sure ya can.” Billings went into the shed.
“Of course we can get more money. Name your price.” Heyes said anything that came to mind. He was rambling on. Billings had disappeared from view. “Jus’ call your man off. Mr. Jones has done nothin’; he’s not part of this. Jus’ tell us what you want and we can…” From inside the tool shed there was the sound of a single gun shot.
Hannibal Heyes said nothing. He felt as if a hole had opened up inside him and he was being pulled slowly through. The world had slowed to an agonising pace. Crow smiled. The horrified expression on the beaten man’s face said it all. Heyes stared at the open doorway not wanting to accept what had just happened. The sound of the shot was still ringing in his ears. Kid? He’d just shot Kid. This couldn’t be it. This couldn’t be the way it ended for them both. He could not be alone.
A sudden rage built within him and he struggled in Dawson’s grip. The bald man was surprised by Heyes’ sudden found strength. The dark-haired man managed to pull himself free and lunged at Crow but his body had been weakened by the beating and he was knocked to the ground by Crow’s first blow. Heyes lay still, his body bruised, his face was bloody from cuts above and below his eyes, his mouth bleeding and yet he felt nothing. Billings appeared in the doorway and nodded to Crow. Crow drew his gun.
“I guess you’re next,” he said to the man on the ground.
Heyes simply stared at Billings. Kid was dead. It was over.
Gus and Hank watched emotionless from their place beside the fire as Crow continued to hit the dark-haired man. They had seen their boss work over many men. Some deserved it, some didn’t. The one thing they were sure about was it didn’t pay to interfere.
They saw Billings enter the tool shed and heard the single gun shot. Both men felt a pang of regret at the loss of a young life. The man had been attacked by a mountain lion, fallen down a hillside and now shot. Guess it just wasn’t meant to be his day.
The cold muzzle of a gun pressed against Hank’s neck just below his right ear. He stiffened as a voice whispered, “Make one sound and it’ll be your last.”
Hank did not move. He felt his gun being removed from its holster.
“Move towards your friend, real slow,” the voice whispered. Hank did as he was instructed. As he drew closer Gus turned towards him. A man held a gun at Hank’s neck…but it could not be. Surely Billings had just shot him?
Kid Curry put a finger to his lips instructing Gus to keep quiet. Gus did as he was told. Kid took Gus’ gun and tucked it into his waistband alongside Hank’s. Gus could not help but stare at Kid. He looked as if he had seen a ghost. If the blond man was here, then who had Billings shot?
“Step back, slow and quiet boys,” Kid whispered. All three men eased into the shadow of the trees. “Turn around.” They did as instructed. Using Hank’s bandana Gus gagged Hank and then tied him up under Kid’s watchful gaze. When the first man was secured Kid tied up Gus. Still confused, by the fact that Kid was alive, Gus put up no resistance to being bound and gagged. Without a backward glance the blond man moved off.
Kid Curry had to admit he had been a little surprised when the bed started to move. He was pacing back and forth; listening to Crow beat up his partner, and angry at his inability to do anything about it, when a scraping sound caught his attention. He turned to see the box-bed moving away from the wall. Kid was not sure what to prepare himself for. He waited to see what happened next. Elizabeth Darkly appeared behind the bed, rifle in hand.
“What the..?” Kid said and she smiled pleasantly at him.
“You could help me up,” she said and he was soon at her side offering her a hand.
“You are unbelievable,” he told her.
“Glad you finally realised it,” she said.
“How d’you find that?” he indicated the hole through which she had crawled.
“Saw it when I sat here with my sister.”
“Why didn’t you say anything earlier? We coulda got outta here.”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first and then Crow came back.”
“Why have you come back?” he asked suspiciously. “You were supposed to go for the money.”
“I did, but then I thought you two might need my help; seems I was right.” For once he did not disagree with her. She held up the rifle. “I got this off Billings’ horse. I just thought…” They heard the key turn in the lock. Elizabeth gave Kid the rifle, pushed the bed back into place lay down on top of the tattered blanket.
Billings entered the room, gun drawn.
“Get up Jones, I’m gonna kill ya,” he growled. He saw Elizabeth sit up on the bed and stopped stunned. At the same time Kid emerged from behind the door and poked the rifle into his back.
“Not a sound,” he said. Elizabeth moved quickly and taking the gun from Billings’ hand, she fired a single shot into the mattress.
Kid crept through the undergrowth growing ever closer to Dawson. Crow stood over his partner. Heyes was in a sorry state, his face bloody, his mouth bleeding. Kid Curry weighed up the possibilities open to him, considered his pretty poor chances of success, and then moved. One blow from the butt of his gun felled the big man. Dawson went down like a sack of potatoes. Kid turned to face Crow.
“How the hell?” but Crow was on the ball and, grabbing Heyes by his shirt collar, soon had a gun at his head. “Drop it,” Crow instructed Kid who stood in front of them, gun in hand. Kid said nothing. His eyes held Crow’s gaze. Off to one side he saw Elizabeth emerge quietly from the tool shed and lock the door. He had no idea what she had done with Billings. He saw the cabin door crack open and Eloise peer out. But most of all he saw the look on his partner’s face as he realised Kid was alive. It wasn’t often Kid Curry managed to surprise Hannibal Heyes and the look was priceless.
“Put the gun down,” Crow ordered, his eyes fixed on the blond man.
“You first,” Kid said calmly. He showed no emotion and Crow could have no idea how many men had stood opposite the young outlaw and tried, unsuccessfully, to face him down.
“I’ll shoot ‘im,” Crow told Kid hoping to provoke a response.
“And I’ll shoot you,” Kid assured the man.
“Billings!” Crow hollered over his shoulder.
“He won’t be much help to ya,” Kid told him as Crow looked around and, for the first time, noticed Hank and Gus were missing too.
“Eloise!” he yelled and she opened the cabin door wider. “Come get the gun from Mr. Jones before I shoot his partner.” Eloise emerged from the cabin. She looked nervous. Crow was alone now. Dawson lay unconscious and she could not see any of the other men. She started towards Crow.
“Stay right there Eloise.” The young woman gasped and turned to see her sister outside the tool shed, the rifle aimed at Crow’s back.
“Elizabeth.” Crow turned slightly to see who it was.
“You won’t shoot,” Crow stated confidently.
“Don’t you believe it,” Heyes muttered.
“Woman, get over here now,” Crow demanded but Eloise didn’t know what to do. Crow turned to see where she was and a shot rang out. Crow fell backwards, clutching his shoulder. Eloise screamed and Elizabeth took a deep breath as she slowly lowered the rifle. Kid nodded an acknowledgement to her.
“You’re not dead,” Heyes stated as Kid bent down beside him.
“No,” Kid replied gently.
“I thought you were dead.” Heyes grabbed hold off the front of Kid’s shirt, as if needing to confirm he was real.
“I thought you might. I know how it feels,” Kid admitted as his partner’s fist closed tighter around the material he held.
“You’re not dead,” Heyes said again.
“Nope.” Heyes finally released Kid’s shirt; patting Kid’s chest as he did so and finding him reassuringly solid.
“Don’t do that again, okay?” Kid nodded. “Jus’ don’t do that again.”
“I’ll try not to,” Kid told him, giving his partner a reassuring smile.
“Good,” Heyes said and turned his face away, suddenly unable to face his partner or let him see the emotion he felt. Kid gave Heyes a moment to compose himself and then asked.
“How bad you hurt? Think you can sit up?”
“I’ll try,” Heyes told him.
Kid took hold of Heyes’ arm.
“Oh, it hurts,” Heyes said, as Kid helped him to a sitting position. Pain shot through Heyes’ sides where Crow had punched him. He didn’t think any of his ribs were broken; it just felt like they all were.
“Think you can stand?” Kid asked with concern.
“No. Never again,” Heyes told him definitely.
“Think you could crawl?” Kid asked patiently, a smile forming on his face. He knew now Heyes was going to be alright.
“I might be able to,” Heyes admitted valiantly but then changed his mind as he turned his body and a wave of pain and nausea passed through him. “Then again, no. I can’t do that either. I’ll jus’ stay here, forever. This is a good spot.” He patted the ground with affection.
“Okay.” Kid said with exaggerated patience. “You need a doctor Heyes, and I don’t think they make house calls this far out. I guess I could drag you to your horse or maybe try to roll you but…” Kid saw the look on Heyes’ face as his partner pretended to consider this. “So, d’you think you can stand?”
“Alright. I’ll try.” Heyes conceded.
“I thought you might.” He pulled his partner quickly to his feet. Heyes cried out and glared at Kid, grabbing hold of his arm. If looks could kill… Kid gave his cousin a big grin. “I knew you could do it.”
Placing his partner’s right arm around his neck, the blond man took his partner’s weight.
“C’mon, let’s get you outta here,” Kid said and helped Heyes towards the horses.
The men were all tied up securely and locked in the tool shed, the hole in the wall blocked up now. They would send out the sheriff when they returned to town. Kid was giving everything a final check, making sure no one would get out, at least not for a while. With Heyes hurt and Eloise a liability, he wouldn’t risk trying to take the men in too. Eloise sat petulantly on a horse, saying nothing. Her sister had told her in no uncertain terms that there would be no money for her and that unless she returned to her family she would be cut-off for good. Eloise was still struggling with what to do, but without Crow’s influence, for the present, she allowed her sister to dictate the terms.
Elizabeth gave Hannibal Heyes a reassuring smile, as he sat on a log near the horses. He looked the worst for wear, and his partner was clearly worried about him.
“Thank you,” Heyes said as she drew closer. She knew what he was talking about.
“I thought I owed you one, Hannibal,” she told him. “A shot to the shoulder seemed appropriate don’t you think?” He smiled gratefully at her.
“What will you do now?” he asked.
“Take her home. Build some bridges. I know you two have to leave. I’ll send the sheriff out here when we reach Rawlins Landing. I’m sure the doctor at Bryson’s Gap is just as good.” She leaned forward and kissed him, taking care not to hurt his bruised mouth. Elizabeth noted he did not pull away. “Take care of yourself Hannibal Heyes. I’ll be looking out for you.” She stood up as Kid approached. The blond man looked at her but said nothing.
“My sister and I will go into Rawlins Landing,” she told Kid. “We’ll tell the sheriff about this place. I thought you could take him to Bryson’s Gap instead.”
“That’s a good idea,” Kid admitted. She was pleased to see he no longer looked at her with disdain. Kid touched the tip of his hat as his blue eyes met hers. “Ma’am,” was all he said but it was enough. Elizabeth smiled before turning away. Both men watched the two women ride out, each lost in their own thoughts. Finally Kid Curry turned to his partner.
“Well, let’s getcha on your horse,” Kid said confidently. Heyes groaned as Kid helped him to his feet. “C’mon stop complainin’,” the blond man said.
“You know Kid, sometimes I think you like t’see me sufferin’,” Heyes moaned.
“I’ll help you suffer more if you don’t stop complainin’.”
“Hey, no need to get proddy. I’m an injured man.” Heyes managed to place one foot in the stirrup.
“Will you shut up an’ get on your horse!”
“That’s a fine way to speak to a man who’s been beat up and thought you were dead and you know I coulda left you in that…” Kid gave Heyes a boost into the saddle and pain shot through Heyes’ beaten body. Heyes fell silent as he fought the pain. Kid looked up at his partner slumped over his horses’ neck.
“That hurt?” Kid asked.
“Yes,” Heyes said through gritted teeth.
“Thought it might.” Kid patted Heyes’ leg. “Ain’tcha glad I’m not dead?” Kid did not wait to hear his partner’s reply.